May 29

History Wednesday: A Lesson in Water Safety

I was going to write about Paraguay again, but it occurred to me earlier today I should bring as much geographic balance to History Wednesday as possible. Since I began SB at least one History Wednesday has been set on every continent. Except one, and I have regular visitors from it.

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Well, two if you count penguins, but they don’t have broadband.

So it’s high time to take a look at Australia and an event which has a cautionary tale about water safety. Perfect now that summer is upon us. Or winter, as the case may be. Anyway, the Paraguay story is good, but it can wait.

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May 08

History Wednesday: The Instant Presidency

It might not seem like it if one listens to American mainstream culture, but Mexico has come a long way in the last 25 years or so. While the country continues to face some very serious issues, it has also become a fairly stable multiparty democracy. Indeed, in my humble opinion one which has outpaced most of the former Soviet Bloc nations over the same time period.

This is in spite of being the scene of the shortest tenure of any head of state in recorded history. More on that in a moment.

After declaring independence from Spain in 1810, Mexico endured two absolute monarchies (one of which came courtesy of the Hapsburgs), several disastrous wars and enough outright corruption to make Silvio Berlusconi look like a paragon of honesty.

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This guy lost over half of the country yet still managed to become president … 11 TIMES.

By the turn of the 20th Century Mexico was well into a period known as the Porfiriato, an era of repression dominated by the virtual dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz, who had effectively been in power since 1876. Although the Porfiriato represented by far Mexico’s longest period of stability to date, it was anything but democratic.

Finally tired of decades of stagnation, the Mexicans overthrew Diaz in 1911 after a ham-handed attempt to hand the aging strongman yet another re-election “victory.” This event sparked what became known as the Mexican Revolution.

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“Wait, did somebody say, ‘stagnation?'”

Anyway, unfortunately for Mexico Diaz’s overthrow soon degenerated into an all-out civil war with multiple competing factions. This is the era which produced Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who effectively became warlords in the north and south respectively. By the time the dust settled in late 1920 Mexico went through 11 presidents in the space of less than 10 years.

Francisco Madero was the main figure during the early stages of the Mexican Revolution. A liberal reformer strongly influenced by Benito Juarez, Madero became president in late 1911. In the hopes of establishing national unity Madero included pro-Diaz and other conservative figures in his government, who then proceeded to bring reform efforts to a standstill.

In February 1913 forces led by Generals Victoriano Huerta and Felix Diaz (the former president’s nephew) staged a coup d’etat against the Madero government with support from Henry Lane Wilson, the American ambassador. On 19 February Madero was forced to resign and was executed a few days later.

The idea, of course, was to make Huerta the new president. There was just one problem. Huerta wanted everything to be “legal,” but he wasn’t in the presidential line of succession. Well, that’s where our friend Pedro Lascurain comes into the picture.

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“Pedro, we have a little job for you ….”

Under the constitution of the day, as foreign minister Lascurain was fourth in the presidential line of succession. Since Huerta had already forced out the first three – Madero, the vice president and the attorney general – Lascurain was legally entitled to become president, which he did with Huerta’s blessing.

President Lascurain had two items on his agenda: (1) appoint Huerta as interior minister (and therefore next in the line of succession) and, (2) resign. He dutifully accomplished both. Huerta then called a late-night session of the Mexican Congress to validate the move, which they did with Huerta’s soldiers training their guns on them so they didn’t miss the point.

Sources disagree exactly how long Lascurain served as President of the United Mexican States, but it was certainly less than an hour. Perhaps quite wisely, Lascurain left politics immediately afterward.

Huerta then took it upon himself to establish a military dictatorship which made the Diaz regime look like an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Meanwhile in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson – aghast that Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (no relation) took such a leading role in this mess – recalled the rogue diplomat and demanded Huerta schedule elections. The diplomatic situation quickly deteriorated from there, leading directly to the occupation of Veracruz the following year.

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“Yeah. Thanks a lot.”

Although the Huerta regime lasted less than 18 months before it succumbed to rebel forces, the general – often called El Chacal (“The Jackal”) – remains one of the most vilified figures in Mexican history. As for Lascurain, he quietly spent the rest of his life as an attorney and law school director.

Apr 28

A Vast Wasteland

I find few things more irritating than the arguments of traditionalist scolds, especially the tired old tropes of “what about the children?” and “the good old days.” Generally speaking, with a bit of guidance children are quite capable of making their own decisions. Also, “the good old days” is often code for “nostalgia for an imagined past.”

I’ve been told Beachy sometimes watches television too mature for her. While I agree at her age she certainly shouldn’t be exposed to such things as graphic sex and violence, I assure you what she watches is much, much better than what I grew up with.

Seriously, would any children’s channel today air programming depicting this? (Click the image caps for video)

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This isn’t Porky Pig! Shocking!

Or this?

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No Curly? Outrageous!

Or this?

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No Sgt. Slaughter? Disgu … nah, this is still pretty hot.

Guess what? I watched all of the above and more during my formative years. Repeatedly. I didn’t even have to sneak in any Cinemax to do it.

Growing up in the 2T in the early 80s, where locally-produced kids’ programming was little more than a foreign legend, on a typical weekday morning you essentially had two options: soap operas or game shows. Guess which one I took? Yeah, there’s nothing like beginning an unexpected day off than with an hour with Bob Barker.

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“Cutting school again, eh Lane? Well, don’t forget to have your pets spayed or neutered.”

And that’s the high water mark. I was born in 1973, so for the sake of argument let’s say my prime years for children’s programming were between 1980 and 1985. Fine. Here’s what the world was like back then:

Children’s programming was limited to certain hours (usually school hours) on weekdays. You had Saturday morning cartoons which ended by 1 pm, and on Sunday you were flat out SOL. The golden age of animation was dead and buried by the mid-70s. There was no Cartoon Network or DreamWorks Studios. In short, no one was catering to kids very well. Even the pre-Pixar Disney spent about a decade dropping turds on theaters every couple years before they finally realized they should stick with fairy tales.

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And Martha Raye’s Polident ads were more entertaining than the early Disney Channel.

With few exceptions, children’s programming of the day fell into one of three categories:

-Prime time reruns and old short films not necessarily intended for children in the first place, including I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, The Munsters, The Flintstones, The Little Rascals (or Our Gang, whatever), The Three Stooges and Looney Tunes. Throw in Leave it to Beaver and The Beverly Hillbillies too. What the hell.

-Reboots of old cartoons and TV shows, including The All-New Popeye Hour, The Flintstone Comedy Show, The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show, Laverne & Shirley in the Army, The Real Ghostbusters, the (apparently fake) Ghostbusters and various incarnations of the Scooby-Doo franchise.

-Shows which amounted to little more than hard-sell commercials, including G.I. Joe, The Smurfs, Saturday Supercade, M.A.S.K., Challenge of the GoBots, and anything involving Care Bears, Shirt Tales, Teddy Ruxpin, Cabbage Patch Kids, Popples, He-Man, She-Ra, the ThunderCats or Lazer Tag. It’s a wonder some nitwit TV executive didn’t greenlight a show about a fad puzzle game.

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Oh wait, they totally did.

So in addition to the torture, alcohol abuse and risque content noted above, what else did these shows depict to kids of the day? How about misogyny, gender and racial stereotypes, juvenile delinquency, frequent armed conflict, gratuitous violence, dangerous stunts, glorification of war, animal cruelty, terrorism, elder abuse, unrealistic life expectations, attempted genocide, reward for misbehavior and/or incompetence, borderline plagiarism, and commercialism so crass and over the top it would make even Vince Offer wince?

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Yeah, plagiarism. The Flintstones blatantly ripped off The Honeymooners.

I and millions of others suffered through long years of this drivel. Watching this stuff again just makes it worse, as one notices the shoddy production values one disregarded as a kid. Bright spots were few and far between. Off the top of my head I can only think of one animated series from the era that was contemporary, genuinely funny and not a 30-minute commercial for a piece of plastic.

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Even if he did drive on the wrong side of the road.

So there you have it. Programming on today’s children’s cable networks isn’t anywhere near as bad as it was 30 years ago. What’s more, I turned out just fine, and today’s world isn’t an amoral, dystopian void after all.

Indeed, I’m glad I wasn’t sheltered and allowed to watch only “wholesome” crap like Superbook and The Flying House. I probably would have shot up a Taco Bell by now.

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“More like, ‘Live No Más’ bitches! HA HA HA!”
Image credit: Coolcaesar