What Did the Three-Fifths Compromise Actually Do?

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Occasionally, a student asks a question so basic, about a presumption so fundamental to the teaching of history, that an instructor is caught completely unaware. A friend of mine found this out in his US history survey—in teaching about the colonization of the Americas, he made the commonplace assertion that indigenous peoples were highly susceptible to diseases brought from the Old World. Of course, we all know that smallpox, measles, and yellow fever ravaged the New World—at times literally decimating local populations—while the Americas only really sent back syphilis and lung cancer in return. But why, one student asked, were Native Americans so highly vulnerable to diseases from … [Read more...]

Pioneering the Pacific Rim: Baseball, California, and the Creation of Transpacific Trade

Babe Ruth in Japan, 1934

On September 1, 1964, Masanori Murakami threw a scoreless eighth inning for the San Francisco Giants. Amid a playoff push, Murakami took the mound for his first action in the big show. Though he gave up one hit, he struck out the side and would go on to make nine total appearances that year with one victory, a save, and an ERA of 1.80. The following year, Murakami made 45 relief appearances, went 4-1 with a 3.40 ERA and eight saves. After a contract dispute between his Japanese club and the Giants led to his return to Japan, another Japanese player would not enter the Major Leagues until Hideo Nomo joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, which set off a consistent flow of Japanese players … [Read more...]

“Brick Mansions: it’s so dangerous, we built a wall around it.”

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Warning: This post is full of spoilers. Thankfully, Brick Mansions isn’t the kind of movie you watch for the plot. Brick Mansions is the American remake of the French film District B13 (not to be confused with District 9, the Academy Award-nominated South African film from 2009). Brick Mansions tells the story of a housing project in 2018 Detroit – a project so dangerous the city literally built a 40-foot wall around it, with police checkpoints at all entrances and exits. David Belle plays Lino, a resident of the projects who uses his parkour skills to steal drugs from the dealers and then destroy them. The plot really takes off when cop Damien (played by Paul Walker in one of his final … [Read more...]

Indiana GOP Rep. Decries Creeping “Ving Rhames-ification” of America

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Mark Lawson, a Republican lawmaker from Evansville, spoke out on Tuesday against a trend that he sees as threatening the future of the United States.  President Obama's executive order allowing some 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the country was a gross violation of the separation of powers under the Constitution, Lawson said on the floor of the State House.  He also referred to the recent announcement of Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential bid, saying that it did not matter whether a Democrat or Republican won in 2016. "If America keeps allowing thieves and criminals to run rampant over our laws and Constitution," Lawson said, "there won't be much of a Constitution left when the … [Read more...]

The Light Rail Conundrum from Los Angeles to Atlanta: LRT in the 21st Century

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In a recent study examining the efficacy of light rail (LRT) and modern bus rapid transit (BRT), University of Sydney transit experts David Hensher and Corinne Mulley concluded that the preference for light rail over BRT and other bus systems rested on an ideological preference more than actual service. “The main point is that the enthusiasm (almost blind commitment) for LRT has caused many to overlook the potential for more cost-effective bus-based systems and even simpler improvements to bus services that do not require dedicated right of way,” the two researchers noted. Hensher later told CityLab writer Eric Jaffe, apparently paraphrasing a former Mayor Los Angeles, to the public “buses … [Read more...]

Riding the Big Red Car: Work, Leisure, and Community in Multiethnic L.A.

Pacific Electric car through Redondo Beach, 1939 | Photo: Metro Library and Archive/Creative Commons

A subway to the sea, new mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, told reporters in 2005, "would be the most utilized subway in the nation, maybe the world." According to a Los Angeles Times survey at the time, voters identified transportation related issues as their primary concern outside of education; for both issues, nearly a quarter of the electorate demanded improvement. 1 Yet, such promises often take time to develop and implement. Nearly ten years later, this past November officials finally broke ground on the Metro Purple Line Extension. The groundbreaking ceremony at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art drew rail proponents, elected officials, and transit administrators who all expressed … [Read more...]

Surfing for Freedom: Black Surfers and Reclaiming Cultural History in Los Angeles

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In 1991's surfing bromance "Point Break," former Big Ten quarterback and F.B.I. agent Johnny Utah infiltrates a notorious ring of "surfing bank robbers" led by the late great Patrick Swayze's Bodhi (short for Buddhavista of course). They play beach football, go night surfing, and eventually end their relationship in a confrontation on an Australian beach as 100 foot waves from a fifty year storm crash on the beach. "Point Break's" ridiculousness has long been acknowledged, from Keanu Reaves performance -- "I am an F.B.I. agent!" -- to Swayze's mix of extreme sports and white Eastern mysticism; yet the film, and others like it, also perpetuate a problematic vision of surfing and a form of … [Read more...]

Breathing in Selma: The Powerful History and Contemporary Resonance of Ava DuVernay’s Film

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In 1915, Woodrow Wilson famously praised the film The Birth of a Nation for “writing history with lightning.” Based on Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman, the film portrayed the Ku Klux Klan’s heroic campaign to end Reconstruction in the South. Director D.W. Griffith used the still young medium to show American spectators how the military occupation of the defunct Confederacy had placed ignorant former slaves and corrupt Republican carpetbaggers in power, subjecting an already prostrate South to unnecessary indignities. The film was laden with racist portrayals of black politicians crudely eating while in the legislature and black soldiers sexually assaulting innocent young white women. … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights

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[Editor's Note: Fifteen years ago, a a group of Jewish and Latino activists began efforts to renovate and save the historic Breed Street Shul as a means to highlight the community's diverse history. With 2015 upon us, ToM thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit these efforts and place them in historical context] In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

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