Happy Birthday Cat Flag!

One year ago, I started a little experiment. I decided to start this blog as a side project while I studied journalism at Cal Poly. I had no idea what I would do with my blog, and I wasn’t even sure how long I would keep it.

As time went on, Cat Flag grew a personality all its own. It has become more than an experiment for me, it has become a part of my identity. I am always on the lookout for more blog ideas. I use Cat Flag as my identity on the web. I read all of your comments, and I post fairly regularly for all of you. One of my proudest achievements is Homeless in Paradise, which I made for this blog (and for my senior project). I am also proud to have attracted more than 9,000 views since I started, including many from overseas. I have watched not only this blog grow and evolve, but also this community of Cat Flaggers grow and evolve.

Some of you I know personally. Some of you found me on the web and chose to follow me. I want you all to know I appreciate you all, and am glad we can form an online community. And so, I am making you all an offer.

Leave me a comment on this blog post and ask me any question about me you wish. Sometime soon, I will dedicate a post to answering your questions, so we can get to know each other better.

This has been a great experience, and I hope it will only get better in the future.

And so, I leave you with a few interesting facts about Cat Flag in celebration of its first anniversary:

Have a Birthday Quesadilla, Cat Flag!

Please comment and ask me a question. I’ll try to answer them all soon!

Awesome Villain in History: Benedict Arnold

Last month, I wrote an article about the mysterious monk Rasputin and the legends built around his reputation. Judging by the number of comments, you all really liked that one. One of you in particular requested “More evil bastards please!” Well, gotta give the people what they want. This week’s Awesome Villain in History: Benedict Arnold.

He doesn't look like much... but don't be deceived. Watch out!

Like some of the best villains, Arnold’s story begins with him as a much-beloved hero, only to turn to evil and betray everyone and everything he once fought for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benedict Arnold V was born in Connecticut in 1741. He and his sister Hannah were the only two of six children to survive into adulthood. His father reacted badly to the deaths of his children and his wife, becoming an alcoholic who was arrested several times for drunkenness. Arnold managed to move past this terrible beginning, apprenticing to a pharmacist and eventually starting his own successful pharmacy business. Before long, Arnold had moved into the lucrative West Indes trade business.

It was as a businessman and tradesman that Arnold came to the Revolutionary cause. The new taxes imposed by the British drove him into debt, and so he refused to pay them and instead joined the Sons of Liberty, an activist group that protested the new laws, sometimes violently. After the Boston Massacre, he was quoted as saying, “Are the Americans all asleep and tamely giving up their liberties, or are they all turned philosophers, that they don’t take immediate vengeance on such miscreants?”

It wasn’t long before Arnold was elected a captain in the local Connecticut militia, and when the Revolutionary War began he teamed up with Ethan Allen to seize Fort Ticonderoga, the most important British fort in New England, before the British soldiers stationed there learned that war had broken out. He then proposed that the revolutionaries should invade Canada, to prevent the British from using it as a base from which to attack them. George Washington allowed Arnold to lead his army through the then-unexplored wilderness of Maine to reach Quebec, braving a cold, wet winter and colder, wetter rivers and muddy trails to reach his destination. He and his men persevered in spite of running out of food and having insufficient supplies and clothing. When Arnold finally reached Quebec, he was shot in the leg. Although the battle was lost and Arnold was in no position to fight, he kept up the campaign in Canada for several months before British reinforcements forced him to retreat. And even then, he slowed the British advance by constructing a makeshift “navy” on the shores of Lake Champlain and forcing the British to fight their way across the lake.

By now, Arnold’s reputation was immense, and his soldiers compared him to the great generals of ancient times. Yet Arnold’s reputation among his fellow generals, and especially his reputation before the Continental Congress, was not so rosy. He was repeatedly accused of corruption, with rumors circulating that he exaggerated his army’s expenses to line his wallet with the extra funds. Arnold spent the better part of the next year fighting with Congress over his reputation.

Then, in 1777, a massive British invasion of New York from the north threatened to cut the Revolution in two – the British already held New York City, and if they could cut New England off from the rest of the country the new nation would be in great peril. Arnold was at the scene to stop the British advance, but unfortunately for him so was Horatio Gates, George Washington’s second-in-command. Gates and Arnold did not get along at all, and during the Battle of Saratoga the two got into a shouting match. Gates punished Arnold by ordering him to stay away from the front. Arnold fought anyway, leading the charges against the British that turned the tide of battle. Then, Arnold was shot again… IN THE SAME FREAKING LEG!

I guess the British really hated that leg.

The worst part was that Arnold could only sit helplessly in a hospital while Gates not only slapped an insubordination charge against him, but took credit for the American victory.

The insult to Arnold’s honor was unbearable. He spent several months recuperating from his wounds, and when he was able to (sort of) walk again, Washington decided to give him a desk job as the military commander of Philadelphia. This was where Arnold would make the shift from hero to villain.

There were two reasons for this change. The first, naturally, had to do with a woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this case, the woman in question was a British sympathizer named Peggy Shippen, with whom he was absolutely smitten and soon married. Several of Shippen’s pro-British friends were paramours with British officers, and they managed to create a secret network to continue to send love letters back and forth across the battle lines. This will soon become important to our story.

The second had to do with politics. Philadelphia had just been liberated from British occupation, and as such the local economy was in complete disarray. It seemed prudent to Arnold that the first order of business was to take an inventory of everything that every shop in Philadelphia had, and then draw up ration lists to divide those things that the perpetually poor-supplied army needed immediately and those that would go to support the civilian population. As seemed to happen so often in the Revolution, Arnold was accused of corruption. Reports surfaced that he had taken a sizable share of the supplies for himself and sold them on the black market for a profit. Whatever the truth or falsity of these reports, George Washington was forced to address them, and sent Arnold a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand. Washington thought he was doing Arnold a favor, avoiding the humiliation of a court martial. But Arnold saw this as the ultimate rejection of all of his life’s work for the Revolution. “Having made every sacrifice of fortune and blood, and become a cripple in the service of my country, I little expected to meet the ungrateful returns I have received from my countrymen,” he wrote.

Arnold’s mind was made up. He asked his wife to use her underground love-letter network to make contact with British Maj. John Andre, and promised to hand over to the British the plans for West Point, America’s most important fort in New York at the time. In return, he demanded money to the tune of $3 million in today’s currency, and a commission as a brigadier general in the British army. After months of plotting and secret messages, Arnold met with Andre in person to hand over the plans. Arnold managed to make it safely to the British camp, but Andre was captured and hanged, the plan exposed and the nation horrified by the news. Arnold’s name was stricken from all military records. Even Benjamin Franklin was moved to say “Judas sold only one man, Arnold three millions.” The name “Benedict Arnold” is to this day equated with treason.

Now a British general, Arnold was sent to Virginia, where he led a surprise attack on Richmond that almost captured Thomas Jefferson, and proceeded to destroy a major supply depot used by the Continental Army. He then launched several raids into the countryside to disrupt American supply lines, defeating a counterattack at the Battle of Blandford. Arnold only left Virginia when Gen. Charles Cornwallis arrived to move the British garrison to Yorktown.

Which turned out to be such a brilliant move.

Now, let’s just take a moment here and think about something. Imagine being a British soldier who has been sent to fight the rebels. And imagine you learn that your commanding officer is not just an American, but the man who personally was responsible for some of your enemy’s most important victories. Um… awkward?

Anyway, Arnold continued to lobby for the British to attack economic targets, on the idea that the Americans would be forced to give up their Revolution if they couldn’t keep it going. Eventually, he was allowed to attack New London, Connecticut, an important port whose capture, Arnold hoped, could open up a new campaign in New England. However, the assault was much, much bloodier than expected. Although Arnold technically won the battle, he lost a quarter of his men. The New England campaign was cancelled. This “victory” proved the beginning of Arnold’s undoing.

In the political aftermath of the surrender of Yorktown, Arnold was sent to England to argue before Parliament that the war in America was still winnable. However, Arnold’s reputation as a turncoat had preceded him. The highly influential political philosopher and member of Parliament Edmund Burke quipped that if Arnold were put in charge of British troops “the sentiments of true honor, which every British officer [holds] dearer than life, should be afflicted.” Turns out even the British didn’t want to associate with a traitor.

In the end, Britain reluctantly accepted the inevitable and recognized America’s independence. Arnold had to build a new life from scratch. Several years in Canada proved fruitless, especially when he became a pariah for suing people left and right over petty squabbles. He fared better in the West Indes, where the French Revolution’s impact was felt as Europe’s navies fought over the islands. He put together a militia that helped to hold the British islands against French attacks, but when he tried to turn this into a new career in the British Army he was turned down. He died in London, where he was buried – without military honors.

Wow. Even Anakin Skywalker was at least given a Jedi funeral.

Information mainly from the documentary series The Revolution, with supplementary information from the from U.S. News, Early American Review, and of course, Wikipedia.

Strange Politics: Mary Jane’s Conundrum

Politics is strange. It seems like politicians, lawyers, and diplomats all live in their own little world that is only tangentially related to ours. They live by different rules and think different thoughts than the rest of us. Sometimes, this can be downright petty and silly, making it entertaining to watch. Other times, the real-world consequences of this fake-world’s happenings can be huge.

This week, I am introducing a new series on Cat Flag: Strange Politics. In this series, I will show you some of the bizarre, nonsensical, mindbogglingly-weird contortions of the brain that laws and politics make people go through every day. I will present the tortured logic in all of its wacky glory. And I’m starting with an issue that many in California care about: Marijuana.

This plant has had a long history in our country; George Washington is known to have grown it.

For the hemp fiber, of course.

In the mid-19th century, state governments began to regulate chemicals that could be used as medicines or poisons, requiring licences for sellers and either prescriptions or medical research credentials for buyers. Marijuana was one of the substances targeted for controlled distribution by 29 states. At the time, recreational marijuana use was a fashionable upper-class habit, although immigrant workers from Mexico and the Middle East were also known to use the drug. By the early 20th century, though, marijuana was one of several drugs (including opium and coca) that began to get a real stigma attached to them, and more and more countries began to ban the drugs or severely restrict their sale and use. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst is known to have contributed to the “pot scare” of the 1930s by pushing anti-marijuana propaganda.

The first federal law regarding marijuana was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which made it illegal to grow, process, or sell marijuana except for scientific and medical research, and even then it was burdened with a severe tax on all stages of production. This law was on the books until 1969, when the Supreme Court found it unconstitutional.

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, a law that was conceived to cover all possible drugs and drug problems in America. Once again, marijuana became illegal, but the interesting – and strange – part is HOW it is illegal under the law.

The Act established a set of lists called “schedules” that are set by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. There are five of these schedules, listing all manner of drugs and chemicals. Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous, and are the most severely restricted – the DEA only allows a tightly-controlled “production quota” for medical research. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are heroin, ecstasy, peyote, and LSD. Schedule II drugs are also dangerous, but have some medical applications in emergencies and are thus allowed under certain conditions; these include opium, morphine, codeine, adderall, PCP, and methamphetamine. The other schedules get less restrictive as the drugs on the list get less dangerous.

As you can imagine, listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug is rather controversial. Numerous medical studies have shown that marijuana does have a number of medical benefits, and a recent survey of doctors and medical professionals found that most consider marijuana less dangerous than alcohol. Theoretically, the DEA could remove the drug from Schedule I whenever it wanted. But it has not done so, on the argument that they don’t have enough conclusive evidence. Yet they HAVE allowed doctors to prescribe a concentrated pill form of marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, since 1985.

Because this just looks so much safer.

In response, 18 states have decided to jump the gun and legalize medical marijuana themselves. But there is a problem with that, and it has to do with federalism.

See, the Constitution was set up to give some powers to the federal government, and leave the rest up to the states. In those areas of federal concern, the federal government has control and states laws that are incompatible with federal law are invalid. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that those state medical marijuana laws are unconstitutional because they are in conflict with the Controlled Substances Act.

This should have been the end of it. The Supreme Court’s decision should have put an end to these state experiments with marijuana and left it up to the feds to deal with the drug. Instead, the states just kept right on licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives.

The states' response to the Supreme Court, in a nutshell.

The result is a legal nightmare and disaster. If you live in a state that has legalized medical marijuana, such as California, and decide to set up a dispensary for the drug, it would not matter if you followed state law to the letter – you could still be busted and sent to jail by the DEA and FBI. And you wouldn’t even have a legal defense, because you would be tried in federal court, and all those prescriptions the state made you keep on file would become evidence of your dirty, dirty drug dealing ways.

I am not making that scenario up, by the way. This is exactly what happened to Charles Lynch, a Morro Bay resident who set up a dispensary only to be sent to prison for it. His story made national news, forcing this legal snake pit into the spotlight for all Americans to see. A Gallup poll taken last year shows that more than half of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, and 70% support at least legalizing it for medical uses.

So, in summary, marijuana is illegal. But in some states, it is legal, but you can still be arrested for it, because it is still illegal. And taking a pill that is made from marijuana is perfectly legal, it’s just smoking joints that is a crime. And the government agency that can fix this mess refuses to do so, because the overwhelming evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits is insufficient for their standards. Politics is strange, indeed.

Information for Wikipedia, Reuters, and other sources linked to above.

Facts About St. Patrick You Probably Didn’t Know

Tomorrow it will be time to put on your best green clothes, eat some corned beef, and celebrate Irish and Irish-American history. Or guzzle green beer and Guinness and spend the night at the ER. Hopefully the former, not the latter.

In honor of Ireland’s patron saint, I decided to share with you some little tidbits about him that you might not have known. For example, did you know…

“St. Patrick” was probably two men

Scholars and historians now think that the medieval legends surrounding St. Patrick combined his legacy with that of an earlier Christian missionary, St. Palladius. In essence, St. Patrick is famous for bringing Christianity to Ireland, but decades before he would arrive Pope Celestine sent Palladius to convert the Irish and become their first bishop.

St. Palladius mainly focused his missionary work in southern and eastern Ireland, while St. Patrick mainly preached in northern and western Ireland. The confusion of the two may have been an accident by medieval writers, but it also may have been intentional: in the 7th century, when the most famous biographies of St. Patrick’s life were written, the most powerful churches on the island were competing for supremacy over the whole of the island, and pointing to the legacy of “their saint” may have been a political move.

Fortunately, today’s historians need not depend on possibly biased accounts by medieval writers, because…

St. Patrick wrote an autobiography

The Confession of St. Patrick is a letter that Ireland’s patron saint wrote that briefly explained his life and his mission in Ireland. It is the only universally accepted account of his life. The saint tells us that he was born and raised in Roman-ruled Britain, when he was kidnapped as a teenager by Irish pirates and shipped off to Ireland as a slave. He managed to escape, and came out of the ordeal a much more faithful and spiritual man. He saw a vision a few years later, urging him to return to Ireland and spread his faith. He claimed to have baptized thousands, and founded churches and nunneries for his followers to worship. He persevered in spite of being beaten, robbed, and even imprisoned.

Yet his biggest challenge, and the reason for his taking up the pen to explain himself, was…

St. Patrick was embroiled in some kind of scandal

Didn't see that coming, did you?

Exactly what, we don’t know. Was he accused of taking bribes? Of some sort of sexual misconduct? We probably will never know, and neither will we know the outcome of the trial that he faced because of whatever-it-was. Since he was sainted, we would probably be safe in assuming he was acquitted.

But we do know that there were some sort of accusations made against him by fellow Christians, and that these accusations were brought to trial. His “Confession” is in essence a part of his defense against his accusers – he says as much in his writing. Unfortunately for today’s scholars, he never explicitly said what he was accused of. We can only get hints when he takes time to deny accepting “gifts” from “wealthy women” or for charging people money to be baptized.

But in the generations that followed, this scandal was buried by history and people filled St. Patrick’s tales with legend and lore, such as…

St. Patrick (allegedly) is the reason shamrocks are an Irish symbol

There is a legend in Ireland that St. Patrick made the shamrock sacred in Ireland, if unintentionally, when he gave a sermon to explain the Holy Trinity. Just as Christians believe God is one being but has three forms (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), shamrocks are one plant but have three leaves. The three-part-unity of the shamrock was a useful metaphor for God’s three-part-unity. This is why, the legend goes, shamrocks are so important to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and have become such an important symbol of the Emerald Isle.

Information from a biography I once saw on TV (but couldn’t find, sorry) and Wikipedia.

Behind the Headlines: Internet Activists Launch Campaign to Net Indicted War Criminal

This past week, many Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ users logged in to their accounts and were surprised to find this:

Who or what is this Kony, what is happening in 2012, and why is this slogan appearing everywhere? It’s Behind the Headlines time!

Kony? What is Kony?

Joseph Kony is the leader of a rebel group operating in Uganda and several neighboring countries known as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

This guy.

The LRA has been fighting against the Ugandan government since 1987, and believes Kony is a spokesperson for God and can channel the Holy Spirit. They use this claim of a divine mission to justify large-scale massacres of civilians in several African countries and the kidnapping of children, who are forced to become either LRA soldiers or sex slaves. They have earned a reputation for brutality through such actions as forcing children to kill their parents, forcing survivors of their massacres to eat the dead, burning churches, and hacking people to pieces. On October 6, 2005, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Joseph Kony to put him on trial for the war crimes he and his army had committed.

Why are the LRA doing this?

The LRA claim to be fighting for the Acholi people, who live in Uganda and South Sudan. They also claim to seek the establishment in Africa of a Christian theocracy based on the Ten Commandments.

However, outside observers who study the LRA and its tactics frequently conclude that this ideology is a farce. A report commissioned by the U.S. Embassy in Uganda concluded that most Acholi people reject the LRA, in large part because they are often the victims of its attacks. The report also claimed the LRA “has no political program or ideology, at least none that the local population has heard or can understand.”

So who is behind this Kony 2012 campaign, and what is the significance of 2012?

The campaign was launched by Invisible Children, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the victims of LRA attacks, particularly the children. In 2006 they produced the documentary Invisible Children about the plight of Uganda’s children in the war zone. From the beginning, the organization’s main focus has been raising awareness of the conflict, which is not widely-known or understood in the West, and pressuring the international community to help.

The organization started the “Kony 2012” campaign on the logic that: (1) the international community, and particularly the United States, has the power to help Uganda and its neighbors catch Kony, (2) if the general public demands Joseph Kony’s arrest, the leaders of the United States and other democratic nations will be forced to respond, (3) the main reason people don’t demand action in Africa is that they don’t know what is going on, and therefore (4) if the public is made aware of the problem, they will demand action and Kony will be captured. Thus, the point of the campaign is to stop Kony by the end of the year, hence “Kony 2012”.

This 30-minute video was posted to YouTube earlier this month to announce the campaign, and explain what it is all about:

Sounds like a noble cause, but is there a catch?

Well, yes.

Invisible Children, Inc. has been criticized for sketchy financial practices. Much of the money they raise goes to things like administrative expenses, filmmaking costs, and salaries for their CEO and co-founders of almost $90,000 per year. Even the non-profit’s own website admits that only 37% of its funds go directly to help LRA victims.

Many have questioned whether the campaign would have any impact at all.

Others call the campaign “neo-colonial”, saying this issue is something for Uganda and its neighbors to resolve for themselves and not for outsiders to interfere with.

Then there is this video, posted by YouTube user slubogo:

What if I don’t care about the critics and still want to help?

You can donate to Invisible Children, Inc. here. You can also buy their “Kony 2012 Action Kit” here.

If you are worried about that organization’s practices but still want to help the LRA’s victims, there are other charities you can donate to, such as:

  • uNight – A grassroots organization trying to promote entrepreneurship and job creation in areas recovering from the war.
  • Resolve – An advocacy and lobbying group that is also pushing U.S. leaders to help those who were victimized by the LRA.
  • Child Soldiers Initiative – An organization seeking to end the practice of forcing children to fight as soldiers.
  • Machine Gun Preacher – An organization founded by Sam Childers that provides food, clean water, and an education for African children who have been affected by warfare. They promise that every penny goes to help the children.

Information from Wikipedia and BBC News.