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Travelling The Underground Railroad

The John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

When we think about the history of slavery in the United States we often think of the Underground Railroad and attempts made by Abolitionists and others to help slaves escape from the South to the free states of the North and Canada. What we don’t realize is that despite the near mythic role popular history has ascribed to it, the Underground Railroad was in its heyday (1850-1860) the route to freedom for fewer than 30,000 slaves by most estimates – out of a slave population of 4.5 million.

There are many places throughout the Northeast and parts of the Midwest where the Underground Railroad’s stations and safe houses can still be seen.

The Bialystoker Synagogue

The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York's Lower East Side

The Bialystoker Synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side

The Bialystoker Synagogue located in New York City, it was built as the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1826. The building contains one of the railroad’s rest stops in a small attic above its balcony.

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House

The Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House, Odessa, DE: It is said that Harriet Tubman once hid in this still-functioning meeting house built in 1785.

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House

The Erastus Farnham House, Fremont, IN: Located just south of Indiana’s border with Michigan, this was an Underground Railroad stop. Indiana was a slave state, but Michigan was not.

The Octagon House

The Octagon House in Fond-du-Lac, WI

The Octagon House in Fond-du-Lac, WI

The Octagon House, Fond-du-Lac, WI: One of the many hidden passages in this 1856 house was used to shelter slaves heading to freedom.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Painting of runaway slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp

Painting of runaway slaves who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, VA and NC: Runaway slaves did not only find refuge in brick and mortar safe houses, many hid in the swamp to escape detection until they could safely make their way to freedom. One of Harriet Tubman’s novels, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, is about the Maroon’s who lived here.

John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

The John Hossack House

John Hossack House, Ottawa, IL:  Abolitionist John Hossack sheltered fugitive slaves in this house. In 1860 he was convicted in Federal Court of violating the Fugitive Slave Law.

Reverend George B. Hitchcock House

Hitchcock House

Hitchcock House

Reverend George B. Hitchcock House, Lewis, IA: Hitchcock was an Abolitionist who hid slaves here in the 1850s.

Mount Zion A.M.E. Church

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, Woolwich Township, NJ: This historic 1799 church was an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

5 Lowlights From CPAC 2015 (So Far)

Screenshot: YouTube

Screenshot: YouTube

The 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference still has more than a day to go — but it’s off to a tremendously weird start.

While the conference has featured plenty of valuable speeches and events for right-wing activists, it has also been filled with the type of odd moments and outbursts that have come to characterize right-wing gatherings.

Here are five of the lowlights:

Sean Hannity’s Creepy Joke
Fox News host Sean Hannity pumped up the crowd with his Friday morning speech about how liberals are stupid — his words, not mine — but one of the jokes that he told to the “young, good-looking crowd” fell completely flat.

“I can look out in the crowd, I kinda have Fox X-ray vision, and I can see that some of you women, you don’t even know it yet, but you’re pregnant,” Hannity said. “It’s not your fault. It’s not his fault.”

It was weird — and foreshadowed some even weirder sex talk later in the day.

Scott Walker’s ISIS Plan
During his speech on Thursday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker explained how he would defeat ISIS: By crushing them like they’re kindergarten teachers.

“I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threats from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil,” Walker explained. “We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Surprisingly, this was not the first time that Walker compared peaceful protesters to ultraviolent terrorists.

Meanwhile, in the convention hall, Walker’s tough talk had the crowd chanting, “Run, Scott, run!”

Donald Trump’s Birther Obsession
Reality TV star Donald Trump is still pretending that he may run for president — but his CPAC speech provided a handy reminder of how well that would go for him.

Trump’s address was well designed for an audience that has always mistrusted President Obama’s soaring rhetoric (“Common Core is bad. Bad! Second Amendment is good!” Trump declared at one point), but as usual, the Donald couldn’t resist a good birther crack.

That’s right: According to Trump, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Donald Trump are all birthers. Trump is just better at it.

Rick Santorum’s Awful Joke
Trump wasn’t the only CPAC speaker to try out a birther line. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tried to bring up the conspiracy with a touch of humor.

“In fact the president’s popularity is so bad around the world today that I heard this report from a source that the Kenyan government is actually developing proof that Barack Obama was actually born in America,” Santorum said.

About three people laughed.

Phil Robertson’s Strange Speech
No CPAC speech so far has been stranger than the stem-winder uncorked by Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who was awarded the conference’s “Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award.”

Robertson’s half-hour speech began as a sermon in defense of religious liberty — and then skipped the rails when he began ranting about sexually transmitted diseases.

“110 million Americans now have a sexually transmitted illness,” Robertson warned. “I don’t want you, America, to get sick. I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease! I don’t want you to die early! You’re disease-free and she’s disease-free, you marry, you keep your sex right there. You won’t get sick from a sexually transmitted disease.”

Predictably, Robertson thinks that America’s STD problem is liberals’ fault.

“It’s the revenge of the hippies!” he raged. “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll have come back to haunt us.”

Robertson’s speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention should be a blast.

This Week In Crazy: Ron Paul Is Ready For Secession

Welcome to “This Week In Crazy,” The National Memo’s weekly update on the wildest attacks, conspiracy theories, and other loony behavior from the increasingly unhinged right wing. Starting with number five:

5. Ralph Peters

Only 9 percent of Republicans believe that Barack Obama is a Christian, but that doesn’t stop the far right from describing the president in Biblical terms.

The latest Republican to dip into the New Testament for an anti-Obama attack is Fox News strategic analyst and Vladimir Putin fanboy Ralph Peters. Appearing on America’s Newsroom Wednesday, Peters broke down President Obama’s efforts to fight ISIS. You could say that he disapproves.

“Christian women are kidnapped and raped and raped again, our president does nothing! Christians are driven from their homes in the Middle East by the hundreds of thousands, slaughtered by the tens of thousands, and our president does nothing!” Peters raged. “He is the reincarnation of Pontius Pilate washing his hands, but this blood’s not coming off.”

Shockingly, Peters is not even the first conservative to compare President Obama to the guy who killed Jesus.

But on the plus side, the next season of The History Channel’s The Bible promises to be just as controversial as the first.

4. Barry Loudermilk
Weeks after an unfortunate case of vaccine trutherism struck the Republican Party, certain politicians are still having trouble getting the junk science out of their systems.

The latest official to stick his foot in his mouth on the subject is freshman U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA). Asked about the entirely fictional link between vaccines and autism at a town hall meeting, Loudermilk cited his own personal experience.

“I believe it’s the parents’ decision whether to immunize or not. And so I’m looking at [my] wife – most of our children, we didn’t immunize. They’re healthy,” he explained. “Of course, home schooling, we didn’t have to get the mandatory immunization.”

Right Wing Watch has the video:

The fun didn’t stop there. At the same meeting, Loudermilk told a different constituent that we should not line the southern border with improvised explosive devices, “because there’s a lot of Americans who work [there] and kids around the border as well.” (The morality of blowing non-citizens to smithereens was not discussed.)

The race to be Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) running mate is already underway, and Rep. Loudermilk is lapping the field.

3. Michele Fiore

Pictured: Not a tumor (Phil Parsons/Flickr)

Pictured: Not a tumor (Phil Parsons/Flickr)

Nevada assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R), who was last seen trying to arm the “hot little girls on campus” with guns, checks in at number three for a bit of medical misinformation that makes Rep. Loudermilk look like Jonas Salk.

On her radio show last weekend, Fiore explained how her new “terminally ill bill” could revolutionize the health care system.

“If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus, and we can put a pic line into your body, and we’re flushing — let’s say salt-water, sodium cardonate [sic] — through that line, and flushing out the fungus,” she said, as reported by Jon Ralston. “These are some procedures that are not FDA approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective.”

In case this was not already clear, cancer is not a fungus, and it cannot be cured with sodium bicarbonate (the compound that Fiore was presumably trying to name, and better known as baking soda).

And in case this was also not clear: Do not get your treatment from Fiore’s home health care company.

2. Vito Barbieri

Vito Barbieri

Add Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri (R) to the list of politicians who struggled with basic biology this week.

The Idaho legislature is currently considering a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication via a video chat. During a Monday hearing, Barbieri resolved to leave no stone unturned.

The Associated Press reports:

Dr. Julie Madsen, a physician who said she has provided various telemedicine services in Idaho, was testifying in opposition to the bill. She said some colonoscopy patients may swallow a small device to give doctors a closer look at parts of their colon.

“Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?” Barbieri asked.

Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.

“Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid the crowd’s laughter.

The bill passed the House State Affairs Committee 13-4 — Barbieri voted in favor of it — meaning that a new barrier will soon be erected to women’s health in Idaho. But at least Barbieri — who sits on the board of a right-wing “crisis pregnancy center” — got a valuable lesson in basic anatomy.
1. Ron Paul

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

None of this week’s fake physicians could top this week’s “winner,” Dr. Ron Paul.

In audio uncovered by BuzzFeed News this week, the former congressman and presidential candidate discussed the anti-war contingent in Congress with longtime associate Lew Rockwell.

“I was always annoyed with it in Congress because we had an anti-war unofficial group, a few libertarian Republicans and generally the Black Caucus and others did not — they are really against war because they want all of that money to go to food stamps for people here,” Paul explained.

Rockwell, of course, is amenable to Paul’s “peace for food stamps” theory; he was intimately involved with Paul’s infamous newsletters, which suggested renaming New York City “Welfaria,” among other racist attacks.

There is good news for Paul, though. If he’s really that offended by the Congressional Black Caucus’ attempt to fund food security for the nation’s poor, he could always join the apparently thriving secession movement (a phenomenon that Paul believes is already taking place, and is “good news”).

Meanwhile, George W. Bush can breathe a sigh of relief; there’s no chance that he’ll be the most embarrassing family member of a presidential candidate in 2016.

Check out previous editions of This Week In Crazy here. Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments!

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In The Midst Of Life: The Oscar-Nominated Short Docs


White Earth, directed by J. Christian Jensen (via

The five short documentaries nominated for the Academy Award — ranging from roughly 20 to 40 minutes in length — represent an international cross-section of filmmakers pointing their cameras on the otherwise ignored or unexamined. In a short-form documentary, you cannot diagnose a social ill, attempt to topple a dictator, or crack open the kind of sociopolitical can of worms that a feature-length doc, like fellow nominee Citizenfour, can examine. What the format is well suited to is capturing minutiae, and building itself out of quiet observations instead of sweeping declarations. Each of the five films focuses on the domestic, mundane, workaday elements of life that don’t register on a bigger canvas.

White Earth (dir. J. Christian Jensen), a portrait of a small North Dakota town impacted by an oil boom, is the least successful at connecting with its human subjects, but the most successful at conjuring visual poetry from its material. Any environmental, social, or cultural ramifications of the oil boom lie outside the film’s scope of interest, but if White Earth is sparse on humanity, it is generous with its imagery: plumes of fire flaring into the fog, oil wells glowing auburn in the sunset, impossibly long trains of jet-black tanker cars snaking through the whiteout of prairies in winter. In any final analysis, it cannot be denied that the film is astonishingly beautiful.

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