Ghost of a Taco Bell

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.


Laguna Beach

“This has to be as good as the south of France,” I said, although I’ve never been to the south of France. Laura, who’s been to Cannes, told me it was pretty comparable, the one thing missing was a cobblestone road up to a market that’s been there for hundreds of years. That does sound good, but on the other hand, Laguna Beach is right down the road.


Local origin of the AR-15 rifle

from Wikipedia’s article on ArmaLite:

ArmaLite began as a small arms engineering concern founded by George Sullivan, the patent counsel for Lockheed Corporation, and funded by Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. After leasing a small machine shop at 6567 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, California, Sullivan hired several employees and began work on a prototype for a lightweight survival rifle for use by downed aircrew.On October 1, 1954, the company was incorporated as the Armalite Corporation, becoming a subdivision of Fairchild. With its limited capital and tiny machine shop, ArmaLite was never intended to be an arms manufacturer but was instead focused on producing small arms concepts and designs to be sold or licensed to other manufacturers.

Right near Paramount Studios, and Rao’s.

ArmaLite continued to market the AR-10 based on a limited production of rifles at its Hollywood facility. These limited-production, virtually hand-built rifles are referred to today as the “Hollywood” model AR-10.

A key figure was Eugene Stoner:

On May 16, 1990, Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 and its derivatives, would meet for the first time. They would spend the next few days talking, sharing stories, shopping, going out to dinner and touring Washington D.C. They visited the Smithsonian Institution, the NRA’s National Firearms Museum, and a hunting lodge owned by the gun club at Star Tannery, where they went shooting. They would also visit the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, where they watched new weapons being tested. During this short visit, both men, intimately familiar with the other’s work, shared a common bond and became friends, “not needing an interpreter to get their thoughts across.”

I first came across the name ArmaLite in 1990s readings about the Northern Ireland Troubles and the Provisional IRA. ArmaLites were an important goal of their gunrunning operations, becoming almost a totemic object in IRA lore.

Harrison spent an estimated US$1 million in the 1970s purchasing over 2,500 guns for the IRA. According to Brendan Hughes, a key figure in the Belfast Brigade, the IRA smuggled small arms from the United States by sea on Queen Elizabeth 2 from New York via Southampton, through Irish members of her crew, until the network was cracked down on by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1980s. These Queen Elizabeth 2 shipments included Armalite rifles, and were driven from Southampton to Belfast in small consignments.

Perhaps you have seen this iconic photograph of an unidentified woman in Belfast:

Source. More info. The rifle there is an AR-18.


Austin and Houston, Part Two

(working out the history on these two, here is part one)

Sam Houston moved from Virginia to Tennessee with his widowed mother when he was thirteen, in 1806. Imagine what Virginia was like, let alone Tennessee, in 1806. At sixteen, Sam ran away and lived with the Cherokee Indians. He learned to speak their language, hunted with them in the woods. At age twenty he fought with the US Army in the War of 1812. Fighting Creek Indians under Andrew Jackson, he was wounded three times, and got his commander’s attention.

As part of Jackson’s political machine slash semi-dictatorship of Tennessee, Houston served two terms in Congress, then became governor. However, when his wife, Eliza Allen, left him after two months, Sam resigned as governor, went to live with the Cherokee again, took a Cherokee wife, got malaria, and become such an alcoholic mess that the Cherokee nicknamed him something like “Big Drunk” (or maybe it was like “Drunk Clown,” would love to hear from any Cherokee speakers/translators.)

On a mission to Washington for the Cherokee, Sam Houston beat up an Ohio congressman and was put on trial and convicted. (Francis Scott Key was his lawyer). The whole incident turned out to be good for Houston’s reputation, at least around Andrew Jackson’s crew, a rowdy bunch. Jackson welcomed Houston back into his circle.

Andrew Jackson hated the British. As a boy, Jackson had been captured by the British. The British had killed two of his brothers, and contributed to the death of his mother. He was worried his enemy Britain might get their hands on Texas from the newly independent nation of Mexico. The US had tried and failed to buy Texas from Mexico, and were left unsatisified.

Jackson decided to send Sam Houston down to Texas. “Stir up a rebellion, create opportunities for the US take this territory,” might’ve been the instruction. I don’t know, I wasn’t there.

Down in Mexico City, the capitol of newly free Mexico, there had been instability. Coups, counter-coups. During the uncertainty, the American settlers of Texas had pulled together two conventions, with the idea of trying to separate from the state of Coahuilla. To get Texas as its own (Mexican) state. The Texans felt underrepresented in the state legislature, plus the capital in Saltillo was too far away.

The conventions agreed to petition for statehood. The man appointed to take the results down to Mexico City was Stephen Austin.

Sam Houston, meanwhile, had arrived in Texas.

Part three to come.

(source on that photo, most of my info here coming from James L. Haley’s Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas).


should we all have done same?

from NYT piece on Gullah cook Emily Meggett.


Falklands anniversary

The Falklands War emphasized an important lesson of all international affairs: There is no one universal reality. Every nation has its own narrative, as we are witnessing yet again today, in the conduct toward Ukraine of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Max Hastings writing in Bloomberg:

Nonetheless, given the excellence of the Argentine air force, Thatcher took a huge gamble by dispatching her fleet. Very little would have needed to go wrong for the British, and right for the junta, for an aircraft carrier to be sunk by Exocets, almost certainly with catastrophic consequences for the whole naval operation.


Austin and Houston

Stephen Austin’s father Moses, who knew something about lead mining, got a contract to roof the Virginia legislature building with lead. But he lost money on the deal and ended up almost broke.

The Austin family wandered into what was then Spanish territory in what’s now Missouri. Spanish and French claims in this area went back and forth during Napoleonic tumult in Europe. While the Austins were in [now] Missouri, Napoleon ended up with it. Napoleon needed money to fund various losses, including slaves taking over what’s now Haiti, so he sold these lands to Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase, and the Austins became US citizens again.

(TJ and Napoleon making a real estate deal. James Madison and marquis de Barbé-Marbois doing the agenting. Is that not one of the best dealmaking stories of all time?)

Young Stephen Austin was sent to boarding school in Connecticut and then college in Kentucky.

During his lonely years in boarding school, which he loathed, every letter from his father, which he tore open in a search for encouragement and affection, badgered him about how to become a great man.*

Meanwhile Moses Austin went broke again. His education complete, Stephen Austin left the family and became a judge in Arkansas.

Moses got the idea to head down to Texas, in what was then Spanish Mexico. He’d once been a Spanish citizen after all. Moses went to visit his son Stephen, who, though he was struggling himself, lent his dad fifty dollars, a horse, and a slave named Richmond.

A few years later, Stephen was in New Orleans. He wasn’t prospering. His dad wrote to him from Texas, and Stephen decided to join him. By the time he got to the town of San Antonio, Stephen learned Mexico had declared independence and was now a new nation. He was no longer in Spanish territory but in the Mexican state of Coahuilla-Tejas.

Stephen Austin conceived of a real estate scheme. He would become a developer. He would get land granted from Mexico and give it to Americans who would move to Tejas. Stephen taught himself Spanish out of a book and went to Mexico City to work out a contract. He got an amazing deal: he was offered 783,757 acres to distribute to 300 families. The head of each family would get 4,428 acres for ranching and 177 acres from farming.

The native Karankawa people had no say in any of this. Austin claimed these people were cannibals and should be killed on sight. He hired ten seasoned fighters and made them into a company that would ride the range. This unit is sometimes considered the first version of the Texas Rangers.

At first Austin could sort of control who came to his colony. But it got out of hand. The area between the Sabine River and the Neches, “the Neutral Ground,” had never been under the control of any government, falling between Spanish, American, and French claims. This area had become a lawless wilderness zone, a notorious hideout for murderers, convicts, outlaws, desperados of all types. Some of that element came into Austin’s zone. So too did the desperate or the ambitious from Tennessee, Louisiana, elsewhere. The word on Texas was out. “Going to Texas” became kind of a mania in the United States.

The government of Mexico tried to get a grip. They passed the Law of April 6, 1830, which banned any new American immigration into Mexican territory, including Texas (and what’s now California). The law also banned the importing of slaves into Mexico. Austin, who had good relationships in Mexico City, managed to get an exemption on this one.

It was around this time that Sam Houston showed up.

Part two to follow.

* source for that quote and much of this info James L. Haley’s Passionate Nation: The Epic History Of Texas