Crooks and Balances

I wrote this just after the firing of Sally Yates from her post as Deputy Attorney General. Since then, things have continued to devolve to a point where satire is dead and watching the news is the possible cause of a heart attack. I wanted to post this because to me it continues to be a reminder that though our nation is young, we do have a complex system of historical and governmental precedent for guiding especially our legal actions. From historical trial and error, the possible and very actual political fuck-ups, we can at the very least see where we are continuing past mistakes and where we are making brand new errors.

In United States v Nixon, the Supreme Court case that forced President Richard Nixon to release his secretly recorded tapes to the prosecution in accordance with a subpoena. Chief Justice Burger wrote the opinion for the ruling. Here were some of the quotes I found most interesting:

In the performance of assigned constitutional duties each branch of the Government must initially interpret the Constitution, and the interpretation of its powers by any branch is due great respect from the others. The President’s counsel as we have noted, reads the Constitution as providing an absolute privilege of confidentiality for all Presidential communications. Many decisions of this Court, however, have unequivocally reaffirmed the holding of Marbury v. Madison . . . that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is”.[p704] *

*We could get into a whole discussion here over judicial review, but in the interest of time and my own sanity, I’m just going follow legal precedent in its application within our governmental system.

However, neither the doctrine of separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances. The President’s need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the courts. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection with all the protection that a district court will be obliged to provide. [p707]

Whilst reading through this dense but extremely well-written and interesting historic document, I am immediately struck by two thoughts:

  1. I am so happy I didn’t go to law school, so I will never have to deal with legalese.
  2. I am scared shitless about the direction of this administration and the dissolution of our system of checks and balances.

So remember that phrase, “Checks and Balances” that we learned in school, maybe from a shoddy textbook, eccentric teacher or schoolhouse rock? That system of government was rather revolutionary when the revolutionist founding fathers wrote it into a thing called the Constitution. The idea was that by separating the governing powers into Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches, each division could focus on their particular area of expertise while providing “checks and balances” to the power of the other branches. This was the attempt of the constitutional congress to create a system in which no single section of government could abuse their power nor circumvent the other branches to seize total control of the country. They were trying to avoid a full circle devolution into authoritarianism, as under the British monarchy (at least in the eyes of the American revolutionaries).

The founding fathers challenged the notion of divine right, the assertion that the King gets his right to rule directly from God, which was pretty amazing for the time. Sure, the government was still formed by a bunch of wealthy, land-owning white men who ensured that their class would continue to prosper while perpetuating the systems that disenfranchised people of color and women, but we’re still working on that. The three branches of our government have had immense problems throughout history (with each other and the public), but they have survived, and have in many ways prevented any one person or group from gaining total power over the United States.

In the US v Nixon case, Justice Burger asserted that, though the President cannot be tried as an ordinary citizen, he is also not above the rule of law (I was going to write “he or she” there, but let’s be real). He further enforced the Judicial Branch’s role in interpreting Constitutional Law and “checking” the powers of the Executive Branch. If I may paraphrase, he replied to all the President’s counsel and Nixon himself,

“No, you cannot just do whatever the fuck you want” (not an actual quote, but basically).

The scary thing for me is that now we have a President who truly believes that he is accountable to no one, that he can do WHATEVER the fuck he wants. We’ve now seen the first challenge from the Attorney General, questioning whether an executive order is lawful. Rather than listen to an expert in American Law or be at all concerned with the fact that he might be cockslapping the Constitution (or at least not upholding the rights it protects), he fired her. Like he still thinks he’s on his reality TV show. I’m not saying the President can’t fire people, but this is a terrifying preview for dealings with dissenters or opposition within Washington. Also, what does this mean for the future relationship between the Judicial and Executive branches?

What happens if Trump appoints people who will not fulfil the role of checks and balances within the governmental branches?

I don’t have answers, so I’m seriously asking.

Here’s the document that got this rant going:

And here is a link to the Crash Course explanation of the separation of power and checks and balances in the U.S. Government. I love Crash Course. 

I’d like to finish with a quote by James Madison in his defense of the U.S. Constitution. Man, they could write the shit out of an essay back then.

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
James Madison, Federalist Papers Nos. 10 and 51

Fuck her, she’s hysterical!

Until the late 20th century, women expressing anxiety or feelings of…pretty much anything emotional were diagnosed as Hysterical (not in the funny way). The symptoms of hysteria, aka “womb disease”, included “anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasies, feelings of heaviness in the lower abdomen, and wetness between the legs”.[1] In layman’s terms: horniness. But because of course women could not be horny—that was the right and realm of men only—something must be wrong with them, thus the creation of a medical diagnosis and centuries of repression. Hysteria, believed to be caused by “spontaneous womb movement”, is the first mental disorder specifically attributable to women.[2] What did they think wombs were doing? Going on organ safari? Taking time to discover themselves? “I’m sorry ma’am, your uterus seems to have taken a vacation to your chest cavity. She has lovely photos.” Even when the study of anatomy became more than chiseling a bangin’ body out of marble, did no one say “Uh, guys, none of the other organs seem to wander around the body on their own. Also, we should all get checked for cooties.”

The first recorded description of the disorder comes from Egypt in 1900 BC, but it really gained diagnostic popularity among the physicians (and I use that term loosely) of the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, considered a monumental figure in the history of medicine, asserted that the womb produced toxic fumes which could be released through sexual activity. Like the Egyptians, one solution was to have something sweet smelling between the legs and something pungent or unpleasant by the nose to drive the uterus back into place. The only good part of this is calling gynecologists “womb wranglers”. Hippocrates also suggested that even widows and unmarried women should get married and live a satisfactory sexual life within the bounds of marriage to combat hysteria.[3] You’ve probably heard this argument; it’s developed into “she just needs a good hard fuck”, often prescribed for “ice queens” or “bitches”.

The entire idea of this disorder is based on the assumption (believed for way too long) that female sexuality is an unnatural and unhealthy condition. Rachel P. Maines, who wrote THE book on this topic, writes:

This purported disease and its sister ailments displayed a symptomatology consistent with the normal functioning of female sexuality, for which relief, not surprisingly, was obtained through orgasm, either through intercourse in the marriage bed or by means of massage on the physician’s table.[4]

Yes, you read that right. Basically, if your womb goes on walkabout, all you need to do is get its attention with a good orgasm. Of course, if you’re not married or if your husband, like most men in the history of men, thinks that sex is for making babies or satisfying male lust (insert gorilla noises), don’t you worry – you can pay your friendly neighbourhood doctor or midwife to give you a ‘treatment’. This medical opinion was found as early as the first century AD, and increased in popularity in the 1600s, when hysteria became linked to the brain and neurology, and less to the uterus.[5]  Because it was still believed that woman could not experience sexual lust or pleasure, the euphoric relief brought on by super professional physician fingering was known as “paroxysm” rather than orgasm.[6] By the early 19th century, treating hysteria became a lucrative business for physicians, whose hysterical patients didn’t die, but required regular treatment to manage the disorder, even if ‘regular treatment’ would nowadays be considered having an affair with your doctor.

The downside of this business was actually performing the chore of giving these women mind blowing (or more likely merely decent) ‘paroxysms’. Physicians complained that the procedure was taxing of their time and labor and gave them hand cramps. They generally “sought every oppovibratoradrtunity to substitute other devices for their fingers, such as the attentions of a husband, the hands of a midwife, or the business end of some tireless and impersonal mechanism”.[7] It was this desire to avoid giving their ladies clients the time and effort needed to ‘relieve
symptoms’ that led doctors to experiment with mechanical forms of stimulation, or early rudimentary forms of vibrators. The first were water or steam driven, but the introduction of electricity changed everything and gave women the means to have as many ‘paroxysms’ as they desired. And that, boys and girls, is how the vibrator came (heh) to be.

Though hysteria ceased to be a medical or psychiatric condition in 1952, “hysterical” or “hysterics” are still used today, generally in reference to an extreme state of emotion. It’s no accident that woman are still considered ‘more emotional’ or the trope of the crazy woman is so often seen in media. We also have not evolved past the assumption that there is something psychologically or physically wrong with women’s sexuality. That’s partly what slut shaming is about. So, fuck you, Hysteria, for perpetuating the male-centric view of sex and the belief that female sexuality and desire are unnatural…but thanks for the vibrator.



Castleman, Michael. “”Hysteria” And The Strange History Of Vibrators”. Psychology Today. N.p., 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Laden, Tanja M. “Fucking Hysterical: A Timeline Of Vintage Vibrators”. VICE. N.p., 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Maines, Rachel. The Technology Of Orgasm. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Print.

Tasca, Cecilia et al. “Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health.”Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH 8 (2012): 110–119. PMC. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.



[1] Castleman, Michael. “”Hysteria” And The Strange History Of Vibrators”. Psychology Today. N.p., 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

[2] Tasca, Cecilia et al. “Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health.”Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH 8 (2012): 110–119. PMC. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Maines, Rachel. The Technology Of Orgasm. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Print.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Castleman.

[7] Maines.

History Under the Influence

Welcome! This is my blog celebrating my fascination with history, alcohol, the history of alcohol and the factors that contribute to our telling of history. The way history is taught and projected is constantly under many influences: the state requirements, the narrative of the winners, the imperatives of the wealthy elite, many beers. Likewise, the way we learn, process and understand history is subject to the influence of our personal experiences, demographic, history teachers, consumption of beer. This is the place where I get to write my perspective on the historical, cultural or political stories that I find interesting. Here, on this very blog, I will try to make sense of it all for my own amusement and hopefully the amusement of anyone who chooses to read it (thank you, by the way!). I think I’ll finish with two quotes that will either confuse you more or sum up here better than I could:

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
― Winston S. Churchill

“Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another beer.”
― W.C. Fields