A Discussion with Amy Perruso

I wouldn’t say this lightly about anyone, but Amy Perruso is the definition of a super teacher. She is originally from Southern California and is a graduate of USC. She is Social Studies department head at Mililani High School and has a Ph.D. in Political Science. She was recently elected as the Treasurer of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association (HSTA) on a progressive slate that is seen as a kind of upheaval that could lead to radical changes in the direction of the union. She is an award-winning teacher, recipient of awards from Walmart and the Hawai’i Council for Humanities History Teacher of the Year in 2012. Her students perform at a national level in History Day, Mock Trial and We the People, all of which are social studies civics and history competitions. She has taught, among other things, AP US History, Modern Hawaiian History and Participation in Democracy. I chatted with her (literally) on some big topics.

‘Umi Perkins: What is your philosophy of education?


Amy Perruso: Education should be designed to meet the actual desires, ends and purposes of young people, not those of bureaucratic institutions, corporations, or the adults who are trying to justify their own existence within these institutions. I have a lot more to say, but I have been thinking about that principle a lot in the last few days.
UP: What is your view on the balance or tension between the need to train employees and educate citizens?
AP: There is no need for ‘balance,’ in my view. Neither is a legitimate purpose, unless the citizenship is critical of the nation-state.
UP: I’ve been watching a show called Creating Freedom, which is very critical of most institutions and the tacit submission of people who don’t even know they are conforming to repressive systems – this includes schools. Are you in the business of creating freedom, and if so how is it done in the context of a bureaucracy like DOE?
AP: Hm, I’d like to be, and maybe on some days I succeed on creating pockets, but it’s fairly shallow and superficial. I’m reading Jay Gillen’s Educating for Insurgency, and he would say that he students with whom I work, the honors and AP students, have already internalized the norms and socializing objectives of our institutions, so that our current social structure has become the inner voice or conscience of my students. To the extent that they start to feel conflicted, that is the extent to which I think learning is happening and the moment at which idea of ‘freedom’ can enter the conversation.
UP: What’s the plan for HSTA?
AP: My plan or the HSTA’s plan for HSTA?
UP: The new leadership.

AP: Shift from business model to organizing model, and start fighting for the schools our children deserve.

UP: Can you reveal any details about how that’s done?
AP: We’ve been learning from other teacher unions across the country doing similar work. There are incredible teacher- activists, some of the most intelligent and committed people I’ve ever met, fighting education deform in such courageous and inspiring ways.,.. You should meet them, Umi:)
UP: It’s very overwhelming.

AP: Yes:)

 But you have to start somewhere:)
UP: So you’re not just a teacher-activist, I see you as a teacher-scholar. How do you balance the two, or do they dovetail together?
AP: I don’t think you can be thoughtful about politics, teacher politics, unless you educate yourself against the grain of a the dominant educational ideology. We’re just lucky that other teachers are writing texts in the world for us to read:)
UP: You’re referring to Keanu Sai I presume? [smile emoticon]
AP: Among others:) Yourself included- your stuff often makes me rethink.
UP: I’m thinking myself now of your phrase “against the grain.” That is difficult. It requires one to push against the boundaries and perhaps endanger our own success in the system which reward us. Or punishes us. I find that when it’s you against the system, the system usually wins.
It just has so much inertia and resources available to keep itself going.
You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve heard.
I’m seeing a quote right now from Frank Zappa: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
AP: Yes. But when I am crippled and bedridden, will I be more proud of my Walmart award or my work with teacher activists on opt out? The latter, I think, although the former made what I do with the latter ‘matter more’ to other people.

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An Interview with Ikaika Hussey, publisher of Summit Magazine

I met with Ikaika Hussey over some (locally brewed) beers and asked him about his vision for his two projects, The Hawai’i Independent and Summit, a new lifestyle magazine based on the concept of “the modern island,” or Hawai’i as a global place. Below is part one, which focuses on Summit. In part two, we discuss the longer-running news site The Hawai’i Independent.

Ikaika is a native of Kaneohe, O’ahu, a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a master’s in Political Science from UH Manoa. He was a delegate to the first Hawaiian sovereignty constitutional convention, from 1999-2001, and is a co-founder of MANA – Movement for Aloha no ka ‘Aina. He was noted as one of the  “Ten who made a difference” by the Honolulu Advertiser after his involvement in the occupation of UH’s Bachman Hall to protest the UARC.

Umi Perkins: What is your vision for Summit?

Ikaika Hussey: I’d like for Summit to become Hawai’i’s global magazine, and in the process, I’d to change people’s expectations of Hawai’i. People in Hawai’i and abroad have pretty low expectations for what Hawai’i can produce and the ideas that we can create and I’d like to elevate those expectations, and in the process, rebrand Hawai’i.

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Cover image from Summit, issue 1

UP: What would be that new brand?

IH: Well, first I’d like to reconnect us with our own history. Most people have no idea about the Hawai’i before, you know, 1959 or whenever they landed here…

UP: 2007?

IH: [laughs] So I’d like to reconnect us to where we’ve come from and to show that there’s more to our home than palm trees and skimpy swimwear and maitais.

UP: And what is the role of capital and business?

IH: The role of capital … you know we have a serious problem. We’re a mono crop economy, essentially, with tourism as our only real product. Capital should be focused on broadening the range of products – local, endogenous production. We need more products that we can export.

UP: Any ideas?

IH: There’s a lot of things that are hopeful: fashion, designer goods, furniture.

UP: Like the furniture they borrowed for The Descendents?

IH: What happened with that?

UP: They borrowed the furniture from a Hawaiian family and put it on the movie, so it had a global audience.

IH: Oh really?

UP: It was like the furniture in my grandma’s house, or Honolulu Furniture Company … 50s… So what about the intellectual culture? What is Summit’s role?

IH: I think of Summit as a cultural product. It’s an artifact of Hawai’i’s future, and hopefully in that future intellectualism is celebrated as it was in our own past.

UP: So I really like the blend in Summit of high fashion and serious journalism and local versus global. What is your view of that blend?

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Photo shoot from Summit issue 1

IH: I think that’s sort of Hawai’i’s blend {laughs],  you know? We have this amazing, rich culture and history and yet we’re part of a global fabric. And the way that we fit in to that global fabric … our role is to showcase the things that are unique about our community, our culture, and at the same time incorporating modernity and ideas into our own DNA. I think that’s something we’ve been doing for a long time. Culture is always a synthesis of influences.

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Ikaika Hussey

The key thing is that we keep our own sense of self at the core, never forgetting who we are, and also not allowing soporific gestures toward paradise to substitute for actual culture, actual history, which is the danger with a lot of cultural production in Hawai’i [and also] industrial production. A lot of it is put on. It’s not real.

UP: That’s a nice turn of phrase. I’m hoping to surpass in this interview the OHA interview of you where they end with you taking a phone call from a reporter [laughs].

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Action is often prioritized over thought. “Action, not words,” and “enough talk” are common battle cries for those who weary of philosophical debates. But all action is based on thought. It is, whether conscious or unconscious, informed action. Thought tells us in which direction our action should move.

But much action is actually reaction and so does not involve a carefully thought-through strategy. Even when action is well-informed and strategic , it is often based on flawed assumptions. This is especially true when predicting future states of affairs. Buzzwords like “think out of the box,” “the ownership society,” “entreprenuership” and many others cloud our vision and crowd out alternative visions of the future. In the blog Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale, Noelani Goodyear-Ka’opua quotes futurist Jim Dator on this point:

The future is fundamentally plural and open–an arena of possibilities, and not of discernible inevitabilities”

-Jim Dator, “The Future Lies Behind”

Buzzwords also tend to make us overcompensate – while we may realize the flaws in a current model, we forget that model’s advantages and may “throw the baby out with the bath water” – jettisoning the good with the bad.

This is happening in education as we speak. While schools focus on making teachers facilitators of inquiry rather than sources of knowledge and information, they downgrade the value of content knowledge to the point where learning becomes superficial. While there are many studies about the effects of information technology in classrooms, some new studies suggest that a lack of content knowledge among teachers is responsible for their ineffectiveness. If you only have a shallow understanding of a concept, you can only explain it one way: the way you learned it. If your knowledge is deep, you can explain the concept from many different approaches, helping students who don’t learn the same way you do.

We see the same effect in the economy at large. Buzzwords like “welfare queens,” “deregulation,” or slogans like Ronald Reagan’s famous “government doesn’t solve problems, government is the problem,” allowed the US to move from pensions to 401ks, end welfare as we knew it, cut food stamps, and essentially dismantle the New Deal. Now we’re seeing the shortsightedness of that approach, with up to 80 million Americans out of work, despite the official 6% unemployment rate. We were duped. Or, if you take Al Gore’s word for it, distracted by TV scandals while US democracy was disassembled and an “assault on reason” itself largely won.

It is for these reasons that I took the lead on a project called “Thought leadership” and have called for “building an intellectual culture.” The thought leadership project’s aim is to gather the top young minds in the Hawaiian community and analyze trends affecting that lahui. A report will be produced along the lines of the Hawai’i 2000 report from 1970. There is an architecture of thought, or what Jaques Barzun has called a “house of intellect” that needs to be constructed, cultivated and maintained. We know that common sense isn’t common, so going beyond common sense should not be seen as something that emerges on a societal scale spontaneously. Institutions and cultural conventions, for all their disadvantages, are needed to develop a thought-sphere that allows us to focus on what’s important, and to do so at a deep level.

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Response to Gerald Smith’s “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth”

Gerald Smith was right and wrong in his Civil Beat article “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth.” Hawaiians may not be the “host” culture, and it’s true as he says, that neither Hawaiians nor other non-indigenous groups are here by choice, nor by invitation. In fact, Kamehameha II gave the first group of foreigners to ask permission, the Congregationalist missionaries in 1820, a probationary period of one year. The deadline for reviewing their stay was neglected and within a generation they were entrenched in government and the economy. I often wonder if the term “host culture” is merely a convenient one for the tourism industry, as it creates the impression – a questionable one – that tourist are welcome guests. Smith is wrong, however, on several counts. His claim that “Many Native Hawaiians would like us all to leave and restore the kingdom that was taken away by the United States,” is unsupported by any evidence. Just as the Hawaiian Kingdom never ejected even its most troublesome residents, the Hawaiian movement has not called for non-Hawaiians “all to leave.”


Kūkaniloko march opposing Stryker brigade, 2006. Thatʻs me looking in the wrong direction as usual. Photo by Michael Puleloa

What is problematic is Smith’s assertion that everyone in Hawaiʻi is equal in the eyes of the law. Putting aside the quite valid claims of independence advocates for the moment, the State of Hawaiʻi recognized Hawaiians as the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi in 2011. Over one hundred pieces of Federal legislation, beginning with the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act do the same. To simply brush aside these forms of recognition that Hawaiians are unique in the eyes of the law, is troublingly close to what has been called “white indigeneity.” What can be said of narratives of white indigeneity is that they are widespread. Such claims are seen in New Zealand, Australia, the US and elsewhere. What cannot be said is that they are taken seriously. I happened to observe the phenomenon in the New Zealand parliament: one conservative member cited the respected historian Michael King to support his contention that pakeha (Caucasians) were Indigenous. To this another member asked if the “honorable member” was familiar with the UN definition of Indigenous.

Smith establishes his kamaʻāina credentials by stating that he observed the attack on Pearl Harbor. If this is the case, he certainly did not take Hawaiian history in school, even if he went to school here, as it wasnʻt required until the 1970s. So one is left to wonder where his understanding of Hawaiian history comes from. Likely its from Gavan Daws’s Shoal of Time, still the most read general history of Hawaiʻi. The book’s chapter on Statehood is entitled “Now we are all Haoles.”

Smith’s contention that “the people who live here voted to become a state, so some will never accept their fate.” was roundly and very publically critiqued on its 50th anniversary in 2009, with very little in the way of counter- arguments.  The link in his article that ostensibly supports this “fact” takes the reader to history.com – as Hawaiian history is not well-known in Hawaiʻi, citing an external source does not inspire confidence in the reader. This was taken into consideration by the UN; in 1996 the Star bulletin headline read “UN may find statehood illegal.” It was even tacitly recognized by the local majority. There are fireworks in Waikiki every Friday, but none on the 50th anniversary of statehood. Apparently Friday is a more important event.

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Occupation 101

Eyal Benvenisti (2012, 1) states that “the law of occupation is intimately related to the law of sovereignty, and to a large extent serves as its mirror image.” This underscores the quite central point that the law of occupation applies only to recognized sovereign states. This has been an area of some confusion for me (and I suspect others), since Israel’s presence in Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank) has been called “occupation” for many years. This term would apply now, since Palestine received recognition from the majority of UN members, in both the General Assembly and UNESCO. But it should not have applied before such recognition. The seeming milestone of recognition has passed almost unnoticed. This is a cause for concern over the effectiveness of the law of occupation, and indeed of recognition itself. There is one caveat: it some hold that full recognition of a state that is seceding must be recognized by the state it is seceding from (i.e., Israel must recognize Palestine).

Human rights law professor Eval Benvenisti

Some premises of the law of occupation:

Occupation is considered “a state of exception for international law.” As Giorgio Agamben notes, the sovereign is that for which a state of exception exists in terms of the law, i.e., the sovereign is “he” to whom the law does not apply.

Giorgio Agamben

Because the law of occupation begins to apply once a law has already been broken (the first law of nations – that law of non-intervention), occupation thus fills a “governance gap” providing some type of governance where the occupied government is overthrown.

Temporary allegiance: “inhabitants are under [the occupant’s] sway and have to render obedience to his commands.”

The bases of the law of occupation include the Hague regulations, Geneva Convention IV, and customary international law.

The working definition of occupation involves the occupier (or “occupant”) having “effective control” and “boots on the ground”- that is, it actually controls the territory, rather than merely claiming to control it. Occupation is thus a “de facto regime” – a regime “in fact,” but not “in law” (de jure).

The Occupant has no title to territory, but this “does not release it from its obligations and responsibilities under international law” (Benvenisti, 2012). The occupant is also “responsible for local public institutions such as the local police, which [it] directs and controls,” in other words, it is responsible for maintaining order during the occupation.

While some have questioned the relevance and effectiveness of the law of occupation, according to Benvenisti:

Despite … the evolution of new normative frameworks such as the law on self-determination or human rights law, the law of occupation has retained its relevance and significance (Benvenisti, 2012, 19).

Origins of the concept

Occupation was “conceived as a temporary regime existing until the conclusion of a peace agreement between the enemy sides” (Benvenisti, 2012, 20). It is thus the “mirror image of the concept of sovereignty” (Benvenisti, 2012, 21). According to eighteenth century international legal theorist Emmerich de Vattel, there is “no difference between [an] occupant and a conqueror who may treat the territory gained as under its sovereignty”(Benvenisti, 2012, 23).

Characterization of Occupation

Occupation begins: “once control is established” – i.e., there is no delay between the beginning of occupation and the responsibilities afforded to the occupant, he is immediately responsible (Benvenisti, 2012, 55).

Occupation ends when: 1) there is a loss of effective control, 2) the occupant can no longer exercise authority, 3) the consent of the sovereign is granted through a peace treaty, or 4) there is a transfer of authority to a government endorsed by the occupied population through internationally-recognized referendum.

Occupation is by definition military in nature, and rather than granting unlimited powers on the occupier, places obligations on them – to administer a temporary government, provide services, etc. This obligation begins immediately. At first, the law of occupation granted very few protections to the residents of an occupied state, and even allowed for punishment of those who defy the occupying government’s dictates. This is problematic for those who currently deny the validity of the State of Hawaiʻi and its government apparatus. But the law evolved over time to grant further rights and protections to the occupied.


In the (proposed) 1899 Hague Regulations, the basic premise of the law of occupation was stated:

The country invaded submits to the law of the invader; that is a fact; that is might; but we should not legalize the exercise of this power in advance, and admit that might makes right (Beernaert in Benvenisti, 2012, 90).

In the fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV) (which was crafted to with the “aim of imposing on occupants ʻa heavy burden”) (Benvenisti, 2012, 97), the norm was codified that the occupant (occupier) must take three considerations into account: “itʻs own security interests, the interests of the ousted government, and those of the local population, which may be different from the interest of their legitimate government” (Benvenisti, 2012, 69).

First Geneva Convention, 1864

The norms of GCIV were formed in the context of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, which created an expectation that during occupation the occupying military and the civilian population could be kept at a distance from each other and even co-exist relatively harmoniously (Benvenisti, 2012, 70). As for changes to law, they were to be kept at an absolute minimum, but were allowable for the purpose of making occupation practicable and functional on the ground. Benvenisti (2012, 90) notes that the rule that changes to law are only when “absolutely necessary … has no meaning” because the occupant is never absolutely prevented from complying to local law.

Article 43 of the GCIV was a mandate to “restore and ensure public order and civil life” – this came to be seen as an “incomplete instruction to the occupant” because of the conflicts of interest between occupant and the ousted government (Benvenisti, 2012, 71).

Changes to the law of occupation also continued as human rights became more of a concern to the international community. As this occurred, actual occupants began to seek to avoid the responsibilities of occupation by “purport[ing] to annex or establish[ing] puppet states or governments, rely[ing] on ʻinvitations’ from indigenous governments [the Soviet/Russian formula]” and other means (Benvenisti, 2012, 72).

But as is often pointed out, these means are not legitimate as GCIV states “the benefits [or applicability] of the [Geneva] Convention shall not be affected … by any annexation … of the whole or part of the occupied territory.” In short, the occupant retained the duty to fulfill its obligations under the law of occupation (GCIV in Benvenisti, 2012, 73).

As with all legal documents and doctrines, however, it is “impossible to read the drafting history of the GCIV without paying close attention to the diverse concerns of the different state representatives” (Benvenisti, 2012, 98). That is to say, it is contingent on the conditions of the time and context in which it was crafted.


As it developed in the twentieth century, the human rights regime came to decenter the law of occupation’s emphasis on the agency of states as the only actors. People came to play a role in international law, under which previously only states were subjects. In the occupation of Iraq, for example, Amnesty International pushed for changes in Iraqi law – normally in contravention of the law of occupation – for the purpose of the protection of human rights. Occupation was in this case seen as an opportunity to improve conditions for the citizens of the occupied state (a rare, but quite possible scenario). Sharia law was in this case seen as “incompatible” with GCIV rights (Benvenisti, 2012, 103).


Keanu Sai has used the “doctrine of necessity” as a justification for forming the Acting Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom; the necessity of an “organ” to speak on behalf of the occupied state, in other words, necessitated the creation of a “government” whose legitimacy would otherwise be highly questionable. Benvenisti notes this doctrine as a “recognized justification for legislation by the occupant,” but noted that it does not apply to the civil and criminal laws of the occupied state: “the penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force,” (Benvenisti, 2012, 96) ostensibly to prevent draconian trials and execution of resisters against the occupation. However, it is also recognized that the occupant would be “prevented from respecting the laws in force” in the rare case that they “conflicted with its obligations under international law, especially [the GCIV] (brackets original)” (Benvenisti, 2012, 102).


Sai also notes that Debellatio, or conquest, while seen as a legitimate form for the transfer of sovereignty, was essentially outlawed in the Americas – by the United States and some of the recognized sovereigns in South America – because they feared their former colonial overlords would re-conquer them. This, in his view, was the purpose of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine. As Jay Sexton notes in his book  The Monroe Doctrine, “American statesmen exploited fears of foreign intervention in order to mobilize political support” (Sexton, 2011, 12). Sexton also notes how the Tyler Doctrine (actually proclaimed in 1842 by secretary of state Daniel Webster) “effectively extended the 1823 message  [the Monroe Doctrine] to Hawaiʻi” (Sexton, 2011, 112). As a result, the United States does not recognize debellatio – conquest – as a legitimate form of transferring sovereignty. This quells any argument that even though there was no conquest of the Hawaiian Kingdom, “there would be.”


The occupant is allowed to collect taxes, “as far as is possible, in accordance with the rules of assessment and incidence in force … to defray the expenses of the administration of the occupied territory” (Benvenisti, 2012, 81). In other words, the occupant should not, as was seen in the film The Last Emperor, make the occupied “pay for its own occupation” as the Japanese ambassador says to the Emperor of Manchuria (Manchukuo). The occupant is also bound by the general rules regarding property of usufruct – the use of land without destroying it (Benvenisti, 2012, 77). This is relevant to the U.S. presence in Hawaiʻi as evidenced by the more than one hundred Superfund sites at Pearl Harbor alone.


My own understanding of the law of occupation is that it strictly prohibits the “overwhelming” of the nationals of the occupied state with settlers from the occupying state, as was done by Russia to Estonia and other Baltic states. Benvenisti treads very lightly here, noting only that settlement need only avoid “impinging on the rights” of the citizens of the occupied state. It is possible (though I donʻt mean to hastily accuse him) that his status as an Israeli influences this light treatment of settlers, and he does mention Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in the very short section on this topic (Benvenisti, 2012, 106-107).


At the summer land institute at Cornell University, I was exposed to multiple meanings of occupation. Out of respect for the participants, who are planning to publish their papers, I will not discuss the specifics of their papers but only give general impressions from the institute. Occupation comes from the Latin word occupare, meaning to seize or capture (thanks to Camilo Ehrlichman for bringing up this etymology). This made the title of my talk, “Occupied minds: was Hawai’i ceded or seized?” apropos to the theme of the institute.

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I still hold to a fairly strict legal definition of occupation – Benvenisti holds that it is:

“the effective control of a power [occupant]
… over a territory to which that power
has no sovereign title, without the volition
of the sovereign of that territory.” – Eyal
Benvenisti, The International Law of
Occupation (2012, 3).

But this week opened my mind to the ways in which occupation takes plural forms and can be disguised as other “legitimate” activities. The group visited the site of a highly controversial gas storage facility at Seneca Lake in the finger lake region of New York near Ithaca and Rochester. Just as we stood observing the site from the road, about a dozen cars honked their horns in support thinking we may be preparing for an action against the company. Both sides in this struggle have pointed to science and economics in support of their claims, in ways that reminded me of the Mauna kea struggle – in fact one protest group calls itself We Are Seneca Lake.

Protesters blocking access to the site of underground gas storage in the finger lakes region of New York

In their case, this slogan was quite literal – the lake is the drinking water source for 100,000 people in the finger lakes region, and as the body is 65-70% water, those citizens are quite literally made of Seneca Lake water. Even I drank a couple of glasses and was thus partly made of the lake.

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In my talk, I tried to recognize the Cayuga nation, on whose traditional lands Cornell lies. But I neglected to ask what the native nation(s) of the Seneca lake region thought of the gas storage issue. One participant – from UH actually – quietly proposed that the movement might constitute “settler activism.” I found this troubling and it made me immediately think of Kahea: the Hawaiian- Environmental Alliance, whose mission I find relevant to this issue and perhaps the most important of all the nonprofits in Hawaii; to heal the insane rift between environmentalists and Kanaka Maoli.


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Structural Constraints: A lecture on Structures and Institutions for Political Science 110

This may be quite basic for many, but it covers government institutions mainly in the US.

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From a Native Daughter: “in our way of speaking, land is inherent to the people; it is like our bodies and our parents”


I’m going to be having a short Mauna Kea series of posts, starting with this one.

Originally posted on Sacred Mauna Kea:


“This is how private property land tenure entered Hawai’i. The common people, driven from their birthright, received less than one percent of the land. They starved, while huge haole-owned sugar plantations thrived.

And what had the historians said? They had said that the Americans “liberated” the Hawaiians from an oppressive “feudal” system. By inventing a feudal past, the historians justify – and become complicituous in – massive American theft.

Is there “evidence” –  as historians call it – for traditional Hawaiian concepts of land use? The evidence is in the sayings of my people and in the words they wrote more than a century ago, much of which has been translated. Historians however, have chosen to ignore any references here to shared land use. But there is incontrevertible evidence in the very structure of the Hawaiian language. If the historians had bothered to learn our language (as any…

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