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Clayton E. Cramer

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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My ‘Stroke’ of Good Luck

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 - by Clayton E. Cramer


Readers may recall my description of aortic valve replacement last year and a warning of the importance of treating heart disease seriously. Here’s another lesson from medical misadventure: if you are going to have a stroke, it is best to have it on an operating room table. And best of all, avoid strokes if at all possible.  As miserable and expensive as last year’s surgery and recovery was, I think I would make that trade.

This started as the classic symptoms of a heart attack on the evening of August 2: chest pain, pressure, left-arm pain, a sense of confusion. So I had my wife drive me to an urgent care facility, where they decided that I was beyond the level that they could treat other than giving me aspirin and nitroglycerin, and calling the Ada County Paramedics to transport me to St. Alphonsus hospital. In retrospect, my wife could have driven me there directly in less time, and saved the insurance company $1300.

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The Connection Between Gun Control and the Holocaust

Monday, February 24th, 2014 - by Clayton E. Cramer


Over the last twenty years, I have watched Stephen P. Halbrook’s scholarly work on gun control become more polished, more nuanced, and more methodical. His latest book, Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State” is an astonishing piece of scholarship: complete; careful; thoughtful.

For a very long time, Americans opposed to gun control have used the example of Nazi Germany’s gun control laws as a warning of what might happen here.  Regrettably, not everyone has been careful enough. There is a quote purportedly from Hitler about gun control that starts out “1935 will go down in history” that used to float around the Internet.  It does not appear so often anymore because a number of people, including me, demonstrated its falsity.

Part of what allowed bogus quotes like this to survive was that few historians have bothered to research the real history of the Nazis and gun control.  Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership did a nice job of obtaining and translating the 1928 and 1931 Weimar Republic gun control laws, and the 1938 Nazi gun control law some years ago, but as useful as these were, they simply do not compare to what Halbrook has done with this new book.

Halbrook traces the development of German gun control law from the collapse of the Kaiser’s government in 1918, through the post-war chaos, the Weimar Republic’s efforts to prevent the violence of the Nazis and the Communists in the 1920s and early 1930s, and then the ways in which the Nazis used those laws to disarm anyone who they regarded as “enemies of the state” (which of course included all Jews).  In doing so, Halbrook makes use of an astonishing set of sources.  His secondary sources are impressive: scholarly histories of the period, such as The Berlin Police Force in the Weimar Republic, and specialized works that you might not even expect to exist, such as Der Weg des Sports in die nationalsozialistische Diktatur (The Way of Sport in the National Socialist Dictatorship).  Halbrook goes far beyond that, however, with an impressive collection of primary sources, including diaries by people who lived through the time, surviving police records, internal government memos, and court decisions.  Part of what makes a book like this possible is part of what made it so easy to convict Nazis war criminals: the German penchant for documenting everything – and the difficulty in making those documents disappear, when it became apparent that the war was lost. 

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We Need Movies That Tell the Truth About Slavery

Friday, November 29th, 2013 - by Clayton E. Cramer

One of the great tales of courage and survival is a book that you have probably never heard of before.  It is the story of Solomon Northup, a free black who lived in New York state in the 1840s.  He was lured to Washington, D.C., under the promise of work as a fiddler. In D.C., he was drugged and then sold as a slave.  Eventually, because of the intervention of several whites both in Louisiana and in his home state of New York, his freedom was restored.  It is the source of the new film by this same title.

This is not the first time that Northup’s inspiring tale of faith and endurance has been made into a movie.  Gordon Parks made a 1984 version for television starring Avery Brooks (who some of you may remember as “Hawk” in the 1980s television series Spenser: For Hire) as Northup.  While faithful to the book, it was produced with about the same budget as some people spend on dental floss, and shot in three weeks.  The acting quality varied substantially, from quite excellent to positively dreadful.  Still, I often use the first few minutes of it in my U.S. history class to emphasize the fundamentally middle class values that many free blacks in America aspired to in that era.

12 Years a Slave (2013) is what I had long hoped that Gordon Parks’ version had been.  Well-funded, it has a few big names (Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt) and exemplary acting performances throughout.  If Lupita Nyong’o (born in Mexico, raised in Kenya, educated in the U.S.), wins an Oscar for her performance as Patsey, I will not be even slightly surprised.  There is not a weak performance anywhere in this – but with material like this, what actor would fail?

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How to Avoid Very Painful Kidney Stones

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 - by Clayton E. Cramer


I just had a very unpleasant experience – a kidney stone – and one that I hope to help you avoid.  The experience is a major health issue for Americans. These cause more than a million visits to health-care providers each year, of which 300,000 are to emergency rooms. If you have ever seen the bill for an emergency room, you know that everything is way more expensive there. Think of this article as not only an attempt to save you great misery, but also to save both public and private funds.

I was in an Enterprise Architecture class (a type of computer geek professional training) on Wednesday, and by the end of the day, I was not just bored; I was in pain in my lower right abdomen. At first I thought that lunch was trying to make an early escape, but a visit to the men’s room didn’t help. And the pain was getting worse – way worse.  I was also beginning to get chills.  Based on the location I assumed that it was appendicitis, although it certainly came on faster than I would have expected.

I left the class early, intending to drive to my doctor’s office, but in five minutes, the pain had become so intense that I did not think it likely that I would be able to safely drive there.  Fortunately, I was a block or two from one of the several excellent hospitals we have in Boise.  I had taken my wife to this particular hospital for outpatient shoulder surgery a few weeks ago, so I did not have to think too long about where it was – and with the pain that I was suffering, thinking was not something that I was strong on doing.

I pulled into the emergency room driveway, honked my horn, because I was not sure that I was going to get inside by myself, and within seconds, there was someone there with a wheelchair, and a valet parked my car.  By this point, the pain was so intense that I was starting to vomit – and in less than 30 seconds, I was on a bed; within another minute or two, there was a nurse, than a doctor examining me. The doctor asked questions, poked and prodded, and concluded that my problem was probably a kidney stone. While waiting for a CT scan, the nurses inserted an IV, and put in some serious painkillers – and this took it from inexpressible pain to just suffering.

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