Rosh Hashanah

September 19, 2020

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days. To be more precise, Rosh Hashanah actually began yesterday evening, since the Jews traditionally begin a new day at sunset. This holiday takes place on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar. Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates wander a bit in our Gregorian calendar. This year it takes place on September 18-20. The New Year is celebrated for two days because of the difficulty of determining the precise day of the new moon.

Rosh Hashanah, which means “the head of the year”,  is not mentioned as such in the Bible. Instead, the day is called “Zikaron Teru’ah” a memorial of the blowing of horns in Leviticus 23:24 and “Yom Teru’ah” the day of blowing the horn in Numbers 23:9.

 23 The LORD spoke to Moses: 24 “Tell the Israelites, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you must have a complete rest, a memorial announced by loud horn blasts, a holy assembly. 25 You must not do any regular work, but you must present a gift to the LORD.’”  (Lev. 23:23-25)

1 “‘On the first day of the seventh month, you are to hold a holy assembly. You must not do your ordinary work, for it is a day of blowing trumpets for you. 2 You must offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the LORD: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs one year old without blemish.  3 “‘Their grain offering is to be of finely ground flour mixed with olive oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths of an ephah for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs,note 5 with one male goat for a purification offering to make an atonement for you; 6 this is in addition to the monthly burnt offering and its grain offering, and the daily burnt offering with its grain offering and their drink offerings as prescribed, as a sweet aroma, a sacrifice made by fire to the LORD. (Num 29:1-6)

I mentioned that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. That is not quite correct. A fully lunar calendar would be based solely on the phases of the moon that would cycle through the year, as the Islamic Calendar does. Instead, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar. The twelve months add up to 354 days, so to keep up with the seasons extra, intercalary months are added in a nineteen-year cycle. Seven intercalary months are added during the cycle so that a thirteenth month is added every two or three years. This means that the dates wander a bit compared to the Gregorian calendar but stay within the appropriate seasons.

Anyway, Shana Tova everyone.

I am the Emperor and I Want Dumplings.

September 16, 2020

That title is a famous quote from Ferdinand I Emperor of Austria from 1835 to 1848. Ferdinand, I was not a particularly good emperor. This wasn’t his fault. Thanks to his Hapsburg ancestors’ predilection for inbreeding (his own parents were double first cousins sharing all four grandparents.) Ferdinand had inherited a number of physical and neurological issues. He was not as afflicted as the unfortunate Charles II of Spain, but Ferdinand did suffer from hydrocephalus, severe epilepsy, and a speech impediment. Ferdinand was not mentally retarded, as many in his court assumed, but his almost continuous seizures (as many as twenty pet day) made it impossible for him to attend to affairs of state or even to sire an heir.

One day, Ferdinand asked his cook to make him apricot dumplings. The cook replied that because apricots were not in season he could not possibly fulfill the Emperor’s wish. The Emperor, who was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, who was used to having every wish immediately gratified could not have a favorite dish because the ingredient was not available. The mighty emperor could only shout in frustration, ‘I am the Emperor and I want dumpings’.

He didn’t get his dumplings.

If you happen to be a resident in the United States of America or any other reasonably developed country and you desired apricot dumplings at any time of the year, all you need to do is go to the nearest grocery store and but apricots and the other ingredients. The store is sure to have apricots even if they are out of season at your location. Just think about that for a minute. You, an ordinary person has access to whatever treats you might want at any time of the year, regardless of what might be in or out of season. You have a better chance of having whatever cravings you might have than the most powerful people in the world only two centuries ago. You also have far better access to medical care than Emperor Ferdinand had. Any ordinary person with the sort of physical problems that afflicted Ferinand would have a fair chance of having his condition alleviated and of living a more normal life than poor Ferdinand ever could have, for all his power and wealth.

You would think that in a free country in which everyone had access to apple dumplings whenever they wanted, people would be happy, or at least content, but that is not the case. Instead, we see people protesting against the poverty and injustice they are living under. Yet, if we were to bring an ordinary worker or peasant from Ferdinand’s time to our own, he would believe that he had entered a utopia of plenty. He would be astonished that everyone had enough to eat, even too much. He certainly wouldn’t be used to seeing so many obese people. He would be mystified as Antifa protesters complained to him of the poverty and injustice they are suffering under.

America is by no means a perfect country. Our treatment of our Black citizens is surely the most egregious example of how we have failed to live up to our ideals. Is the left then correct in portraying America as a country beset with systemic, structural racism in need of a fundamental transformation, even a revolution? Well, despite every effort, Blacks are still not entirely equal to Whites, and yet, discrimination based on race has been illegal since 1964 and it has been the official policy of every level of government, along with academia and most corporations to do everything possible to uplift the African-American community. One might have doubts about the efficacy of many of the policies adopted, but there is little question that the intent is to help, not to oppress. Moreover, public opinion has swung decisively against any public expression of racism. Even a mildly racist remark is sufficient to destroy a career. Despite the Democrats’ characterization of President Trump as a racist and an open White Supremacist, the fact is that If Trump were the slightest bit racist, he wouldn’t have gotten two percent of the vote.

Our friends from nineteenth-century Austria, Emperor Ferdinand, and his humble subject would be used to life in a truly racist country. In the Austrian Empire, your ethnicity determined your entire life. German Austrians were at the top, Hungarians and some favored Slavs in the middle, most Slavs at the bottom, and the Jews even below the Slavs. Even people of the same race were not equals. The nobility expected and got deference from their inferiors. The idea that all men should be treated as equals, imperfectly realized as it is in our time, would seem unimaginable both to the Emperor and the worker.

Actually, this sort of ethnic hierarchy has been the rule in every multi-national state or empire, even our own republic until very recently. What some seem to regard as an evil unique to the United State is the norm in human history. What is not the norm is for the group on top to extend the promise of equality and aid to the formerly oppressed without the threat of a violent revolution. The United States is far from perfect on racial matters, but the progress we have made in recent decades is almost unique in human history and there is no reason to suppose that progress will continue to be made, without any need for riots or the threat of violence.

I do not want to come across as some sort of Pangloss, blithely assuming that everything is wonderful here in the United States. I know that we many problems here in the United States, yet life in twenty-first-century America is better than at any other time and place in history. We live in a remarkably successful country with a long history of dealing with its problems peacefully and without revolution. It seems to be madness for anyone to throw it all away to implement the ideology of a nineteenth-century crackpot. Maybe they don’t teach history anymore.

Nineteen Years

September 11, 2020

It has been nineteen years since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I was listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon Walmart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way, I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discuss the business at hand. Instead, we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

Al Jolson

September 4, 2020

I remember going through an old record collection, when I was a child, and seeing an album cover with the picture of a man with what appeared to be a very dirty face. His face was black, except around the eyes and mouth, as if he had just emerged from a coal mine or had rubbed his face with black mud. I had never heard of entertainers performing in blackface and since the man has caucasian features and his makeup did not resemble any natural skin tone, I did not know what this was all about until I turned the album over and read the description on the back. The man was Al Jolson, the entertainer who was famous in the early twentieth century for performing in blackface.

What are we to do with Al Jolson today? His performances are undoubtedly offensive to today’s more racially aware audiences. Perhaps his present-day obscurity is deserved. Maybe Al Jolson ought to disappear down the memory hole along with so much of our shameful past. Then again, maybe not. I am not a fan of airbrushing away historical figures just because they offend contemporary sensibilities. I think the past ought to be remembered.  Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer of his time. He definitely had talent. Moreover, his relationship with the African-American community was not as straightforward as we might expect.

Al Jolson

Who was Al Jolson anyway? Al Jolson was born to a Jewish family as Asa Yeolson, on June 8, 1886, in the village of Srednike in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. Yeolson’s father, Moses Rubin Yeoson, was a rabbi and cantor or Hazzan who immigrated to New York in 1891. In 1894 he was able to bring his family to the United States and they settled in Washington DC, where the elder Yeolson found work as a cantor. Young Asa seemed to have inherited his father’s singing voice, and he and his brother Hirsch begin singing on street corners for money in 1897, using the names, Al and Harry. Asa Jeolson began working in show business in 1902, with his name anglicized to Al Jolson. After a somewhat fitful start. Jolson’s career in vaudeville and musicals took off, particularly after he started performing in blackface in 1904. By the 1920s, Al Jolson was one of the most successful entertainers in the United States.

Al Jolson in blackface

In 1927, Al Jolson began acting in movies, starring in The Jazz Singer, generally regarded as the first talkie. Jolson went on to star in a number of successful movies. His career and personal life went into something of a slump in the late 1930s but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Jolson was the first star to entertain for the troops, before the USO had even been organized. He was praised for the service he provided for American soldiers fighting overseas, but Jolson also contracted malaria and had to have a lung removed. Jolson was also the first entertainer to perform for the soldiers fighting in the Korean War. Al Jolson’s service in Korea proved to be exhausting for him and he died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950

This biographical sketch might give the impression that Al Jolson was the worst sort of racist who made his fortune exploiting the most degrading negative Black stereotypes. What else are we to think of a man who was most famous for performing in blackface? Should Al Jolson be relegated to obscurity as a forgotten relic of America’s racist past? Not quite. As is often the case, the truth is not what it seems at first glance. The fact is that Al Jolson used his position as America’s highest-paid entertainer to fight against discrimination against Blacks. He insisted on equal treatment for his Black co-stars and consistently stood up for the rights of Blacks at a time when this was, by no means, a popular position to take.

So, how do we resolve this paradox? Al Jolson was an entertainer who made millions by wearing blackface and demeaning African Americans, yet was an undoubted benefactor of the Black race. How do we reconcile these two very different sides of this man?

I would suggest that Al Jolson did not put on blackface to insult or demean Blacks. Al Jolson had many Black friends in his youth and later and it is hard to imagine that we would have knowingly done something that they might have found insulting. Blackface was an accepted genre of entertainment at the time, and not necessarily seen as degrading to Blacks. I suspect that Al Jolson might have believed that his blackface performances were a sort of tribute to his Black colleagues. He might have found something in African-American culture that was lacking in his own Jewish-Russian heritage and putting on blackface might have been his way of celebrating the culture of his Black friends. In fact, if you think about it, the practice of White performers blackening their faces and pretending to be Black was a sort of backhanded compliment to Blacks. Yes, these performers disseminated demeaning stereotypes about Blacks, yet they had to believe something was appealing about African American culture for them to pretend to emulate it. We ought to look on Al Jolson’s performances, and perhaps those of other entertainers in blackface as celebrations of African American culture rather than deliberate insults.

Now the reason I am writing this, aside from the fact that  I find Al Jolson’s life and career to be interesting, is that I have found it helpful to try to impute the best possible motives for the actions of the people I run into. That is to say, rather than assuming they are acting from rudeness or malice, I try to think of good reasons for why people do what they do. I cannot say that I am very accomplished in this way of thinking. It seems to run against human nature. It is natural for us to make excuses for our own actions while judging others more harshly. I am trying to reverse this natural tendency by trying to make excuses for others while judging myself more harshly, or at any rate more honestly. Some might say that if I succeed in this endeavor I might become something of a Pollyanna, but I think that it would be worth risking becoming more naive to become more tolerant and charitable in my thinking. I might manage to make myself a genuinely good person.

I think that our country as a whole might be better off, especially in racial matters, if we applied this method to each other. What if, instead of seeking out evidence of racism everywhere, we focus on the real progress in racial relations we have made over the last decades? What if instead of canceling people for a bad joke or unfortunate remark made years ago, we accept that they made a mistake and have moved on? What if, in other words, instead of believing the worst of our fellow Americans, that we are a people seething with systemic racism, we assume the best, that we are human beings and like all human beings we make mistakes but we are trying to do better? We might actually make this country a better place.

Chief

August 13, 2020

Catherine Roome President and Chief/Lead Executive Officer of Technical Safety BC explains why she felt it was necessary to change her title.

A few weeks ago, in my role as the president and chief executive officer of Technical Safety BC, I sent an e-mail to our 450 employees about racism and, in particular, systemic racism against people of colour.

I wrote about my hope that the Black Lives Matter movement would present Canada with an opportunity to define what a better world looks like. I also wrote that deeply seated racism in our society includes racism toward Indigenous peoples – the original inhabitants of these lands.

In response, many Technical Safety BC employees from across British Columbia took the opportunity to share their experiences and expressed calls for action and reflection. In particular, I was urged to consider the importance of language and the titles that many of us adopt and use without thinking.

As folks who know me well will tell you, I am a stickler for inclusive language. I often interrupt people – board directors, heads of organizations, politicians and others – if I feel they are using titles for our employees that are outdated.

She sounds like a real joy to work for. I imagine the working environment at Technical Safety BC must resemble something out of Orwell. Her subordinates must live in constant fear of accidentally using the wrong word or committing thoughtcrime.

So to receive constructive feedback on my own use of language made me sit up and take notice.

One particularly courageous colleague pointed out that I was using a word in my title, president and chief executive officer, that represents something deeply meaningful to many Indigenous peoples. It is a word that is honoured and respected in First Nations culture and conveys a meaning very different to organizational leadership.

If I were the President and CEO of a company and one of my employees said something like that, I would respond by pointing out that if he has so much free time on his hands that he can obsess over politically correct terminology then his position is obviously superfluous. Of course, if I were the CEO of a corporation I wouldn’t be hectoring my employees about using outdated titles. I wouldn’t even be wasting my and the company’s time on the latest woke causes. I would be doing my job and trying to make the company as profitable as possible for the shareholders.

I wonder if the particularly courageous colleague was himself a Native American or whether any Native Americans have ever actually objected to the use of the word chief in the title Chief Executive Officer. For matter, I wonder if the word chief actually has any deep meaning to any Indigenous peoples. It is not a Native American word.

The origin of my original title is European. That doesn’t give me a pass. Asking about how racism affects a person and being given an answer means I can choose to listen and do something, or I can stay silent.

To be precise Chief derives from Old French chef or chief which comes from Vulgar Latin capum which in turn is derived from the Latin caput meaning head. When English speaking Europeans encountered the Indians they simply applied this generic word to the leaders of the various tribes or nations they dealt with. It is not a word invested with deep meaning and I wonder whether the use of the word chief to designate the leader of a sovereign polity might not have been somewhat derogatory. If the English settlers and explorers had believed the people they were dealing with to be equals they might have referred to their leaders as kings or princes. But this is a digression.

I have long been a champion for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. Yet I am ashamed to say, the thought had never even occurred to me that the title I proudly held could evoke such a response, or even be viewed as disrespectful to the very reconciliation process that I support.

That might be because the title she proudly held is not, in fact, disrespectful nor would it evoke any response at all from sane people.

So upon reflection, I have changed my title within the organization to president and lead executive officer.

Is anyone’s life going to be improved by Ms. Roome’s decision? Is the life of a single Native American Indian going to be made better, even if every Chief Executive Officer in Canada changed their title? Is Ms. Roome really doing anything to help anyone? No, of course not. All Ms. Roome is doing is making herself feel better about herself and looking virtuous in front of her peers. Going out and providing concrete help to the First Nation communities would require hard work and sacrifice on her part. She would have to give up her high salary and cushy lifestyle. Changing her title costs Ms. Roome absolutely nothing.

It seems to me that all this political correctness, wokeness, or being a social justice warrior, or whatever you want to call it is not really about helping the oppressed or marginalized at all, despite the pretensions. None of these people seem to be at all interested in actually going out and helping anybody. They are not even all that interested in finding out what the supposed oppressed really want or think. Are Native Americans really offended by the use of the word chief? Do they really care if sports teams use American Indian themed names? Who cares? There is virtue signaling to be done?

It seems to me that the woke are more like some middle school clique than fearless crusaders for the oppressed. Like the members of a clique, they have their own jargon and manners to distinguish the cool kids, the in-group from the nerds. That is all this professed concern for the marginalized really amounts to, separating the cool kids from the nerds, the virtuous from the bigots. It is a way for them to feel good about themselves and an excuse to bully the uncool.

Is Ms. Roome and others like her were really going out and helping the oppressed, they would deserve our respect and admiration. Since all they are really interested in doing is showing off what wonderful people they are, they deserve nothing but ridicule.

 

The Harper’s Magazine Letter

July 13, 2020

I am not very impressed with the open letter calling for the end of cancel culture that is appearing in Harper’s Monthly.  This is unexpected. When I first heard that a number of prominent liberals had signed an open letter advocating freedom of speech and thought and calling for an end to the increasing tendency to ostracise people who hold whatever opinions are deemed racist this week, I might have thought it would be something I could get behind. After all, I am a free speech fundamentalist. As far as I am concerned, there is no subject too dangerous to discuss. There are no opinions so repugnant that they should be censored.

So, what is my problem with this open letter? Well, to start with, it begins dishonestly. Look at the first paragraph.

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

What has Donald Trump to do with the intolerant climate that has set in? The most he has done is call out the media on its dishonest and biased reporting. How has the Right been intolerant? Have conservatives been trying to get people fired for disagreeing with them? Most conservatives in the last few decades have been heavily influenced by libertarian ideas. There haven’t really been any prominent conservatives calling for censorship or canceling people. Even if there were, conservatives haven’t been in much of a position to cancel anyone. Leftists control the media, academia, the federal bureaucracy, even many large corporations. The left has won the culture war. They own the culture. If there has been a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity, it is entirely on the left. All right-wing demagogues can do is plead for tolerance.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.

All of this is very true, except that it is all being done by the radical and not so radical left. Mainstream conservatives have little enough power to censor. Anyone on the radical right has absolutely no power at all. being isolated from public fora. The writers of this letter are trying to spread the blame around for developments that are entirely the fault of their own ideological allies. Leftists are responsible for the free exchange of ideas and information being more constricted. It is the left that has developed an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. It is dishonest to pretend that this is not the case.

And this leads to the other problem I have with this letter. Let’s look at the final paragraph

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.

These are all fine sentiments, but I have to wonder where these people were when all this political correctness madness began? Where are they when conservatives were being canceled and de-platformed? They didn’t seem to be overly concerned about the restriction of debate by an intolerant society then. Some were even cheering the outrage mob on. I didn’t start seeing letters defending the right to free expression until the leftist outrage mobs started turning on their fellow leftists for being insufficiently woke.

While I appreciate the newfound commitment to free expression in at least a few people on the left, I am not going to take it very seriously until I see them defend the free speech rights of conservatives. They can begin by not calling people on the right racists and Nazis. Better still, I’d like to see them defend the free speech rights of actual racists and Nazis. It is easy enough to defend the rights of people you agree with, more difficult to defend the rights of people you disagree with, but only someone who is truly committed to freedom of expression would defend the rights of people who express ideas everyone else finds despicable. I’d like to see the people who signed display that level of commitment. Actually, I’d like to see that level of commitment from everyone. Maybe this letter will be a step in that direction.

The Election of 1892

July 10, 2020

The election of 1892 was a repeat of the election of 1888 with the same candidates and same issues, but with a different result. Neither Benjamin Harrison nor Grover Cleveland was especially popular with their respective party leaders. Benjamin Harrison was widely perceived to be cold and unfriendly. He was a reserved man who didn’t seem to have much of a personality. Grover Cleveland, on the other hand, had rather too much personality for the Democratic party leaders, with his stubborn tendency to go his own way regardless of the party leaders wanted or what happened to be popular with the people.

The Republicans held their convention first in Minneapolis from June 7 to 10. President Benjamin Harrison had not really wanted to run for a second term. His health was failing and his wife was suffering from tuberculosis. Besides, the economy had gone into recession and the Republicans had been beaten badly in the 1890 Congressional elections and Harrison was not seen as a particularly successful president. However, Harrison did not want his Secretary of State James G. Blaine to be nominated, so he reluctantly decided to run for reelection. Vice-President Levi Morton was dropped from the ticket, because of his association with Blaine and the Republicans nominated Whitelaw Reid in his place. Whitelaw Reid was a newspaper editor from Ohio who had written a history of Ohio in the Civil War. He had served as Minister to France from 1889 to 1892. The Republicans adopted a platform supporting protective tariffs and the gold standard.

The Democrats held their convention in Chicago from June 21-23. There was a lot of opposition to Grover Cleveland by delegates from the South and West over his continuing support for remaining on the gold standard and from Tammany Hall. Nevertheless, Cleveland narrowly won the nomination on the first ballot. For Vice-president, the Democrats selected Adlai Stevenson I from Illinois. Adlai Stevenson had served as a Congressman from Illinois from 1875-1877 and 1879-1881. He went on to become Assistant Postmaster General from 1885-1889. Stevenson’s free silver views did not mesh with Clevland’s support of the gold standard, but he was nominated to balance the ticket. The Democrat’s platform condemned Republican protectionism, particularly the recently passed McKinley tariffs.

It was not a very exciting race. Neither major party candidate actively campaigned for office. Benjamin Harrison did not even run a traditional front porch campaign, being more concerned about the health of his wife than whether he would win reelection,. She died just two weeks before the election and both candidates ceased campaigning altogether. For excitement, you had to go to the third parties. Since many people in the West and South felt that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans represented their interests, 1892 was a good year for minor parties

First, there was the People’s Party or Populist Party, The Populist Party was the successor to the Greenback Party and the Farmer’s Alliance. The Populist Party represented the interests of the farmers of the South and West and were opposed to the corporate interests which they viewed as dominating the politics of the nation. The Populists wanted soft money, or an inflationary monetary system either by coining silver along with gold or by the government printing fiat currency or greenbacks. The Populists also favored federal regulation of railroad rates and a progressive income tax. The Populists tried to forge an alliance between farmers and urban workers but were not entirely successful. In any case, the Populists met in Omaha Nebraska and nominated James B. Weaver, a Congressman from Iowa from 1879-1881, and from 1885-1889 for President along with James G. Field, the former Attorney General of Virginia for Vice-President.

The Prohibition Party obviously supported the prohibition of alcohol, but they also had a progressive platform rather similar to the Populists. In fact, some believed the Populists and the Prohibitionists should merge to form a united progressive party. This plan never came close to materializing, and the Prohibition Party met in Cincinnati to nominate John Bidwell, a former representative from California for president and William Jennings Demorest for vice-president.

There was also the Socialist Labor Party who nominated Simon Wing for president and Charles Matchett for vice-president. The Socialist Labor Party was only on the ballot in five states, but they deserve to be mentioned because this was the first time an explicitly socialist party was on the ballot in the United States.

The main issues of the campaign were, as I said, tariffs and the money question. Populists and many Democrats wanted the nation to adopt a soft money or inflationary monetary policy. It might seem strange to us that many people actually wanted inflation. We are living in an inflationary period in which prices are expected to keep rising. The decades after the Civil War were a period of deflation or decreasing prices in the United States. The American economy was growing very rapidly but because the nation was on the gold standard, the amount of money was limited. If inflation can be described as too much money chasing too few goods, the post Civil War deflation was too little money chasing too many goods. For us, deflation might seem to be a good thing, but in fact, it is not. Excessive deflation can be just as devastating as excessive inflation. For consumers and creditors, deflation can be a good thing, but for producers and debtors, decreasing prices can be a problem, particularly for farmers.

In a way, American farmers had become victims of their own success. American farmers had become enormously productive, flooding the world with their products, causing food prices to plummet, while the supplies they needed remained relatively expensive. The farmers, caught in the middle, hoped that inflationary soft money would get them better prices for their crops. Urban workers, on the other hand, did not like the idea of spending more their meager wages on food, so the hoped-for worker-farmer alliance never materialized because of their differing interests.

Tariffs and labor unrest were the other major issue of the election of 1892. The Republican argument that high protective tariffs led to high wages for industrial workers was undercut when Henry Clay Frick, Chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, abruptly cut wages for the steelworkers at Homestead, Pennsylvania. The workers did not appreciate this and went on strike. The Pinkertons and the State Militia were called in and there was a pitched battle between strikers and strikebreakers. It seemed to many that high tariffs simply increased the profits of the protected industries while raising prices for consumers. Meanwhile, such violent confrontations did not help President Harrison’s chances of reelection.

The Homestead Strike

On Election Day, Grover Cleveland won easily with respectable margins in the popular vote and the Electoral College. Cleveland won 5,556,918 (46%) popular votes to Benjamin Harrison’s 5,176,108 (43%). James Weaver of the Populist Party got 1,041,028 (8.5%) popular votes. In the Electoral College, Cleveland won with 277 electoral votes, sweeping the South and Midwest and winning his home state of New York, as well as New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, along with California. Harrison got just 145 electoral votes in the North and West. Weaver carried five states, North Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada, winning 22 electoral votes.

The Election of 1892

Grover Cleveland won another term making him the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. This second term was marred by the Panic of 1893 and continuing labor unrest. The dissatisfaction that led to the creation of the Populist Party would only grow until it led to the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century.

Independence Day

July 4, 2020

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And so it has been, for the last 244 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

Happy Independence Day.

You Say You Want a Revolution

June 17, 2020

I think that everyone agrees that the death of George Floyd was a heinous act of murder and that the officer responsible, Derek Chauvin, ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This is a literal no-brainer. I would also like to think that everyone agrees that looting and rioting are bad things, unlikely to have positive results. Somehow, this is not as obvious. There seem to be a fairly large number of people who have been taking to social media to excuse, justify, and encourage the rioters.

These people don’t really seem to be all that concerned with Black Lives. They don’t seem to care much about the Black lives that are destroyed when Black neighborhoods are burned down. Instead, they seem to be most interested in living out some role-playing fantasy of revolution. Since these people are fools who don’t have any idea of what they are leading the country into, I am going to explain just what living in a country where the people have decided they would rather kill each other rather than live in peace is really like.

Is this what you want?

Wars, revolutions, and civil disturbances are interesting to read about in history books. Movies and books make war and revolution exciting, glamourous, even romantic. Who wouldn’t want to be like Luke Skywalker or Katniss Everdeen, leading the good fight against the Evil Empire? Real life is very different. In real life, civil conflict is not exciting and glamorous. It is frightening, ugly, and brutal. Just look up some of the places in the world where the people have decided that they prefer to kill each other than living in peace. Here is a shortlist of recent examples; Syria, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, The Congo. There are many more. Look up the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution for just a few, not so recent examples. You do not want to be living in a country that has torn itself apart. Trust me, you really don’t.

Let me give you an idea of what it is like to live in a country where people have decided it is better to resolve their disputes violently rather than peacefully. Let’s imagine you are living in America about ten years from now.

You wake up early to go to work. It used to be about a thirty-minute commute into the city to the office, but that was before the Uprising and the fighting. These days you never know how long it will take if you can make it at all. There hasn’t been much fighting in this part of the country lately. Just the usual terrorist bombings and attacks by the Resistance forces hiding out the country. The government says they have the situation under control and the Resistance is losing. They have been saying that a lot.

On the way to work, you have to veer into the next lane to avoid the crater left by the bomb that went off last month. They say the Resistance was targeting a military convoy. If so, they must have set the timer wrong because the bomb took out three cars full of people going to work, just like you. You saw the explosion from a distance. You were late to work that day because it took the emergency responders three hours to clear away the wreckage. They had to be careful. Sometimes the Resistance plants second bombs to kill the people trying to save the victims.

You are stopped twice at military checkpoints. Each time you show your ID to the soldiers and explain that you are on your way to work. You try to keep calm and not act suspiciously. Under the State of Emergency, the police and military have the power to detain anyone they suspect of aiding and supporting the Resistance for seventy-two without charges. Each time, the soldiers check your ID against the online database and let you pass. It is getting harder to move around these days. You are lucky to be working in the same county you live in. If you lived in another country they would be checking your ID more closely and asking if you really need to cross a county line to work. It is very difficult to cross a state line these days. You would need to demonstrate a legitimate need to travel to receive your travel permit. This is all very inconvenient, but if it helps stops the terrorists, maybe it is worth it.

At work, you overhear some of your co-workers talking about politics and recent events. That can be dangerous. Expressing sympathy for the Resistance could get you a visit from the police if you are lucky. If not, you could simply disappear one night. No one really knows what happens to the people who disappear, though there are stories. Maybe they are shot and buried out in the country. Maybe they are taken to work camps in North Dakota. Who knows? Its also not safe to show too much support for the government. The Resistance has been known to assassinate people who speak out against them. You are just glad you have no close family in the police or military. More than one cop or soldier has come home to find the mutilated corpses of his family waiting for him, murdered as a lesson or in retaliation. It’s best to stay quiet and mind your own business.

You have to stop at the grocery store on your way home. There is not much on the shelves and what little there is, is terribly expensive. War and terrorism play havoc with supply chains. You also have to stop at a gas station to refuel. You hate to do this since gasoline is over $10 per gallon, after the refineries in the Gulf were blown up. Before you can pull in, you are stopped by policemen. They ask you to get out of your car so they can search it. It seems that the Friends of the Earth have taken to leaving car bombs at gas stations to fight global warming or something. Its strange, but last winter was the coldest you can remember. Maybe that was because you couldn’t afford heating though.

 

At home, you turn on the television. the President is giving a speech about the recent capture of a major Resistance leader. He looks old. He has been president for a long time, almost nine years. The Uprising began right after the last election. Resistance fighters seized control of several American cities and declared themselves to be the Socialist Republic of North America. Fighting broke out all over the country. The Capitol was bombed while Congress was meeting and the twenty surviving members of Congress voted unanimously to suspend the constitution and grant the president emergency powers. The President ordered the military to take back control of the cities by any means necessary. The Uprising was crushed but the Resistance lived on. The fighting has continued to the present day.

The power goes out abruptly. This is a regular occurrence. Maybe a power line was cut or a transformer blown up. Maybe no one has the time to keep up maintenance on the infrastructure anymore. You decide to go to bed early. As you lay in your bed, you hear the distant sound of gunfire. The Resistance has emerged from their hiding places and is fighting the military. You hope the fighting doesn’t spread to your neighborhood like it did last year. Its hard to get any sleep in the basement, hoping no one decides to loot or burn down your apartment building. With that thought, you drift off to sleep.

Does this sound like fun or exciting to you? Is living in a country that is fighting itself likely to improve anyone’s life? And keep in mind that that was a fairly optimistic scenario with the government was mostly intact and fighting limited to terrorism and guerrilla war. I can imagine worse scenarios. Imagine how bad it would be to live in a country with no functioning government, just rival gangs or militias fighting it out all over the country. Or imagine if different factions of the US military took different sides in a civil war. How would you feel watching a race-based militia doing door to door, dragging out your neighbors who happen to have the wrong skin color and shooting them in the street? How would you like fleeing for your life from such a militia with nothing but the clothes on your back? Do you think you would enjoy living in a refugee camp because your home was bombed?

Revolution is not exciting or romantic. It is terrible. You do not want to be living in the middle of a civil war, yet that seems to be the way our country is heading. We have got to decide to step back from the cliff. No matter how bad you think the president is, or how much you think the Republicans or the Democrats are screwing things up, the alternative is far, far worse. You say you want a revolution. You have no idea what you are wishing for.

Lead by Example

May 28, 2020

Earlier this month around two hundred celebrities signed on to an editorial in the French newspaper Le Monde calling for a radical transformation of the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I read about it in James Barret’s article in the Daily Wire.

A collection of over 200 Hollywood stars and scientists have signed an editorial this week calling on world leaders and citizens to embrace “radical transformation” of our economies and values post-coronavirus crisis in order to avoid what they say will be “the massive extinction of life on Earth.”

Among the signatories of the alarmist message are several high-profile actors, including Robert De Niro, Madonna, Cate Blanchett, Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Eva Green, Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Willem Defoe and Joaquin Phoenix.

The usual gang of celebrity idiots.

The editorial, published in the French paper Le Monde on Wednesday, presents the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to “examine what is essential” and to recognize that “the massive extinction of life on Earth is no longer in doubt, and all indicators point to a direct existential threat.”

I am glad that Mr. Barrett provides a translation of the editorial since my French skills are limited to Je m’appelle David and J’aime parler francais.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a tragedy. This crisis is, however, inviting us to examine what is essential. And what we see is simple: “adjustments” are not enough. The problem is systemic.

The ongoing ecological catastrophe is a meta-crisis: the massive extinction of life on Earth is no longer in doubt, and all indicators point to a direct existential threat. Unlike a pandemic, however severe, a global ecological collapse will have immeasurable consequences.

We therefore solemnly call upon leaders — and all of us as citizens – to leave behind the unsustainable logic that still prevails and to undertake a profound overhaul of our goals, values, and economies.

What precise steps should we be taking?

The pursuit of consumerism and an obsession with productivity have led us to deny the value of life itself: that of plants, that of animals, and that of a great number of human beings. Pollution, climate change, and the destruction of our remaining natural zones has brought the world to a breaking point.

For these reasons, along with increasing social inequalities, we believe it is unthinkable to “go back to normal.”

The radical transformation we need – at all levels – demands boldness and courage. It will not happen without a massive and determined commitment. We must act now. It is as much a matter of survival as one of dignity and coherence.

For these reasons, along with increasing social inequalities, we believe it is unthinkable to “go back to normal.”

The radical transformation we need – at all levels – demands boldness and courage. It will not happen without a massive and determined commitment. We must act now. It is as much a matter of survival as one of dignity and coherence.

I have a suggestion. If these people are so concerned about the fate of the Earth and are willing to make a radical transformation, there is a simple thing they can do that might make life better for all of us. They can retire from show business. Actors can stop making movies. Musicians can stop going on tour. I don’t think there is any industry other than the entertainment industry that consumes so much of the world’s resources and has so large a carbon footprint while being completely nonessential.

What’s more, the lavish lifestyles of these celebrities affect the environment far more than the lives of the ordinary people they keep scolding. Why don’t these entertainers give up their huge mansions, their private planes, and whatever other luxuries they spend their money on and live the life of an ordinary middle-class American? In fact, if they are really so concerned about social inequality, why not give up their multi-million dollar salaries and work for the American median income? After all, as a wise man said, “At a certain point you’ve made enough money”. If the world is really in so much danger from ecological collapse, why not give all their money away and decrease their environmental footprint to a bare minimum by adopting the lifestyle of a third world peasant. Let them lead by example.

They won’t of course. These people are actors playing another role, speaking lines written for them, which is why we shouldn’t pay too much attention to entertainers. If they want us to believe that there is some great crisis necessitating a radical transformation of our society and economy, they should act like it and take the first step. I won’t be holding my breath waiting.


%d bloggers like this: