Toys Were Us

March 18, 2018

This is sad. Toys R Us is closing all of its stores. Here’s the report from the Washington Post.

Toy store chain Toys R Us is planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores, affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The news comes six months after the retailer filed for bankruptcy. The company has struggled to pay down nearly $8 billion in debt — much of it dating to a 2005 leveraged buyout — and has had trouble finding a buyer. There were reports earlier this week that Toys R Us had stopped paying its suppliers, which include the country’s largest toymakers. On Wednesday, the company announced it would close all 100 of its U.K. stores. In the United States, the company told employees closures would likely occur over time, and not all at once, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

Toys R Us, once the country’s preeminent toy retailer, has been unable to keep up with big-box and online competitors. The recent holiday season dealt another blow to the embattled company, which struggled to find its footing even as the retail industry racked up its largest gains in years. In January, the retailer announced it would close 182 U.S. stores, or about one-fifth of its remaining Toys R Us and Babies R Us locations.

What is going to happen to all the Toys R Us kids?

I guess they all grew up and kids today get their toys from WalMart and

The glory of capitalism is its ability to engage in creative destruction. Businesses and industries are all subject to the strict discipline of the market. If they can no longer serve their customers in an efficient manner, they are destroyed to make way for businesses that can. The result is, hopefully, ever-increasing prosperity. We ought not to be over sentimental about the loss of Toys R Us. The company has not been functioning well for some time. If Amazon or Walmart can deliver toys to children cheaper and more efficiently, than so much the better for all of us.

I cannot help, though, thinking that we are losing something. I know using e-commerce to deliver products right to your door is more convenient. I know superstores like WalMart are cheaper. But, I am afraid that the children of the future are going to be missing out on something special, the delight in stepping into a store full of nothing but toys. Maybe smaller toy store chains will take Toy R Us’s place. Maybe not. I guess there is no stopping progress, if that is what this is, but I regret the losses along the way.


St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2018

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

The Election of 1868

March 15, 2018

The crisis of secession and the Civil War did not end with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Even as the war ended, there remained the difficult process of Reconstruction with important questions to decide. Under what conditions were the defeated,  former Confederate states to be readmitted into the Union? Should the South be treated leniently, as though the Rebellion had never happened, or should it be harshly punished?  The Civil War had settled the question of slavery once and for all, but what would be done with all the Black former slaves. Were they to have equal rights with their White former masters, including the right to vote? Could a population held in bondage and kept ignorant and uneducated be expected to use their new-found freedom responsibly? It would have required a leader with the wisdom and political acumen of Abraham Lincoln to make these fateful decisions. Unfortunately, thanks to John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln was no longer available to lead the country through the shoals of Reconstruction and his successor, Andrew Johnson was a man who entirely lacked the wisdom and political acumen the country badly needed.

Both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson favored a lenient policy towards the defeated South. Lincoln’s position on the civil rights of the freed slaves was somewhat ambiguous. While he was always opposed to slavery, Lincoln had never been an advocate for racial equality. There is some evidence that towards the end of the war Lincoln was beginning to evolve on the issue and support some measure of civil rights protection for the freed slaves, including, perhaps, the franchise.

Andrew Johnson’s position was not ambiguous at all. As a man who had worked his way up from the humblest class of poor Southern Whites, Johnson had had no use for the Blacks as slaves and still less regard for them as freedmen. President Johnson’s views inevitably led to clash with Congress which was under the control of the Radical Republicans, who wanted to see the South punished for the Rebellion, and were deeply concerned for the freed slaves. Ultimately, the struggle between the president and Congress led to Johnson being impeached in 1868, only escaping conviction by one vote.

Needless to say, there was no chance of Andrew Johnson running for a second term. The Republicans met in Chicago on May 20, while Johnson’s impeachment trial was underway in Washington. They nominated General Ulysses S. Grant on the first ballot. Grant had not held any previous political office and he had never shown much interest in politics but the leaders of the Republican party believed they needed to nominate a popular hero to ensure a victory in November and at the time there was no one more popular than the man who had “saved the Union”. This description may be an exaggeration, perhaps, but as the Commanding General of the United States Army, Grant did play an important role in securing the North’s victory. He, along with his friend General William T. Sherman seemed to be the only generals on either side who really understood how to fight and win the Civil War, and winning the victory would have been a great deal more difficult without Grant’s actions in the West and then in overall command. It was true that Grant had no experience in politics, but he was a great general, so how much trouble could he have?

For Grant’s running mate, the Republicans selected Schuyler Colfax. Colfax was a Radical Republican from Indiana who had served in Congress since 1855 and had been Speaker of the House since 1863. The Republicans adopted a platform opposing Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies while supporting the plans of the Radical Republicans particularly supporting the franchise for the former slaves in the South. They were not quite so passionate about Black suffrage in the North, leaving the matter to the “loyal states’ but the Republicans hoped that the freedmen in the South would express their gratitude by voting for them. Grant’s slogan was, “Let us have peace”, which while not perhaps as catchy as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” or “Make America great again”, was appealing to a nation weary of war.

The Democrats had a lot more trouble selecting their candidate when they met at New York from July 4-9. No one wanted Andrew Johnson for a second term, but they couldn’t decide who the presidential nominee would be. The Democratic Party was divided ideologically between conservatives and liberals and regionally between East and West and no one wanted a representative from a rival faction to get the nomination. Finally, after twenty-one ballots the Democrats chose the Chairman of the Democratic Convention and former New York governor, Horatio Seymour. Seymour had  served as Governor of New York from 1853-1854 and again from 1863-1864. Both of his terms had been rather tumultuous costing him reelection both times, but Seymour remained popular in the Democratic Party. He had been a Peace Democrat, striving to find some compromise to bring the seceded states back into the Union while opposing President Lincoln’s conduct of the war, particularly the abridgment of civil liberties. Seymour did not want to be president and tried to refuse the nomination but it was forced upon him. Seymour’s running mate, General Francis Preston Blair, more than made up for Seymour’s lack of zeal, campaigning vigorously after his nomination. Blair had been a Republican, opposed to slavery and secession and had served as a Representative from Missouri from 1857-1859, 1860, and 1861-1864. The gap in his career in Congress was the result of a disputed election for his Congressional district in 1860. During the Civil War Blair was a staunch supporter of Lincoln, but he broke with the Republican Party during Reconstruction, opposing the Radical Republicans on the question of suffrage for the freed slaves, who he viewed as little more than savages.

The election of 1868 was a nasty one. The Republicans labeled Seymour a traitor and Confederate sympathizer for his lack of support for the North and were quick to remind voters which party had been the peace party during that conflict. The Democrats, for their part, condemned Grant as a drunk and an incompetent and made use of race prejudice in their attacks on Congressional Reconstruction, particularly on plans to enfranchise the Black former slaves. The Democrats insisted that the states should be able to set their own policies to determined who could vote. While the Republicans organized the former slaves, counting on their gratitude to the party that had supported abolition, the Democrats employed a curious sort of logic to appeal to the former slaves, when they were not trying to keep them from the polls altogether. They argued that since the Democrats had led the South into succession and the resulting Civil War had led to their emancipation, the Democrats were ultimately responsible for their freedom. The former slaves weren’t buying it.

In the end, the election was a close one in the popular vote. Grant got 3,013,421 or 52.7% of the popular vote while Seymour received 2,706,829 or 47.3%. The Democrats had proved to be rather more popular than most observers had expected. Grant did better in the Electoral College getting 214 Electoral Votes to Seymour’s 80. Grant had carried 26 states, losing Seymour’s home state, New York, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana and Oregon. Texas, Mississippi and Virginia were still under military occupation and did not participate in the election. It was obvious that the freed slaves had put the Republicans over the top in the popular vote totals and the Republicans responded by supporting the fifteenth amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race.

The Election of 1868

Pi Day

March 14, 2018
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.


National Labor Relations Board Rules Damore Firing Legal

March 11, 2018

As far as I am concerned, Google’s firing of James Damore for expressing the politically incorrect memo about the role of biology concerning the gender gap in tech positions belongs in the category of things they had a right to do, but ought not to have done. As a general rule, I believe that companies ought to have a right to hire and fire whoever they please. I find, however, the reasoning used by the National Labor Relations Board in their ruling that Damore’s termination was legal to be somewhat alarming in its implications concerning the future of free speech and free thought in this country.

Before getting into that issue, I have to comment that the article about this that I read in Wired is as a good example of biased and frankly dishonest reporting that you may find anywhere.

GOOGLE DID NOT violate federal labor law when it fired James Damore, a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concluded in a lightly-redacted memo made public Thursday. The former senior software engineer was fired from Google in August after internally circulating a ten-page memo arguing in part that women are not as biologically suited for coding jobs as men.

I wonder whether Louise Matsakis, the author of the piece, is too lazy to actually read the memo, lacks fundamental reading comprehension skills, or is simply mendacious. Damore’s memo, which you can read here, does not state that women are not capable or suited for coding jobs. What Damore does argue is that there are real biological differences between men and women. Alongside the obvious physical differences, there are more subtle differences in emotional responses and cognition. Men and women do not necessarily want the same things out of life nor do they necessarily have the precise same skill sets. There may be some truth to the stereotype that boys are better at math while girls are better at language.

This means that the underrepresentation of women in tech fields may not be entirely due to sexism. It is possible, even probable that fewer women than men are interested in a career in STEM fields and that relatively fewer women possess the skills necessarily for success in such fields. This is not to say that women ought not to enter such fields or that girls who are interested shouldn’t be encouraged, but it may help explain why STEM fields continue to be male dominated and why programs to interest girls may not be as successful as one might hope.

Whether James Damore’s assertions are valid remains to be seen. The idea that men and women may have different interests and abilities ought not to be controversial though. It is remarkable that the same people who believe that there are fifty-seven genders cannot accept the idea that there might be real biological differences between the two real genders or that the people who worship at the altar of diversity balk at the notion of real diversity between groups of people.

As I mentioned the legal reasoning behind the National Labor Relations Board’s decision is disturbing.

The NLRB memo released Friday was written by attorney Jayme Sophir in January—less than ten days after Damore filed his lawsuit.

Sophir concluded that Damore’s memo contained both protected statements (like criticizing Google) and not protected statements (perpetuating stereotypes about women), and that Google ultimately fired Damore for things he said that were not protected under federal law. Sophir wrote in her memo that workplaces should have the ability to “‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a ‘hostile workplace.'”

She also said that Damore’s statements about women in his memo “were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding effort to cloak comments with ‘scientific’ references and analysis, and notwithstanding ‘not all women’ disclaimers. Moreover, those statements were likely to cause serious dissension and disruption in the workplace.” Sophir’s memo also cites two instances in which women withdrew their candidacy for engineering positions at Google after learning about the existence of Damore’s memo.

“We are gratified that the NLRB General Counsel found that Google acted lawfully in not allowing this employee to create a hostile work environment,” Cameron Fox and Al Latham, attorneys from the firm Paul Hastings, which represents Google, said in an emailed statement.

James Damore’s employee conduct was writing a memo which contained opinions that some of his co-workers did not like. He wrote the memo in a dry, scientific tone presenting the evidence for his positions in as unbiased and inoffensive manner as possible. He was not trying to offend anyone or cause dissention and disruption in his workplace. Has it become the obligation of employers to nip in the bud viewpoints that dissent from politically correct orthodoxy?

It is not really possible in this for progressives to use the government to impose censorship by means of hate speech laws as they have in other countries, because of that pesky first amendment. Instead they seem to be trying to impose ideological conformity by taking control of private institutions. They have already succeeded in turning many universities into mini-North Koreas, totalitarian enclaves where dissent is swiftly punished. Now they seem to be turning their efforts to employers and social media. If this trend is not checked, we could find ourselves in a country in which the first amendment has become a dead letter. We will still have a theoretical right to free speech, but persons who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy will be denied a platform and will find themselves unemployed and unemployable. This is actually a far more effective way to control dissent than the gulag. Throw a man in jail who speaking heresy and there is the risk that he may become a martyr, a hero to admire and emulate. Deny a man a job for speaking out and he is just an unemployed loser that no one has ever heard of.

With all the discussion of the hostile work environment caused by James Damore’s memo, one  question seems to be overlooked, are the assertions made in the memo true? It seems that the question of whether someone is offended or upset by Damore’s statements is far more important than whether his statement are actually true. If what Damore has to say is false, than it can be debunked. If it is true, than it calls into question a lot of policies meant to increase diversity in the tech industry. Either way, the fact that people are upset over Damore’s memo proves nothing. I cannot help but feel that it was no great loss to Google that the two women withdrew there applications for engineering positions. If they cannot handle facts and opinions that they disagree with, they have no place in a field as innovative as the tech industry. In fact, they have no place in the adult world at all and would best return to their safe spaces at kindergarten.

Silicon Valley has long been the most innovative center of the most innovative industry in the most innovative country in the world. I find it hard to believe that such innovation can continue in an industry, or country, in which feelings are prized above facts and dissenting opinions are viewed with hostility will continue to be innovative. It is not a good sign that Communist China might be a place more open to presenting controversial ideas than Silicon Valley and it would be unfortunate if repressive China takes the lead in developing new technologies over the formerly free United States. Perhaps, if Silicon Valley continues to be hostile to free speech and free thought, innovative people will decide to go elsewhere. Certainly if the United States becomes hostile to free speech and free thought, we will not continue to be the leader in science and technology.

Like Clockwork

February 18, 2018

It happens every time, like clockwork. There is a horrific mass shooting somewhere in America and right away the Democrats are exploiting the tragedy to promote “common sense” gun control.

Friend —

Yesterday afternoon, a 19-year-old with a weapon of war walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire, killing 17 people and injuring many others.

We have seen this happen too many times. This is not normal. This is not acceptable. This is not inevitable. It’s long past time for our leaders to stop pretending we are helpless in the face of such tragedy.

Let’s be very clear about something. The vast majority of Americans support common-sense solutions to prevent this type of gun violence. But the special interests that stand against measures like universal background checks are ruthless — and they’re also better organized.

Each election cycle, the NRA spends tens of millions of dollars to defeat candidates who will stand against their extreme agenda — and as a result, many Republican elected officials owe their election in part to support from the gun lobby. So it’s no surprise why gun violence prevention legislation never makes any progress in Congress.

Enough is enough. What we’re letting happen right now in America is madness. Our children and our country deserve better.

We deserve a Congress that is willing to take up this debate. We deserve more than thoughts and prayers when these tragedies happen. We deserve leaders who understand the urgent need to take action on this issue.

Changing our gun laws won’t stop every mass shooting — but it will stop some of them. And we have to try.

There are solutions that can address our nation’s epidemic of gun violence — such as expanding background checks and closing the gun-show loophole. Now we just need to elect a Congress with the courage to stand up to the gun lobby.

We must not become numb to these horrendous mass shootings. We must keep fighting.


Tom Perez
Democratic National Committee

P.S. It is up to all of us to demand action on this issue. Add your name to tell Congress it’s past time to take action to address our country’s gun violence epidemic:

Before we have this discussion yet again, there are some questions that need to be answered.

First, why didn’t the Democrats enact “common sense” gun control during the first half of President Obama’s first term when they had control of both houses of Congress? For a short time, they even had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. They were able to get Obamacare through on a strict party line vote, why not the gun control they say they wanted? Probably because they had some idea of how unpopular such legislation would be in “Flyover Country”. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 may well have been a contributing factor in the Democrat’s loss of their majority in both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years.

Speaking of unpopular gun control measures, what about this idea that gun control is favored by a vast majority of Americans with only the nefarious NRA and their Big Money standing in the way, presumably because the NRA just loves to see people shot? Well, American public opinion on guns and gun control is complicated. Most Americans do indeed support some form of restrictions on gun ownership, in the abstract. When you ask about detailed proposals, though, opinion gets more polarized with less public support. And, how does the NRA have so much political clout and money? Could it possibly be because it has a large number of members and supporters who mostly agree with the NRA’s positions on gun control? Isn’t it possible that the NRA is less extreme and more mainstream than Tom Perez, at least outside the more liberal coasts and in rural areas?

What gun control legislation is actually likely to be effective? How effective are universal background checks, closing loopholes and the like actually going to be at preventing the next tragedy? This is not to say such legislation is not a good idea, it might or might not be, but will it really have much of an effect. And, how well are current laws to prevent people with mental illness or a criminal record being enforced? It is no good putting laws on the books if they are not enforced with some rigor. I think, that the only thing likely to really affect the level of gun violence in the United States would be to greatly curtail the private ownership of guns, even an outright ban on gun ownership. This is undesirable for many reasons and is politically impossible, at present. If the Democrats were honest, though, this would be what they would be proposing.

Would such extreme measures be necessary? Contrary to the impressions you might get from the media, crime rates have been declining in the United States for the last two decades. Mass shootings, while always tragic, comprise only a tiny minority of the crimes in this country. It is not clear whether the number of mass shootings has been rising in recent years. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what defines a mass shooting their particular agenda seems to affect the way they interpret the data. Mass shootings get a lot of attention, but they are not typical of the violent crimes committed in the United States.

One more question. Guns have been around for a long time. They were probably even more ubiquitous back when most Americans lived in rural areas. Why have we only seen mass shootings, especially in schools, in the last few decades? We didn’t have these shootings in the 1960’s, or the ’50’s or the ’40’s. Why not? Andrew Klavan has an answer that I mostly agree with, though the fact that violent crime has been decreasing might undermine his theory, and I am not sure I want to point the finger of partisan blame just now.

It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:

When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody… Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I’ll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn’t change, we changed.

It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.

I am a First Amendment purist and don’t want to see expression censored in any way. And I don’t argue that there’s a straight line between any specific cultural creation and bad acts. But surely, a culture in which those in authority approve of and argue for things like gangsta rap and GTA — and indeed for the use of violenceto silence speech that offends them — well, such a culture becomes a machine for transforming madness into murder.

For fifteen years and more, I have been complaining that the right is silenced in our culture — blacklisted and excluded and ignored in entertainment, mainstream news outlets, and the universities. But the flip side of that is this: the degradation of our culture is almost entirely a leftist achievement. Over the last fifty years, it’s the left that has assaulted every moral norm and disdained every religious and cultural restraint.

The left owns the dismal tide. They don’t like the results? They’re looking for someone or something to blame? Maybe they should start by hunting up a mirror.

Maybe the fault is not in the guns, but in ourselves.

The Right to Give the Finger

February 17, 2018

Does the right to free speech include the right to make an obscene gesture at a state trooper? I guess we’ll find out once Mark May’s lawsuit goes to court. Here is the story from WHAS News.

An Indiana man is contending in a federal lawsuit that his right to free speech was violated after he was ticketed for showing a state trooper his middle finger.

The Tribune Star of Terre Haute reports that Mark May is seeking unspecified damages against Indiana State Police Master Trooper Matt Ames.

In the suit, May says Ames cut him off in traffic in pursuit of another driver in August. While Ames was conducting the traffic stop, May admitted to making the vulgar gesture while he drove past the officer.

May says Ames then pursued May and issued him a ticket for provocation, deemed a Class C infraction in Indiana. The charge comes with a fine of up to $500.

May challenged the decision in Terre Haute City Court but was found guilty. He asked for it to be reviewed in Vigo County Superior Court, which deemed the judgment to be void.

The suit was filed by Kenneth Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, who says May’s actions were protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“Mr. May’s gesture, which in no way interfered with the Master Trooper’s lawful activities, was fully protected by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit reads. “The stop represents an unconstitutional seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Indiana State Police have not commented on the lawsuit.

Now, I am an absolutist on the subject of free speech. I do not believe there should be any restrictions on what you can say, other than the obvious exceptions of inciting violence or criminal act or defamation. This means that I think that Mark May had a right to make any gesture he wanted and I hope that he wins his case.

I feel I should add, however that just because you have a right to do something, it does not follow that you ought to do it. Mr. May has a perfect right to make whatever gesture or say whatever he wants. That doesn’t mean he ought to. It would seem inadvisable to offend someone who has the power to arrest you. It’s rude anyway to show such disrespect, particularly to a person whose job is to keep you safe, and never makes never makes a situation better.

I have to confess I have been guilty of flipping the bird in the past, even to police officers who have given me a ticket. I am making a resolution not to do that again. The court may decide I have the right to show the fighter to anyone, even a cop, better I ought not to.

Maybe we would all be better off if we thought less of what we have a right to do and more on what we ought to do.

Ash Wednesday

February 14, 2018
English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

Image via Wikipedia

Today also happens to be Ash Wednesday, which begins the forty-day period day Lent in the liturgical calendar. Ash Wednesday is celebrated by many denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, and even some Baptists. Ashes are placed on the foreheads of the celebrants in the shape of a cross, hence the name. The ashes are traditionally from the palms from the previous Palm Sunday after they were burned. As Lent is a period of repentance and fasting, the ashes symbolize sorrow for the sins committed.

As I said, Lent is a period of fasting, though few people actually fast for forty days. Generally Christians who take part in Lent abstain from meat on Fridays and give up some favorite thing, a favorite food or habit.

Ash Wednesday is a movable fast because always occurs forty-six days before Easter which is also movable.The forty days are a reminder of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Lent ends on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2018
English: Saint Valentine kneeling


Today is Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine‘s Day. Who was Valentine and why does he get a day named after him? The truth is, nobody really knows.Valentine or Valentinus was the name of an early Christian saint and martyr. The trouble is that nothing is known of him except his name. He may have been a Roman priest who was martyred in 269. There was a Valentine who was bishop of Terni who may have been the same man. St. Valentine was dropped from the Roman calendar of Saints in 1969 because of these uncertainties but local churches may still celebrate his day.

It is also not certain how Valentine’s day became associated with love. Some have speculated that the holiday was a Christian substitute for the Roman festival of Lupercalia. However, there is no hint of any association of Valentine’s Day with romance until the time of Chauncer. The holiday seems to have really taken off with the invention of greeting cards.

. Valentine postcard, circa 1900–1910

The Map of Slavery

February 13, 2018

Take a look at this map.

As the article in states, this is a map produced by the US Coast Survey which depicts the proportion of the residents of each county in the South who were slaves, the darker the shading, the higher the percentage of slaves. The darkest areas, along the Mississippi and some other regions, were counties with more than ninety percent of their population in bondage. This map clearly shows the extent in which the rural South had become dependent on slave labor, particularly in those regions most suitable for the establishment of large plantations. In many such regions, the Black slaves outnumbered the White population. The population of slaves in such urban regions that existed in the Old South along with areas, such as the Appalachian Mountains and West Texas that were ill suited for plantation agriculture was far lower.

While interesting in itself, this map of slavery might also provide an clue which tells us just what why the South seceded and what they were really fighting for in the Civil War.

It is not easy to determine just how many people in the South actually were in favor of secession. Public opinion polls did not exist yet. In most cases, the Southern states seceded by calling for special conventions of elected delegates, who voted on the question of secession. Obviously, the men who were sent to these conventions were already predisposed to be in favor of secession, but the actual votes were closer than one might expect, given the controversy that the election of Abraham Lincoln had produced throughout the South. It is possible that if enough time had been allowed for passions to cool, and for the Southern leaders opposed to secession to organize, the secession crisis might have been averted. As it was the Secessionists moved quickly and there is evidence that they acted to intimidate opponents of succession in some areas.

Still, while support for secession was far from unanimous in the South, it is likely that a majority of the people throughout the South did support secession. There was considerable regional variation, though. In general, it seems that the support for secession was greatest in the seven states of the Lower South who were the first to secede. There was likely less support for secession in the four states of the Upper South which succeeded later, as war became imminent Eastern Tennessee and Western Virginia were notorious for their pro-Union sentiments, and the western counties of Virginia themselves succeeded to form the state of West Virginia. Of the four slave states that stayed in the Union, only Delaware with almost no actual slaves had no movement towards succession, while the remaining three had at least enough people opposed to succession to keep their states in the Union, although there was enough support for succession in Missouri and Kentucky for there to be a Civil War within each state.

Now, if you look at that map of slavery again, you may notice that, in general, support for succession tended to be highest in those regions that that were most dependent on slave labor. Since the end of the Civil War, there have been those who have argued that secession and the Civil War were not about slavery. The Civil War was fought over states’ rights or the economic policies of the North, particularly the high, protective tariffs Northern manufacturers favored. This map gives the lie to such assertions. Support for the Confederacy was highest where slaves were most numerous. Where slavery was rare, so was enthusiasm for secession. If you don’t believe what the Southern leaders themselves said about their reasons for succession, believe what the map shows, a clear link between slavery and succession.

That is not to say that slavery was the only cause of the secession and Civil War, nor that the men who fought for the Confederate States did so in order to protect the institution of slavery. There were a lot of other factors, both political and economic, behind the sectional tensions between North and South, but slavery was the one issue that made compromise impossible. They might be able to meet each other half way on issues like tariffs, but slavery was a moral issue which aroused people’s emotions. The country could not remain half slave and half free. It is true that most of the men who enlisted in the Confederate Army were only fighting for their country, but the way wouldn’t have been fought at all if it were not for slavery.

The American Civil War was fought over slavery. There is simply no way to deny it without completely ignoring the historical evidence. The men who fought for the South May have been brave and honorable, but they were fighting for the worst cause imaginable.

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