Columbus Day

October 8, 2018
Christophorus Columbus, portrait by Sebastiano...

Image via Wikipedia

Today is Columbus day in the United States, celebrating the day that Christopher Columbus reached the New World. In Berkeley and some other Leftist enclaves it is Indigenous People’s Day, in which Western Civilization is condemned for its many crimes against humanity. Columbus Day is no big deal, just a three day weekend for banks and such. Still, should we honor Christopher Columbus with a day?

I think we can absolve Columbus of the destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples. That was inevitable. Europe’s sailing and navigation techniques were advancing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before someone stumbled across the Americas. Since the natives were centuries behind in technology and had no immunity to smallpox and other diseases the Europeans brought, they were doomed. They weren’t entirely helpless victims though. They did fight, with varying degrees of success. But between between the massive death toll from disease and their own disunity, often they were more interested in using the guns they acquired from European traders to fight traditional rivals than the Europeans, the Native Americans were doomed.

Still, Columbus did set the pattern by enslaving the natives of the islands he discovered.From the Wikipedia article there is this excerpt from his log.

From the 12 October 1492 entry in his journal he wrote of them, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.”[39] He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, writing, “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”[40

He seems not to have been a very good governor of Isabella, the first Spanish colony in the New World. He was charged with excessive cruelty and sent back to Spain in chains. These charges might be false though, since Ferdinand and Isabella felt they had promised him too much reward for his discoveries. Before he set out, they had promised him governorship any lands he discovered. As it became obvious to everyone but Columbus that he had discovered a whole continent, the king and queen wanted a bigger share.

Maybe the biggest reason not to celebrate is that he was wrong. The popular view is of Columbus bravely asserting that the Earth is round against the scholars and intellectuals of his time who “knew” the Earth was flat. Of course everyone knew the Earth was round. The scholars and intellectuals knew about how large the Earth actually was and they knew perfectly well that Columbus was fudging his calculations to make his voyage seem feasible. If the Americas hadn’t been in the way, his voyage would have ended in disaster.

For all that though, I like Christopher Columbus. Despite his flaws, and he was only a man of his time, he was brave and he had vision, two qualities that are rare enough in any time, especially our own. So, by all means, let’s celebrate this man and his deeds.

Advertisements

Antiquated Notions

October 5, 2018

Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii, has some interesting things to say regarding the sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) told men to “shut up and step up” when it comes to Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault accusation. Asked whether her being one of four women on the Senate Judiciary Committee impacts the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, Senator Hirono says, “I just want to say to the men of this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”

“Not only do women like Dr. Ford, who bravely comes forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed. They need to be believed,” Hirono said. “We cannot continue the victimization and the smearing of someone like Dr. Ford.”

“We have to create an environment where women can come forward and be heard and be listened to. I want to thank Dr. Ford. I commend her courage. I believe her,” the Senator said.

I gather that the Senator from Hawaii feels that due process, the presumption of innocence, and the rule of law, in this day and age are somewhat antiquated notions. There may have been a time in the dark past in which someone who made an accusation which might destroy a man’s life and career might have been asked to provide some sort of corroborating evidence for that accusation, but we know better today. Asking for proof before believing such accusations is fascist. Questioning the veracity of an accuser is  misogynist victim shaming. We know that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth because she is a woman and a victim. We know that Brett Kavanaugh is guilty because he is a man. What more do we need to condemn him. After all, even if the specific allegations are factually untrue, men have been abusing  women for millenia, so they should always be believed.

Obviously, I am being somewhat facetious, but this really seems to be the attitude of a disturbingly large number of Democrats. These principles, due process, presumption of innocence, and the rule of law are not antiquated and outmoded concepts to be cast aside when they happen to be inconvenient. They are the bedrock principles of our legal system, derived from centuries of Anglo-Saxon common law. They are the principles of any legal system that claims to be just. To abandon these principles would mean adopting the jurisprudence of the Salem witch trials in which the accusation amounted to a conviction, spectral evidence was permitted, and anyone who dared to defend the rights of the accused was considered to be in league with the witches.

The fact is that no one has a right to be believed and the burden of proof must lie with the accuser rather than the accused. No accusation, however serious, can be acted upon if there is no evidence that corroborates it, even if the accusation is true. Brett Kavanaugh may have actually assaulted Christine Ford thirty years ago, but if she cannot provide any witnesses or evidence, there is nothing anyone can or should do. She may know what happened, but we don’t and we cannot condemn a man on one person’s accusation. This is the way it has to be. Otherwise we run the risk of punishing the innocent.

It may be traumatic for rape or assault survivors to see their attackers get away with their crimes. That is unfortunate, but irrelevant. Our legal system must act according to what the evidence says, not on how strongly people’s feelings are. It is true that powerful men have made use of their positions to abuse women. That, also, is irrelevant. We punish individuals for the crimes they, themselves have committed. We do not punish people for the crimes that other people who belong to the same race, gender, etc have committed. It is a principle of Western jurisprudence that collective punishments are unjust.

All of what I have written applies to courts of law and not to the court of public opinion. An individual can believe whatever they want on any subject. Even a Senator can vote to deny confirmation to an official for the most trivial reasons. But, do we really want to live in a country in which nominations and legislation can be vetoed by ill-informed and outraged mobs? Do we really want to live in a society in which any man can have his life and career destroyed by unsubstantiated accusations? That is where Senator Hirono and her fellow Democrats cry of “believe the women no matter what” is leading us.

There is one important difference between the Salem witch trials and the current witch hunts. The men behind the Salem witch trials sincerely believed that the danger posed by the witches justified ignoring long standing legal norms. Some of them even came to regret the excesses of the witch trials when it was all over. They did not use accusations of witchcraft to advance their own political agendas. They did not protect the women they believed to be witches that happened to be in their party. They did not make accusations against people they believed were innocent. And, some of the men behind the witch trials came to regret the excesses they were responsible for.

I do not believe that Senator Hirono and her fellow Democrats believe or even care whether the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh are true. They are are certainly not applying the “believe the woman” standard to the allegations of sexual assault against Keith Ellison. It does not seem credible that the political party that shielded and protected known sexual predators like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy is now concerned about the welfare and safety of women. This is nothing more than a shameless and cynical attempt to derail the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It demonstrates that the Democrats will go to any lengths to gain power including doing away with basic legal and constitutional concepts that are in the way.

A person who does not believe in the basic concepts of our legal system does not belong in the Senate, much less on the Senate Judiciary Committee. A political party that rejects these concepts in favor of the raw pursuit of power does not belong in power. Let’s hope the voters see this in the upcoming midterm elections.

 

 

Renaming Austin

September 22, 2018

The Equity Office of the city of Austin Texas believes that the city ought to change its name.

(CNN)The city of Austin was named after Stephen F. Austin, who is referred to as the “Father of Texas.” But a report released last week by the city’s Equity Office raised the issue that Austin had been a staunch supporter of slavery.

The issue noted by the city’s Equity Office has raised the possibility of renaming the city. The report released last week recommended renaming several streets and removing markers related to the Confederacy.

He “believed slave labor indispensable for Texas to flourish” and “believed that if slaves were emancipated they would turn into ‘vagabonds, a nuisance and a menace.'” It also said that Austin sought to have slave owners compensated if their slaves were freed.

Austin’s name was included in a list of the city’s assets considered “not explicitly Confederate and/or Civil War related but were within the spirit of the resolution representing segregation, racism, and/or slavery.” The Equity Office had put together the list to be considered for further input from City Council. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the city will rename itself, but it has raised the possibility of looking further into this issue.

Who was Stephen F. Austin, is he really the Father of Texas and does he really deserve to have the capital of Texas named after him?

Stephen F. Austin was born in Southwestern Virginia on November 3, 1793. Austin’s family moved west when he was four years old and Stephen grew up in Missouri. Stephen Austin spent his early life in what was then the southwestern frontier, although his family sent him east to Kentucky to attend Transylvania University, where he graduated in 1810. Austin became a lawyer, landowner and politician, with only modest success.

Stephen F. Austin

While Stephen was struggling to rebuild his fortunes after the Panic of 1819, his father, Moses Austin, had acquired what was called an empresario grant from the Spanish government to establish a settlement in Texas, then part of the Spanish colony of New Spain. Moses Austin died in 1821 and Stephen Austin inherited his grant. Austin was unable to make use of his grant right away because Mexico had gained independence from Spain and it was uncertain whether the new Mexican government would honor any grants made by the colonial government. It was not until 1825 that Austin was able to lead the first three hundred families to Texas and establish his colony. Soon more settlers arrived and Texas became an autonomous province under its own American style laws, and customs.

New Spain

Over time, the Mexican government began to grow concerned over this autonomous community. They had expected that the Texans would learn Spanish and convert to Roman Catholicism, in short, to become Mexicans, but the Texans were showing no inclination to do so. Also, the Mexican constitution prohibited slavery and the Texans either pretended their slaves were indentured servants or simply ignored the prohibition altogether. The Mexican government started to exert its authority over the Texans and in 1835 the Texans rebelled.

Stephen Austin had tried to maintain good relations with Mexico, suppressing the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion, a precursor to the later Texas Revolution and supporting the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. He tried hard to persuade the Mexican government to change its policies regarding Texas while dissuading his countrymen from declaring independence. His efforts were unsuccessful and war broke out. Austin fought in the Texan Revolution and after Texas gained independence in 1836, Austin campaigned to be the president of the new republic. He lost to Sam Houston, who appointed him Secretary of State. Austin only served in that role for two months before dying of pneumonia on December 17, 1836.

So, it would seem that Stephen F. Austin’s reputation as the “Father of Texas” is well earned. There would seem to be no reason why the capital city of Texas shouldn’t be named after him, except that like many men of his class and time, he owned slaves. Even worse, Austin helped to introduce slavery into Texas and helped his fellow Texans to evade the Mexican prohibitions against slavery. Is Austin a villain then, to be anathematized?

It is only fair to note that Austin did have deep misgivings about slavery. He was aware that slavery was incompatible with the professed American values of liberty and equality. He was also concerned that in time the population of slaves would grow sufficiently large enough for a successful slave rebellion followed by a general massacre of their White masters. This was no idle concern on his part. This was precisely what had happened in Haiti and what Nat Turner would have done if he had not been betrayed. Yet, Austin could see no practical way to eliminate slavery in Texas or in the South generally. The settlers coming into Texas were from the slave states if they could not bring their slaves, they weren’t coming.

It is easy for us to condemn the slaveholder for not freeing their slaves. We don’t have to consider the practical concerns of emancipation. It was not as easy to free the slaves as we like to think. The slaveholders would have to be compensated. This may seem repugnant to us, but slaves were a considerable portion of a slave owner’s assets. They were cheap labor, collateral for loans, and in a pinch, could be sold for cash. Freeing the slaves would have meant impoverishing many of the slaveholders, and it is not reasonable to expect them to face that prospect with equanimity. There was also the question of what to with the former slaves. Most of the slaves were uneducated and unused to freedom. They had no property. Many only knew how to work in fields. To free the slaves while making no provision for them to make a living was no kindness. We can hardly blame the people of a century ago for failing to resolve such difficult questions. There is no reason to believe that we would be any better at resolving them. If slavery had continued to the present day, we would find it just as difficult to eradicate. Stephen F. Austin cannot be faulted for being a man of his own time.

I also have to wonder how far we are going to go with this. If it is inappropriate to name the capital of Texas after Austin because he owned slaves, what about the nation’s capital. George Washington owned slaves, so should we change the name of Washington D. C., along with the state of Washington? My hometown, Madison, was named after James Madison, and Jefferson County is named for Thomas Jefferson. Should these names be changed. If it is now taboo to celebrate the accomplishments of the men who owned slaves, it is going to be very difficult to honor the great men who founded this country. Perhaps that is really the point.

I think that we need to focus on building a better future together rather on the unpleasantries of the past. That is not to say we should forget or whitewash the past, but there is no point to bringing up old controversies over past circumstances we cannot change. It only serves to divide us and to turn Americans against one another. Maybe that is the point too. I would say that if we to make a better future, the first step would be getting rid of things like the Equity Office of Austin, Texas.

Yom Kippur

September 18, 2018

This evening at sunset Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar began. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishrei, of the Jewish calendar. This year that corresponds to September 18.  On this day Jews ask for forgiveness for the sins they have committed against God and their fellow men over the past year.  They fast for 25 hours on this day, starting about 20 minutes before sundown the previous day and continuing until evening of the day. Jews also attend Synagogue services for much of the day and there are five services in contrast to the usual three prayers on most days and four on Sabbaths. After the last service, they recite they Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”, and blow the Shofar.

Here is the Biblical description of the Day of Atonement.

1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering[a] and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.[b]9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Lev 16:1-34)

Since the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, the ceremonies pertaining to the Most Holy Place cannot now be performed. Instead Jews remember the Temple ceremonies in the Avodah service. Orthodox and most Conservative Synagogues have a detailed recitation of the Temple Ceremony.

Here is a detailed description of the Yom Kippur Services.

So, G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

 

The Election of 1880

September 14, 2018

The election of 1880 was not one of the more exciting elections. That was, perhaps, just as well since the election of 1876 had generated enough excitement to last several election cycles. Neither candidate was particularly memorable and the party platforms of the two major parties were almost indistinguishable.

The Republicans met in Chicago, from June 2-8, for what turned out to be the longest political convention in the party’s history. Because President Hayes had decided against running for re-election, the Republican Party was divided between Stalwarts, supporters of Ulysses S. Grant, who had decided to try for a third term as president, and Half-Breeds, who supported civil service reform and opposed the spoils system and the political machines that dominated both parties. These Half-Breeds, so called because the Stalwarts considered them to be only half Republican, supported the candidacy of James G. Blaine, the former Senator from Maine. Some other Republicans supported John Sherman, a former Senator from Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury under President Hayes and the brother of General William T. Sherman. None of these candidates could win a majority of the delegates, so the balloting went on and on until people began to support a relative unknown, James A. Garfield. Blaine decided to throw his support to his friend Garfield and Garfield finally won the nomination on the thirty sixth ballot.

James A. Garfield was a Congressman from Ohio at the time of his nomination. He was, in fact, the only member of the House of Representatives to be elected president while still serving as a Representative. As a youth, Garfield had worked on a canal boat, earning him the campaign nickname, “Boatman Jim”. Garfield was smart and ambitious and began to consider a career in politics but when the Civil War broke out he fought on the side of the Union rising to the rank of Major General. Garfield was elected to Congress in 1862, where he served from 1863 to 1880. Garfield was probably one of the more intellectual candidates for president in the nation’s history, being the only president who proved a theorem in mathematics. He was also able to simultaneously write in Latin with his right hand and Greek with his left hand. Not very practical, perhaps, but still a neat trick.

Garfield’s running mate was Chester A. Arthur. Chester A. Arthur was almost a symbol of everything that was wrong about American politics of the time. Arthur was a machine politician, rising up through the New York Republican Party, taking various civil service/political patronage jobs such as Customs Inspector of New York from 1871-1878. He was a good friend of Roscoe Conkling, the Senator from New York who controlled the patronage in the state. Arthur was a creature of the spoils system that men like Garfield were trying to eliminate.  Chester A. Arthur did serve in the Union army as quartermaster, an important job, but again as a political appointee, and he made sure he was no where near any fighting.

The Democrats held their convention in Cincinnati from June 22-24. There was many Democrats who wanted Samuel Tilden to run again, but he didn’t really want to go through the stress and trouble of another presidential run. Instead, the Democrats nominated a Civil War hero, General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock had served his country in the Army from 1844, fighting in the Mexican War and the Civil War, rising to the rank of Major General. Hancock had fought heroically at the Battle of Gettysburg, taking command of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac on the first day of the battle. He played a critical role in stopping the Confederate assault on the second day and was wounded on the third day. Hancock had little political experience, but the Democrats believed that nominating a war hero who was known to have opposed secession before the war would insulate them from the usual Republican post-war charges of being the party of treason and secession.

Hancock’s running mate was William Hayden English, a conservative Democrat from Indiana. English had held several posts in the Indiana state government and served as Congressman from 1853-1861. During his terms in the House of Representatives, English was a voice of moderation, trying to prevent the country from breaking apart between North and South. After the election of Lincoln, English urged the Southern states not to secede. As a pro-Union Democrat, English would, like Hancock, deflect charges that the Democrats were the party of rebellion.

There was a third party running in this election, the Greenback Party. The Greenback Party was a populist party which, as the name might indicate, believed that print paper money, or greenbacks, not backed by gold or silver. The federal government had first begun to print greenbacks backed by federal bonds during the Civil War. Thus policy caused the first protracted period of inflation in the United States since the time of the Revolutionary War. This inflationary outcome was precisely what the Greenback Party wanted, since it would result in farmers receiving higher prices for their produce and debts to decrease in real value. The Greenback Party was also in favor of such radical proposals as an eight-hour workday and suffrage for women.

The Greenback Party met in Chicago from June 9-11, and nominated James B. Weaver from Iowa for president. Weaver had begun his political career as a Republican but had grown disenchanted with the party and switched over to the newly formed Greenback Party in 1876 and had served in the House of Representatives as a Greenback from 1879-1881. His running mate was the Texan, Barzillai J. Chambers

The two main parties were largely in agreement on the main issues of the day. Both the Republicans and the Democrats supported hard money, or money backed by gold. Tariffs were the major point of contention between the two parties, and even there there disagreements were mostly on minor details. In this time before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. The Republicans wanted high tariffs to protect American manufacturers. The Democrats wanted lower, but still high, tariffs solely for revenue.

Immigration was another issue in which the parties were in agreement, in particular immigration from China. Everyone wanted to limit Chinese immigration because it was believed that the Chinese workers’ willingness to work for extremely low wages would depress wages for workers generally. No doubt prejudice against people who came from a very different cultural background also played a role. As far as I can tell, no one proposed building a wall along the Pacific coast and making China pay for it, though.

The election turned out to be a close one with James A. Garfield getting 4,446,158 (48.27%) popular votes against Winfield Scott Hancock’s 4,444,260 ( 48.25%) popular votes. James B. Weaver got only 308,649 (3.35%) votes. The Electoral College was somewhat more lopsided. Garfield swept the North and Oregon in the West gaining 214 electoral votes while Hancock won in the South, California and Nevada winning 144 electoral votes. There were some reports of irregularities, as in the election of 1876, but Garfield’s victory was decisive enough that it didn’t matter.

The Election of 1880

Garfield didn’t live to serve a full term as president. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, just three months after his inauguration. Garfield managed to linger until September 29 before finally dying. Reform minded people throughout the nation were dismayed at the prospect of the machine politician and Conkling crony Chester A. Arthur succeeding to the presidency. They need not have worried though. As soon as he took the oath of office, President Arthur underwent a complete metamorphosis in morals and politics. He turned against the spoils system and fully supported civil service reform, signing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883. He wouldn’t even give his old pal Roscoe Conkling the time of day. Arthur turned out to be a decent president, considering that no one ever really wanted him to get the job.

Seventeen Years

September 11, 2018

It has been seventeen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. They are even starting to teach in colleges that it was our fault.   A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only three on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us. I suppose that even memorializing 9/11 is considered Islamophobia today.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day seventeen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote three years ago.

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 were 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 discus 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

 

Rosh Hashanah

September 9, 2018

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days. To be more precise, Rosh Hashanah actually begins this evening, since the Jews have traditionally begun a new day at sunset. This holiday takes place on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calender. Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates wander a bit in our Gregorian calendar. This year it takes place on  September 9-11. 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 would cycle through the year, as the Islamic Calender 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.

 

 

Red State Blue State

August 10, 2018

I have started to read Kurt Schlichter’s “People’s Republic” and its prequel “Indian Country”.  The premise of these two stories is that the United States has split up between the red states and the blue states. The red states have retained the name, and presumably the constitution of the United States of America. The blue states have named themselves the People’s Republic of North America and have adopted a new, progressive constitution. The protagonist, Kelly Turnbull, a former soldier who now assists people fleeing the tyranny of the People’s Republic, is charged with rescuing a young Texan woman who has defected to the People’s Republic, and may not want to come back.

Indian Country is a prequel, telling the story of a previous adventure of Turnbull’s, in which he engaged in an undercover operation to assist people in southern Indiana who are fighting against the tyrannical regime of the People’s Republic. Here is where I begin to have some problems with the story.

Here is the cover of People’s Republic, which presumably shows how the United States is split between red and blue.

 

Now, as a life long Hoosier, I can attest that there is no way that Indiana would voluntarily be part of anything called the People’s Republic. Indiana happens to be one of the redder, more conservative states. We are the home state of Mike Pence. Don’t be fooled by the fact that we currently have a Democratic Senator and have sent some Democrats to Congress. In Indiana, particularly in southern Indiana, even the Democrats are red.

Perhaps Kurt Schlichter believes that in the give and take of the Split Indiana has to go with the blue states because we are surrounded on three sides by blue states and the Ohio River would make a logical border between the two states. That really doesn’t work, however. Ohio is not a blue state but a purple state. That is, Ohio is a swing state that can go either way in presidential elections. The state is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but I suspect that there are just as many rednecks and hillbillies in southern Ohio as there are in Kentucky and West Virginia. Illinois is a deep blue state, but that is mostly due to the densely populated region around Chicago in the north. The Illinoisans in other parts of the state tend to resent Chicago’s domination and there is even a movement for the rest of the state to secede from the Chicago region. Like Indiana, Illinois becomes redder as you move south. It is not unlikely that if Chicago dominated Illinois seceded from the Union to join the People’s Republic; the southern half of Illinois would secede to form South Illinois, just like West Virginia in the first Civil War.

The truth is that few states are entirely red or blue. California is another deep blue state, perhaps the most liberal state in the Union. The whole state of California is not populated by the loony left, only the urban coastal regions from San Francisco to San Diego. The more rural interior of California is conservative, by California standards anyway. Texas is a very red state, but it turns blue along the border and in Austin. Indiana is, as I have said, red, but there are blue enclaves in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and the northwest corner adjacent to the Chicago area.

Here is a map of the 2016 election results by country.

What we see here is a country divided between a small, densely populated region and a large, sparsely populated region. The division between red and blue is not so much a division between red and blue states as a division between red rural areas and blue urban areas. What this means is that any split between red and blue would not occur along neat, geographical lines, as was the division between the Union and the Confederacy. Actually, even the results by county map is somewhat misleading. In every red or blue space, there are still a number of people of the opposite color.

A split between red and blue would be messy. In the preface of People’s Republic, Kurt Schlichter that his story is not any sort of fantasy he wants, but a warning of what could happen if present trends continue unchecked. He is being overoptimistic in assuming a neat, relatively peaceful division. The Civil War is often described as, “brother against brother”. This was not true, except in a metaphorical sense. Except for the inhabitants of the border states, and the small, pre-war officer’s corps, few of the soldiers who fought were related to anyone fighting on the other side. The new civil war would be literally brothers fighting brothers, neighbors fighting neighbors. It would be less Grant and Lee meeting at Appomattox Court House and more Bosnia or Rwanda.

A red-blue split would be messy not only in political terms but also in economics. Part of the reason Kurt Schlichter wrote People’s Republic seems to be to demonstrate the superiority of the Red economic model over the Blue. The capitalist, free market United States is shown to be prosperous, while the People’s Republic has adopted Venezuelan-style socialism with predictable results, an increasingly impoverished country unable to feed its people. This seems fair enough. When you compare North and South Korea or East and West Germany, cases in which both sides share a common language and culture, the superiority of free market capitalism to provide needed goods and services is evident. The problem is that I do not see how it would be possible to divide a country with an economy as interconnected as America’s into two separate states, with no trade between them, without causing massive economic dislocations. I would think that even a peaceful separation would bring about a depression. A civil war would cause an economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look like the height of prosperity. Nor is it clear that the red states would flourish on their own. Losing the coasts, with their population centers and wealth would be a terrible blow. It seems likely that even a decade after the split both sides would be trying to recover.

Kurt Schlichter wrote these novels as a warning. The future he describes is an unpleasant one, but not all that realistic. The actually consequences of a red-blue split would be far worse than anything in these books, which is good reason to extend any effort to make sure nothing like this scenario every takes place. We really need to tone down the rhetoric we use with each other and stop thinking of our fellow Americans as the enemy. We have to accept the results of elections, provided there is no provable fraud, and not delegitimize our elected officials for political gain. Everyone has to start playing by the same rules and not change them whenever they are inconvenient for one side. Most of all we have to learn, or relearn the practice of disagreeing with someone without hating them. If we can’t manage this, then we are all in for a very bad time.

Infowars Banned

August 7, 2018

Facebook, YouTube, and Apple have decided to remove content from Alex Jones and Infowars. Here is the report from CNN.

YouTube, Facebook and Apple have taken steps to remove content associated with InfoWars and its Alex Jones.

Each social media platform said Monday that it had removed content from Jones or InfoWars because it had violated their policies. The companies’ moves shut down key distribution channels that had given the controversial media figure easy access to millions of internet users.

The most dramatic action came last, from YouTube, which is owned by Google (GOOGL). It removed many top channels associated with InfoWars, including The Alex Jones Channel, which had 2.4 million subscribers and videos that were viewed over 1.5 billion times.

“When users violate … policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.

 

But in a message posted Monday on Twitter, Jones encouraged users to access live streams directly from the InfoWars website. He described it as “the one platform that they CAN’T ban.”

Earlier on Monday, Facebook removed four pages associated with InfoWars and Jones for repeated violations of its policies.

The social media platform said in a statement that it had “unpublished” the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page.

 

BuzzFeed News reported on Sunday that Apple (AAPL) had removed five podcasts associated with InfoWars from iTunes and its podcast app.

“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” it said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.

“Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”

Apple confirmed the accuracy of its statement to CNN.

This is not a First Amendment issue and technically it is not censorship at all. Apple, Facebook and YouTube have every right to decide who can and cannot use their services and if they decide that Alex Jones is not someone their want using their platforms, they do not have to host him. Having said all that, however, I really wish they had not made this decision.

To begin with, there is already a growing perception that the tech industry is heavily biased towards the political left. Many conservatives are starting to fear that such social media giants as Facebook and YouTube are beginning to use their near-monopolies to systematically marginalize and deplatform conservative voices. For Facebook, YouTube, and Apple to almost simultaneously shut down a right-wing crackpot conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones does nothing to allay such fears, particularly when there are any number of left-wing crackpot conspiracy theorists spewing just as much hatred that the tech industry apparently has no problem with hosting on their platforms. It doesn’t seem as if there is really any objective standard that has been applied. Perhaps no standard can be applied. The whole problem with banning hate speech is that there isn’t really any kind of speech that can be objectively defined as hate speech, beyond speech one happens to dislike. One person’s hate speech is another person’s speaking truth to power.

This leads to another reason I really wish they hadn’t done this. For three separate companies to decide on the same day that Alex Jones is unacceptable looks like collusion. I have no idea whether executives from Facebook, Apple and Google were working together on this, but there is no way this doesn’t look like some sort of conspiracy to shut Alex Jones up for speaking out. If it was their desire to silence Alex Jones, they have miscalculated badly. They have managed to validate all of his paranoid rantings in the minds of his audience and have made him a free speech martyr. A quick visit to Infowars shows that Alex Jones is making the most of this perception of persecution, referring to his radio show and website as banned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the traffic to Infowars hasn’t tripled in the last twenty-four hours.

The truth is that this kind of censorship, okay, not really censorship but you know what I mean, doesn’t work all that well, unless you have a totalitarian government enforcing it by not allowing any dissent at all. The sort of half-way “its technically banned but somehow still available” kind of censorship only makes the censored material more attractive because it is forbidden and the people seeking it out feel brave and rebellious. There was is a reason Banned in Boston used to be considered an endorsement by makers of risqué films and why the Streisand effect is a thing.

Although this attempt by leading tech giants to silence Alex Jones is not technically censorship because they are not government agencies, in a way it really is a kind of censorship. If the owners of the printing presses, broadcast stations or internet social media platforms collude to exclude certain political or social viewpoints, then they are practicing censorship. This is a more insidious kind of censorship than throwing a dissenter in prison where he can become a sort of martyr but of simply quietly denying the dissenter any means of disseminating his views. He may have freedom of speech, in theory, but without the means to make his speech heard, he does not have freedom of speech in practice.

This seems to be the goal of the left. They cannot pass laws against speech they dislike, at least not yet, because the First Amendment forbids it. They can mobilize private institutions, such as businesses, to censor dislike speech. They will not succeed with this rather crude attempt to silence Alex Jones. They are likely to succeed in creating a climate of intolerance throughout our society. Their goal is to fundamentally transform this country into the sort of place where you are always looking around to make sure you are not overheard, to keep your mouth shut except to say accepted platitudes, to be on the lookout for the Thought Police. We ought not to let them get away with it, even if it means standing up for the rights of people we would rather not be associated with, like Alex Jones. After all, as the saying goes, first they came for Alex Jones and Infowars…

No, Trump is Not a Fascist

July 28, 2018

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. He is not attempting to establish a Fascist dictatorship in America. There is not a rising tide of Fascism in the United States. No mainstream politician of either political party is anything like Hitler or any other dictator. I shouldn’t have to write these obvious and common sense statements but the lunatic notion that we on on the verge of a Trump Fascist dictatorship has migrated beyond the fever swamps of the unhinged left and is becoming the consensus opinion in the Democratic Party.

One might suppose that the fact that the people who are calling Donald Trump a fascist are not currently in a concentration camp awaiting execution might be sufficient evidence to disprove the idea that Trump is any kind of a dictator and perhaps only the most delusional leftist believes that the dictatorship os already established. Instead, there are numerous articles in left wing sites like Slate or Huffington Post detailing all the ways in which this or that policy of Trump’s is what a Fascist would do and is a sign that we are far down the road to dictatorship, even if we haven’t quite reached the destination yet.

I have no interest in trying to refute these kinds of articles. Any democratically elected leader could be made to seem a potential dictator my making superficial comparisons in policies. Any government, whether democratic or not, has the same sort of problems to resolve, often with similar solutions and even the most despotic government has to maintain basic infrastructure. Nazi Germany was a world leader in legislation to protect the environment and discourage cruelty to animals. Does that mean that an American politician who supports such legislation is a Nazi? Of course not.

It might be more useful to compare the first year and a half of Adolf Hitler’s regime with the Trump administration to see whether or not Trump is indeed taking down the road to Fascism.

  • January 30, 1933-Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor.
  • February 28-Hitler given emergency powers after the Reichstag fire.
  • March 22-First concentration camp opened in Dachau.
  • March 24-Enabling act passed giving all legislative power to the Chancellor.
  • April 7-German civil service purged of Jews and Communists. Central government takes control of states ending German federalism.
  • April 26-Gestapo created in the state of Prussia
  • May 2-Trade unions banned.
  • July 14-All political parties except for the National Socialists banned. Germany becomes a one party state.
  • November 30-Gestapo given authority throughout Germany.
  • June 30-July 2 1934-Night of the Long Knives. Enemies of Hitler both within the Nazi Party and outside murdered. Hitler gains uncontested power in Germany
  • August 2-President Hindenburg dies. Office of President combined with Chancellor making Hitler head of state as well as the head of government.

As you can see, Hitler began the process of gaining absolute power in Germany almost as soon as he was made Chancellor. WIthin a year of his appointment, Hitler already had the powers of a dictator, banning opposition parties and imprisoning critics of his regime. By the time Hitler was in power for eighteen or nineteen months, he was the Führer, the absolute master of Germany.

Meanwhile, in the year and a half that Donald Trump has been president, he has done none of these things, not one. Trump has not been given emergency powers. He has not opened concentration camps for dissidents nor has he gained control of the media. The Democratic Party has not been banned and none of the “Never Trump” Republicans has been murdered. If Donald Trump aspires to be a dictator, he is taking an awful long time to go about it.

Does it matter that millions of Americans are convinced that we are on the verge of a Fascist dictatorship? I think it does matter quite a lot. In order for democracy to work the loser of an election must concede power to the winner. The faction out of power may oppose the policies of the faction in power, acting as the loyal opposition, but they ought not to question the legitimacy of the government itself. The faction in power must not use its political power to punish the losers. There has to be a certain level of trust between all the participants in the process that the opposition are not the enemy but fellow patriots who happen to have different ideas and priorities. There also has to be a certain willingness of various factions both in and out of power to compromise with one another or to participate in the give and take of democratic politics. If you believe the the other people are Nazis or Fascists or whatever, then you don’t compromise with them, you fight them. If the party in power are Fascists bent on creating a dictatorship, you do not act as the loyal opposition, but as the Resistance. If the party out of power are Nazis waiting for the chance to seize power, you do not treat them as the loyal opposition but as traitors potentially guilty of sedition. Either way, the normal rules no longer apply and the enemy has to be fought by any means necessary, including violence.

If we keep going on the path we have been, it won’t be long before large numbers of people will believe that violence is an acceptable means to effect political change. If political unrest and violence become the norm, we really will end up with the dictatorship Trump’s critics claim to fear. People crave security and public order, even over liberty and if constitutional government cannot provide the security they need, they will turn to a strongman who can. Remember, people turned to Hitler and Mussolini because they seemed to be the only people in Germany and Italy who had their act together.

Maybe part of the reason that so many people want to believe that Trump is a dictator is because they feel it is somehow exciting to be part of the Resistance fighting for liberty against the Evil Empire. This is definitely one of those cases where people should be careful what they wish for. Believe me, you do not want to live in a country that is tearing itself apart. You do not want to live in a country in which a dictator seems like the best option available. There are many places in the world in which dictatorship and civil strife are real threats. Let’s not let America become one of them.

 


%d bloggers like this: