Trump and NATO

July 25, 2016

National Review Online‘s Kevin Williamson wrote an article criticizing Donald Trump for his latest really bad idea, having the United States not necessarily follow up on its treaty commitments to our NATO allies. I might as well say that while I vastly prefer a Trump presidency over a Hilary Clinton presidency and I do not think that Trump will be the disaster in the White House that some are predicting, his tendency to shoot off his mouth, along with his apparent ignorance of the nature of international trade, cause me to have serious reservations about Trump’s fitness for the office he seeks. Unfortunately, he seems to be the lesser evil by a long shot. I might as well also state that even when Trump seems to be saying something stupid or unacceptable, it often turns out that he is making a good point after it has been stripped of its populist rhetoric. It may be that this is the case with his statements about NATO.

First,  here’s what Williamson has to say.

Trump, whose nickel-and-dime gestalt could only have come from a repeatedly failed casino operator, is a creature in search of petty advantages and small paydays. As such, he suggested yesterday that the United States might forsake its commitment to NATO — our most important military alliance — because he believes that our NATO allies are not carrying their share of the expense. Trump’s mind processes information the way a horse processes oats, and the product is exactly the same.

 

It is true that the United States spends more in both absolute and proportional terms than do other NATO members, but here the United States is the outlier. It spends a great deal more on national defense than other NATO members do, and more than non-NATO members, and pretty much every country on the face of the Earth. That has nothing to do with NATO; that has to do with political decisions made in Congress and by presidents of both parties going back to Franklin Roosevelt. It may very well be that the United States spends too much on the military — I believe that it does — but that isn’t because some other country spends too little. The myth of the free-riding Europeans, diverting domestic tax dollars from national security to welfare programs, is not supported by the evidence. They don’t have unusually small militaries; we have an unusually large and expensive one.

Since 1949, there has never been any serious doubt that the United States would fulfill its obligations to the North Atlantic alliance. That is a big part of why we had a Cold War instead of an all-out (probably nuclear) World War III in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a big part of the reason there is no longer a wall running through Berlin, and why the people who hold Bernie Sanders’s political philosophy were able to murder only 100 million innocent human beings instead of 200 million.

 

Thanks to Trump, the heads of government and defense ministers of the other NATO powers must now consider that the United States will welsh on its obligations the way Donald Trump welshes on his debts. He isn’t the president yet, of course, and he probably won’t be. But the chance isn’t zero, either. If you are, say, Lithuania, and you suspect that the United States will not actually have your back — a suspicion fortified by Trump’s man-crush on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — what do you do? Maybe you try to get ahead of the curve and go voluntarily into the Russian orbit.

All of these are good points and Williamson is probably correct is asserting that our European allies are not really taking advantage of us when it comes to funding NATO. He is definitely right that NATO played a role in seeing that the Cold War did not become World War III and that the alliance helped us to win the Cold War. But, I think that Williamson, and maybe Trump himself, misses the larger point. Why does NATO still exist?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 in order to combat potential aggression from the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe. NATO was conceived of as a alliance of mutual defense among the free nations of Western Europe and North America. In many ways, NATO has been one of the most successful multi-national alliances in history, and although the NATO allies were never called into joint military action against the Soviet Union, the alliance was surely a deterrent against any Soviet plans to extend Communism into Western Europe.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The whole reason for NATO has not existed for a quarter of a century. Why is NATO still around? Who are we defending against?

There are still threats in the world. Vladimir Putin seems to be intent on restoring as much of the Soviet empire as he can ,but Putin’s Russia is only a pale shadow of the old Soviet Union. Russia is still a strong country, but it is not the superpower that the Soviet Union was. Putin can stir up trouble in the Ukraine, but he lacks the global reach of the Soviet leaders. The leaders of the Soviet Union were inspired by a militant, millenarian ideology, Communism, that had some appeal and supporters in West and elsewhere. These days Communism is discredited everywhere except on American college campuses and Bernie Sanders rallies. Putin’s appeal to Russian nationalism is not something to inspire people in Europe and America. There is also the threat of Islamic terrorism and other threats around the world that clearly call for coordinated action by the United States and its allies, but a framework for fighting the next world war may not work so well against a more diffuse enemy.

Looking over the Wikipedia article, I find that NATO has made many changes in its command structure, etc in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, but it seems to me that it is an organization that is seeking a role to play, particularly since NATO has been permitting Eastern European former Soviet satellites such as Poland to join the alliance, pushing the alliance all the way up to the Russian border. This may not have been wise. The Russians must surely see this as a threat. How would we feel if Mexico and Canada joined in a political and military alliance originally created to counter the United States?

Kevin Williamson mentions Lithuania in his article. Lithuania joined NATO in 2004. Obviously, under the terms of the alliance, if Vladimir Putin sent tanks into Vilnius tomorrow, the United States would have to respond as though it were an attack on American soil. How credible is that, really? Would the United States really fight a war against Russia over Lithuania? Are American interests really served by threatening war over Lithuania? It would be unfortunate if Lithuania had to return to its previous role as a province of Russia, but is it really America’s job to keep that from happening.

I am not an isolationist. I believe that America, like it or not, has to be the world’s policeman, both for our good and the good of the whole world. These peacekeeping actions we keep finding ourselves in are expensive, but not nearly so expensive as a full scale war would be, and I have no doubt that that is exactly what we would have if we let things go. But, I think we need to be a lot smarter about how we use our influence in the world and we need to understand that we cannot get involved in every single quarrel, nor can we bring democracy to people who have known nothing but despotism for centuries. The next president, whether Trump or Clinton, should probably begin a complete reappraisal of our foreign policy to determine what serves American interests and what does not, and this reappraisal must include considering whether relics of previous decades should be kept, reformed, or abolished.

Team America

July 19, 2016

In a recent post, Scott Adams has a few words to say about how persuaders can unite or divide us. Some of what he has to say matches things I have been thinking about for some time particularly on the subject of racism in America.

To begin with, Adams divides people into three categories.

Rational People: Use data and reason to arrive at truth. (This group is mostly imaginary.)

Word-Thinkers: Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Persuaders: Use simplicity, repetition, emotion, habit, aspirations, visual communication, and other tools of persuasion to program other people and themselves. This group is about 1% of the population and effectively control the word-thinkers of the world.

And people think in terms of in-groups and out-groups.

You can easily spot word-thinkers when they talk about politics. Their go-to strategy involves identifying enemies and fitting them into whatever category matches their biases and cognitive dissonance. Look for this form:

You can easily spot word-thinkers when they talk about politics. Their go-to strategy involves identifying enemies and fitting them into whatever category matches their biases and cognitive dissonance. Look for this form:

Examples:

  • Person X is liberal, or not
  • Person X is a conservative, or not
  • Person X is an insider, or not
  • Person X is a racist, or not
  • Person X is a legal resident, or not
  • Person X is like Hitler, or not
  • Person X is a science-denier, or not
  • Person X is a sexist, or not

So, part of being a politician is defining people and issues in such a way as to make their supporters feel as though they are a team and their opponents as part of the opposing team.

For example, Trump is trying to frame the election as Americans versus outsiders. To Trump, you’re either in the American category or you’re a threat to those who are, in terms of money or violence. You will note that Trump has avoided calling Clinton liberal. That category lost its power. But Trump has defined a “crooked insider” category for Clinton and makes sure you know she’s in it.

Clinton has avoided calling Trump conservative, because the label wouldn’t fit. Even conservatives have a hard time putting Trump in that category. But if the alternative is Clinton, conservatives will hold their nose and accept him in their group.

Clinton’s strategy – which has worked well – is to put Trump in the boxes that are labelled sexist, racist, science-denying, and Hitler. That’s too many boxes for the purposes of good persuasion. Persuasion requires simplicity. So team Clinton tried to create an overarching category called “hate,” in order to assign Trump to it. They even used the “love trumps hate” slogan. Trump has tried to get out of the hate box by talking about love and doing a lot of hugging.

 

The big risk with word-thinking during an election – with all the analogies and categorizing – is that the public starts to see the world in those terms and act that way. Clinton’s message has been that America is divided by race and gender, and suddenly we see a horrifying uptick in police shootings because it fits that world view. That blood is on team Clinton’s hands (my side), in my opinion. My guess is that the genders also have a more negative view of each other than at any time in history. That’s coming from my team as well.

Obama has not been the unifying figure that many people hoped he would be. It might have been better in a Nixon going to China way if the first Black president had been a Republican, perhaps with a military background. Instead we got someone who, as a community organizer and Marxist, was inclined to see people as opposing groups.

Trump, on the other hand, is drawing us a picture of America as one team and everyone else as the competing teams. In terms of persuasion, this is a super-strong message, but only if he hammers it home at the GOP Convention.

Have you ever noticed that professional sports teams are great at overcoming racism and getting everyone to play together? That’s because the coach has persuaded the players to see the team as their dominant identity. Trump can do the same with America. Just tell us we’re on the same team, and that we’re in afriendly competition with the rest of the world. I don’t care what gender and ethnicity you are, so long as you’re with me on the American team and helping to compete against the rest of the world.

The words “Team America” would be the strongest persuasion this country has ever seen. That framing loses the xenophobia and hate, and defines us as part of a friendly competition with the world that is good for all. The only downside is that Team America is the name of a hilarious puppet movie. But I think we can get past that.

Here is the part I have been wondering about. Have you ever noticed that the people who claim to be fighting against racism, sexism, etc are the same people who insist on dividing people by race, sex, etc. They emphasize our differences and bring up past and present grievances and then seem surprised when the result is not an increase in racial harmony.

Contrary to what is preached from every corporate human relations office, diversity is not always good. Homo Sapiens is a pack animal and we instinctively prefer member of our own pack, group, tribe, etc. Emphasizing differences and then preaching diversity only gives people reasons to dislike and distrust one another. If these people really wanted to end prejudice, they would emphasize our common identity as Americans, making us feel as though we were all one tribe or team. They would draw attention to the things we all have in common as Americans and minimise the differences between race, etc. I think we would all get along a lot better if we thought of ourselves as Americans first and anything else second. But, then maybe their goal is not fighting prejudice and racism but taking advantage of them to divide and rule.

 

 

Abolish the Police

July 18, 2016

A Black Lives Matter activist named Jessica Disu has called for the police to be abolished during what was called a heated discussion on the Kelly File, as reported on Fox News.

A Black Lives Matter activist from Chicago argued during a heated Kelly File discussion that American police forces should be abolished.

“Here are the solutions. We need to abolish the police, period. Demilitarize the police, disarm the police, and we need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice,” said Jessica Disu, drawing some shocked reactions.

The conversation started with Megyn Kelly asking the panel – which included Black Rights Matter supporters, law enforcement officers, conservative commentators and religious leaders – about some who praised the Dallas gunman.

Disu, who described herself as a community organizer, said that Black Lives Matter has never called for violence against anyone.

She did not comment when Kelly pointed out that some protesters have called for “dead cops.”

Megyn Kelly asked her how citizens would be protected if police forces were “abolished.”

“We need to come up with community solutions. The police force in this country began as slave patrol,” Disu argued.

The suggestion is not actually as crazy as it sounds. We believe that having a professional, uniformed, quasi-military style police force is essential for maintaining order in our communities, but in fact, the idea of a body of police officers with the duty of capturing criminals and investigating crimes is a surprisingly recent one, dating back only to the early to middle nineteenth century. Before that time there were no policemen, as we know them. Of course, there have been officials charged with maintaining law and order for as long as human beings have had governments, various forms of county sheriffs. town constables, city watchmen, etc. For the most part, these officials have had the duty of enforcing court orders, serving warrants, responding to citizen’s complaints, and keeping order. Pursuing criminals wasn’t their main function. In most cases, in the ancient and medieval eras, it was up to the victim of a crime and his family to resolve crimes committed against them and to bring the criminal to the attention of the magistrates. Often, there were no public prosecutors, as we know them, and it was up to the victim to bring charges against the criminal in court. If the identity of the criminal were not known, the victims could hire a thief-taker, something like a modern private investigator, to track down and capture the criminal.

This system probably worked well enough in a Medieval setting of a rural country with small villages where everyone knew each other. Social pressure would have prevented most people from committing crimes and it wasn’t too difficult to discover who was responsible for a theft or murder, etc. It perhaps worked less well in the larger cities of pre-industrial Europe, but conditions were probably manageable, at least for the elite. With the industrial revolution, cities such as London or Paris began to grow in population to an extent unprecedented in European history. There were large numbers of people moving to the cities in search of jobs and as a result crime increased to unprecedented levels. It was becoming obvious that something better was needed.

Robert Peel is often credited with establishing the first metropolitan police force in London in, although the gendarmes established by Napoleon in France anticipated his reforms in some respects. Robert Peel was a Conservative politician who would go on to become Prime Minister in 1834-1835 and 1841-1846, when he would prove himself to be something of a reformer. In 1829, Peel was serving as Home Secretary and had become greatly concerned over the rise in crime in London and other British cities. Acting on the recommendations of the committee he had created to resolve the problem, Peel got Parliament to pass the Metropolitan Police Act which created the first, tu, metropolitan police in history.

Strange as it may seem, the idea of having uniformed police patrolling the streets of London was fairly controversial when the Metropolitan Police Act was passed. For many Londoners, the idea of a semi-military force keeping order seemed more fitting for the despotic regimes of the Continent than for a free country like England. The freedom loving Englishmen, along with their former colonists in America had a particular horror of a large standing army as an instrument of tyranny. Kings used such forces to impose their will on the people. For this reason, Peel was anxious to emphasize that the new police force was not a military organization, but was a politically neutral body accountable to the public it served. The police wore blue uniforms, in contrast to red worn by British soldiers (redcoats) and carried no weapon except a club and a rattle, later replaced by a whistle, to call for assistance and he used no military ranks, except for sergeant. Above all, Peel saw his new police force as part of the public, not as something separate. “The police are the public and the public are the police”, he often said.

The London Metropolitan Police proved to be effective at controlling crime and police forces based on Peel’s principles were soon organized in other cities in Britain and the United States. Professional police forces like Peel’s have become the norm all over the world to the point where it is simply inconceivable for a modern society to be run without them, yet I wonder what Robert Peel would make of what we have made of his creation. I think he would be alarmed at the extent in which his critics have been proven right.

Remember that the most important principle on which Peel organized the London police around was the idea that the police were not soldiers occupying the city of London but were a professional, civilian organization dedicated to serving the public. Somehow, over the last century that principle has been eroded. All too often, the police today are organized on explicitly military lines with military-style ranks, uniforms and training. We have heavily armed police officers in armored personnel carriers and Special Weapons and Tactics units being increasingly used to perform the normal duties of police work. Inevitably, people who are trained almost as soldiers begin to act like members of an occupying army instead of public servants, particularly in areas where the ethnicity of the police differs from that of the community. They become warrior cops instead of public guardians.

An excellent question

An excellent question

I do not favor abolishing the police. We cannot go back to the simpler times in which a society could get by with informal law enforcement. Yet, maybe it is time to have sort sort of public discussion what sort of law enforcement serves us best in the twenty-first century. We may want to move away from the warrior cop model in which the police become almost as dangerous to civilians as the criminals towards a police force more integrated with the communities they serve. Demilitarizing the police seems to be a good first step. we certainly want to stop this tendency to see the police and the civilians as somehow being opposing sides. Both the police and the public, at least theoretically, want the same things; safe places to live.

For this reason, movements like Black Lives Matter and community organizers like Jessica Disu are doing more harm than good. By all means, police officers who break the law should be punished, and the police do not do their side any favors when they refuse to assist in the prosecuting wrongdoers in their ranks, but it is reckless and irresponsible to paint all police officers as racists bent on killing black men for no reason. This antagonism can only make needed reforms more difficult to enact, particularly when abuses which should concern everyone; Black and White, police and civilian become a matter of Black versus White and police against the civilians. We all have to learn to stand together or we will fall divided.

Dilbert and Gun Control

July 15, 2016

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, took some time away from praising Donald Trump’s abilities at persuasion to explain why “commonsense gun control” isn’t getting anywhere in America.

On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.

On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.

If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the Internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.

But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.

So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”

Scott Adams is being humorous but his observations are essentially correct. Gun control has become yet another one of those intractable culture war issues. People’s opinions on this matter are a reflection of their own values and experiences and since different people have different values, this is not an issue that it is easy, or even possible, to come to any sort of national consensus on policy.

The people who support stricter gun control laws tend to live in urban areas. For them, guns are weapons wielded by the bad guys to commit violent crimes. They probably do not own any guns and have only seen guns used in the movies and on television. Gun use is not a part of their lives and guns are strange and alien to them. For some of the better educated, guns may symbolize the violence which they believe that they believe that they have evolved beyond, forgetting perhaps that they are protected from violence by armed policemen and soldiers and maybe even private security. Guns are “icky” for them and we would all be better off if they would all go away.

The people who oppose stricter gun control laws often live in rural areas and small towns. For them, guns are essential tools for self defense and recreation. In place where response time to emergencies may be many minutes or even hours, it seems foolish not be able to take care of yourself. They may have grown up around guns or may have a military or law enforcement background so guns are familiar to them. For many, guns may symbolize freedom and self-reliance and they reinforce their self image as rugged individuals descended from frontiersmen. They may have an instinctive feel for the medieval concept that a free man is an armed man so when someone says, “we must control guns to prevent crimes”, they hear, “we must take away your guns to take away your freedom”.

When two sides are talking past one another, speaking practically different languages, it is almost impossible to come to any solution that satisfies both sides. As Scott Adams puts it.

Let’s all take a deep breath and shake off the mental discomfort I just induced in half of my readers. You can quibble with my unsupported assumptions about gun use, but keep in mind that my point is about psychology and about big group averages. If Republicans think they need guns to protect against Democrats, that’s their reality. And if Democrats believe guns make the world more dangerous for themselves, that is their reality. And they can both be right. Your risk profile is different from mine.

So let’s stop acting as if there is something like “common sense” gun control to be had if we all act reasonably. That’s not an option in this case because we all have different risk profiles when it comes to guns. My gun probably makes me safer, but perhaps yours makes you less safe. You can’t reconcile those interests.

Our situation in the United States is that people with different risk profiles are voting for their self-interests as they see it. There is no compromise to be had in this situation unless you brainwash one side or the other to see their self-interest differently. And I don’t see anyone with persuasion skills trying to do that on either side.

If we had a real government – the kind that works – we would acknowledge that gun violence is not one big problem with one big solution. It is millions of people with different risk profiles voting their self-interest as they see it.

In fact, it is very difficult to come to a consensus on almost any really divisive issue in a diverse country that spans a continent and has a population of more than three hundred million. All of those culture war issues; abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc might be more easily resolved if the people in each state or region were permitted to find their own solutions to these controversial issues. If California were permitted to enact strict gun control laws and Utah could ban abortion, while Massachusetts encouraged gay marriage and Tennessee forbade it than the residents of California, Utah, Massachusetts, and Tennessee might be happy with the outcomes, even if the people of other states might not. At least if such decisions were made democratically on the state and local level, people would feel that they had some say in whatever compromises were adopted. As it is, with the left insisting that every problem must have a national, one size fits all solution, enacted by the court if the legislature is not cooperative, people feel as if policies are imposed on them by a distant and unresponsive federal government.

If we had a government that works, it would leave people alone to live their lives as they see fit. It would allow us to cling to our guns and our religion.

Basidium

July 8, 2016

My favorite books when I was in the fifth and sixth grades were the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron. These books were published back in the 1950’s and so were a little before my time, but fortunately the school library didn’t have a lot of new books. I must have checked out each of the books hundreds of times.

The Mushroom Planet, Basidium, was Earth’s second moon, a small asteroid orbiting just 50,000 miles away. Although only an asteroid, Basidium is made of a dense substance called Brumblium so it is able to retain an atmosphere and support life. The predominant form of life on Basidium is various forms of mosses and fungi, particularly tree sized mushrooms, hence the name Mushroom Planet. Even the inhabitants of Basidium are mushroom people, though they are humanoid in appearance.

Mushroom People

Mushroom People

Because Basidium is made of Brumblium, it cannot be detected by telescope without a special filter invented by Tyco M. Bass, himself a member of a race of terrestrial Mushroom people called the Mycetians, descendants of Basidiumites who perhaps travelled to Earth in the form of spores. In “the first book, “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet“, Mr. Bass, with the help of his two young friends David Topman and Chuck Masterson builds a spaceship for the two boys to travel to Basidium and save the natives from a threat to their existence. In later books in the series, Chuck and Dave return to Basidium with a stowaway, meet Tyco Bass’s cousin Theo, and have other adventures.

Tyco Bass

It was a bit silly, I suppose, and the science is woefully out of date, but I really enjoyed reading them and always wished that I could meet Mr. Bass and travel to the Mushroom Planet. For that matter, I still like the books today, though I haven’t actually read them for many years. Too bad there isn’t really a second moon orbiting the Earth, or is there? According to this article in phys.org, maybe there is at least a “quasi-moon”.

A small asteroid has been discovered in an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth, and it will remain so for centuries to come.

As it orbits the , this new asteroid, designated 2016 HO3, appears to circle around Earth as well. It is too distant to be considered a true satellite of our planet, but it is the best and most stable example to date of a near-Earth companion, or “quasi-satellite.”

“Since 2016 HO3 loops around our planet, but never ventures very far away as we both go around the sun, we refer to it as a quasi-satellite of Earth,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “One other asteroid—2003 YN107—followed a similar orbital pattern for a while over 10 years ago, but it has since departed our vicinity. This new asteroid is much more locked onto us. Our calculations indicate 2016 HO3 has been a stable quasi-satellite of Earth for almost a century, and it will continue to follow this pattern as Earth’s companion for centuries to come.”

In its yearly trek around the sun, asteroid 2016 HO3 spends about half of the time closer to the sun than Earth and passes ahead of our planet, and about half of the time farther away, causing it to fall behind. Its orbit is also tilted a little, causing it to bob up and then down once each year through Earth’s orbital plane. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a game of leap frog with Earth that will last for hundreds of years.

The asteroid’s orbit also undergoes a slow, back-and-forth twist over multiple decades. “The asteroid’s loops around Earth drift a little ahead or behind from year to year, but when they drift too far forward or backward, Earth’s gravity is just strong enough to reverse the drift and hold onto the asteroid so that it never wanders farther away than about 100 times the distance of the moon,” said Chodas. “The same effect also prevents the asteroid from approaching much closer than about 38 times the distance of the moon. In effect, this small asteroid is caught in a little dance with Earth.”

Asteroid 2016 HO3 was first spotted on April 27, 2016, by the Pan-STARRS 1 asteroid survey telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, operated by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and funded by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. The size of this object has not yet been firmly established, but it is likely larger than 120 feet (40 meters) and smaller than 300 feet (100 meters).

There is no indications that there are any mushroom people in HO3. Too bad. I guess I won’t be meeting the Great Ta, the king of Basidium and his foolish wise men, Mebe and Oru.

Great Ta and his wise men

Great Ta and his wise men

The Election of 1852

July 8, 2016

The election of 1852 was the calm before the storm. The issue of slavery, which had been inflamed over the issue of extending slavery to the territories won from Mexico, had been temporarily calmed by the Compromise of 1850. This compromise, like any good compromise had failed to satisfy either side and would eventually contribute to the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. At the time, however, it seemed reasonable enough and probably did delay the Secession Crisis and the War by a decade.

The slavery issue was still out there, however, and since both the Democratic and the Whig parties required a broad, national coalition of North and South to win, neither major party was willing to nominate a candidate who had expressed a strong view on the slavery, or any other sectional, issue. This meant that both parties turned to candidates who had not played much of a role in national politics or had shown strong leadership in the civil government. Neither party was willing to take any real stand on the issues of the day and the Whig and Democratic party platforms were virtually identical. The election of 1852 was to be fought over personalities rather than issues.

The Democratic national convention met first, from June 1-5, at the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. The party was bitterly divided between the supporters of the four major candidates, Lewis Cass of Michigan who had been the nominee in 1848, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania who would be the nominee in 1856, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and William L. Marcy of New York. Aside from these, there were various dark horse and favorite son candidates put in the ballots. None of the major candidates were able to obtain a majority of the delegates’ votes and none of them had a consistent lead or momentum over the others. On the thirty-fifth ballot, Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire was on the ballot. Pierce slowly gained votes as the balloting continued and by the forty-ninth ballot he was nominated.

Franklin Pierce had been a relatively obscure New Hampshire politician who had served as a Congressman from 1833 to 1837 and as a Senator from 1837 to 1842. He had fought in the Mexican War in command of volunteers from New England and had risen to the rank of Brigadier General. Pierce was personally opposed to slavery but considered the abolitionist the greatest threat to the Union. As a northern with sympathy for the south, Pierce seemed to be a perfect candidate. The Democrats went on to nominate Alabama Senator William R. King as Pierce;s running mate. King was a Unionist who opposed both the abolitionists and the more radical pro-slavery “fire eaters“. As it turned out, King was already very ill with tuberculosis and would die soon after becoming Vice-President.

The Whig Party’s convention also met at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore from June 17-20. Like the Democrats, the Whigs were divided. President Zachary Taylor had died after little more than a year in office to be succeeded by his Vice-president Millard Fillmore. Fillmore wanted to be nominated for another term but he was unpopular among some Whigs for his support of the Compromise of 1850 and many Whigs believed that he could not be elected for a term in his own right. They preferred to use the Whig standby of nominating a war hero, in this case, General Winfield Scott.

Winfield Scott was one of the most remarkable Americans of the nineteenth century and it is a pity that he is no longer so well known. Scott was a war hero who commanded forces in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the Second Seminole War. He served as Commanding General of the United States Army from 1841-1861, longer than any other man who has served in that post and he holds the record as longest-serving active duty general in the US Army.  In his long tenure as Commanding General, Scott essentially created the army that was to fight in the Mexican War and the Civil War and he wrote the book on the tactics and drill used by the Army from 1840-1855. Scott was not only a brilliant general, but also a compassionate leader who because of his care for the men under his command and his adherence to military drill and discipline was known as “Old Fuss and Feathers. At 75, Winfield Scott was too old and ill to lead troops in the Civil War, nevertheless he did develop the Anaconda Plan of slowly dividing and squeezing the South into submission. This plan was ultimately used by the North, but at the beginning of the war it ran against the popular sentiment of “on to Richmond and end the war by Christmas” that prevailed in the North. Although Scott was proved right in his assessment that an quick and easy victory was impossible, he felt obliged to retire after the disastrous Battle of Bull Run, though Lincoln still consulted him throughout the war.Getting back to 1852, the Whigs nominated Winfield Scott for president after fifty-three ballots and selected former North Carolina Governor and Senator William Alexander Graham.

There were a number of third parties, most notably the Free Soil Party which nominated New Hampshire Senator John P Hale for President and Indiana Congressman George Washington Julian for Vice-President.

There is not much to be said about the general election. Despite Scott’s skills as a military leader, he was no politician and Old Fuss and Feathers somehow didn’t seem as appealing as Zachary Taylor’s  Old Rough and Ready. Scott seemed to be rather too military to be the civilian Commander-in-Chief. The Democrats warned of a “Reign of Epaulets”, contrasting the uniformed, rank conscious, professional Scott with the humble citizen-soldier Franklin Pierce who, like Cincinnatus, left to fight for his country and then returned to civilian life. Scott’s anti-slavery views also did not help him in the South.

The Whigs, in their turn, ridiculed Franklin Pierce for his obscurity. They also made use of an incident during the Mexican War in which Pierce fell off his startled horse and wounded himself in his groin and knee. While Pierce’s enemies claimed that he had fainted through cowardice or drunkenness, the truth is that Pierce fought with courage in the Mexican-American War, insisting on leading his brigade after the accident, even though he was in terrible pain. This didn’t stop the Whigs from deriding him as the fainting general and the “hero of many a well-fought bottle”.

In the end Pierce and the Democrats won by a landslide. Pierce got 1,607, 510 (50.8%) of the popular vote to Scott’s 1,386,492 (43.9%). Winfield Scott only won four states; Vermont, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee so the electoral vote was 254 to 42. The election of 1852 was to be the last presidential election in which the Whigs participated. The devastating loss in 1852, the deaths of party leaders Henry Clay and Daniel Webster that year, and increasing sectional tensions over slavery destroyed the Whigs over the next two years.

John Hale of the Free Soil Party got 155,210 (4.9%) popular votes, less than half of their 1848 showing, and no electoral votes. The lessened tensions over slavery in 1852 had caused many of the barnburners to return to the Democratic Party, but by 1856 the Free Soil Party would merge with anti-slavery former Whigs to create the Republican Party.

The Election of 1852

The Election of 1852

As for Franklin Pierce, he turned out to be somewhat over his head as president. He would have made a decent enough leader in peaceful times but he proved incapable of dealing with rising tensions over extending slavery in the territories and his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act only made the polarization between North and South worse.

Independence Day

July 4, 2016

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

English:

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

And so it has been, for the last 240 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

Happy Independence Day.

Growing Crops on Mars

June 27, 2016

We may have already a taken a step towards the colonization of Mars. Any colony on Mars whether a permanent settlement or a long-term scientific research expedition will have to be largely self-sufficient because of the long travel time from Earth. At the very least, humans living on Mars for any great length of time will have to be able to get food and water on Mars, if possible. Obviously, given Mars’s thin atmosphere, it will not be possible to plant fields of crops out in the open, but it may be possible to create domed habitations in which vegetables can be grown. This would be a lot easier if Martian soil could be used or modified since bringing soil from Earth, or hydroponic equipment would likely be prohibitively expensive.

Mars

It is not clear whether terrestrial plants can grow in Martian soil, given the lack of organic matter and different chemical composition. There is some encouraging news from The Netherlands in this article in phys.org.

Dutch scientists said Thursday crops of four vegetables and cereals grown on soil similar to that on Mars have been found safe to eat, amid plans for the first manned mission to the planet.

Abundant harvests of radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes all grown on the soil were found to contain “no dangerous levels” of heavy metals, said the team from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“These remarkable results are very promising,” said senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink.

“We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.”

Future Mars settlers will have to take food supplies with them and then plant crops in order to survive.

So using soil developed by NASA to resemble that of the red planet, the university has been experimenting since 2013 and has managed to raise 10 crops.

But uncertainty remains about whether they would absorb the high levels of heavy metals such cadmium, copper and lead, present in Mars soil.

Further tests are now needed on the remaining six crops, including potatoes, in research which is being backed by a crowd-funding campaign.

NASA plans a manned trip to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years or so, and similar projects are also being pursued by US billionaire Elon Musk and the Dutch company Mars One, tentatively aiming to set up human colonies on the Red Planet.

The Mars One project has backed the Wageningen experiments and is currently undertaking a third selection to whittle down the remaining 100 candidates hoping to be among their astronauts to 40.

“It’s important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources,” said Wamelink.

When I read the headline, I thought that they had grown the vegetables and grains in actual Martian soil samples and I was a little disappointed to learn that the soil used was Earth soil made to simulate Martian soil. It does show that it is at least possible to use Martian soil, though I think it would be better to obtain actual Martian soil to be sure. No matter how well designed our probes are, there is always a possibility that we have overlooked something that could be only be discovered by human beings in laboratories on Earth.

If the members of a Martian expedition do grow their own food, they will need to bring along bacteria from Earth to add the necessary organic components to make the soil more Earth-like. Such bacteria could be genetically modified to flourish in Martian conditions. No form of terrestrial life can survive on the surface of Mars, at present, the thin atmosphere cannot shield the surface from deadly ultraviolet radiation, but there is no reason Terran life couldn’t survive underground. Conditions wouldn’t that much worse than in Antarctica. This bacteria, adapted for Mars could be the first step in terraforming Mars for human habitation.

So, when can I leave for Mars?

One of these days, I'd like to look out my window and see this.

One of these days, I’d like to look out my window and see this.

Brexit

June 24, 2016

I am glad to see that the British people have retained their English good sense and have voted to leave the European Union. They ought never to have given up their national sovereignty by joining it in the first place.

Britain

The results were closer than I would have liked to see; 51.9% voted to leave versus 49.1% opting to remain. The article I linked to breaks down the results by nation, which I thought was interesting enough to copy and paste. I wasn’t able to include the colorful graphics.

England

Leave 53.4%
15,188,406 VOTES
Remain 46.6%
13,266,996 VOTES
Counting complete
Turnout: 73.0%

Northern Ireland

Leave 44.2%
349,442 VOTES
Remain 55.8%
440,437 VOTES
Counting complete
Turnout: 62.9%

Scotland

Leave 38.0%
1,018,322 VOTES
Remain 62.0%
1,661,191 VOTES
Counting complete
Turnout: 67.2%

Wales

Leave 52.5%
854,572 VOTES
Remain 47.5%
772,347 VOTES

I notice that the sentiment to remain in the EU was strongest in Scotland where they voted to remain by a larger margin than any other region voted to leave. Northern Ireland also voted to remain by a closer margin. The results were closer in England, and Wales where only a slimmer majority voted to leave, but England’s greater population was enough to make up for the more lopsided results in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I wonder why the Scots want to remain in the EU, especially when they had a referendum last year on independence from the United Kingdom. They want to be independent of Britain but not of Europe? Perhaps they feel that Scotland will have more autonomy as one of many nations in the EU than they do as a part of Great Britain where they will always by outvoted by the English. Then too, Scotland has traditionally been a stronghold of the Labour Party and I believe that the Labour Party has been in favor of increasing European integration.

The European Union is not actually a bad idea in itself. After two devastating wars in a century and the continuing threat of a nuclear war between the superpowers during the Cold War, the Europeans were understandably eager to take steps to promote peace and cooperation between the European nations. A common market and free trade zone can only benefit the people of Europe, as can various international institutions designed to promote the common welfare of Europe. A common defense, either under the auspices of NATO or not is needed to keep the peace in Europe and promote the common interests of the European nations.

The problem with the European Union is that given the great diversity in languages, cultures, and economic development among the twenty-eight  members, probably the best way to unite Europe would have been to adopt a loose confederation on the Swiss model in which each canton has considerable autonomy under a federal government. The Swiss system is very responsive to the will of the the Swiss people as it includes referenda and other elements of direct democracy to influence legislation.

The founders of the European Union did not follow that model. Instead, they decided to create something like the United States of Europe with a government more centralized than the present USA with component nations considerably more diverse than the thirteen original British colonies. In the European Union, sovereign nations like France, Germany, or Italy actually have less control over their destiny than one of the states in the United States. To make matters worse, the founders and current leaders of the EU tend to be the sort of elitist social engineers with little respect for what the people they rule actually want. There are democratic elements in the government of the EU, an elected legislature etc, but the real power is with the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats at Brussels. The EU system of undemocratic rule devoted to imposing one set of laws and policies on a whole, diverse continent, regardless of what the citizens of each nation and region actually want can only lead to tyranny in the end. Not the hard, Stalinist tyranny of the former Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, to be sure, but the soft, insidious, Delores Umbridge style of tyranny by the self-styled do-gooders which is, in its own way, just as odious and inimical to liberty as the more obvious forms of tyranny. Great Britain is well to break away from such a system and I hope more European nations follow its example.

As to what happens next, no one can say. The elites in Britain and the rest of Europe will not  passively accept this loss of power. Maybe they will push for another referendum, and another until they get the result they want and then declare the matter closed. Maybe they will simply ignore the results, it is after all it is only what a majority of the British people want, and who really cares about that? There will probably be a whole slew of articles denouncing the newly discovered racism of the British people, racist being one of those words used when the common people get uppity, along with fascist and populist. I have a feeling that the British will be punished for their effrontery. Maybe we should embrace the spirit of Brexit here and reject those of our leaders who put the welfare of the American people last.

We do live in interesting times.

Update: That didn’t take long at all.

Living in God’s Matrix

June 22, 2016

Physicist Michio Kaku has come to believe that we live in a universe designed by some sort of intelligence, God for lack of a better word, at least according to this article by Mark Ellis in Godreports, which I found via this post by Walter Hudson at PJMedia.

I wish I knew what those equations meant.

I wish I knew what those equations meant.

Theoretical physicist, futurist, and bestselling author Michio Kaku has developed a theory that points to the existence of God using string theory.

String theory assumes that seemingly specific material particles are actually “vibrational states.”

His view about intelligent design has riled the scientific community because Dr. Kaku is considered one of its most respected and prominent voices. He is the co-creator of string field theory, a branch of string theory.

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” he stated, according to the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies.

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” he stated, according to the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies.

Dr. Kaku has continued Einstein’s search for a “Theory of Everything,” seeking to unify the four fundamental forces of the universe—the strong force, the weak force, gravity and electromagnetism.

The very purpose of physics, says Kaku is “to find an equation … which will allow us to unify all the forces of nature and allow us to read the mind of God.”

Because string theory may provide a unified description of gravity and particle physics, it is considered a candidate for a Theory of Everything.

To reach his conclusions about intelligence behind the universe, Dr. Kaku made use of what he calls “primitive semi-radius tachyons.”

A tachyon is a particle that always moves faster than light. Many physicists believe such particles cannot exist because they are not consistent with the known laws of physics.

As noted by Einstein and others, special relativity implies that faster-than-light particles, if they existed, could be used to communicate backwards in time.

Dr. Kaku used a technology created in 2005 that allowed him to analyze the behavior of matter at the subatomic scale, relying on a primitive tachyon semi-radius.

When he observed the behavior of these tachyons in several experiments, he concluded that humans live in a “matrix,” a world governed by laws and principles conceived by an intelligent architect.

“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence, not unlike a favorite computer game, but of course, more complex and unthinkable,” he said.

“By analyzing the behavior of matter at the subatomic scale affected by the semi tachyon pitch radius, what we call chance no longer makes sense, because we are in a universe governed by established rules and not determined by universal chances plane.

Dr. Michio Kaku seems to be moving into the Intelligent Design camp, at least in so far as he believes that the order and established rules that we observe in the universe imply a mind behind the material reality. This is more of a Deist, or Theist, concept of divinity than the traditional Judeo-Christian God. The idea that the reality we know is some kind of simulation by an ultra-advanced computer is another explanation for the apparent order and logic we see in the universe which has gained a sort of vogue lately. Perhaps the two explanations, intelligent design, and computer simulation are the same, since an intelligence that can create a simulation of the entire universe might be a god to the people living in the simulation. For all we know, any player of a game like the Sims is a god to the sims in the game, if the sims had intelligence and free will.

The problem with these sorts of speculations is that they cannot be considered scientific explanations or hypotheses because there is no way to prove or disprove the ideas. We only know the one universe we are living in and have no way, at present, of learning about any other universes. We have no way compare our, possibly designed or simulated, universe with one that has not been designed or is not a computer simulation. This matter belongs properly to metaphysics rather than to physics and while Dr. Kaku’s views on string theory ought to be respected as belonging to an expert in the field, in his views on whether God or an Intelligence Designer or Programmer is ultimately behind the world he studies, he shares with the rest of us a common ignorance. On these matters, we cannot know truths with the same certainty we know about the behavior of atoms. We can only have faith.

 


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