Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Midterms 2018: The Results

November 11, 2018

Well, it might have been worse, but it might have been a good deal better. The Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives, as expected, but the Republicans managed to not only maintain their majority in the Senate and even gain a few seats. It seems that neither party really won this contest. Both sides gained a little and lost a little. It could have been worse for the Republicans.

The Democrats gained 34 Congressional seats for certain making the new partisan balance in the House 227 seats held by the Democrats against 200 seats held by the Republicans. there are several elections too close to call just yet, but will probably go to the Democrats just as soon as they “discover” enough uncounted ballot boxes. In the Senate, the Republicans perhaps gained three seat, expanding their majority from 51-47 to 54-44, although their are three elections too close to call and subject to the recounts which somehow always favor the Democratic candidates. It seems that they hardly even bothering to hide their election fraud anymore.

What does this divided government mean for the next two years? I would guess that not very much is going to get done legislatively. Anything passed by one House is likely to be rejected by the other and in this polarized political environment, there is no sign that the Democrats in the House of Representatives are going to be willing to work with the Republicans in the Senate and and like likely to be even less cooperative with President Trump. We are likely to see one investigation after another Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russians and anything else the Democrats can think of to paralyse the government and to delegitimize Trump. I don’t think the Democrats will try to impeach Trump. They might have if they had won the Senate but there is no chance a Republican controlled Senate would convict Trump. Their lunatic base will expect impeachment and it will be interesting to see how the Democratic leadership will explain the absence of any impeachment attempt.

Given that the Senate is going to forestall any attempt by the Democrats in the House to advance some of their more extreme left-wing policies, we can expect more complaints about the undemocratic nature of the Senate, how unfair it is that Rhode Island or Wyoming has exactly as many Senators as California. Every time they lose, the left wants to change the rules. Somehow they are never concerned about how undemocratic the system is when an unelected judge makes rulings that have the effect of laws or overturns the results of a referendum.

Congressional elections weren’t the only elections this year. There were also 36 gubernatorial elections. The Democrats picked up from 7-9 new governorships this year, depending on how two undecided elections are resolved, changing the balance from 33 Republican governors and 16 Democrats to 27-25 Republicans and 23-25 Democrats. The Republicans had more governorships to defend this year.

Of the 99 state legislatures (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) the Republicans held a total of 67 chambers to the Democrats 32 chambers going into the midterms. The Democrats gained control of just seven chambers making the new balance 62-37. The Democrats still have not recovered from the disastrous Obama years in which they were devastated at the state level. Control of the state is more important than most people think. Even in this age of an overactive federal government, a good many of the laws we live under are created at the state level. Also, in many cases, the state legislatures are responsible for determining Congressional districts, or, gerrymandering. The party that controls the state legislatures has a better chance of controlling the House of Representatives.The state legislatures are also where the parties recruit candidates for higher offices. The Democratic losses over the last decade haven’t helped their chances in gaining those higher offices.

So, all in all, the results of the 2018 midterm elections were mixed. The Democrats made some gains, but not as many as they ought to have. They probably would have done better if not for their turn towards left-wing extremism and tolerance of uncivil and even violent behavior. I hope they will learn their lesson and try to behave more responsibly, but they probably won’t.

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Midterms 2018

November 6, 2018

This is it. The 2018 midterm elections are today. Today the voters decide which party will have control of Congress for the next two years. At stake, President Trump’s agenda. If the Democrats manage to get a majority in both houses of Congress, Trump’s agenda will be stalled and his administration subjected to endless investigations, and possibly an attempt at impeachment. A democratic victory will be interpreted by the mainstream media as a rejection of Trump and his policies. A Republican victory will be a vindication of Trump and his policies, though I would hardly expect the mainstream media to acknowledge that.

Historically, the opposition party makes gains during the midterms, sometimes very large gains. In 1994, the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 10 seats in the Senate, giving the Republicans a Congressional majority for the first time in forty years. In 2010 the Republicans won 64 seats in the House and five in the Senate. This doesn’t always happen, though. In 1998, the Democrats gained a few seats even though the Democrat., Bill Clinton was president. This was undoubtedly due to the Republican attempt to impeach Clinton that year. In 2002, the Republicans gained seats due to the aftermath of 9/11.

So, what is going to happen today? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. For whatever it is worth,here are my predictions. It doesn’t look like there is going to be a massive blue wave that is going to sweep the Republicans out of power. It seems likely that the Republicans will maintain their majority in the Senate and may possibly gain a seat or two. The House is less certain. It really could go either way. I think that the Democrats will gain seats in the House, perhaps enough to get a majority. If they do get a majority it will be by the thinnest of margins. We will see how accurate I am. Keep in mind, that I, like nearly everyone else, thought Hilary Clinton would be the president today.

If there is no blue wave, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They should be confident of a massive victory right now. They had all the advantages going into this election and all they had to do was to be a responsible opposition party and craft a platform that would appeal to the moderates and independents. They could have highlighted Trump’s personality flaws while promoting Trumpian policies on immigration, trade and the economy. Instead, the Democrats decided to go right off the deep end. They decided to cater to their most extreme left wing base and adopt socialist ideas anathema to most Americans in flyover country. They loudly proclaimed the ridiculous meme  Trump was a Hitler clone and we were all in danger of an imminent Fascist dictatorship, while ignoring the simple fact that most Americans are better off than they were two years ago. They have made it clear that they care more about the interests of illegal aliens than American citizens and they have taken the side of millionaire athletes who disrespect the flag. Where Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, they say, “America was never great”.

The Democrats have become the party of the mob, of antifa, of rioting. They have encouraged violence and incivility against their opponents and have tried to censor speech they do not like. Worst of all, they have become the party of the busybodies, the scolds who want to tell the rest of us what size Big Gulps we are allowed to drink, what words we are allowed to use, and generally how we ought to live our lives because we are just ignorant deplorables. Is it any wonder that they are struggling when they should be coasting to victory? Is it at all surprising that groups that have traditionally been strongly democratic are starting to walkaway and exit the Democratic party?

I hope the Republicans win these midterm elections, not just for partisan reasons, but because the Democrats need to be punished for their recent excesses. They need to undergo a period of introspection to understand how and why they have managed to alienate millions of Americans. I don’t think they will, though.  If they do poorly, they will blame it all in Russian collusion or assert the system is rigged and undemocratic, and the old standby, the voters are racists.

 

Halloween

October 31, 2018

Today is Halloween. The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

For another view:

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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

A Forgotten Battle

July 8, 2018

We ought to know history fairly well. While there may be all sorts of details to be filled in, the broad outlines of wars and revolutions, the rise and fall of empires, great migrations of peoples, etc, must surely be as well known as anything can be. Of course, our knowledge of history largely depends on written records and if no one thought an event was worth recording or if it occurred before the invention of writing, we may not know anything about it. For all we know, all sorts of things might have occurred before anyone was able to make written records. They may be whole cultures we know nothing of.

This article at Sciencemag.org about an forgotten battle in Bronze Age Northern Europe illustrates nicely how little we may actually know about our past.

About 3200 years ago, two armies clashed at a river crossing near the Baltic Sea. The confrontation can’t be found in any history books—the written word didn’t become common in these parts for another 2000 years—but this was no skirmish between local clans. Thousands of warriors came together in a brutal struggle, perhaps fought on a single day, using weapons crafted from wood, flint, and bronze, a metal that was then the height of military technology.

Struggling to find solid footing on the banks of the Tollense River, a narrow ribbon of water that flows through the marshes of northern Germany toward the Baltic Sea, the armies fought hand-to-hand, maiming and killing with war clubs, spears, swords, and knives. Bronze- and flint-tipped arrows were loosed at close range, piercing skulls and lodging deep into the bones of young men. Horses belonging to high-ranking warriors crumpled into the muck, fatally speared. Not everyone stood their ground in the melee: Some warriors broke and ran, and were struck down from behind.

When the fighting was through, hundreds lay dead, littering the swampy valley. Some bodies were stripped of their valuables and left bobbing in shallow ponds; others sank to the bottom, protected from plundering by a meter or two of water. Peat slowly settled over the bones. Within centuries, the entire battle was forgotten.

This epic battle was forgotten until the twentieth century.

n 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank—the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.

Now, after a series of excavations between 2009 and 2015, researchers have begun to understand the battle and its startling implications for Bronze Age society. Along a 3-kilometer stretch of the Tollense River, archaeologists from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation (MVDHP) and the University of Greifswald (UG) have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads. They have also found bones in extraordinary numbers: the remains of at least five horses and more than 100 men. Bones from hundreds more may remain unexcavated, and thousands of others may have fought but survived

No one knows if the men who fought at this battle were good men or bad, or why they fought and died. Archaeologists can uncover the bare facts about the battle, how many fought and with what weapons, but they cannot tell us why they were fighting or what issues they thought were important. enough to fight and die over. If any bard composed epic poems celebrating these warriors, we will never hear it. Any oral tradition has not survived. I am not sure if these warriors are any relation to the people currently living in the region. I would guess probably not. No Homer was able to preserve any epic poetry by writing it down, since these people had no knowledge of writing.

On thing is clear, however. This was no mere skirmish between villages or wandering tribes. These were small armies made up of thousands of fighters, which implies a level of political sophistication unsuspected in that place and time.

Northern Europe in the Bronze Age was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece. Bronze itself, created in the Near East around 3200 B.C.E., took 1000 years to arrive here. But Tollense’s scale suggests more organization—and more violence—than once thought. “We had considered scenarios of raids, with small groups of young men killing and stealing food, but to imagine such a big battle with thousands of people is very surprising,” says Svend Hansen, head of the German Archaeological Institute’s (DAI’s) Eurasia Department in Berlin. The well-preserved bones and artifacts add detail to this picture of Bronze Age sophistication, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.

Ancient DNA could potentially reveal much more: When compared to other Bronze Age samples from around Europe at this time, it could point to the homelands of the warriors as well as such traits as eye and hair color. Genetic analysis is just beginning, but so far it supports the notion of far-flung origins. DNA from teeth suggests some warriors are related to modern southern Europeans and others to people living in modern-day Poland and Scandinavia. “This is not a bunch of local idiots,” says University of Mainz geneticist Joachim Burger. “It’s a highly diverse population.”

As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.

There could have been whole kingdoms and empires in the northern Europe that we know nothing about, a whole undiscovered history. I wonder how much unknown history there remains to be discovered in other parts of the world where the people had not yet learned about writing. Perhaps we will never know.


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