Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

Scott Adams and Berkeley 

February 18, 2017

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, reacts to the recent unrest at his alma mater, Berkeley.

Speaking of Hitler, I’m ending my support of UC Berkeley, where I got my MBA years ago. I have been a big supporter lately, with both my time and money, but that ends today. I wish them well, but I wouldn’t feel safe or welcome on the campus. A Berkeley professor made that clear to me recently. He seems smart, so I’ll take his word for it.

I’ve decided to side with the Jewish gay immigrant who has an African-American boyfriend, not the hypnotized zombie-boys in black masks who were clubbing people who hold different points of view. I feel that’s reasonable, but I know many will disagree, and possibly try to club me to death if I walk on campus.

Adams goes on:

Yesterday I asked my most liberal, Trump-hating friend if he ever figured out why Republicans have most of the Governorships, a majority in Congress, the White House, and soon the Supreme Court. He said, “There are no easy answers.”

I submit that there are easy answers. But for many Americans, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias hide those easy answers behind Hitler hallucinations.

I don’t know much about Scott Adams’s political views. He predicted that Donald Trump would win the election and wrote several blog posts praising Trump as a “master persuader”, but that is not the same as supporting Trump or his policies. I gather that Adams is vaguely libertarian. He is likely pro-capitalist in his economic views since he is an entrepreneur, yet he is often critical of big business in his comic strip and elsewhere. His religious views are somewhat New Agish and I do not think he considers himself a Christian, and I imagine he is culturally and socially liberal but I really don’t know and its doesn’t matter much.

What does matter is that as long as Democrats excuse the rioting at Berkeley and intolerance elsewhere, it seems likely that Scott Adams will not be voting for any Democrats, if he votes at all. I think there are quite a few people like Scott Adams who are not exactly conservative and who might not be traditional Republican voters or supporters of Donald Trump who are likely to be repulsed by such antics as the Berkeley riots and the increasing intolerant bullying and general hysteria of the left. If the Democrats and the people protesting against Trump do not calm down and explicitly denounce the use of violence by their supporters, it may cost them dearly in the next elections.

 The Fascist Anti-Fascist

February 9, 2017

Here is an incredible interview with Yvette Felarca, the director of BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) and an organizer of the riots that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley. She is not in the least apologetic or regretful that violence was used to suppress free speech.

I wonder if Ms. Felarca is actually listening to herself speak, or is thinking about the implications of what she is telling the interviewer. I wonder if she knows what Fascism actually is or whether it has occurred to her that a man in a black mask beating someone with a club because he doesn’t like what he says or thinks is far more emblematic of Fascism than a homosexual, English Jew of Greek descent who has a Black boyfriend. I wonder if Ms. Felarca will ever realize that she is being the Fascist by justifying and advocating political violence. Perhaps not. I don’t get the impression that many of these campus “anarchists” do very much thinking at all.

Fascism is essentially a glorification of and justification for the use of political violence to obtain desired results. Fascism stresses action over words and abstract theory, violent revolution over legislation and political debate. With this emphasis on revolution, Fascism resembles its ideological cousin Communism or Marxism. Both ideologies stem from Karl Marx’s ideas, though Fascism is a reaction against Marx, appealing mainly to people of the middle classes terrified by the idea of a Marxist revolution of the working class. While Marxism stresses the international class struggle, Fascism, perhaps more in tune with human nature, promotes the idea of national or racial unity of all classes. The Fascists were the original believers in the “it takes a village” meme. For them the Nation or Race is the village.

But this is a digression. The essential feature of Fascism, as well as other forms of militant socialism is the use of violence. Since Yvette Felarca and her associates are the ones justifying the use of violence, it would be fair to say they are the Fascists. Milo Yianopoulos’s speech may be provocative, but he has not called on his supporters to use violence. President Trump may delight in controversy, but he was elected by lawful and constitutional means and he is still subject to the same checks and balances as any other president. Trump is far from being a dictator. It is his opponents who are calling for violent resistance and a military coup. By the very definition of the word, they are the Fascists.

The United States of America has been very fortunate in that we have had a peaceful transition of power from president to president and party to party for over two centuries. This is far from common in the world. With the exception of Great Britain, there is no other country in the world that can boast such a tradition. By advocating political violence, Ms Felarca and her like minded colleagues are putting that proud tradition in jeopardy and there is no telling what the end results might be if political violence becomes normalized. It may not be what the Berkeley radicals might expect. Trump supporters and people generally will not let themselves be beaten up for long. Soon, they will fight back and there are more of us than them.

Then too, people don’t like riots and violent protests. Most people prefer security over liberty and when it comes to it will gladly trade their liberties for security. If the police and the government, hobbled as they must be by laws, traditions, or constitutions cannot maintain order, the people may well turn to a strong man who can. By advocating political violence against an imaginary dictator Trump, Ms. Felarca may end up creating a real dictatorship. I wish these people knew enough history to see where what they are saying will lead to.

The Circus is not Coming to Town

January 28, 2017

Well, this is sad.

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

To be honest, it is surprising Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus has lasted this long. There are so many entertainment options that are cheaper or more accessible and the circus really seems to be a  relic of a past time, when people were perhaps more easily entertained, or at least had longer attention spans. I gather Ringling Bros. had been in decline for some time, but the final blow seems to be the decision to end the elephant acts prompted by ongoing litigation from animal rights activists.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

PETA is celebrating.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, wasted no time in claiming victory.

“After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

I cannot see any reason why the circus couldn’t have continued their elephant acts in a humane fashion or why there could not be some compromise made in which the wild animals could perform under carefully supervised conditions, allowing audiences to have the chance to see these magnificent creatures perform. I also wonder that the animal rights activists cannot see that in many cases performing animals are cared for better than they would be in the wild where they would be subject to disease and predators. The owners of an animal act have a financial incentive to keep their animals healthy. But PETA is not interested in compromise, the jobs lost, the missing chance for future generations to see the show, or even really about the welfare of the animals. They have their own agenda and are not about to let any such considerations to get in the way.

Thanks a lot PETA. You made the clowns sad.

Thanks a lot PETA. You made the clowns sad.

It seems to me that more and more in American politics and culture, people are less interested in any sort of compromise and more interested in forcing their viewpoints and demands on others. No one seems willing to meet the other side halfway and compromise is seen as giving in to the enemy or a tactic to weaken the opponent’s resolve. Maybe this is the result of a growing tendency towards Manichean thinking in our discourse. Differences in opinions  are not simply a reflection of different values and experiences between people of good will but as part of a cosmic battle between light and darkness. If you are on the side of the angels, than it stands to reason that your opponents must be on the side of the devils. If your candidate is a lightworker than anyone who opposes him must be on the side of darkness and his candidate must be Hitler. Naturally one does not compromise when fighting the Devil. One can only oppose him.

In the meantime, if you want to see the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, you had better get the tickets right now.

 

That Cartoon from the New Yorker

January 23, 2017

This cartoon from The New Yorker has been making the rounds lately.

170109_a20630-1000“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

What, exactly, is the cartoonist trying to say here? That we should not be led by democratically elected leaders but by some body of elites or experts especially trained in government, perhaps with some sort of license or certification, just like a pilot? That only persons specially vetted should be permitted to hold public office? That this body of certified leaders ought not to be accountable to the people they lead since they are not sufficiently acquainted with the nuances of government? Is the only role of the passengers simply to sit down and shut up while the pilot flies the plane? Do they have no recourse if the pilot is manifestly incompetent or flies the plane to a destination contrary to their wishes?

I think the cartoonist has it backwards. The passengers do not work for the pilot. The pilot works for the passengers. The passengers are the ones who decide where the plane is going. They are the ones who buy the tickets from the airline for the plane that will take them where they want to go. The pilot cannot decide, on his own, what the plane’s destination will be. If a pilot decides that he knows better than the passengers where they ought to go, or if the pilot shows that he is not capable of properly flying the plane, than the passengers have good reason to complain to the  airline and demand a refund of the price of their ticket. If an airline continually employs incompetent pilots who ignore their duties to the passengers, that airline will lose customers and eventually go out of business.

If we apply this analogy to the country, it is we the passengers who decide in what direction we want the country to, not some self-proclaimed elites. We elect people to public office so that they will work for us by taking the country in the direction we want. We do not elect them to office to tell us where to go or how we should live our lives. It may be, as the cartoonist suggests that we have chosen poorly in electing Donald Trump as our next president, but it is still our choice to make. As a very wise man said some two hundred years ago:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

Recently, it seems that we have been electing pilots who do not want to listen to us, the passengers. They seem to have the idea that it is their job to take the airplane where they want it to go on the basis that they know better than the rest of us. We have been trying to get the pilots to listen to us , with mixed results. Now, we have elected a new pilot from a very different background. This new pilot has not been to flight school, as we may put his lack of experience in electoral politics, but perhaps he will be more inclined to remember his proper job. Perhaps the other pilots may learn from this last election and start to listen to us again. If not, we may have to switch airlines, or exercise our right to,”alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”. We may hope that it doesn’t come to that, but it is up to those we elect to represent us to start doing what we tell them to do.

Piltdown Man

December 19, 2016

The intellectual process of developing theories and hypotheses based on observations and experiments and checking those hypotheses with further experiments and observations that we refer to as science has proven itself to be the best tool human beings have ever developed for understanding and making use of the world around us. This process is not an easy one, however.  Not only is it a lot of work to conduct the necessary experiments and interpret the results, but the process demands a  rigorous honesty that does not come easily to anyone. Most people are less interested in discovering the truth than in being proven right, and there is always a tendency to consider only the evidence that confirms existing ideas and ignore the evidence against them. As Dr. Richard Feynmann put it in his lecture about cargo cult science:

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards.  For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them.  You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it.  If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.  There is also a more subtle problem.  When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

The problem is that this level of integrity is almost contrary to human nature. There is a great temptation to cheat, particularly when the rewards of fame and fortune are present.

One of the most famous instances of scientific cheating is Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man was a hypothetical “missing link” between human and ape discovered by an amatuer paleontologist Charles Dawson at the Piltdown gravel quarry in 1912. Dawson stated that workmen at the quarry had discovered skull fragments which they had given to him. Dawson had been able to reconstruct the skull with these fragments and other pieces that he had found at Piltdown. The resulting skull had a roughly human cranium, although only two thirds the size of a modern human brain, but an ape-like jaw with large canines. Clearly this was the remains of a creature caught midway in the transition between human and ape, the missing link of the chain of evolution.

Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson

At first, there was some skepticism about Dawson’s find. The canines seemed too large for the jaw and the whole thing seemed to be just a little too neat a combination of human and ape. Then, Dawson found another skull about two miles away. It might be possible for a human skull and ape jaw to have somehow been put together once and fossilized . Surely that couldn’t happen twice. Piltdown Man was accepted as a legitimate ancestor to homo sapiens.

 

Piltdown Man

Piltdown Man

 

At the time of Piltdown Man’s discovery, relatively little was known about the details of how humans evolved from their apelike ancestors. Over the years, more early human fossils were discovered and much more was learned about how humans became human. As the missing pieces were fitted together, it became increasingly obvious that Piltdown Man didn’t fit in. Paleontologists began to suspect that Piltdown Man was either an aberration, perhaps a mutation of some sort, of a hoax. In 1953, the question was definitely settled. Piltdown was shown to be a hoax. Piltdown Man was actually a rather crude forgery. The skull was that of a medieval man with a small head. The jaw was from an orangutan and the canines were the teeth of a chimpanzee.

The only remaining question was whether Charles Dawson was the forger or whether he was merely an innocent dupe. Dawson was the obvious suspect, but there were others associated with the discovery of Piltdown Man, who might have been able to perpetrate such a hoax, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, and the Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Recent research, however, has indicated that Charles Dawson was indeed the forger. He actually had something of a history of perpetrating such hoaxes and was well known for his skill at making unexpected archaeological finds, invariably later discovered to be forgeries.

Why did it take so long to expose Piltdown Man? The forgery was not very sophisticated and the discoverer had a reputation for not being particularly honest. To be fair, a space of forty years between the discovery and the exposure is not an unreasonable amount of time considering how much was discovered about human development in that time. Still, one might have expected more skepticism to be shown, especially considering how important the find seemed to be at the time. It seems as if everyone involved in the research involving Piltdown Man showed a disregard for the sort of scientific integrity that Dr. Feynman was talking about. For years no one seemed to want to consider the increasing evidence that Piltdown Man wasn’t real.

I think that was the problem. Piltdown Man was exactly what most paleontologists were expecting. At the time of his discovery, the general consensus was that human beings developed large brains first, while retaining a more apelike physiology such as a large jaw and lack of bipedalism. Only later, they believed did humans began to walk erect and to develop a flatter, more human face. It was also generally believed that human beings developed somewhere in Eurasia, Perhaps even in Germany, where Neanderthal Man had been discovered not long before, or in England. There was a certain amount of nationalistic pride in being the area where humanity began. It is not that surprising, then, that British paleontologists were the least likely to be skeptical about Piltdown Man.

In any event, these assumptions that Piltdown Man seemed to confirm have proven to be wrong. Primitive humans, such as the Australopithecus (Lucy)  began to walk erect on two feet long before developing larger brains, and the human race arose in Africa, almost the opposite of what was generally believed. I wonder how much these widely held but wrong assumptions held back the science of paleontology.

I also wonder how many other Piltdown Mans there are out there that are holding back the progress of science. I don’t mean hoaxes or forgeries necessarily, though that is a greater problem is science than many realized, but ideas and theories that are held to be settled science but aren’t. I wonder how much that everyone “knows” to be true and so not worth questioning, are not true, and how long it will take before anyone thinks to question it.

Women’s Chess

December 4, 2016

I am a bit confused by this article I read from PJMedia.

Sports competitors are often asked to conform to the rules of the countries they visit.

That might mean eating local cuisine or simply driving on the opposite side of the road.

For one elite chess player, embracing one country’s religious customs isn’t an option. And she may not be alone

U.S. women’s chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes won’t appear at February’s world championships to be held in Tehran. Female players will be expected to wear a hijab, which is mandatory by Iranian law.

That isn’t acceptable to her:

If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women’s World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.

Paikidze-Barnes may have company soon enough. Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia wants the 64 female players slated to participate in the event to protest the mandatory hijab garb as well.

“Sports should be free of this type of discrimination,” Heredia explained.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said the hijab ruling shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a matter of respecting local culture, Polgar says, adding the dress code will apply to all players.

It’s not the question of whether or not female chess players should be required to wear the hijab when playing in Iran that confuses me, but rather why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess, as opposed to Men’s Chess.

womensworldchamp1981

Sports and competitions involving physical prowess usual segregate between men and women. There are men’s and woman’s tennis, soccer, track and field, and so on. This segregation exists because men are generally stronger and more physically powerful than women. There are exceptions and a degree of overlap to this generalization; weaker men and stronger women, but the generalization is true enough that in any physical contest between a man and a women, the man will almost always have a decisive, and in sports an unfair, advantage. In most cases, a competition between a male athlete and a female athlete might not be interesting to watch. In mixed gender team, the female players might often be sidelined in favor of the male players who would be more able to make the goals, etc. Thus, we have men and women’s sports, to make the competitions fairer and more fun to watch.

Chess is not a contest of physical prowess but of mental ability. The difference in physical strength between men and women is entirely irrelevant in games like chess. Why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess? It may be that there are differences between male and female cognition. There may be some element of truth in the stereotype that boys are better at math while girls have superior language skills. Even so, the mental differences between men and women are surely more subtle with a far greater degree of overlap than the physical differences. Such mental differences as may exist also do not favor one gender as much as the obvious physical differences. I do not believe that anyone would contend that one sex is generally more intelligent than the other. Even if the specific skills needed to be successful at playing chess were more common in men than in women, the disparity would surely not be so great as to require separate leagues for men and women. I don’t understand it.

 

Hamilton and Pence

November 30, 2016

I don’t need to go into a lot of detail on this bit of non-news that has somehow captured headlines. Here are the basics as reported by NPR.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was presumably seeking a quiet night out at the theater, enjoying one of Broadway’s hottest tickets with a Friday night performance of Hamilton: An American Musical.

What he got instead was a welcome of boos and cheers from the crowd and a pointed plea from the diverse cast and crew afterwards about what they believe really makes America great.

At the curtain call, actor Brandon Victor Dixon — who plays former Vice President Aaron Burr, who infamously shot and killed Hamilton in a duel — read a statement from the cast, which is made up of largely black and Latino actors who play the white Founding Fathers.

“There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen, nothing to boo,” Dixon said, quieting the crowd who had met Pence with a mix of jeers and cheers when he entered the theater before the show. Pence was on his way out, but Dixon urged him to pause and hear their thoughts. Dixon thanked Pence for attending and said he was welcome there.

“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” Dixon said. “But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us.”

The one trait that I admire about Donald Trump is that he always fights back, even when it might be more advisable to remain silent. I find this a refreshing change from Republicans who never fight when attacked. Maybe it takes someone who isn’t really a Republican to show Republicans how to hit back. Trump did overreact to this incident.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/799972624713420804

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/800298286204723200

I agree with Trump. A theater performance was not the place for this display. The audience had paid to see a musical, not listen to a political lecture. It was rude and more than a little presumptuous of the cast of Hamilton to lecture Mike Pence and the rest of us. Who do they think they are? They are entertainers. We pay them to sing and dance for us. We do not pay for them to think for us. They can think on their own time, assuming you can call what goes on in their muddled heads thinking.

The reason these advocates of tolerance felt the need to lecture Mike Pence was probably because while governor of Indiana he signed legislation designed to prevent people who have sincere religious convictions opposing same-sex “marriage” from being taken into court and losing their businesses for not wishing to participate in these sham marriages. This is simply too much for the tolerant left to bear. The apostles of tolerance and diversity couldn’t be bothered to try to understand why anyone would be reluctant to transgress their religious beliefs nor did they ever try to assuage these peoples’ reservations or come to any sort of reasonable compromise. They were bigots to be brought into line by the power of the state.

These people of the left who constantly feel the need to berate the rest of us on the basis of their moral superiority to the rest of us cretins. The truth is that they are not, in fact, morally superior to the rest of us. When you take into account their bullying, their intolerance of dissenting views along with their support of censorship against hate speech, their fawning over the worst murdering dictators, their double standards, their totalitarian propensity to politicize everything and anything and their plain nastiness, it seems to me that they are actually morally inferior to most Americans. They have very little to teach the rest of us about tolerance and diversity. They could learn a lot from the everyday decency of average Americans, if they could be trouble to learn from us instead of looking down on us.

In the meantime, while Mike Pence’s calm, dignified response was more appropriate, Trump’s overreaction was more correct. These people are not fazed by calm, dignified responses. They need to be pushed back every time they push us. Maybe some day they’ll start treating people with differing viewpoints with more respect.

Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had already unwittingly brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

The Election of 1856

November 20, 2016

The election of 1856,may have been one of the most important elections in American history. The country was beginning to tear itself apart over slavery and wise, tactful leadership was needed to avert a civil war. Unfortunately the political generation that had produced such legislative giants as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster had passed away the candidates of both major parties, the Democrats and the newly formed Republicans in their first presidential contest, were mediocrities.

The Compromise of 1850 had only delayed the inevitable clash between North and South over slavery. Although the immediate issue of whether the territories won from Mexico would be slave or free territories, the provision that the territories themselves would make the choice to permit slavery through popular sovereignty effectively repealed the Missouri compromise and made future conflicts over the expansion of slavery more likely.

The Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850

When the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and permitted popular sovereignty on the slavery question, pro and anti slavery settlers poured into Kansas and began fighting a miniature civil war, foreshadowing the greater war to come.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Democratic National Convention was held in Cincinnati on June 2. The delegates declined to nominate President Franklin Pierce for a second term. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act seemed to be a strong contender for the nomination, but he was passed over for James Buchanan of Pennsylvania. Buchanan was very well qualified to part the job of chief executive, at least in theory. He had been serving as American ambassador to Great Britain at the time he was nominated and had previously held the posts of Secretary of State under President Polk, U S Senator from Pennsylvania from 1834 to 1845; where he served as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Ambassador to Russia under President Andrew Jackson from 1832-1833, and Congressman from Pennsylvania from 1821-1831. Buchanan had also served as a private in the Pennsylvania militia during the War of 1812. Despite his long career of service to his country, Buchanan was not particularly distinguished as a leader and the most likely reason he was nominated was because he had been out of the country during the controversies surrounding the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Bleeding Kansas. Buchanan was not known to have said anything about the issue of slavery that would upset the South and although he was a Northerner, he seemed sympathetic to the South and its peculiar institution.

For Buchanan’s running mate, the delegates selected John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who had been a Congressman from 1851-1855. Breckinridge would have preferred not to be nominated as Buchanan’s running mate, as he had supported Pierce and the two men did not get along, but he acquiesced. The Democrats went on to adopt a platform of popular sovereignty on the slavery question and support for the Ostend Manifesto which called for the acquisition of Cuba from Spain.

The Republicans met for their first national convention in Philadelphia of June 17. The Republican party  was formed from a coalition of former Whigs, Free-Soilers, and anti-slavery democrats to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act and was formally launched at a mass meeting at Jackson, Michigan back on July 6, 1854 and quickly began to win elections throughout the North that fall. The Republican Party was an explicitly anti-slavery party, but they didn’t call for the abolition of slavery where it existed, only for slavery not to expand into the western territories.

The Republicans chose the famous explorer and military hero John C. Fremont to be their presidential candidate. Fremont was known as “The Pathfinder” for his expeditions in the west and had captured California, during the Mexican War and had briefly served a contentious term as military governor there. After the was, Fremont had settled in California and served as one of the new state’s first Senators from 1850-1851. Fremont was not particularly well qualified to be president, but he did have a catchy slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Men, Fremont”. The Republicans went on to pick former New Jersey Senator William L. Dayton as his running mate.

 

There were other parties who ran candidates in this election, the most notable being the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party. The American Party was as much a secret society as a political party and because its members answered. “I know nothing when asked about its activities, the movement became known as the Know-Nothings. The American Party had managed to win a few elections, chiefly in New England. At their convention in Philadelphia in February 1856, the Know-Nothings nominated former president

 Millard Fillmore as their candidate, even though he had not been a follower of their movement and was, in fact, out of the country. They selected Andrew Jackson Donelson as their Vice-Presidential candidate.There were also the remnants of the Whig Party which met in Baltimore in September, They also nominated Millard Fillmore.

Along with the debate over slavery, there was the usual nineteenth century campaign hoopla, with parades, mass meetings, speeches, and political clubs. The Republicans did not run in the southern states, which were expected to vote for Buchanan and the Democrats,  so most of the campaigning was in the North and West. The Republicans opposed the extension of slavery into new territories and appealed to western farmers who did not want to have to compete with slave labor and eastern businessmen who supported high tariffs to protect American industry and fund internal improvements. Mainly of these businessmen supported the Democrats, however, fearing possible economic disruption if the Republicans won. The Democrats appealed to racism, calling their opponents “Black Republicans” and warned that the South would secede in the event of a Republican victory. They also claimed that Fremont was secretly a Catholic. Oddly, this did not help him get the Catholic vote, since the Catholics somehow believed that he was connected to the Know-Nothings.

In the end, the people of the North decided that they feared disunion and civil war more than they disliked slavery. Buchanan got 1,836,072 popular votes (45.3%) and 174 electoral votes, sweeping the entire South, California, and Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey in the North. Fremont did not do too badly considering that this was the Republicans’ first national election. He won 1,342,345 popular votes (33.1%) and 114 electoral votes, winning the rest of the North. The American Party also did surprisingly well with 873,053 popular votes (21.5%) and they won the state of Maryland with its 8 electoral votes. The fact that the results were divided upon sectional lines was more than a little ominous, as were the Southern threats to secede if the election wouldn’t go their way.

The Election of 1856

The Election of 1856

 

At his inauguration, President James Buchanan spoke of the nation’s bright future of economic progress and territorial expansion. About the slavery issue, he only said that he supported popular sovereignty in the territories and hoped that the upcoming decision by the Supreme Court on Dred Scott v. Sanford would settle the matter once and for all. Just two days later, the Supreme Court rendered its decision declaring that Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the territories, and all hell broke loose.

President Trump

November 13, 2016

I really didn’t expect Donald Trump to win this election. Actually, when he first won the nomination, I thought Trump had a fair chance of winning, particularly since Hilary Clinton is such an unattractive candidate. But, as the campaign progressed and the polls and Nate Silver‘s FiveThirtyEight consistently showed Clinton in the lead and after all the embarrassing things that Donald Trump had said in the past came out, I started to believe that he didn’t have a chance. To be sure, there were the Wikileaks revelations, but I counted on the media not to report on anything likely to harm Hilary Clinton’s chance of winning. It didn’t seem as if the increasing evidence of her corruption and contempt for the voters would make much of a difference.

I am glad to say that I was wrong. I am not a supporter of Donald Trump. I would have preferred that just about any of the other Republican contenders had won the nomination. I voted for Trump mostly because I did not believe that a person who has apparently broken federal laws safeguarding our national security should be rewarded by being given the highest office in the country.

Why were the polls and the experts wrong? Not all of them were. Scott Adams was predicting a Trump victory even before he secured the nomination. I think that Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity were Trump supporters all along and there were signs of discontent with the nomination of Hilary Clinton in traditionally strong Democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin which went to Trump. Still, almost all the polls consistently showed Clinton in the lead. I suppose media bias played a role. There are ways of slanting polls to get the results you want and I don’t think any candidate was been so generally despised by the mainstream media as much as Donald Trump. The media has alway been biased in favor of the Democratic candidate, but this year they seemed to lose even the pretense of objectivity. This is understandable, since if a candidate is a racist monster, the second coming of Adolf Hitler, than any means, including deception, are permitted to stop him. There may have been more than a few people in the media willing to deliberately slant the polls or lie about the outcome, for a good cause. I wonder, though, if the pollsters who depend on a reputation for accuracy would go along. Perhaps this was more a case of wishful thinking and unwillingness to go against conventional wisdom than deliberate deception on the part of the media.

The people who were dishonest may have been the people who were planning to vote for Trump. There was a stigma attached to openly supporting Trump in some places. Supporters of Trump risked ostracism, loss of opportunities, and even violence against their property and persons. There might have been millions of Trump voters who kept quiet, lied to pollsters, and then voted for Trump in the privacy of the voting booth.

I hope that the Republicans learn the right lessons from Trump’s victory. Probably the only thing about Trump that I have found attractive is his willingness to fight. Too many Republicans, particularly presidential candidates are not. They try to curry the favor of the media, even though it is implacably hostile to them. Trump treated the reporters with the contempt they deserve. When they are attacked as racist, sexist, homophobic bigots, most Republicans back down and apologize, even when they have said nothing that could be construed as bigoted except in the minds of their opponents. Trump did not back down and apologize. He kept on attacking. Previous candidates were either too nice to fight back. like Mitt Romney and the Bushes, or used to media adulation for betraying their fellow Republicans, only to be shell-shocked when exposed to the full force of media bias when they run against a Democrat, like McCain. Trump is not nice. To be sure, his tendency to attack got him into trouble when he took things personally, but there ought to be a happy medium between being too aggressive and not aggressive at all. I hope that a less flawed and more disciplined Republican candidate will be able to find that medium.

I don’t think there is much 0f a mystery why Trump won. There are a lot of Americans who feel that they have been left behind and forgotten, that the leadership of both parties have been ignoring their needs and concerns. There are millions of Americans in so-called flyover country who believe, with good reason, that they live in a country whose leaders have rigged the economy to benefit themselves at the expense of ordinary Americans. Even worse, it is becoming increasingly obvious that these elites view ordinary Americans in fly-over country with contempt. Their religion and moral are mocked in the entertainment media. Their concerns are derided as bigotry. They have begun to feel as if their country has been taken away from them. These Americans may not have liked everything Donald Trump had to say, but the fact that the elites that despise them also hated Trump must have seemed to be a good reason to support Trump. He has the right sort of enemies. The way in which the anti-Trump protesters have been acting seems to vindicate their support.

I don’t know what kind of president Trump is likely to be. I don’t think that he is going to be the unmitigated disaster some are predicting. I doubt he is going to end up in anyone’s list of top ten best presidents. He couldn’t be worse than Barack Obama has been, or Hilary Clinton would have been. We’ll have to wait and see.

 


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