Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2018
Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of...

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth or May. Contrary to what is commonly believed, (including myself), Cinco de Mayo is actually more of an American, or at least a Mexican-American, holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated regionally in Mexico, Primarily in the state of Puebla and Vera Cruz. Schools are closed on this day, but it is not an official national holiday in Mexico.

 

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of  Puebla on May 5, 1862. In 1861, the Mexican government was bankrupt and President Benito Juarez suspended payments on Mexico’s foreign debt. In response Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to occupy the city of Vera Cruz and demand payment on the debts Mexico owed them. Juarez managed to come to an arraignment with Britain and Spain, but the French, ruled by Emperor Napoleon III had other ideas.

 

Louis Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon I Bonaparte. He had somehow managed to get himself elected as president of the Second Republic of  France in 1848, but he decided that president was not a grand enough title for a Bonaparte and in 1851 he seized dictatorial power in France and named himself Emperor. In spite of being the nephew of Napoleon I, Napoleon III was not a particularly aggressive Emperor and was mostly content to have France at peace with other European powers. With the crisis in Mexico, however, Napoleon III saw an opportunity for France to gain an empire in Latin America. The United States was involved in the Civil War and was in no position to try to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In fact, an additional benefit to French occupation of Mexico would be to give France a base with which to send aid to the Confederate States, keeping the nation divided and unable to resist the French conquest.

 

The French army invaded Mexico with 8000 men under the command of General Charles de Lorencez late in 1861. This army marched from Vera Cruz in April of 1862 and defeated Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin on April 28. Seguin retreated to the city of Puebla where the Mexicans had two forts. Seguin had only 4500 badly armed and trained men to defend the city. It seemed likely that the French would crush the Mexicans and march on to Mexico City without and further resistance.

 

On May 5, Lorencez attacked the forts with 6500 men. Against all odds the Mexicans successfully defended the forts against three assaults. By the third assault, the French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the infantry had to attack without artillery support. They were driven back and the French had to fall back. Then, Seguin attacked with his cavalry while the Mexican infantry outflanked the French on both sides of their positions. The French were routed with 462 men killed, while the Mexicans only suffered 83 dead. This unlikely victory has been an inspiration for Mexican patriots ever since.

 

The victory was a short-lived one. Napoleon III sent reinforcements to Mexico and the French were able to conquer the country. Napoleon III placed the Austrian Hapsburg Maximilian as the first Emperor of the Mexican Empire. He was also the last Emperor, since as soon as the United States was finished with the Civil War, the U S government made it clear to Napoleon III that it would not tolerate a French colony on the southern border. Since Napoleon III did not want to fight a war against battle hardened Civil War veterans, he removed the French troops. Maximilian, despite the fact that he sincerely tried to govern Mexico well, was quickly overthrown and executed.

 

Although Benito Juarez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated by Mexicans in the American Southwest, the territories the US gained in the Mexican War. The former Mexicans began to celebrate Cinco de Mayo both as a way to express their Mexican identity and to show their support for the North in the Civil War. It may seem odd that these unwilling Americans would care about a war half a continent away, but the Mexicans were against slavery and Hispanics insisted that California enter the United States as a free state. Cinco de Mayo gained in popularity in the 1960s with the rise of Latino activism and still more in the 1980s when beer companies realized that the celebratory nature of the holiday would be a good marketing tool to sell more beer.

 

So happy Cinco de Mayo, or should I say feliz Cinco de Mayo!

 

 

 

 

 

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Warning Labels on Everything

April 29, 2018

Last month, Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed his plans to sue the oil companies for first degree murder because of their contributions to and denial of climate change.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s next mission: taking oil companies to court “for knowingly killing people all over the world.”

The former California governor and global environmental activist announced the move Sunday at a live recording of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast here at the SXSW festival, revealing that he’s in talks with several private law firms and preparing a public push around the effort.

“This is no different from the smoking issue. The tobacco industry knew for years and years and years and decades, that smoking would kill people, would harm people and create cancer, and were hiding that fact from the people and denied it. Then eventually they were taken to court and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars because of that,” Schwarzenegger said. “The oil companies knew from 1959 on, they did their own study that there would be global warming happening because of fossil fuels, and on top of it that it would be risky for people’s lives, that it would kill.”

Schwarzenegger said he’s still working on a timeline for filing, but the news comes as he prepares to help host a major environmental conference in May in Vienna.

“We’re going to go after them, and we’re going to be in there like an Alabama tick. Because to me it’s absolutely irresponsible to know that your product is killing people and not have a warning label on it, like tobacco,” he said. “Every gas station on it, every car should have a warning label on it, every product that has fossil fuels should have a warning label on it.”

He argues that at the very least, this would raise awareness about fossil fuels and encourage people to look to alternative fuels and clean cars.

He added, “I don’t think there’s any difference: If you walk into a room and you know you’re going to kill someone, it’s first degree murder; I think it’s the same thing with the oil companies.”

I think that those steroids that Schwarzenegger used to bulk up have caused his brain to rot. If we were to put warning labels on every single thing that uses fossil fuels in their manufacture, we would have to put a warning label on almost every single thing. Our manufacturers absolutely depend on the electricity provided by fossil fuels. Alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar do not even come close to providing, by orders of magnitude, the energy needed to keep our economy running.

Aside from that, fossil fuels themselves are components in various industrial processes. The gasoline in our cars is not the only petroleum product we use on a daily basis. Plastic is also created from petroleum. In his article at PJMedia , Tyler O’Neil provides a short list of the sort of things that would require a warning label if Arnold had his way.

ink, upholstery, vitamin capsules, dashboards, skis, mops, umbrellas, nylon rope, shampoo, guitar strings, refrigerators, toys (LEGOs, for instance), glue, cameras, pajamas, purses, life jackets, luggage, toothbrushes, toothpaste, crayons, pillows, balloons, football helmets, footballs, roller-skate wheels, nail polish, panty hose, insect repellant, ice cube trays, trash bags, sun glasses, paint brushes, artificial limbs, perfumes, soap, shoes, slacks, DVDs, dice, surf boards, tents, telephones, drinking cups, milk jugs, Aspirin, lipstick, rubbing alcohol, shaving cream, garden hose, heart valves, hearing aids, and toilet seats.

A more complete list can be found here. I suspect that even the warning labels would be made of plastic that comes from petroleum.

This campaign against fossil fuels is, in many ways, a campaign against modernity. Before the introduction of fossil fuels and the Industrial Revolution, humanity used such renewable sources of energy as the sun, wind, and most importantly the muscles of humans and animals. Life was not a utopia in which everyone lived in harmony with the Earth. Life, for most people, was nasty, brutish and short, with only a very small elite (the 1%) living in anything resembling the comfort taken for granted by almost everyone lucky enough to live in the developed world. Fossil fuels helped make our present levels of prosperity and economic development possible. If restrictions or punitive fines and taxation make access to fossil fuels and the power and products they provide more expensive, the cost of nearly everything will increase. For a successful movie star and businessman like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this would no burden, but for those of us who are not wealthy, this campaign against fossil fuels will result in a lower standard of living,and for those still living in poverty in the developing world, increased poverty and the loss of any hope of improving their circumstances. Whatever the intentions of Green crusaders like Schwarzenegger, the policies they advance may create a sort of neo-Medieval world in which a tiny elite live in comfort while the great masses lack the necessities of life.

Of course, they may not see it that way. Implied in this crusade against fossil fuels is the idea that alternative, renewable sources of energy will be able to pick up the slack as fossil fuels are regulated and taxed out of profitability. In the long run, fossil fuels will become obsolete, probably sooner than anyone believes, but I do not think that making us all poorer will speed up the process and I am not sure that these people really want us to have cheap, abundant energy from any source. Nuclear power is the one alternative to fossil fuels that is really viable right now and the same people who want us not to use fossil fuels do not seem to be very excited by the idea of replacing our coal plants with nuclear reactors, even though that would drastically lower our carbon footprint. I sometimes wonder if it is global warming or resource depletion they are worried about, or the idea of the common deplorables having access to cheap, abundant energy.

In any case, let’s hope that Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t get anywhere with his insane lawsuit.

The Election of 1872

April 12, 2018

As it happened, electing a man with no political experience to the presidency might not have been a very good idea, even if the man was Ulysses S. Grant, one of the best generals in American history. Grant’s presidency was not the disaster it has often been made out to be. The Grant administration had some solid accomplishments to its credit. Grant consistently upheld the civil rights of the freed Blacks in the South and used federal troops to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant sought, not very successfully. to ensure that the Native Americans were treated with some degree of justice. I suspect that the poor reputation as a general and president that Grant has had for most of the twentieth century was the result of Southern historians, the same ones who concocted the Lost Cause mythology, blackening Grant’s reputation as revenge for his defeating their idol Robert E. Lee and standing up for the rights of the former slaves. Recently, Grant’s military reputation has been rehabilitated by military historians who now see him as a masterful strategist and I hope that political historians will follow suit.

That being said, no one is likely to list Ulysses S. Grant as one of the top ten Presidents of the United States. The problem was that Grant turned out to be a remarkably poor judge of character, at least in the civilian sphere. Grant himself was honest, but many of the men he appointed to office were not. Because this was the time before civil service reform when the Spoils System was still in operation meaning that almost every government post was a political appointee. If an incoming president appointed corrupt men, it didn’t take very long for the whole government to become thoroughly corrupt, which is what happened in Grant’s first term.

Despite several scandals, Grant was still personally popular and there was no question that the Republican Party would nominate him for a second term. A number of the more liberal Republicans were sufficiently disgusted with the corruption in the federal government and dissatisfied with Grant’s Reconstruction policies to separate themselves from the Republican Party to form the Liberal Republican Party. This new party, which included such prominent Republicans as Ambassador to Britain to Charles Francis Adams, Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, and  Senator Carl Schurz from Missouri held its convention in Cincinnati from May 1-3. There they nominated Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the New York Tribune for the presidency.

Greeley was an unexpected and somewhat unusual choice for the nomination. He was not really a politician, only having served a brief term in Congress back in 1848-1849. He had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and may have given the party its name. He was chiefly a newspaper man however and was used to speaking his mind on every subject. People often say that they want a candidate you says what he really thinks, but they are lying. What people say is that they want a candidate who says what they want to hear and Greeley was not that man He simply didn’t know when to keep quiet or carefully parse his words as an experienced politician learns to do. This openness would not help him during the campaign.

The Liberal Republicans went on to nominate Benjamin G. Brown, the liberal Governor of Missouri. Like Greeley, Brown had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and had served as a Senator from Missouri from 1963-1867 and then Governor from 1871-1873. Brown had served in the Union Army from 1861-1863 before being appointed Senator to fill a vacancy left by the departure of his pro-confederate predecessor. The Liberal Republicans adopted a platform which attacked the corruption of the Grant administration, supported civil service reform and ending Reconstruction and the military occupation of the South. They had some problems with the important issue of protective tariffs, but they made some vague statement about it being up to the people to decide.

The Republicans met in Philadelphia from June 5-6. They nominated Grant  for reelection by acclamation on the first ballot. Grant’s nomination was seconded by William Henry Grey, the first African-American to address an American political convention. Vice-President Colfax was dropped from the ticket because of his suspected involvement with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the convention nominated Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts in his place. Senator Wilson had long been an anti-slavery activist and was a founder of the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party, which he also helped found. Wilson had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1855-1873. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs from 1861-1973, Wilson had played an important role in the Union’s war efforts. The Republicans went on to adopt a platform praising Republican achievements since 1861. The Republican platform made some mention of civil service reform and tariffs, without too many details on either subject, and favored the protection of the civil rights of all citizens in every part of the country.

The Democrats met in Baltimore from July 9-10, and promptly nominated the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. At only six hours, the Democratic National Convention of 1872 was the shortest political convention in American, and possibly world, history. It might seem strange that the Democrats did not nominate candidates who were actually Democrats, Horace Greeley had been an especially fierce critic of the Democrats, but they wanted to see Grant out of office and believed that nominated their own candidates would only have split the anti-Grant vote, allowing him to win. It didn’t turn out to be an especially good plan.

The campaign was a nasty one, as usual. Grant was assailed as an ignorant, corrupt drunkard. Grant remained silent, preferring not to actively campaign, but his supporters had plenty of ammunition to use against Greeley. During his long career as editor of the New York Tribune, Greeley had endorsed any number of fringe causes; socialism, utopian communes, vegetarianism  etc, and the Republicans had a field day making fun of his eccentricities. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if the Democrats had nominated someone more, well, normal. Grant was popular enough among regular Republicans, bankers and industrialists, Civil War veterans, and Blacks, that he would have probably beaten any Democrat.

In the end, Grant won in a landslide with 3,598,235 (55.6%) popular votes against Greeley’s 2,834,761 (43.8%). The electoral vote was even more lopsided. Grant won all but six states gaining 286 electoral votes. Greeley won just Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, for a total of 66 electoral votes. Arkansas and Louisiana had voted for Grant but the electoral votes were rejected due to irregularities arising from Reconstruction and so weren’t counted.

The Election of 1872

 

Horace Greeley took his defeat hard. He became ill and died just three weeks after the election, before the Electoral College met to cast the official ballots. This created the unprecedented situation in which a presidential candidate had died before the election was formally concluded. The Democratic electors resolved the issue by simply casting their votes for four other candidates. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the victor of the popular election had ever died before the Electoral College met.

There Are Four Lights

April 10, 2018

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Chain of Command, Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians who attempt to break him by torturing him into denying the reality directly in front of him. The Cardassian torturer shines four lights in Picard’s face and tries to force him to say there are five lights.

Little did the writers of this episode know that forcing people to deny the reality right in front of them would become standard policy on many college campuses. No one is shining lights in students’ faces or using torture, yet, but compelling the denial of reality is definitely a thing, as Lake Ingle discovered when he insisted that there are only two biological genders. Here is the report from Campus Reform.

A student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania has been barred from attending a religious studies class required for graduation after pointing out that there are only two genders.

“Later this week I will be defending myself and my FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS in front of the Academic Integrity Board (AIB) of the Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania (IUP) against allegations of Classroom Conduct violations,” Lake Ingle stated in a Facebook post, which was deleted after Ingle retained legal representation.

“The decision made by the AIB that day will determine whether I will be able to continue participating in my full course load, as well as graduate this May as scheduled,” Ingle continued, adding, “This is not transgender, woman’s rights, or wage issue. This is about free speech and the constant misuse of intellectual power in universities.”

“The decision made by the AIB that day will determine whether I will be able to continue participating in my full course load, as well as graduate this May as scheduled,” Ingle continued, adding, “This is not transgender, woman’s rights, or wage issue. This is about free speech and the constant misuse of intellectual power in universities.”

Silly boy, there is no free speech at universities these days, and certainly no intellectual freedom.

According to Ingle, the class was forced to watch a Ted-Talk on February 28 featuring Paula Stone, a transgender woman, who gave examples of “mansplaining,” “male privilege,” and systematic sexism. Following the video, Ingle wrote that the instructor “opened the floor to WOMEN ONLY. Barring men from speaking until the women in the class have had their chance to speak.”

After some time had elapsed, Ingle stated he “took this opportunity to point out the official view of biologists who claim there are only two biological genders,” and refuted the “gender wage gap,” after which class resumed as normal.

“The floor was opened, and not a single woman spoke. Thirty seconds or so passed and still no woman had spoken. So, I decided it was permissible for me to enter the conversation, especially because I felt the conversation itself was completely inappropriate in its structure,” Ingle told Campus Reform. “I objected to the use of the anecdotal accounts of one woman’s experience to begin a discussion in which they were considered reality. It was during my objection that Dr. Downie attempted to silence me because I am not a woman.”

On February 29, Ingle met with his instructor, who he says gave him two documents—an Academic Integrity Referral Form and Documented Agreement.

Both the referral form and agreement charge Ingle with “Disrespectful objection to the professor’s class discussion structure; refusal to stop talking out of turn; angry outbursts in response to being required to listen to a trans speaker discuss the reality of white male privilege and sexism; disrespectful references to the validity of trans identity and experience; [and making a] disrespectful claim that a low score on any class work would be evidence of professor’s personal prejudice.”

According to the documented agreement, IUP is now attempting to force Ingle to apologize, stipulating that “Lake will write an apology to the professor which specifically addresses each of the disrespectful behaviors described above.”

It’s disrespectful to actually use facts and logic to contest claims made by leftists. Facts and logic are not their strong points so it is unfair to make use of them.

Moreover, the agreement proclaims that on March 8, “Lake will begin class with an apology to the class for his behavior and then listen in silence as the professor and/or any student who wishes to speak shares how he or she felt during Lake’s disrespectful and disruptive outbursts on 2-28.”

IH hope that Lake Ingle prevails in his struggle. We all need to be willing to stand up to the social justice bullies and loudly proclaim that THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS no matter how they try to coerce us and shame us into saying there are five.

Humanzee

April 8, 2018

The mad dream of Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov lives on! You may recall that Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was the Soviet mad scientist who sought to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid, or a humanzee, back in the 1920’s. Ivanov never came close to succeeding in part because the technology of the time was not advanced enough and also perhaps because the Soviet government never really gave Ivanov’s project the funding it needed. It seems that even the most ruthless and amoral ruling class in history, Stalin and the Bolsheviks, felt a bit queasy at the prospect. This unease has effectively prevented any further attempts at creating a humanzee and no one has even suggested such an experiment, until now.

David P. Barash, writing in Nautilus has proposed that making a humanzee might be a terrific idea.

 

It is a bit of a stretch, but by no means impossible or even unlikely that a hybrid or a chimera combining a human being and a chimpanzee could be produced in a laboratory. After all, human and chimp (or bonobo) share, by most estimates, roughly 99 percent of their nuclear DNA. Granted this 1 percent difference presumably involves some key alleles, the new gene-editing tool CRISPR offers the prospect (for some, the nightmare) of adding and deleting targeted genes as desired. As a result, it is not unreasonable to foresee the possibility—eventually, perhaps, the likelihood—of producing “humanzees” or “chimphumans.” Such an individual would not be an exact equal-parts-of-each combination, but would be neither human nor chimp: rather, something in between.

If that prospect isn’t shocking enough, here is an even more controversial suggestion: Doing so would be a terrific idea.

His reasoning:

Of course, all that we know of evolution (and by now, it’s a lot) demands otherwise, since evolution’s most fundamental take-home message is continuity. And it is in fact because of continuity—especially those shared genes—that humanzees or chimphumans could likely be produced. Moreover, I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things. There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.1

It is also possible, however, that my suggestion is doubly fanciful, not only with respect to its biological feasibility, but also whether such a “creation” would have the impact that I propose—and hope. Thus, chimpanzees are widely known to be very similar to human beings: They make and use tools, engage in complex social behavior (including elaborate communication and long-lasting mother-offspring bonds), they laugh, grieve, and affirmatively reconcile after conflicts. They even look like us. Although such recognition has contributed to outrage about abusing chimps—as well as other primates in particular—in circus acts, laboratory experiments, and so forth, it has not generated notable resistance to hunting, imprisoning and eating other animal species, which, along with chimps themselves, are still considered by most people to be “other” and not aspects of “ourselves.” (Chimps, moreover, are enthusiastically consumed in parts of equatorial Africa, where they are a prized component of “bush meat.”)

Let’s stop right there. What Barash is saying is that there is no real distinction between humans and other animals. There is a continuity between human and animals and the difference in intelligence is a matter or degree and not of kind. In other words, we humans are no more than really intelligent animals.

This simply isn’t true. There is an actual discontinuity between human and animal cognition. Human beings are able to do things no other animal can do. This is not simply a matter of intelligence, There are some very intelligent animals and very stupid humans. This is a matter of a fundamental difference in mental ability. It is a difference of kind, not merely of degree. Every single human being, even the mentally handicapped,  has a special quality of mind that no other animal has and the advent of this quality of mind represented a quantum leap in evolution perhaps as great as the development of the central nervous system of the first vertebrates.

Barash disagrees. Very well, let him show me the ape Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s hear music composed by the primate Mozart or Beethoven. Let’s display paintings by the monkey Rembrandt.  No doubt there is a chimpanzee Edison somewhere making new inventions to benefit us all or a gorilla Einstein offering us new insights into time and space. For that matter, where is the ape Hitler. The special human quality can be used for evil as well as good. Chimpanzees have been observed to commit “genocide” against rival bands of chimps. There has been no chimpanzee Holocaust, however, because chimpanzees lack the ability to organize to commit such great evil. I’d even be satisfied if Barash can show us an ape that can read and write, tell stories, or create representational art as well as a child in kindergarten.

Would a humanzee have this special quality of mind? It is hard to say. I have a feeling that it might but not so much as a full human. The humanzee might be just intelligent enough to know it is lacking something. Such a being would probably not be as intelligent as a human being. It might also not be very intelligent by chimpanzee standards since it may lack the instincts that a chimpanzee has. The humanzee would be neither human nor animal, belonging to neither worlds. Chimpanzees would probably reject his society, probably violently. Humans would see him as a freak, a laboratory curiosity. Like a mule, the humanzee would be sterile, unable to bring forth more of his or her kind into the world. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the humanzee may have just cause to hate his creator for bringing him into a world in which he has no place.

Barash recognizes these possibilities, but then instantly dismisses them.

Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates. It is also arguable, moreover, that such individuals might not be so unfortunate at all. For every chimphuman or humanzee frustrated by her inability to write a poem or program a computer, there could equally be one delighted by her ability to do so while swinging from a tree branch.

What lesson would a humanzee teach human beings about their true nature? What great benefits might derive from such a creation?

ooking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

In any event, the nonsensical insistence that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image and endowed with a soul, whereas other living things are mere brutes has not only permitted but encouraged an attitude toward the natural world in general and other animals in particular that has been at best indifferent and more often, downright antagonistic, jingoistic, and in many cases, intolerably cruel. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people have been able to justify keeping other animals in such hideous conditions as factory farms in which they are literally unable to turn around, not to mention prevented from experiencing anything approaching a fulfilling life.

By establishing that we humans are nothing special, that we are simply animals like any other, albeit with more intelligence, Barash believes that we will come to treat animals more humanely. Notice how we use the word “humane”. People who argue against cruelty to animals believe in the humane treatment of animals. There is the Humane Society. Why do we use a word derived from the same source as “human”. Perhaps because humans are the only animal that has been observed consistently treating other species with some degree of kindness, as well as deliberate cruelty. The case against cruelty to animals is made precisely on the basis that we are ourselves, somehow more than animals and thus are obliged to exercise more responsibility in our treatment of other animals than they use in treating each other.

But, if we are nothing more than merely another species, simply a clever ape, then maybe we do not have that responsibility either to other animals or to our fellow human beings. If we are not created in the image of God, then maybe we have no inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, which we are required to respect. It is not really possible to raise animals to the status of human beings. It is possible to degrade human beings to the status of animals, and all too often in history groups of human beings have been regarded as less than human and treated accordingly. If we are regarded as nothing special, the result will not be that we will treat animals as though they are the same as humans. That really is not possible. The result will be that we will treat humans like animals, or worse. That is all too possible.

The creation of a human-chimpanzee hybrid is a truly terrible idea, proposed for the worst of motives. It is possible that such a thing could be done, though less easily than Mr. Barash believes. It is certain that it ought not to be done.

Toys Were Us

March 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Election of 1868

March 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Election of 1868

National Labor Relations Board Rules Damore Firing Legal

March 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Clockwork

February 18, 2018

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

Friend —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

Tom Perez
Chair
Democratic National Committee

P.S. It is up to all of us to demand action on this issue. Add your name to tell Congress it’s past time to take action to address our country’s gun violence epidemic: https://my.democrats.org/Address-Gun-Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Right to Give the Finger

February 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indiana State Police have not commented on the lawsuit.

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

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

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

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


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