Archive for the ‘What’s Happening’ Category

Growing Crops on Mars

June 27, 2016

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

Mars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, when can I leave for Mars?

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

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

Brexit

June 24, 2016

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

Britain

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

England

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

Northern Ireland

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

Scotland

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

Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

We do live in interesting times.

Update: That didn’t take long at all.

Evalion

June 20, 2016

Evalion is the username of a young woman who has posted some rather controversial videos on YouTube. She has been called the most racist girl on the Internet and having seen a few of her videos, I can affirm that Evalion is indeed a racist and a Nazi. Since I am not a liberal, I do not use such words merely to denote a person with views I happen to disagree with. By racist I mean someone who believes that race is the most important determinator of what kind of person any human being is and who believes that some races are inherently superior to others. By Nazi, I mean a believer in the doctrines of National Socialism, including the extreme anti-Semitism of that ideology. By her own account, Evalion is a racist and a Nazi.

Last month, YouTube terminated Evalion’s account. This is not a free speech or censorship issue. As a private corporation, YouTube has no obligation to host videos that violate its terms of service and its executives can delete any video they please for any reason. All the same, I wish that YouTube had not done this.

I will not bother with some stirring declaration of the importance of free speech or the slippery slope and chilling effects of any censorship. As I said, YouTube has a perfect right to delete any video or channel they feel is inappropriate. I only wonder what they were trying to accomplish by terminating Evalion’s account and whether their action had the intended effects.

If YouTube wanted to keep Evalion’s message from being spread, then I have to say that they have failed. A quick search of YouTube shows that her videos are still available on many channels. I am sure that she has simply started a new account under another name and there seems to be no shortage of admirers willing to copy and upload her videos on their own accounts. Banning Evalion has only brought her more attention than she could ever hope to achieve otherwise. I doubt if she would ever have been mentioned in such news outlets as the Daily Mail if YouTube had taken no action against her. I certainly wouldn’t be writing this post if YouTube had left her alone.

Meanwhile, Evalion has become a hero to the racist, alt-right crowd. The way in which her enemies who have been celebrating are of the “hate speech isn’t protected and should be banned” persuasion makes them look like bullying, censoring Nazis and makes her look like a free speech martyr has helped her cause and confused the issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were being as provocative as possible just to get attention by having YouTube ban her.

I don’t imagine that anyone at YouTube believed that they could get Evalion to see the error of her ways by cancelling her account. Obviously shutting a person up does not change their mind. If anything, it will tend to reinforce the offending opinions in their minds. They must be saying something right if everyone wants to shut them down. Among the anti-semites and neo-Nazis, it is an article of faith that the Jews control the media and are quick to censor anything that exposes their nefarious plans. In a way, YouTube has managed to prove them right, at least in their own minds. Again, YouTube’s actions seem to have produced a different result from that which they might have wanted. This, by the way, is why the laws against Holocaust denial in some European countries are so stupid. Punishing someone for denying the Holocaust only makes it looks as if someone is trying to hide something.

In general, it is better to allow someone to speak out than to try to censor them, even if the opinions they express are hateful. Shutting down hateful speech simply draws attention to the people promoting hateful ideas and makes them looks like the brave heretics fighting against the lies promoted by the authorities. It gives them a sort of legitimacy they do not deserve. The best response to the Evalions of the internet is simply to ignore them. No one is harmed by videos or speech and there is no reason to encourage them by giving them the attention they crave. That goes especially for the people who felt it was necessary to expose “the most racist girl on the internet”. Just ignore her and get a life.

 

Blame the Gun

June 13, 2016

Once again the barbarians have attacked the West. This time a gunman named Omar Mateen walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and killed fifty people. Jo Comerford at Moveon.org places the blame for this atrocity squarely on where it belongs, on the gun Mateen used.

Dear MoveOn member,

At least 50 people were killed last night in a horrific mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, FL. At least another 53 were injured.1 As the news continues to peel back the layers on this terrible, tragic shooting and we grieve and mourn with Orlando, we must act now for common sense gun laws and to ban assault rifles. We must stop these mass shootings from tearing apart our communities.Click here to sign the petition, which says:

Military-grade assault weapons should not be used by civilians and have no place in our cities and towns.

Sign the petition

Orlando. Sandy Hook. San Bernardino. Aurora.

What do these horrific shootings have in common? The AR-15.

This military-grade assault rifle was used to murder at least 50 people in Orlando, 26 people in Sandy Hook, 14 people in San Bernardino, and 12 people in Aurora.2

Right now, such a mass-killing weapon is available for purchase on-line, at trade shows, and at neighborhood brokers across our nation.

The AR-15 and automatic assault weapons like it have no place in our cities and towns. They have no place on our streets.

We need to ban all assault weapons now and enact other commonsense gun reform.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks for all you do.

—Jo, Anna, Justin K., Ben O., and the rest of the team

I can make a list of places too: Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris, London, Copenhagen, New York. What do all of these places have in common? They were each the site of a horrific attack by Islamic barbarians intent on overthrowing the West and its ideals of freedom and tolerance. We are at war with savages and the solution that the Moveon.org has is to disarm our population and make us all helpless for the next attack.

This is the only solution people on the left offer after every attack. Appease the Muslims. Don’t make them angry. Don’t publish drawings of Mohammed. Don’t criticize or make fun of Islam. Treat the Koran with respect. Women, cover yourselves lest you arouse a Muslim man and cause him to rape you. Christians, pray in private lest you offend the sensitive ears of Muslims. Don’t suggest that immigration from Muslim countries be curtailed or that perhaps Mosques with ties to radicals should be watched. That is islamophobia. Respect Islamic customs and traditions and don’t expect that respect to be returned. Give in when they demand that Sharia law be imposed. Above all else, do not ever suggest that Islam is not a Religion of Peace or they will attack. Remember it is better to die than to live and be considered an islamophobe.

I expect that in the wake of the Orlando Massacre, the gays will be asked to go back into the closet. Its all very well to stand up to Christians who do not approve of gay marriage. The Christians are not going to start bombing and shooting. Standing up to Muslims who want to kill gays might take real courage. They might target us instead. Better to blame the guns.

 

Dump Trump

June 10, 2016

I got this petition from Moveon.org a couple of weeks ago.

Dear MoveOn member,

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, businesses like Coca-Cola and Microsoft are backing away from him and his brand.1

So why is the online behemoth Amazon continuing to sell Trump’s line of menswear—even though companies like Macy’s bailed on Trump’s brand of hate last year? Sign the petition today demanding Amazon stop legitimizing Trump by selling his products. Tell Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos:

Reject Trump’s sexism, racism, and xenophobia. Stop selling Trump products.

Sign Nita’s petition

Trump is inciting violence at his rallies and spewing vitriol that white supremacists like David Duke love. So why is Amazon continuing to support the Trump empire?

Many of us use Amazon, and the company has responded to our pressure before over the selling of sexist products. It’s time for Amazon to reject Trump’s brand of misogyny. Will you add your name now?

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks!

—Nita Chaudhary, UltraViolet Action

I have a few questions for Nita Chaudhary of UltraViolent Action. What if I happen to want to buy something from Donald Trump’s line of menswear? Maybe I like the design of a shirt or tie or whatever he is selling and I don’t care about politics all that much. What if the executives at Amazon.com decide that they are in business to make a profit, not to engage in social justice crusades?

If Nita Chaudhary had written to me stating that she will not buy anything associated with Donald Trump because she disapproves of his politics and urged me to do likewise, I could respect her position and maybe even go along with it. I do not much like Donald Trump either. But that is not what she is asking me to do. She wants me to help her to put pressure on Amazon.com to stop selling Donald Trump’s line of menswear. Ms. Chaudhary has decided that Trump is unacceptable, so not only is she not going to buy anything that is associated with the Trump brand, but she has decided that none of the rest of us are going to either. We need not decide for ourselves if we want to reject or support Trump. Nita Chaudhary has made the decision for us. Which brings me to my final question for Nita Chaudhary and Moveon.org. Why is it that for people on the left, their first, last and only response to any situation is to tell other people what to think or do?

Frankly, I am more than a little tired of this condescending attitude from these people. I think that I am quite intelligent enough to decide for myself whether Donald Trump or anybody else deserves my support. I do not want Moveon.org or anybody else to tell me what I am allowed to buy and I have no desire to tell Amazon.com how to run their business. I wish that people like Nita Chaudhary would live their own lives and let me live my own life as I see fit. I think there would be a lot less trouble in the world if such people could get over their impulse to control what others think and do and if they would give up their dream of remaking the world in accordance their their utopian ideals.

As it is, this email only makes me want to support Donald Trump just to spite the crusaders over at Moveon.org.

 

The Rise of Adolf Hitler

June 8, 2016

In my last post, I described how this internet meme was particularly ignorant because Donald Trump is not anything like Adolf Hitler and the social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany is nothing like contemporary America.

13177569_1134422309984155_7054149082475957997_n

 

It is also ignorant because the creator seems to know next to nothing about the rise of Adolf Hitler. The conventional idea about the rise of Hitler is that he was swept into office by a tidal wave of popular enthusiasm. That is certainly the story told by Nazi propagandists who were eager to cast Hitler as the embodiment of the Aryan racial will. The truth is somewhat different. Hitler gained power in Germany by taking advantage of certain features of the Weimar constitution which made it possible for someone like him to seize power and of the foolishness and timidity of his opponents who consistently underestimated him.

For most of the 1920’s the Nazis were very much a fringe party in German politics. Although a great many Germans essentially agreed with Hitler’s ideas about Jews, Aryans, the Versailles Treaty, and other matters, the Nazis seemed to be too lawless, violent, and, well, extreme, to appeal to the German middle class, especially after the hyper-inflation of the early Weimar years had ended and Germany shared in the general prosperity of the roaring 20’s. The Nazis were lucky to get 3% of the vote, when they were allowed to run at all. The Nazi Party was actually banned in many parts of Germany after the Beer Hall Putsch and because of the violent antics of the SA Stormtroopers.

This changed after the stock market crash of October, 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. Germany was as hard hit by the Depression as every other industrialized country and as the German people became increasingly desperate, they were more willing to listen to people thought extreme only a year before. In addition, the increasing strength of the German Communist Party among the working class frightened many members of the middle class, who feared that a Communist victory would lead to a Soviet style dictatorship. Many Germans came to believe, perhaps rightly, that Hitler was the lesser evil.

In the September, 1930 Reichstag election the Nazis won 18.25% of the vote, going from 12 to 107 of the 577 seats, making them the second largest party in the Reichstag. The third largest party was the German Communist Party which had won 77 seats. Germany was in the peculiar position of having two of the largest political parties in its parliament dedicated to overthrowing the government and unwilling to join any coalition or participate in the cabinet. Both the Nazis and the Communists tried their best to disrupt the functioning of the government both in the Reichstag and in battles in the streets. Curiously, this policy of disruption helped rather than hurt the Nazis. With the quasi-military discipline of the SA and their well organized rallies, the Nazis were able to give the impression that they were the only people who had their act together in a nation that was falling apart.

The incumbent Chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, had the support of President Hindenburg and was able to put together a coalition composed of his Catholic Center Party and some other conservative parties. Bruning did not have a majority, however, and it became increasingly necessary for the president to use his emergency powers to permit the government to continue to function.

Hindenburg’s seven year term was set to end in 1932. Hindenburg was 84 years old and did not really want to serve a second term as president. He only decided to run for reelection because he feared that Hitler, who he detested, might be able to defeat any other candidate. The first round of the presidential election was held on March 13, and Hindenburg won, but with only 49.6% of the vote, necessitating a second round which was held on April 10. This time, Hindenburg won with 53% of the vote. Hitler was second with 36.8%.

Bruning’s government fell on May 30 and Hindenburg appointed Franz von Papen to be Chancellor. Papen had almost no support in the Reichstag, even from his own Catholic Center Party which regarded him as a traitor, but he did have the full support of President Hindenburg and using Article 48, was able to rule as a virtual dictator. Papen lifted Bruning’s ban on the SS and SA and indicated that he was willing to work with Hitler and the Nazis. This appeasement worked about as well for Papen as it later would at Munich, Hitler would not cooperate or join in any coalition unless he were named Chancellor. New elections were called for July 31.

In the July 31, 1932 election, the Nazis got 37.27% of the popular vote, the most the Nazis would ever get in a fair and free election. This was enough to get them 230 seats in the Reichstag, out of the total 608, making the Nazis the largest single party. The Communists were third with 89 seats, so the majority of the members of the Reichstag now belonged to parties dedicated to overthrowing the Weimar Republic. This made forming any coalition impossible and Papen continued to govern with the use of presidential decrees. Papen was not popular either in the Reichstag or with the German public and in September 1932, he was obliged to have Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag and call for new elections on November 6.

The Nazis lost seats in this election. They got only 33.09% of the popular vote and dropped to 196 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis were still the largest party, but it seemed as though they were beginning to lose momentum to the Communists who now held 100 seats. The party treasury was depleted and it is possible that if another election had been called within the next few months, the Nazis would have lacked the resources to maintain their position. However, the Nazis were to be saved by good fortune and the weakness of their opposition.

Papen resigned as Chancellor and was replaced by his defense minister, Kurt von Schleicher on December 3. Schleicher proved to be incapable of governing and resigned on January 23. Meanwhile, Papen had approached Hitler, proposing to convince President Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor in return for Papen being Vice-Chancellor. Hitler agreed and Papen was eventually able to persuade a reluctant Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor on January 30, 1933.It might seem to unwise for Papen to allow a dangerous demagogue like Hitler to have any position of power and Papen may be justly condemned for enabling Hitler’s rise to power, but Papen believed that Hitler would be in a weak position as Chancellor. The Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag and only held only three posts in the eleven member cabinet, the Chancellorship and two relatively unimportant posts. Hitler did not possess, as Papen did, the confidence of President Hindenburg. Hitler would be a figurehead, useful for rallying the masses behind the government’s policies, but contained, while Vice-Chancellor Papen would be the real power, or so he thought.

Hitler had no intention of being contained. What Papen and others did not understand was that Hitler did not wish to become Chancellor only to work within the system. He planned to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Hitler’s experience in the Beerhall Putsch had taught him that it was useless to fight a revolution against the power of a modern state. Instead, Hitler planned to use the German state to make his revolution.

The Reichstag had been dissolved when Hindenburg had appointed Hitler Chancellor so new elections were called for March 5, 1933. These latest elections were held in the wake of the Reichstag fire on February 27. Although the Nazis probably didn’t start the fire, as many suspected, the Nazis quickly made use of the arrest of a deranged Dutch Communist to instigate a national panic of an imminent Communist revolution. The next day, President Hindenburg issued the Decree for the Protection of the People and State, granting Hitler emergency powers to deal with the supposed insurrection. Hitler did not ban the Communist Party and any other opposition to the Nazis but they were harassed and their leaders arrested. The Nazis and their allies were backed by the full power of the state by the next election and the Nazis got 43.91% of the popular vote giving them 288 out of 647 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis still did not have a majority, even though they were in control of the electoral process and had used the Brownshirts to provoke violence on the streets and at opposing parties’ meetings. The Nazis formed a coalition with the German National People’s Party and with the support of the Catholic Center Party was able to pass the Enabling Act, giving all legislative power to the Chancellor on March 24, 1933.

Hitler quickly established a totalitarian dictatorship over Germany, outlawing all political parties except for the Nazis and imprisoning anyone who dared to oppose the new order. By the next elections in November 1933, the Nazis won in a landslide 92.11% of the vote gaining all 661 seats in the Reichstag. Considering that the Nazis were the only party permitted to run and it was hinted that voting against the Nazis, or refusing to vote at all might have unpleasant repercussions, the surprising thing is that 7.89% of the German voters actually submitted blank ballots in protest.

The 86-year President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934 and Hitler arranged to abolish the office of President and assume its power in his own person as Führer and Reich Chancellor. The Weimar Republic was over and the Third Reich had begun.

Trump is not Hitler, We are not Weimar

June 6, 2016

I am normally a strong advocate for freedom of speech and naturally I oppose the censorship of any type of speech no matter how offensive it may be. I would like to make one exception to this rule. I think that anyone who compares any American politician to Adolf Hitler, or any other totalitarian dictator should be punished, perhaps with a flogging. There are no figures in American politics that are even remotely like Hitler and such a comparison is not only ridiculous but an insult to those people who really have suffered, or are presently suffering under the rule of a dictator.

According to some, Donald Trump is the latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler.

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This is simply ignorant. The political system and social conditions of Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920’s and 30’s were very different from the circumstances in twenty-first century America. While the creators of the Weimar Republic intended to form a liberal, democratic republic, there were certain aspects of the German constitution which made it easier for a potential dictator like Hitler to seize power than is the case in the United States. Also, Hitler did not gain power in Germany in quite the way that is popularly believed. Hitler did not become the Führer by being swept into power by a vast popular movement. Rather, Hitler was made Chancellor as a result of a backroom deal with politicians who thought they could use him.

The government of the German Weimar Republic was a multi-party parliamentary system. The German parliament was bicameral with the lower house, the Reichstag, having considerably more power than the upper house, the Reichsrat. The Reichsrat represented the various federal states of Germany and was largely advisory. The members of the Reichstag were elected by universal suffrage, using the principle of proportional representation. Voters voted for national party lists of candidates and each party received the number of seats in the Reichstag proportional to its share of the national vote. This system encouraged the formation of small, splinter parties since a party could appeal to a small segment of the population and still get seats in the Reichstag.  Because of the large number of parties, each seeming to want to turn Germany in a different direction, it proved to be difficult to form lasting coalitions with the result that the Reichstag became ineffective, particularly after the Great Depression began.

The leader of the Reichstag and head of the cabinet was the Chancellor. He was the head of government and the one responsible for getting legislation passed. The head of state was the President, who had considerable power of his own. He was the head of the armed forces and could dissolve the Reichstag, leading to new elections within sixty days. Under Article 48 of the constitution, the president had the power to rule by decree in an emergency. Article 48 was one of the tools Hitler used to seize absolute power in Germany though the last president of the Republic, the aging war hero Paul von Hindenburg also used Article 48 extensively as the Reichstag proved increasingly unable to act. In a sense then, Hitler did not create a dictatorship in Germany so much as step into a dictatorship already made.

 

The political and social circumstances of the late Weimar Republic and the twenty-first century United States couldn’t be more different. Elections in the United States use the single member, first past the post system. Each Congressional district elects one Representative, with whoever gets a plurality of the vote gaining the seat. Every state elects two Senators, but no state elects both its Senators in the same election and again whoever gets the most votes wins. The presidency is a little more complicated because of the electoral college, but the same principle applies. This system tends to empower a majority at the expense of the minority since the candidate with 50.1% of the vote wins and the 49.9% who voted for the other candidate may feel disenfranchised. This system also has the effect of encouraging large, broad-based political parties and coalitions since a political party needs to appeal to a majority at least in some regions in order to get any seats in Congress. This first past the post system makes it very difficult for any third party to gain power since, unlike a proportional system, they cannot get any power unless they outright win an election. This makes it very unlikely that a fringe party like the Nazis could get anywhere in American politics. A would-be Hitler would have to run as a Democrat or Republican, and he would have to persuade the majority of American voters to elect him, something the Nazis never managed to do in Germany.

Even if a Hitler managed to become president, it doesn’t seem likely that he would make himself into a dictator. The constitution contains no provisions for a president to assume emergency, dictatorial powers and I think that a president who made an overt attempt to declare himself Führer would meet with a lot more opposition than Hitler had. Remember that a great many Germans detested the Weimar constitution as something imposed upon them by the “November Criminals” who surrendered Germany at the end of World War I. A large number of Germans, perhaps a majority, felt that the Weimar government was somehow illegitimate, and Hitler wasn’t the only one calling for its overthrow. I do not think that a candidate who openly proposed scrapping the American constitution in favor of a socialist dictatorship would have much support. Certainly none of the current presidential candidates are calling for the government to be overthrown. Bernie Sanders may call himself a socialist, but he is quick to add that he is a democratic socialist who wants to expand the welfare state, not a revolutionary who is going to impose a Hugo Chavez style dictatorship. Donald Trump may have only the vaguest of notions about the constitutional separation of powers, but he isn’t saying he wants to be the Führer.

Hitler came to power in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic climate of the past century. We are not currently even in a recession. It may be true that America’s recovery from the last recession has been rather lackluster but the economy is nowhere near as bad as it was then. There are people who have been displaced by the processes of globalization and advancing technology, but their plight is not even close to the suffering of the Great Depression. The United States has not recently lost a war in which a generation had been decimated and we have not had a humiliating treaty with crippling reparations imposed upon his. America in 2016 is simply not an environment in which a Hitler is likely to thrive, nor is Donald Trump anything at all like Hitler in ideology, politics, or mannerisms. As I said before, this internet meme is simply ignorant.

 

Don’t Say Eskimo

May 9, 2016

If you want to understand why people hate what is commonly called political correctness, you don’t have to go much further than to read this article from NPR explaining why we should not use the word “Eskimo”.

Confused about the word Eskimo?

It’s a commonly used term referring to the native peoples of Alaska and other Arctic regions, including Siberia, Canada and Greenland. It comes from a Central Algonquian language called Ojibwe, which people still speak around the Great Lakes region on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. But the word has a controversial history. (Editor’s note: And that’s why it’s not used in the stories on Greenland that NPR has posted this week.)

Actually, no, I wasn’t at all confused. Eskimos are those people who live far to the north. I doubt many people are in the habit of asking NPR for advice on what words to use and it seems rather presumptuous for the author of this article to tell the rest of us what is appropriate or offensive. Most people resent being told to use certain politically correct expressions, even when it is well intended.  But to continue.

People in many parts of the Arctic consider Eskimo a derogatory term because it was widely used by racist, non-native colonizers. Many people also thought it meant eater of raw meat, which connoted barbarism and violence. Although the word’s exact etymology is unclear, mid-century anthropologists suggested that the word came from the Latin word excommunicati, meaning the excommunicated ones, because the native people of the Canadian Arctic were not Christian.

But now there’s a new theory. According to the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, linguists believe the word Eskimo actually came from the French word esquimaux, meaning one who nets snowshoes. Netting snowshoes is the highly-precise way that Arctic peoples built winter footwear by tightly weaving, or netting, sinew from caribou or other animals across a wooden frame.

But the correction to the etymological record came too late to rehabilitate the word Eskimo. The word’s racist history means most people in Canada and Greenland still prefer other terms. The most widespread is Inuit, which means simply, “people.” The singular, which means “person,” is Inuk.

Of course, as with so many words sullied by the crimes of colonialism, not everyone agrees on what to do with Eskimo. Many Native Alaskans still refer to themselves as Eskimos, in part because the word Inuit isn’t part of the Yupik languages of Alaska and Siberia.

But unless you’re native to the circumpolar region, the short answer is: You probably shouldn’t use the word Eskimo.

So, “Eskimo” was bad because it was believed to be derogatory, but now it may not be so bad, but we still shouldn’t say it because an Eskimo might be offended.

The fact is that few Native American tribes or nations are widely known by the names they call themselves. Most Indian groups are commonly known by the names others have given them. Some are of obvious European origin, the Black Foot, Nez Perce, Creek, Delaware, Crow, or Beaver. In most cases, these are translations of their original names into English, French, or Spanish. Many are known by names given by their enemies, thus; Sioux (little snakes), Mohawk (man eaters), or Iroquois (real snakes), or their friends like Comanche (they fight with us). Some of the tribal names derive from European attempts to pronounce unfamiliar words, Ute from Nuutsiu, Seneca from Osininka, or Illini from Illiniwek. Of course, there are the names we use for the people as a whole. Indians are only called Indians because Columbus didn’t know where he was, and while the Indians are certainly natives to this continent, they did not call themselves Americans.

It is not just the Native Americans who are not called by the names they call themselves. No one in China knew that they were Chinese until they met the Europeans. The Chinese call themselves the Sons of Han and their country is the Middle Kingdom (Zhong Guo). China seems to be derived from the first Imperial dynasty the Qin. The Indians had many names for themselves, since India is a very diverse country, but India is derived through Persian from the Indus River. The most common Indian word for India is Bharat. The Hindu religion was not called Hinduism until the Muslims started to conquer India. Before that time, the Hindus had no need of a word to distinguish their religion.

Our Western civilization largely began with the Greeks, but the words Greek and Greece come from Latin. The Greeks knew themselves as the Hellenes and their country as Hellas. We call the Deutsche Germans and Deutschland Germany, while the French refer to them as Allemands and Allemagne from the German tribe the Alamanians. This isn’t just an European colonialist custom. The Arabs and Persians refer to Europeans as al-Faranj and Farangi from the Franks.

It seems that almost no one in the world is called by outsiders by the same name they use for themselves. It doesn’t seem practical to go through every language and change every term that might be offensive to someone somewhere in the world  so I think I’ll just go on saying Eskimo.

Eskimos

Eskimos

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2016

On this date in 1862, the Mexicans defeated an invading French army at the Battle of Puebla. This might not sound like much, these are the French we’re talking about, but in fact, the French had the best army in the world at that time. The Mexican forces were outnumbered two to one and out gunned, yet they managed to rout the French. So, the Mexicans have been celebrating the fifth of May, or Cinco de Mayo, ever since.

This holiday has spread here in the United States in recent years. At first, I objected to celebrating a “foreign” holiday, but then I reconsidered. We celebrate St. Patrick’s day for the Irish, Mardi Gras for the French and others, Columbus Day for the Italians, etc, so why not Cinco de Mayo for the Mexican-Americans. Besides, any holiday that celebrates the French getting their butts kicked is worth keeping.

Indiana’s Choice

May 2, 2016

For once, people actually care about how Indiana will vote in tomorrow’s primary. Indiana’s primary is held late in the season, the first Tuesday of May, and by that time both parties have usually all but decided who their presidential nominees are going to be. If the presumptive nominee has not actually acquired a majority of delegates, by the time Indiana gets to vote, at least he is in a position where he has the most delegates by a wide margin and most of the other candidates have dropped out. There may be one or two candidates hanging on, trying against the odds to eke out a victory, but everyone knows they have no hope. In the general election, Indiana almost always goes Republican and is not big enough or enough of a swing state for either candidate to bother fighting over.

This year it is different for Indiana. While Donald Trump is currently in the lead and some already  consider him the presumptive nominee, he has not yet managed to get a majority of delegates and may not have a majority when the Republican convention meets in Cleveland. Ted Cruz is still a viable candidate, though his chances of winning the nomination without some sort of convention manipulation of the delegate seems to be increasingly remote considering Trump’s recent string of victories. If Cruz can win Indiana, he might be able to break Trump’s momentum and at least deny him an outright victory before the convention. If Trump wins Indiana, Cruz might as well drop out, so Indiana voters might actually have some influence on the outcome of the 2016 election. Judging from the polls, Cruz has a decent chance of winning here.

I intend to vote for Cruz tomorrow because he is not Donald Trump, who I continue to distrust and dislike. It may be a futile gesture, however, since I am certain that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president. By now, any Cruz victory will only delay this inevitable result. I really wish that the other Republican candidates had taken Trump seriously earlier in the race. They, and most commentators regarded Trump as a clown, until he started winning. By the time they realized that he was a greater threat than each other, it was too late.

I am going to go so far as to predict that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. I am not happy about this prospect, though he is preferable to either of the Democratic candidates. There are still many pundits who are assuming that a Trump candidacy will be a disaster for the Republicans, ending in a landslide victory for Hilary Clinton. The polls seem to affirm this, Trump has record high unfavorability ratings with just about every group, yet I am not sure the polls are telling the whole story. Trump has gone from victory to victory even as his opponents have been dropping out. One might think that the remaining candidates would have gotten the bulk of the anti-Trump votes while Trump’s proportion of the vote remained about the same, but that hasn’t been happening. Trump seems to have been gaining a treating proportion of the vote over time, as if the people who might have voted for Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, etc are deciding to support Trump. Somebody out there likes Trump, and despite what the liberals think, the majority of Americans are not hate filled bigots. Trump is obviously saying something that appeals to a great many Americans.

Without getting into a detailed analysis, I think that what appeals to most of Trump’s supporters is simply the idea that he is on their side and is willing to fight for them, even if it means he has to be politically incorrect or even crude. Most politicians try very hard not to offend any of the myriads of pressure groups who are perpetually offended and they back down and apologize just as soon as someone accuses them of racism, sexism, etc. Their public statements are bland and meaningless, and there is a feeling that they care less about the silent majorities who make this country work and more about the very loud minorities who seem intent on tearing the country down. People like a fighter, and Donald Trump is a fighter. He does not back down or apologize when someone claims to be offended, and people who are tired of having to watch every word they say like to see that. Trump is, at least in his public persona, a Jacksonian at a time when the Jacksonians are under attack.

I think that when the battle between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump gets underway, the Democrats and the media, but I repeat myself, will throw everything they can at Trump. He will be a racist, sexist, Islamophobe, and the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. I don’t think it will work. Many people in mainstream America, Trump’s natural base, have come to believe, with good reason, that the entertainment and new media is not on their side, that it is hostile to them and their values. If they believe that Donald Trump is on their side, attacks on Trump will be seen as attacks on themselves by people they already know despise them. And, of course, Trump will not simply sit by ignore Hilary’s attacks. He will respond and attack, thus ensuring that he continues to be seen as a fighter.

I guess I’d better get used to saying President Trump. I’m still not very happy about it.


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