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MLK Day Reading

Race: a Study in Superstition: BARZUN, Jacques: Amazon.com: Books

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, many people will post quotes from the great man himself, or videos of the “I Have a Dream” speech, or some-such. There’s nothing the matter with that, insofar as it keeps the spirit of the day front-and-center.

Some will attempt to hijack it for some partisan purpose, either to ridicule or shame members of the opposing political party. I think there’s a great deal the matter with that.

As an alternative, I would like to suggest a fine book by the esteemed scholar Jacques Barzun, Race. Amazingly enough, it was written in 1937, and yet for the most part reads as though it could have been released last year or last week. Or, sadly, next year or next week.

In it, he traces the roots of the concept of race to intra-European rivalry, particularly that between the French and the Germans. Each attempts to locate the idea of an Ur-race both for itself and for the other, and each attempts to define certain qualities of that race. In this effort, nobody succeeds, even in internal consistency, never mind being persuasive to those outside the fight. Things get even worse when the basis for “race” moves from the sociological to the phrenological.

In the end, Barzun comes to condemn the entire concept of race as little more than politically-convenient collectivism, a superstition that falls apart under his close examination. Sometimes, this is caricatured as meaning that he’s denying the existence of genetics, but as he’s writing before Watson & Crick, but with the knowledge of Gregor Mendel, he is nowhere close to doing that. What he is doing is denying the attribution of alleged “racial” characteristics to individuals whom one decides to lump in with that tribe.

The last paragraph here may have spoiled Barzun’s conclusions, but it hardly spoils the book, which while brief, is not an easy or light read. It is, on the contrary, a solid and dense tour through the intellectual pedigree of this misbegotten concept.

And, to draw the connection with today’s remembrance, if race itself is little more than a tribal construct, often imposed from without, then what cause can there be for anything other than equality of the individual before the law?

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Vermont’s Secretary of State Undermines Democracy, Violates Federalism

Minnesota, like a great many other states, participated in our great national mail-in voting experiment during last fall’s elections. And like a great many other states – either through Democrat lawsuit or Democrat rule-making – it eliminated meaningful ballot security. In Minnesota’s case, this meant removing both voter identification and signature witnessing for first-time mail-in voters. Combined with our country’s notoriously sloppy voter rolls, the net result was a system where it was virtually impossible to be sure that the ballot being returned was actually voted by the person who allegedly signed it.

While the presidential race wasn’t particularly close, a number of state legislative races were decided by extremely close margins, enough races to potentially have shifted the balance of power in the state House of Representatives. But the forensic work required to track down potentially fraudulent votes is enormous, certainly impossible between election day and the vote’s certification. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the total number of ballots fraudulently cast, and now those voters are part of the mail-in system.

In order to get things back under control, a Republican state senator has proposed that the state issue a specific photo ID to be used for voting. The ID would be issued for free to those who can’t afford it. Such an ID would also help to keep the voting rolls cleaned up, since it would be tied specifically to voting, unlike a drivers license or a Social Security card.

The senator proposing the bill also notes that it would help restore some faith in the voting system. No doubt this is true, although it would be more true if the Democrats hadn’t fought tooth and nail to derail even legitimate inquiries into voting irregularities in last year’s elections.

All of this proved too much for Vermont’s secretary of state, Jim Condos, who tweeted out the following:

Apparently, requiring that voters prove that they are who they say they are does “little” but suppress their votes. Note also that Senator Newman doesn’t allege that there was fraud, only that many people believe there was. Without any sort of long-term follow-up, given the lax rules in Minnesota, it’s hard to blame them for being suspicious. But Condos does, of course.

It’s unclear exactly what Condos finds “not acceptable.” Is the assertion of fraud, which nobody has made? Is it the “suppression” of eligible voters, which would in no way happen under the proposed law? It’s hard to tell.

But then, what business does the Vermont secretary of state have expounding on proposed election law in Minnesota. One of the most effective complaints about the last-minute Texas election lawsuit was that it would violate federalism. Indeed, one of the effective arguments against the so-called National Popular Vote interstate compact is that electors in, say, Colorado, would find themselves bound by the results of rules their state had no hand in making.

Instead, we see the fruits of the Democrats’ Secretary of State project, where those in charge of administering our elections and ensuring their integrity use the system to undermine that integrity, and then complain that people have no confidence in the system.

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Rep. Jason Crow Has A Short Memory

Jason Crow has just begun his second term representing Colorado’s 6th Congressional district. In response to last week’s riot at the US Capitol building, he has been tweeting frequently, in disgust at what happened (a disgust I share).

But he has also sought to turn the events to partisan political advantage, looking to turn the actions of a few hundred people on a single day into a general assault on the Republican Party.

He has, for instance, used his campaign account to accuse any and all Republicans who objected to the electoral vote counts from a handful of states of effectively taking the side of the rioters. This is, of course, rubbish from beginning to end, but it’s rubbish that much of the press seems to take seriously, if the reporters I follow on Twitter are representative of their caste.

Having established that narrative, Crow used his campaign account to call for corporate PACs to defund any Republicans who objected to the vote:

And he has used his official House account to claim this:

That is, anyone who suggested that anyone might have used the gaping holes opened up in our electoral process – holes opened up by Democrats – to commit election fraud, is disqualified from complaining about the terms he and President-Elect Biden intent to impose on their version of “unity.”

If anyone should be disqualified from preaching about unity, it’s Crow, whose own version of “truth and accountability” applies to only one form of political violence.

At the end of May last year, BLM protesters did significant damage to the Colorado state capitol, breaking windows, spray painting, among other things, a hammer-and-sickle, and generally trashing the grounds.

The truck of Senate President Leroy Garcia suffered a smashed windshield, and legislators took a few days off from their covid-delayed session to get some security back in place.

Crow’s official press release is titled as a statement about the Denver protests, but it never mentions Denver at all, spending more time trashing President Trump for suggesting that National Guard troops might be needed to restore order.

Later that summer, a protest in Aurora over the police shooting from 2019 of Elijah McClain got out of hand. The protesters took over and started marching down I-225, one of the major routes to Denver International Airport. When a man driving a Jeep on the way to the airport unexpectedly found himself in the middle of this mess, he did the natural thing and floored it, trying to get the hell through the mob and out of danger as quickly as possible.

At that point, one of the protesters pulled a gun and started shooting at the Jeep, hitting two other protesters instead. Fortunately, nobody was killed, but he was eventually charged with attempted murder. The Jeep driver was not charged.

You wouldn’t know any of this from Crow’s official press release on the matter:

We are still learning exactly what happened on Saturday night, but what we do know is horrifying enough: a driver sped through a crowd of protesters causing chaos and harm, in yet another example of the violence that is inflicted on those fighting for justice and equality. 

He mentions the destruction at the Municipal Building as a “distraction,” but neither here nor in additional releases on the McClain shooting does he acknowledge that the Jeep driver was acting out of fear and common sense, or that one of the protesters pulled a gun and started shooting.

In another incident last year, protesters “visited” Aurora City Councilman Francoise Bergen at her home, and demonstrated on the street and sidewalk in front of her house. Crow had nothing to say about that, either.

The inescapable conclusion is that for Rep. Crow, all political violence is bad, but some political violence is more bad than others, especially when it comes to his team.

Yoram Hazony writes in his excellent book, God and Politics in Esther, that there are basically three types of subjects in a tyranny. One can oppose the tyrant. One can keep one’s head down and passively support the tyrant. Or one can actively and energetically support the tyrant in ways he finds useful. Only the last is likely to earn much support from the tyrant or advancement within the regime.

Rep. Crow is making a strong bid to be a subject of the third kind.

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Reliving the 1984 LA Olympics

Carl Lewis, Long Jump Gold Medalist | Neil Leifer | Carl lewis, Sports  photography, Long jump

Watching 16 Days Of Glory and reliving the 1984 Olympic Summer Games.

I came home from work every evening that summer, and plopped down in front of the TV to watch the Games for about 4 hours straight, and then stayed up until 1:00 for the late coverage. After they ended, I went through Olympics withdrawal. And some of the wins, like Joan Benoit in the women’s marathon, and the men’s gymnastics team, are still emotional.

Aside from the things I had forgotten, there are things that I hadn’t noticed before. For instance, before Zola Budd and Mary Decker collided, there was a moment where Decker looked down and frowned, clearly worried that Budd was crowding her. You only see that in slow-mo.

The movie was, I believe, Bud Greenspan’s first for the Olympics.
The cinematography is, of course, first-rate, and David Perry’s dead-pan, emotionless narration lets the athletes tell their own stories.

Given that the USA USA USA dominated the Games, in part because of the Soviet boycott, it could have been mostly about the US team. And he certainly doesn’t short the home team. But he makes room for plenty of foreign victory stories as well.

The photo above is not from the movie. It is, of course, Carl Lewis in the Long Jump, one of four gold medals he won that year. It by Neil Leifer, one of the greatest sports photographers of all time.

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Monday Morning Racing

In a normal year, today would have been the 3rd day of the National Western Stock Show.

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Facebook Censors…The Tax Foundation?

Oh, you thought this censorship stuff wasn’t about you, because you weren’t about Trump.

A friend of mind posted the follow on Facebook, only to have the site apply a “fact-check” to it. Understand that “fact-checks” are more than just checking facts. When run by the AP and by FB, they amount to entering the debate on the leftist side.

The Tax Foundation – the source of the data for the graphic used by Fox News – is a thoroughly center-right think tank, devoted to tax policy at all levels of government. The “fact-check” isn’t a fact-check, since it admits the facts are correct. In fact, the “context” that is allegedly missing – that the rates posted are only for the top earners, is literally in the headline for the graphic.

I look forward to any post by the left-of-center Brookings, The Urban League, Urban Institute, or Bell Policy Center being similarly “fact-checked.”

More realistically, we should be waiting to see how long it is before the Tax Foundation is demonetized and then deplatformed altogether.

But consider this an object lesson in how even policy-based right-of-center discussion is forced into pariah status. By putting a “fact-check” on this, it forces someone who posts it to defend the Tax Foundation and their work, with the allegedly objective FB and AP having put their thumb on the scale. Conservatives must work even to have their analyses considered legitimate and within the bounds of informed discussion, never mind get a debate on the facts. Left-of-center posts, no matter how far to the left, are granted immediate legitimacy.

Image may contain: text that says 'TOP TAX RATES BY STATE UNDER BIDEN TAX PLAN California New Jersey 62.6% 60% New York State 58% City i 62% Missing Context The same information was checked in another post by independent fact-checkers. See Why 5 Like 12 Comments Related Articles Comment AP Associated Press Fact-Check Graphic shows top tax rates by state only for high-income earners'

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A Word on Book Links

With some frequency, I’ll be posting about books that I’m reading, will read, have read, or look forward to reading when I get the chance. I will try to post a link to those books, in the event that you’re interested in reading them, too.

In the past, that would have meant a link to Amazon, but no longer. I would link to ABE Books, but they have been bought by Amazon, so I will link to eBay instead. The eBay preview isn’t the sexiest, so I may also have to add a copy of the cover just for aesthetics.

Obviously, if you’d prefer to order from Amazon, the choice is yours. You can search on the author and title and probably find the book pretty easily. But I won’t be linking to them directly.

It’s a sad moment, another tiny step in the direction of a Red America and a Blue America. But after Amazon’s assist in crushing smaller businesses during the Covid shutdowns and the riots of 2020, and now their discontinuing of inconvenient apps, it’s one that I prefer to take.

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Freedom of the Press – Created, Not Inherited

I finally finished Daniel Boorstin’s The Americans: The Colonial Experience. It’s 372 pages long, divided up into bite-sized chapters of 5-10 pages each. For all that, it needs careful reading, and there’s something worth flagging in every chapter.

For instance, the press labored under government restrictions on this side of the Atlantic much longer than it did in Britain. Partially, this was because chronic shortages of paper, ink, and typeface made a successful press harder to run. But it’s also because the colonial governments passed press licensing laws here, and then kept them in force after similar laws in England had lapsed in the 1690s.

For instance, on page 329:

Authorities were still impressed by the great power for irresponsible attack which a press could put into any man’s hands. The European governing classes would no more have thought of leaving the manufacture of explosive printed matter unregulated than they would have permitted the unlicensed manufacture of gunpowder or the raising of private armies. In America control was exercised, sometimes in one way, sometimes in another, and the need to censor varied with the flow of events. But one fact is clear: the traditional European idea of monopolizing the press to cement the social order was successfully transplanted to American shores.”

We tend to think of our liberties as having been ancient, inherited from England, and being encroached upon by the Crown. But in at least this instance, freedom of the press was included in the First Amendment not from inheritance, but from the experience of not having had it.

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Could Election Fraud Cost Republicans the Minnesota House?

It’s not the most likely scenario, but it’s certainly possible, and explaining how highlights the difficulty of detecting fraud after the fact.

Minnesota State House

For the 2020 election, the coronavirus allegedly made voting in person too dangerous to contemplate. Minnesota, like many other states, responded by trying to implement universal mail-in voting. In its case, this took the form of mailing an absentee ballot application to everyone on the voter rolls.

As John Hinderaker at Powerline documented, the process they used opened up a massive loophole:

If you receive this invitation, as I did, no identification is required to obtain an absentee ballot. You may have a Minnesota driver’s license, or maybe a Social Security number. (Who doesn’t?) But failing that, or if fraud is your object, you can check the third box. In that case, “Your identification number will be compared to the one on your absentee ballot envelope.”

“Your identification number” is not explained in the enclosed materials, but it can only refer to a bar code on the Business Reply Mail envelope that is included with each absentee ballot application. This obviously affords no ballot security. It merely will document that an application for an absentee ballot was submitted, and a ballot corresponding to that application was later cast. It provides no assurance as to who filled out that ballot.

As Hinderaker points out, this loophole is complicated by the country’s notoriously sloppy voter rolls. In many states, including Colorado, it’s very difficult to get yourself removed from the voter rolls if you move out of state, and even address updates often lag months or even years behind the move. Having walked precincts here in Denver consisting largely of apartments, I can personally attest to this.

The net result is that someone living in an apartment where multiple previous residents are still listed as voting residents could have filled out those absentee ballot applications and voted as those people. To get caught before Election Day, it would be necessary for the person in question to still be living in Minnesota, to inquire as to why they hadn’t received an application, to protest, and then to have the Secretary of State or the County Clerk investigate the possibility of upstream fraud. A Secretary of State who would promulgate such a lax process in the first place would be extremely unlikely to investigate such failures.

Given that Trump lost Minnesota by about 7 1/2 percentage points, it’s unlikely that this particular form of fraud would have been widespread enough to cost him the state. But that doesn’t mean that other races couldn’t have been affected. In this case, control of the Minnesota State House of Representatives could have been switched.

Prior to the election, the Democrats held the chamber by a 75-59 margin. As in many other states, Republicans made significant gains at the state legislative level, and on Election Night it appeared that they had narrowed the gap to 70-64. However, four state representative seats were decided by fewer than 200 votes, and those districts went 3-1 for the Democrats. Flip the three Democrat wins, and the House is split 67-67, requiring some sort of power-sharing agreement. The Minnesota State Senate is already controlled by the Republicans, so the stakes in being able to serve as a check on the state’s Democratic statewide officeholders, including the execrable Attorney General Keith Ellison, is considerable.

Each state house district consists of roughly 20,000 voters, so it would take only 1% of the ballots in any of these races to be fraudulently cast using the method described above to potentially swing the race the other way.

The problem is that such fraud would likely be incredibly expensive to detect and virtually impossible to cure. Consider the district where the Democrat won by 40 votes. If only 50 ballots had been mailed out without any ID provided or required, investigators would have to go investigate each and every of those ballots, and prove that there was something amiss. The manpower and time alone would be prohibitively expensive, and would be multiplied by at least a factor of 4 for the other three districts in question.

What’s more, once the ballot is separated from the envelope, there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any way of reconnecting the two. If there were, it would mean that a sufficiently motivated election worker with access to the ballots and envelopes would be able to find out how any given voter had voted.

Does this mean that the Democrats necessarily retained control of the Minnesota House of Representatives fraudulently? Of course not. It does mean that it’s at least plausible, and demonstrates the extreme difficulty of dealing with fraud after-the-fact. It renders facile claims of fraud-free elections ludicrous, and it increases the chance that someone will try something like this in the future. And allowing this kind of loophole to exist is what damages the credibility of the election system, not those of us calling it out.

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Lincoln, Labor, and Us

On March 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln spoke at New Haven, Connecticut.  It was part of the same speaking tour that had taken him to Cooper Institute in New York City, but coming after that speech, in a smaller venue, it has attracted much less historical attention.

No doubt it also attracts less attention now is that much of the speech is a rehash of ideas first presented in the Cooper Institute speech.  One section, however, discusses a “shoe strike” then going on in New England, and it thus particularly appropriate for Labor Day.

Workers in shoe manufacturing plants had first struck in Massachusetts over wages.  Even though there was no formal union, the strike spread to other plants across New England.  Lincoln, in the manner of politicians everywhere, sought to address great national issues in the context of local ones., in this case, slavery.

I am merely going to speculate a little about some of its phases. And at the outset, I am glad to see that a system of labor prevails in New England under which laborers CAN strike when they want to where they are not obliged to work under all circumstances, and are not tied down and obliged to labor whether you pay them or not! I like the system which lets a man quit when he wants to, and wish it might prevail everywhere. One of the reasons why I am opposed to Slavery is just here.

So far, Lincoln is making a fairly pragmatic pro-free labor argument, one that will resonate with northern workers: that they have the right to quit and deprive the boss of their labor whenever they feel like it.  He goes on:

When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor, for his whole life. I am not ashamed to confess that twenty five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat-boat—just what might happen to any poor man’s son! I want every man to have the chance—and I believe a black man is entitled to it—in which he can better his condition —when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him!

Now, Lincoln moves subtly to a natural rights argument, one that goes straight after some Southerners’ argument that black men aren’t really human.  Not only are blacks human, but they are also entitled to the same human rights as everyone else when it comes to selling their labor and improving their condition.  Even to the point of being able to hire other men to work. 

The outcome of this freedom is a general prosperity where wealth is no longer directly tied to the soil, while hinting at the next direction he’s taking this argument:

That is the true system. Up here in New England, you have a soil that scarcely sprouts black-eyed beans, and yet where will you find wealthy men so wealthy, and poverty so rarely in extremity? There is not another such place on earth!  I desire that if you get too thick here, and find it hard to better your condition on this soil, you may have a chance to strike and go somewhere else, where you may not be degraded, nor have your family corrupted by forced rivalry with negro slaves.

Then comes the direct attack on Stephen Douglas, several paragraphs long, which require some unpacking.  They refer to other events and even to other arguments that Lincoln was making, which the audience at the time would have understood.  We might not grasp them at first, but once we do, the ominous similarities to today’s politics will be clear.

Now, to come back to this shoe strike,—if, as the Senator from Illinois asserts, this is caused by withdrawal of Southern votes, consider briefly how you will meet the difficulty. You have done nothing, and have protested that you have done nothing, to injure the South. And yet, to get back the shoe trade, you must leave off doing something that you are now doing. What is it? You must stop thinking slavery wrong! Let your institutions be wholly changed; let your State Constitutions be subverted, glorify slavery, and so you will get back the shoe trade—for what? You have brought owned labor with it to compete with your own labor, to under work you, and to degrade you! Are you ready to get back the trade on those terms?

But the statement is not correct. You have not lost that trade; orders were never better than now! Senator Mason, a Democrat, comes into the Senate in homespun, a proof that the dissolution of the Union has actually begun! but orders are the same. Your factories have not struck work, neither those where they make anything for coats, nor for pants, nor for shirts, nor for ladies’ dresses. Mr. Mason has not reached the manufacturers who ought to have made him a coat and pants! To make his proof good for anything he should have come into the Senate barefoot!

Recall that in the Cooper Institute address, Lincoln says that the South will never be mollified as long as the North continues to believe that slavery is wrong.  Only a change in Northern beliefs – to be signalled by censorship of anti-slavery speech and changes in northern laws – will persuade the South that the North means slavery no harm where it exists.

Lincoln here is showing what that would look like.  The Dred Scott decision has already brought the country close to the point where free soil laws might be illegal, that slaves brought by a southerner into a free state do not automatically become free.  The next logical step would be to force the free states to permit not merely personal servants but slave labor in commercial enterprises.

Lincoln is also contradicting a frequently-assumed argument for popular sovereignty, that slavery simply won’t work in certain places.  Part of the argument in favor of popular sovereignty was that if people didn’t want slavery, or if the climate of a place wouldn’t support it, then it wouldn’t take root no matter what the laws were.  Lincoln appears to be arguing contrary to this, saying that slavery could well exist in an industrial economy, and that therefore laws against it are necessary. 

This is an unsettled point among historians.  Harry Jaffa seems to agree that slavery wouldn’t have worked in California or the New Mexico territory in Crisis of The House Divided.  In his book The Impending Crisis, David Potter argues that Jaffa doesn’t quite prove the point, and re-opens the question about what would have happened had slavery not been banned in certain areas.  Lincoln appears to be taking Potter’s position here, that slavery might well be possible no matter what the economy.

There was also, at this time, a movement in the South to boycott northern goods over the north’s opposition to slavery.  So Lincoln is mocking that boycott as ineffective, and nothing to be afraid of.

Another bushwhacking contrivance; simply that, nothing else! I find a good many people who are very much concerned about the loss of Southern trade. Now either these people are sincere or they are not. I will speculate a little about that. If they are sincere, and are moved by any real danger of the loss of Southern trade, they will simply get their names on the white list, and then, instead of persuading Republicans to do likewise, they will be glad to keep you away! Don’t you see they thus shut off competition? They would not be whispering around to Republicans to come in and share the profits with them. But if they are not sincere, and are merely trying to fool Republicans out of their votes, they will grow very anxious about your pecuniary prospects; they are afraid you are going to get broken up and ruined; they did not care about Democratic votes—Oh no, no, no! You must judge which class those belong to whom you meet; I leave it to you to determine from the facts.

Here, Lincoln (to laughter) isn’t merely mocking the boycott – he’s pointing out its partisan nature.  Northern Democratic businessmen were trying to organize a “white list,” (not in the racial sense, but as the opposite of a “blacklist” from which Southerners would not buy).  Southern Democrats could then buy from Northern Democrats.

And your Democrat neighbors aren’t concerned about your profits because they’re not really worried about the boycott – if they were, they could just get themselves whitelisted and take your business.  No, they’re worried about your votes.

All of this sounds dismayingly familiar – partisan boycotts, pretend concern for political opponents’ well-being, and demands that the other side not merely behave a certain way, but believe a certain way.

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