The 525th Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus wasn’t the first. It has been scientifically demonstrated, that the original “discoverer” of the Western hemisphere was the first human who crossed the Bering Strait several millennia ago. Some have claimed, without any solid proof, that the Chinese visited the western coast of the Americas prior to Columbus. Perhaps. And Vikings briefly visited what are now the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and perhaps the coast of Maine four or five centuries before 1492.

Columbus’s voyages of exploration and discovery, however, commenced the permanent connection between the Americas and Europe, and later the rest of the world. In most significant aspects, the New World over the next five centuries became the New Europe. The culture termed Western Civilization came to dominate the world, and its world has been much better ever since. Anyone that does not believe that it has is not paying attention.

The leftists in the United States, especially the majority of the university professoriat, are certainly among them. They are the blind who will not see. Their fiction is that Columbus and his immediate successors rapaciously conquered “paradise” and brought war, disease, racism, slavery, and oppression to the inhabitants who had long communed in harmony with nature.

This is nonsense. Western Civilization did not invent racism, disease, slavery, or warfare. Those maladies existed among humans from time immemorial, and still do, chiefly in non-Western cultures. The West, however, during the post-Columbus centuries ended slavery, and drastically curtailed disease. While racism may have been mitigated, the leftist identity politics have given it a new life under a different name, but it will fade eventually. War has not been eliminated; perhaps that is impossible for so long as there are those who eschew reason.

This is not to say that Western Civilization is perfect. It has had, and still does have, its flaws. Likewise, other civilizations have their merits. They would not have developed and continued if their values failed to generally work for their inhabitants, given the environmental milieu in which they existed. But none have achieved the dominance the West has. That dominance has not been so much by force of arms, but by force of ideas and the fruit of those ideas that mitigated the Hobbesian nasty, brutish, and short life that humankind suffered for millennia since its beginning.

Christopher Columbus was in the vanguard of the West. He was the individual with the courage to strike out and risk his very life by sailing into the unknown to discover a new route, not for conquest, but for trade and commerce. He found a new hemisphere where Western Civilization was to expand and flourish. If it had not been Columbus, it doubtless would have been another European who discovered the existence of the American continents. But no matter, he was the first, and in more than four voyages he made the connection between the old and new worlds permanent.

So let us celebrate Columbus Day for the man who put in motion the process that truly changed the world 525 years ago.

For further reading on the impact of Columbus and Western Civilization see:

Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: the Origins of the Modern Economy.

Ian Morris, Why the West Rules: For Now.

Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier.

Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizations.

Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History. (This is a 13 volume tome. There is a two volume abridgment published in 1957 that retains the essence of Toynbee’s thesis.)

 

New Statue

While many cities and campuses in the USA are frantically rushing to remove statues and other monuments – today Confederate Civil War soldiers, tomorrow, who knows? – Russia this past week unveiled a new statue commemorating one of its most consequential citizens of recent times.

A thirty foot high pedestal bearing a sixteen foot statue of Mikhail Kalashnikov was unveiled at an intersection in Moscow’s Garden Ring Road. The statue cradles in its arms Kalashnikov’s eponymous invention, the AK-47 rifle.

Kalashnikov was an officer who ultimately rose to the rank of general in the Red Army during what the Russians called the “Great Patriotic War” (World War II). He came up with the idea for his rifle while recuperating from a war wound. While in the hospital, he heard numerous complaints from soldiers about the inadequacy of their firearms as opposed to the ones used by the invading German army. He succeeded in designing an inexpensive to manufacture rifle that was light, reliable, easy to maintain. It was so successful that today there are estimated to be over 100 million of the AK-47 design in military and private hands.

Although the AK-47 has been characterized as an “assault rifle” Kalashnikov claimed to have designed it mainly as a defensive weapon. Regardless, it has been used by terrorists and counter-terrorists, governments and insurgents, as well as hunters and other sportsmen. It is so reliable and easy to maintain that some have called it “peasant proof.” Having fired one (semi-automatic version), I can attest to its accuracy, light recoil, and ease of field stripping for cleaning.

Some Russians and many others have criticized the honoring of Kalashnikov because it has killed and maimed numerous soldiers and civilians. It is more accurate to say that many persons have killed others using an AK-47, or, for that matter numerous other designs of firearms and weapons. Unfortunately, war and violence are part of the human condition, and that is unlikely to change. Lethal weapons have been around since the first caveman picked up a stick to defend against (or attack) another human or animal. Since Samuel Colt invented the six-shooter, the little guy has had at least a fighting chance against the big guy.

“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he once said according to Russian network RT as The Two-Way reported. “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower.” Ultimately, that would be the preference of most of us. But as the late Texas historian T. R. Fehrenbach observed, “in this world there are tigers.” For as long as that is so, weapons like the AK-47 are necessary.

 

Labor Day

There has been a lot of talk about “American Exceptionalism” recently. The left side of the political spectrum generally disdains the concept, while the right wishes to affirm it. The concept has many contours that we can debate, but one thing is clear, whether or not the United States of America is exceptional, it is clearly contrary. The evidence?

  • Nearly every country in the world uses the metric system for measurement; the U.S. remains committed to the “English” system, which even the English no longer use, at least officially.
  • The standard electrical delivery system throughout the world is 220 or 240 volt/50 cycle alternating current; the U.S. uses 120 volt/ 60 cycles (as do our immediate neighbors in North America).
  • Most nations generally ban or heavily restrict private possession of firearms. The U.S. constitutionally protects the right of private persons to keep and bear arms, with minimum restrictions. District of Columbia, v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008); McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010).
  • Almost every country somehow restricts freedom of speech and expression, including the so-called hate speech. The United States constitutionally forbids all manner of prior restraint of expression, other than incitement to imminent lawless action. Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 1969).
  • The rest of the world uses the color red to symbolize the political left and the color blue for the political right. The U.S. reverses this scheme of color-coding.

And, apropos to this weekend, most other countries mark their day for commemoration of labor and workers on “mayday,” May 1. The U.S. marks the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

Celebrating Labor Day in September, unlike the other contrarian characteristics mentioned, was not an accident or result of an evolutionary process. It was passed by Congress at the urging of President Grover Cleveland after the 1893 Pullman strike. Cleveland had used federal troops to get the trains moving again, based on his legal, Constitutional responsibility for the mail. He wished to reconcile his party (Democrat) with the U.S. labor movement. Choosing the September day was deliberate and meant to be a rejection of the socialist premises of the International Workers of the World. Leftist groups have several times attempted to change our Labor Day to their May 1.

Being a natural born contrarian, and libertarian (but not a lunatic), I applaud America’s exceptionalism here, now, and in the future.

Happy Labor Day

UT Professors’ Frivolous Suit Tossed

July 9, 2017

A federal court sitting in Austin this past week dismissed a lawsuit by three University of Texas professors who alleged that the Texas statute permitting license holders to carry concealed handguns on university campuses “chilled” their First Amendment rights. Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that because the professors had not shown a cognizable, imminent injury the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain their claim.

The claim advanced by the professors bordered on frivolous. The gist of their complaint was because they often discuss controversial subjects and issues in their classrooms, the presence of persons who may be carrying concealed handguns, albeit licensed after a stringent background check performed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, would inhibit discussions in the expression of opinions about which they might disagree. Judge Yeakel cited a number of U. S. Supreme Court opinions that disapprove the application of the First Amendment to such a patently ridiculous theory. Of course, the court’s opinion is restrained in characterizing the absurdity of the claim, but merely dissects the law and the alleged facts. This is appropriate. Strong language is for commentators and politicians, not judges. A dispassionate recitation of legal analysis provides more strength to the opinion.

The court’s opinion and order recites that the cases are dismissed “without prejudice.” This means that it is possible that a similar claim could be filed at a later date, assuming it alleges new facts. Generally, a dismissal for want of jurisdiction is without prejudice, for a number of esoteric legal reasons. The court did not reach the additional and alternative issue that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Even if the law did not permit licensed holders from carrying concealed handguns into classrooms, what would stop a determined, non-licensed person from so doing? A licensee would probably not carry for fear of losing their license. The statute defined “concealed” as “carried in such a manner as to not be discernible by the ordinary observation of a passerby.” One could tuck the gun under their shirt or carry in their purse, and who would know? All this means that the bad guy might have a gun and the good guy would not. Get real, folks.

For those interested in reading the actual opinion, it is styled Dr. Jennifer Lynn Glass, et al v. Ken Paxton, et al, No. 1:16-cv-845-LY, United States District Court, Western District of Texas, Austin Division, July 6, 2017, document #79. It’s available on PACER and probably many other on line sites.

//

Divided We Stand

July 4, 2017

It seems there is a never ending screech of politicians, pundits , academics proclaiming that America has never been so divided as it is today. Truth is, our nation has always been divided in matters of society, culture, economics and politics. The union of the Thirteen Colonies cam about because of a common purpose and common foe. Even so, many colonials were not in favor of leaving the British Empire. When independence was confirmed after a war that lasted seven years, quite a few loyalists were so distressed that they emigrated.

But for the most part, Americans have always shown a united front toward foreign enemies, particularly those who open the hostilities and who were a threat to United States interests. Post independence, the obvious exceptions were the War of 1812 and Vietnam, both of which were widely unpopular. The Iraq war is unpopular in retrospect, but was unopposed for the major action, except for a miniscule fringe. (World Wars I & II had their fringe opponents, too.) Nothing kept Americans more united in purpose than the 40 year Cold War with the Soviet Union. Of course, the prospect of nuclear annihilation in 30 minutes focuses the mind wonderfully.

At home, the division has always been palpable. The Constitutional purpose to ensure domestic tranquility has been imperfect at best. But public policy disagreements, which occasionally erupt into physical altercations, have served as a dialectic thesis. antithesis, synthesis. Perhaps the most fundamental tension is individual freedom versus security. Nearly everything else is a corollary. Direct conflict has nearly always produced a compromise that is heavier on the liberty interest. The result has been innovation and its unparalleled material success.

Professor Allen Guelzo of Gettysburg College gave an interview to James Taranto in the July 1-2, 2017 Wall Street Journal (“Divided American Stands — Then, and Now” – p. A11). Many will not agree with everything he has to say, but he raises points worth considering.

Independence Day greetings to all.

 

 

– – – – – • – • ••• •

The code in this post’s title spells out the name of its creator.

This week in 1845, one hundred seventy-two years ago this past week. He sent a message between Washington D.C. and Baltimore Maryland.

• – – •••• • – – – –

•••• • – – – – – – – ••••

– – • – – – – •

– – • – • – – – – – • •••• –

Before that message was sent, human earthlings could communicate instantaneously only if they were in each other’s physical presence. Sending information meant writing it in symbols of one kind or another and physically sending the writing to recipients. Depending on the location of the recipients, it could take hours, days, or even months to reach them.

All that ended when Samuel F. B. Morse invented and built the first electric telegraph this device transmitted information at virtually the speed of light — instantaneously for practical purposes.

The method of coding, — dot and dash (or in sound, dit and dah) seems cumbersome to us today. And to transmit a complete message was not exactly instantaneous, but the code was refined over the intervening decades, ultimately becoming ones and zeros in digital devices. As was the media used, first copper wires, now electromagnetic waves.

Today it is not only possible for one on a fishing boat in the middle of lake in Texas to instantly communicate with someone else in Asia, the middle of the Pacific Ocean,  and even the moon. Obtaining the facility to do so is within the reach of almost any one, no matter their economic status.

What God hath wrought was in nature for eons. Morse discovered it less than two centuries ago. Remember this when you make the next call with your cellular smart phone.

 

//

“Bang the Drum Slowly” — Memorial Day 2017

Given the kind of war we have today, where any one of us could be on the front lines at any time, one of the most apropos observations for Memorial Day was the last line of the 2015 film Eye in the Sky.

In this terribly true to life fiction, a drone strike took out terrorists plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Kenya, but caused significant collateral damage. Afterward, the British Under-secretary of State criticized the general who made the decision to make the strike, calling his decision “disgraceful.” The general replied, calmly relating what he observed at the aftermath of five terrorist mass murders. He finished with a rebuke, also calmly delivered: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”