Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

U.S. regionalism,
foreign policy,
politics, life.

Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a Midwesterner,
a Southerner,
a husband, a father, a son. And always
a student.

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Saturday, May 31
A very, very old political debate in California

This information might not be news to the Californians stopping by here, but it was to me:

The current tensions between the California Legislature and municipal leaders over taxation, special legislation, home rule, and the two groups' respective roles is nothing new. From the first days of the Legislature in December 1849 to the present, legislators and city officials have argued over these issues. Remarkably, the range of topics remains the same.

That is from one of several historical reports prepared by the California Constitutional Revision Commission in the mid-1990s. (A complete listing of the reports is here.)

From a historical perspective, this analysis about the shift from Mexican political values to American ones in the 1850s was notable:

When California joined the Union in 1850, it had to transform the institutional remnants of Mexican rule and the de facto city governments of the Argonauts into a regular system of local government. The alcalde -- an office that combined the powers of mayor, magistrate, and sheriff -- dominated Mexican institutions. The Rev. Walter Colton was Monterey's alcalde, with substantial authority over not only the town, but also for 300 miles around. The Yankee notions of separation of powers and constitutionally delegated power were not evident in a system that relied on personal rule and few written statutes. As more Americans entered California, they characterized the alcaldes as capricious and instead installed the public values of their home states.

UPDATE: xavier Basora of the blog Buscaraons says the commission's description of California's legal transition in the mid-19th century is not on the mark:

To argue that separation of powers didn't exist in old California provokes an ambivalent response. Yes and no.

Separation of powers did exist, but it was instutitionalized in the hoary French adage of beaucoup sont consultés mais un decide (many are consulted but one decides). Constitutionally, Europe has preferred to create a pletora of collegiated organs of consultation (some that must be imperatively consulted before the executive can present a bill or modify a law) which surround the leader(s).

Contrary to the recieved wisdom, Montesquiu didn't write about England and its separation of powers (which in a strict sense doesn't exist since the executive is within the legislature) but of the practice of the French ancien régime's parlaments (i.e. law court more or less equivalent to the superior court) and the crown.

Indeed, one area where the Anglosphere falls a little short in the separation of powers is in the judicial realm. Most European countries have a judicial police force to investigate the crimes. (The local police forces enforce the laws and do some limited investigation, but once a major crime's been committed, the judicial police takes over. In some countries, the cities are be enough that both the local/regional and judicial police work together.) The Anglopshere courts have to rely on the local and national police forces which are dependent on the executive.

Plus ca change ...

In this part of the country, ethanol production enjoys enthusiastic support from the ag sector. This is hardly the first time that regional farm interests have promoted an industrial project that would serve their own interests.

Guy Gillette, who represented Iowa in the U.S. Senate during 1936-45 and 1949-55, pushed hard for the U.S. synthetic rubber industry to use alcohol derived from grains as the base raw material for American rubber. The proposal won strong support across the Midwest in the late 1930s and early '40s.

I learned this from an Iowa history listserv I'm on.

The end of Jesse Ventura's dream

A look at Nebraska's nonpartisan, one-house legislature was the topic of a post here last week. As a frequent visitor here rightly pointed out to me in an e-mail, I should have mentioned that Jesse Ventura mounted a big push in Minnesota a few years ago for that state to switch to a single-chamber legislature. (His proposal would have allowed the legislature to remain a partisan institution.) I had intended to talk briefly about the Ventura proposal last week but I had too little time that morning in putting together the set of posts.

The impassioned call by Ventura, a political independent, for the legislative restructuring was opposed by a broad coalition that included Common Cause (including the Nebraska chapter of the organization), farm organizations, the League of Women Voters and the central committee of the state GOP. These anti's argued that a unicameral legislature would be less accessible, less deliberative and less innovative. (Judging from the Nebraska experience, I'd disagree on the first two points; the third is more debatable.)

Ventura received support from a well-funded campaign led by former state Sen. George Pillsbury, of the famous flour-milling family.

The proposal went down to utter defeat in the state Legislature. A key reason, as I understand it from this distance, was public indifference. One poll indicated that only a third of Minnesotans surveyed supported the unicameral concept.

Southern heritage and 'duality'

This interesting blog by a Virginian has an intriguing post about Douglas Wilder, Democratic politics and matters Confederate.

The bigger picture

Wow. Our family just moved up from a 13-inch PC monitor to a 19-inch one. What a difference.

I got a great deal on the monitor at Best Buy.

I use a 19-inch screen at work when I sub for our paginator (who lays out and edits our editorial and op-ed pages). But going from the little screen to the big one at home is a mind blower.

Friday, May 30
Using the ‘Scheer-O-Matic,’ dialing 555 and reorganizing Israel’s military

Before getting into the eggheadish, super-serious stuff, how about some lighter fare (along with a few heavy items)?

From around the blogosphere (well, at least from the part I peruse when I have a chance):

  • The mysterious blogger at Curveball (I know who he is; you probably don’t) offers up a feast of great material: The longstanding problems with international aid efforts in Africa (and he’s absolutely right, unfortunately). A new wrinkle in Hollywood’s traditional use of 555 telephone numbers. A surprisingly interesting look at the family history of, of all people, Vidal Sassoon. And a good short item on Hadrian’s Line -- check out the zinger with which he ends his post!

  • One of the blogs that inspired me to jump into the blog thing nearly a year ago was Martin Devon’s stellar Patio Pundit. Check out Martin’s crisp new banner -- as well as his post on a call for the Isreali Defense Forces to reorganize themselves to implement lessons from the U.S. campaign in Iraq.

  • Mike Silverman of Red Letter Day introduces a clever idea poking fun at the out-of-control Robert Scheer: the “Scheer-O-Matic.” Take a look.

  • I like left-wing political humor. And I like right-wing political humor: Along that line, the column archive of Tom Purcell is well worth a look. A very funny guy, published in newspapers across the country. Tom's now in my blogroll, under "Wits." (His home page is here.)

  • Now this is the kind of argument I can get into: debating the meaning of the Renaissance. Chris Scott of The Insecure Egoist describes the dustup, which pits two of my favorite bloggers against each other: David Nishimura of Cronaca and Colby Cosh of his eponymous blog. (Hey, this must be a special post, because it’s one of the rare times when you’ll see me use the word “eponymous,” a term used too pompously too frequently).

    Chris has other worthwhile items at his site, including a look at the controversy over intensively realistic historical depictions of the slaveholding system at Colonial Williamsburg as well as thoughts on the release of the Joe McCarthy tapes.

  • There is a great analysis of the America-baiting Danish film “Dogville” over at EuroPundits. More good news: German blogger Amiland is a contributor to EuroPundits.

    Death on the tundra

    Anne Applebaum, a clear-eyed analyst of foreign affairs, has a new book out about the history of the Soviet gulags, as I mentioned last week in a post about her speech before the American Enterprise Institute. She describes how prison camps were found in every part of the Soviet Union and about the wide-ranging uses to which prison labor was directed.

    I was reminded of Bruce Lincoln’s description of the horrors of one of the world’s most ambitious public works endeavors, the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, built in part by prison labor. From Lincoln’s book “In War's Dark Shadow: The Russians Before the Great War”:

    The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway was an undertaking whose dimensions exceeded any that modern man had yet attempted. More than a hundred tunnels, some as much as two miles in length, had to be hewn through solid rock. Men had to build countless bridges over rivers wider, deeper, and more violent than any known in the United States or Europe.

    They had to work in temperatures that fell to such extremes that laborers grew numb and fell from the scaffolding to certain death. Millions of trees had to be felled, and billions of cubic feet of earth transported, to hew a track through some 5,000 miles of near-virgin wilderness. In all, the task demanded the labor of tens of thousands of men for more than a decade. Between 1891 and 1904, an average of 35,000 workmen were needed every year, and sometimes the demand rose to twice that number. ...

    Regardless of their origins, workmen on the Trans-Siberian Railway labored long hours under cruel conditions. ...

    On the average, there was one clinic bed for about every 1,000 workers. Along one 700-mile stretch of railroad, there were only two aid stations with inpatient facilities for 80. ...

    For more than a decade, tens of thousands of men bent their backs to the heaviest of labors, while they ate the poorest food and lived under the most primitive conditions, to lay mile after mile of track over some of the roughest, more tortuous terrain on the face of the Earth.

    'Nine kinds of hell'

    On a similar theme, historian Edward Ayers has vividly examined the brutalities of the convict lease system in the post-Civil War South.

    “This place is nine kinds of hell,” one prisoner recalled in a diary. “Am suffering death every day here.”

    From Ayers’ book “Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th-Century American South”:

    For half a century following the Civil War, convict camps could be seen scattered over the Southern landscape. Thousands of Southern men and women, most of them black, passed years of their lives in the convict lease system, deep in mines or waist-deep in swamps during the day, in wet clothes and filthy shacks during the night. Men with capital, from the North as well as the South, bought these years of convicts' lives. The largest mining and railroad companies in the region as well as small-time businessmen scrambled to win the leases. The crumbling antebellum penitentiaries, granite monuments of another social order, became mere outposts of the huge and amorphous new system of convict labor. ... Wardens had little to do; the state had become superfluous in the punishment and reclamation of its criminals.

    ... When investigators uncovered horrible conditions, officials self-righteously refuted the charges. ... Fragmentary and missing reports were not so much mistakes as they were part of a built-in incompetency, a purposeful confusion. Even today, the muck of smoky-room politics hangs about the documents of the convict lease system. ...

    Even as tireless a worker as [Alabama prison camp inspector] R.H. Dawson could not keep the scattered camps under control; he would note that he done some good at one camp, only to sigh at the next one: “Found things very bad -- Cells so low that a man cannot stand upright -- No hospital -- No privy -- No shoes -- Bad clothes -- and very little to eat.” ...

    About half the prisoners in the lease system had been sentenced for theft or burglary, often of petty amounts.

    By the way: Edward Ayers, a historian at the University of Virginia, oversaw the creation of a much-praised Web site, the “Valley of the Shadow Project,” that compares the experiences in two communities, one Southern, one Northern, over the course of the Civil War. He has a recent book on the same subject.

    Trapped behind the 'gates of commerce'

    Speaking of convict labor, Frank Pierson, who wrote “Cool Hand Luke,” had a sharp op-ed piece in the LA Times about the negative effects of corporatizing on the movie biz. (If you follow the link and are requested to register, I'd recommend Matt Welch’s suggestion: For the user name as well as the password, just type in “laexaminer.” It works for me.)

    Pierson, the current president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Science, writes:

    What has happened here has happened to us all, because the focus of international business has shifted from production to distribution. Whoever controls distribution shapes what is produced ...

    As the movie business has changed, liberal critics have raised the alarm over corporate censorship. But the danger of censorship in the United States of America is less from business or the religious right or the self-righteous left than from self-censorship by artists themselves, who simply give up. If we can't see a way to get our story told, what is the point of trying? I wonder how many fine, inspiring ideas are strangled in the womb of the imagination because there's no way past the gates of commerce.

    To the studios today, the art of film and TV is a byproduct of their main business, a side effect, and like most side effects, more likely to be a noxious nuisance than a benefit.

    Wednesday, May 28
    Science, religion and the fading of premodern superstition

    Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister, has examined the relationship of science and religion in two worthwhile posts, here and here.

    In reading Don’s post, I was reminded of how George Marsden, in his deeply rewarding new biography of 18th century religious thinker Jonathan Edwards, explains how science and religion were once considered part of the same intellectual whole in Western culture:

    Only in the later Victorian era did "science" come to mean natural science, a verbal triumph of momentous proportions. In Edwards' day, by contrast, every serious thinker believed that natural philosophy and philosophy generally (and hence theology) must be of one piece.

    Edwards (1703-58) was especially attracted to such an approach, because, as "a polymath interested in all knowledge," he was fascinated by scientific study as much as by theological speculation.

    Edwards, Marsden explains, came along right at an interesting intellectual cusp, as premodern superstition was going out of fashion:

    Cotton Mather, however, came of age in a world different from that which young Edwards would find. New Englanders of the 1680s still lived in "an enchanted universe" filled with ghosts, devils, witches, and the preternatural, where one expected to see signs from God and wonders from a vast invisible world. [Cotton Mather’s father] Increase Mather, in good scientific fashion, collected and republished accounts of preternatural providences, of people struck dead for disobeying God, of pacts with the devil, witchcraft, monstrous births, even a man who stole sheep and then had a sheep's horn grow out of his mouth. New England was hardly different from England in such beliefs. Even the pages of the Transactions of the Royal Society [of London] in these days were a mix of the scientific and the preternatural.

    ... By Edwards' time withcraft and the preternatural had almost disappeared from clerical attention. In 1690 Cotton Mather could preached about a prodigious cabbage root he had seen that had one branch shaped like a cutlass, another like a rapier, and another like an Indian club, and pronounce that this was a special providential warning to New England. By the next generation such interpretations of prodigies would be a bit of an embarrassment.

    Retaining a recognition of God in understanding the universe had a powerful champion in Isaac Newton, Marsden says:

    The deists are sometimes almost equated with 18th-century enlightened thought, but it is often forgotten how many other renowned thinkers, especially at the dawn of that century, were resisting this dismissal of God's intimate involvement with the physical world. The most prominent was Isaac Newton himself. Newton was a pious, if unorthodox, Anglican with deep theological interests and expert knowledge of the Bible. At one point before he published Principia (1687), he put aside his work in physics because he was more fascinated with his studies in theology and biblical prophecy. ...

    In Newton's own Newtonian universe there was plenty of room for God not just as creator, but as sustainer of physical reality.

    Later this week: What I learned from the Viking re-enactors (I meant to blog on that today but I ran out of time). Plus some horrors from Russian and Southern history.


    Christie Whitman and Ari Fleischer are leaving the administration, and humorist Madeleine Begun Kane is giving them a send-off with new song parodies. To the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” for example:

    Christie Whitman went to town
    To do George Dubya's bidding.
    For power acted like a clown,
    Enviro head unfitting.

    Those who've smelled New Jersey's stink
    Got what they expected.
    Water that's unsafe to drink
    And air that should be tested.

    The rest is here.

    Mad says goodbye to Ari here.

    A nonpartisan, unicameral legislature

    That’s Nebraska’s, of course, the only state legislature in the country with those characteristics.

    Although 33 of the 49 seats in the Nebraska Legislature are held by registered Republicans, the nonpartisan nature of the body was underlined last week when the Legislature rejected the deeper budget cuts urged by Republican Gov. Mike Johanns (pronounced “JOE-hanz,” not “JOE-hahnz”).

    Instead, the Legislature approved lighter cuts and tax increases (and made permanent some earlier “temporary” tax increases). And it did so by veto-proof margins.

    Johanns appears to have an uphill battle in trying to convince legislators (called “senators,” although that is a term not actually contained in the state constitution) to change their mind:

    As the legislative session nears its end, Johanns' hands appear tied. Thirty-seven lawmakers voted to pass the budget and 36 voted in favor of the tax plan.

    With such heavy majorities on both bills, it's questionable that Johanns can sustain any vetoes he might issue. It will take 30 votes to override the governor.

    It isn’t that Johanns is unpopular; last fall, he cruised to re-election, to a second term.

    As Johanns said in another article, the fact that Republicans make up the majority in the Legislature doesn’t help him much, even though he shares their partisan affiliation. Instead, individual senators are independent-minded and have to be approached one at a time.

    Nebraska switched to a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature in the 1930s at the urging of George Norris, the state’s longtime, liberal U.S. senator. The main rationale was that such a legislative body would be less susceptible to lobbyist pressure (because the power and independence of individual senators would be unquestionably enhanced). The state would also save money by having a small legislature.

    The Legislature can be praised for its notable efficiency and transparency. (Even executive sessions are open to reporters. And there are no shadowy budget deals hatched by conference committee -- and I say that as someone who remembers the “super sub,” a handful of elite Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly who used to shamelessly decide the key points of the state budget behind closed doors in the 1980s.)

    The Nebraska Legislature has few checks on its influence, aside from gubernatorial vetoes and voter referendums. As an editorial at the Omaha World-Herald noted a few years back, “the chamber's small number of members mean that districts which elect inarticulate or inattentive lawmakers are at a particular disadvantage to districts with more charismatic representatives.” And the lack of party discipline is, of course, quite idiosyncratic and, in the opinion of many, counterproductive.

    As Gov. Mike Johanns can attest.

    By the way: The Nebraska Legislature’s nonpartisan nature has important effects on the party system in the state. The main one is that the two political parties do not look to the Legislature as an automatic training ground for statewide candidates. In contrast to other states, the Legislature here generally had not produced the state’s gubernatorial candidates.

    UPDATE: Lawmakers voted handily Tuesday to override Johanns' vetoes of the Legislature's spending and tax bills.

    Sunday, May 25
    Infighting among the Democrats

    During the Clinton years, the line between Democratic "centrism" and enthusiastic liberalism became pretty blurred. The Clinton administration was an amalgam of DLCers and brainy but unapologetic liberal advisers. The Gore campaign further illustrated the overlap between the two during the 2000 campaign.

    True, there was ideological backbiting in the immediate aftermath of Bush's victory-via-Supreme-Court-ruling. Robert Reich and other liberal true believers argued that Gore would have prevailed had he adopted a populist-liberal agenda earlier and stuck to it. Al From of the Democratic Leadership Council argued that such a course would have been a net vote loser for the Gore campaign.

    Of late, the sniping between the Democratic Party's centrists and liberals has picked up dramatically. Earlier this month, the DLC lashed out with some sharp jabs against some of the rhetoric coming from the field of Democratic hopefuls, especially Howard Dean. Here is a sampling from one DLC essay:

    But the great myth of the current cycle is the misguided notion that the hopes and dreams of activists represent the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Real Democrats are real people, not activist elites. The mission of the Democratic Party, as Bill Clinton pledged in 1992, is to provide "real answers to the real problems of real people." Real Democrats who champion the mainstream values, national pride, and economic aspirations of middle-class and working people are the real soul of the Democratic Party, not activists and interest groups with narrow agendas. ...

    What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration: the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home. That's the wing that lost 49 states in two elections, and transformed Democrats from a strong national party into a much weaker regional one.

    The real tradition of the Democratic Party is grounded in expanding opportunity and economic growth, increasing trade, standing up for a strong national defense and for America's interests in the world, and strengthening community at home. ...

    Not only is the activist wing out of line with Democratic tradition, but it is badly out of touch with the Democratic rank-and-file. In 1996, a survey by the Washington Post compared the views of delegates to the Democratic convention to those of registered Democratic voters ...

    On most of the issues in the 1996 Post survey, Democratic activists and rank-and-file might as well have come from different parties. On every social and economic issue, registered Democrats' views were closer to those of all registered voters than to those of Democratic delegates. ... A majority of Democratic delegates opposed a five-year time limit for welfare benefits; two-thirds of registered Democrats supported it.

    And from a subsequent DLC e-mail:

    Democratic pollster Celinda Lake hooked up 30 union members to dial meters to measure the intensity of their favorable reaction to the seven candidates who appeared. (Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Kerry were present only by video, and were not "dialed.")

    The results speak for themselves, and show why we've never been big fans of focus groups, which encourage politicians to tell audiences exactly what they want to hear: According to the Des Moines Register, Kucinich was first with a score of 78 on a scale of 1 to 100. Sharpton was second with 76. Gephardt was third with 75. Dean was fourth with 73. Edwards was fifth with 69. Graham and Mosley-Braun trailed with 66 each.

    Call it a psychic flash, but we somehow doubt this will be the order of finish at the Democratic Convention in Boston in July of 2004.

    Unfortunately, party nominating caucuses are a lot like focus groups, with their tendency to put pandering first. And like the Iowa AFSCME audience, they reflect views that are vastly different from those of rank-and-file Democrats around the country, not to mention the Independents who often dominate not only general elections but even primaries.

    And, from the same essay, here is a punch thrown directly at Dean:

    Every time Gov. Dean suggests that unlike his opponents, he represents the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," he's being divisive. ... And ironically, he's doing this in a transparent effort to appeal to the same fringe activists who used to do the same holier-than-thou number on him in Vermont.

    The New Republic says that the DLC has made a tactical mistake, handing ammunition to Dean with which he can appeal to the party's liberal diehards.

    The DLC has taken a strong stance, too, in calling for no watering down of the 1996 welfare reform law. One DLC e-mail went so far as to cite with approval figures from the staunchly conservative Manhattan Institute (the bete noire of pro-welfare activists in NYC).

    The DLC has the facts on its side on the issues. But if a Democrat were to win the presidency next year (and that isn't a farfetched prospect; the vicissitudes of politcs can be astounding), wouldn't the same dynamic from the Clinton presidency hold sway, producing the blurring of any distinction between Democratic "centrists" and liberals? Seems likely.

    By the way: This is my first post using my new Windows XP software. I like XP, although I'm surprising that WordPad doesn't have an automatic spellcheck the way that its predecessor, Microsoft Word Processor, had. The spellcheck has been a help when I write posts late at night or at 5:30 a.m. after getting up early. Was the word "vicissitudes" spelled correctly in the graf immediately above? I didn't bother to check.

    Friday, May 23
    Chris Hedges and the Wellstone funeral dynamic

    I've gotten some great e-mail on the Hedges topic, responding to my post linked by Glenn Reynolds. Most writers have expressed cogent support for the students' actions during the Hedges speech. Among their arguments:

    A commencement speaker has an implied contract with his or her audience not to take advantage of the situation. The conservatives heckled in the '80s were on campus to speak on a prearranged topic; Hedges sprang an inappropriate surprise on his captive audience. "The leftist protests were cold, calculated, pre-planned suppressions of speech. This was a spontaneous outburst of anger, a very different thing." And "it's way past time for this nonsense to stop."

    Those are honest, respectable arguments.

    I've found that folks taking that stand don't share an assumption that I make. I fear that these individual instances of heckling anti-American speakers will give significant ammunition to the hard left, which can cite them as evidence that conservatives have been hypocritical in their defense of free speech on university campuses and elsewhere. In other words, that the raising of the PC/free speech issue over the past two decades by conservatives has been merely opportunistic rather than grounded in principle.

    I differentiate between what I consider the micro dimension (the emotional environment within the commencement area itself) and the macro dimension (the larger ramifications for political debate for this country.).

    As I see it, there is something of a Wellstone funeral dynamic in play here. Behavior that seems intellectually and emotionally appropriate within the confines of a ritualized setting -- cheering blatantly partisan rhetoric at the funeral, trying to shout down an infuriating commencement speaker -- turns out to have larger, negative consequences outside that arena.

    I find myself in a situation something like that of an activist. This is an issue in which I have invested much on a personal basis for years now, tethering myself to a position -- resolute opposition to the stifling of political speech on campuses -- as a matter of principle. After going to such considerable lengths over the years to deride the campus left for enthusiastically choking off speech, I'd regard myself as at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical if I now support the Hedges hecklers.

    Monday, May 19
    The ubiquity of Soviet gulags

    Gulags turned up in some surprising places in the Soviet Union, Anne Applebaum noted in a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Applebaum, who’s written for Slate, The New Republic and The New York Times among other publications, is the author of the new book “Gulag: A History.” From her speech:

    Thanks to archives, we now know, for example that there were at least 476 camp systems, each one made up of hundreds, even thousands of individual camps or lagpunkts, sometimes spread out over thousands of square miles of otherwise empty tundra.

    We know that the vast majority of prisoners in them were peasants and workers, not the intellectuals who later wrote memoirs and books. We know that with a few exceptions, the camps were not constructed in order to kill people -- Stalin preferred to use firing squads to conduct mass executions. Nevertheless they were, at times, very lethal: nearly one quarter of the Gulag’s prisoners died during the war years.

    They were also very fluid: Prisoners left because they died, because they escaped, because they had short sentences ...

    In total, that means the number of people with some experience of imprisonment, in Stalin’s Soviet Union, could have run as high as 25 million, about 15 percent of the population.

    We also know where they were -- namely everywhere. Although we are all familiar with the image of the prisoner in the snowstorm, digging coal with a pickaxe, there were also camps in central Moscow, where prisoners built apartment blocks or designed airplanes; camps in Krasnoyarsk where prisoners ran nuclear power plants; fishing camps on the Pacific coast. The Gulag photo albums in the Russian State Archive are chock full of pictures of prisoners with their camels.

    From Aktyubinsk to Yakutsk, there was not a single major population center that did not have its own local camp or camps, and not a single industry that did not employ prisoners. Over the years, prisoners built roads and railroads, power plants and chemical factories, manufactured weapons, furniture, even children’s’ toys. In the Soviet Union of the 1940s, the decade the camps reached their zenith, it would have been difficult, in many places, to go about your daily business and not run into prisoners. It is no longer possible to argue, as some Western historians have done, that the camps were known to only a small proportion of the population.

    This is only a tiny sampling of a long and well-conceived presentation by Applebaum.

    (I learned of the Applebaum speech from a link at Power Line)

    The role of the History News Network

    I'm delighted that Chris Scott, a public history grad student in South Carolina, has returned to blogging at The Insecure Egoist. One of his new posts provides a well-done look at the History News Network, using a current tiff between Eric Foner and David Horowitz as his starting point. Chris also provides a critical look at the old-time pro-"Redeemer" viewpoint of a 1954 history of a South Carolina county and compares the state houses in Georgia and South Carolina.

    Sunday, May 18
    A national sport

    From the beginning of this blog nearly a year ago, I’ve mentioned, on occasion, the surprising popularity of NASCAR racing outside its native South. (There is certainly a ton of NASCAR promotional gear on sale here in Nebraska.)

    One more indication: A writer for ESPN reported last week that the Southern 500, the Darlington, S.C.-based race that is the oldest in NASCAR, will be moving to California in 2004, giving that state its second NASCAR race. A NASCAR spokesman is trying to downplay the story, saying no decision has been made.

    (via a listserv run by Wyeth Ruthven of The Wyeth Wire)

    Don't dilute teacher testing

    More than 3,300 black and Latino teachers in New York have sued the state, claiming that the standardized certification tests they failed do not measure the appropriate classroom skills and instead merely reflect the majority culture. Such testing is a key part of the Bush education-improvement initiative.

    The USA Today editorial defending the tests had the better argument:

    To the teachers, the issue is about fairness. They claim the tests for basic math and literacy skills have nothing to do with their performance in the classroom. And they say because minority teachers failed at far higher rates than whites, the tests were biased. ...

    If the New York teachers win the back pay and benefits they are seeking, other states might feel pressure to dumb down their certification tests. Yet they already are so easy that test experts say they merely measure high school-level skills.

    Worse, a win for New York teachers would put their plight ahead of students' needs. That would perpetuate a troubling cycle in which inadequate teachers turn out poorly educated students. ...

    Certainly, many of the New York teachers who are suing the state deserve sympathy. They were already on the job -- some with many years of classroom experience. But the general-knowledge tests they failed are important. During the testimony, education experts established links between testing -- for both basic skills and subject content -- and classroom competency.

    USA Today a counterpoint op-ed piece criticizing the competency tests. The op-ed, written by an attorney for the suing teachers, was weak in claiming that such tests amount to “doing little more than evaluating a teacher's fluency in majority culture.”

    Wingardium Leviosa!

    In case regular visitors were wondering, the birthday party/sleepover went fine last Friday night. The six boys (including my 9-year-old birthday-boy son) and I stayed up watching watching the second Harry Potter movie, then “Monster Inc.” and didn't get to bed till well past midnight. Most of the boys were so excited they wouldn't have gone to sleep much earlier anyway. There was only minor mischievousness to cope with; a fine evening, actually. Although my son was really dragging the next day.

    I was struck by how deeply the boys have plunged into the world of Harry Potter. They were using sticks in the back yard in the early evening as magic wands to cast spells on each other. The most popular spell: “Wingardium Leviosa!” (If you’re not familiar with the details of the Harry Potter books and are curious, here’s an explanation of the phrase, complete with pictures.)

    By the way: I will be away from blogging for much of this week. I can still be reached via the e-mail address listed here.

    Friday, May 16
    Race consciousness and legal standards

    A funny thing about the Ashcroft DOJ: It's supported the ending of affirmative action at the University of Michigan law school (and has been pilloried by folks on the left for doing so), yet this week it leaned in the opposite direction regarding a Nebraska-related case in federal court.

    In that case (heard on Thursday in a Minneapolis courtroom), the DOJ supported maintaining a federal affirmative action program for highway contracting in Nebraska.

    The DOJ's position stems from Ashcroft's pledge that he would support existing federal law as attorney general.

    An Omaha World-Herald from Aug. 21, 2001, pointed out the many flaws in the procedures used to implement the affirmative action program involved in the Nebraska case. A federal court has since held otherwise, saying the program met the legal requirements, common in race-based cases, of being "narrowly tailored" to serve a "compelling state interest." The appeal was argued in Minneapolis this week.

    Here is the editorial from 2001:

    Government officials say that Congress met all legal requirements when it created a federal Department of Transportation program that encourages the awarding of highway projects to minority- and female-owned businesses. It would be reassuring to believe them. Unfortunately, their claims fall short of the truth.

    Under the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, federal regulations require states and transit authorities to annually estimate what the level of participation by minority- and female-owned highway contractors would supposedly be in a discrimination-free marketplace. Nonbinding goals are then set.

    For the current fiscal year, the Nebraska Department of Roads aims for just under 10 percent of its federally assisted highway contracts to go to such "disadvantaged business enterprises" (DBEs) whose owner has a net personal worth below $750,000.

    Society should indeed work toward ensuring that minority-owned businesses receive fair access to the marketplace. Serious efforts, well short of quotas, have been made in that regard concerning purchases by the City of Omaha and the convention center/arena project.

    Yet if one examines the record of the highway-contracting initiative, it becomes clear that a glaring gap exists between the procedures federal officials followed in creating that program and what the law actually requires for the establishment of such race-conscious endeavors. Those shortcomings have been revealed in lawsuits filed against the program by white-owned businesses such as Gross Seed Co., a Nebraska highway contractor specializing in seeding work, and Adarand Constructors, a Colorado highway-guardrail contractor.

    The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, requires that before enacting any program to compensate for past discrimination, the federal government must present a "strong basis in evidence" to justify such race-conscious action. The evidence must demonstrate a "pattern" of discrimination and illustrate the government's responsibility, through action or inaction, for the discrimination.

    The evidence put forward by Congress and the Department of Justice fails to meet that standard.

    The Gross Seed case, for example, has revealed that the main document cited by Congress in renewing the DBE program in 1998 was a compilation of discrimination claims hurriedly assembled by a single individual, a Justice Department paralegal. Neither the paralegal nor his supervisors checked the accuracy of any of the material.

    Moreover, in an age-discrimination case last year, the Supreme Court specifically stated that "isolated sentences clipped from floor debates and legislative reports" had provided insufficient justification for congressional action. The claims in the Justice Department report on the DBE program are precisely of that nature -- a mere compilation of "hearsay upon hearsay," as one legal brief correctly put it.

    This isn't to say that discrimination is nonexistent in highway contracting or that government should always refuse to institute race-based measures. The point, rather, is that race-conscious actions by the federal government have to meet a specific legal standard, and the DBE program fails to do so.

    The federal government's justification for the program was further undermined in June, with the release of a report by the General Accounting Office. Congress had directed the GAO to prepare the report in hopes it would demonstrate the need for such a race-conscious initiative. But when the GAO reported back, it described a widespread lack of information concerning race and highway contracting.

    About two-thirds of states and transit authorities surveyed, for example, said they have not saved information on the personal net worth of the individuals who own and control DBEs, one of the fundamental points of information required by federal regulations.

    The GAO report punctured congressional hopes on another score, raising doubts about the scientific accuracy of "disparity studies" of alleged discrimination that federal officials frequently cite as justification for the DBE program.

    Companies such as Gross Seed and Adarand also raise a legitimate point when they ask for a documented record of discriminatory actions in specific states. According to the GAO, 81 percent of the states and transit authorities it surveyed reported that they did not receive any written complaints of discrimination filed by DBEs during 1999-2000. In the Gross Seed case, the Nebraska Department of Roads said it could not identify any state highway contracting procedure in the previous six years that had discriminated against Nebraska DBEs.

    The Justice Department misleadingly claims that the program limits "disadvantaged business enterprise" status "to those who certify that they are victims of discrimination in a notarized document." In reality, companies submit a notarized document merely verifying that they belong to one of the federally designated categories that are said to be broadly discriminated against: women and certain ethnic/racial groups. The Nebraska Department of Roads has acknowledged this legal "presumption" in a court document in the Gross Seed case. These facts go far to undermine the claim by federal officials that the program is "race-neutral."

    Nebraska officials have not acted in bad faith in trying to implement the DBE program. Rather, the fault lies in Washington, where lawmakers have paid too little attention to the legal requirements for race-conscious laws.

    As a result, the DBE program rests on an extremely shaky legal foundation. Policy-makers need to come around to recognizing that fact. So should the courts.

    A useful overview of the case is available here at Findlaw. Some of the legal briefs filed in the Gross Seed case are available here.

    Pretentious names

    I took a swipe this week at a left-leaning advocacy group name for its self-important name, the Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression.

    Of course, poking fun at the names of advocacy groups, regardless of ideology, is easy to do. Just this morning, I received an e-mail from an organization whose agenda I generally endorse; the group advocates the safeguarding of U.S. sovereignty over its tax policy.

    The puffed-up name of this free-market group: the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

    Thursday, May 15
    The ‘thou shalt not’s’ of blogging

    Hooray for Tobacco Road Fogey. He’s come up with a great idea: the Ten Commandments of Blogging.

    A sampling:

    3. Thou shalt not take the names of more popular bloggers in vain, else they will not link to thee.

    4. Keep no day away from thy blog, for that will be the day that a more popular blogger will view thy site and find thy content stale, and all of thy work toward getting a link from them or being added to their blogroll will have been wasted.

    5. Honor those more popular who link to thee. Reciprocate their link to thee and populate their comments and/or email with paeans of honor, lest they find thee unworthy and cast thee into outer darkness.

    Check out the whole thing.

    Taxes in New York state

    Tax increases are going to cause far-ranging harm to the New York economy, argues this essay by former Gov. Hugh Carey, Democratic investment banker/former ambassador Felix G. Rohatyn and four conservative thinkers (Richard Gilder, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, Roger Hertog and Walter B. Wriston):

    (via Power Line; the multi-writer blog has lots of interesting stuff.)

    Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood on the steps of the New York state capitol and thanked legislators for "coming through" for his city, by giving him permission to impose $700 million in new taxes on Gotham, bringing to nearly $3 billion the total tax increases enacted by the city since the mayor took office.

    Any longtime New Yorker knows that a strategy of trying to tax your way out of hard times has been tried twice before -- in the late 1960s and early 1990s -- with disastrous consequences. Now, as then, tax increases will not only not solve the budget crisis but will exacerbate the economic downturn.

    In the early 1990s crisis, as taxes went up two years in a row, the economy contracted by more than 10 percent while deficits persisted.

    When taxes are already as high as they are in New York, new or increased levies fail to generate the level of revenues that city officials project. A 1997 study of tax rates in New York and other cities by a team of economists concluded that raising New York's property tax, for instance, would produce “little or no additional net revenues,” because every dollar increase in tax rates drives away a dollar of the city's tax base.

    ... They don't seem to understand that New York is already losing over $700 million of business annually to less taxing locales. The city's tax increases will put local businesses further at a disadvantage when they can least afford it.

    Long-term, the damage to the city's economy could be profound. Over the last four decades, New York City has become the most heavily taxed city in America. And as a result, Gotham has not added a single net new private-sector job over that period of time, while local government jobs have grown by more than 20 percent -- 90,000 positions.

    The private sector in New York has stagnated because high taxes have driven both businesses and individuals out of town. The city perpetually has a net outflow of residents -- more people leave the city to live elsewhere in the U.S. than come here from somewhere else in America. The outflow is especially intense among families earning more than $100,000 a year. Yet the city is again increasing the tax rates on these individuals, arguing that they are most able to bear the added costs of higher taxes.

    The effect of tax increases on businesses is likely to be still more profound than on individuals. The rise in personal income taxes will immediately impair local small businesses ...

    Big corporations, meanwhile, will get hit especially hard by the steep rise in property taxes. New York already has among the highest commercial property tax rates in the country, collecting nearly $10 a square foot in taxes for leases in prime Manhattan locations, compared with just $3 and $4 a square foot in places like Los Angeles and Atlanta, and less than that in suburban locales that perennially seek to lure corporate tenants. Big businesses -- those renting 500,000 or more square feet of space -- could see their space costs go up by $1 million a year.

    Fifty years ago, New York was home to 140 Fortune 500 companies. Today that number is down to 33.

    This article (sorry, the link is kaput and I have no time to deal with it) talks about the discouragement descending on businesspeople in New York in the face of rising taxes:

    "Every time the budget goes up more than the general rate of inflation, or the business taxes or personal taxes go up without something to make the business climate more friendly, it sends a chilling message to businesses that are here or are thinking of moving here," Hannay [a small business owner] said.

    The late budget is especially upsetting, he said, because it reflects a state with its finances in disarray.

    Hannay's 70-year-old company manufactures reels, like the ones used to roll hoses and cable, and has 140 employees. He's considering other, more business-friendly states such as Arizona, but isn't ready to pack up shop. ...

    And Tough Traveler Ltd. President Nancy Gold said she was disappointed with the sales tax increase. Her Schenectady company makes backpacks and luggage, and doesn't want to lose business to nearby states or to the Internet.

    Centralize, centralize

    From Michelle Malkin's latest column:

    This week, the senator from New York unveiled the "Calling for 2-1-1 Act of 2003." The legislation, co-sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (shame on you, Kay!) would provide $200 million to establish a nationwide community help line, including almost $4 million for Clinton's "home" state.

    The federalized phone service would help callers find the "essential services they need -- from information on child care to elder care, job training, schools, volunteer opportunities, housing, and countless other community needs.” ... [”]

    There are already 2-1-1 call centers operational in 21 states, staffed by private volunteers and funded by local and state governments, corporate sponsors and the United Way (which pioneered the idea in 1997).

    There's also the old-fashioned telephone book.

    Not to mention the community bulletin boards at every local library, supermarket and church.

    Oh, and then there's the Internet that Hillary's old friend Al Gore invented, where countless Web sites such as ...

    But leave it to Hillary to attempt to "solve" yet another non-problem through government central planning. "Right now, there is no single source of information," she complained. "We need a central clearinghouse."

    Centralize, centralize, centralize. From health care to education to the economy, it's the Clinton way. She views her constituents as hapless, confused victims -- unable to cope with information overload and in dire need of one-stop federal aid at all times. ...

    It’s silly to think that it’s practically possible to roll back the scope of federal authority to that of 1920 (or, or some champion, 1860). Nonetheless, Malkin has put her finger on a key point. If you listen to debates in the U.S. House, some politicians make clear that they regard it as grossly unjust and unprogressive unless problems are addressed through massive, one-size-fits-all federal “solutions.” The same could also be said of Bush's big education initiative. Wasn't the abandonment of such a strategy, in favor more flexible, decentralized approaches, supposed to a hallmark of a political consensus promoted by Bill Clinton in the '90s?


    Here’s an illustration of how Arab paranoia and clinging to victimhood continues to hamper development in their region.

    Bush has offered to extend the same free trade opportunities to countries in the Middle East as are becoming available through U.S. trade pacts with other regions around the world. (A post here yesterday examined the details.)

    But what was the reception from some opinion leaders in the Arab press?

    "Given (Washington's) myopic view of a world they hardly seem to understand, the Bush White House is going to be puzzled and angry when potential members of their Middle East free trade area try to head off what they may fear to be U.S. economic imperialism," wrote the Saudi daily Arab News.

    Samih Saab, a columnist for Lebanon's daily an-Nahar, said Bush was trying to redraw the map of the Middle East by "adding commercial hegemony to military hegemony."

    Fine. But it’s pathetic to see economic opportunity tossed away so blithely, not least when it is so desperately needed. And when Arab critics have lectured the U.S. about the need to pay attention to the supposed economic “root causes” of Islamist terrorism.

    The repression fighters

    Is everybody in Kentucky a conservative? Not exactly, but liberals in the state sound as exasperated as those in Minnesota:

    Liberals complain of slim pickings in this year's gubernatorial race.

    The candidates -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- support the death penalty, oppose gun control and pledge they will not raise taxes. Some of them even protest being described as “moderate.” ...

    "We're discouraged at the crop of candidates that are available to the commonwealth. The political spectrum they represent does not reflect the diversity of our population and democracy," said Jeff Freyman, co-chairman of the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice.

    Liberals do exist in Kentucky. Although the U.S. Census doesn't count them, Al Gore won 41 percent of the statewide vote in the 2000 presidential election.

    Yet nobody in the gubernatorial race seems to reflect such liberal values as using government programs to help the poor and government regulation to safeguard the environment, liberal groups said. Instead, the candidates seem focused on middle-class voters who are concerned with their own personal circumstances, they said.

    "I'm calling them Demopublicans. You can't tell one from the other," said Alice Wade, an organizer for the Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, in Louisville.

    Did it ever occur to these folks that their political agenda might be made more accessible to a broader range of Kentuckians if they refrained from adopting a title as morally self-congratulatory and offputting as the “Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression”? It sounds like something dreamed up by The Onion.

    The specialists

    A very enjoyable post at Outside the Beltway:

    Invisible Adjunct has an interesting post about how, because of the proliferation of academic journal articles, most scholars are hyper-specializing to the point of scholasticism.

    It is rather insane. ...

    Check out the rest.

    Away for a while

    This set of posts may well be my last for this week. I have big duties relating to a child's birthday. Including overseeing a sleepover of five little boys. I'll try to be firm but wise.

    Wednesday, May 14
    Free trade with the Arab world

    The United States faces very tough going in promoting the free trade initiative that Bush is proposing for the Middle East. Economic policies in the Arab world are unapologetically statist, staunchly protectionist and hampered by the dysfunctional boycott of Israel. It’s hard to see how the politics buttressing such policies can be overcome anytime soon.

    Not that a free trade area, whose creation is described as a 10-year endeavor, wouldn’t help. The free trade agreements the United States has been pursuing in other regions will erode the trade prospects that Middle Eastern countries have with the U.S., as a well-done report from DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) explains.

    The United States is pursuing these bilateral and regional free trade initiatives, incidentally, largely as a way to cope with the abysmal lack of progress in the current Doha round of WTO negotiations.

    Edward Gresser, author of the PPI report, describes the dramatic ways in which the Arab world has been taking economic steps backward:

    In contrast to Latin America or East Asia, the population growth and urbanization in the western Muslim world have been accompanied by collapsing shares of world trade and investment. In 1980, about 13.6 percent of world exports came from these countries; today the figure is about 4 percent. ... by 2001, the entire Muslim world -- representing 1.3 billion people from Morocco to Indonesia -- received barely as much foreign direct investment as Sweden.

    Since 1980, per capita GDP in the Arab world has fallen by almost 25 percent, from $2,300 to $1,650.

    Muslim countries in the Middle East currently impose some of the highest trade barriers anywhere. Syria strangles whatever opportunities it has for developing a domestic market for cars by slapping a tariff of 250 percent on automobiles. It also bans all imports of processed food. In Egypt, the government imposes a 54 percent tariff on clothing.

    Eleven of the Arab League's 22 members, and Iran as well, remain outside the World Trade Organization, meaning they have failed to put in place the fundamental underpinnings for open trade.

    The PPI report rightly sums up such trends as “de-globalization.” As Gresser says, the transformative processes that are promoting economic dynamism in much of the world have “essentially bypassed the Middle East.”

    To meet the requirements of WTO membership, any Arab country wanting to join the WTO will need to stop boycotting the Israeli economy, a “senior administration official” said in a background briefing available online.

    Pakistan and Afghanistan are not included in the trade initiative. The administration says it can reduce U.S. trade barriers to Pakistan’s textile exports through the Doha round and through bilateral talks. Maybe. But it’s still very unclear how much the Doha round will accomplish.

    By the way: I wrote recently about the “UN-ization of the WTO.” Not an encouraging situation.

    Out of slavery
    Many white Ohioans in the 1840s demonstrated a far from welcoming attitude toward freed slaves, Joe Bauman, a reporter with the Deseret News in Utah, explains in a book he is writing.

    Joe’s book, “A Faithful Chronicler of the Age: Philadelphia in 1846,” focuses on a Philadelphia newspaper that gave extensive coverage to race relations and slavery in the 1840s.

    Excerpts from some of the 1846 articles he compiled:

    The Lewisburg (Va.) Chronicle states that 391 manumitted slaves of the late John Randolph passed through that town on the 22d ult., on their way to Mercer county, Ohio, where a large tract of land had been purchased for them. Among them was an old patriarch, aged 110 years. Some difficulty is anticipated on their arrival, the citizens being averse to their settling among them.
    [July 4]

    RANDOLPH'S EMANCIPATED SLAVES. -- EXCITEMENT IN MERCER COUNTY. -- We noticed a few days since, the passage through this city of some 300 emancipated slaves, formerly the property of the late John Randolph, of Va. They were on their way to settle among a colony of negroes already formed in two of the townships of Mercer county, in this State. The white population of Mercer had already resolved upon the rigid enforcement of the existing laws against the blacks now settled there -- and it appears they have determined that this last intended reinforcement shall not remain. ...

    The boats containing these people, laid over night at Troy; on Friday night, and on Sunday morning arrived at their journey's end. The citizens of the surrounding country were duly upon the spot. They, however, allowed them to land, but called a meeting, whereupon resolutions were passed, giving notice to the Agent, or those concerned, that they would be allowed until 10 o'clock of the 6th, to depart.

    They succeeded in getting them on board the boats again by 12 at noon, and carried back about 23 miles, and they are now encamped in the woods. No violence was used, all appeared to be done in a peaceful manner. Yet the citizens of Mercer county are determined not to allow them to stay. A guard was placed around them until their departure. J. S.
    [July 14]

    The people of Mercer county, Ohio, or some of them, have assembled in public meeting and passed divers resolutions of expulsion, by force, if necessary, against the colored people residing in that county. Gov. Bartley has issued a proclamation in consequence, enjoining the public officers to do their duty in the premises. The Randolph emancipados are at present scattered in the county of Miami, and are suffered to remain in peace.
    [Sept. 14]

    We are told by the Lynchburg Virginian that John, the well known and faithful servant of the late John Randolph, who, with the emancipated slaves of his master, went to Ohio, and were there treated by the citizens in a manner of which our readers have been apprized, has returned to Charlotte with the intention of petitioning the legislature to allow him to remain in the Commonwealth. He says they have no feeling for colored people in Ohio, and if the Legislature refuse to grant his petition, he will submit to the penalty of remaining and be sold as a slave -- preferring this to enjoying freedom in a free State.
    [Sept. 15]

    By the way: I have written here before about the fervent opposition among many white Westerners in the 1860s to extending suffrage to black citizens and to approving the post-Civil War amendments safeguarding the civil rights of blacks.

    Linguistic evolution

    “What’s Middle English?” my third-grader son asked me recently.

    My son has the same childhood habit as Theodore Roosevelt (and probably many visitors here): reading the dictionary.

    To help explain, I pulled down my old college edition of “The Norton Anthology of English Literature” from the late’ 70s. Then I read aloud the beginning of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” in Middle English:

    Whan that April with his showres soote
    The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
    And bathed every veine in swich licour,
    Of which vertu engendred is the flowr;

    Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
    The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
    Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,

    And smale foweles maken melodye,
    That slepen al the nyght with open ye
    (So priketh hem nature in hir corages);
    Thanne longen folk to goon on pigrimages, ...

    An online encyclopedia called Wikipedia has a well-done examination of Middle English:

    ... Although it is possible to overestimate the degree of cultural shock which 1066 represented (especially given the strong Anglo-Norman connections under both Edward and Harold), the removal the top levels of an English-speaking political and ecclesiastical hierarchy, and their replacement with a French-speaking one, both confirmed the position of French as a language of polite discourse and vernacular literature and removed the standard Wessex dialect of Old English and its role in education. Although Old English was by no means as standardised as modern English, its written forms were less subject to broad dialect variations than post-Conquest English.

    Even now, after a thousand years, the Norman class-system is still visible in English: the words for common things are derived from Old English, for example: pig, cow, dog and house.

    The words for things used by the rich and the ruling class are derived from middle French, for example: pork, beef, court, judge, jury, parliament, honor, courage, rich and study.

    By the way: It’s been argued that English is merely a pidgin language. The writer of this Wikipedia essay argues firmly, and meticulously, that it isn’t.

    Tuesday, May 13
    Minnesota, going from a blue state to a red state?

    Well, that’s what a political activist claims in an article quoted below. He’s exaggerating. Still, Minnesota is seeing very significant political change:

    Minnesota's Republicans have translated their sweeping wins in last year's election into swift victories in this year's legislative session.

    A 24-hour waiting period on abortions was signed into law. Permits to carry handguns in public will soon be available to more people. And the Department of Children, Families and Learning is dismantling the Profile of Learning and building a set of academic standards from scratch.

    All those issues had some DFL backing, but they've topped the Republican agenda for years. While support has grown incrementally since Republicans took control of the House in 1999, the stronger conservative leaning of the Legislature this year boosted them over the top.

    "It'd be hard to classify it so far as anything less than a wildly successful session," said David Strom, legislative director for the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota. "On all the big issues that the conservatives ran on, the remarkable thing is how easily they've gone through. It certainly looks like a sea change has taken place in Minnesota politics."

    This article spells out the bigger picture:

    Minnesota appears to be on the verge of a metamorphosis. ...

    One week before its scheduled adjournment, the 2003 Legislature is living up to its billing as a transforming agent in state law, in the size and role of government, and perhaps even in the state's long-term reputation and political culture.

    "I am struck by how many people in recent weeks are saying, 'What is happening to Minnesota, or even is this Minnesota?' " said Chris Gilbert, chairman of the Political Science Department at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. "The answer is, it is Minnesota, and it's been changing all along." ...

    Elections have consequences, and Minnesotans were advised by Republicans before and after they swept into power last fall that big changes were in store. DFLers still hold a narrow Senate majority. ...

    “We are seeing a transformation from a blue state to a red state,” a reference to the common color code for Democrats and Republicans in election counts, said David Strom, legislative director of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. His group has helped lead the charge, largely through aggressive ideological advertising and getting legislators and Pawlenty to sign pledges not to raise taxes. ...

    “It's a political realignment led by the entrepreneurial explosion of the ’80s and ’90s,” said Strom, referring to rapid growth in a largely suburban class of citizens who were either in business for themselves or in small, innovative companies. Strom uses such terms as “suburban libertarianism” and the “leave-me-alone coalition” to describe the philosophy and attitude of the ascendant power. ...

    But Jim Danielson, a political science professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said the transition and transformation are real.

    He said there is a growing "disconnect" between the prosperous suburban areas that went heavily for Pawlenty and much of the rest of the state. He added that many suburbanites have lost touch with their rural or urban roots of several generations ago.

    “An individualistic culture, much more suspicious of government, favoring lower taxes, elevating private interests over public good and commonalities, is finally taking the reins,” Danielson said.

    The car key mystery

    This is a true story.

    Just before noon last Saturday, I got ready to go to an event at the nearby University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I went out to my car and was astounded when I pulled out my key ring and found that the key to my car was no longer on the ring. I had driven home from work just the day before, so I had obviously had the key then.

    Getting that key off the metal key ring would have been no easy task. It takes a good amount of finger strength to do it. The key ring is metal, and the key was a big one with a black plastic coating at its base. It had to have been deliberately taken off.

    So, there were three possibilities:

  • I had removed it and was not remembering it. In other words, I was losing my mind.

  • My wife had done it and was refusing to tell me. That kind of thing is out of character for her. Plus, she knew I had to get to this pretty important event at UNO. So, this possibility was unlikely.

  • Some malevolent someone in our neighborhood had broken into our house and, in a fiendishly clever trick, had taken only one item, the key. In dreaming up that nutty possibility, maybe I was losing my mind.

    I used a spare key and went to the UNO event. Late in the afternoon, I thought I might have solved the mystery: Perhaps my 8-year-old son had removed the key. Friday night, after our family had walked down from dinner at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from our house, I had let my son have the keys to open the front door. After doing so, he had kept the keys and had thrown them up repeatedly in the air in the front yard. He had been peeved about something, so maybe he had taken the key out of childish spite.

    After I got home, I mentioned this to my wife, and she and I sat down with our son to talk about it. My wife led the discussion and didn’t make any accusations. She explained the situation and asked whether he had taken the key. He said he hadn’t. My wife did a smart thing: She gave him the key ring and asked him to try to remove one of the keys. He tried, but the key ring was so tight he couldn’t do it. Plus, his fingernails were so short that he couldn’t use them to open up the key ring anyway.

    So, what had happened to the key?

    My wife then got another good idea. She asked about our son’s tossing the keys into the air. Where had the keys landed when they fell to the ground -- on the grass, or on the sidewalk?

    Sometimes in the grass. Sometimes on sidewalk, he said.

    Keys, my wife said, sometimes break off a key ring if the key has a plastic base, as that one did.

    “I’ll go look in the front yard!” our son said.

    It wasn’t long before he returned. He had found the key.

    He held it up. It was broken, just as my wife had suspected.

    “Do I get a reward?” he asked.

    “Yes,” I said.

    We gave him a really big hug.

  • Monday, May 12
    Interviewing 'Skip' Powell

    A bit quirky, but not a bad interview -- the Jay Leno interview with Colin Powell this morning on the "Today" show, that is. Leno was subbing for Katie Couric, just for today:

    MR. LENO: Before we get started, I want to ask you, do you remember the name you wanted to be called? You were on the Tonight Show once with me a number of years ago, and you said there's a name you really wanted to be called by. Do you remember?

    SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, I do, Jay. I think it was Skip.

    MR. LENO: Skip, yeah. Somehow, Skip doesn't apply today. So “Mr. Secretary” I will go with, I think. You just don't seem like a Skip. As much as you would like to be called that, it just doesn't seem to work. ...

    MR. LENO: Let's talk about the Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for a minute. Do you think he can bring an end to these suicide bombings, as Yasser Arafat wasn't able or didn't want to do?

    SECRETARY POWELL: I think he is committed to that. ...

    MR. LENO: All right, let me ask you this. Let's say you solved everything, everything's worked out great. What would you rather be doing?

    SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I'm very pleased to be serving my nation in this capacity, honored to be serving this President, but there will come a day, Jay, when I will go back into retirement; and then you know what both you and I will want to do when we are both in retirement, and that's get together and play with our cars.

    MR. LENO: That's right. All right, tell you what. We'll do that. In fact, we'll have a race. Your Volvo against my Lamborghini. That's fair.

    SECRETARY POWELL: I'll beat you.

    MR. LENO: All right, you're on.

    Opposition to open container laws

    I knew that people could get exercised over motorcycle helmet laws, but until today I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that open container laws (prohibitions against driving with an open container of alcohol) are still hotly opposed in a handful of states:

    Drunk driving may be a crime in every state, but drinking while driving is still legal in three of them -- Indiana, Mississippi and Montana -- as long as the driver is sober.

    In America, in fact, the right to tipple a bit while breezing down the road still finds some strong support, especially in places where resentment of federal dictates is deeply ingrained.

    In eight states -- Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming -- passengers may drink alcoholic beverages in a moving vehicle. And in Arkansas, Colorado and West Virginia, it’s legal to have open containers of alcohol in vehicles, although no one may drink from them while the vehicle is moving.

    Every other state strictly forbids open alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles. But lawmakers in the 14 states listed have given up millions in federal highway construction funding as their penalty for refusing to pass open container laws strict enough to meet federal requirements. ...

    “It is a cultural issue, but slowly we’re starting to see the tide turn on our culture,” said Lisa Murphy of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. “There is a shift starting in Wyoming and people are starting to say that it‘s not OK to drink and drive.”

    UPDATE: More is available at the always-sensible blog Sneaking Suspicions.

    Saving the Sierra Club

    A recent post here quoted from two e-mails criticizing the Sierra Club. A third e-mailer offers a different perspective:

    The letter writer is part of the problem. Carl Pope is an employee. He should have written the Club President. The SC is a volunteer run organization. The system worked well when the Club was a selective membership organization and small. Today anyone can become a member of an organization that numbers several hundred thousand.

    Over the years the type of person becoming active has changed. I wish more folks who feel like our resignee would be a little more active in the Club -- it would change the Club. The Board of Directors (all elected by the members i.e. the 8.7% of them that bother to vote - hummm wonder if our friend bothered to vote last Club election?) voted to join the retro-seventies Win Without War coalition due to pressure from the members who wanted the Club to take a stand. Based on polling data one can assume that the majority of members favored the war, but they were silent.

    Your Oregon friend seems to be the flip side of the problem. The fire dangers in our national forests are due to a combination of
    factors. Recent droughts in the west combined with demand based logging practices and serious under funding of public land agencies over the past 20 + years have combined with decades of fire suppression to create the problem. The notions that we will solve the problems by ending commercial logging (Sierra Club) OR following the logging practices of the 1980s and early 1990s (your Oregon writer) are unrealistic.

    The Sun, on the move

    Maybe I'm the last one to know, but The New York Sun has a new URL, here. A good friend used the old URL, here, today and found something unexpected.

    Courting opinion, 16th century style

    The hubbub over Bush’s doings on the aircraft carrier, with the partisan squabbling over presidential image-crafting, led me to open my copy of Paul Johnson’s marvelous 1974 book “Elizabeth I: A Study in Power and Intellect.” Elizabeth and her court frequently traveled throughout England, in part to build up her popularity through carefully crafted pageants and events.

    It took 400 carts and 2,400 pack horses to handle the transportation requirements during these Elizabethan “progresses.” Elizabeth’s courting of locals is reminiscent of contemporary politicking, although it’s difficult to imagine the Bush administration ever being obsessed, as Elizabeth’s advisers were, with courting the leaders of the universities:

    Her court was itinerant. It had to be, for a variety of reasons -- economic, hygienic, political. Its vast, voracious and filthy presence emptied the surrounding land of food and filled the streams with sewage. If it stayed too long in any one place, epidemics, it was thought, were bound to break out. Yet if it did not come in solemn cycle, its absence was vociferously deplored by tradesmen and local operators. ...

    She often stopped the progress to talk to the crowds, sometimes went into private homes without warning and had a snack or a drink. ... She inspected local manfactures [President Bush visits an Omaha plastics plant today, incidentally]; thus, at Norwich in 1578, she visited children employed on worsted knitting. ... Afterwards she knighted him [the mayor of Norwich], saying “I have laid up in my breast with such good will as I shall never forget Norwich.” And when she left its boundary, she “did shake her riding rod and said, ‘Farewell, Norwich,’ with the water standing in her eyes.” ...

    She usually had a local compliment to pay: thus, at Bristol, she called St Mary Redcliffe’s “the finest and goodliest parish church in England” -- which, indeed, it still is ... For such gestures she was well-briefed by Burghley: we find him studying Lambarde’s “Itinerary of Kent” so that he could instruct her on the local marvels there. ...

    The government took extraordinary care in arranging her visits to the universities. It was considered vital that the regime should be popular, and the sovereign venerated, in the seats of learning. Burghley, for instance, meticulously planned her visit to Cambridge in 1564, corresponding at length with Vice-Chancellor ... There was a Latin sermon delivered by Dr Andrew Perme, and she told him, half-way through, to put on his hat; afterwards, she said it was the first sermon she had ever heard in Latin, “and she thought, she should never hear a better.” Then she sang a song, “in prick-song,” and in the evening saw a play by Plautus. The next day, a Monday, lectures were specially held for her ... and she heard a formal disputation in Great St Mary’s, where she noticed, and publicly criticized, some of the masters’ gowns. ... She toured the colleges, heard a divinity debate, and made a speech in Latin ... It was all a typical Elizabeth performance, a blend of formality and fun, wit, erudition, humanity and sharp criticism (Elizabeth knew many of the dons by name, and often rebuked or commended them for their writings and sermons), carried through in relaxed style.

    Merlin’s prophecy

    I wrote recently about the intense interest in superstition among early European settlers in America. Johnson’s book talks about the hold that superstition held on Elizabethan society:

    She [Elizabeth] could not, of course, ignore this world, which dominated the thinking of so many of her subjects; superstition was closer to their daily lives than reason, or indeed religion. Most of her contemporaries believed in astrology, and so did she in the sense that she was not prepared to rule it out as a possibility. ... As the epitome of Virgo -- “God’s virgin,” to quote Rossetti -- she used this as a collateral reason not to get married.

    Politics and prophecy were closely related. ... Politicians took such things seriously. In 1581 parliament made it a statutory felony to erect figures, cast nativities or calculate by prophecy how long Elizabeth would live, or who would succeed her. Babington plotted against her on the basis of a prophecy attributed to Merlin ...

    Hatton gave her a protective ring ... Many hostile dolls were made of her, and assaults committed on her imagery and portraits. This was the atmosphere she lived in, and Elizabeth accepted it with her customary tact, realism and unwillingness to offend contemporary standards.

    She consulted Dee about the famous comet of 1577, but she ignored superstition, and the pleas of her courtiers, by insisting on looking at it through a window, saying Iacta est alea, the dice is thrown.

    Of courts and tides

    Eve Tushnet has been taking an extended look at the interactions between courts, politics and social trends. (You’ll have to scroll down to “The Constitution: High and Low,” which begins a series of posts.)

    Among Eve’s observations:

    Oh so many problems. a) The Court not only follows the tide. It pulls the tide. The Court's decisions affect social movements--obviously, or social movements wouldn't always be trying to fight their battles in the courts!--and can add prestige and respectability to one side or another. The Court helps create the tide, and shouldn't present itself as a passive bit of flotsam.

    b) Those social movements turn to the courts often because they have failed to win enough, or fast enough, victories in the legislature. That in itself seems to show that the tide has not necessarily turned, and that the movement's future is still uncertain.

    c) Tides turn back. Cf. welfare reform as vs. the welfare-rights movement (which appeared to be gaining steam throughout the 1970s) ...

    Eve quotes from a stimulating legal discussion by law professor/blogger Jack Balkin (although to disagree with his thesis). Balkin writes:

    The right of privacy is always responding to changing notions of what is sexually appropriate and inappropriate. Today most people in the United States (and certainly most young people) think that heterosexual sex between unmarried individuals is permissible. It was not always thus. The sexual revolution changed people's views about the morality of pre-marital sex. That, in turn, changed what people thought the state had a right to regulate. Most people now probably think that it is none of the state's business whether heterosexual couples have sex and whether they wish to live together outside of marriage.

    The same thing, I would submit, is happening with same-sex relations. When the Supreme Court first considered the issue in 1986 in Bowers v. Hardwick, homosexuality was only beginning to win widespread social acceptance. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court, filled with people of a much older generation, could not muster five votes to protect the rights of gays and lesbians. What was surprising was that there were already four votes to do so. Now, with Will and Grace one of the top-rated comedies on television, it is quite clear that a very large number of people have changed their views. It is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court begins to protect same-sex relations.

    Friday, May 9
    How the Germans created a new military culture

    Forging a new culture for its military is, of course, one of the central tasks facing Iraq. Let’s look at how the Germans approached that task after World War II.

    In East Germany, the communist regime argued that its military represented a discontinuity in German history. The GDR, Willi Stoph said in a 1956 speech, had severed the military’s connection to “reactionary” elements, such as “monopoly capitalists” and the Junkers, that had led the armed forces astray for generations. The frictions that had long characterized German civilian-military relations, Stoph said, had finally been surmounted by forging solidarity between workers and the National People’s Army.

    In West Germany, an antimilitarist spirit was strong in the early 1950s. Writes historian Gordon Craig: “It was strongest, perhaps, in the Social Democratic Party, the bulk of whose membership held to the doctrinaire pacifism of their Weimar past, but many of the Free Democrats shared it, and it was by no means lacking in the coalition of Konrad Adenauer.”

    Adenauer’s decision to enter NATO and raise a military force of 500,000 in 1954 was strongly opposed by trade unions and a large segment of the leadership of the Evangelical Church. Such sentiment was stoked by popular antimilitarist works such as the “08/15” series of novels by Hans Helmut Kirst and the drama “The Devil’s General” by Carl Zuckmayer.

    Critics of Adenauer’s remilitarization policy would later note that leading positions in West Germany’s military representation at NATO headquarters included former Nazi officers including General Adolf Heusinger, formerly chief of the Operations Division at Hitler’s headquarters, and General Hans von Speidel, Rommel’s chief of staff.

    Theodor Blank, who oversaw the creation of a West German military force, looked to ideals adopted by Prussian military reformers during 1807-13. In that earlier era, Craig notes, Germany military leaders “had also been confronted with the task of rebuilding an armed force from the bottom up after an utterly disastrous war and at a time when the army was the object of popular hatred and suspicion.”

    The Prussian reforms had included “the creation of a ‘citizen army’ in which the caste system and the brutal discipline of the past would be abolished, the moral worth and personal rights of the individual soldier would be respected, and the quality of personal initiative would be valued as a highly as blind obedience.”

    Similarly, the West German military reformers stressed that young soldiers would not be subjected to a dehumanizing training regimen and that the new army, by Craig’s description, would be “free of Kadavergehorsam and Barras -- of corpselike obedience and the kind of petty garrison-tyranny that was graphically described in Kirst’s ‘08/15.’ ”

    Moreover, Craig writes, the revamped military would encourage

    political instruction and impartial discussion of historical questions and contemporary events in Germany and other countries. Its guiding principle would be what came to be called Innere Fuhrung or moral leadership. ... It was influenced also by the reflection that ‘unpolitical soldiers’ had served Germany badly, and that the political naivete of the Germany officer corps in the interwar period had helped bring Hitler to power.”

    The West German Bundestag insisted, over U.S. opposition, to create a 38-member civilian commission to screen all appointments to colonel and above. The commission lasted from 1955 to 1957 and screened 600 cases; about 100 were rejected.

    Craig writes:

    When the first seven Germany officers reported for duty at SHAPE headquarters, there was, a reporter for Der Spiegel noted, “no heel-clicking, no piercing looks, no clipped nods, no spirited strides, no harsh voices.” The officers were in civilian clothes and looked like “diplomats who had forgotten their umbrellas.”


    I meant to link to this last week, but I was away from blogging for much of the time. Humorist Madeleine Begun Kane has done a song parody on the Dixie Chicks controversy using the tune of an old pop standard we play often in the van with our kids, “Lollipop”:

    Call 'em Traitor Dixie Chicks, tell you why,
    Insulting Bush besmirches apple pie.
    So when they try to sing and play and dance,
    Man, they haven't got a chance.

    They call 'em Traitor Chicks, Traitor Chicks, oh Traitor, Traitor, Traitor,
    Traitor Chicks, Traitor Chicks, oh Traitor, Traitor, Traitor,
    Traitor Chicks, Traitor Chicks, oh Traitor, Traitor, Traitor,
    Traitor Chicks!

    Did a nudie cover pose, tell you why,
    They're using humor to combat the lies.
    The wingnuts diss 'em till they can't see straight,
    Though those Dixie Chicks are great!

    She’s also done a take-off on the departure of Mitch Daniels from the Bush administration.

    Wednesday, May 7
    Louisiana and the ‘empire of liberty’

    Donald Sensing recently blogged on the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, pointing out various aspects of its historical significance.

    A fascinating tangent was the immediate question of how to incorporate the residents of Louisiana (the area incorporating present-day Louisiana, that is) and their French/Spanish culture into the broader Anglo-American culture and legal system. This was the first occasion in which the new nation had to give serious thought to the complete incorporation of a significant body of residents whose world view lay outside that of the majority American view in fundamental ways.

    D.W. Meinig, in his impressive multi-volume look at the intersection of American geography and history, explains the context as Louisiana was eventually made part of what Thomas Jefferson called an “empire of liberty”:

    Louisianans, in the eyes of these Americans, were a people speaking a foreign tongue and steeped in foreign ways, exhibiting unusual and even questionable values and behavior (festivals and frolics on Sundays!), used to authoritarian government, unlettered in representative institutions, following strange legal customs and laws. ...

    The Louisianans were suddenly annexed to the United States without the slightest gesture of interest on the part of either America or France as to how they might feel about it. If they did not take up arms to resist annexation (as American leaders feared they might), they openly resisted absorption and insisted on official recognition of their cultural identity and differences from the national body.

    Especially complicated were the ramifications for Louisiana’s legal system:

    The American legal system was based on English Common Law, that of Louisiana on French and Spanish civil law. Americans assumed not only the need for uniformity within the Union but generally the superiority of their system as basic to their unprecedented freedoms and protections. French Louisianans saw no such superiority, regarded the Americans and their system as offensively litigious, and were deeply alarmed by the disruptive potential of any general change.

    The differences were fundamental, touching every dimension of life. With regard to domestic affairs, for example, the French system emphasized family interests, in contrast to the American emphasis on individuals and especially males; the French recognized husband and wife as contractual partners, put limitations on disinheritance, and provided for the legitimatization of bastards; whereas the Americans merged the couple under the husband’s authority, allowed complete disregard of family heirs, and had no provision for legitimatizing bastard offspring.

    In Louisiana, persons of color had all the rights of citizens, whereas American common law allowed an almost complete denial of human rights to persons defined as having even a fraction of “colored” blood. ...

    The one feature of American law Louisianans readily adopted was trial by jury in criminal cases. They welcomed such personal protection after the arbitrary authority they had experienced under Spain.

    In 1808, the federal government agreed to allow the Louisianans to retain French civil law. Meinig quotes scholar George Dargo, who observed that Louisiana had become “a civil law island in a sea of common law.”

    The following year, Congress debated the accession of Louisiana into statehood. Congressman Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, who would later become president of Harvard, voiced concern about absorbing what he termed “the mixed, though ... respectable race of Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans who bask on the sands of the mouth of the Mississippi.” As Meinig paraphrased Quincy’s argument, “it would be but the first in a relentless sequence of such additions whose cumulative effect would be such a grotesque distortion of the original compact as to be the ‘death blow to the Constitution’ and force the dissolution of the Union.”

    In 1811, Congress approved statehood with majorities of two-to-one in both houses. Not that the cultural collisions between the Anglo and French residents of Louisiana had been entirely resolved, of course.

    By the way: The same year in which Josiah Quincy made his arguments against Louisiana statehood, he introduced a motion of impeachment against Thomas Jefferson. The proposal went down to ignominious defeat by a vote of 117-1.