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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Crime and Punishment at the Air Force Academy

by John Stevenson

You probably heard of the recent hate crime crisis at the Air Force Academy Prep School.  Some racist cadet wrote hateful messages on the whiteboards outside the dorm rooms of five African-American cadets. 

I say “hate crime” because that’s how it was reported in the media.  Of course writing a message, however hateful, on an erasable board is not a crime in the U.S., although it might be a crime in some other Western countries (e.g. England, Germany, Australia, etc.) that do not have robust free speech protections comparable to our First Amendment.  But the written messages were racist, hateful and, although not a crime, certainly a violation of the Air Force Academy’s rules.

The Prep School is for students who are on-track to enter the Academy but need a bit more development and polishing before admission.  The Prep School is on the same campus as the Academy and under the same superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria. 

Silveria wasted no time in reacting to the crisis.  He assembled all 4,000 Academy and Prep School cadets and he gave them a collective butt chewing.  Referring to the offensive messages, he said:

If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place.  That kind of behavior has no place at the Prep School.

If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.

The lashing Silveria gave his cadets received universal praise in the press.  For example, an editorial in The Washington Post was titled “Too bad Trump can’t emulate the military when it comes to matters of race.”  The article included this: “Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria did naturally what Trump is incapable of doing.  The Air Force Academy superintendent answered the hate in his ranks immediately, head-on, and with a moral clarity nonexistent in the Oval Office.” 

The New York Times and an assortment of other publications and political figures across the political spectrum, including Sen. John McCain and former Vice President Joe Biden, joined in the hosannas heaped upon Silveria. 

Denouncing the hate crime, applauding the Academy superintendent, while simultaneously taking a gratuitous shot at President Trump---that seems like pretty safe ground.  A trifecta for virtue signalers. 

The wisdom of Phaedrus---“things are not always as they seem”--- would have well served the Academy superintendent, the press, the politicians, and others who leapt aboard the cadets-are-racist bandwagon. 

As it turns out, the racist messages on the whiteboards of the Black cadets were in fact written by one of the alleged victims---one of the five Black cadets who were targeted by the racist messages.  That cadet has confessed to the hoax and is no longer at the Academy---allowed to slink away, name withheld to protect the guilty.   

If this turn of events comes as news to you, it’s because it was much less enthusiastically reported in the media and received little attention from those who had boldly commented when racism apparently ran rampant just a few days before.

Whenever a hate crime is discovered to be a hoax, we are assured by experts that hate crime hoaxes are extremely rare.  A National Review article disagrees, saying this:

Fake hate crimes…are by this point so familiar that they are practically a clichĂ©.  When a Muslim woman…was attacked and had her hijab ripped off, two things happened: One, the Left insisted that this announced the coming wave of pogroms against Muslims in the Age of Trump; two, people who follow this sort of thing began betting how quickly she’d be exposed as a fraud.  It did not take long.

The National Review article goes on to list several hoaxes.  And if you Google “fake hate crimes” you’ll find enough examples to keep you busy reading for a good while.  One web site maintains a database (though it’s always lagging and incomplete) of hundreds of such hoaxes: www.fakehatecrimes.org. There probably are other such lists.

Had the superintendent waited just a few days for the results of the Academy’s own investigation, he would have known who was responsible.  He could then have spared his corps of cadets the unfairness and indignity of being berated for a supposed evil of which they were totally innocent.  And he could have spared himself the embarrassment of having lobbed an ICBM at the wrong target.

The superintendent offered not so much as an “oops” for fragging his own cadets.  He offered instead this ludicrous declaration to justify his action:  “Regardless of the circumstances under which those [racist] words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed.”  

Really?  Addressed with whom?  Well, he did address it.  He chewed out the entire corps of cadets, who had absolutely nothing to do with it.  

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

At Least They Won’t Be Surgeons

by John Stevenson

Under this banner on Nov. 9, 2016, in an essay titled “Shielded from the Truth,” I reported to you on an exceptionally hare-brained scheme cooked up and implemented by a New York private boys school.  They had made a blanket offer to all the parents that school officials would raise report card grades if the parents thought their student would be emotionally traumatized by actually seeing his earned grade. 

Assuming any parent would go along with it, the effect of this plan would be to deprive the student of knowing his need to put forth more effort.  It would therefore ensure his delusional understanding of his own performance.  And in turn it would virtually condemn the deceived student to unexpected but inevitable failures in the world awaiting him after his bogus graduation.  I refrained from naming the school or staff involved

Could anything be stupider than concealing a student’s performance from him?  Well, maybe so.  Along comes a professor at a respected state university.  As in the earlier column, I refrain from naming the professor or the university.  Let’s just call him Professor Plum.  (If you feel compelled to fact-check, all the gory details are available on campusreform.org.) 

Professor Plum  teaches business courses at his university.  He apparently wants to make his courses as stress-free as possible for his students.  To that end, the syllabi for two of his courses described his “stress reduction policy.”

Examples of his stress reduction efforts, quoted from the syllabi, include these:

All tests and exams will be open book and open notes, including the use of material on your laptop.

All tests and exams will…assess low level mastery of the course material.

Only positive comments about [students’] presentations will be given in class. Comments designed to improve future presentations will be communicated by email.

And best of all:

If you feel unduly stressed by a grade for any assessable material or the overall course, you can email the instructor indicating what grade you think is appropriate, and it will be so changed.  No explanation is required…

Apparently Professor Plum felt the need to square his approach with reality, so he added:

While this approach might hinder the…mastery of the course material, ultimately these are your responsibility.  I will provide every opportunity for you to gain high level mastery.

In a nutshell:  the exams will be without rules; the exams will be geared to assess only minimal achievement; students will never receive criticism in class; and students get to choose the grade they think they deserve. 

So for Professor Plum, mastery of the course material is less important than a stress-free experience.  But to be fair, he does indicate willingness to help any who really want to “gain high level mastery” (translation: learn the material).

I confess that I am congenitally incapable of learning a foreign language.  In fact, to pass the required three college semesters it took me five tries.  Where was Professor Plum when I needed him? I could have saved myself two wasted semesters.  And had a better GPA to boot.

The sad thing here is that Professor Plum’s students are being cheated by his leniency.  They are being passed along through the system without being prepared for whatever they will tackle after graduation. Stress-free undeserved grades will inevitably lead to stress-inducing future failures.

In addition, it is significant that Professor Plum holds the title of “Regents Professor,” which is “bestowed by the Board of Regents on truly distinguished faculty.”   

It may be of some comfort that the “stress reduction policy” has been removed from the course syllabi.  But not before campusreform.org managed to archive it for historical value and also for well deserved and eternal ridicule.

I suppose we should look for the silver lining, so here it is.  The ill-prepared students of Professor Plum will go on to fail in the business world.  At least they won’t be failing as air traffic controllers or cardiac surgeons.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Can Freedom of Speech Survive in America?

by John Stevenson

If you think that freedom of speech is under assault on college campuses, you are correct.  But how widespread is that assault?  Is it just a tiny minority of students and professors, or is it more serious than that?

A Brookings Institution Senior Fellow, Professor John Villasenor, has studied this issue.  He designed and conducted a survey of 1500 undergraduate students at colleges across the country.  Only students who were U.S. citizens were included, since foreigners could not be expected to be familiar with the Constitution.  Of the 1500 respondents, 46% identified as Democrats, 17% Republicans, 29% Independents, and the remainder didn’t know.

Villasenor concluded that “freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses….including many public campuses that have First Amendment obligations.”  Here are the highlights.

“Hate Speech”:  As long as it does not involve “fighting words” likely to produce imminent lawless action, even “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment.  Villasenor asked “Does the First Amendment protect hate speech?”  Fewer than half of the respondents thought it did.  This was true regardless of political affiliation, although Republicans were more likely than Democrats or Independents to think “hate speech” was protected.

Silencing Controversial Speakers:  A narrow majority (51%) of students thought it was acceptable to silence a controversial speaker “by loudly and continuously shouting” so that the speaker cannot be heard.  Republicans and Independents disagreed but, taken as a whole, the respondents agreed this was acceptable.

Violence:  A very large majority (81%) of all respondents thought it is unacceptable to use violence to silence a speaker with whom they disagreed.  This was generally true regardless of political affiliation.  Villasenor points out we should not be too comforted by this finding, because the reciprocal is that one student out of five thought violence is appropriate:  “It’s important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning.”

Providing Opposing Viewpoints:  A large majority (62%) of respondents erroneously thought that “compliance with the First Amendment requires offering a counterpoint” speaker.  Again, this was true of students regardless of political affiliation.  Villasenor says: “respondents appear to be confusing good event design…with the completely different issue of what compliance with the First Amendment requires.”

Learning Environment:  Respondents were asked to choose whether colleges should provide “a positive learning environment…by prohibiting certain speech” or should provide “an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints.”  Majorities of Republicans and Independents chose the second option (allowing all viewpoints), but a large majority (61%) of Democrats chose the first option (prohibiting certain viewpoints).  Villasenor writes: “in the aggregate, the majority of students…prefer an environment in which their institution…shelters them from offensive views.”

Villasenor points out that colleges “are places where intellectual debate should flourish. That can only occur if campuses are places where viewpoint diversity is celebrated, and where the First Amendment is honored in practice and not only in theory.”  Villasenor concludes that among students “there is a significant divergence between the actual and perceived scope of First Amendment freedoms” and that “students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression.” 

Finally, here’s the scary part.  As Villasenor points out, “what happens on campuses often foreshadows broader societal trends. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s attorneys, teachers, professors, policymakers, legislators and judges. If…college students believe, however incorrectly, that offensive speech is unprotected by the First Amendment, that view will inform the decisions they make as they move into positions of increasing authority.”

This is how poorly today’s college students (tomorrow’s Constitutional lawyers and professors) understand the meaning and importance of the First Amendment.  A dismal prognosis for the future of free speech in America.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

“Don’t ever be the first…”

by John Stevenson

Do you ever wonder why the North Koreans clap so enthusiastically and for so long?  Turns out there’s a reason.

Public displays of enthusiasm and support for the ruling family are strongly encouraged.  When Kim Jong Ill died, the regime organized public mourning, featuring highly visible emotional wailing and crying.  Aya Ilan, North Korea watcher, observed that “It can be assumed that many are indoctrinated and were seriously shocked and sad to hear the news.”  At the same time, “expression of ‘proper’ emotions during these type of events is heavily encouraged by the regime.”

When Kim Jong Un took power, his uncle Jang Song Thaek failed to follow the proper protocol.  According to NPR’s Frank Langfitt, Kim was “angry his uncle disrespected him.”  The North Korean official news agency reported that “Jang clapped ‘half heartedly’ when Kim was elected…”  Jang was found guilty of treason and executed.

So in North Korea there’s strong incentive to show enthusiasm for the regime.  And there’s an interesting historical backdrop for this.

In his widely acclaimed “The Gulag Archipelago,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described the critical importance of enthusiastic and sustained applause.

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name)....For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause….continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion….However, who would dare to be the first to stop?.…NKVD [secret police] men were….watching to see who would quit first!....the applause went on---six, seven, eight minutes!....They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly---but up there with the presidium [executive committee] where everyone could see them? The director of the local paper factory….stood with the presidium….Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop….With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood…Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat….a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!....That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years [prison sentence] on him….But after he had signed….the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.” 

The next time you see images of Kim’s countrymen smiling joyfully and applauding enthusiastically, notice that they clap unnaturally high---at chin level or even higher.  Why?  So that their rapture is visible.  So that they will not be mistaken for half hearted supporters.  So as to reduce their chances of meeting the same fate as Kim’s late uncle Jang. 

As the interrogator advised: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

There Will Always Be an England

by John Stevenson

Alarmists and Islamophobes claim Europe is being overrun by Muslims.  They already constitute significant percentages in the populations of some European nations.  And their birth rate is much higher than that of non-Muslim Europeans.  As migrants and refugees they are flocking into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa in large numbers. 

But is there really cause for alarm?  Let’s look at Britain. 

Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that for 2016 the most popular given name for baby boys in England was Oliver.  There were 6,623 Olivers born.  Muhammad came in eighth, with 3,908 Muhammads.  So what’s the worry?

Well, it turns out that ONS says the results were “based on exact spelling of the name given on the birth certificate.”  Grouping similarly pronounced names would change the rankings.  Thus babies with the also popular names Mohammed, Mohammad, and Muhammed are separately counted---not included with the Muhammads.  If those variants had been included with the Muhammads, they would add up to 7,084---beating the diapers off the Olivers.  Nationwide.

Regionally, Muhammad alone (without including the variant spellings) is the top choice in both London and Birmingham---England’s two most populous cities.  Not to say that Muslims “own” London, but in fact London’s mayor is---well, you know---a Muslim.

So what about the trend line?  Well, over the decade 2006 to 2016, Muhammad (just Muhammad, no variant spellings) moved up 35 spots in the nationwide rankings of boy baby names.  That’s a whopping increase.

Muhammad’s 2016 placement at number eight ousted the traditionally popular William from the top ten.  As in William the Conqueror (1066-1087), his royal namesake successors, and countless schoolboys over the centuries. 

ONS says on their web site that they treat “all names separately by publishing the names of babies as they are written on their birth certificates and ranking them accordingly. This has been our longstanding approach and is consistent with international practice.”  They follow this with a tortured and downright silly conjecture about why Muhammad is the top choice of so many, even suggesting that it’s because of the popularity of Muhammad Ali (really? in 2016?). 

By breaking the differently spelled Muhammads into separate categories and ranking them separately, ONS has obscured the fact that all of these boy babies are in fact named after the Prophet, the Messenger of Allah.  Thus ONS has, in its own way, masked the growth trend of the Muslim population in England.

There is a WWII patriotic song, sung by Vera Lynn, “There Will Always Be an England.”  It rallied the British in those dark days.  And there always will be an England, in the sense that---absent a tectonic cataclysm---the land itself will doubtless outlive mankind. 

If the demographic trajectory continues---and there is no evidence that it will not---the Muslim population will inevitably become the majority.  This will mean an England whose people, their religion, their culture, their language would have been unimaginable a few years ago.  London already has that feel.

Yes, “There Will Always Be an England,” but it won’t be recognizable.  It won’t be English.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Historical Villains

by John Stevenson

The movement to tear down monuments and to rename buildings, schools, and streets seems to have hit an orgasmic crescendo.  And it has gone well beyond symbols of the Confederacy.  It reaches out now to all symbols of white supremacy, white privilege, whiteness, Western Civilization…and all things Caucasian and therefore now thought to be at the heart of all evil.

When you and I were going to school, Christopher Columbus was an explorer, adventurer, sailor.  A pretty gutsy guy for risking it all on the belief that the Earth was round, not flat.  Columbus sailed under the auspices and financial backing of the Spanish crown.  He sailed forth to spread Christianity, claim lands for Spain, and return with gold.  That’s what explorers did in the Age of Exploration.  That was his job.

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  Remember that one?

For some five centuries most folks believed this was a great achievement.  It was taught in school.  It was history.  But suddenly it’s no longer true!  Columbus is now called a racist and an exploiter of indigenous people.   

The natives would have been better off if Europeans had never appeared on their shores.  They would have invented the wheel, the alphabet, vaccines, electric power, flush toilets, television, and the Apollo space program all by themselves and without having to suffer the presence of white folks and the industrial revolution.

So statues of Columbus are being defaced, decapitated, splattered with paint, and torn down by vandals.  But, if the vandals don’t get to them first, these symbols of the birth of our American civilization are being covered up or removed by city councils and other local jurisdictions. 

Well, enough about Columbus.  Being a West Coast guy, my sympathies go with another occupant of the endangered species list---Father Junipero Serra.  In the 1700s, Father Serra established the California missions.  He was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.  He brought Christianity to the California natives.  Of course, he is now accused of also bringing them exploitation and slavery. 

I grew up in a small town on the California coast.  A key feature of our town was one of Father Serra’s missions.  Established in 1770, the mission is still functioning today and is Father Serra’s burial place. When I was in school, the Catholic kids all went through grammar school at the mission, and the rest of us went to the public grammar school.  Then we all ended up together at the public high school. 

Now three points:

→Our public high school’s mascot was named for (of course) Father Serra: The Padres. 

→Each State is represented in the U.S. Capitol by statues of two of its most important historical figures.  Of the two who represent California in Statuary Hall, one is Father Serra.

→In my home town a life-size and beautifully maintained statue of Father Serra on a high pedestal presides over the intersection of Camino del Monte and Serra Drive.   

I’m sure it will be only a matter of time that my Padres are renamed, Father Serra is ousted from Statuary Hall, and his statue at Camino del Monte and Serra Drive is vandalized, destroyed, or banished. 

The movement to erase American historical figures, or to re-cast them as villains, marches on.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Alienation

by Monreale

I went over to the local mall this Friday afternoon.  Although it's only 10 minutes away, I hadn't been there in a long time. I bought new glasses from Costco and they needed fitting. I figured Lenscrafters would do a better job than Costco, and they did.

For those who don't know it, this mall is big. Anchored by Macy's, Sears and Penny's, it has some 170 stores and restaurants.

After the fitting, I went for a walk. My conscience (and my oldest daughter) has been after me to walk more so I set out to walk the length of the mall, both levels.

What I saw was a revelation. Some 80 to 90 % of the shoppers looked peculiar to me. Every conceivable ethnicity, language and, of course, race seemed to be represented. Even though I'm not one myself I was hoping to see a few WASPS. Somehow, that would have reassured me.

The clothing worn was to me odd. It's 85 degrees in California today. Why did some people wear long coats? To balance that, I suppose, some wore next to nothing. The jeans wearers were obviously competing as to whose jeans could stay up while having the most holes. Over large farmer's overalls were seen next to slinky, skin-tight dresses and slacks. There seemed to be no attempt to wear compatible colors--it was color chaos. Shoes competed with sandals competed with a kind of slipper sox and even bare feet.

Then there was the "body adornment." Piercings everywhere. Eyebrows, noses, cheeks, lips, tongues, backs of the neck. Earlobes punctured with big, round black objects, sometimes with strange devices hanging from them. Tattoos covering one arm, covering both arms, one leg, both legs, on necks edging up to the face. Striking configurations of facial hair--tufts, forests and everything in between. Heads shaved, partly shaved, shaved on top with ringlets hanging down on the sides, big bubble afros, dreadlocks.

It seemed to me that I had suddenly been transported to a kind of alien colony. And then it hit me. I was the alien.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trees Have Rights Too

by John Stevenson

Friends of mine have a cabin in the Tahoe basin.  On their property there was a tree encroaching on the cabin’s foundation.  They wanted to remove it, so they contacted a tree service but were told a permit was required.  You don’t just go cutting down a tree without a permit, even on your own property.  The controlling agency was the U.S. Forest Service.

My friends contacted the Forest Service, made an appointment, and a forester came out.  He tagged the problem tree along with some others, and my friends got the required permit.   So the tree problem was resolved to their satisfaction.  However, their initial contact with the Forest Service had not gone smoothly; a clerk had become adversarial, telling them that “trees have rights too.”

At that time, at least two or maybe three decades ago, my friends and I took this response as preposterous and laughable.  But since then we have evolved.  We have learned to be tolerant, accepting, even defenders of the rights of other life forms. 

After all, why should we defend only human life?  Why not all cute, cuddly, furry, warm blooded animals?  Well, come to think of it, why not all animals?  Who is to say, for example, that mammals or even primates are more deserving of our empathy, love, and protection than alligators, snakes, spiders, wasps, termites, or tapeworms? 

As if in response to the “God bless America” and “God bless our troops” bumper stickers there are also the more inclusive bumper stickers “God bless everyone” and “God bless us all---no exceptions.”  Aren’t the latter sentiments an affirmation of all humans?  So why not, by extension, all God’s creatures?  

Which brings me back to my Tahoe friends and their encroaching tree.  At the time, we scoffed at the ludicrous notion that “trees have rights too.”  But haven’t we, as a society, progressed, become more inclusive?  Why do we, members of the animal kingdom, consider ourselves to be superior, more deserving, than members of the plant kingdom? 

Why do we believe that we hold dominion over the plant kingdom?  We mow, prune, pot, and otherwise maim our plants.  We alone decide on the timing and amount of their hydration and feeding.   With Roundup and other poisons, we even mass-murder those we deem undesirable. 

But I should not say “our” plants.  Are they not entitled to be their own masters?  There’s a school of thought in San Francisco that pets are now animal companions---no pets, no masters.  Why not plant companions?  Why do we feel entitled to enslave them? 

Well, I submit that we are not entitled.  If animals have rights, so should plants.  They should not be exterminated, harvested, maimed, or forced to exist only at the pleasure of humans. 

Praise God that we are morally evolving every day.  Eventually, perhaps during your lifetime or mine, plants will be afforded the dignity and protection they deserve. 

You may scoff at this.  But within the next few decades or hopefully sooner humanity will evolve to an understanding of its one-ness with the plant kingdom.  In the meantime, cultivate your relationships with your plant companions, lest they judge you harshly in the enlightened future.

Ooops! Hold the phone.  There could be a problem.  Once we reject the exploitation and murder of plants and animals, we may be a doomed species.  Unless we turn to cannibalism, where will we find food?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Common Soldier


by John Stevenson

There was a monument in front of the Old Durham County Courthouse.  It consisted of a granite base upon which stood an anonymous Confederate soldier.  Erected in 1924, the whole works was about 15 feet high. The base was inscribed: “In memory of the boys who wore the gray.”

Two days after the violence in Charlottesville, a group of vandals destroyed that monument.   One person climbed the pedestal and looped a rope around the soldier.  The group then pulled the soldier to the ground where it crumpled.  The police were present but, apparently wanting to avoid a confrontation, did not intervene.  They did, however, film the event and have since made several arrests.

Regardless where you stand on the issue of whether there should be monuments to Confederate leaders or not, this vandalism is wrong on two counts.  First, it is illegal to vandalize or destroy the property of another---in this case the city.  Several jurisdictions are deciding or have decided to remove Confederate statues---others won’t.  It is up to the monument owner---not a mob of self-appointed vigilantes---to decide the disposition of that monument.  If the mob felt aggrieved by the presence of this memorial, their appropriate remedy would have been to petition the city.

Second, and setting aside the criminality issue, the vandals’ choice of target was inexcusable.  Here’s why.

The monument depicted no Confederate leader, no known slaveholder.  It was an anonymous soldier without rank or identification. As described on the UNC-maintained website documenting southern history, it was a “common soldier.”  Officers in those days typically got their commissions by graduating from a military academy, or through their wealth or political connections.  The common soldier---Johnny Reb---had no such power and would be an unlikely slaveholder.  He fought for his State.

What was Johnny Reb’s condition?  Compared to his Union opponent, he was under-equipped and under-fed, and his weapons were less effective.  The Union had the industrial strength to outfit an army which the South did not.

For example, he may or may not have even had shoes.  If he had shoes, there probably wasn’t a right and left---his shoes were interchangeable.  If he had none, he might eventually acquire a pair when scavenging from the dead on the battlefield. 

The same applied to weapons.  Johnny Reb may well have arrived on the battlefield with his personal shotgun or hunting rifle.  Confederate-issued rifles were less effective than Union rifles.  But again, scavenging from the dead was common.   As an example of the Union’s technological advantage, the Gattling Gun, forerunner to the true machine gun, was used by Union forces but not available to the Confederates.  

Common soldiers on both sides had it tough---perhaps even tougher than today's college kids retreating to their safe spaces.  But Johnny Reb had it tougher than the Yankee.  His tour of duty featured extreme privation in a fight against long odds.    

Video of the mob pulling Johnny Reb off his granite base is a study in contrasts.  Johnny Reb represented toughness, courage, determination, fighting to the end against forbidding odds for a lost cause. 

He was pulled down by Lilliputians.  Once the statue of Johnny Reb was crumpled on the ground, the vandals bravely took turns kicking, spitting upon, and “giving the finger” to the common soldier.  A sorry spectacle.

But there’s an unfortunate precedent for disagreeing with Government policy and taking it out on the common soldier: the vandals’ ideological grandparents spat upon American troops returning from Viet Nam.   

In case you misunderstood, this is not an endorsement of the Confederacy.  It is an affirmation of “the boys who wore the gray,” the common solder whose monument in Durham was trashed by his inferiors.

“It does not take a brave dog to bark at the bones of a dead lion.”
(attributed to Winston Churchill)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

See? I Told You So

by John Stevenson

My August 9 column discussed the renaming, removal, or downright destruction of symbols of the Confederate States of America and, by extension, “white supremacy.”  These actions had been sporadic and seemingly unconnected with each other until the June 2015 South Carolina church massacre by a white supremacist.  That terrible shooting galvanized public opinion, and the previously sporadic efforts became a nationwide movement to erase all traces of the Confederacy.

I described the primary target for historical erasure as being the Confederate leaders and generals, most notably General Robert E. Lee---who was typically depicted astride his horse, Traveller.  And although Traveller probably took no position on slavery or on secession, just as Lee’s statues are taken down so are Traveller’s.

Then I took the liberty of posing a fanciful extrapolation of the history-scrubbing movement.   I theorized that, once statues of Lee and Traveller had been removed from every public place in America, the movement would discover another Traveler worthy of their attention.

The University of Southern California’s mascot Traveler is a white horse with a rider in faux Trojan get-up.  I believe USC’s Traveler is named after Lee’s Traveller, but there are folks on both sides of that question.  Nevertheless, I warned that, once the statues were all gone, the streets, cities, and schools all renamed, the history scrubbers would demand that USC’s Traveler undergo a name change.  I did this in an effort to point out the absurdity of the purification movement, which knows no limits.

Well, what a difference three days makes.  I had of course failed to foresee the Nazis/KKK versus Antifa/BLM confrontation, slugfest, mayhem, and murder in Charlottesville on August 12.  This event had a profound effect on the movement, since the Nazi/KKK element had announced that their presence was to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

This show of hate-group support for Confederate monuments gave the history-scrubbing movement an adrenalin rush which greatly accelerated their enthusiasm for destroying all things Confederate.  Some statues were assaulted and pulled down by movement vandals, while others were removed and relocated in the dead of night by local authorities.  The result of Charlottesville is that all Confederate symbols are now on the endangered species list. 

Which brings us back to USC’s horse, Traveler.  My somewhat tongue-in-cheek August 9 column predicted that Traveler (or at least his name) would be in danger---but I thought this would be in the future, when the statues had been eradicated and the history erasers sought new targets.  My mistake.

According to the USC website “The Black Student Assembly is the official umbrella organization and funding board that oversees recognized African-American student organizations at USC.”   (About three dozen such organizations are listed as being under that umbrella.)

Well, during the week following the Charlottesville tragedy, that Black Student Assembly held a protest rally in front of the Tommy Trojan statue on the USC campus.  According to the Daily Trojan, “Saphia Jackson, co-director of the USC Black Student Assembly, opened the rally encouraging students not to remain silent, and reminding those in attendance that white supremacy hits close to home, referring to the presence of Traveler, USC’s mascot…”  But “BSA co-directors Saphia Jackson and Ariana Seymore declined to comment on...(whether)…they would seek to remove Traveler’s statue from the campus.”   Nevertheless, that door appears to have now been opened.

As you read this, the Trojans are just a couple of days from playing their 2017 home opener.  Will Traveler take the field with the Trojans, as he and his forefathers have done each season since 1961?  Will he be required to gallop incognito---or under an assumed name?  Or will he simply be replaced by a non-white horse?  And, if Traveler is still on the Trojans’ roster, will he survive the season without being cut?

What started out in my imagination as an absurdity has come true.  See?  I told you so.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Man-Tax

by John Stevenson

Alex O’Brien has opened a vegan restaurant named Handsome Her in Melbourne, Australia.  Here are “House Rules” she has posted:  Rule #1: Women have priority seating.  Rule #2: Men will be charged an 18% premium to reflect the gender pay gap….which is donated to a women’s service.  Rule #3: Respect goes both ways.

O’Brien’s “man-tax” has caused a media kerfuffle in Australia and in Old Blighty.  A headline on the website thesun.co.uk explained her intent: “Feminist vegan hopes the move will provoke people into discussing unfair treatment of women.”

Of course the man-tax is not really a tax, because it isn’t levied by any government.  It’s really just a surcharge she applies to those of the male persuasion in order to make her point.  “I do want people to think about it, because we’ve had this (pay discrepancy) for decades and decades and we’re bringing it to the forefront of people’s minds.  I like that it is making men stop and question their privilege a little bit.”

O’Brien says the man-tax is only applied for one week per month, and it is unclear whether she will enforce it if someone objects.  There are other unanswered questions.  What if a man and woman come in together?  Does the man-tax apply only to what he orders?  What if the woman is picking up the check?  Is the man-tax waived?  What if the man is paying the entire check?  How much of it is subject to the man-tax?  As you can see, the complications rival the Internal Revenue Code.  O’Brien will need a tax advisor!

A sign posted in Handsome Her advises that the man-tax O’Brien collects is donated to Elizabeth Morgan House---a charity which supports Aboriginal women and children.  If Australian law provides for a tax deduction for charitable donations it would seem that the customers paying the man-tax should be entitled to take that deduction, since O’Brien is functioning as a conduit rather than as a philanthropist.

O’Brien did indeed provoke people, but not into “discussing unfair treatment of women.”  She says that customer response is all favorable.  “There has been nothing but positivity from everyone, males and females.”  But the comments appended to the article on thesun.co.uk show just the opposite.  They are overwhelmingly negative toward O’Brien and her man-tax, and many predict Handsome Her’s early demise---more on that in a moment.

Perhaps there’s a way of evading the man-tax.  It’s likely that a metrosexual chap sporting a man bun might be viewed as sufficiently sympathetic to feminism or even sufficiently gender-ambiguous that O’Brien might forgive the man-tax.

Which of course brings us to the gender dysphoric customer.  Assuming a male customer who claims to be transitioning to female, how will O’Brien rule on that one?  Will she celebrate her new sister and forgive the man-tax?  Or will she suspect a likely ruse?  Dangerous ground there.

Handsome Her will not fail---at least not because of the man-tax.  O’Brien is catering (forgive the pun) to a feminista clientele, and they are likely to be delighted with her politics and become loyal customers.  The publicity she has gained from her goofy man-tax will spur her business. 

The vegan cafĂ© would not have attracted many male customers anyway.  But if she were serving up real food like cheese steak sandwiches, T-bone steaks, and Tooheys beer, her man-tax would have killed her business.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“Fire and Fury”

by John Stevenson

For starters, let me say that this is neither an endorsement nor a defense of President Trump’s public declarations on Kim Jong Un’s missile rattling.   Instead, it is a call for a bit more perspective and balanced view on the part of critics of those declarations.

The statements causing the critics to reach for the smelling salts are that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if they continue their provocations, and later that “military solutions are now fully in place…locked and loaded.”

Just for a bit of historical perspective, Trump’s immediate predecessor President Obama, in an April 2016 interview with CBS host Charlie Rose, called North Korea erratic and irresponsible.  He went on to say “We could obviously destroy North Korea with our arsenals” but that doing so would have negative consequences for our ally South Korea.  The North Koreans were none too pleased with Obama’s statement, but it drew no criticism from the American press or politicians. 

In addition, in 1993 then-President Clinton said that if North Korea were to develop and use an atomic weapon “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate” and “it would mean the end of their country as they know it.”  The North Korean government was outraged, but for the American press and politicians, this declaration was a snoozer. 

So how have the critics responded to Trump’s statements?  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered that Trump’s words were “recklessly belligerent and demonstrate a grave lack of appreciation for the…nuclear situation.”  Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein called Trump’s statements “bombastic.”  Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer labeled Trump’s words “reckless rhetoric.”

Even Senator John McCain got in on the fun: “I take exception to the president’s comments because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do…in other words the old walk softly but carry a big stick…because all it’s going to do is bring us closer to some kind of serious confrontation.”  Perhaps McCain had forgotten that, in his 2008 presidential campaign, he had regaled a rally crowd by briefly singing the “Barbra Ann” knock-off---“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.” 

So regardless of how you view Trump’s tough talk, the inconsistency of his critics reeks of hypocrisy or at least of selective amnesia.

There’s even a move afoot in the Congress to pass a prohibition against Trump taking military action against North Korea.  I am not often given to quoting Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.  But I think his counsel in this case is worth consideration.  Dershowitz opposes any congressional effort to impede the President in his use of force against North Korea. 

Dershowitz says such a move “interferes with the President’s right as commander in chief to make decisions affecting the national security of the United States….I think we ought to take a deep breath and wait and see how it plays out.”

In this situation, the critics should not try to restrain the President---instead they should restrain themselves.  Less of the vapors.  Dershowitz has it right.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Traveller


by John Stevenson

For years, there have been occasional and seemingly unconnected efforts to erase symbols of the Confederate States of America---to tear down a statue, rename a school, or remove a Confederate flag.

Then came the June 2015 South Carolina church massacre by a white supremacist. That heinous act galvanized public opinion, and the previously sporadic efforts became a nationwide movement. 

A primary target for historical erasure is the plethora of statues of Confederate military leaders.  And most prominent among those are statues of General Robert E. Lee.

Like other Confederate generals, statues of Lee almost always depict him astride his horse Traveller.  Lore is that Traveller was fast, strong, and brave---a fitting horse for a renowned military commander of that era. 

Unlike Lee, Traveller was presumably not a slaveholder.  His heart likely was not even committed to the Confederate cause.  But, as Lee’s warhorse, in a sense he too was a Confederate hero.  And of course, as the statues are taken down, Traveller is being scrubbed from history as surely as his rider.

Barring some unforeseeable shift in public sentiment, the erasing of Confederate leaders will continue until there is no more Robert E. Lee astride Traveller in any public place in America.   

The historical expunging will be complete.  Or maybe not.

As it turns out, the University of Southern California has a horse named Traveler as its mascot.  Traveler attends home football games and, with his Trojan rider, gallops around the field whenever USC scores---which is far too often.

Traveler first appeared at USC in the 1961 football season.  Of course over the years USC has had a succession of Travelers.  The original one was, according to its owner Richard Saukko, named in honor of---you guessed it---General Lee’s Traveller.

So even after the removal of Confederate statues and flags, and even after the renaming of streets, schools, and buildings, a symbol of the Confederacy will endure in the name of USC’s mascot. 

The historical erasure enthusiasts should turn their attention to this living, breathing, galloping Confederate namesake.  USC’s Traveler and all of his successors will have to be renamed. 

Previous renaming efforts have often included a jujitsu component: the now-disfavored names would be replaced by those of prominent minorities or civil rights leaders.  For example, the renaming of San Francisco’s Army Street as Cesar Chavez Blvd.; the so-far-unsuccessful campaign to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School in Virginia after Thurgood Marshall; and the fizzled renaming of San Francisco’s Washington High in favor of Maya Angelou.  

In keeping with that spirit, USC could select the name of a prominent minority or civil rights leader to replace their Confederate namesake.  For consideration, here are a couple of distinguished figures with already-established connections to USC:  O.J. Simpson, “The Juice,” who galloped for record-setting yardage in the Coliseum in the 1960s.  And Snoop Dogg (nee Calvin Broadus, Jr.) who can often be found horsing around on the sidelines at USC games.

If they are willing to choose a replacement name without regard for minority status or civil rights involvement, here are a couple of USC grads to consider:  John Wayne, “The Duke,” who starred in several westerns as a cavalry officer.  And Charles Paddock (nicknamed “The Human Race Horse”), 1920 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist.

For now, the historical erasure folks are busy with removing the Confederate statues and flags and with the renaming of schools and such.  But once they are finished up with those more tangible targets, USC officials should expect a knock at the door.