The Origins of Slavery in British North America 27 August 2019.

The Spanish “conquistadors” wanted to turn the “New World” into a paying proposition.  In the early 1500s, when Native Americans started dying like flies from European diseases to which they had no immunity, the Spanish began importing huge numbers of African slaves.[1]

In the 1500s-1600s, British “merchant” ships sailing “beyond the lines,” often engaged in piracy.[2]  One of them, the “White Lion,” captured a Portuguese ship carrying slaves from Africa to the Caribbean.  In August 1619, the captain of the “White Lion” traded 20-30 slaves to English colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, for food.  These were the first African-Americans in British North America.  The Pilgrims only landed near Plymouth Rock a year later.

The new arrivals posed conceptual problems for the English colonists.  First, slavery did not exist in England and had not for 500 years.  Moreover, the English commonly talked about themselves as “free” men as opposed to the cowardly “subjects” of the tyrannical Spanish kings.  So, how did an Englishman adopt the law of his nation’s enemy?  Second, these particular Africans came from Angola, a kingdom reached by Catholic missionaries a hundred years before.  They were mostly Christians.  OK, enslaving Muslims might be OK, because they had done it to Christians first.[3]  Enslaving Christians though, even if they were Catholics, seemed wrong.  So, the colonists decided to treat the Africans as “indentured servants,”[4] not slaves.

Indentured servants were people who had received passage to Virginia in return for a promise to work for 4-7 years for the person who paid for their passage.  After that, they were free and they received a bit of land of their own, along with some clothes and tools.  In between arrival and liberation, the indentured servants worked the tobacco farms of other men.  This was killing work for anyone, black or white—and the vast majority of “servants” were white.  Hard physical labor for long hours out of doors along the Chesapeake.  Before air-conditioning or insecticides.  People—white and black—keeled over from heat stroke, malaria, and the “flux.”[5]

The thing is, living and working alongside black people creeped-out white people.  Sure, we’re kinda-sorta better about this now.  They weren’t.  Early “indentured servants” from Africa increasingly turned into slaves (1650).  The children of black women inherited the status of their mother, even if the father was white (1662).  Not many Englishwomen wanted to move to Virginia at this time, so there was a lot of inter-racial rape by white men.[6]

Most workers in Virginia were English “indentured servants.”  They became increasingly angry about their situation.  Angry young men with guns, if you see the connection.  In 1676, they rebelled against the rich guys—who wanted to get along with the Native Americans—in what is called “Bacon’s Rebellion.”  Once the rich guys regained control, they put a stop to “indentured servants.”  They started importing lots of African slaves.  Slaves didn’t have any rights and they couldn’t get guns.  A slave-owner could work them harder: slaves worked longer hours and more days than did whites.  That was a “white privilege” of that time.

[1] “America’s original sin,” The Week, 30 August 2019, p. 11.

[2] To be fair, so did the ships of every other European country.

[3] See: any playground dispute in elementary school.

[4] “Indenture” is an old word for contract.  As far as IU’s housing office knows, you are all “indentured students.”

[5] Drinking contaminated water led to explosive diarrhea + projectile vomiting until a person was totally dehydrated.

[6] Those “23 and Me” sites show that the average African-American is about one-sixth European-American.  One hundred and fifty years after slavery.  So, the figure in 1860 may have been much higher.  Or so I think.

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Guns and Mental Illness 19 August 2019.

The recent spate of mass shootings has poured gas on the smoldering debate over guns.  Broadly, perhaps over-broadly, two schools of thought confront one another.  Democrats want access to firearms massively restricted, starting with assault-style weapons.  This amounts to penalizing the many because of the crimes of a few.  Republicans call for improved mental health screening and treatment, while also calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act which expanded access to mental health services.  Democrats counter that most mass killers aren’t mentally ill: they’re inspired by racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and Donald Trump.

In the wake of the  El Paso and Dayton massacres, Richard Friedman argued that mass murderers are not so much mentally ill, as conquered by hate and sometimes sucked in by extremist ideologies.  Gun control, including enhanced background checks, offers a better course than concentrating on “mental health” issues.[1]

One problem for this line of argument is that a bunch of the mass shooters have been people with serious mental problems.  Jared Lee Loughner was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled incompetent to stand trial.  After the Columbine shootings, the FBI concluded that Eric Harris was a psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was a depressive with violent ideation.  James Holmes was mentally ill (probably some variety of schizophrenic), but sane enough to stand trial.  Travis Reinking suffered from delusions (including that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift) and appeared in a pink woman’s housecoat before exposing himself at a public swimming pool.

Yes, a bunch of the mass shooters have been proponents of hatred and racism.  Many others have slaughtered family members in relationships gone bad, many others have slaughtered former co-workers, and many others haven’t seemed to care who they killed as long as they killed somebody.

On the same days as Friedman’s opinion piece, Kim Strassel made an important point.[2]    According to Strassel, in 2017, the Pew Research Center published a study of the “demographics of gun ownership” in America.  Strassel  reported some of its findings. The fact that Democrats living along I-95 or I-5 don’t like guns masks politically important realities.  Overall, well over a third (42 percent) of Americans live in a home with some kind of firearm.  This includes 58 percent of people in rural areas, 48 percent of political Independents, 41 percent of people living in the suburbs, and 25 percent of Democrats.

About 75 percent of these people are determined to keep their firearms, which they regard as “essential to their own sense of freedom.”  “For today’s gun owners, the right to own guns nearly rivals other rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution—freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion.[3]

In short, the sort of gun control envisioned by Democratic activists and politicians face serious political opposition from gun owners who threaten no one.  Given the importance of the right to keep and bear arms to gun owners, it could cost the Democrats the White House in 2020.  The problem is how to include psychological screening in enhanced background checks.  JMO.

[1] “Letters to the Editor: Probing the Psyches of Mass Killers,” NYT, 18 August 2019.

[2] Kimberley Strassel, “Going to Extremes Against Guns,” WSJ, 9 August 2019.

[3] Indeed, the right to keep and bear arms looks something like a religion.

Prediction and Postdictions.

I have no doubt that women of color, newly-tolerated gay people, and the coastal “intelligentsia” lean left in the same way that military personnel lean right.  Still, Sahil Chinoy has a fascinating piece in the Sunday NYT.[1]  A lot of what is announced as truth is…puzzling.

One, “the Republican Party has tended toward homogeneity” because it recruits conservative, white, “pro-life” Christians.  In contrast, the Democratic Party is “diverse” because it recruits liberal, non-white, a-religious or anti-religious, pro-choice people.[2]  So, why is one party “diverse” and the other party is “homogenous”?  Is skin color and gender alone what define “diversity”?  In fact, both parties are ideologically homogenous.

Two, Chinoy rolls out the common belief that the Civil Rights Act (1964) cost Democrats control of the South.  While this may be psychologically comforting to progressive people, there doesn’t seem to be much historical truth to it.  Southern whites did what Northern whites did: the moved to the suburbs and, when necessary, put their kids in religious schools not subject to the demands of “Brown v. Board of Education.”  Thus, school and housing segregation remained largely intact.  Southern whites only began to become Republicans when Democrats embraced the nationalization[3] of divisive social beliefs.  These include abortion, gun control, marriage equality, the secular sharia that seek to exclude religion from public life, and opposition to the “right to work” laws that under-pinned recent “Sun Belt” industrialization.

Three, the Democrats used to be the party of the white working class (see above), but now—purportedly–these voters are moving toward the Republicans.  Conversely, the Republicans used to be the party of the better-educated, but now these voters are moving toward the Democrats.[4]  Except that all low-income voters now lean only slightly (+3 percent) toward the Democrats, while both high-income and middle-income voters lean toward the Republicans (+14 percent for both groups).  Also, the “working class” and everyone else aren’t far apart.  In

Four, and most fascinating, human relationships matter for party identification.  The “never married” lean +28 percent Democrat,[5] and 57 percent of un-married women lean Democratic.  Meanwhile “Everyone Else” (i.e. men, married women) leans only +2 percent Democrat.  In contrast, white evangelical Christians[6] lean +41 percent Republican.

Arguably, people who have trouble maintaining personal relationships favor an active state, while people who have strong personal relationships feel less need.

[1] Sahil Chinoy, “”Predicting Your Party,” NYT, 11 August 2019.  My remarks touch on only a segment of Chinoy’s observations.  The whole article will reward a close reading.

[2] In short, the NYT defines “diversity” in racial and gender terms, rather than in ideological terms.

[3] That is, “Every knee must bend.”  I agree with most of these policies, but then I’ve lived in Seattle, Boston, Paris, and—now—Philadelphia.  I wouldn’t have accepted that a bunch of dumb crackers could impose their views on me and my wife and children.  Maybe they don’t think that someone should impose their views on their community?

[4] Are the opinions of better-educated people more worthy of respect than the opinions of less-educated people?  If so, then the Republican Party must have been right and the Democrats wrong for most of the 20th Century.  If not, then what difference does it make how different groups vote?

[5] Marriage ended tragically, or just ugly.  I done this.  Eventually tried “Match.com.”  Bunch of Stepford wives or self-absorbed jerks.  Shook out much better for me than for many people.  The NYT is all bent out of shape about Twitter, but what if “Match” or “eHarmony” tells us more about the state of the union?

[6] Go to church on Sunday, turn around in the pews to shake hands with people, go for silver dollar pancakes with the kids afterward, do Bible study some other day.  Not for me.  Still, you form a community.

The Sentimental Imperialists 1 15 August 2019.

There’s this interesting book by Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (2008).  Weisman asks how long would our massive physical creations—buildings, dams, roads, tunnels—survive if humans were not constantly maintaining them?  He answers Not long at all.  Flooding, erosion, deer, those weeds that sprout through cracks in the sidewalk, would need only decades to begin erasing the human scar on the Earth.  Things that seem unimaginably durable and solid can quickly disappear.

What if we apply the same approach to political institutions?  What if we stopped maintaining them?  It wouldn’t matter much with domestic political traditions and institutions.  Those tend to be the product of long periods of development and bargaining.  They survive both triumph and disaster.  Trying to graft foreign or theoretical arrangements onto a long-existing political tradition isn’t likely to work.[1]  So, “tribes” (local identities) would survive.

But what if you apply the same approach to the cob-web of links between countries in what political scientists like to call an “international system” or “cosmopolitanism”?  There the approach seems more valid, at least at first glance.  Take Asia as an example.

China has grown into the second largest economy in the world.  Its wealth has allowed a massive military build-up and an aggressive posture in the Western Pacific.  Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has challenged the West in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, and in the conduct of democratic elections.  North Korea’s acquisition of advanced missile technology—from whatever source—poses a grave security threat to American forces and American allies in Asia.  Meanwhile a combination of refugee problems with a revolt against the “Eurocrats” of the European Union’s “administrative state” have disabled Europe as a force in international affairs.

That’s why the “Nervous Nigels” and “sissies in striped pants”[2] who populate the diplomatic corps of many nations and of international agencies have been bleating so hard.  Where will many millions of people be without the World Health Organization, the World Agriculture Organization, or the United Nations High Commission on Refugees?  Malaria, malnutrition, and massacres, that’s where.

Normally, many people would grudgingly look to the United States for leadership in crises.  The Trump Administration’s “America First” strategy challenges this reflex.  However, there are real limits on what the United States could accomplish under any administration.  Hong Kong has been a part of China since 1997.  China claims Taiwan.  If it buckles on Hong Kong, then its future with Taiwan may be in doubt.  The Uighurs are Chinese subjects.  Kashmir is a part of India.  North Korea already has been plastered with sanctions for decades without abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The Philippines resents the United States and forced the closure of American bases decades ago.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton either opposed or backed away from the Obama administration’s “Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Loathsome person though he may be, Donald Trump isn’t far off the mark in Asia.

[1] This was the position of early 19th Century Conservatives.  You couldn’t make Britain into Prussia and you couldn’t make the Austrian empire into the United States just by writing some documents.  However, the experience of the Third Reich and its adventures proved sufficient to make Germans open to new approaches.  Which proves my point.

[2] The Economist and Franklin D. Roosevelt respectively.

The Court Martial of Jesus of Nazareth 13 August 2019.

The charge:

Jesus of Nazareth has incited discord among the citizens of the Empire in Palestine; he has encouraged the work of “terrorists,” and he has assaulted businessmen.

The case for the Prosecution:

The Roman Empire is a vast collection of different peoples with different beliefs.  The Empire has established peace among once-warring peoples by accepting all their gods as legitimate expressions of one true collection of gods.  The Empire requires that all people under Roman rule acknowledge the legitimacy of the gods of others.  The Empire requires that the Emperor himself be acknowledged as Divine (God).  The Empire suppresses local rebellion in order to preserve the safety of persons and property.

Jesus of Nazareth challenges every part of this Roman Peace.  He denies that belief-systems other than his own are legitimate.  He insists that only one belief is correct.  He refuses to accept that that the Emperor is Divine.

He has questioned the legitimacy of the Hebrew leaders (the Pharisees) with whom the Empire has bargained to establish a tolerant government.  He gives hope to the radical elements (Zealots) who use violence (terrorism) against Roman government.

The Empire is built upon the rock of trade.  Trade creates prosperity.  Jesus of Nazareth has violently attacked the money-changers in the Temple who make such trade possible.

The case for the Defense:

The Accused is a missionary come to us from a Reality the court does not acknowledge.  His message is that there is NOT a multiplicity of gods, nor are there multiple Truths.  There is only ONE God and ONE Truth.  He says that all who fail to recognize this Reality are condemned by that one God to burn in a fiery pit for all eternity.

Prosaically, the Accused is charged with disrupting the work of the money-changers in the Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem.  They buy at the lowest price and sell at the highest price, regardless of circumstances.  Thus, His actions amount to “restorative justice.”

Finally, does the prosecution say that no one may dissent from common opinion as it presently exists?  Does it say that no truths are yet to be revealed by further inquiry?  That WE and OUT society are the final draft of the gods?

The Judgement of the Court:

There is a difference between provable Facts and unprovable Belief.  Believing that something is true is not the same as proving that thing is true.  Individuals may act on what they believe to be true.  However, if they transgress the law, their beliefs do not excuse them.

Jesus of Nazareth is found guilty of assault on persons and treason against the Empire.

The Sentence:

The condemned shall be transported by the usual means to the usual place of execution and there be  executed by the usual means.

Hong Kong 2 9 August 2019.

Revolutionary movements begin as coalitions of conservatives, moderates, and radicals.[1]  As they accomplish early goals, many of the conservatives drop-out and the radicals raise their sights.  The moderates then becoming the trailing group, while the early radicals fragment into moderate and more radical groups.  Rinse and repeat.  Eventually, power passes to the radical minority.  More and more people shift to the ranks of the already-satisfied and the alarmed-by-radicalism.  Eventually the forces of order decide that the balance of power is now on their side.  Disaster then follows for everyone as repression hammers radicals, moderates, and conservatives alike.  We may be seeing the same process in Hong Kong.

In July 2019, groups of young protestors, wearing hard-hats and black T-shirts,[2] began to confront the police.  They broke into the Legislative Council building, surrounded police stations, and pelted the police with bricks.  Generally, cops don’t like this.  On 5 August 2019, demonstrators disrupted transportation and issued a call for workers to stay home.

The government finds itself in a dilemma—for the moment.  On the one hand, it cannot respond too aggressively against a protest movement that claims that Beijing is intruding into Hong Kong affairs.  That would prove their point.  It has to continue the charade.

On the other hand, it has begun to exert counter-pressure.[3]  For one thing, support for Carrie Lam is unyielding.  For another, it keeps issuing verbal warnings that the protests are going too far.  On 6 August 2019, a senior Chinese official said “I want to warn all the criminals to not wrongly judge the situation and take restraint for weakness.  A blow from the sword of law is waiting for them in the future.”  A blow from a piece of rebar is more at hand.  There is a long tradition of Chinese governments co-operating with organized crime.[4]  Sluggers for one or more of the Hong Kong “triads,” armed with sections of rebar, attacked a bunch of demonstrators in July 2019.  For some reason, the police were slow to respond.  Then, the past Spring has seen the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.  Do people in Hong Kong believe that the Chinese government will not, cannot repeat the experience?

Veering off in a different direction, what if one underlying source of the protests is the growing inequality within Hong Kong?[5]  In particular, housing prices have sky-rocketed without any government response.  As on the mainland, powerful economic interests dominate the government.  However, it is claimed that the Hong Kong interests are property development moguls, rather than the Communist Party.

What if Beijing announced that it would allow the development of housing in “brownfield” and farm areas, subsidize rents, and extend mass transit?  How many protestors would peel off?  It seems like a better approach than shooting people.  Almost anything is.

[1] Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution (1938).  Sure, it’s old.  So is Thucydides, so is Adam Smith, so am I.

[2] In Chinese culture, “Black corresponds to water and … is the color of heaven, symbolizing the northern and western sky. This color represents immortality, knowledge, stability and power.”  NB: My underlining.  The youthful demonstrators have adopted the cry “Be water.”  But black is also associated with “darkness and secrecy. The word ‘mafia’ translates to ‘black society’ in Chinese.”  https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/culture/lucky-numbers-and-colors-in-chinese-culture.htm

[3] Daniel Victor and Alan Yuhas, “How the Demonstrations in Hong Kong Have Evolved,” NYT, 9 August 2019.

[4] For one example, see Brian Martin, The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime, 1919-1937 (1996).

[5] Nathaniel Taplin, “Hong Kong Needs Urgent Action,” WSJ, 9 August 2019.

Hong Kong 1 9 August 2019.

Between 1839 and 1842, Britain fought China over the opium trade.  China lost that war and the island of Hong Kong to boot.  Under British rule, Hong Kong became a major port and later a financial center.  Sometime between 1914 and 1945, Britain lost the “Mandate of Heaven.”  In 1997, Britain returned Hong Kong to the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC).  However, the agreement hedged about Hong Kong’s status to safeguard its Western-type freedoms and its economic dynamism.   The freedoms included free speech, the right to assemble, and free access to the internet.  None of these rights exist anywhere in the rest of the PRC.  Hong Kong is, in many ways, self-governing.  The return agreement pledged China to respect these terms until 2047.  The common term for this is “One country, two systems.”

Despite the promise to respect the agreement until 2047, many people in Hong Kong believe that the PRC has been slicing the salami for a while now.[1]  Both the legislature and the committee that appoints the chief executive have been slowly packed with local agents of the PRC.  The chief executive, Carrie Lam, is seen as a puppet of Beijing.  The PRC’s organs of state security have begun to operate against dissidents living in Hong Kong.  So, things are starting to look like “One country, one system.”

In February 2019, Carrie Lam, the chief executive, introduced a bill into the legislature.  It would allow the extradition of people accused of crimes to places with which Hong Kong has no extradition treaty.  One of those places, oddly, is the PRC.  Since the PRC’s security services have already kidnapped a number of people from Hong Kong, this bill looked like an attempt to neaten-up that process.

Beginning on 9 June 2019, huge numbers of Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest against the bill.  On 12 June 2019, a few of the demonstrators threw rocks at the police; the police responded with tear gas, pepper spray, and beatings.  Nothing deterred, the demonstrations continued.  On 15 June 2019, Lam said that the extradition bill had been suspended.  She didn’t say that it had been withdrawn entirely.  That didn’t cut it with the demonstrators.  On 16 June 2019, two million of them filled the streets of Hong Kong.  They demand that the bill be formally withdrawn and that Lam resign.

More than just digging-in on the extradition bill, the demonstrators have begun to surface deeper concerns and make more sweeping demands.  It may be that the China-watchers in Hong Kong–whose own futures are on the line (unless they can get a Canadian visa)–have concluded that the PRC is not headed toward any meaningful liberalization under Xi Jinping.[2]  Increasingly, people are demanding what might be seen as a re-negotiation of the 1997 agreement.  They seem to want Hong Kong’s special status to be both perpetual and real.

This shift in the goals of the movement may have alarmed the government in Beijing.  Well it should.  Beijing’s failure to make timely concessions has allowed the movement to grow.  Well, Xi Jinping’s failure to understand the situation has allowed a crisis to occur.

[1] Daniel Victor and Alan Yuhas, “How the Demonstrations in Hong Kong Have Evolved,” NYT, 9 August 2019.

[2] Making deals with authoritarian states in the professed belief that they will move along some pre-ordained path of political development is sometimes wishful thinking.  “Nothing is written.”  This isn’t meant as a swipe at the Obama administration’s deal with Iran, which I still support.  However, John Bolton, not John Hill, is the National Security Advisor.  He has a different take on this issue.  Apparently, so do the people in Hong Kong.