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 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.

Taking It to the Streets 6 August 2019.

When I’m in Easton, Pennsylvania on weekends, I take the dog for a walk.  He’s intrepid, so sometimes we go down to “The Circle.” From there up Northampton Avenue, there’s a lot of public assistance housing.  Nice—if unhealthy-looking—people to talk to on a Sunday morning.[1]

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 550,000 people are “homeless” in America.[2]  Geographically, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 25 percent (137,000) live in California, which has about 12 percent of the nation’s  population.  Another 65,000 people (or about 6 percent) live in New York City.  Even within California, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 45 percent (59,000 out of 137,000) live in the Los Angeles area, while 8,000 live in San Francisco.  However, the homeless population in Los Angeles has grown by 12 percent since 2018 and the homeless population in San Francisco has grown by 17 percent since 2017.

Economists point to a steep rise in prices for a limited housing stock in California.  Since 2013, the median rent in Los Angeles rose almost three times faster than did median income.[3]  Now, one-third of renters pay at least half their monthly income for housing.[4]  What is implied is that the “marginal” people get forced out of whatever ramshackle accommodations (called “flop-houses” in a less-enlightened time) they have found by rising property values/rents.

Substance abuse is a major contributor to homelessness and other things.  Among the Seattle’s homeless, for example, an estimated 80 percent have drug or alcohol problems.

Apparently, the “homeless” don’t want to be in city-provided “homes.”  New York City—with the abominable winter and summer climates (and delightful springs and falls) of the Mid-Atlantic states–provides shelter accommodation for 61,000 people, about 95 percent of its approximately 65,000 homeless population.  In contrast, Los Angeles—which has a temperate climate—has only 25 percent of its homeless population in shelters.  Building shelters or low-income housing may not appeal to the homeless.  Freeway underpasses are good enough for them.  Perhaps, what they’re after—other than getting high—isn’t offered by America?

Do cities entice homeless people to move there?  In 2007, Los Angeles announced that the city would no longer enforce a law against sleeping on the sidewalk in the 50-block “Skid Row” area.   Perhaps 10,000 people now live there.  So, IDK.

[1] Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Sidewalk.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbqGWTxwZEA

[2] “Living on the Streets,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 11.  How many of them are illegal immigrants or “asylum-seekers” from Central America?  My money would be on none.  If I am correct, that might—or might not—say something about the nature of the problem.

[3] 67 percent v. 23 percent.

[4] In areas around Boston in the 1980s, rents were high.  Low-income graduate students had to scramble.  I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a South Korean couple; I shared a two bedroom house in Somerville  with another graduate student; and then I shared a three bedroom apartment above Oak Square with two other friends.  My then-future wife shared an apartment with a couple of friends, then moved to a big group house.  So, being “poor” doesn’t have to mean being “homeless.”  None of this has anything to do with the actual homeless.  “Homeless” people aren’t grad students.  My question is what “life-style” do the poor have a right to expect?  This is a poorly-articulated political dispute between Democrats and Republicans.  Part of the problem seems to be that Republicans admit that society isn’t fair, but believe that human ability can overcome those problems, while Democrats claim that society is so unfair that no amount of human ability can overcome these barriers.  IDK where I stand on this exactly.  Just being a jerk here, I realize.

Japan’s Second World War 2.

Curtis LeMay (1906-1990) played a large role in defining the Japanese experience during the Second World War.  Born into poor circumstances in Columbus, Ohio, LeMay worked his way through Ohio State University.  After graduating with a degree in civil engineering, LeMay became a lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps.  He soon established a reputation as an expert navigator, long-distance pilot, and an enthusiast for rigorous training.  He (and many other younger officers) began a rapid ascent in rank once George Marshall became Army Chief of Staff.  In the air war in Europe in 1942-1944, he pioneered effective new tactics and enforced tough discipline on bombing missions.  From August 1944 to January 1945, LeMay commanded the American bombers flying from China.  Then he took command of the bombers flying from the Mariana Islands.

Against Japan, LeMay had to innovate.  A powerful jet stream wind blows across much of Japan.  High altitude bombers, flying at 20,000 feet, often had their bombs blown off target after release.  Japanese air defenses were rugged, so pilots often aborted their missions.  Even before the Americans began to hit Japan, the Japanese government had learned from their embassy in Germany what was coming.  They responded by dispersing industrial production from a few big factories to many small workshops scattered about cities.  The work-shops were hard to spot or to hit.  LeMay abandoned high-altitude, day-light precision bombing for low-altitude, nighttime “area” or “carpet” bombing with incendiaries.  Crews that achieved a high mission-completion rate early in their tours got sent home early.

Between March and August 1945, LeMay’s planes hit 67 Japanese cities with “fire raids.”  Huge areas—averaging 40 percent– of cities were destroyed and the dispersed work-shops with them.  Japanese industrial production fell off sharply.  His bombers also dropped many mines into the sea around Japan to sink merchant ships bringing in food and warship guarding them against American submarines.  The mines turned out to be far more effective than did the submarines.[1]  Japan could neither import the food and raw materials it needed, nor could it send men or supplies to Japanese forces over-seas.

The effects were terrible to see.  In contrast to stone and concrete Western cities, Japanese cities were built of wood.  They provided kindling for the American fire-bombs, rather than a tenuous protection.  The raids killed perhaps 500,000 civilians.  The 10 May 1945 raid on Tokyo alone killed perhaps 100,000 people.  During the Tokyo raid, fire swept over people jammed together on a bridge, producing a “forest of [upright] corpses.”[2]  The last wave of American planes, flying at 5,000 to 9,000 feet, could smell burned human flesh.

The American aircrews and commanders could not see the devastation they wrought up close.  The Japanese leaders could not avoid confronting it.  Yet the Japanese leadership refused to surrender.  In August 1945, planes from the 509th Composite Group flew from Tinian Island to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Finally, Japan surrendered.

Japan lost its overseas empire (Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands).  The Americans occupied Japan.  They imposed many reforms that might be considered as a sort-of Second Meiji Restoration.  The Americans also helped create a world order that would allow Japan’s economy to flourish.

[1] The mines sank or damaged 670 Japanese ships.  Cargoes moving through the port of Kobe fell by 85 percent.  Trying making an exciting movie about mines, however.

[2] Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999).