Category Archives: History

Daniel Dennett on Consciousness

One of my favorite philosophers was on The Economist Asks,


The Economist asks: What is consciousness?

Every word is a little software agent that replicates and competes for space in people’s minds and on the page and everywhere else. It’s the differential reproduction of things like words, and other memes that can’t be pronounced, that’s what creates human culture. – Daniel Dennett

His new book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back.  I love Daniel Dennett. The human groups that could communicate essential information; danger/safe attack/hide food/poison. Those groups would have a higher probability of survival than the ones who could not. What an insightful application of knowledge at work in that observation. All of it because of him and his work. I (and science) will be forever in his debt.

Facebook status update backdated to the blog. 

On Flat Earthers

Flat earthers are a outgrowth of modern man’s separation from the physical world.

Ancient man spent a lot of time around sea shores and lake shores. Spent hours at a time being forced to contemplate the horizon. They had direct visual confirmation that the surface they were on was curved. Boats sailed (and still sail if you can pay attention long enough) visibly over the horizon. This is probably what motivated Eratosthenes to try to work out what the actual distance around the Earth was, and he did it in the 3rd century BCE.

Modern man, wrongly informed that ancient man thought the world was flat; and especially modern religious zealots already prepared to discard all of science in exchange for heavenly salvation (or at least willing to sacrifice evolution) finds it quite easy to never notice the curvature of the Earth that he still can see if he simply looks.

That is why they call it “wilful ignorance”.

September 11, not 9-11

This is adapted and expanded from previous articles.  I intend to keep updating and reposting a version of this article annually until the US collectively demonstrates learning something from history, or I pass from existence. Given prior evidence, I’m betting on the latter.


My dad was born on September 11, 1938.  On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn’t appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years.  We re-live the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.

Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again. -Jim Wright, Renegade 9-11

Every year.  Every goddamn year.

My father did his time in the military.  I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve.  Dad didn’t like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there.  As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. “You like taking orders?” he said.  I didn’t, I replied. “Well, then you don’t want to join the military.” That was his thinking on the subject, in a nutshell. He never elaborated more, but that view has stuck with me ever since.

Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday.  Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant.  It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that.  It is captured in this sentiment;

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born. -Jim Wright, 9-11 Thirteen Years On

I’m reclaiming today and every September 11th after this one for my father.

Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.

I am reclaiming it for my father and for all the young Americans born since that day. People who deserve more than to be dragged into battles that have been going on since before they were born. I promise to spend more time thinking of him and of them than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans.  Because really, why remember if we aren’t going to learn anything from it?

Challenger 30 Years Later

“Everyone knows how they died, we want people to remember how they lived.” – June Scobee-Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee

(author unknown)

At 10:40 am on January 28th 1986 the space shuttle Challenger was issued the command “go for throttle up” and the subsequent explosion ended space’s age of innocence. I remember where I was that day. Like most of our memories of those kinds of events, it is probably full of holes and exaggerations.  But I do remember it.  I also remember honoring the Challenger crew’s sacrifice with the crew of the (can you remember the name before you read it?) Columbia.  For quite some time my personal page at ranthonysteele.com had a memorial page for the Columbia and Challenger as a tribute to the sacrifice of both crews.

High Flight
(the pilot’s creed)

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
–and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, 
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless falls of air… 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew– 
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod 
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee

The above was found in a particularly moving article by Nigel Rees (on another now dead website) describing how the poem came to prominence and caught the attention of Ronald Reagan (or one of his speechwriters) who later remembered it and uttered it in memoriam for the Challenger crew. It was the words of Columbia commander Rick Husband that caused me to go looking for the poem back in 2003, when he unknowingly forshadowed his impending death by observing;

It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind 

Four days later, his shuttle burned up on re-entry.  I was awakened from an uneasy sleep that Saturday morning, by the ringing of the phone.  One of our fellow space enthusiast friends calling to tell us to turn on the news.  Columbia had been destroyed.

Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, whose crews were all killed within the space of a week on the calendar, if over 36 years in elapsed time. That is the way it has been for ten years and more for me.  I’ve kept notations on my calendar since the Columbia disaster, so that I could remember these crews and their sacrifices on the anniversaries of their deaths.

Space.com

The space program means a lot to the Wife and I.  She’s become so heartbroken that we still don’t have a permanent lunar base for her to immigrate to that she refuses to discuss the subject of space in any other form than as a betrayal by the US government of the people of the nation, especially people like she and I who dreamed of going to space someday.  My balance issues convinced me long before I became disabled that I would never have made it to space anyway, so I don’t take the betrayal personally.  But it is hard to argue that we weren’t lied to when the ISS is a shadow of its promised size and scope, and that moon vacations still aren’t a thing we can experience.  Not to mention the complete abdication of NASA’s involvement in space as it pertains to getting supplies to and from the ISS, the reliance on Russia to transfer astronauts to and from the station via 1960’s Soyuz technology.  These are dark days for space enthusiasts when it comes to manned space missions.

So I was a little surprised that I hadn’t noted that today was Challenger day until listening to the BBC World News podcast. As I frequently do, I paused the program and went over to the browser on my phone and inquired about current articles on the Challenger disaster that might be worth sharing.

Top of the list was this piece over at Gawker. It is probably worth mentioning that I have a love/hate relationship with Gawker, the name of the website itself recalls miles of freeway made impassable by hundreds if not thousands of people who just have to look at automobile accidents. Maybe I’m weird, but I can still summon up images from my high school drivers education classes, so I don’t need a refresher on just how we lemmings die encased in steel on US freeways.

The subject of the article was even more enraging than a freeway pile-up that keeps you from getting where you need to be until several hours late, though;

…after the disaster, over time, a different and more horrible story took shape: The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the water.

This particular bit of conspiratorial fantasy really isn’t news.  The briefest perusal of the wiki entry on the subject of the Challenger disaster will reveal that it has been premised that the astronauts survived the initial breakup. It isn’t even controversial anymore. There is little evidence either way on the subject, and knowing they survived (or that the crew of the just as tragic Columbia disaster survived) the initial breakup only to be killed later really doesn’t prove anything, or provide any great insight into either tragedy.

I remember picking up at least one supermarket tabloid in the months after Challenger went down that purported to have written transcripts of the last moments of the crew as preserved on the flight recorder.  That concoction was a total fantasy, beneath even the satirical minds of the writers of the Onion today; and the grisly nature of interest in the last moments of the life of a person about to die tragically is something that I’ve never had the stomach for.  That there would have been panic from trained military flyers even in the face of certain doom is very doubtful. As more than one pilot has mentioned to me over the years, the most common last words on flight recorders is oh, shit.  That is because trained pilots are too busy working the problem to realize that ultimate failure is about to kill them until the last moment. When it is too late to panic and have that panic recorded for posterity.

NASA image STS 107 launch
Some of the experiments survived

The pilots of Challenger and Columbia were both powerless to save themselves and their crews. That is the true nature of these tragedies.  The decisions that cost their lives were made by people above them in authority, people who were willing to risk the lives of others even when the engineers who designed those systems stood solidly against launching under the weather conditions present at the time.

Failure of the O-rings caused the Challenger disaster. It is doubtful that a parachute system or some other secondary contingency could have worked in the specific scenario the evolved in that launch. There was a way to decouple the shuttle from the tank and glide home, but that contingency failed with the explosion of the central fuel tank.

Ice and foam chunks damaged the leading edge of the wing of Columbia during its last launch.  There was no way to rescue the crew once they were in space without risking another crew flying under similar conditions, if the next shuttle could have even been made ready in time. Thinking back to the steely-eyed missile men who brought Apollo 13 back home, one wonders what they might have done if they had still been in charge when Columbia was in space.  Would they have risked an EVA to check the wing? Probably. Would they have found a way to get a rescue mission up to Columbia in time to get the crew off?  Maybe. Was there some way to seal the wing in space so it could survive re-entry? People familiar with the mission said no, still say no.

Hindsight is always 20/20. There would have been no need for a parachute contingency (and the added weight/cost) had NASA listened to its own engineers in 1986, because they recommended a scrub and were over-ruled on the subject.  A similar discussion occurred just prior to the launch of Columbia as well.

I have recommended this book several times on the blog, Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War.  If you really want to understand just how stupidly large human systems fail, read that book.  You will come away with a completely different view on history and on current events.  The failures of the shuttle missions in particular remain haunting to the American psyche in ways that so many of our other failures do not. Perhaps this is because they touch on the hopes and dreams of so many. Perhaps because they remain the most visible black marks on the aspirations of this country.

New York Daily News

Personally they represent the end of manned space exploration missions in my lifetime. That is what I think of most bitterly when I recall the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. I remember the teacher Christa McAuliffe and her brave, hopeful words.  Her energetic wave as she boarded the transport heading for the shuttle.  I remember thinking upon hearing of the shuttle’s destruction there goes my chance to get into space.  Because that is what it meant, what the tragedy still means to me to this day. The end of hope for a brighter future.  With that knowledge comes acceptance of our limitations as human animals and a greater understanding of just how fragile we creatures are. How fragile our home is.

We may be stuck on this rock for awhile yet, so we probably should figure out how to keep it safe for the time being. Try to avoid that next big thing heading our way.  What is it? Only the future knows.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
– Hanlon’s Razor

September 11, not 9-11

This is adapted and expanded from a previous article.  I intend to keep updating and reposting a version of this article annually until the US collectively demonstrates learning something from history, or I pass from existence. Given prior evidence, I’m betting on the latter.


My dad was born on September 11, 1938.  On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn’t appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years.  We re-live the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.

Military adventurism continues almost unabated since that cautionary moment in our history. Undaunted by the mess that we created in Iraq, we are now doing our best to intervene in the area again.  Stationing troops in the form of advisors, lending military aid to the Iraqi government that has made it pretty clear they don’t want our help anymore.

The Republican candidates for President can’t promise they’ll declare war on enough countries fast enough to suit their Halliburton backers. At the very least a war with Iran will be in the promises that a Republican candidate for President will bring to the campaign trail, as if we haven’t had enough war for several lifetimes in the last two decades.

Americans remain convinced that everything that happens around the world is somehow linked to us, that we have to weigh in on events, or that somehow the events were caused by us, as if the world only exists because we send our military out there to make sure it does.

My father did his time in the military.  I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve.  Dad didn’t like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there.  As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. “You like taking orders?” he said.  I didn’t, I replied. “Well, then you don’t want to join the military.” That was his thinking on the subject, in a nutshell. He never elaborated more on the subject, but that view has stuck with me ever since.

Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday.  Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant.  It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that.  It is captured in the sentiment of Jim Wright’s piece on Stonekettle Station (a re-post) when Jim mentions the generation that has grown up since the towers fell, never knowing the America that we all remember.  They only know the America we created in our fear after 9-11;

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.

So in that sentiment I’d just like to reclaim today, and every September 11th after this one for my father.  Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.  I promise to spend more time thinking of you than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans.  Because really, why remember if we aren’t going to learn anything from it?

Texas Trying to Secede. Again.

Hanging around the fringes of Texas politics as I have off and on over the last 20 years, you hear a lot of strange ideas. Texas is conspiracy fantasy central in many ways, and Austin being the capitol of Texas means that the conspiratorial currents all lead to the vortex located at 15th and Congress.

Since the clean sweep that the GOP experienced in 2014, the wackos have come out of the woodwork and aren’t embarrassed to let their freak flag fly. Over the last year we’ve had the whole Jade Helm 15 teapot tempest, the newly elected governor calling out the Texas Guard to defend Texas against the largest military on the face of the planet; the US military, with troops already stationed in Texas (not to mention Texas citizens in the service of the US Army) included in the training exercises.  We’ve seen the governor’s replacement in the office of Attorney General arrested and booked while embroiled in a scheme to deny marriage certificates to gay couples who wanted to get married in the wake of the SCOTUS decision.

Texans are also suffering due to continued resistance to the ACA by our sitting legislature and governor.  It may be the law of the land according to the federal government, but the overwhelming majority of Texans spit at it as Obamacare; while at the same time whole segments of the Texas population who can’t afford to buy health insurance are left without any healthcare options because they make too much money to get Medicaid under the old rules, but are still supposed to have health insurance or face penalties.

Since all of this is Obama’s fault, it should be no wonder that a perennial favorite of the Texas conspiratorial fantasists is making the rounds again. Yes dear readers, we are faced with the dreaded initiative to secede from the Union. Again.

As I said previously, those of us who’ve been paying attention are not surprised to learn that the beast has raised it’s ugly head again. The history of the Texas secession movement is both long and checkered. I’m not going to go through all of it (the wiki page does a decent enough job of it) but it bears mentioning that many shady people for many long years have declared not only that Texas should secede, but that it probably isn’t legally a state of the Union. 

Help, help we’re being repressed!

Texas not being a state would be news to the rest of the United States since Texas manages to pretty much have its way with all sorts of things that affect other parts of the country. Make no mistake, the rest of the US knows that Texas is a state, much as many of them might rather it wasn’t.

The problem is, most Texans can’t be bothered to read;  and those that do read really can’t make heads or tails out of the Texas Constitution.  Or maybe it isn’t a problem with reading.  Maybe it’s a problem with who writes the books, especially the text books. In any case, these factors have lead to a number of interesting fantasies considering the nature of Texas’ relationship to the rest of the nation, as well as its status as a state.

Most Texans have heard the 5 states story, I’m sure.  The theory that Texas could be split up into 5 different states? The first time I heard it, the provision was in the Texas Constitution; which would be quite a feat I quickly discovered.  Upon the briefest of searches I learned that Texas has had seven constitutions since she left Mexico. So it isn’t in the Texas Constitution, not that we can tell among the nearly 500 amendments that have been passed (second only to Alabama. Saved again, Texas) The provision was actually imposed by the US Congress (those imperialists!) in their legislation which annexed Texas into the Union.

“Wpdms republic of texas” by Ch1902 – Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

This is the tidbit that most people have probably never realized.  Texas has already been split into 5 states. There are pieces of Texas in Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming; and while this may not have been the intention of the drafters of the legislation, Texas was paid for the severance of these lands, and they are no longer part of the state.

So, yes. Texas could be subdivided; and those crazy plans to have Texas dominate the Senate by breaking itself into 5 or 6 more states that would somehow still vote in lockstep are all too late.  It has already been done.

Another one of these fantasies is that Texas has permission to secede from the union.  This feature would be a truly curious development considering that all the slave states re-acquired by the union after the civil war were required to renounce any intention to leave the union again as a condition for re-admittance as states, as well as adopt the 13th and 14th Amendments. Most scholars agree that there is no basis to assume that a State could secede from the Union; it would be hard to see how this would be possible outside of the failure of the United States as a political entity and a military power.  These facts didn’t stop Governor Rick Perry from voicing his opinion that Texas could secede at a rally full of supporters chanting for secession.  This wouldn’t be the first time that Rick Perry was in error, especially when it comes to the subject of law.  I wouldn’t put too much stock in his remembering facts about secession, or evolution, or whatever that third thing was…

…in hindsight Rick Perry’s governorship feels like a walk at the wildflower center compared to the level of crazy currently ensconced in the capitol building. Between Governor Abbott’s blatant hypocrisy as a disabled person who was uniquely situated to keep other disabled person’s from taking his road to wellville, his trumped-up war on Planned Parenthood, his initiative to remove local control from Texas cities, and the legislature’s rejection of a minimum wage hike, it’s hard to imagine how life could get more grim than it currently is for the average Texan.  Which goes a long way towards explaining the desperation present in movements to secede as a political entity from the United States. Again.

A side word here for my fellow Texans;  Ya’ll might want to go back and read my piece on Greece in Perspective (hint, it really isn’t about Greece) and ponder at the level of desperation that you feel today and just who really is to blame for that.  Is it at all possible that that blame currently resides in a white house a good bit closer to you than Washington D.C.?

I’ll end with the words of Governor Sam Houston as he was forced out of  office by confederate zealots;

Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Texans have once again been lied to and betrayed; not by Washington, but by the leadership of the conservative religious power base that dominates all of Texas politics.  They are lied to nightly by the talking heads at FOX news, in the hopes that we will blame each other rather than the leadership in this state that has brought us to this impasse. From the moment that conservatives declared that science was a matter of opinion, that critical thinking was something to be avoided,  their entire ideology became a house of cards which could be blown down by the slightest breeze.

Imagine Sam Houston’s outrage at the knowledge that in a park that bears his name, in the city that bears his name, stands a monument to the folly that he gave up the leadership of Texas for rather than embark upon.  What would he think of the even more foolish notion that Texas could or should leave the union again?

I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her. – Sam Houston

Independence Day

For the last few years my July 4th celebrations have been limited to watching my favorite holiday film and the wife‘s favorite holiday film; which are 1776 watched on the dusty old laserdisc player (the only complete version of the film in existence, although the blu-ray comes close to it) and ID4 which can be watched on any format as long as it includes surround sound.

For me it’s hard to beat the patriotic zeal of John Adams and his co-conspirators plotting to remove the American colonies from under the heel of their English masters. A good portion of it set to music, and sung quite well by the original broadway cast, directed by the same director. I own and have watched the blu-ray version of this film.  It is quite good, but it is not the same film that was released on laserdisc; nor does it have the secondary audio track describing the painstaking effort spent on reassembling the film after it was cut by Jack Warner with a pair of scissors; this after it had been put to bed by the director and assumed finished.  The cutting included the removal of a pivotal song in the middle of the film Cool, Considerate Men at the request of President Nixon, personally.  The song portrays the views of conservatives of the time who did not want to risk their lives, wealth and property on the very slim chance that Washington would ever be victorious against the British army.

The pro-slavery song Molasses to Rum should be especially poignant this year, given the tragedy enacted in Charleston a few weeks ago.  History is a fine teacher, if you don’t deafen yourself to its advice.

On a lighter note, the wife loves ID4. When the pool was functional, she was frequently alone in the living room watching it while the rest of us retired to the pool. One year she begged a projector from friends and we watched it on the patio from the pool.  That was a good summer.  The best part of the film for me is the scene where Houston, having been destroyed by the aliens earlier in the film, is nuked in a defensive attempt to destroy the invading aliens.  Any film that destroys Houston twice is a watchable film in my book. Sorry Houston residents; the truth hurts, I know.

A sequel to ID4 is slated for release next Independence Day (2016) titled Independence Day Resurgence which they shorten to IDR. I Don’t Relate to that title very well.  Maybe the film will make up for it.

Robert Reich on Patriotism

The most common form of Independence Day celebration, fireworks, are only a memory for me. As a kid it was my favorite holiday because of the fireworks. We’d always have a decent personal show set up in the street in front of our house, or in our back yard. I constructed models just to blow them up with fireworks on the 4th of July. I remember fondly the first time Leoti paid for a firework display, laying in the middle of the football field watching the fireworks go off overhead.  I also remember many a summer where I temporarily deafened myself standing too close to explosives when they went off.

Another point of history that should be instructional.

As my disability has progressed, sensitivity to noise has increased. Any loud noise can set off vertigo quite easily. Flashes of light are painful, not enjoyable. Combustion fumes alone have been known to send me into a vertigo spell, so the great American pastime of trying to set the neighborhood on fire on Independence Day occurs without my active participation.

In Austin the city display is the only display allowed by law, a fact I find ironical as well as sensible.  There is always a neighbor who defies the ordinance and sets fireworks off anyway, usually several of them. The police and firemen are kept running all night long responding to calls.  At least the region is well watered this year. Won’t be any county-wide grass fires set off by fireworks this summer.

Oatmeal’s America Explained to Non-American’s on a Facebook friends wall inspired this introspection.  I can’t link the image, you’ll just have to go to his site and soak up the glory that is American Independance Day.  Looking back, as I’ve alluded to twice already, I wonder why the obvious desperation of July 4th celebrations isn’t apparent to more Americans. We so desperately want to demonstrate to the world how happy we are being free.  One would think that the joy of real freedom would be enough, if only we know what that elusive thing really is.

Obama Best President Since Eisenhower

In an argument on DC’s forums last year, amidst all the caterwauling, hair tearing, and general hatassery concerning the President and the upcoming elections, I proposed the following; that Barack Obama could well be considered the best President since Dwight D. Eisenhower.  I said it at the time largely because I like to take a devil’s advocate position, but also because I’ve become quite weary over the last 6 years listening to idiots run down the sitting President.

Generally, I’m right there with them.  I mean, given the track record of Presidents in recent history, it’s not hard to thrash a President and have a receptive audience.

I first started paying attention to politics when Carter was in office. I couldn’t vote back then, but I thought Carter was getting a raw deal leading up to the election of 1980. His policies weren’t anything to brag about, but the weakness of the President and the country that conservatives railed about was largely an illusion that they invented simply as a tool to use against him.  As history has demonstrated, Reagan didn’t know anything more than how to hit a mark and say a line (mostly) correctly; and people in his employ did negotiate with the Iranian hostage takers. In 1984. Again? Who knows.

(Courtesy information aesthetics website)

Reagan’s term in office was hardly anything to brag about either; in spite of what armies of conservatives say otherwise.  Yes, it’s true, the Berlin wall fell on his watch, but that falling had almost nothing to do with US policies in the region, and everything to do with ham-handed bureaucrats behind the iron curtain, and a Soviet President elected to usher in a new era of openness demanded by the people. What Reagan should be known for, the albatross that he should wear, is Reaganomics or trickle-down economics; which has been shown to be a complete failure and has actually contributed more to economic instability than any other action committed by any other US executive in modern history.

Reagan’s real legacy is the S&L debacle, brought about by loosening regulations on financial institutions, almost exactly as predicted by people opposed to that action.  The Iran-Contra affair that I mentioned previously barely moves the needle compared to the destructiveness of Reaganomics.

But Ronald Reagan was popular and was elected to two terms.  His popularity even earned his Vice-President, an almost political unknown named George Herbert Walker Bush, a term as President. But the damage done by Reaganomics continued to plague the nation, and not even a short, victorious, righteous war to stymie the aggression of a Middle Eastern dictator could secure him a second term in office.

As a peacenik, someone opposed to war in general if not in principle, George H.W. Bush’s willingness to go to war didn’t earn any points with me.  None of the things his successor said or did made me believe he was any different.  Bill Clinton’s term in office benefitted from the investment of the LBJ administration in space technology, in the form of microchips that were finally small and powerful enough to drive the information technology revolution that we are in the middle of; which makes his term in office seem halcyon in hindsight. But his willingness to involve the US in every correct world event (with the exception of Rwanda. Which he says he wishes he’d gotten involved in as well) lobbing missiles like they were footballs at every hotspot on the globe, provided the grist for the mill of anti-American sentiment around the world.

Packing a bomb which exploded on 9-11.  That’s the take-away that history will draw from this era, the post-post WWII decades. When the US fumbled the ball handed to it by the old-world European powers, and let someone else take up the lead internationally (who that will be remains in question) the election of Bush II will not be remembered for what Al Gore supporters would like it to be remembered for, but for the results of America being asleep at the wheel internationally almost since the end of the Vietnam war.

Bush II didn’t steal the election, he simply won it on a technicality. So he got to be the guy in charge on the day when the buzzards came home to roost.  The saying roughly goes we get the best enemies money can buy and we made the enemies who attacked us on 9-11; both figuratively and in reality.  We trained a good number of terrorists to resist the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, including some who later worked for Al Qaeda, possibly even OBL himself. The administration was warned but ignored those warnings, and then set about fighting a war that would end up being the longest in US history, and arranged for that war to occur based on false evidence.  In the process the Bush II administration destroyed American credibility on the world stage (whatever was left of it) torturing innocent people who just happened to be in a warzone at the wrong time.

To finish off his term, Bush II (prefer W? Use that) also failed to act on the looming financial crisis (also about which he was warned) and consequently handed the election of the next President to the Democrats, who could have run the proverbial yellow dog, and it would have won.  If it hadn’t been for Sarah Palin’s circus show, there wouldn’t have been anything of interest about the election of 2008.

With that as a backdrop, you can imagine what I thought of Barack Obama going into his first term.  Don’t get me wrong, I voted for him in the primary in a vain (?) effort to throw the election his way instead of towards Hillary Clinton (I have no use for political dynasties) but I voted straight Libertarian for my last time in that general election. Held my nose and voted for a Republican in Libertarian clothing. Won’t be doing that again.

But Obama pretty much did what he promised.  Oh, I know, he cratered on a lot of things that privacy advocates and conspiracy mongers think he should have taken a hard line on.  But he has ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without looking too ridiculous in the process; and no matter how much saber rattling the Conservatives do, the anarchy currently afoot in Syria/Iraq doesn’t amount to much in the scheme of things unless you happen to have business there.  Happen to live there (if you do, you have my sympathy. But do you really want to help Bashar Assad stay in power?  Really?) It managed to win them seats in the midterms, blowing out the possibility of a more productive congress in 2015, but in the end they remain on the wrong side of history.

Why, you ask? Why are they on the wrong side of history?  Why would Obama be considered a good President? Because the general trends are predictive and obvious.  I tripped over them even if you, dear reader, did not.

Since the Cold War ended and we blithely went on unchanging in or priorities, the Old World powers found their legs and stood on their own again.  If you want to visit countries with the highest ratings for health, productivity, happiness, etc., look no further than the old economies that hard liners in the US still wrongly dismiss.  Proof of this can be found by the ease with which Germany absorbed the poorer provinces of Eastern Germany, long held back under Soviet rule.  How the French absorb refugees into France at a rate that rivals the US.

Canada’s adoption of the Canada Health Act hasn’t proved disastrous for the Canadian economy as predicted. It’s services continue to improve at an impressive rate, leaving the US in the dust. Even Mexico City has better healthcare than we have in the US, finally making the claims of liberal agitators like Micheal Moore truthful, if only in hindsight.

The writing is on the wall, has been on the wall for sometime and US citizens apparently never noticed. Socialized medicine, for lack of a better appellation, appears to be the future.  The notion that individuals can pay for health services as needed and build the kind of infrastructure that the average person wants (emergency services, research, etc) has been effectively shown to be a pipe dream; and that systems can and do function with the amount of complexity required to provide services in a timely fashion.

Ergo we will all be charged something to provide the services we all say we want but don’t want to pay for; or rather, underestimate the cost of.  But that subject is beside the point I’m trying to make, and I don’t want to be distracted from it.

Every President since and including FDR talked about doing something about healthcare in the US.  Every President since Truman has actively asked for and/or crafted legislation to fix the US healthcare system. Barack Obama, in the face of the stiffest opposition faced by any President in US history, helped to craft compromise legislation that at least advances the goal of universal access to healthcare for the first time in US history.  No one likes it, to be sure, but it appears to be working all the same.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is out this morning and reveals that 15.9 percent of American adults are now uninsured, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 and has shown improvements in every major demographic group with the exception of Hispanics who did not advance. 

Courtesy; Forbes “The Real Numbers On ‘The Obamacare Effect’ Are In-Now Let The Crow Eating Begin”

If it continues working, if we actually expand on the basis set down by the Obama administration, What then? When Presidents back to the time of Truman tried to get this done?

Why Eisenhower? Because Eisenhower was the last President to put his name on a fundamental change that was positive to the US as a whole. LBJ might have done this with his Great Society, but his term was marred with Vietnam (which could have been avoided) Eisenhower managed to avoid any major conflicts, and established the Interstate system with funds Congress had given to the military.

I’m not planning on doing an exhaustive search back though 60 years of Presidential history just to make my point.  Truthfully, when I first proposed the idea, I just stated best President in our lifetimes. I was born in the age of Kennedy, and while his ending was tragic, what LBJ achieved in his name was of more importance than anything he did aside from not starting World War Three during the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the grand scheme of things that is what he will be remembered for, aside from his words that took us to the moon on LBJ’s watch.

Which is really all that matters to history.

LBJ might pull a close second, even with Vietnam on his record, but that just really speaks to the lackluster nature of our leaders post-WW II, not to any high achievement on LBJ’s record.

What’s funny is, I’ve heard similar talk in the news media of late, which is why this subject came back to mind. Obama took the shellacking of his party in stride, decided he wouldn’t sit out the last two years of his Presidency and play golf; at least not yet anyway (If you ask me he’s earned it, having taken less vacation than the last two Presidents) and took his Presidential pen in hand (something else he’s done less than recent Presidents) to reduce the suffering of people who it was in his power to help.

It is noteworthy that every president since and including Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration without facing threats of lawsuits, government shutdowns, impeachment, or loss of executive authority

The title caught my eye Every President Since Eisenhower.  Well that’s interesting.  Not a recommendation, but at least a true observation on the obstinacy of Congresses across the years. So I went looking farther.

A piece from this time last year in the New York Times lays the case out pretty well;

Mr. Obama, barring tragedy or resignation, will get to serve eight years, but his margin of victory last November was not overwhelming. He won 62 percent of the electoral vote, which ranks 16th among the 30 presidents who sought re-election after their first terms. Mr. Obama’s electoral vote percentage was better than any of the 10 first-term losers, of course — but among the 20 winners, it exceeded only James Madison in 1812, Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Harry Truman in 1948 and George W. Bush in 2004.

That’s just going on percentages. Puts him in the running with Clinton, well below Eisenhower or LBJ in historical importance based on electoral percentage.

But that’s a little dry, don’t you think? Surely it means more than that, historical importance? More than the President’s popularity with the voting public?  Not necessarily.  Specifically, I have a hard time believing that Reagan will maintain his high rating (historically ranked 10th in importance) even with his overwhelming second-term victory percentages, given the looting that his administration ushered in and is only now coming to light.

Still, the cost-cutters will be hard pressed to nay-say Barack Obama’s place in history if he stays on course through the rest of his term;

Courtesy Forbes Magazine

You are reading that right.  Obama most conservative federal spender since…
…Dwight D. Eisenhower. Don’t hold your breath waiting for your conservative outlets to spin this the right way, they won’t; or they will take Heritage Foundation’s tack on the subject and insist that Bush II’s war costs should be saddled on Obama. In any case, the groundwork has been laid. My work here is done.


When I say that Obama is the best President since Eisenhower, it’s not a compliment to Obama or Eisenhower. I just want to make this point clear. It’s an observation on just how predatory our government has been in the past, continues to be at present. Imagine what US society would look like if Americans thought of themselves as not engaged in a zero-sum competition with their fellows? If we elected a government that actually focused on common welfare and not killing perceived threats to our ever-diminishing piece of the pie?

That is how Obama is different than his predecessors since Eisenhower, or at least since Carter. This is the first time the military agenda hasn’t dominated every second of the sitting Presidents time. The first time in decades that any social advancement has been registered; or more precisely, the first time the downward slide of the average American has been noted publicly.

We (as citizens) should build on that, rather than be distracted by the same-old glittery glamour of sabre-rattling and outright warfare that has come to be synonymous with US policy since WWII.

September 11, not 9-11

My dad was born on September 11, 1938.  On his sixty-third birthday terrorists destroyed two American icons and shattered forever the illusion that we were beyond the reach of the people intent on doing us harm. There are many lessons to be learned from gaining that insight, but it doesn’t appear that the US has learned anything in the intervening years.  We re-live the events of 9-11 over and over again on each anniversary; wallowing in our collective angst, while repeating the same mistakes that lead to that day, that sprung from that day.

Military adventurism continues almost unabated. Undaunted by the mess that we created in Iraq, we now propose to intervene in the area again.  We remain convinced that everything that happens around the world is somehow linked to us, that we have to weigh in on events, or that somehow the events were caused by us, as if the world only exists because we send our military out there to make sure it does.

My father did his time in the military.  I was born overseas because of the Cold War, and my parents answering the call to serve.  He didn’t like military life very much, and left the service after 4 years to return home to Kansas and his family there.  As a teenager I foolishly contemplated joining the military myself, and mentioned it to him to see what he thought. “You like taking orders?” he said.  I didn’t, I replied. “Well, then you don’t want to join the military.” That was his thinking on the subject, as he related it to me.

Every year after 2001, he complained that the terrorists had stolen his birthday.  Every year until he died, the day that he had looked forward to through childhood had become something terrifying and repugnant.  It annoyed him that his day had been the day they picked. I can understand that.  It is captured in the sentiment of Jim Wright’s piece on Stonekettle Station (a re-post) when Jim mentions the generation that has grown up since the towers fell, never knowing the America that we all remember.  They only know the America we created in our fear after 9-11;

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.

So in that sentiment I’d just like to reclaim today, and every September 11th after this one for my father.  Happy birthday dad, wherever you are.  I promise to spend more time thinking of you than of the other events that make this day stand out for average Americans.  Because really, why remember if we aren’t going to learn anything from it?

Lincoln & Slavery; What are the Nay-Sayers Really Saying?

 Was on Facebook the other day (months ago, actually) after having just watched the movie Lincoln (now available streaming from Amazon! lol) and stumbled across an image posted on the wall of Free Talk Live a libertarian syndicated radio show / podcast that I’ve always considered a bit of a train wreck, unfortunately I don’t have time to sit around listening to train wrecks these days.
  
Someone had taken one of Lincoln’s quotes out of context and edited it.  It ran like this;

I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.

But that quote was a part of a larger speech; and even the partial quote is internally edited. I won’t reprint it all here, but it’s available at the National Parks Service website; Lincoln-Douglas Ottawa Debate.  The paragraph the partial quote comes from runs like this;

Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it, and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. [Laughter.] I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary, but I hold that, notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Loud cheers.] I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas he is not my equal in many respects-certainly not in color, perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowment. But in the right to eat the bread, without the leave of anybody else, which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every living man. [Great applause.]

As is shown in the pasted complete paragraph, the contextual relationship of offered quote changes the meaning of the quote, completely.  The anti-Lincoln types (and most critics of historical figures) rely on the average person’s lack of context for the words, so that the people they are trying to convert to their negative views will be outraged by the statements alone, and never look to see the bigger picture, let alone read a book or several of them on the subject, just to get a feel for the perspective in which this debate was held.  

Yes, he said those things; that blacks and whites were too different, that he had no intention of ending slavery in the South; and yet he worked to make these things so. Could it be that he was disseminating in order to put at ease those who would never have allowed negro equality before the law had they believed that it would lead to full equality? Maybe the naysayers, and those who would be persuaded by them, should study history with an eye for the real truths rather than parse it for statements that can be used to indict men whose actions have proven to be just in spite of their words.

The truth is, it was not Lincoln’s war. The South started the war because they could not abide the presence of Northern force on their territory. Had they not been ready and willing to exert force themselves, the tally would have come up differently.

Had the abolitionists admitted at the time that they were for black suffrage (let alone the ad absurdum of women’s suffrage) or any other form of political equality no progress towards ending slavery would have been achieved, and we would probably still have legally enforced ownership of people today.

Libertarians often talk about how “Lincoln ended black slavery, only to enslave all of us”.  The enslavement that libertarians like that suffer under is ideological in nature. They are enslaved to their own ideology more than they are enslaved to some external force. It forces them to denounce actions that conflict with their espoused beliefs, even when those actions can be shown to benefit all of us. The ending of legal slavery set up the possibility for average people to make a living being employed by another.

The question we should be asking today is not whether the actions of the first Republican President were just; but exactly how the last involuntary servitude, prison labor, is different from what was abolished in 1865? How are free men to compete with this, when the full cost of ‘maintaining’ this workforce is not present in the purchase price of the goods made with their labor? How are we to compete, as a labor force, against entire national populations that are kept almost as prisoners in their own countries? Why do we as a people not rise up and demand that the laws be changed? Will we spend precious time fighting over past ills, rather than prevent our own demise in the near future?

When you object and say we are all slaves, you offer the unstated observation that we should return to the preferable state of owning other people in order to save ourselves. When you trumpet the virtue of JW Booth, you place back-shooting conspiracy as a higher value than diplomacy and negotiation.

JW Booth did a disservice to the South with his bullet. Reconstruction under Lincoln would have looked nothing like it did at the hands of his inheritors.

I consider it the height of hubris to hold historical figures to modern standards as if they could be anything other than a product of their times. Such is human nature and the human condition. As goes Lincoln, so go we all, in a nutshell. Either we choose to participate in the world around us, or we withdraw and demand the world meet us on our terms. I don’t consider the latter to be much of a life.