Archive for the ‘history’ Category

New Jaworski Documents: The Watergate Trials Were Invalid

August 10th, 2013 No comments

Geoff Shepherd has a new Atlantic article, “The Watergate Cover-Up Trial: Justice Denied?” He has found hitherto unrevealed documents that show that the Watergate defendants were right when they charged that their judge, Judge Sirica, was holding illegal secret meetings with the prosecutors to plan legal strategy against them. In new trials they probably would have been convicted anyway, but if this had come out at the time, all of their convictions would have been voided and Prosecutor Jaworski and Judge Sirica disbarred. They would have had new trials, and probably would have been convicted anyway, but the Nixon stance that “The Democrats do illegal stuff too” would have been mightily supported. My comments to the author: Read more…

Categories: Comments, history, law. politics, Watergate Tags:

How To Deal with a Powerful Oppressor: Frederick Douglass’s Story of Nelly

August 6th, 2013 No comments

From Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855):

There is no doubt that Nelly felt herself superior, in some respects, to the slaves around her. She was a wife and a mother; her husband was a valued and favorite slave. Besides, he was one of the first hands on board of the sloop, and the sloop hands — since they had to represent the plantation abroad — were generally treated tenderly. The overseer never was allowed to whip Harry; why then should he be allowed to whip Harry’s wife? Thoughts of this kind, no doubt, influenced her; but, for whatever reason, she nobly resisted, and, unlike most of the slaves, seemed determined to make her whipping cost Mr. Sevier as much as possible. Read more…

Categories: game theory, history, quotations Tags:

Christmas, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus

December 11th, 2009 No comments

I’ve found another instance where consensus scholarship is heavily flawed. I’d always heard that Christmas Day was on December 25 because nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born and that is the date of pagan Roman festival that Christians wanted to supplant. Nope.

The big problem is that Saturnalia was December 17-23, the winter solstice is December 21, there was no traditional Roman holiday on December 25, and the evidence that Emperor Aurelian’s new quadrennial festival of Sol Invictus, first celebrated in 274, was on December 25 is weak, dating from 80 years later. From Wikipedia:

There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25th prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 (or calendar of Filocalus), has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28th, Ludi Solis (games for Sol) for October 19th-22nd, and a Natalis Invicti (birthday of the invincible one) on December 25th.

Thus, Christmas is not like Reformation Day, an October 31 celebration chosen to substitute for Halloween, or like Hannukah. If it were, it would have been chosen to be December 17 or December 21. I have often read that December 25 was chosen because it is clear by then that days are getting longer, after the shortest day on December 21. How idiotic. That argument could be used for any day between December 22 and June 21. It certainly is not the case that the ancients didn’t know that December 21 was the shortest day and had to wait a few days to make sure. Even the people at Stonehenge knew about the winter solstice. I suppose Aurelian chose December 25, if he did choose that date, so as to avoid conflicting with Saturnalia. It’s also possible he did choose December 25, and picked it *because it was a Christian holiday*. He was no friend of Christians, and heavily promoted sun worship. See this:

A. Mellinus writes, “Aurelian was a stern, cruel, and bloodthirsty Emperor by nature, and although at first he had a good opinion of the Christians, he nevertheless afterwards became averse to, and estranged from them: and having, undoubtedly, by some talebearers, been instigated against the Christians, he allowed himself to be seduced so far, as to raise the ninth general persecution of the Roman monarchy against them, which persecution .he, however, did not carry out. For at the very moment in which the decrees written against the Christians, were laid before him by his secretary, that he might sign them, and when he was about to take the pen in hand, the hand of God suddenly touched him, smiting his hand with lameness, and thus preventing him in his purpose, so that he could not sign them.” First book, fol. 87, col. 3; from hopisc. Victor. Eus., lib. 7. Post. Literal, Aug. de Civit. Dei., lib. 18, cap. 52. Oral.. lib. 7, cap. 16. Theodoret. Hilt., lib. 4, cap. 17.

To be sure, as is well described in “How December 25 Became Christmas”
by Andrew McGowan we have no good evidence on how December 25 was established as Christmas Day (or January 6 for the Greeks). He shows that it is much more plausible that December 25 and January 6 were chosen because they are 9 months after March 25 or April 6, the dates (for the two groups) of the Crucifixion. How people came to think that Jesus had to be conceived on the day he died remains unclear. But this seems to be what happened.

Categories: christmas, consensus, history, religion Tags:

Robert E. Sullivan’s Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power

December 7th, 2009 No comments

It sounds as if Harvard University Press has severely embarassed itself by publishing
Robert E. Sullivan’s Macaulay: The Tragedy of Power. See the WSJ review. It argues, quite convincingly that Prof. Sullivan of Notre Dame has no understanding whatsoever of Victorian times, seeing, for example, gushy language in letters to Macaulay’s sisters as evidence of incestuous desire rather than commonplace Victorian sentimentality. It sounds as if there must be a good story in how Harvard came to publish it.

Categories: history, publishing Tags:

John Dickinson

July 4th, 2009 No comments

On Founding Father John Dickinson, the only delegate not to sign the Declaration of Independance, from Wikipedia:

In 1777, Dickinson, Delaware’s wealthiest farmer and largest slaveholder, decided to free his slaves. While Kent County was not a large slave-holding area, like farther south in Virginia, and even though Dickinson had only 37 slaves, this was an action of some considerable courage. …

While there, in October 1781, Dickinson was elected to represent Kent County in the State Senate, and shortly afterwards the Delaware General Assembly elected him the President of Delaware. The General Assembly’s vote was nearly unanimous, the only dissenting vote having been cast by Dickinson himself….

On November 7, 1782 a joint ballot by the Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly elected him as president of the Council and thereby President of Pennsylvania. But he did not actually resign as State President of Delaware. Even though Pennsylvania and Delaware had shared the same governor until very recently, attitudes had changed, and many in Delaware were upset at seemingly being cast aside so readily, particularly after the Philadelphia newspapers began criticizing the state for allowing the practice of multiple and non resident office holding.

Categories: history Tags:

The Conservative American Revolution

July 3rd, 2009 No comments

I would argue that the American revolution was conservative। The Colony’s position was that they, like Englishmen in England, were entitled by Magna Charta to not being taxed by the king without approval by their elected representatives।

They added that approval by Parliament, elected by people in England and Scotland, didn’t count। The Glorious Revolution had established that if the King tried to subvert the government, he could legitimately be overthrown. (Some– especially New Englanders– would say that the English Civil War had already established that. Others might point to such examples as Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, and Richard III as what happened to kings regarded universally as bad.)

So the Colonies would have been content with the status quo of 1750। The innovation of a Federal Government, a navy, and an army were just the unfortunate consequences of having to ditch an irresponsible King (remember that formally the British army and navy and colonies were under the authority of the King and his Government, not Parliament)। And then it was necessary to restrain the Federal Government with a Bill of Rights।

Thus, the legal position of the American Revolution, from the American side, was not secession from England, or revolution, but replacement of the monarch by a new central executive.


Thomas Paine was far from mainstream. The conventional view in both Britain and America was that the King could impose taxes without the consent of the legislature, and if he did, he should be resisted with violence. English tories may have claimed they supported absolute obedience, but in 1688 they didn’t offer any help to King James and were clearly happy with his overthrow.

The Americans said that the appropriate legislature was the colonial legislatures; the British (including Blackstone, I think) said that the appropriate legislature was Parliament.

Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps everyone (I’ve just been reading Jefferson) made the parallel with England and Scotland in 1700, two nations with two legislatures and a common king. That was very common in Europe– a king would often hold several titles simultaneously, like a businessman who was president of several companies. Thus, while the King was the executive of the Colonies, Parliament was not the legislature. For it to become the legislature would take something like the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland, a merger of legislatures approved by both sides. The Colonies would not have approved such a merger without big concessions on trade rules (as I recall, free trade with England and han proportional representation were inducements for Scotland to merge).

The Declaration is a conservative document. It says a lot about government being for the good of the people, but that is conventional Lockean Whiggism, not revolutionary sentiment. It has no objections whatsoever to the old government system. Rather, it objects to innovations introduced by George III. There were those in Congress who also objected to the restrictive trade laws that existed even before George III, but the Declaration omits those as grievances. Instead, the argument is that rule by a law-abiding king is unobjectionable, but that the present king is, with the acquiescence of Parliament, attempting to become a tyrant over the Colonies, and has thereby forfeited his authority. Indeed, “He has abdicated Government here,” the same argument applied to the flight of James II in 1688. The Crown being vacant, the Colonies could have chosen a different king– Frederick the Great, for example– but instead they chose to become a republic. (Recall that the Calvinist Netherlands offered their throne to Queen Elizabeth of England during their revolt from Philip II, who tried to conquer them with troops from his bigger kingdom, Spain. She turned it down, and they decided to become a republic instead.)

To see this, look at the Declaration. It is mostly about the bad innovations of George III, and makes no objection to the legitimacy of the pre-1763 link with Britain.

When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. … The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, …

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us….

A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.

Categories: history, political philosophy Tags:

Wilson, Harding, and How to Use Deep Pockets to Look Like a Financial Genius

June 27th, 2009 No comments

Scott Sumner has a good blog entry on two subjects:

1. Why Wilson was a rotten President and Harding was a good one.

2. How to have a 99% chance of seeming to be a financial genius like Keynes. The secret is to do double-or-nothing trades for long enough, and to have deep pockets. The 1% chance is that you lose everything, though.

Categories: finance, harding, history, wilson Tags:

Blacks and the Right to Vote

March 2nd, 2009 No comments

Via Prof. Rapaport at Right Coast, I find that Missouri
Senator Henderson said during the 14th Amendment debates:

It is only where political power is in the hands of a favored few that oppression can be practiced. It is only where oppression exists that the agents of a superior power are needed for protection. Give the negro the ballot and he will take care of himself because his interest requires it. Give him a bureau agent and he will sometimes be plundered, because his interest and the interest of the agent may differ.

Categories: civil rights, history, politics, race, voting Tags:

Reagan: A Major Supporter of Both Abortion and Homosexuality

February 26th, 2009 2 comments

It’s well known that Ronald Reagan as governor of California signed a bill legalizing abortion that was the biggest action increasing abortion before Roe v. Wade. It turns out he was also pro-homomsexual, going out of his way to help defeat a ballot proposition that would have explicitly made it legal to fire schoolteachers for being homosexual. See this pro=Reagan American Spectator article.

Categories: conservatism, history, homosexuality, Reagan Tags:

Murder and Medicine

February 23rd, 2009 No comments

Comparing murder rates across 50-year times periods is misleading,
this blog post tells us:

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman pointed out in his book On Killing, the
aggravated assault rate serves as a close proxy statistic for
attempted murders. And the aggravated assault rate has increased
dramatically since the 1950s even if the murder rate has not.
Criminologist Anthony Harris estimates today’s homicide rate would
triple if medical and rescue technologies had not improved since the

Grossman was kind enough to email me an excerpt from his new book On
Combat when I asked him for more detailed source citations for his
writing on this topic. He argues that in comparing today’s homicide
rate with the 1930s and before we ought to multiple today’s rate by
ten for a true comparison:

Since 1957, the U.S. per capita aggravated assault rate (which is,
essentially, the rate of attempted murder) has gone up nearly five-
fold, while the per capita murder rate has less than doubled. The
reason for this disparity is the vast progress in medical technology
since 1957, to include everything from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,
to the national 911 emergency telephone system, to medical technology
advances. Otherwise, murder would be going up at the same rate as
attempted murder.

In 2002, Anthony Harris and a team of scholars from the University
of Massachusetts and Harvard, published a landmark study in the
journal, Homicide Studies, which concluded that medical technology
advances since 1970 have prevented approximately three out of four
murders. That is, if we had 1970s level medical technology, the murder
rate would be three or four times higher than it is today.

Furthermore, it has been noted that a hypothetical wound that nine
out of ten times would have killed a soldier in World War II, would
have been survived nine out of ten times by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam.
This is due to the great leaps in battlefield evacuation and medical
care technology between 1940 and 1970–and we have made even greater
progress in the years since. Thus, it is probably a conservative
statement to say that if today we had 1930s level evacuation
notification and medical technology (no automobiles and telephones for
most people, and no antibiotics), then we would have ten times the
murder rate we currently do. That is, attempts to inflict bodily harm
upon one another would result in death ten times more often.

Categories: crime, history, research, statistics Tags:

Whigs and Tories, Tradition and Progress

February 19th, 2009 No comments

Reading Prof. Henry Smith’s “Community and Custom in Property” working
paper I thought of some different ways of thinking about tradition and
progress. This was shortly after I was grousing yet again about how
badly designed car radios are nowadays compared to the past. With
digital tuning, we don’t have the quick and easy controls of analog
tuning, where the dial was round and quick and the pretuned buttons
stuck out so you could punch them without taking your eyes off the
wheel. I consoled myself with the idea that after 20 years or so the
engineers would figure this out. That made me realize that progress is
just the establishment of tradition– which takes time. Starting from
zero– as one does after an innovation— it takes time to build up a
tradition. Till you have the tradition built up, change is desirable.
Once you have the tradition, it’s time to stop making changes unless
some radically new and good innovation is found. But a fondness for
tradition and a belief in progress are not incompatible.

The four parties of Victorian Britain illustrate different
combinations of liking for tradition and for progress.

The Tories— the mainstream Conservatives— favored no change. They
admired the old and disliked the new.

The Whigs— the mainstream Liberals— favored gradual change. They
were neutral on the old and the new. They liked both tradition and

The Radicals— the left Liberals— favored big changes. They hated
the old and loved the new.

The Tory Democracy— the “Fourth Party” of Randolph Churchill—
favored big changes. They admired the old, but rather liked the new
too, as supportive of the old. Bismarck would perhaps be in this
category. (They were actually not called the 4th party because of my
categories here, but because the Conservatives, Liberals, and Irish
Nationalists were three parties and Churchill and friends were rather
like Newt Gingrich and the young House Republicans, wanting to be
much more barbed and inconvenient with the ruling Liberals than their
senior party members thought proper.)

I’m a Whig myself. In England, they went over to the Tory PM
Salisbury, if I remember correctly, after Gladstone allied the
Liberals with the Irish Nationalists, and the Whigs were absorbed into
the Conservative Party. Hayek liked to call himself a Whig too.

Robert Taft: A Yale Man, Not a Common Man

February 11th, 2009 No comments

NewMajority has a great story about Robert Taft:

Bill Buckley liked to tell a story about one of Taft’s reelection campaigns, when the Senator’s wife was asked at a rally whether her husband was a common man. “Oh no,” she retorted, “he is not that at all. He was first in his class at Yale and first in his class at Harvard Law School. I think it would be wrong to present a common man as a representative of the people of Ohio.” The political professionals blanched, but the crowd gave the Tafts a standing ovation.

It’s interesting that Taft *was* a man of his times– or a politician– supporting things such as the minimum wage:

Taft was not the uncompromising scourge of liberalism that many of his followers imagined…. He supported government-funded old age pensions, medical care for the indigent, an income floor for the deserving poor, unemployment insurance, and an increased minimum wage. Because he believed that a home was necessary for a decent family life, and because the free market was not supplying low-cost housing, he advocated urban slum clearance and public housing. Because he believed that all children deserved an equal start in life, he reversed his earlier position and called for federal aid to education.… As his brother Charles recalled in 1966, Taft was “an innovator of the first class in a number of welfare fields, going beyond what the Democrats had the courage to talk about in those days.”

Don’t take that last paragraph as complimentary.

Keynesian Stimulus and World War II

January 28th, 2009 1 comment

Professor Barro had a good WSJ op-ed recently on the historical evidence for the USA for fiscal policy. WW2 is the big example– maybe the only example of where people say it had an effect. He doesn’t think much of that as evidence. If WW2 is not a good example, then maybe there aren’t *any* good examples of the Keynesian effect.

Data from the Ec. Rep. of the President is at . The Deficit/GDP ratio rose to 5.9% in 1934 (first year of the data there), to 30.3% in 1943, to 4.2% in 1976, to 6% in 1983, to 4.7% in 1992, to 3.6% in 2004, and was estimated at 2.7% for 2008 (I suppose this estimate is from January 2008).

A stimulus extra of $400 billion per year would add about 2.9% to the budget deficit for 2009. That would take it up to 2.7+2.9= 5.6% if we use the pre-recession estimate of tax intake and GDP for 2009. We’d reach the 1934 and 1983 levels of budget deficit. Is that enough to take us out of a recession? I’d always heard that the New Deal spending was *not* enough to have much of a Keynesian effect. In that case, the best the stimulus package could hope for would be to mildly helpful– it’s not big enough to get us out of a recession.

But was the WW2 spending helpful? It was certainly big enough–30% of GDP in 1943.
I thought I’d look at the WW2 experience in a very simple way. The first diagram shows the unemployment rate from 1923 to 1940. What would you expect to happen in the 1940s?

Here’s what it looks like to me. The normal unemployment rate is around 4%. If the 1938 recession (was that the “Capital Strike”?) hadn’t hit, it would have been reached in 1939. WIthout WW2 it would have been reached in 1944.

Here’s what actually happened:

It is worth mentioning that there was a massive government jobs program in the 1930’s, which affected unemployment. Below I graph both the civilian unemployment rate that I used above and an adjusted, higher, rate which is (Unemployed people + people in emergency govt. jobs)/(labor force). The picture is similar.

Mark Wieczorek has a graph of the Deficit/GDP ratio 1940-2007:


  • Cowen:
    Did World War II end the Great Depression?

  • Paul Krugman,January 23, 2009,
    Spending in wartime

  • Cowen on Barro and Krugman
  • Rasmusen on World War II as a test of Keynesian stimulus and Robert Barro.
  • Mark Wieczorek,
    The National Budget, Debt & Deficit . Graphs and numbers.

  • Categories: Economics, history, Keynes, recession Tags:

    Bush’s Average Approval Ratings Compared to Previous Presidents

    January 14th, 2009 No comments

    I just discovered something remarkable about George Bush’s approval ratings. The conventional wisdom is that in his second term he has been about the most unpopular president ever (less often mentioned is that in his first term he was about the most popular president ever!). That’s true. The usual implications are that he’s been a failure and would not be re-elected.

    Neither implication follows. The key is to realize that approval ratings are based on the opinions of not only the President’s own party, but on the opposition. Thus, a president who gets 51% of the vote could be completely successful in getting all his policies carried out and enjoy high support from his supporters, but end up with a very low approval rating by having extremely low popularity with the 49% who voted against him. In fact, it isn’t even voters– the best informed and smartest citizens– who are polled about presidential approval. Thus, years of disparaging remarks by TV people, who are those 49%, will especially hurt approval ratings.

    How does this apply to George Bush? Gallup has the George Bush data in useful form, with comparisons of overall ratings to other presidents. His December 12-14, 2008 approval ratings is 29%, worse even than Truman’s December 1952 32% and much worse than the 51% average for the 31st quarter of two-term president’s since FDR.

    But now look at his approval ratings with Republicans and Democrats separately. In December 12-14 2008 Bush had an approval ratings of 67% from his own party, 25% from unaffiliated citizens, and just 7% from the opposition party. Hence the average of 29%. (Numbers are from here.) His lowest ratings from Republicans were in October 3-5 2008, when the ratings were 55-19-5. His lowest ratings from Democrats were in three other polls in September and October 2008, when he fell to amazing 3%.

    If we look just at approval from the president’s own party, how does Bush stack up against previous presidents? Jeffrey M. Jones has a good Gallup article on the subject. It turns out that Bush does worse than Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan; about the same as Clinton, George HW Bush, and Ford; and better than Johnson, Carter, and Nixon. Carter did the worst, with only a 34% approval rating from his own party in 1979. Carter, however, did much better among Republicans than Bush does with Democrats.

    While discouraging for Bush, his 60% approval rating among his natural political base is similar to the low points for several recent presidents, including Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford. Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy never had very low overall approval ratings, so even their lowest ratings among their own party were still quite high (above 70%). While Ronald Reagan’s job approval rating among all Americans did fall as low as 35% overall, Republicans’ approval of him never fell below 67%.

    Carter is the president with the dubious distinction of having the lowest job approval rating from his own party since 1953, when Gallup began to compile presidential approval ratings by party affiliation.[1] Only 34% of Democrats approved of Carter in a pair of 1979 Gallup Polls. Carter’s overall ratings at that time were similar to Bush’s current overall ratings, but his ratings were not nearly as polarized along party lines as Bush’s are: He did much better among Republicans than Bush is doing now among Democrats, while doing slightly better among independents than Bush is currently doing.

    Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon also had troubled presidencies and are the only other presidents whose approval among their party’s supporters fell below 50%.

    One possible conclusion is that Bush’s overall popularity rating is so low precisely because he has been so effective that he has enraged the opposition more than any president in living memory. Nobody really believes that, though. Rather, he has had moderate success, but his personality and style have generated Bush Hating that has an almost psychotic quality to it, and that hatred’s strength among even the influential opposition leaders have carried their followers along with it.

    Categories: Bush, elections, history, polls, presidents Tags:

    Novak Wisdom

    November 22nd, 2008 No comments

    From an interview with Robert Novak (via Advance Indiana) comes a lot of interesting things. This is important to history.

    The most interesting Republicans right now are a few young House members. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is the best of them. Also Jeff Flake of Arizona and Jeb Hensarling of Texas. They are known in the House as right-wingers. I would describe them as reformers. They think there’s been too much corruption and waste. They are supply-siders. They are very upset with earmarks and very, very upset with the passive leadership we have today….

    Q: You’ve had some unparalleled sources. How does one go about cultivating them?

    A: What I’m going to say may come as a shock, because I’m not a terribly likable person, but you gotta get a source to like you. There’s very little that I or any other journalist can really do for a politician. A favorable column is not all that much, so there’s not much payback. It’s gotta be “I want to help Novak because I like him.” That may sound naive, but it’s true.

    Senator Pat Moynihan was one of my great sources. I don’t believe he said, “Boy, if Novak writes this column, I’m going to really be in much better shape.” He thought I was an interesting guy and had interesting ideas, and he liked to talk about things with me. …

    I was just a Midwestern country boy when I came here. Rowly (Evans) was an elite Philadelphian. I didn’t realize how much a lunch was part of the whole source/reporter equation. Rowly learned that from Joseph and Stewart Alsop. If Rowly didn’t have a meal with a source, it was a bad day. Quite often he would have two sources for the same meal, usually breakfast….

    Q: In your memoir, you describe an early meeting in the Oval Office with Reagan in which he quoted a couple of obscure 19th-century British free-trade advocates and some little-known modern Austrian economists. How underrated intellectually do you think Reagan was?

    A: He was extremely underrated, particularly by the press. The press was very derisive. They were derisive of Eisenhower, too — they thought he was just another Army officer — but the attacks on Reagan were harsher. He was portrayed as stupid, uneducated, out of his element. I think he was very well educated and understood a lot of things. He was also very flexible in his policies — too flexible for my taste.

    Q: How do you feel about Dick Cheney?

    A: I think he’s the most forceful, effective vice president in history.

    I like some of the things he’s done. I think he was instrumental in getting the tax cuts through, which I approve of. I’m at odds with his aggressive military policy, but he’s put a new dimension on the vice presidency that I don’t think will be continued and maybe shouldn’t be continued. …

    I think Dean Rusk, for example, was totally the president’s man. Colin Powell leaned heavily the other way, maybe too much, trying to protect the Foreign Service….

    Q: Who do you think were the best legislators?

    A: Legislators are funny. One of the best-equipped legislators was Wilbur Mills, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He really knew trade, taxes — he really knew the field. He was very smart and came across as a shrewd bargainer. But he never got anything done.

    A more recent chair of the Ways and Means committee was Bill Thomas, who was considered by his colleagues to be the smartest guy in town. I think Bill considered himself the smartest guy in the world. But he was very meager in terms of accomplishments. It’s hard to get things passed.

    If you go by accomplishments, the best was Lyndon Johnson. There’s not even a close second in terms of getting bills passed. The reason: He was a trader, and he never took no for an answer. He could bargain into the night. …

    Q: What about Newt Gingrich?

    A: I thought he was a failure as speaker and a great success as a political manager in getting a Republican majority in the House….

    Q: What’s the most helpful thing someone can say to a person who’s gravely ill?

    A: There’s not much you can say. A lot of people say: “You’re a tough guy and a fighter. You’re gonna beat this.” Well, I don’t know if I will beat it. Being tough and a fighter have nothing to do with it. I guess the most helpful thing they can say, if they’re a man or woman of faith, is to tell me they’re praying for me.

    Categories: government, history, politics Tags:

    Edmund Campion

    July 25th, 2008 No comments

    Edmund Campion is an Oxford Roman Catholic who fled England to become a Jesuit in the 1500’s and returned as an illegal priest. He was caught, debated by Protestant scholars in the Tower of London, and executed for treason.

    He claimed that he was on a merely religious mission, not political, but he was executed not for heresy but for treason. Questions of religion and politics were mixed because the Pope had some years earlier deposed Queen Elizabeth and forbade any Englishmen to obey her on pain of excommunication. A good article on the topic is:
    Papists, and the “Public Sphere” in Early Modern England: The Edmund Campion Affair in Context, Peter Lake and Michael Questier, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 72, No. 3, (Sep., 2000), pp. 587-627 .

    The Pope’s 1570 bull Regnans in Excelsis said:

    Therefore, resting upon the authority of Him whose pleasure it was to place us (though unequal to such a burden) upon this supreme justice- seat, we do out of the fullness of our apostolic power declare the foresaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ.

    IV. And moreover (we declare) her to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and of all lordship, dignity and privilege whatsoever…

    V. And also (declare) the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who have in any way sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordshop. fealty and obedience; and we do, by authority of these presents , so absolve them and so deprive the same Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown and all other the abovesaid matters. We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.

    Thus, anyone who was a Roman Catholic and who believed in the authority of the Pope had to, as a matter of religious belief, refuse to obey the English government. Edmund Campion, as a Jesuit, took a special vow of obedience to the Pope. Thus, insofar as he followed his religion, he was a traitor to England– or, if you like, a traitor to Parliament and Queen Elizabeth, if loyal to Queen Mary Stuart. Further, the Bull implies that any Roman Catholic should use all efforts to obey the legitimate ruler– Mary Stuart– which meant to depose the pretended ruler, Elizabeth.

    In such circumstances it does not seem unreasonable to me to make it illegal for priests to enter England, or that being a priest loyal to Rome would be prima facie evidence of treason.

    See also “Campion’s Brag,”) his challenge to debate.

    Categories: history, religion Tags:

    July 25th, 2008 No comments

    Wikipedia’s “French Nobility” is a good article. I looked it up in an attempt to understand Proust (and other French novels) better. Here are some things I learned.

    Other activities could cause dérogeance, or loss of one’s nobility. So were most commercial and manual activities strictly prohibited, although nobles could profit from their lands through mines and forges.

    Thus, being a noble had some severe disadvantages.

    Other than in isolated cases, serfdom ceased to exist in France by the 15th century….

    That sounds like England.

    Figures differ on the actual number of nobles in France at the end of the 18th century. For the year 1789, the French historian François Bluche gives a figure of 140,000 nobles (9,000 noble families) and claims that around 5% of nobles claimed descent from feudal nobility before the 15th century.[1]

    With a total population of 28 million, this would represent merely 0.5%. The historian Gordon Wright gives a figure of 300,000 nobles (of which 80,000 were from the traditional noblesse d’épée),[2] which agrees with the estimation of the historian Jean de Viguerie,[3] or a little over 1% (proportionally one of smallest noble classes in Europe)….

    So little of the nobility actually were descended from the medieval nobility! This, too, doesn’t sound so different from England. Maybe the War of the Roses didn’t really destroy the ancient English nobility. It seems France was as open, or more open, than England to admitting non-nobles into the nobility. See the next excerpt:

    From 1275

    to 1578, non-nobles could acquire titles of nobility after three generations by buying lands or castles that had noble privileges attached to them, that is to say that these fiefs had formerly belonged to a noble lord or the king and had been given in feudal homage. Non-nobles could not possess noble fiefs without paying a special tax on them (the franc-fief) to their liege-holder.

    In the 16th century, families could acquire nobility by possessing certain important official or military charges, generally after two generations.

    Many titles of nobility were usurped by non-nobles in the Renaissance and early 17th century by purchasing fiefs and by living nobly, i.e. by avoiding commercial and manual activity and by finding some way to be exempted from the official taille lists. In this way, the family would slowly come to be seen as noble….

    The noblesse de lettres became, starting in the reign of Francis I of France, a handy method for the court to raise revenues; non-nobles possessing noble fiefs would pay a year’s worth of revenues from their fiefs to gain nobility. In 1598, Henry IV of France undid a number of these anoblissments, but eventually saw the necessity of the practice.

    The last excerpt, below, is useful for interpreting names:

    The use of de in noble names (Fr: la particule) was not officially controlled in France (unlike von in the German states), and is not reliable evidence of the bearer’s nobility. A simple tailor could be named Marc de Lyon, as a sign of his birth place. In the 19th century, the de was mistakenly adopted by some non-nobles (like Honoré de Balzac) in an attempt to appear noble….

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    What if Britain Hadn’t Fought in 1939?

    April 23rd, 2008 No comments

    It’s interesting to think about the counterfactual of what would have happened in Europe if Britain had decided not to defend Poland. France would probably have followed Britain’s lead, as she did after Munich in 1938. There would have been no need for a Hitler-Stalin Pact, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Germany would have conquered Poland easily in 1939. In 1940, Russia would not have dared to absorb the Baltic republics and Bessarabia, and would not have had the part of Poland it conquered in actual history. Germany could have attacked then instead of 1941, and without fiddling around in the Balkans first. The Russian army would have been one year less far away from Stalin’s purge of most of its generals in the 30s. Presumably Germany would have done even better than it did in 1941. Britain, France, and the US would not have aided Russia– it would be hard to defend helping Stalin when they weren’t fighting a common war with him. Japan was engaged in tank battles with Russia in real history in 1940, and with the best Russian troops sent to fight Hitler in my alternative history, the Japanese would have attacked vigorously. This Northern strategy would clearly have dominated going South to Indochina, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies, so there’d be no reason for America to get involved. If Russia didn’t lose in 1940, it would lose in 1941.

    What next? Hitler might have settled down to organizing the Slavs for a few years, or he might have gone straight to conquering France and the Balkans. He couldn’t have beaten the Royal Navy and Air Force in 1940 or 1941, but he could have by, say, 1950. Whether he’d want to is not entirely clear, but I think he’d like the idea of world domination. He might have tolerated an independent Britain if it refrained from electing a Labor government.

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    King Offa’s Border Policy

    October 12th, 2007 1 comment

    I was reading about the border policies of King Offa, the Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia. He made no attempt to conquer Wales. Instead, he built Offa’s Dyke, a boundary-marking ridge, and every few years he raided Wales. (Click here to read