Coronavirus and Free Speech

It appears that the Coronavirus is giving a lot of us extra time by self (so far) quarantining and encouraging limited public contact. Possibly as a result, I received a communication from Greg Lukianoff, the president and CEO of FIRE announcing that he is starting his own blog hosted at that organization’s website. The communication included an essay that is both timely and ongoing entitled “Coronavirus and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas.”

Here is an excerpt

For just over a hundred years, when we have talked about freedom of speech and the First Amendment, the dominant metaphor has been the “marketplace of ideas.” This metaphor was the brainchild of the eminently brainy Oliver Wendell Holmes in his “Great Dissent” in the 1919 Supreme Court case Abrams v. United States. Justice Holmes was late to appreciate the value of free speech, but became convinced of its value in no small part due to his Darwinist outlook on the world. He envisioned the marketplace of ideas as an arena in which “fit” ideas battle unfit ones for survival.
This metaphor is vivid, relatable, memorable … and wrong.

… the “marketplace” metaphor doesn’t really capture free speech’s most fundamental function:: Freedom of speech gives you a fighting chance to know the world as it really is.

Lukianoff’s explanation in its entirety is available here.

For those who have not heard of it, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known by its acronym, is an organization that promotes freedom of speech on college campuses, both for faculty and students. It was founded in 1998 by University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and criminal defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate (who wrote Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent). Kors and Silverglate together authored The Shadow University: the Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. That book exposed the pervasiveness of orthodoxy and “political correctness” at colleges and universities, where administrations squelched free expression of ideas through various speech codes, and some faculty members enforced dissent by threats of poor grades to students.

FIRE has fought restrictive speech codes, and the unconstitutional deprivation of freedom of speech rights at public universities by legal action, and at private institutions by exposing their failure to live up their professed academic freedom. The FIRE rates universities and colleges throughout the United States by assigning them color-coded ratings: red, yellow, and green, depending on their commitment or lack thereof to free speech and the restrictiveness of their speech code, if any. There is also a blue rating for institutions that affirmatively profess their values and goals are higher than any commitment to freedom of expression. Those include the service academies, for what appear to be obvious reasons. In Texas it is noteworthy that Baylor University in Waco, founded as and continues to be a religiously oriented institution, also has a blue rating.

The FIRE is non-partisan and non-ideological, except for its commitment to free speech expression, regardless of where the speaker sits on the political right-left. Kors and Silverglate came from different sides of the center, though not extreme, of that spectrum.

Martha and I have supported the FIRE with donations and intelligence for the past 20 years. Its website is https://www.thefire.org

 

 

The Beginning of the End

Today, March 8, 2020 marks 75th anniversary of the beginning of the end of World War II in the Pacific. That day in 1944 was four years and three months since Pearl Harbor had been attacked. It was also the day that 38 year old Major General Curtis LeMay ordered 346 B-29 bombers to drop incendiaries that burned down more than 16 square miles of Tokyo. The raid caused more casualties than the atomic bombs cause at either Hiroshima of Nagasaki.

Warren Kozak, author of a biography of LeMay, writes in today’s Wall Street Journal that

“If this sounds shocking to contemporary ears, consider the context. … the Japanese fought even more ferociously on Iwo Jima and later Okinawa. The war in the Pacific was turning into an out-of-control bloodbath. The only way to stop this mass death-and prevent a prolonged guerrilla war following the largest invasion in history-was to force the empire to surrender by destruction from the air.

“The U.S. would have to firebomb 64 Japanese cities, capped off by the two atomic bombs in August 1945, to end World War II. In the tragic calculus of war, it took the deaths of untold numbers of human beings to save the lives of even more. These are brutal realities few people today can imagine, let alone confront.”

Today, the United States has been fighting endless wars in the Middle East. There may be military ways to end this mayhem, but no leaders have had the will, mainly because of fear of political repercussions, partly real but mostly imagined. Witness the wailing and sniveling from certain quarters when the President orders the elimination of a terrorist mastermind – successfully, it might be added. (During the Pacific War, President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to kill Admiral Isoroko Yamamoto, the Pearl Harbor mastermind, which was greeted with general applause).

To paraphrase British Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, after Iwo Jima and Okinawa, all the cities of Japan and their inhabitants were not worth the life of an American soldier, sailor, or marine.

For those interested please see https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-u-s-won-world-war-ii-without-invading-japan-11583698141?mod=opinion_lead_pos10

A Country by any other Name. . .

Those who regularly read the Wall Street Journal are aware of the news item, usually beginning on the front page, that has an interesting story about some feature of life not necessarily breaking news.

The February 13, 2020 Journal, p. A1, describes a minor kerfuffle in Prague over naming of the country of which that city is the capital. Since the breakup of the former Czechoslovakia in 1993, the nation has been known as the Czech Republic. There have been recent efforts to change its official name to Czechia. After all, one of the proponents of the change observes, the nation of France is named just that, not “French Republic.” The president Milos Zeman is in favor of the change; the prime minister Andrej Babis (which under their form of government, has more actual power) wishes to continue calling it the Czech Republic. The United Nations has acquiesced to the president’s wish and has officially recognized the nation under the new name. The prime minister remains recalcitrant.

All of my maternal great-grandparents emigrated from the area around the Vltava (Moldau) upriver from Prague to United States in the mid-19th century. At the time, the area was known as Bohemia, which together with Moravia and Czech Silesia, constituted what was known as the Czech lands. The lands together were a province of the Austrian Empire (between 1866 and 1918, Austria-Hungary). Prague was, in fact, after Vienna, the second city of the Empire, and German and Czech co-existed as widely spoken languages. My grandmother always referred to herself and her family as Bohemian, and would often refer to “the old country,” although she was born in Ohio, and, to my knowledge had never been there, and was as fiercely patriotic an American as anybody.

Most Czechs continue to refer to their country as the Czech Republic, as do most foreigners, though many, particularly in America, continue to refer to it as “Czechoslovakia” to the annoyance of both Czechs and Slovaks who have had separate nations for nearly 30 years. Czechia, the English/Latinate version of Česko, appears to be a perfectly appropriate name. One objection is that it is too close phonetically to the Russian republic Chechnya, which, co-incidentally is officially the Chechen Republic.

Since so many of, at least here in America, descendants of emigrants, and, surely, some recent ones, refer to the old country as Bohemia, why not give the nation that name? Two problems. One, that is the German name for the former Austrian province. Unfortunately, the history of the former German/Austrian dominance where the Czech played second fiddle in their lands, and the more recent Nazi persecution of the ethnic Czechs leading up to and during World War II, are probably in the memory of the populace. As William Faulkner observed, the past is never dead. It’s not even past. Although one might reasonably wish it to be.

The second objection is that using Bohemia as the name for the entire nation could annoy the inhabitants of Moravia and Silesia, who are ethnically Czech, who speak the same language and all.

So which side will prevail? President Zeman’s Czechia, or Prime Minister Babis’ Czech Republic? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. For me, I’ve visited Prague twice. The first time when it was still under the old communist regime, the country was called the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, where scary looking border guards armed with AK-47s asked for my papers and scrutinized them carefully. The second time it was the Czech Republic, and a bored immigration officer at the airport stamped my passport with only a cursory glance. Perhaps the next time I go, if I do, it’ll be Czechia. It really matters not, it’s a beautiful and incredibly interesting country whatever the name.

Geezer or Whippersnapper

Well, now after the Iowa caucus in the New Hampshire primary the Democrats now have a geezer and a whippersnapper more or less tied as front runners for the nomination. Interesting dichotomy.

If Pete Buttigieg but were to be nominated and elected, he would be the youngest President ever. The closest rivals to that status were Theodore Roosevelt, 42, and John F. Kennedy, 43.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders would be the oldest (at the time of his inauguration) President ever at age 79. Either Joe Biden, 78, or Elizabeth Warren, 71 (ages at the time of inauguration in 2021) would be the oldest.  Note: Michael Bloomberg is also up there at 77. The incumbent, Donald Trump, currently holds that distinction. His closest rivals to that status were Ronald Reagan, 69, and William Henry Harrison, 68. Harrison, of course died within a month of his inauguration.

Both relative youth and age were once believed to be disqualifiers for office. The only constitutional qualifications for President are that one must be over 35, and a natural born citizen. During the 1960 election campaigns, a lot was made about Kennedy’s relative youth — he did not have enough experience to be a good President. That was found to be incorrect he did a pretty good job during the three years prior to his assassination. Theater Roosevelt also turned out to be an exceptionally effective chief executive.

While there is no constitutional constraint on an individual’s advanced age, there is a general perception that stamina and mental acuity diminish precipitously after the sixth decade of life. The incumbent, and the three potential septuagenarian challengers seem to belie that. It is true that of the two runners-up to oldest, one died shortly after taking office, and the other manifested Alzheimer’s disease after leaving office. Those may not be good examples because Harrison lived in a time when medicine was still primitive, and Alzheimer’s is a pathological condition not necessarily a consequence of aging.

At present, it looks likely that the Presidency will be in the hands of an individual who is the oldest or youngest occupant ever.

One aspect of this situation, not lost on everybody, is that there is a considerable generation gap between the ages. I do not buy most of the hype that is associated with the generation gap, at least the supposed differentiation that advertisers like to tout outside of nuclear or extended families. Nevertheless, individuals in the 45 to 70 year span of ages, appear to be left out of consideration for the Presidency. At least this time around.

May we live in interesting times.

Unserious and Provocative

When it comes to fanaticism and lunacy regarding climate change/global warming issues sometimes a little common sense has to be injected. No matter which side of the pond you’re on.

How do you respond when placard-waving students occupy your 15th-century quadrangle and refuse to leave until you sell the college’s shares in oil companies? As this is St. John’s College in Oxford, England, naturally you present them with a philosophical dilemma.

Students at St John’s College wrote to Andrew Parker, the principal bursar, last week requesting a meeting to discuss the protesters’ demands, which are that the college “declares a climate emergency and immediately divests from fossil fuels”. They say that the college, the richest in Oxford, has £8 million of its £551 million endowment fund invested in BP and Shell.

Professor Parker responded with a provocative offer. “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice,” he wrote. “But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.”

One of the students replied to Parker’s offer and accused him of not taking them seriously, and being “provocative.” Probably true as to not taking them seriously. How can you? As for provocative, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, who responded to the accusation she was “reactionary,” there is presently plenty to provoke regarding the anti-fossil fuels idiocy.

Fergus Green, who is studying for a master’s degree in physics and philosophy at Balliol College, also in Oxford, said: “It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.” Exactly. It is worth noting in this context that Automobiles, airplanes, and the only means of producing continuous and reliable electricity currently are defendant on petroleum. Not to mention all of the by-products derived from oil and gas.

(Aside: Ayn Rand stated in many of her works that philosophy and physics were the most important disciplines for anyone to study. Wonder if any of her wisdom will eventually rub off on young Mr. Green – nowadays trying to live up to his surname, perhaps?)

In this case, the students are calling on the investment managers to immediately sell all of their shares in BP and Shell. They are very much out of favor and there could be a lot of upside insofar as virtue-signaling goes. Energy stocks pay high dividends, however. I am personally aware of several portfolios that have prospered here in the U. S. I’m sure that’s true in the U. K. There are many reasons why an endowment fund manager might want to sell. But dumping a large stock to placate jejune students isn’t one of them — more akin to allowing the inmates to run the asylum.


Now, for Serious
Transition:  Bob Crane, the last surviving member of The Kingston Trio died last week at the age of 85.  Along with Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds, Shane’s group was a harbinger of the “folk music” genre that took over in popularity in the mid-1960s, and continues in some form today. Their breakout song Tom Dooley in 1958 was classified as Country & Western, because there was no folk category at the time. C&W might be the “real” American folk music, however, which makes the Ken Burns’ 10 hour PBS documentary Country Music worth watching.

Icy Travels to the Undiscovered Country

From whose bourne no traveler returns (except possibly one a couple of millennia ago).

Professor Gerry Beyer of the Texas Tech Law School edits a quarterly report of cases pertaining  to Real estate, probate, and trust law. He often come up with some — shall we say, strange — stories.

These two reminded me of a related one from one of my past lives.

Freeze Drying Is Not Just for Coffee Anymore You may remember the old Folgers coffee commercials where viewers heard a voice-over by Bryan Clark as he explained that they have secretly switched the coffee used at the restaurant with Folgers crystals and then caught the surprised patrons declaring that they could not tell the instant coffee from the real thing. Well, now the same process is being touted as a green body disposition method through a process called promession. The decedent’s body is frozen with liquid nitrogen and then vibrated into particles. These particles may then be used as fertilizer or as food for fish and birds. Add a little emerald dye and guess what you might get—Solyent Green! A bill may be drafted to allowing promession in Kansas as the state’s definition of cremation does not mandate the use of fire. See Edmund DeMarche, Kansas Considers ‘Greener’ New Way to Bury Its Dead, FOXNEWS (Dec. 2, 2019).

And Freezers Are Not Just for Food After Jeanne Sourone-Mathers died, they found her husband, Paul, in her freezer where he had taken up residence for over ten years after dying from what authorities think was a terminal illness. Included with Paul’s body was a letter that Paul signed and had notarized in 2008 stating that Jeanne did not kill him. No one reports seeing Paul alive since February 2009. The notary denies having any knowledge of the contents of Paul’s letter. It appears that Jeanne wanted to continue to receive Paul’s Social Security and veteran’s benefits after he died, and putting Paul on ice was a way of doing so to the tune of almost $200,000. To keep people from wondering why Paul was not around, Jeanne told people that her husband had left her. Clever plan, but definitely illegal! See Travis Fedschun, Utah Man Was in Freezer 10 Years before Discovery, Left Notarized Letter Behind, Police Say, FOXNEWS (Dec. 17, 2019).

And my story. When this blogger was a Dallas Police Officer in the 1970s, we received a call to an office/warehouse in the Brookhollow industrial district. it seems that the proprietor had divorced his wife — in what might have been his culture’s style — and put her body into a lateral freezer there. Gave a whole new meaning to “stiff” and “coffin freezer” — You can’t make up this stuff.  Don’t know the outcome of the case.

 

Transitions

Former New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen died this month at age 90. His career was unremarkable (W/L 81-91; ERA 3.78) except for one achievement: Larsen pitched a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Not one Dodger reached first base. Only 23 perfect games have been recorded in major league history, and there has been only one in a World Series. Larsen reportedly auctioned off his uniform worn in the game to help pay for his two grandsons’ education.

Singer-Songwriter Neil Diamond turned 79 this past week. He was known for his pop songs Solitary ManSweet CarolineI’m a BelieverShiloh, Holly Holy, and many others from the late ’60s and ’70s. Songs that are still played and covered today.

Shock-Jock Don Imus died last week. CBS and MSNBC fired him in 2007 for inappropriately mocking the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, not that such mockery was out of character. He found public figures or all persuasions to mock. But some are off-limits. Never listened to him myself.