Inmates and Snowflakes

The Dallas Morning News (Saturday, November 9, 2019  and other media reported the resignation of an assistant general counsel for the University of North Texas.

“During a university-sponsored event on Thursday at the University of North Texas, the event’s speaker — UNT assistant general counsel Caitlin Sewell — used a racial epithet while discussing the limits of free speech on campus.

“Following a storm of controversy, Sewell submitted her resignation Friday morning, UNT system chancellor Lesa Roe and president Neal Smatresk said in a statement.

“At the event, titled “When Hate Comes to Campus,” Sewell said the following during her presentation:

“‘You know, you can say a lot of offensive things in here because it’s impossible to talk about the First Amendment without saying horrible things. Um, you know, ‘You’re just a dumb n—– and I hate you.’ That alone, that’s protected speech.’”

“Sewell’s use of the epithet sparked a firestorm….”

The article further quotes UNT President Neal Smatresk saying that “Sewell’s comment was ‘not reflective of the values of our university community.’”

“Student backlash prompts resignation” is yet another example of allowing inmates to run the asylum. Putting that aside, UNT is better off without Caitlin Sewell as assistant general counsel. I would not want anyone so pusillanimous to be my lawyer. Evidently she has not been in the real practice of law to have grown a thick enough skin. If Sewell had any mettle, and really believes in freedom of expression, she would have not apologized for using the so-called N-word merely as an illustration — not as a epithet. She should have refused to resign, and dared UNT to fire her. (I know an organization known as The FIRE who would back her.) For that matter, UNT’s president and chancellor should follow her. Their attitude fosters the snowflake atmosphere on campus.

The proscription of a word for use in any context is stupid and silly, and is reflective of a totalitarian mentality. That is what George Orwell was getting at in his Nineteen Eighty-Four. Better to turn it around to your advantage as gay persons have done with the Q-word. In the 1960s, black comedian Dick Gregory wrote a book which he titled “n*****” and dedicated it to his mother writing “Dear Mom, next time you hear that word, you’ll know they’re advertising my book.” Probably will not happen in the brave new world of coddled campuses.

I wonder if UNT, which I attended as a graduate student in the 1970s, is banning Huckleberry Finn, Gone with the Wind, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

See https://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/2019/11/08/staff-attorney-uses-n-word-as-example-during-free-speech-event-sparking-controversy-at-university-of-north-texas/)

The Wall Tumbled Down (follow up)

 

This weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal features articles on the November 9, 1989 events in its “Review” section. (Print edition or See https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-ordinary-people-who-brought-down-the-berlin-wall-11573228405 ) The WSJ online is available to non-subscribers this weekend.

There is also an article on the difficulty a former VOPO had in integrating into the western culture, and one dispelling the myth that President Kennedy made a mistake in grammar with his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. I asked my German instructor decades ago about that, and she informed me that including the “ein” (trans. “a” — indefinite article) would NOT have changed the meaning to a jelly doughnut. This writer does a better job than I could explaining.

 

The Fall of the Wall

 

November 9, 1989 marked the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the oxymoronic titled German Democratic Republic, popularly known as East Germany. The strongly fortified border between the two German states, and East and West Berlin had been in place since August 1961, a little more than 28 years. Strange as it may seem for those of us who remember the days of the Cold War and the division of Europe into hostile camps post-World War II, the Wall has been gone longer than it existed.

A border between the German states, and the Eastern and Western halves of Berlin, existed since the war ended. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, the four principal victors, United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union divided the former adversary into four zones of occupation. The capital, Berlin, was occupied in four sectors, supposedly administered by a joint authority. Berlin, however, was situated roughly in the center of the Soviet zone of occupation, 110 miles from the West. Even though the defeated Germany was supposed to be administered as a unit, the Soviets and the Western powers soon had a falling out. Josef Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, wished to extend communist rule, and particularly into Germany, which though defeated, still had some of the greatest potential for future economic success in Europe. Stalin’s armies had already occupied most of Eastern Europe and converted those countries into Soviet satellites. As Winston Churchill put it in 1946, an Iron Curtain had descended across Europe from the Baltic Sea south to the Adriatic (Yugoslavia, although nominally communist, never really was a Soviet client). The Soviet zone, which later became the German Democratic Republic, nominally sovereign, was included behind Churchill’s Curtain. Berlin, a Western island in the communist bloc, guarded by U.S. and British military, was a potential flash-point.

The western sectors in Berlin, after the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany (West), though formally under the administration of the occupiers, were unified with a local government elected by Berliners for most functions. Travel by the inhabitants among them was uninhibited. Travel between the western sectors and the Soviet sector was somewhat restricted, but many easterners commuted to work in the western sectors and vice-versa.

That changed in 1961. The East throughout the 1950s had experienced considerable emigration of its inhabitants to the west. Because of the border, which had become increasingly fortified, it was easier to escape the East by traveling to Berlin and then leaving the Soviet sector, ostensible to work in the Western ones. Both East German communists and their Soviet masters feared a serious “brain drain” as well as the negative propaganda. Thus, in August 1961 the East German government headed by Walter Ulbricht, decided to seal off the eastern sector by building the Wall.

My first visit to Berlin was with a long time friend in August 1966, the summer between our junior and senior years in college. Traveling there by train was possible, but a transit visa was required, and the East German border police, known as the Volkspolizei (VOPOs) strictly scrutinized our papers during stops outside the West German border and Berlin. The Wall had been in place for five years, and the leaders of East Germany were celebrating that event. As citizens of a still officially occupying power, my companion and I were privileged to enter the East, while Germans, whether citizens of East or West, were prohibited from traveling between the two parts of Berlin. We had to purchase one-day visas, and exchange five West German marks, a hard currency, for five East German marks. Hardly a fair market exchange rate. We spent those marks on lunch, which I recall was not the tastiest meal I have ever had. The contrast between the sections of the city was dramatic. Much of the war damage in the East had not been repaired, and everything seemed dreary. Shelves in food stores seemed to be under-stocked. The people generally looked upon the two obvious Westerners, with suspicion, and even fear. West Berlin, on the other hand was a lively upbeat place where most of the war damage had been repaired or newly constructed, the shops were full of consumer merchandise and abundant groceries, and the restaurant food was very good, substantial German cuisine.

When leaving the East, as a rather brash college student I might have displayed somewhat of an attitude toward the VOPO, and was subject to some extra scrutiny. But I made it out, relieved to get back to the West.

Years later, in 1983, my brother and I traveled from Prague through East Berlin to the West.  We were similarly obliged to obtain transit visas upon entering East Germany from what was then Czechoslovakia. The scary looking VOPOs with their AK-47s displayed somewhat of an attitude themselves when they discovered the we shared a surname with the then U.S. President who really had an attitude toward the Soviet bloc. Upon arriving in Berlin shortly before midnight, we had about 30 minutes to find a checkpoint to get out to the West before our visas expired. The East Germans separated us briefly, and that was disconcerting. But, as it happened, we made it out, and had a great time in the West.

My next experience with Germany was in 1989. During the country’s division, the West German railroad between Nuremburg and Hannover skirted the Eastern border at several points. The barbed wire and watchtowers on the border were visible from the train. When traveling solo on a train in January 1989, I noticed the barrier wondered if the Wall and border would ever fall and Germany would be re-united.

As it turned out, we only had to wait about ten months. Tensions had been building up in the Soviet sphere for some time, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR leader, realized that the cost of maintaining the Eastern European empire was too great. September and October of that year saw increasing unrest in Eastern Europe with hundreds of East Germans traveling to other Eastern Bloc countries to escape to the West. On November 9, the television news showed scores of people standing on top of the Wall, and within days it was permanently breached. In less than a year, the entire border was gone and Germany was unified. Within yet another year, the Soviet Union itself imploded and the tricolor Russian flag replaced the hammer and sickle over the Moscow Kremlin.
Berlin has been transformed as a unified city. My last trip to that city was in 1995. I saw the east was considerably improved, and development was everywhere. When we walked through the Brandenburg Gate, Martha asked me where the Wall had been, and I noted that she was standing on the very site. At least then and there, all traces had been obliterated.

Haven’t been back to Berlin, but I managed to visit Dresden in the East in 2010. As one can imagine, the atmosphere is totally different – no scary VOPOs asking for papers. Not even a checkpoint. A number of news sources have reported and commented that those in the former East German provinces are not sharing as much in the general prosperity. Even though Angela Merkel, the current German Chancellor, is an “Ostie” as easterners are called, it’s reported that some snobbery by the westerners exists. That probably is to be expected, after two generations living trapped under communism, they probably cannot be integrated into the free-market and democratic Western culture completely. Those born since the Wall fell, however, are just now coming into the age of full civic participation. They will work it out.

Welcome R2D2 & C3PO

While the robot characters R2D2 and C3PO were good guys in the Star Wars films, we can recall that robots were featured in movies and early television science fiction almost always as evil and villainous. Real life robots, which recently have seen increased use in manufacturing and service industries to perform various repetitive tasks may be resuming their villainous role.

Currently, many are fearful that these robots are causing many well-paying, and maybe some not so, jobs to go away.   This fear is nothing new.

The early 1960s information media fretted about automation as well. As it turned out in the subsequent decades, automation created many more jobs than it eliminated. But those memories fade.

The Wall Street Journal “Journal Report” (10/25/2019, R1) on technology features an essay “The High Cost of Impeding Automation” that is well worth reading. This article chronicles the history of vested groups and interests opposing innovation and labor-saving technology back to the Medieval period and even the Roman Empire, through the British Luddites in the early19th Century, to the present day. It noted that the world per capita income took 6,000 years to double until 1750, the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the first real breakthrough in labor saving technology, but doubled every 50 years thereafter.

The comfort in our lives humans correspondingly increased immeasurably. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, the standard of living produced by one’s manual labor is that of a Medieval blacksmith; the rest is a gift from James Watt, Thomas Edison, and Jack Kilby.

For the full article, see https://www.wsj.com/

Big Questions? Strange Answers

The Atlantic (formerly The Atlantic Monthly) has a feature “The Big Question” where it solicits answers from academics, purported experts, and its readers. Those questions have included recently “What Was the Greatest Movie Quote of All Time?” (September 2019); “What Lost Treasure Would You Most Like to Find?” (August 2019);  “What was the Coldest Act if Revenge of All time?” (January/February 2019); “Whose Untimely Death Would You Undo?” (September 2018); and others going back several years. These questions run across the spectrum from the trivial to the important.

The November 2019 “Big Question” asks “If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? Some of the answers, especially reveal the mindset of our southpaw friends. Here are a few:

Anna Della Subin, author of Not Dead but Sleeping (haven’t read it and probably will not, unless I’m in a prison cell with nothing else to read): “In 1937, a British colonialist in Kuwait was said to have dreamed of a gnarled, uprooted tree. A dream interpreter recognized the tree and told him that the dream meant oil would be found at the site — leading to the discovery of one of the Earth’s largest oil reserves. One wishes he’d had insomnia instead!

Not sure of Ms. Subin’s point. Does she think that failing to discover oil in Kuwait would have foreclosed subsequent Middle Eastern conflict? Or, does she believe that the discovery of massive oil reserves would have prevented or mitigated the alleged present climate change? My guess is the latter.

Samantha Kelly, history professor, Rutgers: “The invention of agriculture. Imagine far less environmental degradation and income inequality, a shorter workday for all, a varied diet and possible better health outcomes for certain communities, and a profound confidence that the future would provide. A world without industrial agriculture would pretty much be the Eden of the Bible. Hunter-gatherer life isn’t sounding so bad.”

Really? Is this an attempt at refutation of Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature where life was nasty, brutish, and short? And from history professor at a first-tier institution, no less. Maybe Professor Kelly needs to go back to studying history herself. Hunter-gatherer life was authoritarian, hierarchical, and anything but equal, especially for the sexes. The hunters, nearly all male, were the elite. Gatherers were mostly female and subservient. Eden? Give me a break.

Several others from readers, who I will not name, but will identify by their location.

Ann Arbor, Michigan:

The inception of the Eastern Gas Shales Program … The U.S. would be more likely to pursue renewable-energy sources and work to combat climate change if we didn’t have a commercially successful oil and gas industry.”

This reader is certainly a soul-mate of Professor Kelly. Would he be a hunter or a gatherer?

Two of the readers, Los Angeles, and Etowah, North Carolina, would have changed the assassinations of presidents Kennedy and Lincoln, respectively. I could agree with that; though counter-factual historical speculation is in the same class as parlor games.

Another reader, from upstate New York, opined that

“I’d let Rocky Balboa beat Apollo Creed during their first match, thereby saving humanity from 43 years of sequels and spinoffs.”

Now is that profound and astute?  I can’t answer. The only Rocky movie I ever saw was when I was in a captive audience on a flight across the pond. It wasn’t memorable.

 

“exactly what I want it to do”

For those of us who might’ve forgotten, or never knew, Dr. Susanna Gratia Hupp, who was with her parents eating lunch in Luby’s cafeteria in Killen Texas in 1991 when a deranged individual entered the establishment and proceeded to shoot and kill 22 patrons, including Hupp’s parents. The shooter wasn’t using an AR-15 or AK-47. He was using a handgun that he was illegally carrying. Hupp habitually carried a handgun in her car, which was legal at the time (and still is). She had left it in the car because, being a law-abiding person. Texas at that time had no law that allowed an individual to have a license to carry a handgun on their person, concealed or otherwise. As a result, Hupp helplessly watched her parents and 20 other victims be shot to death. The police arrived and ultimately killed the shooter, but too late to save any of the victims. Subsequently, Hupp, a chiropractor by profession, ran for and was elected a State Representative, and was instrumental in Texas passing a law that provided for non-disqualified individuals to obtain a license to carry a handgun. 

In the wake of the recent multiple totality shootings, Congress is holding hearings on how to respond to these incidents. On Wednesday, September 17, Hupp testified before a Congressional Joint Economic Committee. Unsurprisingly she testified that, among other proposals, the mandatory gun buyback requirement was “a hugely bad idea.” Referring to former representative and Democrat presidential candidate O’Rourke’s proposal to do just that, Hupp said, “[h]e essentially said he does want to take away the guns that are designed to kill. And let me assure you, if someone threatens me or mine, that’s exactly what I want it to do.”

 

Source” Dallas Morning News, Thursday, September 19, 2019, p. 5A