Coming Safe Home

After a diagnosis of Covid-19 in mid-April, Marilee Shapiro Asher was given 12 hours to live by her physician. She was never put on a ventilator. She outlived the day and came safe home. Five days later she left the hospital to go home under her own power, and resume her work as an artist.

This was the second pandemic she survived. The first was in 1918 when she was six years old. She is 107.

Yapping Dogs

“Those who talk of governments ‘following the science,’ or ‘acting on the science,’ most of whom could not give a coherent account of the science of anything, are like dogs who yap because the other dogs are yapping.” = Holman W, Jenkins Jr. (WSJ, 5/20/2020)

Cows, Movies, and the Global Village

The late Miller Williams was a professor of English literature and a poet. He had a number of claims to fame. One is he wrote and delivered a poem at President Clinton’s Second Inauguration; another is his daughter Lucinda, a Grammy Award songwriter and singer in multiple genres. When in college, I had the good fortune to have Miller as one of my professors.

A memorable piece of information Professor Williams mentioned when we were studying the similes and metaphors used by English poets of the 17th and 18th Centuries was the use of milkmaids as the paradigm for female beauty. Why milkmaids? Well, in those times smallpox was common. It could be deadly. And most who survived were disfigured by facial scars left by the pox.

Milkmaids, however, tended to be immune from smallpox. Their close contact with cows made them susceptible to contracting cowpox, caused by a related virus, but a less virulent disease. Nearly all who had contracted cowpox, recovered, and without scarring. Thus, while so many European women – one being Queen Elizabeth I – had faces marred by smallpox, milkmaids generally did not.

In the late 18th Century, physician Edward Jenner noted the milkmaid phenomenon. Doctor Jenner inoculated a young boy with matter taken from a milkmaid (possibly named Sarah Nelms) who had the cowpox. After the boy recovered, Jenner inoculated him with smallpox. The boy did not develop the disease, and Jenner concluded that the cowpox, which he named “Variolae vaccinae,” provided immunity to smallpox. He published those findings and the technique, as refined over the nexst century and a half, ultimately eliminated smallpox as a health threat. Thus, came the word “vaccination” from vacca, the Latin word for cow.

“Vaccine” and “vaccination” have become generic terms for preventative treatment for many diseases using a microorganism similar to the causal one. Notable successes include influenza, polio, tetanus, and others. Development of a safe and effective vaccine for any communicable disease, however, can be protracted and tedious. The present Covid-19 is the focus of current medical research efforts to develop a vaccine.

Meanwhile, efforts to interdict the spread of Covid-19 appears to be focused on separating people as much as possible. The so-called “social distancing” technique has renewed interest in an institution that was widespread six decades ago, but has precipitously declined: the drive-in theater.

Drive-ins are ideal for social distancing. Moviegoers only have to come into close proximity with family or friends in one car. They can bring their own popcorn, other snacks, and beverages rather than pay the extortionate prices charged in an inside cinema. In a well-designed lot, one does not have to worry about an NBA player sized patron to sit in the seat directly in front.

There are, of course, significant disadvantages. The speaker that hung on the open window usually had poor sound quality. The movies could only be shown after dark, meaning that they could only begin around 9:00 p.m. in the summer. Car engines had to be turned off lest the exhaust fumes from multiple autos become suffocating. This meant that car air conditioners (and heaters in winter) couldn’t run. Confinement in an automobile with two to four others without AC during a Texas summer is a non-starter.

Drive in movies also had a reputation of being low-budget exploitation films. Horror, extreme violence, and other social pathologies were genres. John Bloom, a columnist for the late Dallas Times-Herald, writing under the non-de-plume Joe Bob Briggs, developed a persona as the Drive-in Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas. Joe Bob wrote every Friday a satirical, always humorous essay about some contemporary cultural phenomenon. The column would end with a “review” of a B-movie given 1 to 5 stars depending on the number of dead bodies, “buckets of blood,” car chases, explosions, and number of exposed female breasts. Joe Bob in April 1985 wrote a parody deemed to be so politically incorrect (to use the present term) that it caused the Times-Herald to cancel the column. Not to worry, that cancellation caused such a firestorm that it made Job Bob a free speech icon. The alternative newspaper Dallas Observer picked up his column and it was nationally syndicated, doubtless to the author’s financial benefit. The Times-Herald went defunct within a decade.

The heyday of the drive-in occurred in the 1950s and ’60s. In 1958, there were 4,063 the United States; in 2019 only 305 remained. Joe Bob Briggs chronicled the decline by a “communist alert” whenever he reported news of one closing. A number of factors caused the drive-ins to decline and in many places disappear altogether. The proliferation of multiplex theaters, appreciation of land values, cable television, and home video players all had a part. The current interest in drive-ins as alternative venues to allow big screen viewing with social distancing will probably not result in many, if any, new ones.

On another note, on May 24, 1844, 176 years ago, Samuel F.B. Morse transmitted the first message by electric telegraph: “What hath God wrought.” The message was encrypted in dots and dashes, Morse Code. Before that day, no human being had ever communicated with another in anything close to real time except when they were within sight or earshot. Morse, of course could not have imagined the communications revolution that occurred over the next century and three-quarters, and especially the most recent decades. His communication probably took several minutes, including sending and decoding, to travel from Washington to Baltimore. It would have taken at least three hours by railway train, the fastest method available at that time. Today, using technology available to anyone, Morse’s message – and a reply – could take a little as a few seconds to and from anywhere on earth.

During the 1960s, Canadian media critic and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, noting the development of radio, television, the newly developed satellite communications, predicted that we are entering the age of the “global village.” McLuhan, and most certainly Morse could not have imagined today.

For more detail concerning drive-in theaters and vaccines, see The Wall Street Journal, May 23 – 24, 2020, p. C3 (print edition) or on-line at

Opportunities Tomorrow (Another Day)

Alan S. Blinder is a professor of economics at Princeton University and a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve who writes columns for various publications including the Wall Street Journal.

Professor Blinder published an article this past week entitled “On Coronavirus Debt, Heed the Wisdom of Scarlett O’Hara.” Scarlett, of course, was the protagonist of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind who famously put off thinking about problems because “tomorrow is another day.” Interestingly, that phrase was the working title for Mitchell’s book, but was changed by the publisher.

One hopes that Blinder will not be excoriated too much for invoking the wisdom of Scarlett O’Hara, since GWTW has become a pariah for the pecksniffian crowd because of its perceived denigration of Blacks during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. The novel has, along with Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and many other classics have been cast into the left’s new Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

Procrastination, invoked by Scarlett, is often regarded as a vice. But as Blinder points out, situations often should be allowed to evolve before taking pro-action. Many, like fruit, should be allowed to ripen. The possibility of an unsustainable national debt and inflation, the professor argues, is to be dealt with later. Because of the urgent problems we’re dealing with today, the spending and expansion of the money supply are badly needed and there will be plenty of time “tomorrow” to deal with those prospects.

Actually, like most of the literature that stands the test of time, GWTW has a lot of insight or wisdom. Much of that is spoken by Mitchell’s character Rhett Butler, who as the story goes, Scarlett discovers too late he is her soul-mate. Practical to the point of cynicism, Butler makes these observations.

• No matter what noble purposes the orators assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles.

• Opportunists are generally held in bad repute, especially by those who had the same opportunities and failed to take them.

• Remember when you get arrested: Influence is everything, guilt or innocence merely an academic question.

• There is as much money to be made out of the wreckage of a civilization as in the upbuilding of one.

• Money generally can buy most anything, and when it can’t, it can buy some of the most remarkable substitutes,

Applying the last to our present Covid-19 crisis might risk overstating the situation, but there will be opportunities abound for creative entrepreneurs. There are already new businesses starting.

I’ve got the brains you’ve got the looks
Let’s make lots of money
You’ve got the brawn I’ve got the brains
Let’s make lots of money
I’ve had enough of scheming and messing around with jerks
my car is parked outside I’m afraid it doesn’t work
I’m looking for a partner someone who gets things fixed
Ask yourself this question do you want to be rich.
I’ve got the brains you’ve got the looks
Let’s make lots of money
You’ve got the brawn I’ve got the brains
Let’s make lots of money

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)
Pet Shop Boys song (1985)

Few Have the Ability

The imbroglio surrounding the prosecution of former General Michael Flynn, also President Trump’s national security adviser for a short time, brings to mind a number of past experiences.

It is universal knowledge in this country that the Constitution provides that “[n]o person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” in the Fifth Amendment — in shorthand, we all have the right to remain silent.

Few, however, have the ability.

This fact of human nature is emphasized in criminal investigation as well in the prosecution and defense of those accused of crime. Confessions and statements by defendants are used against them all the time. The key word in the Fifth Amendment clause is “compelled.” A voluntary statement by an accused person may be, and often is, used against him. The contours and limits of what conduct amounts to compulsion is the subject of much case law. It is clear, however, that being under arrest (the status of which has its own marginal ambiguities) is ipso facto compulsion.

Any person under arrest must be given a specific warning that he has certain rights, including the right to not say anything, that if he does, it can be used in evidence against him, and that he may consult with a lawyer prior to saying anything. This warning rarely deters a suspect from talking. Many want, or say they want, to tell “their side of the story.” Some believe they can outsmart the interrogator. Such suspects are often wrong.

Federal law enforcement agencies, of which there are more than most of use realize, have several advantages. One significant one is provided by 18 U.S.C. § 1001 that makes it a felony to lie to a federal officer, such as an FBI agent. Probably more persons have been convicted of that offense than the underlying crime being investigated. Many federal agents deliberately try to lay “perjury traps” where they try to get a witness or suspect to lie when interviewed so they can be prosecuted under 1001 to provide a plea-bargaining chip. One prime example is Martha Stewart. The feds could not prove an insider trading case against her, so they seized on a mis-statement she made during an interview. Note: the FBI euphemistically refers to all official conversations as “interviews,” but they should always be regarded, at least potentially, as interrogations.

With this background in mind, what is happening to Michael Flynn has some troubling aspects.

It appears that the FBI and special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s team may have been out to ‘get” Flynn for political reasons.

I am not in a position to adjudicate, Flynn’s case. All of the facts are not clear. If he did willfully lie with intent to deceive in an official inquiry, perhaps he’s deserving of punishment. If, however, he made a misstatement because he did not remember the details of a prior conversation, which is what he claimed, perhaps not. Furthermore, it is reported that Flynn’s son, also named Michael, may have been under investigation for some vague violation of a trade statute, and Flynn was coerced into pleading guilty to a 1001 violation by a threat to prosecute his son if he was recalcitrant. Sounds like dirty dealing to me.

Now, it’s one thing to offer a less culpable criminal suspect to turn prosecution witness in exchange for his testimony against a more culpable one. It is quite another to coerce a person to plead guilty by threatening to prosecute a family member in an unrelated matter if the person remains unwilling to so plead. If Flynn;s son may have been involved in a corrupt and illegal activity, he should be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, regardless of what his father has done to please the FBI.

But Michael Flynn never should have agreed to speak with the FBI agents without legal counsel. He seems to have trusted who he believed were colleagues in the government.

This brings to mind the investigation of Richard Jewell, the security guard who was wrongfully accused of the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta. Jewell found the bomb, and alerted attendees to evacuate the area and probably saved many lives. Because he fit an FBI profile of one who is likely to cause a dangerous situation like planting a bomb and then “discover” it and thus be regarded as a hero, Jewell was targeted as a suspect. The FBI tried a subterfuge to interrogate Jewell and get him to make statements that they could use to arrest and prosecute him. But Jewell had the sense to call a lawyer he knew. The lawyer told the FBI to back off instructed them to not interrogate his client with him being present. No doubt that the agents had in mind trapping Jewell into making an innocent misstatement and then charging him with a 1001 violation. Probably saved Jewell from wrongful arrest and possible prosecution. (The real bomber was later arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison.)

The lesson to be learned from Martha Stewart’s, Michael Flynn’s, and Richard Jewell’s cases is that no one should agree to be “interviewed” by federal law enforcement agents (I use the plural because there are always two of them – one to aks the questions, the other to write down his version of the answers) unless they have prior legal counsel ahead of the conversation. If approached, the only things to say are “I have a lawyer; he or she will be in touch with you so give me your card; have a nice day.”

Two Protestors (and some other thoughts)

Shelley Luther, a Dallas hairstylist who has made national news, was held in contempt of court and jailed for opening her salon in defiance of an order to stay closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This matter has some interesting aspects.

These is a legal doctrine called the “collateral bar rule” that hold one cannot defend conduct disobeying a court order before challenging it in a higher court.  Ms. Luther did that, so her act may have been legally unjustified. Not knowing all the fact, I decline to express an opinion

It is also reported that the judge in the case called upon Ms. Luther to apologize and admit she was being “selfish” for opening her salon in defiance of his order. She declined to do so. Now there are some, if not many sub rosa, who believe selfishness, properly understood, is a virtue. Ayn Rand was among the first to point that out explicitly. She wrote a series of essays in a volume entitled as such. Actually, without using so many words, Adam Smith believed that and implied so in his great work on economics, The Wealth of Nations.  The idea there is that taking care of yourself first is necessary, otherwise one cannot help anyone else.  There are numerous examples of this. And most of those who proclaim their own altruism, are really trying to signal what they believe is their virtue, all for self-aggrandizement.

Finally, and most interesting, Shelley shares a surname with the man who started the longest running protest of it all, Martin Luther. Four hundred ninety-nine years ago in the year 1521, Martin stood before the Imperial diet (council) in the city of Worms — present Germany– and refused to recant his then heretical religious beliefs. “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helf mir (Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.)” His recalcitrance exposed him to being burned at the stake, a much worse fate than Shelley was exposed to. But as Shelley had her Greg Abbott, Martin had a patron in the Elector of Saxony, who had little use for the Emperor, who doubtless he would have regarded a real Palpatine. (You know that George Lucas didn’t make any of his stuff up.)

Both Luthers were set free.


Lunacy in Academia

Several decades ago I attended the University of North Texas (its name at the time was North Texas State University) for a master’s degree program in history. Most faculty members in that department (and nearly all the students) leaned to the political left even then. Though my politics generally did not align, I never had an indication or believed any of the professors were lunatics, and all were open to reasoned academic discourse.

That doesn’t appear to the be case today.

Last December 2019, Nathaniel Hiers, an adjunct professor in the mathematics department, went in to the faculty lounge one day and notice a flier near a blackboard published by the University of New Hampshire entitled “How to Identify Microagressions.” Hiers casually skimmed it, then wrote on a chalkboard, “Please don’t leave garbage lying around,” and drew an arrow pointing to a flier. The next day, Ralf Schmidt, the chair of the mathematics department, emailed his staff with a photo of the chalkboard message. “Would the person who did this please stop being a coward and see me in the chair’s office immediately. Thank you.” Hiers replied and wrote that he was responsible. That it was intended as a joke, and was his opinion. He refused to apologize. Hardly a cowardly response.

Hiers was subsequently taken to task by the department head, Schmidt and the administration. Even though he had entered into a contract to teach math during the spring semester, UNT unilaterally canceled the contract and effectively fired him. The reason for Hiers’ dismissal was unambiguously because of his comment critical of the concept of “microagressions” that allegedly victimizes “marginalized” groups.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has taken Professor Hiers’ case. ADF lawyers filed has filed suit on Hiers’ behalf in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Texas Case # 4:20-cv-00321. The 30 page Complaint, with numerous exhibits attached, states facts in excruciating detail that describes the wrongful acts and policies of UNT and its administration’s members. It alleges alleging eight claims or causes of action under the United States Constitution and civil rights statutes as well and breach of contract under Texas law. Hiers is seeking money damages, injunctive relief, and his attorneys’ fees. Fifteen defendants, all members of the Board of Regents or officers of UNT, are named defendants.  Complaint

The Complaint quotes a passage from Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure commenting on political correctness and so-called microagressions:

. . . encourage students to find more things offensive (leading them to experience more negative impacts), and you also tell them that whoever says or does the things they find offensive are “aggressors” who have committed acts of bigotry against them, then you are probably fostering feelings of victimization, anger, and hopelessness in your students. They will come to see the world—and even their university—as a hostile place where things never seem to get better.

If someone wanted to create an environment of perpetual anger and intergroup conflict, this would be an effective way to do it.

Lukianoff, who is the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (The Fire) and Haidt, a New York University faculty member (NYU-Haidt) point out that much of the so called microagression movement is intended to discourage the use of language in ordinary discourse that can reasonably taken to be demeaning. Courtesy and civility in speech and manner can aid persuasiveness, and avoid generating more heat than light in an argument. Litigators and negotiators are taught this, and the ones who take it to heart are the successful ones.

But, in Professor Hiers’ case, it is obvious to one who reading the UNH flier that it is an attempt to impose orthodoxy in thought, which should have no place in an American institution of higher learning. The orthodoxy here, of course, is left-wing, of the most extreme kind.

Now, this is not to deny that people sometimes say stupid things based on assumptions and stereotypes. This is part of the dominant collectivist theory that being the perceived member of an artificial group imbues certain characteristics, desirable or undesirable, to individuals. Perhaps there are those who would find such speech offensive, but there is no right to freedom from being offended. As matter of fact, such experience can be a motivating factor to show a uninformed speakers that they are wrong in their assumptions.

College campuses are places for learning, not only academic skills, but also social skills. Social skills include how to get along with other people who may have different opinions, how to disagree without being disagreeable, and how to synthesize ideas from opposing points of view. Establishing orthodoxy in thought stifles free inquiry. Unfortunately many campuses, obviously UNT is one, have abandoned academic freedom, even of their faculty, who should be the most academically inquisitive of all the members of the community of scholars that is a university.

It is also particularly ironic that Hiers, a mathematics professor, should be the one pilloried for unorthodox opinions, even though they had nothing to do with his subject. Mathematics, of course, is the one discipline where outcomes of inquiry can be definite right or wrong (except possibly in its ethereal realms). Two plus two equals four; the square root of 100 equals 10; and so forth. No argument, except in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where it could be thoughtcrime, if the Party mandates otherwise.
Anyway, UNT and its administration, as well as the faculty members involved in sacking Professor Hiers, need to get spanked, and spanked fairly hard. Those who believe in freedom of speech should certainly hope so.

Read more here .

A Side Note

Co-incidently, the local newspaper recently re-published a series of Garry Trudeau’s comic strips Doonesbury that first appeared in the 1990s or early 2000s. Trudeau’s strip first appeared in the late 1960s and has commented on politics and popular culture, usually from a left-wing point of view (some newspapers have placed it on the op-ed page rather than with the other strips). This series had perhaps three weeks of episodes in which a math professor at Trudeau’s fictional Walden College was sued for giving a student a “B” on a math paper, and thus allegedly causing the student (a jock and frat member – two of Trudeau’s usual targets) mental distress and humiliation. The strip, of course, drips with satire. It’s fictional setting is not quite congruent with Professor Hiers’ situation, but it suggests that such lunacy has been around for awhile.