9/11/2021

One reader, who lives elsewhere now, commented on my photos in a prior post, and asked if Flagpole Hill at White Rock Lake in Dallas was still there. As of 7:00 a.m. today it was. Here it is, flag and all.

Flag Pole Hill (view from the north)
Flag Pole Hill (view from the south)

On this the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacked on New York City and the Pentagon, there will be many word written. My poor writing efforts do not have much to add, except to note that the Flag still flies here, and many other places throughout that Nation and the world. It will continue to do so.

The First Tesla

When one hears the name Tesla today, the first thought is the electric motor vehicle developed by entrepreneur Elon Musk. This inventor (whose name sounds like a character from another world in Star Trek or Star Wars) doubtless got his car’s name from that of another inventor who had a profound effect on our daily lives, but who most people are unfamiliar with. I’m sure Elon hopes he can do the same.

Nikola Tesla’s (1852– 1943) contribution to the development of technology of electricity delivery was overshadowed in the public mind by those of his contemporaries Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and George Westinghouse. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, a controversy emerged as to whether electricity would be delivered to consumers and industry via alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). Edison argued that DC was better and safer, while Westinghouse championed AC, primarily because it could transmit electric current long distances. Tesla’s invention of the induction motor and dynamo, which generated AC in multi-phase current, was an efficient and economical device. He received a patent and licensed it to Westinghouse. This won the controversy for AC 60 cycle current that we have in the U.S. today.

Tesla has become the subject of another controversy in the present. He was born in Smiljan, Austrian Empire, which is in Croatia today. His father was a priest in the Serbian branch of the Orthodox Church, which is closely aligned with the Russian church. Tesla emigrated to the United States in 1884, became an American citizen in 1991, and spent the rest of his life in the Northeast where he created and perfected his inventions. Now, because he was born in Croatia, but in a family that was Serbian at least by religion, both countries claim his legacy. The current dispute arose this year when Croatia voted to put Tesla’s likeness on its new Euro coins. Serbia, which has Tesla’s image on its currency, protested and vows retaliation for Croatia’s “cultural appropriation.” Heard that accusation in other contexts before, haven’t we.

Some background is in order. Subsequent to World War I, Serbia and Croatia, together with Slovenia (where our most recent former First Lady was born), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia were united in a nation termed Yugoslavia. That name is an English rendition of “southern Slavs,” and was originally called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. It was a shotgun wedding from the beginning. Serbs regarded it as a “Greater Serbia” to the Croats’ and Slovenes’ chagrin. It was held together by a military dictatorship first styled as a monarchy, and then, after World War II, as a Communist regime not aligned with Soviet Russia. It was somewhat of a buffer between the Western and Eastern Blocs until the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded.

Harvard Professor and political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, in his great work The Clash of Civilizations, published in 1996, identified nine current civilizations or cultures in today’s world. According to Professor Huntington, a civilization is the broadest cultural entity. Religion (defined broadly) is the central, but not only, defining characteristic. Others include language, history, customs, institutions. Civilizations are not determined by biological race or ethnicity although often are related; individuals can and do assimilate. Religious based wars were common in centuries past, and to some degree, a religious element persists in warfare today. These civilizations/cultures generally get along, but are to some degree antagonistic to one another. What Huntington called “fault-lines” were geographical areas where cultures have mutually conflicting interests. These often create actual wars of varying intensity.

Yugoslavia was the site of one of Huntington’s fault-lines. There it was tripartite. Though each group could be regarded as ethnically Slavic, Serbs were Orthodox Christians, Croats were Western (by virtue of being Roman Catholic), and Bosniaks were Muslim/ Islamic. (Whether all or most were observant in their faith is not the point; it’s the culture that comes from the religious tradition that matters.) A similar fault-line exists in Kashmir, where Islamic and Hindu cultures meet.

In the 1990s Yugoslavia disintegrated in a series of bloody wars. These conflicts included atrocities against civilians, resulting in war crimes charges against Serbian leaders in the International Criminal Court. Most of the fighting was in Bosnia, where the three populations had mixed for many decades. The United Nations, NATO, and the United States all at one time or another became involved. When some semblance of peace was restored, six states emerged, among them Croatia and Serbia.

It is doubtful that the dispute over Tesla’s legacy will result in war between those states. Perhaps the European Union (EU), or whoever manages the Euro currency, will decide whether Croatia’s use of Tesla’s image on its coins is okay. If not, the dispute will probably go no further than an exchange of nastygrams.

Who really has the best claim to Nikola Tesla’s legacy? In my view, neither Serbia nor Croatia does. Given the level of technological sophistication in either place, it is doubtful that he could have accomplished his inventive work in either. The United States of America has the best claim. Certainly those Balkan states can honor him, but his real monument is here. We see it every time we flip on a light switch.

For another report of the present difficulty, please see: The Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2021, p.1 (print edition)
or

https://www.wsj.com/articles/tesla-feud-nikola-tesla-croatia-serbia-elon-musk-11629830487

See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (Simon & Schuster 1996, 367 pages). Huntington’s nine current civilizations are Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox (primarily Russian), Buddhist, and Japanese. The Western is most conflictual with the Islamic and Sinic (China). The Islamic (no surprise) is conflictual with all except Latin American, with which it has little contact. Huntington, writing in the early 1990s, also indicates that there is little Islamic-Sinic conflict. Not sure he would agree today.

See also, Council on Foreign Relations, The Clash if Civilizations? The Debate (2nd ed. 2010). A collection of essays supporting and disputing Huntington’s thesis, including his article first published in Foreign Affairs (Summer 1993). For anyone interested, the article is a summary of the book, and a lot shorter.

Kerfuffle Redux

Or, the beat goes on.

Flying the American flag or standing for and singing the Star Spangled Banner, or conversely, showing disdain or even disrespect to those symbols, seem to have become partisan political statements. These acts have become to define whether one adhere to the political right or left. Is this the wave of the future, an Armageddon whose winner will rule? Well, probably not. It’s been done before. Read the following copy.

The Dallas Morning News, November 4, 1970

Mr. Baskin was the Washington bureau chief for the News when he wrote this over 50 years ago. It could have been written today.

Cheers!

245 Years and Counting

On the occasion of July 4th 11 years ago this blog featured an essay parsing our Declaration of Independence. [1] The essay has been re-posted a number of times, including on the same occasion last year. It has not previously addressed the bill of particulars — the list of accusations leveled against King George III.[2] A reader suggested that I might write an essay pointing out the clauses in the Constitution that sought to ameliorate or prevent abuses similar to King George’s transgressions.

It is the structure of the Constitution for the most part, rather than specific clauses or provisions, that provides a mechanism for removing the facility for those abuses of which the King was accused. First and foremost the Constitution created a federal system of government with limited and delegated powers, not an all-powerful central sovereign. The powers of sovereignty are separated and shared by the several States and the government of United States, which itself is separated into independent legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Article 1, Section 8 delegates subjects upon which Congress may legislate; and Section 9 of that Article specifically prohibits certain acts by Congress. The States, inherently sovereign, are limited by the Constitution in certain ways described in Article I, section 10, and in a number of the Amendments. The 10th Amendment provides that the powers not delegated to the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or the people.[3]

Thus, the Constitution’s structure was designed to provide a mechanism to inhibit a central authority, and to some degree the several States, from committing the abuses described in the Declaration.

More specifically, the Declaration complained of the dependence of the judiciary and the military upon the will of the King. The Constitution provides that the federal court justices and judges are appointed by the President, but must be confirmed by the Senate, and once confirmed cannot be removed from office, except by impeachment for bad behavior. They may not be coerced or punished by having their compensation reduced. While the President, an elected civilian, is the commander-in-chief of the military forces, only Congress can declare war. [4] Funding of the defense establishment, or at least the Army, is dependent upon appropriations by Congress. Such appropriations cannot be made for more than two years at a time.[5]

The Declaration complained that King George denied the American colonists trial by jury, and that they were transported “beyond the Seas” to be tried for crimes. The Constitution, Article III, Section 2, specifically provides a right to be tried by jury in criminal cases and such trial must be held in the State where the crime has been committed. The Fifth Amendment was enacted to provide further protection of persons accused of crime from arbitrary and capricious prosecutions by requiring an indictment by a grand jury, and other procedural safeguards.[6]

One enumerated abuse in the Declaration was the quartering of British troops on private property in the colonies without the owner’s consent. While the belief that this included private family homes became widespread, at least one historian has determined this to be a myth. It is interesting that the Quartering Act of 1774 expired three months before July 4, 1776. The Constitution’s Third Amendment addressed this abuse, though an issue concerning it has never been the subject of any judicial action.[7]

This is been a commentary, short because of the press of time, regarding the significant events that led to the formation of our country. There may be more to come, stay tuned.

But today, we wish a happy birthday to the United States of America, and despite the trials and tribulations that have occurred, and will doubtless continue, may it survive for another 245 years.

Endnotes

[1] https://wordpress.com/post/bobreagan13.com/593

[2] While the King had to give the Royal Assent to the laws, it was the Parliament and Prime Minister who made the policy. No British monarch has vetoed an act of Parliament since Queen Anne’s reign (1702–1714).

[3] The 10th Amendment appears to have been ignored when Congress and Presidents have found it politically expedient to do so. Never let a crisis go to waste, someone said. The Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War II, spurred Congress, with the ultimate approval of the judiciary, to expand the meaning of the regulatory power of commerce in Article 1, Section 8 (second clause) to encompass nearly everything that has even the most tenuous effect on interstate commerce. There has been some push-back in recent decades, but not much.

[4] Eight Presidents were army generals at some point prior to taking office. The first was George Washington. The most recent was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

[5] The last time Congress declared war was subsequent to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor commencing United States’ involvement in World War II. The constitutional requirement for Congressional declaration of war has not prevented Presidents from using the Armed Forces to fight wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, and use the military to achieve objectives on a number of other occasions.

[6] The grand jury has been described as both a shield and a sword. In the federal system, it is more the latter. It is a method of requiring individuals to appear and testify under oath, with few protections other than a right not to say anything that might be self-incriminating, and has often been abused in that regard. It is really not much of a shield. Grand juries generally do what the prosecutor wants. There is a saying among criminal defense lawyers that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutors want it to. A timely article by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. in the Wall Street Journal maintains that prosecutions are all political at least in part. July 3, 2021, p. A13. (The day before this essay was posted.)

[7] David Ammerman, “The Tea Crisis and its Consequences, through 1775” Greene, Jack P.; Pole, J. R. (eds.). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.

Can’t Compete

The high points of the horse racing season in the U. S. are the Triple Crown event in May and June — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. The Derby especially is famous for its champion three-year-old Thoroughbreds, but also for the side show parade of well-healed spectators showing of their finery, which includes women’s hats.

At Britain’s Royal Ascot, currently being held, the actual race is the sideshow. Witness:

June 2021

WOW!

The Brits knowhow to do it.

June 6 at 77

On this June 6, its is again appropriate to repeat an essay I wrote and published almost a decade ago (with an update). Here goes.

The pleasant town of Bayeux in northern France is famous for its eponymous tapestry depicting the events leading to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Across from the railway station there is a café that serves cold beer and the apple cider the region is also famous for. That establishment bears a sign in English “Welcome to our liberators.” The sign might appear to be incongruous to some of us, except that ten kilometers to the northwest is a bluff overlooking a sandy expanse along the English Channel that for the past seventy-five years has been known to the world as Omaha Beach.

Many words will be written and spoken on this 77th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of what General Eisenhower called the “Great Crusade” to end the Nazi occupation of Europe, and ultimately win World War II. Today, the word “crusade” is politically incorrect in some circles as being offensive to those who have vowed to kill us and actually have achieved some success in doing so. And we have become accustomed to euphemisms, direct and to the point speech being too harsh for our sensitive ears. That is just as well. The loudest, and most eloquent, statements to be made come from the 10,000 American graves at the top of the cliff and the sound of the waves below.

When visiting the beach even this long after the fact, it is not difficult to picture the horror and chaos experienced by the soldiers and sailors who stormed ashore that day. The Germans had fortified nearly the entire coastline of France, as well as the coasts of other occupied countries, into what was called the Atlantic Wall. Various barriers and obstacles had been placed in the water offshore to prevent landing craft from reaching dry land, and to channel invaders into killing zones covered by machine gun bunkers dug into the 100 feet high cliffs above. This required the assault to be made at low tide, leaving a 300 yard open expanse of sand to traverse before the slightest natural cover could be reached. Above the high tide line is another 50 yard stretch of loose sand. Walking unencumbered on loose sand can be difficult; running with 60 pounds of weaponry and equipment, all the while facing withering small arms and artillery fire, has to have been a nearly superhuman feat. Many of the invaders did not make it; that so many did is a credit to the quality of the military training and preparation, as well as the fortitude and power of the survival instinct of the troops. The actual film footage in the Normandy episode of the Victory at Sea documentary demonstrated some of the difficulty, but the bloodiest parts had to have been edited to make it suitable for a 1950s home audience. The fictional first 24 minutes of the film Saving Private Ryan might more accurately portray the horror and difficulty of the assault, but still may be an understatement.

Eisenhower said in his address to the American, British, and Canadian service members who were about to land on the beaches: Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. They were about to discover that he got that right.

It could have been worse. A major part of the plan was to deceive the defenders as to where and when the attack would be made. As previously mentioned, the entire coast-line was fortified. The defending German army was battle-hardened, and exceptionally well-led by Field Marshals Gerd von Runstedt and Erwin Rommel. Their main problem was manpower and munitions. Five years of war, and the continuing demands of the Russian front in the east made critical to the defenders the knowledge of the place and time of the landings. The deception, with some cooperation from the weather, worked. The German defenders were caught off guard at Normandy, and were unable to bring the full weight of their forces to bear until a beachhead was established. But in spite of the withering fire and the obstructions, even Omaha Beach was taken by day’s end. The Americans didn’t get much farther that day, though, and the casualties were huge. This beachhead, established by those soldiers, whose ranks are now thinning day by day, made it possible to end the war in Europe. Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered eleven months and two days after D-Day. Those few that are left, and those who passed before them, merit the gratitude of us all.

For every victor there is a vanquished. So it must be added that within five years of the victory, the United States, and to some degree Great Britain and France, have become allies, if not friends with Germany during forty years of Cold War, and beyond. There was no doubt then, or today, that the German Army was fighting on behalf of evil masters and a bad cause. Soldiers, most of whom in World War II were not fighting because they wanted to, can nevertheless fight honorably for an ignoble cause (or dishonorably for a good cause, for that matter). Soldiers know this, and once the fighting is over, they are often more inclined than the civilians far from the horrors to let bygones be bygones.

A poignant story related in a British history magazine relates the ordeal of two soldiers, an American and a German defender who shot him at Omaha Beach. Both survived the war. Heinrich Severloh manned a machinegun in a bunker in the cliff. He estimated that he fired over 12,000 rounds before he ran out of ammunition for it, and then picked up his carbine to continue shooting at the attacking Americans. Three of Severloh’s rounds hit David Silva, as he and other GIs were scrambling for cover on the beach. The German was later captured and held in a POW camp until some time after the end of the war. He was repatriated in 1946 and took up farming. After reading Cornelius Ryan’s book The Longest Day, published in 1959, Severloh learned that he was the one shot Silva. In 1963, the two former adversaries met each other in Germany. Silva, by that time had taken Holy Orders as a Catholic priest. The two formed a friendship, as former soldiers who fought honorably for opposing sides are often known to do, and corresponded for many years. They both suffered of the circumstances that attend the fog and maelstrom of war.

But the story of Severloh and Silva’s later relationship is only an aside. The honor today goes to Silva and his fellow servicemen who stormed the beaches on the fateful day. They we salute.

Another Memorial for the Day

On this Memorial Day, in addition to all of those who served and died in our nation’s wars, there is one warrior of our oldest ally who should be given her due. May 30, 2021 is the 590th anniversary of the execution of a prisoner of war: France’s Jeanne d’Arc, known by English speakers as Joan of Arc.

On one of our trips to France we visited the city of Rouen, capital of Normandy Province. During the 14th and 15th Centuries series of wars between England and France Normandy was under English control. During the latter phase of those wars, Joan, as a young woman, assisted in leading French armies to victories. She was betrayed and captured by English allies, and taken to Rouen where she was condemned to death by burning at the stake.

There is an eponymous church in the Vieux Marche (Old Marketplace) at the site of Joan’s execution. There is also a museum that depicts here life and death in the former archbishop’s palace adjoining the Rouen cathedral. It is a most interesting and informative museum and well worth a visit.

There are many historical accounts of Joan’s story, which is too long to tell in detail here. Suffice it to say her fate was a result of the mix of politics and religion, where the church acts as the handmaiden of the state, and vice-versa. Here is a brief summary.

For reasons going back to the Norman Conquest, English monarchs claimed territory in France as part of their realm, and even claimed to be the rightful king of France. In the 14rh Century these claims led to a war that, on and off, lasted for about one hundred years.

Joan was the daughter of a farmer in eastern France. In her late teens, she believed she had a mission, guided by saints’ voices to rally the French armies to expel the English from France. Joan convinced the uncrowned king of France, Charles VII, to allow her to lead his army and escort him to Reims to be crowned in the traditional cathedral, and thus claim legitimacy as the French monarch. After several victorious battles, most notably at Orleans, Charles was able to travel with Joan to Reims and was crowned in July 1429. The next year, Joan was captured by English allies and taken to Rouen. There she was accused of heresy and being an agent of the devil and tried by a church tribunal and convicted. Joan, then 19, was burned at the stake in May 30, 1431.

In 1456, after the English had been finally expelled from most of France, including Normandy, another tribunal was empaneled and it exonerated Joan. The Pope declared her innocent and a martyr — a little late for her, of course. She was declared a national symbol of France by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803. Joan was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 1920.

Why was Joan of Arc tried and executed as a heretic, rather than just treated as a prisoner of war? Her status as a captive might be irrelevant; in those days most opposing soldiers captured were quite often summarily killed. The reasons seem to be twofold. First, the English pride was wounded by whom they doubtless considered a mere slip of a teenage girl, and a peasant at that. How could such a young person, a woman, lead an army that defeated them? She had to be a witch, or other agent of the devil. Second, the presiding judge Bishop Pierre Cauchon, though French, was a collaborator who wished to remain in favor with the English occupiers of Normandy. He did their bidding.

There have been s a number of revisionist attempts to discredit the Joan of Arc story as a myth. There are, however, contemporaneous documents, including transcripts of her trials that verify most of the facts.

Regardless, Joan’s story is compelling. Throughout subsequent French history she has been used by all political factions, including both sides of the 1789 Revolution, as a symbol of the righteousness of their causes.

Some sources.

Essay by Tim White https://theobjectivestandard.com/2019/05/joan-of-arc-heroine-of-france-exemplar-of-courage/

Régine Pernoud, Marie-Véronique Clin, Joan of Arc: Her Story. (1999). Translated by Jeremy duQuesnay Adams, late distinguished professor at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. (available from online booksellers and at libraries)

Shortly after her canonization, George Bernard Shaw, wrote a play Saint Joan. There have been a number of films made about Joan of Arc. Most take a good deal of dramatic license, as does Shaw’s play.

Here is a recent performance of Leonard Cohen’s rather haunting song “Joan of Arc,” sung live by Jennifer Warnes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaqRwj1mmU8

Doom?

Many readers of this blog are familiar with Niall Ferguson. For those who are not, he is a historian who originally hails from Scotland, was educated at Oxford, a professor at Harvard, and now a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Ferguson has written many histories, among them The Ascent of Money, Civilization, and Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. The latter infuriated the British and American academic politburo for his thesis that British, and other European imperial colonization throughout the world was, on balance, a positive and a benefit to all, including the then indigenous people and their descendants.

Ferguson now has a new opus, to be released today, titled Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe. The book is reported to chronicle catastrophic events and the human response to them throughout history, beginning with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii in 79 A.D. The most recent event of Ferguson’s interest is the current Covid-19 pandemic, which he discusses in part in “How a More Resilient America Beat a Midcentury Pandemic” published this past Saturday in the Wall Street Journal (May 1, 2021, Review Section).

Ferguson compares and contrasts Covid 19, not with the century old influenza pandemic of 1919 fashionable among observers today, but with an epidemic of “Asian” or “Hong Kong” flu in 1957. That disease became virulent in June of that year and infected a large number of persons throughout the country, interestingly, mostly young persons. The summer of that year was between my six and seventh grades, but I don’t recall anything about the pandemic. Here in Dallas, that was the year of a particularly destructive tornado. Also, the Soviet Union launched the first successful man-made satellite Sputnik.

Here are some of Ferguson’s observations and theories, with comment.

He believes the 1957-58 flu pandemic is important to be studied “not just because the public health threat was a closer match to our own but because American society at the time was better prepared—culturally, institutionally and politically—to deal with it.”

There is some reason to believe this statement about the better preparation is correct. He writes on:

“A striking contrast between 1957 and the present is that Americans today appear to have a much lower tolerance for risk than their grandparents and great-grandparents.” “… ‘there was nothing unusual about finding yourself threatened by contagious disease. Mumps, measles, chicken pox and German measles swept through entire schools and towns…’ “

That the United States was more culturally homogenous in the 1950s than today seems correct. The fact remains that it was mostly reflective of the values to those who had the most influence. Those who went through the Great Depression and won World War II had enormous regard. Whatever other values one might have had around then, the virtue of “suck it up and soldier on” through adversity was strong.

“Compare these stoical attitudes with the strange political bifurcation of reactions we saw last year, with Democrats embracing drastic restrictions on social and economic activity, while many Republicans acted as if the virus was a hoax. Perhaps a society with a stronger fabric of family life, community life and church life was better equipped to withstand the anguish of untimely deaths than a society that has, in so many ways, come apart.”

Accordingly,“[t]he policy response of President Dwight Eisenhower could hardly have been more different from the response of 2020. Eisenhower did not declare a state of emergency. There were no state lockdowns and, despite the first wave of teenage illness, no school closures. Sick students simply stayed at home, as they usually did. Work continued more or less uninterrupted.”

Of course, the ever popular Eisenhower had just won a second term as President, rather than facing an election that had most of the current power structure of the nation hell-bent on removing him. Also, Ike had been a soldier in two wars and was well aware of personal hardship and the capacity of Americans to bear it.

“A further contrast between 1957 and 2020 is that the competence of government would appear to have diminished even as its size has expanded.”

Vaccines for the 1957 Asian flu were developed and distributed within four months.

Ferguson has that right. In the number of government employees, federal, state and local, its size has increased three-fold. There is little question that the cost of development of new pharmaceuticals is significantly increased by the sclerotic approval process of the FDA and other agencies. Safety and effectiveness of drugs are important, but so much bureaucratic posturing and turf-protection slows down the production of new medicines. If Trump did anything right in response to the pandemic, using the his executive power to fast-track vaccine development heads the list.

Ferguson also discusses the important difference between 1957 and today in the communications structure in America and the rest of the world. He focuses mainly on the availability of technology that allowed virtual working from home. That, of course, was unavailable in 1957. There was no Internet, and 25% of the population did not even have land-line telephones. One went to the physical workplace or did not work at all. Consequently, although Ferguson points out that there was a mild recession that year, it was not a result of the flu pandemic. More to the point, the absence of a 24/7 news cycle from multiple outlets, smart phones, and social media that allows instant communication among millions, limited awareness of the pandemic by the general population in 1957. Today, tweets, emails, and text messages, often conveying incomplete, erroneous, and contradictory messages induced a certain cyber-hysteria among the population, especially younger persons, the group least at-risk.

Speaking of younger persons, Ferguson, beginning with an anonymous quote, says “‘To be young was very heaven’ in 1957—even with a serious risk of infectious disease (and not just flu; there was also polio and much else). By contrast, to be young in 2020 was—for most American teenagers—rather hellish. Stuck indoors, struggling to concentrate on ‘distance learning’ with irritable parents working from home in the next room, young
people experienced at best frustration and at worst mental illness.” The downstream effects of that phenomenon may not be pretty.

What also remains to be seen is a historical assessment as to whether the 2020-21 reaction to the coronavirus pandemic was excessive, or inadequate. Unfortunately that assessment, like most histories, will be made by the winners, and will be seen primarily through a partisan lens.

The Week that Was

“That Was the Week that Was” was a satirical television show that began in Britain in 1962 and then had a run here in an Americanized version for around 20 years. This essay is not trying to be satirical except, possibly, toward the end.

The most visible event during the past week was the conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer for murder and manslaughter by the use of excessive and unreasonable force; that is, by kneeling on an arrested person for a time long after the suspect apparently ceased to be resisting arrest. The former officer, whose name is Derek Chauvin was found guilty of three charges: second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Under Minnesota law, it appears he could be sentenced for consecutive terms to more than 100 years in prison. That probably will not happen, but he will doubtless receive a substantial sentence.

It could be reversed on appeal, but probably will not be, at least not in its entirety. Jury verdicts are resolution of factual disputes in the context of law given by the court; that is, the presiding judge in the case. A fact finder — the jury — is given a lot of deference, and its decision is overturned only if the judge made an error of law in the jury’s instructions, the verdict is unsupported by relevant evidence, or the trial was manifestly unfair.

Regarding the first two counts charged, the legal definition of “murder” has different nuances throughout the 50 states and in federal jurisdiction, but all appear to involve some degree of intent to kill or do an act that is substantially certain to result in death. What is called at common-law “felony murder” does not require that intent, but deems it murder if the death is caused by a perpetrator or accomplice in the course of committing a felony, for example, burglary, robbery, or, perhaps, an aggravated assault. Manslaughter involves the mental state of recklessness; i.e., conduct that involves an act that is unjustified and is consciously committed when it creates substantial risk of harm.

Based on what we know, it is possible that the facts and circumstances submitted to the jury would support a manslaughter conviction. There does not seem to be any evidence that Chauvin intended to kill his prisoner. While aggravated assault, if charged as a felony, might support a “felony murder” conviction, in this case, that might be a stretch.

Not having watched the entire trial we should not second-guess the jury. That is for the appeals court, and they usually loathe doing so. Even then, so much depends on the correctness of the jury instructions.

What appears to be the most troubling, and best ground for appeal, is the failure of the trial court to move the location of the trial in the face of pretrial publicity, the perceived necessity of essentially fortifying the courthouse, and the presence of a mob outside during the trial. In the 1966 case of Sheppard vs. Maxwell, the U. S. Supreme Court overturned the Ohio conviction of Dr. Samuel Sheppard for murdering his wife.(1) The Court cited that conducting the proceedings and atmosphere in such high charged atmosphere deprived the defendant of a fair trial.

The atmosphere in Minneapolis, far worse than that surrounding the Sheppard trial (which occurred decades pre-Internet and before even broadcast television became ubiquitous) together with the court’s refusal to grant a mistrial after a U. S. Congresswoman loudly demanded a conviction and the President of the United States echoed her demand, could be serious grounds for a reversal new trial in a different venue. Even the judge opined that this could be a point on appeal.

Then there is the concept of “harmless error” in appellate jurisprudence. The appeals court could decide that there was an error by the trial court, but the error could not have changed the outcome. The harmless error doctrine does not apply, however, where substantial rights of the defendant have been violated.

The only definite statement as to what happens next, is: We will see.

Subsequent to the Chauvin trial verdict, the Associate Press, repeated in The Dallas Morning News under a headline declaring “Police killings unabated after Chauvin case” reported five cases of police killing suspects throughout Texas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, California, and Ohio.(3) Based on the facts reported, which are probably incomplete, the deadly force used in those cases was justifiable and necessary.

The case that received the most publicity was the Columbus, Ohio police officer, who undoubtably saved a young woman from death or serious bodily injury. According to video and bystander statements, a teenage girl wielding a knife was about to stab another when the officer shot and killed her. The incident brought screeches from the usual suspects about brutality and “systemic racism” (both the perpetrator and the intended victim happened to be black).(4) The idiotic reaction and inane statements, one from the Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives no less, were mind boggling. No sane person disputes that knives are deadly weapons, and can cause terrible and permanent injuries. That officer deserves a medal for quick action to save a life in a chaotic situation. He had to use force that was in fact deadly take an unjust aggressor’s life to do so. Anyone who believes differently is a fool or has evil premises.

On a different, but related subject, the Beatles were certainly prescient about our current President;
He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land (except for his basement equivalent in the White House)
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody (other than his puppet-masters)
Doesn’t have a point of view (unless it’s woke)
Knows not where he’s going to (or where he is most of the time)
Isn’t he a bit like you and me? (Certainly like most of the left-coast country)

Endnotes

(1) 384 U.S. 333 (1966), the case that made F. Lee Bailey famous. The Sheppard saga spawned the television series (and later big-screen production) The Fugitive.

(2) While the 1970 trial of Charles Manson and three of his acolytes was in progress, then President Nixon publicly declared Manson to be guilty. The defense motion for mistrial was denied. In that case, however, the jury was sequestered for the entire trial, and cellular telephone were unheard of.

(3) DMN 4/25/2021, p. 6A. (print edition); various websites.

(4) See previous post https://bobreagan13.com/2020/09/28/systemic-racism/