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International Travel?

 

I used to travel a great deal – often across the Atlantic. That tapered off some years back as scholars in my generation or older passed from the scene and I received fewer invitations. Domestic travel came to a halt in February 2020 — when I realized that what was happening in China would happen here and canceled plans that would have involved me in taking 16 separate flights that spring.

Things are now, in a modest way, warming up again. I was in Baton Rouge, LA, in September, in Portland, ME, in early October – and, in late October, with my wife, I took a trip on my own dime, which took me from Detroit to Amsterdam and on to Sicily. It was in a variety of ways instructive.

Missing Information

 

I live in Michigan, not California. So, there is some excuse for my not knowing when the gubernatorial recall election will take place. Being puzzled, I did an online search, learned that it was set for this coming Tuesday, and came up with this article on the NPR website.

I have no idea who the Libby Denkmann being interviewed is — though I am sure that she is one of the usual suspects that NPR rounds up. Nor do I know whether her report on the polling data is accurate. Nor do I care. In the last two presidential elections, the polls were far from accurate. What amazed and delighted me was not what Ms. Denkmann said, but what she did not say — to wit, that the leading Republican contender in the race to replace Newsom — Mr. Larry Elder — on whom she focuses much of her attention, is black.

A Book to Be Treasured

 

Back in 1989, my old friend James Muller of the University of Alaska at Anchorage made a discovery. He was in London. He had access to the libraries there. And while rooting about he found out that Winston Churchill’s first truly great book – The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, which he had published in 1899 – had never been reprinted in its original form, that what had passed since 1901 as that work was an abridged, much-revised, and toned-down version of the original. He also discovered that the original work, though in places impolitic, was a genuine treasure – and he set out to make that treasure accessible again and took me along for the ride.

It has been my privilege to follow the evolution of this project now for more than three decades and to take joy in its completion. Jim Muller is a perfectionist. So he did not think it sufficient to usher the original version of The River War back into print. Instead, he decided to do what classicists call a critical edition – including the original maps, the original line drawings, the original photographs, and everything that was added in subsequent editions; marking everything that was eliminated; adding in an appendix the newspaper articles on which it was in outline based; digging up the dispatches that served as a basis for the published articles, transcribing them, and including them as well; adding notes identifying everyone and every place mentioned in the text and a host of appendices elucidating what happened; and writing an introduction about the detective work done, the various editions published, the history of the work, and its evolution, which runs nearly one-hundred-fifty pages. It is like no book published in the last hundred years. It will show readers why Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize . . . for Literature, and it will cast light on the current discontents. For the reconquest of the Sudan involved the suppression of the first great modern Islamic-revivalist revolution, and the troubles that the British had to face are not unlike those we face right now.

And, best of all, it is finally in print. St. Augustine’s Press brought it out some months ago, and here are excerpts from the reviews:

The Decline of American Business: Delta, Dell, Waterpik, & Vanguard

 

Last night, the telephone rang at 3 a.m. It was, thank God, not a death in the family or a terrible accident. It was Delta Airlines. A bit more than twelve hours earlier, I had called Delta. I wanted to buy a ticket so that my son, who will be thirteen, could fly off to summer camp; and on the Delta website, thanks to his age, this could not be done. When I called, I learned from the computer on the other end of the line that there was a high call volume and that the wait would be long. Would I prefer that, when things opened up, Delta’s computer called me back? Uh, er. Yes, thought I. It would surely be preferable to interminable waiting. So I acquiesced – and was then appalled when I was told that the call would come through within the next four hours and fifty-two minutes. In the event, it took more than twelve hours, and at 3 a.m. I found myself wishing that I had the home telephone number of the Delta president ready to hand so that I could call him and discuss with him the poor service on offer from his airline.

I had a similarly disheartening experience with Dell Computers. About fifteen months ago, at Best Buy in Jackson, Michigan, I bought a Dell Inspiron Laptop. The price was right – ca. $350. The laptop had more than enough memory for word processing, running financial software, and surfing the web; and, while I could have paid for an extended warranty, I did not see the point. I had never had a piece of equipment break down on me within the first three years of service – except when it was defective from the start. This time, however, the thing ceased to function shortly after the one-year warranty ran out. Repairs would run, I learned, at least $199; and to my mind, it seemed to make more sense simply to replace the machine. Here again, I found myself thinking that things like this should not happen. Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

Vindication in Michigan: A Victory for the Rule of Law

 

Back in early May, I put up a post entitled Despotism Comes to Michigan, going into some detail concerning Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s seizure of what amounts to dictatorial powers. In it, I suggested two things: first, that the 1945 law under which she claimed to be exercising emergency powers had been replaced by the 1976 law authorizing the legislature to confer on the governor such powers for a limited period of time; and second, that the 1945 law was unconstitutional from the start because it violated the fundamental constitutional principle of the separation of powers by placing the legislative power and the executive power together in the hands of a single person when an emergency had been declared and by leaving the declaration of an emergency to the discretion of that person.

Back in late April, the Michigan Republicans, who control both the state house and the state senate, refused to renew the grant of emergency powers to Governor Whitmer under the 1976 statute and filed suit in state court, arguing that the 1945 act could not be the basis for unilateral action on her part. At the local level and in the appeals court, the Republicans were shot down.

But today, much to my surprise, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that she had violated her constitutional authority by continuing to issue emergency orders after the legislature had refused to renew her powers. And in the process the court ruled that the 1945 act was, as I had suggested, unconstitutional.

What Should We Call Kamala Harris?

 

A short time ago, anticipating that Kamala Harris might be Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick, the Associated Press altered their stylebook, to rule out refering to her as Willie Brown’s onetime “mistress.” We are now to call her his “companion.”

I like that. In ancient Greek, the feminine version of the word for companion is hetaira. It is — how shall I say? — a euphemism; and like many another euphemism the connotation eventually replaced the denotation and the word came to mean “whore.” In time, the truth will come out.

The Perils of Peacemaking

 

“It is much easier to initiate a war than to end one.” With this sentence, I begin both my most recent book — Sparta’s Second Attic War — and a blogpost put up this morning on the Yale University Press site.

The point of the latter is simple enough: the settlement imposed at the end of one war — say, the First World War — often lays the foundation for the next war, and that is what happened not only at the end of Sparta’s First Attic War, but also at the end of the First Punic War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and, yes, the Cold War.

The error that statesmen and citizens alike tend to make is to fail to recognize that those who accepted terms and have merely yielded to circumstances and are in no way broken in spirit are apt in the future to be lying in wait for an opportunity to strike.

Did Derek Chauvin Kill George Floyd?

 

If there is one thing that we all know, it is that, on 25 May, Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department killed George Floyd. This is what the newspapers say, and this is what we are told on television news. The only thing that seems to be in question is whether Chauvin is guilty of second- or third-degree murder.

Ordinarily, in the past, journalists took care to distinguish allegations from facts, but not in this case. They stuck to their claim that Chauvin had killed Floyd even when the medical examiner of Hennepin County issued a preliminary coroner’s report indicating that the latter had died of “cardiopulmonary arrest” – which is to say, a heart attack – and not asphyxiation; that he suffered “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease”; that he was at the time of death hopped up on fentanyl; and that he had recently used methamphetamines. On National Review Online, on 4 June, the LAPD veteran who writes under the name of Jack Dunphy pointed out the obvious implications, but no one in the mainstream media bothered to note that drugs of this sort can cause shortness of breath and cardiac arrest and that Floyd may have died of a drug overdose.

Beware of the MasterCard Debit Card

 

Every once in a while, you will be reminded that the world is a very dangerous place and that you must always be on the lookout for scoundrels intent on picking pockets. Witness my family’s recent experience with MasterCard.

We bank in the small town where we live; and my wife, our older children, and I have debit cards issued by that bank. We trust the institution. Whenever we have run into difficulties, the staff there have been courteous and helpful.

What Should Be Donald Trump’s Pitch

 

On Saturday, President Trump will be holding a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma – where I was born and where off and on I spent something like thirty-two years of my life.

In effect, thanks to the Wuhan Coronavirus, this will be the true launch of his Presidential campaign, and this should give him an opportunity to address the nation. Some will say that he should “bring us together.” I think the opposite. I think that he should exploit this opportunity to divide the house by pinning the tale on the donkey.

This will require an introduction.

The Future of Our Cities

 

Buildings on Hamilton Avenue, Detroit.

In 1968, in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, a great many American cities were engulfed by riots. In one such city – Detroit – the mayor, a well-meaning liberal Democrat named Jerome Cavanaugh, made a fateful decision to rein in the police and let the riot burn itself out. To his judgment, the state’s governor – George Romney – deferred, and the riots went on for five full days. “Burn, baby, burn,” they said. And burn it did.

Eighteen years before, Detroit had been the richest city in the United States – with a per capita income exceeding that in every other urban area in the country. By 1968, it was no longer so well situated. But it was prosperous. It was vibrant. The architecture was stunning; the churches, beautiful; the picture palaces, a wonder.

Do Black Lives Matter?

 

The title that I have chosen is incendiary. Of this, I am wholly cognizant. To pose the question is to court rage. But that does not mean that it should not be asked – for rage of this sort is misplaced and serious thinking is required, as you will soon see.

Black lives ought to matter. Indeed, all human lives ought to matter. But do they? In particular, do they matter to the individuals who recently marched and demonstrated in this country’s streets?

Before Standardized Testing

 

A bit more than a week ago, the regents of the University of California voted unanimously to approve Janet Napolitano’s proposal that the UC system cease using the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the ACT to help their admissions departments choose from among their applicants those most apt to profit from the instruction the universities in the system offer. This they did in the face of a UC Faculty Senate study confirming the utility of these standardized tests for that purpose and demonstrating that the poor showing of African-American and Hispanic high school students on these examinations had little, if anything, to do with test bias and much to do with poor high school preparation.

In theory, UC will now design its own test for applicants, but this can hardly be made to produce the results desired – for it will surely be unavailable to students from out of state, and no examination testing the candidates’ intelligence and preparation is likely to produce results dramatically different from what one secures via the SAT and ACT, which do an excellent job of predicting future academic success. In practice, all of this is obfuscation: for, as I argued on 18 May in “The Value of Standardized Testing,” the real aim of those who want to eliminate standardized testing or make it optional is to make it possible for their schools to practice that species of systematic racial discrimination that passes under the euphemism “affirmative action” without anyone being able to prove that this is what they are doing.

What, you might ask, did universities do before the SAT and ACT existed? Some had their own exams – which gave great advantage to those who could travel to the campus to take it. Others emphasized “character” – which, though in principle admirable, tended in practice to mean that to be successful an applicant had to belong to the appropriate social class. In much of the Ivy League, this meant that Catholics, Jews, and the like had no need to bother applying. As discovery in a recent court case against Harvard revealed, this is how that university excludes Asian-American applicants today.

The Value of Standardized Testing

 

It has become fashionable in the world of higher education to advocate eliminating the requirement that prospective students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the ACT and then submit their scores to the admissions offices of the colleges and universities to which they apply. Janet Napolitano, the President of the University of California (UC), has even proposed that at Berkeley, UCLA, and the other elite institutions in the California system such scores be ignored altogether.

The faculty senate at UC has come down on the other side after conducting, at Napolitano’s direction, an extensive study of the question focused on the utility of the tests and on the question of whether they are a source of racial discrimination. The faculty study concluded that the tests have been useful for distinguishing those who could profit from the courses of study at these elite schools from those who could not and that the existing racial disparities in their student bodies had to do chiefly with poor preparation and not with the tests themselves.

What, you might ask, is this all about? The answer is simple enough. High school grades no longer mean much. Grade inflation has ensured that. The SAT and ACT tests may not be infallible. There are able people who do poorly on standardized tests, and these examinations reveal little about the grit and determination of those who score well. But, on the whole, they do a pretty good job of measuring what they purport to measure – the quality of the young person’s preparation for college and his or her aptitude. And in the aggregate, as the faculty senate at UC discovered, they do an excellent job of predicting academic success.

Despotism Comes to Michigan

 

In early Rome, there was an office called the dictatorship. There was a resort to this institution only in an emergency when the senate and the two consuls were persuaded that the latter were not up to the challenge and that the crisis could not be handled unless there was a suspension of the laws that ordinarily limited the power of magistrates. The dictator’s scope was restricted. He was appointed for a particular purpose – and for that purpose only. He was supposed to resign when the emergency passed. Under no circumstances could he remain in office longer than six months, and when his authority lapsed he was subject to judgment. Necessity was the sole justification for any breach of the law.

The office fell into abeyance after the Second Punic War. It was revived, however, in a different form by Sulla who held the office for a handful of years after Rome’s first civil war, and it was revived again in yet another form by Julius Caesar, who had himself named dictator for life. During the American Revolution, a proposal was floated for including a provision for dictatorship within the Virginia constitution, and Thomas Jefferson fiercely attacked the idea in his Notes on the State of Virginia.

Michigan Republicans No Longer Supine?

 

To the unsuspecting glance, Michigan’s Republican Party might seem to be a force. After all, it controls both houses in the state legislature, and it has done so ever since the shenanigans that took place early in Barack Obama’s first term catapulted Republicans nationwide into a dominant position within most of the states. It is nonetheless an empty shell, little more than a front for the chamber of commerce, and during the period of its ascendancy, it has achieved next to nothing – apart from shifting taxes from corporations to retirees, raising the gas tax, and making Michigan a right-to-work state.

The party’s fecklessness has something to do with the defects of the state’s most recent Republican governor. But his unwillingness to cut expenditures, reduce taxes, and introduce reforms can best be explained as a consequence of the party’s debility. Rick Snyder is the Michael Bloomberg of Michigan. Before he sought the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination, he was registered as an independent. He became a Republican only because he recognized that the party itself had no substance and could easily be seized by a wealthy candidate able to fund his own campaign.

Thus, as was predictable, while in office, once he got the legislature to shift the tax burden from the state’s corporations to its senior citizens, he was reluctant to do anything else of any significance. It was only when the unions ignored his attempts to reach an accord with them and fiercely entered the fray to prevent his re-election that Snyder, by way of revenge, was willing to sign off on the Republicans’ right-to-work initiative.

Gretchen Whitmer Doubles Down

 

Last week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer doubled down, extending the Michigan lockdown until mid-May. The new executive order is in modest ways an improvement on its immediate predecessors, which I described two weeks ago in a post entitled “The Wicked Witch of the Midwest.” One can now operate a motorboat; buy paint for one’s house and seeds for one’s garden; and even travel to a second home. In other ways, however, ”the temporary requirement” that everyone “suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life” is pure idiocy. It still rules out elective surgery while allowing abortion – presumably because, in the world of Gretchen Whitmer and today’s feminists, the not-yet-born are not really alive. Our governor has even had the effrontery to defend abortion as “life-enhancing.” In Michigan (and in some other states), some must die so that others can enjoy themselves.

Given what we knew and what we did not know, when the lockdowns began, it may have made sense for a brief time to systematically minimize human contact. The Wuhan coronavirus is exceedingly contagious, and we then possessed no herd immunity. On the Diamond Princess, virtually everyone was exposed, 18% of those on the cruise contracted the virus, and nearly 10% of those who did contract it died. In Wuhan, China and in northern Italy, the epidemic overwhelmed the health system – and there was reason to fear that the like might happen here. The aim of the lockdowns was not to prevent the spread of the virus. Given how easily it could be contracted and the absence of a vaccine, it was not even possible to impede it for long. Our aim was modest: to delay its onset and slow down the spread in the hope that our hospitals and health professionals could cope.

We know a bit more now. We know that most of those who contract the disease are asymptomatic; that the asymptomatic are, nonetheless, contagious; and that those most apt to die are elderly individuals and others with underlying health conditions. In Michigan, the mean age of those who die is 76 and the average age is 74.5. In Italy, where half of the population is over 47, I read that 99% of those who died suffered from other comorbidities. In New York, 94% suffered from at least one comorbidity and 88% suffered from more than one. Those who go on cruises on ships such as the Diamond Princess are, as one wag put it, “the newly wed and the nearly dead.” It was the presence of a great many old folks on the voyage that explains the high mortality rate.

The Wuhan Coronavirus in Michigan

 

For the last few weeks, I have been—for the most part—hunkered down at home in south-central Michigan. I drive to my office on the Hillsdale College campus two or three times a week to teach my seminars (“Machiavelli, Erasmus, and More” and “The American Constitutional Convention”) via Zoom. I would like to be able to report that I have used the time I have not spent traveling to deliver talks and participate in conferences in Pittsburgh, at Arizona State, Louisiana State, Harvard, Boston College, and in Portland, ME, to write articles and book chapters and get a start on my next book. But I haven’t. Instead, I have begun reading Decameron with my wife; I have watched season three of “Babylon Berlin”; and I have read article after article on the internet.

I will have to confess that I have not learned much that I did not already know. Xi Jinping and his minions lie and are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Chinese in a vain attempt to avoid embarrassment, and the like can be said of the Ayatollah Khamenei, of Vladimir Putin, and of their minions. The CDC is incompetent. The FDA is so wrapped up in red tape that it cannot respond to a genuine crisis. The World Health Organization is profoundly corrupt. The models that epidemiologists construct are not necessarily more reliable than those employed by climate scientists. Donald Trump tends to say the first thing that comes into his head. Michael Bloomberg is a stooge for Xi Jinping. Bernie Sanders is crazy. Joe Biden is senile. Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer are attempting to take advantage of a public health crisis to push a partisan agenda, and they resolutely attack the President for foolishness they are guilty of themselves. And, yes, the mainstream press is so irredeemably corrupt that their antics would be an embarrassment to the yellow journalists of yesteryear. I knew all of that before I entered my confinement.

The Wicked Witch of the Midwest

 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been in the news a fair amount recently. A Democrat with ample experience in both the state house and the state senate, she was elected to the gubernatorial chair by a comfortable margin in 2018 on the promise that she would “fix the damned roads.” To that end, she promptly proposed raising the gas tax by 45 cents a gallon, which earned her opprobrium throughout the state and caused the members of her own party in the Michigan legislature to distance themselves from her.

This misstep notwithstanding, Whitmer is viewed as a star by the Democratic party establishment. Perhaps because she was elected governor in a Midwestern state that Donald Trump won in 2016 and that the Democrats must take in November if they are to wrest the presidency from the man they love to hate, she was chosen in February to reply to his State of the Nation Address, and Joe Biden even made her co-chair of his campaign.

All of this has gone to Whitmer’s head. She now aspires to be her party’s vice-presidential nominee in November, and she is reportedly on Biden’s shortlist – which explains her desperate, clumsy, recent attempt to pick a quarrel with the President. The lady, whom Trump in his inimitable way calls Half-Wit Mer, is desperate to be in the limelight.

Coronavirus: What Should You Think?

 

What you should think about the coronavirus depends, of course, on your chief concern.

If, for example, like the prognosticators in the financial press, you have your eye on the stock market, and if you have no near-term need for cash, you should not sell out – not at this stage, with the market down well over 20% – even though the epidemic will almost certainly get worse and take stock prices down further. For one thing is virtually certain. When the crisis begins to pass, the market will anticipate further good news and bounce back dramatically; and, when the economy subsequently picks up, prices will climb further. Instead of selling now and losing your shirt, you should be patient. The likelihood that you can time the market precisely is exceedingly slim.

Nonetheless, you should be pondering just when the market will hit bottom – which is when you will want to wade in with whatever cash you can spare. Bad news is good news for those who know how to take advantage of it; and if, as I have suggested, you can’t time the market perfectly, you can almost certainly get a better buy a few weeks from now than you can at the moment.

Paul A. Rahe

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