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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.

To begin with, I learned what I had gone to learn. I toured the battlefields in Sicily pertinent to Athens’s Sicilian Expedition. And I even learned more. As I knew and should have attended to, the jet stream shifts south early in October, and weather in the Mediterranean undergoes a revolution at about that time of year. The weather of the Atlantic invades that sea, and there are thunderstorms – often violent storms – and the temperature drops. That, too, turned out to be instructive because, as I knew, there were two battles that took place during the military campaign in question in which violent thunderstorms shook the confidence of the participants. I learned a lot from being on the ground.

More to the point, however, the trip was instructive in another way. I learned what it meant to undertake international travel in the age of the coronavirus.

To begin with, it can be dirt cheap. No one really wants to travel, and you can cash in. We paid ca. $650 a person for the round trip. Taxes and airport fees took $500 of that. The airline got $150 a head.

But there is a downside. First, my wife and I needed to have coronavirus shots if we were to travel abroad. That was, fortunately, no problem. We had had our first two Pfizer shots in January and our booster in late September. Second, we needed to take coronavirus tests within 72 hours of our arrival in Sicily. If either of us was positive, the trip was off. Third, while in an airport or on planes, we had to wear surgical masks. On such a trip, that meant that we would be masked 14 hours or more.

This last requirement is crazy. To begin with, masking provides a modicum protection for others. But we did not have the virus. We had just been tested, and this was true for everyone on the plane. Masking provides only minimal protection for the masked — and wearing the mask for a long period is a misery. My bet is that it is bad for the masked as well. Re-breathing the air you have already breathed cannot be salutary. But one must comply — or get kicked off the plane.

There is another problem. The airlines are in trouble. Flight cancellations, on dubious pretexts, are common, and forget about customer service: no one answers the phone. Our plans for travel were upended once by such cancellations, and our actual trip was upended by another. That we got home more or less on schedule was a miracle.

And there is this. You cannot come back to the US unless you have had yet another coronavirus test and passed it with flying colors. The alternative is ten days of quarantine. Pause and contemplate that before you make your plans.

We knew all of this, and we went anyway. (My motto is, “You are only old once!”) And when you get there – if your destination is Syracusa in Sicily – there is much that will go well.

First and foremost, there are virtually no tourists. The island of Ortygia – the place where the Greeks from Corinth first established themselves, the place to which the Christians of the region retired during the time of Arab raids – will be your playground. And wonderful it is.

Then, there is the food. Don’t go unless you like fish. But if you do like fish, by all means go. The Sicilians know what to do with it. We had not a single mediocre meal, and we found a place on Ortygia — La Tavernetta Uno da Simone — that was not expensive but was wonderful. My mouth still waters at the thought.

What about housing? We found a place through bookings.com for $65 a night. It was centrally located, quiet, and lovely. When we had to move elsewhere, we found another nearby for $45 a night, and it was terrific.

What is not to like? Well, it was late October, as I have said, and it rained … every day. On our way down by taxi from the Catania airport, there was a deluge. North of us, it produced flash floods and killed two people in the city of Catania.

We got caught in a deluge as we were hiking up the coast and back from Syracusa with an eye to sorting out the terrain. We went out again in a deluge to see what the sea was apt to do to Ortygia and to discern whether, in a giant storm, the water in the city’s Great Harbor (which is immense) was calm. All of this information is now tucked away in the chapters I drafted before traveling to Sicily and rewrote while there and after coming back.

We twice rented a car – and visited Palazzo Acreide (ancient Akrai) in the territory of Syracusa and Noto in the mountains beyond – which was built after an earthquake in 1693 destroyed Noto Antico and the residents rebuilt on another site. Everything in the town – the churches, the houses, the opera house, you name it – was baroque. The town, built up a mountainside, is a real gem, and Palazzo Acreide is fine as well.

So should you go? Well, the travel is an ordeal – the masquerade, the poor connections, and Airbus with seats even closer together than was the case in the old 747s. There are risks: think quarantine.

But let’s face it, the old song of the Animals – “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place” – is more alluring than ever.

So, yes, you should go. I recommend using Orbitz or some other online source to track down cheap flights, using Book.com to secure cheap but clean and quiet digs, and saving your money for food. Go out of season (but perhaps not in late October). Go somewhere where the food is good (we have Turkey in mind for April) – and relax. As for the quarantine, that is in the lap of the gods. You have to be prepared to roll with the punches.

But you’ve gotta get out of that place.

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.

Perhaps, however, Ms. Denkmann is more concerned with “the content” of the man’s “character” than with “the color of his skin” and Martin Luther King’s dream has been fulfilled.

Could that be true? Suppose that Larry Elder was white and Gavin Newsom black. What would she say then?

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:

“One is left in awe before this stupendous scholarly achievement, which only years of patient research on several continents could have produced.”
— Antoine Capet, Cercles

“An impressive scholarly edition of great significance not only for those interested in Churchill, but also for imperial expansion at its heyday.”
— Jeremy Black, The Critic

“A towering work of scholarship and one of the most remarkable books to appear in many, many years.”
— Andrew Roberts, The Wall Street Journal

“Publisher and editor share in an old British triumph, which is as instructive for us now as it was for Churchill’s countrymen then.”
— Will Morrisey, City Journal

“The River War, Winston Churchill’s account of the reconquest of the Sudan, was arguably his best book. This definitive edition makes these magnificent volumes an indispensable part of the Churchill canon.”
— Piers Brendon, Literary Review

“In the first edition of The River War, Churchill demonstrated the greatness that lay before him. James Muller and St. Augustine’s Press should be applauded for the immense labor of producing this magnificent new edition.”
— Daniel J. Mahoney, Claremont Review of Books

“A serious monograph on a neglected episode of military history, a vivid first-hand account of a formative experience in its author’s life, and a cracking good story, too.”
— Daniel Johnson, Law and Liberty

“In Professor Muller, Winston Churchill and The River War have found an editor of immense scholarly energy and integrity, who has produced an edition worthy of his labor and of the great man who lived and wrote the work.”
— Ted R. Bromund, Finest Hour

“No collector of Winston Churchill’s works can afford not to own the 2021 edition of The River War. Whether you own the 1899 edition is immaterial. This new work is indispensable.”
— Ronald I. Cohen, Hillsdale College Churchill Project

As one would expect, the first printing, some 500 copies, sold out. Now, a second printing has arrived – this time 1200 copies. Although this two-volume edition costs $150, most of the 1,200 were on backorder and are now being shipped to the purchasers. A third printing is planned, and it will be larger yet. But whether it will be available before Christmas is highly doubtful. The printer, in Quebec, has reportedly been hit hard by the coronavirus, and it no longer has the staff to produce so complex a book. And so the publisher is in search of a printer for the third printing, and that will take time.

So, if you find this book intriguing and want a copy for yourself or want to order it as a gift for someone else, the time is now. The best way to do this is to go directly to St. Augustine’s Press by clicking on this link.

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.

A few weeks ago, the water flosser I had bought from Philips died after working for a respectable number of years. My wife then picked up a Waterpik water flosser at the Walmart in Jonesville, Michigan; and I started using it. This item worked for a week or ten days. I put new batteries into the thing. But nothing I did could bring it back to life. Here again, I found myself wondering why a firm would sell so defective a product.

On a Saturday, at about the time the Philips water flosser died, I sat down in my office on the Hillsdale campus with daughter number one. She had reached the ripe old age of twenty-one, and I wanted to transfer to her the investment account and Roth IRA that I had set up for her with myself as trustee some years ago. When I had called Vanguard Investments, the counselor at the other end of the line had told me that I first needed to have her open her own investment account and Roth IRA, that the best way to do so was online, and that I could then call and transfer the money into the accounts she had set up. So that was our task. We tried twice online to open the investment account, putting in the pertinent information. But on each occasion the program supplied by Vanguard stalled, telling us that the information that we had entered was unacceptable. As I later learned, the problem was twofold. We were working from my computer and so the program insisted on putting in my contact information. Furthermore, it would not allow my daughter an address or a telephone number different from the one for the trustee account (for which, of course, I had used my address and my telephone number). In the end, we discovered that we had created two investment accounts and that the sum meant for the one we were trying to set up had been taken out of her personal bank account twice – once for each account.

That was bad enough, but it got worse. When she called Vanguard the following week to get things corrected, the first counselor she reached would not speak with her because she gave him her address – which meant to him that she could not be who she said she was. A day later, she called again and got a seemingly helpful woman who tried to aid her and promised that one of the two investment accounts would be closed and that the sum in that account would be transferred back to her bank account within five business days. Something like fifteen such days have passed, and she is still waiting. The last time she called Vanguard, it was 4:15 p.m.; she was put on hold; and a half-hour later a robotic voice informed her that her call would not be taken because Vanguard was about to shut down for the day. Needless to say, she was annoyed. It is one thing not to take calls made after closing hours. It is another to put someone on hold for an extended period then to drop that someone.

In the last few years, I have had other, similar experiences – with, for example, Home Depot – and they have led me to the conclusion that there is something amiss with the American corporation. My deals with Delta, Dell, Vanguard, and Home Depot were once uniformly satisfactory. Customer service was excellent. Waiting times were negligible or nonexistent. Those I dealt with were well-informed and helpful. Problems rarely arose; and, when they did, they were quickly and courteously sorted out. It looks to me as if the bean-counters are now everywhere in control and as if the urge to cut costs and improve on profits has occasioned a sharp decline in quality and the virtual elimination of customer service. I have not returned to Home Depot since the difficulty I had with the shop in Coldwater, Michigan. I will never buy anything from Waterpik again. I will think twice before I have future dealings with Delta or Dell, and I may move the savings I have invested with Vanguard over the last thirty or so years somewhere else.

When I ponder all of this, I cannot help but think of Boeing – a few shares of which I own. It used to be a terrific company. But, I am told, when the unions in Seattle began picketing the homes of the company’s top brass, the wives of the latter spoke up; and the headquarters was moved to Chicago. Henceforth the top brass was rarely seen on the factory floor. At the top, the engineers gave way to the bean-counters and, in time, the company went south. Giving way to the rage for short-term profits can easily ruin a brand name and shut off the spigot for profits altogether. Someone should do a course on this at one of our business schools.

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.

In her response, according to The Detroit News, Whitmer is breathing defiance:

Whitmer said Friday she “vehemently” disagreed with the court’s ruling, which she said made Michigan an “outlier” among the vast majority of states that have emergency orders still in place.

The governor said the ruling doesn’t take effect for 21 days and, even after that, her orders will remain in place through “alternative sources of authority.”

The ruling appears to leave intact orders issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, which have addressed some of the same subject matter contained in Whitmer’s executive orders.

“I want the people of Michigan to know that no matter what happens, I will never stop fighting to keep you and your families safe from this deadly virus,” she said.

Stay tuned. Things in these parts are beginning to get interesting.

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.

Someone should interview Willie Brown’s wife. Her comments on Ms. Harris would make interesting reading.

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.

That is the story for Putin’s Russia and arguably for Xi’s China as well, and studying what happened between Athens and Sparta in the fifth century B.C. can help one understand, by way of analogy, what has happened in other places and times — including the present day.

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.

We now know more – thanks to a fuller coroner’s report and thanks to footage from the body cams worn by two of the officers involved in Floyd’s arrest. We know that he had consumed more than twice the dose of fentanyl apt to be fatal, and we know that he had the Wuhan coronavirus. We also know that Floyd, who was 6’ 4” and weighed in at 220 pounds, resisted arrest; that the four officers involved had a difficult time subduing him; that they recognized that he was hopped up on something; and that they called an ambulance and urged that it come as quickly as possible. On 3 August, John Hinderaker laid out the evidence on the website Powerline. But, to date, no one in the mainstream media has addressed the implications.

There is no reason to think Chauvin guilty of second or third-degree murder. Indeed, there is every reason to suspect that he is not in any way legally or morally responsible for George Floyd’s death. It is, moreover, possible that he and his colleagues did everything by the book. Eventually, if and when there is a trial, we may learn the whole story. In the meantime, I doubt that we can expect any help from America’s professional journalists.

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.

So we thought nothing of it when, a few months back, the bank shifted from one MasterCard provider to another. In January, one of my children used her debit card to pay tuition so that she could work on her German in the summer at a Goethe Institute in Munich. This came off without a hitch. The amount subtracted from her account was the precise amount charged by the Goethe Institute.

In May, presuming that the Wuhan coronavirus would pass and that international travel would once again be possible, she signed up for a subsequent session at the Goethe Institute in Vienna. This time, although we did not at first notice, she was charged an additional 9.99% on the transaction for what is called a MasterCard Cross Border Fee and another 9.99% for a MasterCard Currency Conversion Fee.

And when, after it became evident that international travel would not soon become an option, she sought reimbursement for both tuition charges, she was charged 19.98% on each. It was then — when I discovered that, on these transactions, she had unwittingly paid a whopping $973.10 to our bank’s new MasterCard provider in fees – that we became alert and disgruntled.

Our bank, which had not warned us of the danger, has made us good. But we were told that this would not happen again; and, unless the bank changes its debit card provider and the fees are dropped or radically reduced, we will probably take our business elsewhere.

The moral of this story is that there are predators out there and that our bank’s MasterCard provider is one of them. In such a case, my motto will be: “Never leave home with it.”

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.

In the last twelve years, the radical Left has made an issue of the deaths of African-American at the hands of the police. They charge that ours is a regime of white supremacy, and mainstream Democrats now echo their cry. Some of them even demand a defunding of the police.

That this is bogus should be clear to anyone who can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. If race were the issue, then why do so few African-American women die at the hands of the police? Could it be that a wildly disproportionate number of crimes (especially, violent crimes) are perpetrated by men and that men are, therefore, much more likely than women to be arrested? By the same token, are not a disproportionate number of crimes perpetrated by black men? And would that not explain why they are more likely than white men to have unpleasant encounters with the police?

So, as I said, all the hoopla stirred up by the organization Black Lives Matter and its allies is bogus.

But this does not excuse all of the deaths that do take place at the hands of the police. No one pays attention to any of the whites who die in such circumstances – what happens to them the press and the activists pass over in silence (white lives do not matter to them) — but we do know of a handful of cases involving black men that arguably fall under the category: wrongful death. And the policemen responsible tend to be bad eggs – men who have frequently been the object of complaint. Derek Chauvin, who appears to have been responsible for the death of George Floyd, was one of these. He should have been rooted out. The authorities knew that something was amiss, but he was kept on the job. The police unions and the contracts they negotiate regarding the dismissal of their members from the force have a lot to do with this – and that is where I think Donald Trump should start.

He should defend the conduct of the decent, honest policemen who protect us – white and black – from harm. He should deplore the attacks made on them. He should acknowledge the existence of bad apples in our urban police forces. He should mention some of the wrongful deaths that have occurred, and he should ask why the bad apples responsible were not weeded out.

Then, he should point out the places where these noteworthy incidents have occurred – Baltimore, for example; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and Minneapolis. The list could be longer. Then, he should ask what these venues have in common and point out that they are all now and have for decades been Democratic strongholds. When was the last time that the Republicans controlled the city council in any of these places?

Then, President Trump should turn to the recent riots. He should go through some of the cities where looting, fire-bombing, and murder took place. He should point out that in every case the mayor reined in the police and allowed the riots to go on and on, and he should point out the consequences for the residents – no grocery stores left in southside Chicago, for example. He should draw attention to public officials (Keith Ellison, anyone – and how about Bill de Blasio?) and media figures (the brother of the governor of New York?) who encouraged the violence. And he should ask to what party the pertinent mayors, the other public officials, and the media figures belong?

Finally, President Trump should emphasize that the most important function of government is the protection of persons and property and that, in these Democratic bastions, these responsibilities are not being carried out. And then he should conclude that, if the people of Baltimore, Denver, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and the like are happy with the way the bad apples have been retained in their jobs as policemen and satisfied with the protection afforded their persons and property by those in authority, they should continue to vote for the Democratic Party. Otherwise, they should vote Republican – for a change.

Why, you might reasonably ask, does Professor Rahe suggest that Donald Trump waste his time on issues that are not of immediate concern to those who might well vote for him? No matter what he does, he is not going to win Baltimore, Denver, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or Minneapolis.

I have three reasons for suggesting this tack. First, it is the right thing to do. These are one-party cities and have been for half a century or more. That is one of the reasons why they are so poorly governed. One-party domination retards a change of course when a change of course is needed. There has been a lot of talk about police misconduct in recent years, but nothing has been done to weed out the bad apples. The local Democratic Party is always in collusion with the unions. It is the right thing to do for another reason. The conduct of Mr. Ellison, Mr. de Blasio, and Mr. Cuomo is reprehensible, and the same is true for the big-city mayors.

My second reason for suggesting that the President take this tack is that it is good politics. It puts him on the side of honest, decent black folk – those most in need of the police and those who have suffered the most from the riots. Some of them – perhaps a substantial proportion of them – might actually vote Republican for a change. They surely know that a change is in order. And their votes might determine the electoral college vote of a state or two. They might even be decisive in a senatorial race or two – and this matters: for, if the Democrats take the Senate, they will surely renew their quest to impeach the President.

My third reason is that this is not a white supremacist country. There are millions of white Americans who will be more likely to swallow the misgivings that they have regarding Donald Trump and vote for the man if he demonstrates that he is genuinely concerned about police misconduct and genuinely interested in the welfare of the people in our cities – black, Hispanic, Asian, and white – who have been hurt by the rioting that has taken place.

Donald Trump is perfectly situated for doing well and doing good at the same time. The trick is for him to pin the tale on the donkey.

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.

Thanks to Cavanaugh’s decision, all of this in time disappeared. Every major black-owned company, including Motown Records, abandoned Detroit soon after the riots. The white-owned companies soon followed suit, and Detroit gradually descended into anarchy. By the time that I moved to Michigan in 2007, it was a wasteland resembling a bombed-out city or a town rendered virtually uninhabitable long before by the plague. Among the vast multitude of houses left derelict was the abode where Governor Romney, then an auto executive, had reared his young son Mitt. Never in human history, to the best of my knowledge, has anything like this happened to a city absent war or an epidemic.

All of this took place for one reason. In Detroit, you weren’t safe, and your property wasn’t either. Law and order are the key to prosperity. Law and order are necessary to civilized life, and civilized life is not what one had come to associate with Detroit.

Detroit was not the last such city. A few years ago, a similar riot took place in Baltimore, and the mayor acted as Jerome Kavanaugh had, restraining the police and allowing the rioters free rein. In the aftermath, the police force was cut, and much of Baltimore descended into anarchy. No one in his right mind would go to live there now. Baltimore is gone.

In the last three weeks, cities all across the country have experienced similar riots – replete with property damage, looting, arson, and murder. In virtually all of our cities – including Minneapolis, Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Denver, and Atlanta – mayors have followed the Kavanaugh playbook and governors have stood aside. The mainstream press, what remains of it, has played down the damage done and the violence, and nearly all of the television networks have done the same. But that has not changed the facts. The people who live in or near these cities know what has happened, and they know that neither they nor their property will be protected by the police. In the interim, there have been calls for defunding the police, and they have been taken up by the Minneapolis City Council, the mayors of New York City and Los Angeles, and a great many other local officials. In Denver, the school board voted unanimously to withdraw the police from the public schools.

Unless there is a dramatic reversal – and there is no reason to expect one now or in the near future – what has been done by the authorities in the last three weeks is going to lead to a withdrawal from our cities. No one is going to want to live in an urban area where person and property are unsafe, and what I am saying applies to our fellow citizens of color at least as emphatically, if not more so. Why would any African-American want to live in the southside of Chicago? Next to no one there can afford a car, and the grocery stores have all been looted or burned to the ground. By the same token, why would anyone want to live in Georgetown where the stores are all boarded up and looters were allowed to run free?

There are thugs everywhere. There have always been thugs everywhere, and that will never change. They can be contained; they can be restrained – but not without rigorous policy and lengthy prison terms. America’s great cities are about to follow Detroit . . . into a nightmare world.

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?

Some of these do, indeed, care. But most of those who busied themselves ostentatiously displaying their virtue and intimating, if not shouting, that their fellow citizens were by and large utterly careless (or worse) fall firmly into that category themselves.

To see that this is so, one need only ask a simple question, “What about abortion?”

A thought experiment is in order. Consider what would happen if someone showed up for such a march carrying a sign that read, “Black Lives Matter! All Lives Matter! End Abortion!” Would such a person be welcome?

I think not – and, if I am right, the fact is pertinent. For a great many more black lives are snuffed out in abortion clinics each year than anywhere else. Year in and year out, more black babies are aborted than are born in the city of New York, and the like can be said for many another American metropolis.

Do those who marched care? Do these black lives – the lives of harmless, helpless innocents – matter to them? Not, I suspect, one whit.

Or try another thought experiment. Suppose someone joined such a demonstration carrying a sign that read, “Black Lives Matter! Introduce More Rigorous Policing!” What would happen to this individual? I shudder to think.

We need to keep one thing in mind. Very few black Americans die at the hands of the police. Those African-Americans who are fortunate enough not to have been murdered in the womb are far, far more likely to die at the hands of other black men than at the hands of the police. If we were to defund the latter, as many of the demonstrators urged, a great many more black men would be murdered than are now. The experiment has been tried over the last five years in Baltimore. The results are in, and they are not encouraging.

If black lives really mattered to the self-righteous in our midst, they would demand more and better policing. They would demand the abolition of public-sector unions, that civil review boards be established, and that the bad apples be rooted out of our police forces. Then, they would advocate increasing the money allocated to support cops on the beat, and they would suggest flooding the neighborhoods where black men kill black men with upright men (and women) of all races dressed in blue.

Let me add one final point. One can argue that a disproportionate number of black men die at the hands of the police only if one bases one’s calculations on the relative size of the black population and not on the relative number of crimes committed by black men. If a radically disproportionate number of criminals are black men, then, if the policing is done properly, the police will be far more likely to have unpleasant encounters with black than with white men – and that is what happens in every tolerably well-run city in the land. On most occasions, when a black man dies in the course of such an encounter, the policemen involved are in no way at fault. What happened in Ferguson is the norm. What happened in Minneapolis is the exception.

I am surely wasting my effort here – for black lives do not matter to the vast majority of the self-satisfied liberals and radicals who have been marching in our streets, and I doubt that they ever will. What we have witnessed is not an upsurge in the desire for justice. What we have watched is a display of childish self-indulgence on the part of people who want to be seen as just.

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.

Public universities sometimes opted for another – far more rational expedient – for separating the sheep from the goats, and the University of California was in their number. As one individual observed in a letter published in The Wall Street Journal,

I was a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley in 1952. At that time there were no tests to get into the university. Any California student who graduated from his or her high school with a B or better average was eligible to attend.

At the freshman orientation the president of the university invited 100 students at a time to his residence on campus. He had everyone hold hands. He said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. All of you are the best of your high schools, but only one of you will be here next semester.” And that was how the class was selected. Most of the one-third of the students who survived the freshman cut remained at Cal for four years.

I quote this bit of correspondence because the same thing was still done at the University of Oklahoma when I graduated from high school in Oklahoma City in 1967. There was something called the University College. Freshmen had to successfully pass through it before they could enroll as sophomores in a regular course of study, and most failed to make the cut.

Something of the sort could be tried today at big public institutions. But I doubt very much whether such an expedient could be made to work. To begin with, in 1952, it cost next to nothing to spend a year at schools like the University of California. Today it costs an arm and a leg. Moreover, if it turned out – as it surely would turn out – that African-Americans and Hispanics were much more apt to bust out than Asian-Americans and those of solely European stock, faculty members would be charged with “racism,” the administration would fail to back them up, and we would soon have “affirmative action” in grading — for academics are not, by and large, a courageous lot.

If the aim is to genuinely improve the prospects of African-Americans and Hispanics, the only plausible expedient is to dramatically improve the schools that they attend. But there is a politically insuperable obstacle in the way: I have in mind the teachers’ unions.

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.

The same can be said for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Forty-six years ago, when I was a graduate student at Yale, the history department’s Director of Graduate Studies, a Bahai from Iran, did a study seeking to find out whether there was a clear correlation between GRE scores and academic success in the department’s Ph.D. program. And, lo and behold, he found that this was so.

So why have universities, such as the University of Chicago, made the SAT and ACT optional? And why has Janet Napolitano rejected the recommendation of the UC faculty senate?

The answer is simple. If one requires that prospective students submit SAT or ACT scores, one cannot practice “affirmative action” – a euphemism for systematic racial discrimination – without it being obvious that one is doing so. The lawsuit brought against Harvard by an Asian-American coalition has embarrassed that venerable institution, and embarrassment of that sort we cannot have.

The shenanigans now being contemplated by college and university administrators all over the country have nothing to do with a genuine concern for the well-being of African-American and Hispanic students. They have to do solely with virtue-signaling.

The truth is that “affirmative action” harms its supposed beneficiaries. Long ago, back in the 1940s, as Gail Heriot once pointed out to me, a series of studies were done testing whether athletes of talent recruited by elite institutions with little regard for their scholastic aptitude profited from the education on offer at these institutions. The conclusion reached was that they had actually been damaged. They could not compete with their fellow students, they associated almost solely with one another, and they tended either to fail and drop out or to major in the least demanding fields: sociology, education, playground management, exercise science, and the like. Had these young people attended less elite schools, as their less athletically-talented academic peers sometimes did, they would have had an opportunity to make up for poor preparation in high school and they might well have prospered (as many of their peers did).

I mention these particular studies – because the athletes in question were white. What pertained to them in the 1940s pertains today to African-American and Hispanic students inadequately prepared for high-level college work who are recruited by our elite institutions. At less demanding schools, those like them do compete, they make up for lost time, they advance, and many of them enter the professions.

This is no secret, and the college administrators intent on allowing high school students to apply without taking standardized tests are not ignorant. They merely want to signal to their peers that they are virtuous, and they do not care what harm they do to the supposed beneficiaries of the policies that they want to institute.

The people who run most of our institutions of higher learning are profoundly corrupt. For the better part of a century, for the sake of pleasing their alumni and their teams’ fans, they have averted their gaze from the damage they have inflicted on the athletes they recruit and then shamelessly exploit. For a long time now, they have taken advantage of minority students for a similarly cynical purpose. Now they have hit on a scheme for concealing their lack of scruples. You have to admire their cheek.

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.

Thanks in part to Jefferson’s efforts, the word is not to be found in any of our state constitutions, but the thing itself does exist. For there are various provisions in the laws of our states for declaring a state of emergency and for the exercise of what amount to dictatorial powers. This is arguably unavoidable, for necessity does on occasion impose itself on us, and in the crunch it is crucial that someone be empowered to act with energy, vigor, and dispatch. But what is unavoidable is also in this case exceedingly dangerous, as the Roman example suggests and Jefferson emphasized. What is happening right now in Michigan should be a warning to all Americans.

Dictatorial authority is an invitation to tyrannical conduct. It brings out the worst in those who enjoy bossing others around and making them crawl. As I have specified in a series of blogposts – here, here, and here – Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer is a case in point. It is, therefore, no surprise that the arbitrariness and capriciousness of her edicts have inspired widespread popular protest and have occasioned a refusal to enforce her executive orders on the part of a host of county sheriffs and local prosecutors. Nor is it astonishing that the Republican legislature, which originally sanctioned her declaration of a state of emergency refused late last week to renew its bill of authorization. In Detroit, in the collar counties, and perhaps also in Washtenaw and Kent Counties, where the University of Michigan and Grand Rapids are situated, there may have been grounds for the enforcement of social distancing – and there may be now (though I have grave doubts). In most of the state, however, this was absurd – as the local fatality rates of the coronavirus demonstrates. We are, as I said in an earlier post, in danger of committing suicide for fear of death, and the Republicans, spurred on by small businessmen from across the state, have finally caught on.

What this means is that Michigan is facing a grave constitutional crisis. Two laws are pertinent: the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act and the 1976 Emergency Management Act. Whitmer points to the former, which authorizes the governor to act unilaterally in declaring an emergency and in then issuing executive orders. The Republicans point to the latter, which authorizes the legislature to declare an emergency and to empower the governor for a period of 28 days to address the challenge. There seems here to be a conflict of laws, and in normal circumstance later legislation takes precedence over prior legislation. There is also reason to think that the 1945 act was unconstitutional from the git-go because it allows the governor at her own discretion and for an indefinite period of time to combine both executive and legislative powers in her own hands. Put simply, Gretchen Whitmer is conducting herself less in the manner of the Roman dictators of the early and middle republic and more like Sulla and Caesar.

The English learned of the danger attendant on a combination of the executive and the legislative power the hard way in the course of the 17th century. For twelve long years, during what historians call the period of personal rule (1628-1640), Charles I ruled without calling Parliament by exercising both powers; and soon thereafter the Long Parliament ruled for an even longer period, also exercising the two powers. In consequence of their experience with the arbitrary rule of a monarch and that of the House of Commons, the Levellers, English republicans such as Marchamont Nedham, and their successors among the English Whigs articulated the doctrine of the separation of powers. Later, in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu found a word to describe the consequence of combining of these powers, and that word is despotism – which is what Michiganders are experiencing now.

The Republicans in the legislature intend to sue, and this dispute will no doubt get settled in the courts – which worries me because, thanks to our last governor (a Republican-in-Name-Only), we now have a progressive, lawless state Supreme Court apt to make decisions based on the policy preference of the judges and not on the law and the constitutional principles underpinning it.

I should perhaps add that Whitmer’s refusal to reach an accommodation with the Republican-controlled legislature, which was all-too-willing to cooperate, is a sign of the stupidity that causes her to be called, in certain circles, the Michigan Moron. Had she proceeded in the manner in which she began, under legislative authorization, the Republicans would have shared the blame for the economic damage inflicted on the people of Michigan by her ill-advised extensions of the shutdown. Now, thanks to her refusal to reach a compromise with the legislature, the blame will solely be hers.

Of course, this may not matter to our governor. The welfare of her fellow citizens is not her primary concern, and her time horizon is short. She co-chaired Joe Biden’s campaign. She is a governor in a state in the Midwest that he must take in November if he is to defeat Donald Trump;  she is said to be on Biden’s shortlist for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination; and this weekend she slavishly defended him against the accusations lodged by his former employee Tara Reade. She may think that drama, conflict, and an air of decisiveness heighten her chances of being chosen, and she may be right. For Joe Biden was never among the brightest bulbs, and he is now quite obviously senile.

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.

Moreover, throughout his eight years in office, Rick Snyder persistently nominated progressives to the state supreme court; and, thanks to his efforts, what had once been a judicial body committed to the rule of law is now, in effect, an almost unaccountable legislative body dedicated to progressive causes. It is no surprise, then, that – when his second term came to an end, he refused to endorse the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Nor is it astonishing that Bill Schuette then lost to Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee. He could talk about cutting taxes and reducing the state’s exorbitant auto insurance rates. But, after eight years of full Republican control, it was perfectly clear that nothing of the sort would happen. Michigan’s Republicans like to hold office. They have no substantive agenda.

In the last couple of weeks, however, the Republicans seem to have caught fire. The local chambers of commerce are perturbed. Small business, which is the only reliable Republican constituency in Michigan, is imperiled. These folks really hate Gretchen Whitmer – and, as I have tried to spell out in posts here and here, they have grounds for their fury. Her executive orders have been arbitrary and obnoxious, and there are no grounds whatsoever for locking down counties where no one or next to no one has died from the coronavirus.

In consequence, the Republicans in the legislature are threatening to create an oversight committee to investigate the lockdowns; to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which conferred on the state’s chief executive almost dictatorial powers after the governor declared an emergency; and to amend the 1976 Emergency Management Act, which gave the legislature the right to make such a declaration, to reduce the period covered from 28 to 14 days. Negotiations are taking place as I write these words. The Republicans point to the 1976 act and contend that, if the state legislature does not approve an extension of the governor’s emergency powers by Friday, 1 May, they will evaporate. Governor Whitmer points to the 1945 act and claims that she can act unilaterally under that.

There is, as should be clear, a legal question that needs resolution. Did the 1976 act in effect, repeal the provisions of the 1945 act pertaining to the declaration of emergencies?

There is also a policy question. Thus far, Whitmer has taken a one-size-fits-all approach – which, as I argued in the more recent of my two posts, makes little sense given the fact that the epidemic has had no effect or next to no effect in many parts of the state. It is, in fact, as I pointed out, by no means clear that a lockdown is needed today anywhere in Michigan. Whitmer’s most recent executive order is predicated on utopian presumptions – that it is in our power to “suppress” the epidemic. We may well have slowed down its onset, and that may have helped the healthcare professionals who are trying to cope with the mayhem. It is not at all clear that further efforts along these lines will be to our benefit. No matter what we do, this contagion is eventually going to reach into every nook and cranny in the state. We are in danger, as I said in my most recent post, of committing suicide for fear of death.

It will be interesting to see whether the Republicans make good on their threats. Generally, they do not have much in the way of backbone. But small businesses are in dire condition, and the Republicans rightly care about their welfare (as the Democrats do not). I just wish that the Republican perspective were not limited to the goals of the chamber of commerce. There is a great deal wrong in Michigan that the chamber cares about not at all.

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.

We do not have a precise fix on the mortality rate among those in the larger population who contract the disease. Estimates based on real evidence vary between .1% and .8%, but it is clear that fewer than 1% of those who become ill die, that the age-structure of the population determines the morbidity rate, and that we are better situated than the Italians. In the United States, half of the population is under 38.5.

We also not have a precise fix on the rate of contagion. In Santa Barbara, it may be as low as 15%. In the city of New York, it may be as great as 25% — and, of course, if the lockdowns really did slow the spread, those figures may understate the real rate. Moreover, the disease is apt to spread more slowly where the population is not dense.

Nor can we be certain regarding the price we will pay for the shutdown. How many will die or be permanently damaged because surgery was delayed? We do not know. How many businesses will collapse? How many individuals will go bankrupt? We do not know. Will the federal debt grow to a level that will cripple the country down the road? We do not know. The only thing that is clear is that the price will be exceedingly high and that the longer the lockdowns go on, the worse things will be. A policy that may have been rational to begin with is surely irrational now.

There are four things wrong with Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order. First, time tells, and her extension of the shutdown greatly compounds the damage already done. Second, if it had a legitimate purpose, the shutdown long ago served that purpose. Our hospitals and our healthcare system were not overwhelmed, and we are now better equipped for the onslaught to come. Third – and perhaps most important – the latest executive order is predicated on a patently false premise. Its aim is not only “to prevent the state’s health care system from being overwhelmed.” Its purpose is also “to suppress the spread of COVID-19.” This last aim is beyond our capacity, and the time will never come, even if a deus ex machina were to deliver to us an effective vaccine next week, when we will “suppress” its spread. After all, there are flu vaccines, and every year the flu nonetheless infects something like 10% of all Americans. If the lockdown is not to end until the coronavirus is suppressed, it will never be lifted. Utopian ends inevitably give rise to tyrannical measures.

The fourth defect requires further discussion. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders apply with equal force to every county in the state. But what might make some sense in Detroit, the county in which it is situated, and in the nearby counties makes no sense elsewhere. Take a look at this map of the state and run your cursor over the various counties.

In some of these counties, as you can see, the number of fatalities exceeds 1,000. In quite a few others, no one at all is known to have died from the Wuhan coronavirus. In counties where the spread is still rampant (if there are any such counties), a brief extension of the shutdown may make some sense. Elsewhere, it is patently absurd. And where there is no public health rationale for maintaining the lockdown, Gretchen Whitmer’s policy is nothing less than tyrannical. Thanks to the lady’s punitive instincts, her penchant for posing and preening before the cameras, and her desire that Joe Biden make her his running mate, we in Michigan are committing suicide for fear of death.

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.

I wish that I could say that I now know a lot more about the Wuhan coronavirus than I knew before the lockdown. But that is not true. Reading what the “experts” say about this epidemic is like reading what the “experts” say about the likely trajectory of the stock market. Those of us who are advanced in age are anxious about both, and there is no consensus about either. In the latter case, prognostication is for the most part always guesswork. In the former case, there are too many unknowns, and guesswork and anecdote are close to all that we have to go on.

Sure, the coronavirus is exceedingly contagious and we cannot rely on herd immunity. But how contagious? Here expert opinion differs, and the evidence is scanty. The same goes for the number of those infected and for the mortality rate. The statistics that we have are not reliable – even where the authorities who compile these statistics are thoroughly honest and decent. We are caught in the same sort of “fog” that we would be trapped in if we were at war, and it is virtually impossible to make intelligent public policy decisions in these circumstances. How much worse is this epidemic likely to be than the worst of the recent flu epidemics? If we only knew . . .

Still, there are a couple of things that one can discern, and here I wish to deploy the evidence from Michigan (such as it is). Take a look at this map. With your cursor, you ought to be able to touch on the various counties and learn how many Michiganders have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and how many have died with it (if not necessarily from it):

As you can see, something like 80% of those diagnosed with the disease and 80% of those who have died live in three contiguous counties – Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb – and most of the rest reside nearby or in the vicinity of Grand Rapids. What the three counties mentioned above have in common is proximity to the Detroit Airport, which is a major hub with a host of direct flights to Asia and to Europe. Southeastern Michigan would appear to be an epicenter for the disease for the same reason that New York City and the nearby counties on Long Island, in upstate New York, and in New Jersey form an epicenter. Had we cut off all international travel earlier than we did and had we shut down domestic air travel early on, this epidemic might have much more easily been contained – and we might have been spared the economic travails now underway. I do not mean to cast blame on anyone – except for Xi Jinping and his stooges at the World Health Organization who bamboozled us. I mean only to point to the conduit by which this epidemic spread.

There are two other patterns worth noticing. In Michigan, men with the disease are far more likely to die than women. The numbers change daily, of course, but the proportions – 57% men, 43% women – are stable. Moreover, senior citizens are especially vulnerable. As of 6 April, those over 60 made up 24.2% of the state’s population and 61% of the fatalities, and the median age of those who die is, as of yesterday, 75 (it has gradually crept up from 71). The fact that women over that age greatly outnumber men over that age adds to one’s impression that men are much more vulnerable. The reason is, I presume, genetic.

There is one other pattern that is evident. A disproportionate number of those who die are African-American. Blacks make up 17% of the state’s population and 40% of those who die from the disease. The local liberals in these parts trace this to racism, but that makes little sense. If anything, there is discrimination here in favor of African-Americans, not against them. The discrepancy no doubt has something to do with place of residence and a lack of social distancing. There is a large African-American population in Detroit, which is densely populated. It may also have a genetic component. The propensity to succumb to particular diseases often does have such a component. Eventually, we will know.

Nothing that I have said here should be surprising. The same patterns are evident elsewhere. Like the flu, the Wuhan coronavirus spreads through social networks, and the older and more decrepit one is, the more likely that, if infected, one will die.

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.

Biden would be ill-advised to choose Whitmer. She has in the last month repeatedly put on display a nasty, vindictive streak that people (both women and men) are apt to find off-putting. Like Elizabeth Warren – who failed, in the Massachusetts primary, to attract the votes of the women of the state she represents in the Senate – Whitmer reminds one of Hillary Clinton. She is Hillary . . . without the charm.

On 24 March, for example, she had the state director of the Bureau of Professional Licensing and the director of the Enforcement Division send every physician and pharmacist in the state the following missive:

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has received multiple allegations of Michigan physicians inappropriately prescribing hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine to themselves, family, friends, and/or coworkers without a legitimate medical purpose.

Prescribing hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine without further proof of efficacy for treating COVID-19 or with the intent to stockpile the drug may create a shortage for patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or other ailments for which chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are proven treatments.

Reports of this conduct will be evaluated and may be further investigated for administrative action. Prescribing any kind of prescription must also be associated with medical documentation showing proof of the medical necessity and medical condition for which the patient is being treated. Again, these are drugs that have not been proven scientifically or medically to treat COVID-19.

Michigan pharmacists may see an increased volume of prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and should take special care to evaluate the prescriptions’ legitimacy. Pursuant to Michigan Administrative Code, R 338.490(2), a pharmacist shall not fill a prescription if the pharmacist believes the prescription will be used for other than legitimate medical purposes or if the prescription could cause harm to a patient.

It is also important to be mindful that licensed health professionals are required to report inappropriate prescribing practices.

The authorities may well have had a reason for alerting physicians and pharmacists of the danger that diverting the supply of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for the purpose of treating the Wuhan coronavirus might result in there being a shortage and in damage being done to those with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and the other ailments which the two are normally used to treat. But for Whitmer and her minions to deny, in the current emergency, that there is a “legitimate medical purpose” in treating those in danger of death with these two drugs is to usurp judgment in a sphere where judgment ought to be left to medical professionals. And the threatening tone of the last two paragraphs is genuinely offensive – especially in a crisis in which a number of leading figures in the medical profession suspect that the use of these two drugs may save lives. That same day, as an editorial writer in The Detroit Free Press pointed out, “Whitmer’s counterpart in New York started clinical trials of the very same drugs.” And, a few days thereafter, Whitmer found herself with egg on her face, when the research hospitals in the state asked her to request a supply of the same two drugs from the National Strategic Stockpile for use against the Wuhan coronavirus, and she was forced to comply.

That experience has not induced the lady to pause and rethink. More recently, as everyone knows, Whitmer issued an edict denying the citizens of Michigan the right to travel to the vacation homes and cabins they maintain up north and denying them the right to buy seeds and plants for their gardens, paint, furniture, carpet, flooring, and the like at a big-box store while allowing them to buy all of these things at small hardware stores – and while abortion mills and marijuana dispensaries are allowed to remain open. Instead of pondering what is comparatively safe and what is genuinely dangerous, Whitmer has tried to draw a distinction between what is “essential” and what is not, and she has attempted to outlaw everything that she thinks “non-essential.” It is, as one wag put it, “like taking a sledgehammer to an ant.”

In doing this, moreover, Whitmer makes no distinction between parts of the state where the coronavirus is raging and places where next to no one has contracted the infection. To this, one can add her punitive, hectoring tone – and her willingness to turn a great many of what we would normally think of as law-abiding citizens into convicted criminals.

There is next to no one in Michigan who fails to understand why the schools and universities have been shut down, why sports events have been called off, why restaurants are closed, and why churches have been urged to go online. There is an epidemic loose in the land. It is a serious threat to many in our population, and it is highly contagious. Public gatherings are unwise. But the purchase of seeds, plants, paint, furniture, carpets, flooring, and travel to summer homes? We are, most of us, more or less confined to our households. It is the time of year when we ordinarily undertake certain tasks, and in the circumstances, there is much to be said for retreating for a week or so to one of the wilder parts of Michigan. All of this is a diversion from the boredom associated with our banishment from work . . . and this harridan, with her Puritan instincts, wants to bar us from that. Somewhere, she fears, someone is having a good time. It is no wonder that thousands converged on Lansing yesterday to protest the petty tyranny imposed by Whitmer.

Gretchen Whitmer is not someone that any sane person would want a heart-beat away from the presidency – especially at a time when the man at the head of the ticket is already close to being non compos mentis. If Whitmer (or, for that matter Elizabeth Warren) were an actress and I a director, I would cast her as a prison warden. That is the only executive position for which a mean-spirited woman like Whitmer is suited.

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.

Probably, however, the market is the least of your concerns. If, like me, you are over 70 and an asthmatic or if you have parents or grandparents in similar circumstances, you may well be ruminating on life and death. How bad, you may be asking, is this apt to be?

The answer is not heartening. The coronavirus is not just another version of the flu. No one, apart from the handful in this country who have contracted the disease and recovered, has what physicians call “specific acquired immunity.” All, or nearly all, of us generally have some degree of resistance to the flu – even when we are faced with a new strain. Vis-a-vis the coronavirus, we are in the situation of those, such as my mother, who confronted the Spanish flu in 1918/19. Put simply, we are very, very apt to get it. Or to put it another way, this virus is contagious to the nth degree.

Epidemiologists tend to speak of an epidemic’s reproduction rate (R0). The reproduction rate for the coronavirus exceeds 2 and may even approach 3 – which is to say that the average person who gets it infects well over two other individuals. In practice, this means that, in the absence of obstruction, the number of those who have contracted the disease doubles and perhaps even triples every few days. If you catch on to what you are up against early, you can quarantine the infected, prevent people from congregating, encourage social distancing, and greatly retard its spread. If you don’t do so, the virus will spread like wildfire.

If, say, there were two thousand with the disease in your state or country on 1 February, there could easily be more than three million infected by the end of the month, and the numbers would continue to double or perhaps even triple every five or six days thereafter. The advantage one gets from anticipating trouble is enormous. The harm one inflicts on oneself when one waits to see whether the danger is really all that great is enormous. We could have learned from the experience of the Chinese living in and near Wuhan. We didn’t.

You might want to go to the Johns Hopkins University site that tracks diagnosed cases and fatalities. If you were to do so right now while I am composing this post, you would discover that, in the entire United States, there are only 1,323 such cases and that, in Illinois, there are only 25. This might cause you to think it safe to travel to Chicago, to visit the museums there, and to take a group of students out to lunch and dinner. But these numbers would be less reassuring if you were to take note of the fact that, thus far, not many more than 5,000 test kits have been produced in the country. Put simply, actual cases vastly outnumber the cases we can diagnose. For our lack of preparedness in this regard, you can blame the ineptitude of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There, as in the Veterans Administrations, you can watch your tax dollars at work.

For what it is worth, we are not alone in our ineptitude. As a lengthy report in The Wall Street Journal makes clear, Xi Jinping made a terrible hash of things in Wuhan. And the Iranians and the Italians were similarly negligent.

You can probably believe the official statistics for fatalities provided by the Italians (827, to date). You should probably not believe the Chinese. Xi’s only concern is now and has always been his own survival as supreme leader, and the party leaders under him have similar motives. Their first instinct was to hide the outbreak. When exponential growth rendered that impossible, they sought to minimize the calamity, then present it as a problem solved by their wisdom and decisiveness.

You certainly cannot believe anything that comes out of Iran. The government of the Islamic republic reports 429 deaths, but between 21 and 29 February, in Qom, where the infection apparently first appeared, the authorities dug two large trenches, together more than 100 yards long, to accommodate the dead. And the disease was by no means limited to Qom. It has spread from there to 27 or more of the country’s 31 provinces.

How bad could it get? In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish flu infected one-third of the people on earth, and it killed 50 to 100 million human beings. Most of these were old folks and those with underlying conditions, as is the case with the coronavirus. And the outbreak overwhelmed the existing medical infrastructure everywhere.

What, you might want to know, is the fatality rate for the coronavirus? The true answer is that no one knows. If you base yourself on the statistics supplied by the Chinese, you would say 3.8%. If you looked to the Italian statistics, 6.6%. The Iranian statistics would suggest 4.25%. But all of these numbers are worthless. Even if these reports were honest (and the Italians are probably not lying), all of these ratios are based on the number of deaths due to the disease (which may be known) and the number of those actually infected (which is not known).

To the best of my knowledge, there is only one country in the world that has produced enough test kits to be able to diagnose everyone likely to have become infected, and that is Korea. Because of their sad experience a couple of years ago with SARS, the Koreans knew what to do. And when the outbreak in China was announced and the genome of the coronavirus was mapped, they moved quickly to mass-produce diagnostic kits. To date, in Korea, there have been 66 deaths and 7,869 individuals diagnosed with the disease. If these numbers are sound, the fatality rate is 0.83%.

That would be reassuring were it not for the fact that the fatality rate with the Spanish flu was similar, and it means that the coronavirus is eight or more times as lethal as the worst of today’s flu strains. If a third of the people in the United States were to contract this disease, more than 2.7 million would die. Moreover, to judge by what the Chinese report about the age distribution of those who died in Wuhan and elsewhere, a very high proportion of these would be over 65, and many of the rest would be individuals with underlying conditions – diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease. The list is long.

Something like 80% of those who come down with coronavirus have a mild version. The circumstances for the remaining 20% are deeply unpleasant – even when they survive. I recommend reading The Daily Mail’s report concerning the vicissitudes of an intrepid English schoolteacher in Wuhan.

There is a moral to this story. We need to do what the authorities in St. Louis and Milwaukee did a century ago when the Spanish flu spread in America. For a time, we need to do everything in our power to prevent people from congregating – whether in schools, at colleges and universities, in churches, at sports events, in restaurants, and the like – and we need to encourage social distancing. Some institutions – such as Harvard, Yale, MIT, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Colorado College, Boston College, and, yes, Hillsdale College – are taking this seriously. Here, in Michigan, the Governor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services are dithering, as hacks and bureaucrats are apt to do. Perhaps someone should put up money for an award for ineptitude. I suggest it be named after China’s mini-Mao.

I had engagements planned for the spring that required my taking 14 flights. I canceled nearly everything last Saturday. I am preparing to do my teaching for the rest of the semester over the internet from home, and I am contemplating pulling my children from their school. My suspicion is that everyone should do the like.

I was not surprised to learn that three TSA employees at the San Jose Airport tested positive for coronavirus. Every infected individual in the United States who has done any air travel in the last three months has passed through the hands (sometimes, literally) of TSA employees. They are among the people in this country who are most likely to have been exposed to the disease and who are best positioned to spread it.

Paul A. Rahe

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