Happy Birthday, Trofim Lysenko

Today is Trofim Lysenko’s birthday; he was born on this date in 1898.

Never heard of him?  Don’t worry, most in the West haven’t.

He was Stalin’s pet scientist.  Decided Mendel was wrong about inherited traits.  According to Lysenko, you could alter genetics by environmental influence.  Very handy, that, when you’re trying to convince Stalin that you can grow grain in climates and seasons in which it won’t grow.  In Ithaca, New York, in 1932, one of his fellow Soviet scientists reported, with a straight face:  “The remarkable discovery recently made by T D Lysenko of Odessa opens enormous new possibilities to plant breeders and plant geneticists of mastering individual variation. He found simple physiological methods of shortening the period of growth, of transforming winter varieties into spring ones and late varieties into early ones by inducing processes of fermentation in seeds before sowing them.”

The fellow from whom that last quotation comes, Nikolai Vavilov, paid with his life for his subsequent disagreement with Lysenko.  He was arrested in 1940, sentenced to death in 1941, and died — apparently of starvation — in GuLAG in 1943.

Lysenko came up with all manner of whack-job pseudo-scientific claptrap, and rammed it down the throat of Russian science with a bayonet.  According to the Wikipedia write-up, dissent from his theories was formally outlawed in 1948.  Solzhenitsyn ran across several — including Vavilov — who similarly paid with their hides for the sin of crossing the politically decreed “scientific” orthodoxy of Trofim Lysenko.

Lysenko’s ascendancy lasted through the late 1950s.

Why is it important that we recall Trofim Lysenko today?  When we have mainstream politicians and widely-regarded pundits openly calling for the criminalization of disagreement with the theory of anthropogenic global warming — or “climate change” or whatever it’s called this month — we must remember that we are listening to the intellectual and moral heirs of Lysenko.  This is all the more so when someone points out that, from analysis of U.S. climate data from 1880 to the present, over 90% of the U.S. data which is presented to “prove” AGW has been monkeyed with, and is not, in fact, the raw data.  It’s been estimated, modeled, or just made up.  From the linked article’s conclusion:

“The US accounts for 6.62% of the land area on Earth, but accounts for 39% of the data in the GHCN network. Overall, from 1880 to the present, approximately 99% of the temperature data in the USHCN homogenized output has been estimated (differs from the original raw data). Approximately 92% of the temperature data in the USHCN TOB output has been estimated. The GHCN adjustment models estimate approximately 92% of the US temperatures, but those estimates do not match either the USHCN TOB or homogenized estimates.”

From the e-mails and documents released as part of what’s come to be called “ClimateGate” (I wonder if Liddy et al. are tortured in their sleep by this plague of -gate nonsense terms visited on us year in and year out), Gentle Reader will perhaps recall that the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit brought someone in to try to reproduce the raw historical data on which it — and most of the rest of the climate science world — relies.  The problem, it seems, is that they’ve so thoroughly corrupted their data, and were so careless in preserving their original data, that it’s impossible to replicate their results.  That’s probably an over-simplification, but the key bit is that after two or so years of trying their own numbers guy threw up his hands in despair and quit.  Said it couldn’t be done.

Thus what we’re left with is a mountain of corrupt historical data, current data that is likewise manipulated to match models’ predictions, contradictory real-world observations (shrinking ice cover at the north latitudes, and record increases in the southern, shrinking glaciers, 17-year non-warming periods when all the models tell us that, with carbon dioxide levels relentlessly increasing, we should be absolutely cooking) . . . and scientists and politicians carping on how we just need to turn over more money and more power to them, and all will be made well.  Oh, I did forget to mention that we also got to see, as part of ClimateGate, numerous climate scientists scheming behind the curtains to stack journals’ editorial boards and peer review processes to suppress publication of scientific literature skeptical of their conclusions?

And we’re supposed to use the coercion of the criminal law system to punish anyone who dares to question the politically established orthodoxy?  Remind me again how that worked out for Soviet science.

Trofim Lysenko is dead and in his grave, but his ghost stalks the halls of climate science to this day.

[Update 05 Oct 2015]:  As if on cue, two European research foundations, one French and the other German, recently released a study on the production of isoprene in the uppermost film of the ocean surface.  I’m no chemist, nor of course a climatologist, but isoprene, it seems, has a strong effect on cloud formation, and cloud formation is intimately connected with a cooling effect on the global climate.  (Yes, that’s grossly simplified, but then if you want to read the full study, here’s the link).  The study, by the way, was funded by a grant from the European Research Council, not the Koch brothers.

Up until now, the assumption has been that isoprene is formed by plankton in sea water.  But let’s get it from the horse’s mouth:  “Previously it was assumed that isoprene is primarily caused by biological processes from plankton in the sea water. The atmospheric chemists from France and Germany, however, could now show that isoprene could also be formed without biological sources in surface film of the oceans by sunlight and so explain the large discrepancy between field measurements and models. The new identified photochemical reaction is therefore important to improve the climate models.”

How big a discrepancy?  “So far, however, local measurements indicated levels of about 0.3 megatonnes per year, global simulations of around 1.9 megatons per year. But the team of Lyon and Leipzig estimates that the newly discovered photochemical pathway alone contribute 0.2 to 3.5 megatons per year additionally and could explain the recent disagreements.”

In other words, a newly-discovered photochemical, abiotic source of an important aerosol precursor looks as though it may be contributing up to almost 200% more isoprene globally than current climate models assume.  Note the low end of the estimate, by the way.  I wouldn’t suppose that the global output of this newly-discovered source would remain stable year-on-year.  But when you need to update your climate models (which still cannot explain the 17-year “hiatus” in observed global warming) to account for up to triple the previously-assumed amount of an input that counteracts the principal effect of your model’s core variable (carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), I suggest two thoughts for the curious-minded:  1.  What else do the models inaccurately assume or simply not account for at all, and is the failure attributable to scientific malfeasance or garden variety ignorance of a phenomenally complex process?  2.  Does not the climate alarmists’ dancing around these models as if they were sacred totems have more than a slight whiff of the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf?

But remember, class:  There are public figures in the United States who want to use the physical coercive power of the criminal law system to suppress disagreement with these climate models.

Trofim Lysenko rides again.

[Update: 11 March 2016]:  Didn’t believe me, did you, Gentle Reader?

Turns out the U.S. Attorney General has taken a serious look at prosecution of oil companies for daring to disagree on the very unsettled state of whether and to what extent fossil fuels cause “climate change,” at least to the extent that the climate is in fact changing in ways and at speeds that cannot be explained by reference to the earth’s climatological history.   Video at the link.  With bonus for invocation of dear ol’ Trofim.

Did I Miss the Coverage?

You know, the big news story where a supertanker ran aground somewhere in the Great Lakes and spilled 230,000 barrels of dumb-ass into the water?

From Chicago we have WGN television wishing everyone a Happy Yom Kippur, displaying a yellow star with the German “Jude” (“Jew”) on it.  The star was the same star which Germany made the Jews wear up until their extermination.  Mind you, this isn’t some crappy little community access channel in some backwoods hamlet.  This is The Television Station run by one of the country’s largest broadcasters.  Layers of editors and fact-checkers, dontcha know.  And their excuse?  From their general manager and news director:  “WGN General Manager Greg Easterly and News Director Jennifer Lyons said the picture came from its image bank, and they ‘failed to recognize that the image was an offensive Nazi symbol.'”

No guys, the swastika you can call “an offensive Nazi symbol” (you mean there’s such a thing as a Nazi symbol that’s not offensive?); the star they made little Jewish children wear sewn to their clothes so the SA thugs would know whom to beat to death in the streets in broad daylight is a specific reminder of the most determined effort — “so far,” we now have to add, in light of Dear Leader’s handing the keys to the nuclear arsenal to Iran — made to exterminate an entire people.  The swastika was worn by millions — the Nazis shoved it onto everything — who had nothing to do with murdering the Jews or anyone else.  If you served in any public office, or if you were drafted into the armed services, you would have worn on your person somewhere that symbol.  Pope Benedict XVI would have worn it, however briefly, when he got roped into the fray in 1945.  You have, in other words, to read something else into the swastika’s symbolism to get to “offensive” (I mean, no one views symbolism of Imperial Germany as “offensive,” and they fought against us and lost a war just like the Nazis did).  But that yellow Star of David, with “Jude” blazoned across it, meant and means exactly and only one thing.  It was the device by which a murderous regime publicly marked its victims.  Do not, please, degrade its meaning by calling it “an offensive Nazi symbol.”

And across the little water, so to speak, we have from Ontario a member — vice-chair, in fact — of a school board (!!!) and a candidate for parliament, who a number of years ago made a joke about a photograph taken at Auschwitz.  She likened whatever it was to phallic symbols and . . . well, honestly, the point of her joke, which she made on a friend’s Facebook wall, escapes me.  I’m not sure if she was trying to send up pretentious artistic gobbledy-gook, parody the sexualization of every-damned-thing in daily life by the folks we now know as “social justice warriors,” or lampoon “the patriarchy” or whatever.  Someone doing oppo research discovered the post, got it out there, and the predictable shit-storm ensued.

I’m going to reserve judgment on the propriety of her joke.  Yes you can make the point that some things simply should not figure in humor.  Ever.  And if such is the case then Auschwitz is certainly on that list.  Even if you’re the sort who’s not willing to go that far, unless you’re clearly using that imagery to attack something contemptible (see my list of possible explanations of what she might have been getting at, above), and make sure it’s not even remotely debatable that you’re not laughing at or about Auschwitz and what it symbolizes, but rather your true target, then it still has to be considered in pretty bad taste.  And maybe even then you ought to come up with something else equally outlandish to use — you know, something that doesn’t have the stench of six million murder victims to it — to talk about phallic micro-aggressions of the patriarchy.  Or something like that.

But no:  What really has made my head explode was this statement coming from the vice-chair of a school board:  ““Well, I didn’t know what Auschwitz was, or I didn’t up until today,’ she said in an interview Tuesday night. Johnstone, who appears to be in her thirties, said she had ‘heard about concentration camps.’”

Jesusmaryjoseph, as the Irish would exclaim.

This depth of ignorance is just about beyond words.  What, I mean, can you say in response to someone who’s managed to get past elementary school without knowing at least what Auschwitz was and what occurred there?  It’s not like you have to know everything about the Holocaust, its causes and course.  Just like you don’t need to know everything written about the GuLAG in order to appreciate the Soviets’ starving and working to death tens of millions of their fellow citizens on trumped-up charges.  But how do you, in the 21st Century, construct a moral framework for your existence without tying the abstract “I’ve heard about concentration camps” to the concrete physical “and this is the most notorious surviving example; it really happened”?

Compare, by the way, the ignorance of the vice-chair of her local school board with the degree of engagement exhibited by this teen-aged girl from Alabama.

Depressing Predictability

From The New York Times, via Urgent Agenda, we have “What Happened to South African Democracy?” a depressing look at the reality of life in ANC-dominated South Africa.

First, some props to the ANC as it was run by a post-release Nelson Mandela.  I’m sure that “mistakes were made,” as the usual phraseology will have it, in the transition from apartheid to democracy; unless the Second Coming in Something Other Than Wrath happens, you cannot up-end the fundamental structure of any society without someone, somewhere, in some official capacity making some degree of a pig’s breakfast out of something.  So perfection is not the standard by which to judge how South Africa transformed itself.  Think only of the smooth, error-free process by which the U.S. transformed its formerly-slave-owning society to one in which slavery was, overnight (on an historical time horizon) outlawed, and you get sort of a notion of how sobering was the challenge for South Africans of all ethnicities.

But this is the Big Thing to keep in mind in thinking about how they responded to their challenges:  In South Africa they resisted the temptation to exact government-sanctioned vengeance.  Names were named, and deeds called by their correct labels, but there were no Soviet-style Revtribs or Cheka troikas doling out “revolutionary justice” in execution cellars.  I cannot recall which book has the picture, but in a history of the Soviet Union that I have somewhere, there is a picture of a Polish officer in the Russian Army, surrounded by his troops.  He’s hanging by one ankle from a tree branch, naked, and from his anus there protrudes a very long shaft of what is probably a lance of some description.  Being an officer he would of course have been some sort of nobleman, and his troops peasants.  His troops stand around, some looking at him hanging there, others at the camera.  Yes, the ANC had (and has) an ugly underside —  “necklacing,” for example, in which a bound victim has a car tire put about his neck, it is filled with gasoline, and then set alight — but in point of fact once the ANC came to power it chose a path other than as chosen by the communist states from whose doctrines its leaders had initially taken their inspiration (Mandela as of his arrest was a Marxist).  And for that they deserve a large measure of respect.

But it’s one thing for the dog to catch the car, and something entirely different what he does with the car once caught.  And he must be judged on both.

In this latter respect the ANC has squandered much, it seems, of its moral capital.  A good deal of that frittering has occurred as the fallout from governmental encroachment on individual liberties, usually as the result of the dynamics of patronage and the distortions it brings to policy.  To take but one example, there arises the question of leadership in villages which are still by and large tribal enclaves.  Should leadership be elective (democracy) or vested in tribal leadership (ethnic)?  For the central government the question is not just one of local sensibility.  You see, an Established leadership can be corrupted much more easily from the center than can an elective leadership.  And so we see the spectacle in South Africa of the attempt to foist non-elected leadership in the tribal areas.  From the NYT article:

“While sections of the political elite have tried to manipulate the politics of ethnicity to bypass democracy, many at the grass-roots level have opposed these moves. Popular opposition killed the Traditional Courts Bill. Last month, a community in the Eastern Cape won a court battle to elect its own leaders, rather than have them imposed. It cannot be right, the court agreed, that the people of the Transkei region ‘enjoyed greater democratic rights’ under apartheid ‘than they do under a democratically elected government.’”

The “Traditional Courts Bill” was an effort, sponsored by the prime minister, to create a separate legal system for what the article refers to as South Africa’s “Bantustans.”  Under that jolly little piece of legislation, unelected tribal chiefs would have been vested with authority as “judges, prosecutors and mediators, with no legal representation and no right of appeal.”  Hey! that’s why Nelson Mandela rotted all those years in prison, right?  So what’s going on?  This is what’s going on:

“Corruption expresses the way that state patronage has come to define politics. Politics in South Africa today ‘is devoid of political content,’ in the words of a former A.N.C. activist, Raymond Suttner. Instead, ‘it relates to who is rising or falling, as part of ongoing efforts to secure positions of power and authority.’ Using corrupt resources to win favors from different social groups and factions has helped entrench a dangerous cronyism in national politics.”

Gee whiz, who could have seen that coming?  I’ll tell you.  A British doctor who writes under the name Theodore Dalrymple.  I have a couple of his books, the first one I bought being Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, a collection of essays.  Among them is “After Empire,” his description of his experiences as a newbie doctor in what was then Ian Smith’s Rhodesia.  As the Blogfather would say, by all means Read the Whole Thing, but here’s the guts of one of the article’s less encouraging observations:

“Unlike in South Africa, where salaries were paid according to a racial hierarchy (whites first, Indians and coloured second, Africans last), salaries in Rhodesia were equal for blacks and whites doing the same job, so that a black junior doctor received the same salary as mine. But there remained a vast gulf in our standards of living, the significance of which at first escaped me; but it was crucial in explaining the disasters that befell the newly independent countries that enjoyed what Byron called, and eagerly anticipated as, the first dance of freedom.

The young black doctors who earned the same salary as we whites could not achieve the same standard of living for a very simple reason: they had an immense number of social obligations to fulfill. They were expected to provide for an ever expanding circle of family members (some of whom may have invested in their education) and people from their village, tribe, and province. An income that allowed a white to live like a lord because of a lack of such obligations scarcely raised a black above the level of his family. Mere equality of salary, therefore, was quite insufficient to procure for them the standard of living that they saw the whites had and that it was only human nature for them to desire—and believe themselves entitled to, on account of the superior talent that had allowed them to raise themselves above their fellows. In fact, a salary a thousand times as great would hardly have been sufficient to procure it: for their social obligations increased pari passu with their incomes.”

And the same dynamic played out among the political classes after independence:

“It is easy to see why a civil service, controlled and manned in its upper reaches by whites, could remain efficient and uncorrupt but could not long do so when manned by Africans who were supposed to follow the same rules and procedures. The same is true, of course, for every other administrative activity, public or private. The thick network of social obligations explains why, while it would have been out of the question to bribe most Rhodesian bureaucrats, yet in only a few years it would have been out of the question not to try to bribe most Zimbabwean ones, whose relatives would have condemned them for failing to obtain on their behalf all the advantages their official opportunities might provide. Thus do the very same tasks in the very same offices carried out by people of different cultural and social backgrounds result in very different outcomes.”

I’m going to state that what that NYT article is describing is not much more than the playing out, on the South African stage, of the social dynamic Dalrymple observed all those years ago in Rhodesia.

Lest Gentle Reader get the impression that Dalrymple is just another White Man’s Burden sort of neo-colonialist who’s demonstrating for the Xth time that the wogs simply are incapable of self-government, I really encourage Gentle Reader to read the entire article.  Dalrymple’s very up-front in pointing out that the social dynamics which render the African nation-states peculiarly susceptible of political and economic corruption serve a very positive function in enabling the peasants — who still form the overwhelming majority of the populace — to survive in an environment that is hostile on any number of levels, all the way from its climate to its economic policy.  “Of course, the solidarity and inescapable social obligations that corrupted public and private administration in Africa also gave a unique charm and humanity to life there and served to protect people from the worst consequences of the misfortunes that buffeted them.”

And so what is Dalrymple’s “solution”?  Well, he doesn’t really offer one.  He does point out that the crux of the tragedy — and you cannot read that article and come away without the sensation that he perceives what he’s describing as a tragedy in its classical meaning — was the imposition of the national-state model on a continent whose social systems were not and remain not suited for that framework.

“In fact, it was the imposition of the European model of the nation-state upon Africa, for which it was peculiarly unsuited, that caused so many disasters. With no loyalty to the nation, but only to the tribe or family, those who control the state can see it only as an object and instrument of exploitation.”

This does not bode well for South Africa.  And it does not bode well for Africa in general.  As Thomas Sowell has pointed out in any number of books and essays, the history of the human species is a history of the exploitation of the lesser-organized by the greater-organized groups, whether it was 12th Century England swallowing 12th Century Ireland, or the 19th Century United States scattering to the winds the aboriginal populations (Gentle Reader will recall that Tecumseh’s coalition was well-nigh the only one of its kind, and it was only that coalition that was able, until he was killed at Fallen Timbers, to stave off the white tide . . . although on numbers alone the outcome was inevitable), or the 19th Century colonial powers gobbling up Africa itself.  Even a numerically smaller group can successfully challenge a larger, established group, if the disparities in political organizing capacity are there.  Think of how Rome became mistress of the entire Mediterranean world.

Now think what happened to the peoples of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, a state which fractured into constituent, mutually-hostile ethnic groupings.  Franz Joseph it was, I think, who allowed that upon dissolution of his empire all that would happen would be that all these groups so clamorous for independence would merely become the playthings of greater powers.  And so it occurred.  Unless Africa can find a way either to move from its present social structures to a set more suitable for maintenance of a nation-state, or alternatively find some Golden Mean to straddle the two worlds, then what is likely to happen to the people when these nation-states implode?

[As an aside, and as perhaps a post topic for another day, I’ll toss the question out to Gentle Reader to what extent any of the dynamics observed by Dalrymple in Rhodesia and elsewhere in Africa, and by the NYT’s man-on-the-ground in South Africa today, would have had any play if the U.S. had permitted its aboriginal tribes to remain as they were pre-Trail of Tears, living in a parallel legal universe, but otherwise among the majority population.  Extra-territoriality, in other words, the same system which the Western powers rammed down Imperial China’s throat.  No state which is in fact sovereign concedes extra-territoriality to any group; it is simply inconsistent with the assertion of sovereignty.  That’s a point I seldom see made in discussions about Jackson’s decision not to concede that to the Cherokee, and Supreme Court opinion be damned.  For that matter I’m not sure how you can square the 14th Amendment with the assertion that the Cherokee ought to have been allowed to remain as they were.  Either there is One Law for all, or you’re just pretending at Equal Protection.  And either there is a Supremacy Clause or there is not.  Imponderables.]

Behavior This Brazen Makes You Think

I haven’t run across any U.S. reporting on this yet — which is odd, considering its scope — but the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is all over it, and understandably so.  Volkswagen, which by any standard has to be considered the flagship German auto manufacturer, has been caught not just fiddling its U.S. emissions testing, but outright gun-decking it.  And that’s not all, it seems.

For those of us who are not initiates into the dark secrets of the EPA and its functioning, automobile manufacturers in the U.S. are required to “self-certify” their products’ compliance with applicable environmental and other regulation.  In other words, much like our tax system, in which the taxpayer completes his own return according to the statutes and regulations prescribing how it is to be done, and desperately hopes he doesn’t “win” (which is to say, “lose”) the audit lottery, the automobile manufacturers undertake to test their products to EPA-defined protocols and report the results truthfully.

In addition, before they’re ever allowed to put a specific model car on the market, they have to tell the regulators (not sure whether the NHTSA or the EPA, or both) exactly what materials they propose to use in that model.

Well, to put it mildly, VW has been caught, and has now admitted to, lying through its teeth on both scores.  It designed into the on-board computer which controls the engine and emission-control systems a sub-program to sense when the vehicle is on a test rack versus when it’s actually being driven, and so to alter the tuning and performance characteristics that it passes the EPA emissions requirements, when in fact it doesn’t as you drive it down the street.  How it worked was simple; under normal operating conditions certain portions of the emissions controls were simply shut off; on the test rack they operated.  [Aside:  The FAZ article does go out of its way to point out that U.S. emission standards are far more restrictive than European; in Europe a car may put out 80 mg of nasty per kilometer, the EPA only permits 70 mg per mile (which is 1.609 km).  Multiply the European standard by 1.609 to convert to miles and you get 128.72 mg, an almost 84% increase.]  The models in question are principally the Jetta, the Beetle, and the Audi A3, each as configured with the “clean diesel” powerplant.  In addition, it seems that VW did not build its cars in conformity with the materials lists provided to the government in connection with the applications for approval for sale.


They were originally caught back in 2014 by the California emissions-control weenies, which, working with the University of West Virginia (you can almost sense the revulsion the Californians had to feel even to be talking with someone in — ick!! — West Virginia, poor dears), figured out how to get genuine data from actual cars.  The FAZ article speaks of the discovery occurring “in the course of regular testing” of, “among others, also models by VW.”  The California regulators notified VW as well as the EPA.  VW instituted its own examination to replicate the California findings (isn’t that precious; they wanted to see why their fraud had failed).  California warned them that if things didn’t shape up pronto, it would be required to issue a massive recall of the affected vehicles.  This was in December, 2014.

VW in fact instituted that recall “voluntarily,” and informed everyone concerned that everything was now hunky-dorey.  So, having given the assurances, beginning in May, 2015, VW’s vehicles were then re-tested, including protocols “specially designed” for this particular testing.  Geez, guys; couldn’t you have seen this coming?  Get caught lying and you think that no one’s going to go the extra mile to make sure you’re not lying any more?

Sure enough, at the beginning of this month VW formally admitted to all concerned that nothing had changed and they still were running the offending control systems.

So now, in addition to actually having to recall the vehicles, they’re also looking at a fine in the $18 billion range.  That’s $18 billion.  Compare that with the fines imposed on the financial services industry titans whose monkey-shines contributed to tanking the U.S. economy for the better part of eight years (hint: the hurt is going to be much worse for VW).  In beginning trading Monday in Frankfurt VW’s shares were down by as much as 23%; as of right now (roughly 10:30 Central) they’re down just over 19%.

But why the post title?  Is it really so unlikely that VW is alone in falsifying its test data?  I mean, this is just high-school-level chicanery.  How likely is it that you’re going to get by with a system that shuts off entire portions of your emission-control systems?  And if VW isn’t alone?  If it’s not alone, where are the massive fines for the other manufacturers?

I know this is pretty tin-foil-hat of me, but remember we now operate in a politico-economic system in which federal regulators are fully weaponized against political opponents.  Remember the folks who started True the Vote, whose mission is nothing more subversive than ensuring that only actual living qualified voters are permitted to vote, and then only once per election?  That married couple not only got themselves and their business audited by the IRS, but also received multiple extensive visitations from the ATF and  OSHA.  All right out of the blue, you see.  VW is a non-unionized competitor of the UAW’s hostages, also known as the Big Three.  It doesn’t matter that VW bent over backward to throw the election to the UAW when it tried to organize that plant down in Chattanooga.  In point of fact it’s still a non-union shop in a state which isn’t going to vote Democrat any time in the foreseeable future.  VW also a pretty minor player in the market, and it’s market share is such that its damage/destruction won’t really hurt many unionized/blue-state parts suppliers.  And VW is German, ergo European, and anything which harms it is going to have fall-out for Angela Merkel, who — in contrast to unrepentant tax cheat Al Sharpton — doesn’t get all that many invitations to the White House.

Somewhat mitigating my concerns on this score is the fact that it was California, not the feds, who first caught VW at it, and the fleeting reference to the snare’s having been made in the course of regular testing of multiple vehicles.  If true, commendable.  But what if not true?  Am I supposed to accept at face value the non-coordination of effort between a weaponized EPA and the most famously intrusive state regulator out there?  I wish I could dismiss such thoughts as being so far beyond the pale as to be facially not credible.

But after almost seven years of hopenchange those thoughts are not only not non-believable, they’re almost the presumptive default.  Because “fundamental transformation.”

[Update: 21 Sep 15, 1626 Central]:  Looks like I’m not the only one asking who else might have his hand in the emissions jar.  Read carefully, though, the post’s take on the potential defense available to VW:  The emission control system must produce the values “at the time of testing.”  In yet another article, the FAZ shares with us that apparently the relevant emissions standard which VW rigged its testing to comply with is something called “SULEV-II,” which only applies if the manufacturer advertises that it does.  And of course VW did.  “SULEV” means “super-ultra low-emission vehicle,” and there’s a list (no idea of whether correct or current) on Wikipedia of vehicles which deliver those emissions.  Here’s the EPA’s official chart showing the emissions standards for each category (with a bonus of California’s Air Resources Board’s corresponding requirements); SULEV-II is the fourth one down the chart.

How Not to do Reporting 101

Can we all agree that the whole point of reporting is to answer more questions than you raise?  In this respect reporting is distinguished from commentary or op-ed pieces, or at least that’s how it ought to be.  When I read an article I actually do want my material questions to be answered and not to have to guess as what the significance of any particular statement is.  My thoughts on the point are all the more pronounced when the article in question exists on-line.  Bandwidth and storage are cheap, after all, especially in comparison with newsprint; it’s not like it’s costing you materially more to go ahead and get all the important information out there.

So when I see a headline in today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to the effect that “Every 20th Man has Paedophilic Fantasies,” and I react — as I’m sure the intention is — with disgust and alarm, I’d like to be able to finish reading the article and feel like my knowledge has expanded by some amount.  That is, alas, not the case.

Since there’s no link in the article (why? why should any on-line reporting of a study or document or video or official act ever, ever be without a link to the source?? in today’s world that’s just inexcusable) to the study cited, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:  Lead sentence:  “Every 20th man has paedophilic tendencies.”  Got your attention too, Gentle Reader?  Over the course of four years psychologists and psychiatrists from the Universities of Regensburg, Dresden, Ulm, Bonn, and Hamburg, as well as a Turkish university, interviewed 8,700 adult males, as well as 2,000 or so juveniles, as well as conducted something like 28,000 anonymous on-line interviews.  They determined that 4.4% of the 8,700 adult males interviewed admitted to “fantasies of sexual contact” with children 12 or younger.  They found that 5.3% of 2,200 adults admitted to on-line “contact with juveniles with sexual content.”  On the reassuring side, we’re told that fewer than 1 adult male in 1,000 actually acts on his fantasies (having three young boys of my own, I do find that thought comforting).

And there the substantive reporting more or less ends.  There’s the usual outline of on-line sexual predation, with adults giving false ages and luring juveniles into their toils.  And so forth.

For starts, why the different numbers of study subjects?  Is it 28,000, or is it 2,200 “adults” or is it 8,700 adult males or what?  For something like this, is 2,200 a valid sample size?  How were the interviewees selected?  Where were they found?  Obviously if they were anonymous, then you’ve got some serious statistical analysis to conduct before you even decide that you’ve got a usefully representative sample of actual people.  And how did the 8,700 or 2,200 or however many it might actually have been get winnowed from the 28,000?  I mean, if we’re to accept that nearly 5% of adult males harbor sexual desires about sexually immature children (you almost can’t even say that without throwing up a little bit in your mouth), that’s some pretty majorly disturbing news.  I’d kind of like a little assurance that the study has statistical validity.

[Update 21 Sep 15 to add link]:  Where were these study subjects from?  Were they all in Germany or Europe?  Or in the U.S?  If this was a world-wide study population, I’d like to know how many of them were from East Asia, which after all has a paedophilia tourism industry (e.g. Thailand), and which welcomes perverted Westerners to its cities for the purpose?  How many of them are from Islamic societies, which likewise condone the practice of what we would think of as child rape?  It doesn’t take much looking to find reports of what ISIS and Boko Haram are doing to the young girls who fall into their hands, and who can cite you book, chapter, and verse from the Koran to support their actions (in fact, it’s not just ISIS and Boko Haram; it’s alarmingly mainstream in those societies).  For that matter, I’ve written earlier on this blog about the percentage of girls in (Moslem) sub-Saharan African societies who are married off as young as 11?  If you get more of things you encourage — and that’s a universally true statement about any human conduct of any kind — then before I look at a crowd of my fellow redneck males and have to wonder which 5% of them are the perverts, I want to know whether that 5% is truly a world-wide number that I need to be worried about around my boys.

Further:  What are “fantasies”?  Is it a “fantasy” to contemplate an activity that makes you almost physically ill and which you banish from your mind for that reason as soon as its mere mention occurs to you?  Or is it what I think most people would consider to be a “fantasy” — a more or less volitional day-dream indulged in for purposes of pleasure to the dreamer?

Lastly, and here I stray into the politically unmentionable, what were the sex correlations of the dreamers and the objects of their fantasies?  Here I confess that I’ve never looked up the FBI data (or any other data which may exist) on sexual crimes, and so I speak solely from what I see reported on the television (when I watch it) or read in newspapers, or run across in on-line reports (like the FAZ, for example).  But my impression is that I very seldom see a report of a heterosexual abuse case of a pre-pubescent child, and of the ones I do see, they nearly all seem to be intra-familial, and specifically to involve step-fathers raping their step-daughters.  I know my impression can’t be correct in the literal sense — too unlikely, after all.  But still, it seems that the overwhelming bulk of the abuse cases involving young children are male-on-male cases, and especially so when the perp is a serial offender.  Just by way of example, I’m entirely comfortable that there have been through the years many priests who got the young girls in their congregations out of their knickers whenever they cold, but when was the last time you saw a report of a priest that didn’t involve a string of homosexual offenses?  The homosexual priest preying on his male congregants is so common as to be a cliché (I refer Gentle Reader to the line in Frank Zappa’s “Catholic Girls” from Joe’s Garage:  “Father Riley’s a fairy / But it don’t bother Mary.”).

On a side note, and you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see it mentioned in a study like this, because it’s focused on victims 12 and younger, but does any sex-correlation which does exist alter when the victim is no longer sexually immature?  In other words, does the pervert who fantasizes about pre-pubescent boys switch hit for (post-) pubescent girls?  For that matter, of the 4.4% of respondents who admitted to un-described fantasies about sexual activity with the sexually immature, how many also entertain such fantasies about children of either sex who were pubescent or older?  And to go ahead and finish belching in chapel, of the 4.4% who admitted to such fantasies about the sexually immature, how many were sexually active in respect of adults, and of those, how many were hetero-, how many homo-, and how many bi-sexual?  A quick Google search of the search terms “homosexuality” and “paedophilia” pulls a bunch of links to articles, screeds, studies, and so forth the tenor of which is that there is no provable connection between the two.  I’d be interested to know how this study, with its 28,000 interview subjects, shook out on the point.

I’d point out here that in asking about sexual contact between adult males and girls who are post-pubescent but still have no business taking up with an older man, you’ve got some serious cultural and historical issues to deal with in analyzing your numbers.  Just by way of famous examples, I will guarantee you that of the parties and guests present at the wedding where Jesus performed his first miracle, the groom would be looking at 20+ years hard time, the bride’s parents would draw a stretch for conspiracy and accessory before and after the fact, and someone’s going down on a charge of contributing.  You’d also likely sweep in a paddy-wagon full of other married couples present for at least some of the same offenses.  To take a slightly newer example, Varina Howell was all of 17 when she met and was courted by the family’s neighbor, Jefferson Davis, who was 35 at the time.  The modern reaction is Ick!!  Yet even today the age of consent is all over the map just among the 50 states, and that doesn’t even touch on the enormous disparities on the subject that exist across the globe.  Nowadays in the U.S., if you’re a 35 year-old man mooning about a 17 year-old girl, you’ll be lucky if being laughed at for a pathetic cradle-robber is the worst thing that happens to you.  More likely you’re going to earn yourself an ass-kicking from the girl’s male relatives.  As you deserve.

But wouldn’t it have been nice if the FAZ‘s reporter had dug into the study and answered some of the above questions for us?  Or at least given us a link to where the study’s available?

Nice try, guys; try harder next time.

Oh Sure; Blame it on the Cows

I remember years ago first reading about “greenhouse gases,” specifically the emissions from cows.  “Farting cows” was the great joke of the day, for a while.  Little did we know that we were seeing the genesis of a religious cult.

Well, the Max Planck Institut für Chemie in Mainz has released a study, authored by scientists from Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., analyzing worldwide premature deaths from air pollution in the form of ozone and particulates (I assume this is to distinguish mortality that results from actual poisons emitted into the atmosphere, in the fashion of Bhopal, for example; the synopsis at the institute’s website describes the subject of their inquiry as the “most important” airborne contaminants, however).  I ran across a write-up in the FAZHere’s an English-language version of the study, published in Nature.

The authors not only calculate how many premature deaths are attributable to air pollution worldwide, but also break it down by region, country, and origin.  The long and short is that they figure 3.3 million premature deaths annually from particulate air pollution, 1.4 million of them in China and a further 65,000 in India, those two being the worst-affected.  Asia as a whole accounts for 75% of the total premature deaths.  In the EU as a whole it’s 180,000 (no figures for the U.S. are given).  The figure is 35,000 in Germany, which the authors point out is roughly ten times the total annual traffic fatalities.

The dominant proximate causes of death are stroke and heart attack, accounting for just under 75% of the total, with most of the remainder divided between bronchial diseases and lung cancer.  No surprises there.

Where the surprise comes in is when the authors analyze where the pollution is coming from.  Industry?  Nope.  Motor vehicles?  Nope.  Power generation?  Nope.  Not power generation?  Not even in China?  Not China, which is commissioning brand-new coal-fired power plants at the rate of multiple facilities per month?  None of those is the worst sinner, it seems.  The single greatest source of pollution is “household energy use such as heating and cooking,” accounting for fully one-third of the premature deaths, followed by agriculture, racking up a quarter of worldwide deaths (although in some countries — Russia, the Ukraine, and Germany — it’s near 40% of the total).  Motor vehicles in contrast only account for 5% of all such deaths each year.  In fact, industry, power generation, “biomass” burning (not sure what is included in that), and motor vehicles all lumped together only account for a third of the annual harvest.  Comparison:  Natural sources, such as dust storms in North Africa and the Middle East, account for a quarter of the total premature deaths.

The household energy use includes diesel generators (Gentle Reader must recall that large portions of the world are not served by the TVA, ConEdison, Duke Power, or NWE; ergo, if you want your perishables not to rot and the lights to come on, you have your own generator), heating, and cooking fires.  In Asia especially hundreds of millions of people still heat and cook over wood or coal fires.  Come to think of it, when I was a child I’d say a sizeable minority of people in my home county heated at least partly with wood; I know we did.

So over a half of all premature deaths attributable to air pollution from any source can be laid against people raising the morning bacon or lunch-time hamburger, or fertilizing their wheat or rice fields or paddies, and then cooking/baking it in a heated room.

A couple of things to bear in mind when contemplating this study:

First it’s a study on mortality, which is pretty easy to measure, and not morbidity, which is much harder to get your hands around.  Air pollution that just makes you feel wretched without actually killing you is still air pollution.  And what is the correct point at which “feeling wretched” should be counted as morbidity?  A day when you’re unable to function at whatever occupation you have?  What if you’re already unemployed for whatever reason (age, illness, or physical handicap)?  That shouldn’t make a difference, should it?  The same considerations would apply to a standard like “can’t function at normal capacities”; what is “normal capacities” for someone who’s 85 and retired?  And how do you measure “normal” or “capacities” for that matter?  And since morbidity can be very transient (think: there were plenty of days in Victorian London when the air was just fine to breathe . . . and then there were the “London particulars” which could and did kill hundreds at a pop), at what level of frequency do you count a person as being adversely affected by particulate/ozone pollution?  All of which is to say that this study, while about as useful as you can get the data, still under-measures the true scope of the problem.

Second, I did not see mention of how many total “premature” deaths there are from all causes, worldwide.  Bear in mind this could include infectious disease, motor vehicle accident, war, famine, or any number of things.  In fact, you could make the argument that anything other than infirmities of age or non-infectious disease should count as a “premature” death.  On the other hand, that definition may so water down the concept as to render it not really useful in analyzing what’s going on in the world and what should be do about it.  But in the absence of knowing how many total “premature” deaths occur each year, we’re deprived of a handy yardstick to measure how serious a problem is 3.3 million premature deaths from particulate/ozone air pollution.

Now for some perspective.  The worldwide “crude death rate,” or the number of deaths per 1,000 population, estimated as of mid-year, is most recently estimated at 7.98.  [N.b.  That figure comes from the CIA’s The World Factbook.  They also have country-by-country figures; those range from a high of 17.49 for South Africa to a low of 1.53 for Qatar.  The U.S. figure is 8.15, so we’re still above the global rate . . . as is Switzerland, with 8.10.  Learn a little something new every day, don’t we?]  Applied against the July, 2015 estimated gross world population of 7,256,490,011, that produces total deaths of 57,906,790.  The 3.3 million premature deaths from particulate/ozone air pollution account for 5.7% of the total, and the 2,475,000 that are from causes other than natural account for 4.27% of the total.  Phrased the other way around, over 95% of all deaths worldwide do not occur sooner than actuarially predicted as a result of anthropogenic air-pollution causes.

More to the point, if only 33.33% — 1,099,989 — of all premature deaths from particulate/ozone air pollution result from the combined effects of power generation, motor vehicle traffic, and industrial activity, then those sources account for a whacking 1.9% of gross human mortality.  Against that toll must be balanced in any intellectually and morally honest calculus the life-prolonging, life-improving effects of industrial activity, inexpensive transportation of humans and the products of their hands, and cheap energy.

Not to dismiss air pollution, even from farting cows, as a significant issue to the mitigation of which humanity ought to devote some of its attention and resources, but when a problem accounts for that small a proportion of total human mortality — when over 98% of deaths do not result from those causes — it does suggest that perhaps anthropogenic air pollution does not merit upending free societies and destroying significant paths of human liberty in order to mitigate its effects.

Then again, maybe I’m missing something.

Birds of a Feather

The British Labor Party has just elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  He is, to put it mildly, not a mainstream politician.  A self-avowed socialist, he’s about as far-left as you can be in Britain and still find a constituency loony enough to send you to Westminster.  He’s so far to the left that even The Economist isn’t having him.  It describes him as “a politician who would exist, as he has in Westminster for the past decades, as a hard-line oddball on the fringes of any Western political arena,” and is so impolite as to ask, “Will Mr Corbyn, a man with links to unsavoury governments and international groups (he calls Hamas “friends”, presented a programme for Iran’s state television and recommends Russia Today, Vladimir Putin’s international propaganda network) be made privy to sensitive information about national security, as was his predecessor as leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband?”

What is truly alarming is that Corbyn won with 59% of the votes, on the first ballot.

Well, now ol’ Jeremy has done gone and farted in chapel, loudly.  At a memorial service for the RAF fighter pilots who quite literally saved Britain in 1940 from the Luftwaffe air superiority which would have enabled Hitler to move forward with Operation Sea Lion — the invasion of Britain — Jeremy Corbyn stood there, with loosened necktie and visibly unbuttoned collar, silent, while the rest of everyone present sang “God Save the Queen.”  Here’s the picture at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s report on the fiasco.  He had announced his intention to do so, what he called “respectful silence,” ahead of time.  He is, you see, an anti-monarchist (yeah . . . that’ll win your party elections in England), and didn’t want to taint himself by singing what is, after all, the lawfully established national anthem.

Here’s a bit of news, Jeremy.  This memorial wasn’t about you and your doctrinal purity.  It was about a group of terrifyingly young men, outnumbered and out-gunned, who were thrown into the scales in a last-ditch effort to keep some flicker of liberty alive in Europe.  They were all there was left, their governments — in thrall to pacifists like you, Jeremy — having ignored and in fact suppressed and lied about the activities of the Nazis for years.  The army was naked of arms; those had been left on the beach at Dunkirk.  The navy was ill-equipped for anti-air warfare and had to be kept intact to attack the invasion fleet if the air battle failed.  Bomber Command was without the means of attacking the Luftwaffe’s bases in France and the Low Countries.  Fighter Command was all there was left in the ranch.  You, Jeremy, are among the “so many” who owed “so much” to “so few.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, really, that Corbyn shows such contempt for the men who fought and died so that people like Corbyn can moon around Westminster, instead of pacing the yard at Dachau.  It’s what leftists do; it’s who they are.  With respect, The Economist is dead wrong about one thing:  So far from being “on the fringe” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Corbyn isn’t so much one inch to the left of the current U.S. president.  In fact, I’m wondering when he will get his first invitation to the White House, and am eager to see the pomp and honors with which he is received and embraced, in contrast to, say, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.

Corbyn and Dear Leader should get along famously.  Back in 2007 a then-unknown senator from Illinois stood and pointedly folded his hands below his waist while the national anthem was sung.  Our party operatives with bylines national mainstream media quickly buried the incident.  Anyone want to bet whether a Republican candidate would have got a free pass out of that?

I would express the pious hope that, having chosen someone so obviously inappropriate to lead them, Labor has consigned itself to electoral irrelevance for the time being.  But then, having just watched the U.S. Congress approve a plan to permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons for the avowed purpose of exterminating our one ally in that entire Godforsaken corner of the globe, I cannot be so confident.

When Reporters go to the Zoo

And write about it, this is about what you’d get.  A profile article in The Washington Post about the family that Dylann Roof crashed with during the weeks immediately preceding his murderous rampage in Charleston.

The home’s occupants are, in no particular order, a twice-abandoned mother who’s working her country ass off at the local Waffle House, her three useless-as-tits-on-a-boar-hog sons, Justin, Joey, and Jacob (how cute! matching names), the slatternly girlfriend of one of them (does it matter which?), and a motley assortment of people who seem to be “staying there,” as the lower orders around here say, for different reasons and periods.

“Home” is a beat-up ol’ single-wide out in the sticks in up-country South Carolina.  It houses Mom, the three boys, the girlfriend (for the time being), and whatever dead-beat loser buddy of whichever of the three brothers feels like imposing himself on whatever the mother can earn down at the Waffle House, together with such cash-under-the-counter scrapings as come in whenever one of the boys feels like getting far enough off his ass to scratch his own fleas.  There is a dog, Daisy, whom the reporter identifies as a “pit bull puppy,” but whom the picture with the article plainly shows to be a beagle or some other hound breed.  [If that’s the standard of the WaPo‘s fact checking you might want to take at least some of the rest of the article with a grain of salt.]

They didn’t always live like this.  At one point they lived in a subdivision, in a clean house, with clean clothes, and predictable patterns to their lives.  Then the mother’s (second) husband just up and walked out.  She lost her job as a medical technician (the article doesn’t say why; it could have been any number of reasons — the medical industry chews people up and spits them out like seeds), then lost the house to foreclosure.  They moved to the trailer.

Among their neighbors back during “normal” was a kid named Dylann Roof.  Another was some kid named Shane who would “stay for weeks” in the family’s house, and later in their trailer “even though he had his own trailer by then.”  He used to get drunk and talk about doing crazy self-destructive things, like drinking rat poison.  Everyone thought he was just stupid drunk and running his mouth.  One evening he swallowed a shotgun; one of the Meek boys stole his cowboy boots from his still-blood-spattered home “as a memento.”  During his pre-homicidal visitation, Roof would get good ‘n’ drunk and talk about doing “something crazy,” and wave around his new .45 ACP (in a really interesting data point, he’d also get good ‘n’ drunk and go sit in his car to listen to . . . opera; the article doesn’t vouchsafe us which composer(s)).  At one point one of the brothers took Roof’s gun away from him and hid it.  Not because they thought he might go and calmly murder nine people in a church, but because they thought he might swallow the gun.  Like their buddy Shane had in fact done.  They gave Roof his gun back.

The article asks, not so subtly, why this family didn’t take Roof’s announcements seriously and call the cops.  I have news for the reporter:  No one takes anything about people in that world seriously.  Not even they do.  When they tell each other they love someone, it’s generally neither meant nor received in earnest; when they announce an intention to turn the page and get themselves straightened out, everyone who hears the statement knows it won’t happen.  When one of them finds Jesus, everyone mentally calculates the date when he’ll backslide and end up with another drunk-and-disorderly on an ever-lengthening rap sheet.  When one of them expresses an ambition, it’s accepted that he’ll never stir from the couch to realize it.  When one of them is drunker than Cooter Brown and allows he’s not going to take that shit from the boss/neighbor/teacher/wife/husband/police or whatever other source of momentary friction has intruded into his world, no one believes for a moment that his statement will turn out to bear any correlation with his actions.

Among the cameos put in by the rotating cast of drifters, scroungers, and layabouts is a heavily-tattooed black kid identified as Christon, who professes even yet to “love” Roof as a friend.  The value of Christon’s love for anyone can be measured by his later quotation, “I have no sympathy for people. Nobody has any sympathy for me. I care for me and me only.”  Spare me your love, Christon old man.

The only person even slightly sympathetic in the whole show is Mom.  She is shown cleaning, “constantly cleaning. She wipes the kitchen counters. She straightens the blinds. She folds up the sofa where Lindsey and Joey sleep, folds the sheet and zebra blanket, and drops them in the corner where Roof often lounged, as Jacob does now.”  She’s shown at work, exhausted and — one suspects — shell-shocked that her existence, once so . . . so . . . normal, has degenerated to the point that now they themselves are the target of an investigation by the feds in connection with this punk Roof’s crimes.  [I’d like to know just what the hell law it’s believed these people broke.  Not listening to a drunk-ass dead-beat is not a crime; it’s called ordinary common sense.]

No details are given on what lead to both marriages to break up in similar fashion, with the husband leaving.  I can imagine the second husband getting good and sick of having some neighbor kid invading his home for weeks on end, drunk, high, or both, to whoop it up with the wife’s layabout children by another man.  Or maybe he was cool with it.  Who knows.

The only knock on Mom which immediately appears from the article is her abysmally poor judgment.  Step One on her Back to Normal project needs to be to kick out everyone but the 15 year-old, change the locks, and tell little junior if he fucks up one more time, even just a little, it’s off to juvie for him and she’ll never have anything more to do with him.  The older two need to go sleep on a park bench or wherever it is until they realize that being able-bodied males and mooching off their mother who’s killing herself by inches at the Waffle House is the kind of public disgrace that no one ought to be able to endure and still hold his head up and call himself a man.  I’m sure Mom loves her boys; she’s their mother.  But hell and blast, lady, your children have got themselves and you on a path to where one or more of you is going to come to a violent end.  Stop it.  Now.  You’ve got to be the adult in this picture.

I ran across the article on a friend’s Facebook page.  His comment:  “I read this story, riveted, from front to back, in the paper this morning and decided it’s the most depressing thing I’ve read in months. These people have a miserable life, and it’s hard to imagine what could be done to help. It really does seem hopeless. And learning that people from this milieu are resorting to random violence should not come as any surprise.”

Oh dear.  Where to start with this sort of non-comprehension?  For starts, the United States is full of families who live in beat-up old single-wides out in the woods.  They’re either momentarily down on their luck or fate has dealt them a bad hand which they’ve played poorly.  But as the mother demonstrates, you don’t have to live like that.  Or as P. J. O’Rourke quotes his dead-broke Irish mother during the depths of the Great Depression, “No one is too poor to clean up his front yard.”  Living like this family does is an active choice, for which they deserve censure, not pity.  And guess what else?  The percentage of people who live like this and who “resort to random violence” is almost incalculably small.  True enough, many of them live like that precisely because they are or have been criminally violent in their pasts, but it’s generally exactly the kind of violence that’s always existed in society:  Violence among one’s own circle of acquaintance.  I can’t recall the precise number just now, but the overwhelming proportion of victims of violence personally know their assailant.  Not “random” at all, in other words.  They’re not “resorting” to it from misery or hopelessness; they’re violent because that’s who and what they are.  It’s how the world works that they live in, a world they are fully participatory in making.

All of which is to say that I know way too many people who either right now live like that, or grew up living in circumstance in comparison to which this family is on Easy Street, and who are decent, law-abiding, hard-working, community-supporting people.  In fact, not a few of them are the most hard-working and financially (for their circumstances) generous supporters of operations like the humane society, the food bank, the help center, and their respective churches.  Need a pull out of a mud-choked ditch?  They’ll be there, with their tow strap or chain and a 25 year-old pick-up truck that has its license plate in the rear window because there isn’t a bumper on it.  Church has a leaky roof?  They’ll be up there with a hammer or holding the ladder.  Dog gets dumped out on a back-country dirt road?  It’ll come home with them.  They are really ordinary folks whom you’d be happy to pass the time of day with, if you found them on a park bench beside you.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mom in this story was one of those people.  But Jesus Christ and General Jackson! lady.  Get your worthless-ass sons out of your house.  You can’t help them until you get your own life back on track, and that’s not going to happen as long as you’re the pack animal for these thugs.

I do agree with my friend’s characterization of this story as depressing. It is every bit that.  It’s depressing because you know you cannot help these people.  Even Mom, who knows how not to live like this, has more or less chosen to do so, by permitting her useless children to create that world around her.  You cannot stop a person bent on self-destruction.

What’s striking about the newspaper article is the reporter’s tone.  It’s as if he’s gone to the St. Louis Zoo and is reporting from the primate house.  “Zerlinda, the matriarch of the band, plucks lice from the fur of Josephus, the dominant silver-back.  He occasionally gives her a smack on the head, sending her reeling.  She sulks, never for more than a few moments, then tenderly returns to her grooming.  Pluck.  Smack.  Pluck.  Every so often they will stare through the glass at us.  What in the world might be crossing their ape minds?”

The dog dies at the end of the story.

Something Upbeat, for a Change

I suppose it’s embarrassing that I have to use that post title.  Yeah, yeah, I know:  If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.  Nonetheless in looking back at many, if not most, of the posts I’ve put up over the years, I have to acknowledge that levity and good feelings are comparative strangers around here.

Today I make an exception.

Over Labor Day weekend the family and I hied us to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  It’s easy to get to, it has free parking and admission, and oh by the way, did I mention it rocks?  We spent Saturday afternoon, most of Sunday, and Monday morning there.  If that’s all you did you should still budget at least two full days if you want to see everything they have, and read all the explanatory material, and actually spend some time contemplating the exhibits, rather than just rushing on towards the next one.

The museum is set up in gigantic (I mean, like, really enormous . . . like multiple football field big) hangar-like buildings, each connected to the next via covered (and mercifully air-conditioned) passageways.  The most interesting exhibits are at floor level, although they also have many suspended above you, chiefly the (for me, at least) less interesting ones, like drones, air-launched missiles, small trainer and transport aircraft, and so forth.  The exception to the pattern is the exhibit hall for the ICBMs, which is set up to remind the visitor of a missile silo (round and very, very tall).  Obviously, most of the exhibits are United States warbirds, although they do have quite a number of German, several Japanese, and a few Soviet exhibits.  They’ve got a V-1 and a V-2, a Bf-109, MiG 15, MiG-29, etc.  Interesting stuff.

What they don’t have very much of is — with the exception of one specific exhibit hall, on which more later — individually historical aircraft, by which I mean specific airplanes that in and of themselves are historically significant.  By way of counter-example, the National Naval Aviation Museum, located at NAS Pensacola (and itself likewise worth the trip from wherever Gentle Reader might be) has the only known survivor of both Pearl Harbor and Midway; it has the NC-4 (the first airplane to fly the Atlantic); it has quite a bit of the bridge equipment from USS Enterprise (trivia note: the chap who founded Enterprise Rent-a-Car served in her during the war, and named his company after his ship), and so forth.  I can understand that:  Most of the historically significant land aircraft are going to be found at the Smithsonian, so the Air Force Museum is going to have to take second pick.  Illustrating that literally is the fact that Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, is in the Smithsonian.  Bockscar, which dropped the second bomb, on Nagasaki, is in Dayton, viz:


The major exception to the above pattern is the presidential gallery, in which they have a fistful of airplanes which served different presidents.  They have, for example, the last of the several airplanes nicknamed Sacred Cow, which ferried Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference.  It was a built-out C-54 and featured an elevator mounted in its tail to hoist FDR aboard in his wheelchair.


They also have the airplane which brought Kennedy’s body back from Dallas.  Not wanting to shove his casket into the cargo hold, they sawed out a chunk of an aft bulkhead and wedged him in that way, with his widow making the trip sitting in a seat opposite.  They’ve got Truman’s plane, the Independence, as well as several smaller airplanes which served in different roles.  What they don’t have is a Marine One, which is understandable, it being Navy (you can see one at the Naval Aviation Museum if so inclined).  The presidential exhibit shares an off-site (for the time being; starting at the end of the month they’re going to move both to the main facility) hangar with their collection of experimental aircraft.  They’ve got the only surviving XB-70 (the other one crashed during test flight), the prototype of the XF-23, the competitor which lost out to what became the F-22 Raptor, and a raft of other things some of which you have a hard time imagining in the air.

What struck me — and here I am perhaps betraying an ignorance born of sloth — is the sheer variety of aircraft the U.S. has put into the air over the years.  Sure, everyone’s heard of the B-52, the B-24, the B-1, the P-47, the F-4 Phantom, and so forth.  But how about the RB-47, or the A-20?  Or the B-50 Hustler?  To say nothing of the inter-war aircraft?  The Air Force Museum has got ’em all.  Among the most impressive for me was the B-36 strategic bomber.  Again, although I’d heard of this one, I’d never really paid attention to it, considering it to be one of those stop-gap planes that we just shoved onto the flight line until we could get the B-52 in the air.  Well, it was our principal strategic weapons platform for most of the 1950s, and man alive! is it huge.  It’s got ten — count ’em — engines: six pusher propellers and four jet engines mounted in twin pods outboard of the props.  And did I mention the thing’s ginormous?

As with any exhibit of historical artifacts, you get a sensation of times which were in important ways profoundly different from our own.  F’rintsance, you kind of get a notion that the concept of “micro-aggression” hadn’t made it into the lexicon of the U.S. Army Air Force when you take a look at the nose art on their B-24 Liberator:


Around the walls of the exhibition halls, as well as interspersed among the airplanes, they’ve got thematic exhibits of documents, artifacts, and so forth.  Some of them are personal to specific aviators, who either died in combat or who otherwise were of significance.  There are POW exhibits for both World War II and Vietnam.  There are exhibits on the strategic bombing campaigns over both Europe and Japan.  One omission I found interesting is the complete absence of any mention of Dresden.  They do have a small mention of the fire-bombing raid on Tokyo, which actually killed quite a number more than the raid on Dresden did.  I wonder if that’s because Dresden was principally an RAF Bomber Command show, with the 8th Air Force showing up the following morning to make the (burning) rubble bounce.

The museum also has an IMAX movie theater.  I didn’t go to see either of the two movies they were showing (one on D-Day and the other I forget what).  If you were to do that you’d need to budget additional time accordingly.

The passageways between the main exhibit halls are not wasted, either.  In one they have an exhibit on the Holocaust, including a listing of people in the Dayton area who either were survivors, or liberators, or who have been inducted into Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.  In another passageway there’s a really well-done exhibit on the Berlin Airlift, and in a third a collection of bomber jacket art.  In another area they have a really cool exhibit, complete with video, on Bob Hope and his 50-plus years of touring to take the troops’ minds off their troubles, even if only for a few moments.

All in all, it’s a wonderful time and I can’t recommend it too highly.

The Quartet: Fascinating, With a Caveat

I just finished reading Joseph J. Ellis’s The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, his history of the — and there is no other word for it — scheming which attended the process by which the United States under the Articles of Confederation was transformed into the United States under the Constitution.  I’ve also read Ellis’s His Excellency: George Washington, a very useful biography and one which sheds some interesting light on the man Ellis (in The Quartet) calls the “Foundingest” of all the Founding Fathers; his Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams; and, if memory doesn’t fail me, his Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.

I have to say I enjoyed all of them, particularly the Washington biography and The Quartet.  He has an easy, very accessible style and he’s not afraid to make editorial comments.  They are, after all, his books, and a biographer or historian who has nothing to come right out and say beyond the bare factual narrative isn’t much of writer.  Of course, what facts the writer chooses to include or omit also says something about him, but bald statements of characterization aren’t out of place either.  Just don’t try to hide them, is all I ask.

The Washington book I found interesting because Ellis spends a great deal of time addressing the Great White Elephant in the Room, namely Washington’s Auseinandersetzung (show me a better English word for it and I’ll use it) with the institution of slavery and the relations between the races.  Hadn’t known, just for example, that up to a full 20-25% of the Continental Army was at any given time what they’d refer to as “dark green” soldiers (all soldiers being green, you see; in the navy all sailors are blue, and some are light blue and some are dark blue) in today’s army.  This experience with blacks as fighting men changed Washington profoundly, much as it did so many of the Union soldiers in the Civil War.  You simply can’t watch a man stand up to artillery pounding or gales of small arms fire and be immune to the idea that he’s just as good as you are.  [Aside:  This is why it is so historically significant that it was the U.S. armed forces which, first among all public institutions and voluntarily, de-segregated.]

It was during the war that Washington stopped selling slaves.  By the time he died a large (comparatively) number of his slaves were well past working age.  I can’t recall off the top of my head if Ellis actually uses the expression “retirement home” or an equivalent, but it’s certainly the impression that emerges from the book.  Martha Washington, notably, never changed her own attitudes about slavery or slaves.  And Ellis highlights the fact that a significant number of what we think of as “Washington’s” slaves were actually Martha’s, inherited from her father.  Washington, as I recall, was his executor, and as Martha’s husband was legally charged with the safe-keeping of her property . . . including her slaves.  This conundrum played itself out in Washington’s final act on the subject:  As is well known, he freed his own slaves at his death (nearly alone among the Founding Fathers who were slave owners), but he did not have the legal authority to free Martha’s, and so didn’t.

But on to The Quartet.  Gentle Reader will recall that I have previously written here and here about Washington’s Farewell address, his (written) valedictory to the nation he had done so much to establish.  In both previous posts I’ve mentioned the curious fact that Washington spends something like eight paragraphs addressing the calamity of disunion and the need to resist all who would insidiously suggest fracturing of the union as being the way to go . . . but nowhere breathes so much as a word to the effect that the Constitution itself simply does not permit secession.  In beginning The Quartet I’d been very keen to see what light Ellis threw on the subject, whether it would have come up in the Convention debates or in the ratification process.  [Aside:  Ellis does answer a question for me, namely whether anyone has actually studied in detail the ratification debates in all the states.  There in fact has been someone — one person — who has done so, and unfortunately I can’t call his name from memory.]  But Ellis is silent on the point, so we can’t tell from his book whether the issue was discussed or not.  He does attach, as an appendix, the full text of the Articles of Confederation, which the Constitution replaced.  Interestingly, that document does, in Article XIII, expressly provide, “And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual[.]”

There is it, in plain Anglo-Saxon; in fact, the statement that “the Union shall be perpetual” is in there not once, but twice, just a few lines apart.  Search as you may, but no similar statement is to be found in the Constitution or any amendment to it.  Lest Gentle Reader be tempted to read the provisions of the Articles of Confederation by implication into the Constitution, Ellis makes it very plain that the Constitution did not amend or supplement the Articles, but replaced them in toto.  It represented, as Ellis clearly demonstrates, not merely a change in text but a fundamental re-ordering of the very nature of the union from a confederacy of equals, in which each “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled” (Article II, in its entirety), to a nation-state in which the states are specifically subordinate entities, although not as fully subordinate as James Madison originally desired them to be.  He had in fact, in the Virginia Plan for the Convention, specifically proposed that the federal executive be given an express veto over state statutes and other laws.

All of which only heightens the interest in the omission.  It certainly goes a long way towards under-cutting the argument that the secessionists of 1861 were not only morally abhorrent for their defense of chattel slavery, but also legally and indisputably traitors to their country.  I suppose one might say the omission of 1787 was supplied at bayonet point from 1861-65.  In all events, the nature of the union has now and forever been resolved, and I for one am happy at the outcome, however good-faith the argument on the point may have been at the time.

Back to the book.  The actual “quartet” Ellis refers to are Washington, Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay.  The first three are of course well-known.  The fourth, Jay, is known as the third member of the triumvirate who wrote the essays now known as The Federalist, the most cogent arguments for ratification of the Constitution (although as Ellis points out, they were targeted specifically at New York’s ratification convention and in fact do not seem at the time to have garnered much if any attention beyond that state), and among lawyers as the first Chief Justice.  History wonks will also remember him as the negotiator of the Jay Treaty of 1794 with Great Britain (which finally removed the British from the frontier forts they’d kept occupying, the 1783 Treaty of Paris notwithstanding), and the principal negotiator, with Franklin, of the 1783 treaty itself.  Ellis shares the vignette of Jay in conference with the Spanish envoy (it must be remembered that Spain and France were allied at the time against Great Britain); the Spaniard drew a line with his finger on a map, from the Great Lakes more or less due south to Florida (Spanish at the time), to indicate that as the western boundary of the United States, everything to the west presumably going to Spain.  The Americans had been given explicit instructions by the Continental Congress to conduct all negotiations in consultation with France, which thus meant subject to Spanish veto.  Jay then took his own finger and traced the Mississippi River.  That evening he went to Franklin’s lodgings, awoke him, and convinced him to disregard their instructions in respect of France, and to make a separate peace with Britain.  Had Jay not succeeding in convincing Franklin, or had they knuckled under to Spain’s demands, the history of the entire world for the last 225-plus years would have been not just different, but radically different.

In any event, Ellis recounts how each of the four, by his own route, arrived at the conviction that the Articles of Confederation just were not going to do, and in fact that they were so hopeless as to be beyond salvage by mere amendment.  Washington and Hamilton of course had personal knowledge of the system’s failure to support the army in the field.  Jay got to experience the futility of the system as foreign minister, when the Europeans, who could read the Articles just as well as anyone else, more or less laughed in his face when he purported to represent a “United States of America” that they could see did not in fact exist.  Indeed, it not only did not exist de jure, but as Ellis also shows, it likewise had no place in the sentiments of the ordinary people.  Folks simply did not think of themselves as being “Americans” in the sense of belonging to any greater polity than their own state, if their vision extended even that far.

I won’t recount in detail either the machinations of the Constitutional Convention itself, or the ratification process.  In fact, Ellis doesn’t spend any terribly great amount of time on the ratification process, except in respect of Madison’s stage-managing (or trying to) the order of ratification among the states.  Short version:  By deferring votes in the large, questionable states until near the end of the process, the likelihood was increased that those states would be presented with an accomplished political fact of ratification, and they’d vote to join so as not to be left out.  And that’s pretty much how it worked in practice.  To reiterate, I’d have appreciated much more exploration of the extent, if any, to which issues like potential secession got aired out.

My caveats?  Well, Ellis displays his good leftish credentials in two places in the book.  The first (p. 172) comes at the tail-end of his discussion of what he describes as an “ambiguity” about where the balance of sovereignty was located by the document eventually submitted for ratification.  Key statement:

“The multiple compromises reached in the Constitutional Convention over where to locate sovereignty accurately reflected the deep divisions in the American populace at large.  There was a strong consensus that the state-based system under the Articles had proven ineffectual, but an equally strong apprehension about the political danger posed by any national government that rode roughshod over local, state, and regional interests . . . .”

From the above statement, the truth of which I think Ellis does an excellent job demonstrating, he then hikes his leg and lets a glaring non sequitur in church:  “In the long run — and this was probably Madison’s most creative insight — the multiple ambiguities embedded in the Constitution made it an inherently ‘living’ document.”

Very respectfully, Prof. Ellis, it is nothing of the kind.  For starts, the truly revolutionary nature of the Constitution was precisely that it was written.  Ellis correctly demonstrates the core nature of the Articles as being a treaty among equals.  The Constitution was something different; it established, to a limited extent, a hierarchical relationship between the states and this new animal, the United States of America.  But most importantly, the states’ relations among each other and with the new national state was spelled out in writing.  There was a reason, after all, why monarchs violently resisted granting written constitutions, all the way down to 1905 in Russia:  A written document pins the sovereign down.  With a written document you can point to a specific clause or word or phrase and say to the government, “Look here, Buster; it says right here you cannot do that.”

The notion of a “living document” — in the sense that Ellis is using it — is very, very much a 20th Century phenomenon, and it is specifically a judicial creation from wholecloth.  The Founding Generation would have looked at you as if you were speaking Tagalog if you had suggested that what they’d come up with was a “living document” in which judges got to make things up as they went along (“evolving standards of decency”), and under which a president such as Dear Leader claims an inherent executive authority to act to impose law for no better reason than he cannot get Congress to act as he sees fit on issues which are important to him (“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone”), and Congress can prescribe how much water your toilet uses (1.0 gal/flush, anyone?).  I’ll go so far as to state that had you tried to sell the Constitution as a “living document” in 1787-88, you’d never have got nine states to ratify; in fact, I question whether the populace of any state would have been so daft.

Secondly, the mere fact that the Constitution abandoned the state-centered structure of the Articles but rejected the All-Powerful National State which Madison had gone into the Convention advocating emphatically does not mean that the answer to the question, “Where does sovereignty lie?” is a forever mutable response.  It is perfectly possible for the answers (and there can be many) to that question to lie at multiple points between those poles, depending on which issue or question you’re asking.  Just for example, the states are prohibited from making war or peace, or coining money.  That’s specifically reserved to the federal government.  On the other hand, the regulation of “Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes,” while extremely broad, is not, and cannot with honesty be read to constitute, a grant of authority to Congress (to say nothing of the executive) to prohibit a man from feeding his own family with the produce of his own land.  And yet that’s precisely what the Supreme Court said the Commerce Clause does.  I’m still waiting to hear anyone make a convincing case that, had you told the farmers of any of the 13 states that they were ceding authority to Congress to dictate what they could and could not grow on their own land to feed their own children, the Constitution would have stood a ghost of a chance of ratification.  The fact that a group of sophists on the bench can articulate a rationale which, as long as you don’t actually press on it with any force, supports such an outcome does not mean that outcome was contemplated by the men who drafted or voted on the Constitution as among the permissible.  The argument that everything is both necessary and proper to accomplish some hypothetical purposed which allegedly by some remote chain of causation (think: the schoolbook example of the butterfly flapping its wings off the coast of Africa, which results in a Category 5 hurricane coming ashore at Gulfport, Mississippi) is an argument which renders superfluous the entire text of Article I Section 8.  If that argument has any validity then Section 8 could have been written simply as, “Congress shall have all Powers to enact such Legislation as it shall deem expedient.”

As if to emphasize the extent to which Ellis doesn’t Get It, he offers us this:  “Madison’s ‘original intention’ was to make all ‘original intentions’ infinitely negotiable in the future.”  Got that?  Just because it says you can’t be president unless you’re 35, it doesn’t really mean that.  Just because it says each state gets to elect two senators, a state — let’s say, Alabama — can go ahead and elect three, and have them seated.  Just because it says, “No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State,” and just because Article I Section 8 gives Congress the authority to “lay Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises,” (and requires that such be “uniform throughout the United States”), that wouldn’t stop Dear Leader from levying a tax on tobacco shipped from North Carolina to Amsterdam, but excusing tobacco grown in northern California from that tax.  Can private property be taken for public use without “just compensation”?  According to Ellis, the answer is yes, if you can get either a majority in Congress, or the president acting without Congress, to decide to do it.  Because “infinitely negotiable.”  Right now there is a lawsuit pending in which the House of Representatives is suing Dear Leader over the “Affordable” Care Act’s spending of money.  Remember this one:  “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law”?  Well, it seems that at least some provisions of the ACA produce just that outcome: expenditures not authorized by law.  According to Ellis, that prohibition is “infinitely negotiable” for all time.  Why, one wants to ask Ellis, did the drafters include a provision (Article V) for the document’s amendment, if nothing in it had any now-and-forevermore meaning anyway?  “Living documents” require no amendment; all they require is a consensus that it doesn’t mean that anymore.  Like Brown v. Board of Education, presumably.  What exactly, under the leftish framework, would prohibit Congress and the president from deciding that Brown was decided entirely wrong and well, gosh darn it, we’re going back to “separate but equal”?

Bless the dear professor’s heart.  He puts in a good word for collectivism/corporatism/fascism, but really can’t bring it off.  Not to an intelligent audience, in any event.

The second place where Ellis goes to bat for the leftists occurs beginning on page 211.  He gives Madison’s original draft of what became the Second Amendment.  The two clauses of the text we know (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”) were inverted in the original draft, with the “necessary to the security” starting out as “being the best security of a free country.”  Madison’s draft also included a specific clause excusing what we would know as conscientious objectors from “render[ing] military service in person.”  Ellis just refers to “some editing in the Senate,” and laconically observes that it became the Second Amendment.  He provides no clue as to what the substance of that “some editing” might have been.

According to Ellis, Madison’s draft was merely “to assure those skeptical souls that the defense of the United States would depend on state militias rather than a professional, federal army.”  According to Ellis, Madison’s draft makes clear that the right to keep and bear arms was “not inherent but derivative, depending on service in the militia.”  Good leftist talking point.  He’s got some problems, of course, starting with the simple text itself.  The amendment, even in its original draft, does not speak of the states being free to arm their militias; nor does it provide that the right of militia members to keep and bear arms shall not be subject to unreasonable restriction; nor grant the states the right to compel militia service.

If you look at Madison’s first draft, it consists of two independent clauses separated by a subordinate clause.  Let’s try this as a catechism.

Q:  What “shall not be infringed”?

A:  A right.

Q:  What right?

A:  To keep and bear arms.

Q:  Whose right?

A:  The right “of the people.”

Simple enough.  But perhaps Madison (and more importantly, the rest of Congress) really meant “the states” when writing “the people”?  Plausible, until you consider that in four other instances in the Bill of Rights the expression “the people” is used.  The First Amendment protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”  Now read that to substitute “states” for “the people” and what result do you get?  The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”  Same exercise:  Are the states to secure against unreasonable searches and seizures?  Say it with a straight face, Prof. Ellis.  The Ninth Amendment provides that the enumeration of “certain rights” shall not be construed to “deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  I guess you could read that to mean “the states,” but then what to make of the Tenth Amendment, which of course provides for the reservation of all rights neither granted to the U.S. nor prohibited to the states “to the States respectively, or to the people.”  If the leftish reading of the Second Amendment is correct, then the Tenth Amendment can mean “to the States respectively, or to the states.”  You just cannot get around the fact that in every other instance where the Bill of Rights refers to a right “of the people,” either is preservation or its reservation, the reference is plainly to individual humans.

Well, maybe “shall not be infringed” really means “shall not be subject to unreasonable restriction”?  Why, then, does that “unreasonable” qualifier appear in the Fourth Amendment but not the Second?  But what of the subordinate clause about well-regulated militias?  That’s very nice, but that phrase has neither subject nor verb.  Structurally it bears the same relationship to the grammatically operative portion of the text that the Preamble bears to the overall document.  Actually, that’s not quite true:  The Preamble does contain a subject, verb, and direct object:  “We the People . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  This is in marked contrast to the prefatory clause of the Second Amendment.

So far as I am aware there has never been serious suggestion that the language of the Preamble operates to qualify or limit the scope or operation of any substantive provision of the document.  Does Congress only have authority to regulate commerce among the several states if and to the extent reasonably necessary to “provide for a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”?  Of course not; it has all authority “necessary and proper” to regulate that commerce for any purpose not prohibited by the balance of the Constitution.  Any at all.  Or read the Preamble as a qualifier to the judicial power granted to the Supreme Court and such subordinate courts as Congress may establish.  How is that going to work?

[Purely as an aside, I’d note that — except for those boobs on the bench, of course — no one makes an argument that the Free Exercise Clause, or the right of peaceable assembly, or the freedom of the press are subject to any purpose-based restriction, as is argued by the leftists about the Second Amendment.  Nor is the “unreasonable searches and seizures” clause of the Fourth Amendment so read as to provide that hiding one’s criminal activity is not a legitimate object of that protection.  In fact, the Second Amendment is the subject of its very own interpretive scheme under the leftish project.  Curious, isn’t that?]

I’d also observe that what Ellis is arguing for is not only the “original intent” which he just 39 pages before disparaged in favor of a “living document,” but he’s arguing for the “original intent” as contained in a draft that never made it into the document.  Priceless; but, it illustrates rather well the leftish principle that all means are permissible to the Party, because what the Party line is at the moment is by definition the Truth.

Again, dear Prof. Ellis takes a mighty swing at the bat for his Party, but comes up with air.  I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t work in something about Global Climate Change or how Citizens United is just such a horrible decision because Koch Brothers.  Or something like that.

Notwithstanding his gratuitous introduction of 20th Century political theory into 18th Century politics — and let me allow that I think Ellis is entirely correct in his portrayal of the Convention and ratification process as being as much or more about practical politics than it was the implementation of a theory — I still highly recommend this book.  It grates to have to read a book like this with one’s bullshit filters at high alert, but nowadays when there’s no such thing as a politics-free zone, I guess we’ll just have to learn to live with writing like this.

The Quartet does a marvelous job of showing just how unlikely a prospect was the transformation of the United States from a maelstrom of co-equal sovereigns to a multi-polar entity almost serendipitously adapted to the task of subduing and populating the better part of an entire continent.

Read it for the story of a political miracle, not for its legal analysis.