Harriet and Andy

The news in numismatics this week is that Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, is to be booted from the face of the $20 bill in favor of Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railroad fame.

Jackson’s getting the axe for two reasons:  The present administration is determined to put a face on U.S. currency that is not a white male face, and Jackson owned slaves.  He is also warmly despised for ejecting the Five Tribes from the Eastern United States.  So he has to go.

Harriet Tubman was a leading figure in the organization and operation of the Underground Railroad, that system of hiding places and safe houses which conducted escaping slaves from their points of origin to Canada, where the fugitive slave laws didn’t apply.  It was work conducted, at least in the South, at peril of the parties’ lives, and once in the north, at peril of arrest and imprisonment.

Suffice it to say that Harriet Tubman was equipped with guts enough to equip a regiment.  If you were to set out to fill an auditorium with the Greatest Americans who have thus far lived, she’d have a seat somewhere.

And yet I do not favor kicking Andrew Jackson off the $20 to make place for her.


For starts, a portrayal on U.S. paper currency is, if you will look at it, presently reserved for people who did great deeds in their capacity as public officials, not for acts of private significance, however worthy.  The only even possible exception is Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, but even then, Franklin was among the United States’ most important public servants.  The revolutionary alliance with France, that enabled us to win the war for independence in the first place, was a product of Franklin’s credibility at the court of Louis XV, of Franklin’s acknowledged place in world society (he regularly corresponded, as an equal, with the pre-eminent scientific minds of his generation).  Even before the war, he represented several colonies in London, and it was his personal experience of vituperation in Parliament which decided him that continued affiliation with Britain was not a workable long-term solution.  Later, he was a key player in the constitutional convention in 1787.  So even though he never held any public office under the United States Constitution, he was one of the men but for whom that compact would never have come into existence.

The other public servants scarcely need introduction.  Washington?  Father of the country.  Lincoln?  His deeds require no justification for the reverence in which we hold his memory.  Hamilton?  Father of our national economy (and also a key player in the constitution’s birthing).  Grant?  If being the key commander in winning the Civil War doesn’t merit his place, what might?  On coinage the pattern is similar.  Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson.  Eisenhower, who held together the Western allies in defeating Germany.  The two heads I don’t really understand are Truman’s on the dime and Kennedy’s on the half-dollar.

There is a single exception, and one that never took off:  The Sacagawea dollar (by coincidence I happen to have one in my pocket at this moment).  But even she has a claim to a service in the public interest:  It was she who guided the Corps of Discovery (better known at the Lewis and Clark Expedition) over the western mountains, who was valuable in securing for them the safe passage from the tribes whose lands they crossed.

Now let’s think of why Jackson might be on the $20 bill.  He was the founding light of the oldest continuing political party in American history.  Being a party hack doesn’t really merit a spot on the currency, though, does it?  Victor of New Orleans?  Well, as every school child knows, that battle was fought after the peace had been signed, although the point has been made that it in fact was not, in all likelihood, totally irrelevant for that reason.  There is strong reason to believe that Britain, had it been in possession of the mouth of the Mississippi, would not have surrendered it willingly after the war, which would have utterly changed the complexion of later American development.

No, I think Jackson earned his spot on the $20 bill when he stared down the South Carolina nullifiers.  As Gentle Reader will recall, a protective tariff had been adopted for the benefit of northern industrial interests.  The new imposts had the desired effect, of making imported manufactured goods more expensive than domestic production.  The burden fell hard on the Southern agricultural interests, because of their dependence upon their trade relationships with the British to move their cotton crop.  They bought a large proportion of their manufactured goods from Britain as a result of that trade.

Needless to say, the Southern interest was outraged at the new tariff law.  South Carolina announced an intent to “nullify” the federal statute.  It even passed an ordinance declaring the law to be unconstitutional and null within its borders.  It just was not going to apply in South Carolina (sort of like all these bullshit “sanctuary cities” that have announced that the federal immigration statutes don’t apply within their city limits — San Francisco is very much in the slaveholders’ tradition in this respect).

Let’s pause for a moment and take stock of where things stood during the Nullification Crisis:  In 1832-33 the United States was still a comparatively weak country, a comparatively small country.  Its parts were not yet bound by an enormous rail network, and outside the coastal plain there weren’t even all that many canals.  Large areas were still virgin wilderness (that situation applied far longer than one might expect: not far from where I live there is a county in which there were still over 100,000 acres of virgin hardwood in 1910).  The forces of cohesion in the country were still fragile, and there were still many powerful actors in the world who would have rejoiced in a failure of what was then known as the American Experiment.  This was still a world in which people’s demands for written constitutions were believed to be, and were treated as, an act of rebellion.  In fact, the Revolutions of 1848 in Central Europe were based in large part on precisely that — demands for written constitutions to tie down monarchs’ privileges.

[By the way, note what this understanding of constitutionalism has to say about the notion of a “living constitution.”  Until the U.S. Supreme Court got into it, everyone understood that a written constitution was written for the precise reason that its meaning did not morph over time into whatever you wanted it to say.  The U.S. Constitution was a revolutionary document for exactly the reason that it was written and its meaning did not change to suit the whims of the ruler of the moment.  The idea of a “living constitution” in which no provision has any permanent meaning does violence to the very concept of a constitution, and until the American left got at it, was universally understood to do so.]

The United States with its written constitution was a direct and immediate threat to all those crowned heads in Europe who fiercely resisted the pressure to shackle themselves to a written document with ascertainable substance.

Had South Carolina succeeded in openly defying the federal government as to Congressional action in respect of a matter unambiguously placed within its constitutional competencies — the regulation of trade with foreign nations — the American Experiment would have failed.  The country would not have survived, and there would have been no Underground Railroad because the borders would have been largely closed off.

Jackson was having none of it.  Congress authorized the Force Bill to compel South Carolina’s compliance with the law.  But of course, it would have been Jackson as commander-in-chief who would have been charged with implementing that, or not, and if so, how vigorously.  And what was Jackson’s position?  Well, a visitor from South Carolina asked him if he had any message he’d like to send to the good folks back home.  Jackson gave it to them with the bark still on it:  “Yes I have; please give my compliments to my friends in your State and say to them, that if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.”

South Carolina knew he meant every last word of that promise.  Compare and contrast Dear Leader’s “red line” in Syria that wasn’t.  South Carolina knew what it had to expect from Jackson, and a compromise was reached.  Syria knew what it had to expect from Dear Leader, and it has acted accordingly.

Jackson, in short, did no more and no less than save the union in 1832-33, at a time when there was an immediate danger of its dissolution.  For that, he more than deserves his place on the $20 bill.  Whatever Harriet Tubman’s private courage and dedication to the cause of human liberty may have been, her life’s work simply does not rise to that level of national significance.  The Underground Railroad never would have changed a damned thing about the institution of slavery; there is no way on earth they could have spirited enough slaves out of the South to make any but the most minuscule dent on the institution.  It took a civil war to make that happen, and had it not been for Jackson’s stance in the face of the nullifiers in 1832-33, there never would have been the northern industrial and demographic powerhouse twenty years later which tore the poison lance of slavery from the national body by main force.  Just wouldn’t have happened.

If you absolutely want to have Tubman’s face on U.S. currency, bilge either Truman or Kennedy, preferably the latter.  But to degrade the man whose courage saved the country betrays a profound ignorance of American history.

My Own Identity

Gentle reader will have observed, perhaps, that I quite carefully avoid writing about topics, or mentioning searchable data, which would permit me to be identified.  This is not accidental; I decline to expose myself to the kind of internet harassment which is now a standard part of the generic toolkit which today’s leftist carries with him.

But today . . . today, I will reveal Who I Am.

Before we get there, though, I want to share a few thoughts on what has become (in)famous across America as “H.B. 2,” or House Bill 2, the legislative designation for the statute which recently became law in North Carolina.  Here’s a link to their legislative website that has the full text of the statute.

Several of my leftist Facebook friends have been feverishly posting all manner of tripe about how the thing is Just Such a Terrible Assault on the Very Humanity of these poor souls who once upon a time were more honestly called “cross-dressers” or “transvestites,” but now, in a dreary attempt at linguistic promotion to a scientifically valid category, call themselves “transgender.”  Now, mind you, they still have either an X and a Y chromosome, or two X chromosomes, just as they did the day they were born.  In many cases they will still be wearing a penis and testicles underneath their hot little black dress.  But they’ll be dressed to the nines to look like a woman.

They are to be pitied more than censured.  Dressing up to pretend like that is just pathetic, as it speaks to a self-dissatisfaction so profound that you have to wonder how they face the world each day.  You don’t have to be a narcissist, but how much would you have to hate yourself not even to like what sort of human you are, so much that you priss about in public wearing heels?

“Identify”:  That’s what we’re told these poor creatures are doing; they’re “identifying as” whatever it is they claim to be.  By which they mean “self-identify,” because of course biology has identified them as male or female.  Yes, I’m perfectly aware that there are children born with bits and pieces of both, but we call those sorts of things “birth defects”; there are a tiny number of those born per 100,000 live births; and there’s a very well-regarded organization — the March of Dimes — which takes it for its mission the avoidance and correction of such birth defects.  We’re not talking about adults with uncorrected birth defects.  We’re talking about adults who want to play-act at being what they’re not.

And of course, there are the cross-dressers who, for want of a more gentle expression, are neither more nor less than sexual deviants.  They don’t “identify” as this-that-or-the-other.  This is just how they get their jollies.  Excuse me if I’m not impressed.

In any event, North Carolina passed a statute which does three principal things.  It requires schools which have bathrooms, locker rooms, and other spaces in which it is reasonably foreseeable that a student will be in whatever stage of undress, and which spaces are capable of being used by more than one person at the same time, to designate such spaces as being for the use of either but not both males and females.  [Single-user spaces are not required to be so designated.]  And it requires them to permit the multi-user spaces to be used by, and only by, persons whose biological sex, as indicated on their birth certificate, matches the sex designation of the space.  The bill requires “public agencies,” which are defined so as to include pretty much every governmental actor other than schools, to make similar sex and use designations for their own multi-user bathrooms and changing facilities.  For both schools and public agencies there are exceptions — pretty narrow, to be sure — to the use restrictions.  Finally, the bill prohibits localities — cities, counties, and their respective agencies — from requiring private actors, principally contractors doing business with those localities, from establishing, as a condition of doing business with the local government, a duty to permit cross-dressers from using whatever multi-user space they please at the moment.

That’s it.  The legislature wished to exercise its absolute prerogative to centralize decisions such as that at the level of the state.  And then it exercised its authority to set the ground rules for the entire state.

I’ve read that statute through multiple times and I’m just not seeing the hatred in it.

Oh, but you see, the hatred is in my refusal to accept as legitimate your little game of “today I’m a girl.”  No you’re not, and I have zero moral obligation to play-act along with you.  If you’re so damned proud of who and what you are, then own it.  It’s like homosexuals who want you to call them “gay.”  No, you’re not “gay,” you’re homosexual.  If you’re so all-fired-up proud of it, then call it by its right name.  Don’t hind behind a euphemism.  More to the point:  You have no legal right to demand that I play your games, that I adjust my life to make room for what you do with your genitals to get yourself off.

To get an idea of just how horribly messed up things have got in this country, recently a fellow went to the University of Washington campus.  He’s a white male, roughly 5’10” tall, and obviously adult.  He asked people he ran into to explain to him, if they could, why he was not a 6’5″ Chinese seven-year-old girl.  No.  Seriously.  He did this, and those sad-sack “social justice warriors” (here’s a list of some of the most prominent, so you don’t, if you’re responsible for hiring in your company, accidentally hire any of them) couldn’t muster up the guts to tell him he was simply incorrect, that he was neither female, nor 6’5″ tall, nor Chinese, nor seven years old.  One girl politely questions whether he’s quite that tall, but that’s it.  Watch the whole video.  As the commentary accompanying the video at the link points out, these people are ripe for dictatorship.  Over at Ace of Spades, they connect the dots:

“People conditioned to accept outrageous falsehoods from people claiming to have a special right to their own reality are an existential threat to the republic. If a 5’10” white man can tell you he’s a 6’5″ Chinese girl, and you are required to believe him because each person constructs his own quantum reality moment by moment, it’s no difficult thing to also accept that killing the kulaks and putting the farms under inefficient state rule will result in a greater grain harvest.”

This is all the more true when you consider that there’s no logical boundary line between my quantum reality and yours.  You are a part of mine, and I of yours.  If I “identify” as a struggling member of the proletarian class, how am I not equally entitled to “identify” you as a member of the kulak class, whom I “identify” as my oppressors?  If I convince an entire nation to “identify” as the victim of a Diktat designed (ed: as it in fact was) for the indefinite future to suppress my people, to burden them in this world and the next with the responsibility for a war (which I “identify” as having been forced upon my reluctant Volksgenossen), where is the objection to my “identifying” whatever group I please as having sold me and mine down the river?

Do you see how hilariously funny “identification” can be?

I don’t have daughters, a fact prominent among my list of blessings.  I was terrified I might.  When, before the birth of our third son, the wife decided that with this one we were going to find out ahead of time (she was convinced her luck had finally turned and I was horrified she might be right), we went to the ultrasound clinic.  After doing the usual sorts of measurements and whatnot, the tech kind of rolled things around on the screen so we could see better and there was no doubt about what that was, showing between the femurs.  My relief was so great I exclaimed, “Hat trick!!”  That almost became his nickname.

People like the men who play-act as women are why my wife and I have not permitted our sons to go to public bathrooms unaccompanied until they were of an age to fight or flee on their own.  Remember, if this man “identifies” as a woman, then he views my son as fair game.  And for the heterosexual pervert who simply wants to prey on women and especially small girls, how much of a leap is it for him to dress up (hell: he needn’t even do that; he can just say he “identifies” as female and it’s open season in the girl’s locker room) in order to gain access to his victims?  He’s already a monster and knows it; why should a little rouge and eye liner upset him?

The retort is made that I’m tarring all the transvestites with the same brush.  I’m not.  In no way am I saying that every man who insists on using the women’s room is a pervert who’s just trolling for his next victim.  What I am saying is that there will be some.  And I cannot know, until it is too late, whether this particular man is or is not among them.  You know, we don’t screen every last passenger who gets aboard an airliner because we think everyone is a terrorist; we screen them because we don’t know that they aren’t.

So who am I?

Well, I “identify” as the Emperor Napoleon.

I demand that I be treated as the Emperor Napoleon, conqueror of Europe, may rightfully expect to be treated.  I demand that I be given whatever works of art I demand for my imperial collection (got my eyes on a couple of Vermeers from the Met).  I demand that the commanding officers of the armed forces recognize in me their commander-in-chief.  The laws of course do not apply to the emperor, so we may dispense with that.  And every, but every woman is mine by right of sovereignty.  You, o peons, may address me (while averting your plebian eyes, of course) as “Your Imperial Majesty” or simply, in later conversation, just as “Your Majesty.”  I demand that airplanes, buses, elevators, and all other forms of public accommodation shall await my pleasure.  You must treat me according to my royal station; we royalty suffer untold pangs of degradation when our sacred persons are denied the recognition that is lawfully ours.  You non-royals simply don’t understand.

If some nasty ol’ 6’4″ hairy-legged man in sensible shoes has the right to cop a squat beside your eight-year-old daughter, then I have the right to be the Emperor Napoleon.  There is no defensible moral or functional distinction between those positions.

Gödel and Washington

Among the very earliest posts on this humble little blog was one on Washington’s Farewell Address, posted on the occasion of its anniversary. In truth I’d not read it until then, an omission which I now very much regret. The Farewell Address must be one of the most extraordinary documents in American political history, and it is worthy of tremendously more attention than gets paid to it these days. It should, rather, be required reading in just about every level of American education.

For the moment I’d like to return to a part of it, specifically the following passage:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.“It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

I’d like more specifically to drill down on the statement, “And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Let’s just say that modern American public discourse is obliged to discount that thought. Religion, or perhaps better stated religiosity, is thought to be in bad taste at best, oppressive by merely allusion to it at worst.

Some time ago while ruminating, what I am pleased to call my mind began studying on the question of exactly on what basis do I require of my fellow humans that I be treated as anything other than an instrumentality. We’ve all heard of Kant’s categorical imperative, but I mean, really? If you, dear reader, have an objective and I am in the way of its achievement, by what right do I claim that you must, to borrow a line from one of my favorite Abe Lincoln stories, “plow around” me? It can only be that I claim some peculiar status in the world which you inhabit.

You say we are all equals, in some moral sense. How is that? Do we see non-human life exhibiting this same recognition of abstract equality? Or do we see, even among pack animals, behavior which cannot be explained except upon purely utilitarian grounds? The alpha male drives the juvenile male from the herd, to wander alone in a world in which he is not at the top of the food chain, until either he is eaten or finds another herd in which he can with violence establish himself. Males battling each other for the privilege of mating with the females, and the females not observably having any choice in the matter. Males preying on their own off-spring. The sick or the old or the lame abandoned to the predator. It all makes sense if you view those animals’ existence from an amoral perspective. Not so much if you apply Kant’s imperative as among them.

What is it that makes humans different? Why should you extend to me any greater consideration than you would a tree, or a rock in your garden, or raccoon who wants only to feed from your garbage? Turning Lincoln’s critique of the slaveholders’ racialist apologia on its head, it cannot be because I am your equal in intelligence, because as like as not you’re sharper than I am. It cannot be that I have some unique talent for any particular task or form of expression, because again, you probably excel me there and besides, on what basis do I assert that my talent for X is somehow more worthy than yours for Y? Strength? No. Leadership? Not there. Looks? Not even in the park. Am I more useful than you? Highly doubtful. No, the only this-worldly basis that I have to demand your recognition of me as your equal is because I can compel it. But that’s nothing more than a catch-all description of the lone male wandering the brush and forcing himself into a new pack, pride, herd, family group, etc. Or, even more bluntly stated, it is the proposition that Might Makes Right.

Thomas Hobbes famously grounded his conclusion that all men are equal in the fact that every man can kill any other man, for each man must at some point sleep. Very true, and very much of a piece with his characterization of the natural condition of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But that’s not an identifiably moral basis for asserting equality.

I defy anyone to enunciate a anthropocentric basis upon which you must address me as your equal and which does not on closer examination boil down to expedience or force (which is itself little more than a specific application of the principle of expedience). Expedience of course cannot be reconciled with Kant’s imperative. And what if in fact I am not useful to you, if my existence athwart your path is inexpedient to you? Oops; I’m not sure I like that outcome one bit.

No, if I want you to recognize in me anything more morally compelling than that raccoon knocking over your garbage can, I must refer to a morality that confers that claim on me from outside our shared humanity. That “outside” can come only from a supra-human source, from a source that we by its very nature as supra-human characterize as “divine,” as in partaking of divinity, the attribute we reserve to Him whom we confess to be God. Only by recognition of the divinity of God may you recognize a small portion of that divinity in His creature, in me. Small it assuredly is, but it is enough, it is a basis to which you can point and acknowledge my claim upon you for no other reason than the fact that I am.

I am. Only a confessing believer in a higher being can logically recognize that as being a perfect statement of claim. Without that belief you must necessarily ask, “You are what?” and adjudge that “what” to be or not be sufficient.

Or so I reasoned. Seemed tidy enough, and explained enough to me for my own purposes. I am no mathematician. My D and D- in two semesters of calculus resolved that much if nothing else. So I beg indulgence from those whose abilities in that regard extend beyond those of the great apes. As better explained in a book later on lent to me by one who actually enjoys theoretical mathematics as a hobby (de gustabus non disputandum est, and leave it at that) Kurt Gödel (rendered in English, happily deprived of diacritics, as “Goedel”) demonstrated that you cannot prove a system from within that system. I won’t go further into the particularities of his proof for knowing that I would misstate something, but suffice it to say that he showed that you cannot bootstrap a logical system. I was mighty proud to find out that my stewing wasn’t so wildly off the mark after all: you cannot prove up a logical system of morality from within that system. Kant’s categorical imperative seems to be a “big bang” analogue, but respectfully I’m not having that.

Washington was, in other words, dead-on right when he reminded his fellow citizens that the maintenance of a republic over time could not succeed without virtue, and that virtue cannot exist without religion. For without religion, without the acknowledgement of a mind, purpose, and power above all human comprehension, there can be no morality but only the expedient of the moment.

I’d also observe that the truth of the above can be demonstrated by observing the tragi-comedy of “international law.” In point of fact there is no such animal, because there is no authority to which the nation-states are willing absolutely to concede the right and power of enforcement against themselves. So we get treated from time to time to the spectacle of some professional bloviator allowing that such-and-so is plainly contrary to “international law,” by which is meant that Country A has done something to Country B to the speaker’s vigorous disapproval, but which will go entirely unpunished. The only source of “international law” is the same source which Chairman Mao identified as the source of political power.

I first turned my attentions to the Farewell Address in the fall of 2012, as America was about to go to the polls and re-elect to the presidency a man who is about as close to the antithesis of George Washington as a citizen could imagine. This is a man who, when asked point-blank in an interview to define “sin,” replied that “sin” was when someone did or desired something that was inconsistent with his own thoughts and positions. All the hoo-hah about whether he’s a Muslim or not is really mis-guided, as I saw it observed once: This is a man who does not recognize any being as superior to himself. He can have no religion because he truly believes himself to be a latter-day messiah, but the Good News He brings is solely that of His own advent among us.

Today, in 2016, we get to observe the spectacle of two candidates, one of whom is – barring divine intervention – going to be our next president, neither of whom brings anything to the table other than a firm conviction that he or she, as the case may be, is entitled to the office because. And neither of whom has any known floor below which he or she will not stoop.

Four dead Americans, one of them a serving U.S. ambassador? What difference does it make “at this point” that She lied to the American public, lied to the dead men’s families, about why those men died? They’re dead and her political party won the election; that’s what’s important. The formal representative of his nation to a sovereign country slaughtered like a wild animal and his corpse dragged through the streets? That’s just chaff, at this point.

A man who has bragged, in writing, about buying his way to influence with politicians? Whose entire public persona is built on the practice of saying or doing anything necessary to close the deal on his own terms? This is the same thinking that got us the Tonkin Gulf Resolutions. Those were built on fraudulent representations of an attack that simply never happened (don’t believe me? read In Love and War, the book by Vice Admiral Stockdale, who was in the air over the Maddux and Turner Joy when they were supposedly attacked, and who point-blank states it never happened).

Back in the day, when it first became undeniable that Wm. Clinton had shamelessly perjured himself in deposition about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, I had a conversation in which my interlocutor repeated the New York Times-approved talking points that it just didn’t matter because it was purely and private matter and besides shut up. I very vividly remember telling him that it very much mattered when a president perjures himself because the only thing that stands between us and – well, at the time the most prominent failed state was the former Soviet Union, but now you’ve pretty much got your pick – was the notion that when someone raises his right hand and swears to tell the truth, that he will do so. Without that presumption the court system is meaningless. And when the court system is meaningless, people will implement their own justice and seek redress on their own.

I refer Gentle Reader to President Washington’s observations, all those years ago.

As the anniversaries of Washington’s Farewell Address succeed each other, we the posterity to whom he addressed himself blunder on, heedless of his wisdom. Re-learning lessons tends to be more difficult than learning them the first time around.