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Assertion is not evidence

Assertion is not evidence

Assertation is not evidence

On May 11, 2017, the newly-elected U.S. President, Donald Trump, issued an executive order to form a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. He appointed Vice-President Mike Pence as chair, and Kansas State’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair.

For some time, Kobach had “promoted the myth of voter fraud and supported laws that restricted people from voting.” Two other members were “notorious advocates for voter suppression.” At least one member was a Democrat, Maine’s Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

The reason the President established the commission was because election officials had certified that Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote, 65,853,514 votes to Trump’s 62,984,828 votes, although he won the electoral college, 304 votes to Clinton’s 227.

This rare event—when a candidate wins the electoral college vote but loses the popular vote—occurred four times before: in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 when George W. Bush won.

Trump insisted that as many as “5 million votes were cast illegally in November 2016.”

A writer for the Brennan Center for Justice wrote the following:

“For years, exaggerated claims of fraud have been used to justify unwarranted restrictions on voting access. The president’s invented legions of illegal voters are the most extreme such claims in recent memory. His statements have been almost universally rejected.”

On January 3, 2018, six years ago today, President Trump disbanded the Commission. Its  members had met twice.

An article dated January 3, 2018 that appears on National Public Radio’s website presents a  list of comments from those involved or who observed the Commission’s work.

For example, White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement, “Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Commission with basic information relevant to its inquiry.” Yet, she provided no evidence.

Officials in certain states chose to ignore the Commission’s request for “detailed voter data, including names, addresses, birthdates, partial Social Security numbers, and party affiliation.”

Kentucky’s Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said, “I’m not going to risk sensitive information for 3.2 million Kentuckians getting in the wrong hands, into the public domain.”

Some states mired the Commission down by filing multiple lawsuits against it.

Maine’s Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said, “My ability to participate in the work of the commission was completely shut off. I was walled off from any deliberations.”

He filed a lawsuit against the Commission demanding that it turn over documents to him. In August of 2018, he said that “drafts of a commission report included a section on evidence of voter fraud that was ‘glaringly empty.’ ‘It’s calling into the darkness, looking for voter fraud.’”

“In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the Commission, “was nothing more than a front to suppress the vote, perpetrate dangerous and baseless claims, and was ridiculed from one end of the country to the other.”

It is sad but true that the stage was set to “perpetrate dangerous and baseless claims” later.

On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, a majority of voters elected Joseph Biden President of the United States. He received 306 electoral votes and 81,283,501 popular votes to Donald Trump’s 232 electoral votes and 74,223,975 popular votes. Biden won, Trump lost, but not end of story.

Trump insisted the election was rigged. Two days later, he said, “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us. As everybody saw, we won by historic numbers. It’s a corrupt system.” None of that is true.

On January 6, 2021, 3 years ago this week, a mob of true believers stormed into the Capitol Building intent on halting Congress’s official duty to count and certify the electoral votes. Four people lost their lives that day. A sad day in our country’s life.

Unique words in history

Unique words in history

Unique words in history

December 16 marked the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, when colonial Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships—Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver—split open 340 chests filled with tea, and dumped their contents into Boston’s harbor.

This defiant act was directed as a protest against Parliament’s insistence that the consignees of the tea in the American colonies pay an import tax, to keep afloat the struggling British East India Company, which brought the tea to the colonists.

The colonists were angry. They paid taxes to their local colonial governments, but no elected officials from the colonies represented them in Parliament to vote or make laws there. “No taxation without representation,” was their rallying cry.

In 2009, the Tea Party Movement acquired their name from that historical event. This modern-day political party insisted upon lower taxes, a decelerating national debt, and reduced government spending, noble goals that were not in direct alignment with the colonists.

The political issue in 1773 did not exactly equal that in 2009, even though the modern-day participants claimed the same name.

On occasion, words from the history textbooks will resurface as code names for what is happening today, as a way of thinking upon an issue and grabbing attention.

Edward Muir, professor of history at Northwestern, and current president of the American Historical Association, pointed out this thought in two recent and short essays he wrote for the organization’s monthly magazine, “Perspectives on History,” in November and December.

In November, he pointed out the word “refuge” and its associated word “migration.”

He writes, “Much of history consists of narratives about people migrating to find a refuge, a safe place to survive, live, and prosper, to escape slavery, starvation, persecution.”

He lists examples. “The Biblical story tells how the ancient Israelites fled slavery in Egypt and found the Promised Land.” “The Mormons escaped from the murderous mobs in Missouri and Illinois and found refuge near the Great Salt Lake.”

He points to the Pilgrims, who found refuge near Plymouth rock on December 21, 1620, to escape England’s “Anglican establishment.” Then, “the Quaker and Baptist non-conformists”  found refuge in Rhode Island some distance from Boston’s Puritans and their whips.

He mentions the Underground Railroad, a means for escaped slaves to find a refuge.

Muir then points out, “Migration and refuge are everywhere in American history.”

Yet, he cautions his readers, saying, “the narratives have blinded people about the plight of those already on the land of refuge. One group’s liberation story is another’s tale of loss.”

I liken it to a cue ball that strikes the striped and colored balls on a table causing them to scatter, or when one domino tips, the others tip also.

For example, the Cheyenne Indians’ original homeland was near the Great Lakes, in Minnesota, and Illinois, and yet once other tribes pushed from the east, they drove the Cheyennes westward, until they found a refuge on the Great Plains.

In the December issue, Muir focuses upon the word “Renaissance,” a word, he says, that “possesses a great emotive power even if most have barely a clue about its precise meaning.”

Movements, parties, and organizations appeal to that word, as a code name for a “rebirth,” something innovative and new but drawn from and discovered in the old. Its original meaning grew out of a rediscovery of the Greeks and Romans, their fascinating ideas and cultures.

I say that a re-examination and even adoption of the old is not always the best way forward, especially in the sciences, perhaps more so in philosophy, literature, and art.

Other words, sometimes overused, come to my mind: Restoration and Reconstruction.

Restoration refers to that diligent search into the past for an idea, lost long ago, and once found, brought forward into today, and claimed as a truth for all times.

Reconstruction refers to the North’s self-appointed obligation to reconfigure the former Confederate states into a new social order, one without slavery.

Tea Party, refuge and migration, Renaissance, Restoration, and Reconstruction are unique words. Handle them with care.

To my dear readers: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family.

Secession and Abraham Lincoln

Secession and Abraham Lincoln

Secession and Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln faced an absolute calamity on March 4, 1861, the day when Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln at his inauguration.

Already seven states from the South had seceded, or withdrawn, from the Union because voters had elected Lincoln President of the United States. Southern voters believed that Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into western territories, like Kansas and Nebraska.

South Carolina voted to secede on December 20, 1860, forty-four days after the November 6 election, and it went into effect on Christmas Eve. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana followed suit after Christmas, in January of 1861, and Texas on February 1.

Lincoln understood that another eight slave states might also secede from the Union soon.

On that day in March, 1861, Lincoln placed his hand on the Bible and said, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

He then delivered his first Inaugural Address, saying, “The central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does fly to anarchy or despotism. The rule of a minority is wholly inadmissible.”

Almost three years before, on June 16, 1858, Lincoln had delivered an address at the Republican State convention, in Springfield, Illinois, and had discussed the issue of “slavery agitation.” Historians since have entitled his talk, the “House Divided” speech. In it, he said,

“In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ (That is a quote from the Gospel of Matthew.) I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

Southerners read Lincoln’s speech and were convinced that he had aligned himself with Northern agitators, and that he was anxious to eradicate the South’s primary labor force.

Because they felt threatened, even fearful, certain Southern states chose to secede from the Union and create a new country, the Confederate States of America.

Delegates from the seven Southern states assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, in early February of 1861, to adopt a provisional constitution for the Confederate States, elect Jefferson Davis their president for the next six years, and adopt a flag for their new country.

Delegates from North Carolina arrived in Montgomery on February 6, “to plead in vain for conciliation,” wit the Northern states, and so they left, feeling dismayed.

On April 12, 1861, thirty-nine days after Lincoln’s inauguration, a line of canons poised at Charleston, South Carolina fired upon Fort Sumter, four miles out in Charleston’s harbor, the opening shots of the Civil War.

Inside the fort, the stars and stripes came down, and the Confederate flag was hoisted high. North and South were now locked into a bloody conflict to see whose set of ideas would win.

On April 17, Virginia seceded and joined the Confederacy. In May, Arkansas and North Carolina seceded, and on June 8, Tennessee did the same. A total of eleven states seceded.

Years before, on September 12, 1854, Lincoln gave an insightful speech at Bloomington, Illinois, about the differences between North and South. He said that,

“The Southern slaveholders were neither better, nor worse than we of the North, and that we of the North were no better than they. If we were situated as they are, we should act and feel as they do; and if they were situated as we are, they should act and feel as we do.

“And we never ought to lose sight of this fact in discussing the subject.”

Steven Inskeep, author of a new book, “Differ We Must,” said that Lincoln believed that,

“Slaveholders were not bad people, but people caught up in a bad system, which they naturally acted out of self-interest to defend. Lincoln’s quarrel was not with them, but with their circumstances.”

No president before or since Lincoln has faced as bad a calamity as he did in 1861.

Election of 1864

Election of 1864

Election of 1864

Throughout the year of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln believed that he would lose the election in November. He admitted in August, “I am going to be beaten, and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.” The odds were stacked against him.

Plenty of voters in the Union had reason to despise, even hate, Lincoln. The war that had begun in April 1861, at Fort Sumter, had turned into a ghastly event, full of fury, fever, horror, and madness. The human wreckage was colossal, on a scale never imagined before.

Voters blamed Lincoln because he had failed to end the war quickly, to crush the rebellion, to vanquish Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army, and to reunite the Union.

No other country had ever held an election in the middle of a civil war, and yet it was on the calendar, set for November 8, “an unprecedented democratic exercise in midst of a civil war.”

The last time that a political party had nominated an incumbent President to run a second time had occurred in 1840, and no President since Andrew Jackson had won a second term.

On August 23, Lincoln said, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration.”

On September 1, 1864, Lincoln received some welcome news. The Union General, William Tecumseh Sherman, reported, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.” This was a huge loss for the South, because Atlanta was a railroad hub, and the South’s major manufacturing center.

A reporter at the “Richmond Examiner” wrote, that the “disaster at Atlanta came in the very nick of time to save the party of Lincoln from irretrievable ruin. It will obscure the prospect of peace, late so bright. It will also diffuse gloom over the South.”

Lincoln beat the odds and won the Republican party’s nomination. Former Union General, George McClellan, whom Lincoln had fired in 1862 from his position as the Union’s lead General, won the Democratic party’s nomination.

On Tuesday, November 8, Lincoln carried all but three of the states’ electoral votes, except for Delaware, Kentucky, and New Jersey. Lincoln won 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s 21. Lincoln took 55% of the popular vote. Yet, some 78% of Union soldiers voted for Lincoln.

The Civil War historian James McPherson wrote, that the 1864 election “was a powerful endorsement of Lincoln’s iron-willed determination to fight on to unconditional victory.”

A British war correspondent observed “that the North was silently, calmly, but desperately in earnest, in a way the like of which the world never saw before. I am astonished the more I see and hear of the extent and depth of this determination to fight to the last.”

It was Lincoln’s willpower that drove Sherman and Grant and their soldiers forward.

On November 16, 1864, Sherman set his army on a march to the sea, to Savannah.

In Geoffrey Ward’s 1990 book “The Civil War,” he wrote, that on November 24, “Union cooks served up 120,000 turkey and chicken dinners to the men of Grant’s great army, outside of Petersburg, Virginia.

“Dug in only yards away, the Confederates had no feast, but held their fire all day out of respect for the Union holiday.”

On December 22, 1864, Sherman sent Lincoln a telegram: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition.”

Ward wrote, that “On January 31, 1865, Congress voted 119 to 56 to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, to abolish slavery, and then sent it to the states for ratification.”

On March 4, 1865, Lincoln spoke at his second inauguration, saying, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.

“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Lincoln would live only 40 days of his second term.

Tunnels and war coincide

Tunnels and war coincide

Tunnels and war coincide

People burrow into the subsoil, build tunnels, plus storage rooms, and stockpile food and water, for one reason, and that is to stay alive. Atop the ground, in the open air, in the sunshine, they feel oppressed, insecure, and poised to die or suffer an injury.

On July 4, 1863, thirty-one thousand Confederate soldiers, trapped inside Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, surrendered to the Union’s commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, on the forty-eighth day of Grant’s siege of that town.

During the siege, civilians had dug some five hundred caves into the hillsides, and fitted them out with “rugs, beds, and chairs.” One cave dweller said, “We were in hourly dread of snakes. The vines and thickets were full of them.”

The city’s residents sought sanctuary in their inhospitable caves, because, “More than two hundred Union guns pounded the town every day from land, while Admiral David Porter’s gunboats battered it from the river.”

During World War II, the Marines and the U.S. Navy needed nine months to defeat Japanese soldiers dug in on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. A ferocious naval and air campaign early in the battle caused one U.S. sailor to say, “There can be nothing alive on that island.”

The truth was that the massive U.S. bombing did little damage to the enemy, who, with their ammunition and guns, were hiding in eleven miles of tunnels underground, out of sight.

Once the Marines landed onshore, the fighting changed to “short-sword fighting.”

One veteran of Iwo Jima, Raymond Hart, said, “It was the flamethrowers that got it done.”

In the Vietnam War, smaller U.S. soldiers were assigned duty as Tunnel Rats. Some 700 American boys dared to crawl into a Viet Cong tunnel, armed with pistol and flashlight.

One Tunnel Rat, Nelson Ritter, described a typical outcome of a tunnel battle, “the one who fired first survived.”

In the tunnels, a Tunnel Rat might have encountered a hospital, a surgical ward, a sleeping chamber, a storeroom, supplies of water and food, and plenty of ammunition.

Some two million people live in the Gaza strip, a small strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, 25 miles long and between 3.5 miles and 7 miles wide. It suffers a high population density, on a par with that of Hong Kong’s. That degree of overcrowding creates unhealthy tension.

Yet, officials estimate that there is an estimated 300 miles of tunnels underground. Some call the system “Gaza’s Metro,” as if it is a subway.

The tunnels are narrow, two meters high and one meter wide. Both “sides and tops are constructed of prefabricated concrete.” There are dozens of access points topside into the system throughout Gaza.

It is believed that the hostages are held within the tunnels. Israeli Military Defense officials are most anxious to find those access points, and one tactic is by “purple hair.”

“Israeli troops drop smoke grenades into a tunnel and then watch for purple smoke to come out of any houses in the area. The smoke signals that a house is connected to the tunnel network, and must be sealed off before soldiers descend into the tunnels.”

One Israeli official said, “They’re probably booby-trapped,” with tripwires and bombs.

Why did the people in Gaza burrow into the ground? One possible reason is that atop the ground they feel oppressed. The Gaza Strip is described as “the world’s largest open-air prison,” because Israel and Egypt block entry into or out of the Strip by land or sea.

Fresh clean water is non-existent for 95% of the population. What water the Strip gets tastes salty. Electricity is rationed, turned off and on whenever, and 46% of the population suffers from unemployment and poverty. Hospitals lack basic equipment and medicine.

Why did the people in Gaza decide to build a munitions stockpile inside the tunnels? They had options. They could have constructed schools, or gymnasiums, or factories, or retail businesses, or devised a new cell phone technology, in or out of the tunnels. They chose war.

I understand that life is hard, even brutal, for the people living in the Gaza Strip, and I cannot imagine the degradation that they endure every day. For them, a tunnel might serve as an escape, a way to cope. What could they achieve if they renounced war and sought peace?

What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What can I achieve with Greek mythology?

What is the good that comes from knowing even a little about the ancient Greeks’ religion?

I prefer to learn of actual people who once lived in a historical setting, a time and a place. Greek mythology, instead, is a collection of make-believe fantasy stories I would like to know more of, but I find it hard to gain much traction from them, practical use. I wonder.

Mark Twain disparaged the whole notion. “Classics,” he said, “are the books that everybody wants to claim to have read, but nobody wants to read.”

After all, Greek religion is mythology, a series of stories about the gods and the goddesses whom the Greeks believed resided on or near Mount Olympus.

They included a dozen Olympians: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Hera, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Artemis, and Hephaestus, plus a host of others.

A twentieth-century writer devoted to the ancient Greeks, Edith Hamilton, said this about the Greek religion, “It was developed not by priests, nor by prophets, nor by saints, nor by any sect of men because of a superior degree of holiness.

“It was developed by poets and artists and philosophers. The Greeks had no authoritative Sacred Book, no creed, no ten commandments, no dogmas. The very idea of orthodoxy was unknown to them. They had no theologians to draw up definitions of the eternal and infinite.”

Instead their religion was stories, written to explain difficult-to-comprehend facets of men and women’s adult lives: How to live life well. How to strive for excellence. How to recognize a good way to live.

It was Margaret Fuller, an eighteenth-century intellect, a Transcendentalist, and a contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, “made Emerson aware of the peculiar power of mythology.” She saw what he had not seen, or could not have seen.

The twentieth-century writer and scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell would agree with Margaret Fuller. find Joseph Campbell ok at explaining mythology, Greek or others.

In 1988, Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers, appeared together in six episodes, three hours each, on a PBS show entitled, “The Power of Myth.”

In their first episode, “The Hero’s Adventure,” Campbell retells the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus, who glued wings to their backs to fly to safety on a distant island.

Daedalus warns Icarus, “Fly the middle way. Not too high, or the sun will melt the wax on your wings. Not too low, or the tides of the sea will catch you.”

Daedalus, the dad, flies the middle way and arrives safely at the island, but the ecstatic Icarus, the son, flies too high. The sun melts the wax, and the boy falls into the sea.

The myth’s takeaway? Fly the middle way. Live your life easy, without highs and lows.

In that same episode, Bill Moyers prompts Campbell, saying, “One of the intriguing points of your scholarship is that you do not believe science and mythology conflict.”

Campbell agrees. “No, they do not conflict. Science is breaking through now into mystery’s dimensions. It’s pushed itself into the sphere that myth is talking about. It has come to the edge, the interface between what can be known and what is never to be discovered.”

He gives an example. “There is a transcendent energy source. When the physicist observes subatomic particles, he’s seeing a trace on a screen. These traces come and go. We come and go. All of life comes and goes.

“That [unknowable] energy is the informing energy of all things. That’s the reason we speak of the divine. Mythic worship is addressed to that.”

In the fourth episode, “Sacrifice and Bliss,” Campbell quotes the last line of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, “Babbitt.” George Babbitt says, “I have never done the thing that I wanted to in all my life.” Campbell says of George Babbit, “That’s the man who never followed his bliss.”

Mythology. I understand that Joseph Campbell believed that if we see the myth, identify it, and apply it to our lives, it may lead us to a better outcome in life. I would agree, the myth may do that, but still, I wonder.