Monday, August 28, 2017

Global warming isn't making storms worse, but coastal population density is

There was a time when our coastal areas were sparsely populated.

    The damage, although not the death toll, of Hurricane Harvey may outpace that of Hurricane Katrina. You can expect the Global Warming crowd to cite this as "proof" that global warming is making things worse.
    Virtually everything gets blamed on global warming. Facts, of course, are not important. Click here to see a chart that identifies every hurricane known to have reached U.S.  landfall since the 1850s. It's not considered accurate for its earliest years because many hurricanes were not identified due to sparse population.
    You will note that the past 10 years have seen below-average hurricane activity. And  the 1940s, when global warming was a mere gleam in Albert Gore Sr.'s eye, were a time of frequent and powerful hurricanes.
    What has changed is that more and more people are moving into areas that are prone to highly destructive hurricanes. In the 1940s Florida claimed about two million residents and Monroe County, Fla., home to Key West and Key Largo, had about 15,000. In the 1940s the Bogart and McCall movie Key Largo featured at a nearly abandoned hotel, which was quite realistic for the time.
    Today Florida has a population of more than 18 million and the population of Monroe has grown to almost 80,000. Most of Florida's population growth has taken place around Orlando and in coastal areas. The map at the top of this post shows the population density of the Southern Atlantic Seaboard. It's the same story all over Florida, with most people choosing to live near the water -- and in the path of deadly hurricanes.
    Conjure up an image of a Florida beach house and you likely think of a very simple structure;  many years ago such houses were built with the knowledge that the Big Bad Hurricane Wolf might come and blow the house down. Today expensive homes are built with wild abandon along all of our coastal areas, subsidized by cheap federal insurance. The results, in terms of property damage and the loss of human life, can be catastrophic.
    Florida's story is repeated all over the nation. In 1940 the city of Houston, Texas had fewer than 400,000 residents; today there are more than two million. Some of that increase is doubtless due to annexation, but the area is far more densely populated than ever before. The results when disaster strikes are easily predictable.
    So the next time you hear somebody prattle on about how massive damage from storms is caused by global warming, point out that the leading cause of this damage is the decision by tens of millions of people to build and live in harm's way. Perhaps, as a matter of public policy, we should discourage such development, or at least not have the government subsidize it so much.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Preservation of slavery a major reason Southern colonies supported American Revolution

    A little history lesson. A number of Southern states decided to join America’s civil war in order to preserve slavery. It’s a fact.
    But do understand that the terrible conflagration that occurred between 1861 and 1865 was not a civil war as most people understand the term. It was truly, as Southerners, refer to it, as a War Between the States. The Confederacy had an organized government, a legislature, a judiciary, an executive, and 11 sovereign states that also had fully organized and fully functional governments. These things do not exist in a civil war.
    America’s civil war didn’t take place from 1861-65. It took place from 1775 to 1781. We refer to it as the American Revolution, but in fact the Revolution has all of the characteristics of a civil war, among them a poorly organized government and little geographic division between opposing sides.
    Most people are under the impression that the War Between the States was fought for the purpose of freeing the slaves. Far from it. Abraham Lincoln sought the passage of the Corwin Amendment during James Buchanan’s lame duck period, which would have enshrined slavery into the Constitution forever.
    Lincoln wrote to the governors of the seceding states providing copies of the Corwin Amendment for them to consider, it being his opinion that they were still a part of they Union and therefore their legislatures could vote to ratify. The Southern states were not interested, because there were so many other conflicts with the North; the South simply did not wish to be a part of the Union, even if slavery was guaranteed. The forced abolition of slavery simply was not on the table in 1861.
    Things changed after several years of war, and Lincoln eventually signed the Emancipation Proclamation (which had no immediate effect, since it only applied to areas not under Union control), but the important thing to understand is that what is commonly called the American Civil War simply was not fought for the purpose of freeing slaves. It happened afterwards, but it was not the intention of the North at the outset.
    Enough of that. Let us go back to the American Revolution. Unlike the Northern colonies, the Southern colonies were fairly happy with relations with Great Britain. Sure, they had gripes, but most Colonists were loyalists. But they were dealing with what amounted to a massive slave rebellion.
    Word had spread among the slave population of Great Britain’s inclination to abolish slavery at some point. A British court had set free a Jamaican slave who had been brought to England in what was known as the Sommerset Decision, and although the court decision was intentionally limited, most American slaves believed – incorrectly – that if they could somehow reach British soil they would be freed. Slaves were starting to run away and there had been rebellions.
    In November 1775, with the Revolution breaking out, Virginia’s last British governor, Lord Dunsmore, offered any slave willing to fight for the crown their freedom and land to farm; he had already threatened the Colonists that he might free the slaves in April 1775 should any harm come to Williamsburg. Meanwhile, Revolutionary recruiters in Georgia and South Carolina were promising white soldiers a slave at the end of their service. Needless to say, Colonial slaves saw where their best hope for freedom lay and acted upon it.
    In South Carolina, two-thirds of slaves escaped following Dunsmore’s proclamation. Thirty thousand slaves fled Virginia. Although fewer than 1,000 former slaves actually served the British as soldiers, at least 20,000 defected or allowed themselves to be captured and many served in other capacities. By the end of the war, out of a total slave population of 450,000 in the colonies, approximately 100,000 had escaped, died, or were killed in battle.
    At the conclusion of the war Great Britain resettled approximately 12,000 of the former slaves in Nova Scotia and the West Indies. About half who settled in Nova Scotia eventually chose to resettle in Sierra Leone. However, Britain returned escaped slaves to former owners who had remained loyal to the crown.
    Near the outset of the war George Washington allowed free blacks with military experience to join the Continental Army. A year later he expanded that to include all free blacks. Soon after Congress voted to allow slaves to serve, but no Southern state agreed save for Maryland.
    Approximately 5,000 blacks, both free and slave, served in the Continental Army. Many slaves were given their freedom, but others who had been promised freedom were instead returned to slavery.
    Lord Dunsmore’s actions obviously backfired horrendously. His intention was to frighten Southerners away from joining in what was mostly a Northeastern rebellion. Instead he caused many Southerners who would otherwise be loyal to the Crown to join in the Revolution. Slaveowners joined to protect their economic interests, and the intensely Loyalist backcountry residents of Virginia and the Carolinas were frightened at the thought of tens of thousands of armed former slaves roaming the countryside and switched their allegiance to the Continental cause.
    Our high school history books don’t tell this version of events because victors like to paint themselves in the most flattering light possible. We live in a world of myth, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Perhaps most of those who joined in the American Revolution did so in pursuit of the high-minded ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence. But in the South many were motivated, at least in part, out of a fear of abolition and a desire to maintain legal slavery.
    So the bottom line is that the war many believe was fought to end slavery wasn’t; and the American Revolution, with all of its high-minded ideals, was also fought by some to preserve slavery.
    Those who insist on denouncing those who served the Confederacy while praising those who served in the Revolution need to delve a little deeper into America’s not-always-pretty history. Life is complicated.

Sources: Was the American Revolution Fought to Save Slavery?

INSTITUTE INDEX: Slavery and the American Revolution

Dunmore’s Proclamation
How fears of a slave revolt drew the South into the war—the Revolutionary War

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In 1942 Congress changed the flag code because our salute looked just a little too Nazi-like

Schoolchildren using the Bellamy salute prior to 1942.

    There was a time when Americans saluted the flag with their right arms stretched out. The stiff-arm salute was known as the “Bellamy Salute,” as it was created by the author of the Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy.
Francis Bellamy
    Bellamy, an extreme socialist, wrote the pledge in the 1890s with the idea that it would encourage patriotism for schoolchildren to recite it every day. The Bellamy salute was intended to be non-militaristic. In the photo above, the schoolchildren have their palms facing upward. When properly executed, the palm should vertical. I’ve seen a number of photos and videos of schoolchildren reciting the Pledge with their palms facing downward, identical to the Nazi salute.
    It was this similarity to the Nazi salute that caused Congress to modify the Flag Code in 1942 to change the salute to the flag to the hand being held over the heart. I’ve seen several photos, probably taken right after the change, that show children with their hands over their hearts in a “salute” position rather than flat over the heart as practiced today.
    It is unfortunate that almost any politician who waves at a large crowd is at some point going to give a wave or salute that looks similar to a Nazi salute. Extreme bodybuilders have trouble fully straightening their arms, and perhaps politicians should make a point to wear an elbow brace to keep their right arm from extending all the way out lest their opponents use the opportunity to portray them as a Nazi.
Edward Bellamy
    My father mentioned to me years ago a book by Francis Bellamy’s brother, Edward, called Looking Backward 2000-1887 (free on Kindle). It’s a Utopian, Rip-Van-Winkle-style novel that he was assigned in college by his favorite professor, Jim Silver, in which a man wakes up to find an America vastly changed from the dog-eat-dog capitalism of 1887. Both Bellamys were quasi-Communists, but the book nevertheless has some amazingly spot-on predictions and interesting observations.
    For example, the book describes a type of credit card, and a shopping system where all goods could be reviewed and delivered overnight by pneumatic tube (in fact, I think such a system was used by the French postal system in Paris); sort of like today’s Internet shopping. Radio had not been invented at the time the book was written, but Bellamy envisioned a wired (cable!) system that would allow people to listen to 25 stations, including some of the finest concerts, in their homes.
    In Year 2000 Boston umbrellas have become obsolete. Our Rip-Van-Winkle protagonist, Julian West, is surprised to discover that the streets have covers that are extended when it rains, thus eliminating the need for an umbrella. His modern-era companion, Edith Leete, expressed a bit of skepticism as to whether streets were ever full of people holding individual umbrellas. I found the passage interesting, certainly reflective of Bellamy’s ideology, and thus share a few paragraphs (emphasis added):

    . . . I was much surprised when at the dinner hour the ladies appeared prepared to go out, but without either rubbers or umbrellas.
    The mystery was explained when we found ourselves on the street, for a continuous waterproof covering had been let down so as to inclose the sidewalk and turn it into a well lighted and perfectly dry corridor, which was filled with a stream of ladies and gentlemen dressed for dinner. At the comers the entire open space was similarly roofed in. Edith Leete, with whom I walked, seemed much interested in learning what appeared to be entirely new to her, that in the stormy weather the streets of the Boston of my day had been impassable, except to persons protected by umbrellas, boots, and heavy clothing. “Were sidewalk coverings not used at all?” she asked. They were used, I explained, but in a scattered and utterly unsystematic way, being private enterprises. She said to me that at the present time all the streets were provided against inclement weather in the manner I saw, the apparatus being rolled out of the way when it was unnecessary. She intimated that it would be considered an extraordinary imbecility to permit the weather to have any effect on the social movements of the people.
    Dr. Leete, who was walking ahead, overhearing something of our talk, turned to say that the difference between the age of individualism and that of concert was well characterized by the fact that, in the nineteenth century, when it rained, the people of Boston put up three hundred thousand umbrellas over as many heads, and in the twentieth century they put up one umbrella over all the heads.
    As we walked on, Edith said, “The private umbrella is father's favorite figure to illustrate the old way when everybody lived for himself and his family. There is a nineteenth century painting at the Art Gallery representing a crowd of people in the rain, each one holding his umbrella over himself and his wife, and giving his neighbors the drippings, which he claims must have been meant by the artist as a satire on his times.” 
    Bellamy’s Utopia relies on a high degree of statist force, although this is subtly indicated in the novel. And the author is convinced that one of society’s major economic problems is too little centralized control over the economy. He believes everything would work better without the pesky free market and the silly duplication of goods and services it produces. Incredibly dumb, but people didn’t know that in 1887.
    Despite its silly economics, Looking Backward is an interesting and insightful book and I suggest it to anyone. As for Bellamy salute? Probably better to skip it.