Condemning the Past

Gordon S. Wood on the criticisms levied by academics against his fellow early American historian and mentor Bernard Bailyn:

College students and many historians have become obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society. And this obsession has seriously affected the writing of American history. The inequalities of race and gender now permeate much of academic history-writing, so much so that the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.

Wood is certainly not happy with this state of affairs. Yet it’s gratifying to see him correctly diagnose the disease — that academics wallow in “condemning the past for not being more like the present” — even if we disagree about the prescription.

America’s Creeping Confucianism

By now you’ve probably heard about the New Jersey antiques collector facing 10 years in prison for possessing an unloaded 1765 flintlock pistol. Earlier that day, the man and his friend had bought the gun from an antiques dealer in Pennsylvania:

On the way home, the pair were pulled over by a local sheriff. According to Van Gilder, the detaining officer told him that he wanted to search the car, and threatened him with dogs if he refused. “I didn’t mind,” he tells me, but he wanted to make sure that the officer knew that there was a flintlock pistol in the glove compartment, and that he had just purchased it. “Oh, man,” Gilder says. “Immediately, he wanted to arrest me. But when he called the undersheriff, he was told, ‘No, it’s a 250-year-old pistol; let him go.'”

The officer did as he was told, and gave the pistol back. The next morning, however, he came back — “with three cars and three or four sheriffs.” Van Gilder says, “He told me, ‘I should have arrested you last night.'” So he did. “They led me away in handcuffs” and, at the station, “chained me by my hands and feet to a cold stainless-steel bench.”

The man, Gordon Van Gilder, is a retired English teacher who lives in Millville, NJ, which incidentally is quite close to where I grew up. The geography is an added level of absurdity in this case: Millville is extremely rural and piney. By no stretch of the imagination could the pistol be considered a danger in a densely populated urbanscape; Van Gilder could probably walk out his front door and go full Aaron Burr without hitting anything besides a white cedar or a snapping turtle.

The I-told-you-so attitude of the officer highlights the growing Confucianism in American law enforcement. To Confucius, all crimes could be categorized. Context of the crime was to be eliminated and was even seen as undermining society; circumstances were to be stripped away from hypotheticals like, “Would you steal medicine to save your dying child?” leaving only the theft before the judge. What punishment to deliver was merely a matter of establishing what crime had been committed. Confucianism is characterized by its “respect for authority, hierarchy and social order,” in the words of one apologist. It is the ethics of despotism, which is why it’s been popular in China for millennia.

The fact that the officer threatened to unleash the hounds on a couple of old coots driving down a country road is reminiscent of a story Bill Lee, the cover artist for Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, told me about him and some of his WWII buddies being boarded and searched by the Coast Guard in Bridgeport Harbor — apparently our brave USCG thought a boatload of Normandy Nazi killers was “suspicious.” The context of Van Gilder’s situation — harmless history buffs returning from an antiques dealer with an antique — is superfluous. The Confucian officer is sure a crime has been committed and it only remains to determine which one. This is precisely why police departments discriminate against hiring officers with high IQs: they want somebody with a binary mind who won’t consider bigger questions. Just like an insect’s brain is simply a series of on/off switches — is this food? is this an enemy? — the New Jersey sheriffs only care if the flintlock is contraband or not. Today a legislature could outlaw bread and tomorrow cops would arrest everyone with a loaf or baguette on their pantry shelf, never considering the sense or wisdom behind the law. Beetles and ants are not philosophers.

The icing on the cake is that the pistol will probably be destroyed — or more likely find itself on the mantel of some petty Cumberland County potentate. If only New Jersey could be more like Connecticut and put those sheriffs out of work by eliminating county governments.

Local Cop Rapes Teen, Gets 2.5 Years

This happened last month but I just learned about it: William Ruscoe, a Trumbull police officer who was a member of the SWERT team that murdered Gonzalo Guizan during the May 2008 raid in Easton, CT, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for raping a teenager. Ruscoe’s plea bargain called for five years prison time in exchange for him pleading guilty to second-degree sexual assault. Instead the judge gave him half that. Why? Because some animals are more equal than others, of course:

During the emotion-packed hearing the victim urged the judge to impose the plea bargained 5-year prison term on Ruscoe.

“I was completely betrayed by someone I looked up to as a role model,” the girl told the judge. “I still wake up in a pool of sweat after having a nightmare where I yell stop and no, the two words I yelled that night at him.”

State’s Attorney John Smriga added that five years was the appropriate sentence.

“It’s not that he (Ruscoe) just had a bad day, this was an action that was planned out,” he said.

But [Superior Court Judge Robert] Devlin, while acknowledging that children need to be protected said he was giving Ruscoe credit for his years of good service with the police department.

As if after Ferguson and Eric Garner anybody needed more proof that there is one rule of law for police and another for the rest of us. I know that plea bargains aren’t set in stone and I’ve read several stories where defendants received harsher sentences than what they agreed to, but I’ve never read about someone being sentenced to less than the prearranged jail time. William Ruscoe is a monster. And frankly, so is Judge Devlin.

Via Simple Justice.

Yo Soy Fiesta


I was going to write a Super Bowl post and about how much I love the New England Patriots and being a Pats fan; about how I was never really into football until the arrivals of my sons, how Mrs. Kuhl and I began watching Pats games on winter weekends as we cradled a baby in one hand and a bottle in the other, and about how, years later, there I am, standing in front of the TV watching the fourth quarter of SB 49, my heart pounding like I just sprinted 800 meters; about how the Patriots appeal to me not because they win so damn much or often pull victory from between the lion’s jaws but because of their “Do Your Job” culture and Belichick’s insane work ethic; about how that buy-in culture discourages showboaters and demands discipline and how men like Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork are role models as fathers and husbands in an NFL that doesn’t care if a player punches a woman unconscious in an elevator; about how I was never more proud to be a Pats fan when they offered free exchanges on Aaron Hernandez jerseys; about how, in a Connecticut town divided between Giants and Pats fans, I use the Patriots to teach my sons to be lovers not haters, and to root for their team without putting down others (except the Ravens because many of the Ravens are thugs who should be in prison who try to injure other players); and about how hatred of the Patriots is a metaphor for contemporary America, a place where people no longer believe that success derives from hard work and good luck (with “luck” defined as being in the right place at the right time after being in the wrong place 99 times beforehand) but instead assume you must have cheated and stolen to win, even when there’s no evidence of it.

I was going to write all that. But instead I’m just gonna repost this photo from Twitter. Go Pats.

The Pledge of Obedience

Because January 2015 is never too early to battle for the soul of the Republican party, the conservative Washington Free Beacon is already kicking dirt on Rand Paul like a dog after doing its business:

A blogger who has been hired to do social media work for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R., Ky.) likely presidential campaign is not a fan of “stupid armchair jingoes” in the Republican Party, says Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) “will use anything to satisfy his blood lust,” and wants Edward Snowden to receive a Nobel Peace prize, according to her Facebook page.

Beacon writer Alana Goodman then continues with all the journalistic even-handedness of a cartoon housewife standing on a chair and hiking up her petticoats by noting in an update that said libertarian blogger, Marianne Copenhaver, also opposes the Pledge of Allegiance. As Robby Soave at Reason points out, this isn’t very unusual for libertarians: the pledge was written by socialist (and later local Nationalist Club president — ahem ) Francis Bellamy to promote nationalism in schools. Originally the pledge was accompanied by what became known as the Bellamy salute:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the Flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it… At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

Ahem, ahem.

To not follow in the footsteps of a proto-Nazi is good reason to oppose the pledge but I can think of better objections. For years I’ve refused to recite the pledge on both the grounds of foolishness — a flag is a thing which exists separate and indifferent to my actions; and the ideals it supposedly represents are, as abstractions, even more remote and indifferent — and principle.

Ever wonder why the end of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution is worded thusly?

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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.”

The reason the Founders threw that bit in there about affirmation is because they, as residents if not frequent habitues of Philadelphia, believed it likely that one day a Quaker might be elected president (Richard Milhous Nixon!). Quakers swear no oaths. Quakers, like Mennonites — and this is where my Lancaster County blood rises to the top — believe that oaths sworn to things and people compromise one’s relationship with God. If I swear to support a man and that man tells me to kill and killing is against God’s law, then I have put the man before God. If I swear to support a nation and that nation commands me to do something contrary to God’s wishes, I have been compromised. Will that man or that nation be there to defend me when I stand in judgment before God? No. The most you can do in this lifetime is affirm a commitment to self-control: I can affirm to my wife I will not cheat on her; I can affirm to uphold the Constitution to the best of my abilities. And, in any event, both Quakers and Mennonites believe in always conducting themselves honestly, obviating the need for most oaths.

Of course, you don’t need God to reject the pledge. If I have decided that killing is wrong then why should I swear allegiance to a nation which, on a whim, may demand that I travel overseas to kill someone who has never harmed me? How or why does the will of the mob or some bloodthirsty politician trump my own principles? I have to live with what I’ve done.

To the statists of the world, an individual’s utility is only what labor or gold he or she can supply them. This is why the Pledge of Allegiance should be seen in its proper light not as a declaration of patriotism but as another link in the chains used by the rapacious to shackle and enslave. The pledge is meant to enforce conformity, and yet the United States is a country of dissidents founded upon dissidence: it’s more American-as-apple-pie to not recite it.

In With the New

Who has two thumbs and just entered the twenty-teens? THIS GUY.

For over a year I’ve been wanting to update this site with a fresh WordPress theme. I had been using the same template since 2008, but because The Journalist was no longer supported (in fact, I think its designer forgot about it five minutes after writing the code), I was modifying it as I went. The big problem, though, was making it look good on smart phones and pads, and I completely lacked the skill to somehow make it backwards responsive.

There were many things I liked about The Journalist — the clean white layout, the big punchy blockquotes — and so I wanted something that kept those features. Then again, I also wanted something with bigger typeface (I experimented heavily with this but could never achieve the perfect intersection of font, line spacing, and kerning), a top menu instead of a sidebar, and most of all, to be responsive to devices. I sought and I seeked but my metal detector never uncovered the diamond ring in the sand.

And then, callooh! callay! Earlier this week I stumbled upon Caroline Moore’s Penscratch and installed it. It still needs some fixes: I want to tweak the color palette a little more, and while I like the simplicity of the top menu, I’m not sure how to handle navigation within the blog’s archives without cluttering it up or resorting to a sidebar. The About page needs a rewrite and I wish Genericons (those circular symbols in the lower right-hand corner) supported more social media, though they say some kind of update is in the works. Otherwise I love how Penscratch looks — and in fact, at this point I think the site looks better on my Android than my desktop.

The biggest improvement I could make here, however, is to post something more than once a month …