The Day the War Stopped

“Live with your century; but do not be its creature.”

—Friedrich Schiller, German dramatist, born November 10, 1759


World War I Memorial Lynchburg VA IMG 4108The last World War I veteran died last year. 2014 will mark the centenary of the “war to end all wars,” “the Great War,” “the War to make the world safe for democracy.” Today, now called Veteran’s Day, began as Armistice Day. The Armistice was declared at 11:00AM on November 11, 1918.

When you study the history of the 20th century, you learn that in some respects World War I never did end. (See World War II, the Cold War, etc.) The reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990 might be a place to draw the line, or the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991 could be called one. Then, of course, you have to consider the Wars of Succession in Former Yugoslavia, where it all started in 1914, and so on.

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Social Science Growing Up

“Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

—Will Durant, American historian, born November 5, 1885

266px-Test tube PSF“Sciences” like economics, sociology, psychology, and history are notoriously squishy, compared to the big dogs like physics or mathematics. Biology began the transition with the theory of evolution, and decisively crossed over with the development of genetics, culminating in the triumph of the discovery of DNA.

The traditional problem for the wimpy social sciences is that you can’t really do experiments on the scale that would be required for rigor. Testing some of the things that we would like to know would be flatly immoral. Raising a child in complete isolation, for instance. Other phenomena were simply too hard to study before the recent availability of massive amounts of “perfectly accurate” data from the internet.

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A Good Appearance Is a Tacit Recommendation

“Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen mister, no man alive can throw any harder than Smokey Joe Wood.”

—Walter Johnson, American athlete, born November 6, 1887

Congratulations to all the Red Sox fans out there!

140px-Smokey joe woodWalter “The Big Train” Johnson was the hardest-throwing pitcher of his era (with the exception of Smokey Joe, evidently), was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and is still considered one of the greatest players of all time.


Middle-class mean-spiritedness and condescension make being poor even more awful than it already is. Besides, the putative unworthiness of the poor gives the privileged cover to have the governments they control push ever more income upward in the guise of rewarding “job creators.” Income distribution in 21st century America is more unequal than it was in Ancient Rome. What could go wrong?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “American humorist Kin Hubbard said , ”It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be“ in ”Slaughterhouse-Five.” This piece from Talking Points Memo is written from the perspective of somebody who understands the nature of social signaling and is too smart to leave it to rich people.

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Dunbar, Dawkins, Darwin, Desmond

“Would I lay down my life to save my brother? No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins.”

—John B. S. Haldane, British scientist, born November 5, 1892

217px-Man is But a WormI remembered Haldane’s quip from Richard Dawkins’ classic The Selfish Gene, 1976. (If you haven’t read it, the usual run-don’t-walk directive is in force. My hair is still on fire.) The quote wittily points to a genetic explanation for altruism: human beings evolved in a world of small groups, Dunbar number (160) sized or so, and being my brothers’ or—cousins’—keeper benefits my genes. Point is, we are animals, not angels. We are parts of natural systems and we need to seek Truth in science, not metaphysics. Darwin and Nietzsche are smiling, somewhere…

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How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?

“The present assault upon capital is but the beginning. It will be but a stepping-stone to others, larger and more sweeping, till our political contests will become a war of the poor against the rich.”

—Stephen J. Field, American judge, born November 4, 1816

Reuben, Reuben, I’ve Been Thinkin’

CoverHa. That’ll be the day. Stephen J. Field, appointed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, was one of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century US Supreme Court justices who were endlessly helpful to the Robber Baron capitalists during the first Gilded Age (the one before the one we’re enjoying so much now). Income Tax? We don’t need no stinkin’ Income Tax? Unions? See the quote. He also assented to Plessy vs Ferguson, the infamous 1896 case that upheld (legal) racial segregation. Field was the second-longest serving Supreme Court justice, only surpassed by William O. Douglas. He was repeatedly asked to resign by his colleagues, as he was intermittently senile in his later years, but he refused, insisting on breaking John Marshall’s record of thirty-three years on the court.

President James K. Polk annexed Texas and led the US to victory in the iniquitous Mexican War. He gets the Last Word today. Polk was the “54–40 or fight” guy, too, dear to generations of American schoolchildren. He has been called the “least known consequential president” of the United States. Tremble indeed.

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