Thursday, July 30, 2009

Georgia and the membership gap

Suppose you had been born in the year that the English colony of South Carolina was founded. That was the twelfth of the thirteen colonies that later declared independence from Great Britain. Now here's the question: how old would you have been the year Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies, was founded?

You might be surprised to learn that you would have been sixty-three. South Carolina came to be in 1870, but the colonists didn't land in Savannah to start Georgia until 1733 (Churchill, The Great Republic: A History of America, 1999, pp. 35, 41). That's a big gap. In fact, it's equal to the length of time between when Virginia, the first colony was founded (1607) and the start up of South Carolina. In other words, in sixty-three years between 1607 and 1670 twelve of the original colonies were begun, and it took another sixty-three years before Georgia finally made it thirteen.

Of course, regardless of the seniority of South Carolina over Georgia as a colony, both became states under the Constitution when they ratified that document in 1788.

We're used to seeing charts like this one in which Delaware is listed as the first state because they were the first to ratify the Constitution, Pennsylvania is second, New Jersey third, etc.
Of course, the states did not ratify the Constitution in the same order that they opened up for business as colonies; if they did Georgia would be the thirteenth state, not the fourth.

But let's for a moment consider the growth of the United States a little differently. We'll take as the year a state came into the Union the year it was admitted or, if it was one of the original thirteen, the year the English colony that later became a state was founded. We're considering the addition of members to a North American Union, either the United States of America OR what would later become the USA. Was the gap between the South Carolina colony and the Georgia colony the longest stretch between admission of new members?

It may seem like a long time since we last added a state, and in fact, next month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the admission of Hawaii. That's still well short of the gap between the founding of the colony of South Carolina and the colony of Georgia. To those of you who were around in 1959 when two stars were added to the flag, it may have seemed like forever since a state was added. But actually it was only forty-seven years; New Mexico and Arizona both joined the Union early in 1912.

With the help of the chart I've linked, you can see that in the nineteenth century the longest the United States went without admitting a new member was only fifteen years, between Missouri in 1821 and Arkansas in 1836.

So yes, the sixty-three year gap between the founding of the colony of South Carolina in 1870 and the founding of the colony of Georgia in 1733 was the longest stretch between additional members to the now or future American Union.

But there is a postscript. What was the second longest span between the creation of American entities?

That would be the years between Georgia coming into being as a colony and Vermont entering the Union as a state in 1791, fifty-eight years later. How about that; Georgia ended the longest drought of new members and began the second longest such drought. You probably won't find that in Peach Tree State guidebooks.

And anyway, I get the feeling in another fifteen years that's going to change. Unless Washington DC or Puerto Rico makes it fifty-one or fifty-two states, come 2023 we will mark the longest period of no addition of members to the American family of colonies and later states since those brave folks landed at Jamestown over four hundred years ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Critical reception

The problem with going to see a movie just because critics say it's superb is that sometimes critics, like everybody else, suffer mass hysteria. Ten years ago I went to see "American Beauty" because darn near everybody who reviews films said it was a classic.

What a piece of drivel, I thought when I departed from the theater. Are you all nuts, I thought when it won all those Oscars.

One also has to wonder when reading or hearing criticism whether the author has an agenda causing him to review the work favorably or unfavorably based on bias rather than the work's merits.

Which brings me to Lynne Cheney's upcoming biography of James Madison. If the book gets a thumbs up from the New York Times Book Review I'll assume it's probably good.

But what if the Times trashes it? If they do, there are two possibilities:

1. It deserves to be trashed, or
2. It doesn't deserve to be trashed, but the author's surname is Cheney so it's gonna get trashed.

I hope Mrs. Cheney and her editor are really going to dot their "i"s and cross their "t"s. I just finished reading Steven Waldmann's Founding Faith. It was incisive and informative, but I got a jolt when on page 189 Waldmann refers to John Bingham, the congressman primarily responsible for writing the Fourteenth Amendment, as "Robert" Bingham. I don't know if any critics caught that when the book came out, but you know certain people will go over Cheney's book with a fine-toothed comb and if she gets a first name wrong it will be on dozens of liberal websites.

Myself, of course, I have a bias for wanting Cheney's book to be excellent. James Madison is my hero.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rockefeller's legacy, Obama's taxes

"Health care legislation will 'probably include some additional revenue from well-to-do people,' President Obama said in a Today show interview with Meredith Vieira that aired this morning.

'It's not punishing the rich,' Obama said. 'The way I look at it is, if I can afford to do a little bit more so that a whole bunch of families out there have a little more security, when I already have security, that's part of being a community.'"

It always seems a bit odd to me that when President Obama expresses his philosophy about the rich coughing up more of their money in taxes, nobody--at least as far as I've seen--points out the irony of this, considering Obama's previous career.

The President was, you will recall, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Would you like your son or daughter to go there? That's great if you do; it's one of the finest law schools in the land. But be prepared to pay for the privilege; according to the University's own website the tuition is nearly $44,000 a year. Throw in room and board, books, and other fees and the University acknowledges that the student's cost will be over $66,000 a year--far more than the median annual U.S. household income, which is just over $50,000 a year.

Okay, maybe you'd like to save a little cash and just have your kid go to the University of Chicago as an undergraduate. Alas, that will still run you over $38,000 in tuition yearly; throw in other expenses and even if you live in the Windy City and your son or daughter rides the bus to school, you're still looking at over $46,000 a year to send your youngster to Obama's former stomping grounds. Who's going to keep universities with costs like that running if we have a tax system that inevitably will reduce the number of people with enough cash to pay such figures?

I can't help wondering what the President's reaction would be if someone replied to his comment on the Today Show by declaring, "Sir, rather than give the government any more of my hard earned income in taxes, which will likely be misspent, I'd prefer to use the money I've accumulated to send my daughter to the University of Chicago to get an outstanding education--the same type of costly, private education you got from Princeton and Harvard. You know, if you raise taxes on people who do well, there will be fewer families crunching their budgets and deciding they can afford to send their kids to the University of Chicago. That can't possibly be helpful to your former employer."

Of course, more money taken by the government for taxes also means fewer well off folks will be giving the University funds to renovate buildings or fill scholarship funds. This also can't be good for the President's former workplace.

Finally, let me note the biggest irony of Obama's taxation philosophy. Do you know who founded the University of Chicago, where he taught for a dozen years?

It was John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest Americans of the nineteenth century. Again, from the University's own website, we learn that Rockefeller called the school "the best investment I ever made."

I think it's fair to ask if America had the taxation policies Obama endorses in the 1890s, whether or not Rockefeller would have made the investment in the first place. He might have looked at how much of his empire Uncle Sam was taking and say, "Well, I was going to found a leading institution of higher learning in Chicago, but not with this tax bill I'm not!"

And if that was the case, the grand University of Chicago, with its impressive array of Noble laureates, would never have come to be. You can't help but wonder how many worthy pet projects of the rich will never come to fruition if the government thrusts its hand ever deeply in every wealthy person's pocket.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We hold these truths to be self-evident. We just don't know where they are.

When he gave his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last spring, Rush Limbaugh confused the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. Said Mr. Limbaugh:

"We want every American to be the best he or she chooses to be. We recognize that we are all individuals. We love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. [Applause] We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. [Applause] Liberty, Freedom. [Applause] And the pursuit of happiness. [Applause]"

Keith Olbermann's reaction was predictable; he mocked Limbaugh for the error (fast forward ahead to around 5:50).

My reaction was also predictable. Don't jump on him too hard, liberals, because in no time at all someone on your side of the political spectrum will make the same boo-boo.

Well thanks to the NewsBusters website, I see that the other day it happened. And here's the funny thing: it happened to the exact left wing counterpart to Limbaugh--a chubby, radio talk show host. Furthermore, the error involved the exact same phrase of the Declaration of Independence. And if that's not enough, the guy making the snafu works for the exact same outfit as Olbermann, who reveled in Limbaugh's gaffe:

"Looks like it might be time for summer school instruction in American history for left-wing radio and MSNBC host Ed Schultz.

Here's what a caller said on Schultz's radio show July 16 and Schultz's oblivious response--

CALLER: This gentleman who called previously, asking where in the Constitution does it say that health care should be provided? And I know where it says. It says that you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, without health care, people can be deprived of life due to death from lack of medical care.

SCHULTZ: It's true.

CALLER: So, I think it says it right there, you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's in the Constitution."

Also predictably, just as Olbermann mocked Limbaugh, NewsBusters blogger Jack Coleman poked fun of Ed Schultz for the error.

Okay, people on the left. Hear me out, folks on the right. Do yourself a favor and quit sneering anytime anyone on the other side gets the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence mixed up. There are a good number of educated folks who have engaged in this foul-up. Give them a break; nobody is perfect.

Besides, we all know the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" comes from the Gettysburg Address.

Addendum: Oh, my goodness. Would you believe that just five minutes ago from the time I'm writing this, Glen Beck, appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor" did it too? The same mistake, the bit about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" appearing in the Constitution. No, Bill didn't correct him.

Countdown to someone on the left mocking Beck for the error: five... four... three... And countdown to someone on the left making the same error: five... four... three...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The No Labor/ Forced Labor Index

Well I'm not an economist, but it's a free country so if I choose I can create my own screwy statistic to show how bad things are right now. So ladies and gentlemen, without further adieu, it's the "No Labor/ Forced Labor Index"!

The basis of this statistic is that today it really stinks if you don't have a job. But before 1865, it really stunk if you had a job, but you were forced to do it for no pay. In other words, we're combining unemployment and slavery to formulate this index. Because today you can be out of work anywhere in America, but in 1860 you could only be a slave in some of the states, the No Labor/Forced Labor Index only is meaningful in a state like Georgia that had slavery. With that in mind, here's the formula:


Where: #OOWT is "Number of people out of work in Georgia today," #FLBT is "Forced labor in Georgia back then "(number of slaves listed on 1860 census), and NL/FL is, of course, the No Labor/Forced Labor Index.

We've now got 483,394 folks unemployed in Georgia. Back in 1860, the last census before the odious practice of slavery was ended, Georgia had 462,198 people held in forced labor. So, we have this figure:

483,394 / 462,198 = 1.05

When the index is over 1, you've got more people today looking for work than people back then forced to work. This is, of course, just a fancy way of saying we have more unemployed in Georgia now than we had slaves in 1860. But an economist would no doubt come up with a silly index to show this, so why can't I?

Yes, I know. The population of Georgia is much higher today than it was in 1860, so a half million people doing anything in 2009 is a much smaller percentage of the population than a similar number 150 years ago. So I'm not taking the No Labor/ Forced Labor Index too seriously.

But I'll tell you what I am taking very seriously: we're getting near a half million people out of work in a sunbelt state that doesn't have all the labor cost issues often cited for the economic decline of states like Michigan. Here's hoping we can turn things around and get people back to earning a paycheck.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The other day a preacher said something really dumb about a famous, deceased African-American.

Aha! I bet I got you! You thought I was referring to Al Sharpton's eulogy of Michael Jackson, didn't you?

No, that's not what I'm talking about. I'll admit I'm first in line of the people who think the wall to wall coverage of Michael Jackson's death is over the top. Furthermore, when I hear people argue that Jackson was the greatest entertainer ever, I think about how sports is entertainment, and then I wonder if you could make the case that Jackson wasn't even the greatest African-American entertainer of the past three decades whose first name was "Michael" and whose last name begins with "J." There are a lot of us more thrilled at memories of seeing Michael Jordan dunk than Michael Jackson moonwalk.

But any complaint that Reverend Sharpton's speech exaggerated Jackson's significance is undermined, ironically enough, just by noting the venue in which he gave it. How many memorial services do you see held at the Staples Center?

Here are the specific words of Sharpton's that have caused a stir:

"Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And it was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other until later it wasn’t strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn’t strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage, comfortable fans of Michael to being 40 years old and being comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the President of the United States of America."

I'm not sure any of that is over the top. As someone who was twenty-one when MTV went on the air, I remember that after it had been on a year or so there were howls of protest that all the videos featured white performers. As I recall it, one of the responses to such criticism was that MTV was simply responding to demand; it was the white acts that were popular among the target audience of the fledgling network. With the benefit of nearly three decades of hindsight, I think we can see that this argument was uncomfortably close to the remarks by some southern restaurant owners in the early sixties--the "we can't serve Negros because our white customers won't like it" standard.

Then Michael Jackson started putting out videos. They were in heavy rotation; you couldn't watch MTV for more than an hour and a half without seeing Jackson dancing and singing to "Billie Jean" or "Beat It." And yes, there probably are some white people now in their forties who looked beyond race at least partly because of Jackson, and who therefore didn't feel at all odd pulling a lever marked "Obama" last fall.

So who is the preacher I mentioned in the first line, saying something really dumb about a famous, deceased African-American?

It's the evangelist Peter Marshall from Texas. He's part of a panel of "experts" appointed by the Texas Board of Education to make recommendations for new social studies curriculum standards for the state's public schools. According to the Dallas Morning News:

"[Reverend] Marshall... questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is 'not a strong enough example' of such a figure."

Thurgood Marshall argued thirty-two cases before the U.S Supreme Court, winning twenty-nine of them. He is, next to Martin Luther King, the most recognizable person involved with the Civil Rights movement, which was clearly the greatest American social accomplishment of the twentieth century. He couldn't get into the University of Maryland Law School because he was black; he nevertheless wound up not just a lawyer, but a justice on the highest court in the land. When you enter his name at, you get over 6500 results. That's not a strong enough example of a historical figure?

I think Reverend Peter Marshall isn't a strong enough example of an expert to serve on the Texas committee.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Abe Lincoln did WHAT???

Good old honest Abe. He succeeded a president named Buchanan. And now he's accused of something he didn't do by another Buchanan. Courtesy of the website, I saw this transcript from Pat Buchanan's appearance on the "Morning Joe" program on MSNBC:

"Lincoln ordered the Chief Justice of the United States arrested."

Of course, Lincoln did no such thing to Chief Justice Roger Taney. Buchanan's assertion sent me scurrying to my bookshelf to peruse James Simon's book Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney (2006) and the chapter on the Civil War era in Geoffrey Stone's Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime (2004). I had to double check, just to be one hundred percent certain that in my reading of these two books and everything else I've ever looked at on the legal history of our country, I hadn't missed something as memorable as a President having the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court arrested.

Taney remained a free man during the portion of Lincoln's administration he was fortunate enough to live in. (He died on October 12, 1864 at the age of 87, Simon p. 265). Lincoln didn't arrest Taney. He probably thought about it, but then again Pat Buchanan has probably on occasion thought, "What the hell am I doing on MSNBC?"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Choosing satisfaction over immortality

Teachers from elementary school through college warn their students to be very careful when using the Internet as a research tool. Most of the concern is directed at Wikipedia, which warrants particular diligence among its users, primarily because--as Wikipedia even admits in its entry on itself--"almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone who can access the Wikipedia website." You never know if the minute you access the entry on President Nixon some joker will have inserted a note that when Nixon went to China the first thing he did upon disembarking the plane was to drop his pants and sing "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

But some websites obviously are careful in what they publish and have some weight of authority standing behind them. I think "The New Georgia Encyclopedia" (NGE) is such a website; it has the University of Georgia, the Georgia Humanities Council, and others in charge of its content.

I mention this because I want to give a striking example of something I learned from the NGE that really took me aback, because I'd never seen this anywhere else. Before I tell you what it is, let me give you the facts as I learned them from good old fashioned books. Carol Berkin in A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution (2002) says of William Pierce, a Georgia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, that "He left the convention early to attend to a business crisis" (p. 261).

As a comparison, I checked two other books about the Constitutional Convention that, like Berkin's volume, are what I'd call "popular" accounts of the event. Catherine Drinker Bowen, in Miracle at Philadelphia (1966) and the Collier brothers in Decision in Philadelphia (1986), say something quite different, that Pierce left the convention to attend meetings of the Confederation Congress in New York City (Bowen p. 22, Colliers p. 168).

Then I looked in two books about the making of the Constitution that are far more technical--Jack Rakove's Original Meaning: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (1996) and Forrest McDonald's Novus Ordo Seclorum : The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (1985). (With a title like that, McDonald's book had better be technical!) Rakove doesn't mention Pierce's departure, but McDonald agrees with Berkin that Pierce left to attend to personal business, adding that the business was in New York City (p. 235).

And now here is the version of what happened from the NGE:

"Although he agreed with the end result of the proceedings, Pierce did not sign the U.S. Constitution, having left the convention at the end of June to attend to 'a piece of business so necessary that it became unavoidable.' The business was a duel with merchant John Auldjo, after tempers flared over mishandled 'mercantile dealings.' Auldjo's second, Alexander Hamilton, intervened and prevented the contest."

Wow. I think we can all agree this little tidbit is a lot more interesting than just saying "Pierce left to attend to business." You've got a duel brewing that apparently would have occurred were it not for the intervention of a far more well-known convention delegate, who later would himself be killed in what surely ranks as the most famous duel ever carried out on American soil.

In technical works like Rakove's and McDonald's, it probably wouldn't be appropriate to mention Pierce's appointment (as they used to call duels) since it doesn't have anything to do with the debate over the Constitution. But next time somebody writes a popular account of the big event of 1787, don't you think he or she would want to prick the reader's interest by devoting a paragraph to the remarkable circumstances of somebody actually leaving the convention to participate in a duel?