Why is this not a scandal?

Politico reports that the Hillary Clinton campaign has a plan to capture the Democratic Party nomination for president by March 1, 2016.

Eleven states will vote on March 1, including delegate-heavy Texas, Virginia and Colorado. And while her aides say that Clinton can and will compete vigorously in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, her fate will depend on dispatching challengers in March — something she critically failed to do last time around.
If it works, the former secretary of state will have wrapped up the party’s nomination before spring ends — with only 32 states and two territories having voted — thereby avoiding the kind of protracted battle that consumed much of 2008.

 

This means pretty evidently that, if she had her way, Hillary Clinton would claim  her party’s nomination — a major step in the nation’s electoral process  — without allowing citizens in any of the following states to participate in the decision:

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Washington, DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

A politician openly plans to exclude a large part of the national electorate from a major decision. why is this not a scandal?

The point here is not to take a dig at Clinton. The point is to emphasize that America is not governed democratically. Here’s a second bit of evidence supporting the argument. This one comes from Jonathan Chait’s recent column:

[Interviewer John] Harwood: Ronald Reagan . . . had in 1980 an electorate that was 88 percent white, and so did you in Wisconsin. The national electorate is not 88 percent white. If you took Reagan’s percentages with today’s makeup of the electorate, he would lose. Why is Reagan a good model in terms of the winning part?
[Wisconsin Governor Scott ]Walker: The demographics you mentioned, I mean it’s an interesting question. The nation as a whole is not going to elect the next president. Twelve states are. Wisconsin’s one of them. I’m sitting in another one right now, New Hampshire. There’s going to be Colorado, where I was born, Iowa, where I lived, Ohio, Florida, a handful of other states. In total, it’s about 11 or 12 states that are going elect the next president.

 

So on both sides of the political aisle, there are explicit strategies to win the presidency by openly and explicitly ignoring large parts of the electorate.

Some will say that the later-voting states will still be allowed to votes even though Clinton will have obtained the majority of delegate votes before hand. Some will say that that is just how it works. Some will say that the states are free to set their election dates, and it is not Clinton’s fault that some states vote late. Some will say we should look to the other party to offset Clinton.

I think that so much of the American population is already excluded from effective participation in the electoral process, by gerrymandering, by voting machine manipulations, by selective enforcement of voter ID requirements, and by other means, that the one person-one vote ideal is no longer taken seriously. Over at The Constitution Project, there is a rhapsodic paean to the one-person, one vote principle and a narrative of how America’s great leaders worked until voting rights were guaranteed for all! But it just isn’t true.

Do you think that your vote counts as much as that of any other American? Do you think voting is an effective way of steering local, state or national affairs in the direction you want them to go?  Would you say that in recent years you’ve cast your votes with a great degree of confidence, and that your expectations have been fulfilled by the performance of the person elected?

Does anyone think those things?

 

Religious Liberty?

Purdue’s campus was graced on Wednesday by a visit from Brother Jed Smock. I was walking across the memorial mall in the afternoon when I came upon a crowd of students. Brother Jed, garbed in white and waving a cross-tipped staff, was shouting at a group of 50 or so students, who were shouting back. Nearby a circle of eight students stood praying.

Rev. Jed yelling at Purdue students.
Brother Jed yelling at Purdue students.

 

I don’t know what the students were praying for. It is possible they were beseeching God that the listeners would be moved by Brother Jed’s message. But I rather imagine they were wishing that Brother Jed himself be moved to somewhere away from where he was.

I’d never heard of Smock before, but he is evidently a fixture on college campuses across the midwest. Smock wasn’t even the only angry preacher on campus that day. The Exponent had a story about the visit that talked about another preacher named Michael who spent his time judging the students gathered around him. The student newspaper report focused accurately on the obnoxious manner of the evangelist. But it also paid notice to the the harm he was doing:

Chandell Adelman, a freshman in the College of Liberal Arts, hoped that people wouldn’t think Michael’s message represented all people of faith.
“I just want to say that is not how Christianity should be demonstrated,” said Adelman. “The whole basis of Christianity is love and forgiveness. And demonstrations like that are what turn people away from God. It’s heartbreaking.”

 

CS Lewis

I begin to wonder whether people of good faith don’t have more of an obligation to stand up for the good reputation of Christianity. In practice nobody does because we’ve been trained that freedom matters more than anything else. But it is just possible that we are wrong.

CS Lewis, than whom there was nobody humbler and more peaceful, pondered the same question and admitted the possibility that certain rogues ought to be stood against when they abuse their freedoms:

It can be argued that if the windows of various ministries and newspapers were more often broken, if certain people were more often put under pumps and pelted in the streets, we should get on a great deal better. It is not wholly desirable that any man should be allowed at once the pleasures of a tyrant or a wolf’s-head and also those of an honest freeman among his equals. 

 

Lewis wasn’t talking only about religious scoundrels, but they were surely one sort that he had in mind. But that is just a thought in passing. My main point concerning “religious liberty” is . . . . “What? Where did anyone get the idea that religion is about personal liberty?”

Here’s what the Bible says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

 

Here’s what the Bible says:

But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

 

Here’s what the Bible says:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

 

Here’s what the Bible says:

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

Here’s what the Bible says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbori and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Each of these Biblical passages puts an obligation on the believer to do all the good they can and expect nothing in return (in this life). The freedom associated with true religion is freedom from the consequences of our mistakes — not the freedom to insult and disrespect others.

 

Northeast by Nowhere

A ten-county region in northeast Indiana is going to grow its population to a million people! It is going to boost its population growth rate to 2.1% per year (from the current 0.8% per year) until they hit the target. We learn about northeast Indiana’s growth plans from several sources, including Inside Indiana Business and 21-Alive television in Ft. Wayne. The rationale behind the growth strategy was laid out by a local official named Lauren Zuber:

This has really important business implications. If we don’t grow our population, our businesses in the region can’t grow. We need to grow our population so that they have talented employees for the jobs they currently have, that baby boomers are going to retire from, and so that they can hire in new people when they need to expand,” Lauren Zuber, Vision 2020 coordinator said.

 

A pot of state money is up for grabs, and the “Road to a Million” campaign reflects northeast Indiana’s bid to win a share of it. And I wish them luck. Far be it from me to disapprove a community trying to improve itself. But there are three problems.

The first is that, contrary to the talk, northeast Indiana is slowing down rather than speeding up. Thanks to an excellent resource called STATSIndiana from the Indiana Business Research Center, the population counts for Indiana counties and townships are available for all to see. And there is nothing in the data to justify expectation of a sudden burst of population in northeast Indiana.

Fort Wayne is the region’s major city, and in the past 20 years there was moderate growth around Ft. Wayne. It was most notable in suburban parts of Allen County, including Aboite, Cedar Creek, Lafayette and Perry townships, plus single townships in nearby Adams, Steuben and Lagrange counties. Only these parts of the region grew at the target rate of 2.1% per year, and they only did it from 2000 to 2010. These areas have slowed since 2010. None of them is currently growing at Zuber’s target rate. Meanwhile, 39 northeast Indiana townships have declining populations. In 16 rural townships, there are fewer people now than there were in 1950. (I grew up in one of those, and my relatives still live in another.)

So it seems naive to expect the region to grow at 2.1% just because a plan says it will. The region as a whole has never done this. Only a few parts of the region have ever done it, and they only for brief periods. No part of the region is currently doing it, and several part are moving in the opposite direction.

Of course the reason we have “plans” is to take charge of circumstances and make something happen that wouldn’t happen on its own. The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership plan, described here, consists of actions that, if accomplished, will only keep the region in step with other similar regions. Everything in their plan is laudable, but nothing confers any advantage.

The plan confers no advantage because nearly every other community is doing the same thing. As the Red Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass says, “It takes all the running you can do to stay in one place. “ And that’s my second niggle.

In the quoted statement above, Zuber says the region needs to grow so it can grow. The region needs more people, she explains, to work at the additional jobs that don’t exist in the community yet. Fact is, the region today has about 9-thousand fewer jobs than it did in 2006 and has lost several hundred more in 2015.

Economic growth is what happens when a community does everything right. If people are healthy and skilled, if infrastructure is well designed and well maintained, if there is plenty of housing and plenty of opportunities to enjoy life – then growth in population and jobs will might follow. I don’t have a thing to say against efforts to improve health and enjoyment in a community. But to put the cart before the horse, saying we have to grow so we can grow, is not good social policy. Poor Lauren Zuber is not to blame for overselling a simplistic solution, though. Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee are falling over themselves to do the same thing.

The notion that growth is the solution to all problems is fraying at the edges. It was a great solution for a couple of hundred years, but it can’t go on forever. And we’re getting close to the end. Proponents of Steady State Economics offer a road to security and affluence based on stability and sustainability. One of the leaders of this group, Herman Daly, has written: “We are running this planet like a business in liquidation.” 

 

The third criticism I have with northeast Indiana is the evident view of the millennial generation as grist for their mill. Boomers are dying off and Gen Xers are too few to replace them, so the economic developers turn to millennials to bear the yoke. There seems to be no appreciation of millennials as deserving citizens. Nor is there any sense that living amenities are something that 21st century Americans ought to have. Amenities, rather, are merely worms on the hook:  “We can only attract and retain talent if we provide art, culture, recreation, etc.”

An article in Governing Magazine from 2012 suggests that communities can build around millennials. The key to doing so is affordable housing and public transportation.

The lesson for me is that even though the window is short, there’s still time for second-tier cities and older suburbs to create the compelling places that will be required to succeed in the 21st-century economy. Most people — even millennials — want to live near their families and near where they grew up, meaning that if you can create interesting places, they’re likelier to stay. And you don’t need the endless hip urban fabric of New York or D.C. to compete. You just need a few great neighborhoods for people to live and work in. For most cities, that’s an achievable goal.

 

Some cities have managed to achieve the kind of results Ft. Wayne aspires to. Philadelphia has made progress by an organization called Campus Philly that links college information, social life and career counselling.  Browsing that site, one gets the impression that Philadelphia appreciates millennials’ own goals and is willing to satisfy them in order to have happy citizens.

 

Are you listening, northeast Indiana?

 

“A mockery of our scientific pretensions”

Here’s a deft bit of hypocrisy. I’ll let you decide who is the hypocrite. The Huffington Post today has a story about Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who opposes using fetal tissue in medical research. HuffPost informs us that Carson himself once did medical research using fetal tissue.

 

[Ben Carson, screen grab from Huffington Post, 8/13/2015.]
[Ben Carson, screen grab from Huffington Post, 8/13/2015.]

HuffPost continues:

[T]he Republican presidential candidate published a study with three other colleagues in 1992 that described using “human choroid plexus ependyma and nasal mucosa from two fetuses aborted in the ninth and 17th week of gestation.”

 

And now Carson says research using fetal tissue isn’t necessary and isn’t needed. HuffPost, being gung-ho for abortion, finds Carson’s duplicity troubling. But it seems to me that there is another possibility. I think it likely that fetal tissue research about “human choroid plexus ependyma and nasal mucosa” turns out to be not worth it. Back in 1992, Carson did the research because he was a famous doctor being paid to do brainy stuff. But this is 2015 and, last time I checked, babies still have runny noses.

There is a common conviction that what can be done must be done. We have to explore space. We have to invade Iraq. We have to use social media. We have to build money-pit sports venues for millionaires to play games in. We have to conduct medical research on the tissue of aborted babies. But there has always been another way of thinking, that says progress sometimes isn’t progress at all. Henry David Thoreau in 1854:

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end,… We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

 

And here are two comments from Wendell Berry’s 2001 book,  Life is a Miracle:

Our daily lives are a mockery of our scientific pretensions. We are learning to know precisely the location of our genes, but significant numbers of us don’t know the whereabouts of our children. Science does not seem to be lighting the way; we seem rather to be leapfrogging into the dark along a series of scientific solutions, which become problems, which call for further solutions, which science is always eager to supply, and which it sometimes cannot supply.

and

We should abandon the idea that this world and our human life in it can be brought by science to some sort of mechanical perfection or predictability. The radii of knowledge have only pushed back – and enlarged – the circumference of mystery. We live in a world famous for its ability both to surprise and to deceive us.

 

What we need is 100% enthusiastic support for scientific progress, combined with a clear understanding of what progress would be and a firm grip on what is done. Do we want to lose our jobs, and to have a large part of our population unable to earn a living? If not, then robotics might not be progress.  Do we want to increase the rate of cancer and obesity? If not, then a diet based overwhelmingly on processed food might not be progress.

There is no possibility of making good ethical choices today, because there is no shared ethic. Communitarianism presupposes such an ethic, and we are far from having one.

Meanwhile, a co-worker today handed me a small tract called, “Dare the School Build a New Social Order?” Stay tuned!

Who’s Soft? We’re Soft!

The United States is often criticized for its brutal policies and actions toward other people and nations – and toward its own citizens. Recently a Rutgers University professor asserted that the US is more brutal than ISIS. Posters on the social media site Quora had a field day with the question, “What are the most tragic or brutal things the US government has done?” (One of these writers slangs the United States for “ignoring the enslavement of 10-12 million Africans from the 15th to the 19th century,” setting aside the fact that the US only came into existence in the late 18th Century.)

This is all at odds with the evidence of American history. It seems to me the US has tended to be pretty soft and half-hearted about war. It has never completed a conquest on its own soil, and has finished enemies overseas only when allies (particularly Russia in WWII) insisted on it.

The US has fought four enemies on its own soil: the British, various Indian nations, Mexico, and the southern Confederacy. I’m not arguing here about which wars were justified. I’m not saying the US was right or wrong about any particular war. My starting point is that the wars happened. I’m arguing that the US pulled up short of a ruthless total victory in each case.

Consider the Confederacy.

By 1865 the economic, diplomatic and military viability of the Confederacy was gone. So the war ended . . . when? The  popular moment – Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 – was decidedly not the end. Nor was Joe Johnston’s surrender in North Carolina on April 26. Other Confederate armies stacked their weapons in Alabama on May 4 and in New Orleans on May 26, 1865. There is a proclamation, dated August 20, 1866 and signed by President Johnson, asserting the war to be over.

The Confederate states were reintegrated into the United States. Henry Wirz, the camp commander of the pestilential prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia was executed. But he was buried with the words “hero” and “martyr” on his gravestone.

The fighting didn’t stop for years. Nicholas Lemann’s 2006 book, Redemption, tells of campaigns of terror and persecution of black people by the defeated rebels in Mississippi through the late 1860s and 1870s. These campaigns of terror were often done by organized, permanent military forces. Elsewhere, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who might have been hanged for the excesses the guerilla troops under his command  perpetrated during the war, remained free. I’ll let a blogger called The War Nerd make the case for what ought to have been done with Forrest:

[B]y the time of Lee’s surrender, Nathan Bedford Forrest was guilty of murder several hundred times over. He was kill-able. He was the most eminently kill-able man who ever lived. He deserved death many times over. But he was allowed to return to civilian life, which for him meant becoming the First Grand Wizard of the KKK. Forrest’s survival after the war was a disaster on any level you want; legal, moral, political. Nathan Bedford Forrest should have graced a gallows in the spring of 1865, and that should have been clear at the time to any resolute Union government.

 

I’ve had conversations with a lot of people about this topic, and they all say things like, “People were tired of war and just wanted it to be over” or “The mercy that Grant showed to Lee is evidence of the greatness of the US spirit!” But perhaps growing tired of war when the objectives of war are still yet un-achieved, and  showing magnanimity to a still puissant enemy, are both proofs of the softness I’ve posited at the top of this post. Maybe it was a mistake to let Forrest, Bob Lee, and the various southern governors go free.

You might ask, isn’t the country better off now than it would be if it had held vindictive and drawn out war crimes trials? The War Nerd has the answer to that:

it’s clear that the policy the Union actually pursued—not hanging any Southern officers except the miserable wretch who commanded Andersonville POW camp—failed miserably. A decade after we defeated the Confederacy at the cost of 300,000 loyal Union soldiers’ lives, the same planter oligarchy was running the South again, terrorizing the Freedmen and women who were our only loyal allies during the war, making sure black people never got a chance to vote, running them off their farms, doing their best to recreate slavery without the name. And it might have been possible to prevent that disaster by hanging key ex-Confederate officers in the spring of 1865. All the leaders of the post-war terrorist fascist gangs that disenfranchised African-Americans in the South were former Confederate officers. If we’d thinned their ranks in an intelligent way, Reconstruction might have been something other than a grotesque and bloody farce.

 

The Confederate flag remains ubiquitous throughout the US today. It continues to be an inspiration to the likes of Dylann Roof.  Is this not the same kind of grotesque and bloody farce, extended a century longer?

 

US war with the British and Mexicans can be dealt with quickly. The US never finished off the British because England was vastly more powerful.  and America was lucky to get away with negotiated peace treaties after the Revolution and the War of 1812, and lucky to have France on our side both times. I think the half-heartedness of the Mexican War was due to the immoral nature of that episode. I think the Mexican War was trumped up by President Polk to acquire new land. Abraham Lincoln, then a member of Congress, was firmly against war against Mexico. The link is to a resolution Lincoln introduced. He also gave a long speech on the subject, which is one of his best.

 

Now, to the Indians. There are many distinct nations of indigenous American people, and it’s best to speak about them distinctly. (I think the term “native American” is bogus, but to call an Iroquois an Iroquois does him honor.) Let’s take the case of the Cherokee.

University of Delaware professor Marvin Whitaker, in a paper called, A Despotically ‘Benevolent’ Policy: The Cherokee Indian Genocide, insists that the US perpetrated genocide on the Cherokee:

The very fact that the U.S. Government and some scholars continue to deny any “genocide” has taken place against the Cherokee Indians or the American Indians in general leads credence to the fact that we are in the final stage of the Cherokee Indian Genocide: Denial.

 

Of Andrew Jackson, president during the period in question, Daily Beast writer Arthur Chu says,

The deservedly single biggest issue that gets brought up regarding [Jackson’s] term is the minor matter of masterminding a genocide. The Trail of Tears is one of the largest-scale acts of ethnic cleansing in history, with its explicit end the eventual annihilation of the Five Civilized Tribes as peoples in the name of “progress.”

 

Whitaker’s article “proves” that the removal of the Cherokee was a genocide by bending the meaning of genocide to include what happened to the Cherokee. Arthur Chu is a liar and a lightweight. Calling the Trail of Tears “one of the largest-scale acts of ethnic cleansing in history” is ignorant.

 

[Source: woolaroc.org] (This looks more like New Mexico than North Carolina.)

Andrew Jackson doesn’t belong on any honest list of brutal leaders. Joseph Stalin personally gave orders that resulted in 43 million dead. Mao Tse-tung killed 38 million. Adolf Hitler ranks third with 21 million. Then comes Chiang Kai-shek (10 million), Vladimir Lenin (4 million), Tojo Hideki (4 million), Pol Pot (2.4 million), Yahya Khan of Pakistan (1.5 million) and Josip Broz Tito (1.2 million). This list is based on a compilation that was made in 1987. If it were up to date, Saddam Hussein would be on it, too.

There are plenty of people who were responsible for more than a million deaths. The above list is just from the 20th Century. Hannibal killed 50,000 Romans in a single day (Wikipedia says 75,000!) at Cannae. The Aztec sacrifices were an orgy of blood that killed hundreds a day and went on for years.

The Trail of Tears was a badly administered government effort that intended to relocate the Cherokee (and other Southern tribes) where they could live without conflict with White men. It was undertaken at government expense as the best hope for preserving the Indian cultures. It wasn’t meant to kill the Cherokee at all, let alone to extirpate them. Anyway, here is what the Cherokee Nation says about itself today:

The Cherokee Nation is the federally-recognized government of the Cherokee people and has inherent sovereign status recognized by treaty and law. The seat of tribal government is the W.W. Keeler Complex near Tahlequah, Okla., the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
With more than 317,000 citizens, over 8,000 employees and a variety of tribal enterprises ranging from aerospace and defense contracts to entertainment venues, Cherokee Nation’s economic impact in Oklahoma and surrounding areas is more than $1.5 billion annually. We are one of the largest employers in northeastern Oklahoma. We are the largest tribal nation in the United States.

 

Note that the official Cherokee Nation is not all Cherokees in America. It is only those who live in Oklahoma within that political organization. The most recent US Census finds more than 875-thousand people of Cherokee heritage throughout the country.  So, today, nearly 200 years after the genocide, the Cherokee are an autonomous, industrialized, federally sponsored nation with a membership nearly 300 times larger than the number who died — and almost 60 times the size of the nation as it stood at the time. Is that consistent with “genocide?”

 

Need another example? Consider the Pequod tribe of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Here’s a bit from the on-line SparkNotes for Moby Dick:

[The ship was named Pequod] after a Native American tribe in Massachusetts that did not long survive the arrival of white men and thus memorializing an extinction, the Pequod is a symbol of doom. It is painted a gloomy black and covered in whale teeth and bones, literally bristling with the mementos of violent death. It is, in fact, marked for death. Adorned like a primitive coffin, the Pequod becomes one.

 

SparkNotes, which unsuspecting students read and believe, asserts that the Pequod tribe went extinct. But here’s what we know about the Pequod nation in 2015:

Today the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation owns one of the largest resort casinos in the world, Foxwoods Resort Casino, along with several other economic ventures including the Lake of Isles Golf Course, The Fox Tower, The Spa at Norwich Inn and Foxwoods Development Company dedicated to world-class resort development throughout the United States and Caribbean. Altogether, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation remains one of the State of Connecticut’s highest tax payers and largest employers.

 

These two examples don’t justify American policies toward all Indians, or toward any particular tribe. Certainly there was inhumane action and vicious episodes. But my point is that the rhetoric of “genocide” and “extermination” are inapt. In the case of the Confederacy, I’m prepared to argue that presidents Johnson and Grant, and the Congress they served with, were too soft and that the legacy of their softness remains a problem in America today.

Can’t we agree that the US is not, and has never been, especially ruthless? We don’t push wars to their bitter end. I think that is because Americans, for the most part, don’t like war. Yet we are in wars constantly because corporate profits and political careers depend on it.

 

 

Millennials: Living with Parents

The Pew Research Center has just released a report titled, “More Millennials Living With Family Despite Improved Job Market.” It describes a small shift in the share of 18 to 34-year-old Americans who live with their parents or other relatives. By comparing 2007 to 2015, Pew sets a baseline before the recession and then observes the effect of several years of recovery.

They find that as the recession ended and the economy recovered, millennials did not move out on their own.  The number of millennials living with parents has increased by 3 million, owing to the swelling number of people in that age group. But the number and share of millennials living independently has been flat since 2007.During the recession, it was assumed that maybe young people couldn’t find profitable work. After several years of growth, they still haven’t moved into their own places.

The Pew Research Center does nice work, and this is a trustworthy report. (I say that as one of the few people who reads the methodology section before I read the introduction. ) Pew hasn’t attempted to explain the trend — only to prove it.

There is an assumption that young people should set up their own households as soon as they can, and that they should want to do that. If the rate of independent living among the young falters, then some people suppose either the economy is preventing them from doing what they want, or there is something wrong with them. Internet commenters tend toward the “something wrong with them” explanation:

“My experience is that Millennials living with Mom and Dad are doing so not out of deep devotion to the family unit and a desire to contribute to their home, but out of economic necessity…or sheer laziness. (It’s easier to have Mom do you cooking, cleaning and laundry.) It is ludicrous to compare today’s dependent children to productive young adults who remained at home in previous generations so they could help with the chores, contribute economically and maybe even take on duties that elderly parents preferred to delegate to them.”

 

Cue Eddie Cochrane, whose 1958 hit Summertime Blues was probably playing on that old fogie’s radio when he was young:

 

 

A-well my mom and pop a-told me
Son you gotta make some money
A-if you wanna use the car
To go a-ridin’ next Sunday
A-well I didn’t go to work
Told the boss I was sick
“Now you can’t use the car
Cause you didn’t work a lick”

Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

 

“Productive young adults who remained at home in previous generations,” indeed!

 

The Bloomberg View has posted a nice sidebar to the Pew report that offers, if not an explanation, at least a bit of perspective. Bloomberg says, Millennials Didn’t Invent Living With the ‘Rents. Instead,  multi-generational households has been the American norm except for the post-WWII generation.

It’s true that in the mid-20th century, the nuclear family was typical. While a small fraction of the population lived in multigenerational households, most adults maintained their distance from aging parents. The housing of postwar suburbs embodied this ideal, and mid-century experts on family life preached the virtues of a sharp, clean break between generations.
In the process, the idea of adult children living with their parents — or vice versa — came to be seen as something pathological. This consensus proved so powerful that historians of the family bought into it. Many scholars published research in the 1960s and 1970s purporting to show that Americans had always lived in nuclear families, with generations keeping each other at other at arm’s length. But recent research has revealed a far more complicated picture — one that should be reassuring to millennials and their parents alike.

 

Here’s an example from my own family. The following image is a clip from the 1940 US Census for households in Wells County, Indiana. My grandfather Gerald was 29 years old. He and his 25-year-old wife, Fay, were living with his parents. Five-year-old Jack is my father.

Clip from the 1940 US Census
Clip from the 1940 US Census

 

The 1940 Census was a lot different than nowadays. The screen grab shows names in the first column (beginning with Lyman Zehner), and then relationship to the head of household. According to the coding system, my dad and uncle were 4s and my grandmother was only a 5 because she was a daughter-in-law. The next columns show gender, race, age and marital status. The final two column are about education: how much schooling has the person completed?  Lyman and Daisy both had 7 years; Gerald and Fay only 4 years. On a portion not shown, the Census asks about employment, specifically if the person is doing “emergency” work — meaning working for the federal WPA or CCC  or any of the other Roosevelt-era jobs programs. Lyman and Gerald are both listed as self-employed farmers.

My dad’s parents got off to a tough start. They were married during the Depression, and then came the war. The whole window of time when people supposedly set up their own household was obscured for them by crisis and emergency. (My mother’s parents were older and they already owned land when the crisis began. They did well though the Depression, and would have done well during the war if three of their sons hadn’t gone to be in it.)

Dad’s parents eventually took over the Zehner farm from Lyman, but they never “launched” in the contemporary sense. They sent my dad to college, but when Gerald died my dad had to come back to the farm. Fay died before I was born, a very old woman of 42, and the only thing I know about her is that my mother said she had a habit of wringing her hands.

People commonly suppose that the decisions they make and the values they hold are the normal. But that often is not the case. Bloomberg has shown that, either by desire or necessity, most Americans have historically shared households across generations. Only the post-war generation — stoked by extraordinary American affluence and exuberance — assumed that separate living was within everyone’s grasp and was everyone’s desire. Back to Bloomberg:

[I]f this turns into a trend, a bit less hysteria and a deeper appreciation of the history of multigenerational households might be helpful. Today’s millennials may be embracing family arrangements that were once the norm, not the exception. The helicopter parents, the adult children who prove reluctant to leave home — perhaps we’ve been here already.

 

The Census data, by the way, is all on line and searchable. The scan of my family’s page is here. If you are interested you can search by location (state, country, city, street).

 

We’re Exceptional!

Here’s a thing we don’t need to worry about.

Multiple news sources reported last week that the College Board (the people who design standardized tests for advanced college credit and admissions) has changed their guidelines for the AP history exam. This means high school teachers across the country will change the content of their lessons to better prepare their students to take the test.

The changes (as described in the liberal media) paint a rosier and nobler picture of American history, and are said to result from pressure from conservative groups. The liberal writers fret about the new, or renewed, stronger emphasis on “American Exceptionalism.”

 

 

I have three thoughts. First, every country in the world boosts itself, and there is no reason America shouldn’t too.

Beautiful Kyrgyzstan!
Beautiful Kyrgyzstan!

I spent a day driving up and down the Naryn Valley (a particularly bleak part of the barren, frigid, Soviet backwater of Kyrgyzstan) with a young man named Bakit. After the usual conversations had been exhausted, he began singing songs about the towns we passed through. These were same-ish and formulaic paeans to brave people, fertile soil, and beautiful snow-capped mountains. They smacked of a Soviet mandate to whip up patriotism, and Bakit acknowledged that he learned the songs at Pioneer meetings (the youth wing of Soviet propaganda organization Komsomol). I eventually said I thought the songs were stupid and asking him to sing something else.

Green be her fame!
Green be her fame!

Liberia lies at another extreme of nations. Kyrgyzstan owes its misery to an oppressive and inept government that ruled from a distance and was driven by ideology, Liberia owes its misery to an oppressive and inept government that ruled locally and was driven by avarice. Liberia’s national anthem, which I stood up for and sang with gusto many times during my Peace Corps years, describes “The home of glorious liberty, by God’s command: Though new her name, Green be her fame, and mighty be her Power!”

I’ve heard overt national pride from Dutch, Swiss, Lebanese, Venezuelans, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Greek, English and Welsh people. I’ve never gotten the “better than you” vibe from Australian, Indian, Irish and French people though admittedly, my experience with French people occurred in the Sahara Desert. Wait, strike that: I met a feh dinkim arrogant Aussie, too, though most of ‘em are wonderful people. And let us never forget: Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, Über alles in der Welt (Germany, Germany above all, Above everything in the world). That is just chilling.

Anyway, people in every country in the world believe there is something special – something “exceptional” – about their country. (The Kyrgyz all know with an unshakable certainty that their Issyk Kol is the premier vacation spot on the planet. Greeks really do think Greeks invented everything.) America would be truly exceptional if it didn’t think it was.

 

The second point about the changes to the AP history exam is that historians embrace the changes. Here’s a story that looks very different depending on where you get your news.

Inside Higher Education describes the changes as a fix to changes made a year earlier which “offered “little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course.” I’d say the principles of the Declaration of Independence ought to be mentioned in a college-prep American history course, wouldn’t you?

The liberal new source ThinkProgress viewed the changes as bad without much consideration of what the changes were, just because conservatives had a hand in it. The very liberal Salon set the stage back in February, describing the dispute this way: “[Y]ou have a small but dedicated bloc of reactionary populists who are fighting desperately to protect the truth from the advances of a radical, elitist cabal. And in both cases, you see those supporters of the new standards, who tend to be more educated and self-consciously cosmopolitan, react to the anti-reformers’ cries with a mix of bemusement and contempt.”

I think Salon is off target, but I don’t know how much of the article is written is Screwtapese. Anyway, I think the changes were just some serious educators fine-tuning their standards with the best of wills. Here’s what a panel of historians and history teachers said in a letter published a month ago in the Washington Post.

We wish to express our opposition to these [2014] modifications. The College Board’s 2014 Advanced Placement Examination shortchanges students by imposing on them an arid, fragmentary, and misleading account of American history. We favor instead a robust, vivid, and content-rich account of our unfolding national drama, warts and all, a history that is alert to all the ways we have disagreed and fallen short of our ideals, while emphasizing the ways that we remain one nation with common ideals and a shared story.

I think “robust, vivid and content-rich” is the right way to go.

 

My third point is a little more difficult to follow. Begin by considering Todd Snider’s This Land is Our Land:

 

Freeway through a reservation
Make way for a brand new nation
Big ideas, we got brand new plans
Heaven knows we need this land

We’re gonna build big, high and wide
City streets through countrysides
Chemicals, and pesticides
This land is our land

Hey, redman don’t waste our time
We’re young and strong, we got hills to climb
There’s a lot of room but we need it all
For slave trade and shopping malls

Gonna build big factories
With paper plates and plastic trees
Styrofoam and antifreeze
This land is our land

This land is our land
This land is our land
This land is our land
This land is our land

Well, we came out of a ragin’ sea
To claim someplace where we’d be free
We got hopeful hearts, workin’ hands and
Heaven knows we need this land

‘Cause the world needs land fills
Diet pills and papermills
We need country clubs and oil spills
This land is our land

This land is our land
This land is our land
This land is our land
This land is our land

Freeway through a reservation
Make way for a brand new nation
Big ideas, we got brand new plans
Heaven knows we need this land for Super Bowls

Subway rides, remote controls
And pesticides
Gang related homicides
This land is our land
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/todd-snider/this-land-is-our-land-lyrics/#7KZC1LmCyZg1xclJ.99

 

Snider seems to present a snide picture of a country and people bent on cruel and stupid objectives. And in the performance video he says the country was built on “bad karma.” But still, he admits in the first half of each stanza that the country was built on good intentions:

 

Well, we came out of a ragin’ sea
To claim someplace where we’d be free
We got hopeful hearts, workin’ hands and
Heaven knows we need this land

 

And then in the second part of each stanza Snider gives us the disappointing results: paper mills and oil spills. But the fact that so much energy and hopefulness culminated in sour results doesn’t mean the energy and hope were wrong.

Immanuel Kant said, “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

Henry David Thoreau said, “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

To me, one of the great and reassuring ideas about the contemporary American life is that each morning close to 150-million people get up and go to their jobs. And for eight or so hours, they do those jobs with conviction and zeal. It is unfortunate that many of those jobs are stupid: advertising, fashion design, “paper plates and plastic trees.” But it not the fault of the people doing the work.

If we were to stop what we’re doing, announce an Old Testament jubilee, and then construct a plan for a better system, I’m certain we’d dump the Styrofoam. If it were up to me, we’d drop the Super Bowls. But we’d keep the hopeful hearts and workin’ hands. So let’s not be ashamed of them. And let’s keep them in the history books.