Happy Constitution Day

Today marks the anniversary of one of the most propitious days in the history of this country. On this day in 1787, the representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. It was ratified by the states and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

You remember the Constitution don’t you?

That’s the document that says the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …” Not waive, delay or ignore parts of laws the president doesn’t like, such as immigration laws, which the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To … establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”

The Constitution also says, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives …”

But when it came to ObamaCare, which is replete with a panoply of revenue generating taxes to offset its expenses, the Senate grabbed an unrelated bill that had passed the House, cut the existing language and substituted the ObamaCare verbiage. The bill number was the only thing that originated in the House.

Yes, it’s those four-handwritten pages that give Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …” Not to force people to engage in commerce by buying health insurance or pay a fine or a tax for not doing so.

Arguably, Congress cannot abrogate that power by handing the president the power to impose tariffs and declare emergencies.

But when Congress passed the Trade Expansion Act it allowed the president to restrict imports in the name of national security. That was the excuse President Trump used when he imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel, even the military requirements for steel represent only 3 percent of the commodity’s domestic production.

That Commerce Clause also has been stretched to prohibit a farmer from growing grain to feed his own cattle because that affected demand for grain on the interstate market. The same rationale allows Congress to set minimum wages for jobs that have nothing to do with interstate commerce.

It also gave Congress the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Some wars get declared, while others are just military exercises.

But Trump bombed Syria without even informing Congress.

The instrument also says the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Not decide for himself when the Senate is in session. At least the judiciary slapped Obama’s wrist on that one.

During ratification the Founders added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment that says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” That probably means Congress can’t order a religion to pay for contraceptions, abortifacients and sterilization against its beliefs. Nor could President Biden unilaterally bar discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re pretty sure the document did not envision a president’s administration creating by regulation laws the Congress refused to pass — think immigration enforcement and rules promulgated by the EPA, FEC, HHS, HUD or USDA without the consent of Congress.

The Constitution did not envision a president having the authority to require private business employees to be vaccinated against or tested for a virus or unilaterally extend an eviction moratorium without congressional authorization.

Another clause gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States …” though the foregoing powers and powers vested by the Constitution part is largely ignored.

The Constitution also gave Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever … to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …” And just when did Congress purchase and the state Legislature consent to turning over 85 percent of Nevada’s land mass to the federal government?

As James Madison said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations …”

Happy Constitution Day, while it lasts.

A version of this first appeared in 2014.

Book review: ‘Saints, Sinners and Sovereign Citizens’

The battle for dominion over vast swaths of public land in Nevada and the West was thrust into the headlines and public awareness by the armed standoff at the Bundy family’s Bunkerville ranch a couple of years ago when federal agents rounded up the ranch’s cattle for auction to cover unpaid grazing fees.

Longtime Nevada journalist John L. Smith uses that event to anchor his comprehensive insight into the century-and-a-half long wrangle over public land use in his recent book, “Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War over the West’s Public Lands.” More than 80 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal entities, which regulate grazing, mining, logging, oil and gas and other uses.

Smith opens with a detailed and often breath-taking recounting of that tense confrontation in April 2014 between Bureau of Land Management and other federal agents and heavily armed sympathizers of rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons, analyzing the issues and motivations of the cast of rather colorful and often charismatic characters. From there he explores the people and places that set the groundwork for this conflict.

“The region was long-coveted but little understood,” Smith explains in his prologue. “It had been home to the indigenous Goshute, Mohave, Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe people, but that didn’t prevent conquistadors from claiming it in the name of the Spanish Empire until the early 1800s. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it staked the vast aridness as its own.”

The Treaty of Guadalupe at the end of the Mexican-American War ceded the modern West to the United States in 1848 and the discovery of gold brought throngs seeking fortune while the turmoils in the East sent members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a new home. They brought herds of sheep and cattle for food.

It was the difference of opinion over the right to graze those cattle that drew Smith to the Bundy Ranch in April 2014.

“Cliven and wife Carol were friendly. The constitutional lesson was the same one I’d heard from him and others before about state sovereignty, local jurisdiction, and the limited power the Founding Fathers had granted the federal government,” Smith recounts. “When I reminded him that his views had been shellacked in federal court, where judges had consistently ruled against him, he returned to his constitutional argument. By now, I expected, Bundy’s own cows could recite it.”

The book quotes Cliven Bundy extensively, including his somewhat paranoid assessment of what was at stake for him at the time: “When I see the forces they have against me. … You know all those vehicles, all the machinery, all those men, all those guns and all those badges, you know, they’re only after one person. They’re not after you. They’re only after me. They’re after Cliven Bundy. And they want to incarcerate me or put a bullet through me.”

Of course, the much feared bloodbath was averted when the feds stood down and allowed the Bundys to free his corralled cattle.

As Smith relates, many of the Bundy backers were well versed in the lore of federal oppression fomented by events such as the deaths of Randy Weaver’s family members by FBI snipers at Ruby Ridge and the deaths of Branch Davidians during a standoff with feds near Waco, Texas.

But the Nevada sources of federal land conflicts are well documented by Smith, from the Mary and Carrie Dann sisters of the Western Shoshone tribe in Eureka County to Elko County rancher and Sagebrush Rebel Wayne Hage to Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, a leader of Sagebrush Rebellion II, to Battle Mountain ranchers Dan and Eddyann Filippini.

Smith devotes an entire chapter to “The Senator from Searchlight” Harry Reid and his role in the public land controversies. Reid himself concedes that his vote to update and strengthen the Wilderness Act cost him votes. “The day I voted for that bill was the day I lost the rural vote,” he is quoted as saying.

Smith points out that Reid, whose father was a hard-rock miner, was sympathetic to the industry’s land use for much of his term in Congress, but by 2005 conservationists thought Reid was becoming “a reliable environmental vote at a time when he was approaching the pinnacle of power in the Senate,” Smith wrote. “While others grew gray in Washington, Reid became greener with age, according to the National Environmental Scorecard kept by the League of Conservation Voters.”

Smith also tells how Bundy sons Ryan and Ammon led the takeover of the Malheur Refuge in Oregon to protest the imprisonment of father and son ranchers whose controlled burn spread onto federal public land.

After opening with the Bundy travails, Smith concludes with Cliven and sons and others — after about two years in jail awaiting trial — being cleared of federal charges when the judge ruled the prosecution violated due process by failing to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.

This thoroughly researched book provides thoughtful insight into a controversial issue that doubtless will continue for years to come.

The book is available at several online bookstores, including University of Nevada Press.

Our day that will live in infamy

Where were you on September 11, 2001 — 20 years ago?

I wrote on the Sunday following that day of infamy:

“I sat down at my computer at about 6 a.m., unfolded the newspaper and switched on the television. There was smoke pouring from the top of one of the unmistakable landmarks of New York City, the World Trade Center. Well, I thought, there’s a story and photo for tomorrow’s front page, and started into the morning’s routine.

“Minutes later a fireball blossomed from the other tower, and it began to dawn on the commentators and me that this was no ordinary accident and Sept. 11 would be no ordinary day.”

I started making phone calls. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to Hoover Dam, McCarran International, City Hall, Nellis Air Force Base, the Strip and elsewhere. Editors huddled. The publisher called in and said we should add 24 pages to the Wednesday newspaper. All plans were scrapped and we started from scratch, hoping to help our readers make sense of a senseless act.

Every section of the paper kicked in its resources.

The press crew rolled the presses early and cranked out thousands of extra copies.

Then I wrote that Sunday:

“I was proud of what we all had accomplished, of the concerted effort and professionalism, as I drove home at 1 a.m. … until I heard the callers on the radio. People were saying they would gladly give up some freedoms for the sake of safety.”

I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into the callers.

The column proceeded to tick off some of the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights and I wondered aloud which people would willingly sacrifice. The First’s right of assembly, lest there be a bomb, and no freedom of speech and religion, especially that one? The Second’s right to bear arms? The Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless search and seizure? The Fifth’s right to due process? The Sixth’s right to a public trial?

I concluded:

“If this is the consensus of the nation, the bastards have already won, destroying our will and our principles as well as planes, buildings and lives.

“We will have surrendered without firing a shot in the first war of the 21st century.”

The column appeared sandwiched between a Jim Day cartoon and a Vin Suprynowicz column with the headline: “The passengers were all disarmed.”

In a comment to a local magazine on an anniversary of 9/11 I called it “our Pearl Harbor.”

Now, these two decades later, the Taliban, who harbored the terrorists who plotted and carried out the 9/11 attacks, are back in power in Afghanistan. Was it all for naught?

A version of this was posted on this day in 2016.

Book review: Nevada brothers blazed a different trail in 1930

There is something a lot of Nevadans are full of. No, not that. Gumption.

It took gumption for the first settlers to come West and they passed that trait on to subsequent generations.

Take the example of two brothers from Winnemucca, who in the throes of the Great Depression in 1930 decided to load up and drive a 1929 Model A Ford Roadster from New York City to the banks of the Panama Canal.

This tale of unmitigated gumption is recounted in the recently published book: “1930: Manhattan to Managua, North America’s First Transnational Automobile Trip.” The book is basically the day-to-day dairy of one of the two brothers, Arthur Lyon. Lyon’s 308-page typewritten 1985 transcript “Central America through a Windshield” was edited for publication by his nephew Larry Lyon of Boulder City.

As Arthur Lyon recounts, it all began in March 1930 when his 21-year-old brother Joe, who had the reputation of being the fastest driver in Humboldt County, visited him in New York while on the way to visit M.I.T., where he planned to enroll in the fall.

This is how brother Arthur, then 25 years of age, somewhat laconically and surely with ample embellishment described the initiation of their audacious venture:

“‘Joe,’ I mused, ‘if you weren’t planning M.I.T. next fall, and if my big-hearted boss hadn’t given me a two-fifty raise last week and if (among a few other things) Bert here hadn’t the undeniable right to the companionship of her quite worthless husband (meaning myself, of course), I would venture to say that we might crank up the Ford and let it lead us out of this dismal life, which Mammon, money, and “thinking of my landlord’s last untimely and insistent visit” have forced into downright hard-hearted materialism. Let it carry us away for a while, at least, from this beastly weather and, as an afterthought, from the almost certain deleterious after-effects of the recent disastrous Wall Street crash.’ I could believe anything now. …

“‘And, Joe, we’ll go south, we’ll go further south than anybody ever went before in an automobile.’ A map of the North American continent flashed into my mind. ‘We’ll drive that car down through Mexico and Central America, and we won’t stop till we draw up head on against the Panama Canal — way down in the heart of the tropics — What say, Brother?’”

Subsequently, brother Joe allowed that he could use a year of experience more than college at that time and the trek was on — fueled by coffee and cigarettes and frequently too few funds and too little fuel.

They started on Sunday with $324 in cash in their jeans and the Ford’s rumble seat piled with suitcases, a bedroll and assorted supplies. From there the elder Lyon describes the landmarks as they head for the Mexican border, pausing long enough in Washington, D.C., to get Nevada Sen. Tasker Odie’s assistance in acquiring information about Central America and passports.

In addition to Arthur’s casual recounting, the book is filled with photographs taken with the brothers’ Kodak, showing often bleak landscapes and the ever-present Model A.

Realizing accommodations south of the border might be in short supply, while in Dallas the brothers purchased a tent, two cots and a grub box. Then Joe, in a perceptively savvy move, since fuel too might not be readily available, acquired a 55-gallon oil drum, mounted it in the fore part of the rumble seat and ran a copper tube to the carburetor. With 65 gallons of gasoline they could travel 1,000 miles.

They managed to talk the Mexican authorities into allowing them to “import” their rifle into the country so long as it would be “exported” in 60 days, but upon arriving at the Guatemalan border a Mexican customs official refused to allow it to be exported. The official did offer to buy it for 50 pesos. The brothers accepted so quickly he cut his offer to 45 pesos.

To export their car the customs agent demanded 20 pesos back.

“When the Mexican racketeers finished they turned us over to the Guatemalan gang next door,” Lyon writes, where more of their dwindling funds were extorted.

Without a weapon and speaking very little Spanish they then managed to travel without incident through miles and miles of bandito-filled territory.

Since the roads were oft times little more than rutted ox cart paths, they devised an ingenious way to bolt steel-flanged “tires” to the Ford’s wheels and use those to mount railroad tracks.

They did not quite make it to the Panama Canal. But in 54 days they traveled 4,562 miles to Managua, Nicaragua, where they managed to sell the car and use the proceeds to catch steamers home, Arthur to New York and Joe to McDermitt, Nevada.

Eventually, both brothers returned to Nevada to run car and bus “stage lines.”

This highly readable tale of gumption is available at several online bookstores, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Brothers bolted steel-flanged “tires” to wheels of Ford to drive on railroad tracks.

Hiroshima anniversary: Lives lost vs. lives saved

At AP is reporting from Tokyo about the 76th anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The Aug. 6, 1945, bombing killed 140,000 people. A second bomb three days later on Nagasaki killed another 70,000, but days later Japan surrendered and ended World War II.

But lest we forget, that bombing saved millions of American and Japanese lives.

Writing a year ago in The Wall Street Journal, John C. Hopkins, a nuclear physicist and former executive at Los Alamos National Laboratory, cited a July 1945 U.S. government report that estimated that invading the Japanese islands would have cost 5 million to 10 million Japanese lives. The U.S. also estimated that between 400,000 and 800,000 Americans would have lost their lives in the invasion. How many might have been our fathers and grandfathers?

A child prays in front of the cenotaph dedicated to the victims of the atomic bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. Hiroshima on Friday marked the 76th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing of the city. (Kyodo News via AP)

If it saves one life …

In January 2013, then-President Barack Obama said, “If there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this [gun] violence, if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”

A month later he tweeted, “If we save even one life from gun violence, it’s worth it.”

In a press conference Vice President, Joe Biden said, “As the president said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.”

It’s a common plea for action.

Perhaps now-President Biden should keep this in mind as he touts various spending bills to curb global warming.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, reports that a study found that globablly climate change annually causes almost 120,000 additional heat deaths but avoids nearly 300,000 cold deaths.

Lomborg further noted the frequently mentioned deaths due to weather-related events such as floods, droughts, storms and fire — mostly blamed on climate change — actually have declined. “In the 1920s, these disasters killed almost half a million people on average each year. The current climate narrative would suggest that natural disasters are ever deadlier, but that isn’t true,” he writes. “Over the past century, climate-related deaths have dropped to fewer than 20,000 on average each year, even though the global population has quadrupled since 1920.”

Each year, more than 100,000 people die from cold in the United States, and 13,000 in Canada — more than 40 cold deaths for every heat death.

Lomborg wrote in July in The New York Post

This piece was also published in The Financial Post.

He concluded his WSJ op-ed by saying, “Climate change is a real problem we should fix. But we can’t rely on apocalyptic stories when crafting policy. We must see all the data.”

If it saves one life?

Happy birthday, Eric Blair — the dystopian world you conjured is still here year after year

“The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets — anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered.”

— “Nineteen Eighty-four”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve taken to placing a little sticky note over the camera atop my desktop computer. If former FBI Director James Comey and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg do it, so will I. Big and Little Brothers may be watching.

Happy birthday, Eric Blair.

On this day in 1903, Eric Blair was born in India.

But the year for which he is most noted is 1984, even though he died in 1950.

Under the pen name George Orwell, Blair penned the novels “Nineteen Eighty-four” and “Animal Farm,” as well as several other semi-autobiographical books and numerous essays.

Eric Blair as six weeks old

When Orwell wrote “Nineteen Eighty-four” he wasn’t forecasting a particular date, he simply transposed the last two digits in 1948, when he wrote much of the book. Though a life-long socialist he despised the totalitarian and despotic nature of communism, fascism and Nazism.

He added to the lexicon: Big Brother, thoughtcrime, newspeak, doublethink, Room 101, as well as the painted slogans WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

In “Nineteen Eighty-four” the warring nations kept changing enemies, sort of like today.

If you don’t think freedom is slavery, consider the “Life of Julia” — the Obama campaign video that showed a woman relying on government handouts from cradle to retirement. Julia, by the way, was the girlfriend of Winston Smith, the main character in “Nineteen Eighty-four.”

Ignorance is definitely strength, not for us but for politicians who the ignorant keep electing.

As for newspeak and doublethink, consider the language of the Obama and Trump and Biden administrations. Obama said we were not fighting a war against terrorists but trying to prevent man-caused disasters. His Defense Department (They don’t call it the War Department anymore.) sent out a memo saying: “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’” And a man standing on a table, firing a gun, shouting Allahu Akbar is merely workplace violence.

Trump was going to attack Iran for downing our drone, then the called it off. He was going to have ICE round-up immigrants who had been ordered deported, then he delayed it. He was going to impose tariffs, then he did not. During the election campaign he took 141 policy positions on 23 issues over the course of 510 days. He changed stances on immigration, ObamaCare, entitlement programs, gay rights, the Middle East and so much more.

Biden’s bureaucrats’ budget language refers to “birthing people,” not mothers.

Not to be outdone, the quacks at the Nevada Legislature actually passed AB287, which declares that on public documents the term mother is to be replaced with “person giving birth” and father with “other parent.” The governor signed it June 8 and there was no news coverage of the event.

The Federal Reserve in the past week put out a memo instructing staff to use bias-free language. The memo lists terms like “Founding Fathers” and “manmade” as well as the pronouns he and she as offensive.

Then there is the news media blackout of all the Hunter Biden monetary shakedowns, obscene photos and racial slurs — never mind the social media banning of a former president and many others.

Trump was called a xenophobe for suggesting the COVID-19 virus came from a Wuhan lab, but now that is widely accepted as highly likely.

Orwell wrote: “‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'”

Recently a law professor suggested editing from classroom teachings the details of the Dred Scott case in which the Supreme Court ruled a Black man could not file suit in court because he was not a citizen. The prof wants to omit language “so gratuitously insulting and demeaning.” He said assigning the case forces students “to relive the humiliation of [Chief Justice Roger] Taney’s language as evidence of his doctrine of white supremacy.”

How can there be any thoughtcrime if we are not allowed to use certain words or study history? People aren’t in the country illegally, they are merely undocumented. And this too changes over time. Once the word negro was the preferred and the politically correct term, but now it is a slur.

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” Orwell wrote in “Nineteen Eighty-four.” “In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

Today’s cancel culture is Big Brother incarnate.

Statues are being torn down. Books are banned. Social media posts are censored. Speech is deemed the same as violence. Silence is also violence. But violence is free speech. Any thought outside the strictly proscribed is a crime. Thoughtcrime literally.

The editorial page editor of The New York Times was ousted after fellow staffers demanded his scalp for having the audacity to publish an op-ed by a U.S. senator calling for sending troops to quell rioting. (It now has a lengthy editors’ note atop it online disavowing much of the op-ed’s content.) The editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer was forced to resign for daring to publish an opinion piece under the headline ”Buildings Matter, Too.” When President Trump tweeted, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts …” Twitter hid it behind a warning label because it “glorifies violence.”

Movies and television shows are being canceled lest they offend the snowflakes. Classic children’s books are being ripped from the library shelves for being insensitive.

Bowing to racial sensitivity, the Associated Press changed its stylebook to call for the capitalization of the “b” in the term Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context. It was reasoned that lowercase black is a color, not a person. But the AP still uses a lowercase “w” for white, whether a color or a person. Affirmative action run amok?

Back in 1975, David Goodman wrote in The Futurist magazine that 100 of 137 Orwell predictions in “Nineteen Eighty-four” had come true. With the advance of computer surveillance and drones, how many more have come true?

In 1983, while working as the city editor of the Shreveport Journal, I penned a soft feature tied to the 35th anniversary of the original writing of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

I observed in that piece that Orwell’s book was about a totalitarian dystopia in which BIG BROTHER WAS WATCHING YOU, suggesting this was like the infrared camera equipped drones or huge network of cybersnooping computers, long before the NSA revelations. 

“George Orwell respected language and railed against its abuse,” I wrote in 1983. “He was particularly offended by the propaganda — some of which he helped to write for the BBC in World War II. He saw firsthand the way the press was tricked and subverted for political purposes in the Spanish Civil War. Battles that never happened. Heroes who became traitors.”

In another piece posted here in 2013, I asked whether Orwell was a satirist or a prophet.

Walter Cronkite in a foreword to the 1983 paperback edition of “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” claimed the book has failed as prophecy only because it has served so well as a warning — a warning against manipulation and power grabbing and the loss of privacy in the name of state security.

And Cronkite couldn’t resist adding: “1984 may not arrive on time, but there’s always 1985.”

Orwell himself called his book a satire and took pains to correct those who saw it merely as a denunciation of socialism.

In a letter written shortly after the publication of the book, Orwell wrote, “My novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ is not intended as an attack on socialism, or on the British Labour party, but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable, and which have already been partly realized in Communism and fascism.

“I do not believe that the kind of society I describe will arrive, but I believe (allowing, of course, for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.”

A Newsweek article in 2018 asked the question: “Is Trump nudging America toward corrupt authoritarianism?” Isn’t corrupt authoritarianism redundant?

Back in 2008, when the Las Vegas Review-Journal launched its blogging section online, I engaged in a bit of self-indulgent navel gazing in a column trying to explain why. I leaned on Orwell like a crutch.

I explained that I and other newspaper scriveners were joining the lowing herds browsing the ether — otherwise known as bloggers, those free-range creatures who mostly chew up the intellectual property of others and spit out their cuds online.

In an effort to find a rationale for this otherwise irrational exercise I grabbed Orwell’s “Why I Write” essay from 1946, in which he lists various reasons for writing.

First is sheer egoism: “Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc.,” Orwell explains. “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. … Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.”

I think that was both a salute and a sully to the profession of journalism.

The second rationale, according to Orwell, is aesthetic enthusiasm: “Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. …” Orwell explains. “Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.”

Third is historical impulse: “Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.”

Finally, and probably most importantly, political purpose: “Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

Orwell wrote this shortly after he penned “Animal Farm,” but two years before “Nineteen Eighty-four.” He said “Animal Farm” was his first conscious effort “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”

Orwell wrote against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism.

Ayn Rand wrote for free-market capitalism.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote for libertarianism.

Others espouse various “isms” and objective journalism attempts to eschew them, not always successfully.

So, what moves one to write?

As our master Orwell said, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”

Everybody loves to unravel a good mystery, right?

Happy birthday, Eric Blair.

A version of this blog has been posted annually for several years.

Why a SCOTUS justice did an about face on free speech

How did Oliver Wendell Holmes in less than a year switch from saying arguing against the draft — that it was tantamount to falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater — to arguing that free speech is necessary for a marketplace of ideas seek out the truth.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

In March 1919 Holmes wrote the unanimous opinion in Schenck v. U.S. Charles Schenck was convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for writing a pamphlet arguing that the draft violated the 13th Amendment prohibition against involuntary servitude.

Holmes reasoned that the pamphlet posed a “clear and present danger” and: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

In October 1919 Holmes did an about face and wrote a dissent in the 7-2 conviction of pamphleteer Jacob Abrams, a Russian immigrant, for writing that workers should go on strike to prevent the U.S. from going to war against Russia. In the case of Abrams v. U.S., Holmes wrote:

“Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care whole heartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

The NPR Radiolab recently broadcast a nearly hour-long discussion of the reason Holmes changed his stance so quickly. Scroll down to “What up Holmes.” It makes a compelling argument as to why a man in his late 70s made such an abrupt change in stance on the First Amendment right of free speech and changed how the courts and American treats speech and press rights.

A Memorial Day reflection

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

H.A. Mitchell

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest are a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got to together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually did that scene from a John Wayne movie in which the bulldozer operator raised the blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

(Reprinted from a previous post.)

Going green will require a lot of digging in the dirt

A report out this month from the International Energy Agency (IEA) points out an aspect of the Biden administration’s green energy ambitions that the green energy proponents will have a hard time swallowing — it will require a massive increase in the mining of minerals such as lithium, graphite, nickel and rare-earth metals.

In an op-ed piece in today’s Elko Daily Free Press, Michael Stumo, CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, summarizes key points from the 287-page IEA report.

WSJ illustration

“According to the IEA, the production of lithium-ion batteries alone could drive up the global demand for lithium by more than 40 times through 2040,” Stumo writes. “Supplies of other key minerals — including graphite, cobalt, and nickel — would need to increase by at least 20 times as well.”

Environmentalists are already trying to block mining of lithium at the Rhyolite Ridge mine here in Nevada in order to protect the rare Tiehm’s buckwheat, which only grows on the public lands where the mining is to occur.

According to Stumo, the U.S. is now heavily reliant on China and other nations for these raw materials. “In fact, America’s mineral-import reliance has doubled in just the past two decades. And thanks to aggressive, mercantilist policies, China now controls 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies, 80 percent of rare earth metals, and roughly 70 percent of the world’s graphite,” he writes.

While China utilizes extremely toxic practices to extract minerals, Stumo observes, the U.S. has some of the world’s most stringent environmental standards, meaning mine permitting can often take up to a decade.

If it takes a decade to get up to speed on mineral production, that will leave the U.S. in the thrall of China if the Biden green energy goal is to be met.

“To meet soaring demand and reduce imports from China, the United States must start mining more of these resources at home,” Stumo concludes. “The good news is that the U.S. possesses more than $6 trillion in mineral reserves. It’s time for federal policies to change in favor of U.S. mining and materials processing. Otherwise, President Biden’s clean energy agenda could fall short of its goals — and leave the U.S. dependent on China’s reckless mining industry.”

IEA graphic comparing mineral requirement