How not to pick and choose who to erase from history

If you thought Nevada lawmakers meeting now in Carson City were engaging in petty political correctness by seeking to change the purely ceremonial and entirely vacuous non-holiday of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, wait till you read what pompous administrators at Yale University are doing.

Roger Kimball, in a brilliantly executed op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, takes apart the decision at Yale to rename one of its 12 residential colleges to remove the name of 19th century politician, orator, senator, secretary of war, vice president and slave owner John C. Calhoun.

Stained-glass image of John C. Calhoun at Yale

Stained-glass image of John C. Calhoun at Yale

As Kimball points out, once you start down this path of erasing people from history for the crime of doing what was completely normal at their time in history, where do you stop? After all, five other colleges at Yale are named for slave owners. Calhoun’s name is simply the most prominent. He graduated as valedictorian from Yale College in 1804.

Among the criteria for renaming something at Yale is: Does the person’s legacy conflict with the university’s mission and did the person pay a substantial role at Yale?

Kimball then introduces us to the foibles of the university’s namesake: Elihu Yale.

Mr. Yale helped found Yale College with a gift of £800 in books and other goods.

While Calhoun was said to have been kind to his slaves, according to Kimball, Yale was an active slave trader and administrator in India, who flogged his slaves, had a stable boy hanged for horse theft, was removed from his post in India for corruption and never set foot in New Haven.

There are a lot names on a lot of things. Indian fighters Kit Carson and John C. Fremont come quickly to mind.

And don’t let them tell you Carson City is really named after the Carson River, which was named by Fremont for his scout Carson.

Kit Carson with John C. Fremont (Library of Congress)

Kit Carson with John C. Fremont (Library of Congress)

 

 

 

 

 

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Newspaper column: What it was like here 150 years ago

To mark Nevada’s 150 years of statehood, the Sesquicentennial Commission has created “a year-long series of festivities and educational events which will highlight our state’s rich cultural heritage …”

Yes, Nevada was Battle Born in the waning days of the bloody Civil War — Oct. 31, 1864. It played a significant role in an important period, helping determine that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

But we have little concept today of what daily life was like for those hardy Nevadans 150 years ago, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press. Luckily we can still get glimpses of the hardscrabble lives of those first Nevadans from their letters and memoirs and newspaper dispatches written in a tone so foreign to our 21st century ear.

Take, for instance, J. Ross Browne’s description of a Washoe Zephyr in 1864:

“It happened thus one night. The wind was blowing in terrific gusts. In the midst of the general clatter on the subject of croppings, bargains, and indications, down came our next neighbor’s house on the top of us with a terrific crash. For a moment it was difficult to tell which house was the ruin. Amid projecting and shivered planks, the flapping of canvas, and the howling of the wind, it really seemed as if chaos had come again.”

And when lives and limbs were not at jeopardy, livelihoods were. The Reese River Reveille in Austin in 1864 complained mightily about how the miners were treated by the trustees in far off San Francisco:

“The great complaint at San Francisco relative to Reese River mines, is that although they are rich, yet our people are too shiftless to prospect them. The truth is they are not more thoroughly prospected for the reason that San Francisco vampires, high paid Secretaries and other officials absorb all the assessments levied to develop them. In claims incorporated in California the Trustees provide handsome salaries for the officers, collect assessments at the rate of fifty cents to $5 per foot, keeping such of the owners as reside here too poor to pay these heavy drains …”

Like today, in 1864 no man’s life, liberty, or property were safe while the legislature was in session, as Samuel Clemens, who by then had adopted the nom de pen of Mark Twain, did frequently attest in his dispatches in February of 1864 for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Here is one example:

“While I was absent a moment, yesterday, on important business, taking a drink, the House, with its accustomed engaging unanimity, knocked one of my pet bills higher than a kite, without a dissenting voice. I convened the members in extra session last night, and deluged them with blasphemy, after which I entered into a solemn compact with them, whereby, in consideration of their re-instating my bill, I was to make an ample apology for all the mean things I had said about them for passing that infamous, unchristian, infernal telegraph bill the other day.”

So, celebrate and commemorate Nevada’s sesquicentennial and the hardy and colorful men and women who founded her.

Read the entire column at Ely or Elko.

‘If the law supposes that … the law is a ass — a idiot’

A victory for free speech is a victory, even if it is for the wrong reason.

Carson City Senor District Judge Robert Estes tossed a lawsuit from the Nevada Secretary of State against Americans for Prosperity nearly a month ago, saying the statute in question applies only to those spending money “on behalf” of a candidate, according to the AP.

The AFP —  funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch — sent out mailers in 2012 during the election campaign of Kelvin Atkinson for state Senate in 2012. Those mailers criticized Atkinson for co-sponsoring a 2011 renewable energy bill, AB416, It has been estimated the bill would have cost power customers as much as $1 billion in higher bills.

“There can be no argument whatsoever that the fliers were sent on behalf of Assemblyman Atkinson,” Estes wrote in his Oct. 17 ruling, but he the state’s claim that the meaning of “on behalf” is the same as “about” a candidate is a “strained argument.”

“Certainly many people benefited by mailing fliers, even the post office,” the judge wrote. “Simply because an entity may benefit from a political activity, it is not a given that the activity was done on the beneficiaries’ behalf.”

Secretary of State Ross Miller said he won’t appeal and noted he has prevailed in two similar cases.

“This court based its decision on a factual determination of a specific political mailer,” Miller told the AP. “The facts of each case are different and I don’t anticipate that this ruling will prevent us in any way from enforcing the rules moving forward.”

Of course the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s drooling liberal lapdog columnist Steve Sebelius doesn’t believe billionaires should allowed free speech and called on the state’s lawmakers to “revise the law to encompass all electioneering communications designed to influence the public in any way, and attach a requirement to report donations and expenditures. With the U.S. Supreme Court expanding the rights of corporations to influence elections, and the increasing use of nonprofits that can legally shield donors, it’s more important than ever that the people know who’s trying to buy their votes, and why.”

Of course this is palpable nonsense and contrary to the principles and actions of the Founders who often penned anonymous screeds. The voters are perfectly capable of using their own noggins to evaluate any message that reaches their ears. They do not need tax-funded protection against their own gullibility.

In 1988, Margaret McIntyre was fined $100 for distributing leaflets opposing a school tax levy at a public meeting in Westerville, Ohio. She had violated a state law prohibiting unsigned leaflets.

In declaring the Ohio law unconstitutional, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

“Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. … It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation — and their ideas from suppression — at the hand of an intolerant society.”

In the Citizens United case — the case that Obama blasted the high court for in a State of the Union address with justices sitting in front of him — the court held that groups, corporations and unions may not be singled out and barred from spending their own money in support of or opposition to a candidate or a cause.

Justice Antonin Scalia explained in a concurrence:

“The (First) Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals — and the dissent offers no evidence about the original meaning of the text to support any such exclusion. We are therefore simply left with the question whether the speech at issue in this case is ‘speech’ covered by the First Amendment. No one says otherwise.”

But in an inexplicable self-contradiction, the ruling let stand reporting and disclosure requirements similar to those in Nevada law. How can you remain anonymous if you must disclose?

But Justice Clarence Thomas, in a partial dissent, chided his comrades for this duplicity:

“The disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements in (the law) are also unconstitutional. …

“Congress may not abridge the ‘right to anonymous speech’ based on the ‘simple interest in providing voters with additional relevant information …’ “

Free speech is a right, not a privilege that requires a permit or disclosure of identity. The entire Nevada law needs to be either repealed or declared unconstitutional. Abridging is abridging is abridging.

This law is a ass.

I wonder what R-J columnists would write if the Stephens family and Club for Growth started sending out political mailers without first paying homage to Ross Miller.

For a thorough discussion of this topic, read Steven Miller’s three-part series, ”R.I.P., Publius,” at Nevada Policy Research Institute — Part IPart IIPart III.

Advice to the new editor of the Carson City newspaper

Today the new editor of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City introduced himself to his readers thusly: “I’m Brian Sandford, your new editor at the Appeal. This is my first entry in a weekly column aimed at sharing what we’re doing here and why …”

My advice to Mr. Sandford is: Keep a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s “Apology for Printers” next to your phone. You’ll need it.

Benjamin Franklin

I started doing so in March 2010 after a few readers expressed rather strong opinions about an editorial cartoon the Review-Journal had published. I explained in a column, “One morning this past week we received two scathing indictments of an editorial cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Ramirez. The cartoon depicted a donkey, girded with a suicide bomber vest labeled health care, shouting, ‘Obama Akbar!'”

One reader called the cartoon “the most distasteful, inflammatory, unintelligent and racist political opinion I have ever seen. I have come to accept the biased opinions and editorials from the Review-Journal, but this ‘cartoon’ should have no place in any publication …”

Another barked, “Have you no shame?”

The paper published both letters.

In my column I quoted Franklin, who wrote in 1731 in The Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Being frequently censur’d and condemn’d by different Persons for printing Things which they say ought not to be printed, I have sometimes thought it might be necessary to make a standing Apology for my self, and publish it once a Year, to be read upon all Occasions of that Nature. … I find an Apology more particularly requisite at this Juncture, tho’ it happens when I have not yet Leisure to write such a thing in the proper Form, and can only in a loose manner throw those Considerations together which should have been the Substance of it. …

“I request all who are angry with me on the Account of printing things they don’t like, calmly to consider these following Particulars …

” That the Opinions of Men are almost as various as their Faces; an Observation general enough to become a common Proverb, ‘So many Men so many Minds.'”

In replying to angry readers I would often futilely blurt: If we were only allowed to print inerrant truth, we would print nothing but Bibles or Qurans — but which one?

Which is a paraphrase of Franklin’s: “That if all Printers were determin’d not to print any thing till they were sure it would offend no body, there would be very little printed.”

Good luck and may you represent your newspaper well, Mr. Sandford.

And when the bastards yell at you, take the occasion to repeat Franklin’s paraphrase of John Milton’s “Areopagitica” in his apologia:

“Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter: Hence they chearfully serve all contending Writers that pay them well, without regarding on which side they are of the Question in Dispute.”

The offending cartoon.