Subscribe: History
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
american  century  douglass  frederick douglass  free  hearst  man  miller  new york  new  people  reason  thompson  time 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: History


All articles with the "History" tag.

Published: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 07:23:15 -0400


Steven Pinker Wants Enlightenment Now!

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 15:08:00 -0400

America, observers are fond of saying, is the only country based upon an idea. That idea—that all men and women are created equal and have inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness—is directly informed by the Enlightenment, the movement that dominated ideas and culture in the 18th century. But are we still an Enlightenment nation? "The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious," writes Steven Pinker in his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. "I wrote this book because I have come to realize that it's not." Pinker is a linguist who teaches at Harvard and is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works. He's been named on the top 100 most influential intellectuals by both Time and Foreign Policy. In this wide-ranging interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Pinker explains why he thinks Pope Francis is a problem when it comes to capitalism, nuclear energy is a solution to climate change, and why libertarians need to lighten up when it comes to regulation. He also makes the case for studying the humanities as essential to intellectual honesty and seriousness even as he attacks that "cluster of ideas, which is not the same as the humanities, but just happens to have descended over large sectors of the academic humanities: "the deep hatred of the institutions of modernity, the equation of liberal democracy with fascism, the feeling that society is in an ever-worsening spiral of decline, and the lack of appreciation, I think, that the institutions of liberal democracy have made the humanities possible, made them flourish." Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Krainin. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. The interview has been edited for clarity. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. For an audio version, subscribe to the Reason podcast. Nick Gillespie: What comprises the Enlightenment? Steven Pinker: My point of view identifies four things: reason, science, humanism and progress. Reason being the ideal that we analyze our predicament using reason as opposed to dogma, authority, charisma, intuition, mysticism. Science being the ideal that we seek to understand the world by formulating hypotheses and testing them against reality. Humanism, that we hold out the well-being of men, women and children and other sentient creatures as the highest good, as opposed to the glory of the tribe or the race or the nation, as opposed to religious doctrine. And progress, that if we apply sympathy and reason to making people better off, we can gradually succeed. Gillespie: Why did the Enlightenment happen when it did? Pinker: Because it only happened once, we don't really know and we can't test hypotheses, but some plausible explanations are that it grew out of the scientific revolution of say the 17th century, which showed that our intuitions and the traditional view of reality could be profoundly mistaken, and that by applying reason, we can overturn our understanding of the world. Maybe the more proximate technological kickstarter was the growth of printing technology. That was the only technology that showed a huge increase in productivity prior to the Industrial Revolution. Everything else had to wait for the 19th century. Gillespie: You talk about how basically between the year 1000 and about 1800, in many places people saw very little increase in material well-being. Pinker: Yeah. Economic growth was sporadic at best. But printing technology did take off in the 18th century. Pamphlets were cheap and available, and broadsheets and books, and they got translated. They were circulated across all of the European countries as well as the colonies, so that the exchange of ideas was lubricated by that technological advance. Another possible contributor was the historic memory of the wars of religion. That showed that dogmas about faith and scripture and interpretation and messi[...]

Fear of a Free, Prosperous Internet

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0400

The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, by Noam Cohen, The New Press, 256 pages, $25.95 Say you've sprained your ankle. You consult Google, where you find copious information about using compression bandages to stabilize your sprain. But you'd like some back and forth with someone who has experience. You post about your injury on Facebook, triggering a real-time conversation with volunteer first responders offering pro tips. You then pop over to Amazon, because the nearest drug store is more than 16 miles away and you don't want to drive with a sprained right ankle. You've got too much debt riding on your credit card to add to it blithely, but no problem—you use PayPal to get a bandage delivered to you that same day. And if your sprain leads to hard-to-handle bills, you can put out a call for help using GoFundMe. A totally banal incident, and unimaginable at every step just two decades ago. Our abilities to learn, discuss, buy, receive, and give have changed magnificently for the better because of the behemoth internet companies on which every step of that dull anecdote hinges. Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, spent years covering the tech industry for The New York Times. His book is, in large part, a compact history of such companies, their founders, and the ideas that animated them. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Peter Thiel of PayPal all get their own chapters. The analogy Cohen thinks best explains those companies—the analogy that starts his book and shapes his perspective—is the hoary old Damon Knight short story "To Serve Man," as adapted on The Twilight Zone. You know, the one where technologically superior aliens fool us into thinking they're helping us when they actually intend to eat us. ("It's a cookbook!") Cohen is a deft storyteller, and The Know-It-Alls reveals a lot of fascinating information about the business and technological contingencies that led his characters to their prominence. But as the book's title implies, Cohen thinks Silicon Valley visionaries have a hubristic sense that they know what's good for everyone else and are out to impose that vision on us. Yet their successes, as Cohen's own narrative shows, came from offering services that were eagerly and freely embraced by millions and that have constantly adjusted to keep audiences satisfied. Although Cohen's policy prescriptions are thin and underargued—and fortunately don't often mar his storytelling—they show far more signs of the know-it-all. Cohen laments what has largely been a free cultural choice to embrace these online services, and he prefers an (ill-explained) European model that gives the government more control over how people are allowed to use the internet. And then there's his subtitle: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. Where is the evidence for that power, that wreckage? Not in this book. Cohen claims his characters are pushing us toward "a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away." But while he finds some evidence of libertarian leanings among some of his subjects/villains, there is little evidence here that they have done anything in electoral politics to shift America in that direction. Indeed, with the exception of Peter Thiel's leap onto the Trump train, he shows none of them publicly working against even the Democratic Party's agenda. Silicon Valley may be in some respects a "political powerhouse," but it's not one dragging us toward "absolute freedom"—more's the pity. (He does call Amazon's Jeff Bezos to task for having donated to Reason Foundation, which publishes this magazine.) Cohen writes that in the internet world, "taxes are in effect replaced by monopoly profits—everyone pays their share to Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal." Yet for three of those companies, users need pa[...]

Arthur Miller’s Daughter Humanizes Playwright in New Documentary

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 15:00:00 -0400

Arthur Miller: Writer. HBO. Monday, March 19, 8 p.m. The public image of the playwright Arthur Miller has always been chilly and cerebral, perhaps best summed up in his explanation to a reporter of why he wouldn't be attending the funeral of his ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, who committed suicide 18 months after they split: "She won't be there." The signal achievement of Arthur Miller: Writer, a documentary made by his writer-filmmaker daughter Rebecca, is to introduce some color into that black-and-white picture. In old home movies and impromptu interviews shot over she shot over two decades, her father is seen joking, singing, building furniture (complete with the requisite cursing: "Goddamn angles drive you crazy," he mutters when pieces don't fit together), and swapping family folktales with his brothers and sisters. Even his brief reminiscences about the stormy marriage to Monroe, though they sound cold (he couldn't do any writing during the marriage because "I guess, to put it frankly, I was taking care of her," which was "the most thankless job you can possibly imagine"), are spoken with an obvious pain that belies the wintry words. Humanizing her father is at once the most singularly successful element of Rebecca Miller's documentary, and the source of its failures. "He lived through so many different eras, almost like different lifetimes," she says early during her narration of the documentary, an insightful observation. There is Miller the star playwright, rattling Broadway with go-for-the-throat accounts of the crumbling dynamics of families whose patriarchs have been undone by outside forces: the delusional, failed Willie Loman of Death of a Salesman, or the sexually obsessed longshoreman Eddie Carbone of A View from the Bridge. Then there's Miller the brave (and a bit preening) moralist of the Red Scares in the 1950s, projecting a carefully constructed image of an innocent and courageous writer being persecuted for showing character at a time when, in the words of his daughter, "it was dangerous to be a liberal and an artist." There's also Miller the unwilling prey of the tabloids during the marriage to Monroe. Or Miller the gentle husband and dad, who when an adolescent Rebecca asked for a stereo, built one from scratch using discarded stuff he found at the dump. The Miller Rebecca knew best was the affectionate dad, finally getting domesticity and parenthood right, mostly, when his best work was well behind him, and the sections of Writer devoted to him ring mostly warm and true. They also have a revelatory feel that's mostly not present the rest of the time; so much has been written about Miller's work and his public persona that there's probably little new left to tell. (Indeed, a number of soundbites that seem to come from Rebecca's interviews with her father are actually him reading from Timebend, Miller's 1987 autobiography.) When Writer veers into other areas, it is not always as forthcoming. The account of Miller's marriage to Monroe concentrates entirely on her downward swirl of barbiturates and booze and doesn't mention that at least a small part of it probably resulted from her reading in his diary that he considered her an embarrassment around his friends. (Give Rebecca credit, though, for recounting the critical outrage at the vindictive and wildly egocentric play After the Fall, written by Miller after Monroe's death. The Village Voice suggested it be retitled I Slept with Marilyn Monroe.) Much worse is her fractured retelling of the events surrounding Miller's confrontation with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and its investigation of Hollywood's Communist Party in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Director Elia Kazan, Miller's best friend and stage collaborator, was an embittered ex-Communist who agreed to testify and name names of other party members. ("I hate the Communists and have for many years, and don't feel right about giving up my career to defend them," Kazan said.) Miller didn't speak to him for 10 years, and also wr[...]

Sign Referencing Civil War Hero Is Sexual Harassment, Says Massachusetts Lawmaker

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 14:10:00 -0400

(image) Here's a twist on the debate over public monuments to problematic figures like Confederate leaders: A Massachusetts state lawmaker wants to censor references to a man who scored Civil War era wins against the Confederacy. Her reasoning? That man's name is Joseph Hooker.

As we're all aware, General Hooker's last name became slang for "someone who has sex for money." Today, "hooker" is widely considered a slur by folks in the sex-work community. Yet as far as I'm aware, there have't been any sex worker campaigns to remove references to Joseph Hooker from public view—presumably because most well-adjusted people realize that words have different meanings in different contexts.

"There are all sorts of benign words in our language that sound like words unfit for polite company," writes Jon Keller at CBS Boston, offering Uranus and clap as further examples. "And they offer us an opportunity to teach snickering kids about Civil War history or outer space—and about showing respect for others while avoiding making fools of ourselves."

State Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Plymouth) disagrees. She has been calling for the removal of a statehouse sign that reads "General Hooker Entrance" (so inscribed because it stands opposite a statue of General Hooker), which she described as an affront to "women's dignity."

"Female staffers don't use that entrance because the sign is offensive to them," DuBois told WBZ-TV this week.

If that isn't the ultimate in futile, fainting-couch feminism, I'm not sure what is.

DuBois also complained that she had heard teen boys joke with teen girls that they were "general hookers" while using the door.

Of course, DuBois is positioning herself as a crusader against sex-based harassment and patriarchy. But attitudes like hers—which treat women as excessively fragile beings, and which posit that female "dignity" is diminished by even so slight an association with sex work as walking under a door that says "hooker"—just props up old-fashioned and patriarchal ideas about sex and gender.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that Hooker had famously defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee in battle, when it's really the other way around. (We should have paid more attention to those Ken Burns documentaries after all.) The opening paragraph has been edited to remove this reference.

When a Mash Note to a War Criminal Hit the Top 40

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 10:59:00 -0400

(image) Today marks the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, in which a group of American soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians. You can read more about that grisly episode in Lucy Steigerwald's story on the subject, posted elsewhere on this site today. I just want to highlight something Lucy mentioned in passing as she described the trial of Lt. William Calley, the one man convicted for his role in the crime. Back in the U.S., she writes, "Calley became a twisted sort of folk hero."

It's true. The most infamous of the killers in one of America's most infamous war crimes had a cheering section in the States. No, not everyone: Of course many Americans were revolted by the rapes and murders at My Lai. But then there were the people who told themselves a different story about what had happened. The people who made a gold record and a top 40 hit of a deeply dishonest apologia called the "Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley."

"Battle" was written by Julian Wilson and James Smith, a couple of businessmen from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and it was recorded by a DJ named Terry Nelson at FAME Studios, the legendary birthplace of dozens of soul, pop, and country hits. Tex Ritter was going to release a version of the song too, but the higher-ups at Capitol Records decided that would be a bad idea. ("[I]f we want to glorify a war hero," one executive told Billboard, "let's find someone other than Lt. Calley.") The folks at Plantation Records had no such scruples, and they put out Nelson's recording right after Calley was convicted:

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

"I'm just another soldier from the shores of U.S.A.," the song's Calley declares, even if "they've made me out a villain, they have stamped me with a brand." The real villains are elsewhere: "While we're fighting in the jungles they were marching in the street/While we're dying in the rice fields they were helping our defeat/While we're facing V.C. bullets they were sounding a retreat." In real life, My Lai was an assault on unarmed civilians. In the song, "We responded to their rifle fire with everything we had."

The rifle fire may be imaginary, but I guess the "everything we had" part was true:


The record peaked at #37 on the Billboard charts. To hear Casey Kasem introducing it on American Top 40—right after a snappy little number called "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People"—go to the 2:28 mark here. For seven more pro-Calley songs (and one anti-anti-Calley song), go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

Three Heroes at My Lai

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 08:30:00 -0400

On March 16, 1968, American soldiers from Charlie Company were angry about Viet Cong booby traps, frustrated by recent casualties, and still shaken by the Tet Offensive. They took these resentments out on the residents of two hamlets, slaughtering around 500 unarmed women, children, and elderly people in what is known today as the My Lai massacre. Whether Capt. Ernest Medina directly ordered his men to kill civilians is doubtful, but he certainly let it happen for hours without intervention. This was no short firefight: It was an extended series of rapes and murders. About half the soldiers participated; about half stood aside and refused to actively participate. But hardly anyone tried to help the victims. The exceptions—the morsels of humanity—were three men in a helicopter: Hugh Thompson, 25; Lawrence Coburn, 18; and Glenn Andreotta, 20. Given their aerial view of things, the crew was baffled by the number of bodies they were seeing. None of the dead appeared to be armed, or to be even males of soldier age. Twice the crew landed, marked injured civilians for aid, and returned to find them dead. Colburn said later that Medina was the one who killed a woman they had attempted to help. All this enraged Thompson, the pilot, though by all accounts gunner Colburn and crew chief Andreotta were in full, horrified agreement that something was going wrong. As Thompson said in the 1989 British documentary Four Hours in My Lai, they "started seeing a lot of bodies—it didn't add up, you know, how many people were getting killed and wounded, and we weren't receiving any fire." Thompson radioed back to base there there was "a whole lot of unnecessary killing going on." Thompson landed and confronted Lt. William Calley, who was busy eliminating civilians. Calley basically told Thompson to mind his own business. Meanwhile, Sgt. David Mitchell made sure nobody was still moving in the irrigation ditch chosen to be the grave of some 70 civilians. Stunned at the nonstop killing, which he later said reminded him of the Nazis, Thompson yelled: "You ain't heard the last of this!" Some time later, the crew saw several Vietnamese being chased toward a bunker. That was the moment that Thompson chose a side, risking court martial or worse. He landed his helicopter between the soldiers and the civilians, and he told his men to shoot if the soldiers fired on Thompson or on the Vietnamese. They said they would. Thompson successfully convinced the civilians to come out, and then he demanded help over the radio, convincing two nearby pilots to come to his aid. With aid from a nearby gunship more used to taking out Vietnamese than taking them out of harm's way, around a dozen civilians were removed from the wrath of Charlie Company. Not quite done, the three men took off to search for any more signs of movement. Andreotta, with only a month left to live himself, saw something. He climbed into the slaughterhouse that had been an irrigation ditch and came out with a child. The crew hand-delivered them to a hospital, Thompson thinking of his own child at home all the while. When Thompson returned to base he reported to Lt. Col. Frank Barker, who told the forces to stop the slaughter. Trent Angers, author of The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story, says he has "no doubt that Hugh Thompson saved thousands of lives in Vietnam" by kicking up a fuss that halted Taskforce Barker, a plan to cleanse the entirety of the surrounding hamlets. Nobody was overtly saying "kill civilians," but like Medina that day they appeared ready to pacify the population however they could. After a cover-up failed and the real story came out, the Army was prepared to prosecute the perpetrators. Thompson spent a year as the prosecution's best witness, all the while being browbeaten by powerful men. No less than President Richard Nixon appears to have urged his aide H.R. Haldeman to "discredit one witness" in the My Lai prosecuti[...]

Philip Payton Jr.: The Crusading Capitalist Who Outwitted New York's Racist Landlords

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 10:55:00 -0500

The former residents of two square blocks at West 98th and 99th Streets in Manhattan have been holding annual neighborhood reunions since the mid-1950s, when the federal government bulldozed their homes in a "slum clearance project" spearheaded by Robert Moses. This formerly all-black enclave was home to an A-list of black artists and intellectuals, including singer Billie Holiday, historian Arturo Schomburg, poet James Weldon Johnson, and actor Robert Earl Jones. Bordering Central Park, the community was settled in 1905 in an area with modern housing and easy access to the city's brand new subway. The founder of the community was an African-American realtor named Philip Payton Jr., also known as "the father of Harlem." His role in the formation of what would later become the cultural capital of black America is well established. Less appreciated is the economic philosophy that guided his life's work. Payton was an unabashed free-marketeer whose approach, as one headline writer put it, was "to make the color line costly." He believed that property owners participating in racial covenants could be forced to pay a penalty in a competitive marketplace, and that even bigoted landlords might choose "profit over prejudice" when faced with the choice. "Race prejudice is a luxury, and like all other luxuries, can be made very expensive in New York City," Payton wrote in his company prospectus. Payton anticipated by more than half a century some of the insights in Gary Becker's The Economics of Discrimination (1957), part of a body of work that earned Becker a Nobel Prize. He observed, as did Payton, that in a market economy, bigots who discriminate against blacks must "either pay or forfeit income for this privilege." Just as a refusal to hire blacks means that an employer must forgo worthy employees and pay higher salaries, refusal to rent to blacks means that a landlord must forgo worthy tenants and accept less in rent. "The man who exercises discrimination pays a price for doing so," as Milton Friedman wrote in his landmark Capitalism and Freedom (1962). Payton understood that he could exploit this market reality to buy buildings at a discount, and to sway even bigoted landlords to rent to blacks to maximize their incomes. In a racist society, with fewer options open to them in the housing market, blacks tended to pay higher rents for equivalent properties. Payton recognized he could use this regrettable fact to undermine racial covenants. "The very prejudice which has heretofore worked against us can be turned and used to our profit," he wrote. Through competition, in theory, race-based price differentials would narrow over time. As Friedman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, "there is an economic incentive in a free market to separate economic efficiency from other characteristics of the individual." Born in Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1876, Payton moved to New York City at the age of 23, working briefly as a handyman and barber, before landing a job as a porter at a real estate company. That piqued his interest in the city's booming housing market, and in 1900 he went into business managing "colored tenements." "All of my friends discouraged me," Payton later recalled. "They tried to convince me that there was no show for a colored man in such a business in New York." At the time, black New Yorkers were relegated to a handful of overcrowded neighborhoods, with a dilapidated housing stock that typically lacked private bathrooms and hot running water. The tenements of the Tenderloin District, New York's largest black neighborhood at the time, were "human hives, honeycombed with little rooms thick with human beings," in the words of Mary Ovington, a co-founder of the NAACP. After launching his business in 1900, Payton initially struggled for customers. But in 1902, he attended Booker T. Washington's National Negro Business League conference and began cultivating con[...]

Your Tattoos Are Problematic

Sat, 24 Feb 2018 06:00:00 -0500

Oscar is a white guy living in Austin, Texas, with a penchant for Japanese-style tattoos. A huge black and white dragon arcs over his left shoulder. The dragon's scales subtly change shape as he moves, and the beast's eyes are beady and glaring, nestled below spiked eyebrows and above bared fangs. The tattoo is lightly shaded, darker around the perimeter of the dragon, with a background of stylized leaves and waves that add depth and complexity to the piece. What Oscar knows about the origins of Japanese tattooing, he likes: "It's associated with outlaws and outcasts—there were all these merchants and gangsters in Japan that were shunned from the societal hierarchy. Some people think the tradition began as a way for those merchants to show off their wealth privately, and for gangsters to mark themselves as part of a counterculture." He delayed getting this particular tattoo for a long time, thinking that "it had to have a lot of meaning." But the more time he spent around tattoo artists, the more he "realized it's more about the art—you don't have to 100 percent understand the context to appreciate something." Oscar asked that his real name not be used for this story, but says he's OK with the "risk" associated with his choice of tattoo. "People might be offended by it, people might be scared by it, and I like that—I like the fact that it can be polarizing or controversial. I ultimately got it because it was something I liked and I didn't feel like I had to justify it beyond that." According to some figures on the activist left, hoop earrings should only be worn by black and Latina women. Don't even think about donning a feathered headdress at a music festival—those don't belong to you. And if your child wants to dress up as the Disney character Moana for Halloween, beware, unless she's of Polynesian descent. Cultural appropriation—co-opting specific elements of a culture that is not your own—is the term used to condemn these offenses. It has become a major battleground for the social justice movement. But what happens when the ink embedded in your skin is unacceptable to polite society? As a form of public art and personal adornment, tattooing has a long history of cultural borrowing. Some popular tattoos have historical lineages so tangled it's hard to tell who is appropriating whose heritage. For tattoo artists and clients, it may not be easy to separate art from politics, the deeply personal from the public and political. Every tattoo carries the risk of regret. But in the current ultra-sensitized atmosphere, that regret can set in quickly. Hula Girls Paul Smith at Bijou Studio in Austin, Texas, has been tattooing for 15 years, specializing in traditional American and Japanese-style tattoos. He's covered in ink, all the way down to his hands, with a large black scorpion reaching close to his fingers. Sitting outside his clean and well-decorated East Austin shop, tucked between grungy dive bars and new-construction apartment buildings, Smith explains that copying and hybridization are deeply embedded in tattoo history. "Whatever tattoos someone got halfway around the world, that was copied in a sort of cross-pollination," he says. Sailors used to travel from port to port collecting evidence of their travels on their skin. About 90 percent of sailors in the late 19th century sported tattoos, History Today estimates. Since seamen were among the rare commuters to distant lands, they were the ones who observed—and borrowed from—other cultures. Their tattoos were often nautical in theme: anchors, fully rigged ships, or swallows for every 5,000 miles traveled. Some sailors were adorned with gaudy, colorful Hula girls to remember trips to Hawaii or pin-up girls to remember ladies from back home. Others chose "hold fast" knuckle tattoos, a reference to staying steady—physically and mentally—while out at sea, or large,[...]

The Inconvenient Individualism of Frederick Douglass

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 08:45:00 -0500

(image) The Yale historian David Blight marked Frederick Douglass' 200th birthday yesterday with a New York Times op-ed headlined "How the Right Co-Opts Frederick Douglass." The article argues that "Conservatives have cherry-picked his words to advance their narrow visions of libertarianism." Aside from a passing reference to some GOPers wearing "Frederick Douglass Was a Republican" buttons, Blight's one example is the libertarian writer Timothy Sandefur:

In "Self-Made Man," a new book published by the Cato Institute, the lawyer Timothy Sandefur argues that Douglass's essential legacy lies in his advocacy of liberty, individualism and private property and free enterprise. The radical abolitionist who risked all to use words and politics to free an entire people from slavery was, to Mr. Sandefur, only "a radical for individualism" and never concerned with "the interests of the collective."

To believe that, one has to ignore most of Douglass's career, especially his life as an abolitionist, his ferocious attacks on the poison of racism and his brilliant analysis of how lynching emerged from the evils of white supremacy. Douglass believed that freedom was safe only within the state and under law.

Needless to say, there is no contradiction between being "a radical for individualism" and being an abolitionist, an anti-racist, and a man who saw the links between lynching and white rule. And yes, Douglass believed government is necessary to protect freedom; unlike some of his fellow abolitionists, he did not want to abolish the state. But that hardly disqualifies him from being an individualist.

The beliefs that Blight lists may be harder to square with the idea that Douglass was "never concerned with 'the interests of the collective.'" But that isn't what Sandefur wrote. Here is the actual passage from his book:

Douglass was not, therefore, a conservative but a radical—a radical for individualism and for the 'bourgeois virtues' of self-reliance, industry, and personal pride. He was not likely to be attracted to any doctrine that subordinated individual rights—whether free speech or property rights—to the interests of the collective.

Needless to say, there is a vast difference between saying someone didn't want to subordinate individual rights to the collective and saying he was "never concerned with the interests of the collective." Also, if a passage explicitly denies that Douglass was a conservative, you probably shouldn't make it the lynchpin of your argument that conservatives are trying to co-opt Douglass. And if you're going to gerrymander a man's words this misleadingly, you may want to refrain from accusing anyone else of cherry-picking. It's unseemly.

Making the Fairness Doctrine Great Again

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 06:00:00 -0500

It's time to "get us on offense and scare the hell out of Google, Facebook, Twitter," declares Phil Kerpen, top dog at the avowedly free market American Commitment. He has concocted a strategy for conservatives, described in a memo obtained by Axios, which calls for government to treat social media platforms not like the newspapers of the 20th century, with unencumbered speech rights, but like the railroads of the 19th century—as "incumbents with market power [who] therefore pose a serious threat" to society. Meanwhile, the "establishment" is eager to regulate new media, too. Three senators—two Democrats and a Republican—have proposed a bill to extend campaign finance disclosure rules to the internet, constraining who is allowed to buy online advertisements. Alarmed by Russian provocateurs and by the suspiciously improbable electoral triumph of Donald Trump, they aim to bring the wonders of McCain-Feingold to broader information markets. History speaks loudly on the merits of these ideas. Twentieth century regulatory policies dedicated to furthering "the public interest" in media—the Equal Time Rule, the Fairness Doctrine, the licensing of broadcast radio and television—triggered perverse outcomes that squeezed competition, pre-empted innovation, and quashed free speech. They scorched the very values they were ostensibly designed to advance. Ajit Pai, the Trump-appointed chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), seems to understand this. He moved decisively this fall to roll back "Title II" regulation of internet service providers (ISPs), the "nuclear option" deployed in 2015 to impose "network neutrality" on the web. But Pai isn't the only player on the field, and his good work could go up in the smoke of a 4:30 a.m. tweet issued from the Mar-a-Lago bowling alley. A Disturbing Legacy In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Miami Herald to be free of any obligation to extend Pat Tornillo, a candidate for the state legislature who had been blasted in a Herald editorial, a chance to respond. A 1913 Florida statute had created such a "right of reply," but the Court struck it down as unconstitutional, 9–0. The newspaper was a powerful platform that dominated the supply of news throughout its region: "The public…is said to be in peril because the 'marketplace of ideas' is today a monopoly controlled by the owners of the market," noted the Supreme Court. But mandated access, it added, would cast a chilling effect, leading editors and publishers "to avoid controversy." The impact would be counterproductive, and free speech would suffer, as "political and electoral coverage would be blunted or reduced." Regulation, in short, was itself a threat, compromising the independence guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The Florida law was overturned. The Court got that one right. The rule protecting editorial discretion has served the country well. Newspapers have been biased, sensationalistic, and often wrong—but at least they have not been regulated to death. With broadcasting, by contrast, the Court has often been confused and the First Amendment shaved. Controversial ideas have been silenced and upstart technologies banned. Almost immediately after the Radio Act of 1927 established "public interest" radio licensing, unorthodox views became a target. Two lively stations, WCFL (owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor) and WEVD (owned by the Socialist Party) came up for license renewals in 1929. The Federal Radio Commission (superseded by the FCC in 1934) warned against "propaganda stations"—a regulatory term of art for organizations espousing opinions. Sanctions, including limits on the amount of electricity they could use and forcibly reduced hours of operation, were inflicted. To avoid fiscal ruin, the left-wing "mouthpieces" (another term of art) backed off.[...]

The Libertarianism of Frederick Douglass: Podcast

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 17:20:00 -0500

Frederick Douglass was born 200 years ago this month, and while he's justifiably known as an escaped slave and influential abolitionist, he was also one of the 19th century's most outspoken classical liberals. "The great fact underlying the claim for universal suffrage is that every man is himself and belongs to himself, and represents his own individuality," Douglass declared. "The same is true of woman… Her selfhood is as perfect and as absolute as is the selfhood of man."

A proponent of "free labor," Douglass was at odds with socialist and communitarian abolitionists who denounced property and self-ownership as part of a broader exploitative capitalist system. In fact, Douglass called socialism, which was migrating from Europe to the United States during his life, "errant nonsense" and was a proponent of John Locke and liberalism.

Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke to senior editor Damon Root, whose new article on Douglass is available at, about the historical figure and his broader impact on American thinking.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0">

Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.)

Subscribe at iTunes.

Follow us at SoundCloud.

Subscribe at YouTube.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

CNN’s Patty Hearst Docuseries Shows Surprising Depth

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 15:01:00 -0500

The Radical Story of Patty Hearst. CNN. Sunday, February 11, 9 p.m. Not to be flippant, but I sometimes think Patricia Hearst—the kidnapped heiress turned bank robber turned brainwash victim, not necessarily in that order—has been my personal full-employment program. I've been writing newspaper and magazine stories about her almost from the moment she was kidnapped in 1974, a stream of assignments that shows no sign of ending. I am, however, small economic potatoes compared to CNN's Jeffrey Toobin. After buying 150 boxes of research materials from one of Hearst's kidnappers—defense files compiled for their criminal trials, including secret FBI documents and reports from private investigators—he leveraged it into a series of blockbuster media properties: A book! A podcast! A movie! A TV series! The film was deep-sixed by a timid studio, at least temporarily, when an angry Hearst played the #MeToo card. (Satiate unfulfilled longing for a big-screen treatment with all those Patty-porn flicks from the 1970s or even Paul Schrader's lacerating 1988 film Patty Hearst.) But the TV show has arrived. Toobin's six-part documentary, The Radical Story of Patty Hearst, kicks off on CNN with back-to-back episodes Sunday. And somewhat to my surprise, there is still considerable life in the story, despite who is telling it. Hearst, an heiress to the Hearst media fortune, was an apolitical 19-year-old college kid when she was grabbed by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a band of semi-literate and fully crazy "urban guerrillas" who had already killed an Oakland school superintendent for his imagined fascism. (He wanted to introduce student IDs to the school system.) They threw her into a closet for six weeks, raped her, and threatened to kill her, reading her to sleep at night with the works of Stalin. When Hearst emerged two months later, she declared she had switched sides—"I have chosen to stay and fight"—and was now at war with the "pig Hearsts." What followed was a lunatic rollercoaster ride of bank robberies, shootouts, and bombings that ended with most of the SLA members dead and Hearst in the custody of the FBI, claiming to be brainwashed. As I wrote when Toobin's book American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst appeared in 2016, "It is not easy to botch an account of the Hearst case, which overflowed with primal cultural fears, political nutballery, criminal bang-bang, and lurid sexual subtexts." Toobin, however, proved himself equal to the task, managing to somehow produce a text with the batty lynch-mistress vehemence of his former CNN colleague Nancy Grace that was nonetheless as dull as the Stalinist semiotics the SLA loved. With barely a few sentences about real-life instances of what psychologists called coercive persuasion that might lend weight to Hearst's brainwashing defense—American POWs in North Korea who confessed to preposterous accusations of biological warfare, the bank-robbery hostages so smitten by their captors that they prompted the coining of the phrase "Stockholm syndrome," the hundreds of members of Rev. Jim Jones' doomsday temple in Guyana who let him talk them into mass suicide—Toobin blithely declared Hearst a thrill-seeking rich kid invoking class privilege who belonged in jail. There was no reason to expect anything different from The Radical Story of Patty Hearst. But, startlingly, Toobin proves himself a much better storyteller when the medium is video, at least for the first five hours or so. A large part of that is due to the surprising presence of a couple of long-silent participants in the Hearst drama. One is Steven Weed, Hearst's fiancé (and, ahem, former high school math teacher) at the time of her kidnapping. To many of the Americans followin[...]

The Olympics Can't Transcend Politics. Just Ask the Nazis.

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 00:01:00 -0500

This week, all eyes turn to the Korean peninsula. Not for the regular reason—that nuclear apocalypse seems likely to begin somewhere near the DMZ. No, it's the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang that are providing us this thaw in geopolitical tension. And all over the world, television executives are hoping Pyeongchang can restore some traditional primacy to the old media in a new media universe. The management at NBC, America's Olympic network, very much wants American television viewers to forget all the recent warmongering, Presidential tweeting, and Matt Lauer for a few weeks. "I do think the Olympics is unique in that it transcends politics," NBC Olympics host Katie Couric told the press last month. "I feel that this is one instance when domestic politics are really going take a back seat. This is going to be a really wonderful opportunity for the country to unify, and stand together, support the athletes and really help celebrate their stories." Clearly some Olympic stories are worth celebrating, and others aren't. NBC is probably in no mood to discuss Olympic gymnastics anytime soon, with endemic corruption within the governing body of the sport recently exposed in the Larry Nassar trial. News about the sexual abuse of athletes, and doping, and IOC malfeasance doesn't really help sell ads. But the larger issue Couric alludes to—that the Olympics offer an opportunity to ignore our fractious national politics—represents a hope that's been continually dashed since global Olympic broadcasting began in 1936. That was the year Germany's Nazi administration assembled the world's most technologically-sophisticated broadcasting operation in order to delight a global radio audience estimated at 300 million listeners. The Nazis understood the Olympic Games offered a unique propaganda opportunity, and they seized it. Ever since, every dictator and totalitarian government dreams of impressing the world through the supposedly apolitical lens of sports broadcasting. But sports, and sport broadcasting, can never be apolitical. To argue that sports can transcend politics is to miss the obvious fact that politics often structure our shared experience of sports. The greatest moments in American sports history—like the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling in 1938, and Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games run by Nazi racists—were all intensified by the political context in which they took place. Ironically, it was Nazi broadcasting advances that created the global superstardom enjoyed by Owens. But his legend wouldn't be the same had he won his gold medals in, say, Ecuador. Context matters. He won in front of Hitler, just as the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team won when the Soviet Union seemed ascendant and the Carter administration weak and vacillating. The Olympics have always been embedded in politics, and that's what makes them worth watching. Well, that and curling. Both NBC and CBS struggled with how to present the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Even before those Games began, NBC downplayed advance programming and promotional opportunities because a domestic boycott movement proved enormously popular. "Keep as far away from any controversy as possible," NBC's programming chief, John F. Royal, warned his staff when preparing them for Olympics coverage. Talk of official Nazi antisemitism, or totalitarian restrictions, would ultimately be severely constricted on the American airwaves. Instead, American listeners heard all about how great the "new" Germany had become. "Everywhere anyone goes in Berlin there is a great sense of joyful freedom," CBS's Bill Henry told a nationwide audience just befor[...]

When the Constitution Was 'At War With Itself,' Frederick Douglass Fought on the Side of Freedom

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 09:45:00 -0500

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest figures in American history. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, sometime in February 1818. At the age of 20, he made his escape from bondage, traveling north to Philadelphia, New York City, and finally to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he would earn his "first free dollar" on the dockyards loading ships. "I was now my own master," he proclaimed, "a tremendous fact." In 1839, Douglass spoke up for the first time at an abolitionist meeting. Six years later, he was an internationally acclaimed orator and the author of a celebrated autobiography. In less than a decade, he had established himself as one of the most singular and influential voices in the most pressing debate of his time: the debate over slavery. Arguing about slavery was a combat sport in those days, both figuratively and literally, and the field was crowded with skilled combatants. Among them was John C. Calhoun, the legendary South Carolina statesman who proclaimed slavery to be a positive good, fully sanctioned by the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution. There was also the militant Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who burned his copy of the Constitution, damning it as a pro-slavery "covenant with death and an agreement with hell." Douglass would face them both down. "Garrison sees in the Constitution precisely what John C. Calhoun sees there," Douglass observed. He saw something different: "Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document." At a time when the principles of the Declaration of Independence were under assault, Douglass waved the banner of classical liberalism, championing inalienable rights for all, regardless of race or sex. At a time when socialism was on the rise, Douglass preached the virtues of free labor and self-ownership in a market-based economy. At a time when state governments were violating the rights of the recently emancipated, Douglass professed the central importance of "the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box" in the fight against Jim Crow. Douglass, the former slave who secretly taught himself how to read, would teach the American people a thing or two about the true meaning of the Constitution. 'Wielded in Behalf of Emancipation' On May 9, 1851, the leading lights of the abolitionist movement gathered in Rochester, New York, for the 18th annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Among the items on the agenda was a resolution calling for the society to officially recommend several anti-slavery publications, including a small weekly called the Liberty Party Paper. But William Lloyd Garrison, the powerful editor of The Liberator, one of abolitionism's flagship publications, would have none of that. The Liberty Party Paper, Garrison complained, saw the Constitution as an antislavery document. That view was tantamount to heresy, as it clashed with Garrison's famous judgment that the Constitution was a pro-slavery deal with the devil. So a more congenial resolution was soon proposed: The American Anti-Slavery Society would only recommend those publications that toed the Garrisonian line. It was at this point that Frederick Douglass stood up. For the previous 10 years, Douglass had been a friend, ally, even a disciple of Garrison's. "Every week the Liberator came, and every week I made myself master of its contents," Douglass later recalled. "I not only liked—I loved this paper, and its editor." But Douglass no longer loved what Garrison had to say about the Constitution. In fact, he now thought Garrison was dead wrong on the subject. What is more, Douglass decided that the time had come fo[...]

Are Microschools the Next Big Thing?

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 06:00:00 -0500

Portfolio School looks and sounds like a Silicon Valley tech firm's rec room—except that almost everyone is under the age of 10. The building's walls double as whiteboards, with nearly every inch covered in colorful, hand-drawn diagrams of constellations and planetary orbits. Along one side, kid-sized scissors and glue sticks are piled neatly next to a 3D printer and laser cutter. During my visit, a boy with an explosion of brown hair skidded up to me. "We're making movies!" he announced. Around the room, other students were reading, completing lessons on educational software, working on tinker toys. Without the unconscious kid-adult barriers that traditional schools often create, the chatty boy felt free to talk my ear off about how he and a group of his classmates had created characters for a science fiction film about a trip to Mars. He seemed particularly interested in the editing process, where they would get to add Martian backgrounds and other special effects. Portfolio School is part of a growing movement of "micro-schools." Coined by British education blogger Cushla Barry in 2010, the term refers to educational institutions that emphasize interdisciplinary project-based learning, building social skills such as communication and critical thinking, and tailoring instruction to the needs of each individual student. The schools tend to focus on teamwork, and they're small by design—with student bodies ranging anywhere from half a dozen to roughly 150 students. The size limitations, informed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar's now famous research on the maximum number of relationships most human beings can comfortably maintain, help the employees stay better connected with their students' individual needs. Portfolio, located in Manhattan's upscale TriBeCa neighborhood, is one of the most elite (and expensive) microschools, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. The movement, which grew from scrappy homeschool roots, has been taken up by nerds who want to hack primary education. Like all startups, the microschool model will rise or fall on its ability to meet customer needs at the right price. Success is far from assured. But could tech-savvy tiny schools be the future? 'Factories in Which Raw Products Are To Be Shaped' Ken Robinson is the star of the most popular TED Talk ever. More than 50 million people have clicked to hear an education consultant with a British knighthood ponder the question "Do schools kill creativity?" (Spoiler: Yep.) "We have built our education system on a model of fast food," Robinson explains in a follow-up TED Talk delivered in 2010. But there are at least two ways to ensure a good meal when you're cooking for a crowd: "One is fast food, where everything is standardized. The other [is] catered to local circumstances. We have sold ourselves into a fast-food model of education, and it's impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies." The roots of America's education system were transplanted from the German kingdom of Prussia, where eighteenth century monarchs such as Frederick the Great established schools with the goal of molding a disciplined citizenry of dutiful soldiers and civil servants. During the next century, state-run schools played a crucial role in manufacturing a homogenized German identity. In 1807, nationalist philosopher Johann Fichte argued that forging this identity meant that "schools must fashion the person…in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will." American education pioneer Horace Mann visited Prussia in 1843. Convinced that what he found could benefit the United States,[...]