Ukraine: lost causes and military realities

In February of 2022, I was as gung-ho as anyone about pushing the Russkies out of all Ukrainian territory. For a few weeks, I even put a Ukrainian flag on my social media profile. 

Then I learned more about the background causes of the war: the true nature of the Obama administration’s involvement in the 2014 Maidan coup, via the now discredited diplomat Victoria Nuland. I learned how NATO and the EU angled to bring Ukraine into the Western sphere of influence, by hook or by crook.

I also watched, with growing alarm, as the leaders of countries that haven’t fought a real war for decades (France, Germany) or even centuries (Sweden), rattled their swords at Moscow.

France and Germany, I should note, haven’t actually won a war in centuries.

And I also saw the battlefield realities. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have died in battle in order to support NATO, EU, and American plans for Eastern Europe. The empire of liberal democracy and free markets, imposed on the lands of the former USSR at the barrel of a gun. With lots of death and destruction as the cost of doing business. 

That’s how I came to a new and difficult conclusion: The Ukraine war should be ended now, while there is still something of Ukraine and its population left.

Yes, that might mean permanently ceding four eastern oblasts and Crimea to Russia. But those areas were long Russian territory anyway. And our side is not exactly winning here, is it?

For further evidence of the desperation of the Ukrainian situation, watch the video above.  A young woman in Ukraine is running a GoFundMe in order to buy equipment for her middle-aged father’s Ukrainian Army unit. 

This is not how modern wars are fought, by any side that has a chance of winning. 

Shortly after he took office, President Biden withdrew US forces from Afghanistan. Not because he loved the Taliban, but because the war there had become too costly, in both human and financial terms.

The US withdrew from Vietnam in 1975 for similar reasons. And now–50 years later–the US and Vietnam are military allies against China. How’s that for irony? And for the pointlessness of most foreign wars?

No, I do not want to fight until the last Ukrainian, over the question of which flag flies over the Crimea or Donbass. The West needs to use its power and influence to bring about a peace settlement, rather than consuming more Ukrainian lives in a futile and destructive war. 

-ET

Swedish military mobilization

Sweden remained neutral in World Wars I and II. Sweden also held itself aloof from NATO during the Cold War. 

The last time Sweden was a primary belligerent in an actual war? The War of the Sixth Coalition, 1813 to 1814. That was one of the Napoleonic Wars.

But Sweden joined NATO last month, thereby surrendering its sovereignty to Jens Stoltenberg, the saber-rattling Secretary General of NATO. 

Since then, the country best known to outsiders for Volvo and ABBA has embarked on a program of rapid militarization. War fever has gripped the nation…or at least the government. There was a widespread panic in Sweden earlier this year, as politicians warned citizens that Russia (which has shown little interest in Sweden so far), may be landing Spetsnaz forces in Stockholm any day now. 

Watch the video above. These young people are certainly sincere, and–as the cliché goes–at least some of them are more articulate in English than the average American teen/twentysomething. But I seriously hope that Sweden’s blundering government doesn’t get them into an actual war. 

-ET

Republicans and abortion realism

The Supreme Court of Arizona has just confirmed a 160-year-old ruling that bans almost all abortions in the Grand Canyon State. The Democrats and their mainstream media shills are making the most of it. Did you expect otherwise?

I try to be a realist where the real world is concerned.

Take the present war within the former USSR. I really wish that NATO hadn’t goaded Russia into calling in its historic claims on portions of southern and eastern Ukraine.

But after two years of relentless bloodshed and not-so-crippling economic sanctions, we must face facts. All the West is accomplishing by continuing to pour in military aid is a.) making more dead Ukrainians, and b.) raising the risks of World War III.

Ergo, I want to negotiate a settlement and end the war. Even if Ukraine loses territory as a result.

That doesn’t make me “pro-Russian”. That makes me a realist.

But what about abortion? Once again, I’m a realist. I’ve always seen some accommodation of legalized abortion as a necessary evil in an evil world.

You might say that makes me “pro-choice”. In terms of what the law should be: perhaps. But with a very big asterisk.

I doubt that the folks shrieking “My body, my choice!” in the public square would be completely pleased with my position. They see abortion as an ideal, like Freedom of Speech. I see abortion as a dehumanizing moral blight—albeit one that must be tolerated, within certain parameters. There is a difference. 

Moreover, I can see no way of outright banning abortion that doesn’t fall outside the dreaded Overton Window. Theoretically, we could do just about anything. But there are some dogs that simply aren’t going to hunt in a democratic society.

Let’s start with the law itself. (We’ll leave enforcement for another time.) Pro-abortion views predominate among a.) young voters and b.) female voters. Unless we plan to change the basic structure of American democracy (i.e., who’s allowed to vote), absolutist abortion bans will always be a sure way for a Republican candidate to go down in flames against a pro-abortion Democrat. And all Democrats are pro-abortion.

Republicans, therefore, have to face the facts. In military terms, they are the beleaguered Ukrainian army, and Planned Parenthood is the fully ramped-up Russian war machine, with Sukhoi fighter jets and hypersonic missiles.

Republicans are ahead on certain fronts in the culture wars. (I think the left’s transgender obsession has just about run its course with most of the public.) But on the abortion battlefield, the GOP has not yet captured the hearts and minds of a plurality of voters. Poll after poll, and election after election, demonstrate that.

Since the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision of 2022, Republicans in various states have [temporarily] succeeded in enacting laws that ban abortion. But these laws also fall outside the consensus views of their electorates.

The GOP often uses the courts to bring about such outcomes. (Case-in-point: the recent Arizona decision.) When Democrats do this on a divisive social issue, Republicans call it “judicial activism”.

Since the 1960s (more than fifty years now), American culture has been rotting from the inside out. And abortion would be a complicated debate in the best of times.

I understand the idealism of pro-life Republicans. I can laud it, even. But when you’re in a war zone (if I may continue that metaphor) sometimes you have to focus on triage measures. Especially when you’re losing. And conservatives are losing, at present.

***

Where the law is concerned, Republicans need to cede territory on abortion in the short run, as ground that they cannot realistically defend at the present time. They need to remember that law and politics are always downstream from culture. Republicans who are earnestly pro-life need to set about the difficult work of fixing an American culture that has spent three generations careening down the path of civilizational suicide. Good luck with that.

Accomplish that, however, and the matter of abortion will take care of itself, in the long run. Because the voters will be on board.

Fixing a broken culture is no easy thing. Perhaps that’s why Republicans have spent the last two years since Dobbs in a purely tactical mode. The GOP has been trying to manipulate and finagle voters—whom they assume to be wrongheaded—into doing the right thing. 

The voters, as we’ve seen, might be wrongheaded; but they have not been manipulated. Nor have they been finagled very much.

In the final analysis, people in a democracy have to be persuaded. Hearts and minds must be coaxed—not compelled—from the Stygian cultural darkness of the last half-century.

That’s hard work, fixing a broken culture. But if you truly want to see abortion tossed on the scrap heap of history, that’s the place to focus: hearts and minds and persuasion. Not on legal and judicial maneuvers that will be overturned in the next election cycle.

-ET

What pro-Palestinian protestors can learn from the Beatles

In 1968 the Beatles released the song ‘Revolution’. This was at the height of that long-ago decade’s counterculture. The song satirized the growing excesses of late 1960s leftwing activism. 

The Beatles were no one’s idea of conservatives. But the group nevertheless recognized an iron law of all countercultural movements: they always go too far, and end up alienating the people they want to convince.

When this happens, “the movement” ends up preaching to no one but the choir. The movement becomes an echo chamber, and the rest of society simply tunes it out…or maybe tries to crush it.

‘Revolution’ is well worth listening to in its entirety, but I want to focus here on two lines only:

“If you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao

You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…”

In the 1960s, some leftwing college protestors did, indeed, carry pictures of Ho Chi Minh and Chairman Mao. They looked like complete tools, and ceased to be taken seriously by anyone but their fellow travelers.

Back to 2024.

This past weekend, a pro-Palestinian activist named Tarek Bazzi led an anti-Israel, anti-America protest in Dearborn, Michigan. Bazzi and his assembled comrades-in-arms were protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza, and US support for Israel. 

Bazzi not only quoted the late Ayatollah Khoemeini in glowing terms, he also led the crowd in a chant of “Death to America”.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have non-trivial historic claims to the land they’ve fought over for more than a century. (The conflict did not begin with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948; it began decades before that.) Neither side has a claim that is beyond dispute, and neither side can claim a complete moral high ground. Both sides have legitimate grievances against the other.

But the Palestinians have a unique ability to make themselves unsympathetic victims. The term “likable Palestinian spokesperson” would seem to be an oxymoron. Case-in-point: Representative Rashida Tlaib.

In 2001, Palestinian crowds in Jerusalem openly celebrated the 9/11 terror attacks. That was the moment in which I was sorely tempted to lose any interest in their fate.

But 9/11 was more than twenty years ago, you might say. Okay, fair enough. On October 7 of last year, Hamas, the elected governing authority of Gaza, launched its terror attacks on Israel.

You’ve already heard and seen the accounts of the massacres and the sexual violence that Hamas loosed on Israeli civilians. In the immediate wake of those attacks, there was a chorus of cries of “Allahu akbar!” in Gaza.

Then the payback came. Gaza stopped shouting “Allahu akbar!” and began shouting to the world, “Call off the Israelis! The jihad wasn’t supposed to go like this.”

You might argue, nevertheless, that the Israeli response has gone too far, and the retribution has been too indiscriminate. Those are American bombs, moreover, that are being dropped on Gaza.

All fair points. On October 7, I was ready to join the IDF myself, even though there’s not a Jewish bone in my body. Six months later, I’m far more open to “two wrongs don’t make a right” arguments.

This is why I can’t issue a blanket condemnation of the pro-Palestinian protestors who have made the news in recent months. They are not entirely wrong, even if they are wrong on many points. Even if they are endlessly obnoxious and tirelessly unpleasant.

But its one thing to be unlikable, it’s another thing to be stupid about it. When you shout “Death to America!” in the public square, you affirm all the worst things that Americans suspect about Muslims. “Death to America!” was the chant of the Iranian radicals of 1979, after all. Surely Tarek Bazzi and his pals know that.

Back to the Beatles and “Revolution”. If I may paraphrase the Fab Four:

“If you go shouting ‘Death to America’, every American who isn’t a radical crackpot is going to tune you out and hate your guts.”

Shout “Death to America” in the public square, and you’ve lost me. Palestinians might have celebrated 9/11. I didn’t. Nor did I celebrate San Bernardino (2015), the London Tube attacks (2005) or any of the many other Islamist terror attacks carried out in the West over the last 30-odd years.

The Israelis, for all their missteps and hamfistedness, at least understand that you don’t gain sympathy by doing your best to be repellant at every turn. Palestinians wishing to make their case in the West might find a lesson there.

-ET

Fight until the last Ukrainian, or the (literal) end of the world?

In 2021, the Biden administration ceded the entire nation of Afghanistan to the Taliban. The US withdrawal not only doomed the people of Afghanistan to the Islamist rule of the Taliban, it effectively squandered the trillions of US taxpayer dollars and thousands of American lives lost there since 2001.

The Democratic Party cheered the end of a costly US overseas commitment. There was barely a peep from the neocon chickenhawks in the GOP. 

Yet now, three years later, those same parties claim that it’s all or nothing where Ukraine is concerned.

Few Americans have a grasp of the convoluted history behind the conflict:

  1. The disputed regions, Donbass and Crimea, were long Russian territory. Especially Crimea. Crimea belonged first to the Tatars and then to the Russian Empire. Then to the Soviets…and then to Ukraine. Crimea has changed hands many times. 
  2. Ukraine and Russia have a long, complicated history together. For example, Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the USSR from 1964 through 1982, was Ukrainian. Mikhail Gorbachev also had family ties to Ukraine. 
  3. The identity of post-Soviet Ukraine is  a matter that the West should have left to the Ukrainians. Instead, we were determined that Ukraine would become a jewel in the crowns of the European Union and NATO. So in 2014, we played midwife to a coup against Ukraine’s lawfully elected (but pro-Russian) president, Viktor Yanukovych. That is when the present troubles really began.

***

Does all that equal a justification of the Kremlin’s subsequent actions? Of course not. But it should be clear, at this point, that Russia isn’t going to be cowed by the departure of Starbuck’s and McDonalds. Two years after they were put in place, Western sanctions have failed. Miserably.

We are now faced with the following options:

  1. Fight until the last Ukrainian. At the same time, keep pouring billions of dollars into a war that cannot be won. That will enable us to cry uncle years from now, perhaps, after we have spent billions more and killed even more Ukrainians. (Assuming there are any military-age Ukrainians left by then.)
  2. Go to war with Russia ourselves. Russia is a nuclear-armed power. Are you willing to bring about the end of the world over the question of which flag flies over Donbass and the Crimea? Short of that, are you willing to send young Americans to die within the boundaries of the former USSR? That’s what going to war with Russia would mean.
  3. End the war with a negotiated settlement. Put a stop to the bloodshed. Sooner rather than later. 

***

It seems to me that #3 above is that they call the “least-worst option”. Given Russia’s demands, that will probably mean a.) ceding territory that was historically Russian, anyway, and b.) taking Ukrainian membership in NATO off the table.

(But Ukrainian membership in NATO never should have been on the table to begin with.)

***

This is the solution that former President Trump, one of the few realists in the public debate on this long and costly war, intends to propose.

Let me be clear: this is an imperfect solution for an imperfect world. But if you’re upset about ceding Donbass and the Crimea to Russia, where were you when the Biden administration was handing all of Afghanistan–and its 41 million inhabitants–to the barbaric rule of the Taliban, only a few short years ago?

First go and get Afghanistan back.  Then I’ll listen to your armchair battle cries about fighting until the bitter end in Ukraine. Otherwise, I want to settle and end the war, lest the mutual bungling of multiple nuclear-armed powers bring about the end of the world, quite literally. 

-ET

Clueless Blinken bumbles toward World War III

As if there isn’t enough trouble in the world, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has just declared that Ukraine will become a member of NATO at some undisclosed point in the future.

Given that Ukraine is at war with Russia, this will place the United States at war with Russia. Immediately.

And for what? When I was growing up, Ukraine and Russia were both part of the same country: the USSR. But that status quo wasn’t unique to my childhood. Ukraine and Russia were the same country from the 1790s through 1991: about 200 years. Throughout all that time, Crimea, Odessa, and Donetsk were Russian places, controlled by the czars and the commissars in Moscow.

Which brings us to NATO. Throughout the Cold War years (1947-1989), NATO was a necessary alliance with a reasonable scope. NATO was not there to wage a crusade within Russia’s historic borders, to go abroad looking for dragons to slay. NATO was there to keep the Soviet Union (and Soviet Communism) out of Western Europe.

Since the 1990s, however, NATO has undergone a mad-drunk orgy of expansion. Americans are now obligated to die for the boundaries of countries that very few of us could find on a map. These include: Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and North Macedonia. And many more.

This was in direct contravention of the promise we gave Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, when the last General Secretary of the USSR agreed to wink at the NATO membership of the newly unified Germany, in exchange for a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion.

It could have been so simple. But NATO, like all ravenous bureaucracies, was programmed to expand.

Russia doesn’t want Western weapons of war on its doorstep. And if you think this makes the Russkies uniquely prickly, consider that we almost went to war over Soviet weapons in Cuba in 1962. I’m talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which you’ve no doubt heard of.

And that would not be the last time.

In 1983, the Reagan administration launched an invasion of Grenada. The State Department claimed that this was done to assure the safety of 600 American medical students living on the tiny Caribbean island.

Perhaps. But it was also done to overthrow the country’s new Soviet-aligned government. We didn’t want another Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere.

In this regard, Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 bear a striking resemblance to our smaller-scale invasion of Grenada in 1983. As history shows, this is what great powers do: they defend their security interests, by force, if necessary.

But let’s get back to you, an American reading this. Probably you don’t remember the 1983 US invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury. Maybe you weren’t even born then.

Maybe you aren’t aware of the roles that NATO, the EU, and the Obama administration played in the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Ukraine. That amounted to a Western-encouraged, Western-assisted overthrow of a democratically elected (but pro-Moscow) president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Why? Yanukovych was about to sign a trade pact with Russia and Belarus, but Western business, military, and political interests wanted Ukraine as a jewel in the crowns of the European Union, and eventually NATO.

So they had a revolution. A Western-aligned government was put in place. Russia reacted.

Now, lest you think I’m a Moscow agent, I’m not. I’ve never been to Russia, and no one in the Kremlin is filling my Swiss bank account with rubles.

But I am a realist about this geopolitical stuff. I’m not about to burn the American flag because we preemptively invaded Grenada in 1983. Nor am I quite ready to declare Russia the equivalent of Nazi Germany because they launched a preemptive war.

Speaking of which—didn’t we preemptively invade Iraq in 2003? Oops!

That’s a lot of preemptive wars and invasions to keep track of.

Here’s what I will tell you: the dingbats and dullards who are currently in charge of our government have no idea what they’re doing. They’re putting us on a collision course with Russia, in which a single misstep can result in a nuclear war.

And for you folks worried about climate change: ask yourselves what a nuclear war would do to sea levels and weather patterns. Then shriek about plastic silverware at fast food restaurants.

I have been told that 80 million Americans voted for Biden in 2020. But did 80 million of us vote for World War III? As Barack Obama famously said, “Elections have consequences.” Indeed, they do.

-ET

Dulles International Airport and the dueling fools of DC

House Republicans have put forth a proposal to rename Dulles International Airport after former (and perhaps future) President Trump. The bill is meeting with the expected braying in the mainstream media.

As an American citizen, there are many issues that concern me at present…

Our government, and the clownish governments that rule the various countries of the rest of NATO, are rushing toward World War III with Russia. They are risking all our lives over the question of which flag flies over land that was long Russian territory, anyway.

The deficit continues to grow at an unsustainable rate. Washington is no longer burning through our money. It’s burning through the money of Americans who won’t be born before all presently living Americans are dead.

Biden has made us a laughingstock and a near-failed state with his mismanagement of the border. It’s become a cliché, but yes: the only border Biden cares about is the one between Ukraine and Russia.

Every week, a foolish new “woke” initiative spews from the White House. These range from forcing us to buy electric vehicles that no one wants, to declaring a special day of visibility for Americans who self-identify as cocker spaniels.

The country is a mess, to put it mildly.

Amid all of this, renaming Dulles International Airport after Donald Trump—or anyone, for that matter—would not even make the bottom tier of a thousand-item priority list.

There is no monopoly on foolishness in our government at present. The only real question is: which band of fools will bring about collapse first, if permitted free rein? The Democratic Party is doing its best to destroy us in any number of ways, but we ought not get cocky about the GOP. Case-in-point: this new initiative to rename Dulles International Airport, an item as unwanted as Joe Biden’s electric cars.

-ET

The case of the (fired) rapping teacher

In recent years, plenty of teachers have been guilty of classroom conduct that has more than merited their termination.

For example: a teacher in one California district encouraged her students to pledge their allegiance to the LGBTQ flag. She then made a TikTok video bragging about it.

That was too much even for the People’s Republic of California. The teacher was promptly fired. Good riddance.

Another teacher, this one in Dallas, squirted a water gun at an image of then-President Trump and repeatedly shouted, “Die!” Several students filmed the classroom spectacle, and the teacher was let go. Once again, I understand the logic involved.

But I cannot understand the logic whereby Detroit-area history teacher Dominque Brown was fired for her outside-the-classroom rap career.

Brown was recently named Teacher of the Year. I’ve seen some clips of her rap videos. And while rap isn’t my cup of tea, I can’t see anything morally reprehensible or corrupting in the content. From what I know of Detroit (I’ve been there many times) Brown’s students probably face much more unsavory influences in their day-to-day lives.

This raises the question of exactly what a teacher is, and whether or not teachers are entitled to private lives and side hustles.

As noted above, I’m at the head of the pitchfork mob when teachers inject their (usually far-left) personal ideology into the classroom. But outside the classroom is another matter, or it should be, within reasonable limits.

There have been numerous cases of teachers being suspended and fired for posting racy content on OnlyFans and similar autoporning sites. We could have a spirited debate about such a gray area. Teacher-as-porn-star is an idea that isn’t likely to catch on in the suburbs, even among the “woke mom” crowd.

But Dominque Brown was an amateur musician. Having watched clips of her music videos and interviews online, I can find nothing about the woman that offends me.

I grew up Roman Catholic, so I understand the concept of the clergy, and the full-time moral commitment that entails.

The education field is not the priesthood, even if it is admittedly different from other careers, ones that don’t involve daily contact with other people’s children.

Likewise, there should be some reasonable limits to what a teacher can do outside the classroom while remaining a teacher. (But most of those things are illegal, anyway.) Unless there is some crucial piece of evidence that I’m missing here, some very large shoe that has yet to drop, the firing of Domonique Brown strikes me as a bridge too far.

-ET

On learning Ukrainian before Russian, and the politics of foreign language study

Regular readers will know that language learning is one of my lifelong pursuits and hobbies.

I’ve received some emails of late about the prospect of learning Ukrainian. Do I plan to study it? Should you be studying it?

First, the obvious disclaimers. If you’re learning Ukrainian for reasons of love, or heritage, or a desire to move to Kharkiv at some point in the future, then by all means learn Ukrainian.

And if you just really like the idea of learning Ukrainian, that’s okay, too. But if you’re reading this (or asking me about it), you probably have a more practical turn of mind.

Ukrainian has a base of about 27 million speakers. Numerically, that places it on the same level as Thai, Tagalog, or Dutch. Ukrainian isn’t Latvian (1.5 million speakers). But it isn’t Spanish, French, or Russian, either.

Speaking of Russian: Most Ukrainian speakers also speak Russian—for now, at least. Prior to the current conflict, many Ukrainians used Russian as their language of daily life, a remnant of Soviet times.

There is an active campaign within Ukraine to extirpate the Russian language and replace it with Ukrainian. The outcome of those efforts will likely hinge on the outcome of the war. 

But what about you, an English-speaker who (presumably) wants to learn a Slavic language? Going by the numbers, Russian—with 258 million speakers worldwide—makes a lot more sense.

Not all of those speakers are in Russia. I recently met a young woman from Uzbekistan. Her English was minimal, but she spoke fluent Russian. (Uzbekistan is a former Soviet Republic.)

Another consideration is the availability of learning materials. Russian language pedagogy in the West goes back decades. When I was a college student in the 1980s, you could find textbooks and cassette courses to help you learn Russian. Every major language learning app (Pimsleur, Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, etc.) has developed Russian language learning materials in considerable depth and breadth.

Ukrainian, on the other hand, was an almost-never-studied language in the West until 2022. That too, may change. But such a change will take years.

I have the impression that some language learners in the West are choosing Ukrainian over Russian as a self-congratulatory political statement. Kind of like putting the Ukrainian flag on your social media profile.

Once again: you be you. As for me, though: “Russia” has been many things in my lifetime. When I was a kid, Russia was the center of the USSR. Then it was Boris Yeltsin’s Russia. Now it’s Putin’s Russia.

In ten years, Russia will probably be something else. But my guess is: there will still be more Russian speakers than speakers of any other Slavic language. (Even Polish only has 41 million speakers.)

I’ve lived long enough to have learned that while politics change, languages don’t. (At least, they don’t change that much within any human lifespan.)

If I were going to learn a Middle Eastern language, I would pick Arabic (373 million speakers) over Hebrew (9 million speakers). This has nothing to do with my feelings about the Arab-Israeli conflict, which—like Russia—has changed significantly within my lifetime. I would pick Arabic because Arabic is spoken in at least twenty countries, while Modern Hebrew is spoken in only one.

After I learned Arabic, then I might take on Hebrew. I have nothing against Hebrew, mind you. But when approaching a language family, I say: all things being equal, learn the major ones first. Spanish before Italian. Mandarin before Cantonese. German before Norwegian, Swedish, or Dutch.

And yes, Russian before Ukrainian, without strong motivating factors to the contrary. You won’t be drafted into the Russian Army as a result. I promise.

-ET

**Quick link to Ukrainian language-learning resources on Amazon**

**Quick link to Russian language-learning resources on Amazon**

Kim Davis, Henry David Thoreau, and the high price of civil disobedience

Here’s a sequel to a news story from September 2015.

Kim Davis, a lowly county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

You can probably already guess why, even if you don’t remember the case. Davis, an evangelical Christian and a social conservative, didn’t agree with the new state policy of recognizing same-sex marriages.

Davis was taken away in handcuffs and briefly jailed. Meanwhile, the marriage licenses were issued by other county employees.

The resultant brouhaha became an international news story for a time. I remember this well, perhaps because I live in neighboring Ohio.

I also remember concluding that Davis was in the wrong—on technical grounds, at least. When I worked in the private sector for a Fortune 500 corporation, I didn’t always agree with my employer’s policies. But I always acted in accordance with company policy. Because that’s what having a job is all about.

My private-sector employer had no authority over me beyond the workplace. When your employer is a branch of the government, however, the stakes are higher. For a government employee, the employer is the law. This means that violation of a policy, even for reasons of conscience, may make an employee a lawbreaker. Kim Davis broke the law, even though she was following her conscience.

Kim Davis was not the first American dissenter to oppose a government policy through peaceful noncompliance with the law. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) refused to pay his taxes during the 1840s. Thoreau did not want to provide the federal government with material support for the Mexican-American War, which he saw as unjust.

Henry David Thoreau

Like Kim Davis seventeen decades later, Thoreau was briefly jailed for his actions, or non-actions. Thoreau’s experiences became the basis for his essay, “Civil Disobedience”, which you may recall from high school.

Thoreau’s opponents in the 1840s saw the Mexican-American War as progress, an instrument of America’s manifest destiny. Manifest destiny was the idea that America had a God-given right and duty to expand its borders, even at the expense of other peoples and nations.

In the 1840s, the dominant political establishment was just as focused on manifest destiny as the establishment is now focused on all things LGBTQ.

American Progress (1872) by John Gast. An artistic conception of manifest destiny.

Perhaps Thoreau’s ultimate, unintended lesson is that you can’t fight city hall. Despite Thoreau’s act of civil disobedience, manifest destiny won the day in the 1840s. The federal government was victorious in its war with Mexico. Fifty-five percent of Mexico’s territory was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Kim Davis’s act of civil disobedience did not have any real effect on the inevitable outcome, either. What was the net result in Rowan County, after all? Everyone got their marriage licenses. Other government employees simply signed the necessary documents.

But what about the punishment meted out to this modern-day Thoreau of Rowan County, Kentucky?

Kim Davis’s 2015 mugshot

Kim Davis was fired for her civil disobedience. And since she had willingly become a county employee, Davis deserved to be fired.

But jailed and financially ruined?

Consider, for a moment, the crimes that won’t earn you jail time. A few years ago, the city council of San Francisco decriminalized thefts up to $950. In New York City, there have been documented cases of violent felons being released because of court backlogs and overcrowded jails. But there shall be no mercy for a Kentucky county clerk who refuses to sign a marriage license.

Then came the endless lawsuits. Of course, the lawyers saw an opportunity to enrich themselves.

Nine years later, a federal judge has ordered Davis to pay a group of lawyers $260,104 in fees and expenses. This is in addition to $100,000 in damages that she’s been ordered to pay a same-sex couple who sued.

That’s $360,104 in total. For refusing to sign documents in a government office in a rural Kentucky county.

The aim—and the effective outcome—of all these measures is to ruin Kim Davis, to permanently pauperize her.

Once again, I’m not defending Kim Davis’s original actions. There should have been consequences for her (termination of employment). She did not deserve all of this.

Let’s return to this question of progress. I’ll remind you that in the 1840s, manifest destiny was seen as progress, “the right side of history”. By some. In 2015, some people believed (and still do) that changing the millennia-old nature of marriage is progress.

Henry David Thoreau would be remembered differently today if he had expressed his opposition to the Mexican-American War through violence. But Thoreau didn’t blow up a US Army ammunition depot. He withheld his taxes. 

Kim Davis’s case would be different had she crashed a same-sex wedding, rather than simply withholding her signature. Her noncompliance, like Thoreau’s noncompliance in the 1840s, was largely a symbolic crime.

Another word for symbolic might be ideological in this context. Here’s another lesson from history: when a nation is lurching toward dictatorship, it is ideological crimes that are punished the most harshly, without any sense of reason or proportion.

This is where we must depart from Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau did not have to cope with the twenty-first-century zeal of weaponized ideological conformity. Weaponized ideological conformity has its roots in the French Revolution, and the violent leftist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Forced ideological conformity has its roots in the USSR and Nazi Germany.

The imposition of ideological conformity requires public examples. The nonconforming must be thoroughly broken in a public manner. This will dissuade anyone else who might speak out, or engage in similar dissent.

Kim Davis, to her detriment, volunteered to become a public example when she refused to sign marriage licenses for a while in rural Kentucky. Her real crime had little to do with paperwork, and everything to do with her unwillingness to affirmatively embrace the government’s new ideological orthodoxy.

Davis’s fate was a sign of things to come. Less than a decade later, teachers have been fired for failing to publicly affirm that gender is malleable, and can be arbitrarily altered by using different pronouns.

But in the case of Kim Davis, at least, the state accomplished its aims. To the best of my knowledge, no government employee has repeated her particular act of civil disobedience since.

-ET

Autoporning and politics in Virginia, 2023

Susanna Gibson, a Democratic legislative candidate in Virginia, had an unconventional side hustle until recently. She and her husband live-streamed sex acts for tips on a site called Chaturbate.

This has raised all kinds of questions: about the legitimacy of sex work, about whether or not an individual who has participated in such can viably run for office, etc.

Allow me to give you my two cents.

I’ve always held that consensual sex work should be legal, so long as a.) it involves only consenting adults, and b.) it is done discretely enough so that uninterested parties can easily ignore it.

This would preclude brothels and sex shops in shopping malls. Of course.

On the other hand, I never understood the government’s persecution of Alexis Wright, the so-called “Zumba prostitute” in 2013. Wright was then a 29-year-old woman, selling her own sexual favors in the privacy of her own Zumba studio, to men who were mostly in their 40s. This was the ultimate victimless crime. Yet Wright spent six months in jail.

Susanna Gibson and her husband were not breaking any laws, however. One of the perverse contradictions in the law is that it’s legal to charge money for sex, so long as it’s done on camera for third-party consumption. Ergo, Gibson violated no law when strange men paid her to have sex on camera with a man (her husband, in this case). But if one of them had paid her to have sex with them off-camera, then a crime would have been committed. Go figure.

But no one—not even Gibson’s eventual Republican opponent—has proposed that she be jailed for her naked entrepreneurial endeavors. The issue is whether or not this should have a bearing on the viability of her campaign.

That’s a complicated one, because individual voters will ultimately decide for themselves. Historically, candidates have often dropped out of races in the wake of sex scandals.

Gary Hart, in the infamous “Monkey Business” photo (1987)

The oldest example I remember is that of Gary Hart, a Democratic hopeful for the presidential election of 1988. Hart dropped out after he was photographed with the much younger Donna Rice in the infamous “Monkey Business” photo of 1987.

Yes, that was a long time ago. Around 15 years ago, New York Governor Eliott Spitzer resigned after he was caught paying call girls for sex. I suppose that is vaguely analogous to Susanna Gibson’s peccadillo.

The problem is that what we do online, for a mass audience, is public information, ipso facto.

Consider this blog post. In the above paragraphs, I make the case that consensual, behind-closed-doors sex work should be legal for adults, both as sellers and buyers, under certain conditions. Had I not put that online, you wouldn’t know that I held such an opinion. My decision to put it online makes it no longer a “private” matter.

If I were to decide to run for office as a family-values Republican at some point, one of my opponents would surely dredge that up. And that would be fair game.

Susanna Gibson has accused her detractors of engaging in “the worst gutter politics” since her [paid] sex videos surfaced. Members of Gibson’s unpaid cheerleading squad in the media, meanwhile, have leveled charges of misogyny. (Were Gary Hart and Eliott Spitzer also victims of misogyny?)

But this ultimately comes down to a question of common sense, not sexual morality. Could Gibson not have foreseen this outcome?

Alexis Wright, the Zumba prostitute of a decade ago, was engaging in paid sex behind closed doors in a non-public setting. She had a reasonable expectation of privacy. So, arguably, did Eliott Spitzer, who paid for sex with high-class call girls in the closed enclaves of hotel rooms.

Susanna Gibson, on the other hand, had her paid sex in the very public arena of the Internet. By all indications, she made no effort to conceal her identity.

Yet now she’s crying foul because, lo and behold, someone saw those publicly distributed videos and said, “Hey, that’s a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not painting anyone with a scarlet letter here. Whatever else we might say about Susanna Gibson, she is certainly not boring. When describing her open marriage arrangement, Gibson reportedly told her online viewers, “I’ve had three [men] in a day actually. Don’t tell my husband he was the third.”  As Bill Murray told a character in the 1981 movie Stripes, “I want to party with you, cowboy.”

But if I were a voter in Virginia, I would have my doubts about her qualifications. Not because of the sex, not because of the open marriage, and not because of the money….but because Susanna Gibson seems genuinely surprised that this all unfolded as it did.

That bespeaks an inability to anticipate the consequences of a given set of actions. Is that the kind of representative that any voter wants?

Voters in Virginia seemed to feel the same way. Gibson lost the election.

-ET

Kristen Clarke, Harvard, and “race science”

Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee to head the DOJ Civil Rights Division, penned a 1994 letter to the Harvard Crimson, stating that African Americans have “superior physical and mental abilities”.  At the time, Clarke was an undergraduate at Harvard, and the president of the university’s Black Students Association.

Clarke based her letter on…race science.

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

“One: Dr Richard King reveals that the core of the human brain is the ‘locus coeruleus,’ which is a structure that is Black, because it contains large amounts of neuro-melanin, which is essential for its operation.

“Two: Black infants sit, crawl and walk sooner than whites [sic]. Three: Carol Barnes notes that human mental processes are controlled by melanin — that same chemical which gives Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.

“Four: Some scientists have revealed that most whites [sic] are unable to produce melanin because their pineal glands are often calcified or non-functioning. Pineal calcification rates with Africans are five to 15 percent [sic], Asians 15 to 25 percent [sic] and Europeans 60 to 80 percent [sic]. This is the chemical basis for the cultural differences between blacks and whites [sic].

“Five: Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities — something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards.”

 

Obviously, this is complete hooey, dressed up in the sort of pseudo-scientific language that passes for erudition at places like Harvard.

Obviously, the mainstream media would be shrieking, Twitter would be exploding, if a white nominee to any senior federal government post had made similar claims about whites, based on “race science”.

Nevertheless, I’m of two minds on this one.

Clarke’s age is not available online, but her Wikipedia entry states that she graduated Harvard in 1997. Backing into the numbers, this would mean that she was about 19 years old when she wrote the above words.

Kristen Clarke

Most people don’t reach full adulthood until they are about halfway through their twenties. (This is why I would be in favor of raising the voting age, rather than lowering it, but that’s another discussion.)

This doesn’t mean you should get a blank check for everything you do when you’re young, of course. But there is a case to be made that all of us say and think things during our formative years that will make us cringe when we look back on them from a more mature perspective.

This is certainly true for me. I was 19 years old in 1987. I am not the same person now that I was then—both for better and for worse.

Secondly, let’s acknowledge environmental factors. Being a student at Harvard is likely to temporarily handicap any young person’s judgement and intellectual maturity. Even in 1994, Harvard University was a hotbed of pointy-headed progressivism and insular identity politics.

Clarke was also involved in the Black Students Association. There was a Black Students Association at the University of Cincinnati when I was an undergrad there during the late 1980s. Members of UC’s BSA were known to write whacko letters like the one above. Most of them, though, were nice enough people when you actually talked to them in person. They just got a little carried away when sniffing their own farts in the little office that the university had allocated for BSA use.

What I’m saying is: I’m willing to take into account that 1994 was a long time ago. A single letter from a 19-year-old, quoting pseudo-academic race claptrap, shouldn’t be a permanent blight on the record of a 47-year-old. And I would say the same if Kristen Clarke were white, and had taken a very different spin on “race science”.

We all need to stop being so touchy about racial issues, and so preoccupied with them. That goes for whites as well as blacks, and vice versa.

I’m willing to give Clarke a fair hearing, then. But I’m skeptical. Her 1994 Harvard letter isn’t an automatic disqualifier; but it’s a question that needs to be answered.

I’m also skeptical of Biden. Biden may be a feeble old man; he may be a crook. He is not particularly “woke” at a personal level. In fact, some of his former positions on busing and crime suggest that he’s anything but “woke” on matters of race.

Yet Biden is now head of a Democratic Party that is obsessed with race. This means that Biden may try to overcompensate, by filling his government with race radicals. This recent selection supports that concern.

Given the time that has elapsed between the present and 1994, given Kristen Clarke’s age at the time, I want to hear what she has to say in 2021 before I outright condemn her as a hater or a looney. But this recent personnel selection doesn’t make me optimistic about the ideological tilt of the incoming Biden administration.

-ET