Saturday, September 16, 2017

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau refused to pay his taxes until slavery was abolished. When he was put in jail, his friend and benefactor, Ralph Waldo Emerson (who owned Walden Pond where Thoreau wrote his famous book, “Walden”) came to visit him.

Henry Thoreau

Ralph W. Emerson
“What are you doing in there?” asked Emerson.

“What are you doing out there?” replied Thoreau.

Ronald Reagan said that the most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Ronald Reagan

Thoreau expressed a similar train of thought when he wrote, “I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State,” and “If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Unfair(?) Attack on a Struggling Little Guy

Note: As of a couple of nights ago, I have seen the movie, "Revolt at Fort Laramie," but the following was written before I saw it, based on statements made about historical facts. Seeing the film has not persuaded me to change a single word that I wrote below.

In 2009, someone posted a viewer's movie review on Internet Movie Database (IMDb) titled "Historical Fact Checking." It has yet to be changed or removed by the author.

Since he says little about the movie in his review, I should give the title and plot summary: "Revolt at Fort Laramie" is set at a frontier U.S. Army garrison on the eve of the Civil War. Half the soldiers are southerners [hmm, maybe somewhat less than half], which necessarily means that half are not. When news arrives that Fort Sumter has been fired upon, officially beginning the war, the southerners leave the fort and head off to join the Confederacy.

Here is what the reviewer considered fact checking:

"In the run-up to Maj Bradner's fateful announcement, we are led to believe that there is a "tension" between Northern and Southern soldiers at this far west outpost. Also, the announcement that we are expecting is not forthcoming. Great movie but left me scratching my head when Maj Bradner said that Fort Sumpter had just been attacked by Confederate forces and that President Lincoln had called for an "intervention." This error is later repeated by Captain Tenslip. What the major and the captain should have said was that Fort Sumner, located in South Carolina, had been attacked. It was this attack that precipitated the Civil War. Fort Sumpter was fired on by the British during the Revolutionary War!"

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Fort Sumner, Maryland
Now here is the problem. Or rather the several problems. For one thing, it is Fort Sumter, not Fort Sumpter.

For another, Fort Sumner was the name used for two Civil War era forts, one located in Maryland and the other in New Mexico. (More about this below.)

Trying to figure out what the author of the post is thinking requires some guess-work, but I suppose that he reasoned that the Union must have attacked a fort in South Carolina because he could not understand how Confederates in South Carolina could start a war with the Union (the Federal government or North in the Civil War) by attacking a fort in the South. Yet this is precisely what happened, as contradictory as it seems to the poster (whom I presume, without much evidence, to be a he).

The government of the United States held federal property in most of the states and territories including those that seceded to form the Confederate States of America. These federal properties included armories and forts, such as Fort Sumter, which was near the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederates repeatedly asked the United States to surrender the fort precisely because they regarded it as a foreign stronghold within the territory of their new nation. Union attempts to send supply and troop ships to reinforce the undermanned and under-gunned fort were repulsed. In the wee hours of April 12, 1861, the Confederates fired on the fort. Both incomplete in its construction and at half-strength in terms of men and guns, the fort surrendered the next day. The North was almost instantly roused to anger, and President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer troops to be raised.

It is interesting to note that, during 1860 to 1862, the Confederates seized one federal facility after another in several states. Armories in several break-away states were plundered by Confederate mobs. In contrast to these successful seizures, an aborted takeover attempt was made by Confederate sympathizers in California although they were in the minority. A group planned to take over a large federal armory at Benicia, California, which is north of San Francisco. The conspirators thought they were in luck because the commander of the U.S. Army in California was a Texan named General Albert Sidney Johnston, but when the conspirators went to Johnston's office in San Francisco, he spoke these words to them:

Gen. Albert S. Johnston

Johnston was clearly honorable, but there were those who doubted the Texan's loyalty to the United States, and Johnston was relieved of his command at the end of April 1861. By this time, news of Fort Sumter's surrender as well as the secession of Texas from the Union had reached Johnston, and he had sent his resignation to Washington, although he served the United States faithfully until he was relieved of his command. BTW, Johnston was relieved by General Edwin Vose Sumner for whom the forts in Maryland and New Mexico were named after he died in early 1863 (from wounds he had received at the Battle of Antietam months earlier). So, the story of General Albert S. Johnston has not entirely been a digression if you accept such a connection as relevant.

The reviewer also calls into question the "tension" between southerners and northerners at the fort in the movie. Does this mean that there is doubt about the historical accuracy of such animosity? As the story of General Johnston illustrates, there was a great deal of suspicion on both sides. Sometimes justifiably. In New Mexico, after the military commander of the territory, who was from Florida, resigned and defected to the Confederacy, his successor, Colonel (later General) E.R.S. Canby, intercepted a letter intended for his predecessor. It came from Major (later General) Henry Hopkins Sibley who hailed from Louisiana. Sibley proposed the takeover not only of forts but the whole of the New Mexico Territory with an army raised in Texas. Canby and Sibley had known each other for years, and Canby took Sibley's betrayal personally.

Subsequently, some Confederate sympathizers captured Fort Fillmore near Mesilla, New Mexico, and, for nearly a year, held the southern tier of New Mexico Territory (the southern parts of both what are now New Mexico and Arizona). Sibley made good on his plan of raising an army (a brigade, really) in Texas and briefly captured several New Mexico cities including the capital, Santa Fe. But his invasion was over by the late spring/early summer of 1862 when Confederate forces permanently evacuated what they had dubbed "Confederate Arizona Territory."

But the movie reviewer has not finished. He goes on to compound his errors. He asserts that "Fort Sumpter" had been "fired on by the British during the Revolutionary War!" [His exclamation.] Not only has he got the fort's name wrong, but construction of Fort Sumter was not begun until fifty years after the Revolutionary War. Indeed, the fort was named after General Thomas Sumter who served during the Revolution. (As you might already have noticed, these forts were named after deceased persons, usually, although not always, generals; even the two forts called Sumner were named months after the death of General Sumner.)

Gen. Thomas Sumter

I could go into a long digression on General Sumter, but I will only touch on it. When Mel Gibson made the movie "The Patriot," many people thought that it was supposed to be a lightly fictionalized account of the career of General Francis Marion, but they then had to wonder why the details of the fictional character, Benjamin Martin, did not jibe with Marion's life. The answer is that Martin was a composite of three or more Revolutionary War leaders, only one of them being Marion. One of the others was Sumter.
Francis Marion 001.jpg

Andrew Pickens.jpg
Gen, Andrew Pickens

(BTW, while the fictional Benjamin Martin was nicknamed the "Ghost," three of the models for Martin had animal nicknames: Sumter was the Carolina Gamecock, Marion was the Swamp Fox, and General Andrew Pickens was the Wizard Owl. Some have pointed out that Gibson's movie character might bear the most resemblance to Pickens, whose home was burned after he had pledged not to fight the British, and whose son was killed. Marion had no son.)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Leon "Woodie" Spears

Image may contain: 1 person

Photo of Captain Leon "Woodie" Spears, USAF, retired
(From the collection of Maureen O'Neil)

Leon "Woodie" Spears was a U.S. Army Air Force officer during World War II, serving with the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group. His P-51 Mustang airplane was nicknamed "Kitten," having been named by its previous pilot, Lt. Charles McGee, because of the way that its engine purred.

Spears would later fly with the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. One of the tragedies of his life was that his younger brother, who had not served in World War II but afterward became an Air Force pilot, was killed in air combat over Korea.

Booker T. Washington, founder
of the Tuskegee Institute
Leon Spears was born in Trinidad, Colorado, in 1924, where he developed an early fascination with aviation. In 1944, he graduated from the Tuskegee Institute's pilot training program, which was under the control of the United States Army Air Corps. A unit of earlier graduates, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, had already seen action in North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. They were later stationed in Italy and expanded into several new squadrons, one of which Spears joined.

The Tuskegee program to train African-American combat pilots was part of a series of "experiments" during World War II to find out whether African Americans could meet the same training and combat fitness standards as troops of other ethnicities (mainly white). The pilot training program was established at the traditionally African-American technical school, the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University),  which had been founded on July 4, 1881 near Tuskegee, Alabama, by Booker T. Washington.

The pilot training program was run on a quota system. Quotas have been turned on their head since the 1940s. Nowadays, if someone is said to have gotten into a program on a quota basis, it is generally assumed that either the standards might have been relaxed on behalf of minority applicants or that, out of all the applicants from multiple ethnic groups, if equally qualified, a conscious effort might have been made to admit minorities in greater proportion than their occurrence in the general population. On the contrary, the quota system used in the 1940s was intended to eliminate as many minorities as possible by forcing them to meet higher standards than their white counterparts. It has been said that better pilots were washed out of the Tuskegee program than were graduated by the whites-only pilot training programs.

The notion that African Americans might not be fit for combat seems an astonishingly foolish premise to us in the twenty-first century, but it was believed by enough people in high places that the various World War II-era projects to train African Americans to fight in infantry, armored, and air units were often in danger of being scuttled, none more so than the Tuskegee program, even after the first squadrons were deployed in Africa, and then in Italy. The general ignorance of the significant part played by African Americans in every U.S. conflict persists up to today and was responsible for the prejudice that led war planners during World War II to reinvent the wheel with regard to the training of African Americans for combat.

Members of the all-black 332nd Fighter Group in Italy

Gen. William W. Momyer
One of the toughest chapters in the saga of the Tuskegee airmen came when General William W. Momyer, the commanding officer of the 33rd Fighter Group, recommended that the 99th Squadron was unfit for combat and ought to be disbanded or restricted to non-combat missions. In order to keep the U.S. government from taking Momyer's recommendation to heart, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the highest ranking officer among the Tuskegee Airmen, personally testified on their behalf before a senate committee. A special investigation into the record of the Tuskegee Airmen determined that their record was comparable to that of all-white units. The unit was subsequently expanded rather than abandoned.*

Among the youngest African Americans to become a fighter pilot during World War II, Spears entered the war only in late 1944. But he saw action. He and Lieutenant James Mitchell together shot down a German He-111 bomber and shared credit for the victory.

There is a reason why the 332nd never lost a plane that they escorted over enemy territory, and there is a reason why they never produced an ace pilot (one who has single-handedly shot down at least five enemy aircraft). They are both the same reason: The dictate of the unit's commanding officer, Colonel (later General) Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who was the son of the first African-American general in the United States Army. He was a stickler who insisted that the first African-American fighter group in history was going to do everything by the book. This meant that he forbade members of any bomber escort operation under his command to break away from their protective formation around the bombers and go off to engage in aerial duels with German fighter pilots who were trying to shoot down the Allied bombers. Whether he used the term or not, Davis appears to have regarded this activity as "hot-dogging," the quest for personal glory at the expense of the official mission of guarding the bombers.
Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., leader
of the 332nd Fighter Group

Davis, a West Point graduate, had a good tactical reason for his approach. It was a common enemy ploy to lure glory-seeking American and British pilots away from their charges and then swoop in and destroy the unprotected bombers. Davis would not allow his men to fall for this trick, and, consequently, his group had a low rate of loss among the bombers that they protected, but also a low rate of enemy aircraft shot down in combat. The 99th did have a remarkable success when they became the first air unit to sink an enemy naval vessel by using only their on-board canons and machine guns; however, "ground victories," no matter how successful, did not count toward ace ratings.

In any case, Davis' approach paid off. The 332nd became the most requested escort unit by bomber pilots.

Toward the end of the war, Spears was shot down over German-occupied Poland. Listening to the engine after being hit the first few time, he knew that his plane would not make it home. His preference would have been to land in Soviet-held territory, but he had a little problem.

Even fifty years later, Spears still went over in his mind what he did that day and how he could have saved his plane but ultimately had to wreck her. If he had used his controls differently, when he was at 32,000 feet, he might have been able to glide further into Russian-held territory and land among allies of the United States. Due to inexperience, he kept making moves that lowered his altitude prematurely. His problem then was that the Russians mistook him for a German.

"You see, when the P-51 Mustang is flying directly at you it looks like an Me-109 from certain angles. While I was flying down this river I could feel shells hitting the plane. I said to myself, well, I'm on this side of the river so the shells got to be coming from those Russians. Once they saw that I was an American they stopped firing at me. As I remember, I saw myself coming toward this runway. I said to myself that if I let the wheels down I could probable make a pretty good landing. I decided not to land because I did not want the enemy to use the plane. As I was in the process of putting the wheels up I hit the ground. I did not have enough power to work the hydraulics."**

It was not just any runway but one dotted by planes with obvious German markings. What was worse was that, in turning a wheel landing into a crash landing, Spears damaged his foot. He was bleeding and could barely get out of the plane under his own power.

A restored P-51 with the all-red tail that was the trademark of the 332nd FG

Help of a sort came in the form of a German car full of armed men who trained their guns on Spears. Taken prisoner by them, Spears later recalled that he was treated fairly well. He received adequate medical attention so that his wound eventually healed after he was returned to his own side.

"You're going to lose this war," he said as he taunted one of his guards who spoke good English.

"Perhaps," said the guard. "But I will go back to being an auto mechanic in Stuttgart. You will go back to being a black man in America."

"I couldn't argue with that," said Spears fifty years later.

Spears was not imprisoned for long. The Germans were soon overrun by Soviet troops who liberated Spears. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

After serving in Korea in the 1950s, Spears settled in California, married a U.S. Post Office official and ended up working as a security guard, but he always enjoyed lecturing on aviation, especially to young people.

I visited Woodie in the hospital in about 1996. I gave him a book entitled "Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't
Get a Date" [1992, 1996, 2012] by Robert X. Cringely (the pen name of Mark Stephens). Woodie was fascinated by computers and particularly enjoyed Cringely's conceit that computer enthusiasm was similar to earlier generations' fascination with aviation.

Woodie told me a remarkable story when I visited him. He said that he went into the hospital convinced that, this time, he was going to be carried out. His condition deteriorated. Then one morning, he awoke to find his physician hovering about his hospital room. He looked at the clock, and it was 6 A.M.

"What time did you get up to be here this early?" asked Woodie.

"I woke up at 4 A.M.," said his doctor. "I had this terrific idea for how to treat you, and I couldn't wait to get here and try it."

Woodie asked himself a challenging question:

If my doctor is willing to get up at 4 A.M. to come and try to save my life, what right do I have to give up on myself?

After this incident, Woodie recovered. He would live another dozen years, dying on May 12, 2008.

Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
*In the 1960s, General Charles "Chuck" Yeager also served under William Momyer. Yeager, a white pilot from West Virginia who did not have a college degree, felt that Momyer was blocking his career. After a particularly negative performance reportwhich was ultimately ignored by the PentagonYeager was compelled to seek counselling from the USAF's Human Resources Department. His counselor was none other than General Davis, who had had his own problems with the same commanding officer decades earlier.

**This quotation is from an interview with Dwayne Holt. Woodie said something very similar to me in a conversation in the 1990s.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thoughts on Presidential Pets

First Lady Laura Bush's Scottish
 Terrier, Miss Beazley
Chelsea Clinton's cat Socks
President Richard Nixon's dogs,
but Checkers is not among them
(he died in 1964)
Warren Harding's Terrier,
Laddie Boy

George W. Bush's
cat, India

Ronald Reagan's Spaniel, Rex

Dogs, by far, are the most common animal companions of America’s presidents—rivaled only by horses and cats. In fact, rather than list the presidents who had dogs, it is far easier to list the nine presidents who did not have them—at least not while they lived in the White House:

James Madison:
Polly want a cracker?
James Madison (who only had a parrot named Polly), William H. Harrison (who kept only a cow and a goat), James K. Polk (who had no pets at all), Zachary Taylor (who had a horse), Millard Fillmore (who had two ponies), Andrew Johnson (see below), Chester A. Arthur (who kept a rabbit and three horses), William McKinley (who had a cat and three birds), and Donald Trump (with no pets so far).

In the first century of the Republic, presidents kept many barnyard animals for other reasons than companionship. Several presidents had chickens, goats, rabbits, cows or donkeys. Andrew Jackson even owned fighting cocks, which are far from being pets.

Other “pets” were more eccentric choices. James Buchanan owned an eagle, of all creatures (species unknown, so perhaps not a bald eagle, our national bird), but if you think that is unusual, how about the bears kept by Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Calvin Coolidge? Or Coolidge’s lion cubs, or Martin Van Buren tiger cubs?

Van Buren was given two tiger cubs by the Ottoman Empire, but Congress made him put them in a zoo, evidently because this present fell under the prohibition in the U.S. Constitution against American officials keeping gifts from foreign governments without the permission of Congress. (See Article I, section 9, clause 8.)
Two presidents had alligators

What is it about alligators that led two presidents (John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover) to own them? (Hint: These, too, may have been presented as diplomatic gifts.)

Andrew Johnson fed
mice in his cell -er,
 I mean, his bedroom.
Speaking of diplomatic gifts, Franklin Pierce seems to have gotten all of his pets, which included dogs and birds, from Asia around the time that the United States began trading with Japan. Commodore Matthew Perry was sent by Fillmore to Japan to open that nation to U.S. trade, but Pierce, who had succeeded to the presidency before Perry’s return, got most of the credit as well as the cool gifts.

Ronald Reagan:
The last president to own horses
The eccentricities of other presidents notwithstanding, Andrew Johnson could be the most peculiar in terms of his relationship with animals. While he had no pets as such, he regularly fed the mice that wandered into his bedroom. One wonders whether the first chief executive to be impeached meant to live like a prisoner held in solitary confinement.

As one might expect, presidential horse and pony ownership is concentrated in the early part of the nation’s history, and then it tapers off in more recent times. There are eleven horse or pony owners before 1900 and only three since then:

George Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, John Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Abraham Lincoln:
First cat owner
Rutherford Hayes:
Second cat owner
The first president known to have kept cats was Lincoln, who had two of them and claimed that one was smarter than his whole cabinet. The next cat owner in the White House was Rutherford B. Hayes, who added a pair of the first Siamese cats in America to his collection of eight dogs and one cat. The Siamese were gifts from—who else?—the King of Siam.

The twelve cat owners in the White House are Lincoln, Hayes, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Coolidge, Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. (At least in the cases of Carter and Clinton, the cat seems to have belonged primarily to the president’s daughter, not the president.) Only McKinley had a cat without also having at least one dog, although he kept a parrot and some roosters, too, which must have fascinated his two cats.

Aside from Buchanan, several presidents showed an interest in birds, from the barnyard’s chicken, turkey and goose to the household’s canary and parrot to the wilder, more exotic owl and blue macaw (a kind of parrot)—the latter two both belonging to Theodore Roosevelt. Also, Jefferson and Grover Cleveland kept mockingbirds, Jefferson even naming his mockingbird Dick.

Some presidents had veritable zoos, while others kept more modest collections.

George Washington:
Named one of his many dogs
after nemesis General Cornwallis
Washington had quite a few animals, including at least eight dogs. One, a greyhound, was named Cornwallis, after Washington’s Revolutionary War nemesis, British General Charles Cornwallis. He also had at least eight horses. Martha Washington had a parrot. (Of the first seven presidents, three had parrots in their households, and at least two were rather unimaginatively named Polly.)

The Father of his country also had a donkey that was designated “Royal Gift,” which sounds rather more like a description of its origin than an affectionate name. Washington’s staghounds and coonhounds had names that seem whimsical if not suggestive: Sweetlips, Scentwell, Vulcan, Drunkard, Taster, Tippler (or Tipler) and Tipsy.

Thomas Jefferson;
Bear cubs, mockingbirds, dogs, but no cats
John Adams, in contrast, had only three dogs, one of which was named Satan. His two horses were named Cleopatra and Caesar, a classical pairing.

Jefferson added his pair of bear cubs to a modest collection of birds, dogs and horses. Of course, cubs do not stay cubs, but I do not know what happened to the bears when they became adults. It appears that a number of presidential “pets” were only kept while they were young, which is understandable in the cases of wild and especially aggressive species.

John Quincy Adams obviously did not cuddle with his “pets.” All he had were silkworms and an alligator, the latter being a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette. Where the Frenchman got it, I don’t know. BTW, Adams and Lafayette were both equally fluent in French and English. I wonder what language they spoke when the alligator was presented to the President. In any case, the same word, “alligator,” is used in both languages.
Tip of the iceberg: Theodore Roosevelt & family, shown with Skip, one of ten
dogs. Roosevelt also kept cats, ponies, guinea pigs, reptiles, birds, and a hyena

Theodore Roosevelt practically had a zoo. Along with ten dogs, two cats, a pair of ponies, five guinea pigs, some chickens, rabbits, and pigs, he also kept a snake, lizard, macaw, owl, bear, badger, rat, and hyena.

Calvin Coolidge
was one of the virtual
presidential zookeepers.
Calvin Coolidge, too, had a zoo. Besides a dozen dogs, some canaries, a cat, donkey and goose, there were several animals that ordinarily belong in the wild or, at least, are more associated with zoos than executive mansions. These included two lion cubs, a bear, kangaroo, pygmy hippo, antelope, bobcat, and raccoon.

If someone were to drill down into the psyches of the presidents, a range of attitudes toward stewardship of the animal kingdom might be evinced, ranging from the matter-of-fact (W.H. Harrison) to the inquisitive (J.Q. Adams) to the callous (Andrew Jackson). Along the spectrum, we might expect to find several variations on the bizarre. At the same time, the sight of a lofty political figure with his or her animal companion tends to have a tender and humanizing effect.

More presidential pet pictures, courtesy of the wikipedia article "United States presidential pets":

Benjamin Harrison's Collie, Dash - He
also owned a goat & two opossums
Franklin Roosevelt with
Scottish Terrier, Fala
Herbert Hoover with
King Tut, a Belgian

First Lady Grace Coolidge with
Terrier, Laddie Buck, and
Collie, Rob Roy

Gerald Ford with
Golden Retriever,

First Daughter Susan Ford
with Siamese, Shan Shein

Barack Obama's Portuguese
Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny

Lyndon Johnson at his least flattering:
picking up one of his four beagles by the
ears. Good thing the election was over.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

16 Proposed Themes for Next Libertarian Convention

From an email that I received from Wes Benedict, Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of the United States:

Re: The 2018 Libertarian National Convention in New Orleans:

“Dear Libertarian,

“Our Convention Committee wants your help selecting a theme for the 2018 Libertarian National Convention.

“We're also raising funds to cover some early expenses in preparation for the convention.

“Please help choose the convention theme and provide early funds by clicking on the theme that you like the most and then making a donation in support of that theme.

“Each dollar donated counts as one vote.”

That is right. The voting will be determined by how many individuals give how much money to each theme.

This is not, in my opinion, a problem with this contest. The indivisible atom of politics ought to be the individual, and equality should mean equal opportunity to, for example, make money that you feel you have enough of to give away in this way, not equality of outcome so that each person has one vote regardless of how much they give to this fundraiser. (This is nakedly a fund-raiser, after all.)

Those who are willing to put their money behind an idea have the right to get more back in return and have more of a say. This is true of investment in any sort of endeavor.*

What interests me here is that none of the following themes is provided with an explanation, which is probably because any explanation could only create controversy and detract from the contributions to each theme. This way, each theme means whatever each investor wants it to mean. The trouble is that several of these themes potentially mean things that are undesirable, unconstitutional, and not even libertarian.

“All of Your Freedoms, All of the Time”

This slogan could mean that liberty on principle (which is what the word “libertarian” means to me) should be the ultimate value, and that it should always be the first consideration in all things. With the understanding that this means that my rights should not be infringed unless my actions violate the rights of others, this is a properly libertarian theme, but what if it is interpreted to mean that I can do whatever I think is my right, including my wholly fanciful right to infringe on your right? How do we determine when that is the case? Is this theme about libertarianism or libertinism? Who is to determine where my rights end and yours begin? The slogan could refer to classical liberalism as described, for example, in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but it could also be the Four Freedoms of New Deal (Progressive) Liberal Franklin Roosevelt, where freedom from want is a right no matter what the cause or consequence, or the narcissistic collectivist's right to safe-spaces and transgender bathrooms of today’s far left.

Competing theorists of the meaning of liberty:

John Wilmot, "The Libertine"
Thomas Jefferson, the Classical Liberal

FDR, the New Deal Liberal

“Am I Being Detained!”

Certainly, if you think that authorities are holding you for illegitimate reasons, you might be right, but if you are being held because you are a non-citizen whose feet are not even in the country you want to go to, and you have no proof that you are a law-abiding person, then the authorities do, indeed, have a right to detain you until they find out more about whether or not you have a history of infringing on the rights of others. What kind of theme is this for a convention, though? 

“Be Me, Be Free”

Is this another libertine theme? (See “All of Your Freedoms, All of the Time”
Above.) It could mean anything or everything to anyone. “Be me” could mean, to be a narcissist who violates the rights of others. It used to be reasonable to assume that Libertarians know the difference. I am not sure anymore.

“Building Bridges, Not Walls”

Milton Friedman
As Milton Friedman (the go-to economist for many, if not all, libertarians) once said, a nation can either have a welfare state or open borders, but not both. If you want to demolish the border between the United States and Mexico, you must first demolish the welfare state that seems to attract so many non-contributors to the United States. But Friedman never contemplated another problem: What if people wish to harm the United States and its citizens, and they have sent agents to terrorize the United States or to undermine our liberties? Don’t we want to limit immigration to those who do not mean to violate the rights of others? How do we make sure that would-be immigrants are not ill-intentioned?

“Empowering the Individual”

As slogans go, and acknowledging that any theme could be interpreted in a libertine rather than a truly libertarian direction, I would like to see this theme as the message of the convention, were I still invested in how the Libertarian Party looks in the eyes of the rest of the country. As always, we need to be ready to say what this means in terms of an agenda that offers America and the world what is needed today. Answer the question, how does individualism help to solve our problems?

“Free Lives Matter”

Ah, this seems like a narrowing reference to the current shibboleth “Black Lives Matter,” which many people, including many libertarians, regard as an exploitative movement aimed at attacking every aspect of civil society, including justice, under the guise of valuing the lives of the forgotten and opposing allegedly systemic injustice. (Blacks Lives Matter has been criticized for forgetting too many black lives when they were not lost in ways that could be politically exploited.) Any association with this meme-generating movement is problematic: Is the convention going to embrace Black Lives Matter or differentiate itself from it? If the later course is intended, then Libertarians set themselves up for a potentially fruitless confrontation. If Libertarians are going to do that, they had better think it through very thoroughly. What does this variation on a hot-button slogan mean? Can it be couched in terms that recognize how “free lives” provides a better solution to the problems that the leadership of Black Lives Matter has exploited?

“Future of Freedom”

If we agree that the Libertarian Party must be forward-looking, then this is a good theme, although it is not very original given that there already exists a group called the Future of Freedom Foundation. (I would hope that this group would be given pride of place at a convention that bears its name as a theme.) I would also hope that it is not forgotten that the future of freedom must be guided by the eternal principle of liberty.

“I'm That Libertarian!”

Whadaya mean by that? Is “That Libertarian” the one who is going to make a difference, or the one you don’t want your son or daughter to marry? This slogan has the potential to be catchy, but it means what you want it to mean. I wonder whether it would not be as well to make “#JeSuisLibertarian” both a hashtag and a convention theme. (Using French would have a special meaning for this convention, of course, because it will be held in New Orleans, a city that prides itself on its French origins.)

“Jazzed About Liberty”

New Orleans born Jazz
 musician Louis Armstrong
This is a catchy title for two reasons. First, it reminds us that New Orleans, the site of the 2018 LP National Convention, is widely regarded as the birthplace of jazz music. Secondly, it recognizes that excitement—another meaning of “jazz” in common parlance—is important to the promotion of any practical philosophy. A political party is nothing without enthusiasm. If that is all we are going to hear from the Libertarian Party, however, it might not be enough unless the convention is able to develop a consensus about what Libertarians mean by “Liberty” when they proclaim that they are jazzed about it.

“Liberty Here and Now”

This slogan is sufficiently vague so as not to tell us how successful it might be in practice. Everything depends on how it is developed. Otherwise, it has potential. The only question is, does it divorce liberty from its mooring to what it has traditionally meant? Past is prologue, and what we interpret liberty to mean today is going to determine what it will mean in the future. The Libertarian Party once had its bearings in this regard; I am just afraid that, nowadays, the party has, indeed, lost its moorings and that “liberty” could mean whatever the popular zeitgeist says it means.

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”

Stick to what Thomas Jefferson (pictured above) and the Founders meant by the phrase, and I think we should have a winner. Exploring this phrase in terms of its history and subsequent development could prove educational to delegates as well as to the public. Let us not forget that consideration of both internal and external audiences should inform the choice and development of whatever theme is ultimately picked.

“Make Taxation Theft Again”

Murray Rothbard was
among economists who argue
 that taxation is theft
This is a more pointed, perhaps even sarcastic version of the same theme given more straightforwardly below (See “Taxation is Theft”), being a parody, after all, of President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” If there were no other issues facing the nation or the world, this might be an excellent theme. Unless, of course, it could be shown that this idea does relate to everything, or at least to many of the things wrong in our world today. Taxation was one of the things that started the American Revolution and fueled the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Taxation ought not to be arbitrary, capricious or oppressive. Is every form of taxation unreasonable? Some forms of taxation are choices while others offer little or no choice. (If you choose not to buy a new hat, you do not have to pay a sales tax; if you choose not make more than a subsistence wage, then you will not have to file a tax return—and you will not get a refund, either.) Is the government entitled to financial support of its services? If so, which of those services is the legitimate function of the (or a) government?

“Pro-Choice on Everything”

 Well, there go the pro-life libertarians who regard an abortion as a violation of the rights of a human embryo (that has no other potential than to grow into a human being). Do all human beings have rights? (See “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” above.)

“Rise of the Libertarians”

Sounds like the title of a sequel to “Revenge of the Nerds.” What might this mean? It would be a nice if it meant that we should strive to see the worst members of Congress removed and elect Libertarians in their place, just to see whether they would do a better job. Understandably, the American people are not brave (or foolhardy?) enough to try such a gamble, even though it is fairly clear to some of us that many members of Congress are bad enough that the experiment might be worth the attempt. Who to replace, though? Another possible meaning of this theme/slogan has to do with looking back at the successes had by the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party. (The two overlap as in a Venn diagram but are not the same.) Think tanks such as the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation have had more influence and gotten more bang for the buck than the Libertarian Party has, but the LP has won permanent ballot status in some states and has become a recognized third party. Has the LP sold its soul in exchange for its paltry percentage of the electoral vote total, though? Do Libertarians understand the difference between standing for something when it matters versus winning votes by not standing for much of anything?

“Taxation is Theft”

(See “Make Taxation Theft Again” above for virtually the same commentary.) If there were no other issues facing the nation or the world, this would be an excellent theme. Unless, of course, it could be shown that this idea relates to everything, or at least to many of the things that are wrong in our world today. Taxation was one of the things that started the American Revolution and fueled the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. Taxation ought not to be arbitrary, capricious or oppressive. Is every form of taxation unreasonable? Some forms of taxation are choices while others offer little or no choice. (If you choose not to buy a new hat, you do not have to pay a sales tax; if you choose not make more than a subsistence wage, then you will not have to file a tax return—and you will not get a refund, either.) Is the government entitled to financial support of its services? If so, which of those services is the legitimate function of the (or a) government?

“The Power of Principle”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (center)
As Buffy the Vampire Slayer might say, “Can you vague that up more for me?” Yes, libertarianism is a powerful principle, but can the LP create a convention that is not, itself, too general on this theme? This would make a good theme if it becomes a framework for solutions and does not become a platform for platitudes.

A righteous theme needs to reflect what is really important at this time in national and world history, and should emphasize the aspects of the libertarian philosophy that point to solutions. With all that is going on in the world, libertarianism is relevant, but is the focus of the Libertarian Party on the relevant?
F.A. Hayek, much admired
among libertarians, wrote "The
Constitution of Liberty."

I notice that there is no theme called “The Constitution of Liberty,” which I might have been moved to support on the grounds that it might open the convention delegates to at least consider the United States Constitution as a document worthy of contemplation. (This theme also includes other ideas about the practical application of liberty beyond the U.S. Constitution.) My own apostasy from the Libertarian Party has more or less to do with the inability of Libertarians to hold the U.S. Constitution in much higher regard than do leftists or progressives who see the Constitution as a blank screen on which to project whatever they want to do according to some ideology that is inimical to that behind the Constitution.

* One of my favorite stories has to do with the development of television. The inventor of the analog television system that dominated the industry until the advent of digital, high definition TV only a few years ago, was Philo Farnsworth. Not being independently wealthy, Farnsworth had a consortium of investors that included Crocker Bank of California.

Philo Farnsworth
William Willard Bill Crocker
W.W. Crocker
RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, stole Farnsworth’s technology and began making its own television sets based on Farnsworth’s design. David Sarnoff, the president of RCA, simultaneous declared that he did not need Farnsworth and said he was willing to pay Farnsworth $5,000 for the rights to Farnsworth’s work. (In fact, the U.S. Patent Office later determined that Farnsworth did, indeed, own the patent on analog TV and Sarnoff and RCA had to pay him license fees, which ultimately led to a negotiated multi-million dollar payout from RCA to the Farnsworth Corporation.) At the time of the $5,000 offer, Farnsworth’s own impulse was to reject it out of hand,
David Sarnoff
but his investors had the last word. They agreed with Farnsworth because they had already invested far more than $5,000 in the development of television, and they deemed Sarnoff’s offer as much of an insult to them as it was to Farnsworth. If, however, his investors had decided to take the low-ball offer, Farnsworth would have had little to say about it. The point being that the amount of money that investors put into an endeavor entitles them to a larger say than the inventor who solicits their investment.