« 2002 June | Main | 2002 April »

Sunday, May 26, 2002

I Hate Spell Checkers
Spell checkers allow poor spellers to appear to be as intelligent as those who do know how to spell. Normally, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but it will eventually contribute to the decline of our species. Eventually, lower animals will catch up with us and we'll no longer dominate the Earth. All because of spell checkers. And Viagra. And cosmetic surgery.

You see, women are attracted to intelligent men. Of course. But they are liable to be confused by the technological tampering of spell checkers and assume that dumb people aren't actually stupid. Thus there is a greater chance that stupid people will breed.

And then there are these pitiful examples of men who are no longer virile and medical technology has made it possible for these impotent men to appear other than they are. The status and importance of real men is thus diminished, and by design, these ersatz men continue to breed.

The monkeys will catch up some day. We'll end up like Charleton Heston in "Planet of the Apes" all because modern technology is making it look like those of us who are perfect aren't really all that unique.
It must be stopped.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Ulysses S. Grant was a Terrible President (and why you should read good history books)
I was watching another PBS show again, this time a biography of Ulysses S. Grant was on. It was an interesting refresher of the Reconstruction period. I was surprised at how this man was honored as being great despite every evidence of stupidity they presented. I have no doubt that Grant was personally honest, everyone who knew him vouches for his personal integrity, and it is appropriate to acknowledge his success in battle, but he was never great, nor was he even good. In fact, his blundering led to some horrible results.
To his constant and continuous scandals as President where he allowed others to manipulate him and cause an economic disaster worse than the Great Depression of the twentieth century, we can add the pathetic embezzlement of money he collected from families and former comrades-at-arms. He may have been a nice guy, but he was a drunk (despite denials which were obligatory for the times), a fool, and a butcher. Only the last quality served him well because it allowed him to conduct total war, ignoring the thousands of deaths he caused with his newer, more effective tactics.

History loves a winner, and his butchery is excused because it allowed him to be on the winning side. With this I agree, wars should be won at all costs, but I don't wish to dwell on his particular career. What I want to rant about today is how history rarely records what really happened in an objective way.

The twentieth century's equivalent to Grant is Harry Truman. There are a lot of people still alive who remember him, yet almost all the politicians today claim his legacy, on both sides of the aisle. Why? I have no idea. Truman was a bumbler, a tool of one of the most corrupt political machines in the nation, yet somehow people want to believe that he became a paragon of virtue and wise leadership once he took office. The list of his stupidities is as long as his two terms of office. Roosevelt didn't trust him. His incompetent policies allowed China to become communist, Russia to take control of half of Europe, and his treatment of the people in Indo China directly led to the Vietnamese War. His irresoluteness caused the North Koreans to think that we would not protect South Korea if they invaded. He failed miserably in controlling the military and allowed MacArthur to set himself up as a potentate in Japan, inflating his already substantial ego and making him intolerable after Inchon. I could go on, but he isn't the point of my rant either.

Going back to the nineteenth century, Abraham Lincoln is almost universally admired as near god-like. Yet, if you read contemporary accounts, he was hardly loved by all. No one ever, ever questions his precipitating the War Between the States by refusing to evacuate Fort Sumter. No one wonders if 600,000 lives killed in his demonic obsession with keeping the union whole might have been avoided had he simply ordered the fort abandoned. He completely ignored the entire principle that created our nation, that of self-determination, and chose instead to invade sovereign states. He chose to kill people who didn't want to be taxed to favor the northern states. If the Boston Tea Party took place during his reign, he would have rounded up the Sons of Liberty and hanged them all. Then he would have jailed Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, just like he actually did jail newspaper editors who criticized him during the war. He is most remembered for freeing slaves, but the truth* is that he never freed a single slave.Yet, Lincoln is deified. It is not certain that secession couldn't have been avoided and once it occurred it is clear that he had no right to oppose it. If a different President were elected perhaps a peaceful way of ending slavery might have been found. We don't know, but to admire a man who did his level best to destroy the fundamental principles of our nation is just another example of how historians and cultures simplify knowledge of the past, either to promote an agenda, or just from laziness.

Could this one-sidedness be simply an attempt by cultures to avoid re-fighting and re-arguing old debates?

Even though the arguments against a Federal Bank are as valid, or more valid today than 200 years ago, the issue is rarely debated anymore. Even though George Washington's brutal suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion was controversial when he ordered it, hardly anyone mentions it as a failure that led to growing federal abuse of power. Washington was a great man, one of the greatest, but this was one of his bad decisions. I have almost never seen this event portrayed as anything but a brave decision, even though it was contrary to everything Washington and his army fought for, and it led to unnecessary impoverishment of people who fought the war with him for the main purpose of avoiding taxes on whiskey production.

Historians no longer present the past in an objective way. They don't even present both sides of an argument. They ignore the legitimate claims of one side, not always the losing side, and present events as inevitable, as definitive events that could not have occurred in any other way.

I'm reminded of experiences I've had in the Marine Corps and even more so in the corporate world, which I'm sure anyone else will have seen too. When a person is assigned to lead a project, sometimes it will be led with such skill and such competence that it goes smoothly, with all parties working cooperatively, all contingencies anticipated, and all results better than expected. These people almost never get rewarded, yet those who cause chaos in their projects often get rewarded because they make the job look like it was difficult. This is true of military leaders as well. We remember Normandy as a great battle, which is was. But we don't remember where the battle was successful, we only recall Utah beach where everything went wrong. People remember the Battle of the Bulge as a great victory, yet it was one of the biggest lapses of leadership our army has ever experienced.

Lincoln is remembered as great, despite his destruction of the American ideal of self-determination. There were no wars during the term of Calvin Coolidge. I don't even recall any large scandals, though there might have been one or two. Why isn't Coolidge remembered as the greater president? I'm sure he could have invaded Mexico on some pretext or another and have been thought of as great.

The last objective historian was Thucydides back around 430 BC. Most of those who followed were pikers. Those of us who don't read first-hand accounts of history to understand events as they occurred are likely to have a distorted view of what happened, and thus a mistaken idea of what is happening, and a potentially dangerous plan for what should happen.

* The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in territories not yet conquered by Lincoln's invading armies. It was a cynical attempt to create a larger burden on the South by fomenting more rebellion. Those slaves in the states that he already had conquered, and those that never seceded were kept in bondage and they were used as slave labor during the war. Lincoln stated many times that he had no desire to free the slaves.