Categories
Commentary Historic America

Stories in Stone: Maj. Gen. William Phillips

Monument to British Maj. Gen. William Phillips (1731-1781) in Blandford Cemetery, 319 South Crater Road in Petersburg, Virginia. Phillips was an officer in the Royal Artillery and fought in the Seven Years’ War, and later in the American Revolutionary War on the British side. During the recapture of Fort Ticonderoga in Upstate New York, when his peers objected to hauling artillery up the nearby mountain, he famously replied: “Where a goat can go, a man can go. And where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” Thomas Jefferson called him “the proudest man of the proudest nation on earth.” He contracted typhus or malaria after the Battle of Blandford and died in Petersburg. He is buried somewhere in the Blandford Churchyard.

Categories
Commentary

Remembering 9/11 Two Decades Later

I remember September 11, 2001 as a tragedy, but for more than just what was lost on that day. It was a tragedy for all we have lost since that day.

Twenty years ago, at around 8am in the Chicago suburbs, I awoke to a phone call. It was my father, calling from work to tell me to turn on the television. He said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and true to his word, there it was live on CNN: a black plume of smoke billowing out of the North Tower.

Moments later, I, along with millions of other Americans, saw a second plane smash into South Tower. At first, there was disbelief. “Did you see that?” I asked. “I think something is happening.” Then, a chill ran down my spine. Instinctively, I think, we all knew that everything changed with that second explosion.

Categories
Commentary

A Nation of Wimps

In a harsh world we can either become tolerant by not shying away from pain and disappointment, or we can shelter ourselves and be unable to cope when those challenges rear their ugly head.

In a political cartoon for the Detroit Free Press entitled “Traveling Across America,” artist Mike Thompson juxtaposed two women: a pioneer from 1857 and a businesswoman from 2007. The pioneer declares, “the trip is grueling and filled with hardship.” The businesswoman replies, “I hear ya!  My flight was packed and 20 minutes late!”

In 1905, Art Young was far more critical of his contemporaries when he illustrated a cartoon for Life magazine entitled “World of Creepers.”  It depicts a sea of men in sport coats crawling along the ground under a dark cloud.  The word “fear” hovers just above the horizon.

These two political cartoons express concern that we are (or were) becoming a culture of complainers, snivelers, and grovelers; mere shadows of our immigrant and frontier ancestors who attempted to prosper despite enduring constant hardships.

Categories
Commentary

Unfree Markets and the Diminishing of Choice

Over the past several decades, major cities across the country have introduced market-strangling regulation designed to protect certain industries from competition, resulting in a net loss for consumers and an unhealthy constraint on the local economy.

In a truly free market, choice would only be limited by supply and demand, and human imagination. If retailers see a steady stream of profit, whatever a customer desired would be made available. If the market for one product declined, merchants and manufacturers would repurpose and cater to some other need or desire.

As government comes calling, however, freedom of choice is restricted. Sometimes those restrictions are good, but often they are not. Arbitrary restrictions on street vendors and ride sharing companies like Uber are a good example of what happens when business and government collude to reduce consumer choices.

Over the past several decades, major cities across the country have introduced market-strangling regulation designed to protect certain industries from competition, resulting in a net loss for consumers and an unhealthy constraint on the local economy.

Categories
Commentary

On Culture and Law

How can we claim to live in a free society, if our only choice is between conformity and punishment? In a truly free society, culture, not law, should be the proper vehicle for changing behavior.

It’s become a reflex in American society: all bad things, or even potentially bad things, must be banned. Whether it be vaping, smoking in public places (coming to a home near you), texting while driving, wearing your pants too low, large sodas, or other nuisances, a consensus has emerged that government has the right and obligation to punish behavior deemed harmful to the individual, perhaps even simply annoying or unsightly as well.

By making these activities illegal, the oft-repeated claim goes, it will promote the general welfare by discouraging them. But how can we claim to live in a free society, if our only choice is between conformity and punishment? In a truly free society, culture, not law, should be the proper vehicle for changing behavior.

Categories
Commentary

The Quartzsite Affair

When a small town reporter was removed from a public meeting and its mayor replaced by the chief of police, Quartzsite, Arizona showed how quickly democracy can devolve into dictatorship.

On the morning of July 11, 2011, residents of Quartzsite, Arizona, a small town of 3,677, awoke to find themselves in the midst of a bloodless coup. Sunday night, the five-member town council held a closed session in which they declared a state of emergency, ousted the mayor, and installed the chief of police as chief executive. Their alarming actions were the latest salvo in a battle over a woman who was arrested for speaking out at a Quartzsite town council meeting the previous week.

On June 28, Jennifer Jones, publisher of the Desert Freedom Press, rose during the “call to the public” section of the meeting, in which members of the public are invited to speak. Jones began to address rules that had been recently introduced by the town council, at which time one council member, a Mr. Joe Winslow, ordered her to relinquish the microphone. When she refused, Police Sergeant Fabiola Garcia attempted to forcibly remove the microphone from Jones’ hands.

Quartzsite’s mayor, Ed Foster, who was elected in May 2010 on a platform of fighting corruption, protested the removal and even told the officers that they were violating the rules of order. This was not the first time the mayor and the town council had been at odds. Mr. Foster had recently uncovered a ghost payroll totaling around $250,000 a year, and suspected the town council members themselves were involved with the graft.

Categories
Commentary

Fortuna and the Free Market

“And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously
And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.”
~ Geoffrey Chaucer

Imagine you and another person are standing around a roulette wheel at a high-end casino. You place $50 on black and the other man places $50 on red. The ball has landed on a black or red number a dozen times, and you are confident it will land on either black or red once again. Both you and the gentleman are hoping to double your money.

Your odds are not 50/50, however. In an American roulette wheel, there is a single zero and a double zero, both green, nestled among the other 36 numbers. The odds of hitting these are slim, and so you both shrug off that probability.

The attendant calls for final bets, and at the last minute, an elderly lady places $5 on zero. The wheel spins. The ball lands on the single green zero, and the elderly lady walks away with $180.