Illinois’ Miserable Superstition

How historians and journalists used witchcraft to ridicule immigrants, African Americans, and poor rural whites.

Nineteenth and early-twentieth century journalists and historians considered the persistence of witch beliefs in Illinois an embarrassing footnote in history, when they acknowledged it at all. Convinced of American progress, historians dismissed witchcraft as a “miserable superstition” and an “imaginary crime” long vanished from educated minds.[1] When it appeared, they ridiculed believers as ignorant, backwards, and even insane.

“In early times the inhabitants of Illinois were in a small degree tinctured with the absurdity and nonsense of witchcraft and fortune-telling; but in after-days this ignorant superstition has entirely disappeared,” former Governor and Congressman John Reynolds asserted in Pioneer History of Illinois (1852). “All this ignorance and nonsense have disappeared from the minds of the people by a proper education,” he concluded.[2]

Writing several decades later, attorney Milo Erwin echoed Reynolds’ sentiments. In his 1876 history of Williamson County, he asserted, “Happily for the honor of human nature, the belief in those foolish and absurd pretentions has been discontinued, for forty years by an enlightened public.”[3] Likewise, in his History of Effingham County, Illinois (1883), William Henry Perrin noted with great satisfaction, “Yet as widespread as were these beliefs in goblins and spells, there are to-day men and women in our county who grew up among such pernicious influences that will tell you of the terrifying beliefs of their childhood and laugh at them…”[4]

Even as they wrote, however, sensational stories involving witchcraft appeared in the press. In Franklin County, Illinois, just five years before Milo Erwin also claimed belief in witchcraft had been discontinued for four decades by an enlightened public, dozens of spectators flocked to a farmhouse to witness the strange spectacle of the Williams sisters, who claimed to have been bewitched. Three years later, in 1879, a Chicago man named Toby Allen complained of being tormented by a witch while he was incarcerated at the Joliet State Penitentiary.

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Fact-Checking POLITIFACT

The political fact-checking website can’t help giving a boost to Bernie Sanders

I often read websites like POLITIFACT, Snopes, and FactCheck.org to help sort through the news and lend a more critical eye to what I read on the Internet. After all, every news site is loaded with bias and misrepresentation these days. So I was surprised when I read this article at POLITIFACT rating a recent statement by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as “Mostly True”. The POLITIFACT writers couldn’t help doing their own editorializing to give a boost to the candidate.

Sanders’ statement concerned the gap in average life expectancy in McDowell County, West Virginia vs Fairfax County, Virginia, implying the disparity in wealth was to blame for the disparity in health. In a speech at George Washington University on June 12, he said:

“In 2014, for example, in McDowell County, W.Va., one of the poorest counties in the nation, life expectancy for men was 64 years. In Fairfax County, Va., a wealthy county, just 350 miles away, life expectancy was nearly 82 years, an 18-year differential. The life expectancy gap for women in the two counties was 12 years.”

Bernie Sanders at George Washington University

POLITIFACT pointed out that the two counties were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to income. McDowell County has a median household income of $25,595 and Fairfax County has a median household income of $117,515. The median household income is the point at which half of households earn less than that amount and half earn more.

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The Equal Rights Amendment is Dead, Stop Pretending it Isn’t

Media activists continue pushing the myth that passage of the Equal Rights Amendment is right around the corner. The deadline expired in 1982.

Last year, Illinois symbolically voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), what would have been the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution if it hadn’t expired without the required support of 38 states. Sunday, on his show Last Week Tonight, comedian [?] John Oliver begged his audience in thirteen states where ratification failed to reverse their states’ decisions.

“Any of these 13 states has a huge chance to change how history views them forever,” he said.

In 1972, Congress passed the ERA and sent it to the states for ratification with an initial deadline of March 22, 1979. Constitutional amendments require ratification by three-fourths of the states. When the deadline approached without the required number of states, Congress extended it to 1982.

Supporters of the ERA argue that only one more state is needed to ratify the amendment and enshrine it into the U.S. Constitution, but this is wishful thinking and not supported by facts. Five states that initially voted to ratify the ERA later rescinded their ratification prior to the deadline, which expired on June 30, 1982–nearly 37 years ago.

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Does President Trump Want to Build Steam-Powered Aircraft Carriers?

Business Insider publishes wildly biased and misleading news story about Trump’s recent visit to Japan.

An unusual-sounding headline popped up in my news feed today. “Trump tells troops that future US supercarriers are ‘going to use steam’ in a weird rant about an obsession he can’t seem to shake.” Written by Ryan Pickrell for Business Insider, this alleged news story and its misleading headline is rife with opinionated and obviously biased descriptors and characterizations.

When I read this headline, it conjured an image of President Trump advocating a return to late 19th Century steam-powered ships. After all, that would be a “weird rant” about future US supercarriers using steam. You have to read past the headline to find out what actually happened.

In an address to sailors and Marines on the USS Wasp in Japan earlier today, President Trump mentioned he might issue an order for the Navy’s new Ford-class supercarriers to use steam-powered launchers to catapult aircraft off the flight deck, rather than the planned Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System. “The US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have used steam launchers for decades,” the article explains.

Trump is concerned the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System is much more expensive without any added benefit. It also appears the majority of Naval personnel support continued use of the simpler steam launchers. So Trump is bringing up an issue to win favor with the troops, hardly something “weird” or controversial.

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The Front Runner

The birth of the modern political scandal is recounted in this stylistic and overlong drama.

Written by Matt Bai and Jay Carson, and directed by Jason Reitman, The Front Runner (2018) dramatizes the news media’s role in U.S. Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 Democratic presidential primary campaign implosion. Filmed like a docudrama, the 113 minute period piece alternates between Hart’s campaign and the journalists covering it, to the detriment of both perspectives.

As the film opens, Senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) is riding high off an energetic but ultimately unsuccessful primary campaign for president. Flash forward four years, Hart prepares to make another run for it with his veteran campaign manager, Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons), and a cornucopia of campaign staff, including body man Billy Shore (Mark O’Brien) and a fictional scheduler named Irene Kelly (Molly Ephraim). Hart tries to maintain a cozy relationship with the press, including with inexperienced Washington Post reporter AJ Parker (Mamoudou Athie).

Things get complicated when Hart attends a party on a yacht called the Monkey Business and reporters at the Miami Herald begin receiving strange phone calls about Hart cheating on his longtime wife, Lee (Vera Farmiga). Frustrated, Hart challenges AJ to “follow him around.” Miami Herald reporters Tom Fiedler (Steve Zissis) and Pete Murphy (Bill Burr) take this as an invitation and begin surveilling Hart’s apartment, where they see Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) leaving at night. Can Hart extinguish this media firestorm before it’s too late?

With a cast of literally dozens of minor characters competing for screen time, your effort to keep track of them all will be as ambitious as the filmmakers’ efforts to tell this story from every imaginable angle.

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CNN Reporter Pushes Feverish Delusions as “News Analysis”

“Is American democracy on the brink?” asks White House Reporter Stephen Collinson

Just when I thought I politics couldn’t get any weirder, I read this piece of “news analysis” by CNN White House Reporter Stephen Collinson published earlier today. Filled with dramatic hyperbole and wild assertions, this “journalist” has apparently shed all pretense of objectivity and flown from propaganda artist straight into raving lunacy.

What does it mean to call something “insane”? If you saw a person on the street corner raving about pink elephants lumbering down the street, you would probably say that person is insane. There is no substantive difference between what Stephen Collinson is writing on CNN and that person raving about pink elephants.

What new threat menaces our republic? A battle over a report that was, until recently, available to the public to read, aside from some redactions that would be illegal to make public.

Attorney General William Barr has released everything he’s legally allowed to publicly release when it comes to the Mueller Report. He’s even provided a special room to twelve privileged members of Congress, six Republicans and six Democrats, to view a nearly complete version of the report (zero Democrats have bothered reading it). And yet, in an act of political theater, Congressional Democrats intend to hold Barr in contempt anyway.

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Collusion Delusion

Piers Morgan savages news outlets for “an obsessively unrelenting campaign to bring [Trump] down as President”

Whether the mainstream news media has any shred of credibility left after the dust settles from the Mueller Report remains to be seen, but right now, it looks bad for the hundreds of journalists and pundits who staked their careers on the Russia collusion conspiracy.

To be completely fair, a negative result of an investigation doesn’t necessarily repudiate the investigation itself. If prosecutors bring evidence to a grand jury, but the jurors aren’t convinced a crime was committed and the case is dropped, we don’t attack the prosecutors for simply doing their job.

There was a legitimate case to be made that the Russian government, or at least elements or agents of it, tried to disrupt and influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s investigation uncovered mountains of evidence to support that and appropriate indictments were handed down.

But actual Russian interference in the election was a secondary concern to many journalists and political pundits, who seemed to have an unusually personal stake in proving President Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They were all-too-eager to report speculation, rumor, and innuendo as fact, with none of the usual qualifiers.

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