The big lie was not a conspiracy, and the next attack won’t be either

The January 6 Committee accuses President Trump of running a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. They may be right about parts of the plot, but not about the larger campaign surrounding the big lie. A conspiracy is a secret plot, and the big lie was not secret. That may sound like a technical objection, but it’s vital. From McCarthyism to Russian “democracy” to the Holocaust, the greatest abuses of power happen in broad daylight. Conspiracies like Watergate threaten us a little. Overt, unapologetic contempt for law and for democracy destroy lives and liberty. If we focus on the small danger, we will not prepare for the real threat.

Joe McCarthy, Senate hearings (not a conspiracy)
Senator Joseph McCarthy erodes freedom in broad daylight, 1954

Conspiracy Requires Secrecy

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “conspiracy” as “the activity of secretly planning with other people to do something bad or illegal.” Conspiracies, in other words, are secret. That limits the harm they can cause. A corrupt county official can quietly miscount a few votes. But if you want to overturn millions of votes, you can’t keep it secret. Continue reading “The big lie was not a conspiracy, and the next attack won’t be either”

Putin and Appeasement’s Bad Track Record

Today, Russia celebrated Victory Day: the anniversary of Germany’s 1945 surrender in World War II. That milestone offers a lesson about the war in Ukraine, but not the one claimed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. For the past fifteen years, Western nations have ignored one of World War II’s most obvious warnings … possibly until now.

Putin, May 9, 2022 Victory Day

Putin at today’s Victory Day parade in Moscow

Britain and France Appease Hitler

In 1938, Adolf Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia. He’d been supporting a separatist movement in a border area called the Sudetenland, by German-speaking Czechoslovak citizens. And he claimed he had to invade to protect those German-speakers. Continue reading “Putin and Appeasement’s Bad Track Record”

Democracy Creates a Mess for the Rest of the World

Modern democracy gives us the best governments the world has ever seen. Or maybe Winston Churchill put it better when he said, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” But democracy hasn’t taken root everywhere. And its success has robbed all other governments of legitimacy — everywhere. That includes monarchy: once the world’s most stable form of government. So a country that can’t adopt democracy has no legitimate option. The result: brutal strongmen, like Vladimir Putin, as well as authoritarian hierarchies, like the Chinese Communist Party.

Louis XIV: essence of monarchy
Louis XIV of France (in 1701 or 1702), king by divine right

Royal Legitimacy

Continue reading “Democracy Creates a Mess for the Rest of the World”

The Black General in 18th Century Europe

Revolutionary France had a Black general.

His name was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, and he was born a slave in Haiti — then a French colony — the son of a French nobleman and his African slave. Dumas’ father had little money and actually pawned the boy in 1776, when he was fourteen, but then bought him back. Father and son moved to France, where Dumas gained his freedom and a gentleman’s education. He enlisted as a private in the army at age twenty-four and soared to the rank of general by thirty-one. That was thanks to courage, brains, and charisma — and thanks to the French Revolution, which created unheard-of opportunities for humble-born men. Dumas repeatedly distinguished himself in combat, and France’s Austrian enemies called him the Schwarzer Teufel: the black devil.

General Dumas on horseback
Général Alexandre Dumas, by Olivier Pichat (1825-1912)

Continue reading “The Black General in 18th Century Europe”

The U.N. CAN Remove Russia’s Security Council Seat

Today, Ukrainian President Zelensky called on the U.N. to remove Russia’s permanent seat on the Security Council. That would end Russia’s power to veto Security Council action — including authorization of international military force. The British ambassador tweeted that the United Nations can’t do that. But she’s wrong.

Removing Russia’s permanent seat seems unlikely at the moment. But the member-nations have a mechanism if they want it. And crisis often breeds fast change, like today’s aggressive sanctions against Russia — unimaginable two months ago.

the U.N. Security Council
The U.N. Security Council

Continue reading “The U.N. CAN Remove Russia’s Security Council Seat”

The Historic Ties Binding Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea

The world risks a new cold war thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — of the Crimean Peninsula. The conflict calls for short history of the two nations and of Crimea.

[Originally posted in 2014. I’m reposting because this article has so much to say about today’s news from Russia and Ukraine.]

KievanRus.map - Ukraine, Russia, Crimea
Kievan Rus during the early 1200’s

Continue reading “The Historic Ties Binding Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea”

EU Superpower: The New Holy Roman Empire

Vladimir Putin may have created a new superpower — and it’s not Russia. In the weeks since Putin invaded Ukraine, the European Union has changed. A recent New York Times opinion piece suggests the invasion has both united and militarized the EU (transforming it into a far more effective partner for the U.S). Europe could become an aggressive advocate for democracy, with power to rival China’s, as well as America’s. If so, how would this third superpower operate, given the EU’s decentralized structure? Europe’s own history offers an answer. The EU starts to look like the Holy Roman Empire.

European Union predecessor: Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire in 1356 (red borders)

Continue reading “EU Superpower: The New Holy Roman Empire”

Thank you, American armed forces

Recent events have reminded me of America’s unusual advantage on the world stage. We have a highly professional and uncorrupt military: a blessing enjoyed by few nations today or at any time in history.

The Russian kleptocracy goes to war

Russian armed forces corruption
Captured Russian soldiers say they weren’t told they’d be invading Ukraine

Today, the Russian army is bogged down in Ukraine — apparently due to its corruption and low competence. Putin’s Russia is a kleptocracy: a state ruled by theft. In other words, the Russian government regularly diverts public resources into private pockets, particularly Putin’s pockets and those of other Russian oligarchs, as well as their supporters’ pockets. Military experts think that corruption has played a central roll in stalling the invasion. Those diversions of vital resources create inefficiencies. That’s why a forty-mile-long convoy, bound for Kyiv, sits idle and vulnerable, stretched out across the northern part of Ukraine. The soldiers lack fuel, replacement parts for “lemon” equipment, and even food. (Reports say they’re robbing supermarkets and begging Ukrainian civilians for food.) Continue reading “Thank you, American armed forces”

Four Modern Breakthroughs that Ancient Science Just Missed

Ancient Greek and Roman scholars achieved some amazing things. They foreshadowed many of the inventions and discoveries that shape our world.

  • Anaximander of Miletus / Evolution & Life’s Aquatic Origins: Anaximander was one of the first philosophers and the author of the earliest known philosophical text. He lived in the Greek city of Miletus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) during the early 500’s B.C.E.: the age of Buddha, Confucius, and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. Based on observations, he concluded that life sprang from the seas or from warm water covering the Earth. He also thought that the first animals were fish and that humans and other land animals descend from those fish. In other words, he reached some of the same conclusions as Darwin and his successors. Anaximander, however, did not develop a theory of evolution. Fish fossils seem to have influenced him, but his main inspiration came from the fact that young fish aren’t dependent on their parents: they swim free the moment they hatch. So the very first fish could survive without parents. Young humans and land animals, on the other hand, do depend on parents, so the very first land creatures couldn’t have survived without parents. The parents of those first land animals, then, must have been … fish. Anaximander got it wrong, but his method was sound, and he started down the right path. Continue reading “Four Modern Breakthroughs that Ancient Science Just Missed”