Monday, July 28, 2014

Washington Post reporter gets several historical facts wrong

An article in the print edition of the Washington Post on Sunday, July 27 (p. C5), includes three glaring errors that would have resulted in a failing grade on an elementary school history test, yet only one of them has been subsequently corrected on the newspaper's web site.

The article, written by Ileana Najarro with a print-edition headline "Wolf is making his last push for holiday," explains how retiring U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA10) is advancing legislation that would make Washington's Birthday a federal holiday celebrated on the actual date of his birth, February 22, rather than floating each year on the third Monday in February.

One of Najarro's errors relates to how the holiday came to be celebrated on a date other than February 22:
President Rutherford B. Hayes established Washington’s birthday in 1879 as a holiday for the District’s federal workers, Wolf said. The holiday was extended to all federal workers six years later, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it was moved to the third Monday of February as part of President Gerald Ford’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Gerald Ford did not become President until August 1974. The law was passed when Lyndon Johnson was President. Johnson signed it on June 28, 1968, and it took effect January 1, 1971, when Richard Nixon was President. Ford did sign a bill in 1975 that amended the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to restore Veterans' Day commemorations to November 11, regardless of its day of the week.

A second error, also not corrected, misplaces the origins of George Washington:
Sitting in his office, [Wolf] spoke of his geographical connection to the first president: Both were originally from Philadelphia, and both have held office in Winchester.
It used to be said that "every schoolboy knows" some fact about U.S. history. One such fact is that George Washington came from Virginia. He was born in the Northern Neck, in Westmoreland County near Fredericksburg. In later years, Washington made his home at Mount Vernon, just down the Potomac River from the city that bears his name. As a military officer, Washington did maintain an office in Winchester during the 1750s in a building that still stands near Cork and Braddock Streets.

Washington also served his country in Philadelphia, presiding over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and moving there from New York as President before the capital was established in its present location.

The sole error that was corrected reads, in the print edition, like this:
Although the holiday is still recognized as Washington's Birthday, it's come to be known as Presidents' Day, with several states honoring all presidents at once. Wolf said he abhors this "hijacking" because Washington's birthday is honored equally with that of President Richard M. Nixon, who was impeached.
Andrew Johnson was impeached. Bill Clinton was impeached. Richard Nixon resigned before articles of impeachment could be brought before the House of Representatives for a vote.  If any newspaper's editors should know this, it would be those of The Washington Post.

The Post's correction of this error appears at the top of the page on its web site:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that President Nixon was impeached. He resigned before he could be impeached. This version has been corrected.
The "corrected" paragraph says that Nixon "resigned in disgrace."

So... Where were the copy editors?  How did sloppiness like this make it through the Metro section's editorial process?  Will the other errors also merit corrections in print or on the Post's web site?

Note:  The web headline for Najarro's article is: "Rep. Frank Wolf’s final acts include restoring Washington’s Birthday."

(Cross-posted from Where Are the Copy Editors?)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adventures in the Land of the Mathematically Challenged

A letter to the editor in today's Daily Progress tries to draw attention to the problem of expensive housing in the Charlottesville area.

The letter writers, however, display a sad sort of incompetence when it comes to their grasp of everyday mathematics.

They explain that

according to the U.S. Census, the median value of owner-occupied housing in Charlottesville from 2008-2012 was $286,400. With the median household income in Charlottesville at $44,535, a mortgage on the median home value is likely more than half of your monthly net income.
That may all be accurate but the howler follows in the next paragraph:
Homes under the median value are rare, and are often no more than 800 square feet and/or in complete disrepair.
The second part of that sentence may or may not be true, but the first part is demonstrably false.

It is not possible that homes "under the median value are rare," since, by definition, 50 percent of all homes are under the median value. (The other 50 percent are, by definition, above the median value.)

Perhaps the writers were trying to say that homes available for purchase that are also below the median value are rare, but that is not what they said.

Would this kind of innumeracy (mathematical illiteracy) be solved by adopting the Common Core, or made worse by it? Or would this demonstration of innumeracy be solved more simply by having a good copy editor?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

50 Years Later, Barry Goldwater's GOP Convention Speech Still Resonates

“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” was the biggest applause line of Barry Goldwater's speech accepting his party's nomination as a presidential candidate.

It is probably also the most misunderstood, ripped-out-of-context line in a speech that stands, even today, as a succinct definition of conservatism.

Surprisingly, in 3,186 words, Goldwater never used any form of the word “conservative” in this famous speech. This stood in contrast to four years earlier, when he scolded supporters who threatened the cohesion of the Republican Party by saying, “Let's grow up, conservatives.”

Fifty years ago today, on July 16, 1964, grown-up conservative Barry Goldwater spoke to the GOP convention in San Francisco.*

Most readers of this blog are too young to remember Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, yet it is almost universally credited with launching both the modern conservative and the modern libertarian movements. The principal founders of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation worked on Goldwater's campaign. The founding members of the Libertarian Party were Goldwater campaign volunteers, and Virginia's current Republican National Committeeman, Morton Blackwell, was the youngest Goldwater delegate at the 1964 convention.

The campaign set the stage for a transformation of the Republican party and Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. As George F. Will has put it, Goldwater won the 1964 election but it took 16 years to count the votes.

Something of a prĂ©cis of his 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater's convention speech endeavored to explain conservatism – or what he called “Republicanism” on that occasion, eschewing specific references to the C-word – to listeners who had not yet learned much about it and who unfairly feared it.

In the same speech, Goldwater displayed a certain amount of prescience regarding the course of human history and offered advice to his fellow Republicans who, then as now, often found themselves among bickering factions.

In one, brief paragraph about halfway through the speech, the Arizona Senator summarized the conservative view of individual liberty and the proper role of government.
We see, in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society. And beyond that, we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We do not seek to lead anyone's life for him - we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.
Goldwater also drew a contrast explicitly to the communist, totalitarian vision and, implicitly, to big-government liberalism then in vogue, and recognized the tensions inherent in simultaneous pursuits of liberty and equality.
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
In a line that could be welcomed equally today by the Tea Party and by the Occupy movement, Goldwater said that conservatives must “resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people.”

And, as if envisioning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire a quarter-century later, Goldwater made remarkably accurate predictions in this paragraph:
I believe that we must look beyond the defense of freedom today to its extension tomorrow. I believe that the communism which boasts it will bury us will, instead, give way to the forces of freedom. And I can see in the distant and yet recognizable future the outlines of a world worthy our dedication, our every risk, our every effort, our every sacrifice along the way. Yes, a world that will redeem the suffering of those who will be liberated from tyranny. I can see and I suggest that all thoughtful men must contemplate the flowering of an Atlantic civilization, the whole world of Europe unified and free, trading openly across its borders, communicating openly across the world.
Toward the end of his speech, just before the famous line about “extremism,” Goldwater pointed out the factionalism in the Republican party was not necessarily new, but also was not necessarily bad.

The GOP, he said, is “a Party for free men, not for blind followers, and not for conformists.”

Then he quoted Abraham Lincoln in 1858 “because he probably could have said it during the last week or so: "[The Republican Party] was composed of strained, discordant, and even hostile elements.'”

As if warning the Tea Party and “establishment” branches of the conservative movement of the 21st century, or the social conservative and the libertarian factions, Goldwater admonished: “Let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.”

Explaining that the Republican Party should require no litmus tests, Goldwater explained:
the beauty of this Federal system of ours is in its reconciliation of diversity with unity. We must not see malice in honest differences of opinion, and no matter how great, so long as they are not inconsistent with the pledges we have given to each other in and through our Constitution. Our Republican cause is not to level out the world or make its people conform in computer regimented sameness. Our Republican cause is to free our people and light the way for liberty throughout the world.
It was in that context – between “stupid labels” and the beauty of the American system – that Goldwater added:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" -- the second part being so often forgotten while the first part so often misinterpreted.

He concluded with the modest thought that conservatives have “a very human cause for very humane goals.”

Perhaps suggesting that he knew victory in November was unlikely, Goldwater went on to note that his 1964 campaign was a first step in a long journey.
This Party, its good people, and its unquestionable devotion to freedom, will not fulfill the purposes of this campaign which we launch here now until our cause has won the day, inspired the world, and shown the way to a tomorrow worthy of all our yesteryears.
Barry Goldwater's nomination acceptance speech of July 16, 1964, can be viewed in its entirety on the C-SPAN web site, where you can see people smoking openly on the convention floor.

*Twenty years later, when the Democrats chose the same city for their nominating convention, then-UN Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick repeatedly dripped with contempt the phrase “San Francisco Democrats” in her own GOP convention speech.

(Cross-posted, in slightly different form, from Bearing Drift. A shorter version of this essay also appears on

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Has my interview with Ed Gillespie gone viral?

U.S. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie
Last weekend I interviewed Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, at the terminus of the annual Crozet Independence Day parade.

My line of questioning was designed to discern how Gillespie, author of the 2006 book, Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies, would like to roll back the size and scope of government. Specifically, I asked him which three federal programs he would like to eliminate because the private sector or state governments should perform their functions.

Rather than answering my questions -- because candidates generally prefer not to be specific about anything -- Gillespie pointed me to his overall "Ed Gillespie's agenda for economic growth" (EG-squared), saying
One of those five points on that agenda is cutting wasteful spending, balancing the budget. We're going to roll out specifics of that over the course of the summer, just as we just rolled out the specifics on our energy plan, which was one of the five points as well, last week. So we're looking at various areas of the budget where we can cut wasteful spending, reduce spending, eliminate programs. One that I have said already that I believe should not be reauthorized and doesn't deserve to be continued in funding is the ExIm Bank, but we'll roll out more details later as we go along.
The version of the interview published on seems to have struck a nerve -- not with Gillespie or his campaign, but with his opponent, incumbent Senator Mark Warner, and Warner's supporters.

First the Warner campaign cited the interview in a press release that drew an analogy between Gillespie's answer and Texas Governor Rick Perry's famous "oops!" moment during the 2012 Republican presidential primary debates. (The link on that press release increased traffic to my pages by a factor of 20 or more.)

The Democratic blog, Blue Virginia, republished the Warner press release on Monday afternoon without commentary.

Then the Augusta Free Press picked up the Warner news release and basically reprinted it without crediting Warner's campaign.

Tuesday night, DailyKos, the national left-leaning blog site, took its cue from the Augusta Free Press but also drew upon a chunk of my original article.

Most recently, former Reason magazine contributor Dave Weigel, writing in Slate today, headlined his story "The Export-Import Bank Is Your New Populist Fig Leaf."

Weigel explained:
Longtime Republican operative Ed Gillespie is making a long bet that any Republican can win in 2014. The post-Bush Republican Party has largely rejected what Bush stood for, which is remembered (in shorthand) as spending on entitlement programs and immigration reform. Gillespie was the chairman of the RNC for part of Bush's first term and a counselor to the president for the last part of it. He does not make an obvious "libertarian populist," let's just say. So he's spent a strange amount of time ribbing Sen. Mark Warner for supporting a balanced-budget amendment in 1996 but not in 2014 (i.e., after two wars and the Bush tax cuts made it slightly harder to balance the budget). He has admitted that the Bush-era GOP "spent too much," generally speaking. And in this interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner,* he found a populist cause.
"That reveals what we knew already." Weigel continued:
Gillespie is savvy, and spotted an issue that was burbling up from the activist base and large conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth. As luck would have it, the Bush-era reauthorization votes for Ex-Im came in 2002 and 2006, years when Gillespie was neither at the RNC nor the White House. He's got clean hands on this one!
This episode reminds me of what happened in 2010 when a teachers' group ran a TV ad supporting then-Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello and lambasting then-candidate Robert Hurt for his views on eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, quoting from another article of mine published on  At the time, I thought Hurt's comments were uncontroversial; the NEA thought differently.

By the way, the asterisk in Weigel's article likens to AOL's defunct

Friday, July 04, 2014

Gay Equality Protest at Independence Hall - July 4th, 1968

A year before the Stonewall riots sparked what's become known as the modern gay-rights movement, pioneering advocates for gay equality -- sorry, "LGBT equality" -- marched in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The day these pioneers chose was the Fourth of July, knowing that tourists would be celebrating the Independence Day holiday at the site where the Declaration of Independence was drafted, debated, and adopted in 1776.  Their aim was to spread the word among middle Americans that in the phrase "all men are created equal," all means all.

One of the protesters for gay rights was Lilli Vincenz, who also brought along her own movie camera to record the event.  Could she have known that, 46 years later, we would be celebrating gay equality rather than begging for it?

The Library of Congress has preserved Vincenz's film about that picket line (which includes an interview with the late Franklin Kameny, a well-known agitator who coined the phrase, "Gay Is Good.").  Mike Mashon wrote on the Library's "Now See Hear!" blog on June 5:

The Library’s moving image collections are large (1.4 million film reels and videotapes with more arriving every day) and almost unimaginably diverse. We may not have every film or television show ever produced, but it’s a rare occurrence when Moving Image Research Center staff can’t help a patron find at least a little something related to their inquiry.

Every so often a precious jewel emerges from this mountain of content. I admit when I first heard that the Library was in the process of acquiring the collection of gay rights pioneer Lilli Vincenz I had no idea who she was. Not long before the official announcement, Dr. Vincenz’s representative Charles Francis—who was also instrumental in the Library’s acquisition of the Frank Kameny Papers in 2006—paid a visit to the Packard Campus and brought with him a copy of two of her films. The Second Largest Minority documents the “Reminder Day Picket” at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, on July 4, 1968, while Gay and Proud is about the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade held in New York City, June 28, 1970. We watched them together.

The films were revelatory.

Even apart from the subject matter, The Second Largest Minority is a tight little time capsule of life in the 1960s -- the clothes, the hairstyles, the manner with which people carried themselves.

Portions of this short, made by Lilli Vincenz on July 4, 1967, have been excerpted in other documentary films, such as Before Stonewall, but until recently only a few lucky people have seen the entire 7-minute record of this historic event.

Now you can see it, too:

Mashon continues:
The images are striking. First, there are the immaculately groomed, polite-but-persistent participants in the Philadelphia event. While a picket reading “Homosexuals Ask for Redress of Grievances” may not be the most soul-stirring call to arms, let’s also not forget the bravery of these pioneers, who faced much open hostility. Contrast this with the more defiantly celebratory attitude of the Christopher Street marchers just two years later. The Philadelphia pickets are still in evidence, but the operative word now is “pride.” It’s one thing to read about how the gay rights movement was catalyzed by the Stonewall Inn riots of June 1969, but quite another to see that tonal shift illustrated so vividly in these bookend films. Powerful movements can begin and be sustained in unlikely places, and how fortunate we are that Lilli Vincenz was there to record this one.
For my 2010 interview with Frank Kameny about the early days of the gay rights movement, see Part I here and Part II here. For his reminiscences of his military service in the Second World War and the movement to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," look here. For my look back at the Stonewall riots of 1969, check out these posts: "Four Decades After Stonewall" and "41 Years Ago Today, the Queers Fought Back." The 12-minute film, Gay and Proud, which documents the first "gay pride" parade in New York City in 1970, can also be viewed on the Library of Congress' "Now See Hear!" blog.