Monday, December 20, 2010

Providence vs. Progress

I recently read an article in the Times about Google's new Ngram Viewer, which allows you to graph the frequency of use of words in the books (about 5.2 million) that Google has scanned.  I ran a comparison of the words "Providence" and "Progress," as seen in print between 1600 and 2008, and got this:

Pretty striking the way "progress" takes off around 1780 and goes through the roof in the early 19th century, while "providence" droops.  What are we to make of this?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The 3/5ths Clause: The Power of Irrationality

I have long believed that the most powerful antislavery clause in the Constitution is the three/fifths clause, which designates slaves as constituting three-fifths of a person for purposes of congressional representation.  Why?  Because of its indefensibility and irrationality.  If the Northerners had won, and slaves were not counted for purposes of representation, the South probably would not have signed the document.  If the Southerners had won, and slaves were counted as 5/5, it would have been distasteful to the Northerners, but they would have swallowed it, and the controversy would be over (and Southern power substantially increased).  But by ordaining this cockamamie "Federal Ratio," every time a slave state came up for admission to the Union, the issue of slave representation blew up again and ripped off the scab.  It kept the fact of the political injustice of slavery alive, even at times when the moral injustice was being ignored.

Surely the framers could not have intended  this effect, right?  Well, it's possible.  As Jan Lewis observes
in her essay "The Three-Fifths Clause and the Origins of Sectionalism (in Finkelman and Kennon, Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism), it was James Wilson of Pennsylvania who proposed the Federal Ratio.  And he was one of the most forceful opponents of slavery in the Convention.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Munchkinland Before Dorothy

When Dorothy lands in Munchkinland, she is greeted by a highly organized society with a mayor, lawyers, representatives of  cultural and social organizations, and a well-drilled, uniformed military.  There are also spies concealed in the underbrush—hidden figures equipped with elaborately-constructed camouflage (hats with flowers, etc.).  Ominously, a coroner already has an elaborately-calligraphed death certificate made out and ready to sign.  Most importantly, there is no evidence that the Munchkins suffered any kind of oppression under the rule of the Wicked Witch, much less engaged in any resistance.  Where were they during the oppressive reign of the Witch of the East?  It seems powerfully evident that the Munchkins were collaborators on a par with the Austrians in World War II.
Munchkin Militia, 1939

Romania's Fascist Iron Guard ("Greenshirts"), 1940