Shaun King, Thomas Jefferson, and the facts

Activist Shaun King recently published an article where he attacks Thomas Jefferson for being an evil man:

I genuinely view men like Thomas Jefferson in the same way I view any other intelligent, gifted leader who also happened to be cruel beyond belief β€” he was a monster. Owning, buying, selling, trading, and raping human beings, no matter what year or era you did such things, is monstrous.

King goes on about Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave with whom he is said to have fathered 1 to 6 children. He also criticizes Jefferson for holding 600 slaves, only a few of whom he ever freed. King continues:

He knew good and well it was as evil then as it would be today, but he deliberately and purposefully maintained the system of slavery not only in his own life, but also for the nation.

As President of the United States, he did absolutely nothing to slow slavery down. As the physical owner of 600 human beings who openly admitted he knew what he was doing was evil, he made a daily decision to be evil.

This is the sort of patently false claim you get when someone is more excited about saying something controversial rather than saying something which is true. Jefferson introduced bills and made proposals to stop or stem slavery all throughout his life, including while he was President. He drafted legislation to stop importing slaves to Virginia in the late 1770s. He later proposed banning slavery in the expanding west. As President, he signed legislation to stop the importation of slaves. After his presidency, he proposed an economic solution to slavery where the government would pay slave owners for their slaves. The slaves would then be trained in various trades. At multiple other points, he encouraged the farming of crops that required little slave labor.

Jefferson held a strong belief that freeing slaves all at once would lead to a flood of unskilled workers with no personal resources, no job prospects, and a large pool of discrimination against them. Of course, he didn’t necessarily disagree with the discrimination aspect, but his view was not without merit. After the Civil War, many former slaves remained where they were for lack of other options. This continued for some for decades. Indentured servitude became the default status of many. For others, they experienced a less disastrous economic outcome, albeit one that was far from ideal or remotely fair.

The reality is that any political attempt of a mass freeing of slaves would have been an utter disaster on every front in the late 1700s, early 1800s. The US was still fragile and likely to lose states over any issue big enough to divide them. And, undoubtedly, there was no bigger issue than slavery – even a half century after Jefferson’s presidency, we had to fight a war over the matter. A principled stand by Jefferson as president may have made him a darling of history, but it would have led to southern secession – which would have probably been successful at that time. The northern states wouldn’t have had the industrial power to operate a war time economy, much less the clout to cripple the southern economy. We would have seen slavery in a nation of the southern states well past 1863; Jim Crow laws would either still be in place today or only have been eliminated within recent memory.

It’s easy to look back today and declare that Jefferson and others should have done what they knew was right, but it is almost always a mistake to ignore the politics and context of the times. One man cannot sway an entire culture so dramatically entirely on his own. We saw this not long ago with the policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The odds that Bill Clinton and many other Democrats actually believed that was a good policy in and of itself is incredibly low, but they knew it was a good policy insofar as it represented progress. If Clinton believed in equal rights for gay people (which he likely did and, of course, does), is the argument that he should have only advocated for completely fair treatment? That might feel nice to say, but it isn’t an argument that lives in reality. Clinton could have either made an argument for complete progress or he could have won a second term. Anyone who thinks he should have only argued for what was right should ask themselves how they would have felt about President Dole.

Returning to King on Hemings:

She was his legal property. Thomas and Martha Jefferson owned Sally from the time she was an infant. She could not leave. She was not free. Both Martha and Thomas Jefferson refused to free Sally Hemings their entire lives. Hemings remained enslaved at Monticello into her 50s.

Once again we see King not doing basic research – research he could have included while still making his same basic point. But, no. Any nuance which might muddy the waters even slightly isn’t allowed, apparently. Specifically, Sally Hemings could have petitioned for her freedom while in post-revolution France. She was in a country where slavery had been outlawed, and Jefferson quite clearly knew this. He even paid her a monthly wage so that he would be in compliance with French law. If he was absolutely against allowing her to leave, he never would have brought her to country where she could have readily done so. King’s statement that the Jeffersons refused to free Sally Hemings is simply false. Furthermore, there is documentation that Hemings was recorded as a free person in the 1830s anyway. This was after Jefferson’s death and keeps with the fact that he believed most freed slaves would face excessively difficult conditions on their own.

Had King done this research, he could have still made the point that Hemings was not free in any meaningful way for most of her life. She was impregnated at 16 in a country where she barely spoke the language. Her entire family was still in the United States. She had little choice but to return. Or, that’s at least one viable argument. And it’s the same basic point he wants to make. Except he can’t make it with the same, easily-digestible short-and-to-the-point sentences. Nor can he avoid the fact that someone with no choice in a matter doesn’t get to negotiate the freedom of others – something Hemings did for her children in exchange for returning to the United States.

The notion that Thomas Jefferson was a perfect person is not one that anyone holds, but it is entirely ridiculous to argue that he was some evil man who deserves nothing but the scorn of history. His visionary contributions to his time have fundamentally reverberated into modern times – perhaps more than those of any other political or cultural figure. We should acknowledge his flaws and faults and failings, but we cannot simply dismiss the honor his monumental place in US and world history deserves.


Thought of the day

I’m still waiting to read the first news article ever to discuss the disciplinary record of a cop who is also a victim of a crime. Because the media seems to have no problem when the victim is a black man – even one who complied with everything and did absolutely nothing wrong.

Science moves on bodies of evidence

I’ve long made the point that science moves on bodies of evidence, not individual studies. If you don’t have repeatable data, then you don’t have much of anything. This is why the media is frequently so bad when it comes to reporting on recent studies; they report (or at least imply) individual study results as conclusions that are being made by the scientific community at-large. The truth is usually more like, one group of researchers found some interesting results.

And with that in mind, I turn to one of my favorite topics in science, circumcision. My numerous posts are easily searchable, so I won’t bother to link them, but for those who are unfamiliar with my stance, let me be clear: I am hugely in favor of circumcision because the science is in – circumcision saves lives. Furthermore, there is a very clear body of evidence that circumcision does not decrease sensitivity or sensation. In fact, a recent study found just the opposite:

Of 454 circumcised men, 362 (80%) returned for a follow-up visit 6 to 24 months after VMMC (voluntary medical male circumcision). Almost all (98%) were satisfied with the outcome of their VMMC; most (95%) reported that their female partners were satisfied with their circumcision. Two thirds (67%) reported enjoying sex more after VMMC and most were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied (94%) with sexual intercourse after VMMC. Sexual function improved and reported sex-induced coital injuries decreased significantly in most men after VMMC.

For someone like me who is greatly in favor of circumcision, this is great news. While it is only a survey study rather than a research study, it still provides evidence that circumcision is even better than the scientific community thought. However, that’s just not how science moves. Find me another several dozen studies like this using a variety of methods, and if they show a trend that confirms the results here, then I’ll start believing it. But as things stand now? I can’t make the leap. There is a standing body of evidence that says circumcision doesn’t affect sensitivity or sensation one way or the other; for every study that reports positive results, there’s one that reports negative results (and more often, studies report mixed or push results).

For sports fans only

For as long as I’ve had a deep interest in sports beginning in 2005, I’ve been of the opinion that people who don’t watch or follow sports should remain out of the majority of discussions in that area. For instance, after news came out of Joe Paterno’s failure to act at Penn State, people were calling for the school to be stripped of a significant number of wins. That eventually happened, though once everything quieted down, it was reversed. Why? Because the huge number of non-sports fans demanded it. They applied pressure and got a result that made them feel good, but which held zero consideration for all the players, coaches, and staff that had nothing to do with the incident. Non-sports fans wanted to punish an entire school and every individual associated with a huge sports program because of the acts of a few. That was utter horseshit. Plenty of non-sports fans may think that sports are ‘just a game’, but that’s pure ignorance; just because something isn’t important to your life doesn’t mean it therefore isn’t important at all. Fortunately, those who are actually involved in college football saw fit to correct the mistake.16508166_626391204214106_2020830949610527241_n

All that brings me to this recent garbage meme I’ve been seeing about Tom Brady.Β  On the right side of this post, it includes a quote from media day prior to the Super Bowl. He was asked a couple of questions about Trump and he dodged them. After a third question, he said that he wasn’t going to talk about politics. Somehow this has become an instance of white privilege rather than an example of avoiding irrelevant questions.

There are multiple failings surrounding this meme, but I’ll start off by pointing out the one that’s unique to the ignorant non-sports fan. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are known throughout the league for avoiding distractions as best as they can. This comes from the top of the staff in Belichick. He sets the tone year-in-year-out by giving gruff press conferences where he dismisses shitty, irrelevant questions. We saw it this year when Jimmy Garoppolo did well after his first game and reporters attempted to manufacture a quarterback controversy. After making it clear that Brady was their guy come game 5, Belichick was still asked if Garoppolo would be considered for that start. Belichick simply grumbled “Jesus Christ” and moved on to the next question.

For people who have any idea of what they’re talking about, it’s pretty obvious that Brady’s comment isn’t an example of whatever political or social narrative someone is looking to push. It’s an example of ‘the Patriots way’ (a phrase I’m positive non-sports fans aren’t even remotely familiar with). This is one factor in why this organization has been so successful over the years. Focusing on football creates team cohesion that matters.

Another failing of this embarrassing meme is that it assumes Tom Brady is somehow required to talk about politics. He isn’t. If you tried to force your colleagues into talking politics or religion or sports or whatever topic you cared about despite them telling you they weren’t interested, you’d be hearing from HR pretty soon. You might even get fired. And if you complained that Bob in the next cubicle was a big jerk for not talking immigration with you, you’d get lambasted. Bob deserves to have his wishes to keep his views to himself respected. Why we think non-political celebrities don’t deserve the same respect is beyond me.

And, finally, if Tom Brady focusing on the Super Bowl (that jerk!) wasn’t enough, and if Tom Brady making sure he doesn’t distract the team (what an asshole, amirite?) wasn’t enough, then the fact that he has already made his views clear should be enough. He has said that he has a friendship with Trump that goes back a decade and a half, long before Trump had even significantly waded into politics. He has also pointed out that knowing someone doesn’t mean you agree or disagree with everything they say or do.

So, no, this isn’t an example of white privilege. You don’t know what you’re talking about if you think that; you’re intentionally ignoring context. This is an example of a non-politician staking out a non-political position in an effort to deflect irrelevant and, frankly, inappropriate questions.

Thought of the day

I’m thankful every day that I don’t have some terrible condition like diabetes or heart disease or even colon cancer.

Merry Christmas

I think 2017 is the year that I update this picture.

Merry Christmas

Should I face my plates in or out at the gym?

If you go to a gym with older equipment, you’ve most likely found yourself dealing with asymmetrical plates. While these may not be as convenient as the spoke-wheel type of plates that newer gyms tend to have, there is something to be said for the feel of authenticity that they give your workout. However, if you’re like me, then they come with a downside that’s so big you need to make a blog post about it: people putting them on things backwards.

The type of plates I’m talking about are the ones where one side is completely flat and the other side has a lip. The lip-side of the plate will display how much a given plate weighs, and there may also be a logo. Here’s an example:


The backs aren’t visible, but they have nothing on them. They are also facing the correct way. And the only reason they’re facing the correct way is because they’re from my gym and I was the one who fixed them.

If you google which way people should orient their plates, you’re going to get a few basic responses. Most people will say that they don’t care. Either it isn’t something they think about or they go to a gym that has newer plates. A surprising number of people will say they face the plates with the label in. And the relatively few of us who have actually put some thought into what makes sense will tell you that the above picture is correct.

(Another answer you may get is that Olympic rules say the first plate goes on backwards and the rest go on forwards. This is almost purely for advertising purposes.)

The people who say plates should go on backwards – that is, letters first – will usually cite a myth they’ve heard about wobble reduction. They believe that having the lip side on the bar first will somehow make everything more stable. It won’t. First, the same amount of material is touching the barbell in either scenario. Second, if the rest of the plates are facing the same way, then it makes no difference anyway. Third, anyone who has actually been to a gym can tell you that it makes no difference. Close your eyes with the plates oriented one way or the other. Do a few reps of whatever. You won’t be able to tell which way anything is facing. Fourth, if wobble is such an issue for you, then you can use clips (which, incidentally, will be tighter to the lip side than the flat side).

But why does this matter, you may find yourself asking yourself this far into the post. There are a few reasons. First, it’s not that it really matters which way a person wants to put plates on a bar. What matters is how they return the plates to the trees, such as the one featured above. It is wildly easier to pick off a 45 pound plate that has something to grip than it is to pick off a flat one. Even more importantly, people are assholes who over-fill pegs. Sometimes you have to barely touch a weight and it will seemingly just fall. I’d rather not break my foot because someone couldn’t be bothered to do something correctly. Second, not everyone has been going to the gym for 20 years. It isn’t always obvious which is a 10 pound plate and which is 5 pounds. I’m a well-seasoned veteran of the gym scene and I still occasionally grab the wrong weights. Facing the plates out so that they can be read is about basic respect for others. Third, a lot of people can’t seem to be bothered to place the same sized plates on the same pegs. In the picture above, the top peg had 5 pound plates on it before I got there. The second peg also had 5 pound plates. Some people are assholes and they aren’t going to pay attention no matter what, but I’m convinced a lot of people just need a simple visual cue to get things straight.

Please, for the love of whatever you worship, face your plates out. It doesn’t matter which way you do it on the bar, but get into the habit of doing it with the lip side out anyway. Not only will it be easier to pull off the bar, but it’ll also make it far more natural for you to re-peg the plate the correct way since it will already be oriented correctly.