Some comments that have appeared on the backup site

I maintain a site on blogspot that consists almost entirely of reposts from this site.  This site is a backup, so that I won’t lose too much of my work in case something happens to WordPress.  As of now, there is little reason for anyone to read that site.

Every so often, a person offers a comment on the blogspot site.  I rather feel for these people, since there is virtually no chance that anyone but me will see what they have written, and I will occasionally go for weeks or even months on end without checking.  So, early in July, someone posting under the screen name “erplus” wrote this, in reply to my notes on an essay on theoretical studies in biology that Miriam Markowitz wrote for The Nation magazine last year:

please see the reader letter below which The Nation refused to publish neither in print nor online; tell me about esprit du corps.
Miriam Markowitz did not do her home work for an article that contains way too many platitudes imported from secondary sources. Just two examples.
A) Markowitz writes that Darwin’s “only explanation for the evolution of sterile insects was the good of the group.” This is a lie long peddled by Hamilton and his sycophants. In the The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote clearly that “This difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or, as I believe, disappears, when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family, as well as to the individual, and may thus gain the desired end. Breeders of cattle wish the flesh and fat to be well marbled together. An animal thus characterized has been slaughtered, but the breeder has gone with confidence to the same stock and has succeeded” []. Here “the family” does not stand for the mafia and “stock” does stands for a kin group. These passages and others by Darwin about “kin selection” are highlighted and justly celebrated in DJ Futuyma’s textbook of reference Evolutionary Biology and in EO WIlson’s Sociobiology. This intellectual heist by the late Hamilton and his sycophants is perhaps the most brazen ever, since it’s literally Darwin whom they insist(ed) in trying to rob!
B) Markowitz treats Dawkins as a scientist but he is not. In the said “Evolutionary Biology” textbook, e.g., Dawkins’ popular-science books are cited for the metaphoric syllogism about genes with intentionality; otherwise there is only a citation for a paper with trivial applied math. Dawkins indeed has never made a discovery. Had Markowitz talked to say E.Sober or even Futuyma, she would have written a much better article.
Given the above and much much more, Nation readers stand warned that almost nothing in Markowitz article has any depth, especially her cheapo-melodramatic pieties towards the end (albeit certainly not because Dawkins and Co. are right about anything).

I didn’t see this comment until Sunday, almost two months after erplus posted it.  I felt bad about that, especially since he had asked us about the original posting before turning to the blogspot site.  I apologized for my negligence there, and repeat that apology here.  Sorry, erplus!  I hope you find it in yourself to forgive me.

I have served a couple of other commenters slightly better, at least to the extent of reading their comments in a timely fashion.  Charles J. Shields gave us the following:

Just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at

All the best,

Charles J. Shields
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

That was in response to my repost of “Kurt Vonnegut, Junior, on Extended Families.”  Writing Kurt Vonnegut is worth a look, and so I thank Mr Shields for letting me know about it.

In February, a commenter using the screen name “Seeker” posted this, in response to some notes of mine about pieces related to slavery as an issue in the US Civil War:

No, the South did in no way fight to protect slavery.

They fought to SPREAD it. Not sorta, not kinda, not in a way, but totally, officially, emphatically, to spread slavery.

And they said so. Over, and over, and over.

For example, Southern leaders in Montgomery issued Five Ultimatums, in March of 1861. All five ultimatums were about the spread of slavery.

The first Ultimatum was that slavery MUST be spread into the territories — against the will of the people there, and against the will of the legislatures there.

They meant, of course, Kansas. Kansas had just rejected slavery in a vote 98% to2%. Plus of course, the four year war to stop slavery from being forced down their throats.

But the FIRST Ultimatum, was the slavery must be spread there. Kansas must “accept and respect” slavery.

Southern newspapers shouted with glee— Richmond papers headlines were “THE TRUE ISSUE”.

Newspapers North and South carried reports of the Ultimatums. New York papers wanted Linclon to obey the demands, to avoid war.

Lincoln would not.

But this was much more than just the drunken rantings of Southern leaders and Southern editors.

This was the heart of the dispute for over 60 years. This is what the South demanded in 1820, then again in 1850.

Only, the earlier times, the Southern leaders claimed they were just giving white men what they wanted – the right to own others.

But here, Kansas was probably the most anti-slavery place on earth. So the Southern leaders tossed aside even the pretense of State’s Rights, and and showed the naked truth.

It was about the spread of slavery, and nothing else. The Southern Ultimatums specifically said states had NO rights to decide issues for themselves about slavery or blacks within their own borders.

In every US history text book, there should be two pages in the middle. On the left side, the Southern Ultimatums as declared by Southern newspapers to be “THE TRUE ISSUE”

And on the other page, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

By the standards of blog comments, that’s remarkably long and well-researched.  So I responded at length.  In fact, blogger wouldn’t allow me to post my entire response as a single comment, since Google apparently thinks it’s unreasonable for a blog comment to be more than a certain number of lines long.  They are right of course, especially on a site so infrequently visited as, but I thought “Seeker” was entitled to a full answer.  So here are the two parts of my response:

Part One:

“Seeker” is an understatement. We make some slight efforts to publicize Los Thunderlads, the blog on which all these posts originally appeared, but this backup site is very obscure. You should call yourself “Finder.”

As for your comment, thanks for expanding on my point that secessionist spokesmen at the outset of the war presented their cause in terms of slavery first and foremost.

I’m sure the Confederates would have liked to spread slavery; efforts to open new territories to slavery had certainly been the main thrust of Southern policy from the invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s until the final defeat of proslavery forces in Kansas in 1859. As you point out, there was no popular support for slavery in Kansas. Nor could there have been any economic demand for it there, given the geography of the place. The Great Plains are not suited to growing cotton, tobacco, rice, or sugar, the three crops that slaves enriched their masters by producing in the USA in the nineteenth century. The Great Plains are suited to the production of grains and the herding of livestock, activities in which slave labor had not been profitable since Roman antiquity. Producers in those sectors had for centuries preferred to rent workers’ labor bit by bit rather than laying out large lump sums to buy a worker’s whole productive capacity at once. The failure of proslavery efforts in Kansas proved, not so much the power of moral enlightenment, but the force of economic rationality. The American Southwest and the Rocky Mountain region were if anything even less suited to the cultivation of cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice than were the Great Plains, leaving the West Coast as the only North American territory into which geography would have allowed slavery to have expanded in the 1860s. Even there, employers had clearly chosen the greater flexibility of wage labor over slave labor by that point.

Part Two:

So, if secession had been a means for expanding slavery’s geographical reach, it would have been quite irrational for the South to have resorted to it only after all prospect of such an expansion had been foreclosed once and for all. Why, then, did so much secessionist rhetoric focus on demands for such an expansion? Were Southerners simply deluded, rebelling en masse against economic realities that the result of the Kansas war had made inescapably clear to everyone?

Maybe! Or maybe not. Consider what else they might have said. If secessionist leaders had called on people to rally to their cause so that the South could become an economic dependency of the British Empire, they would hardly have been able to paint themselves as the heirs of Washington and Jefferson. On the contrary, it would have been impossible for them to keep labels like “treason” from sticking to their cause.

The comparison I would make is to Taiwanese politics. When some Taiwanese politicians claim that they want to invade and conquer mainland China, mainland Chinese leaders respond with equanimity. When other Taiwanese politicians claim that they want to break away from the mainland and coexist with it peacefully, mainland Chinese leaders respond with sharp words and grave threats. Americans and other outside observers are puzzled by this state of affairs, but when we look at the words of Firebreather documents like the Montgomery Declaration, I think we can see that Chinese and Americans are not so different. When they claimed to have designs on the rest of North America, the Confederates could present themselves as still loyal to a common history and a common identity rooted in 1776 and its legacy. However impossible it may have been to realize any such designs in fact, as images in propaganda they enabled secessionists to gloss over the trading relationship they proposed to create with the USA’s traditional enemy.

Moreover, remember the refrain that permeates Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1861 book The Cotton Kingdom: “If there were no free states, the poor whites of the South would be slaves.” That may not have been true, but evidently it was as thought that was in the air when Olmsted was touring the South in the 1850s and in the North at the outbreak of the war. As Olmsted was among the first to document, literacy was a rare attainment for poor whites of the Southeast in the antebellum period; they likely had little notion of the realities of life outside their region, little enough that they may sincerely have believed that a Confederate States of America could have grown geographically. Such belief may have reconciled them to secession. If there were new territories, then poor whites could resist enslavement by threatening to move to them, as in the antebellum era they secured their freedom by threatening to move to the North. Had the secessionists’ official line been a realistic assessment of an independent South’s economic prospects, it’s hard to imagine them raising an army of any sort.

You suggest that students of the Civil War should read the Montgomery Declaration and similar statements issued early in 1861 in tandem with the Gettysburg Address, a statement issued late in 1863. Wouldn’t it be better to compare contemporaneous statements? The advantage of thus comparing like with like is that it would enable us to examine the motives, not only of secession, but of United States policy as well. That policy showed precious little regard for the rights and dignity of African Americans, and a great deal of concern for what was needed, first, to develop large scale industrial operations in the USA and, second, to keep the British from inserting themselves into affairs between the 49th parallel and the Caribbean.

“Seeker” didn’t rebut this two-part comment, perhaps because they are unreasonably long, perhaps because s/he figured out that no one was reading the site, perhaps because s/he simply had better things to do than to be drawn into so weighty a debate conducted in so obscure a forum.  Whatever the reason, I am grateful for the comment and the opportunity to expand on my views.

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