CRF Blog

The Rule of History

by Bill Hayes

In The Rule of History for the New Yorker, Jill Lepore reflects on the meaning of the Magna Carta.

The reign of King John was in all ways unlikely and, in most, dreadful. He was born in 1166 or 1167, the youngest of Henry II’s five sons, his ascension to the throne being, by the fingers on one hand, so implausible that he was not named after a king and, as a matter of history, suffers both the indignity of the possibility that he may have been named after his sister Joan and the certain fate of having proved so unredeemable a ruler that no king of England has ever taken his name. He was spiteful and he was weak, although, frankly, so were the medieval historians who chronicled his reign, which can make it hard to know quite how horrible it really was. In any case, the worst king of England is best remembered for an act of capitulation: in 1215, he pledged to his barons that he would obey “the law of the land” when he affixed his seal to a charter that came to be called Magna Carta. He then promptly asked the Pope to nullify the agreement; the Pope obliged. The King died not long afterward, of dysentery. “Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John,” it was said. This year, Magna Carta is eight hundred years old, and King John is seven hundred and ninety-nine years dead. Few men have been less mourned, few legal documents more adored.

Magna Carta has been taken as foundational to the rule of law, chiefly because in it King John promised that he would stop throwing people into dungeons whenever he wished, a provision that lies behind what is now known as due process of law and is understood not as a promise made by a king but as a right possessed by the people. Due process is a bulwark against injustice, but it wasn’t put in place in 1215; it is a wall built stone by stone, defended, and attacked, year after year. Much of the rest of Magna Carta, weathered by time and for centuries forgotten, has long since crumbled, an abandoned castle, a romantic ruin.

Magna Carta is written in Latin. The King and the barons spoke French. “Par les denz Dieu!” the King liked to swear, invoking the teeth of God. The peasants, who were illiterate, spoke English. Most of the charter concerns feudal financial arrangements (socage, burgage, and scutage), obsolete measures and descriptions of land and of husbandry (wapentakes and wainages), and obscure instruments for the seizure and inheritance of estates (disseisin and mort d’ancestor). [more]

The Horrific Sand Creek Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More

by Bill Hayes

In The Horrific Sand Creek Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More, Smithsonian magazine looks back at the 1864 massacre and reports on the opening of the national historic site.

When hundreds of blue-clad cavalrymen suddenly appeared at dawn on November 29, a Cheyenne chief raised the Stars and Stripes above his lodge. Others in the village waved white flags. The troops replied by opening fire with carbines and cannon, killing at least 150 Indians, most of them women, children and the elderly. Before departing, the troops burned the village and mutilated the dead, carrying off body parts as trophies.

There were many such atrocities in the American West. But the slaughter at Sand Creek stands out because of the impact it had at the time and the way it has been remembered. Or rather, lost and then rediscovered. Sand Creek was the My Lai of its day, a war crime exposed by soldiers and condemned by the U.S. government. It fueled decades of war on the Great Plains. And yet, over time, the massacre receded from white memory, to the point where even locals were unaware of what had happened in their own backyard.

That’s now changed, with the opening of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. “We’re the only unit in the National Park Service that has ‘massacre’ in its name,” says the site’s superintendent, Alexa Roberts. Usually, she notes, signs for national historic sites lead to a presidential birthplace or patriotic monument. “So a lot of people are startled by what they find here.”

Visitors are also surprised to learn that the massacre occurred during the Civil War, which most Americans associate with Eastern battles between blue and gray, not cavalry killing Indians on the Western plains. But the two conflicts were closely related, says Ari Kelman, a historian at Penn State University and author of A Misplaced Massacre, a Bancroft Prize-winning book about Sand Creek.

The Civil War, he observes, was rooted in westward expansion and strife over whether new territories would join the nation as free states or slave states. Slavery, however, wasn’t the only obstacle to free white settlement of the West; another was Plains Indians, many of whom staunchly resisted encroachment on their lands. [more]

Government Research & Development on Renewable Energy

Infographic: The Race for Renewable Energy Domination | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

The Major Blind Spots in Macroeconomics

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the New York Times Magazine,  John Lanchester discusses what he thinks are The Major Blind Spots in Macroeconomics.

Economic forecasts on the eve of the credit crunch and the Great Recession were, he [ Andy Haldane, the chief economist for the Bank of England] says, “not just wrong but spectacularly so.” The overall trajectory of precrisis forecasts was upward; the reality was a brutally deep capital V.

The reason this poses a deep intellectual crisis for macroeconomics is that the entire point of the field, as it has developed since the work of John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, is to prevent just this sort of severe downturn. Keynes once spoke of a future in which economists would be “humble, competent people on a level with dentists,” while the brilliant up-and-coming French economist Esther Duflo recently gave an admired I.M.F. lecture called “The Economist as Plumber.” It seems to me, though, that what macroeconomists do is really most like bomb disposal. Uniquely in the social sciences and humanities, macroeconomics was developed with a specific, real-world purpose, and a negative purpose to boot: to stop anything like the Great Depression from ever happening again. Given this goal — to avert systemic crises and downturns — the credit crunch and the Great Recession were, for macroeconomics, an intellectual disaster. [more]

For a free classroom lesson on economist John Maynard Keynes, see John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Breaking Bob

by Bill Hayes

In Breaking Bob, New York magazine profiles Bob Odenkirk, the star of Better Call Saul.

Odenkirk grew up in Naperville, Illinois. His parents had split by the time he was 12. His father, who had served in Korea, designed business forms and suffered from alcoholism. The kids were raised Roman Catholic, “with the kind of Catholic guilt where I won’t buy something because then I feel like somebody else doesn’t get to own it,” he said a bit later, as he thumbed through a Marvel Comics anthology at Skylight Books in L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood. “Isn’t that weird? Like by my having this, some big comic-book fan can’t?”

The adolescent Odenkirk and his brother Bill (currently a writer-producer for The Simpsons) wrote and performed humorous sketches around the house and took as much pleasure from listening to comedy as watching it: Steve Martin’s album Let’s Get Small, the Credibility Gap’s Floats (featuring McKean), and most anything by Monty Python. As a student at Marquette, Odenkirk hosted a college-radio show of live skits, then transferred to the less conservative Southern Illinois University. In his late 20s, after moving to L.A., he made his way through various stops on the elite comedy-writing circuit before hitting his stride with Mr. Show.

That series, which ran for four seasons beginning in 1995, has been likened to a kind of Velvet Underground of comedy: Only a few people watched it, but most of them apparently became performers. Mr. Show’s influence has been cited by the stars of Portlandia, Key & Peele, and Tenacious D. Odenkirk has described Mr. Show as an American version of Monty Python  —  with set pieces that bled into the next, and characters who encroached on each other’s sketches. Cross often played the demented cherub, daring the audience to laugh; Odenkirk was the straight man, an aspiring sharpie in an undertaker’s zoot suit, his soft-serve pompadour offset by overdetermined sideburns.

In person, the two play off one another similarly, even now. [more]

Recent Political Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See Cagle’s collection of recent political cartoons.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Losing Our Way

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times Book Review reviews Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America by Bob Herbert.

Bob Herbert shares the same pragmatism, shaped by the America he came of age in, which still assumed a common good and treated the challenges facing its individual citizens as collective priorities we could solve. “Losing Our Way” is a brave call to action — not simply to put people back to work, but also to link that work to the necessary interests of an egalitarian society. This means investing in what we’ve catastrophically undervalued: our bridges and highways and tunnels, our public schools, our fellow citizens. Herbert approaches this monumental task the same way he approached such unpopular issues for almost 20 years in his Op-Ed column at this paper: case by case, week after week, with steady resolve. The shortsighted policies and unchecked greed that have resulted in the abandonment of the poor are now destroying the middle class, and Herbert remains willing to state, very clearly, what he sees. [more]

I taught my 5th-graders how to spot fake news

by Bill Hayes

Writing in Vox, Scott Bedley explains how he taught his 5th-graders how to spot fake news. Now they won’t stop fact-checking him.

I’ve spent 23 years teaching in a Southern California classroom, and we’re seeing a true bubble of false information online. Here’s how I’ve adapted my curriculum and teaching style to make sure my students know which sources to trust — and which to reject.

To make sure I wouldn’t have any student in the same situation as Andy ever again, I started asking my students to examine seven different elements of a news article. If the information checks out on each of these points, it has a high likelihood of being accurate. Still, passing the test is not a guarantee that it’s fact.

1. Copyright: I always ask students to check the bottom of the webpage to see if the information has been submitted for ownership. [more]

The lessons of violence and inequality through the ages

by David De La Torre

In The lessons of violence and inequality through the ages, The Economist reviews The Great Leveller: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century by Walter Scheidel.

Only four things, Mr Scheidel argues, cause large-scale levelling. Epidemics and pandemics can do it, as the Black Death did when it changed the relative values of land and labour in late medieval Europe. So can the complete collapse of whole states and economic systems, as at the end of the Tang dynasty in China and the disintegration of the western Roman Empire. When everyone is pauperised, the rich lose most. Total revolution, of the Russian or Chinese sort, fits the bill. So does the 20th-century sibling of such revolutions: the war of mass-mobilisation.

And that is about it. [more]

How Body Cameras Curbed Police Use of Force in Rialto

by David De La Torre

In How Body Cameras Curbed Police Use of Force in Rialto for Zocalo Public Square, Alex Sutherland and Barak Ariel report on their findings.

In 2012, we joined with the Rialto Police Department in conducting the world’s first randomised experiment of the effect of body cameras on relations between police and the public. This experiment came about through the foresight of then-police chief Tony Farrar, with whom we — two academics with expertise in criminal justice — co-authored the research. The original project began as a way of cutting red tape, but ended up influencing policing and criminal justice systems around the world, with far-reaching implications.

At the time of the experiment, the Rialto Police Department handled 3,000 property and 500 violent crimes per year, as well as six to seven homicides annually (nearly 50 percent higher than the U.S. national rate per 100,000). [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Police Body Cameras and the Use of Force.” It is available from CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

We spend $100 billion on policing. We have no idea what works.

by Bill Hayes

In We spend $100 billion on policing. We have no idea what works. for the Washington Post, law professor Barry Friedman argues that more money should be spent on research into the effectiveness of various police technology and practices.

The truth is, we all want to be safe. The struggle isn’t about outcomes, it’s about methods. Should law enforcement have ready access to everyone’s phone location-tracking data? Should police be required to undergo deescalation training before being authorized to use force?

These aren’t questions to be resolved by free-for-alls on cable news channels. They require facts and analysis. And yet, although the United States shells out well over $100 billion each year for public safety, we have remarkably little idea whether that money is well spent. It’s possible that any given policing tactic or technology — from Tasers to facial-recognition systems to body cameras — is a fine or poor idea. But we really don’t have much sense of which tactics and tools work, or whether they are worth the cost. We don’t know how much money we may be wasting, or whether we are compromising civil liberties, or harming people or property, without good reason.

Throughout the rest of government, we use cost-benefit analysis to answer these sorts of questions. [more]

The Ways That the 2016 Election Was Perfectly Normal

by David De La Torre

Writing in The Upshot section of the New York Times, UCLA professor of political science Lynn Vavreck explains The Ways That the 2016 Election Was Perfectly Normal.

But just because the outcome was as close as the fundamental conditions predicted it would be doesn’t mean that many of the articles about how Mr. Trump won are wrong. Could it be true that misogyny played a role, as Hillary Clinton suggested a few weeks ago? Yes. What about the ascent of white voters without college degrees in the Rust Belt? Or the increasing rates of drug-related deaths and the increasing polarization around race, religion and ethnocentrism? With an election that turns on roughly 75,000 votes in three states, a lot of things can be pivotal.

Good work is being done trying to figure out who was in the 9 percent of the electorate that moved from Barack Obama in 2012 to Mr. Trump in 2016 (and the smaller share that moved from Mitt Romney to Mrs. Clinton).

Yet we also need to look at the 90 percent of the electorate that was necessary — if not sufficient — to produce the outcome … [more]


by David De La Torre

ProPublica’s Represent is new interactive database that lets you keep track of members of Congress, how they vote, what bills they sponsor or cosponsor, and press releases they have issued. The site promises to add more features in the coming months.

May’s Harper’s Index

by Bill Hayes

Each issue of Harper’s contains Harper’s Index, a collection of interesting statistics. Excerpts from this May’s Harper’s Index:

Percentage increase last year in the number of Afghan children killed or wounded by explosive remnants of war : 65

Percentage change since 2005 in the volume of the global arms trade : +44

Portion of U.S. senators who had military experience in 1975 : 4/5 Today : 1/5

Rank of Russia among the United States’ greatest national enemies, according to Democrats : 2 According to Republicans : 18 [more]

Can 68 Clicks Betray Almost Everything About You?