On Borders


Lately — perhaps because of the border wall arguments here in the U.S. and the Brexit controversies in the U.K., I’ve been thinking about the Anglo-Scottish border.

If you take the LNER from London to Edinburgh now, and you pay close attention, you might notice when you cross the border. If not, you may notice a gradual change of scenery between the English Northeast and the Scottish Borders, the change becoming more obvious the closer you get to East Lothian. It was not always thus.

The Anglo-Scottish border evolved from Roman Britain to 1707 — as did (what would become) England and (what would become) Scotland. The Romans, thinking defensively, built walls, first Hadrian’s Wall (entirely in what became England), then the Antonine Wall (across what is now Scotland’s Central Belt, from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth). The Roman departure from Britain had many causes, including over-reach in other parts of the Empire and implosion within, but the Roman walls could not secure southern Britain for Rome — certainly not without security elsewhere.

As Scotland and England came into being, the border both shifted and changed. The border reached south of Berwick at times (Berwick Rangers still play in the Scottish association football leagues), and at one point was far enough north that Lothian (including Edinburgh) was in English hands. Thoughts on the shifting border also must take into account the times, notably during the reign of Edward I and during the Commonwealth, that Scotland was either a vassal of or incorporated into England.

Wherever the border lay, it was porous. Families spanned the border. Family allegiances shifted from north to south and back again. Men in trouble with the law on one side of the border would escape to family on the other side until the trouble abated — or was overshadowed by new trouble on the other side.

This seems a common situation for border territories. Think of Alsace-Lorraine, which was a bone of contention between France and Germany for fifty years; or of the Czech Sudetenland, which Nazi Germany claimed because of the presence of ethnic Germans (taking Czechoslovakia’s border fortifications with them). More recently, think of the ethnic Russians protesting (or more) in the Ukraine. Think of the southern border of the U.S., in its largely open period before World War I — the basis for many a Western movie. More positively, think of the Canadians who cross regularly to shop in Point Roberts, or of the international interdependence of El Paso–Juárez.

In the end, what settled the Anglo-Scottish border (in both location and in individuals’ cross-border ‘adventuring’)? Unification. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 meant that England would no longer turn a blind eye to Scottish reivers, nor would Scotland to English reivers. Trade between the two countries opened under their shared monarch, making the borders more a place to trade openly, and less a place to smuggle and evade the law. Parliamentary Union in 1707 sealed the deal, guaranteeing extradition, tariff-free trade, and the free movement of peoples.

What does this tell us about borders? Perhaps the most important lesson is that just because you have a line on a map doesn’t mean that the people near that line recognize it as significant. The Roman and Czech examples also indicate that walls don’t work — at least not on their own, and not without internal stability and security. (Experience at the U.S. border with Mexico, and at the border between Gaza and Egypt, also shows that walls can be defeated with a shovel.) What does seem to work, judging by the history of the Anglo-Scottish border (and of the border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom) is creating a multi-national region with mutual support between governments, an interdependent economy, free trade, free movement of peoples, and with easy extradition between jurisdictions. It’s not an easy solution — especially as questions of sovereignty arise, and it’s difficult to navigate the demands of the different sovereign nations while protecting the peoples of each country. But it’s the only one that seems to work.

The generation slightly younger than I am (the millennials, or adults currently under 40) have been blamed for ‘killing’ a number of industries or service providers, including:

It’s become such a common theme in news reports that some sources have reported on number of things that millennials have ‘killed’:

There was an unusual article recently that credited the millennial generation for creating a boom in an industry: Millennials are driving a re-sale clothing boom (Christian Science Monitor). It occurred to me to note the underlying economics of the trend, and ‘correct’ the headline so that it emphasizes the economics, instead of treating it as a cultural trend, “Four decades of wage stagnation drives adults under 40 to buy more clothes second-hand.”

I knew that many of these trends had an economic root (e.g.: when you’re drowning in student loans, you’re in no position to buy a house). For some reason that re-written headline made me realize something significant about first the Millennial Generation and then my own (Gen-X): we’ve never really experienced an economy in which wages kept up with productivity.

You may be familiar with a chart like this one:

Source: Economic Policy Institute

I took the version from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and overlaid the earliest and latest birth date spans for the Millennial Generation, and the results were stark:

Millennials’ Birth Dates Compared to the Productivity-Wage Gap

This means that not only has the Millennial Generation in the US never known fair wages as adults, they have never lived in an America with fair wages. Even Generation X (usually starting 1965 — with occasional start dates as early as 1956 — through at least 1977, possibly as late as 1980) barely remembers an America with fair wages, and have never known fair wages as adults (turning 18 perhaps as early as 1974, and possibly as late as 1998, but more likely 1983-1995).

Is it any wonder that first Generation X, and now the Millennial Generation have been portrayed as taking a pass on over-priced goods and services? Of course, Gen-X was never large enough to take the ‘blame’ for killing any of those industries. Big business just kept marketing the same old junk to boomers — until the next big generation started spending money, and the boomers started retiring and slowed their spending. If you want to see what is killing these industries, perhaps looking at the underlying causes — not blaming the culture of a demographic group — would give an honest answer to the question.


In the wake of mass shootings, it’s not uncommon to see articles like this one come out discussing the number and size of the donations the National Rifle Association makes to various politicians. While these articles are informative, they don’t really reach why the NRA is so effective.

After the Sandy Hook Massacre, universal background checks were supported by 92% of Americans, but opposed by the NRA. The legislation to require them failed in the Senate, with a 54-46 majority in favor, but needing 60 votes for cloture. How can something so popular fail to be passed? It’s easy to say that it’s campaign contributions, but while the NRA’s nearly $1,000,000 in campaign contributions in 2016 is far from chump change, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to other donors, like beer wholesalers and defense contractors. Its true strength lies elsewhere.

The NRA likes to present itself as a membership organization, and while corporations are banned from donating to its PAC, much of its operating budget comes from gun manufacturers (and Russian oligarchs, allegedly). As the manufacturers provide the budget, they also set the agenda. Membership plays an important role for the NRA, though. First, they fund the PAC. More importantly, they are map pins.

When the NRA meets with a lawmaker, they know — and make sure the lawmaker knows — how many members are in the lawmaker’s constituency. The lobbyist assures the lawmaker that every one of those members has paid their $40 indicating their commitment to the NRA’s cause. The lobbyist claims (explicitly or implicitly) that every one of those members will cast their ballot largely based on the “Second Amendment issues” as framed by the NRA. The NRA trusts that most of their members are single-issue voters, and that for those who are not, a significant part, if not all, of the voters’ decisions will be based on the NRA’s grade of each candidate. Whether or not a voter supports universal background checks, a vote for them will bring down the NRA’s grade of a candidate, an idea that strikes fear into the hearts of many legislators. Though the NRA delivers lawmakers a significant amount of cash, what they promise to deliver is actually voters — voters who are passionate about the “gun rights” cause, and who arm themselves with as little information as the NRA can get away with supplying them.

So, if a 92% majority of the population (and even a majority of the NRA membership) supports universal background checks, the NRA still opposes checks, because the manufacturers who provide most of their funding do. Their promise to the legislators is that their members are too stupid to think for themselves or to look beyond a one-letter summary, and the legislators believe them and vote for the NRA’s (and gun manufacturers’) position — no matter what the members or the general public think about background checks.

I suppose that the NRA is a membership organization. They give their membership to legislators on behalf of the firearms manufactures.

“Anti-fascist” is being conflated with the offensively violent wing of the ‘antifa’ movement, and that other opposition to fascism (including the rest of the ‘antifa’ movement) is ignored. The fact that anti-fascism does not have an obvious identity — except as ‘American’, an identity the fascists seem to think is just people who agree with them but are cowed by “political correctness” — does not help distinguish between them. Nor does the fact that as a largely anarchist movement there is no internal control to keep the violent offense from the attack, and there are not spokespeople to say that antifa are also the people who research the groups to know when they will be gathering in advance, or (like Yes, You’re Racist) who attended. https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/2017/08/16/who-are-the-a…/… There is also no distinction made between those antifa who charge into the start of the hatefests and those who save peaceful protesters’ lives by counterattacking. While I don’t condone those on the attack — and hope that the broader antifa movement will find a way to restrain them (not least because violent confrontation is exactly what the fascists are looking for), I won’t condemn the guys who come prepared to meet violence with violence. Perhaps with more of those guys around, they could have stopped the near-murder of Deandre Harris. I also won’t condemn those calling out those who attended for being racist (and in some cases for being yet-to-be-convicted felons). And when the media conflates being anti-fascist as being part of the violent attacking fringe of the antifa movement, not just the broader antifa movement, it falls on us to remind our fellow citizens that we have a diverse country where most of us oppose bigotry, and we will fight (figuratively — if not literally) to defend it.

“Violent SJWs Celebrate Oppressing Local Liberation Movement”


“Violent Anti-Fas Harass Far-Right Spokesman to Suicide”


“Anti-Fa Extremists Celebrate Oppressing Right-Wing Activists”


 “Free Speech Rights of Right-Wing Activist Suppressed on Orders of Liberal Snowflake”

The filibuster now only remains for legislation. While it is an internally undemocratic extra-legal remnant that deserves to die. On the other hand, the first 43 Senators to sign on to the filibuster represented 53 percent of the population, illustrating how undemocratic the structure of the Senate is (and meaning that the Senate’s minority stood for the majority). Any situation where representation is on a per-state basis, with such a glaring disparity in state populations (the ratio between California and Wyoming is 66:1) is inherently anti-democratic (and ultimately, I think, untenable). The filibuster deserved to die, but the Senate is *well* overdue for structural reform. I propose ten regional, multi-state Senate districts of ten Senators each, elected through a proportional representation system, and redistributed by national non-partisan commission after alternate censuses (every 20 years). The six-year terms would remain, with three elected for each district in each of two biennial election cycles, and four in the third cycle. With 12% of the national population, California would be its own district; Texas, New York, and Florida would probably need only one partner each. Should any state reach over 15% of the population, it would combine with a neighboring state to form a super district with 20 Senators, elected 6, 7, 7 (or, if their combined population put them at or near 30% of the population, 30 Senators, elected ten per biennial election cycle).

When President Obama was preparing to nominate a Supreme Court justice, Mitch McConnell said that the people should have a voice; the people said they’d rather have Hillary Clinton choose, but the Electoral College elected President Trump.

By the McConnell standard, the Senate should refuse to consider any nominee put forward by a President elected with a minority of the popular vote.

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