Presidential Biographies: James Garfield #20

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with James Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) is Garfield: A Biography by Allan Peskin.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

James Garfield, #20

Garfield, A Biography

James Garfield is another President whose path to the office seems to be the quintessential American Dream story, wherein he rose to power from extremely humble beginnings in a log cabin in Ohio. His religious background was opposed to seeking office, but the draw of leadership and his innate ability proved too strong for his upbringing and he soon rose through various offices, ultimately becoming the first and only (so far) sitting member of the House elected President.

During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of Major General. He proved himself a capable leader, but resigned for a seat in the House. In the House, he was a member of the Radicals for some time, opposing leniency in Reconstruction. But over time his radicalism cooled down and he even opposed the passage of the Ku Klux Klan bill, which Grant favored heavily in order to oppose the KKK with federal power. Garfield opposed this bill, thinking it gave too much authority to the Federal Government. His conflicting attitude towards freed African Americans was indicative of many political authorities of his time, but makes it no less alarming, given the real existence of people with whom he rubbed shoulders who favored full equality of all people. He was also involved in corruption surrounding the Trans-Continental Railroad, though he denied his involvement in this corruption.

As President, he expanded the power of the President, including continuing the fight with the Senate over nominations. He worked for civil service reforms, but did not have a chance to see most of the outcomes of his work, because he was assassinated less than a year into his Presidency.

Peskin’s biography , Garfield: A Biography, is a bit disappointing. It’s huge, and gives a detailed account of Garfield’s life, but seems to be a purely fact-based account with little reflection on Garfield. I was most interested in the lengthy account of Garfield’s death, in which Peskin’s tone shifted somewhat to a sympathetic tone.

Garfield’s Presidency is difficult to judge, but what he accomplished in the short time he had in office is enough to lead to serious and lingering questions about what he may have accomplished had he not been assassinated.

James Garfield’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

James Garfield (15th President – Original Ranking #15)- James Garfield didn’t accomplish much as a President due to the violent act of assassination against him, but what he did has impacts into today. He worked against corruption and continued to undermine the system that led to a “good ol’ boys club” in regards to the appointment of nominations for certain offices. He worked for rights for African Americans, but did so in an extremely inconsistent way. He also favored civil service reforms. Assassinated less than a year into his Presidency, it is an interesting question of what he may have accomplished if he had a whole term.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

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Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #96-100

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

96. VALIS by Philip K. Dick Grade: D-
“One thing I’ve discovered from reading through this list is that I pretty much detest novels that are just covers for the author to offer either autobiography or their own philosophical musings. This book is both. What’s most amusing about this is that I do truly love many novels which are full of philosophical musings. The problem is that VALIS is, at its core, just an excuse for Dick to philosophize at his readers. There’s not much of a plot to speak of. There isn’t character development. It’s just like reading about someone’s narration of a quasi-Gnostic religious experience. Oh wait, that’s basically what it is. How is this even considered science fiction? I don’t know.”

97. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card Grade: B
“Another excellent entry in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, Xenocide picks up right where Speaker for the Dead left off. However, it isn’t as polished as the first two books in the series, and probably could be about 150 pages shorter while conveying all the same characterization and plot. There is a bit too much ‘what are we gonna do next’ happening here. That said, it is still quite enjoyable, and the continuation of the plot makes it a must read. Speculation about morality, religion, and more abound. It’s great science fiction.”

98. The Postman by David Brin Grade: C-
“I couldn’t help but feel a major amount of deja vu with this. It’s got scenes that feel incredibly similar to Chrysalids or Alas, Babylon in different ways. I’m not saying it’s copied–it clearly is not–but it has a sense of familiarity that simply should not exist in a post-apocalyptic novel. Perhaps that’s a mark of how many of these books I’ve read by now, but I think it is at least in part a function of the writing itself. Anyway, The Postman certainly isn’t bad, it just didn’t strike me as particularly excellent, either. The blurbs on the back seemed to focus on how it’s some kind of warning. But a warning of what? And why is it particularly poignant in regards to humanity’s plight? Frankly, compared to some other post-apocalyptic tales, this is rather tame.”

99. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: B
“An emotional ride on what it feels like to be truly alone among all of humanity. That part is well done. Sturgeon’s characters are raw and real. However, there is very little science fiction in this one, and the ideas about male-female relations are straight out of the 1950s. There is also very little plot to speak of here.”

100. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle Grade: B
“Many of these classic science fiction books are very worth reading. Doyle never quite reaches the transcendent heights of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, but it’s an exciting read nonetheless. The idea of the undiscovered country on earth remains compelling, and the style was fun reading. It’s a fun, short jaunt.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 4: “The Flight of the Eisenstein” by James Swallow

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

Galaxy in Flames showed the true breakout of the Heresy and the violence that almost immediately ensued. Here, with Eisenstein, we find that the Heresy is truly breaking out and follow the path of this ship as we see whether the knowledge of the Heresy can get back to the Emperor in time.

The premise is really intense, as is the setup. Will the Eisenstein escape? What bigger ramifications will it have? The book weighs in at over 400 pages, so I went in expecting that we’d see the ship escape as well as some of the ripple effects of that. But a huge portion of the book is spent just on buildup to whether the Eisenstein will truly figure out what’s happening or not, and then on whether they get away. This leaves only the last small portion of the book to deal with any ramifications.

As I read this book, it felt very much like the first 300 pages could have just as easily been a short story. It reads as being very dragged out, with each scene dragging on longer than it needed to. The last 100 pages or so, though, were totally awesome. The building up of Garro as a character is really awesome, as were the scenes featuring the “Lord of the Flies.” The incredulity Garro and others had to face in the face of the Imperial authorities is believable, though I also wonder if there’s more going on behind the scenes than we get to find out in this book.

Really, what would have improved the book, in my opinion, would have been shaving off about 100 pages and increasing the action. Large portions of the book are spent with characters debating the next course of action, and that drags it down. The last section, though, made the book well-worth reading. I enjoyed it immensely at the end, and look forward to finding out what comes next.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– This will be a link for the series of posts as I continue to write them.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“The Genius Plague” by David Walton – math, cryptography, and thrilling adventures

One of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction is what I call “disaster” sci-fi (tell me if there’s a better name, please!), and I include things like cli-fi (climate based science fiction) and plagues of the future. Greg Bear is one who has written a lot in this area, and most of Michael Crichton’s novels fell into this general category as well. It tends to be a mashup of real science, math, and wild extrapolations. It’s a kind of offshoot of hard sci-fi that combines thrillers with science fiction.

David Walton, with The Genius Plague, has rocketed onto my radar as a truly gifted writer in this sub-genre. Look, if you’re one to avoid SPOILERS, as I am, don’t read on from here AND DON’T READ THE BLURB ON THE BOOK and go read it ASAP. Read on if you want a fuller picture or to talk about the book with me–please do!

I’m a sucker for mushrooms. No, I don’t like to eat them, but yes, they are fascinating. Diverse, hugely innovative, ancient, and creepy. They beg for science fiction novelists to write about them, and they’ve been successful in those novels I’ve read about them–The Girl With all the Gifts, for example: yes please! Walton starts off with a bang- a mycologist (scientist who studies mushrooms) in the Amazon gets ambushed for no apparent reason along with a woman. They’re both infected with a fungal lung thing and she dies but he survives–just changed. As his brother, who goes to work for the NSA, starts to crack some codes (with Walton mixing a small amount of math and cryptography in just for fun), the menace of this fungal plague grows exponentially.

There are many moving parts in this book: whether it’s Neil’s employment at the NSA and the linguistics, cryptography, and mathematics thrown together for that, or Paul’s interaction with the mushrooms, or international politics, it all moves swiftly. Sometimes, it moves a bit too quickly, and a bit of hand-waving is involved, particularly in the move from beginnings of infection to a seeming world threat. But generally, Walton balances the pace with characterization and fascinating set pieces. Though I wasn’t terribly surprised by any of the twists and turns, I loved the ride so much I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I found this book un-put-down-able, as one of the blurbs on the front cover also called it. I basically opened it yesterday and only stopped while caring for my kids. It was an absolute blast of a novel, and one that had a satisfying conclusion.

Another reason I loved this book is that the characters are fully formed and have unique feels to them. Also (and this is a big spoiler for some character development towards the VERY end, so don’t read it if you don’t want it spoiled), I liked that Neil and Shaunessy didn’t end up together and decided to be friends-ish. It was a kind of affirmation of male-female friendship that I truly appreciated. Well done, Walton! [/end big spoilers]

The Genius Plague has earned a place on my personal top 100 sci-fi novels list. It does have a few flaws, but those are overshadowed by a truly great novel that kept me turning the pages compulsively all day. Go read it!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: Rutherford B. Hayes #19

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Rutherford B. Hayes, the Nineteenth  President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President by Ari Hoogenboom.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President

Rutherford B. Hayes is one of those Presidents who has disappeared from history. I remember never hearing or learning anything about the man throughout my history classes (hopefully none of my history teachers/professors read this in sorrow–I may have just forgotten, to be fair!). When I got to this biography, I knew only a little more about him, mostly through reading a few works about Reconstruction and the other biographies of Presidents. Hoogenboom’s goal in this work is clearly to show that Hayes ought to be more remembered, both due to his influence on the office of the President and his work throughout his life.

Hayes was raised by his mother, Siphia Birchard–his father died 11 weeks before he was born. The family was closely knit and his mother never pushed him too hard in any one direction. He eventually ended up at Harvard Law School. During his young adult life, his thought and stance on slavery continued to develop, eventually moving towards a decidedly anti-slavery stance. He became an anti-slavery lawyer and defended fugitive slaves with his law practice. He became involved in politics as he became city solicitor–not his first  choice, but a well-paying one for the time. When the Civil War began, he initially stayed out of the fray, eventually entering the war as an officer.

Hayes distinguished himself repeatedly in military service, getting wounded 5 times throughout the War. He commanded several victorious battles and found himself somewhat a genius for war and also discovered he enjoyed what he saw as the thrill of combat. Unlike other letters from combatants I have read, Hayes’s letters as Hoogenboom cites them contain an almost light air–as though the battles were all in good fun, even as he describes people dying and the wounds he received. It’s clear that he had the constitution for battle. Ulysses S. Grant recognized Hayes’s prowess and lauded it.

After the War, Hayes again moved into politics, first as a congressman, then as Governor of Ohio. In Ohio, he helped ensure ratification of the 15th Amendment and worked for black voting rights. His various successes in politics lead to a nomination for President in 1876–a Presidential campaign that would be extremely contentious. There were multiple electors sent from several states and this led to disptue over 20 different electors and which were the valid ones to vote for President. Hayes needed all 20 disputed electors, and after much dispute, Hayes managed to gain them all. His election would be called a massive compromise by many Southern Democrats, but what Hoogenboom points out is that Hayes’s views on the issues that he allegedly “compromised” on were already in place before the election.

These “compromised” positions included Hayes’s belief that he ought to withdraw federal troops from Southern states. This was a hotly contested issue due to the implications for Reconstruction. Radical Republicans wished to keep them in place both to support fair elections and to enforce more strident, punitive measures against Southern states. Hayes continually believed–even before and possibly during the Civil War–that the United States had to be truly united. The way he felt that would best be accomplished was through self-rule by the South, rather than continuing to use federal troops. Part of this may have been pragmatic, as well, as Southern Democrats were pushing to defund military expenditures, leading to many federal troops working without pay for some time. This situation certainly favored some way to attempt to preserve Reconstruction while also moving control to the South. Hayes’s solution may be looked back on as somewhat naive–he believed that if he pulled out federal troops from the South and secured promises from Southern elite leaders, they would honor their word and protect black rights, including voting rights, in their states. This manifestly did not happen, but Hayes did not “compromise” here–instead, he attempted to implement an ultimately unsuccessful policy, trusting white elites to keep their word rather than betraying his trust. This situation would continue to worsen during his presidency as black voting rights began to be suppressed in earnest.

Hayes also faced major economic crises, including a battle over how to get the country out of a depression alongside major labor strikes, particularly related to the railroads. Hayes favored a more conservative gold standard for the dollar, moving it back to something that would be more trusted worldwide to support its value. This strategy ultimately succeeded, leading to the dollar’s value to increase relative to the world once again and help lead the United States out of a depression. The labor strikes were largely centered around railroads, as owners attempted to salvage their stock dividends by cutting the wages of their workers and forcing them to work longer and worse hours. When railroad executives appealed to Hayes, he responded by sending in troops, but only to defend public property. He took a moderate approach, not allowing the government to become a kind of strike-breaker for the railroads. This strategy paid off in the long run, as the railroads eventually raised wages back to more acceptable levels, though only after breaking the strikes with no small amount of violence.

Anti-Chinese sentiment increased across the United States, and particularly in California, during this time. People argued Chinese laborers were stealing American jobs with low-wage work (this ought to sound somewhat familiar to the modern ear), leading to the attempt to pass laws banning all Chinese from immigrating to the United States. Hayes wielded his power to veto here, and instead went directly to the Chinese government to make a treaty that would be amenable to both governments. Though this included a ban and restrictions on Chinese immigration, it is clear that Hayes saw in this anti-Chinese sentiment even worse repercussions for white supremacy. Hoogenboom notes that Hayes spoke at length about white oppression of others and against racism, despite his ultimate concession through treaty with the Chinese to some of this white supremacist thought.

Hayes also saw this thread of “bullying” by whites in the interactions with Native Americans. Specifically, the Nex Perce War, which was started by numerous white settlers invading land that did not belong to them and attempting to rid it even of those Native Americans who wished to live alongside them peacefully. Hayes worked to try to secure the land for the Native Americans, but ultimately caved to some white interests. He did work to suppress railroads and other disruptions of Native land, but had to fight against no small amount of heavy-handed tactics by others as well as the force of military action that had already begun without his authorization. The remoteness of these conflicts made it especially difficult for Hayes to handle, and he attempted to curtail white encroachment in Native lands by ordering them to be expelled, even prosecuting at least one major intruder in Native lands. However, the damage was already done, and less than a decade after Hayes’s presidency, Congress would forcibly and unilaterally allow further invasion of Native lands.

Another conflict in Hayes’s presidency centered around the patronage system for government positions. Hayes ultimately won this battle, facing down numerous senators who attempted to preserve their power to make their favored people occupy key government posts. Essentially, Hayes paved the way for more government posts to be directly controlled by the President and for the senators to issue recommendations rather than simply giving the posts to relatives or patrons without any oversight. Yet another major exercise of Presidential power by Hayes centered around the Enforcement Acts and voting rights for new black voters. Time and again the Senate attempted to pass laws that would effectively gut the 15th Amendment. These included many attempts to set up riders on bills that Hayes may otherwise have favored. Hayes publicly carried out this battle, using the veto over and over and elucidating to the public his reasons for doing so centered around the 15th Amendment. It was a battle he won handily, forcing Congress to back down after multiple defeats. Unfortunately for our country’s history, many states would violate these laws without consequences anyway, usually with the backing or at least intentional ignoring of all three branches of the government.

Hayes favored universal education as well as prison reform, seeing imprisonment as punishment but also the chance to bring reform to someone’s life. He became especially active in these areas after his presidency, leading to at least some minor reforms in that area.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President is a great biography, though certainly biased towards its subject. Hoogenboom makes no effort to hide that, though. And it seems to be the case that Hayes’ legacy is one that deserves a closer look, even if many of his attempts at wider reform would give in to the grind of elitist, racist rule in the years and decades following his leadership.

Rutherford B. Hayes’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Rutherford B. Hayes (19th President – Original Ranking #5)- Rutherford B. Hayes was a reform-minded President in an era that needed it. He actively worked to thwart racism against Chinese, Native Americans, and African Americans, but in the long-term, his efforts failed. He naively believed that the Southern elites would hold true to their promises to defend black voters, while also taking the pragmatic path in withdrawing federal oversight from the governance of southern states. Despite these failures, Hayes also had much success. He did manage to thwart some of the rising racist sentiment, going directly to the Chinese government to negotiate a mutually agreeable treaty regarding immigration (despite this being guided by racial bias, Hayes managed to secure a lesser of two evils). He wielded his power to veto with authority to smack down southern congresspeople who tried to gut the 15th Amendment. He worked for prison and education reform and succeeded in bringing at least some of the change he saw as necessary. His administration stopped the depression by backing the dollar while also backing a moderate policy about labor that ultimately secured some small modicum of rights for the laborers. Hayes has undeservedly been forgotten in most surveys of United States history, but his impact is bigger than may be thought. His active work to curtail many of the evils of our country, though not saving it, did manage to salvage it from some of the worst possible turns. Thrust into an unenviable time, he succeeded in at least finding some of the light in the darkness, and doing so in a commendable way.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Amazing Tales” – Review of a pencil & paper RPG for kids

I don’t really make it a secret: I’m a huge nerd. So is my wife. So when we found out we were having a child some years ago, one of the things that came to mind was how to pass on my love of tabletop RPGs to my kids. I even did some research early on. More recently, with my child growing older and another on the way, I got more serious about the search. Time and again, the book “Amazing Tales” was what was recommended to me. This past Easter, I finally got the book for my eldest and started to play it right away.

The game is a smash hit in our house, to say the least. My kid talks about it constantly and we have a ton of fun together. I’d like to offer my own little review here, so that others who may be interested can enjoy it as much as we are!

One of the best parts about Martin Lloyd’s system is that he basically has the different aspects that make games like Dungeons & Dragons great in this game, while making them much simpler- simple enough for a four year old to grasp it. There’s character creation–you pick a “class” that relates to the type of adventures you’re doing, with several suggestions in each world (eg. Robot for the sci-fi setting or a knight in a fantasy setting). Then, you pick 4 things that the character is good at. Some ideas are provided (eg. “being strong” or “making things”), but Lloyd encourages letting your kids run with it. For example, he writes about a game with one of his kids where the Pirate he made has a pet octopus and has a kind of “handle animal” as a skill that let him, in the adventure, use the octopus to do things for him. The character creation part lets your kids run wild, but Lloyd also offers suggestions to help make characters as broadly effective as they need to be. With 4 skills, you then ask the kids to pick which they’re best at, next best at, and so on. Then, these skills are assigned a D12 (best), D10 (next best), D8, and D6. Success for using the skill is 3 or higher, so the game is heavily weighted on letting kids run with their imagination while you guide the story along.

Lloyd has 4 settings, effectively following Fairies/talking animals, knights/magic, pirates, and sci-fi tropes. I have started a homebrew setting for my kid’s knights/magic kingdom. Lloyd provides tons of ideas for expanding the setting, integrating sounds/etc. into it, and the like. Then,  you just run with it. It’s a lot like the “Yes, and” type of improv comedy people do. Your child may say something that seems impossible, but instead of shooting it down, let their imagination guide you! In the sci-fi setting played, my child played an inventor who was good at building things, and when confronted by an asteroid threat to the planet, the solution was offered to build a dungeon for it to get stuck in. We did it, but then got stuck later in the same dungeon and had to escape! These kind of wrinkles allow a more complex and rewarding play experience.

The book itself is richly illustrated and full of ideas. It’s not going to tell you everything about how to run a game, but Lloyd gives many seeds for stories (and I love the “twists” he throws into them, letting you make an even deeper story for your kids). The ways to deal with repeated failures (eg. rolling 1-2 over and over) are interesting and helpful, and the book really gives a quick baseline for you to run with as a parent. Experienced role playing gamers will easily be able to pick it up and play, while newer gamers may need to teach themselves a little bit more. Overall, the ease of the system is a huge selling point. I read the book and within a few minutes was playing the game with my child, who adores it.

Amazing Tales is a really excellent resource as an introduction to role-playing games. It does it in a way that lays foundations for a long, illustrious, book-collecting, dice-rolling career as a gamer. I very highly recommend it.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Policy and Public Health: How several policies are negatively impacting the nation’s health

The way that we vote and the policies our leaders put in place can have significant ramifications for public health, as well as for our own health. Jonathan M. Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness shows how specific policies have negatively impacted public health (and other measurable outcomes). I was fascinated by this read, and wanted to discuss some of the data and subjects Metzl covers here.

Gun Rights and Public Health in Missouri

Missouri was once one of the most restrictive states in the union when it comes to gun laws. Then, after the turn of the century in the early 2000s into today, major support for repealing these gun control laws was stirred up. Now, Missouri boasts some of the greatest “gun rights” in the country, including the “guns everywhere bill” which removed “requirements for training, education, background checks, and permits needed to carry concealed weapons…” and also “annulled most city and regional gun restrictions” while expanding the “Castle Doctrine” against perceived dangers (24). Thus, Missouri can truly act as a kind of measuring stick for whether more guns yields less crime and, for Metzl’s focus, better public health.

Statistics show that since the 2007 repeal of the permit-to-purchase handgun law in the state, there has been a 25% increase in firearm homicide rates. Additionally, “Rates of gun death by suicide, partner violence, and accidental shooting soared as well” to the point that in 2014, for the first time in the state, gun deaths topped motor vehicle accidents for cause of death in the state (25). A common refrain, of course, is that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” What such a slogan ignores is that guns make people much more effective at killing people, often including themselves. The statistics and supporting studies suggest that gun laws including things like a permit-to-purchase law, reduces deaths, especially those by suicide.

The Affordable Care Act and Public Health in Tennessee 

Tennessee’s politicians and popular voters went against funding the Affordable Care Act after it was passed, and this has had significant outcomes in terms of public health. Because Medicaid wasn’t expanded as it could have been, this meant that between 1,863-4,599 black lives could have been saved but weren’t, and between 6,365 and 12,013 white lives might have been saved as well. I’m not an expert in how they get these numbers, but Metzl draws out both the method and the implications (174-175). Effectively, because people in the state of Tennessee gave into fears about “socialism” as well as racially charged rhetoric of “welfare queens,” they voted themselves into death, sometimes literally dying instead of getting the benefits that may have saved them if they had simply funded the ACA. One telling interview Metzl conducted includes a man who is likely dying from hepatitis C who says that he’d “rather die” than have “my tax dollars paying for Mexicans or welfare queens” (3). Metzl concludes from this and many other conversations that “Trevor voiced a literal willingness to die for his place in this hierarchy [of racially charged superiority], rather than participate in a system that might put him on the same plane as immigrants or racial minorities” (4).

What is even scarier about this is that proposed policies continue to pile on the negative public health outcomes. The number of uninsured Americans is projected to skyrocket back up if the ACA is repealed or replaced with a policy that fails to fund it adequately. Unfortunately, those most in need are the ones projected to suffer most. Learning about the real-world impact of sloganizing health care is something we all ought to do.

Education and Public Health in Kansas

The state of Kansas is a real world example of what happens when libertarian, anti-tax policies are incorporated at a state-level into the education system. When Kansas voted in significant Republican, libertarian-leaning leadership, Kansas became an example of what happens when policies of pro-corporate tax cuts and the notion of trickle-down economics is fully implemented. HB 2117, signed by governor Brownback, reduced taxes on top tax brackets by 25% (201). Along with these, the school finance bills that continued to pass defunded public school while simultaneously declaring that this lack of funds were “a win for Kansas students” (201, quoting Brownback).

What’s remarkable about this is that the public health impact on defunding schools can be measured. Additionally, Kansans of color are demonstrably more likely to be negatively impacted by the tax plans implemented by the government (212). As schools were defunded, graduation rates fell, as did commitment to higher education and post-graduate programs. Measurements that include “all-cause death rates” show a decline as Americans achieve higher education. Thus, a US adult without a high school diploma “can expect to die nine years sooner than college graduates” and the difference between someone with a college degree or a professional degree is five years of life expectancy. Additionally, adults without high school diplomas are more likely to have diabetes and other negative health outcomes (242). So, apart from all questions of whether cutting funding for schools somehow improves their outcomes–itself a highly questionable claim–the ties to public health alone show that Kansas effectively reduced its citizens life expectancy due to these funding cuts.

Conclusion

Quite seriously, the politics of resentment and dogma that has a knee jerk reaction to certain words means that we as a country are voting ourselves into poor health outcomes. Dying of Whiteness is a fantastic read that will challenge readers from all political perspectives to think about possible longer term impacts of the policies they support. I very highly recommend it to you, dear readers.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

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SDG.