Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mugwumps


I decided to post some portions of a speech by Mark Twain this week. I think I found part of it a year or two ago in looking for the source of his famous saying concerning "loyalty to petrified opinion" and have since acquired the entire speech in a used collection of Twain material.  There are many sites online that publish quotes, but most of them give no authority for them (when, where it was said or written) and many a famous phrase turns out not to have actually been said by the attributed person or even during their life. For some reason, there are tons of quotes, sayings or speeches wrongly attributed to Shakespeare, Franklin, Jefferson, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and George Carlin.  Why? I don't know. I guess its fun for people to get their words published and have some attention paid to it just  because one of those guys supposedly said it. Wikiquote actually has tons of information on wrongly or falsely attributed quotes. 

In any event, that Twain quote is one of my absolute favorites, and, I wanted to make sure that he, you know, said it - unlike "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," which at least no one can find where he might have said it, if ever. 

I have always meant to write a post on things we think people said that they probably didn't or maybe someone said it or first, anyway. At some point you do start saying to yourself, did anyone actually say anything?  It can be disappointing to find out that someone you always thought said something brilliant merely lifted it from a magazine he read that month or another writer, but, it happens all the time.

Anyway, as far as I know (I wasn't born for another 80 plus years) Twain actually did write and say the quote about petrified opinion and I tracked it down to a speech he made in 1887. If anyone can find where he might have said it earlier on - or someone else - let me know.

Why do I bother to re-print it here (I may have printed part of it once before)? For one thing, Twain at or near his best is wonderful to read. Some of his best stuff is only found in speeches or little sketches he wrote.  This one is about about Mugwumps, at least in part. To the degree that this means an independent or even a fence-sitter, then I am a Mugwump. I will give you some of the speech and then explain a little more.

From a paper entitled “Consistency,” read by him to The Monday Evening Club.



. . .


What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. In other words, we change -- and must change, constantly, and keep on changing as long as we live. What, then, is the true gospel of consistency? Change. Who is the really consistent man? The man who changes. Since change is the law of his being, he cannot be consistent if he stick in a rut.


Yet, as the quoted facts show, there are those who would misteach us that to stick in a rut is consistency--and a virtue; and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency--and a virtue; and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency--and a vice.


They will grant you certain things, without murmur or dissent--as things which go without saying; truisms. They will grant that in time the crawling baby walks and must not be required to go on crawling . . . that a child's knowledge is becoming and proper to the child only so they grant him a school and teach  him, so that he may change and grow; they grant you that he must keep on learning--through youth and manhood and straight on--he must not be allowed to suppose that the knowledge of thirty can be proper equipment for his fiftieth year; they will grant you a young man's opinions about mankind and the universe are crude, and sometimes foolish, and they would not dream of requiring him to stick to them the rest of his life, lest by changing them he bring down upon himself the reproach of inconsistency. They will grant you these, and everything else you can think of, in the line of progress and change, until you get down to politics and religion; there they draw the line. These must suffer no change. Once a Presbyterian, always a Presbyterian, or you are inconsistent and a traitor; once a Democrat, always a Democrat, or you are inconsistent and a traitor--a turncoat.


It is a curious logic. Is there but one kind of treason? No man remains the same sort of Presbyterian he was at first--the thing is impossible; time and various influences modify his Presbyterianism; it narrows or it broadens, grows deeper or shallower, but does not stand still. In some cases . . . nothing is really left of it but the name, and perhaps an inconsequential rag of the original substance, the bulk being now Baptist or Buddhist or something. Well, if he go over to the Buddhists, he is a traitor. To whom? To what? No man can answer those questions rationally. Now if he does not go over what is he? Plainly a traitor to himself, a traitor to the best and the highest and the honestest that is in  him. Which of these treasons is the blackest one--and the shamefulest? Which is the real and right consistency? To be consistent to a sham and an empty name, or consistent to the law of one's being, which is change, and in this case requires him to move forward and keep abreast of his best mental and moral progress, his highest convictions of the right and the true. Suppose this treason to the name of a church should carry clear outside of all churches. . . . So long as he is loyal to his best self, what should he care for other loyalties. It seems to me that a man should secure the Well done, faithful servant, of his own conscience first and foremost, and let all other loyalties go.


. . . I have referred to the fact that when a man retires from his political party he is a traitor — that he is so pronounced in plain language. That is bold; so bold as to deceive many into the fancy that it is true. Desertion, treason — these are the terms applied. Their military form reveals the thought in the man’s mind who uses them: to him a political party is an army. Well, is it? Are the two things identical? Do they even resemble each other? Necessarily a political party is not an army of conscripts, for they are in the ranks by compulsion. Then it must be a regular army or an army of volunteers. Is it a regular army? No, for these enlist for a specified and well-understood term, and can retire without reproach when the term is up. Is it an army of volunteers who have enlisted for the war, and may righteously be shot if they leave before the war is finished? No, it is not even an army in that sense. Those fine military terms are high-sounding, empty lies, and are no more rationally applicable to a political party than they would be to an oyster-bed. The volunteer soldier comes to the recruiting office and strips himself and proves that he is so many feet high, and has sufficiently good teeth, and no fingers gone, and is sufficiently sound in body generally; he is accepted; but not until he has sworn a deep oath or made other solemn form of promise to march under, that flag until that war is done or his term of enlistment completed. What is the process when a voter joins a party? Must he prove that he is sound in any way, mind or body? Must he prove that he knows anything — is capable of anything — whatever? Does he take an oath or make a promise of any sort?— or doesn’t he leave himself entirely free? If he were informed by the political boss that if he join, it must be forever; that he must be that party’s chattel and wear its brass collar the rest of his days — would not that insult him? It goes without saying. He would say some rude, unprintable thing, and turn his back on that preposterous organization. But the political boss puts no conditions upon him at all; and this volunteer makes no promises, enlists for no stated term. He has in no sense become a part of an army; he is in no way restrained of his freedom. Yet he will presently find that his bosses and his newspapers have assumed just the reverse of that: that they have blandly arrogated to themselves an ironclad military authority over him; and within twelve months, if he is an average man, he will have surrendered his liberty, and will actually be silly enough to believe that he cannot leave that party, for any cause whatever, without being a shameful traitor, a deserter, a legitimately dishonored man.




There you have the just measure of that freedom of conscience, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech and action which we hear so much inflated foolishness about as being the precious possession of the republic. Whereas, in truth, the surest way for a man to make of himself a target for almost universal scorn, obloquy, slander, and insult is to stop twaddling about these priceless independencies and attempt to exercise one of them. If he is a preacher half his congregation will clamor for his expulsion — and will expel him, except they find it will injure real estate in the neighborhood; if he is a doctor his own dead will turn against him.



I repeat that the new party-member who supposed himself independent will presently find that the party have somehow got a mortgage on his soul, and that within a year he will recognize the mortgage, deliver up his liberty, and actually believe he cannot retire from that party from any motive howsoever high and right in his own eyes without shame and dishonor.



Is it possible for human wickedness to invent a doctrine more infernal and poisonous than this? Is there imaginable a baser servitude than it imposes? What slave is so degraded as the slave that is proud that he is a slave? What is the essential difference between a lifelong democrat and any other kind of lifelong slave? Is it less humiliating to dance to the lash of one master than another?



This infamous doctrine of allegiance to party plays directly into the hands of politicians of the baser sort — and doubtless for that it was borrowed — or stolen — from the monarchial system. It enables them to foist upon the country officials whom no self-respecting man would vote for if he could but come to understand that loyalty to himself is his first and highest duty, not loyalty to any party name.



Shall you say the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say that it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter and become a mouthing lunatic besides? Oh no, you say; it does not demand that. But what if it produce that in spite of you? There is no obligation upon a man to do things which he ought not to do when drunk, but most men will do them just the same; and so we hear no arguments about obligations in the matter — we only hear men warned to avoid the habit of drinking; get rid of the thing that can betray men into such things.



This is a funny business all around. The same men who enthusiastically preach loyal consistency to church and party are always ready and willing and anxious to persuade a Chinaman or an Indian or a Kanaka to desert his church or a fellow-American to desert his party. The man who deserts to them is all that is high and pure and beautiful — apparently; the man who deserts from them is all that is foul and despicable. This is Consistency — with a capital C.



With the daintiest and self-complacentest sarcasm the lifelong loyalist scoffs at the Independent — or as he calls him, with cutting irony, the Mugwump; makes himself too killingly funny for anything in this world about him. But — the Mugwump can stand it, for there is a great history at his back; stretching down the centuries, and he comes of a mighty ancestry. He knows that in the whole history of the race of men no single great and high and beneficent thing was ever done for the souls and bodies, the hearts and the brains of the children of this world, but a Mugwump started it and Mugwumps carried it to victory: And their names are the stateliest in history: Washington, Garrison, Galileo, Luther, Christ. Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world-end never will.


Historically, Mugwumps were  Republicans who did not like their party's 1888 candidate and voted for Grover Cleveland (whose first name, by the way, was not Grover, but Stephen - one of my favorite pieces of presidential trivia).  It is hard for some to get around the fact that in 1888. Democrat meant that he was the more conservative candidate. Mugwump was a derogatory name stuck on the turncoats  by a political opponent (a journalist). Mugwump was derived from an Indian name that meant, at least sometimes, some kind of big shot. Historically, some writers claim the Mugwumps were members of the economic elite class out to protect their own interests and others that they were classical 19th century liberals (that is, closer to modern day libertarians). I can't say I am exactly a Mugwump because I have no party to leave for another, but I am a fence-sitter, an independent and I lean at least a little bit libertarian - which ideologues despise almost more than their direct opponents. E.g., nowadays both liberals and conservatives frequently assail libertarians as having no values, and characterize independents as being phonies (of course, some are) and fence-sitters as unable to make up their mind, which is exactly right, although, I don't see what's so wrong about it. Why is it better to pick a wrong idea that to say I don't know - good points on both sides?



If you are a Mugwump, Twain's words are very inspirational. No, it's not that you think of yourself as a Washington, Christ or Galileo, etc., but, he's right that when I read about someone who rebels against his own group because of behavior that he thinks wrong or unjust, I do feel a kinship and excitement and admiration - even if there are often aspects of the persons that I find despicable. Luther, just as example, was, despite his own heresy to the Catholic Church, comfortable with the killing of those he saw as heretical (and that is not true of all at his time and place) and Washington, who claimed to and probably in the abstract deplored slavery, had many slaves all the same and was determined to keep them at least through his and his wife's lifetimes (and that too, was not true of all at his time and place).  I have, in fact, spent some significant time studying four of those five examples, and at least a little time on Galileo.  Stories of courage are inspirational enough, but couple it with an attempt to expand religious or intellectual tolerance or personal independence and it does something for me. There is a long history of it which has directed my attention, if not exclusively, then constantly for many years now.


I have to admit that my own experiences have not been too traumatic. When young I was politically a liberal (it was all I knew, having been raised without ever hearing another opinion from anyone I wasn't told was a criminal or bad person) although I was also very ignorant about politics in general.  But, I was in many always also an independent, not just politically, and that part has remained for the large part throughout my life, though I have long shed my partisan attachments. And if never threatened with death (just a beating, once) for my opinions, certainly there were times when I was subject to some form of ostracization or it made life a little frustrating or uncomfortable. I won't complain too much because I do believe by sheer luck I have been born amongst the luckiest people in the history of the world in terms of freedom, access to knowledge and comfort so that I have never had my independence seriously contested such as would make me a martyr.  I could tell you stories, but, at the end of the day, there was merely disapproval or ridicule from others and I know I can bear that. Though some people think I like to be disagreeable or "different" and that explains my opinions; I suppose it just makes it more comfortable for them to think so.


Believe me, I am well aware that having people who agree with you is much more pleasant than having them disagree.  Yet, I can't conceive of being attracted to being a member of a club or group for the sake of getting along or having people approve of my opinions. For a long time when I was younger, in fact, I did not feel like an American at all until I understood what it should mean. I can tell you, my allegiance to this country is not based on the accident of my having been born here, but to my attraction to its principles, however imperfectly performed. Even to this day the patriotism thing and group conciliation does not warm my heart. Mores so I admire devotion to the values (of course, those values with which which I agree), personal sacrifice and courage in the face of conventional thinking and much of my reading in life is about that.








Would I have the courage of a Washington, Luther, Christ, Garrison or Galileo (or many other examples) were I so tested?  Who  knows. It is easy to sit in an easy chair and think or hope so, and, I know under the pressure of public disapproval I am willing to "take it," but that's easy compared to when you are facing a mob that is lighting a fire, or picking up some rope or nails.




Twain's examples are people who underwent true tests of their character. Where I live anyway, these are less violent times, though we know in other parts of the world some would slit your throat, or if you are lucky, just jail you, rather than put up with any dissent or apostasy. But, the principles he states are as true to today as they were then. We change our opinions as we grow older, experience and learn new things. I find many don't even like to admit it even to themselves, so strong is the aversion to being called a traitor or admitting they changed their mind or were wrong. And still, few politicians are so hated as he or she who switches their political party.








But, as Twain said, the Mugwump can take it. And reading about these great men and sometimes women, helps. And great speeches - Thank you, Mark Twain.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Worst President? IV


No. 6.  Worst reversal of policy for political expedience than even other politicians.


Yes, I know that politicians are human; that humans frequently change their mind; that we want our presidents to have opened minds.


I also know that politicians seem to change their mind in the most cynical ways, for their own good or that of their party.  Presidents are no different than any other politicians, but it is more visible when they do it.


As just a few examples, Jefferson ran as a states rights, small federal government, strict constitutional interpretation candidate. Not so.  Roosevelt ran as an anti-spending, anti-big program president in the face of the depression and ended up doing the opposite. Reagan raised taxes, whatever his program (though overall reduced them). So did George W. Bush. You could go on and on.


But, Obama seems to be destined to be the worst offender. Time and time again he does exactly the opposite of what he said presidents should not do or his administration will or will not do. It's hard not to call some of them just outright lies. And, it's not that I disagree with everything he did once he flopped. The point is, he so frequently says he won't and then does or he will and then doesn't.

  • In his 2008 presidential campaign he went back on his pledge to take public funding, which would have limited his spending. When his -fund-raising advantage became obvious he changed his mind and of course denied what he had promised.
  • He said he would no sooner throw his long time mentor (and nut) Jeremiah Wright under the bus than his grandmother and then through him under the bus. It wasn't that Wright got any crazier. It just became more politically difficult.
  • He said lobbyists would not work in the White House. There are long lists available on the web of those who do.
  • He said that raising the debt limit was "irresponsible," a "failure,"" and "unpatriotic." And then he continued to raise the level of deficit.
  • He said he would not use federal law to circumvent state law on marijuana. Yet, his administration had more raids on dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws in one term than his predecessor did in two terms.
  • He said he would close Guantanamo Bay and he didn't.
  • He set a red line for Syria for the use of chemical weapons and then went back on it. Amazingly, he even denied having said it.
  • He said we would get out of Afghanistan and increased the troops. Far more soldiers died in Afghanistan under Obama than under Bush.
  • He vehemently argued against the Patriot Act in the Senate and then extended it.
  • He said that we should not have military tribunals with respect to terror suspects. And then. . . .
  • Before he was president he wrote that we should end renditions and then . . . .
  • Before he was president he said that the executive did not have the constitutional power to attack another country short of self defense without the blessing of congress. Libya anyone?
  • Soon after he became president, he said we would retain the plans for a third site missile defense in Eastern Europe against the threat of Iranian missiles. He reversed. Why? Few disagree it was mostly because our great friend Russia didn't like it.
  • He said that Mubarak (Egypt) was an ally and a force for stability and then demanded he go. We got Morsi (and I'm for one grateful the military essentially took over).
  • He said he would put health care negotiations on C-Span. Well, there was that one meeting where he told John McCain that "the election is over." Okay, he did apologize later, but, there were no negotiations on C-Span. In fact, the way Obamacare was passed set new records in government secrecy and opaqueness.
  • He  "promised" and "guaranteed" that people could keep their health insurance after his plan was passed. Later, the government had to admit it wasn't true.
  • He promised that no family making less than $250,000 would see any tax increase. This so incensed me during his initial campaign as a ridiculously seethroughable lie (why could I not convince anyone of this?) and it was, of course, just that. Even Obamacare raises taxes.  He also phrased it sometimes to make it appear that it was per person. He also made it sound like capital gains taxes depended on your total income. 
  • He said promised he would make it quicker and easier to pay our taxes. Nothing has happened that would remotely make that a possibility.
  • He said that he would have the most transparent administration in history. James Risen (NY Times - hardly among his chief critics) said - "He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.” ABC (also, hardly your normal Obama critic) Ann Compton said it is day to day the most opaque of the 7 administrations she has covered. It's not even close.
  • He said he would wait 5 days before signing non-emergency bills so that the public could read them online. One of his first promises. Nope.
  • He said that he would cut the deficit in half by end of his first term, but has only ever sought to increase it. 
I'm going to stop here because I'm trying to write shorter posts. There are others. I didn't even include the Obamacare deficit because some argue the point (I don't know how, but they do) and it is very hard to argue something that has not happened yet.  You get the point.


By the way, was Romney the most forthright guy? No.  But, I really do think that if our president has not set the gold standard, he is among the worst, and that is bad enough.




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Man of the century - 16th

One of the primary reasons I started this blog was to write about people who deserve to be better known or have been forgotten. I haven't gotten back to that in a while - so, this is about a forgotten theologian who has a good deal to do with the development of religious toleration in the west.

Who would you name man of the 16th century?  I realize you don't really care. Humor me.

I'm going to rule out Toyotomi Hideyoshi or the Shogun from Japan (there were three who united Japan that century in a progression) for many reasons. That leaves us, outside of western Europe, with Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, who, though he looked funny in that big hat he has on in  paintings, conquered huge swaths of land, including in Europe, and unified much of the Muslim world in such a manner that it would last for centuries. Mere conquerors are rarely going to compete for my man of the century. But, Suleiman was much more than that and his reign has been called a "golden age" with success in architecture, poetry (including his own), agriculture and law. What he created was by far a greater empire than any created in Europe, rivaling or surpassing Spain, which still controlled much of the new world. But still, not enough to win here.

DaVinci has to be up there. I don't have to list his accomplishments as they are so well known. Michaelangelo, the better artist of the two in my view - maybe the greatest artist in history, was though not as much a "renaissance man" as Leonardo. I suppose you could definitely make an argument for Copernicus. I wouldn't. Definitely not Magellan (some other sailor would have done what Magellan did soon after).

Some would say Martin Luther, whose 95 theses and refusal to knuckle under to the Catholic Church changed the West forever. Fewer would choose his even more prickly French counterpart, John Calvin (Jehan Cauvin), who followed Luther and was probably the greater force outside his own land. But for every good reason, some of which will be made obvious here, he will not get the nod either.

No, I would go with a contemporary of Luther's and Calvin's, one who had to live the latter part of his life in poverty and secrecy, mostly because of Calvin. Even today, outside of a small group of theologians and historians, his name is barely ever mentioned; his accomplishments almost never recognized. And though you can find a number of articles on the web about him, it is hard to find published works about him or written by him.

His name was Sebastian Castellio (some would write Castellion or many other variations). I wrote about him briefly here before once, but felt I had more to say about him. Unless you are  unusually interested in the 16th century, it is very unlikely you've heard of him before either. His work placed him both outside the protection of the Catholic and Protestant churches, who together controlled almost all territory in Europe. He directly challenged Calvin, who crushed him, as he did most everyone who disagreed with him, even over petty matters.

Despite that, Castellio, a prophet of religious toleration long before Roger Williams or John Locke or Baruch Spinoza, won the longer war, even if it was well after his death and he never knew.  Because Christianity, inseparable from the history of Europe up to the 1700s, became a far more tolerant religion after Castellio - and that include Calvinists, who are now, of course, no more deadly on account of religion than the rest. More, I think I can show you how there is more of a link between this scholarly theologian and your own freedom of conscience than you might have guessed. That's right, some of the freedom we accept as natural or normal today is owed to this pious Frenchman whom almost no one ever heard about. It's not that he ever had any power or even a congregation - far from it - but his influence trickled down to other thinkers and eventually, the powerful acceded to it and we undoubtedly benefit from it.  

But before we get to Castellio and how he influenced our own lives, in order to understand his place, we have to briefly talk about the aforementioned Martin Luther, John Calvin and also a martyr to freedom of conscience, Michael Servetus, in order to make sense of what Castellio wrote and did.

A caveat. One thing you learn reading history, no one was really first in just about anything. Or, as it was put in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun,. Virtually everyone we think started something had predecessors, one way or another. Sometimes revolutionary figures know it themselves and pattern themselves after their intellectual forefathers and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they learn about them only later.

Such was the case with Luther, who was certainly an original thinker, but was hardly the first to come up with his revolutionary concepts. And though before him came many, like Wycliff (England) and Hus (Bohemia) and numerous "heresies," he was generally not aware of them when he began his revolutionary journey. Though his movement would have happened without them, it might have been delayed a long while without Luther. You could argue that the Catholic humanist Erasmus, not really a revolutionary himself, but certainly an innovator, was a predecessor to Luther in some ways as well (and though he remained a Catholic, was blamed by many of his fellows for Protestantism).  I'm sure Luther would argue the point voraciously as they debated the issue of free will vigorously in print. But, many reform movements either sputtered out or were driven out, whereas upon Luther's refusal to knuckle under from Papal pressure, Protestantism began to take off and eventually even had an impact on the Catholic Church (the counter-Reformation). But, I believe ultimately, Castellio had a bigger impact on both.

There are many books about Luther, who was a dynamic and really entertaining figure. You can go to Wikipedia and read about him. For my purposes, this is what was important about him -

- He successfully challenged the Catholic Church on theological grounds, though he was mainly able to do so safely because he had the support of local secular authorities, one most so, who were able to physically protect him. Even though, like many who seek freedom, they seek it for themselves and their own group, it was still a monumental achievement.

- He helped establish that men were free to interpret the Bible themselves (sort of) and the priority of the text over the opinions of the leaders of the church.

- He helped establish the idea of a separation between church and state (sort of).

We can stop there. Like I said, there is much more to him and many books have been written on it. John Calvin came after Luther. He established another Protestant church known as the Reformed church or faith, usually called Calvinism today, which still exists and has many millions of worldwide followers. Though Calvin too had his predecessors, notably Zwingli, the Reformed church was undoubtedly influenced by Luther and his sidekick, Melanchthon. Calvin himself was a highly competent and persuasive man, but his dark side was as great as a Sith Lord. Whereas Luther saw the state and church having separate spheres, Calvin established in Geneva the first modern theocracy, albeit there were large elements of democracy in it. Protestantism naturally leads to thoughts of freedom of conscience, but, both Lutheranism and Calvinism quickly established their own dogmas and became as rigid and deadly as the Catholic Church that persecuted them at the time. They differed from one another in debating points that would not be very important to most Americans, and though some made an effort to come to agreement - particularly Calvin and Melanchthon - their successors would bitterly quarrel for a long time. Now, of course, they are all peaceful Castellionists, though, none would use that word.

Both the Catholic Church and the protestant churches persecuted heretics. Both Luther (eventually) and Calvin thought that death was an appropriate punishment for them as did many others.

Which brings us to Michael Servetus. Servetus was a medical doctor with a deep interest in theology. He wrote a book arguing against the trinity - that is, the father, the son and the holy ghost being one (although, many of us would have difficulty discerning the differences today), which was unacceptable to Calvin. Nevertheless, Servetus, was a bit of a character himself, brilliant (more so as a doctor) and though gentle by nature, to some degree obnoxious, as well as an opinionated fellow. He corresponded with and attempted to engage Calvin in an intellectual debate on the trinity. He managed to gain Calvin's enmity and Calvin conspired to have him arrested. Servetus escaped and, for reasons that are hard to understand except that he might have had a death wish, traveled incognito to Geneva and actually went to Calvin's church. He was recognized and arrested. Much could be said about his trial and defenses, but, he was eventually convicted and put to death by fire. Though Calvin argued that he be beheaded instead, as Servetus requested, it is hard to defend Calvin, who undoubtedly was the primary force behind Servetus' horrid death for the crime of stating his opinion over theological fine points.

Which brings us to Castellio. Castellio was, like Calvin, a Frenchman who discovered both the humanities and the church. He mastered Greek, Latin and Hebrew and later German. He was actually a friend of Calvin's, whom he met in Strasbourg the year before Calvin returned to Geneva, and briefly stayed at a hostel run by Calvin's family for a while. Upon establishing himself in Geneva, Calvin soon called for his friend and made him rector of the College of Geneva. While there, Castellio wrote a book of dialogues meant to help children learn language and the Bible. The book, retelling bible stories as dialogues in French and Latin, was actually his greatest success from a publishing standpoint, being reprinted many times. In it was contained a germ of his thought - "The friend of the truth obeys not the multitude, but the truth." As he would soon learn, it was one thing to opine it, another to practice it in Calvin's Geneva.

For friendship with Calvin was not possible for someone of independent scholarly curiosity and though Castellio showed remarkable courage tending the sick during the plague (Calvin and other ordained ministers did not) his disagreement with Calvin over what seems to us the rather trivial opinions - the interpretation of Solomon's Song of Songs (Castellio's interpretation is much more standard today) and of Christ's descent into hell - was too much for Calvin to bear and he squashed his friend's expected ordination as a minister. Castellio also seemed to recognize Calvin's need to rule, and this no doubt hurt Calvin, who likely thought Castellio owed him everything. And, certainly, professionally, he owed him a lot. Jealousy also likely played a role. Voltaire later wrote - "We can measure the virulence of this tyranny by the persecution to which Castellio was exposed at Calvin's instance—although Castellio was a far greater scholar than Calvin, whose jealousy drove him out of Geneva."

This seems too true. Having finished his French translation of the Bible, Castellio called upon Calvin to approve it, as such was necessary in Geneva. Calvin wrote to a friend - ""Just listen to Sebastian's preposterous scheme, which makes me smile, and at the same time angers me. Three days ago he called on me, to ask permission for the publication of his translation of the New Testament." What Castellio may either not have realized or had the cheek to think unimportant, was that Calvin had had a hand in a prior French translation. But, in fairness to Calvin, he did not reject his work out of hand, but insisted on being the first to read and make corrections he thought appropriate. Of course, that would have made it as much Calvin's work as Castellio. Castellio offered to read it to him and debate it, but Calvin would have nothing of it. ""I told him that even if he promised me a hundred crowns I should never be prepared to pledge myself to discussions at a particular moment, and then, perhaps, to wrangle for two hours over a single word. Thereupon he departed much mortified."

It could not have worked, of course, for whereas Calvin had certainty in his beliefs, as related by him to the world in his famous Institutes, Castellio was full of doubt. He acknowledged that he did not understand all of the Bible (no one could, of course) and warned the reader that it was his interpretation with which they might differ. Very protestant of him, actually, in the purest sense.  One has to be reminded of Bertrand Russell's statement - "The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt."

For the world, Calvin's treatment of Castellio was perhaps fortuitous, as Castellio, who clearly did not belong in dogmatic Geneva, went to Basel (or Basle), Switzerland, not all that far away but with a somewhat more lenient attitude, being a place where even the more controversial and independent theologian, Sebastian Franck, had been able to live in peace for a while and where Calvin himself had published his first edition of the Institutes there a few years before his triumphant return to Geneva. There Castellio lived a life in poverty with his family, often engaging in menial labor to survive, while finishing his translations. Achievement aside, Castellio's Latin translation was also remarkable for his dedication to the young king of England, Edward VI. Of the few commentaries I find on this dedication, most seem unaware that Little Eddie's tutor, John Cheke, and Castellio were mutual admires and other Englishmen had even urged that Castellio be invited to England to fill an empty chair at Cambridge. The dedication was very un-Calvinist - that is, advocating freedom of conscience and recognizing human free will (something which, by the way, neither Luther nor Calvin believed in - not to mention some modern philosophers and there is a legitimate philosophical - devoid of theology - which also argues so).

Though Calvin had written Castellio a letter of recommendation when he left, stating that other than Castellio's two wrong opinions, Castellio would have been ordained, when Castellio left Geneva for Basel, his attitude soon turned to one more typical of him - venomous hatred.

But, it was after Servetus was burned that Castellio truly earned Calvin's enmity. Calvin had written a defense of the execution and Castellio responded with a book on heretics which, though as plain as its basic points could be to us, was completely revolutionary for a book in print at the time, putting forth a view of Christianity that was the opposite of which Calvin was promulgating throughout Europe.

It is very hard to find anything written by Castellio today in English. I have read his de haeriticis et sint persequendi, with which he challenged Calvin, which has been translated into English and edited by my favorite writer on religious liberty, Ronald Bainton, and which I was lucky to find at a university library. I can't say it is riveting reading today, or that you should go out and buy it (even if the cost wasn't exorbitant) because the principles of tolerance he extolled are so well known today that it makes for dull reading. But, in its day, it was incendiary and provocative. After the preface, it is really a collection from religious figures who Castellio claimed supported his view. Castellio was well aware of his forbearers.  His collection of writings included both Luther and Calvin, which inclusion naturally points out that they changed once they became powerful themselves. Castellio quotes Calvin - "It is unchristian to use arms against those who have been expelled from the Church, and to deny them rights common to all mankind."  This was hardly true any longer - that is, at the time Castellio wrote it Calvin had clearly changed his mind, but it was written by Calvin back when he himself was in danger from the Catholic Church. Castellio cherry picked his chosen statements and made no effort to take a balanced approach. Thus it was quite easy for one of Calvin's followers, Theodore Beza, to write a book refuting him. Though Castellio wrote a response to Beza, Contra Libellum Calvini, it was not published in his lifetime. Though you can even find the Latin original online, I have been unable to find it in English at all. 

Castellio did not write his de haeriticis in his own name either, as that would have been even more dangerous, but everyone who knew him well therefore also knew well who wrote it. Including, of course, Calvin. The following is a letter from Calvin to a friend, who also supported Castellio, and is quite typical of Calvin, if seemingly to us, a little schizophrenic:

"Although we seek the same goal we are different more than I should like in temperament and      character. I know what you think, and what you sometimes say, about me. I am not so fond of       myself as not to dislike some of the shortcomings which you reprove. . . . But others I would not alter. We differ not only in temperament, but I deliberately pursue a different course. Mildness suits you and to it I am also not averse. If I seem to you too severe, believe me I have adopted the role only because I must. You do not consider how the Church is endangered by your latitude, which gives unrestricted license to evil doers, which confuses virtue and vice and makes no distinction between black and white. For example, take Castellio, whom you would like to see appointed at Lausanne, were it not for your fear that there might be disturbance because of the "squabbles" which I had with him. This does not so much hurt me as it violates the sacred name of God and vilifies all truth and religion. This good man would destroy the fundamentals of our salvation and is not ashamed to break into detestable blasphemies. He says that "the God of Calvin is a liar, a hypocrite, two-faced, the author of all evil, the enemy of justice, and worse than the devil." Have I not a right to complain that you treat me unkindly? I know that you are far from approving of the stinking detestable dung of this obscene dog. I should prefer that the earth swallow me up a hundred times than that I should not listen to what the Spirit of God dictates and prescribes for me by the mouth of the prophet in the words: "The reproaches of them that reproached Thee have fallen upon me"(Ps. 69:9). And now when I defend the faith which I cannot desert without treachery and perfidy, do you say that I "squabble"? Would that this rash word, of which I am ashamed as unworthy of a Christian, had never escaped you. If we have a spark of piety, such an indignity as that of Castellio should enflame us to the highest indignation. As for me I would rather rave than not be angry. You had better consider how you will answer before the Supreme Judge.  . . .

I see what a bitter letter I have written, and I almost tore it into a hundred pieces, but it is not my way to conceal what presses on my heart, nor would you wish it. Otherwise I could not have   written at all. I cannot lie and flatter. I have been made more irritable by a load of work, and I am afraid I have been inconsiderate enough to trouble you when you are nearly crushed with the weariness of cares and labors."

See what fun these guys were. Of course, when you consider how much more peaceful and rational and Christ-like the voice of Castellio was it becomes harder to understand why Calvin is still a household name, with hundreds of millions of followers, at least in name, and Castellio but a buried treasure. These are samplings of Castellio:


"[Y]ou should allow everyone who believes in Christ to do so in his own way." 

"It is preposterous to assert that those who are forced to profess a belief really believe what they profess."

"[Opinions are] almost as numerous as men, nevertheless there is hadly any sect which does not condemn all others and desire to reign alone."

"When I reflect on what a heretic really is, I can find no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views."

"Let not the Jews or Turks condemn the Christians, nor let the Christians condemn the Jews or Turks, but rather teach and win them by true religion and justice. "

 [Advice to France laid waste -1562]  [Sedition arose] "from the attempt to force and kill heretics rather than from leaving them alone, because tyranny engenders sedition."  

"Either the victim resists, and you murder his body, or he yields and speaks against his conscience, and you murder his soul."

Castellio also wrote a book on doubt - what we would call skepticism. Although he hardly invented it, again, for his time and place it was a remarkable thing to have written. The idea that man must be uncertain is commonplace to those thoroughly familiar with science, but, at the time, most religious figures and even philosophers were filled with certainty. For his time and place, particularly in the religious world, it was a very necessary and dangerous thing to be said and I believe he was at least one important flowering of the idea which led to more modern philosophers. To write a book on it was almost inviting the flames.

However, despite being modern compared to Calvin or Luther, and almost everyone else at the time, in his views on dissent to accepted religious views, Castellio was not from the future either, and it has to be understood that his views were a radical change, but not contemporary modern 21st century thought either. He claimed, for example, to hate heretics himself and thought some punishment was appropriate. Nor did he approve of atheists at all. It was not that any of these were beliefs acceptable to him, but he felt, as we do now, that they should be persuaded by reason, not by fire or sword. "To kill a man," he wrote, "is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man." I've read slightly different versions ("burn a man," etc.) but, have not read the Latin.  In any event, the sentiment sounds pretty obvious to us - but . . . .

Castellio argued that if men could argue these points over hundreds of years without any resolution, how could they legitimately be resolved by force? But what probably infuriated Calvin and others most, was that Castellio also argued that Christ would never approve of such behavior. And, so it is believed today. Nevertheless, if they did not have reason, Calvin and Luther had much of history on their side.

But, all this is history. I said at the beginning I would link it to our own beloved freedoms and I will soon. For, no doubt, Castellio is an almost completely forgotten man today. There have been biographies, but I can find no biography on him in English that I could and would buy. Bainton wrote one which is out of print. The only one I could find online, by Guggisberg and Gordon, is available on Amazon for $116.10.  $116.10!!! My dedication to learning does know some bounds. Whatever the limit is, $116.10 for a book far surpasses it. Not surprisingly, there are no reviews of their bio on Amazon and I would love to know if any person actually bought the book.

But, leave bios aside. In my local library, I checked the two reference encyclopedias they have dedicated to religion, one which is multi-volumed and contains just about anything and anyone you can imagine. Both encyclopedias refer to many very minor figures and topics in Christian history, but neither - Castellio.  Yet, I knew this was going to be the case when I picked them up and would have been surprised if the opposite was true. Today I went to a bookstore that had a large and interesting philosophy section. I found several books right away that dealt with the reformation - even Servetus's burning and yet - each one completely ignored the major protest from Castellio. And I just received a volume on the skepticism, which mentions Calvin and Spinoza and even Noam Chomsky, for crying out loud. But, no Castellio.

I first came across Castellio in Will Durant's volume on the Reformation in his great eleven volume history and then in Bainton's books on Luther and others. Of course, Bainton's own edition of de haereticis, and other books by him considers Castellio extensively. But, no one is buying them these days either (well, obviously I am, and I'm sure some others must, but I would expect the number is in the low digits). The same is true of the books by the noted German author, Stefan Zweig, who wrote Castellio against Calvin, which is fortunately available online.

Ironically, because of the availability of scholarly articles on the web and e-publishing of books that virtually no one reads or buys anymore, it is much easier to find material about him there. You can even find a decent Wikipedia article about him (like most of their articles - taken from many other sources). You might say this is just due to the technological changes towards digital these days, but, it's not. You can easily find paper books on Calvin or Luther or many other religious figures. It is that Castellio is so rarely thought about nowadays that you cannot find relatively inexpensive paper books about him in print and he is ignored by most scholars.

But, though not well known today, in his own century Castellio was well known and debated - if not hated - by many others. He was not the only person who believed in religious tolerance, but was, of course, greatly outnumbered by those of a more contentious and even violent temperament. Many great thinkers knew of and wrote about him - Montaigne, slightly following Castellio in time, did and so did Voltaire in the 18th century.

But, the most important Castellio reader we have for our purposes is John Locke, who for many stands as an immediate and perhaps the most important writer who inspired our founders, our revolution and system of government, though he was long dead before it took place.  Probably most of the important literate founders had some Locke under their belt. Certainly Jefferson and Madison, who are most closely associated with our freedom of conscience, did.*

*Generally, I have little use for Jefferson. I do not think much of his character and believe he was a bad governor (Va.), president and vice president - possibly an okay secretary of state save his proxy war through newspapers with Hamilton - though I haven't focused on him in that role much and can't say for certain yet. But, I do believe he was genuine in his belief in religious toleration, particularly as he himself was either an atheist or at most a deist. It does not excuse his other behavior, but I can be thankful for that aspect of him at least.

Locke was also born and raised in a very intolerant time and place - 17th century England, where Catholicism and Protestantism were also at war. The link between Locke and Castellio is undoubted as we know that he had some of Castellio's work in Dutch (Locke spent years in Holland while unwelcome in England). But, we have more. In Locke's correspondence we find him discussing the possibility of publishing Castellio's complete works in English. Keep in mind, Castellio was dead at that point for 130 years, and publication was a major financial undertaking and also sometimes a dangerous one.

And, we can take it even further. It is interesting to note that there were only three authors up to Locke's death who wrote books on both the subjects of knowledge (or epistemology) and religious toleration. Two, as Bainton noted, were Castellio followed by Locke, though almost a century and a half later. The third, surprisingly forgotten by Bainton, was Spinoza, but his epistemology does not closely resemble Castellio's and Locke's does fairly well. Indeed, one of the major aspects of Locke's theology was that religion could be understood through reason - but it did not need to be - uncertainty about religious matters, outside of a few central areas (which which Castellio would agree) was necessary.   

Locke's famed letter on religious toleration was published by the friend he addressed it to apparently without Locke's knowledge.  But for a few points, the letter could have probably been written by Castellio himself, including the lesser tolerance for atheists.

You might find Locke's ownership of some works by Castellio and a discussion about publishing them in English slim reeds by which to give him any indirect credit of inspiration for our own laws and customs. I do not have trouble with it, particularly when coupled with the similarity of their epistemology and theology. Sometimes things like this are all we have to go on and entire books have been written on far  more slender threads than this. In fact, it is accepted by I think everyone that Locke influenced the founders, yet I don't think there is any more direct proof of it than there is that Castellio influenced Locke.  More, there were no Amazon.coms or Barnes & Noble around from which to buy books. Ownership of books was difficult to arrange and it usually meant something significant when someone owned a copy of someone else's works. In fact, for a long time, Locke even had trouble getting hold of his own treatise manuscript, which he had left back in England.

But, in any event, knowing that Locke read and admired Castellio enough to want to have all his works published in English, we can proceed across the ocean. One of the founding documents on religious liberty in America is Jefferson's A Bill for Establishing Religious Liberty in Virginia. Not only do we know that Jefferson owned and read Locke, but the bill itself is somewhat of an interpretation of Locke's letter. In fact, it has been known for over a century that in Jefferson's own writings are pages of notes on the letter. There's some debate on what Jefferson used them for, but this is history, not physics, and there will always be some debate. However, that there is a link established and some influence on his landmark bill is without doubt.

Also, it is known that Locke read and was influenced by a writer known as Acontius, a former Catholic convert to Protestantism who almost certainly personally knew and was influenced by Castellio in Basel, through which Acontius passed on his way to live in England. At least, every scholar I have read takes it for granted that the connection between the two of them is there. I cannot go further than they do. Acontius wrote Darkness Discovered or the Stratagems of Satan, decrying religious dogma.

But, if we allow only slight speculation, it seems apparent that Castellio was an inspiration among many of the slightly later religious figures of the 16th century, when these ideas were first germinating, to argue for toleration and those of the following century. One the other strands of religious freedom comes through Benedictus (or Baruch) Spinoza. I cannot show that he read Castellio or not. But, given that Locke had Castellio's books in Dutch while in Holland, it seems hard to believe that Spinoza, who always lived there, did not have access to them as well, given that religious toleration and epistemology were major concerns for him.

Other writers and leaders of religious toleration I believe were inspired by Castellio include Bayles, Socinus, Arminius, Coonhert and Coolhaes among many others, though those names are not going to be familiar to anyone not interested in this sort of thing.  Admittedly, I do not have the time, inclination, language skills or research tools to take this further and there is just not enough written on these gentleman, at least in English, to easily go further for the purposes of a blog post. As I've learned, at some point you have to determine to press "post," or you never will.

Before I end I'll address some argument I might expect to my belief that Castellio gets some large degree of credit for American freedom of religion. You can always point to Castellio's less than completely modern views - particularly his dislike of atheists and those he considered heretics, but, the same "faults" are true of virtually all historical figures, including Locke and Jefferson and Madison and Lincoln, etc. Future generations will look back on people we think heroes today and say - yes, but he/she also ate meat or didn't eat meat or was pro-choice/life, etc. - whatever might someday be seen as a failure. In fact, in Europe, it was virtually impossible to find anyone in 16th century Europe who had religious toleration the way we do.  

You could also point to the many contributions others have made to freedom of religion and ask what is so special about Castellio, but, I would argue this does not water down his contribution at all, but probably increases it, as most all of them followed him in time and none published a book on it before him.

And certainly many other writers other than Locke (and indirectly Castellio) influenced Jefferson directly in his religious views. We can be sure Sozzini or Socinus, Roger Williams, Joseph Priestly, Viscount Bolingbroke and even Tom Paine did. But, they got and get recognition. Castellio does not (not surprisingly, given his lack of present fame and the fact that Jefferson did not mention him either - I did a search in his writings for the name) and perhaps did not know of him directly.

While everything is debatable, it seems clear enough to me that Castellio's contribution to religious freedom, so rarely mentioned outside of philosophical or religious circles (as opposed to Locke) is far less than it should be.  And while you might argue that an actual martyr who was burned at the stake - like Servetus - would be a better example. But, Castellio was essentially hounded to death at a relatively young age - 48. For Calvin and co. had long sought his prosecution in Basel. He was censored and finally brought to trial in 1563, during which time he died. Probably lucky for him.

I don't believe in heaven, but people like Castellio make me wish there was one.















Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Potpourri

SOAB (Son of a bitch!). I thought I posted a couple of weeks ago until Bear asked me today if I stopped blogging. It's a little dated by now, particularly the football stuff which I had started writing a few weeks earlier. But, regardless, here it is:




I can't believe how little I've blogged in the last few months. I must be busy between work and vacation.


I did fix the last post's photo problem and managed (the tedious way) to get the photos directly on it, so you don't have to use the link. I'm just so hi-tech.


Today is a potpourri day here-a little of this, a little of that, so as to ease my way back into it.


Football


I started writing this weeks ago, before the two Super Bowl teams faced off in the new regular season - Denver and Seattle. I wrote: "If Denver beats Seattle, it will feel like the underdog beating the bully and many people will feel good about it. Me too. Seattle has so much to lose. Not only will their SB victory be partially revenged but they will be 1-2. That would be some turn around. If Seattle wins, they will both be 2-1.  I am betting on Seattle again. Wait, no, Denver. I don't know."
So, Seattle won, and now 5 games deep, they do still seem like the best team in the league.
David Wilson put on an all around show Monday night showing why he is at the top of his game, between his legs and his arm. He only seems to throw smart passes. Even when he is scrambling, he doesn't throw into coverage. And he is a Fran Tarkentonesque escape artist. Becoming a bigger fan than I was last year. He also seems to be a genuinely nice guy. But, most of them do.


On the other hand, even Seattle seems a step down from last year. There is not a single standout team right now nor a single player who is dominating the league. There is always some team that people want to leap frog to the front, and they fold. Carolina may be the latest one. People were very high on Carolina a few weeks ago and the Chiefs until last week. The undefeated teams have all come crashing down to earth. Now Dallas, The Giants, SF and NE are all on the upswing. San Diego (predicted by the world's most sinister blog commenter, Bear) may be the real deal.


But still, my favorite teams are SF and NE and despite rough starts, they are both, to my relief, playing better. I've picked them for the Super Bowl, though they are clearly not the best teams. I root for them anyway (sort of) so why not pick them?


I have to admit though, SF's QB, Kaepernick, who seemed like one of the biggest threats in the league the last two years, but this year he appears to have lost confidence or concentration or both. Tom Brady is still Brady. As bad as his stats are, like last year, many commentators notice how he seems to manage to make more out of situations with little talent around him than anyone else. He got blocking though this Sunday and they trounced their opponents.


One thing I've concluded. Regardless of what an amazing quarterback Peyton Manning is, he is possibly he worst actor I've ever seen - and I've suffered through second graders putting on a play. It's a free country. He can make commercials. I wish he won't. As he said to Papa John recently on one of them - "Brutal."




More football


But, leave that all aside - what the hell is going on in the NFL?  They've so joined the legion of the politically correct that they are acting more like the National Football Investigative League. Other than one maniac I know (no names here, but he lived in Montana for a while and occasionally comments), everyone seems to think Ray Rice went way overboard in knocking out his wife and a prosecution would be appropriate. I do too. Clearly he snapped. But, we know she came across the elevator towards him and we do not know - because it is not on video - what the last 6 months have been like for them? I'm not saying she went after him over and over. How would I know? But, no one in the media seems interested in it. To go by the media, everyone is in agreement that all is as should be now only we need more suspensions and codes of civility in the NFL.


The fear of losing revenue - and please don't think this is about anything else, has led Roger Goodell to make a press conference and call for an investigation as if he himself slugged his wife. Stop apologizing.


These are my concerns or questions -


-Why isn't it important what led up to that moment?
-Does she too deserve to be prosecuted?
-Since that incident, she married him and has stood by his side. Who is the NFL to question her wisdom? Their friends say it was a one time thing (again, I wouldn't know) and that it is unfair to judge him by one incident (although, it really was really disturbing to watch). Does anyone remember what happened with Warren Moon? His wife basically rescinded and blamed herself. They still prosecuted him and he was acquitted.
-Why would they want to impair Rice's wife's life by denying her husband a livelihood?
-Most important, doesn't the possible destruction of Rice's career - and that is what some in the media and watchdog groups are calling for, mean that NFL wives will decide to keep their mouths shut if they are abused or risk losing all they have? This is the real problem I see. As usual, the road to hell. . . .


Really, whatever the Rice's problems are, this is out of control. Sure, it would be great if so many NFL players weren't testosterone high-octane young multi-millionaires who have been spoiled and pampered much of their lives involved in a violent sport, but they are. But, I don't think most fans want the NFL to carry on like a government agency, not even their female fans. And, according to the statisticians at the NY Times (the 538 blog), NFL players have not only a lower incident of crime, but a lower incident of domestic abuse than the general public for men in their age group (though it is by far their biggest problem). So, why are they pretending it is a problem? Oh, right, money.


The United Kingdom (phew!)


Personally, I thought it was a better idea for Scotland to stay put. This was not a question of their living under tyranny. For security purposes, for financial purposes and for our own selfish reasons, it was better to stay than go.




Just a thought. Scotland has been somewhat united with England since 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I - the James of the King James Bible) and formally since 1707. Britain gave them an opportunity to secede from the union of three or four hundred years. We (the U.S.) may have wanted them to stay in that union for our own purposes, but no one in our government disapproved of there being a vote.




Imagine then if Texas or Alaska (the usual suspects) decided to leave the union? Would we allow a vote? Of course not. But, Texas has been part of the union for a little more than a century and a half rather than three or four. and Alaska has been a state only a few months more than I've been alive. Not that their citizens would vote yes either. But, why is it that we would not consider letting them, or any state go when Britain can risk letting a huge chunk of their nation separate?




You can make legal argument.  A ridiculous case, Texas v. White (actually fought over U.S. bonds) held a few years after our civil war that states had no right to unilaterally secede from the union. Actually, there is really no constitutional text which requires a state to stay put. And while I'm not sure that we'd be sending troops into Texas to stop them at this point in history (maybe Delaware), but, I can't imagine we'd put up with it like our cousins across the pond.


I'm not a guest - I'm a customer


Someone at my bagel store (well, not really mine) called me a guest the other day. Personally, I don't like it when businesses refer to me as a "guest." Maybe it's okay when you are on their website just wandering around. But, when you buy something, you are a customer, not a guest, which to me implies some kind of relationship where you do not have to pay for kindnesses. 


I know, I know, it's PR bologna, but, the truth is, I'm not sure anyone who is a customer is ever going to buy more or be happier because they are called a "guest." It's like when businesses take someone who could be working and make them greet everyone at the door; the idea being that you'll appreciate it if they personally welcome you? But, if that's the case, you are already inside - why would you care?  Maybe it works with some people if they are walking by their place of businesses. For some reason sex establishments like strip clubs seem to think this is a good idea. Some restaurants too. It has never made me want to go inside. Actually, I feel a little put off by it and cringe that they are going to speak to me. I could be wrong as it is a nutty world, and maybe it does work with some people, but, generally speaking, people I talk to seem to all feel the same way about it. Just do a good job and stop being so obsequious to us.


Uh, oh, not you Sweden


When I used to travel more often, particularly in Europe, I met some Swedes. I liked every single one I ever met. They just seemed uniformly nice, not to mention the best looking group of people I could imagine. They have a more socialist model than most states and have not done bad economically (they have their issues, like every country). Part of their success I think is due to the level of homogeneity they have - one language, one group of people (not so many immigrants people fighting to get into near arctic climates, though they have some) and very little in the way of defense spending (though comparable to many other countries). They spend about a third of what we do for defense as a percentage of gdp and even a little more than half of that which Britain and France spends (again, as a % of gdp).


But, what bothered me was their recent decision to recognize Palestine as a state.


It's not that I don't want Palestine to be independent someday and soon. In fact, though generally pro-Israeli, because they are far more enlightened in their behavior than their neighbors and are our ally, I wish Israel would unilaterally recognize Palestine and throw it on the world to make it work, reserving the right to defend themselves indiscriminately and without concern for international opinion. But, if it happened right now, Palestine would already be a failed state. It has no currency, no defense, no single government and is occupied and controlled by Israel. Recognition is not going to change that. If anything it will make it harder.  I guess Sweden thinks if a bunch of states recognize it as independent (though, who rules - the PLO or Hamas?) something will happen. It is not realistic while Hamas still controls Gaza.


What I'd really like is the world to treat Hamas like they are treating ISIS.


Dear Abby


I mean John Adams' late wife, Abigail, not the late advice columnist. Abigail really was a fascinating person in her own right and it is worthwhile to spend a little time reading their correspondence or a biography of her or them together. I occasionally read some Adams' family correspondence and it never fails to please me. One thing she would do that at least surprises me is quote from poetry verbatim in her letters. You can tell (scholars I should say - I'm not paying that much attention) she's not copying it because she makes mistakes here and there. It's all from memory.


In 1775 the Adams' friend, Joseph Warren, a medical doctor and now rather forgotten revolutionary war hero who died in battle at only 34 years old. Warren was active in Boston revolutionary politics, and it was actually him who sent off Revere and Dawes to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock of the British raid to capture him.  Though a newly commissioned general, he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill as a private and died there. You could probably read an awful lot of revolutionary war books and still never have heard of him, but he was quite well known at the time and after he died counties and towns throughout the original states were named for him (if you ever pass through a Warren or Warrensburg, etc., that's him). Anyway, though this really isn't about him, his death was a big deal to the Adams family, who knew him personally.


When informing her husband of her death, Abigail wrote that his death reminded him of a poem by William Collins entitled Ode Written in the Beginning of the Year 1746, which actually commemorated British troops fallen in battle in Scotland during a Jacobite rising some 30 years earlier. Collins is another 18th century figure who we never hear or read about anymore but was a big deal back then. Here's the poem:




How sleep the brave who sink to rest
By all their country’s wishes blest!
When Spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallowed mold,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy’s feet have ever trod.
By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honor comes, a pilgrim gray,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay,
And Freedom shall awhile repair,
To dwell a weeping hermit there!


I admit it.  I often like poems that rhyme better than others. So shoot me.


The poem must have been on her mind that year (Collins was long dead) as she taught it to their son, John Quincy, and when he was an old man (he was a child during the Revolutionary War) more than 75 year later, he mentioned she taught it to him right then and was still able to quote it from memory in a letter to a friend. 


There's no overarching point here. I just liked the poem and its importance to the Adams family. 


Sam Spade meets Fatty Arbuckle


When I was in San Francisco this summer I sent the girls shopping and walked around a bit on my own. I passed by John's Grill, which probably wouldn't even be open anymore were it not immortalized in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, where Spade stopped for a bite (you can still get the same meal - pork chops and some sides I think). It got me thinking of Hammett and his longtime girlfriend, the writer Lillian Hellman (not that he wasn't married). I loved Hammett's five novels and rank them thus:


The Glass Key
The Maltese Falcon
The Thin Man
The Dain Curse
Red Harvest


Yes, TGK better than TMF, but they were all great. He really started something. Even Raymond Chandler said he owed a lot to him. But Dash was a drunk and not a nice one either. The truth is, it is hard to like him, though he had his moments too. He got his knowledge about being a detective from the time he was a Pinkerton detective. While he was one, they were helping out Fatty Arbuckle, the movie star accused of rape and manslaughter. Talk about forgotten. Arbuckle was the discoverer of both Buster Keaton and Bob Hope and both a friend of Chaplin and a world famous comedian in his own right. He had three trials, the first two being hung juries and the third in which he was acquitted  by the jury (who actually wrote him a letter of apology). The Pinkerton's were working for him and thought him innocent too (I have no idea if he was or not), but I love this playful squib written by Hammett at the time:


"I sat in the lobby of the Plaza, in San Francisco. It was the day before the opening of the second absurd attempt to convict Roscoe Arbuckle of something. He came into the lobby. He looked at me and I at him. His eyes were the eyes of a man who expected to be regarded as a monster but was not yet inured to it. I made my gaze as contemptuous as I could. He glared at me, went on to the elevator still glaring. It was amusing. I was working for his attorneys at the time, gathering information for his defence."


Secrets of the Secret Service


The Pinkertons are a nice segue into the Secret Service. Pinkerton himself, the original American detective, helped save Lincoln as he made his way to Washington, D.C.  The formation of the Service was actually on Lincoln's desk when he died. But, it didn't protect the president until after McKinney's assassination (apparently, the assassination of Lincoln and Garfield not being a sufficient hint that something should be done).


My major feeling about the Service right now is shock and disappointment. Here I was, a very cynical guy, who is constantly saying that almost everything in this world operates incompetently. But, even after the prostitute scandal just about a couple of years ago, I thought that was about ethics and not competence. But, maybe it was a big clue.


I don't know what is going on with them. Forget the number of people who have crossed over onto the White House lawn, fired shots at it, or gotten onto an elevator with the president (seriously?), this last debacle needs a stronger word than incompetent to describe it.


The most amazing part to me is not that he actually made it to the house itself, though that is amazing, but that he overpowered the ONE guard at the door. One guard!


A few things came to mind.


First, was the guard on a cell phone or tablet? Why would I think a thing like that? Maybe because every time I am in a building now where they have security guards, they spend the same amount of time doing that as just about everyone else.
Second, is everyone picturing every group of terrorists in the world having conversations like - "What if instead of sending one man, we send a dozen?"
What would they do? Are we even remotely prepared for this?
The disgraced former director of the agency, Julia Pierson, said she wanted the agency to seem like Disneyland to the public. Words fail.


ISIS


The biggest dispute about the most famous terrorist group in the world seems to be whether to call them ISIS, ISIL, IS or IL. I like ISIS and am sticking with it.


Leaving aside that I am disgusted with both the president and the congress for ignoring the constitution and not dealing with this issue (the first is the president's fault, the second congress's), I really think we should be involved. I admit I am a little of a hawk, but the kind that doesn't want to build nests. Do what we have to do, help out who we strongly feel shares our political values and go home.  I just think we should be in the business, not of chasing monsters, but killing people who cut the throats of our citizens and those of our allies, and then make sure the video gets circulated.
I remember reading Theodore Roosevelt, who would now be considered a terrible racist and a bit of a nut job by many people, that once we lose our martial ardor, we are done as a country. I really don't even want to hit anyone myself, never mind shoot anyone, but that's probably typical and he may be right. This isn't about empire. It's not about oil. It costs us money to do this. What fighting ISIS is about is having a world where we can all do business and interact without getting our throats slit. Isn't that good enough reason? If it is not, why should our enemies not think it is a good idea?


That's enough for today. See you folks in church.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .