Friday, April 22, 2011

Who said it VI?

Who Said It VI? is, like its predecessors, really just an excuse for me to rummage around my library in books I would love to read again and might not get a chance. I usually violate my own rule that it has to be from my library at least once, and, I couldn't find one of the quotes I wanted to use here in my library, so I fished it out of the internet.

1) The first quote appears to be an affectionate list from a husband, worried about what will happen to his wife if he does not return for his dangerous mission.

1. Here is the key to the post office box, which is located in the main post office downtown on Ervay Street, the street where there is a drugstore where you always used to stand. The post office is four blocks from the drugstore on the same street. There you will find our mailbox. I paid for the mailbox last month so you needn’t worry about it.

2. Send information about what has happened to me to the Embassy and also send newspaper clippings (if there’s anything about me in the papers). I think the Embassy will come quickly to your aid once they know everything.

3. I paid our rent on the second so don’t worry about it.

4. I have also paid for the water and gas.

5. There may be some money from work. They will send it to your post office box. Go to the bank and they will cash it.

6. You can either throw out my clothing or give it away. Do not keep it. As for my personal papers (both military papers and papers for the factory), I prefer that you keep them.

7. Certain of my papers are in the small blue suitcase.

8. My address book is on the table in my study if you need it.

9. We have friends here and the Red Cross will also help you.

10. I left you as much money as I could, $60 on the second of the month, and you and Junie can live for two months on $10 a week.

11. If I am alive and taken prisoner, the city jail is at the end of the bridge we always used to cross when we went to town (the very beginning of town after the bridge).

He was in fact going on a dangerous mission. He failed but lived and returned to her. It was written by Lee Harvey Oswald for his wife, Marina, when he went out to try to assassinate General Edwin Walker not long before the successful JFK assassination. Oswald shot from the general’s backyard, but from his position it appeared there was only a glass window between him and the seated general. The shot was deflected just enough by a wire screen and wood bar so that it passed safely through the general’s hair. As Maxwell Smart would say, “Missed him by that much.”

Having read Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, it is hard for me to believe in any of the conspiracy theories. Still, they are fun and also having read Robert Caro's first three volumes on LBJ, I would certainly understand someone being suspicious of him (although, I'm not saying there is any proof of any such action on his part). I await the fourth book, due out next year.

2) The following letter goes back in American history.

. . . I take this oppo. to acknowledge the receipt of A Benezets Book against the Slave Trade. I thank you for it. It is not a little surprising that Christianity, whose chief excellence consists in softning the human heart, in cherishing & improving its finer Feelings, should encourage a Practice so totally repugnant to the first Impression of right & wrong. What adds to the wonder is that this Abominable Practice has been introduced in ye. most enlightened Ages, Times that seem to have pretentions to boast of high Improvements in the Arts, Sciences, & refined Morality, h[ave] brought into general use, & guarded by many Laws, a Species of Violence & Tyranny, which our more rude & barbarous, but more honest Ancestors detested. Is it not amazing, that at a time, when ye. Rights of Humanity are defined & understood with precision, in a Country above all others fond of Liberty, that in such an Age, & such a Country we find Men, professing a Religion ye. most humane, mild, meek, gentle & generous; adopting a Principle as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistant with the Bible and destructive to Liberty.

Every thinking honest Man rejects it in Speculation, how few in Practice from conscienscious Motives? The World in general has denied ye. People a share of its honours, but the Wise will ascribe to ye. a just Tribute of virtuous Praise, for ye. Practice of a train of Virtues among which yr. disagreement to Slavery will be principally ranked.--I cannot but wish well to a people whose System imitates ye. Example of him whose Life was perfect.--And believe m[e], I shall honour the Quakers for their noble Effort to abolish Slavery. It is equally calculated to promote moral & political Good.

Would any one believe that I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by ye. general inconvenience of living without them, I will not, I cannot justify it. However culpable my Conduct, I will so far pay my devoir to Virtue, as to own the excellence & rectitude of her Precepts, & to lament my want of conforming to them.--

That is an excerpt from a letter Patrick Henry wrote to a Quaker, Robert Pleasants, in 1773, which I might have first come across in a copy of The Abolitionist, Vol. 1, published by one of my personal heroes, William Lloyd Garrison. I say that knowing that there were many others who deserve as much praise, and the Quakers in general were lions in fighting it long before Garrison was even born. I couldn’t find a copy of the letter in my own library so I pulled off the internet, but not from Garrison's text (which is also available) as he modernized the language. It is one of the most amazing letters of the founders. It is the startling honesty of the three sentences, “Would any one believe that I am master of slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it,” that stuns when you first read it and it is one of the reasons that I have such trouble being an apologist for the founders who were unreformed slave holders, all of whom had feelings much akin to Henry without his honesty. It is their hypocrisy - their disgust of the institution and recognition of the horrors of it coupled with an unwillingness to give it up that is so frustrating in people we are raised to revere. Some disguised it in terms of helplessness, or even concern for the slaves' well being, but Patrick Henry told it straight – it was convenience and no excuses were acceptable. Too long has it been argued by Americans in defense of their heroes – they didn’t know better. They certainly did. You only need to read them to know it. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other things we can appreciate about them, but it is a bitter pill to swallow.

3) This next letter is from a time when perhaps they did have more of an excuse for what we would now believe was abominable behavior, as it was the norm throughout the world.

It is my custom, lord emperor, to refer to you all questions whereof I am in doubt. Who can better guide me when I am at a stand, or enlighten me if I am in ignorance? In investigations of Christians I have never taken part; hence I do not know what is the crime usually punished or investigated, or what allowances are made. So I have had no little uncertainty whether there is any distinction of age, or whether the very weakest offenders are treated exactly like the stronger; whether pardon is given, to those who repent, or whether a man who has once been a Christian gains nothing by having ceased to be such; whether punishment attaches to the mere name apart from secret crimes, or to the secret crimes connected with the name. Meantime this is the course I have taken with those who were accused before me as Christians. I asked them whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment. If they kept to it, I ordered them for execution; for I held no question that whatever it was that they admitted, in any case obstinacy and unbending perversity deserve to be punished. There were others of the like insanity; but as these were roman citizens, I noted them down to be sent to Rome.

Before long, as is often the case, the mere fact that the charge was taken notice of made it commoner, and several distinct cases arose. An unsigned paper was presented, which gave the names of many. As for those who said that they neither were nor ever had been Christians, I thought it right to let them go, since they recited a prayer to the gods at my dictation, made supplication with incense and wine to your stature, which I had ordered to be brought into court for the purpose together with the images of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ-things which (so it is said) those who are really Christians cannot be made to do. Others who were named by the informer said that they were Christians and then denied it, explaining that they had been, but had ceased to be such, some three years ago, some a good many years, and a few even twenty. All these too both worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They maintained, however, that the amount of their fault or error had been this, that it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god; and that they bound themselves with an oath, not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery or adultery, not to break their word, and not to deny a deposit when demanded. . . On this I considered it the more necessary to find out from two maid-servants who were called deaconesses and that by torments, how far this was true; but I discovered nothing else than a perverse and extravagant superstition. . . .

You’ve probably heard of Pliny the Elder, who is most famous as a Roman naturalist living in the first century A.D., the author of Natural History, which was an encyclopedic collection of knowledge at the time. He wrote other books as well. He was also born into good society and was a lawyer, soldier and politician. This letter to the Emperor Trajan reflects the Christian problem before Christianity conquered Rome. Pliny was a governor of a province trying to do the right thing, from his view, of course. He died trying to rescue a friend when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, possibly of fumes, but possibly of natural causes, as no one else in the boat succumbed.

If you are curious, Trajan congratulated him on his practice, and acknowledged there wasn't a general rule that could be applied. Certainly the guilty had to be punished, he said, but those who denied it and proved it by worshipping the gods should be be pardoned by repentence. I love that he adds that anonymous accusation ought not to be countenanced as dangerous precedent and not keeping with the spirit of the age. Every society knows they are modern, and believes their behavior to be motivated by the highest morals.

4) The following is trial testimony from much more modern times.

I felt like a pawn in a chess game being played by giants. It was a situation where I had been sent to do a lot of things, almost everything that was in that Resolution of Inquiry, by the direction of the President of the United States, I had been told by Admiral Poindexter and by Mr. McFarlane countless times; that I had given the commitment of the United States in the name of the President to the resistance leadership, to the people in those other countries, the people in foreign governments all over 18 or 19 countries, and that those were things I was told could not, should not and will not be revealed, and yet there was a very strong likelihood that they would be asked, and they were; that the things I had done with the resistance itself in delivering everything from medicine for jungle leprosy to ammunition, to the bases we built for deliveries for the resistance, the arrangements I had made with foreign governments to deliver surface-to-air missiles and ammunition, all of those things I had been told to give the commitment of the United States that it wouldn’t be revealed. . . .

And I was put in this situation having been raised to know what the Ten Commandments are, that it would be wrong to do that, but I never perceived that it would be unlawful.

This was the response of Colonel Oliver North to his own attorney’s question as to how he felt about being put in a delicate position by his bosses of having to go into a meeting and lie for them. In reviewing the independent counsel's ("IC") report, I tried to keep an open mind. But, even now I can't help but conclude that the Iran/Contra scandal (for which no one was punished - it was only the cover up, as usual), but as big or bigger a cover up than Watergate. As the IC noted in his report – the higher ups who used the Colonel and his bosses Bud McFarlane and Admiral Poindexter as scapegoats succeeded. North was convicted of aiding and abetting an obstruction of congressional inquiries, destroying and falsifying official documents and receiving an illegal gratuity. He was not given jail time, the reason for which deeply offended me. The judge said that jail “would only ‘harden your misconceptions’ about public service and how he had tarnished it.” (quote from the IC’s report). I was offended because it is my own experience that it is universally practiced by judges in this country (and probably everywhere) that not acknowledging what you did was wrong is a reason to increase, not decrease, a sentence. He was given 2 years probation, $150,000 in fines and 1200 hours of community service. But, it was reversed on appeal on account of the fact that the trial judge did not hold a full hearing as required to make sure that the prosecution witnesses did not use his immunized testimony before congress, including to refresh their memorizes, focus their attention, and the like. That may in fact be the correct decision, legally. It was, of course, highly controversial and politicized. When they went back to the trial court for the hearings, Col. North’s boss, McFarlane, the National Security Advisor, who had already tried to commit suicide, but cooperated with the IC and pled guilty to misdemeanors, testified that he had relied heavily on Col. North’s congressional testimony in his own testimony. Thus, Col. North walked free.

5) And now for something completely different – lamentation.

I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel or to fear. . . .

The above is a tiny excerpt from a long dialogue written by Thomas Jefferson in Paris when he was our ambassador, pining away for Maria Cosway, who he had fallen in love with and who returned to London with her husband. It was ostensibly a conversation between his head and heart, after he had seen the married couple off. It took him five days to write it and it is painful to read. Not only was his heart broken but he had also recently fallen and broken his wrist.

The two would write to each other but never see each one another again. If you know how I feel about TJ, you will understand that my favorite part is when he writes that he is “the most wretched of all earthly beings.”

6) Back to more modern times for a memo on a political campaign.

We had a meeting this morning in my office of those people primarily concerned with the issues effort in the campaign. . . We were unanimous in our conclusions. Namely:

(1) Our principal theme to date-namely, that McGovern is more trustworthy and credible than Nixon, both personally and across the key issues-has been defused by the unfortunate events of the past few weeks, i.e., Eagleton and aftermath, Salinger, the Hitler remark, the V.C. statement in your press backgrounder for last Sunday’s newspapers. . . .

(2) Our primary and perhaps only chance to win will lie in reclaiming those millions of traditional Democrats who are now undecided or leaning to Nixon. These Democrats, primarily in the big industrial states, are typically blue-collar, middle-minded and socially more conservative than our principal sources of support in the Democratic primaries.

(3) These voters can only be reached by returning to the traditional Democratic themes. Namely, that the Democratic Party and George McGovern are good for ordinary people. . . .

(4) Our principal theme from here on in . . . should be that George McGovern and the Democratic Party have supported Medicare, Social Security, decent wages and economic growth. They deeply care about the well-being of decent hardworking people. . . .

(5) This theme can be illustrated in a multitude of ways-visits to assembly lines, bowling alleys, supermarket checkout counters, blue-collar shopping centers, plant cafeterias. . . .

Summary: We urge that, from this point onward, you return to the traditional Democratic themes. . . . The traditional Democratic voter simply must come to feel again that you are deeply concerned about his homely everyday problems, such as his taxes, his food prices where Richard Nixon and the Republicans have let him down.

The actual writer, Ted Van Dyk, is unimportant now. He was on the George McGovern team back in 1972. What’s interesting is that with a tweek here and a tweek there, and substitution of Barack Obama’s name for Senator McGovern’s, this could be a memo from the Democrat’s playbook this election.

For any reader too young to know, President Nixon cleaned Sen. McGovern’s clock, winning by an overwhelming margin, more than a 23% popular vote spread and by 520-17 in the electoral college. Then, the Watergate investigation took off and Nixon had to resign.

I include the quote here because I found it in Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President, 1972. The series covered the 1960-1972 campaigns, then 1980 and 1984, and are a model for the more recent Game Plan, which covered the last election. I only read this one of his series, as I really didn’t get into politics until he had finished writing them, but they were all considered classics. I found the 72 campaign volume riveting, and as best I can recall, it helped spur my own interest in politics. Of course, if you are not a political wonk, don’t go near it. In the afterlife, when you can read as much as you want, I intend to read at least two more volumes.

The Salinger Affair, referred to above, occurred when Pierre Salinger, already furious with the campaign over a job issue, was asked by McGovern to go to Paris to negotiate with the North Vietnamese at their invitation about the ongoing war. It was all hush hush as McGovern had no business doing it - he wasn't president.  But, it was hoped by them that some prisoners of war would be released and Salinger actually encouraged the Vietnamese negotiators to end the war immediately, which would have helped Nixon, not McGovern. The mission was a failure, but when it came out publicly what they had done (negotiating with the enemy, even in good faith), McGovern lied and flip flopped about it, thowing Salinger under the bus. This was soon after he had let Thomas Eagleton go as his running mate when it came out he had had electro-shock treatment at one point in his life. The “Hitler remark” occurred late in the campaign, when McGovern, who had already compared Ho Chi Minh to George Washington, now compared Nixon to Hitler. None of it went well as can be determined by the voting.

7) One more, from an interesting, if crazy, fellow.

“To quote from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of darkness, “I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. . . . There was nothing either above or below him. . . .He had kicked himself loose of the earth. . . . He was alone.”

* * *

In one of the Brothers movies, as Chico was entering, Groucho said: “Hello, you look similar to a man that I know and his name is Ravelli.” Chico answered “I am Ravelli.” “Ha,” responded Groucho: “that explains the similarity.”

* * *

Some of the people around here certainly have their faults, but I’ll have to give them credit for this: They are perceptive enough to recognize my preference for solitude, and considerate enough to respect that preference. I’ve rarely had anyone bother me with a visit unless it was for a good reason.

* * *

The teacher took out a book, leafed through it frantically, and found what he was looking for. . . . “I’m putting next to your name,” he continued, opening his booklet, “a very bad grade.” Since then, this little error has always pursued me. It has ruined my career.

* * *

With a briefcase-full or a suitcase-full of explosives we should be able to blow out the walls of substantial buildings. Clearly we are in a position to do a great deal of damage. And it doesn’t appear that the FBI is going to catch us any time soon. The FBI is a joke.

* * *

So I thought, “I will kill, but I will make at least some effort to avoid detection, so that I can kill again.”

* * *

I have chosen you as my victim. . . when the first piece is played upside down and backwards, it spells out the letters of my name, over and over, in varying permutations taken from the alternating group on 18 letters. . . . I have almost finished two more marches and am working on a waltz, but I won’t be able to quite complete these until I have resolved Fermat’s Conjecture.

* * *

I often had fantasies of killing the kind of people whom I hated (e.g. government officials, police, computer scientists, behavioral scientists, the rowdy type of college students who left their piles of beercans in the Arboretum, etc., etc., etc.) . . . Knowing my revengeful fantasies are not being realized, completely spoils them for me.

The words are actually from the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, from his letters and journals. I took the quotes from Don Foster’s terrific book, Author Unknown. Foster is an English professor who has made a fascinating career as a literary detective by determining who wrote various things based on the texts themselves coupled with other investigation. Among other more famous work, he helped the prosecution on the Unabomber case. My favorite part of his book, however, was how he figured out that Henry Livingston and not Clement Moore really wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” aka “A Night Before Christmas,” which I previously covered in one of my earliest posts on 9/6/06. I found it very persuasive and sneer whenever I hear the poem referred to as Moore's now.


  1. I always like these posts!!

  2. A cornacopia of the morose, unusual, provocative, and thoughtful. Another superb effort, Frodo. See? Not always a stern taskmaster. But don't think I missed that crack about Jefferson, you twit.


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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 . . . .