Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who said it VII?

I'm not sure how many posts I have made here but I think it is arond 285 or so. I know it says it somewhere on this thing. To my own surprise, I've been writing these approximately weekly pieces since September, 2006 - almost exactly five years - and still enjoy doing it. The posts I call Who said it? are really an excuse to dive into my library and find quotes I find interesting at the moment for varying reasons. Obviously, this is the seventh such post, or I'd have call it something other than . . . VII

1) I believe all Americans are born with certain inalienable rights. As a child of God, I believe my rights are not derived from the Constitution. My rights are not derived from any government. My rights are not derived from any majority. My rights are because I exist. They were given to me and each of my fellow citizens by our creator and they represent the essence of human dignity.

Rush Limbaugh, Rick Perry, Ann Coulter. No, no and no. That was Joe Biden, our colorful and occasionally kooky Vice President, during the Justice Bork Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1987. He sounds more like a conservative than a liberal here, but Bork was struggling and the Democrats were pouring it on. I’ve watched the hearing myself, part when it happened, and more a few years ago on C-Span. He did not present himself well, to say the least. He came across as a self-absorbed, highly theoretical and off-beat man. It made him a little bitter, as academically he was qualified, and at least he was able to get a few books out of it.

2) Because, at bottom, women exist solely for the propagation of the race with which their destiny is identified, they live generally more in the species than in individuals. At heart, they take more seriously the affairs of the species than those of individuals. This gives to their whole nature and action a certain frivolity and generally an attitude which is fundamentally different from that of the man and gives rise to that discord and disharmony which are so frequent and almost normal in marriage.

* * *

Only the male intellect, clouded by the sexual impulse, could call the undersized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged sex the fair sex; for in this impulse is to be found its whole beauty. The female sex could be more aptly called the unaesthetic. They really and truly have no bent and receptivity either for music, poetry, or the plastic arts; but when they affect and profess to like such things, it is mere aping for the sake of their keen desire to please. This is why they are incapable of taking a purely objective interest in anything. . . .

This is why I spend so much time reading philosophy. Even the best of them are going to amuse you sometimes. The above is from a Schopenhauer essay, On Women. Despite the fact that there is many a modern woman who would kick his Buddha loving ass now for saying this, he has actually been quite influential with other philosophers, notably Nietzsche, psychologists, notably Freud, many writers like Poe, Yeats, Tolstoy, etc. and even musicians (and I have no idea how – but he had a music theory I know nothing about), including some of my favorites – Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Wagner and others. What he wrote above was probably widely accepted in the 19th century as true anyway, but, much else of what he wrote – or of what I have read in translation – makes a lot of sense, at least for a philosopher.

3) You know, there was a time when our national security was based on a standing army here within our own borders and shore batteries of artillery along our coasts, and, of course, a navy to keep the sea lanes open for the shipping of things necessary to our well-being. The world has changed. Today, our national security can be threatened in faraway places. It’s up to all of us to be aware of the strategic importance of such places and to be able to identify them.

That’s Ronald Reagan after the success of the Grenada invasion, one of the easiest boots on the ground victories we’ve ever had. Of course, this was Grenada, not Vietnam. But, despite many people being unsure of why we did it, Reagan, like others before him, believed it was important to roll back Communism wherever it existed and certainly in the Americas. The Grenadine adventure also caused a bit of a stir in the local Communist world – Cuba, and Sandinista Nicaragua. The invasion is a fascinating little story itself, complete with a coup of one Marxist leader by a worse one, a pre-invasion Marine disaster in Lebanon just before the invasion started, the president's cabinet split on support for the action (VP Bush, for example, was against it), American citizens present on the island at a med school and the refusal of Grenada to allow an American envoy to make sure the students were safe. Naturally, many Democrats were furious with him - because that is usually the reaction of the opposing party - but even Reagan’s friend, Maggie Thatcher, was mad at him as Grenada was a British Commonwealth island (which strikes me as ridiculous – is the Queen really the Queen of an independent island nation? Come now, Elizabeth. However, especially after the students returned home, it increased Reagan’s popularity and actually – due to a bunch of mix-ups in the invasion – led to the restructuring of the American military – the first major one in 40 years. Good idea.

4) While the last members were signing it, Dr. FRANKLIN, looking towards the president’s chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have, said he, often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.

This is a very famous occasion, the signing of the Constitution, and I include this quote not as any surprise as to what was said, but, because so many of the founders’ famous statements turn out to be apocryphal, some created within recent memory. It turns out though, this one actually was actually said by him, as the above words were recorded by James Madison in his record of the Constitutional convention. The Rising Sun Chair, by the way, still exists in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

5) The Republican leaders have not been content to make personal attacks upon me—or my wife—or my sons—they now include my little dog, Fala. Unlike the members of my family, Fala resents this. When he had learned that the Republican fiction writers had concocted a story that I had left him behind on an Aleutian Island and had sent a destroyer back to find him—at a cost tot the taxpayer of two or three or twenty million dollars—his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself but I think I have a right to object to libelous statements about my dog.

Fala was FDR’s dog, a scotch terrier, and this was a draft of part of a speech he was giving to Teamsters during the war. It concerned a rumor he had left his dog behind while on tour and then spent ridiculous sums to retrieve him. It seems like very small potatoes now, but Fala was a popular pup with the public, and according to some, this little speech galvanized the Democratic Party for the election campaign against Thomas Dewey.

This next one is not as mundane as you might think at the beginning.

6) Never may an act of possession be exercised upon a free being; the exclusive possession of a woman is no less unjust than the possession of slaves; all men are born free, all have equal rights: never should we lose sight of those principles; according to which never may there be granted to one sex the legitimate right to lay monopolizing hands on the other, and never may one of these sexes, or classes, arbitrarily possess the other. Similarly, a woman existing in the purity of Nature’s laws cannot allege, as justification for refusing herself to someone who desires her, the love she bears another because such a response is based upon exclusion, and no man may be excluded from the having of a woman as of the moment it is clear exercised upon a chattel or an animal, never upon an individual who resembles us, and all the ties which can bind a woman to a man are quite as unjust as illusory.

If then it becomes incontestable that we have received from Nature, the right indiscriminately to express our wishes to all women, it likewise becomes incontestable that we have the right to compel their submission, not exclusively, for I should then be contradicting myself, but temporarily. It cannot be denied that we have the right to decree laws that compel women to yield to the flames of him who would have her; violence itself being one of that right’s effects, we can employ it lawfully. Indeed! has Nature not proven that we have that right, by bestowing upon us the strength needed to bend women to our will?

This is from Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, a 1795 series of fictional dialogues which are actually far more debauched than the little philosophical section I quote here. However, in the middle of the dialogues is an essay – Yet another effort, Frenchmen, if you would become Republicans, which qualifies under my rules. I’m not suggesting you read this unless you would enjoy reading about the rape of a concerned mother trying to rescue her daughter from libertines. Why do I have de Sade in my library. I assure you it is quite old and when a young man, it seemed decadent or something - so I read it. I recall it was sickening then too, although so old fashioned it was hard to take seriously.

7) We receive with deep regret daily information of the progress of insurrection and devastation in St. Domingo. Nothing indicates as yet that the evil is at its height, and the materials as yet untouched but open to conflagration are immense.

* * *

The situation of the St. Domingo fugitives (aristocrats as they are) calls aloud for pity and charity. Never was so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man.

I have to have at least one item blasting Thomas Jefferson. Oh, we are told that he loathed slavery, and the poor man was forced to keep his own enslaved by practicalities. Yet, when the slaves on the island of Haiti (St. Domingo) revolted against their French masters, he felt quite sorry for the poor aristocrats who had lost their slaves and property they tilled on their slaves back. He did nothing to help the Haitians, the first nation in the new world to follow America's lead in revolution.

8) When the Fourteen Points of President Wilson were announced many German “Volkgenossen,” particularly the leading men of the time, saw in those Fourteen Points not only the possibility for ending the World War but for a final pacification of all nations of this world. There would come a peace of reconciliation and understanding, a peace which would recognize neither victors nor vanquished, a peace without war indemnities, a peace of equal for all, a peace of equal distribution of colonial territory and of equal distribution of colonial territory and of equal consideration for colonial desiderata. A peace which would finally be crowned with a league of free nations. A peace which, by guaranteeing equal rights would make it appear superfluous for nations in future still to endure the burden of armament which, as is known, previously weighed down so heavily on them.

Doesn't all that peace stuff sound good? I also love to give a Hitler quote where he sounds all reasonable and peaceful. Peace, peace, peace. This was less than six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland was carried out, starting WWII. I like to put a Hitler quote right next to a Jefferson one to give the venomous commentator Bear a rise in his blood pressure.

9) I often go on bitter nights
To Wotan’s oak in the quiet glade
With dark powers to weave a union—
The runic letters the moon makes with its magic spell
And all who are full of impudence during the day
Are made small by the magic formula!

No, not J.R.R. Tolkien, but Hitler again. That was a poem he wrote during WWII.

10) My dear John:--

Some weeks ago I wrote you a letter. You have made no response to it whatever. When I send you some instructions I want to know that you are carrying them out.

Now I want to know how much time you are spending in Northhampton. I would like to know what entertainments you are attending and who you are taking them with you there and at Amherst.

I want you to keep in mind that you have sent to college to work. Nothing else will do you any good. Nobody in my class who spent their time in other ways has ever amounted to anything. Unless you want to spend your time working you may just as well leave college. Nothing else will make you a man or gain for you the respect of the people.

I want you to refuse all requests that will interfere with your doing the work that is assigned each day for you to do.

Your father,

Calvin Coolidge

Obviously, this is a letter from President Coolidge to his son. He sounds like a lot of fathers I know. John actually did well in life, despite his father's not uncommon fears, although he never went into politics like his dad. He was a businessman and railroad executive. He was also the lucky Coolidge son. John was playing tennis with his little brother, Calvin, Jr., in 1924 at the White House when Calvin got a blister and soon died from an infection he got in it. If that sounds unlikely to you - me too - but whatever the real medical complications were we'll probably never know.  Incidentally, the president’s full name was John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., so I don’t know why his second son, Calvin, got the suffix – Jr. and his older brother, John, did not. Neither should have been a “Jr.” (as their father was) and if either had actually bore his full name, he would have been a III.

11) Every honest person, everyone who has human dignity and justice at heart, everyone who believes in the freedom of each individual through the equality of every individual and in that context, must be astounded that all inventions of the human mind and all the great applications of science to industry, to commerce, and to social life in general, have until now redounded only to the benefit of the privileged classes and never to the benefit of the masses of the people, extending the influence of those eternal protectors of every political and social injustice.

This is from the famous Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, who I studied once briefly, stopped, and have recently thought about again (bringing a book of his writings I have into my hand). He was a Hegelian, which I think a mistake for all philosophers and a virulent anti-Semite. But, he was not a Marxist (and he knew the actual Marx) and in fact, was thrown out of the First International organization by Marx and his supporters. He was obsessed with ideas of liberty, but believed in a social revolution without violence, where the means of production and pretty much everything else would be provided by the “people.” It can sound pretty heady in the abstract, but in reality, people want a government. In time, probably very little time, any society based on his principles would have coalesced into some form of government. Even Thoreau recognized that government is a necessary evil – at least for now. But, to get to the above quote – Bakunin was wrong and still is. Technology eventually flows down all the way to the poorest and at times is even given away to them. It is very often available only to the wealthy at first, whether airplanes, cars, cell phones, etc., as they essentially are paying for the R&D, but then flows down to the middle and lower classes. In fact, it also flows down to countries where there is little or no new technological development at all. Cell phones are a very good example of this. If this sounds like an intelligent criticism of his ideology, I was just reading this in Hayek and kind of just stole it.

12) It was on September 17, 1942, at 10:30 a.m., that I got the news. I had agreed, by noon that day, to telephone my acceptance of a proposed assignment to duty overseas. I was then a colonel in the Army Engineers, with most of the headaches of directing ten billion dollars’ worth of military construction in the country behind me—for good, I hoped. I wanted to get out of Washington, and quickly.

Brehon B. Somervell . . . my top superior, met me in a corridor of the new House of Representatives Office Building when I had finished testifying about a construction project before the Military Affairs Committee.

“About that duty overseas,” General Somervell said, “you can tell them no.”

“Why?” I inquired.

“The Secretary of War has selected you for a very important assignment.”



“I don’t want to stay in Washington.”

“If you do the job right,” General Somervell said carefully, “it will win the war.”

Men like to recall, in later years, what they said at some important or possibly historic moment in their lives. . . . I remember only too well what I said to General Somervell that day.

I said, “Oh.”

Leslie Richard Groves was neither the head of construction for the U.S. Army nor a general when he was offered the position to run the Manhattan Project. He was actually only a colonel at the time, if one with many important duties, and you never heard (nor I) of his boss, the Quartermaster General. Groves' promotion to general came with the project – overseeing the construction of the atomic bomb. The above quote was originally from his own book, published three years after the war. I do not know what men he was referring to who like to recall their words on historic occasions, but many do. Wouldn't you? J. Robert Oppenheimer was the physicist who ran the project with Groves. His brother, Frank, later said that when the Trinity test was done, his famous brother merely said – “It worked.” Apparently, understatment is quite normal at historic moments.

13) Very shortly before the test of the first atomic bomb, people at Los Alamos were naturally in a state of some tension. I remember one morning when almost the whole project was out of doors staring at a bright object in the sky through glasses, binoculars and whatever else they could find; and nearby Kirtland Field reported to us that they had no interceptors which had enabled which had enabled them to come within range of the object. Our director of personnel was an astronomer and a man of some human wisdom; and he finally came to my office and asked whether we would stop trying to shoot down Venus. I tell this story only to indicate that even a group of scientists is not proof against the errors of suggestion and hysteria.

That is from Oppenheimer himself from a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt long after the war. I’m not sure if she really needed help understanding that scientists can make mistakes or can become hysterical, but maybe. In any event, it is quite a comical picture, and you can only imagine the blow to the egos of some of the smartest men in the world.

14) On reflection, David Dinkins and I are lucky that Giuliani didn’t decide to cast our portraits onto a bonfire along with the First Amendment, which he seems to enjoy violating regularly with his denial of parade permits, demonstrations, and even the holding of press conferences (except now by City Council members) on City Hall’s steps.

The entire building has been placed virtually off limits to the public, even though it is the seat of city government. Imagine if Congress closed the Capitol to visitors, something it has never done despite bombings and shootings.

Giuliani pleads the possibility of terrorist acts and has put police sharpshooters on the roof of City Hall ringing the surrounding park with a 12-foot wire fence. City Hall today is reminiscent of the last days of the Roman Emperor Caligula.

That is actually from a column by one of Rudy Giuliani’s biggest supporters, former NYC mayor, Ed Koch. Before 9/11, he was not a fan at all though. In fact, he initially liked him when he was running, but was so turned off by Giuliani’s overbearing ways while mayor, that he published a book – Giuliani, Nasty Man, from his own collected articles. Oddly, I find that of the present politicians who were ever really contenders for their party's nomination, Giuliani's policies are very generally speaking the one’s closest to my own. However, I found his character severely lacking for many of the same reasons Koch did. After 9/11, Koch became a big Giuliani supporter. I'm not that easy. After Giuliani dropped out of the New York Senatorial race because of cancer, he may have become a different man. I have a faint memory that he said he had   "softened," but I can't confirm it quickly. Whether he has or not, I can’t say, but it seems like he might have. I suppose were I ever to support him, I would want to hear him say that and be specific as to how. Politicians usually don’t do that.

15) Webster, at the time of writing his Dictionary, speaks of the English Language as then consisting of sevnty or eighty thousand words. If so, the language in which the five books of Moses were written must, at that time, now thirtythree or four hundred years ago, have consisted of at least one quarter as many, or, twenty thousand. When we remember that words are sounds merely, we shall conclude that the idea of representing those sound by marks, so that whoever should, at any time after, see the marks would understand what sounds they meant, was a bold and ingenious conception, not likely to occur to one man of a million in the run of a thousand years. And, when it did occur, a distinct mark for each word, giving twenty thousand different marks first to be learned and afterwards remembered, would follow as the second thought, and would present such a difficulty as would lead to the conclusion that the whole thing was impracticable. But the /necessity/ still would exist; and we may readily suppose that the idea was conceived, and lost, and reproduced, and dropped, and taken up, again and again, until at last the thought of dividing sounds into parts, and making a mark not to represent a whole sound but only a part of one, and then of combining these marks, not very many in number, upon the principles of permutation, so as to represent any and all of the whole twenty thousand words, and even any additional number, was somehow conceived and pushed into practice. This was the invention of phonetic writing, as distinguished from the clumsy picture writing of some of the nations. That it was difficult of conception and execution is apparent, as well by the foregoing reflections as by the fact that so many tribes of men have come down from Adam’s time to ours without ever having possessed it. Its utility may be conceived by the reflection that to it we owe everything which distinguishes us from savages. Take it from us, and the Bible, all history, all science, all government, all commerce, and nearly all social intercourse, go with it.

When you remember that Abraham Lincoln had only a few months of actual formal education, his amazing prowess with the English language becomes all the more remarkable. He is one of many reasons that I have come to believe that a so called “high I.Q.” means far less in education than motivation. At least, I can also say for myself, if I am no Lincoln, whatever I have learned in the world, far more that is valuable to me is that which I have taught myself because I wanted to learn it, rather than what I learned in school.


  1. Ah, this is more like it. A damn interesting cultural tour. Great job. I am even going to overlook your blaspheming Jefferson by comparing him with Hitler. That's how much I enjoyed this. And besides, by now, your psychotic obsession with Jefferson is obvious to anyone who has been reading you all these years.

  2. Much like his namesake, Bear can be friendly and loving then suddenly . . . .

  3. Anonymous10:34 PM

    brinkka2011 says: Love your post . Really


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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 . . . .