28 August 2010

And So It Goes On and On and On

Another clueless clown, calling himself GTAVC5947, posted this message today:
Disclaimer: I am an agnostic, and have been so for several years. However, I feel a pressing need to put delusional liberals in their place:

James Madison and John Hancock:
“We Recognize No Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus!”

John Adams:
“The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
“[July 4th] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
“I have examined all religions, as well as my narrow sphere, my straightened means, and my busy life, would allow; and the result is that the Bible is the best Book in the world. It contains more philosophy than all the libraries I have seen.”
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Benjamin Franklin:
“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”

Alexander Hamilton:
“For my own part, I sincerely esteem it [the Constitution] a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”
“I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”

James Madison:
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

It goes on and on and on and on....
And so it does. Regular readers will notice some familiar frauds here—the Madison “ten commandments” concoction for one, and the “No king but Jesus” invention for another—though the addition of James Madison is a nice touch. When somebody else asked for the source of the quotations he was referred to the Eads Home Ministry site (not exactly a primary source) and was advised to google them. And somebody else said that they couldn’t be fake because they turned up in more than one source.

That’s not the way to do it, people. If you aren’t prepared to cite the actual source of your quotation, you shouldn’t present it at all. The burden of proof, remember, is always on the claimant. And that does mean a primary source, not a conveniently unavailable book (say Liberty, Cry Liberty) or a collection of unsourced quotations on somebody’s website. Remember, anybody can set up a website, and as far as I can tell, just about anybody actually does. And multiple sources? Give me a break. You only need one source, the place where (say) James Madison actually wrote it—otherwise you’re just pissing into the wind.

But, as a public service, I’ll provide the sources for the above collection of random quotations, with the portions used by our quoter bolded. Let’s start with the genuine ones. First, John Adams:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore. [Letter to his wife, 3 July 1776]
A little cherry-picking here, but the quotation is essentially legitimate. John Adams was mistaken as to which day would be celebrated; we’ve decided on the fourth rather than the second, but Adams was no prophet. He certainly came close enough with his “shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations”, right?

And a second John Adams quote is close enough for jazz, maybe:
Philosophy is not only the love of wisdom, but the science of the universe and its cause. There is, there was, and there will be but one master of philosophy in the universe. Portions of it, in different degrees, are revealed to creatures. Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow sphere, my straitened means, and my busy life would allow me; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation. [Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 25 December 1813]
Again, a little fakery, but all things considered, I’m inclined to forgive GTAVC5947 as a fellow agnostic. And a third John Adams quotation is pretty much dead on, though stripped of its vital context:
But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. [Letter to the officers of the First Brigade of The Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798]
And now GTAVC5947 draws from Benjamin Franklin’s famous plea for prayers at the Constitutional Convention:
I have lived, sir, a long time, and, the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed, in this political building, no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages.
Interestingly GTAVC5947 doesn’t bother to mention that virtually nobody went along with Franklin on this, and that group prayers were not a feature of the convention.

The next legitimate one comes from a letter Alexander Hamilton wrote in defense of the proposed Constitution:
For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests. I will not presume to say that a more perfect system might not have been fabricated; but who expects perfection at once? [17 October 1787]
No complaint here, except perhaps as to what relevance it has.

The next couple of quotations are borderline-fake. The first consists of a few phrases cherry-picked from one of John Adams’ letters that give a misleading impression of what he wrote, and the second consists of some mangled second-hand reminiscences long after his death of things Alexander Hamilton supposedly said.
Could my answer be understood by any candid reader or hearer, to recommend to all the others the general principles, institutions, or systems of education of the Roman Catholics, or those of the Quakers, or those of the Presbyterians, or those of the Methodists, or those of the Moravians, or those of the Universalists, or those of the Philosophers? No. The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system. I could, therefore, safely say, consistently with all my then and present information, that I believed they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles. [Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 28 June 1813]
It was the tendency to infidelity he saw so rife that led him often to declare in the social circle his estimate of Christian truth. “I have examined carefully,” he said to a friend from his boyhood, “the evidence of the Christian religion; and, if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity, I should unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor.” To another person, he observed, “I have studied it, and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.” [John Church Hamilton, History of the United States, volume 7]
For more on the first see this entry at Fake History, and for more on the second see my previous entry here, "Posing in the Moonlight." [Update: Or this entry at Fake History.]

And finally the two out-and-out fakes. The first, usually attributed to either an unnamed minuteman or to John Adams and John Hancock, is apparently a very modern invention:
We Recognize No Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus!
Almost certainly no older than the twenty-first century, there is not the slightest evidence that John Adams, James Madison, or John Hancock ever said such a thing. It was a slogan of the Fifth Monarchy Men, a century before the American revolution. (Though an unknown demonstrator is said to have shouted something like it during the Stamp Act riots in Philadelphia.) For more, see this entry at Fake History.

The last is the classic fake quotation so much beloved by Christian Nationites and popularized by David Barton:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.
The words the capacity of mankind for self-government come from Madison, the rest is an interpretation of what Madison supposedly meant by it, as expounded (for example) by Dean Clarence Manion in a pamphlet from the early fifties.

So now let me bid a fond farewell to one more clueless clown, whose failed attempt to "put delusional liberals in their place" ran aground on the shoals of a heap of out-of-context, second-hand, misquoted, badly-researched bits of wreckage dumped by bamboozled zombies who accidentally created a snare for the unwary. Thanks for playing, my fellow agnostic, and better luck next time.

21 August 2010

Quotation of the Day

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

20 August 2010

Phil Brennan: Reporting from Fantasyland

Over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, one of my favorite blogs, Ed Darrell has spotted an online editorial so clueless I couldn’t help but take a few potshots at it as well. The author, Phil Brennan, worries about what would happen if the birthers were successful in their quest to have President Obama declared ineligible if “it turns out that Obama can’t come up with a legitimate birth certificate showing that he was indeed born on U.S. soil in what was then the territory of Hawaii” in 1961. According to the provisions of the Constitution, he claims, all bills signed by Obama and all appointments made under Obama would be nullified, “John McCain would be declared the legitimate President of the United States and Sarah Palin the Vice President starting with Inauguration Day, 2009,” and to top it all off “there would be blood in the streets as the labor union and the rest of the thuggery that supports him would erupt in violence”.

Now I don’t really expect any sense or sanity from a birther—and Brennan in earlier outbursts shows that he has drunk deep of that particular flavor of Kool-Aid™. In one he writes that the location of Obama’s birth “remains questionable. Proof of United States Citizenship hasn’t been provided”—this despite the fact there is an accessible public record of his Hawaiian birth. (Why do they think states place birth notices in local papers, anyway?) But this clueless clown thinks that Hawaii was a territory in 1961—this despite the fact that his own claims about his personal history show he must be old enough to remember Hawaii becoming a state, as I am. (Hell, I remember our school proudly unfurling its new forty-nine-star flags just after Hawaii became a state, rendering them obsolete before they could even be properly displayed.)

And Brennan worries about strange things. The Republicans, he thinks, may blow their chances this year by being too cooperative with the Democrats. (In what alternate universe does this Brennan live?) If Universal Health Care was already in effect, he writes, he, Brennan, would now be dead, thanks to its Death Panels, a necessity when health care will be rationed. (Does he really think health care isn’t rationed now?) He imagines that the “climate change threat” is “non-existent” and that any effort to prevent disaster will “drive millions of American jobs overseas and impose crippling costs upon the American people” (and yet the temperatures keep on rising). Brennan in fact is far more worried about the possible “eruption of the simmering mass of magma that is edging slowly upwards beneath the caldera at Yellowstone National Park” which will “devastate much of the U.S., spreading massive clouds of volcanic ash across a huge swath of the nation” thus causing a “new ice age” resembling “what we know as the Little Ice Age which occurred between the 16th and the 19th centuries”.

This self-described veteran reporter seems to have problems distinguishing probable from improbable, and fact from outright fantasy. Suppose, for instance, that Obama were to be determined (for whatever reason) to be ineligible to serve as president. In that case the Constitution does not specify in some strange Ruritanian fashion that the state must revert to a villain, no matter whom, but rather provides that the vice president (in this case Joe Biden) would assume the office. Nor would laws and appointments suddenly become null and void as in some bizarre Y2K scenario nor would chaos reign.

Get a grip, Phil. Take your medications. There are no bomb-throwing Bolsheviks waiting in the wings to execute the royal family. Oh, and by the way, the “Little Ice Age” has been greatly exaggerated. You could look it up, if that didn’t get in the way of your, uh, journalism.

07 August 2010

Stan Freberg Presents...

When I was growing up my family was always ahead of the crowd, or else way behind it. We were one of the first in our neighborhood to get an automatic dishwasher, for example, and we were among the last to get a television. (I don’t think my father actually believed in television till he became chief engineer for a Portland television station in the eighties.) For many years we were the only family I knew (outside the radio business) to have a tape recorder in the house, and we were definitely the only family I knew where the children were allowed to play with it. Friends would come by to record their voices and hear them played back at them so they could giggle hysterically at the result. (As a matter of fact my whole second-grade class made a field trip to our house just to be recorded and listen to the playback.) When I started a band in imitation of Spike Jones around fifth grade or so we often recorded the ongoing mayhem for our own entertainment.

To save wear and tear on our records, as well as to create anthologies of favorite pieces, my father used to make tapes bearing typed labels like “Mostly Eddie Lawrence” or “KOS and chipmunks.” One of them was titled simply “Mostly Stan Freberg.” This one was a collection of comedy singles by the great satirist, Stan Freberg, interspersed with songs—I think. It’s been a long time. I’m pretty sure it had Freberg’s version of “Yellow Rose of Texas” (lampooning Mitch Miller), “The Great Pretender” (targeting the Platters), and “Rock Island Line” (aimed at Lonnie Donegan). Oh, and I’m quite sure it contained the Lawrence Welk takeoff as well.

Now I have to say that as a kid I didn’t necessarily know the originals of the people Freberg targeted, but I still found the situations funny. Lawrence Welk patiently explaining to Larry Hooper why he couldn’t perform the same song that the Lennon sisters had just sung for example (“I’m sorry, that number has been taken”) and receiving the resentful reply, “Well, I’ll sing ‘The Funny Old Hills,’ then.” Harry Belafonte desperately trying to placate his over-sensitive bongo drummer by leaving the room to do his calypso shouts. Ben Franklin trying to avoid Thomas Jefferson, who wants him to sign some kind of declaration of independence—“Too late—he’s seen you. We’ll have to let him in.” Lonnie Donegan explaining to a skeptical A&R man why the recitation is so important—“Well, it makes a difference to the sheep.” A witch replying to a protest by another character that the piece had to have a happy ending: “Why? This isn’t the Shirley Temple Storybook.”

At his worst Freberg could be clichéd (“The Lone Analyst”), obvious (“Which is the Girl and Which is the Boy”), or preachy (“Yulenet”) but at his best (interviewing the abominable snowman about his choice of footwear, say, in a devastating satire on celebrity interviews, or discoursing on the unreasonable demands of wives as Hermann van Horne, Hi-Fi expert, who will deny their husbands new speakers to buy shoes for the children or perhaps a second dress) no-one can touch him. Few even come close. George Washington clashing with Betsy Ross over the design of the American flag (“Stars? With Stripes? … I deliberately said polka dots”), Johnnie Ray coming apart during the performance of the parody “Try” (where the single word “more” manages to stretch itself out over a full two measures), Freberg offering to show the door to a sleazy record promoter (played by the inimitable Jesse White) and receiving the reply, “No, I’ll just slide out under it”—so many unforgettable moments.

Thanks, Stan—and, oh, by the way, happy birthday.
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