24 December 2011

If Anybody’s Wondering

December’s been eaten up with a host of small annoyances, mostly involving diseases of one kind or another. One household resident has gastroenteritis, another had a nasty cold, one of the resident cats appears to be engaged in dying (she is sixteen years old, so it’s not unreasonable, though sad), and I’ve come down with some sort of energy-draining virus which is giving me the shakes and makes it impossible for me to stay upright for more than minutes at a time. I have some entries started, but as most of them were intended to be holiday-related, they probably will end up stillborn. Can’t be helped, I guess.

I hope to be back soon.

30 November 2011

The Second Advent

Now that Thanksgiving is safely passed (here in the good old USA anyway) the Yuletide is officially upon us, and its peculiarities and observances in full swing. Today, for example, is Mark Twain’s birthday—or, to be more accurate, his creator’s (Samuel Clemens’) birthday. He is one hundred seventy-six and still going strong, to judge from his literary output—the first volume of his autobiography came out this past year, with more to come soon.

Mark Twain had a jaundiced view of religion—though to be fair, there wasn’t much he didn’t have a jaundiced view of. Politics (The Gilded Age), morality (The $30,000 Bequest), imperialism (“To the Person Sitting in Darkness”), history (The Secret History of Eddypus), the French (“The French and the Comanche”), the afterlife (Letters from the Earth), literature (Is Shakespeare Dead?), supernatural beings (The Chronicle of Young Satan), big business (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), free will (What is Man?) and gender rôles (Hellfire Hotchkiss) all came under his fire at one point or another.

It seems to me that in some respects at least he just had trouble taking it seriously. A case in point would be a story he wrote in 1881 called “The Second Advent.” In it a young Arkansas girl, Nancy Hopkins, who is betrothed to a local blacksmith, Jackson Barnes, becomes unexpectedly pregnant. Jackson is not upset, however, as Nancy explains to him that God is the father. How does she know this? It seems an angel told her—an angel wearing a straw hat, jeans, and cowhide boots. How did she know he was an angel? He told her he was, and angels don’t lie. And further, Jackson had a dream in which God told him that Nancy was still a virgin and everything she had said was true.

Convincing as this evidence is, some of the townspeople are unconvinced: “To be frank with you, we do not believe a word of this flimsy nonsense you are talking. Nancy Hopkins has gone astray; she is a disgraced girl, and she knows it and you know it and we all know it. She must not venture to show her face among our virtuous daughters…”

Things look bleak for the young couple. Fortunately, however, the news spread, and wise men from the east (the presidents of Yale, Princeton and Andover) follow a star (okay, it’s the planet Venus) to Arkansas, where they deliberate and conclude that the newborn child is in fact the son of God on the basis of the testimony of the angel (according to Nancy), of Nancy, and of God (according to Jackson). They therefore leave gifts for the child, including “a little Holy Bible with the decent passages printed in red ink.”

Horace Greeley remains unconvinced.
We have hearsay evidence that an angel appeared; none has seen that angel but one individual, and she an interested person. We have hearsay evidence that an angel delivered a certain message; whether it has come to us untampered with or not, we can never know, there being none to convey it to us but a party interested in having it take a certain form. … “Evidence” like this could not affect even a dog’s case, in any court in Christendom. It is rubbish, it is foolishness.
In reply a fellow named Talmage—the reference is to a clergyman of the day whose opinions Mark Twain found distasteful—retorts:
Here is divine evidence, evidence from the lips of very God Himself, and it is scoffed at! here is evidence from an angel of God, coming fresh from the fields of heaven, from the shadow of the Throne, with the odors of Eternal Land upon his raiment, and it is derided! here is evidence from God’s own chosen handmaid, holy and pure, whom He has fructified without sin, and it is mocked at! here is evidence of one who has spoken face to face with the Most High in a dream, and even his evidence is called lies and foolishness! … If men cannot believe these evidences, taken together, and piled, Pelion on Ossa, mountains high, what can they believe!
This exchange is familiar territory, and reminds me of so many exchanges I’ve seen with True Believers of one stripe or another—Young Earth Creationists, the autism-is-caused-by-vaccines crowd, Presuppositionalists, quacks with generic cancer cures. The folks that insist we coulda wiped out malaria by unleashing DDT if it weren’t for that pesky Rachel Carson. The nuts that think Edward de Vere could somehow have written the works of William Shakespeare (the guy would have been hard-pressed to write Sir Clyomen and Sir Clamydes, let alone King Lear). Canonical critics—no, I take it back. There are some depths to which even canonical critics wouldn’t stoop.

Mark Twain’s target, of course, was not this fictitious second advent, but the first. Evidence that wouldn’t fly in nineteenth-century Arkansas is supposed to be accepted in a reverent and uncritical fashion when presented in first-century Palestine. If it’s hard to take Nancy’s claim seriously, why should we take Mary’s? Of course the Church (or Temple or Mosque) has always had an answer for that. I think it was in one of Max Shulman’s novels that the immortal line, “’Shut up,’ he explained,” occurs. Exactly. That’s what that stake with a large pile of wood around it is for—or those cease-and-desist orders from some crank with delusions of grandeur. Fortunately for us Mark Twain lived in more civilized times. That’s why “The Second Advent” could be published—in 1972, fifty-two years after Samuel Clemens died.

Oh well—happy birthday, Mark Twain. And keep ‘em coming, guy.

14 November 2011

David Barton’s “Unconfirmed” Quotations—The Current Score

As yesterday's observations moved one of David Barton’s “unconfirmed” quotations from the Fake to the Slightly Mangled column, I thought it might be fun to see how the entire group stacks up so far. Here they are, in his order:
1. It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!—Patrick Henry
Fake. This one has been done to death; it’s an obvious fake—actually written in 1956, and misattributed to Henry in the 1980s.
2. It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.—George Washington
Fake. This is a misquotation of a saying attributed to Washington by James K. Paulding in a children’s biography of Washington: “It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being”. Paulding insisted in his preface that he got his material from people who had known Washington, and maybe he did, but as he chose not to give his sources, it remains an unverified claim. In any case this rewritten version is manifestly fake.
3. Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian.—Holy Trinity v. U. S. (Supreme Court)
Fake. The actual author of this quotation is not the United States Supreme Court, but the Illinois Supreme Court (Richmond v. Moore, 1883): “Although it is no part of the functions of our system of government to propagate religion, and to enforce its tenets, when the great body of the people are Christians, in fact or sentiment, our laws and institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. And in this sense, and to this extent, our civilization and institutions are emphatically Christian, but not for the purpose of compelling men to embrace particular doctrines or creeds of any church, or to support one or another denomination by public burthens, but simply to afford protection to all in the enjoyment of their belief or unbelief.”

Barton’s response on learning this shows that he is still far from embracing scholarly standards on evidence, in spite of his claims—he moved the quotation from the unconfirmed to the confirmed column, apparently on the ground that somebody somewhere had said it, or something like it. If that’s his standard, then all of these quotations should be moved to the confirmed column forthwith, since every one of them was said by somebody on some occasion. The issue, of course, is whether they were said by the person (or in this case court) to which they are attributed. This one isn’t. EOD.
4. We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves . . . according to the Ten Commandments of God.—James Madison
Fake. The only genuine portion of this passage were the words “the capacity of mankind for self-government”—and Barton left them out of his mangled version of the pseudo-quotation. The quotation appears to have originated around 1958 and may be based on Dean Clarence Manion’s exposition of this Madison phrase in The Key to Peace. In any case, it’s not Madison’s.
5. Religion . . . [is] the basis and foundation of government.—James Madison
Fake. Barton prefers to call this one “inaccurate” for some reason, but it’s a fake pure and simple. The word “religion” comes from a passage Madison was quoting, and the words “the basis and foundation of government” are from the title of the piece being quoted. They aren’t Madison’s, and they don’t belong together. EOD.
6. Whosoever shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.—Benjamin Franklin
Fake. The words are Jacques Mallet du Pan’s, not Franklin’s, though du Pan claims they represent Franklin’s sentiment. He didn’t say where he got this idea.
7. The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer.—Noah Webster
Unconfirmed—probably genuine. The passage supposedly comes from a letter Noah Webster wrote to an unnamed New York newspaper around 1837.
8. There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet.—Noah Webster
Likewise unconfirmed—probably genuine. It is the next paragraph from the same supposed letter, minus the introductory phrase “In my view”.
9. The only assurance of our nation’s safety is to lay our foundation in morality and religion.—Abraham Lincoln
Unconfirmed—likely fake. It can’t be traced earlier than the mid-1970s.
10. The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.—Abraham Lincoln
Unconfirmed—likely fake. This one also can’t be traced earlier than the late twentieth century.
11. A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.—Samuel Adams
Genuine. Samuel Adams wrote to James Warren on 12 February 1779, “A general Dissolution of Principles & Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America than the whole Force of the Common Enemy. While the People are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their Virtue they will be ready to surrender their Liberties to the first external or internal Invader.”
12. I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make us better citizens.—Thomas Jefferson
Attributed. On 15 June 1852 Daniel Webster wrote a letter to “Professor Pease” concerning the sabbath-school movement in which he recalled an afternoon spent with Thomas Jefferson a quarter of a century or so before. In it he quotes Thomas Jefferson as having said to him “I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands.” This letter was published in 1858 and these lines have been quoted from it ever since.
13. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.—Alexis de Tocqueville
Fake. This line is a misquotation from another foreign visitor to the United States, Andrew Reed, who along with James Matheson visited the United States from Great Britain during the Jackson administration. In one of his letters he wrote back home “Universal suffrage, whatever may be its abstract merits or demerits, is neither desirable nor possible, except the people are the subjects of universal education and universal piety. America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.” Quoted a number of times during the nineteenth century, it was garbled early in the twentieth and misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville.
14. The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.—John Quincy Adams
Genuine. Almost. What John Quincy Adams wrote to an autograph collector on 27 April 1837 was “The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. If it has never been considered in that light, it is because its compass has not been perceived.” John Wingate Thornton attributed the version above, sans quotation marks, to John Quincy Adams, making a couple of trivial changes. Perhaps he was quoting from memory, as the changes seem pointless. In any case it has been quoted in the Thornton version ever since.

By my count we have seven fakes, two probable fakes, two possibly genuine items, one attribution, and two legitimate quotations. It could be worse, I suppose. Some of them are plausible, anyway. But at least three of the fakes (the Patrick Henry and the two James Madisons) are so egregious as to make you wonder how anybody could have been deceived by them. And the Illinois Supreme Court decision is grotesque, an out-of-context quotation at its worst. (And three guesses as to why he didn’t quote this line from the same decision: “a total severance of church and State is one of the great controlling foundation principles of our system of government.”) The Washington strikes me as iffy at best, especially in Barton’s form (which goes back to 1893 at any rate), but there’s nothing impossible about it, as there is with the Henry, for example.

With the remaining unconfirmed items keep in mind that the burden of proof is always on the person citing the quotation as genuine. Once again let me invoke Martin Porter’s first principle of quotation: “Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.” It’s not a bad basis to work from.

13 November 2011

The Indissoluble Bond Revisited

The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. If it has never been considered in that light, it is because its compass has not been perceived.—John Quincy Adams, 27 April 1837
All right, I’m going to skip the obvious question—are you nuts? Didn’t you just say the other day that this quotation (or something close to it) was a fake, the words of John Wingate Thornton? Well, yes I did, and as it turns out, I was wrong.

This quotation, in the form “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this—that it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity”, has been very popular in Christian Nation circles, and has circulated widely on the internet. It can be traced back fairly readily. We find it, for instance, in Daniel Dorchester’s Christianity in the United States from the First Settlement Down to the Present Time (Hunt & Eaton, 1888), pp. 262-3, and on the title page of B. F. Morris’s Christian Life and Character of the Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia, 1864), and ultimately in the introduction to John Wingate Thornton’s 1860 The Pulpit of the American Revolution, p. xxix. Thornton, however, does not present it as a quotation, but rather as a paraphrase or summary of John Quincy Adams’ views. The obvious question then is, what was the original that Thornton had in mind?

Evangelist David Barton thought he’d found the answer in an 1837 oration in honor of Independence Day, in which Adams drew extensive parallels between Independence Day and Christmas. On this one I agreed with him, and as it turns out, he was on the right track. Wrong, but on the right track nonetheless. Because earlier that year, on 27 April, Adams had written the words quoted above to an autograph hunter in a cover-letter for a couple of notes, one from his father and the other from Thomas Jefferson. Comparing the genuine version to the Thornton version we find (omitted words in bold, added words struck out)
The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts principles of Christianity. If it has never been considered in that light, it is because its compass has not been perceived.
So where did Thornton get the letter? Well, he could have found it (and probably did find it) in the July 1860 issue of The Historical Magazine (pp. 193-194), where the letter in question was published in full. As far as I can tell none of the other crack researchers who quoted this (Morris, Dorchester et. al.) ever looked at it, as shown by their version being lightly mangled the same way as Thornton’s (omission of transcendent sans ellipsis, principles for precepts). I would have thought Thornton’s lack of quotation marks might have given them pause—but apparently not.

In any case, here is the original quotation, in context, in all its transcendent glory.

05 November 2011

Old Fakes Resurface; Film at Eleven

Jon Rowe calls my attention to new sightings of old fakes … fake quotations, that is. A certain Larry Klayman (“Occupy Washington with God”) cites the Founders, or what he takes to be the Founders, in support of his nebulous position on the place of religion in government. But did the Founders actually say the things he attributes to them? Well, yes—and no. Let’s have a rundown, shall we?

He starts by alluding to, but not quoting from, a genuine letter of John Adams, and follows that up with a genuine quotation that quickly turns awry:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. … We have no constitution which functions in the absence of a moral people.
This comes from a letter Adams wrote on 11 October 1798 to the officers of the First Brigade, Third Division, of the Massachusetts Militia. The relevant text reads:
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.
(The portions quoted are given in bold.) The sentence “We have no constitution which functions in the absence of a moral people” is not part of this letter, and is not Adams. The oldest reference Google Books comes up with is from 2001. It seems to be a paraphrase of the genuine letter.

Klayman goes on to Adams’ son, John Quincy, whom he describes as “an even greater president than his father”, and there fails miserably. His quotation:
Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet. … The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity (July 4, 1821).
None of this is John Quincy’s. The first part comes from an 1849 address by Charles Robert Winthrop to the Massachusetts Bible Society, and the second from an 1860 introduction to a volume of sermons edited by John Wingate Thornton.

Klayman does no better with Patrick Henry. His one example is the familiar “religionists” quotation debunked many times before. It is not, of course, by Henry, but by a writer for the Virginian; the words were written in 1956 and first attributed to Henry at some time in the 1980s. They are manifestly fake in any case.

Moving on to Jefferson Klayman does a little better—he presents what he thinks are two quotations from him, but in fact are five fragments oddly joined to one another. Klayman presents them in this form:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the mind of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?
and
Deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support…. I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.
Here are the originals, in the order Klayman presented them. First, from the conclusion of A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), we have
Let them name their terms, but let them be just. Accept of every commercial preference it is in our power to give for such things as we can raise for their use, or they make for ours. But let them not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, or to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavors may ensure to procure redress of these our great grievances to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America, against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony through the whole empire, and that these may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America.
Joined to it, with no indication that the one sentence did not originally follow the other, we have from the anti-slavery section of Notes on the State of Virginia this passage:
For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.
So much for Klayman’s first “quotation”, a very questionable piece of work. It’s not original with him, however, being found on panel three of the Jefferson Memorial. The second “quotation” is even more questionable, being made up of no less than three dismembered fragments of genuine material. First, from a reply to Captain John Thomas (18 November 1807):
Among the most inestimable of our blessings, also, is that you so justly particularize, of liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will; a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government, and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.
Notice here that it is not religion (as Klayman lets us suppose) that is “deemed in other countries incompatible with good government,” but religious freedom—a serious distortion of the original. The other two are even worse, as they get into Jefferson’s objections to orthodox Christianity. The first fragment comes from a letter to Charles Thomson, who had recently put together a harmony of the four gospels. Jefferson wrote about it to him on 9 January 1816, and went on to describe his own project in that line:
I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of His doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great Reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were He to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.
Note, by the way, that Jefferson described himself as a “disciple of the doctrines of Jesus” rather than a “disciple of Jesus”; a not insignificant distinction. Also that this fragment has been taken badly out of context, and has nothing to do with christianizing government in any respect. The other fragment is equally misleading, being ripped from its context and juxtaposed with extraneous material. Jefferson was writing on 27 February 1821 to Timothy Pickering about his beliefs—specifically that the pure doctrines of Jesus had been adulterated with mystical concepts, particularly that of the trinity.
The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole, and drive them rashly to pronounce its Founder an impostor. Had there never been a commentator, there never would have been an infidel. In the present advance of truth, which we both approve, I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. As the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. We well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price and Priestley, for example. So there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. They are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. These accounts are to be settled only with Him who made us; and to Him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom, also, He is the only rightful and competent Judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.
In other words, Jefferson thought (incorrectly) that the country as a whole was moving in the direction of unitarianism. There is nothing in this to suggest that he thought the intermingling of religion and government was a good thing—not even to promote “the pure doctrines of Jesus” or “the unity of the Creator”.

Last we come to an alleged quotation from George Washington. It reads:
I am sure that never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine inspiration in their affairs, than those of the United States, and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten … the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them. … True religion affords to the government it surest support. Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society. … It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Most of these fragments are reasonably legitimate, but they do not actually belong together, with or without ellipses. The first is from a letter to John Armstrong, written 11 March 1792. Here it is in its entirety:
Dear Sir: I am persuaded that no one will be more ready than yourself to make the proper allowances for my not having sooner acknowledged the receipt of your friendly letter of the 23d. of December, as you there express a conviction, that the pressure of my public duties will allow me but very little time to attend to my private correspondences. This is literally the truth, and to it must be imputed the lateness as well as the brevity of this letter.

The loss of the brave Officers and men, who fell in the late unfortunate affair at the westward, is, I hope, the only one which the Public sustain on the occasion, that cannot be readily repaired. The loss of these is not only painful to their friends; but is a subject of serious regret to the Public. It is not, however, our part to despond; we must pursue such measures as appear best calculated to retrieve our misfortune, and give a happy issue to the business. I am sure there never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.

Your friendly wishes for my happiness and prosperity are received with gratitude, and are sincerely reciprocated by, dear Sir, your affectionate, &c.
The next is a misattribution, in that the words were written to George Washington, rather than by him. Here is the passage, written (9 October 1789) by the synod of the Reformed Dutch Church of North America to him:
To our constant prayers for the welfare of our country, and of the whole human race, we shall esteem it our duty and happiness to unite our most earnest endeavors to promote the pure and undefiled religion of Christ; for as this secures eternal felicity to men in a future state, so we are persuaded that good Christians will always be good citizens, and that where righteousness prevails among individuals the nation will be great and happy. Thus while just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government its surest support.
Next, from a reply he wrote to the Philadelphia Protestant Clergy on 3 March 1797:
Believing, as I do, that Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of civil society, I view, with unspeakable pleasure, that harmony and Brotherly Love which characterizes the clergy of different denominations—as well in this as in other parts of the United States; exhibiting to the world a new and interesting spectacle, at once the pride of our Country and the surest basis of universal Harmony.
The final portion comes from his Farewell Address, in which he emphasizes the importance of public education:
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
It’s worth noting that nothing he says there concerns religion, but rather is about “the general diffusion of knowledge”.

This is not an impressive showing. A large proportion of Klayman’s “quotations” are misattributed, taken out of context, and given new meanings by juxtaposing them with other fragments. His sources are not particularly reputable—at least one of these, the Jefferson “real christian” frankenquote, goes back to the internet document sometimes called “Forsaken Roots” and William Federer’s notorious America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations appears to be another contributor, whether directly or indirectly. There really isn’t any excuse. If you’ve got a connection to the internet, you’ve got access to the papers of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at the Library of Congress website, to various editions of the works of Patrick Henry and John Adams at Google Books and The Internet Archive, and a vast compendium of other sources that rival even the greatest print libraries of the past.

Come on people—is it really that much trouble to get these things right?

15 October 2011

Quotation of the Day

In America, we are constantly asked to bow our heads in reverance for the agents of the state. Thank a veteran, thank a police officer, thank the fallen.

Thank the protester, too. Thank those who speak out and assemble in non-violent protest. Appreciate those who walk and those who rally. Salute those who stand up against injustice, inequity, and hypocrisy. Applaud those who call attention to the failings of business and politics as usual.

Know the issues. Thank the protesters. And pass this on.

17 September 2011

Possible Paranoia #341

Regular readers (and shallow acquaintances) may well be aware that I have a paranoid side, and as I have a blog, I'm going to indulge it here. Today (Saturday, 17 September 2011) from about 4:30 to say 5:20 in the afternoon there was a white car parked directly in front of my house whose driver was acting in a suspicious manner. He appeared to have just pulled in when I went to sit on my porch, but instead of getting out of the car, he just sat there for over half an hour, apparently playing with something that (viewed through his heavily tinted window) resembled a feather duster. He kept looking over at the house as though waiting for something to happen; my cat was indifferent but my dog didn't care for his being there. I finally went inside to get my camera, and when I came back out he had rolled his window down and was brandishing something (I couldn't tell what it was) in the direction of the house. I took two pictures of his car, at which point he abruptly hightailed it out of there.

As a precaution I noted down a few salient facts about the vehicle. It was a white car, with an EcoPro logo on its side. The name Paul Wells was prominent. I took down the license plate number as well; I have it written on a piece of paper on my desk.

I'm sure there has to be some innocent explanation for all this, but I can't think of one, and my mind leaps quickly to the thought of being murdered in my bed by some maniac carjacker with an indescribable torture device that resembles a feather-duster in silhouette. I kind of hope not--but just in case.... EOP.

16 September 2011

Quotation of the Day

...if you are a person in America who does real, actual work - be it assembly or teaching or ditch-digging - your labor is considered nowhere near as important as the "direction" given you by those who "manage" you. This attitude is often true even of those who are doing the labor. This lack of importance is reflected both in the pay (or lack thereof) and in the contemptuous manner which our "representatives" treat almost all policy and programs which directly affect working Americans.

04 September 2011

Fifteen Minutes of Fame: A Quasi-Repost

[Another blast from my pre-weblog, this one from 3 October 1995:]

I finally found my missing Humanities notebook (with the later cartoons in it) and that open box with a significant clutch of Reed papers. One of the things I turned up in that box were my Max Rafferty clippings, much damaged and worn over the years, but still there. Nobody remembers him now. I asked various people, but nobody could tell me who he was, and these were people who lived through the time. This is one guy who illustrates that proverb about everybody getting his fifteen minutes of fame. I’m writing this from memory, and maybe my facts are wrong, but as I recall he was a California educator running for public office in 1969, and a series of columns he wrote attacking various celebrities, along with the entire hippie movement, sort of caught on. A lot of papers carried them, and he was praised and celebrated by the people who liked that sort of thing. But like a nova, he quickly burned out. If I am not mistaken, he lost the election, he lost his following, and was quickly forgotten. I have a series of articles he wrote in 1971, suggesting that he tried a comeback, but I don’t think he caught on that time. He had used up his allotment and nobody seemed anxious for more.

And yet the puzzle isn’t why he vanished; the mystery is why he ever made the papers at all. He was an atrocious writer: “Heavy-lidded and dilated-nostriled, the stage messiah trod the boards, filling his palpitating admirers with delicious dreams of dubious dalliance, breathing sighs, telling lies.” “They didn’t dope themselves up and appear in public looking and acting like graduates of one of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu’s more odorous opium dens.” “They project the fine, constructive public image of two sick termites gnawing spasmodically at the skirts of the Statue of Liberty.” And may I point out, this man was the California Superintendent of Public Instruction.

He wasn’t too hot on facts, either. About “Puff the Magic Dragon” he wrote “One best selling record in praise of marijuana is thinly disguised as a children’s nursery song.” Never mind that the writer knew nothing of marijuana when he wrote the song in the fifties. He had the Smothers Brothers persecuting others, when in fact they were the ones being persecuted. As the quotation above showed, he suffered from the illusion that the Statue of Liberty was made of wood.

Nor did he have the courage of his convictions. He avoided naming names, although we all were supposed to know who he was talking about. With an elephantine mock-coyness he hid behind this thin pretence of anonymity, shooting his shimmering shafts of lackluster wit against all-too-visible targets, while tiptoeing around the pitfalls of the laws against libel by making his descriptions so scurrilous that no one would want to admit to them. If one of the victims of his vile venom dared to fight back, he would have to admit himself to be one of the “reptilian, hissing and spitting apostles of hate” Rafferty spoke of. This preening and posturing prancing about in the minefields was not inspiring. It was not a pretty picture.

No doubt somebody admired his writing; no doubt some believed his lies; no doubt some found his evasiveness clever. I found him then, as now, depressing, though maybe my reasons have changed. It is sad to think that he wrote this trash just to win an election by pandering to public prejudices. If he really believed it, despite being an educated man and an educator, it is sadder still.

28 August 2011

Quotation of the Day

If a perfect crystal has no entropy at absolute zero, then why are there still monkeys? Answer me that one, Darwinists!

19 August 2011

Quotation of the Day

What always gets me with these climate-change denialists is the rationale they use to decry the work of the IPCC and other scientific bodes and scientists: It’s not that merely that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re running a scam so that they can get rich. That’s right—a guy representing oil interests first and foremost is accusing climate scientists of trying to get rich from global-warming research. That’s like Madonna complaining that some homeless street musician with an open guitar case for people to toss change into is trying to fleece the public.

10 August 2011

Quotation of the Day

A proper response needs to constructively direct anger where it’s deserved and properly assault the destructive principles inculcated within us: self-interest and self-indulgence even to the point of violence. When youths loot it’s “sheer criminality”, when the rich loot it’s “austerity”. Both are born of the same society, and both need abolishing. We don’t need austerity, and no-one should need to steal.

06 August 2011

To the Mad Tea Party

In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom—and for others’ goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich—
Our god is marching on.

04 August 2011

Still Alive

Bad things continue to happen here, as the wheels of injustice grind on. Although our lawyer says things are under control and negotiations are continuing, somebody or other is attaching threatening messages to the side of our house, ordering us out post hoc, and our new resident boarder has flipped out, saying that he has no intention of staying in a house where such shenanigans are permitted, or rather that he has no intention of paying money to stay in such a house. I thought that might mean he was leaving, but, no, apparently it means that he will send snide e-mails and hole up in his room, complaining about his fellow-boarders (namely us). Focus is not where it's at today.

31 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

Conservatives built this monster. It didn’t just wander out of the woods one day, or land here from another planet. The Wingnut Base—whatever teabagger, Colonial Williamsburg camouflage they’re sporting this week, and however hard the media tries to pretend they aren't who we know they are—was manufactured by the Conservative Movement to win elections. Made right here in the U S of A out of spare parts left over from the Segregationist South, Right-wing fundamentalism, Bircher paranoia and general Archie Bunker pig-ignorance. Conservatives built the unholy thing, programmed it, wounded it up and sent it out to do their bidding. And everyone knows it.

30 July 2011

Decaying Horse Department

If there are so many damn examples of “irrefutable quotes and facts from history that our country was founded upon Biblical principles” why do its proponents keep drawing on the same short list of known fakes? Case in point: one Earl53 posting here (doing a partial cut-and-paste from “Forsaken Roots”) manages to reel off seven fake quotations and three false items of information, along with six or seven genuine quotations. (There is also one dubious item of information, in that John Adams didn’t claim that United States was exclusively founded on “the general principles of Christianity” but only that “the general principles of Christianity” were among the principles upon which the country was founded.)

This is a pretty high level of adulteration, all things considered, and contains some pretty cheesy stuff—the Patrick Henry and Congressional resolution about school bibles are particularly transparent fakes that never should have fooled anybody. And Earl53 doesn't improve matters any by pretending later on to have documents from the Library of Congress backing up his school bible fake resolution; presumably he is referring to the genuine Aitken Bible resolution, but as he gave no actual citation it is entirely possible that he was just blowing more hot air, as when he pretended that his production was not just another cut-and-paste job based on “Forsaken Roots”. (The Jefferson and school bible fake quotations both come from that source, as does the misinformation about early American universities—a dead giveaway. Copying other people’s bonehead mistakes is a sure way to be caught.) Anyway, for the record, here is another clueless clown’s score:

The fake quotations:
  1. the Patrick Henry “religionists” misattribution, actually written in 1956 in The Virginian;
  2. The Jefferson “real Christian” frankenquote with its two sentences taken from widely separated letters juxtaposed;
  3. the Washington “without God and the Bible” invention (mixed with some genuine material from the Farewell Address);
  4. a prayer from the Washington prayer-book hoax;
  5. the John Quincy Adams “indissoluble bond” misattribution (actually written by John Wingate Thornton);
  6. the fake Congressional resolution about approving the Bible for use in schools (A “Forsaken Roots” invention based on the genuine resolution commending the Aitken Bible);
  7. the Franklin “Bible and newspaper” misattribution (actual author unknown).

The incorrect information:
  1. that 106 of the first 108 universities in the United States were distinctly Christian;
  2. that Thomas Jefferson wrote “I am a real Christian” etc on the front of his Bible;
  3. that John Adams was chairman of the American Bible society (it was his son; the father took a dim view of Bible societies).

The genuine quotations:
  1. the John Jay “prefer Christians for their rulers” passage;
  2. the Daniel Webster “good Christians” quotation;
  3. the John Dickenson “higher source” quotation;
  4. part of Benjamin Franklin’s prayer for prayer at the Constitutional Convention;
  5. possibly the “rebellion to tyrants” line (author unknown, but suspected to be Franklin);
  6. the Adams “morality and religion” quotation (except for the word “true” added before “religion”);
  7. the Adams “pure virtue” quotation.

I’d say that’s about 40 points out of a possible 100. In other words, you just flunked American History, Earl53. A sad commentary on the American school system, it seems. But thanks for playing.

29 July 2011

Things Forgotten

Some kind of solitude is measured out in you
You think you know me but you haven’t got a clue
Hey Bulldog (The Beatles)
Many things are not working—please don’t tell me what they are. I have something to say, damn it. Listen to me. Words echoing down the corridors of time, deliberately preserved, accidentally preserved, partially preserved. But mostly lost. Since the beginning of writing—apparently a cobbled-together memory crutch to help keep track of sacks of grain and cart-axles—most of humankind’s words have been lost. Legends have it that this or that emperor or king ordered writings consigned to the flames—but that really wasn’t necessary. All that it took was for the educated classes, the scribes, those capable of writing, to just stop copying them. Worm, rot, fire, flood, the ordinary wear and tear of life take their toll, parchment and paper dissolve, and the words are lost. Where are the plays of Menander, the greatest comic playwright of the ancient world? Lost, except for scraps recovered from ancient garbage-heaps. Where are the works of Democritus, whose atomic theory perhaps foreshadowed the developments of science? According to ancient gossip Plato wanted to burn his books—but that wasn’t necessary. With the triumph of Christianity anti-science was in full swing, and Plato’s mystical ramblings were copied—while the works of Democritus were allowed to rot. Where are the works of the gloomy Etruscans, about which the emperor Claudius wrote, or the busy Phoenicians, who invented the alphabet? Mani’s religion stretched from Turkey to China—and where are his scriptures now? Even the favored few suffered. We have more plays from Euripides than any of his contemporaries, yet his popular Andromeda survives only in a single scene as parodied by Aristophanes. There are more copies of Paul’s letters than perhaps any writer of antiquity—but his (or is it Deutero-Paul’s?) letter to the Laodiceans is known only from a single reference.

Listen to me. I am living tradition, humankind’s memory. I am Herodotus, who hacked away at something that would someday be history, and Aristotle, who took a stab at something that would someday be science. I am Sun Tzu, who wrote of war, and Ovid, who wrote of love. I am Kālidāsa and Terence, Qoheleth and Mencius. I am the anonymous epitomizers, editors, and redactors who shaped and transmitted the material, the scribes who copied it, and the audiences for whom it came into being and continued to be transmitted, the owners who treasured the written words.

Listen to me, damn it. I’m humankind, and I have something to say. Living tradition is only part of the story; accidental preservation counts too. The letters home by Roman soldiers stationed in Britain before the empire’s retreat, preserved in unpromising soil. The inventory lists baked in Cretan clay. Astronomical observations dug out of the rocks. Someone’s ancient to-do list preserved in sand. A famous sage’s sayings preserved on bamboo and buried with its owner. A handful of characters badly scrawled by an apprentice scribe. A local official’s panicked letter to a distant and possibly uncaring monarch. An imposing monument commemorating a long-forgotten battle.

I have something to say—listen to me. I’m recovered texts, flashbacks from memories forgotten. Codices stuffed in jars and left undisturbed for a thousand years, libraries of clay tablets buried under fallen walls, words preserved in the writings of others, hymns in unremembered languages written on the walls of tombs, fragments found in unknown garbage dumps that bring dead words back to life. Accidental glimpses into past deeds, past thoughts, past ways of being.

A person’s memory is limited to a tiny slice of time; humankind’s memory extends much further, and continues to grow the further out we peer into time and space. The moment is fleeting; the future insubstantial; what we have is memory. Listen to it; it has something to say.

28 July 2011

Backward and Downward with Captain Obama

From the rumblings I hear in the external universe I gather that the American people are not happy. No, I mean they are really not happy. Their ship is sinking, the crew is brawling on the decks, and the captain is staring glumly out to sea. A messenger approaches.

Messenger (played by Peter Leeds): Captain, sir, the mutineers have presented their new demands.

Captain (played by Stan Freberg): What—new demands? I’ve already agreed to everything they’ve asked for.

Messenger: Well, the thing is … uh … it seems they’ve reached a new compromise.

Captain: Compromise? What do you mean? Compromise with whom?

Messenger: With the mutineers.

Captain: The mutineers have reached a compromise with—the mutineers?

Messenger: Exactly.

Captain: Explain yourself.

Messenger: Well, you see, Long John Boehner has lost control over his men, and some of them are insisting that the ship be scuttled, sir.

Captain: Why?

Messenger: So history will blame you for it.

Captain: I’ll accept that. It makes perfect sense. But what about the rest of them?

Messenger: Well, they think they can get the holdouts to compromise if you’ll let them heave the paying passengers overboard, and begin drilling holes in the side of the ship.

Captain: Well, that sounds reasonable. Tell them I accept.

Messenger: All right.

[A pause]

Captain: You think they’ll go for it?

Messenger: I don’t know if it’s wild enough. It’s got to be wild …

Captain: Say—tell them if they go for this one, they can set fire to the engine-room as well. That should impress the lot of them.

Messenger (dubiously): I’ll try. But I'm not holding my breath.

Captain: You do that.

Messenger: Okay.

27 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

26 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

Just because you believe in magic and in micro-managing, invisible tyrants doesn't mean you possess sole authority to recognize and comment on human evil. Get over yourselves, already!

25 July 2011

Glory 2—The Quickening

A few more thoughts on Archbigot Fischer’s novel exegesis of the word religion, based on his remembrance of the notions of the backward schoolchildren of his youth.

Actually it can’t possibly be correct. The First Amendment reads in part:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
If the term religion is here supposed to mean Christianity, then the meaning of this passage has to be only that Congress is restricted from establishing some brand of the Christian religion as the state church, leaving it free (apparently) to go ahead and establish (say) Buddhism or Islam as a state religion just so long as Christianity is tolerated, and its “free exercise” not prohibited. Surely that can’t be the intention.

The only way to make the Archbigot’s notion work is to assume that religion in the first clause means, well, “religion”, while in the second clause it suddenly changes its meaning to “the Christian religion”. That’s a lot of extra work to put the same damn word to—and it is actually the same word, used once and only once, making this construction in point of fact impossible.

What about the Constitution’s only other mention of religion, that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”? Again, if religious applies only to the Christian religion, then the absurd proposition appears that the Constitution prohibits the government from requiring adherence to some particular Christian creed, but allows it to enjoin some Islamic or Hindu set of injunctions. This concept does not seem to me to have been well thought out. I would say that it is quite clear that—whatever the use of the word may have been in their time—the Framers meant religion in its broadest sense.

But is the Archbigot correct that “at the time of the Founding” the term religion “essentially had to do with what brand of Christianity you wore”? We’ve already seen that his own witness, Justice Story, let him down. What if we examined some other specific examples of the term in its native habitat? Consider this observation, written by James Madison to a Dr. Motta:
Among the features peculiar to the political system of the U. States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect. … Equal laws, protecting equal rights, are found, as they ought to be presumed, the best guarantee of loyalty & love of country; as well as best calculated to cherish that mutual respect & good will among Citizens of every religious denomination which are necessary to social harmony, and most favorable to the advancement of truth. The account you give of the Jews of your congregation brings them fully within the scope of these observations.
Note here that the Jews are included in Madison’s understanding of the phrases “religious sect” and “religious denomination”. There’s no indication here that he shares the Archbigot’s playground definition that makes religion exclusively Christian.

Let’s take an example from Dr. Benjamin Rush. He wrote in his essay “On the Proper Mode of Education: in a Republic”:
Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles.
So it appears that when Benjamin Rush used the term religion, he would include “the opinions of Confucius or Mohamed” in it. Are we to suppose that he mistakenly thought Confucius and Mohammed were Christians? No; as his very next words make clear he preferred the “truth of the Christian revelation” to other religious doctrines. In other words Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity were all included in his notion of religion.

And here’s one from John Adams, written to Mordecai Manuel Noah, 31 July 1818:
It has pleased the Providence of the “first cause,” the universal cause, that Abraham should give religion, not only to Hebrews, but to Christians and Mahometans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.
So it seems that when Adams used the word religion, he included Judaism and Islam as well as Christianity in its compass.

Even a quick survey shows a number of counter-examples to Brian Fischer’s claim, and these among key players in the Founding of the United States. Further, there’s no way of making sense of the Constitution if his implausible suggestion be accepted. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse to a bloody pulp here, but—get real, man. It’s pretty clear that when the Framers wrote of an establishment of religion, they meant what they said—not merely that no Christian sect would be established as a national religion over others, but that no religion of any kind should be established. And if they did indeed mean disestablishment all round, then it’s clear that they meant free exercise across the board as well. It was the same damn word, for God’s sake.

24 July 2011

There's Glory for You

Archbigot Brian Fischer is sounding off again on subjects of which he knows nothing, and Monday’s sermonette appears to be on a text from Humpty-Dumpty—“When I use a word it means what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Apparently he has his own meaning for the word “religion”, one derived from the most ignorant kids on the playground when he was growing up, and he thinks that the Founders must have shared it:
When the Founders used the word “religion,” they used it much as we did on the playground when I was growing up in America a generation ago. We’d asked each other, “What religion are you?” By the term “religion” we meant some variety or brand of the Christian religion, since that was all that was represented among us. We were Baptists, or Lutherans, or Methodists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics, etc. The question essentially had to do with what brand of Christianity you wore. Such was the case at the time of the Founding.
Now this is quaint, almost charming in a smarmy sort of way. Because schoolkids where he lived didn’t know anything about religions other than Christianity, neither did the Founders. There’s logic for you, as Humpty-Dumpty might have observed. Now as Brian Fischer and I seem to be about the same age, maybe my experience growing up could serve as a contrast. Even when I was in grade school nobody would have been so ignorant as to suppose that “religion” was restricted to “some variety or brand of the Christian religion”; we had Jews and Buddhists and unbelievers amongst us, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and other exotica. To imagine that men like Charles Thomson (who translated the Septuagint), Thomas Jefferson (who studied the Koran), or John Adams were as uninformed as Brian Fischer’s retarded (and probably imaginary) schoolfellows is something of a stretch.

And why does Brian Fischer make this outlandish claim? It’s part of an argument that
the First Amendment was written neither to guarantee freedom of religion to Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus nor to prohibit their free exercise of religion. It wasn’t written about them one way or another.

It was written for one specific purpose: to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion.
And what is his evidence that the Founders mistakenly wrote “religion” when they meant “Christianity”? It’s a weird out-of-context quotation from Justice Joseph Story to the effect that the First Amendment did not intend to place some other religion in Christianity’s place, but only “to cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and the power of subverting the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age.” Joseph Story went on to observe that as far as the Federal government was concerned, “the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.” Note the presence of the Jew and the Infidel at that common table—there is no suggestion here that “religion” in the Constitution was restricted to Christianity.

This Founders as boobs scenario really doesn’t hold water. The idea that they mistakenly wrote “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” when they meant “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of the Christian religion,” etc assumes that they weren’t capable of expressing the concept in words intelligible to later times. But it is in fact quite clear that they could have given some form of theism a special place in the Constitution—if they’d wanted to. Founder William Williams, for example, wanted the preamble to read,
We the people of the United States, in a firm belief of the being and perfections of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governour of the world, in his universal providence and the authority of his laws; that he will require of all moral agents an account of their conduct; that all rightful powers among men are ordained of, and mediately derived from God; therefore in a dependence on his blessing and acknowledgment of his efficient protection in establishing our Independence, whereby it is become necessary to agree upon and settle a Constitution of federal government for ourselves, and in order to form a more perfect union…
This notion did not gain favor. Actually, even for suggesting this William Williams had to clear his name from the accusation of having proposed a religious test for the Constitution. Oliver Ellsworth, who had criticized him on that front, accepted his explanation—after a fashion:
It had been represented in several parts of the state, to the great surprise of your friends, that you wished some religious test as an introduction to office, but as you have explained the matter, it is only a religious preamble which you wish—against preambles we have no animosity. Every man hath a sovereign right to use words in his own sense, and when he hath explained himself, it ought to be believed that he uses them conscientiously. … though the honourable gentleman doubtless asserts the truth, there are a great number of those odd people who really think they were present on that occasion, and have such a strong habit of believing their senses, that they will not be convinced even by evidence which is superior to all sense. But it must be so in this imperfect world.
Well, it may well be that every man hath a sovereign right (in the manner of Humpty-Dumpty) to use words in his own sense—but some people carry that sovereign right way past sensible and well into outre. When Humpty-Dumpty put a word to extra labor, he paid it extra. Does Brian Fischer, I wonder.

23 July 2011

An Annoying Letter from John Adams

I have too many damn tabs open, and there’s something of interest, positive or negative, in nearly all of them. Well, of interest to me, anyway, not necessarily to you or anybody else. I’ve been trying to bookmark them, which is not easy, as Google Chrome only lets me bookmark a page once, and many of my open pages frankly intersect various projects and interests. A case in point: I have in front of me a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, written 4 November 1816, that stands at the crossroads of several things I’m working on.

For one thing, I have my idiot project of writing a commentary on “America’s Forsaken Roots,”—not the three-part thing I did earlier, but a more detailed refutation drawing on a larger variety of sources. One of the claims the document made is that John Adams was president of the American Bible Society. Well, in this letter he comments on the usefulness of such an institution:
We have now, it seems, a National Bible Society, to propagate King James’s Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious subscriptions to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity, than to propagate those corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa and America?
Ouch. Not so friendly as all that, it seems. So, logically, should I not bookmark this with the “Forsaken Roots” stuff?

Not so fast. He continues:
Suppose we should project a society to translate Dupuis into all Languages, and offer a Reward in Medals and Diamonds to any Man or Body of Men who would produce the best answer to it.
Okay, now we touch on another consideration—Charles François Dupuis was an astronomer and a proponent of Mythicism—the concept that Jesus never actually existed and that some kind of mythological figure (if I remember correctly Dupuis saw the Jesus story as a solar myth) has been given historical flesh and made to walk among men. Such things do happen—Robin Hood and Roswell come to mind here—but Jesus seems an unlikely candidate. In any case I’ve been toying with doing something with some of the old-line Mythicists at some point, and Dupuis is on my reading-list. File under Mythicism?

Or maybe not. Adams goes on:
It is more worth your while to read Dupuis than Grimm. Of all the romances and true histories I ever read, it is the most entertaining and instructive, though Priestley calls it “dull.
Priestley, yeah, Joseph Priestley—I’m working my way through some of his stuff even now, mostly in connection with his observations on the necessity of disestablishment—and I’ve got a piece on a weird Christian meme that he has a connection with in the works. So maybe it should go under Joseph Priestley.

Or what about Adams’ religion, a subject dear to what passes for hearts among the Christian Nationite crowd? This letter has meat for that stew as well:
Conclude not from all this that I have renounced the Christian Religion, or that I agree with Dupuis in all his sentiments. Far from it. I see in every Page something to recommend Christianity in its Purity, and something to discredit its Corruptions. 
If I had Strength, I would give you my Opinion of it in a Fable of the Bees. 
The Ten Commandments and The Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.
So that’s where it all kind of falls apart. So many places to file it—and I have to choose one. Maybe I’ll just write about it here instead. That way I can close the tab with a clear conscience, knowing that I’ll never have to look at the damn thing again, let alone make any sort of decision on how to use it. Blog and forget. It may not be the best policy, but at least it puts off the day of reckoning.

22 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

I think it's debatable whether reminders of the past prevent us repeating our mistakes but at least they mean we can't say we didn't know.

21 July 2011

Madness and Politics

You know—just a thought. Jobs. Let me say it again—jobs. That’s what the people of the United States are looking for right now. Nobody gives a damn about this debt-ceiling nonsense. Most people are prepared for a certain number of program cuts and tax increases, but what they’re really interested in is getting back to work. Seeing the economy running again. Bromides like only the market can create jobs aren’t going to cut it any longer. People are tired of praying to a Market God that never seems to listen. This is something that both Democrats and Republicans need to deal with, but it especially applies to the Mad Tea Partiers. Sabotaging the economy in the hopes of winning elections is probably not going to be a winning strategy. People tend to re-elect when their personal finances are going well; folk who surf the wave of economic discontent are likely to crash on the rocks of broken dreams.

20 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

And let us not forget that the God hypothesis, which is, after all, the preferred alternative of Haught and Polkinghorne, also puts forth a speculative, unobservable entity without a trace of experimental support. The multiverse hypothesis at least arises as a natural consequence of certain theories that have a sound, evidential basis. The God hypothesis is just invented from whole cloth, and is supported solely by philosophical gobbledygook like the cosmological argument.

19 July 2011

Celebration of the Clueless

From one Mychal Massie comes the most colossal drivel I’ve read in a long time—well, I’m sure I could find worse, but it’s amazingly idiotic:
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin all wrote that they had signed the Constitution July 4, 1776, but there are some historians who argue that they signed a month later. So the question becomes, whom are you going to believe—the men who were there and participated, or PBS and the History Channel?
Me, I’ll go with the historians who’ve actually examined the evidence, but I’d be really surprised to find that any of them said the Constitution was signed in 1776, in July, August, or any other month. And yet after this gaffe this Massie character has the colossal gall to lecture his readers about the true meaning of the Constitution. It appears the Founders “intended for God to be acknowledged and prayers to be offered in conjunction with good government and the observance of federal holidays and the ceremonies adjoining same.” (These are actually his words.) If the Founders had wanted “no state-sanctioned religion”, then they would have included the concept somewhere in the Constitution, Mychal Massie thinks. As proof they didn’t intend the no religious test and no establishment clauses to forbid government-mandated religion* he writes:
One of the clearest examples showing that the Founding Fathers never intended the First Amendment to be applied as it is today comes from John Adams. The day before he would sign the actual Constitution, Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail. The very first paragraph on the third page of that letter, Adams wrote: “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 the solemn acts of God Almighty.”
First of all I would observe of course that even in this very dishonest presentation of the famous Adams quotation Adams nowhere states that government is to require such acts. But the fact is that Adams only includes such devotions to God among various kinds of celebrations he anticipates for the second of July (and what were you saying, Mychal Massie, about the Founders and dates again?):
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
If this is “[o]ne of the clearest examples” showing that the Founders meant to establish religion when they wrote that they didn’t, the rest of his examples must be utter dreck.

(h/t Jon Rowe)

*Of course this restriction originally was only binding on the Federal Government, not the states. The states wrote their own versions of disestablishment both before and after this date.

18 July 2011

Another Day Without Blogging

It’s overcast and the yuccas are blooming out front, and for whatever reason I’m feeling groggy and out of it. I slept most of the day. Sunday night my nephew and I made a night-excursion out to buy groceries thanks to a small but sudden influx of money; we headed out on the last train Sunday night, bought groceries, and returned on the first train Monday morning. Thanks to a variety of mostly uninteresting setbacks (getting out at the wrong stop, for one, and running into some kind of malfunction with the store’s card-reading system, for another) our time was largely eaten up with trivia, so the four-hour gap between trains was as nothing, and we got home safe and sound with our kill. The internet facilitated trip planning, and cell phone technology meant that we could get help lugging our supplies back to camp. And without light rail we would have been back in the dark ages of strange interconnecting busses. Life in the twenty-first century, I guess.

17 July 2011

Holding Entry

Okay, I blew this entry. So instead, here's a picture of my great-grandfather using his homemade barber chair at his barbershop in Steamboat Springs, nearly a century ago now. With any luck blogging will resume shortly.

16 July 2011

Things I'm Reading

Dazed and confused, my sleep in tatters from having helped to lug a recycled bathroom sink six or eight blocks so we can once again have at least one full bathroom in this deranged boarding house I once called home, I now find myself limping around my little corner of the blogosphere (and does a sphere have corners?) with nothing to say. Fortunately the rest of you haven’t given up.

I see Josh Rosenau has his piece up about the Miss USA contestants’ depressing responses to a question about teaching evolution in schools—depressing in that most of them clearly had no idea what science is, what a theory might be, or why presenting “both sides” of an issue (especially an issue where there really is only one side) may be absolutely idiotic. And Duane Smith is enthusiastic about “Akkadian tagged texts and translations from royal inscriptions from Esarhaddon [being] now online". It’s fantastic how much ancient material is now accessible without getting out of my chair; I don't think people appreciate this miracle of the age. Is the internet eroding memory? I wouldn’t be surprised; I’ve increasingly got in the habit of regoogling rather than retaining stuff in the storage heaps of my memory. I thought I was just getting old, but maybe mankind’s memory is now electronic. Jason Thibeault is appalled by a recent Greenpeace action against genetically modified crops: “The whole point of this genetically modified wheat is to provide more nutrition for humans, which one would think is a noble goal especially from an environmental standpoint—less crops feeding more people means more food for less damage to the planet in the form of pesticides.” It seems like Mary Shelley has a lot to answer for--the whole there-are-some-things-man-is-not-meant-to-tamper-with bit. Frankencrops at large. You know corn is a large part of our diet these days—ever tried corn that hasn’t been genetically modified? Humankind’s been at this game a long time, guys. And J. L. Bell muses about the identity of the remains of a British soldier found in Nova Scotia—was he a Private James Simpson, who died in 1784? Can we ever be certain with a case this cold?

Okay, I’m fresh out of inspiration. It’s a good thing you guys still have things to write about. It saves me the trouble of coming up with something of my own. Thanks.

15 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

Flood geologists have rendered untenable the hypothesis that the Flood year spanned much of the relevant slice of time, by demonstrating that too much Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediment deposition was subaerial or was prolonged for years. The continued denial of the implications of their own findings is an example of what I call the gorilla mindset: the attitude that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but religious dogma says it is a gorilla, then it is a gorilla.

14 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

There is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.

13 July 2011

Familiar Superstitions

So Friday the thirteenth comes on Wednesday this month, as Churchy La Femme used to observe, and the consequent madness surrounds us. (Only a full moon rivals the thirteenth for lunacy, and we’re not going to have one of those until, let’s see, uh, tomorrow….) At least two Republican candidates for the most powerful office in the world signed a pledge observing that African-Americans had been better off in some ways under slavery, in that at least slave-children were raised in two-parent families. I suppose that could be regarded as true, in a perverse dysfunctional sort of way, in that many enslaved children were the property of their biological fathers, who likewise owned their biological mothers. The historical idiocy is breathtaking, though at least the candidates had some sort of excuse—this language was part of the preamble, not actually part of the pledge itself.

I already expressed my opinion of any candidate who would sign this vile vow, and I’m glad to see that several Republican candidates are backing gingerly away from it—though I’d rather they denounced it as anti-American in no uncertain terms. I mean, this lunatic leaflet complains about “non-committal co-habitation”, refers to “innate traits like race [!]”, worries that people may think “against all empirical evidence, that homosexual behavior in particular, and sexual promiscuity in general” are not unhealthy, and claims that “robust … reproduction is beneficial to … health and security.” And this thing was presumably written by adults living in the twenty-first century. Does this nest of loons have other candidate oaths supporting leeches for healthcare, opposing interracial marriage, or promising to find the philosopher’s stone so we can solve our economic problems by turning lead into gold? When I first saw this I was half expecting it to turn out to be a piece from The Onion or the like, but apparently these guys are serious. It’s a little late for April Fools, anyway.

12 July 2011

Fools and Criticism

Wikiquote—one of the Wikimedia side-projects dwarfed by its famous sister Wikipedia—has a policy that all quotation-collections ought to employ: sources must be given for all quotations used. Further, quotations are divided up into categories—quotations with sources, attributed quotations, and misattributions, typically. There are also often sections devoted to such things as famous observations about the subject of the page—for example. Alleged quotations without sources are placed on the discussion page, and Wikiquote editors (as time permits) gradually run them down.

I track certain pages and periodically check to see if anything new has come up there. Recently some anonymous editor produced an (alleged) Benjamin Franklin quotation I wasn’t aware of:
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain—and most fools do.
Several of the big quotation sites have this one, but, as correctly noted by the Wikiquote editor, it’s not by Franklin. It’s from Dale Carnegie’s famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The passage there reads:
Bitter criticism caused the sensitive Thomas Hardy, one of the finest novelists ever to enrich English literature, to give up forever the writing of fiction. Criticism drove Thomas Chatterton, the English poet, to suicide.

Benjamin Franklin, tactless in his youth, became so diplomatic, so adroit at handling people, that he was made American Ambassador to France. The secret of his success? “I will speak ill of no man,” he said, “…and speak all the good I know of everybody.”

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do.

But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
So this—it appears—is another one where somebody has attributed an author’s words to a person he’d quoted just before it. The Wikiquote editor suggests that this may be due to a misprint in some edition of Carnegie’s work, and that’s always possible, but this sort of thing happens often enough without any misprint to aid the process that I at least see no need to postulate it.

So, this much is now clear—Dale Carnegie was quoting Ben Franklin, somebody mistakenly thought his words were Franklin’s, and the misquotation was born. But is that really the case? Was Carnegie quoting Franklin? Did Franklin actually say “I will speak ill of no man … and speak all the good I know of everybody”? That’s not so clear. Turning to good old Google Books (and how that massive index has speeded up this sort of work at least tenfold) we find the oldest source for it is a book from 1901, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen, where it appears as an introductory quotation to an account of Franklin’s life:
I will speak ill of no man, not even in matter of truth; but rather excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasion speak all the good I know of everybody.
The author, Elbert Hubbard, attributes it to “Franklin’s journal”, which is not very helpful. It is almost certainly, however, not from Franklin’s journal, exactly, but rather from a lost paper quoted in an 1815 source, a “Life of Benjamin Franklin” by Robert Walsh, printed in Delaplaine’s Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans, volume 2, pp. 51-52. It’s part of a self-improvement plan Franklin drew up as a young man in the year 1726. The relevant section reads:
4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of every body.
A few words have changed, but it appears to be the same item. Carnegie’s wording, however, strongly suggests that he didn’t get it from this source, but rather from Little Journeys or some close textual relative.

11 July 2011

Quotation of the Day

By most writers the invention of gunpowder is ascribed to the Chinese, but not upon very convincing evidence. Milton says it was invented by the devil to dispel angels with, and this opinion seems to derive some support from the scarcity of angels.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

10 July 2011

Fireflies in the Night

L’affaire Elevator-Guy continues, Congress worries over defending us from the scourge of energy-efficient light bulbs, the King James Bible celebrates its 400th anniversary, and the people rehash the Casey Anthony verdict. I’m sure all these things are important, and I intend to throw in my two bits’ wroth on them all in the near future, but I don’t really feel motivated right now. Enervation takes over. It’s hot, not July summer hot, but hot enough to sap energy and will for all that. Fitful firefly weather—not that we get fireflies here in the pacific northwest. I’ve seen them, though, eerie and silent in the summer night.

Random thoughts flicker aimlessly through my night-dulled mind. An airplane crash in 1951 that took the life of a young West Point cadet who left behind a remarkable monument to his life—a thirty-page account of an Indian war that in some respects surpassed any serious work available at that time. A proposed duel between a future president and a political opponent that would have involved broadswords and a pit on a Mississippi island. A bizarre 1966 album by some guys from New Jersey that could have changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll (well, no, but it would have been an interesting collectable if it had been released). More sightings of Christian Nationite faux quotations. A strange Supreme Court case which Daniel Webster—who once beat the devil—lost in arguing that only Christians were capable of charity. But none of it jells. I need something for each of them—some further bit of information, some way of putting the inexplicable into perspective, to do any of them justice. If History isn’t to be just “a bunch of stuff that happened” (to quote the great Homer Simpson) or “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (as a British playwright once put it), there has to be something more to it. A place to stand that puts the whole into some sort of perspective. And right now my perspective is limited indeed. Events look like nothing more than fireflies flitting fitfully through a hot summer night.

09 July 2011

Vinyl Memories: The Baroque Beatles Book

Many years ago, in some high-school class or other—World History, maybe—we had a guest presentation by an art teacher of four centuries or so of Western Art—slides and music, as I recall, depicting painting and sculpture while accompanied by examples of music from the various eras—Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and so on.

One bit that cracked me up was a piece selected for the Baroque section. Although it sounded as if it ought to be something by (say) Bach, it was actually a sort of orchestral fanfare version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I asked the guest presenter about it when the question-and-answer session came, and he said it was from something called The Baroque Beatles Book by Joshua Rifkin. I didn’t say this, but I thought it was kind of a clever idea, using a familiar tune to illustrate the peculiarities of the era’s music, but that illusion was immediately shattered when a girl in my class raised her hand to ask what on earth did that piece have to do with the Beatles or “I Want to Hold Your Hand”? as she at least saw no similarity between them. Several others appeared to agree with that assessment, and the class went on.

This is an example of what I would have called a “travesty” at the time—though my Latin teacher said there was no such literary genre, pointed out that travesty and transvestite were from the same roots, and traced the components back to reconstructed Proto-Indo-European. But I digress. “Travesty”—a change of clothes—dressing one subject in the style of another. It’s an old sport. It can be done for humorous effect, as with the eighteenth-century Hamlet Travestie (which took aim as much at contemporary Shakespeare scholarship as at Shakespeare himself), or seriously, as with the Duke Ellington versions of suites by Tchaikovsky and Grieg. Rifkin’s effort was somewhere in between, as indicated by his own notes: “We were absolutely crazy about this music,” he observed, meaning the Lennon-McCartney compositions. “Even if we had fun with it, it was fun with it in a way that was taking it seriously, giving it its due.”

I recently dug up my old copy of the record and listened to it again. My current system (essentially my computer) sucks, but it was still enjoyable. The liner notes, supposedly written by a Baroque musician looking for patronage, are at least mildly amusing:
I have also written, for your splendid court festivities—to which your unworthy servant hopes that he may be invited—a festive cantata, beginning with the words and melody of Please Please Me (your Lordship will remember how you sang it to me with a most melodious voice while we played croquet that afternoon, I still limp from the broken leg I suffered when you, justly displeased with my insolent correction of the way you sang the second half of the melody—how like an upstart of me to suggest to you that it was in the major mode—properly struck me).
About the same time I heard three Indian musicians do a version of “Greensleeves” featuring a sarod. That was memorable too, but it wasn’t recorded, and I can’t revisit it
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