31 August 2007

Dubious Documents: The Case of Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger

Samuel Clemens died in 1910, but his greatest creation, the humorist Mark Twain, continued to live on--after a fashion. Stories, articles, and fragments continued to appear over the decades, and even the comic lecturer was briefly reborn in the impersonation of Hal Holbrook. Now any time an author doesn't see his work through the press there are likely to be significant difficulties with the text. (This is one reason why editing Ben Jonson is in many respects easier than editing Shakespeare.) When a work is put out posthumously those difficulties are easily compounded.

In Mark Twain's case there have been some, shall we say, curious decisions made in his posthumous publications. His autobiography has been published twice, for example, in versions completely different from one another and both almost certainly different from anything the author would have approved. (Twain's notions were fantastic and unwieldy anyway, more like a posthumous blog than anything conventionally publishable.) Letters from the Earth was spliced together out of two related manuscripts. But I don't think there is anything comparable to the shenanigans surrounding the 1916 publication of supposed Mark Twain original story, The Mysterious Stranger.

The story is set in Austria, 1590. The main character and narrator is a boy named Theodor Fischer. He and his two friends run into an angel--a being from heaven who has come to visit their small town. The central plot concerns a struggle between a local priest fallen on bad times--Father Peter--and a powerful astrologer whom everyone is afraid of. "Every one knew he could foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there was always a war and generally a famine somewhere. But he could also read any man's life through the stars in a big book he had, and find lost property, and every one in the village except Father Peter stood in awe of him." As a result of this conflict Father Peter has lost his position (a certain Father Adolf has taken his place) and is suspected of unorthodox views--specifically that God would find a way to save all people, regardless of their sins. When the angel helps Father Peter out by allowing him to find a pouch full of gold coins (which the angel had miraculously created) the astrologer seizes the opportunity to destroy Father Peter once and for all by testifying that the coins were his, and Father Peter had robbed him. By the end of the story the astrologer is defeated, Father Peter is vindicated, and he lives happily ever after--but not in the way we expect. At the moment of triumph the angel strikes Father Peter with insanity. Father Peter believes he is the Emperor--and is now perfectly happy.

A good part of the interest of the story however lies in the angel. Not only does he intervene at various key points in the plot, but he engages in various miraculous activities--creating and then destroying an entire village of miniature people, for example. He comes to the small Austrian village with a distinctly other-worldly view, and his actions do not have the consequences imagined by the three boys whom he befriends. We learn interesting bits of information about the celestial world--for example, this angel is named Satan, after his uncle--the very Satan who had rebelled against God.

The ending of the piece is disquieting. As the narrator gets older, he sees the angel less and less. Finally Satan announces that he will not return again. He tells the narrator that heaven and hell, mankind and the universe, everything there is--doesn't exist. "'It is true, that which I have revealed to you: there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream--a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought--a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!' He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true."

Some critics objected to the ending, as being out of key with the rest of the book. Another thesis held that Mark Twain had redeemed himself with this last book, finally managing to get out of the tangle of dead ends, false starts, and unpublishable scraps to put it all together again one last time. What the ending meant, exactly, was less clear. At least one reader, as I know from a marginal notation in a library book, concluded that Satan, true to form, was assuring the narrator eternal happiness by striking him mad too. Like Father Peter.

As far as I know nobody (publicly) questioned the story from the time of its publication in 1916 (just in time for the Christmas trade) until 1963, when John Tuckey published his now-classic Mark Twain and Little Satan. His re-examination of the manuscript--or rather manuscripts--showed that the book was a fraud. Oh, it was substantially Samuel Clemens' work all right--but it had been altered in some very questionable ways.

First, Clemens never wrote a piece called The Mysterious Stranger. This is something of a quibble, as I'll show in a moment, but it is symptomatic of the larger problem. The bulk of the book was taken from a piece actually called The Chronicle of Young Satan--and it was never finished. The ending was taken from a substantially different piece--No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger--also about a supernatural figure, and originally supposed to incorporate the story of Father Peter--but that idea was quickly dropped. Instead the action takes place in a print shop, and the plot involves an attempt to ruin the kindly print-shop owner. (Complicating things further Clemens made at least two other attempts--both using Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn--to explore this material.)

Although both Young Satan and No. 44 involve a supernatural figure, there are substantial differences between them. Satan is explicitly described as an angel; No. 44 remains mysterious to the end, until he finally reveals himself as nothing but a figment of the narrator's imagination--like the entire universe. Satan is not an actor, as such, in the main story-line; 44 is, in that it is the printer's decision to take 44 on as an apprentice that leads to the strike that is at the center of the plot. And on a more trivial note, Young Satan is set in 1702, while No. 44 is set in 1490.

So what happened? Whose idea was it to split up and rejoin the narratives in this manner?

Well, the man responsible for this bit of editorial vandalism was Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's literary executor and biographer. However, Paine tells the story a bit differently. According to his own account the ending turned up separately, in a pile of papers, and to his delight he realized that it was the conclusion to the Young Satan version of the manuscript. it was the discovery of the ending, he said, that allowed the publication of The Mysterious Stranger.

Well, we now know that it was not the ending to the Young Satan narrative, but rather to the No. 44 narrative. So is there any chance that Paine was mistaken? That it was editorial incompetence rather than malfeasance?

The short answer is, no. Clemens wrote the final chapter out of sequence, and it may well have been separate from the rest of the manuscript, but the characters address each other as "44" and "August"--the names of the characters in No. 44--and not as "Satan" and "Theodor" as they are made to do in the published Mysterious Stranger. Paine in other words had to change the names (and did in fact do so) to make this ending fit with the Young Satan narrative that he was having published. He then misrepresented the facts in order to make it appear that the story was in fact what Clemens had written, rather than a patchwork from two different pieces.

It could be argued that by doing this Paine rescued an otherwise unpublishable Mark Twain piece and so made it available to a public that--let's face it--has little interest in a story without an ending. But was it really necessary to engage in out-and-out fakery? Could he not have said openly that this was a posthumous collaboration?

Again, the short answer is no. The reason: Frederick Duneka, an editor at Harper and Brothers. Clemens wrote of him:
Mr. Duneka seems to do four-fifths of the editing of everything that comes to Harper & Brothers for publication, and he certainly has a good literary instinct and judgement as long as his religion does not get into his way.
Duneka was a Roman Catholic. And he had a problem with this particular story. This problem led to the most egregious editorial meddling with the text.

You see, in The Chronicle of Young Satan there was no astrologer. (As a matter of fact, there was no astrologer in any of these stories, though a magician character in No. 44 may have provided Paine with the inspiration.) Instead, Father Peter's enemy throughout was rival priest Father Adolf, a drunken profane fool whose claim to fame was once having thrown an ink bottle at Satan. When Duneka had taken a look at the story during Twain's lifetime, he had been horrified. Clemens wrote in 1906:
Last summer, Mr. Duneka wanted to look at one of these stories, a story whose scene is laid in the Middle Ages, and in it he found a drunken and profane Catholic priest--a spectacle which was as common in Europe four hundred years ago as Dunekas are in hell to-day. Of course it made him shudder, and he wanted that priest reformed or left out.
Paine contradicted this account--but his editorial labors included reforming Father Adolf to near non-existence, and heaping his sins onto the head of the unfortunate astrologer. (Duneka apparently had no qualms about denigrating other peoples' beliefs, just so long as his own were let alone.) This went way past cobbling together texts into outright forgery--passages, including the one about the astrologer quoted above, have no connection with anything Clemens actually wrote. Further, there is no way that Clemens would have approved this alteration. It materially weakens the story, deprives us of a wonderful character, and falsifies his views. This piece of meddling makes the spliced-on ending look like a harmless prank by comparison.

Further, the mischief didn't stop with its publication. Paine and Duneka's editorial interference has affected the interpretation of the story to this day. There is, for instance, not a hint in the text of No. 44 that the magician character there is a fraud--but the baleful influence of the imaginary astrologer has affected the understanding of Balthasar Hoffman to this day (does anybody else recall Hermann Munster as Hoffman in the 1982 made-for-tv movie?). By the same token, the mixing of manuscripts has caused many to suppose that 44 and Satan are much the same figure, even though nowhere does the text suggest that 44 is an angel (as Satan is). And, as if to prove my point, when I dropped by imdb.com just now to check the date of the movie I find that the user comments complain that the writers have altered the original story:
But it would have been better if the screenplay had stuck closer to the original fragments. The fragments themselves were published in 1917 [sic] for the first time.
Another observes:
The script doesn't even follow the plot of the original story. So it should be looked at as a fabricated Twain story.
Actually, of course, the 1916 version is the "fabricated" story. Paine and Duneka are long gone, but the mischief they did continues. It might have been defensible if they had stated honestly up front what they were up to--that this book was frankly a posthumous collaboration, and that Twain's text had been altered. Not all the alterations were as injurious as these two, and many people have enjoyed this version. (I did myself, till I read the true text when it published in 1969.) But passing it off as a genuine Mark Twain work--especially considering the hack-work they actually did--that's not forgivable.

30 August 2007

Take Down

Kevin Beck and assorted commentators take down anti-gay agitator Judy Paris in the comment thread at Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge : Surprise, surprise: A Groksucker poops on her keyboard. The classic moment: If Judy Paris can't fall back on random Bible quotations, well she just won't play. Check it out.

28 August 2007

Alberto Gonzales: Poor Steward or Traitor Among Traitors

William Rivers Pitt writes at Truthout:
Alberto Gonzales is a traitor. That is the only word to explain it.

He is not the only one; there are many more traitors like him in the Bush administration, criminals joined in an act of treason so vast and comprehensive that it beggars comparison. Nothing quite like this has ever before been attempted in America, and if they are allowed to succeed, there will be nothing of what defines America left to be seen.

Gonzales and his Bush administration collaborators have committed their treason against the rule of law itself, a crime so absolute that it is technically not illegal. There is no code, ordinance or law specifically forbidding the total ruination of all our rights and protections; the act is neither felony nor misdemeanor, because nobody ever considered the black-letter necessity of making it illegal to destroy the rule of law.

But there is no America without that rule of law - no rights, no protections, no Constitution; there is nothing, and if you destroy the rule of law, you destroy the idea that is America itself. The only word for a crime like that is treason, and those who would dare commit it are traitors. Gonzales and his Bush administration collaborators have done more than dare. They have been pursuing it, with deliberation and intent, throughout each moment of their tenure.

"[T]hroughout each moment of their tenure." This, to me, is a key point. We keep hearing the nauseous refrain, Nine eleven changed everything. If I object that Alberto Gonzales was instrumental in providing the "legal" pretext for using torture, the Bush-clones come back with Nine Eleven Changed Everything. But what "President" Bush and his gang were up to--subverting the rule of law and placing a veil of absolute secrecy between them and the people--started before the events of 11 September. From the moment Bush seized power he and his gang of merry men and women have done everything possible to subvert the rule of law in this once-great nation. Now, back to Pitt:

Their treason is not in the actual crimes they have committed, but in the way they have chosen to avoid accountability for them. Their treason is not their refusal to obey the Freedom of Information Act, but in their insistence that they are above the application of that law. Their treason is not in their refusal to obey subpoenas from Congress, but in their claim that they are above the laws behind those subpoenas. Their treason is not that they fired United States attorneys and then refused to come clean about it, but that they decimated the impartiality of the Department of Justice and turned the rule of law into another partisan weapon. Their treason is not the NSA surveillance of Americans, but their steadfast refusal to submit to the governing laws and the requirement of oversight.

When George W. Bush asserted a claim of Executive Privilege that made him and his administration immune to all laws and oversight, that was an act of treason because it shattered the rule of law. When Dick Cheney asserted that the Office of the Vice President was not part of the Executive Branch, because he did not want to obey the laws requiring him to hand over official documents to the Archives, that was an act of treason because it shattered the rule of law. When Alberto Gonzales chose to surrender the independence of the Department of Justice so he could protect those assertions, that was an act of treason because it shattered the rule of law.

Now here again the defenders of the Idiot in Chief chime in. But FDR (or Kennedy or Clinton) did exactly the same thing. What about when FDR ordered Nazi sympathizers tortured, or Kennedy refused to obey the Congressional subpoena to explain the Bay of Pigs fiasco, or when Clinton declined to step down after being impeached? (See, I can make up imaginary events with the best of them.) My answer: so what? Is your point (as hall-monitors used to say, albeit more crudely, in my day) that since others were doing wrong, that makes it right? Try that in court some time! (Yes, I know I got caught selling crack, but everybody else was doing it. Why pick on me?) Is your point that past mistakes made while the country was in a state of national crisis (Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, FDR's internment of American citizens of Japanese descent) justify repeating those mistakes now, when no similar crisis exists? The old saw about not learning from history comes to mind here. And if your point is that past abuses of power by people who managed to escape any consequences for them justify future abuses of power, I would say that you, Mr. Strawman, are part of the problem. A big part of the problem.

Oh, yeah, and if your point was a narrow partisan one, then shame on you. As a Republican, I am not surprised when the opposition behaves in a disgusting fashion. I expect better from my party. (And now I hear my father remark, "You can expect anything you like. That doesn't mean you're going to get it.") Back to Pitt:

Americans have only the rights they are able to protect and defend. Our rights are nothing more than ideas; only theory and argument on parchment all too easily burned to ashes. The power of those rights is only found in our collective submission to the rule of law, and submission to that rule of law is all that stands between our freedoms and the conflagration of tyranny. Without the rule of law, there is no America.

That is the treason of Alberto Gonzales, and the treason of the Bush administration entire. They have attacked and undercut the rule of law by refusing to submit to it, and in doing so have brought us to the edge of appalling infamy. Theirs is a crime without peer, and we will be fortunate beyond measure if we are able to recover from it.

The fact that Alberto Gonzales has left is meaningless in the main, because the treason he participated in continues in his absence. If the damage is to be repaired, he must be replaced by someone who will submit to the main imperative, someone who will submit to the rule of law, someone with real independence and unbending respect for the idea that is America. Gonzales must not be replaced by another crony or yes-man, because Americans have only those rights we can protect and defend, and another traitor in that lofty post is no protection at all.

Gonzales was more than a poor steward of this trust. He was a traitor among traitors. If the rule of law is to stand, the treason he helped commit must be ended, and a patriot must take his place.

Now wouldn't that be something.

27 August 2007

Fake History: The Unbelievable Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall

One of the most distasteful things about the Littleton Colorado school shootings was the way so many of the townsfolk used their fifteen minutes of fame to pimp for their religion. As I watched the coverage--so long ago now--I had to keep reminding myself that grief and shock do strange things to people, and that I should give them the benefit of the doubt. But I have to admit that the relentless and inappropriate plugging of their religion by students, parents, and various authorities, turned my stomach.

Even as the information about the event was coming in it was possible to filter out some of the noise. The killers were said to be gay--but people who knew them contradicted this factoid. They were said to be members of a group called "The Trenchcoat Mafia"--but actual members (as well as other students) set this record straight. The killers were said to have gone to the school library hunting for "jocks" (high school must have changed a lot since my day), they were said to have targeted blacks, Christians, or people who had picked on them. Everything I heard on that day made Littleton Colorado sound like a radically dysfunctional community, and the high school desperately in need of a major overhaul.

Perhaps the most distasteful episode was the vandalism of two of the memorial crosses donated by a local carpenter. Even in grief petty oneupmanship--my sorrow is better than your sorrow--seemed to be the order of the day.

Among the people who seemed more concerned with making social or religious statements than in dealing with the loss were some who claimed to be relatives of one of the victims, Cassie Bernall. One woman--I don't remember now if or how she was related--claimed that one of the killers had placed his gun to Cassie Bernall's head and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" The young woman is said to have replied, "Yes, I believe in God--" at which point the killer is supposed to have fired, killing her instantly. The woman who was narrating this commented that she didn't know if she herself would have had the faith that Cassie had, and so on and so forth. As I said, I had to remind myself that grief makes people do peculiar things.

While some in the Littleton community were spinning this event to glorify their cult, there was at least one person who knew absolutely that this never happened. Emily Wyant was hiding under a desk with Cassie Bernall, and her story is very different, according to Salon.
As the Rocky Mountain News reported Sept. 24, Wyant and Bernall were studying alone together in the back of the library. After the gunmen rushed in, the girls crouched beneath a table together, and Cassie began praying aloud: "Dear God. Dear God. Why is this happening? I just want to go home." Dylan Klebold suddenly slammed his hand on the table, yelled "Peekaboo," and looked underneath. He shot Cassie without exchanging a word. Wyant's mother confirmed that the Rocky Mountain News correctly reported the details of her daughter's account.
So where did this Christian martyrdom story come from? Well the exchange of words came from another moment in the library:
[Valeen] Schnurr was down on her hands and knees bleeding, already hit by 34 shotgun pellets, when one of the killers approached her. She was saying, "Oh, my God, oh, my God, don't let me die," and he asked her if she believed in God. She said yes; he asked why. "Because I believe and my parents brought me up that way," she said. He reloaded, but didn't shoot again. She crawled away.
Oh, that's very different, as Gilda Radner's Emily Litella character used to observe.

It's not as if the events weren't already horrific and senseless enough without somebody deciding to cash in on them to make a point for their particular religious notions.

Oh, sure, but isn't this is a matter of what Bokonin calls foma, harmless untruths that do nobody any harm. Hmm. What about Valeen Schnurr? I have no idea how she felt about this fake martyrdom story, but it was this young woman who, in shock and pain, bleeding from being hit by thirty-four shotgun pellets, who actually said that she believed in God, not knowing whether her answer might save or condemn her. That took guts. Of course she survived, since the psychopathic killer who faced her apparently found her answer acceptable. Or maybe he got distracted. The thing is that she wasn't a dead Christian martyr, but a living girl who went through hell on one all-too-memorable day. How did she feel having a bit of her life appropriated and used by others? Did she feel that her veracity was being called into question? I don't know, but the implication is there anyway.

And more to the point, what about Emily Wyant? She watched her friend blown away by a madman, heard other people make up stories that she knew weren't true, and was even urged by some of the people closest to her to keep quiet about it. After all Cassie's family was putting out a book. This piece of fake history was energizing youth Christian movements all over the country. What the hell could she have thought of the morals and sense of the adult community surrounding her? Even when she told her story to the local newspaper, to set the story straight, what happened? Nothing. The paper claimed that the matter was too sensitive to publish, whatever that means. It wasn't until an internet publication, Salon, carried some of the facts, that the local papers decided to reveal what they had known all along.

Okay, but finally things came out all right, didn't they? The truth came out, the fake story revealed for what it was, and it no longer has the power to harm anybody. Correct? Think again:
The two young men sauntered through the school halls. One wore a t-shirt with the inscription "Natural Selection." Approaching a blonde-haired junior, Eric asked her, "Do you believe in God?" Cassie Bernall's simple yet courageous reply, "Yes," was her last. Her killers continued their rampage of Columbine High.
This piece of unadulterated crap is the opening of a prize-winning but badly-researched essay by one Karin Hutson, "Evolution of Ethics: How Evolution Undermines Morality 101." Replete with irrelevant Bible quotations and a bibliography whose only respectable contributor is John Horgan (who finds himself in company with the likes of Ken (Tyrannosaurs ate coconuts) Ham, Chuck (Watergate) Colson, and the whole crowd of Answers in Genesis liars), this piece of idiocy slanders generations of scientists and researchers without giving a single piece of evidence to make the case. Of course the "prize" in this case is a scholarship to Liberty University, so Karin probably deserves it. I personally hope that she wakes up soon, and realizes that the people who are bamboozling her are not her friends. But maybe she doesn't care. What's a whopper or two matter if the cause is lofty enough, right? Of course she and the people who gave her this "prize" end up looking like first-class idiots--but then, they're probably used to that.

This piece is also being posted at Fake History.

26 August 2007

Adnan Oktar is a First-Class Idiot

Actually I don't know and I don't care who Adnan Oktar is. It is enough for me that he is an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, and a Creationist. That makes him a first-class idiot in the books of any rational person. For all I know he may well be an extortionist, blackmailer, rapist, and pedophile, as charged on various websites. His actions show that he's got something to hide, anyway. But fundamentally I don't care. This Oktar guy is nothing to me. I've never said anything about him in the past, and I don't intend to comment on him in the future, unless he does something idiotic enough to draw my attention.

So my question is, why did this clown have the Turkish government block access to my Fake History site (on Wordpress) in Turkey? It isn't even in Turkish, for god's sake.

Although I have yet to receive a personal reply (and don't expect one) from the Turkish government, the idiots responsible have issued a press release on the subject:
The reason of this suspention, is that the limitlessly enable to illegal publications of the mentioned blog service, not taking to notice about the suspention of the applications and ignoring the judgements that are given by the Turkish courts related to the suspention of known sub-sites. The free and uncontrolled opportunities provided by the mentioned service are directed baleful people to this service and in a short time wordpress.com is returned to the voice and publication center of separatist-disastrous ideologies, private hostilities, illegal targets.
I will state outright that the Turkish government should reconsider its foolish and dangerous decision. For it to take such a serious step for so light and frivolous a reason--and at that, at the behest of someone who appears to be a leader of a criminal cult--makes me doubt that Turkey is ready to take its rightful place in the modern world. Does it really want to be counted with the Chinese, the Pakistanis, or the Thais, as opponents of free speech?

For anybody who wonders what the charges against Adnan Oktar are check out this site. If you're interested in his crackpot views, this is a good place to start.

22 August 2007

A New Omphalos?

In my wanderings today on the internets, I stumbled upon a fellow named Herman Cummings, who describes himself as "the foremost terrestrial authority on the book of Genesis", adding "Until you can disprove that claim, accept it as fact." With that comment, I was again transported into the wonderful world of Fads and Fallacies, Martin Gardner's hilarious account of cranks, crackpots, and fringe figures who seem to have stepped out of the pages of L. Frank Baum. Who can forget the Nephew of God? The Hungry Tiger? Or Alfred Lawson, the inventor of Lawsonomy? (His University of Lawsonomy used to graduate "Knowledgians" after a suitable course of study.) The "foremost terrestrial authority on the book of Genesis. Until you can disprove that claim, accept it as fact." With that self-description alone Herman Cummings has earned a place in that pantheon.

You may recall him as one of the sideshow acts at the Selman v. Cobb County School District circus (see If You Litigate, They Will Come at The Panda's Thumb). If so, you're doing better than I did. When I ran into the phrases "Observations of Moses" and "Biblical Reality", the name Herman Cummings meant nothing to me. It was only after googling the name that fragments began to come back to me.

What caught my attention was that Herman Cummings had published a book. Its title: Moses Didn't Write About Creation! (The exclamation point is his.) This is promising; an exclamation point following a simple declarative statement sounds like classic crackpottery, though it would have been more promising still if it had been and exclamation point following a command, or a statement with the word "you" in it. But still--promising indeed.

So comes the next test--is the book put out by a small sectarian or fringe publishing house? Or is it (even better) self-published? Let's see ... the book appears to have been published 6 August 2007 by PublishAmerica. Score! PublishAmerica is a modern-day version of the old vanity press--a POD or Publish On Demand press. We will print no book before its time. Nothing comes off the presses, so to speak, until it's been bought and paid for. Something like that, anyway.

So what is the point of his book? The title strikes no exceptional note--Moses didn't write about creation. So what? I, for one, never said that he did. (I never said that Prometheus wrote about the art of arson either.) Fortunately Cummings has been promoting his forthcoming book. What does he have to say about it?
The book promotes "Biblical Reality", which states that Genesis, written by Moses, was never about Creation (Week). Moses had written down (perhaps by one or more designated scribes) what God had revealed to him while he was with God on Mt. Sinai in 1598 BC. Creationism and theology have mistakenly believed that Moses was writing about how our Earth & universe were created, but not so. God revealed to Moses seven defined geological ages of the historical past to Moses. Even Moses didn't understand what he saw, but he just had it written down for later generations to learn and perhaps someday understand. That final understanding would not occur until December 1993, being about 3,604 years later. How timeless is the Word of God?
Timeless indeed. So what is Cummings getting at here? Is he pushing the idea that the "days" of Genesis represent lengthy periods of unknown duration. Not at all. It is true, we find out, that God created the earth and the universe in six days, but the six days described in the opening of Genesis are not those particular six days.
Our creation occurred 4.57 billion years ago (according to the science of geology), completing in six days (Exodus 20:11), with God "resting" on the seventh day of a 168 hour week. But God did not reveal that week to Moses. God revealed only one day from Creation Week, and one day each from the first week of the six following geological ages of mankind. The seven days which were revealed to Moses (aka "the Observations of Moses") were not revealed in chronological order, but in what's called "Biblical Order", which any theologian or "bible scholar" worth their salt should be able to ascertain.
In a later post he explains further:
The “six days of Moses” in Genesis chapter one are actually six consecutive (12 hour) days in 1598 BC that God revealed to Moses (on Mt. Sinai) from the ancient past. Each day was from the first week of each of seven different geological eras in “biblical order”. The only day of Creation Week which Moses saw was the “Fourth Day”. Creation Week was 168 hours, in 4.6 Billion BC, according to the geologist.
If I am not mistaken our writer is adopting the old notion that the "days" of Genesis were the days of Yahweh's revelation to Moses rather than the actual days of creation. Except that he has a new twist--each account was of a single day, and each of these days was taken from the first week of a different geological period. Why, I can't imagine. I suppose he explains things somewhere in his book, but don't expect me to be reading it too soon. Life is short, and the explanations of scripturologists are long indeed.

Herman Cummings has thoughtfully placed the first chapter of his book online for us, along with a set of comments here, and from them we learn a few further items from his repertoire. The universe, for instances, is three days younger than the earth. Oh, yes, and why does he accept the evidence of geology for the age of the earth but not the evidence of astrophysics for the age of the universe?
How can we possibly know what the make-up of a star is? [he asks rhetorically.] Have we sent a probe into the center of our Sun? ... If pretending to know the composition of planets, stars, and comets isn’t bad enough, many scientists also claim to know the ages of celestial objects. This is what I mean by “crossing the line”. ... We can examine the Earth, since we live on it. We have examined material brought back from the Moon, in such wise as we have visited it on several occasions. I accept the findings of the geologist that the Earth and Moon are close to 4.6 billion Earth years old.

It is reasonable to assume that the Sun is about the same age as the Earth, the Moon, and the other planets in our planetary (solar) system. But that is as far as the scientist can legitimately go. Only the theologian has a ‘license’ to go farther. ...Presently, the farthest galaxy that we can now observe is roughly 12 billion light years away from Earth. So it is assumed that it would initially take at least 12 billion years for the light that emanates from that galaxy to reach our planet. Since the scientist allows 3 billion years for that galaxy to evolve into it’s [sic] present observable state, we now have the universe being 15 billion (3 billion + 12 billion) years old. See how conveniently that fits into the “model” of the Big Bang?

If our universe (and galaxy) is 15 to 17 billion Earth years old, why is our Sun and solar system only 5 (or 4.6) billion years old? Also, what was happening during those missing 10 billion years??
There. I hope that's clear to everyone. I have to admit that I never thought of those ten billion years as missing, and more than I thought of the ten "lost" tribes as missing. And as I learned centuries ago (probably from Asimov's Intelligent Man's Guide to Science or Ley's Watchers of the Skies) exactly how we can determine the composition of a distant star I don't find his question on the subject particularly relevant. Offhand I would suggest that he find an introductory textbook on astronomy and read it, but he probably has his own explanations for the unreliability of starlight.

Herman Cummings' problem with science, however, doesn't stop there. According to his definition a theory is "a guess about the unknown, using scientific jargon." This is his own definition, supposedly boiled down from "a speculative idea that implies considerable evidence in support of a formulated general principle in an attempt to explain the operation of certain phenomena." Setting aside for the moment the accuracy of this definition, how on earth did Cummings get to "a guess about the unknown, using scientific jargon"? What happened to "considerable evidence"? "general principle"? and "explain[ing] the operation of certain phenomena"? Maybe he has some kind of explanation for this somewhere in the rest of his book, but as far as I can tell this is nothing but plain or garden pig-ignorance.

18 August 2007

Fake History: The Replacement of Ringo Starr

It was forty-five years ago today that Ringo Starr first appeared with the Beatles at the Cavern Club. He was a replacement for Pete Best, one of history’s best-known also-rans, and it is said there were shouts of “Pete Best forever; Ringo never,” as the band played. But in point of fact it was to be Ringo Starr, not Pete Best, who made history as the drummer for the Fab Four.

Now the firing of Pete Best is one of the most controversial events of early Beatles history. This piece isn’t about that as such, however, but about another short-lived Beatles drummer, Andy White. Specifically, how and why did it happen that Andy White, rather than Ringo Starr (or for that matter Pete Best), came to play the drums on two early Beatles tracks.

The official version of events rests on the highest authority—the actual accounts of the two people most directly involved. Ringo Starr and George Martin together tell the story something like this: When the Beatles auditioned for George Martin on 6 June 1962, the A&R man was not particularly happy with Pete Best’s drumming. He took their manager, Brian Epstein, aside, and told him in effect: I don’t care what you do with the group as performers, but Pete Best’s drumming is not up to speed for recording purposes, and I’m going to bring in a session drummer for the actual sessions.

Well, goes the story, this was the last straw for the rest of the band. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison got together and decided to replace their weakest link with the strongest drummer in the Liverpool band scene—one Richard Starkey, alias Ringo Starr. Their manager was given the unenviable task of firing Pete Best, and it was the new improved group that presented itself for their first EMI recording session in September.

The trouble was that George Martin had already booked session drummer Andy White to sit in for Pete, and he’d never even met Ringo Starr, let alone auditioned him. When Ringo Starr showed up, expecting to play, George Martin wasn’t about to chance it. He gave Best’s replacement a tambourine to bang on, and it was in this manner that their first EMI release, “Love Me Do,” was recorded.

Later on, of course, Ringo Starr showed that he could handle the drumming on his own, and when the time came to re-record “Love Me Do” for the album there was no need to bring in a session drummer. And all was sweetness and light from then on, or whatever.

Now this is the version told on The Beatles Anthology, and in various older reference sources. There was some confusion about the exact date of the Andy White recording session—was it 4 September or 11 September?—and certain other details were puzzling. As Allen Weiner put it in his 1986 book, The Beatles: A Recording History, “No two accounts of this recording session seem to agree, including those of Ringo, George Martin, and EMI.” One of the most obvious discrepancies is that the “Love Me Do” take that appears on the single is the one with Ringo Starr drumming, contrary at least to Starr’s own recollection, while Andy White drums on the album take.

It is probably true that George Martin’s lack of enthusiasm for Pete Best gave the other Beatles the impetus for firing their long-time drummer. As Best tells it (Beatle! The Pete Best Story) he first heard a rumor that he was leaving the Beatles for Lee Curtis and the All-Stars in mid-June, not long after the audition session at EMI. Brian Epstein denied that the Beatles were thinking of replacing him, but under the circumstances it seems likely that the idea was at least in the air at that point. The ball didn’t drop until two months later, in mid-August, when Brian Epstein told Pete Best he’d been fired.

And so it was the new line-up that came to London on 4 September 1962 for their first recording session. But—contrary to the story—there was no session drummer waiting in the wings. The plan, apparently, was to do the recording with the new drummer—or, at any rate, that’s what actually happened. Here’s Mersey Beat’s contemporary account:

It was a long and hard afternoon’s work. Six numbers were considered and eventually two were selected for the actual recording session in the evening. The work was relieved when one of London’s best known photographers, Dezo Hoffman arrived to take numerous photographs—you will see the excellent results in Mersey Beat soon.
EMI’s session records show that the two songs picked were “Love Me Do” and “How Do You Do It”. The recording of the latter—a Mitch Murray song especially selected by George Martin as a potential hit—seems to have gone fairly well. “Love Me Do” was another matter. Again from Mersey Beat:
Everyone was anxious to attain a perfect sound which would reproduce The Beatles’ unique qualities exactly. The backing … was “taken” no less than 15 times—John’s mouth (on harmonica) was numb with playing and the atmosphere was tense.
Another (later) Mersey Beat article gives at least part of the reason for the tense atmosphere:
…George Martin wanted him [Ringo Starr] to do some intricate drumming effects. He was naturally nervous—it was the first time he’d recorded, unlike the rest of the boys—and it took quite a bit of time.
Reverting to the previous article:
When the vocals had been recorded and the session ended (at midnight) everyone was so dazed and tired that it wasn’t really known how good or bad was the result.
The piece goes on to say that Brian Epstein and George Martin listened to the takes the next day and were extremely pleased. Probably the idea was to release a single with Mitch Murray’s “How Do You Do It” as the A-side and Lennon-McCartney’s “Love Me Do” as the B-side. Bassist Johnny Spence (of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates), however, was noncommittal. “Could it be better?” he asked. John Lennon and Paul McCartney, at least, were quite convinced that it could. They were adamantly opposed to putting out “How Do You Do It” rather than one of their own originals, for one thing. And it would appear from events that George Martin was far from satisfied with the recording of “Love Me Do,” especially if it were going out as the A-side.

A new session was booked for the next week, and on 11 September the Beatles again assembled at Abbey Road for a recording session. This time they were going to take another stab at “Love Me Do,” and record another Lennon-McCartney original, “P.S. I Love You.” And this time there would be another drummer present—session drummer Andy White.

Now this is key to understanding events. George Martin did not bring in the session drummer on account of Pete Best’s inadequate drumming, no matter what the authorities say. On 4 September he was perfectly willing to use Ringo Starr as drummer. It was only after that disastrous session that he brought in a replacement. In other words, Andy White never was a replacement for Pete Best. Andy White was specifically brought in to replace Ringo Starr. No wonder Ringo Starr thought “that’s the end. They’re doing a Pete Best on me.” (Hunter Davies, The Beatles, p. 163)

This fact explains a lot of the early confusion, especially about recording dates. It was obviously a lot more palatable to blame the Andy White replacement on Best’s drumming than Starr’s. Best was a nobody, a has-been, while Ringo Starr was—well, Ringo Starr. For the new story to be true, it was necessary to suppress the 4 September recording session. The story only worked if George Martin had never had a chance to appraise Ringo Starr’s drumming. The result was fake history, and fake history at its most devious. Nobody really had a vested interest—except maybe Pete Best—in correcting the story with the facts, and even now that the studio records are widely available, it is still possible for George Martin and Ringo Starr to relate their version of the story without blushing. But there it is.

15 August 2007

Quotation of the Day

"The indefensible has always been the unquestionable. That which is defensible can withstand questioning. " Comment #24, posted by: Sebastian | August 15, 2007 01:39 PM Pharyngula: What will you do to oppose the dark?

12 August 2007

Boredom Starts Here

As I start out, I'm assuming this will be another typical nothing rant of the sort that comes when I feel the need to let off steam but without having anything to say. I keep starting these things, but for some reason even when I have a powerful idea to express I end up frivoling it away in a sea of trivia. I have a post I'm trying to put together on the legendary Upas tree of Java, and another about the equally legendary first recording sessions with Ringo Starr, but I can't get fired up about them. I went back to check on something in Notes and Queries at books.google.com, only to find that they have suddenly been pulled for some unfathomable reason. (These are nineteenth century articles, so it can't be a copyright issue.) I'm actually going to have to do this the old fashioned way, and look up the articles in a library. Ha. Unbelievable.

I'm bored, damn it, bored out of my mind. So many things I'd like to say something meaningful about, but the words won't come. The passing of Lee Hazlewood (Some velvet morning when I'm straight...), the probable extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin, those trapped (or are they dead?) miners in Utah, 1934's reclaiming of the hottest year in the US banner, and the disappearance of the George Polk documents. These are all important, damn it, but I don't know what to say about any of them. Maybe later.

11 August 2007

Stars and Stripes Correspondence

A sampling of recent correspondence at Stars and Stripes:

14 May 2007

Religious stories one-sided

…Lately, there have been many articles about religions and their goings-on around the world. With Operation Iraqi Freedom, Israel, Turkey and such, this is no surprise. But many of these articles are centered on Christianity in the United States. For example: Bible classes in Georgia public schools, prayers for mountain tops, Anne Coulter and her right-wing blabber, “miracles,” etc.

I was unaware that Stars and Stripes was a reporting agency for Christian fundamentalism. Granted, most of the readers of Stars and Stripes are Christian, but where are the articles about military Wiccans? Pagans? Atheists? Oh yes, there are atheists downrange, and I am an example.

As an atheist, I find the one-sided reporting from Stars and Stripes callous and insensitive. …

Religious minority whining

This is in response to the author of “Religious stories one-sided” (letter, May 14): Now I feel compelled to write about content. I am so sick and tired of hearing Wiccans, pagans and atheists whine and cry. You chose your religion (or lack thereof). If you are not comfortable with your choice, that is your problem. You chose to partake in a belief system that places you in the minority, so, with the limited space Stars and Stripes has, it puts stories in the paper that represent the vast majority of its readers. Again, you are not [in the majority]. That is your choice; don’t punish me or the rest [of us] based on the choices you make for your life.

I am a Christian and I don’t impose my beliefs on the letter writer. [He shouldn’t] impose himself on me. The reason why, I think, there are no stories relating to his “religion” is, besides the writer and three other people, no one really cares. That statement might seem cold or callous, but seriously, enough is enough. Quit whining.

1 June 2007

Non-Christians persecuted

This is in reference to “Religious minority whining.” I’m so tired of the ignorant ramblings of the uninformed. These biased, discriminatory attitudes have no place in the military. It’s very rare to see a religion represented in Stars and Stripes unless it’s Christianity. I understand it’s the majority; however, we are a diverse people with diverse religious beliefs.

Wicca and paganism has been the subject of attacks for hundreds of years. They are still openly met with hostility today. It was only last month the Department of Defense allowed Wiccans to place a symbol of their faith on headstones of fallen soldiers. What does that say about us as a people? You’re good enough to fight and die for your country as long as your religious views don’t conflict with the majority? …

Diversity makes America great

In reference to the letter “Religious minority whining,” I was unaware that being part of a majority gave anyone the right to say what people are interested in reading about. I’m sure that no one wanted to read about slavery being wrong or about women deserving a right to vote, but thankfully not everyone listened to the “majority.” Diversity — religious or otherwise — is what makes America great. Reprimanding someone who chose to not follow the same belief system as you is unbecoming to your religion.

Biased views out of step

…I would like to see this same individual use the same reasoning and logic in regard to the racial minorities within our military or anywhere else, for that matter. Is he implying that since some ethnic groups are minorities that they don’t deserve to be given equal opportunity? Or that they don’t matter because they are a minority and there are not enough to matter?

It is this same attitude that has made civil rights for minorities difficult to achieve and breeds discrimination. I am an atheist. I have felt the coldness of discrimination, as pagans, Wiccans, Mormons and other religious minorities undoubtedly have due to the attitude the writer seems to possess. The writer sounds like the whiner to me…

All religions deserve respect

…The writer complained, while complaining about people who complain, that pagans “impose” our beliefs on him by asking for a little more diversity in the theological topics covered in a newspaper that he chooses to read. This would have been funny if not for the rest of his rant, in which he (presumably without being sarcastic) claimed that, as a Christian, he did not force his religion down our throat, all the while demanding that Christian topics retain their monopoly in the paper, as everyone who does not believe in his god is so minuscule in number as to be beneath notice. … There is a large number of pagans in the military, some of whom have died for their country. By saying their beliefs aren’t worth even a few paragraphs in a newspaper, the letter writer has, in effect, spit on their graves.

15 June 2007

Pagans don’t belong in chapel

I’m very shocked to read that Pagans are allowed to use one of the rooms in the Misawa Air Base chapel (“Pagans resist keeping the faith to themselves,” article, June 10). If I was attending church in Misawa, I would be outraged.

This is not a matter of discrimination, but a matter of spiritual warfare. … you cannot turn a house of worship of the one true God into a house of worship for many different gods. Just as we have separation of church and state for important reasons, we also need to keep the worship of worldly things separate from the worship of heavenly things. … I can respect Pagans’ religious views and outlooks on life. History is full of examples of the created being worshipped instead of the Creator. However, it is one thing to support them by giving them their own place of worship, but a whole different topic when you give Pagans access to a place in which God is served. … Quit sacrificing our foundation of absolute and irrefutable truth for man’s or woman’s futile attempt at wisdom. It is doomed to fail.

Pagans serve everywhere

I wanted to thank you for the helpful and informative article on pagans (“Pagans resist keeping the faith to themselves,” Mideast edition, June 11). Rarely is our faith treated in the press with such objectivity. No doubt Stars and Stripes will take a lot of heat from readers for devoting a full page to pagans. It isn’t even Halloween. …

Story promotes understanding

Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my little eclectic heart (“Pagans resist keeping the faith to themselves”).

I am a Celtic deist and a practitioner of druidism. It was a breath of fresh air to see such a well-written and thought-out report on a full page. Most important was you showed that the military does recognize certain pagan religions and listed them. This article will hopefully open the eyes of many people who were misinformed… So, to balance out the hate mail I know you will get, here is a letter of love from one of the many “minority” religions who read your paper and serve their country so that you can write what you want, when you want, freely.

28 June 2007

Not based on one faith

I applaud Stars and Stripes for its open-minded, unbiased attempt to bring “Pagans resist keeping the faith to themselves” (article, June 11, Mideast edition) to its readers. I have been a pagan Wiccan for 10 years. To get this much positive attention and recognition in a newspaper is mostly unheard of.

Now, to “Pagans don’t belong in chapel” (letter, June 18): I am not surprised at the writer’s response. This is typical of closed-minded Christians. To say another faith is not worthy of using a military chapel (military chapels cater to a multitude of diverse faiths) because it does not agree with her Christian beliefs is deplorable. She states the ridiculous reason that pagan faiths are not valid enough to be practiced in a military chapel because they don’t worship one creator god.

This type of rationalizing is absurd. Military chapels are not one-faith-based institutions. They serve the military as a whole. I would advise her to take a look at the Constitution. It provides the freedom for one to follow any religion, without fear of reprisal or discrimination. To say it is “an attack on Christianity itself” is pure nonsense. How is it an attack on Christianity?

The letter sounds a lot to me like the rhetoric and propaganda I hear every day in Iraq, only they spin it about Islam. To me, her religious intolerance and attack on pagans are no different than the Muslim radical intolerant religious zealots who head the terrorist groups in Iraq.

Pagans are soldiers, too

In the inevitable refute to “Pagans don’t belong in chapel,” I am a deployed pagan who practices regularly with a small group on Forward Operating Base Prosperity, Baghdad. I have attended any number of rituals here and elsewhere, I was married to my wife in a handfasting ceremony, and we are going to raise our child in our ways.

What appalls me is that someone would be so hateful toward protectors of our great country. We are soldiers who bleed just as much as the followers of the “one true God.” I’m no fan of political correctness, but be damned if we pagans are denied a bit of unused space at night — in a building dedicated to religion — to practice what we have in peace. …

Respect for pagan beliefs

People never cease to amaze me. I find it ironic how someone can say she respects others’ beliefs and then display that she knows nothing about those beliefs and holds nothing but contempt for something she hasn’t bothered to try to understand. It would be like me saying, “I respect the beliefs of Christians, but the concept of a monotheistic God is just absurd.” Doesn’t that seem preposterous to you?…

3 July 2007

Pagans are good people

The problem with discrimination is that the people who practice it do not recognize it as such. The June 15 letter “Pagans don’t belong in chapel” reeks with prejudice and discrimination.

I am a Christian who has friends who are practicing Wiccans. They are some of the most honorable, unprejudiced, open-minded and charitable people you can find. They do not feel they are in a spiritual war; they just are offended by the in-your-face attitude similar to what the letter writer exhibits. While I disagree with their beliefs, I am always impressed by their honesty, and their care and concern for all of God’s creation. I am always impressed by how they raise their children. I have yet to meet any who have children on drugs or in the penal system.

I have never been proselytized to by a Wiccan, Druid or practitioner of any other pagan religion, but I have been offended by many members of “Christian” denominations with this same attitude toward any denomination but their own. It is amazing that the writer cannot see the blatant, inherent prejudice in the last statement “foundation of absolute and irrefutable truth … attempt at wisdom.”

This sounds exactly like the radical Muslims who are killing any other Muslims not of their sect. Hopefully the writer will continue to educate herself until she feels confidant enough in her own belief to quit attacking others.

‘Separate but equal’ mind-set?

I honestly can’t believe such an attitude still exists (“Pagans don’t belong in chapel”).

The letter writer claims to be tolerant and proud of the diversity of religions in the military then, in the same breath, is “outraged” by pagans in the chapel at Misawa (Japan) Air Base. As far as providing “support” by giving the pagans at Misawa “their own separate place to worship or don’t support them at all,” that’s merely a spin on the “separate but equal” argument that tore America apart for so many years.

I believe anyone who uses the phrase “one true God” exposes his or her own zealotry and narrow-mindedness, especially when you consider that Christians claim to be monotheistic while worshipping a trinity.

That letter exposed the writer’s ignorance of just what many people’s faith truly is about. Base chapels are ecumenical in nature by definition; it’s why they’re not referred to as “churches.”

If this is political correctness, so be it; Wicca and other pagan religions are recognized by the military and have equal rights to use the base chapel for worship.

Minority religions slighted

I do not appreciate the comments in “Religious minority whining” (letter, May 21) in which the writer argues (based on Christian fundamentalist ideas) that because people of minority religions have few areas of interest with Christians, pagan/atheist views are meaningless.

I would like to see more minority religions represented, not just in Stars and Stripes but in chaplains and coherent Defense Department regulations that give more support to these religions. … I am Wiccan. I would enjoy a column dedicated to minority religions, and ads from occult/New Age suppliers that ship downrange.

To Stars and Stripes: I know pagans and others deserve a column that pertains to them. I dare you to add a section. I can keep silent if you generalize it for “minority” religions. And the winner is a good newspaper.

13 July 2007

Atheist ‘revival’ bad for U.S.

I have to say that I was very disturbed to read the article “Atheists are happy campers at Ohio retreat” (July 8). From just looking at the picture next to the article with the children playing together, you would think that they were just at an outside function participating in a fun activity. But when I read the article, I found there is a lot more to it than that.

The author of the article seems to be overjoyed and ecstatic about young teenagers being at a summer camp where the existence of God is happily denied and refuted, speaking of a revival of atheism and Camp Quest (the name of the summer camp) being a training ground for the atheist movement. How sad to see yet another example of God being kicked out and pushed aside in our society, and young kids being taught — or, in my opinion, brainwashed — to do it.

I wonder how long it will be before America becomes a completely secular society when I see and read things like the Camp Quest article. We already have people fighting daily to remove God from our money, the Pledge of Allegiance and more. As one girl who was quoted in the article stated, “This year, I stopped getting up and saying the pledge,” because it includes the words “under God” in it.

Like it or not, our nation was founded under God, upon Christian principles and values, and yet it seems people, such as the ones who founded Camp Quest, continue to ignore and defy it and encourage others to do the same. It seems to me a nation that forgets what made it great is destined to fail.

A challenge for Stripes’ staff

…Why did Stripes decide to print (in the same edition) July Fourth highlights and the placement of a pentacle in Arlington National Cemetery? Why is a Masonic-derived quasi-religion created by a British bureaucrat in the 1950s even newsworthy? However, the newspaper sent a staff reporter to file a lengthy story (“Wiccans dedicate grave at Arlington,” July 5). That story was as pathetic as your steady pablum on being “gay in the military,” wasting print space to rationalize a behavior practiced by 2 percent of Americans. …

26 July 2007

Read the Constitution

It seems to me the author of “Atheist revival bad …” (letter, July 13) needs to read the Constitution he swore to uphold and defend, and study some American history.

Our nation was not “founded under God, upon Christian principles.” … The author seems to think Camp Quest is somehow dangerous to our country and our youth, when in fact it’s people exercising their right to free assembly. The number of religious-based summer camps far outweighs the atheist ones, and those based on a system of beliefs will prove to be more of a “training ground” than any that encourages free thought.

I highly doubt any of the children at Camp Quest would be chastised if they thought a higher power might exist. On the other hand, what would happen if a child at a Christian retreat voiced doubt that Jesus was the son of God?

Atheists come from every walk of life and many are educated about several faiths. As a child I was fortunate enough to be allowed to attend many churches. By the third grade I knew there was no God, and still educated myself by attending a variety of services. This is common with a lot of atheists. Many people force their children into the family religion and shun other beliefs, that’s the true “brainwashing.”

There is no atheist revival, we’ve always been here as a silent minority, most just choose to live their own lives and let you live yours.

Camp Quest is legal

After reading “Atheist revival bad for U.S.,” I couldn’t help but laugh. Does no one research anything for themselves anymore? Or do they just repeat what they heard from someone else?

The writer complains how atheist children have their own summer camp (Camp Quest). And that someone else is actually happy about it. Well, it’s 100 percent legal, because of the U.S. Constitution.

It’s just as legal as any other private organization, such as Bible camps and churches. The next thing that bothered me was the claim that the U.S. was founded “under God.” And that it was based on Christian principles and values. Well, that just sucks for a lot of people, doesn’t it?

Since America is a Christian nation, I guess everyone else is just second-rate! Sorry (insert religious minority here), you’re not good enough. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a mention of a God. Religion is referenced as exclusionary. Such as stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.” (Article VI) That sounds secular to me.

The U.S. is a free nation. The First Amendment applies to every private citizen. And that includes us atheists. It is the individual freedoms that make our nation great.

View of camp is hypocritical

In “Atheist ‘revival’ bad for U.S.” (letter, July 13), the writer stated that he was disturbed by the existence of an atheist summer camp for children and that he felt it was brainwashing children. He also labeled the camp a "training ground for the atheist movement."

Can the writer not see the hypocrisy in his statements? Surely, there are at least 1,000 summer camps (not to mention a greater number of schools) in the U.S. that promote one religious view or another. Are these religion-based summer camps (and schools) brainwashing children? Are they training grounds for religious movements? By the writer’s logic, this would be so. However, I doubt that the writer would condemn them, as they promote beliefs that he supports.

As far as our nation being founded “under God, upon Christian principles and values”: Yes, the majority of our Founding Fathers were Christians but, in their great wisdom, they recognized that religion has no place in government.

Believe — or don’t believe — what one will: It’s one’s right as an American. However, it is one’s duty as an American to accept that belief systems other than one’s own have a legitimate place in American society.

7 August 2007

America is about freedoms

The letter writer who contributed “Atheist ‘revival’ bad for U.S.” (July 14) is sort of missing the point of what being a citizen of the United States is all about — namely, the freedom to express whatever religious views you want to, assuming they don’t infringe on others’ human rights.

I fail to see how an atheist camp is bad for America, especially considering the absolutely massive number of religious camps throughout the country. Accompanying your kid to atheist camp isn’t brainwashing him any more than sending him to any other religious camp, or making him go to church for that matter.

Our nation was founded under the principle that everyone, regardless of their beliefs, is equally deserving of protection under the law, hence the First Amendment protections regarding freedom of religion. Christianity did not make America great; rather, it was our commitment to preserving individual rights. The letter writer probably ought to be more concerned with the threats to America posed by radical Muslim terrorists who want to destroy our way of life in the name of their religion, or perhaps those posed by Christian fundamentalists who would make creationism mandatory in public schools, than the threat of some atheists having a picnic.

Pagan and proud to serve

I have been in the military for 20 years and have watched many changes. This is one of the biggest.

It took me 12 years just to get them to put pagan on my dog tags, and the stigma that went with it was ludicrous. I thank you for your article on paganism (“Wiccans dedicate grave at Arlington,” July 6). It was a welcome sight and much appreciated. To all: Have faith (in yourself, your family, your friends and your higher power) and keep smiling.

And so it goes, I guess. Good luck to all.

07 August 2007

Coal Mining Disaster

CNN is on even as I write this, and they are carrying a political speech by the owner of a mine in which a disaster has recently occurred. This guy came on under the pretext of updating us on the disaster that has occurred in one of his mines, but instead is using his fifteen minutes of fame to promote his agenda. To top things off, he kept us waiting for ninety minutes to make this propaganda speech.

Shame on him.

Martyrs in the Military

We've been hearing, it seems, quite a bit in the media about self-proclaimed Christian martyr Gordon Klingenschmitt, but through Ed Brayton we learn about a real martyr in the military, an unnamed atheist who attempted to hold meetings with fellow freethinkers, only to have the meeting disrupted by a rabid fundamentalist major, who seemed to be suffering from the illusion that his job in the military was to spread his brand of Christianity--much like the (imaginary) John Birch Society police officer in MAD magazine, who thought that the job of the police was to fight Communism.

I hope--not that I have any confidence--that the American military will take swift action to discipline this major, and I hope the result will be that this clown receives a dishonorable discharge. There are problems enough with the military, without it becoming the stomping ground for radical Christian loons like the major--or like Gordon Klingenschmitt.
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