29 April 2011

The Unicode and Other Mythical Beasts

I want to write something but nothing comes. A sense of impending doom overwhelms me—like the “Eli’s Coming” episode of Sports Night. Does it mean something? It never does. Random synapses firing or something (and I’m sure the smartass college students who room here would set me straight on what a synapse is). My days are eaten up with trivia as I try to get moved in to my new computer; I’m back to obsessively searching for my perfect font. The Latin characters (used for English and French) should look reasonably decent, since they’re what I normally write in. But I have to have all the Greek characters (accents and breathings, right?), the Coptic characters, and the goddamn standard symbols for the days of the week—the symbol for today being ♀. It’s surprising how few fonts have all the Greek characters, given that classical scholarship is hardly dead yet. And fewer still have the Coptic, which is perhaps not surprising, but, you know, the language is in liturgical use. A number of fonts have the astrological symbols—of which the ones I need are a subset—but those never seem to have the complete Greek collection. So once again I end up switching from font to font, using one for Greek, one for English and French, and still another for the various symbols. Does this make sense?

And why on earth does the Unicode have room for chess symbols, and dominos, but not for the standard weather symbols used by meteorologists? Do these reflect real priorities? If space can be allotted for Shavian script, why not for Tengwar? I bet more people write the latter than the former (though for me it’s the other way around). And why are the Coptic symbols split up, while Greek gets not one, but two sets of letters with acute accents? Do we really need so many spaces reserved for stars and snowflakes?

And why is it that the more complete a font is, the more likely it is to have inelegant-looking Latin characters? Is this some kind of political statement?

27 April 2011

The Dance is Over (Well, Maybe)

As a result of the gods know what arcane political calculations President Obama smoothed the path of his Republican opponents by releasing a certified copy of his long-form birth certificate, obtained through a special waiver granted by Hawaiian officials in deference to his position. Well, that, and they were tired of fielding the endless requests for it by every Tom, Dick, and Harriet with an axe to grind. Bankruptcy enthusiast and real-estate mogul Donald Trump claims credit for this development—will Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal be far behind?

Will this make any difference to hard-core birthers? It’s doubtful. First, Hawaii doesn’t count as American soil. Second, the Founders required that both parents be US citizens. (It does too say that in the Constitution! Use your magnifying glass, damn it!) Third, Barry What’s-his-name gave up his citizenship as a child when he chose to grow up in Indonesia. And fourth, he’s black. (Did I just say that aloud?) Anyway, however you stack it up, he has no business being president.

Personally, I was enjoying watching the birth-certificate shuffle the major Republican candidates were stuck with. Too bad somebody had to ruin the fun.

23 April 2011

Quotation of the Day

I said I didn’t know him. That was true—
I knew a man with answers, someone who
Pulled fish out of the air, handed out bread
From empty sleeves until the thousands fed,
Healed blindness, mocked the money-men—and I
Believed Him when he said we wouldn’t die.
R. F. Harrison, from “Holy Saturday. The Place of the Skull” ©2001

14 April 2011

Quotation of the Day

You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Obama has produced his birth certificate. There were announcements that ran in two contemporaneous Hawaiian newspapers at the time. The head of the Hawaiian medical records has announced, “I have seen the long form you all want.” I don’t know why the long form is considered more credible than the short form. They’re both from the same office. The State Department accepts the short form or as we call it, the birth certificate.

08 April 2011

Ignorance and Arrogance: a quasi-repost

[The following was written 3 December 1990 under the title “Three short notes” and belongs to the prehistory of this weblog. The George Bush mentioned is of course the father; I doubt that I’d ever heard of the son at that time.]

Two instances of surprising ignorance in my weekend’s reading: Bruce Michelson in an essay on The Mysterious Stranger mentions that Mark Twain already had the idea for the book before The Innocents Abroad; he goes on to say “In the Alta California letters from which Twain’s first real book developed, there is a sketch for an ‘Apocryphal New Testament,’ in which Jesus returns to earth as a playful boy:”—and the passage that follows is Twain’s description of two incidents (the clay birds and the dyer’s shop) from the Infancy Gospels. It sure looks as if Michelson thought Twain was inventing a plot, instead of repeating a well-known story, and even if Michelson somehow was unfamiliar with the Infancy Gospels, he must have read The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, and this matter is dealt with in the introduction. (Another oddity is the fact that Michelson speaks of the second manuscript (Young Satan) as if it were the first, and overlooks the first (“Mr. Black” etc.) altogether.)

In Tell Me Why Tim Riley seems to think that George Harrison wrote the words of “The Inner Light” (from the Tao Te Ching), instead of merely setting them to music. “George’s philosophical musings are less condescending than those of ‘Within You Without You,’…” And yet, even if we grant Riley’s ignorance of one of the greatest religious works of all time, he has read I, Me, Mine, and that should have straightened him out. Worse yet, in his description of The Beatles Forever he quote Schaffner as saying, “The lyrics to Harrison’s ‘The Inner Light’ were ‘pinched almost verbatim from a Japanese poem by Roshi, translated by R. H. Bluth’”.

George Bush, it is reported, has appointed Robert Martinez of Florida to the post of drug czar here in the land of the free—another illustration of how phony this “war” on drugs really is. During Martinez’s reign in Florida drug use has increased. What is the secret of his success? He emphasizes punishment over education, jail over treatment. How does Bush justify his choice? He points out that 61 (or some such number) men have been executed in Florida during Martinez’s rule—a revealing admission. It’s blatant now—he doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that the “war on drugs” is a phony war to conceal the real war on the Bill of Rights. One thing’s for sure—whether we have Conservatives or Moderates in office, the government gets more and more power over the citizen.

[Note and Update: The Bruce Michelson essay referred to above was “Deus Ludens: The Shaping of Mark Twain’s ‘Mysterious Stranger’” in NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 44-56.]

06 April 2011

Quotation of the Day

A teabagger trying to get cuts that have absolutely no chance of getting through simply to raise his credit with voters is just kosher pork-barreling.
DingoJack about Paul Ryan's proposed budget

05 April 2011

Quotation of the Day

There is ignorance that is merely a lack of knowledge or study; we are all ignorant of far more subjects than we are knowledgeable about. And then there is ignorance that is acquired as false knowledge, a set of myths and falsehoods that one ingests that give the illusion of understanding a subject when one does not.

04 April 2011

The Impotent Rage of the Clueless

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
Psalms 2:1
As robots insist on spamming my posts I’ve made it a policy to close comments down after a couple of weeks, so I only have to tend to a few recent entries. If a friend of the blog stops by an older post, as sometimes happens, or somebody else contributes something valuable and I happen to notice it, then I’ll okay it. If somebody decides to unload a bucketful of bile at an old post, it will probably go down the toilet without being read. I’m sorry, but my time is reasonably valuable, and I have better things to do as I prepare to be finally pigeonholed in that great archive in the sky.

But the squawk of a complacent gull when he realizes he’s been had by some fast-talking con-artist is music for my soul. One of this breed—a character going by the handle TSVDP—saw fit to spam an earlier post with his inane jibber-jabber. Apparently his feelings were hurt on learning that his favorite Patrick Henry quotation—the one about “this great nation” being founded on Christianity, not religious freedom—is a piece of modern tripe, concocted in living memory and disseminated by sleazy hucksters out to fleece such gullible lambs as he. “You don’t make a point at all,” he squeals, “If not it confirms what Henry said and that he was a Christian.” Well, yeah, not that anybody has ever denied that Henry was a Christian, or a slave-owner, or a father, a lawyer, a legislator, an orator. None of that’s at issue here. The only question before us is the author of that “this great nation” and “religionists” quotation—and fortunately that’s a fact easily determined.

Let’s review, shall we, the bizarre history of this quotation. It begins, in a way, with something Patrick Henry actually did write. On 20 November 1798 the once-fiery orator and successful lawyer sat down to write his last will and testament. After carefully dividing up his lands, money, and slaves amongst his wife and children, he added a pious afterthought:
This is all the Inheritance I can give to my dear family, The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed[.]
The founder passed away in June of the next year, leaving damn little behind him as a legacy to the nation. His words, that had inspired a revolution, were for the most part lost. When William Wirt attempted to collect them for his sketch of Patrick Henry’s life (issued 1816) he had to do for the most part with recollections, fragments, and speeches patched together from the fading memories of those who had been present.

Around 1823 somebody thought it worthwhile to excerpt the “religion of Christ” passage from Henry’s will, and it went the rounds of various periodicals. It wasn’t quite the way Henry had written it, however. Somehow it had undergone a strange metamorphosis:
I have now disposed of all my property to my family; there is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would be rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor.
This version was reprinted in numerous sources up to the present time, but not without challenge. Some time in the early 1840s James W. Alexander, a Presbyterian minister, went to Charlotte county, Virginia, and obtained the actual words direct from the will. He published them in 1847 as part of a volume called Thoughts on Family Worship. The two versions have remained in competition ever since.

In 1956 a historical revisionist writer for The Virginian used the passage—the fake version—as a springboard for his own thoughts on religion in America. This author wrote:
There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by “religionists” but by Christians—not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.

In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example.
Several people thought this piece of revised history was worth quoting on its own, but it wasn’t until 1988 that somebody had the bright idea of crediting part of the 1956 comment to Patrick Henry himself. It appeared as his (according to David Barton) in a book called God’s Providence in American History by Steve C. Dawson, and was almost immediately picked up and popularized by Barton himself in his Myth of Separation. From there it spread far and wide. Somebody even added that it was from a speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses in May 1765, despite the fact that Henry was first seated there late that month and no speeches of his are recorded for that time except the famous one in support of his Stamp Act resolutions, reconstructed from memory years after his death. The incongruity of Henry’s speaking of “this great nation” before it even came into existence, and his foreknowledge that “peoples of other faiths” would be “afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here” at a time when religious freedom was nonexistent in most of the colonies apparently shot by the oblivious transmitters of Barton’s fantasies. The thing is, like Chief Seattle lamenting the demise of the buffalo, Henry just plain knows too much. It’s a dead giveaway.

But Christian nation fantaisists apparently have no sense of history whatever. Like their idiot founder, history is whatever suits their fancy. You like the Fifth Monarchy slogan, no king but king Jesus? Why not give it to John Hancock and John Adams and have them say it at the beginning of the battle of Lexington? Does it matter that they weren’t there? Does it matter that there is no record of it’s being said? Not in the least. History by this logic can be whatever you want it to be. If it feels right, then it’s history. Much easier to go by your gut than to do, oh, say, actual research.

Evidence? The Christian Nationites don’t need no stinking evidence when they set out to invent new legends about the past. Or as TSVDP puts it, “No one has to prove anything that has been around and in books for hundreds of years to Atheist Scum trying to rewrite history.” I love the way he turns the world upside down. It’s not Rushdoony and Barton and that gang out to rewrite history—no, it’s the generations of historians that came before them who are doing the rewriting—via time machine, I suppose. And by the way 1988—the date this “religionists” nonsense first appeared as Henry’s in any book—is hardly “hundreds of years” ago, though maybe it seems that way to Ahistoricist Scum like TSVDP. Neither is 1956, the date it was first written, for that matter. Yeah, okay, I know it’s the twenty-first century now, and 1988 is so twentieth century, but that hardly adds up to “hundreds of years”. Or maybe TSVDP has a numerancy problem. Maybe all big numbers look alike to him. Maybe he meant to say “dozens” instead of “hundreds”. He might as well have said “millions”—it would have been just as accurate.

There is one point I do agree with our clueless comment-slinger about, though. “…your boogey man David Barton is a joke,’ he writes, “most people don’t even know who he is…” I don’t know about that last comment, seeing as he’s giving lessons on constitutional law (believe it or not) to congressmen and being featured on popular shows in the mainstream media and advising the Texas Board of Education on history (despite his complete lack of any qualification for the task), but he definitely “is a joke”. Which makes it all the more puzzling, if TSVDP feels that way, that he feels obliged to go way out on a limb to support one of Barton’s, uh, errors—to put it charitably. Nobody ever heard of this Patrick Henry “quotation” before Barton put it in a book—and if it weren’t for his footnote, nobody would even know that he wasn’t the one who first came up with it.

As a parting shot our feckless friend returned a third time to add, “Your comment FAILS in all possible ways that Henry did not say this. The burden of proof is for you to prove he did not say this.” Well, no. Mind you, even if it were I have amply shown that this alleged observation cannot belong to Henry’s time, that it is not found in his writings, and that it was written by somebody else more than a century and a half after Henry’s death. That’s pretty conclusive, really. But it’s all window-dressing, and entirely unnecessary—done only for my own satisfaction. It is always up to the person making a positive assertion to show evidence that what he says is true. In the case of a quotation, fortunately, that burden of proof is easily met. All it takes is a citation to a primary source. Martin Porter’s first principle of quotation is a good rule to follow here: “Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.” If no source is given, or a nonsense source like “May 1765 Speech to the House of Burgesses”, then—lacking other evidence, or the time or inclination to follow up on it by doing actual research—a reader is entirely justified in assuming that the alleged quotation is fake.

A transcription of Patrick Henry’s will is found at the Red Hill Patrick Henry National Memorial website. An earlier transcription appears in George Morgan, The True Patrick Henry (Philadelphia, 1907), pp. 455-7.

The oldest example of the fake version of the quotation from Patrick Henry’s will I could find was in the 29 November 1823 issue of The Manchester Iris, a Weekly Literary and Scientific Miscellany, vol. II, p. 387.

Quotation of the Day

Maybe things in America would be better if the “Beast” that the GOP wanted to “starve” was the Military-Industrial Complex, rather than than the old, the poor and the civil service.
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