Friday, December 17, 2010

On the Decay of the Art of Lying, Mark Twain

"Children and fools always speak the truth. The deduction is plain—adults and wise persons never speak it."
This was a short story; each paragraph dripping with cynicism, irony, and humor. I chuckled throughout, approaching LOL a few times. As our grandchildren attain verbosity, this truth telling shines like a new chrome bumper. Young children not only tell the truth but their perspective on the facts is enlightening. How do they know what the truth is? They see it and they say it. How then, are we sometimes embarrassed by the light and understanding now exposed? I should like to hear more truth. Twain in his story believes it does not exist. I quote:
"None of us could live with an habitual truth-teller; but thank goodness none of us has to. An habitual truth-teller is simply an impossible creature; he does not exist; he never has existed. Of course there are people who think they never lie, but it is not so."
"Observe, I do not mean to suggest that the custom of lying has suffered any decay or interruption—no, for the Lie , as a Virtue, A Principle, is eternal; the Lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man’s best and surest friend, is immortal, and cannot perish from the earth while this club remains. My complaint is simply concerns the decay of the art of lying."
Twains seems to castigate those who tolerate the dishonest through insightful humorous sarcasm:
"The man who tells a lie to help a poor devil out of trouble, is one of whom the angels doubtless say, “Lo, here is an heroic soul who casts his own welfare in jeopardy to succor his neighbor’s, let us exalt this magnanimous liar.”
If Mark Twain was an author of “adolescent literature”, writings such as these make him a philosopher and commentator on society. I should like to include the entire text with the hope everyone would read it but at least, let me finish with Twains summation on the decay of Lying.
"Lying is universal- we all do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object and not an evil one; to lie for others advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Man Who Would Be King. Rudyard Kipling. 1888

"It's good to be the King”,says Mel Brooks. Does anyone recognize that not very obscure movie reference? Does everyone wish to be rich, famous, or the King? I'll discuss that in the next paragraph. I don't believe this book was intended or written as a children’s book, although by today's standards, it is remarkably absent violence, sexual content, inappropriate language, and overtly frightening elements. It could be read, ala Princess Bride to any adolescent.(It is rather short) I read it because I liked the movie, of the same name, made several years ago with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The book follows the movie rather closely although compromises must be made when compressing a book into two hours of celluloid. It read well although knowing the ending in advance did remove a little bit of the suspense. I had read very little of Kipling and thought this might be a chance. I did enjoy how the life of the English in occupied India was depicted; a small open window gives look inside. Also, as an aside, for those following the blog, Free Masonry played a part in securing the Kingship.

I can't decide if this was a just an interesting story or if there is a "moral". It does seem that greed, currently a political metaphor, always leads to misery. In this story, the money was irrelevant as it could not be spent. To spend the fortune meant leaving the Kingdom. If they left, Peachy and Dan could no longer be Kings of Kafiristan. Of course, if we are going to quote, it is the “love of money “which is the “root of all evil”. Eventually and predictably, the riches were not enough and although the partners had made a pinky swear, a woman was their demise. Stop me if you have heard that before. It may be the love of a woman who is not your wife is the root of all misery.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Einstein Theory Of Relativity, HA Lorentz, 1920

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” A Einstein.

This book is several stories, physics, Einstein, life in the early 1900s, the author, Relativity, principle vs. mechanical theory, gravity, light, electro-magnetism, solar eclipse and more. I should like to jump around to some highlights and I make no attempt to explain Relativity, Special, General or otherwise.

The author HA Lorentz was a noted physicist himself. In 1902, he won the Nobel Prize for physics. In 1920, he wrote this book, which includes some general explanations of relativity. I have struggled with some of the concepts of general relativity and decided reading something written contemporaneously to Einstein’s life might help clarify those issues. It was interesting to read the books opening paragraph after which gave me hope. I opened my mind, willingly looking for clarity and finally understanding.

“NOTE: that not more than 12 persons in all the world are able to understand Einstein’s Theory, It is nevertheless a fact that there is a constant demand for information about this much-debated topic of relativity. The books published on the subject are so technical that only a person trained in pure physics and higher mathematics is able to fully understand them. In order to make a popular explanation of the far reaching theory available, the present book is published.”
This was it, finally I would be enlightened! Did the author succeed in his quest? You have got to be kidding. The reason only 12 people in the world understand Relativity is because it is impossible to understand. Twins that do not age, light bending in space ships, trains going in opposite directions with different clocks, I would like to go back to the Ether. ( I will explain the Ether afterwards)

So I read the book, maybe next time. Maybe next time.

Let me include a few quotes from the book,

- “Einstein’s theory has the very highest degree of a aesthetic merit: every lover of the beautiful must wish it to be true. It gives a vast unified survey of the operations of nature, with a technical simplicity in the critical assumptions which makes the wealth of deductions astonishing”

- There certainly should have been a powerful “ether wind” blowing through the earth and all our instruments….all the phenomena examined were evidently independent of the motion of the earth. That this is the way they function was brought to the front by Einstein in his first or “special” theory of relativity. For him the Ether does not function and in the sketch that he draws of natural phenomena there is no mention of the intermediate matter.

- Nevertheless, I cannot refrain, while I am mentioning it, from expressing my surprise that, according to the report in the Times there should be so much complaint about the difficulty of understanding the new theory.

ETHER: Before Einstein, certain observations could not be explained. Mostly it involved the wave versus particle theories of energy, tne nature of atomic particles, light propagation, electrical currents and electromagnetic influences on currents. In order to explain why observation with did not jive with the theories of the day, the Ether was invented. It was a great idea and I wish we still had it. The real name of the Ether was Luminiferous Aether (Greek) look here to see more: (it has been proven to NOT exist) (Gravity cannot be explained still. Although Einstein postulates it is not instantaneous and may have velocity.)

Does the Ethernet mean any to any of you? From what was the name derived? My new favorite concept is the Ether. It works great. If you cannot explain something, it is the Ether. If some crazy idea comes out, the Ether. When people say the government can create jobs or solve the problems of poverty, you can ascribe the origin of the crazy ideas to the Ether: A substance that is mysterious and does not exist. NO RATIONAL OR ACTUAL EXPLANATION NECESSARY AND YOU DON’T NEED FACTS!!!! Too cool. In physics the Ether does not apply anymore,only politics.

As promised, I will not explain any theories but in this book, Lorentz explains an experiment used to test the Relativity theory. This was great. In 1919, The English mounted expeditions. Physicists traveled to Prince’s island, of the coast of Guinea, and Sobral Brazil and measured the deflection of light emanating from distant stars around the solar rim. IN 1919. No laser, no computers no anything. They were measuring the gravitational effects of the sun on passing light. The measured bending of light matched, within the error of the day, the deflection predicted by Einstein. In this way, Einstein introduced an entirely new way of science. Rather than making observations followed by testing and formulation of theory. Einstein formulated theory and looked to see if the observations would confirm or disprove the idea. This was a transformational concept of the day. He called it “a-priori principle.”

Fun book, not for the mathematically challenged. I hope I made you think today.

Cool Einstein quotes:

- “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

- “Only a life lived for others is a life worth while.”

- “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough”

- “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything”

Friday, October 8, 2010

Common Sense, Glenn Beck, Thomas Paine

Common Sense, Glenn Beck, Thomas Paine
30 Rock and Glen Beck, what do they have and common? Quinton Fabius Maximus. Did anyone pay attention to the Fabian strategy mentioned by Jack in a painting battle with his girlfriend on 30 Rock? This week on the Glen Beck television program, Beck has been discussing Fabian socialism. Both story lines derived from the same individual Quinton Fabius Maximus A Roman General-Emperor of the second century BC.
The Fabian socialism derives its name from this general. I quote from Wikipedia:
“Fabian Socialism, the ideology of the Fabian Society which originated in 1884 and launched the Labour Party in the United Kingdom in 1904, utilizes the same strategy of a "war of attrition" in their aim to bring about a socialist state. The advocation of gradualism distinguished this brand of socialism from those who condone revolutionary action.

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a lengthy pamphlet-book called “Common Sense”. It was written in support of revolution. He talks about the necessity of local government and writes extensively against the evils of the English Monarchy. Paines book is included in the last half of this book written by Glen Beck of the same title. I quote Thomas Paine:
“Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz, freedom and security. And however our eyes maybe dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our Wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say it, it is right. I draw my idea of the form of government from a principal in nature, which no art can overturn, viz., that the more simple anything is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and easier repaired when disordered; and with this Maxim in view, I offer a few marks on the much so boasted constitution of England.”

It is no coincidence that the founders railed against class distinctions. Thomas Paine was extremely critical of the concept of the divine rights of King’s. He stressed the equality of the individual. He was worried that governments could destroy this equality and bring its people in to subjugation. He hoped a Republic could prevent this. Glen Beck argues in the first half of this book, the Republic has not been able to prevent this subjugation. I think he makes an excellent case. The tone of the book is set early on where Mr. Beck writes,
” the lecherous politicians who lied to us about funding Social Security and Medicare are the same ones who are now trumpeting” free” Universal healthcare. And instead of pointing at their track record and laughing hysterically, we sit by and listen receptively, as though this time might somehow be different.”
He spends several chapters demonstrating how Congress using the power of the office, allows special perks and privileges for their favored special interests. One of the best chapters includes photographs of the particular gerrymandering required to maintain incumbency for many of the politicians. Here is a reproduction photograph of one of these gerrymandered districts mentioned in the book. This is the Illinois 4th District. Luis Gutierrez has been reelected since 1993 from this carefully selected constituency.
Besides demonstrating how certain favored groups receive legislative privilege at the expense of the rest of us, he also goes over the loss of many of our rights at the hands of those who are sworn to protect this rights. Property confiscation under the guise of eminent domain and progressive taxation, draconian gun control policies designed to disarm the citizenry, educational fraud perpetuated by the public school systems and unions and of course the complete expulsion of religion from the public Square are some of the topics he explores in this book.
I include a quote from the book explaining how the progressive movement thinks about property. To the Progressive, property is communal but Progressives must avoid the use of that terminology instead, they stress fairness and its illogical conclusion “social justice”. Here is Beck:
“One of the hallmarks of Progressive thought is the concept of redistribution: The idea that your money and property are only yours if the state doesn’t determine there is a higher or better use for it. You can see that kind of thinking in the words a one-time Republican president Teddy Roosevelt, who gave a speech titled “ The New Nationalism” in which he spoke about” human welfare. Personal property, Roosevelt said is” subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” His thoughts on accumulated wealth are equally as surprising. In the same speech, Roosevelt said” we grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only as so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country then we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in government control is now necessary.”

This was said one hundred years ago. It is happening before our eyes; see Kelo v New London and progressive confiscatory tax rates. Our president has stated several times individuals should only be allowed to have so much and then the rest should be “spread around”. Beck may be full of hyperbole and showmanship, he is an entertainer after all, but setting that aside, he is beating the right drum. This book is an easy read in the first half, Paines “Common Sense” second half was harder because of the period English but it is worth the time to read them both.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Stolen White Elephant ; Mark Twain

The Stolen White Elephant ; Mark Twain
Four things you cannot get back. A done deed, a said word, time gone and an opportunity missed.
A novella or a short story, certainly not a book per se, The Stolen White Elephant is a satirical or cynical story of police incompetence and corruption. Not mafia corruption, rather self- corruption. This corruption was mostly incompetence, self- aggrandizing, and seeking reward money corruption rather than dishonestly, graft, and thievery corruption. In other words, corruption of a simpler time, not like modern day corruption at all. I know nothing of the back-story but it seems to me Clemens must have had an unfavorable legal-law-police experience leading to this story. Humorous, not laugh out loud funny, the reader is observing the ruminations and ridiculous machinations of the police just close enough to make one want to shout; "Look behind that door!" Much like the B horror movies where you want to yell at the screen; "don’t go in there!""Wait for the others!""Or Stay inside!" I include an excerpt from the book. At this point in the story,several of the detectives are on the trail of the elephant and have sent a report to headquarters.
“Citizens fired some small cannon-balls into him (the elephant) , and they fled. Detective Burke and I arrived 10 minutes later… but mistook some excavations for footprints and so lost a good deal of time… Burke having his head down, intent upon the track, butted up against the elephants hind legs before he was aware of his vicinity. Burke instantly arose to his feet, seized the tail, and exclaimed joyfully, “I claim the reward” but got no further, for a single blow of the huge trunk laid the brave fellow’s fragments low in death. I fled rearward, and the elephant turned and shadowed me to the edge of the wood, making tremendous speed, and I should inevitably have been lost, but that the remains of the funeral providentially intervened again and diverted his attention. I have just learned that nothing of the funeral is now left; but this is no loss, for there is an abundance of material for another. Meanwhile, the elephant has disappeared again”

I like Twain almost as much as Dickens so I feel a need to read what ever I find by his hand. I would like to have known more about these particular disappointments as they beset us all. I supposed (or hope) he wrote this story to reveal the depth of the disappointment.
Consider the picture I took in Nebraska this summer.

Matt and I are driving across the country in a very small car. It had been 24 hours eating and sleeping in the car. We were tired, hungry, dirty, stinky, out of gas and surrounded by corn fields. We see this inviting sign and think, "Great, let’s try them". FAT DOGS! At this point, we have nothing to lose. We get gas. We walk-in; our pockets full of money. What a disappointment. Not only no Fat Dogs, no dogs at all. It was worse than any 7-11 any where in the country. Nothing was cooking. NO FOOD FOR SALE. (OK, there were some snacks in foil bags but NO FOOD.) Our sadness (read disappointment) did not last long, although I do not recollect what we eventually ate that night. I had mostly forgotten that day but was reminded by the photo. I should not like to speculate who or what the Fat Dogs really were.

Disappointment seems to be as common as joint pain. Disappointment in one’s self is terribly painful and can only be exceeded by disappointment caused by someone we love. The closer the disappointer is to our hearts, the sharper the pain. I would mostly be afraid to write honestly about the some of my disappointments,(too painful). After painful, comes terrifying. Who wants to look that closely at ones self? Clearly,as the proto-type alpha male, I don’t appreciate the whole share your feelings psycho-babble nonsense. Anyway, some things are best kept to ourselves.

Regrets are not the same as disappointments but have equally powerful effects. I regret leaving Michael, he was probably 15, in the middle of the Rehoboth Bay trying to keep a sinking jet ski from being lost forever. It bothers me to this day. I still and often think of what I should have done in place of what I did. I find his struggle,not without suffering, trying his level best while succeeding, painful to this day. This happened maybe 15 years ago. I could not sleep recently thinking about what I should have done differently. He and I are the only ones affected or who even know what really happened. I should have left him my vest for extra flotation. I should have stayed with him and helped hold on and wait for more help. I could have tried something other than leaving him and “going for help”. No one was hurt. Nothing was lost. I just put him in an impossible position and he felt he could not disappoint me. He has never disappointed me and I wonder if he had let go of the ski and it were lost, if that would torment me less than leaving him to struggle to the limits of his capacity. Matthew did the same thing when he lost Tony’s mesh bag in the Florida Keys. He almost drowned from exhaustion looking for it on the bottom before returning to the boat. When he finally came in to report its loss, he could barely breathe, he had a stomach and lungs full of water and was spent. All for a mesh bag? or was it not to disappoint those he loves?
A done deed, a said word, time gone and an opportunity missed. Things we cannot take back. Sometimes, disappointments cannot be taken back. Regrets can hurt too.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Detective Stories : Dashiell Hammett

Mostly known for Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and the Thin Man, Hammett was a prolific writer of detective stories. Dying in 1961, he saw quite a lot of fame for his stories. Oddly, Hammett was a left wing activist and communist after WWII and was eventually blacklisted. It seems he was more known for his anti American activity than his stories.
This book was a collection of 17 of his short stories. It was very light reading , perfect for a break as I am also reading Aristotle’s Ethics, but I did not find the same magic as I did in the Sherlock Holmes detecting. Missing was some or much of the deduction, clues and mystery. In a couple of stories, the case was solved, the ending given away prematurely, and the story line was following the characters to a foregone conclusion. The best story involved a detective/mystery writer who was conned and wrote the story of the con. The writers publisher called in 5-6 mystery writers all of whom wrote the same story. They were all conned and wrote about it. The con involved the writer catching a female cat burglar, bribing an arresting police detective in the hopes of getting a wealth of first hand detective crime stories from the burglar only to find the money and the cat burglar gone. The story was the story of the con while the whole time, I thought it would be the story of the detective writer.
No great philosophical or thought provoking writing as was found in The Four Horsemen or Siddhartha. I will include just one example. As our detective writer hears the burglar in the next room, he contemplates overpowering him like he writes in his stories. This burglar was a bit noisy and he was confused.
“Perhaps it was that in the many crook stories he had written, deadliness had always been wedded to skill and the bunglers had always been comparatively harmless and easily overcome, and that he had come to accept this theory as a truth. Afterall, if a man says a thing often enough, he is very likely to acquire some sort of faith in it sooner or later.”
(That last line sounds like our Communist in chief) Still, I like a little mystery.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Navel Gazing About Diving

No book this week, summer has slowed me down. As I was in deep mediation last week the following came to me and I thought I should share. In my meditative state, I was pondering the results of me diving. Not springboard or SCUBA diving, rather diving to get the ball. This thought came to me as I sat exhausted sitting on the bench gasping for air. As some of you know, I play a lot of racquetball. Most of my fellow players are peers in age and life experience; means old guys. Few young guys come out to play and rarer still are female players. I think the learning curve and dedicated time required to master the skills scares off the generation X, Y and whatevers. (NO HAND CONTROLLERS!!! and it’s "real" and its real hard to get good at it). Lord knows I have been trying for more than 10 years to get good at it. Gregg shows up last week. He is maybe 25, quiet, 150 lbs, 5-9. Nice guy working here for the summer. We play. If you watch “us old guys” play, you would see several things. One thing you would notice. If we are standing in back court and there is a soft front wall lob, you would see us take a few steps and stop realizing we are NOT getting there and it is not worth it. Play the next point. Gregg dives for it. Full extension, arm out, face flat on the floor dive. Sometimes he gets it, sometimes not. The profound thought that came to me was as follows: I could dive, probably not get hurt, but how would I get back up? Can’t ask for help in the game! You only have 1-2 seconds at most to get setup for the return. No, better give up the point than ask for help up off the floor.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Part 2, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez . 1918, 471pages

Ibanez sees the French as honorable, brave and courageous. On the other hand, the Germans are barbarians capable of indescribable atrocity. Ibanez devotes considerable ink describing the ruthless, murderous, plundering, violent Germans while finding the French devoted defenders of all that is good. He barley mentions, and then with derision, the English and the Americans are invisible. Probably in anger for entering the war so late and with frustration that Americans saved France after they were completely defeated. Ibanez’s story of the war is often fantasy describing the rout of the Germans by French bravery and tactics. In reality, in the spring of 1917 after suffering 1 million casualties, almost half of the French army mutinies, leaves the line and is marching away. The Germans do not realize the opportunity and take no advantage. They could have left the trenches and defeated France but the German generals did not believe their intelligence. In another embarrassment to the French, the Australian army came to the defense of Paris as the German advance came in 75 miles of the city. The Australians are not mentioned; instead, it is the French army driving back the Germans. Maybe Oliver Stone took lessons from Ibanez.
Let me quote some passages were Ibanez describes the Germans. One of the Germans tells of
”one of the personages most admired by him was a certain Sultan of the Turkish conquest who, with his own hands, had strangled the sons of the adversary. “Our foes do not come into the world on horseback and brandishing the lance,” said that hero. “All are born as children, and it is advisable to wipe them from the face of the earth before they grow up”.

I understand the Palestinians felt the same way leading them to attack Kibbutz and women and children through bombing and terror attacks. They fell it was easier to kill their enemies as children rather than wait until they were capable of defending themselves.
Another quote to describe what the Germans were doing:
“They don’t understand what modern warfare means. They ignore the fact that our generals have studied the art of overcoming the enemy and they will apply it mercilessly. Ruthlessness is the only means, since it perturbs the intelligence of the enemy, paralyzes his action and pulverizes his resistance. The more ferocious the war, the more quickly it is concluded. To punish with cruelty is to proceed humanely. Therefore, Germany is going to be cruel with a cruelty hitherto unseen, in order that the conflict may not be prolonged. “
“True kindness consists in being cruel, because then the terror-stricken enemy gives in sooner, and so the world suffers less” Don Marcel shrugged his shoulder before the sophistry.

In the end of the book, after all the tragedies had play out Ibanez describes the mental state of the lead character:
“It appeared to him (Desnoyers) that from afar was echoing the gallop of the four Apocalyptic horsemen, riding rough-shod over all his fellow-creatures. He saw the strong and brutal giant with the sword of War, the archer with his repulsive smile, shooting his pestilential arrows, the bald-headed miser with the scales of Famine, their hard-riding spectre with the scythe of Death. He recognized them as only divinities, familiar and terrible-which had made their presence felt by mankind. All the rest was a dream. The four housemen were the reality.”

As the book ends, the horrors of war, the evils of humanity and the lack of fairness and justice in the world darken the mood as black as the first 1/3 of the story was a story of the happy family. Certainly, this is another book, which should be read and considered somewhere in the library of classics.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez . 1918, 471pages Part 1

Part 1 of 2 parts.
“And when the sun arises in a few hours, the world will see coursing through its fields the four horsemen, enemies of mankind….Already their wild steeds are pawing the ground with impatience; already the ill-omened riders have come together and are exchanging the last words before leaping into the saddle.”
“What horsemen are these? Asked Argensola.
“Those which go before the Beast”
The two friends thought this reply as unintelligible as the preceding words. Desnoyers again said mentally, “He is drunk,” but his curiosity forced him to ask, “What beast is that?”
“That of the Apocalypse.”

Revelations 6:1-8. As the first four Seals are opened, four horses of different colors, white, red, black and pale, appear. . (I think the grim reaper got his scythe from this image.) This vision has been frequently depicted in art, most famously by Albrecht Durer. The riders have been assigned certain qualities through the ages. To a Spanish author like Ibanez, the Catholic interpretation seems most likely. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death are the common attributes of the horsemen. This book is a story of a family of Argentine origin who leaves and moves to Europe in the years before WW1, the Great War. Two sisters separate and one arrives in Paris the other Germany.

Happy times are the story lines of Argentina and Paris. The story carries well and you are lulled into believing you are following a Russian novella bringing in multiple characters only to see them drift off. It is not until well past half way into the story before the Four Horsemen arrive. They appear as a sort of prophecy by one of the minor characters to introduce a foreboding or foreshadowing of the rest of the book.

Written as a historical fiction novel, it was originally in Spanish. I found the translation excellent. I would not have known without reading a disclaimer. The story telling was about romance, friendship, and family until the onset of the Great War. The story sounds autobiographical and is told as if the writer was an eyewitness. The writing was so compelling you are drawn in knowing the whole time it is going to end badly for someone. Ibanez describes the arrogance of the French at the beginning of the War in their marching, bravado, ridiculous fancy uniforms and irrational patriotism. Ibanez depicts France as expecting restitution and revenge from Frances last great defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Apparently, the French believed they had inherited invincibility with this chance at redemption. Since the reader knows how the War turned out for the French, (by 1918 the author knows as well) it is painful to listen as the bands play and the women turn out waving as their men leave for what was expected to be a 3-4 month adventure but which instead is certain death. As the story moves from the beautiful Argentine ranch to the ravages of war, the violence of war is graphic in description even by today’s standards.
Part 2 will have some more excerpts from the text.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Part 2,The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894,,

It was never obvious where the author was on the social issues of the day. Roxy, the main character, was described as blond and as white skinned as a Norwegian but was a slave in all other senses of the word. (Based on her 1/16th lineage). Was Twain ridiculing the conventions and laws necessary for slavery to be perpetuated or has he declined to pass judgment on the morality of the issue? Although uneducated, Roxy was perhaps the smartest character portrayed here. Irony or derision? The book was written 40 years after the War of Northern Aggression when the question of slavery should have decided. When Twain wrote this book, slavery was already banned in the English-speaking world. The Slave trade was made illegal in the British Empire after 1833. (see my John Newton Amazing Grace, April 2010, Theoretically, banned In the US after 1863??(emancipation proclamation???) The ?because it was said the proclamation banned slavery where it was already illegal, the northern states, and could not be enforced where slavery was legal, the southern states.
Here are some of my favorite citations from the book:
After discovery of some missing money, Mr. Driscoll brought the staff together to find a guilty party and a confession:
“None had stolen anything -- not money, anyway -- a little sugar, or cake, or honey, or something like that, that "Marse Percy wouldn't mind or miss" but not money -- never a cent of money. They were eloquent in their protestations, but Mr. Driscoll was not moved by them. He answered each in turn with a stern "Name the thief!"
The truth was, all were guilty but Roxana; she suspected that the others were guilty, but she did not know them to be so. She was horrified to think how near she had come to being guilty herself; she had been saved in the nick of time by a revival in the colored Methodist Church, a fortnight before, at which time and place she "got religion." The very next day after that gracious experience, while her change of style was fresh upon her and she was vain of her purified
condition, her master left a couple dollars unprotected on his desk, and she happened upon that temptation when she was polishing around with a dustrag. She looked at the money awhile with a steady rising resentment, then she burst out with:
"Dad blame dat revival, I wisht it had 'a' be'n put off till tomorrow!"
Then she covered the tempter with a book, and another member of the kitchen cabinet got it. She made this sacrifice as a matter of religious etiquette; as a thing necessary just now, but by no means to be wrested into a precedent; no, a week or two would limber up her piety, then she would be rational again, and the next two dollars that got left out in the cold would find a comforter -- and she could name the comforter.”

Very timely advice for 2009:
October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.
-- Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

Yoda did not say it first:
He laughed and said he was going to try, anyway. She did not unbend. She said gravely:
"Tryin' ain't de thing. You's gwine to do it.

If the prose and writing were not enough, Lawyers take a lot of hits from Twain. Always makes for good reading if lawyers are taking heat. If you can find this book, read it. Perfect summer reading when the news of creeping socialism makes your head want to explode with anger. It is available in ebook formats everywhere. I doubt you could find a hard copy except through Amazon.
Next "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894,, Part 1

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, Mark Twain, 1894,, Part 1
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
-- Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

One of Twains lesser known books The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson was actually part of another book, called Those Extraordinary Twins. Pudd’nhead Wilson plays a minor if not peripheral part in the story and except for his eventual and predictable redemption. (Pudd’nhead was, BTW an attorney whose calendar aphorisms head up each chapter in the book. One of my favorites leads off this post. Wilson made a calendar because he could not make it as a lawyer.) This book is a Comedy- Tragedy of murder, fingerprinting, mixed identity, Nature vs. Nurture, genetics vs. upbringing, and Slavery and discrimination as viewed from the residents of the small town of Dawson’s Landing. Like so many other stories containing death, murder, Wills and Testaments and courtrooms, Lawyering plays a big part in the tale. This was life on the Missouri River in the early 1800’s. It starts out explaining the mathematical calculations necessary to determine Slave vs. Free. Apparently, if it could be determined that you were 1/32 or greater of “Negro ancestry”, you were officially a slave. Twain explains;
“Her child was thirty-one parts white, and he, too, was a slave, and by a fiction of law and custom a Negro”
. This was important because it seems a fair number of the children born to slaves had white paternity. Such was the case here. The story revolves around several families and Roxy, a slave and nanny to one of the most prominent families. She switches her 1/32nd slave son soon after birth with the son of her owners for whom she was the nanny. The lives of the two boys are contrasted. The story line darts here and there like minnows chased by a shark. The speaking was 1830’s contemporary including “slave slang” which I sometimes had to read aloud to figure out. It seemed to overly exaggerated to stress the lack of education and upbringing now given to the presumed slave, son of a wealthy property owner.
Pudd’nhead Wilson was lawyer who came to town to open a law practice. One his first day there, he makes a rather stupid comment and is branded a Pudd’nhead or knucklehead and no one will go to him for legal work. He stays in town anyway, for 30 years, and is mentioned on multiple occasions so as to save him for the climactic ending. There are a number of other characters introduced colorfully and frequently but often not so necessary. In their own ways, they all add to the story. The writing was lyrical whimsy and I found it refreshing. Twain was the master of the run-on sentence. I wish I could write like this and get away with it. The whole section quoted below is “green” with grammatical error. Let me quote the preface page.
“A person who is ignorant of legal matters is always liable to make mistakes when he tries to photograph a court scene with his pen; and so I was not willing to let the law chapters in this book go to press without first subjecting them to rigid and exhausting revision and correction by a trained barrister -- if that is what they are called. These chapters are right, now, in every detail, for they were rewritten under the immediate eye of William Hicks, who studied law part of a while in southwest Missouri thirty-five years ago and then came over here to Florence for his health and is still helping for exercise and board in Macaroni Vermicelli's horse-feed shed, which is up the back alley as you turn around the corner out of the Piazza del Duomo just beyond the house where that stone that Dante used to sit on six hundred years ago is let into the wall when he let on to be watching them build Giotto's campanile and yet always got tired looking as Beatrice passed along on her way to get a chunk of chestnut cake to defend herself with in case of a Ghibelline outbreak before she got to school, at the same old stand where they sell the same old cake to this day and it is just as light and good as it was then, too, and this is not flattery, far from it. He was a little rusty on his law, but he rubbed up for this book, and those two or three legal chapters are right and straight, now. He told me so himself.
Given under my hand this second day of January, 1893, at the Villa Viviani, village of Settignano, three miles back of Florence, on the hills -- the same certainly affording the most charming view to be found on this planet, and with it the most dreamlike and enchanting sunsets to be found in any planet or even in any solar system -- and given, too, in the swell room of the house, with the busts of Cerretani senators and other grandees of this line looking approvingly down upon me, as they used to look down upon Dante, and mutely asking me to adopt them into my family, which I do with pleasure, for my remotest ancestors are but spring chickens compared with these robed and stately antiques, and it will be a great and satisfying lift for me, that six hundred years will.”
Mark Twain.

I could not tell this book was written in the 1800’s (although granted not by much) as I could when reading Cooper or Dickens. It seems modern although patently colloquial. Either I am stuck in the 1800’s or I appreciate the attack on language found here. I liked this book better than the Sawyer-Finn stories but I have not read them for what would be an understatement to say several years. This book was better because the story was seemingly predictable only to pull the rug out and leave you on your behind. You have to pay attention through the entire 178 pages. The characters were made neither particularly real nor contrived. Some were presented as sympathetic, others I am not sure. Wills, disinheritance, duels and the travails of daily living kept me reading and in the end surprised at the conclusion. Coming soon, Part 2 has more citations and commentary.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Men in Black, Mark Levin. 2005

Men in Black, Mark Levin. 2005

Men in Black, written by Mark Levin (BTW THIS IS NOT the movie, in case any knuckle dragging liberals are confused) is about the Supreme Court. Levin reviews the history and characters (sometimes-called Justices) of the Court for the last 200 or so years. Levin is a lawyer, a smart one, and the President of the Landmark Legal Foundation. The tone is set by the Preface where the Justices are described as “Men not Gods”. Levin demonstrates the tendency for some to the Justices to view their existence as Divine.Levin writes.

“The biggest myth about judges is that they’re somehow imbued with grater insight, wisdom, and vision than the rest of us; that for some reason God Almighty has endowed them with superior judgment about justice and fairness.” Levin does not share the Justices opinion of themselves. Rather he objects because “They’re unelected, they’re virtually unaccountable, they’re largely unknown to most Americans, and they serve for life.”

Mostly he has a low opinion of the Court because of the activist, legislating from the bench, usurping the will of the people agenda of some of the Justices and their utter disregard for the Constitution in formulating many rulings. ”The Great Ones ‘first book Men in Black is a constitutional lawyer’s clarification of the Supreme Courts role in our government. Mostly, he teaches and documents how the Supreme Court has become the third legislative body, (after the House and Senate) but the one, which claims supremacy over all others. He gives an interesting review of some of the most notorious judges hounded by bankruptcy, psychotic depression,,”incurable lunacy” requiring hospitalization, racism, prior KKK membership, probable communist sympathizing, and more.

Levin systematically reviews the many activist rulings and explains their extra-constitutional basis. In the Free Exercise chapter he writes;

” Madison interpreted the “free exercise” of religion, according to American Enterprise Institute scholar Vincent Phillip Munoz, ”to mean no privileges and no penalties on account of religion.” The establishment clause, Munoz writes was “intended to end things like special religion taxes, religions qualifications for public office, and the enforcement of religions orthodoxy through Sabbath-breaking laws.” The establishment clause was never intended to ban the invocation of God in public forums or the voluntary participation in “ceremonies or rites that recognized God”. In other words, it was never intended to create a strict wall of separation between church and state (a phrase, of course, that appears nowhere in the constitution.

In the chapter on Gay Marriage, he points out the lack of legislative success in the Gay Marriage movement. With sympathetic Judges Gay advocacy groups advance their agenda by judicial fiat. In doing so, the Supreme Court has overruled the elected state legislators and imposed its version of the new morality.

He explains, “The Justices substitute their own vision of morality for democratically elected representatives in the state and sometime federal legislatures”. As an example, he quotes Justice Stevens, in his dissent on Bowers v. Hardwick, a case asking the “Supreme Court to find a fundamental constitutional right to engage in homosexual sodomy. It refused” Stevens wrote” in his dissent,;”the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice” White countered, “The law, however, is constantly based on notion of morality and if all laws representing essentially moral choices are to be invalidated under the Due Process Clause, the courts will be very busy indeed. Stevens opined his view of morality trumps the States"
. To give Stevens a little credit, the majority morality may not be correct as it was not during slavery. That said, Dred Scott was not decided on "moral" grounds. Levin exposes numerous examples of the Activists rulings by the court touching almost everything we now do.

Levin convincingly reviews the errors made the Supreme court in its most well known rulings; Dred Scott, 1856, (supporting slavery) Plessey 1896, (legal segregation), Korematsu 1944, (Japanese internment), Roe 1973 (abortion clothed in an imaginary right to privacy).

He continues to explore immigration, Socialism (commerce clause), silencing free speech and terrorism.

The socialism chapter was my favorite. Levin listed 10 or 12 cases decided before Roosevelt stacked the court with liberal activists. Prior to the Activist takeover, the earlier rulings forbade the government from interfering with commerce. Then, in 1942, the turn toward Socialism went sharply left in Wickard v FIlburn. The court decided Mr. Filburn could not grow and eat his own wheat. Instead of what was a free country, with free enterprise, individual liberty with the ability to make choices for oneself, the court decided the federal government could forbid Mr. Filburn from growing and consuming his own wheat. In what must have delirium, it was determined by the court that Mr. Filburns self-consumption of his own wheat interfered with Interstate Commerce by preventing Filburn from buying someone else’s wheat and he was fined $117.11. This is the hallmark of what has become judicial activism and it has expanded ever since. After this ruling, the court could (and did) find anything and everything affected interstate commerce and therefore was subject to government regulations.

In what was another ludicrous example of Justice Breyers anti-constitutional activism, I want to quote from another dissent. The congress in its lack of wisdom passed a law banning firearms within 1000 feet of a school. It used the commerce clause to justify the law. In 1995, US v Lopez was considered. The law was overturned and Justice Rehnquist wrote

” The possession of a gun in a local school zone is in no sense an economic activity that might through repetition elsewhere, substantially affect any sort of interstate commerce”. Justice Breyer dissents “For one thing reports, hearings and other readily available literature make clear at that problem of guns in and around schools is …serious…Based on reports such as these Congress obviously could have thought that guns and learning are mutually exclusive. Congress could therefore have found a substantial educational problem… and concluded that guns near schools contribute … to the problem. Congress could have also found, given the effects of education on interstate and foreign commerce, that gun-related violence in and around schools is a commercial … problem. Education…has long been inextricably intertwined with the Nation’s economy.”
Examples of the Courts insanity are what make the book great. HOW COULD BREYER WRITE THIS DRIVEL?

It was at times hard to understand how anyone, including supposedly intelligent Judges, come to some of the conclusions and decisions they reach. It can only be explained by these Judges and Justices deciding what they what to accomplish (social or political agenda) in advance and then working backwards to try and rationally explain themselves. Obviously, the inverse was intended, consider the facts, the law, and the Constitution and on this basis decide what the ruling should be. I really liked the book and it is impossible not to agree with everything Levin says. Everyone interested in the law and how we got “here” should read this book. Quite clearly it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Siddhartha, 1922 Herman Hesse, addendem

I should mention, Hesse seemed to have no great interest in the workings or Dogma of Buddhism. In fact, in the book, Siddhartha rejects Gotamas "teachings" as the path to enlightenment. None of the Hindu or Buddhist Gods are mentioned, nor the 4 noble truths, or the 8 way path, the middle way of moderation or any of the religious elements of the religions. Reincarnation is central but is stipulated as factual. Mostly, we are led done of path of self actualization, independent of religions or God.

Siddhartha, 1922 Herman Hesse

Siddhartha, 1922 Herman Hesse
"I can think, I can wait, I can fast". When asked what job qualifications and training Siddhartha had, he replies,
"I can think, I can wait, I can fast." This response bewilders the merchant and potential employer, who asks, “That’s everything? “And what’s the use of that? For example, the fasting-what is that good for?" Siddhartha explains: “It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, wither it may be with you or wherever because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This is what fasting is good for. "
This life lesson, fasting, thinking and waiting was my favorite part of the book and was repeated several times in different situations. If we all had these attributes ingrained in us, our lives would be much easier and successful. Let me restate them, fasting=self control,delayed gratification wait=patience, tolerance, think=reasoned deliberate actions, goal setting and planing. In this there is wisdom.
This book is an exploration of Siddhartha’s search for enlightenment, Nirvana. It is a story of a Brahman, his friend and others set in India during the time of Buddha. Gotama is encountered in the story and in a play on words, Siddhartha may be Buddha’s first name historically (spelled Siddhartha Gautama). Hesse uses this text to explain the path to enlightenment. It is paradoxical as Hesse is a German, presumably a Christian who was interested in Buddhism but was not a Buddhist per se.
The point of the book is the lyrical prose and wisdom offered for “seekers”. I read it in German in my youth and I think I liked it better then. Either the German text read better or the philosophical tome more easily influenced me in my immaturity.
I offer several examples from the text. Buddha answers Siddhartha’s question about his teaching:
“But be warned, oh seeker of knowledge, of the thicket of opinions and of arguing about words. There is nothing to opinions, they may be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish, everyone can support them or discard them. But the teachings, you’ve heard from me, are no opinion, and their goal is not to explain the world to those who seek knowledge. They have a different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is what Gotama teachers, nothing else.”
Or “his past life also stayed behind and parted from him. He pondered about this sensation, which filled him completely, as he was slowly walking along. He pondered deeply, like diving into a deep water he let himself sink down to the ground of the sensation, down to the place where the causes lie., because to identity the causes, so it seem to him, is the very essence of thinking, and by this alone sensations turn into realizations and are not lost, but become entities and start to emit like rays of light what is inside of them”
What does this mean?
When Siddhartha reaches enlightenment, it occurs with the tutoring of a ferryman and by listening to the river talk to his soul. At this point, Siddhartha had experienced all of life’s foibles, lost a son, lost a lover, given up riches and all worldly possessions. These sufferings seem to be necessary prerequisites for enlightenment. (I am always hoping for less suffering, not more.) I quote the book again:
“But out of all the secrets of the river, he today only saw one, this one touched his soul. He saw: this water ran and ran, incessantly it ran, and was nevertheless always there, was always at all times the same and yet new in every moment! Great be he who would grasp this, understand this! He under stood and grasped it not, only felt some idea of it stirring, a distant memory, divine voices.”
I did not find this to be a great or particularly deep philosophical glance into the meaning of suffering or life. Kind of dumb really. The river is "always there and always new"? Please. Sometimes it dries up or floods or is dammed and stops flowing. I found this a rather weak allegory.
That being said, It is a good book and worth the read. It provided a superficial insight to Buddhism and the ascetic life style of the monks. It provided a plausible explanation of the value of self-denial, denunciation of physical possessions, and the possibility of happiness independent of worldly things. I think those are worthy aspirations. In spite of that, I confess after reading the book, I was not inclined to give it all away and live in a shack by the river to listen to it talk to me. I will fast better, wait more and be "always thinking".

Sunday, May 30, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

I got some verbal feedback on my interpretations of the undisguised propaganda clearly visible in this film maybe self delusion. Or maybe I was seeing imaginary Monsters in the closest, communists in the government ( or is that so 1954) or at least vastly over interpreting the political message of this cartoon. I love it that I was at least gently challenged on my opinions. I stand by them unmoved but I love the feedback.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon, the movie

“Everything we know about them is wrong” demands our hero protagonist anti-Viking named Hiccup. Our culture has suffered degradation to the point where children’s animations (dare I call it a cartoon) are simply archetype Liberal anti establishment pacifist agitprop. The propaganda was so overt and unembarrassedly blatant the movie was difficult to enjoy.
How to Train Your Dragon, playing in a theater near you. Not worth the $11 if you can't see it in 3D. The 2D will look fine on the "small screen".
The Story. A Viking village suffers from relentless attacks by dragons. These dragons are of many colors, types and ferocity. Hiccup, the son of the village chief, something of a misfit, befriends a dragon and uses this dragon to help save the village.
First, the good stuff. The animation-CG was wonderful. The characters and costumes were colorful, humorous and varied. Outside of the propaganda, the screenplay had some good comedic dialogue. One of the young Vikings, Fishlegs Ingerman, used video game scoring to describe the strengths and weakness of the various attacking dragons. Courage against the enemy was on visual display and highly valued by the Village. The Vikings took to their ships in defense of the village, a fantastic sight.
Now the bad stuff; it’s not just bad, it’s really bad stuff. Our anti-hero is a “Vegetarian” (fish eater) who, using one of his amazing inventions, was able to disable the most deadly of all the dragons. At the decisive moment, he cannot do his Viking duty and kill it. Apparently, the village “idiot” is in reality is an unrecognized genius and therefore a pacifist. After having compassion on the Viking killing, cattle stealing, village destroying fire-breathing dragon, this “Night Fury” dragon reciprocates this benevolence and they become friends. Gimme me a break. The boy soon discovers the truth: Dragons are not evil at all, they are just misunderstood. These dragons kill men, women and children, burn and destroy villages, and carry off livestock because they are made to do it. If the Vikings would just make nice and talk with the dragons, the war would end. Why will no one listen! WE DO NOT NEED WAR, WE NEED DIPLOMACY.
Except for Hiccup, the other characters in the movie were made to look like southern hillbillies. Hiccups Father, Stoick the Vast, is portrayed as a powerful dogmatic leader, brave but dependent on his physical strength. (This is a bad thing apparently) He is otherwise non-communicative, possessing few acceptable parenting skills and is/was embarrassed by his “different son”. Being different means repudiation of the traditional and incorrect values of the village and society. This rejection of all things Viking included, refusing to kill a dragon in Hiccups initiation ritual (much like a bull fight), throwing down his weapon, throwing down his Viking helmet, made by his father as a gift, from “your dead mothers breastplate”, and joining with the dragons. This rejection was essential to save the village from itself. The other youths willing to follow and accept the village traditions and customs were portrayed as knuckle dragging troglodytes’ screaming for dragon blood.
Key to saving the world were lies, deceptions and secrecy. These dishonesties were morally acceptable because Hiccup meant well, consistent with the end justifying the means. It was therefore admirable to perpetuate the lies. Only this immature boy understands the truth. Adults will not listen only to suffer fatal consequences.
I was not offended by the predictable plot devices, the plethora of dragons (there should have only been one species) or the accents (Scottish? Not Norwegian) but the politicized screenplay was over the top horrible. I cannot comment on the 3D. I saw “normal”.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Last of the Mohicans. James Fennimore Cooper

Last of the Mohicans. James Fennimore Cooper

Written in 1826, it was hard for me to tell if this book was pure fiction or included an accurate estimate of life in the 18th century. It is something of a historical novel and included facts about dates, places, battles and real people. It was set in 1757 during the French and Indian war. The story was an account of the harsh life and easy death of the times. I wondered about the accuracy of the battle, name and places accuracy given the liberties taken the descriptions of the characters and their lives. When reading, I would not count on historical accuracy. The invisible, stealthy Indian was the most interesting theme. It seems the British army, in all its glory, was constantly outwitted but was never the less able to defeat the French at least after a long protracted war. The Indians were treated mostly favorably although their “heathen” beliefs not so much. The prose was highly stylized and at times, I labored under the flowering graphic and idealized language of Mr. Cooper. In spite of obvious exaggerations it attempted to offer a glimpse into the dangers of frontier life. Natty Bumpo, Hawkeye or "La Longue Carabine" as the main character was bulletproof and smarter than everyone else altogether. He was famous for his shooting ability and feared by his enemies, mostly the French and some of the Indians. This figure may have originated the phrase “one shot, one kill.” As an aside, the most excellent movie of a few years ago starring Daniel Day-Lewis followed the book very closely until the ending. As in many books of the era, race, interracial relationships and religions figure largely in the narrative. It is a good read and interesting for the difficulty of the stylized prose. There were few internal inconsistencies, the largest involving the kidnapping of the General Munro’s daughters. I am sure he would not have sent his girls into the wilderness without sufficient protection, if at all. Getting past that I recommend this book for someone interested in slightly more than “light reading”.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mikey asks: Did Newton accept bribes-gifts?

Good question as it troubled him. At first he did, as it was the tradition and expectation. His newly awakened conscience found it unacceptable and he stopped. This also caused a few problems, resolved by his entry into the ministry and moving to his first small parsonage in Onley.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. Joanathan Aitken. Part 2

The story continues.
In deciding how to make his living, he was appointed the “Surveyor of Tides”. This was like a Harbor Master. It paid very well, 750 pounds each year. A very large sum for the day. Traditionally, the appointed income was supplemented by accepting bribes and favors from the various parties involved in shipping. After a few years, he was offered a preaching appointment, which only paid 40 pounds a year. “In a letter to John Catlett, Newton summarized his dilemma:.” I do not like disgrace or poverty, but I fear God more than either. Is absurd? I would do much to please my friends, but I would do more to please him who died for me”. Newton became a preacher for 40 pounds annual salary. Eventually he was the Curate (or pastor) of St. Mary Woolworth a very large and popular church in London. He became as famous as any preacher we know of today. He wrote books and tracts, many of which were best sellers worldwide. Many of these writings were translated into a number of languages. He was well known for a hymnbook written with William Cowper. It was titled Olney Hymns. It was a best seller and was used in churches through England. It contained 281 hymns, one of which was Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace was written in 1772 and was somewhat autobiographical. It was never popular in England but by the late 1800’s, became a revival and spiritual favorite in the US It did not appear to be one of Newtons favorites either. It’s popularity increased in this country even more since a release in 1947. Originally, it had be set to a number of different tunes and meters. “ The Tune now inseparably linked to amazing Grace was called “New Brittan”. No one knows where it came from. It was never connected with a hymn until 1835 when it was suddenly popularized by a well-known compiler of spiritual songs, William Walker”
The Onley Hymnbook contained a number of other famous hymns some of which we still sing.I quote the author”Most (of the Hymns have) understandably been forgotten. Some barely escaped from the category of doggerel. By contrast, Cowpers 67 hymns in the book are of a far higher standard. Yet Newton as a hymn-writer was capable of soaring to peaks of excellence…..It is generally agreed that in terms of profound composition (Amazing Grace) is far from being Newtion’s most creative achievement. Many admirers of the hymnody would give a higher reading to much-loved favorites such as “How sweet the Name of Jesus Sound, May the Grace of Christ Our Saviour, and Be Still My Heart. Even more observers believe that Newtons finest hymn was from a theological and to report if you was “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken “ usually sung to the majestic tune “Austria” composed by Newtons contemporary Franz Haydn.”
Finally, the most important legacy of John Newton was his campaign against slavery. He joined with the abolitionist forces of William Wilberforce, an MP from Hull in a 26-year legislative effort for a slavery ban. Most of the legislative proposals were defeated in the beginning. Newton testified before parliament about the evils of the slave trade and is credited with being a sustaining spiritual force behind Wilberforce and his allies. Newton’s testimony carried a lot of weight as he could give first hand witness and experience in the trade. In 1807, a slave trade ban was passed and in 1833, slavery was banned throughout the British Empire. Newton and Wilberforce started their campaign in 1788.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the life and time of the 1700’s, history and religion.
Quotes from the book are in italics.

Friday, April 23, 2010

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. Joanathan Aitken. PT 1

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. Joanathan Aitken.
When I die, Courtney and Megan are going to sing Judy Collins arrangement of Amazing Grace at the funeral. I will be close by and listening. Hopefully, it won’t take too long for St. Peter to decide if the gate is open. While he flips the coin, I will wait and listen one last time to my favorite hymn. John Newton wrote it and I have been fascinated by his story for several years. His greatest accomplishment had nothing to do with hymns rather the abolishment of the slave trade and his church ministry. In poetic irony, Newton’s claim to fame as an abolitionist was his prior history as a cruel slave trader. This book was long but extremely interesting. So much was firsthand accounts, letters and selections of journal entries. It opened a small window into actual, not fictional, life of the 1700s.The book was fairly well written and had an overtly churchy flavor. If I had a criticism, it would be as follows. I felt the author was a little too much of a fan and believer in Newtons “sainthood” . (Quotes because Anglicans cannot be saints.) It was as if after Newtons conversion, he could do no wrong. All is forgiven and forgotten.
Newton was born in England in1725 and died 82 years later in 1807. Newton’s mother‘s “educational and spiritual Legacy to her son was greater than either of them realized during her lifetime. She had brought him up to believe in God’s omnipotence, to fear his judgment, and to accept that his word, as recorded in the Bible, was the source of all truth. In his adolescence and early manhood John Newton often rebelled against these teachings. Yet the spiritual lessons the boy had learned at his mother’s knee were never forgotten. They became the Foundation for Newton’s eventual conversion and Christian commitment .in addition to her spiritual instruction of her only son, Elizabeth also in calculated the good habits of industry and intellectual curiosity, as well as the enjoyment of expressing oneself in a wide ranging vocabulary.“ Pretty amazing, what a good mother can do.
Newton, like Crusoe, was drawn to the sea and at a young age. His father was a Captain of some reputation and this saved Newtons life on at least 2 occasions. Friends of his father intervened frequently to help Newton out of near death situations. Newtons first sailing voyage was at age 11 with his father to Spain and the Mediterranean. Newton believed he was had been repeatedly saved by divine providence and interventions; Saved to do some great work. The first time was at age 15 when he missed the longboat, which was to take him to a ship. The longboat overturned and everyone drowned while Newton watched from the quay. “Missing the boat” and watching everyone drown happened several times during Newtons time at sea. Apparently, at that time, NONE OF THE SAILORS LEARNED TO SWIM. If you went in the water, you drowned! Plus, PFDs were not invented yet.
At the age of 19, a press gang found him walking the streets and suddenly he was in the navy. He was taken to the HMS Harwich and found fit to serve. Newton was supposed to sail to the far east, a FIVE YEAR trip before any hope of return to England and discharge. The Royal Navy was extremely dangerous. Climbing up the rigging, pulling on the sheets and lines, furling and unfurling the sails in all weather all the while, learning to cope with the smoke and recoil of the guns was part of the training. This was called “learning the ropes”. He was in love, could not conscience leaving Polly, his future wife, for 5 years, and promptly deserted. Captured again, he was beaten, not hanged, as was the custom probably because of his father’s influence. He was however “traded to a Slave trading ship” for one of their crew members. This was the beginning of Newtons slaving years. He was an amoral and successful slaver by his own admission but like Joseph and Potifers wife, he managed to anger the wife of his boss. She made him a slave himself and for over a year was chained to a small cage eating the leftovers given him by the other slaves on the Sierra Leone plantation. A friend of his father eventually saved him. On the return trip, their boat was severely damaged by a storm and was sinking. When it looked like all was lost and he would surely drown, he had a “deathbed conversion” and began to pray. Miraculously, the boat was saved, Newton believed once again by divine intervention. Although he was converted, he needed money and so continued in the slave trade although he says with more compassion. He openly admits he was guilty of committing all the known vices but tried hard to repent. Even after conversion, he had difficulty controlling one of his major moral failings. He had an uncontrollable desire for the female slaves. As captain of the slaving ship, apparently it was his privilege to have his way with the female slaves as he saw fit. He saw fit quite often by his own admission.
Polly finally agreed to marry him and he quit the sea. At age 29, he had been shipwrecked, a slaver, a slave himself, a blasphemer and debaucher and now was a converted Christian. He felt he was called to the ministry. He also joined the Freemasons but quit after a short time. He was influenced heavily by John Wesley and George Whitefield the founders of the Methodist Church. This actually made it more difficult for him to be appointed a preacher in the Church of England. He also was friends with William Cowper a famous poet and together they wrote a famous “best selling” hymnbook.
Part 2 later.
NOTE: Italics are quotes from the book. No page numbers as it was electronic.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mad for Decades

MAD FOR DECADES may be a departure from the nature and gravity of the previous book reviews but it is the latest book I finished reading. It was written by “ The Usual Gang Of Idiots”. This edition was published in 2007. It is a compilation of favorite comics, parodies, and such favorites as Spy versus Spy, and other favorite departments. It started with magazines published in the 50s and contined through the 90s. Many of the television shows which were parodied were unknown to me or at least I had never watched an episode. Examples include LA LEWD, SickER, GROSSANNE and more. I didn't always get the "joke". The volume was well over 1000 pages. Probably 200 pages were interesting. Some of the humor which I found irresistible in my youth has aged badly.So I have the book in hard copy if any of you are interested. Let me know I will try to get it to you.

Friday, April 9, 2010

2 Books on Free Masonry

The symbolism of Freemasonry, Albert Mackey, 1869
The Mysteries of Free Masonry, Captain William Morgan ?date Subtitle:All the Degrees Conferred in the Royal Arch Chapter and Grand Encampment of Knights Templars-Knights of the Red Cross-of the Christian Mark and of the Holy Sepulcher

I read these books because of the connection between Freemasonry and the early church. As best I can tell, two practicing Masons wrote these books in the late 19th century. According to their traditions, the association of Freemasons started during the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The High Priest conveyed not so much secret but private symbols, signs, tokens, handshakes and other oral traditions to the builders of the Temple. Hiram Abiff was the original Mason to whom the secrets were revealed. He was murdered and this tradition is important in modern Freemasonry. There are several forms of Masonry, Craft being the most important, but also speculative and others. At first only real stonemasons (craft) were admitted to the order but in 1717, the society was opened to any male. It is overtly religious and strongly Christian but anyone who is of good moral quality and professes a belief in God may be admitted. This includes Moslem, Hindus etc. It does emphasize the Judeo-Christina beliefs in most of it written liturgy. One is advanced to 3rd degree Master Mason along several paths but each required memorization of pages of question and answers asked by the grand master as you are presented for advancement.
-According to the Freemasons, those amazing and beautiful medieval-Crusader era cathedrals were built with the special knowledge from the construction of Solomon’s Temple. This construction was possible at a time when technology was less developed because of the special and secret building knowledge these Masons possessed. The Knights Templar were not mentioned in either book related to the Masons but are in some way related. This relationship evolved during the construction of the Crusader cathedrals. I did not go outside of these books to investigate is relationship. According to the authors, the secrets of the craft of stonemasonry as well as the secret religious traditions were passed on orally since the building of the Temple. It appears many of the rituals and modern procedures were developed, enhanced and enlarged in England in the early 19th century. In the early 1800’s some of the oral traditions were recorded. By the time these books were written the traditions and rites had been embellished and enhanced. This augmentation occurred over one hundred years and by the late 1800s was complete. I think there are over 90 degrees at this time. There was also a reconciliation of several of break-off lines. I really did not learn much by reading the details of the rites and traditions except they are very complex.
As an aside, when I was in Medical School I worked in the rehab hospital at night as a “Dr” handling all kinds of non-emergencies. One night I was called to a patient’s room who had developed a drug induced temporary psychosis. He was waving his arms, making signs, and repeating strange liturgies. He was very paranoid and was making Mason signs to signal friendship and looking for refuge from a brother Mason. Masons are committed to defend and aid each other when in need or distress. After reading these too books, they were very long; I have now lost interest in Freemasonry.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Response to Comments

Thanks for the comments! Sorry it has taken so long to respond. We moved Lillian this week to a new Assisted Living Home and it has been all consuming.
Marx and Engels did not necessarily think of these 10 principles. They simply recognized the critical path to Socialism/Communism, defined as government control of production, required these 10 elements.Public schools were debated and rejected by the founders as an example. My objections the the other 9 would fill volumes. To point out just a few would fill pages. How about a few lines?
Progressive income tax creates class warfare. Inheritance taxes magnify class envy. 50% of the workers in the US pay ZERO federal tax. With ZERO liability they are highly motivated to receive benefits and elect those who promise to tax only the rich (recently defined as those making over $200K) to provide these free benefits. Income redistribution defies the promise of government to protect the ownership of private property(income)and makes this property, public. It allows politicians to promise and deliver socialist programs like Obamacare soon to be followed by Cap and Tax, Amnesty and more by creating a government which has constituencies dependent on housing, food and now healthcare.
#6 Centralization of communications allows for more government interference. At one time, AT&T with government regulation, owned 100% of the telephone service in the US. Think the cable or DMV is bad, at that time "phone service" had its own definition. Deregulation and the destruction of the government monopoly was the beginning of the communication age.
#5 Again. Government interventions and regulations were 60-70% responsible for the banking collapse requiring the take over of these banks. If I thought Barny Frank and Chris Dodd were smart enough, I would believe they conspired through these congressional distortions of the market place as part of a well thought out plan on the march to Socialism. They aren't that smart. "Reasonable regulations and bank compliance with these mandates starting with the Community Investment Act and subsequent rules to prevent redlining encouraged banks to make loans to unqualified buyers. FREDDIE and FANNIE gave government guarantees to banks the make these bad loans and the FED used interest rates to join the party. Now when the bubble breaks, the government cripples banks with "mark to market" accounting rules. Suddenly bank reserve requirements skyrocket as the "Market value" of what were preforming assets (90% of these upside down loans were performing) decline causing instant bankruptcy and buyouts. The FED and the government didn't protect people, it was actively involved in ruining people.
This could go on for days...
Next post: Freemasonry. I read 2 books and will comment.
PS. Courtney is reading Atlas Shrugged, maybe she could comment. I read it several years ago and while its ideas still reverberate in my head, it was too long ago for me to make comments.