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".