The Inside Guide to Becoming a Christian Apologist

October 25, 2014

I was not certain I wanted to read The Inside Guide to Becoming a Christian Apologist by J P Holding. I do not have any plans to begin a career as a Christian apologist, although I very occasionally write what might be considered apologetics on my blog. Also, when deciding whether to get a book on a controversial subject such as politics or religion, I generally look first at the one-starred reviews at Amazon. If I find a large number of such reviews written by people who have obvious not read the book and have an agenda opposed to that of the writer, I know it is worth reading. This may seem a strange criterion, but I haven’t been disappointed yet. Unfortunately, The Inside Guide to Becoming a Christian Apologist has only recently come out and there is only one review. I decided to take a chance and I can say I wasn’t disappointed.

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The Inside Guide to Becoming a Christian Apologist is a short book, only 68 pages if it were in a print edition, yet it is full of information for anyone considering a career as an apologist. In the first chapter, Holding discusses the education needed to becoming an apologist. This is not something you can just start doing. If you want to be an effective defender of the Christian faith, you had better be prepared to learn the trade. Fortunately, this does not necessarily require a PhD in theology. There are several paths you can take and Holding discusses which might be best. He moves on to learning the lost art of doing research in the following chapter.

The real nuts and bolts of a career in apologetics are dealt with in the next three chapters. Holding discusses possible career paths, whether working for someone else or striking out on your own. This section is perhaps the most important for anyone considering a ministry involving apologetics. Even the most knowledgeable academic who knows the best arguments in defense of the Christian faith will come to grief if he lacks the knowledge to set up a nonprofit ministry or is unable to share his knowledge using the Internet or other resources.

Finally, in the last chapter, Holding discusses the pitfalls of being an apologist. These include some obvious things as pride and sin, as well as some problems that might not occur to one just starting out, fundraising and making time for family.

There is no discussion of specific arguments or apologetic techniques in this book. That is beyond its scope and would perhaps take hundreds of pages. This book is not everything you need to know to defend the faith. It tells you how to get started and where to go for information. You will have to do the rest of the work.

Radical Honesty

October 20, 2014

A. J. Jacobs is a writer and journalist with a rather unusual method of getting his stories. He is not content just to research whatever subject he happens to be writing about. He immerses himself in the subject, actually living out his project to the point of obsession. As it turns out, while doubtless a lot of trouble to his wife and friends, this approach does lead to his writing books both interesting and humorous. His first such book, The Know-It-All chronicled his quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, while his second book, The Year of Living Biblically, told of his attempt to live his life according to all of the rules of the Bible for a year.  These aren’t the only experiments that A. J. Jacobs has conducted upon himself. He has compiled some of his minor projects in a book titled The Guinea Pig Diaries.

Cover of "The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life...

Cover via Amazon

One of these projects, and the subject of this post, is a concept called “Radical Honesty“. Radical Honesty is a technique developed by a psychotherapist named Brad Blanton. Radical Honesty is just what the name might implies. Dr.Blanton teaches that we should always be completely honest with one another. This might not seem to be a particularly new or radical concept, sages and moral teachers have been telling for centuries that we ought not to tell lies. Dr. Blanton takes the idea further, however, by insisted that we should always be honest. We shouldn’t tell those little white lies that help to smooth our relationships with others. If your wife asks if the dress she is wearing makes her look fat, say, “yes”. If you don’t want to go out to dinner with a friend, say so and don’t make up, “other plans” or imaginary headaches. If you find yourself desiring your friend’s wife, say so. In fact, Dr. Blanton believes in simply removing the filter between what we think and what we say and do.

Is this a good idea? Well, we should be honest in our dealings with others. As a matter of justice and charity, we ought not to take advantage of people by deceiving them. Honesty, by itself, is not necessarily always necessary or desirable. Honesty is a virtue when it serves the greater virtues I mentioned. It is not necessary to be honest if being honest leads to an evil outcome. It is not necessary to tell the Nazis that you are hiding a family of Jews in the attic, or to tell the robber where you have hidden your money. Even Dr Blanton agrees with this. It is also not necessary to tell the truth if doing so will lead to hurt feelings.You do not have to tell your wife she looks fat and you probably shouldn’t tell your friend you desire his wife. No good can come of such confessions.

There is a subtle line here, though. A. J. Jacobs wrote of an old widower who sent him some poetry he had written and asked Jacobs for his opinion of his writing. Jacobs didn’t think the poems were very good, but wrote an encouraging reply. He could not bring himself to tell the man he though the poems were badly written. Ought he have told the truth about his Opinion. Dr. Brad Blanton thought he should have. He argued that he was not, in fact, doing the man a kindness by lying to him. If his poems weren’t much good, he ought to be told the truth so he wouldn’t waste his time trying to get them published. I sort of agree with Dr. Blanton. Back when Simon Cowell was on American Idol, he was generally disliked  for his cutting criticism of the contestants’ singing, especially during the tryouts. This seemed to be very cruel, yet perhaps he was doing them a kindness by showing them that they lacked the talent to sing professionally, and that they would be well advised to try something else. Perhaps the real cruelty would be to encourage someone to follow a path you know they have no ability to complete simply to spare your own feelings. Perhaps.

I cannot help but feel that what Dr. Blanton has really done is that he has discovered a way to be obnoxious to his neighbors and to have avoided the usual consequences by pleading that he was just being honest. In any event, I am not convinced that getting rid of the filter between the brain and the mouth is such a good idea.A. J. Jacobs was not convinced either, as he explained while describing his life as George Washington.

That was another one of his projects. Jacobs did not go about dressed in a colonial costume. Instead, he decided to try to live up to George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior. The thing that most impressed Jacobs while studying the life of Washington was the tremendous restraint the Founding Father displayed over his emotions. By nature, Washington was a passionate man with a fierce temper. In his youth, he was a rather arrogant, entitled aristocrat who flattered his superiors in person while undermining them behind their backs. Yet, Washington possessed the strength of will to remake himself into a model of decorum and decency. George Washington was supposed to be unable to tell a lie in the famous legend, but I somehow doubt he would think much of Radical Honesty. If Dr. Blanton advises us to remove the filter, Washington spent much of his life creating the filter and making it stronger.

I think the idea behind Radical Honesty is that we ought to be “authentic” or “natural”. Washington would disagree. If he had acted authentically and according to his basic nature, Washington would have remained just another Virginia planter and we would still be a colony of Great Britain. The simple truth is that civilization depends on people restraining their impulses and not doing and saying whatever comes naturally. I said civilization, but I shouldn’t have. The members of any society of human beings, no matter how primitive, must learn to restrain their more selfish feelings and work with the other members of their group. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s ideas about “noble savages” who lived entirely with nature were myths. If anything, a tribe of primitive hunter-gatherers would have to have even less tolerance for individual eccentricities than a modern society. I think we are losing this idea of restraint. Any impulse felt must be acted upon and someone else will clean up the mess. I wonder where it will lead us. Nowhere good, I imagine.

I guess the only thing I can say about Radical Honesty is that being honest is a good thing, being radically honest may not be.

Hey, Christian, Have You Read the Bible

October 17, 2014

Not too long ago, I finished reading the Bible. This is an undertaking I have completed numerous times, to the point where I honestly don’t know how many times I have read the Bible all the way through. I became curious about how many people have actually read the Bible all the way through, I doubt there are many even among devout Christians and Jews, so I asked that fount of all knowledge and wisdom, Google.

The first thing I noticed from the results is that there seems to be a prevailing idea that few Christians have read much  of the Bible. Only Atheists have actually read and studied the Bible in any sort of rigorous fashion and they are uniformly appalled by the ignorance and atrocities found in the “Good Book”. This line of thought goes on with the corollary that anyone who does actually read the Bible will, if he is honest and  intelligent immediately convert to Atheism.  This, Isaac Asimov said, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”, and we get these sort of graphics.

atheists and the bible piechart

 

 

and

reading-bible

 

I don’t find that to be the case myself. In fact, I do not think I could be an honest atheist. The best I could manage might be a sort of Deism, but that is a subject for another post. I also find that the Bible “grows” on me, even the less interesting books. I find, in a curious sort of way, that I get more out of the Bible every time I read it and this appreciation grows even greater when I study the historical and cultural background in which the Bible was written. It is a grave mistake to read your Bible as though you were reading a newspaper or a contemporary novel. While the truths of the Bible may be eternal, they are expressed from the viewpoint of  cultures very different than our own, ones closer to the edge than our comfortable modern, Western world. For this reason, I suspect that a reader from the Third World must have a much easier time understanding the motives and actions of the people in the Bible than a middle class American ever could. I can also see why an ignorant and superficial reading of scripture may lead to many very wrong ideas, including Atheism.

One of the results of the Google search was an article from the website Atheism Resource titled, “Hey, Christian, Have You Read the Bible.”, written by a fifteen year old Atheist named Cassie Huye.

I have read the bible from cover to cover. How many people can actually say that? I will admit that I have forgotten many of the small details and even some of the major events, but at one time my eyes did glaze over the entire thing.

At school, I once had a girl in my class ask why I knew so much about Christianity. When I told her, she was astounded that an Atheist knew anything about her precious little religion, and could not bring herself to find any reason at all that I could be capable of not believing in her god, had I read all of his wondrous miracles in the bible.

What is considered a wondrous miracle anyway? I’ll admit that the ability to turn water into wine is pretty cool, but it seems like that should be a magical spell in some Harry Potter type book with an alcoholic wizard.

I think we have the next great Atheist apologist here. With snarky comments like “her precious little religion”, and generally deriding her classmates, she could be the next Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens.

And then there is Kings 2: 23-24 “And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.”

I guess if you are the bald man, the death of those who made fun of you for something you can’t help is a miracle, but it really isn’t fair to the kids. The reason we cannot even legally drink until we 21 is because children’s brains are not even totally developed until they are 21. God made us right? He is all knowing… so doesn’t he know they were just using their underdeveloped child brains to make the stupid decision of making fun of a chosen one of God? I mean, if anything, it is God’s fault that they made fun of the man. He made them to have underdeveloped brains!

Do I even have to note that the word translated as “children”, נצר na’ar could also mean young man, adolescent or even servant and that “little” קטנ qaton means little, small, insignificant?  Keep in mind, also, that the city of Bethel was a center of worship for the Kingdom of Israel and thus was a rival to the Temple in Jerusalem and to the prophetic tradition of Elijah and Elisha.

25 Then Jeroboam fortified Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. From there he went out and built up Peniel.

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David.27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

28 After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 29 One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

31 Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. 32 He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. 33 On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:25-31)

It is possible, then that the “little children” were actually a mob of young men intent on insulting and even attacking Elisha. You may still find the incident with the bears disturbing, but a closer investigation shows that the incident is not what it seems to be based on a superficial reading based on ignorance of the historical conditions of the time.

Cassie continues.

This is just one example of the many absolutely insane things that are written in the bible. I promise you that the language the bible is written in was made to bore, but if you want a violent story or just a little comedy, you can find it in your bible.

She is right here. You can find action, comedy, romance, even zombies in the Bible if you know where to look.If you find the language boring, try another translation. But as for insane, again a knowledge of the background of the times will lead to a greater understanding. Dismissing things you do not understand as insane is simply pride in remaining ignorant.

But back to the original question of how I can read about the wondrous miracles of God and be an Atheist. It’s easy, all I had to do was actually read the miracles, and after reading them I don’t know how anyone could be Christian knowing what they say they think is true.

So I encourage you to go out, whoever you are, whatever religion you are: read about your own religion, and read about someone else’s too. Maybe you will realize that you have wasted years listening to someone scam for your money, or maybe you become convinced that you have found the true answer. But at the very least, you will know a little more about the world. As the motto goes, knowledge is power.

Actually, she assumed that miracles cannot happen and that any account of miracles must therefore be false. This assumption that miracles cannot occur is a reasonable assumption given that we do not ordinarily witness miracles, but it is only an assumption. The fact that the Bible contains miracles in its narratives does not prove that the narratives are completely false. They could be reliable history with some exaggerations included. The Bible could be literature, like Homer or Virgil, with a grain of true history at the core, or the miracles could have actually happened. Some of the stories in the Bible may seem strange to us. They did not seem strange to the people who wrote the Bible. As I have indicated, a knowledge of the culture and history of ancient times good serve to make the “insane” stories of the Bible less insane.Cassie Huys dismisses the Bible and Christianity at the age of fifteen after reading the Bible without even trying to understand it. She should take her own advice.

The Home Lie Detector

October 16, 2014

I have mentioned before that I am on the mailing list of Hammacher Schemmer, the store that has sold the best, the only, the unexpected,and the absurdly expensive for the last 166 years. In a recent catalog, I spotted a must have item, the home lie detector.

This is the USB lie detector kit with digital pulse and skin monitors for conducting a polygraph test at home. Using sensors applied to a subject’s fingers, the system takes baseline readings of the pulse rate and the skin’s electrical resistance and measures any changes in response to questioning. Data is graphed and stored in real time using free software, so testers can assess whether the subject’s pulse accelerates or the conductivity of their skin begins to change—the same physiological signs that professional polygraph examiners use to determine whether a suspect is lying. Although results are not legally binding, they may provoke a teenager’s confession about sneaking in after curfew or simply elicit laughs at a party. The system connects to a computer using the included USB cable. For Windows 8,7, Vista, XP, and Mac OSX. Box: 8″ L x 6″ W x 4″ D. (2 lbs.)

HLD

 

This can be yours for only $399.95.

There is, of course, not really any such thing as a lie detector, at least not in the sense that there is actually a machine that can determine if a given statement is truthful or not. What is often called a lie detector is, in fact, a device called a polygraph.

A polygraph operates by measuring various physiological processes, such as pulse rate or the skin’s electrical resistance, as mentioned in the catalog, and perhaps respiration and blood pressure depending on the device. The theory is that these measurements change when the subject is telling a lie.The extent to which this theory is valid is unknown since there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on how effective the device actually is. Professional polygraphers and their trade associations claim a better than 90 % effectiveness. Others, including the American Psychological Association are skeptical about whether the device is effective at all.

It is not quite true that the results of a polygraph test are not legally binding. That actually varies by state in the United States. Something like nineteen states do admit polygraph results as evidence, depending on circumstances. Polygraph evidence may also be admitted in a Federal trial, if the presiding judge at a court permits it. In general the results of a polygraph test can only be used in court if both the prosecutor and the defendant have no objections.

Since every individual responds to stress or lying in a different way physiologically. no polygraph device can determine if a person is definitely lying or telling the truth. No such device has a button that lights up or a alarm that sounds if a lie is told. The results of a polygraph examination must be interpreted by the examiner, and this is why there is so much uncertainty concerning the effectiveness of the polygraph is at detecting lies. The usual procedure is for the examiner to ask a series of innocuous questions to the subject being tested in order to establish a baseline for the various physiological processes being measured. Once that is done, the examiner can proceed with the actual interrogation of the subject. Even then, the results are far from being unambiguous and determining whether a subject is being honest is more an art than a science. A good many polygraph examinations end up being simply inconclusive. I suspect that in the cases in which a polygraph examination is effective at detecting lies, it may be more because the subject believes the polygraph to be effective and is more nervous about lying than he otherwise should be.

It occurs to me that a person who is knowledgeable about the workings and actual effectiveness of a polygraph would be more able to cheat the device than someone who really believes it can detect lies. I would also imagine that an experienced liar or criminal would display less of the reactions tested than a person who is naturally honest. It may well be that the honest, law abiding citizen, or the inexperienced and perhaps guilt ridden criminal would have more to fear from a lie detector test than the career criminal used to lying, or the sociopath who believes there is nothing especially wrong with lying. It should be noted that the notorious traitor and spy Aldrich Ames passed two polygraph examinations with flying colors while he was passing information to the Soviets, as did Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer. There have been suspects who have failed polygraph examinations only to be exonerated by actual evidence.

If you are ever asked to submit to a polygraph test as part of a criminal investigation, you should refuse unless your attorney is present. The police cannot force you to submit to a lie detector under any circumstances and you should not be certain that the results of such a test will show you to be innocent. You also cannot be required to take a polygraph test as a condition of employment by most private employers, the exception would employers who work with the government and have access to classified materials. If you apply for a job and are asked to submit to a polygraph test or if your employer asks you to take an exam as a condition of continued employment, chances are they are breaking the law. You might want to consider whether you want to continue working for someone who obviously mistrusts you.

So, if you want to have fun at parties, by all means buy the Home Lie Detector. I wouldn’t recommend you use it on your teenager or anyone else. If even people who administer polygraph tests professionally can sometimes find the results difficult to interpret, you might not want to be too confident of your own, or the computer’s interpretations. And, forcing your child to submit to a polygraph test might not be the best way to build trust in a relationship.

Dying at 75

October 13, 2014

Ezekiel Emanuel has written a somewhat controversial piece in The Atlantic on his hopes to die at the age of seventy-five. He doesn’t hope to be able to live to that age. He hopes he won’t live much past it.

Seventy-five.

That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

 

He does not intent to commit suicide on his seventy-fifth birthday, to be sure.

Let me be clear about my wish. I’m neither asking for more time than is likely nor foreshortening my life. Today I am, as far as my physician and I know, very healthy, with no chronic illness. I just climbed Kilimanjaro with two of my nephews. So I am not talking about bargaining with God to live to 75 because I have a terminal illness. Nor am I talking about waking up one morning 18 years from now and ending my life through euthanasia or suicide. Since the 1990s, I have actively opposed legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. People who want to die in one of these ways tend to suffer not from unremitting pain but from depression, hopelessness, and fear of losing their dignity and control. The people they leave behind inevitably feel they have somehow failed. The answer to these symptoms is not ending a life but getting help. I have long argued that we should focus on giving all terminally ill people a good, compassionate death—not euthanasia or assisted suicide for a tiny minority.

I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.

He will not take any active means to extend his life any further.

Once I have lived to 75, my approach to my health care will completely change. I won’t actively end my life. But I won’t try to prolong it, either. Today, when the doctor recommends a test or treatment, especially one that will extend our lives, it becomes incumbent upon us to give a good reason why we don’t want it. The momentum of medicine and family means we will almost invariably get it.

I must say that I am at least somewhat sympathetic to this point of view. Anyone who has ever watched a loved one growing older into senescence and decay must wonder if longevity is really something to be desired. What good is it to live to be ninety if the last decade is spent chronically ill and miserable? There is also something unseemly and even futile about this quest we have to live ever longer. We cannot be immortal. No matter how healthy our lives, we will die eventually.

If I eat the right sorts of foods and get the right amount of exercise, perhaps I will live to be eighty rather than seventy. So what? Compared to eternity, ten or twenty years is an infinitesimal amount of time. If I ate a diet of bean curd, perhaps I might live to be one hundred. What good is that if I am miserable every day because I am eating food I hate? Of course, I am being a fool. Living in a healthy body is more pleasant than living in an unhealthy body. But, then this is a matter of quality of live as opposed to quantity of life.

For a Christian, it is especially unseemly to cling to this life. We believe, in theory, that this life is only a prelude to a greater life to come. Why cling to the shadow when we can have the substance? Perhaps our attitude should be that of Pope Pius IX on his deathbed. When told that people around the world were praying for his recovery, he jokingly rebuked his advisors saying, “Why do you want to stop me from going to Heaven?”. Why are we determined to stay out of Heaven? Many other religions have similar views.

I don’t quite agree with Ezekiel Emanuel’s position, all the same. For one thing, I do not have the authority to choose the time of my death any more than I had to choose the time of my birth. It is common to say that this is “my body” or “my life”, but it really isn’t. None of us created ourselves. It would take a PhD in several fields to even begin to understand the processes that keep us alive. If any of us were given conscious control of every biological and chemical reaction in our bodies, we would die within seconds. Properly speaking, my body and my life belongs to the One who made them.

Perhaps Mr. Emanuel might agree with me, although I have no idea what his religious views are. As I noted, he does not plan to actively seek death.

This means colonoscopies and other cancer-screening tests are out—and before 75. If I were diagnosed with cancer now, at 57, I would probably be treated, unless the prognosis was very poor. But 65 will be my last colonoscopy. No screening for prostate cancer at any age. (When a urologist gave me a PSA test even after I said I wasn’t interested and called me with the results, I hung up before he could tell me. He ordered the test for himself, I told him, not for me.) After 75, if I develop cancer, I will refuse treatment. Similarly, no cardiac stress test. No pacemaker and certainly no implantable defibrillator. No heart-valve replacement or bypass surgery. If I develop emphysema or some similar disease that involves frequent exacerbations that would, normally, land me in the hospital, I will accept treatment to ameliorate the discomfort caused by the feeling of suffocation, but will refuse to be hauled off.

Surely there is something to be said for this attitude. Yet again, I do not quite agree with him. I do not and cannot know what my ultimate fate will be and it seems presumptuous to decide that after a certain age I am finished. For all I know the plan might be for me to live to ninety-five in reasonably good health. It would be foolish not to take reasonable steps to keep myself well. If one must accept Mr. Emanuel’s reasoning, surely a consideration of overall health and quality of life is a better basis for deciding when to stop getting checkups, etc, than an arbitrarily chosen age. In any case, I will simply take what comes.

Ezekiel Emanuel states that he is opposed to euthanasia or physician assisted suicide, and I see no reason to doubt his word. He does not even recommend that every one agree to his ideas.

Again, let me be clear: I am not saying that those who want to live as long as possible are unethical or wrong. I am certainly not scorning or dismissing people who want to live on despite their physical and mental limitations. I’m not even trying to convince anyone I’m right. Indeed, I often advise people in this age group on how to get the best medical care available in the United States for their ailments. That is their choice, and I want to support them.

And I am not advocating 75 as the official statistic of a complete, good life in order to save resources, ration health care, or address public-policy issues arising from the increases in life expectancy. What I am trying to do is delineate my views for a good life and make my friends and others think about how they want to live as they grow older. I want them to think of an alternative to succumbing to that slow constriction of activities and aspirations imperceptibly imposed by aging. Are we to embrace the “American immortal” or my “75 and no more” view?

He wants medical research to focus on better treatments for the diseases of old age rather than simply prolonging life or extending the process of dying. But, does he not see that he is actually making some very good arguments for euthanasia? He spends the middle part of his article noting that creativity tends to decline with age, even when there is no dementia. The minds of the elderly no longer work as well, just as their bodies no longer function as well.

Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.

It is not just mental slowing. We literally lose our creativity. About a decade ago, I began working with a prominent health economist who was about to turn 80. Our collaboration was incredibly productive. We published numerous papers that influenced the evolving debates around health-care reform. My colleague is brilliant and continues to be a major contributor, and he celebrated his 90th birthday this year. But he is an outlier—a very rare individual.

American immortals operate on the assumption that they will be precisely such outliers. But the fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. Einstein famously said, “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.” He was extreme in his assessment. And wrong. Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline. There are some, but not huge, variations among disciplines. Currently, the average age at which Nobel Prize–winning physicists make their discovery—not get the prize—is 48. Theoretical chemists and physicists make their major contribution slightly earlier than empirical researchers do. Similarly, poets tend to peak earlier than novelists do. Simonton’s own study of classical composers shows that the typical composer writes his first major work at age 26, peaks at about age 40 with both his best work and maximum output, and then declines, writing his last significant musical composition at 52. (All the composers studied were male.)

Perhaps he does not intend it, but this is dangerously close to valuing individuals not as human beings created in the image of God but on a utilitarian basis according to what they can be expected to contribute to society. If we are going in that direction, we might as well open up the death panels right now. We had also better be honest enough to admit that most of us are not going to contribute very much to the arts and sciences and might be fair game for such a panel at any age.

As for me, I will take whatever comes

 

 

I wonder if a lot of the conservatives who written about his article have actually read it.

Columbus Day

October 13, 2014
Christopher Columbus, the subject of the book,...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Columbus day in the United States, celebrating the day that Christopher Columbus reached the New World. In Berkeley and some other Leftist enclaves it is Indigenous People’s Day, in which Western Civilization is condemned for its many crimes against humanity. Columbus Day is no big deal, just a three day weekend for banks and such. Still, should we honor Christopher Columbus with a day?

I think we can absolve Columbus of the destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples. That was inevitable. Europe’s sailing and navigation techniques were advancing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before someone stumbled across the Americas. Since the natives were millenia behind in technology, they were doomed. They weren’t entirely helpless victims though. One of the first things that any Indian tribe did when they were contacted by Europeans was to arrange to trade for firearms to use against their traditional enemies. It does not seem to have occurred to them to form alliances against the European invaders until it was too late.

Still, Columbus did set the pattern by enslaving the natives of the islands he discovered.From the Wikipedia article there is this excerpt from his log.

From the 12 October 1492 entry in his journal he wrote of them, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.”[39] He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, writing, “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”[40

He seems not to have been a very good governor of Isabella, the first Spanish colony in the New World. He was charged with excessive cruelty and sent back to Spain in chains. These charges might be false though, since Ferdinand and Isabella felt they had promised him too much reward for his discoveries. Before he set out, they had promised him governorship of the lands he discovered. As it became obvious to everyone but Columbus that he had discovered a whole continent, the king and queen wanted a bigger share.

Maybe the biggest reason not to celebrate is that he was wrong. The popular view is of Columbus bravely asserting that the Earth is round against the scholars and intellectuals of his time who “knew” the Earth was flat. Of course everyone knew the Earth was round. The scholars and intellectuals knew about how large the Earth actually was and they knew perfectly well that Columbus was fudging his calculations to make his voyage seem feasible. If the Americas hadn’t been in the way, his voyage would have ended in disaster.

For all that though, I like Christopher Columbus. Despite his flaws, and he was only a man of his time, he was brave and he had vision, two qualities that are rare enough in any time, especially our own. So, by all means, let’s celebrate this man and his deeds.

Open Carry Follies

October 11, 2014

I happen to be a staunch supporter of the second amendment right to bear arms, and naturally I oppose strict gun control laws. This is not because I have a great love of guns. I have never owned a gun of any sort and I don’t have any plans to acquire any sort of firearm. I have never even shot a gun in my entire life. I am certain that if I did happen to have a gun, I would be more dangerous to myself than to any potential enemy. My support for the second amendment is entirely on libertarian grounds. If you want to own and carry a gun, that’s your right and I wouldn’t want to stop you. I have no use for guns, but I respect your right to have one.

Having said all that, I must confess that I find that the thinking of some of the more enthusiastic gun lovers to be a bit, well, dumb. What I mean is the idea some of them seem to have that they will happen upon the scene of a crime in progress or will be confronted by a mugger and they will whip out their trusty sidearm and take care of the situation. I think they must have a scene rather like this one playing in the theater of their minds.

I wish I could have found that clip without the commentary. Anyway, this story relates a somewhat more likely outcome.

A Gresham, Oregon open carry enthusiast was robbed of his weapon on Saturday by another man with a gun.

According to KOIN Channel 6, 21-year-old William Coleman III of Gresham was standing and talking to his cousin shortly after 2:00 a.m. on Saturday when another man approached him and asked for a cigarette.

The other man — described as a black male around 6 feet tall with a lean build and wavy hair — asked Coleman about his weapon, a Walther P22 pistol.

He then pulled a pistol from the waistband of his pants, pointed it at Coleman and said, “I like your gun. Give it to me.”

Coleman did as he was told and the man then fled on foot. He was reportedly wearing gray sweatpants, flip flop sandals and a white t-shirt and had a small patch of facial hair on his chin.

Coleman told police the suspect appeared to be between 19 and 23 years of age.

Now, concealed carry makes sense in that if the bad guy doesn’t know you are armed, you can give him a nasty surprise. That element of uncertainly whether a potential victim is armed may act as a deterrent to a criminal. Openly carrying a gun makes less sense, since a criminal can see that you are armed and take precautions, such as pointing his own weapon at you and disarming you, or even deciding to shoot first.

But the real lesson in this particular story is that it is easy to concoct fantasies about what you might do in a dangerous situation but the simple truth is that none of us can possibly know what we might do until the situation is actually occurring. Unless you are specially trained or have actual experience, chances are that you will not engage in a shootout with a criminal. You will not stop a madman shooting up a shopping mall. You will be running and hiding like all the other people. Carry a gun, either openly or concealed if you wish, but don’t take for granted that you will be a hero when the time comes.

I should say that I am likely to prove a bigger coward than most if I were confronted with an armed attacker. Since this is not something that occurs in my environment, I would have no idea how to react and would probably freeze and stand looking at the shooter stupidly, not even being able to panic. I say this in case anyone reading the previous paragraph might imagine that I am trying to make myself look braver or smarter than others. I know myself better than to imagine that would be the case. (Although, the one time I was robbed while working the night shift at a convenience store, I was not afraid but irritated. I do not know whether they were actually armed. One of them had his hand in his jacket pocket as if he were holding a hand gun, but I think he was bluffing. They tried to open the cash register but it locked and when they told me to open it, I told them I couldn’t because they had messed it up. A customer entered the store and they fled with nothing for their trouble. I cannot say I was especially brave, just irritated because they really had messed up the cash register.)

I should also say that looking over the comments of this story is a really depressing experience. I don’t know whether the ignorant and the vindictive are drawn to the comments section of stories like this, or commenting on such stories brings out the worst aspects of human nature. Either way it is depressing.

Obama Ready to Declare Martial Law

October 6, 2014

I criticize and make fun of the hysterical emails I get from liberal groups, so it seems only fair that I should criticize and make fun of the hysterical emails I get from conservatives. I actually have less patience with idiocy from conservatives since they ought to know better. I expect conservatives to be at least somewhat more rational and sensible than liberals, though we do have our idiots on our team.

Anyway, here is an email I recently received.

Dear Fellow Patriot,

Our country is in trouble. We need you.

President Obama and the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington care more about power, wealth and their own selfish desires than they do about our country and its citizens.
The Washington Establishment has created the worst recession since the Great Depression … cut $700 Billion from Medicare under Obamacare … destroyed our privacy rights by spying on every phone call, email and fax communication … endangered our Constitutional rights under the First, Second, Fourth, and other amendments…and much more. They’ve even threatened to nationalize whole industries by Executive Order alone.

And there’s something else. On Friday, March 16, 2012 America ceased being a Republic and became a dictatorship in one swipe of a pen. That dark day Obama committed the boldest assault on America since the Revolutionary War—while Americans weren’t looking.

Barack Hussein Obama quietly gave himself the power to impose Martial Law, bypassing both the Constitution and Congress through Executive Order.

Executive Order No. 13603—Obama’s National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order—gives Barack Hussein Obama unprecedented power to bring about socialism in America and create a regime so powerful, so vile, it is Soviet-like in nature.

Martial Law can and will happen whenever he chooses. It may happen one fateful night while we sleep—he can manufacture a crisis to make it happen.

And when it does, we will find ourselves waking up to a complete police state and news that Obama has declared himself supreme dictator over all the land.

This is very serious my fellow Patriot.

How can we stop this power grab destined to tear the heart out of America, leaving us with little but the clothes on our backs?

For starters, I’m writing to urge you to donate today so we can DERAIL OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ORDER TO IMPLEMENT MARTIAL LAW!

As a full-fledged, active member of the Tea Party I fully support this movement.

Please, there’s no time to wait. Please make a contribution to the Tea Party in support of their efforts to fight government tyranny.

The Tea Party represents the best, perhaps the only, hope for our nation.

We have to stand up and fight this shocking power grab. If we do not, we’re destined for Martial Law.

Obama’s Executive Order “National Defense Preparedness” No. 13603 gives Obama a free pass to unrestricted, unprecedented power held only by those deemed “dictator.”

This Executive Order allows Obama to hijack our country, run roughshod over Congress and stick it to Patriots. It’s a frightening abuse of power that must be stopped—that’s why we need you to support the Tea Party with a donation without delay.

It goes on and on but is basically a plea for money, with dire consequences if Obama is allowed to get away with his nefarious plan.  The only really important part of this message is the reference to Executive Order 13603, which apparently allows President Obama to declare martial law and suspend the constitution.

President Barack Obama signs the executive ord...

President Barack Obama signs the executive order declaring himself Maximum Leader and Grand Poobah.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Executive Order allows Obama to hijack our country, run roughshod over Congress and stick it to Patriots. It’s a frightening abuse of power that must be stopped—that’s why we need you to support the Tea Party with a donation without delay.

This is a violent assault on our personal liberty, privacy rights and the rule-of-law. I’d like to give you a few examples of what this means to you, to me, our children, grandchildren and loved ones.

With the stroke of his pen Obama gave himself the power to:

✔   Bailout any person or company he wants
✔   Break existing labor contracts
✔   Cut back health care for citizens
✔   Fix food prices
✔   Force the production of electric cars
✔   Halt consumer production and replace it with government work
✔   Increase airfares
✔   Raise gas prices to any level
✔   Reduce our pay and dictate pay scales to employers

There’s so much more, too. Don’t you see? This is Obama’s communist utopia—the dreams of his father. Those dreams were meant to kill capitalism, create a society of “fair share” and income equality no matter whether or not you are deserving of it or whether you earned it. Patriots, this is oppression at its worst.

Sounds serious, doesn’t it? Is any of it true? Well, there really is an Executive Order 13603 and the language of the order might lend itself to the interpretation above, but this isn’t something that Barack Obama came up with. According to snopes.com, this executive order is nothing more than an update of similar orders issued by President Clinton, which was an update of previous such orders.

On 16 March 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order (EO) covering National Defense Resources Preparedness, prompting Congresswoman Kay Granger to pen the (since-removed) missive quoted above. Despite claims that the executive order provided the President with unprecedented new powers such as declaring martial law, seizing private property, implementing the rationing of food, gasoline, and drugs, restarting peacetime conscription, and nationalizing America industry, merely by declaring a national emergency, the National Defense Resources Preparedness EO issued by President Obama was simply a minor updating of a similar order issued by President Bill Clinton in 1994 (which itself had decades-old predecessors) and amended several times since.

If you think that snopes.com has a liberal bias, they cite a post from the conservative blog hotair.com.

We’re getting a lot of e-mail this weekend about an executive order issued on Friday afternoon by President Obama titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness.”  While the timing of the EO is curious — why send it out on a Friday afternoon when an administration is usually trying to sneak bad news past the media? — the general impact of it is negligible.  This EO simply updates another EO (12919) that had been in place since June 1994, and amended several times since.

Why the update?  If one takes a look at EO 12919, the big change is in the Cabinet itself.  In 1994, we didn’t have a Department of Homeland Security, for instance, and some of these functions would naturally fall to DHS.  In EO 12919, the FEMA director had those responsibilities, and the biggest change between the two is the removal of several references to FEMA (ten in all).   Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of changes between the two EOs, which looks mainly like boilerplate.

In fact, that’s almost entirely what it is.  The original EO dealing with national defense resources preparedness was issued in 1939 (EO 8248) according to the National Archives.  It has been superseded a number of times, starting in 1951 by nearly every President through Bill Clinton, and amended twice by George W. Bush.

Barack Obama may be arrogant, and the timing of this release might have looked a little strange, but this is really nothing to worry about at all.

So basically, this is nothing more than a routine update of a policy that was put into place at the beginning of the Cold War to ensure that the government could still function if the Russians nuked us. And, if you look at the date of the posts at snopes and hot air, you will notice that this particular rumor has been going around since 2012. If President Obama is really planning to make himself a dictator, he is taking his time about it.

Frantic messages about martial law like this one only distract from the real dangers to our freedom. I don’t think the danger to our liberties is that President Barack Obama is going to announce that he is a dictator tomorrow morning. It is the precedents he is setting that worry me, this steady increase of the power of the presidency and the federal bureaucracy at the expense of our elected representatives. President Obama didn’t begin this process. It has been a bipartisan effort. Even our history books are part of it. Have you ever noticed that it is the presidents who increased the powers of their office that get the most praise from historians, whether the circumstances warranted extraordinary action or not. Presidents who minded their own business and let the country run itself are forgotten or derided as do-nothings.

What I fear, is that this process will continue until eventually we end up with something like an elected dictator, a Caesar ruling over us. A ruler who governs arbitrarily and is himself above any law or restraint. This is the real danger, and being one that grows very gradually, over the decades, and is reinforced by the natural human desire to look to a Leader, is one that is a lot more difficult to fight against than the fantasies of martial law invoked by this email.

Yom Kippur

October 3, 2014

This evening at sunset Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar began. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishrei, of the Jewish calendar. This year that corresponds to October 3.  On this day Jews ask for forgiveness for the sins they have committed against God and their fellow men over the past year.  They fast for 25 hours on this day, starting about 20 minutes before sundown the previous day and continuing until evening of the day. Jews also attend Synagogue services for much of the day and there are five services in contrast to the usual three prayers on most days and four on Sabbaths. After the last service, they recite they Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”, and blow the Shofar.

Here is the Biblical description of the Day of Atonement.

1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering[a] and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.[b]9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.

26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.

29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselvesand not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Lev 16:1-34)

Since the Temple was destroyed in 70, the ceremonies pertaining to the Most Holy Place cannot now be performed. Instead Jews remember the Temple ceremonies in the Avodah service. Orthodox and most Conservative Synagogues have a detailed recitation of the Temple Ceremony.

Here is a detailed description of the Yom Kippur Services.

So, G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

 

The Election of 1824

October 1, 2014

I am going to make a prediction about the next presidential election. I do not know who is going to be the next president. I don’t even know who is going to run. I can tell that the winner of the next election will be either a Republican or a Democrat. I grant that this isn’t a particularly useful prediction considering that every presidential election since 1852 has been won by a member of those two parties. Our present two party system has proven to be so long lived and stable that it is almost unthinkable that any third party could possibly make any headway against the domination of the two major parties. Although political parties are not mentioned in the constitution, the Democratic and Republican parties are as much an institution of government as Congress or the Supreme Court.

This was not always the case. Before 1850, American politics was considerably more fluid than it has been since. Under the first party system, from 1796 until 1816, the two parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. After 1816, the Federalist party was effectively dead and in 1820 President James Monroe had been unopposed when he ran for re-election. This period of one party rule was known as the Era of Good Feelings. Many observers believed that the period of partisan politics had ended. Events proved them to be wrong. The United States had begun a transition from the first party system to the second party system and the Era of Good Feelings was only the calm before the storm. There was to be one more single party election, the election of 1824, but tensions were already developing in the ruling Democratic-Republican party and there were to be a number of candidates.

Much of this tension was regional. The United States was still not very united and different sections of the country, north and south, east and west, had different economic interests and cultures and favored different types of men for the presidency. Another source of trouble was the method the parties had been selecting their candidates. Up until then, each party had held of caucus of its leading men, usually in Congress, to select the candidates. This method seemed undemocratic in an age in which property qualifications for the franchise were being dropped and universal suffrage for white males was becoming the norm. Many people loudly denounced “King Caucus“, and believed candidates should be selected by state legislatures or conventions.

In February 1824, the Congressional Caucus Selected William Crawford of Georgia as the Democratic-Republican candidate. He had served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Monroe, and was Monroe’s favored choice as his successor. Unfortunately King Caucus had become so unpopular that this nomination did Crawford more harm than good. He had suffered a stroke back in September 1823 while seeking the nomination and had never really recovered

William Crawford

Then there was John Quincy Adams from Massachusetts. He was the son of President John Adams, and had served as M0nroe’s Secretary of State. At the time, the the position of Secretary of State was seen as the natural stepping stone to the Presidency, and Adams believed himself to be the natural heir. He was a talented man and had served his country with distinction. Several state legislatures in New England nominated him as the Democratic-Republican candidate. He was too much of a New Englander to be popular in the South and West

John Quincy Adams

Henry Clay was another obvious and popular candidate. From Kentucky, he was a noted lawyer and orator, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives. He transformed the Speakership from a relatively minor position to one nearly equal to the President in power. He favored a policy of internal improvements like railroads and canals to help develop the West. He played a key role in crafting the Missouri Compromise of 1820. He was naturally popular in the South and West and he might have been the choice of the Caucus if he had been foolish enough to seek it.

Henry Clay

Finally, there was Andrew Jackson. He was from Tennessee and indeed had helped to found the state. He had served as Congressman and Senator from Tennessee and had served as the military governor of Florida after the United States acquired it from Spain in 1821. Jackson was also a war hero with distinguished service in the War of 1812, the Creek War and the Seminole Wars. Jackson had commanded the American Army that defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans, and if the battle took place two weeks after the war ended, it still counted as the greatest victory the United States had won in that war. Although Andrew Jackson was very wealthy, owning plantations and hundreds of slaves, he liked to pose as a humble man of the people and supported what came to be known as Jacksonian Democracy. He was also popular in the South and West and was a bitter rival to Clay.

Andrew Jackson

There was also John C. Calhoun from South Carolina. He had served as Secretary of War under Monroe and wanted to run for President but lacked decided the competition would be too fierce. He was popular in the South and effectively ran for vice-president seeking support from Adams and Jackson.

John C. Calhoun

 

With four candidates, all from the same party, and generally favoring the same policies, the Presidential contest became a matter of personalities and regionalism. It was considered undignified for presidential candidates to actively campaign but their supporters eagerly campaigned on their behalf and the campaign of 1824 quickly became enthusiastic, personal and negative, with each candidate’s advocates praising their man and condemning the others. Adams had an English wife. Clay was a drunk and Crawford a thief. Jackson was a wild man who liked to kill people. Irregularities in Jackson’s marriage to his wife Rachel were also brought up. She had been married before, but her husband had left her, presumably seeking a divorce. When Andrew Jackson and Rachel married, it turned out that he not not gotten the divorce and the marriage was invalid. The matter was quickly corrected but Jackson’s enemies could accuse his wife of being a bigamist.

With four candidates, no one achieved a majority of electoral votes. Adams won the New England states and got 108, 740 popular votes with 84 electoral votes. Jackson was ahead of him, gaining most of the south, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, with 153,544 popular votes and 99 electoral votes. William Crawford was third with Virginia and Georgia and 40,856 popular votes and 41 electoral votes. Henry Clay was last. He got 47,531 popular votes and won Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri with 37 electoral votes.  New York, Delaware, Maryland, Louisiana, and Illinois split their votes.

The Election of 1824

Since no candidate won a majority of the Electoral College, the decision went to Congress, as stated under the terms of the Twelfth Amendment.

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

This meant that the House of Representatives would select the President from the top three candidates; Jackson, Adams, and Crawford, with each state delegation getting one vote, while the Senate would select the Vice President. Calhoun had easily won the Electoral Vote for Vice President, so that was already settled.

Clay, in fourth place, was out of the running for President, but, as Speaker of the House, he had considerable influence in the House of Representatives and would inevitably play an important role in the selection of the next President. Suddenly Henry Clay was the most popular man in Washington, with representatives from the Adams and Jackson campaign approached him with all kinds of offers for his support. Eventually, he threw his support to Adams and in the end Adams won thirteen states, Jackson nine, and Crawford four. Andrew Jackson was not at all happy with the results. He had gotten the most votes, both popular and electoral, and it seemed to him, quite reasonably, that he should have been president. His suspicions that there had been some sort of deal between Adams and Clay seemed to be confirmed when Adams named Clay as his Secretary of State, and he loudly denounced the “corrupt bargain”.  Adams was aware that his election, being so irregular, lacked a certain legitimacy, and he regretted that they could not simply hold the election over again.

Was there a corrupt bargain? It seems incredible that there weren’t some sort of negotiations between Clay and Adams. Yet, Clay had made no secret that he vastly preferred Adams to Jackson, whom he viewed with disdain. Adams and Clay both shared the idea that the federal government to improve the lives of the people. Clay was also a natural choice for Secretary of State and perhaps any President would have been happy to name him for a cabinet position. It didn’t matter, though. The deal was seen as corrupt, especially by Jackson’s supporters.

John Quincy Adams turned out to be a decent man and President. He wasn’t able to get much done, largely because of the way in which he became President, but also because he was not a natural politician and, like his father, disdained to play the usual partisan games. Jackson spent the next four years preparing for a rematch and easily defeated Adams in 1828, but that is getting ahead of the story.


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