Thanksgiving

November 26, 2020

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. The story of Thanksgiving that we remember, with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of the Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north than they had intended, at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so, on December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England. The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930).

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So, enjoy your turkey but remember to be thankful to God. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Robert the Bruce and the Spider

November 12, 2020

It was the year 1306. A man was huddling in a cave, hiding from his pursuers. He started as he heard the sound of boot steps outside the cave. Were these the enemy soldiers who had been searching for him? Would they think to search the cave he was hiding in? The man relaxed as the sound of the footsteps receded. He was safe, for now. But, then, the man thought it might have been better if he had been taken. There was no hope. His cause was lost. Maybe they would give him something to eat before executing him.

This man was Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. His country had been occupied by Edward I, King of England since Edward had been invited to resolve a dispute over the secession in 1290. Even after rendering his decision, Edward had shown no inclination to withdraw his forces from Scotland, instead insisting that the Scottish King do homage to him as his vassal and puppet. Under Edward I, Scotland was to be ruled as an English province. Again and again, the Scots had risen up to fight for their freedom, and again and again, the Scots had been defeated. In 1306, Robert the Bruce had been crowned King of Scotland, and he led the Scottish forced in yet another attempt to drive out the English, and once again the Scots were defeated in the Battle of Methven. Robert’s defeat was catastrophic. His army was utterly routed, his noble followers scattered or executed, his castles taken, and his wife and daughters held hostage. And, this is where we find Robert, in a cave fearing capture.

As Robert hid in his cave, he must have thought that his only option was to give up, to surrender to Edward’s forces, and appeal to Edward’s mercy, such as it was. Then Robert noticed a spider trying to build its web in a corner of the cave. The spider was trying to string a strand of web from one side of the corner to the other, but each time it tried the spider fell. The spider then climbed up the wall and tried again, only to fall again. As Robert watched, the spider made the attempt again and again only to fail again and again, until the spider succeeded in attaching the strand and then proceeded to build its web. Robert the Bruce realized that he was just like that spider. He had failed, again and again, but if he just kept trying to free his country, eventually he would succeed.

 

Robert left the cave to gather his forces once again and began another campaign against the English. This time he avoided the pitched battles at which the English had proven to be superior and engaged in what we would call guerrilla warfare against the English. The Scottish cause was helped immeasurably by the death of the formidable Edward I to be replaced by his weak son Edward II. Robert’s campaign against the English culminated in the Battle of Bannockburn in which an outnumbered army of Scots decisively defeated an English army led personally by Edward II. Robert the Bruce had finally achieved his goal, Scotland was free.

Our situation as Republicans must seem to be not a little like Robert the Bruce in his cave. Our candidate, Donald Trump has been defeated. It would be bearable if he had lost in an honest election, but he has not. There is ample evidence of unprecedented levels of fraud in the key states. The mainstream media has gone beyond mere bias and has been engaging in the most mendacious propagandizing, covering up the amazing accomplishments of the Trump administration while concealing Biden’s corruption and dementia. The social media platforms, on which we have come to rely on, have been censoring and canceling us while telling us that all is well, ignore the election irregularities, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,

Well, like that spider, like Robert the Bruce, we must not give up. We must keep trying. We may not succeed the first time or the second time, but if we keep fighting we will succeed, just like Robert the Bruce. We must support President Trump in contesting this apparently fraudulent election through every legal means, uncovering the fraud and irregularities that threaten to undermine our republican government. Remember this is not just about who is going to be the president for the next four years. This is about having clean and honest elections. If the Democrats succeed in cheating their way into the Oval Office, we may never have free and fair elections again.

We have to be honest though. Fraud is hard to prove in court and the probability is that Mr. Biden will be the next president. If he had won through fraud, however, he will not be truly legitimate and we must not permit our fellow Americans to forget it. I don’t mean we should indulge in the childish tantrums that the left has done for the last four years, but we should remember the simple fact that President Biden is a fraud. We should look forward to the elections of 2022 and 2024. Just as the Texans used their defeat at the Alamo, “Remember the Alamo”, as a rallying cry to gain their independence from Mexico, we will use, “Remember the Stolen Election of 2020”, as our battle cry for a Red Tzunami in 2022 and a Trumpian President in 2024, no more RINOs for us, they can join their new friends in the Democratic Party.

And, in fact, we are not as weak as it might seem. So far, we have kept our Senate majority and have made gains in the House of Representatives, a strange result for a party that lost the presidency. Even better, the Republicans gained thousands of Black and Hispanic voters. We could, in fact, be looking at a realignment in which the GOP becomes a multi-racial populist party against the elitist Democrats. There is also ample evidence that people are getting tired of the politically correct, woke, identity politics nonsense. We are Americans and Americans do not like to be told what words to use and what to think. We showed this in this last election by defeating the woke party.

Moreover, every institution that the left has been using to control us stands revealed as corrupt and incompetent. The mainstream media has moved beyond mere bias into outright mendacity. They have shown themselves to be as honest and reliable as Pravda. The social media barons of Facebook and Twitter tried to censor us with a heavy hand, prompting an exodus to freer platforms such as Parler. I expect that Twitter will be as relevant as MySpace in a few years. Academia has become an expensive joke and COVID-19 has accelerated the search for alternatives to the public schools. The allegedly non-partisan, professional federal bureaucracy has been revealed as a collection of partisan hacks. No wonder the left is becoming desperate enough in outright fraud.

So, let us not despair, but keep fighting. We are fighting not for a president or a political party but for the freedom that made America great. History and justice are on our side. Let’s go forth and keep America great.

Halloween

October 31, 2020

Today is Halloween. The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

 

Why I Don’t Vote for the Libertarian Party

September 30, 2020

Some time ago, perhaps twenty-five years ago, I happened to be listening to some late-night radio talk show. The host was sort of a conservative Rush Limbaugh clone, so popular on talk radio at the time and he was interviewing a Libertarian candidate for some position. At one point during the interview, the host pointed out that while Libertarian ideas about small, limited government were popular with many Americans their position on legalizing drugs was not. The Libertarians might, he said, get more votes and actually win elections. The Libertarian explained in detail how legalizing drugs was consistent with the general Liberation philosophy on minimalist government and dropping the drug legalization plank from their platform would be inconsistent with that minimalist philosophy. The host replied that he understood their reasoning and even agreed with it, but that many Americans did not, therefore as long as the Libertarians insisted on advocating drug legalization, the appeal of the Libertarian Partry would be somewhat limited. That might be, the Libertarian said, but they weren’t going to compromise their principles.

That is one of the reasons I don’t vote for the Libertarian Party enough though I agree with most of what they have to say. To put it simply, what good is all their fine principles if they cannot get elected to enact them? If The Libertarians will not adapt their message to win over a majority of the voters, they cannot be elected into a position to make any of their ideas into reality. Even if a Libertarian does manage to be elected into some position such as a legislator, he will be ineffective at getting anything done if he will not compromise and form some sort of coalition with non-Libertarians.  So, what good is the Libertarian Party?

The problem with the Libertarians is that they know perfectly well that they have no chance of actually winning any elections and therefore have no reason to make the sort of compromises and concessions that the major parties have to make to win elections. The Libertarians are free to prize ideological purity over electability. They can propose policy ideas that are completely logical and consistent with their philosophy but that are not necessarily related to actual experience. They can imagine life in a small government utopia without worrying too much about how to bring it about, how it might actually work, or whether that is what people actually want. Because the Libertarians, and really any minor party in our political system, don’t have any reason to adapt their message to make themselves more electable, they don’t bother and end up making themselves even less electable over time.

This leads to the other reason I don’t vote for the Libertarian Party. They cannot win. No third party has any chance in our first past the post, winner takes all elections. Proportional voting and runoffs are uncommon in the United States and usually the candidate with the most votes, even if he does not get a majority. This makes any vote for a third-party candidate a wasted vote, and often effectively a vote for the candidate the voter is ideologically opposed to. Consider this example. Suppose there are three candidates running for Congress, a Democrat, a Republican, and a Libertarian. Now suppose around 3% of the more conservative voters decide that the Republican is just not conservative enough for them. She supports various big government programs that small-government conservatives oppose. On election night the results are 49% for the Democrat, 48% for the Republican, and 3% for the Libertarian. The Democrat wins the election and goes on to Congress where he supports even bigger government than the Republican candidate would have. Those voters who stuck to their principles and voted for the Libertarian ended up, in effect, voting for the big-government candidate. A similar scenario might have progressives deciding that the Democratic Party is too capitalist and voting for the Green Party, only to see the even more capitalist Republican winning.

The point of this discussion is that what is very likely the most important election of our lifetimes is rapidly approaching. I know they say that about every election, but it is really true this time. Donald Trump, for all of his faults, has been a monumental, history-changing president. His wrecking ball approach to governance has helped to demolish stale orthodoxies and shaken the grip of a stagnant elite.  Trump has taken US policy in a new direction and has helped to resolve issues that have been stalemated for decades. He needs to have another term to complete his work. Meanwhile, the Democrats have moved so far to the left that they are openly embracing socialism. This new Democratic party is not the party of FDR or JFK anymore. The contemporary Democratic Party derives its ideology more from Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin than from Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the founders of the Democratic Party they now despise as racists and slave owners. It is increasingly evident that the Democrats despise America and all the institutions that make America great and free. They cannot be allowed to wield power until the moderates are back in control of their party.

This means that those of us who still love our country and wish to be free do not have the luxury of standing on ideological purity. Casting a protest vote for a third party or abstaining from voting altogether is the same as voting for the Democrat’s extreme socialist agenda. It is better to vote for an imperfect Republican like Donald Trump than waste your vote on a Libertarian and see Joe Biden and his puppetmasters in office.

Yom Kippur

September 27, 2020

This evening at sunset Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar begins. Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, Tishrei, of the Jewish calendar. This year that corresponds to September.  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 the 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 the 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 yourselves and 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 AD 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.

Rosh Hashanah

September 19, 2020

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days. To be more precise, Rosh Hashanah actually began yesterday evening, since the Jews traditionally begin a new day at sunset. This holiday takes place on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calendar. Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates wander a bit in our Gregorian calendar. This year it takes place on September 18-20. The New Year is celebrated for two days because of the difficulty of determining the precise day of the new moon.

Rosh Hashanah, which means “the head of the year”,  is not mentioned as such in the Bible. Instead, the day is called “Zikaron Teru’ah” a memorial of the blowing of horns in Leviticus 23:24 and “Yom Teru’ah” the day of blowing the horn in Numbers 23:9.

 23 The LORD spoke to Moses: 24 “Tell the Israelites, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you must have a complete rest, a memorial announced by loud horn blasts, a holy assembly. 25 You must not do any regular work, but you must present a gift to the LORD.’”  (Lev. 23:23-25)

1 “‘On the first day of the seventh month, you are to hold a holy assembly. You must not do your ordinary work, for it is a day of blowing trumpets for you. 2 You must offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the LORD: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs one year old without blemish.  3 “‘Their grain offering is to be of finely ground flour mixed with olive oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths of an ephah for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs,note 5 with one male goat for a purification offering to make an atonement for you; 6 this is in addition to the monthly burnt offering and its grain offering, and the daily burnt offering with its grain offering and their drink offerings as prescribed, as a sweet aroma, a sacrifice made by fire to the LORD. (Num 29:1-6)

I mentioned that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. That is not quite correct. A fully lunar calendar would be based solely on the phases of the moon that would cycle through the year, as the Islamic Calendar does. Instead, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar. The twelve months add up to 354 days, so to keep up with the seasons extra, intercalary months are added in a nineteen-year cycle. Seven intercalary months are added during the cycle so that a thirteenth month is added every two or three years. This means that the dates wander a bit compared to the Gregorian calendar but stay within the appropriate seasons.

Anyway, Shana Tova everyone.

I am the Emperor and I Want Dumplings.

September 16, 2020

That title is a famous quote from Ferdinand I Emperor of Austria from 1835 to 1848. Ferdinand, I was not a particularly good emperor. This wasn’t his fault. Thanks to his Hapsburg ancestors’ predilection for inbreeding (his own parents were double first cousins sharing all four grandparents.) Ferdinand had inherited a number of physical and neurological issues. He was not as afflicted as the unfortunate Charles II of Spain, but Ferdinand did suffer from hydrocephalus, severe epilepsy, and a speech impediment. Ferdinand was not mentally retarded, as many in his court assumed, but his almost continuous seizures (as many as twenty pet day) made it impossible for him to attend to affairs of state or even to sire an heir.

One day, Ferdinand asked his cook to make him apricot dumplings. The cook replied that because apricots were not in season he could not possibly fulfill the Emperor’s wish. The Emperor, who was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, who was used to having every wish immediately gratified could not have a favorite dish because the ingredient was not available. The mighty emperor could only shout in frustration, ‘I am the Emperor and I want dumpings’.

He didn’t get his dumplings.

If you happen to be a resident in the United States of America or any other reasonably developed country and you desired apricot dumplings at any time of the year, all you need to do is go to the nearest grocery store and but apricots and the other ingredients. The store is sure to have apricots even if they are out of season at your location. Just think about that for a minute. You, an ordinary person has access to whatever treats you might want at any time of the year, regardless of what might be in or out of season. You have a better chance of having whatever cravings you might have than the most powerful people in the world only two centuries ago. You also have far better access to medical care than Emperor Ferdinand had. Any ordinary person with the sort of physical problems that afflicted Ferinand would have a fair chance of having his condition alleviated and of living a more normal life than poor Ferdinand ever could have, for all his power and wealth.

You would think that in a free country in which everyone had access to apple dumplings whenever they wanted, people would be happy, or at least content, but that is not the case. Instead, we see people protesting against the poverty and injustice they are living under. Yet, if we were to bring an ordinary worker or peasant from Ferdinand’s time to our own, he would believe that he had entered a utopia of plenty. He would be astonished that everyone had enough to eat, even too much. He certainly wouldn’t be used to seeing so many obese people. He would be mystified as Antifa protesters complained to him of the poverty and injustice they are suffering under.

America is by no means a perfect country. Our treatment of our Black citizens is surely the most egregious example of how we have failed to live up to our ideals. Is the left then correct in portraying America as a country beset with systemic, structural racism in need of a fundamental transformation, even a revolution? Well, despite every effort, Blacks are still not entirely equal to Whites, and yet, discrimination based on race has been illegal since 1964 and it has been the official policy of every level of government, along with academia and most corporations to do everything possible to uplift the African-American community. One might have doubts about the efficacy of many of the policies adopted, but there is little question that the intent is to help, not to oppress. Moreover, public opinion has swung decisively against any public expression of racism. Even a mildly racist remark is sufficient to destroy a career. Despite the Democrats’ characterization of President Trump as a racist and an open White Supremacist, the fact is that If Trump were the slightest bit racist, he wouldn’t have gotten two percent of the vote.

Our friends from nineteenth-century Austria, Emperor Ferdinand, and his humble subject would be used to life in a truly racist country. In the Austrian Empire, your ethnicity determined your entire life. German Austrians were at the top, Hungarians and some favored Slavs in the middle, most Slavs at the bottom, and the Jews even below the Slavs. Even people of the same race were not equals. The nobility expected and got deference from their inferiors. The idea that all men should be treated as equals, imperfectly realized as it is in our time, would seem unimaginable both to the Emperor and the worker.

Actually, this sort of ethnic hierarchy has been the rule in every multi-national state or empire, even our own republic until very recently. What some seem to regard as an evil unique to the United State is the norm in human history. What is not the norm is for the group on top to extend the promise of equality and aid to the formerly oppressed without the threat of a violent revolution. The United States is far from perfect on racial matters, but the progress we have made in recent decades is almost unique in human history and there is no reason to suppose that progress will continue to be made, without any need for riots or the threat of violence.

I do not want to come across as some sort of Pangloss, blithely assuming that everything is wonderful here in the United States. I know that we many problems here in the United States, yet life in twenty-first-century America is better than at any other time and place in history. We live in a remarkably successful country with a long history of dealing with its problems peacefully and without revolution. It seems to be madness for anyone to throw it all away to implement the ideology of a nineteenth-century crackpot. Maybe they don’t teach history anymore.

Nineteen Years

September 11, 2020

It has been nineteen years since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I was listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon Walmart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way, I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discuss the business at hand. Instead, we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

Al Jolson

September 4, 2020

I remember going through an old record collection, when I was a child, and seeing an album cover with the picture of a man with what appeared to be a very dirty face. His face was black, except around the eyes and mouth, as if he had just emerged from a coal mine or had rubbed his face with black mud. I had never heard of entertainers performing in blackface and since the man has caucasian features and his makeup did not resemble any natural skin tone, I did not know what this was all about until I turned the album over and read the description on the back. The man was Al Jolson, the entertainer who was famous in the early twentieth century for performing in blackface.

What are we to do with Al Jolson today? His performances are undoubtedly offensive to today’s more racially aware audiences. Perhaps his present-day obscurity is deserved. Maybe Al Jolson ought to disappear down the memory hole along with so much of our shameful past. Then again, maybe not. I am not a fan of airbrushing away historical figures just because they offend contemporary sensibilities. I think the past ought to be remembered.  Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer of his time. He definitely had talent. Moreover, his relationship with the African-American community was not as straightforward as we might expect.

Al Jolson

Who was Al Jolson anyway? Al Jolson was born to a Jewish family as Asa Yeolson, on June 8, 1886, in the village of Srednike in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. Yeolson’s father, Moses Rubin Yeoson, was a rabbi and cantor or Hazzan who immigrated to New York in 1891. In 1894 he was able to bring his family to the United States and they settled in Washington DC, where the elder Yeolson found work as a cantor. Young Asa seemed to have inherited his father’s singing voice, and he and his brother Hirsch begin singing on street corners for money in 1897, using the names, Al and Harry. Asa Jeolson began working in show business in 1902, with his name anglicized to Al Jolson. After a somewhat fitful start. Jolson’s career in vaudeville and musicals took off, particularly after he started performing in blackface in 1904. By the 1920s, Al Jolson was one of the most successful entertainers in the United States.

Al Jolson in blackface

In 1927, Al Jolson began acting in movies, starring in The Jazz Singer, generally regarded as the first talkie. Jolson went on to star in a number of successful movies. His career and personal life went into something of a slump in the late 1930s but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Jolson was the first star to entertain for the troops, before the USO had even been organized. He was praised for the service he provided for American soldiers fighting overseas, but Jolson also contracted malaria and had to have a lung removed. Jolson was also the first entertainer to perform for the soldiers fighting in the Korean War. Al Jolson’s service in Korea proved to be exhausting for him and he died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950

This biographical sketch might give the impression that Al Jolson was the worst sort of racist who made his fortune exploiting the most degrading negative Black stereotypes. What else are we to think of a man who was most famous for performing in blackface? Should Al Jolson be relegated to obscurity as a forgotten relic of America’s racist past? Not quite. As is often the case, the truth is not what it seems at first glance. The fact is that Al Jolson used his position as America’s highest-paid entertainer to fight against discrimination against Blacks. He insisted on equal treatment for his Black co-stars and consistently stood up for the rights of Blacks at a time when this was, by no means, a popular position to take.

So, how do we resolve this paradox? Al Jolson was an entertainer who made millions by wearing blackface and demeaning African Americans, yet was an undoubted benefactor of the Black race. How do we reconcile these two very different sides of this man?

I would suggest that Al Jolson did not put on blackface to insult or demean Blacks. Al Jolson had many Black friends in his youth and later and it is hard to imagine that we would have knowingly done something that they might have found insulting. Blackface was an accepted genre of entertainment at the time, and not necessarily seen as degrading to Blacks. I suspect that Al Jolson might have believed that his blackface performances were a sort of tribute to his Black colleagues. He might have found something in African-American culture that was lacking in his own Jewish-Russian heritage and putting on blackface might have been his way of celebrating the culture of his Black friends. In fact, if you think about it, the practice of White performers blackening their faces and pretending to be Black was a sort of backhanded compliment to Blacks. Yes, these performers disseminated demeaning stereotypes about Blacks, yet they had to believe something was appealing about African American culture for them to pretend to emulate it. We ought to look on Al Jolson’s performances, and perhaps those of other entertainers in blackface as celebrations of African American culture rather than deliberate insults.

Now the reason I am writing this, aside from the fact that  I find Al Jolson’s life and career to be interesting, is that I have found it helpful to try to impute the best possible motives for the actions of the people I run into. That is to say, rather than assuming they are acting from rudeness or malice, I try to think of good reasons for why people do what they do. I cannot say that I am very accomplished in this way of thinking. It seems to run against human nature. It is natural for us to make excuses for our own actions while judging others more harshly. I am trying to reverse this natural tendency by trying to make excuses for others while judging myself more harshly, or at any rate more honestly. Some might say that if I succeed in this endeavor I might become something of a Pollyanna, but I think that it would be worth risking becoming more naive to become more tolerant and charitable in my thinking. I might manage to make myself a genuinely good person.

I think that our country as a whole might be better off, especially in racial matters, if we applied this method to each other. What if, instead of seeking out evidence of racism everywhere, we focus on the real progress in racial relations we have made over the last decades? What if instead of canceling people for a bad joke or unfortunate remark made years ago, we accept that they made a mistake and have moved on? What if, in other words, instead of believing the worst of our fellow Americans, that we are a people seething with systemic racism, we assume the best, that we are human beings and like all human beings we make mistakes but we are trying to do better? We might actually make this country a better place.

Chief

August 13, 2020

Catherine Roome President and Chief/Lead Executive Officer of Technical Safety BC explains why she felt it was necessary to change her title.

A few weeks ago, in my role as the president and chief executive officer of Technical Safety BC, I sent an e-mail to our 450 employees about racism and, in particular, systemic racism against people of colour.

I wrote about my hope that the Black Lives Matter movement would present Canada with an opportunity to define what a better world looks like. I also wrote that deeply seated racism in our society includes racism toward Indigenous peoples – the original inhabitants of these lands.

In response, many Technical Safety BC employees from across British Columbia took the opportunity to share their experiences and expressed calls for action and reflection. In particular, I was urged to consider the importance of language and the titles that many of us adopt and use without thinking.

As folks who know me well will tell you, I am a stickler for inclusive language. I often interrupt people – board directors, heads of organizations, politicians and others – if I feel they are using titles for our employees that are outdated.

She sounds like a real joy to work for. I imagine the working environment at Technical Safety BC must resemble something out of Orwell. Her subordinates must live in constant fear of accidentally using the wrong word or committing thoughtcrime.

So to receive constructive feedback on my own use of language made me sit up and take notice.

One particularly courageous colleague pointed out that I was using a word in my title, president and chief executive officer, that represents something deeply meaningful to many Indigenous peoples. It is a word that is honoured and respected in First Nations culture and conveys a meaning very different to organizational leadership.

If I were the President and CEO of a company and one of my employees said something like that, I would respond by pointing out that if he has so much free time on his hands that he can obsess over politically correct terminology then his position is obviously superfluous. Of course, if I were the CEO of a corporation I wouldn’t be hectoring my employees about using outdated titles. I wouldn’t even be wasting my and the company’s time on the latest woke causes. I would be doing my job and trying to make the company as profitable as possible for the shareholders.

I wonder if the particularly courageous colleague was himself a Native American or whether any Native Americans have ever actually objected to the use of the word chief in the title Chief Executive Officer. For matter, I wonder if the word chief actually has any deep meaning to any Indigenous peoples. It is not a Native American word.

The origin of my original title is European. That doesn’t give me a pass. Asking about how racism affects a person and being given an answer means I can choose to listen and do something, or I can stay silent.

To be precise Chief derives from Old French chef or chief which comes from Vulgar Latin capum which in turn is derived from the Latin caput meaning head. When English speaking Europeans encountered the Indians they simply applied this generic word to the leaders of the various tribes or nations they dealt with. It is not a word invested with deep meaning and I wonder whether the use of the word chief to designate the leader of a sovereign polity might not have been somewhat derogatory. If the English settlers and explorers had believed the people they were dealing with to be equals they might have referred to their leaders as kings or princes. But this is a digression.

I have long been a champion for Indigenous rights and reconciliation. Yet I am ashamed to say, the thought had never even occurred to me that the title I proudly held could evoke such a response, or even be viewed as disrespectful to the very reconciliation process that I support.

That might be because the title she proudly held is not, in fact, disrespectful nor would it evoke any response at all from sane people.

So upon reflection, I have changed my title within the organization to president and lead executive officer.

Is anyone’s life going to be improved by Ms. Roome’s decision? Is the life of a single Native American Indian going to be made better, even if every Chief Executive Officer in Canada changed their title? Is Ms. Roome really doing anything to help anyone? No, of course not. All Ms. Roome is doing is making herself feel better about herself and looking virtuous in front of her peers. Going out and providing concrete help to the First Nation communities would require hard work and sacrifice on her part. She would have to give up her high salary and cushy lifestyle. Changing her title costs Ms. Roome absolutely nothing.

It seems to me that all this political correctness, wokeness, or being a social justice warrior, or whatever you want to call it is not really about helping the oppressed or marginalized at all, despite the pretensions. None of these people seem to be at all interested in actually going out and helping anybody. They are not even all that interested in finding out what the supposed oppressed really want or think. Are Native Americans really offended by the use of the word chief? Do they really care if sports teams use American Indian themed names? Who cares? There is virtue signaling to be done?

It seems to me that the woke are more like some middle school clique than fearless crusaders for the oppressed. Like the members of a clique, they have their own jargon and manners to distinguish the cool kids, the in-group from the nerds. That is all this professed concern for the marginalized really amounts to, separating the cool kids from the nerds, the virtuous from the bigots. It is a way for them to feel good about themselves and an excuse to bully the uncool.

Is Ms. Roome and others like her were really going out and helping the oppressed, they would deserve our respect and admiration. Since all they are really interested in doing is showing off what wonderful people they are, they deserve nothing but ridicule.

 


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