Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2018
Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of...

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth or May. Contrary to what is commonly believed, (including myself), Cinco de Mayo is actually more of an American, or at least a Mexican-American, holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated regionally in Mexico, Primarily in the state of Puebla and Vera Cruz. Schools are closed on this day, but it is not an official national holiday in Mexico.

 

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of  Puebla on May 5, 1862. In 1861, the Mexican government was bankrupt and President Benito Juarez suspended payments on Mexico’s foreign debt. In response Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to occupy the city of Vera Cruz and demand payment on the debts Mexico owed them. Juarez managed to come to an arraignment with Britain and Spain, but the French, ruled by Emperor Napoleon III had other ideas.

 

Louis Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon I Bonaparte. He had somehow managed to get himself elected as president of the Second Republic of  France in 1848, but he decided that president was not a grand enough title for a Bonaparte and in 1851 he seized dictatorial power in France and named himself Emperor. In spite of being the nephew of Napoleon I, Napoleon III was not a particularly aggressive Emperor and was mostly content to have France at peace with other European powers. With the crisis in Mexico, however, Napoleon III saw an opportunity for France to gain an empire in Latin America. The United States was involved in the Civil War and was in no position to try to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In fact, an additional benefit to French occupation of Mexico would be to give France a base with which to send aid to the Confederate States, keeping the nation divided and unable to resist the French conquest.

 

The French army invaded Mexico with 8000 men under the command of General Charles de Lorencez late in 1861. This army marched from Vera Cruz in April of 1862 and defeated Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin on April 28. Seguin retreated to the city of Puebla where the Mexicans had two forts. Seguin had only 4500 badly armed and trained men to defend the city. It seemed likely that the French would crush the Mexicans and march on to Mexico City without and further resistance.

 

On May 5, Lorencez attacked the forts with 6500 men. Against all odds the Mexicans successfully defended the forts against three assaults. By the third assault, the French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the infantry had to attack without artillery support. They were driven back and the French had to fall back. Then, Seguin attacked with his cavalry while the Mexican infantry outflanked the French on both sides of their positions. The French were routed with 462 men killed, while the Mexicans only suffered 83 dead. This unlikely victory has been an inspiration for Mexican patriots ever since.

 

The victory was a short-lived one. Napoleon III sent reinforcements to Mexico and the French were able to conquer the country. Napoleon III placed the Austrian Hapsburg Maximilian as the first Emperor of the Mexican Empire. He was also the last Emperor, since as soon as the United States was finished with the Civil War, the U S government made it clear to Napoleon III that it would not tolerate a French colony on the southern border. Since Napoleon III did not want to fight a war against battle hardened Civil War veterans, he removed the French troops. Maximilian, despite the fact that he sincerely tried to govern Mexico well, was quickly overthrown and executed.

 

Although Benito Juarez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated by Mexicans in the American Southwest, the territories the US gained in the Mexican War. The former Mexicans began to celebrate Cinco de Mayo both as a way to express their Mexican identity and to show their support for the North in the Civil War. It may seem odd that these unwilling Americans would care about a war half a continent away, but the Mexicans were against slavery and Hispanics insisted that California enter the United States as a free state. Cinco de Mayo gained in popularity in the 1960s with the rise of Latino activism and still more in the 1980s when beer companies realized that the celebratory nature of the holiday would be a good marketing tool to sell more beer.

 

So happy Cinco de Mayo, or should I say feliz Cinco de Mayo!

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Election of 1872

April 12, 2018

As it happened, electing a man with no political experience to the presidency might not have been a very good idea, even if the man was Ulysses S. Grant, one of the best generals in American history. Grant’s presidency was not the disaster it has often been made out to be. The Grant administration had some solid accomplishments to its credit. Grant consistently upheld the civil rights of the freed Blacks in the South and used federal troops to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant sought, not very successfully. to ensure that the Native Americans were treated with some degree of justice. I suspect that the poor reputation as a general and president that Grant has had for most of the twentieth century was the result of Southern historians, the same ones who concocted the Lost Cause mythology, blackening Grant’s reputation as revenge for his defeating their idol Robert E. Lee and standing up for the rights of the former slaves. Recently, Grant’s military reputation has been rehabilitated by military historians who now see him as a masterful strategist and I hope that political historians will follow suit.

That being said, no one is likely to list Ulysses S. Grant as one of the top ten Presidents of the United States. The problem was that Grant turned out to be a remarkably poor judge of character, at least in the civilian sphere. Grant himself was honest, but many of the men he appointed to office were not. Because this was the time before civil service reform when the Spoils System was still in operation meaning that almost every government post was a political appointee. If an incoming president appointed corrupt men, it didn’t take very long for the whole government to become thoroughly corrupt, which is what happened in Grant’s first term.

Despite several scandals, Grant was still personally popular and there was no question that the Republican Party would nominate him for a second term. A number of the more liberal Republicans were sufficiently disgusted with the corruption in the federal government and dissatisfied with Grant’s Reconstruction policies to separate themselves from the Republican Party to form the Liberal Republican Party. This new party, which included such prominent Republicans as Ambassador to Britain to Charles Francis Adams, Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, and  Senator Carl Schurz from Missouri held its convention in Cincinnati from May 1-3. There they nominated Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the New York Tribune for the presidency.

Greeley was an unexpected and somewhat unusual choice for the nomination. He was not really a politician, only having served a brief term in Congress back in 1848-1849. He had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and may have given the party its name. He was chiefly a newspaper man however and was used to speaking his mind on every subject. People often say that they want a candidate you says what he really thinks, but they are lying. What people say is that they want a candidate who says what they want to hear and Greeley was not that man He simply didn’t know when to keep quiet or carefully parse his words as an experienced politician learns to do. This openness would not help him during the campaign.

The Liberal Republicans went on to nominate Benjamin G. Brown, the liberal Governor of Missouri. Like Greeley, Brown had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and had served as a Senator from Missouri from 1963-1867 and then Governor from 1871-1873. Brown had served in the Union Army from 1861-1863 before being appointed Senator to fill a vacancy left by the departure of his pro-confederate predecessor. The Liberal Republicans adopted a platform which attacked the corruption of the Grant administration, supported civil service reform and ending Reconstruction and the military occupation of the South. They had some problems with the important issue of protective tariffs, but they made some vague statement about it being up to the people to decide.

The Republicans met in Philadelphia from June 5-6. They nominated Grant  for reelection by acclamation on the first ballot. Grant’s nomination was seconded by William Henry Grey, the first African-American to address an American political convention. Vice-President Colfax was dropped from the ticket because of his suspected involvement with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the convention nominated Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts in his place. Senator Wilson had long been an anti-slavery activist and was a founder of the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party, which he also helped found. Wilson had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1855-1873. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs from 1861-1973, Wilson had played an important role in the Union’s war efforts. The Republicans went on to adopt a platform praising Republican achievements since 1861. The Republican platform made some mention of civil service reform and tariffs, without too many details on either subject, and favored the protection of the civil rights of all citizens in every part of the country.

The Democrats met in Baltimore from July 9-10, and promptly nominated the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. At only six hours, the Democratic National Convention of 1872 was the shortest political convention in American, and possibly world, history. It might seem strange that the Democrats did not nominate candidates who were actually Democrats, Horace Greeley had been an especially fierce critic of the Democrats, but they wanted to see Grant out of office and believed that nominated their own candidates would only have split the anti-Grant vote, allowing him to win. It didn’t turn out to be an especially good plan.

The campaign was a nasty one, as usual. Grant was assailed as an ignorant, corrupt drunkard. Grant remained silent, preferring not to actively campaign, but his supporters had plenty of ammunition to use against Greeley. During his long career as editor of the New York Tribune, Greeley had endorsed any number of fringe causes; socialism, utopian communes, vegetarianism  etc, and the Republicans had a field day making fun of his eccentricities. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if the Democrats had nominated someone more, well, normal. Grant was popular enough among regular Republicans, bankers and industrialists, Civil War veterans, and Blacks, that he would have probably beaten any Democrat.

In the end, Grant won in a landslide with 3,598,235 (55.6%) popular votes against Greeley’s 2,834,761 (43.8%). The electoral vote was even more lopsided. Grant won all but six states gaining 286 electoral votes. Greeley won just Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, for a total of 66 electoral votes. Arkansas and Louisiana had voted for Grant but the electoral votes were rejected due to irregularities arising from Reconstruction and so weren’t counted.

The Election of 1872

 

Horace Greeley took his defeat hard. He became ill and died just three weeks after the election, before the Electoral College met to cast the official ballots. This created the unprecedented situation in which a presidential candidate had died before the election was formally concluded. The Democratic electors resolved the issue by simply casting their votes for four other candidates. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the victor of the popular election had ever died before the Electoral College met.

Humanzee

April 8, 2018

The mad dream of Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov lives on! You may recall that Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was the Soviet mad scientist who sought to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid, or a humanzee, back in the 1920’s. Ivanov never came close to succeeding in part because the technology of the time was not advanced enough and also perhaps because the Soviet government never really gave Ivanov’s project the funding it needed. It seems that even the most ruthless and amoral ruling class in history, Stalin and the Bolsheviks, felt a bit queasy at the prospect. This unease has effectively prevented any further attempts at creating a humanzee and no one has even suggested such an experiment, until now.

David P. Barash, writing in Nautilus has proposed that making a humanzee might be a terrific idea.

 

It is a bit of a stretch, but by no means impossible or even unlikely that a hybrid or a chimera combining a human being and a chimpanzee could be produced in a laboratory. After all, human and chimp (or bonobo) share, by most estimates, roughly 99 percent of their nuclear DNA. Granted this 1 percent difference presumably involves some key alleles, the new gene-editing tool CRISPR offers the prospect (for some, the nightmare) of adding and deleting targeted genes as desired. As a result, it is not unreasonable to foresee the possibility—eventually, perhaps, the likelihood—of producing “humanzees” or “chimphumans.” Such an individual would not be an exact equal-parts-of-each combination, but would be neither human nor chimp: rather, something in between.

If that prospect isn’t shocking enough, here is an even more controversial suggestion: Doing so would be a terrific idea.

His reasoning:

Of course, all that we know of evolution (and by now, it’s a lot) demands otherwise, since evolution’s most fundamental take-home message is continuity. And it is in fact because of continuity—especially those shared genes—that humanzees or chimphumans could likely be produced. Moreover, I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things. There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.1

It is also possible, however, that my suggestion is doubly fanciful, not only with respect to its biological feasibility, but also whether such a “creation” would have the impact that I propose—and hope. Thus, chimpanzees are widely known to be very similar to human beings: They make and use tools, engage in complex social behavior (including elaborate communication and long-lasting mother-offspring bonds), they laugh, grieve, and affirmatively reconcile after conflicts. They even look like us. Although such recognition has contributed to outrage about abusing chimps—as well as other primates in particular—in circus acts, laboratory experiments, and so forth, it has not generated notable resistance to hunting, imprisoning and eating other animal species, which, along with chimps themselves, are still considered by most people to be “other” and not aspects of “ourselves.” (Chimps, moreover, are enthusiastically consumed in parts of equatorial Africa, where they are a prized component of “bush meat.”)

Let’s stop right there. What Barash is saying is that there is no real distinction between humans and other animals. There is a continuity between human and animals and the difference in intelligence is a matter or degree and not of kind. In other words, we humans are no more than really intelligent animals.

This simply isn’t true. There is an actual discontinuity between human and animal cognition. Human beings are able to do things no other animal can do. This is not simply a matter of intelligence, There are some very intelligent animals and very stupid humans. This is a matter of a fundamental difference in mental ability. It is a difference of kind, not merely of degree. Every single human being, even the mentally handicapped,  has a special quality of mind that no other animal has and the advent of this quality of mind represented a quantum leap in evolution perhaps as great as the development of the central nervous system of the first vertebrates.

Barash disagrees. Very well, let him show me the ape Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s hear music composed by the primate Mozart or Beethoven. Let’s display paintings by the monkey Rembrandt.  No doubt there is a chimpanzee Edison somewhere making new inventions to benefit us all or a gorilla Einstein offering us new insights into time and space. For that matter, where is the ape Hitler. The special human quality can be used for evil as well as good. Chimpanzees have been observed to commit “genocide” against rival bands of chimps. There has been no chimpanzee Holocaust, however, because chimpanzees lack the ability to organize to commit such great evil. I’d even be satisfied if Barash can show us an ape that can read and write, tell stories, or create representational art as well as a child in kindergarten.

Would a humanzee have this special quality of mind? It is hard to say. I have a feeling that it might but not so much as a full human. The humanzee might be just intelligent enough to know it is lacking something. Such a being would probably not be as intelligent as a human being. It might also not be very intelligent by chimpanzee standards since it may lack the instincts that a chimpanzee has. The humanzee would be neither human nor animal, belonging to neither worlds. Chimpanzees would probably reject his society, probably violently. Humans would see him as a freak, a laboratory curiosity. Like a mule, the humanzee would be sterile, unable to bring forth more of his or her kind into the world. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the humanzee may have just cause to hate his creator for bringing him into a world in which he has no place.

Barash recognizes these possibilities, but then instantly dismisses them.

Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates. It is also arguable, moreover, that such individuals might not be so unfortunate at all. For every chimphuman or humanzee frustrated by her inability to write a poem or program a computer, there could equally be one delighted by her ability to do so while swinging from a tree branch.

What lesson would a humanzee teach human beings about their true nature? What great benefits might derive from such a creation?

ooking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

In any event, the nonsensical insistence that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image and endowed with a soul, whereas other living things are mere brutes has not only permitted but encouraged an attitude toward the natural world in general and other animals in particular that has been at best indifferent and more often, downright antagonistic, jingoistic, and in many cases, intolerably cruel. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people have been able to justify keeping other animals in such hideous conditions as factory farms in which they are literally unable to turn around, not to mention prevented from experiencing anything approaching a fulfilling life.

By establishing that we humans are nothing special, that we are simply animals like any other, albeit with more intelligence, Barash believes that we will come to treat animals more humanely. Notice how we use the word “humane”. People who argue against cruelty to animals believe in the humane treatment of animals. There is the Humane Society. Why do we use a word derived from the same source as “human”. Perhaps because humans are the only animal that has been observed consistently treating other species with some degree of kindness, as well as deliberate cruelty. The case against cruelty to animals is made precisely on the basis that we are ourselves, somehow more than animals and thus are obliged to exercise more responsibility in our treatment of other animals than they use in treating each other.

But, if we are nothing more than merely another species, simply a clever ape, then maybe we do not have that responsibility either to other animals or to our fellow human beings. If we are not created in the image of God, then maybe we have no inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, which we are required to respect. It is not really possible to raise animals to the status of human beings. It is possible to degrade human beings to the status of animals, and all too often in history groups of human beings have been regarded as less than human and treated accordingly. If we are regarded as nothing special, the result will not be that we will treat animals as though they are the same as humans. That really is not possible. The result will be that we will treat humans like animals, or worse. That is all too possible.

The creation of a human-chimpanzee hybrid is a truly terrible idea, proposed for the worst of motives. It is possible that such a thing could be done, though less easily than Mr. Barash believes. It is certain that it ought not to be done.

Easter

April 1, 2018

We left the story of Jesus of Nazareth last Friday. He had been executed in the most painful and degrading way possible. His closest followers were disperse and in hiding. It must have seemed that Jesus and his movement had ended in utter failure. But then, something remarkable happened. This something is commemorated by the Easter holiday. Although Christmas is the more popular Christian holiday, Easter is actually the most important holiday in the liturgical year as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection is theologically more important than his Nativity. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Gospel of Mark has the most concise account on what happened that first Easter.

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,out of whom he had driven seven demons.10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these sign swill accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues;18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:1-20)

Mark 16:9-20 seems to be a later addition. At any rate, the earliest manuscripts do not have those verses. Whether the original ending has been lost or Mark intended to end his account so abruptly is unknown.

Matthew has more details.

1After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:1-20)

Luke and John have more to say of Jesus after His resurrection but I won’t quote them here.

The date of Easter has been a matter of some controversy in past centuries. The date of Easter is related to the date of Passover. The calculations on which the date of Easter is determined is based on a lunisolar cycle like the date of Passover but the cycle is not the Hebrew calendar. Generally Easter falls about a week after Passover but it occurs about a month later in three years of the nineteen year cycle. Various groups of Christians have had different methods of calculating Easter over the years and these differences have led to bitter disputes. There is still a different date for Easter among the Eastern churches since they use the Julian calendar for the liturgical year while Catholics and Protestants use the Gregorian calendar.

Among Catholics and some Protestants, Easter is generally celebrated by an Easter vigil beginning the previous evening. At dawn, a mass or service begins, etc.

And, of course, many people celebrate Easter by finding Easter eggs and eating candy delivered by the Easter Bunny.

 

Good Friday

March 30, 2018

Today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. It may seem strange to call it “Good” Friday since being crucified wouldn’t normally be considered as part of a good day but the word good is used in an obsolete sense meaning holy. Good Friday is generally celebrated with fasts and vigils. In the Roman Catholic church no mass is held on this day.

Once again, I will be using the Gospel of Mark to tell the story.

Mark 15

1Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.

2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”

5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.

13Crucify him!” they shouted.

14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:1-15)

It would seem that this meeting of the Sanhedrin at night and before Passover was highly irregular and some have questioned the historicity of the Gospel accounts on that basis. I think that if the elders and priests of the Sanhedrin believed Jesus to be on the point of declaring himself the Messiah and leading a rebellion, they might not have been too concerned with fine points of legality in the face of a national emergency. Little is known of Pontius Pilate but in the historical accounts of Josephus and others, he does not seem to be the sort of man who had any scruples about putting a trouble maker to death even if he wasn’t certain of the man’s guilt. It is possible that he was impressed by Jesus’s force of personality. On the other hand, Josephus makes it clear that Pilate was a tactless man who did not like the Jews much. He was eventually recalled because his actions seemed likely to cause rebellions. Perhaps Pilate resented having the High Priest and others, who he might have considered semi-barbarians, insist on his crucifying a man. He might have refused just to be obstinate.

16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. [28][a]29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.(Mark 15:16-32)

Luke has one of the thieves taking Jesus’s side.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Crucifixion is probably the most painful method method of execution ever devised. The victim is slowly asphyxiated as he hangs on the cross. It was not uncommon for a man to linger for days writhing in pain the whole time. In addition to the pain, crucifixion was meant to be a humiliating, shameful punishment. Only the lowest of the low were crucified, which might have been a stumbling block to early Christian proselytizing.

33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[b]

35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph,[d] and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Those words were the first verse of Psalm 22. Matthew’s account parallels Mark’s but Luke and John report different last words.

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[e] When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:46)

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.(John 19:28-30)

John adds another detail.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”[c]37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)

Strange as it may seem, the breaking of their legs was an act of mercy since they would die sooner. It was surprising that Jesus had died after only being about six hours on the cross.

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

To anyone on the scene, this must have seemed the end of the matter. Jesus of Nazareth was dead and his followers scattered. It would seem that, at best, he would only be a minor footnote in history.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Palm Sunday

March 25, 2018

 

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the climax of his earthly ministry.

Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matt 21:1-11)

 

Palm Sunday is often celebrated by palm leaves to worshippers in churches. If palm leaves are not available locally, than other tree branches may be substituted. In many churches the priest or other clergy blesses the palms and they are saved to be burned at Ash Wednesday the following year.

The actual date of Palm Sunday, like Easter varies from year to year because the date is based on a lunisolar cycle like the Hebrew calendar. The date differs between Western and Eastern Christianity because most Eastern churches still use the Julian calendar for their liturgical year, even though the Gregorian calendar is universally used for civil purposes.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, or the last week of Lent.

 

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2018

Today is St. Patrick‘s day and I thought it might be appropriate to write about St. Patrick. So, who is St. Patrick and why does he get a day? Not very much is known for certain about his life. It is possible that his story has been confused with one Palladius, a missionary who became the first bishop of Ireland. Still, Patrick wrote a short autobiography called “The Declaration” or “The Confession” as part of a letter which seems to be genuine.

Get out snakes!

Patrick, or Patricius was a Roman who lived in Britain. He may have been born around 387 and lived until 460 or possibly 493, so he lived during the twilight of the Roman Empire in the West. At the age of 16 he was captured by raiders and enslaved. He worked as a shepherd in Ireland for about six years. He managed to escape and return to his home, but then he became a priest and returned to the land where he was a slave and worked to convert the pagans to Christianity. He seems to have been very successful during his lifetime, though there were many other missionaries in Ireland. He helped to organize the Church in Ireland and is supposed to have traveled to Rome to seek the Pope’s assistance in this endeavor.

According to legend, Patrick died on March 17, so that date has become his feast day. He has never been officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. He became known as a saint long before the modern procedure for canonization was developed. He is, obviously, the patron saint of Ireland, and also Nigeria, Montserrat, engineers, paralegals, and the dioceses of New York, Boston, and Melbourne.

There are many legends about St. Patrick. The most widely known is that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland, thus ruining the local ecology. Another is that he used the example of the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the trinity.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all the Irish, and Irish at heart, out there!

Sorry about the green text. I couldn’t resist.

The Election of 1868

March 15, 2018

The crisis of secession and the Civil War did not end with Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Even as the war ended, there remained the difficult process of Reconstruction with important questions to decide. Under what conditions were the defeated,  former Confederate states to be readmitted into the Union? Should the South be treated leniently, as though the Rebellion had never happened, or should it be harshly punished?  The Civil War had settled the question of slavery once and for all, but what would be done with all the Black former slaves. Were they to have equal rights with their White former masters, including the right to vote? Could a population held in bondage and kept ignorant and uneducated be expected to use their new-found freedom responsibly? It would have required a leader with the wisdom and political acumen of Abraham Lincoln to make these fateful decisions. Unfortunately, thanks to John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln was no longer available to lead the country through the shoals of Reconstruction and his successor, Andrew Johnson was a man who entirely lacked the wisdom and political acumen the country badly needed.

Both Presidents Lincoln and Johnson favored a lenient policy towards the defeated South. Lincoln’s position on the civil rights of the freed slaves was somewhat ambiguous. While he was always opposed to slavery, Lincoln had never been an advocate for racial equality. There is some evidence that towards the end of the war Lincoln was beginning to evolve on the issue and support some measure of civil rights protection for the freed slaves, including, perhaps, the franchise.

Andrew Johnson’s position was not ambiguous at all. As a man who had worked his way up from the humblest class of poor Southern Whites, Johnson had had no use for the Blacks as slaves and still less regard for them as freedmen. President Johnson’s views inevitably led to clash with Congress which was under the control of the Radical Republicans, who wanted to see the South punished for the Rebellion, and were deeply concerned for the freed slaves. Ultimately, the struggle between the president and Congress led to Johnson being impeached in 1868, only escaping conviction by one vote.

Needless to say, there was no chance of Andrew Johnson running for a second term. The Republicans met in Chicago on May 20, while Johnson’s impeachment trial was underway in Washington. They nominated General Ulysses S. Grant on the first ballot. Grant had not held any previous political office and he had never shown much interest in politics but the leaders of the Republican party believed they needed to nominate a popular hero to ensure a victory in November and at the time there was no one more popular than the man who had “saved the Union”. This description may be an exaggeration, perhaps, but as the Commanding General of the United States Army, Grant did play an important role in securing the North’s victory. He, along with his friend General William T. Sherman seemed to be the only generals on either side who really understood how to fight and win the Civil War, and winning the victory would have been a great deal more difficult without Grant’s actions in the West and then in overall command. It was true that Grant had no experience in politics, but he was a great general, so how much trouble could he have?

For Grant’s running mate, the Republicans selected Schuyler Colfax. Colfax was a Radical Republican from Indiana who had served in Congress since 1855 and had been Speaker of the House since 1863. The Republicans adopted a platform opposing Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction policies while supporting the plans of the Radical Republicans particularly supporting the franchise for the former slaves in the South. They were not quite so passionate about Black suffrage in the North, leaving the matter to the “loyal states’ but the Republicans hoped that the freedmen in the South would express their gratitude by voting for them. Grant’s slogan was, “Let us have peace”, which while not perhaps as catchy as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” or “Make America great again”, was appealing to a nation weary of war.

The Democrats had a lot more trouble selecting their candidate when they met at New York from July 4-9. No one wanted Andrew Johnson for a second term, but they couldn’t decide who the presidential nominee would be. The Democratic Party was divided ideologically between conservatives and liberals and regionally between East and West and no one wanted a representative from a rival faction to get the nomination. Finally, after twenty-one ballots the Democrats chose the Chairman of the Democratic Convention and former New York governor, Horatio Seymour. Seymour had  served as Governor of New York from 1853-1854 and again from 1863-1864. Both of his terms had been rather tumultuous costing him reelection both times, but Seymour remained popular in the Democratic Party. He had been a Peace Democrat, striving to find some compromise to bring the seceded states back into the Union while opposing President Lincoln’s conduct of the war, particularly the abridgment of civil liberties. Seymour did not want to be president and tried to refuse the nomination but it was forced upon him. Seymour’s running mate, General Francis Preston Blair, more than made up for Seymour’s lack of zeal, campaigning vigorously after his nomination. Blair had been a Republican, opposed to slavery and secession and had served as a Representative from Missouri from 1857-1859, 1860, and 1861-1864. The gap in his career in Congress was the result of a disputed election for his Congressional district in 1860. During the Civil War Blair was a staunch supporter of Lincoln, but he broke with the Republican Party during Reconstruction, opposing the Radical Republicans on the question of suffrage for the freed slaves, who he viewed as little more than savages.

The election of 1868 was a nasty one. The Republicans labeled Seymour a traitor and Confederate sympathizer for his lack of support for the North and were quick to remind voters which party had been the peace party during that conflict. The Democrats, for their part, condemned Grant as a drunk and an incompetent and made use of race prejudice in their attacks on Congressional Reconstruction, particularly on plans to enfranchise the Black former slaves. The Democrats insisted that the states should be able to set their own policies to determined who could vote. While the Republicans organized the former slaves, counting on their gratitude to the party that had supported abolition, the Democrats employed a curious sort of logic to appeal to the former slaves, when they were not trying to keep them from the polls altogether. They argued that since the Democrats had led the South into succession and the resulting Civil War had led to their emancipation, the Democrats were ultimately responsible for their freedom. The former slaves weren’t buying it.

In the end, the election was a close one in the popular vote. Grant got 3,013,421 or 52.7% of the popular vote while Seymour received 2,706,829 or 47.3%. The Democrats had proved to be rather more popular than most observers had expected. Grant did better in the Electoral College getting 214 Electoral Votes to Seymour’s 80. Grant had carried 26 states, losing Seymour’s home state, New York, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana and Oregon. Texas, Mississippi and Virginia were still under military occupation and did not participate in the election. It was obvious that the freed slaves had put the Republicans over the top in the popular vote totals and the Republicans responded by supporting the fifteenth amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race.

The Election of 1868

Pi Day

March 14, 2018
English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University o...

English: Pi Pie, created at Delft University of Technology, applied physics, seismics and acoustics Deutsch: Pi Pie (π-Kuchen), hergestellt an der Technischen Universität Delft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all of the nerds out there, including me, today is international Pi Day, the day when we celebrate our favorite mathematical constant. Pi Day is best celebrated by pi memorization contests, walking in circles, and, of course, eating pies, or is it pis? I think I will celebrate by writing a little about pi.

Pi or π is, as everyone should know, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Pi is an irrational number. By this, they do not mean that pi makes no sense but rather that pi is a constant that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. Numbers like 2 or .445 or 1/2 can be expressed as a ratio of two integers and so are rational. Numbers like pi or the square root of any number that is not a perfect square, the square root of 2 for instance, are irrational. An irrational number expressed in decimal form never ends or repeats but continues to infinity. Thus, there can never be a last digit of pi.

The symbol π was first by the mathematician William Jones in 1706 and was popularized by another mathematician, Leonhard Euler. They chose π, the Greek equivalent of the Latin letter p, because it is the first letter of the word periphery. Π, by the way is not pronounce “pie” in Greek but “pee”, just like our p. I don’t think that international “pee” day would be nearly so appealing.

Although the symbol for pi is relatively recent, the concept is very old. The ancient Egyptians and Babylonians knew about it. Pi is even mentioned in the Bible.

23 He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits[o] to measure around it. 24 Below the rim, gourds encircled it—ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. (1 Kings 7:23-24)

Properly speaking, the line around the “Sea” should have been 31.5 cubits but the ancient Hebrews were not very knowledgeable about geometry and measuring techniques were crude.

There is no particular reason to calculate pi to so many digits. No conceivable application of pi would possibly take more than 40 digits. Still, the challenge of calculating pi to the farthest digit possible has been an irresistible one for mathematicians over the years.

Around 250 BC, Archimedes was the first mathematician to seriously try to calculate pi. He used a geometric method of drawing polygons inside and outside a circle and measuring their perimeters. By using polygons with more and more sides he was able to calculate pi with more precision and ended determining the value of pi as somewhere between 3.1408 and 3.1429. Archimedes’s method was used in the west for more than a eighteen hundred years. The Chinese and Indians used similar methods. The best result using the geometric method was the calculation of pi to 38 digits in 1630.

With the development of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz in the 1660’s it was possible to calculate pi using infinite series, or the sum of the terms of an infinite sequence. The best calculations with these methods were done by the mathematician Zacharias Daze who calculated pi to 200 places in 1844 and William Shanks who spent fifteen years to calculate pi to 707 digits. Unfortunately he made a mistake with the 528 digit. Meanwhile, in 1761 Johann Heinrich Lambert proved that pi is irrational.

Computers made the calculation of pi much faster so pi could be calculated to more digits. ENIAC calculated pi to 2037 places in 1949. This record didn’t last long. A million digits were reached 1970. As of  2011, pi has been calculated to 10,000,000,000,050 places.

Pi is not just used in geometry. There are a number of applications of pi in the fields of statistics, mechanics, thermodynamics, cosmology, and many others. Here is a list of just some of the formulae that use pi. It seems you can find pi everywhere.

With that in mind then, happy pi day! For your enjoyment here are the first thousand digits of pi.

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510
  58209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679
  82148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128
  48111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196
  44288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091
  45648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273
  72458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436
  78925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094
  33057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548
  07446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912
  98336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798
  60943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132
  00056812714526356082778577134275778960917363717872
  14684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235
  42019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960
  51870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859
  50244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881
  71010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303
  59825349042875546873115956286388235378759375195778
  18577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2018
English: Saint Valentine kneeling

Valentine?

Today is Valentine’s Day, or St. Valentine‘s Day. Who was Valentine and why does he get a day named after him? The truth is, nobody really knows.Valentine or Valentinus was the name of an early Christian saint and martyr. The trouble is that nothing is known of him except his name. He may have been a Roman priest who was martyred in 269. There was a Valentine who was bishop of Terni who may have been the same man. St. Valentine was dropped from the Roman calendar of Saints in 1969 because of these uncertainties but local churches may still celebrate his day.

It is also not certain how Valentine’s day became associated with love. Some have speculated that the holiday was a Christian substitute for the Roman festival of Lupercalia. However, there is no hint of any association of Valentine’s Day with romance until the time of Chauncer. The holiday seems to have really taken off with the invention of greeting cards.

. Valentine postcard, circa 1900–1910


%d bloggers like this: