Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Palm Sunday

April 5, 2020

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, then 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, 2020

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 1888

March 15, 2020

The election of 1888 was all about tariffs. There were other issues, to be sure, and the usual amount of mudslinging, but it was mostly about tariffs. Tariffs may not seem to be an issue to get especially excited about, but in those days before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. Moreover, many people believe that high tariffs were essential to protect American industry for foreign, particularly British, competition. President Grover Cleveland had come out in favor of lower tariffs in his message to Congress in December 1887, arguing that the high tariff was an excessive and unjust level of taxation that hurt consumers. Some of the president’s advisors had fretted that his stand on lowering the tariff would hurt his chance of reelection, But Cleveland simply replied, “What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?”

The Democrats held their national convention in St. Louis, Missouri from June 5-7. Grover Cleveland was nominated for a second term by acclamation, the first Democratic president nominated to run for a second term since Martin Van Buren back in 1840. Since President Cleveland’s Vice-President, Thomas A. Hendricks had died on November 25, 1885, the Democrats needed to select a new Vice-Presidential nominee. They picked Allen G. Thurman from Ohio after only one ballot. Allen G Thurman had had a long and distinguished career in politics, serving in the House of Representatives from 1845 to 1847 and was the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court from 1854 to 1856. Thurman was a Senator from Ohio from 1869 to 1881 and was on the commission to resolve the contentious election of 1876. Thurman was also known for opposing land grants to railroad companies and was said to have left the Senate as poor as when he had entered it.

The Republicans met in Chicago from June 19-25. James G Blaine was the front runner, but he withdrew, deciding that he was too controversial to defeat Grover Cleveland. Instead, the Republicans nominate Benjamin Harrison from Indiana on the seventh ballot. Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison. He had fought in the Civil War helping to raise a regiment and rising to the rank of brevet brigadier general. After the war Harrison worked as a lawyer and became involved in Indiana politics, serving as a senator from 1881 to 1887. The Republicans went on to nominate Levi P. Morton from New York for the Vice-Presidency. Levi P. Morton had served in the House of Representatives from1879 to 1881, as Minister to France from 1881 to 1885 and the Governor of New York from 1895 to 1896. As the American Minister to France, Levi Morton had officially accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty and had placed the first rivet in the statue.

 

The Greenback Party had faded away, but there were some minor party candidates. There was the Prohibition Party nominated Brigadier General Clinton B. Fisk for president and John A. Brooks for Vice-President and ended up getting 249,819 (2.2%) votes.

 

The Union Labor Party nominated Alson Streeter and Charles E. Cunningham and got just 146,602 (1.31%) votes.

 

The campaign was mostly about the tariff question with Cleveland and the Democrats supporting lower tariffs and Harrison and the Republicans in favor of higher protective tariffs. It wouldn’t have been an American election, however, if there weren’t at least some personal attacks. The Republicans accused Cleveland of abusing his young wife, Frances Folsom who he had married in the White House in 1886. She denied the story, assuring everyone that Grover was a kind and considerate husband. The Democrats retaliated by accusing Benjamin Harrison of being anti-Catholic, anti-labor, and wanting increased immigration from China to force wages down. The Republicans accused Cleveland of being pro-British and wanting to adopt the British system of free trade to assist British manufacturers at the expense of American industry.

The Murchison Letter was an election dirty trick worth mentioning. “Murchison” was a California Republican named Charles Osgoodby who wrote a letter to the British Minister to the United States, Sir Lionel Sackville-West. In this letter, he pretended to be a former British citizen named Charles F. Murchison, who wanted to know which candidate would be better for his old homeland. Sackville-West was imprudent enough to reply that, in his opinion, Cleveland would be the better candidate for British interests. The Republicans gleefully published “Murchison’s” correspondence with Sir Sackville-West, probably costing Cleveland the Irish vote and the state of New York. Sir Sackville-West ended up getting fired for his interference in American politics.

The Murchison Letter

It was a close election, but in the end, the Republicans turned out to be better organized and better funded than the Democrats. Cleveland won the popular vote with 5,534,488 votes (48.6%) to Harrison’s 5,443,892 votes (47.8%), but Harrison won in the electoral college with 233 votes to Cleveland’s 186. As the election of 1884, the results were regional with the Republicans sweeping the North and the Democrat winning the South, along with Massachusetts. Only two states switched sides from 1884, New York and Indiana. If Cleveland had won those two states he would have been reelected.

The Election of 1888

So, Grover Cleveland left the White House in March 1889, but he would be back.

Pi Day

March 14, 2020
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

 

Leap Day 2020

February 29, 2020

Since today, a leap day occurs only once every four years, I thought I might like to write a little about why we have leap years and where the idea originated. Our calendar ultimately comes from the calendar used by the Romans. The names of the months and the number of days in each month are basically the same, though the year originally began in March and the Romans did not count the days from the beginning of the month but counted backward from three fixed days, the kalends, the nones, and the ides.

The Roman calendar was, like many ancient calendars, a lunisolar calendar with an intercalary month added at intervals to keep the dates aligned with the seasons. The responsibility for inserting the intercalary month lay with the Pontifex Maximus, the leader of the order of Priests called the Pontiffs. (One of the titles of the Pope is the Pontiff.) Unfortunately, this position was a political one and the Pontiffs got in the habit of inserting the extra month to prolong the terms of their political allies, or not inserting it if their enemies were in office. By the time of Julius Caesar, the date was three months behind the seasons.

In 46 BC, Caesar returned to Rome from Egypt. The Egyptians had long used a solar calendar of 365 days. Caesar brought mathematicians and astronomers from  Alexandria with him and he directed them to reform the Roman calendar. The calendar they developed is called the Julian Calendar. In this new calendar, they changed the first month to January and gave each month the number of days it now contains. Most importantly, they did away with the intercalary months altogether. The Julian calendar was to be solely a solar calendar and the months would have no relation to the moon. Caesar lengthened the year 46 BC to 445 days to bring the date back in alignment with the seasons. This year was called the year of confusion, but it was the last year of confusion as the Julian calendar was adopted throughout the Roman world and is used with some modifications to this day.

Julius Caesar, inventor of the Leap Year

The most important reform the Greek astronomers made was the introduction of the Leap Year. The problem is that the year is not exactly 365 days. Instead, as the astronomers had learned, the year is closed to 365 1/4 days. So, it seemed that an easy way to keep the date aligned was to simply add a day every four years. And so, since Caesar’s reform of the calendar, we have had leap years every four years.

 

Impeachment

February 17, 2020

Now that the Donald Trump impeachment saga has come to an ignominious end, I thought it might be interesting and informative to take a look at the previous presidential impeachments and compare them to the present effort. So far, there have been three presidents impeached by the House of Representatives, Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2020. While the precise circumstances of each case have been dissimilar, with various specific accusations being made against each president in diverse historical and political contexts, there have been similarities in the three presidential impeachments, as we shall see. In no case, so far, has the president actually been convicted and removed from office. In each case, the charges made against the president, the conduct of the trial in the Senate and the ultimate outcome has been a matter of politics rather than the law. Impeachment, then, is more of a political matter than a strictly legal one.

The constitution mentions impeachment in several clauses. Article I Section 2 Clause 5 states:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

The House of Representatives impeaches a government official, including the president. Impeachment is simply bringing charges of misconduct against the officeholder, rather like a prosecutor bringing charges against a person accused of committing a crime. Contrary to what many of Donald Trump’s critics seem to believe, impeaching an official does not mean that that official is actually guilty of any crime, nor is he automatically removed from office. The Senate tries impeachments, acting as a sort of jury, as stated in Article I Section 3 Clauses 6 and 7 of the constitution.

6: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

7: Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

According to Article II Section 4 of the constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, as a result of the conflict between Johnson and Congress over Reconstruction. It is not necessary to get into the details of that conflict here.

Andrew Johnson

Simply put, President Johnson favored a more lenient treatment of the defeated south than the Republicans who controlled Congress. Johnson was a Southern Democrat who had been added to Lincoln’s ticket in the election of 1864 as a gesture of national unity. After Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson found himself opposed by both Congress and his own Cabinet, particularly his Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. To prevent Johnson from replacing Lincoln’s cabinet with his own men, Congress enacted the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 which prevented the president from dismissing cabinet officials without the consent of the Senate. Johnson demanded Stanton’s resignation anyway, Stanton barricaded himself in his office, and Congress proceeded to impeach President Johnson.

Edwin Stanton in his office.

On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 to impeach the president. The following week, the House presented eleven articles of impeachment, accusing President Johnson of violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing Edwin Stanton and appointing a new Secretary of War without the consent of the Senate, challenging the authority of Congress to legislate reconstruction, and using  “with a loud voice, certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and did therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces … against Congress [and] the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers, and laughter of the multitudes then assembled and within bearing”.

The case then went to the Senate on March 4. The trial began on March 23 and the voting took place on May 16 and 26. This was not really the case of a somber Senate carefully considering each article. There were reports of political pressure and even outright bribery to persuade the Senators to vote to acquit or convict. In each case, the Senate voted 35 to 19 for conviction, just one vote short of the two-thirds necessary to convict.

President Johnson remained in office but was a lame duck for the rest of his term and did not run for reelection. He was, however, vindicated in the end. The Tenure of Office Act was repealed in 1887 and the Supreme Court declared a similar act unconstitutional in 1920, noting that the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 was also likely to be unconstitutional. Andrew Johnson was not a very good president, but he should not have been impeached. His impeachment was little more than a partisan attempt to remove a president that the Republicans saw as standing in the way of Reconstruction and divided a country that needed to be united in the wake of the most destructive war in its history.

I think that it is fair to say that the Republicans hated President Bill Clinton more than they had any previous Democratic president. Part of this hatred was personal, a sort of moral outrage against a president seen to be immoral. As his nickname, Slick Willie might suggest, Bill Clinton had a reputation for sleaze and corruption, and for escaping the consequences for his actions. Part of the dislike stemmed from thwarted political hopes. When the Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in forty years, after the 1994 midterms, the Republican congressional leaders, particularly Newt Gingrich, believed that they would be setting the national agenda, with President Clinton reduced to irrelevance. Clinton was more politically adroit than the Republicans expected, however, and was able to portray the Republicans as obstructionist extremists, by triangulating to the center, infuriating the Republicans, and easily winning reelection against the uninspiring Bob Dole.

Slick Willie

The Republicans spent most of Clinton’s term investigating Clinton’s various scandals, without making much headway with the public. The country was prosperous and at peace and Clinton was slick, so the people did not much care about his misdeeds. By 1998, however, the Republicans believed they had their chance with Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton. I would rather not get into the sordid details about Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as well as the exhaustive report by Ken Starr on Clinton’s numerous transgressions. It is sufficient to point out that Clinton made false statements to a grand jury and in a deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

He did not have sex with that woman.

On December 19.1998, the House of Representatives voted, largely along party lines to send two articles of impeachment, perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, to the Senate. The Senate trial lasted from January 7. 1999 to February 9. The Senate then considered the charges in a closed session until February 12 when they emerged ready to vote on the verdict. On the first charge, perjury, the Senate voted not guilty 45 to 55 and on the second charge, obstruction of justice, they voted not guilty 50 to 50, well short of the 67 guilty votes needed to convict. In each case, the 45 Democratic Senators voted not guilty with five Republicans defecting on the second charge.

Should the Republicans have impeached Bill Clinton? From a legal viewpoint, yes. Clinton was unquestionably guilty of the charges made against him, and more. He was a sleazy, corrupt man who was guilty of serial sexual assault. From a political viewpoint, no. Impeaching the president was a foolish act, considering that the Republicans did not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict and there was no chance of convincing ten Democratic Senators to break ranks with their party. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was not popular with the American people. Neither were the investigations leading up to Clinton’s impeachment. This public dislike of Ken Starr’s investigations was certainly a factor in the Republican loss of five Congressional seats in the election of 1998 when the opposition party usually gains seats in midterm elections. Clinton’s impeachment may well have a cause for the closeness of the 2000 presidential election. Normally, it is not easy for one party to hold onto the White House and Al Gore wasn’t a particularly appealing candidate. If the Republicans had not impeached Clinton, George W. Bush might have won the election by a decent margin. A great deal of subsequent partisan acrimony would likely have been avoided.

Karl Marx once wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” I do not know how that statement might apply generally, but it certainly applies to the history of impeachment in the United States. The impeachment of Andrew Johnson was a high tragedy, based on fundamental constitutional questions on the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was tragi-comic, based as it was in the titillating details of Clinton’s sexual exploits and deceptions. The impeachment of Donald Trump has been simply a farce.

The Democrats have hated Donald Trump, probably even more than the Republicans hated Bill Clinton. Part of this is undoubtedly Trump’s brash and uncouth personality. Part of this might be due to dashed hopes. Most observers, including myself, expected Hilary Clinton to win the 2016 election, and the Democrats were looking forward to sweeping Congress and forming a permanent Democratic majority. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory enraged the Democrats.

Donald Trump

Whatever the reason, the Democrats began seeking causes for impeaching Trump even before he took office, but it was only after they gained control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections that they had any chance of impeaching him. A July 2019 telephone call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky gave the democrats their pretext. In this conversation, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate corruption charges against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, allegedly threatening to withhold military aid to Ukraine if Zelensky did not comply. The Democrats seized on this story to begin an impeachment inquiry in October.

Donald Trump talking to Zelensky?

On December 17. 2019 the House of Representatives voted, along partisan lines, to send two articles of impeachment to the Senate, Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed actually presenting the articles of impeachment until January 15, 2020, and the Senate trial began on January 22 and on February 5, the Senate voted to acquit Trump 48 to 52 on the first charge and 47 to 53 on the second charge, along partisan lines with Senator Mitt Romney the only Republican voting guilty on the first charge.

The impeachment of Donald Trump was a supreme act of folly by the Democrats. Not only did the Democrats not have the sixty-seven votes needed to convict President Trump, but they also did not even have a majority in the Senate, so they had no control over how the Senate trial was to be arranged. Under the circumstances, Trump’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion, and the whole impeachment was a waste of time and money. The Democrats in the House of Representatives were so eager to appease their base by impeaching Trump that they didn’t bother to make much of a case against him. The impeachment investigation was hasty and partisan, without much of an attempt to include Republicans in the process. The Senate trial was a joke since the Republicans didn’t take the charges seriously. The whole affair was a trivialization of the impeachment process. I expect that the Republicans will take revenge by impeaching the next Democratic president over similarly trivial charges until impeachment becomes a regular part of politics and presidents are being impeached for jaywalking or tearing the tags off mattresses.

Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2020
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 Chaucer. The holiday seems to have really taken off with the invention of greeting cards.

. Valentine postcard, circa 1900–1910

 

Pocahontas Fight Heap Big Lies

February 3, 2020

Elizabeth Warren, aka Pocahontas, the Pale-Faced Indian, has a plan to combat the rampant disinformation on social media and the Internet. This is a growing problem since the lies that are spread unchallenged over the web keep people from making the right decisions like voting for Democrats.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday released a plan to fight disinformation and to hold tech companies accountable for their actions in light of the 2016 election.

“Disinformation and online foreign interference erode our democracy, and Donald Trump has invited both,” Warren said in a Tweet Wednesday. “Anyone who seeks to challenge and defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election must be fully prepared to take this on – and I’ve got a plan to do it.”

Warren proposed to combat disinformation by holding big tech companies like FacebookTwitter and Google responsible for spreading misinformation designed to suppress voters from turning out.

“I will push for new laws that impose tough civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating this kind of information, which has the explicit purpose of undermining the basic right to vote,” Warren said in a release.

According to Warren, we need to control the information that voters have access to protect their right to vote. That seems to be rather an Orwellian statement. Warren goes on.

“The stakes of this election are too high — we need to fight the spread of false information that disempowers voters and undermines democracy,” Warren said. “I’ll do my part — and I’m calling on my fellow candidates and big tech companies to do their part too.”

Great Chief Pocahontas protect braves and squaws from heap big lies

I am sure that I am not the only one who suspects that politicians and government agencies might not be entirely evenhanded and unbiased when it comes to determining what is fake news and disinformation. Authoritarian governments have typically punished the bearers of news that might make them look bad in much the same way as Warren proposed, even if, or especially if the information is entirely accurate. The old Soviet Union did not permit any news, such as airplane crashes, nuclear power plant failures, or the level of crime, that might lead anyone to suspect that the Soviet system wasn’t as perfect as the government claimed. I am sure that the government of China has not bothered to tell its people the full extent of the dangers of the coronavirus.

But aside from such concerns, and the equally obvious question of whether Senator Warren’s proposal is compatible with the First Amendment, there is a more fundamental issue here, who is responsible for deciding what is disinformation? Are we, the American people, responsible adults who are capable of deciding for themselves what sources to trust, or are we ignorant children who need someone like Senator Warren to sort it out for us? The essential premise behind censorship or government control over information is that it is for the protection of the people, who are unable to decide for themselves what might be false or harmful information. For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church used to promulgate an Index of Forbidden Books, a list of books deemed dangerous for laypeople to read lest they come to question the faith. For the same reason, the church discouraged the private reading of the Bible. People needed guidance from the clergy since they were obviously too ignorant to decide matters of faith for themselves. The kings and emperors of old all routinely employed censorship to protect their subjects from dangerous ideas, like maybe kings and emperors were not really needed all that much. The Nazis burned and banned un-German books, to keep the master race from being defiled, and the Communists kept the workers from reading anything which might give them the false impression that they were not living in the Workers’ paradise.

This reasoning is justified in an authoritarian polity, in which the government takes a paternal interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of its subjects. It is antithetical in a democratic polity in which the people’s representatives make up the government. It is not up to Senator Elizabeth Warren, or anyone else in the government to tell us what is disinformation. It is up to us, the people to educate ourselves to learn how to tell the difference between trustworthy and untrustworthy information, and if we are not willing to do this, if we would rather the likes of Senator Warren do our thinking for us, rather than thinking for ourselves, then we do not deserve to be free.

This, then, is part of the larger question of what sort of country we want to live in. Do we wish to be free citizens in a free republic in which we get to decide who to trust and how to live or do we want to be serfs in a country in which our alleged betters decide such things for us? Elizabeth Warren, and really the whole pack of Democratic candidates, seem to be in favor of the latter course. I prefer to be free.

Hitler and Bernie

January 19, 2020

I may be breaking my own rule about comparing American politicians by posting this meme.

Separated at birth?

In my defense, I am not posting this because I believe that Bernie Sanders is anything at all like Adolf Hitler. I simply wish to point out that if you wish to call yourself a socialist, like Bernie Sanders, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and so many other Democrats are doing these days, you are putting yourself in really bad company.

Of course, the standard line taken by the left is that Hitler was not a socialist at all. Certain, Hitler’s party was called the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, but that was only disinformation, a lie designed to beguile the masses into supporting Hitler instead of real socialists. Very well, then, but what about Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and others. All these men called themselves socialists, and all of them were mass-murdering dictators, like Hitler. Either all of these tyrants were lying, or there really is some link between socialism and mass murder.

I am sure that Bernie Sanders and the other Democratic Socialists do not intend to become mass murderers. The essential basis of every form of socialism, whether democratic or otherwise, is that a small group of elite planners based in Washington or Moscow can organize an economy, or an entire society more efficiently and justly than the decisions made by millions of free people acting in their own interests. In other words, these planners know how to run your life better than you do yourself. The problem is that any plan, no matter how enlightened, is not going to command universal support. There are always going to be people who want to do their own thing and not what the planners want them to do, so some level of coercion is always needed. If a square peg won’t fit into a round hole, it must be pounded in. If the peg’s edges are ground away, or a few million people need to be killed, it’s all for the best of causes.

One might object that unlike all of the true socialists, Hitler preached hate against people of other races, especially Jews. True socialists, like Lenin and Mao, may have used excessive force, but surely their intentions were good. They only wanted to create truly just societies. The means may have been bad, but the ends were good, while the ends of Hitler and the Nazis, the deliberate extermination of entire populations were wholly evil. Maybe, but Hitler did support policies that many people, especially progressives, even Bernie Sanders might view as good. Take a look at the National Socialist party platform.

9. All citizens must have equal rights and obligations.

10. The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of the universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all Consequently we demand:

11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.

12. In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.

13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).

14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.

15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.

16. We demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.

17. We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.

18. We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest. Common national criminals, usurers, Schieber and so forth are to be punished with death, without consideration of confession or race.

20. The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions. The plans of instruction of all educational institutions are to conform with the experiences of practical life. The comprehension of the concept of the State must be striven for by the school [Staatsbuergerkunde] as early as the beginning of understanding. We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding intellectually gifted children of poor parents without consideration of position or profession.

These seem to be policies that any good progressive could stand behind. I suspect that many Germans eventually supported Hitler because he seemed to be providing hope in desperate economic times, rather than his anti-semitism, although we must not discount the level of German resentment against the Jews, made worse, perhaps, by the depression.

Still, people regarded as truly socialist also preached hatred against groups of people, not race-based hatred, to be sure, but class-based hatred. Historically, socialists have excoriated class enemies as bourgeois capitalist exploiters, grasping landlords, kulaks, or billionaires not paying their fair share, as fervently as Hitler ever attacked the Jews and other inferior races. The socialists have seldom attacked individuals for their misdeeds, which might be somewhat justifiable, but people who belong to the wrong class. In Lenin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China, being the grandson of a factory owner or a landlord was to be guilty of enjoying class privilege even if that particular person had never exploited anyone at all. There is more than an echo of such thinking in the contemporary leftist or socialist obsession with White, male privilege. I do not see that there is very much difference between persecuting someone because of their race and persecuting someone because of the misdeeds of their relatives. Either way, it is making use of a perceived enemy to mobilize people.

To be clear, none of what I have written is meant to imply that Bernie Sanders or any other self-proclaimed Democratic socialist is anything at all like Adolf Hitler, nor would electing Sanders result in any like the Nazi state. What I am saying is that Bernie Sanders has a lot of the same furniture in his mental attic as some of the worst people in history and that socialism, no matter how benevolent the intentions of its proponents might be, sooner or later always ends in tyranny.

Then again, considering that some of Bernie Sanders’s supporters don’t have a problem with Stalin’s gulags and are promising violence if Bernie isn’t elected, there may be a closer parallel between Sanders and the likes of Hitler or Stalin than I would like to believe.

New Year’s Day

January 1, 2020

I think that New Year’s Day must be my least favorite holiday. The problem is the date, January 1. This has to be the worst time to start off the new year. It is only a week after Christmas. All the excitement of the Christmas season has dissipated and there is general impression of anti-climax. The holidays are over and it is time to go back to the the general routine of everyday life. In addition, January is the coldest, dreariest month of the year and January 1 is right in the middle of winter. I know that winter officially begins on the winter solstice, December 21 or 22, but in midwestern North America the cold weather begins about a month or more before the solstice. It is possible to forget the dreariness of winter during the Christmas season, but by January, it feels that winter has been here forever and will never end.

It seems to me that it would be better to start the new year at the transition between one season and the next, preferably when winter becomes spring. What would be more appropriate than to start the new year at the beginning of Spring, when the cycle of nature is renewed and new life springs up? Spring is a time of new hopes and beginnings, so why not start the new year at the vernal equinox, March 21? If starting the new year in the beginning of a month seems weird, why not start the new year on March 1 or April 1? Well, maybe starting the new year on April Fool’s Day is not such a good idea. Why do we start the new year on January 1 anyway?

We have the Romans to thank for the date of New Year’s Day. as well as for our calendar, which is derived from the ancient Roman calendar. Originally, the Roman calendar did have March as the first month of the year. According to Roman legend, Rome’s founder Romulus established a ten month calendar, beginning in March and extending to December. This is why our ninth through twelfth months, September to December have names meaning seventh through tenth months. Obviously, this ten month calendar didn’t work out at all, so Romulus’s successor, Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added the months of January and February.

It is not clear how true these legends are, but the twelve month calendar attributed to Numa was used until Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BC. At first the year continued to start in March, but during the republic, new consuls began their terms of office on the kalends, or first day, of January, named for Janus the double-headed god of new beginnings. The Romans did not number their years forward from a past year, as we do, Instead, they named each year after the consuls who served for that year. So, instead of a particular year being 132 since whatever, it would be the year Titus Maximus and Gaius Flavius were consuls. For this reason, it seemed to make sense to start the new year with the beginning of the consuls’ terms, and January first gradually became accepted as the first day of the new year, and when Julius Caesar introduced his Julian calendar, the first of January was officially established as the new year.

The Roman god Janus

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, New Year’s Day began to be seen as a holdover from Rome’s pagan past and a variety of dates were used as New Year’s Day, including Christmas, March 1, and March 25. Calendars still began with the month of January, however, leaving the actual date the new year began up to whoever had the calendar. January 1 was restored as New Year’s Day when Pope Gregory XIII promulgated the Gregorian Calendar in 1582. As the Gregorian Calendar became established as the most widely used calendar in the world, January 1 became the first day of the year worldwide. This means thanks to the Romans and Pope Gregory XIII we are stuck with the new year starting in the dead of winter, instead of spring, and there is nothing I can do about it.


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