Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Nativity According to Matthew

December 20, 2018
The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...

The Adoration of the Magi

 

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yetdid not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

 

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village in this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

 

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorsorers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured  is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense,and myrrh.

 

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem actually was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomonem and one that cannot be studied today. Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Nativity According to Luke

December 19, 2018

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

 

 

The Yellow Jackets

December 17, 2018

I have been following Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast for the last year or so. It is interesting and informative and I highly recommend it. The subject of Revolutions is, of course, revolutions, specifically those revolutions which have shaped our own revolutionary age. While learning about the great revolutions of the past, it is a little exciting to witness what might be the first days and weeks of a revolution in France and perhaps throughout Europe. The gilets jaunes or yellow jackets, the workers who wear hi-viz vests, are fed up with high taxes and limited economic prospects and seem to be poised to play the role of the sans-culottes of the first French Revolution.

I read a great article about the gilets jaunes and their reasons for protesting in QuodVerum, a blog I might want to look at more frequently.

Mon, December 10, 2018

Millions of French citizens have been violently demonstrating across France for the last month.

They are known as the gilets jaunes, or “yellow jackets”. The protestors wear the yellow high-viz jacket, that is common on building sites and airports.

It’s a powerful totem for the French deplorables, a unifying symbol of ordinary, working class folk across the nation.

France is no stranger to organized protests, or as they are called, manifestations. These are a dime-a-dozen in France. Typically they are union-engineered strikes, used as a weapon in the never-ending negotiation between organized labor and the French state.

Forget what FakeNews is telling you. This is no ordinary manifestation.

This is a genuine uprising by millions of city and country folk, young and old, crossing different ethnic and cultural lines.

Macron’s diesel tax hike wasn’t the cause of the gilets jaunes movement. It was the spark detonating a bomb, that has been building for decades.

Why are the French Deplorables revolting? For one thing, France’s economy is absolutely stagnant and has been for some time. The article lists a few pertinent statistics.

  • • The French state has been bankrupt since 2004. A minister finally admitted it in 2013.
  •        • French GDP hasn’t risen above 2% in 50 years. Yes – FIFTY. The average annual GDP growth rate between 1949-2018? 0.78%.
  •        • In 2018, 14% of the population in France live below the poverty line (they earn less than 60% of the median income).
  •        • Worse, more than 50% of French people have an annual income of less than €20,150 a year (about $1,900 US per month).
  •        • The ‘official’ unemployment rate is 10% – about 3.5 million citizens (in reality, it’s much higher).
  •        • The youth unemployment rate is 22%. Yes, you did read that right.
  •        • Astonishing but true: the French government employs 25% of the entire French workforce…and it’s impossible to fire them.
  •        • Because the citizens make such little money, they pay no tax. Less than 50% of French pay any income tax at all; only around 14% pay at the rate of 30%, and less than 1% pay at the             rate of 45%.
  •        • The government can’t deliver services without taxes, so it borrows money. France’s debt-GDP is now 100%.

This would all be bad enough, but it gets worse. If you want are ambitious and want to get ahead in France, there is really only one way to do it. You have to graduate from one of three or four elite colleges. If you haven’t had the chance to go to one of these schools, well, too bad.

Many still understand France through the lens of Vogue magazine covers: a nation of affluent, happy people who live in elegant homes, with endless holidays, wine and food.

A 24/7 utopia of chic, elegance and style.

Important to note: that France does exist. It is the world of the French ruling class, less than 1% of the population.

This small group of citizens have dominated the business, banking, legal and political scenes for decades.

The ruling class comes from a small group of grandes ecoles, or elite colleges. There are only 3 or 4. The top of the top? L’Ecole d’Administration Nationale (ENA).

Emmanuel Macron’s journey is typical of the ruliing class. He completed a Master’s of Public Affairs at Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris(called “Sciences Po”), the #2 elite college, before graduating from ENA in 2004, age 27. He then worked as a senior civil servant at the Inspectorate General of Finances (The Treasury), before getting a high paid gig ad an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque.

See how fast Macron worked his way into the senior civil servant position in the Treasury, before flipping into an exclusive investment bank? That is normal in France. It’s a never-ending protected cycle of patronage, promotion, favors and cronyism.

Here’s another French word: parachutage. It is normal for young ENA graduates to be “parachuted” into senior civil service positions at a very young age, some as young as 25 years of age, without even interviewing for positions.

ENA has a complete stranglehold on the French state. Only 100 students graduate every year.

Set up by de Gaulle just after WW2, the original concept was sound – to pool students of extreme talent and ability in one place, in order to create a new civil service that could re-build France.

It worked. Very talented patriots flocked to enter ENA and within a decade, the new French civil service had successfully rehabilitated France as a leading nation-state. From 1946 through 1973, France experienced what they describe as their trente glorieuses, nearly 30 years of economic success.

But by 1970, ENA’s meritocracy had become a self-replicating elite caste – and a ticket to the French ruling class. Astonishingly, every French President since de Gaulle has been an ENA graduate, excepting Georges Pompidou, who attended Sciences Po. Eight of the last ten French Prime Ministers have been enarques. All key civil service/government departments are run by enarques. How about business? 84% of the 546 top executives in France’s 40 biggest companies are graduates of a handful of elite colleges. 48% come from ENA and Sciences Po.

This ought to look at least a little familiar to us in the United States. We don’t have the problem of a small ruling elite running everything nearly as bad as France does, but the same sort of pattern is developing. How many people at the top levels of government and politics graduated from the same elite Ivy League universities? How many CEOs? How many intellectuals?How do these people feel about the ordinary people who make up the population in middle America? Isn’t a great deal of the elite hatred for Donald Trump and his supporters class based?

The article’s description of the arrogance and insular ignorance of the French elite could easily be applied to our own elite.

Notice Macron’s age, when he became a senior civil servant – 27 years of age. That’s important.

The French elites are young men and women, who have been told that they are not just the intellectual creme de la creme, but morally superior. Better human beings, than their inferiors.

These people are arrogant. But they are also ignorant. Raised in very wealthy families and cosseted in the networks those families are part of, they have no understanding of ordinary people and their real lives.

Arrogance and ignorance is a very toxic mix. Macron’s tone-deaf appeal to climate change to justify the rise in diesel taxes, as well as his outrageous suggestion that ordinary French folk must drive less, is a classic example of the problem.

Just 27 years old.

Young people without life experience, are suggestible. They believe what they are told by superiors and haven’t yet had time to test their opinions, against reality.

Macron simply doesn’t have a clue.

What makes the gilets jaunes protests unique?

Their main gripe? Elites blaming ordinary people, for problems that the same elites have caused.

Elites never being held accountable for their incompetence. And elites never having to experience the conditions, that their failed ideas cause.

French people are sick of being held in chains by a ruling class. They are sick of being poor and unemployed.

They want a new direction, for their beloved nation.

Sound familiar?

There is an obvious parallel to the France of 1789, but I don’t think that even the aristocrats of the Ancien Regime were quite as arrogant and stupid as the new aristocrats who rule France and Europe. In fact, more than a few of those aristocrats were the ones pressing for reforms in France. I hope that the new aristocrats in Europe and America find the wisdom to listen to what the people are saying instead of dismissing them as deplorables or they could find themselves losing their heads.

The Story of Hanukkah

December 2, 2018

Hanukkah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight day celebration which lasts from the twenty-fifth day on Kislev to the second day of Tevet. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, the days float around from November to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year the days of Hanukkah are celebrated from December 2-10

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

Hanukkah was not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, unlike Passover or the High Holy Days. The festival has increased in importance among North American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. There is even a tendency among Gentiles to regard Hanukkah as some sort of Jewish Christmas. This is unfortunate, since the backgrounds of the two holidays are quite different. The story of Hanukkah is one of the Jewish people fighting for their freedom to worship God in their own way. I think this story is inspiring and worth learning, both for Jews and Gentiles.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

Antiochus IV

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers he seemed to believe himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days, until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, I wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

Thanksgiving

November 22, 2018

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Midterms 2018: The Results

November 11, 2018

Well, it might have been worse, but it might have been a good deal better. The Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives, as expected, but the Republicans managed to not only maintain their majority in the Senate and even gain a few seats. It seems that neither party really won this contest. Both sides gained a little and lost a little. It could have been worse for the Republicans.

The Democrats gained 34 Congressional seats for certain making the new partisan balance in the House 227 seats held by the Democrats against 200 seats held by the Republicans. there are several elections too close to call just yet, but will probably go to the Democrats just as soon as they “discover” enough uncounted ballot boxes. In the Senate, the Republicans perhaps gained three seat, expanding their majority from 51-47 to 54-44, although their are three elections too close to call and subject to the recounts which somehow always favor the Democratic candidates. It seems that they hardly even bothering to hide their election fraud anymore.

What does this divided government mean for the next two years? I would guess that not very much is going to get done legislatively. Anything passed by one House is likely to be rejected by the other and in this polarized political environment, there is no sign that the Democrats in the House of Representatives are going to be willing to work with the Republicans in the Senate and and like likely to be even less cooperative with President Trump. We are likely to see one investigation after another Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russians and anything else the Democrats can think of to paralyse the government and to delegitimize Trump. I don’t think the Democrats will try to impeach Trump. They might have if they had won the Senate but there is no chance a Republican controlled Senate would convict Trump. Their lunatic base will expect impeachment and it will be interesting to see how the Democratic leadership will explain the absence of any impeachment attempt.

Given that the Senate is going to forestall any attempt by the Democrats in the House to advance some of their more extreme left-wing policies, we can expect more complaints about the undemocratic nature of the Senate, how unfair it is that Rhode Island or Wyoming has exactly as many Senators as California. Every time they lose, the left wants to change the rules. Somehow they are never concerned about how undemocratic the system is when an unelected judge makes rulings that have the effect of laws or overturns the results of a referendum.

Congressional elections weren’t the only elections this year. There were also 36 gubernatorial elections. The Democrats picked up from 7-9 new governorships this year, depending on how two undecided elections are resolved, changing the balance from 33 Republican governors and 16 Democrats to 27-25 Republicans and 23-25 Democrats. The Republicans had more governorships to defend this year.

Of the 99 state legislatures (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) the Republicans held a total of 67 chambers to the Democrats 32 chambers going into the midterms. The Democrats gained control of just seven chambers making the new balance 62-37. The Democrats still have not recovered from the disastrous Obama years in which they were devastated at the state level. Control of the state is more important than most people think. Even in this age of an overactive federal government, a good many of the laws we live under are created at the state level. Also, in many cases, the state legislatures are responsible for determining Congressional districts, or, gerrymandering. The party that controls the state legislatures has a better chance of controlling the House of Representatives.The state legislatures are also where the parties recruit candidates for higher offices. The Democratic losses over the last decade haven’t helped their chances in gaining those higher offices.

So, all in all, the results of the 2018 midterm elections were mixed. The Democrats made some gains, but not as many as they ought to have. They probably would have done better if not for their turn towards left-wing extremism and tolerance of uncivil and even violent behavior. I hope they will learn their lesson and try to behave more responsibly, but they probably won’t.

Midterms 2018

November 6, 2018

This is it. The 2018 midterm elections are today. Today the voters decide which party will have control of Congress for the next two years. At stake, President Trump’s agenda. If the Democrats manage to get a majority in both houses of Congress, Trump’s agenda will be stalled and his administration subjected to endless investigations, and possibly an attempt at impeachment. A democratic victory will be interpreted by the mainstream media as a rejection of Trump and his policies. A Republican victory will be a vindication of Trump and his policies, though I would hardly expect the mainstream media to acknowledge that.

Historically, the opposition party makes gains during the midterms, sometimes very large gains. In 1994, the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 10 seats in the Senate, giving the Republicans a Congressional majority for the first time in forty years. In 2010 the Republicans won 64 seats in the House and five in the Senate. This doesn’t always happen, though. In 1998, the Democrats gained a few seats even though the Democrat., Bill Clinton was president. This was undoubtedly due to the Republican attempt to impeach Clinton that year. In 2002, the Republicans gained seats due to the aftermath of 9/11.

So, what is going to happen today? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. For whatever it is worth,here are my predictions. It doesn’t look like there is going to be a massive blue wave that is going to sweep the Republicans out of power. It seems likely that the Republicans will maintain their majority in the Senate and may possibly gain a seat or two. The House is less certain. It really could go either way. I think that the Democrats will gain seats in the House, perhaps enough to get a majority. If they do get a majority it will be by the thinnest of margins. We will see how accurate I am. Keep in mind, that I, like nearly everyone else, thought Hilary Clinton would be the president today.

If there is no blue wave, the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They should be confident of a massive victory right now. They had all the advantages going into this election and all they had to do was to be a responsible opposition party and craft a platform that would appeal to the moderates and independents. They could have highlighted Trump’s personality flaws while promoting Trumpian policies on immigration, trade and the economy. Instead, the Democrats decided to go right off the deep end. They decided to cater to their most extreme left wing base and adopt socialist ideas anathema to most Americans in flyover country. They loudly proclaimed the ridiculous meme  Trump was a Hitler clone and we were all in danger of an imminent Fascist dictatorship, while ignoring the simple fact that most Americans are better off than they were two years ago. They have made it clear that they care more about the interests of illegal aliens than American citizens and they have taken the side of millionaire athletes who disrespect the flag. Where Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, they say, “America was never great”.

The Democrats have become the party of the mob, of antifa, of rioting. They have encouraged violence and incivility against their opponents and have tried to censor speech they do not like. Worst of all, they have become the party of the busybodies, the scolds who want to tell the rest of us what size Big Gulps we are allowed to drink, what words we are allowed to use, and generally how we ought to live our lives because we are just ignorant deplorables. Is it any wonder that they are struggling when they should be coasting to victory? Is it at all surprising that groups that have traditionally been strongly democratic are starting to walkaway and exit the Democratic party?

I hope the Republicans win these midterm elections, not just for partisan reasons, but because the Democrats need to be punished for their recent excesses. They need to undergo a period of introspection to understand how and why they have managed to alienate millions of Americans. I don’t think they will, though.  If they do poorly, they will blame it all in Russian collusion or assert the system is rigged and undemocratic, and the old standby, the voters are racists.

 

Halloween

October 31, 2018

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

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

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

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

For another view:

Columbus Day

October 8, 2018
Christophorus Columbus, portrait by Sebastiano...

Image via Wikipedia

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

I think we can absolve Columbus of the destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples. That was inevitable. Europe’s sailing and navigation techniques were advancing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before someone stumbled across the Americas. Since the natives were centuries behind in technology and had no immunity to smallpox and other diseases the Europeans brought, they were doomed. They weren’t entirely helpless victims though. They did fight, with varying degrees of success. But between between the massive death toll from disease and their own disunity, often they were more interested in using the guns they acquired from European traders to fight traditional rivals than the Europeans, the Native Americans were doomed.

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

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

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

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

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

Renaming Austin

September 22, 2018

The Equity Office of the city of Austin Texas believes that the city ought to change its name.

(CNN)The city of Austin was named after Stephen F. Austin, who is referred to as the “Father of Texas.” But a report released last week by the city’s Equity Office raised the issue that Austin had been a staunch supporter of slavery.

The issue noted by the city’s Equity Office has raised the possibility of renaming the city. The report released last week recommended renaming several streets and removing markers related to the Confederacy.

He “believed slave labor indispensable for Texas to flourish” and “believed that if slaves were emancipated they would turn into ‘vagabonds, a nuisance and a menace.'” It also said that Austin sought to have slave owners compensated if their slaves were freed.

Austin’s name was included in a list of the city’s assets considered “not explicitly Confederate and/or Civil War related but were within the spirit of the resolution representing segregation, racism, and/or slavery.” The Equity Office had put together the list to be considered for further input from City Council. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the city will rename itself, but it has raised the possibility of looking further into this issue.

Who was Stephen F. Austin, is he really the Father of Texas and does he really deserve to have the capital of Texas named after him?

Stephen F. Austin was born in Southwestern Virginia on November 3, 1793. Austin’s family moved west when he was four years old and Stephen grew up in Missouri. Stephen Austin spent his early life in what was then the southwestern frontier, although his family sent him east to Kentucky to attend Transylvania University, where he graduated in 1810. Austin became a lawyer, landowner and politician, with only modest success.

Stephen F. Austin

While Stephen was struggling to rebuild his fortunes after the Panic of 1819, his father, Moses Austin, had acquired what was called an empresario grant from the Spanish government to establish a settlement in Texas, then part of the Spanish colony of New Spain. Moses Austin died in 1821 and Stephen Austin inherited his grant. Austin was unable to make use of his grant right away because Mexico had gained independence from Spain and it was uncertain whether the new Mexican government would honor any grants made by the colonial government. It was not until 1825 that Austin was able to lead the first three hundred families to Texas and establish his colony. Soon more settlers arrived and Texas became an autonomous province under its own American style laws, and customs.

New Spain

Over time, the Mexican government began to grow concerned over this autonomous community. They had expected that the Texans would learn Spanish and convert to Roman Catholicism, in short, to become Mexicans, but the Texans were showing no inclination to do so. Also, the Mexican constitution prohibited slavery and the Texans either pretended their slaves were indentured servants or simply ignored the prohibition altogether. The Mexican government started to exert its authority over the Texans and in 1835 the Texans rebelled.

Stephen Austin had tried to maintain good relations with Mexico, suppressing the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion, a precursor to the later Texas Revolution and supporting the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. He tried hard to persuade the Mexican government to change its policies regarding Texas while dissuading his countrymen from declaring independence. His efforts were unsuccessful and war broke out. Austin fought in the Texan Revolution and after Texas gained independence in 1836, Austin campaigned to be the president of the new republic. He lost to Sam Houston, who appointed him Secretary of State. Austin only served in that role for two months before dying of pneumonia on December 17, 1836.

So, it would seem that Stephen F. Austin’s reputation as the “Father of Texas” is well earned. There would seem to be no reason why the capital city of Texas shouldn’t be named after him, except that like many men of his class and time, he owned slaves. Even worse, Austin helped to introduce slavery into Texas and helped his fellow Texans to evade the Mexican prohibitions against slavery. Is Austin a villain then, to be anathematized?

It is only fair to note that Austin did have deep misgivings about slavery. He was aware that slavery was incompatible with the professed American values of liberty and equality. He was also concerned that in time the population of slaves would grow sufficiently large enough for a successful slave rebellion followed by a general massacre of their White masters. This was no idle concern on his part. This was precisely what had happened in Haiti and what Nat Turner would have done if he had not been betrayed. Yet, Austin could see no practical way to eliminate slavery in Texas or in the South generally. The settlers coming into Texas were from the slave states if they could not bring their slaves, they weren’t coming.

It is easy for us to condemn the slaveholder for not freeing their slaves. We don’t have to consider the practical concerns of emancipation. It was not as easy to free the slaves as we like to think. The slaveholders would have to be compensated. This may seem repugnant to us, but slaves were a considerable portion of a slave owner’s assets. They were cheap labor, collateral for loans, and in a pinch, could be sold for cash. Freeing the slaves would have meant impoverishing many of the slaveholders, and it is not reasonable to expect them to face that prospect with equanimity. There was also the question of what to with the former slaves. Most of the slaves were uneducated and unused to freedom. They had no property. Many only knew how to work in fields. To free the slaves while making no provision for them to make a living was no kindness. We can hardly blame the people of a century ago for failing to resolve such difficult questions. There is no reason to believe that we would be any better at resolving them. If slavery had continued to the present day, we would find it just as difficult to eradicate. Stephen F. Austin cannot be faulted for being a man of his own time.

I also have to wonder how far we are going to go with this. If it is inappropriate to name the capital of Texas after Austin because he owned slaves, what about the nation’s capital. George Washington owned slaves, so should we change the name of Washington D. C., along with the state of Washington? My hometown, Madison, was named after James Madison, and Jefferson County is named for Thomas Jefferson. Should these names be changed. If it is now taboo to celebrate the accomplishments of the men who owned slaves, it is going to be very difficult to honor the great men who founded this country. Perhaps that is really the point.

I think that we need to focus on building a better future together rather on the unpleasantries of the past. That is not to say we should forget or whitewash the past, but there is no point to bringing up old controversies over past circumstances we cannot change. It only serves to divide us and to turn Americans against one another. Maybe that is the point too. I would say that if we to make a better future, the first step would be getting rid of things like the Equity Office of Austin, Texas.


%d bloggers like this: