This is the Day the Lord has Made; Let Us Rejoice and be Glad in it!

An ancient chant, taken from Psalm 118:24. In the modern usage, this text is used in the Divine Office and for the Gospel Alleluia verse for all 8 days of the Easter octave, today through Divine Mercy Sunday. In Catholic tradition, Easter is too big a deal to fit into just one day, so the celebration of the day of Resurrections is extended over 8 days, and then a season of 40 days until the Ascension to celebrate the Risen Christ with us.

This is the day which the Lord hath made:
let us be glad and rejoice therein.
Alleluia.

verse for Easter Sunday:
Give praise to the Lord, for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:1)
[Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.]

verse for Easter Monday:
Let Israel now say, that he is good:
that his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:2)

verse for Easter Tuesday:
Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord,
whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy:
and gathered out of the countries.
(Psalm 107:2)

Every great composer in the West set this to music for centuries, so, in addition to the epic and wonderful chant setting above, we have any number of other glorious versions:

William Byrd. Perhaps the composer for our current age: by writing in Latin in 16th century England, he warranted a death sentence. That’s why we have dozens and hundreds of masses written by his older contemporaries Lassus, Palestrina, Victoria, etc., but only 4 and a set of motets by Byrd. The only place these Latin works could be performed were in private country homes, where there were hidey-holes for the priests & altar fixtures. Get caught attending Mass – get your head chopped off or worse. Yet notice how joyful and this setting is!
Gallus (1550 – 1591), a contemporary of Palestrina and Lassus
Speaking of Palestrina. This version uses something some scholars think was common in the period: horn accompaniment on what is putatively an ‘a capella’ setting.

Bach set this, because of course he did:

Another 16th century setting. Jacob Arcadelt (c.1514-1568) (Pssst – the 16th and early 17 century were as great a flowering of music as anything up to Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Josquin, Palestrina, Lassus, Byrd, Victoria belong in any legit discussion of the greatest composers ever. )

Happy, Holy, and Blessed Easter! He is truly risen!

Civilization & Progress: What It Takes

When I was a kid, reading all those Time-Life Science books:

Life Science Library by Time-Life Books
These guys, I don’t know how many there were, back in the late 1960s, but I ‘read’ all I could get my hands on. ‘Read’ in quotes, because they’re mostly pictures and ‘gee-whiz!’ copy.

I first ran into a persistent and pernicious idea that made me sad: that Science! was the triumph of some small few smart people, who, despite the ignorance and, often, hostility, of the masses, dragged the rest of us kicking and screaming into the glorious future. (Therefore, the Sagans of the world inescapably conclude, we little people should shut up and do what Our Betters tell us to do, for our own good!)

This attitude pops up everywhere, so much so that even for people who don’t consciously accept it, it becomes like water to a fish, just The Way Things Are. What is the underlying message, for example, of Asimov’s Foundation? That there are smart people someplace, with magical scientific powers, who know what’s going on, who are opposed by the Powers That Be and all the little people. Poor, poor geeks! They need to find their own special planet far away from us, to do their magic, and save us! At least, those few who can be saved.

Once you start looking for it, it’s everywhere, and has resulted in our current Cult of the Expert. We are always looking for somebody who is an expert to tell us what to do, and any of us who don’t get in line with the ‘expert’ view are vilified. For the conventionally well-educated, there is no other option.

Later, as I read more, (I want to say, like, 7th grade? But memory both fails and is creative) I came to see how this wasn’t true. The giants of science stand, not so much on the shoulders of the preceding giants of science, but on the backs of the millions of peasants whose work has created a world where men of science can do their thing. Far from being a stumbling block or barrier to science, we little people, by our patient, stable, productive lives, produce the bedrock upon which any scientific edifice may be constructed.

When the smart people take charge, say, in the French or Russian Revolution, it ends up with your Lavoisiers guillotined and your Lysenkos making sure science is an obedient stepchild to the state. “No, no, no!” I can hear the ‘I effing Love Science’ crowd objecting – “those Enlightened Frenchmen and the Vanguard of the Collective in Russian were the wrong smartest, most enlightened, and most moral people ever. We mean *us*! And we would never do such bad things! We would only silence and lock up the deniers – those clearly evil stupid people who question the legitimacy and effectiveness of masks and lockdowns – they’re denying COVID! Those benighted morons who completely agree the climate is changing (because it always changes) and that CO2 is of course a greenhouse gas (although an extraordinarily minor one at any level of concentration ever experienced on earth) but question the sanity of those who think people can enact policies to stop climate change, something that has been going on for 3 or 4 billion years now without any human intervention – they’re climate change deniers! Those truly evil people who point out that a man remains a man regardless if he thinks he’s a woman and undergoes physical or chemical castration – those evil, evil people are denying SCIENCE! Such people DESERVE to be silenced, at the very least. If we need to lock up or even kill those deniers, we, the REAL most intelligent, enlightened, and moral people the world has ever seen, would be doing the world and those people a favor!”

The price to stay in the outer rings of the Kool Kids Klub is high.

The medieval peasants who accepted that each man had rights and duties, that God would judge the King and the pauper by the same standards while demanding more from him to whom more was given – they produced enough food and peace for universities and monasteries to thrive. The people in those universities and monasteries, some of whom were the brightest children of the peasants, believed that trying to understand the created world was one obvious way to honor its Creator, and thus was worthy activity in and of itself. The kings and nobility and the Church, believing or at least feeling obliged to honor where expedient the same notions of rights and duties embraced by peasants, also respected and supported the intellectual activities of the universities and monasteries.

Only in such a world could millions of men (and some women) learn the rigorous logic that constitutes the foundation to modern science. Only in a world where a rational Creator is accepted could the idea that creation is an objective, orderly, fundamentally comprehensible whole that man could and should understand become commonplace.

From 900 to 1250, the population of Europe approximately quadrupled, something only possible because technology allowed vastly more land to be worked vastly more productively. The famine and plagues of the first half of the 14th century brought 400 years of steady intellectual and material progress nearly to a halt. Grossly, after a couple centuries that saw a tremendous drop in population and rise in chaos, we had a ‘renaissance’ – a resumption of the the intellectual and material progress of the Middle Ages, but with a conscious rejection of its true source: the great achievements of the Medieval period were denigrated, even so far as labelling the architectural and artistic triumphs of the period ‘Gothic’ as a slur. As if copying Romans was an advance over Chartres and Giotto and Dante?

The Renaissance and Enlightenment were very modern in this respect: projecting their daddy issues onto an imaginary past.

Of course, this all is a gross simplification – but so is the idea that the Renaissance and Enlightenment represent unalloyed progress. I would go so far as to paraphrase Dr. Johnson: The Renaissance and Enlightenment were both good and original. Where they were good, they were not original; where they were original, they were not good.

Confirmation Bias, Witch Hunts, and Nursing Homes

In one of my daily (hourly?) excursions down the rabbit hole that is the Internet, ended up reading about the Salem Witch trials. (FYI: the original Q: Salem is named after Jerusalem, right? How early on was it founded? Did the founders expressly or merely implicitly intend to establish the New Jerusalem when they founded it?)

A couple things leapt out: Cotton Mather was a very well-educated and accomplished man – Harvard grad, son of Harvard’s president, published over 200 books. The witch hunts were not started by ignorant rubes, but by an obvious member of the social elite. Then, once they got going, Confirmation Bias, or You’ll Find What You’re Looking For, kicked in, and fed on itself. Bad things, which sane people know are always with us, happened exactly as usual, but, because of the lather Mather had whipped up, all these very typical bad things were attributed to witches. Then, once the presence of witches among us had been confirmed, that made it all the more likely and necessary that the next bad thing would also result in a witch being found out.

2 years, 200+ accusations and 20 or so executions later, more reasonable voices, including Increase Mather’s, Cotton’s dad, prevailed, and the executions were stopped. To recap: a highly educated member of the elite whipped up a panic over some invisible cause of every bad thing that routinely happens, the many get caught up in the hysteria, everybody and especially their papist household help get accused, ridiculous evidence-free trials are held, people are executed and lives destroyed, and then, finally, it ended after saner heads prevailed.

We should be so lucky.

Had a conversation like many similar conversations I have had over the years, discussing nursing home care. While many nursing home workers are saints, some are very evil, and most are merely human, meaning they get tired, sometimes, of taking care of whiney, difficult, demanding people or simply having to do basic rather disgusting care for unappreciative (or simply unconscious) people. Last night, I was told of a visit where the unfortunate incarceree could not speak because her mouth had so dried up. What she needed was a drink of water, but that would require someone standing there and helping, one sip at a time, and then repeating that process regularly and dependably. Upon complaint to the staff, they hooked up an I.V. and pumped her full of liquids. This, I am told, is hard on a frail person’s kidneys. Be that as it may, the poor old woman died shorty afterwards.

Another story: another old lady was under a ‘check every 2 hours’ protocol, because she was demented and tended to try to walk around, which she could not safely manage. A visitor found her on the floor with a broken hip – where she had been for 5 hours.

An older story of my own: In the last few days of my father’s life, the nursing home doctor called my mom and me in, and, under the guise of sympathy and kindness, basically tried to talk us into letting him instruct the staff to not try to keep him from getting food in his lungs (he was loosing control of swallowing) and then withhold basic antibiotics when the inevitable infection resulted. Because he was on his way out, why fight it? (When you could help it along a bit, was unspoken but unmistakable.)

And on and on. I’d imagine anybody who has had a loved in a home would have similar stories, how it was only because a visitor insisted that a dirty diaper was changed, that a patient was patiently fed instead of having food shoved in front of them, and that a doctor take a look at that wound.

We’ve removed that check. Then, we’ve done our best to terrify the workers and the patients. An angel of death would be far more free to do his thing, but that’s unnecessary. That infected wound that goes untreated, the dehydration that leads to falling and breaking a hip, the general neglect that frustration, terror, and overwork are bound to create – it would be shocking if nursing home death were not rising dramatically simply due to the vigilance of visiting loved ones having been removed.

Confirmation Bias. We find what we’re looking for. There’s one cause of nursing home deaths everyone is looking for. There are a thousand others no one is there to prevent or even notice.

We Have Always Believed in American Exceptionalism

Remember when the belief that America was not like other countries, but somehow especially blessed and protected, was a shibboleth that marked one out for culling at the next round up? Only deplorable people would ever believe such a stoopid fantasy….

Well, forget that. Nope, that went down the memory hole. We are now required to believe that, unlike every other country on earth now and throughout history, we are immune to:

  • A State-controlled media. Nope, not in America! Just can’t happen. All media – real media, that is – agrees on all particulars and the general sweep of current events and history that has brought us to this, a dawn of a glorious new era where 6′ 200lbs men will be playing women’s hockey and paper masks both trap billions of deadly virons AND pose no health threat when you handle them and throw them in the trash. Among a million other absurdities obvious truths every right-thinking person believes.
  • Election Fraud. Nope, not here, not even possible! All the most intelligent, enlightened, and moral people (as they themselves will tell you) roll their eyes so hard at this, you just KNOW it’s true! Only a rube, an ignoramus, a bad person, would even dare bring up Huey Long, or the Chicago Outfit, or Billy Bulger, or Tammany Hall, or… Only someone truly evil would point out that same Europe at whose feet we should sit and learn – not only do they have flawless, perfect socialized medicine with no downsides whatsoever, but they gave the Lightbringer a Nobel Prize – require IDs to vote, because, well, they have much more experience than us in….uh, never mind.
  • Propaganda. What? Not here in America! Impossible! We are the land of free and open expression, and, besides, way too intelligent, educated, and moral to fall for that sort of nonsense! it’s like advertising: Only rubes buy anything because it appears in an ad or the product is placed in a movie we like. Only pork rinds and Coke are sold that way, to people living in trailers and missing teeth. The advertisements in the shows and magazines we consume have NO EFFECT. AT. ALL. We can’t be swayed by stories repeated and repeated and repeated until they are part of the background noise. Only an evil person would suggest we enlightened Americans have anything to learn from the German intelligentsia, professional classes, lawyers, judges, journalists – who, by the way, were objectively the best educated, most enlightened and, indeed, most moral people the world had ever seen up to that point- who fell right in line with Goebbels’s propaganda campaign. Not the rubes, not the farmers – the smart people. But we’re different, because we’re told we’re different.
  • Totalitarianism. Well, THAT almost happened until the good, intelligent, moral people, for our safety as determined by them, put a stop to freedom of association, freedom of speech, and fair trials. Can’t have the rubes talking among themselves. It’s not safe to hear out the other side when we already KNOW who’s right. But that’s the opposite of totalitarianism, which can’t happen here. Only an evil, crazy person would point out the parallels with many, indeed, EVERY democracy that fell into totalitarianism, via some mix of reigns of terror, military dictatorship, revolution, counterrevolution, and so on. Because, you idiot, that simply can’t happen here.

America is simply different. We make our own rules. We are beyond history, beyond reality, even – everything that is, is spoken into being by our word. Have I mentioned that we are the most intelligent, most enlightened, most moral people the world has ever seen? We are incapable of being fooled, manipulated, herded! We are just the best! America: History’s Chosen People! But totally not in any religious sense – that’s just stupid.

Let Me ‘Splain…

No, it is too much. Let me sum up:

Let me explain (With images) | Princess bride quotes ...

I’m an amateur, not going to lie. But I do have a few what seem to me obvious generalizations about history, things you can’t not notice once you’ve noticed them:

The default state for us humans is something like a tribe. We will fall back into this state unless diligent effort is made to prevent it.

For today’s discussion this means: we see tribal membership as primary to survival, for the simple reason that, during the last few million years of evolution, it was. No lone man was likely to long survive, and, if he remained a lone man, he didn’t leave many offspring. You want to play the natural selection game? Better stick with the group , where breeding opportunities exist and children have a decent shot at surviving, too.

Tribes have leaders. While it is nice to imagine small tribes working things out democratically, the reality is that tribal peoples are (despite the endless propaganda to the contrary) typically very violent. The Mauri, the Yanomami, The Iroquois – sure, they may have plenty of redeeming qualities, but you want to see cultures where they would just as soon kill you as say hello? So, in such a setting:

Tribal leaders tend to act like Mafia leaders. When the Roman Republic fell, to take one example, they had a centuries old culture of trying to work things out, and had largely avoided internal political violence for a couple centuries. (Three long wars with Carthage also put internal issues on the back burner.) When it finally fell, leaders in the Senate had Tiberius Gracchi, who threatened their power, clubbed to death along with 300 of his followers – first significant political violence in a couple centuries.

It quickly went to hell. The resulting regimes looked a lot like a mafia sans the titles: Caesars were the people who the muscle would follow; turf wars/civil wars – tomato/tomahto; as far as they could manage it, everybody paid their protection money, and nobody got to do any business without clearing it with the local rep – who got a cut. Etc.

Even in Republican times, life in the Roman countryside (where 90% of the people lived) looked like this: a patriarch had his estate(s), everyone who did anything at all on his turf had to come pay him honor. You would regularly show up to share a graciously-provided meal at the patriarch’s estate, or people would check on why you didn’t. If you ran a business, it was because he let you run a business – and he took a cut. Fail to comply, and people do stuff.

A key feature: all the other clients are desperate for you to go along. To them, the local patrician *is* the government – he’s police, he’s the judge, he’s the one who settles disputes. If he were to murder you, a commoner, there’s no one around to do anything about it. And just like mafia dons, when things are going according to plan, you’re not whacking anybody. The sheep are therefore invested in not rocking the boat. You can play the ‘somebody has to maintain order around here’ card – you’re not exploiting people, you’re *protecting* them!

The transition from lawful government to mafia just isn’t much of a transition. You may have noticed that mafias do a lot of the stuff that governments do: collect taxes, enforce behaviors, ‘regulate’ businesses, ‘police’ their turf. It has long been said that, when the mob more overtly controlled Vegas, crime was all but non-existent there. There was no trial or warrants or any of that nonsense – you do crime on there turf, and there’s a few thousand square miles of god-forsaken desert nearby in which a body can be dumped and will quickly disappear.

Aaaand – that’s the way the tourists liked it! Sure, mom, dad, and the kids from Des Moines were not thinking about how Vegas was so safe – but they counted on it. I’ve heard – not going to research it – there’s more crime now that the mob runs things at arm’s length. All that law and order stuff getting in way of just, you know, solving the problem.

Did you all see the Daniel Day-Lewis movie Lincoln? * It is of course hagiography with a subtle message: Lincoln is shown early telling a story about when he was a lawyer, helping a (very sympathetic) murderer escape. Ignoring the law and his duty as a lawyer to uphold it, he does the ‘right thing’. Later, he tells his henchmen to do whatever needs doing to get the 13th Amendment passed, but don’t tell him about it – plausible deniability, you know. The film follows his team as they cut dubious deal, threaten, bribe, and bully enough votes to get it through.

The movie most definitely does not invite us to spare a thought about how Lincoln was behaving indistinguishably from a mafia don. Instead, we are to simply wipe a sympathetic tear from our eye and nod in agreement with the idea that our Greatest President ™ can ignore the law if he really, really needs to, to do the right thing. What, you want the poor beaten wife to get hanged for killing her abuser? You don’t want the slaves freed? All because of a pedantic belief that public officials should obey the law? YOU MONSTER!

Some of my beloved readers, in a perfectly understandable reaction, may think from my last post that I’m claiming Vinny the Neck has got his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office. Nope, nope, nope! Rather, what I think is that, after the manner of Lincoln as portrayed in the movie above, stuff needed to get done for all sorts of really really good reasons, way bigger reasons than obeying the letter of the law, and so people say things, people do things, and stuff happens. THEN: we reach a state of MAD: if I go down, you go down. Did Lincoln specifically tell thugs to go crack some heads? Did he buy the murderer a ticket out of town? NO! He merely stated his earnest desires – ‘will no on ride me of this meddlesome priest?’ style – and left it up to his underlings to get it done.

To conclude, this is why I don’t think it requires anything like a literal conspiracy for the election to have been stolen. There wasn’t a Democratic official anywhere in America who didn’t know that the Evil Orange Man needed to be defeated no matter what. They’re not waiting around for explicit instructions, which were never going to happen. Instead, they are seeing the same thing on the news we were seeing: Trump ‘inexplicably’ ahead in 5 states they needed. Nobody needed to order the locals to do something about it – they could figure that out on their own. And they’re unlikely to ever discuss it, before or after. What would Vinny the Neck want them to do? Are they getting a nod and wink next time they see him, or a frown of doom?

Hopes this helps.

* That it came out while O was running for a second term makes me laugh.

Stealing Elections: Unheard Of?

I’m beginning to agree with those who think American Exceptionalism is deplorable, but, as usual in our Orwell topsy-turvy land, it’s another case of Goebbels’s rule: always accuse your enemies of what you’re doing. For some people seem to really believe that, unlike every other country that’s tried Democracy of any sort for any length of time in history, our fair land is immune to the obvious temptation for any who’ve gained power through democratic means: use that power to make sure you never get unelected, and to get your buddies elected.

In this respect, America is not exceptional. Our fine leaders are every bit as likely to see free, open elections not as a sacred blessing to be preserved and defended, but as a problem to be solved, as any number of the other illustrious leaders of democracies history puts before us.

Let’s take one example, one of many, one I’ve mentioned before: Fred Roti. Born in 1920, Roti was the son of a Chicago grocery store owner, one of 11 children. Roti began his public service career in road repair, shoveling asphalt, and went on to serve as a machine gunner on a boat in France in WWII. In 1950, Roti, in the words of the Oracle Wikipedia, “was tapped by the Democratic Party organization to run for Illinois state senator from the 1st District.” He won, and served until redistricting broke up his district in 1956.

Going back to his public service roots, he then took a job as a drain inspector, while staying active in Democratic politics as a precinct captain. In 1968, he was again “tapped” by the Democratic Party to run for Chicago Alderman. He won handily, and won reelection handily until he left office in 1993. Over his 25 years in office, he was well known for helping others get their start in government work and elected office.

So, another heart-warming American success story? A few other details: Fred’s father was Bruno “The Bomber” Roti, a capo under Al Capone and a Mafia hitman. That grocery store where he was born was a few blocks down the street from Capone’s headquarters. Bruno managed to get all 11 of his children jobs in government. Fred, the youngest and the runt of the litter, rose to the most prominence.

Fred’s side interests were very profitable. He was estimated to be one of the richest men in America in the 1970s, despite having held only a number of what one would assume were full-time government jobs. He used his wealth and influence to become a major player, although a low-profile one, in state and national Democratic politics. He was a close friend, at least (FBI said: made man), of the Chicago Outfit, a mafia gang that controls much business in the Midwest, with fingers in pies from Florida to California, to this day.

Fred was known as a ‘fixer’ – if you got in trouble with the law, Roti could fix it for you. He managed this via continuing a long-standing Chicago tradition of having police chiefs and judges vetted by the Mob; e.g., “Roti was instrumental in the appointment of William Hanhardt as Chief of Detectives of the Chicago Police Department. Hanhardt was the Chicago Outfit’s main plant, was convicted in 2001 of masterminding multi-million-dollar jewelry thefts, and served 10 years in prison.” (Wikipedia, again. Being a bit lazy this morning.) A good fixer also has his people in the state law enforcement and the FBI. Roti certainly did.

Roti worked closely with Richard Daly and other Chicago mayors. Whenever an important vote came up in city council, all the other aldermen would – out of deep respect, no doubt – let Roti vote first. Then, they would all vote whichever way he did.

Roti won reelection all but unopposed all those years. Would you want to campaign in the first district, put your face and name on campaign signs to run against a guy whose daddy and friends killed people for a living, knowing that, if you were wronged, you would need to go through the police whose leadership Roti controlled, then before judges Roti got appointed? Once this level of power is obtained, you no longer need to do anything so crass as throw ballot boxes in the river or have dead people vote. You win by default.

So, when the FBI finally caught up with Roti, and managed, Al Capone style, to get him on some comparatively minor charges, there was a great purge of all his appointees and associates from all Chicago, state, and national positions of power as good American citizens were horrified that all these people were not already in jail.

Ha ha ha. I slay me. Nope, Roti took a bullet for the team. No one else was convicted, no one else lost their job, all those people he had helped get government jobs and elected office kept right on running things.

They still do.

The national Democratic party paid no price for having had a mafia don in their inner circle for decades. In fact, the team Roti put in place and their protégés got to “tap” a Presidential candidate only 14 years after Fred went to jail. Yes, sports fans, these are the people who discovered and nurtured Barack Obama’s career, grooming him for high office. These are the people on the Lightbringer’s team.

These are the people who ran the country for 8 years.

You may have noticed nothing much happened during the Barry’s reign, except the attempt to place 1/6th of the economy – medical care – under the mob’s indirect management. Gotta get your skim. But that’s because the true work was more subtle: Barack – well, his team, he was an absolute figurehead – got to be “fixers” on a national level. Instead of vetting chief inspectors and local judges, they got to vet FBI directors and Supreme Court justices.

For 8 years.

This is why I always told people that claims that Trump wasn’t moving fast enough misunderstood the situation: he had to replace enough of Obama’s team’s people at the FBI, regulatory agencies, military, judges, and so on and on – you couldn’t get to be federal equivalent of dog catcher unless O’s team knew they could control you.

Now with complete control of the FBI, the Chicago team could use it to research and intimidate anybody who had somehow gotten into office without their approval. If they fail to squash some investigation they didn’t like, they can make sure cases against their people get put before their judges. A Flynn, for one example, must be crushed – as the Dread Pirate Robert says: “Once word leaks out that a pirate has gone soft, people begin to disobey you and then it’s nothing but workworkwork, all the time.” 

Almost as an afterthought: You want to run a news organization, or even work as a reporter? These same mechanisms are in place. You want to do that devastating expose against people who know how your kids get to school? So, effectively, cutting out the middle men, our press has been vetted by the mob. (Note: this does not mean the press isn’t also a nest of Marxists and their useful idiots. The two are hardly mutually exclusive, as history amply shows.)

This is what Trump was up against, and why they were terrified of him and hated him. That’s why they’re loosing their sh*t right now. Chips are being called in, people are being reminded of certain dirt they’d rather not have see the light of day. Anything but complete compliance means your career, and possibly life, are over. It’s frankly a miracle anyone in office is still standing with the President.

Of course, Roti was just a piece in a bigger story. Crime makes what at first might look like strange bedfellows. Marxists and mobsters agree: the police should be defunded. Unions and mobsters agree: businesses need to be brought under out control. Critical Theorists and mobsters agree: right and wrong are all a matter of how you look at it.

For our purposes here, we should note that mobsters fall under C.S. Lewis’s general rule: they just want money and power, and so are willing to let people alone at least some of the time. Therefore, they are not the ultimate threat here. It’s the people who believe that they, in their state of glorious enlightenment, need to fix (or destroy) any who don’t get with their program that will get us killed. Sooner, I mean.

On the plus side, when push comes to shove in the inevitable power struggle and purge, my money is on the mob. In America, at least, that seems more likely.

William Thompson won election as Chicago’s mayor in 1927, the last non-Democrat to hold the office. He had very good relations with Capone. Once he was gone, the Chicago Democratic Party refined its controls of elections, such that no non-Democrat has stood a snowball’s chance of getting elected ever since. Consider: Chicago has –

  • The highest paid teachers in America – AND the worst schools
  • An extensive set of Progressive social programs – AND endemic areas of poverty and despair
  • Some of the tightest gun control in the nation – AND an appalling amount of gun violence

BUT – for 90 years, no one has ever successfully been able to mount any alternative. Nope, the good people of Chicago just keep electing the same old people to keep doing the same old stuff. Chicago must be a paradise. Guess they’re just the most politically contented people on earth.

Boston, Philly, New York, LA, San Francisco, etc. – similar story: demonstrably terrible local governments that, somehow, keep getting reelected, year after year, almost always all but unopposed. At first, as a baby step, you might have to do stuff in actual elections – Roti was a precinct captain, after all – but, once you’ve got it refined, actual outside challenges are simply not allowed to happen.

So, in this light, is stealing a national election some sort of unheard-of crazy conspiracy theory? Or just the next logical step?

It will be interesting to see how this turns out. Just too bad my family and I – and you and yours – get to live through it.

From Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address, inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial:

(From a comment I left at John C. Wright’s blog.)

“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

We are the land of abortion, and of many other sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance. Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Trembling, we today plead that You remember Your promise of mercy, a promise You made to Abraham and his children forever, a promise fulfilled in Your Son. Do not hold our sins against us, for, then, who could stand? Instead, for the sake of Thy Holy Name, for the glory of Thy Son, in the power of Thy Spirit, send Your heavenly host, lead by Holy Michael, commanded by their Holy Queen, flaming swords drawn, to cast Satan and his foul minions out of our fair and blessed nation, back into the pit. Strengthen us for battle, for whatever part Your Holy Will would have us do.

Thy Will be done. Amen.

Gracchi and the Optimates, Marius and Sulla, and the Reichstag Fire

Today’s dip of the toe in history involves 3 stories:

First up: The Gracchi Brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, each served as Tribune of the Plebs in second century B.C. Rome. They received an excellent Greek education (always a dangerous thing), and, dreaming of democracy, tried to take land and power away from the aristocracy, know as the Optimates. Much land in Republican Rome had been seized as spoils in their victories. To those who have, much is given, it seems: the aristocracy took it all. Roman commoners who had fought to win those wars were left with nothing. Laws were already on the books to give the land to the commoners, but they simply got ignored.

Tiberius made his name as a hero in the Third Punic War, and was elected Tribune of the Plebs in 133 BC. Once it became clear he intended to take ‘their’ land away from them, the Optimates tried every trick in the book to stop him. Finally, the Optimates had him and about 300 of his supporters clubbed to death. This was the first use of murder to ‘solve’ a political problem in centuries, but it set the precedent for the rest of Rome’s life.

Gaius, a somewhat more practical politician, then took up the program, and again had some success. In 122 BC, the Optimates incited a mob to kill him; seeing the writing on the wall he killed himself rather than fall into their hands. Subsequently, several thousand of his followers were arrested and executed.

This ruthless suppression of the Gracchi put a damper on uppity commoners for a while.

Next up, Gaius Marius was a much more sophisticated politician, had few, if any, ideals getting in the way of his desire for power, and was a great general. He was not so intent on actually delivering what he promised to the plebs, except insofar as it furthered his ambitions. He was elected Consul for a record – and tradition-destroying – 7 terms.

He was opposed by another great general, Sulla, and took the ill-fated policy of trying to undermine Sulla’s power from Rome while Sulla was on campaign in Greece. Things got ugly. Following the precedent above, when given the chance, Marius had Sulla’s supporters murdered and their heads put on display.

Unfortunately for him, Sulla also broke tradition and took his army to Rome. While Marius himself lucked out and died of old age in his bed, when Sulla got to Rome, it was a bloodbath. Italians with reason and opportunity to seek revenge are scary.

Now the precedent was changed: you cannot rule in Rome unless you have an army loyal to you.

The escalation from putting out hits, as it were, on your political enemies, to inciting riots and then using the police and courts to having your enemies executed, to waging civil war took under 50 years in Rome. Things were a lot slower back then.

Next up, we have the curious phenomenon of Reichstag Fire. In 1933, Hitler’s Nazi Party had achieved power, but only had a plurality in the German Parliament. Conveniently, somebody (modern historians say: the Nazis themselves) started a fire that burned down the Reichstag, the German Parliament building.

Communists were blamed, a scapegoat found, and marshal law declared. Hitler then used his new power to arrest all the Communists members of Parliament, which – surprise! – then gave the Nazis a simple majority.

The rest is, as they say, History.

Which is largely being repeated. Again.

With that in mind, here’s that timeline:

  • Reichstag Fire: Monday 27 February 1933
  • Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler took out his competitors within his own coalition: June 30 to July 2, 1934. This is the part I’m anticipating with grim appreciation.
  • Took 5 more years to invade Poland.

Or one could use other examples. Perhaps the French Revolution is more apt. But I’m not a real historian, I leave it up to the pros to come up with best fit precedent.

Teaching History

So I, an enthusiastic amateur, have now taught one semester of history to 6 8th graders and 4 9th graders. These are homeschooled Catholic kids, so it’s a lot better than teaching Prussian-schooled kids. What I’m teaching them:

An important guy.
  1. Always ask: How would anybody know that? I put questions about this on every test. I don’t want them to be radically skeptical – that is the road to madness – but don’t want them to just swallow whatever the texts (or, indeed, I) tell them.
  2. Conversely, don’t reflexively dismiss myth. As often as not, myths are historically true at least in general outline. They found Troy right where it was supposed to be; they found mead halls right where the Poet of Beowulf said they should be. And the Scythians buried their kings exactly as it was described to Herodotus. Some myths are wacky, or contain wacky stuff, but all tell you something important about the cultures that passed them on.
  3. Great Men and Long Term Factors. An Alexander the Great, a Charlemagne, or even a Savonarola really can change things, currents of History be damned. Macedonia is and was a relatively poor backwater – that produced a conqueror who spread Greek culture everywhere he went. Anybody who says they saw that coming is a liar. Apart from his immediate ancestors, Pepin and Charles Martel, Charlemagne was preceded and followed by comparative mediocrities – yet he made something great out of Franks, who were way toward the ‘barbaric’ end of the pool. Chaos before, chaos after, and a century of Carolingian Renaissance in the middle. Yet Egypt is the gift of the Nile, and various little ice ages crushed any number of civilizations despite how good or bad their leaders were. It’s both/and.
  4. Until very recently, 80-90% of everybody in any civilization farmed or otherwise worked to produce food. I’ve introduced them to the idea that populations are usually ‘harvest sensitive’ (as one English historian put it).
  5. The guys that imagined and built Viking longboats were as important to history as any king. For example. In general, we overrate the kings and generals and underrate the craftsmen and traders. We remember Columbus and Henry the VIII, appropriately enough, but don’t know much about the endless streams of brave (and greedy) souls who opened and traveled all the trade routes that brought, for example, silk to England and Roman coins to Japan; or, more important still, spread Mesopotamian grasses such as barely and wheat to every corner of the temperate northern hemisphere. And a million other things through a million hands. Those were important people, much more important than a run of the mill king.

And some names and dates. I tell them you need enough names and dates to organize your thoughts about history, but that’s about it. There will always be more history than can be learned in any number of lifetimes, and they keep making more. Better to establish an apporach and get an outline than to memorize a bunch of names and dates that don’t mean anything to you.

Viking Longships: Trades and Raids - BaviPower Blog
This is a truly beautiful piece of technology, involving advanced ironwork, fancy lapstrake construction, and a ton of empirical engineering, With these, brave men can go anywhere the world’s oceans and seas can take them.

In Further Praise of Gilgamesh

Read this ancient epic with a bunch of 8th graders, in a slightly scrubbed version as discussed here. We read the first half 2 weeks ago, and the second half last week.

Gilgamesh, Enkidu, lions, and some cuneiform text.. Or so I’m told by Wikipedia.

I had to share with these very bright kids the wisdom of one Robert Bart, a tutor (professor) at St. John’s College: Great books are not children’s books. He was saying this to a bunch of 18 year olds (I being one at the time. Printing had been invented, just barely). I have been fortunate enough to have had the chance to reread much of the Great Books in the intervening years, and can confirm: while you have to start somewhere, there’s a reason Aristotle recommended (but, of course, did not follow) that one delays the study of philosophy until age 50. Same goes for epics and classics of all sorts. Get a lifetime under your belt, and the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, the Book of Job, Dante, and all the others are a LOT different experience.

The kids were universally disappointed with the way Gilgamesh ended. I tried to tell them that, at +/- 13 years old, grasping how life looks to an old man is going to be – difficult. I, on the other hand, was almost brought to tears.

Both the solemnity and wackiness of the adventures are taken up several notches after Enkidu dies on Tablet 5. The mythic pair of wild man (Enkidu) and over-civilized man (Gilgamesh) took on classic forces of nature and heaven, defeating the monster guarding the forest with the help of the gods, then killing the Bull of Heaven sent as vengeance. The pair shook, as it were, a manly and even kingly fist at the eternal forces – and so had to pay the price. The wild man loves civilization, but must die for city living to continue. The civilized man has lost what he most loved, that aspect of manhood that provided the test and vigor to his life. After inordinate morning – the body of Enkidu is allowed to corrupt well past its bury-by date so that Gilgamesh can mourn over it -he is willing to abandon the city so as not to suffer the same fate as his friend. He seeks the secret of immortality from the one man – Babylonian Noah, Utnapishtim – to whom the gods have granted it. He lives now forever on the other side of the Waters of Death.

On his journey, he confronts nature at its wildest and most beautiful – a pride of lions – and slays them all, and wears a skin as a cloak. The skin of the king of beasts merely hides a civilized man trying to escape, without passing on to him any of Nature’s native power or glory.

He must pass through darkness, after getting past the scorpion men, a bizarre human/creature blend who bar his way at first, then let him pass. Twelve leagues of the deepest darkness later, he passes through the Garden of the Gods.

When he reaches the coast, the theme of women/bread/wine as the gateway to civilization first encountered with the literal seduction of Enkidu by Shamhat followed by the wild man’s introduction to the signature victuals of civilization – fruit of the earth and vine, the work of human hands. Gilgamesh, however, does not encounter the beautiful and brave temple prostitute, but rather a giant barmaid – Siduri, who flees from the wasted wreck that mourning and hardship have made of Gilgamesh. She eventually warms to him, serves him some very civilized food – and tells him to give up on seeking immortality, and instead seize the day. He should return home, get married, and raise some kids.

Unlike Enkidu, Gilgamesh doesn’t need the comfort of women to civilize him, but rather their wisdom. Which he promptly rejects. He wants to know how to get across the Waters of Death. He’s passing out through the gateway of civilization – wine, women, and song, as it were – and into the afterlife, or at least trying to.

Siduri directs him to the Sumerian Charon, Urshanabi the Ferryman. Gilgamesh finds him painting his boat on the shore, and attacks the ferry, as if it needed to be defeated.

The boat is death, it is what happens to souls at the end of life. By attacking and damaging the boat, he makes his quest to cross over the Waters of Death much more difficult. Gilgamesh has destroyed the magic that guides and propels the soul from this life to eternity.

After crossing the Waters of Death to Paradise Shore, Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim and his wife, who are languid: what’s the hurry when one gets to live forever? He tells our hero he gained immortality after saving creation from the great flood. The creator god Enlil found people too noisy, and decided to drown them and all creatures right out. Through the machinations of a lesser god, Utnapishtim is instructed to turn his house into a huge square ark and thus saves creation. Eternal life is his (and his wife’s) reward. He repeats the advise Gilgamesh has repeatedly received on his journey: accept your mortal lot, go get married and father some children.

There’s an adventure where Gilgamesh retrieves and then loses a seaweed that grants youth to 100 o0ld men, but that’s a lost consolation prize. The message to him from beings natural, unnatural, and supernatural remains: it is your lot to die. Do great and memorable things, marry and father children – that’s the best you can do.

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk a different man. He finds the people have done just fine without him, and realizes their dread of his wars and building projects. He softens some. He does marry, and his first child completes his transformation into a truly civilized man.

A great story. A perfect example of what I was trying to get across to the kids: myths are how a people explain the world and themselves to themselves. The Sumerians had carved out a handful of towns and cities in a land that could be both generous and harsh. Nature could and routinely did wipe out what they had so painstakingly built, flooding and washing away their farms and villages. Further, they were surrounded by wilder peoples who wanted what they had. Finally, death was always there, ready to take you without warning.

Gilgamesh must deal with all these issues, and answer what it is that makes a man civilized.

(Aside: as long as I can remember, I’ve pronounced – in my head, because who says such words aloud? – ‘cuneiform’ “CUE-neh-form.” Now I hear, on some of the videos I’ve watched prepping for this class, ‘coo-NAY-eh-form’. To MAY to, to MAH to. I think I like my way better, but, while I sometimes argue (tongue in cheek, mostly) for multiple orthodox orthographies, using Chaucer as my hero, not sure I want to do the same for pronunciation. Communication being the goal and all.)