Saturday, June 24, 2017


Was the Hebrew Bible written earlier than previously thought?


"Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts. We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It's not sensible to listen to it." - Michael Crichton

Australian Honeybees Make Spiral Hives

Shark Attack Saturday

Surfer bitten by shark on foot in Ponce Inlet, Volusia officials say

Not exactly the most dramatic of stories, but it served its purpose.  Mainly, it filled space.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Eric Hoffer

"In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

Since the profession of full-time pastor is drying up along with mainstream Protestantism itself, many of my ordained colleagues have become, in the euphemism of the church, "tent-maker clergy".  In other words, and based on how St. Paul's was employed while spreading the Word of God, they have jobs, usually in the secular realm, that they fulfill along with serving a parish.

During the week I will work three days for a parish, one or two days as a drywall installer or carpenter, and one or two days as a luthier.  One morning a week, I serve as an unofficial chaplain for an independent school.  A good friend serves on weekends at a parish in New York City as its priest-in-charge and during the remainder of the week works for a Wall Street banking corporation.  We have both noted in conversation that, while we do not have any days off, we often don't miss them as our duties can be very different from day to day.  When we're becoming fatigued with pastoral work, we have our other, rather different, duties, and vice versa.

Personally, I find that nothing better aids the mind and the organization of thought than spending time working a blank of ash into an electric guitar body.  Between the jigsaw and the router, the sander and the airbrush, some of my best sermons and teaching plans have also been shaped.  Just when I get tired of the sawdust and noise, I can sit with an elderly parishioner in a hospital and speak of eternal notions, or watch the youth of the parish design a liturgy, or simply celebrate the Holy Mysteries behind the altar.  It is a refreshing type of occupational "cross-training" and I have sought to do so most of my professional life.

My model for this was my favorite English professor, whose specialty was comparative literature and, to facilitate his international education, worked as a merchant seaman for some years.  The juxtaposition served him well as his insight and lectures were easily the most accessible and popular in his department, no doubt as he saw the world through a much richer and more colorful lens.

When I asked him about this style of experiential learning, he told me of Eric Hoffer, who had served as his model.  I had never heard of Hoffer, which was not unusual since he wasn't terribly popular in the university system of the 1970's as he was not a product of the Ivy League machine, but when I read his works I realized that the relationship between "common" labor and intellectual perception was far more important than many realized.

Eric Hoffer was born in The Bronx in 1898, which often surprises people as, until the day of his death, he spoke with a strong German/Alsatian accent.  Such were ethnic neighborhoods once upon a time, with native languages spoken on the street and in the homes and written on the signs in the butcher's window, that one could be born and raised in a place that retained even the accent of "the old country".

Orphaned at an early age, blinded in an accident, Hoffer was all but helpless until, in an event that would forever baffle his physicians, his sight was suddenly restored at the age of fifteen.   Fearing, as one would, that he would just as suddenly become blind again, he read every book he could lay his hands on and then, as he became more confident that his vision would last, sought to see as much of the world and its wonders as he could.

Of course, not having money, a trust fund, or any inheritance, Hoffer worked at a series of jobs, usually in the labor trades.  He lived on Skid Row in Los Angeles, sometimes homeless, for the better part of a decade.  When his despair at his condition became acute, resulting in a near suicide, he left L.A. to become a migrant worker, railroad man, and prospector.  His only, and cherished, possession in these days was his library card.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the 43-year-old Hoffer volunteered for service with the U.S. Army.  Being a little suspicious of someone fluent in German with little in the way of a documented history, he was turned down.  Instead, he became a longshoreman in San Francisco, a job he would hold for the next twenty-five years.

Feeling that America's "underclass" was underrepresented in philosophic inquiry [no kidding, check out 21st century political philosophy, where two entitled millionaire establishment figures are seeking to represent the rest of us], and having read philosophy in quiet times during his prospector days, Hoffer wrote The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, his first book.  Published in 1951, it is a philosophical examination of the nature of fanaticism such as through the world had suffered with Nazism and Stalinism.  The fact that this volume may still be read and be relevant is a testimony to the burgeoning nihilism of the past seventy years.

In marketing the book, Hoffer's publisher branded him "The Longshoreman Philosopher", a title that he would carry for the rest of his days.

As he wrote in the preface:
All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance.

All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.
Hoffer had noted that the membership of the Nazi and the Communist Parties tended to be interchangeable, despite the gross difference between the two philosophies, indicating that the politics weren't as important as the "movement" in addressing an underlying need that was not being served by general society. In The True Believer and subsequent works, Hoffer observed that cultural movements were historically organized through largely predictable situations. Since a positive self-regard is necessary for personal happiness, when such esteem is lost, people will go to extraordinary lengths to claim the absent sense of well-being.  By extension, when they believe that their lives are useless and have been made so by a corrupt, untouchable Other, and that the only recourse is for individuals to gather together and foment or force radical change, movements then take life.  Depending on the depth of alienation, mass movements can be brutal.

Hoffer observed that this was the case even with relatively benign movements, such as Christianity, which he noted managed to take an eager persecutor like Saul of Tarsus and alter his thinking and practices so that he became St. Paul, an equally zealous apologist for the faith.

It does not take a philosopher to note that, during this particularly fractious year in politics, there is a remarkable similarity between some of the supporters of Sanders, Trump, and Clinton, with people reduced to rage, tears, dramatic gestures, chanting, and other emotionally compromised behavior, to see Hoffer's perspective has longevity.  Even a cursory glance at Islamism would reveal the same.

The True Believer was remarkably popular, written and published as it was during the height of American literacy.  It turned Hoffer into a minor celebrity, with positive interviews appearing in print and in the relatively new world of television.  By the mid-1950's, Hoffer was working three days a week as a longshoreman and one day as a philosophy lecturer at Berkeley [Where else?].  He would often be introduced as a "public intellectual", only to correct the speaker by replying, "No, just a longshoreman".

Hoffer would live into his 80's, residing no longer on Skid Row but in an apartment overlooking the San Francisco docks where he used to work.  He would publish twelve more books, most of which are still in print.  In addition, the Hoover Institution has archived an enormous collection of Hoffer's notebooks that include enough material for several other volumes.  In 1983, shortly before his death, he was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I'm Glad to See Politicians are Striving to Be Temperate in These Volatile Times

As amusing as I find it when Chris Murphy decides he's a moral theologian who has determined that there are now "degrees" of evil, and Elizabeth Warren indulges in what she understands to be her "inner Cherokee", we just had a congressman shot by a lunatic inflamed by the extreme language of fear.  Perhaps it's time to strive to be thoughtful in discourse, rather than emotionally de-articulated.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

No Surprise, Really

Daniel Day-Lewis Quits Acting

Knowing where he lives (I used to live in the same town), and how pleasant it is there this time of year, I don't blame him.

We once had a very funny conversation at the local market about kids, he was surrounded by about a dozen of them at the time, and ice cream, that they were violently raiding from the cooler rather like the Goths sacking Rome.  Clearly, he was enjoying himself.

An Obituary of Note

Bill Dana, Comic Best Known for Jose Jimenez character, Died at 92

I know that the humorless scolds of the 21st century would find much to criticize with Dana's characterization, but he cracked me up when I was a kid.  However, his biggest fans may have been the family next door to us who had recently fled Castro's Cuba.  Whenever he was playing Jose on The Ed Sullivan Show, you could hear the whole Fernandez family laughing.

If My Daughter Were Barbie....

...I would tell her that, although all of these young men appear neat and nice, and would probably be fun friends and shopping buddies, I would not count on a romantic relationship with any of them.

Mattel unveils diverse line of Ken dolls

Good News

Johns Hopkins researchers say they've unlocked key to cancer metastasis and how to slow it


I occasionally come across quotations that snag my attention like a needle-hook to yarn. I may or may not agree with the writer's perspective, but the quotation represents something that stirs my thinking and, sometimes, imagination. From time to time, I'll share them and their source, but caveat emptor.
Had Hillary won, everyone would have expected disappointed Trump voters to show a modicum of respect for the electoral results as well as for the historic ceremony of the inauguration, during which former combatants momentarily unite to pay homage to the peaceful transition of power in our democracy. But that was not the reaction of a vast cadre of Democrats shocked by Trump’s win. In an abject failure of leadership that may be one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the modern Democratic party, Chuck Schumer, who had risen to become the Senate Democratic leader after the retirement of Harry Reid, asserted absolutely no moral authority as the party spun out of control in a nationwide orgy of rage and spite. Nor were there statesmanlike words of caution and restraint from two seasoned politicians whom I have admired for decades and believe should have run for president long ago—Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. How do Democrats imagine they can ever expand their electoral support if they go on and on in this self-destructive way, impugning half the nation as vile racists and homophobes?

Mindless ideology is eating away at the soul of our education system

How schools fell victim to the attack of the Blob

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Victory for All That is American

Washington Post: Supreme Court unanimously reaffirms: There is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment

You may not like what some people say, but as long as they may do so freely, the rest of us may respond in kind.  Being an ordained Christian in the 21st century, one who often receives blistering criticism in the post-Christian public square, has taught how important this is.

Boats are More Dangerous Than Sharks

Hawaii soldier on surfboard dead after boat runs over him

There's Something Wonderfully American about this Headline

Maine woman attacked by rabid raccoon drowns it in puddle

Post-truth? It’s pure nonsense

For as long as there have been politicians, they have lied, fabricated and deceived. The manufacture of falsehood has changed over time, as the machinery becomes more sophisticated. Straight lies give way to sinuous spin, and open dishonesty disappears behind Newspeak and Doublethink. However, even if honesty is sometimes the best policy, politics is addressed to people’s opinions, and the manipulation of opinion is what it is all about. Plato held truth to be the goal of philosophy and the ultimate standard that disciplines the soul. But even he acknowledged that people cannot take very much of it, and that peaceful government depends on ‘the noble lie’.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

This is an Intelligent Man

Talking to Boys the Way We Talk to Girls

Thanks, Dad

Dad enjoying his first cigarette after spending 2 and one-half hours in a church watching me get hitched.  I think it was consumed in one very long puff.

His family, my family, has been in this country since before it was a country.  We are older than the Declaration of Independence; older than the mass migration of the 18th century.  We are as old as the soil that fills the land from the Appalachian Plateau to the Till Plain.

My father was born in the middle of central Ohio farmland, growing up rarely wearing shoes and working a variety of jobs, aiding his family as a dutiful eldest child of his generation would, even helping to raise his sister and brother.

He was a spectacular student, the first of the family to attend college, as equally adept at mathematics, his favorite subject, as he was in grammar and usage.  [He was the proofreader for my dissertation.]

He served as a sergeant in the US Army during the Korean War, then became a teacher.

He always made sure to take his kids with him those summers he worked on his graduate degree and when he was consulting for various scientific bodies, even to the extent of hauling me out of elementary school for six weeks so that I could travel to Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Manhattan, where we lived for two weeks in the Americana Hotel.  I walked all over mid-town and even learned how to flag down a cab.  I was nine-years-old and it was a great adventure.

My grandfather, a carpenter, once told me how proud he was that his son was addressed at work as "Mr. Clements".

He showed a combination of remarkable patience and fortitude with his son, even during that obstreperous son's years of wildness.  When the son told him he wanted to be a teacher, he smiled. When the son told him he wanted to be a priest, he smiled some more.

He prayed with more sincerity than anyone I have ever known.  I think he read a book a day.  I have served four schools, a college, and a university, and I can objectively state that he was the best math teacher that I've ever seen.  His favorite hymn was #412, I think mainly because of this verse:

Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes,
sing to the Lord a new song! 
Athlete and band, loud cheering people, 
sing to the Lord a new song!

We sang it at his funeral and that was the moment that I truly missed him.

While I didn't inherit his facility with equations, I did receive his sense of humor.  In times easy and hard, that's made all of the difference.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Shark Attack Saturday

UK SHARK ATTACK: Surfer’s hand savaged by beast off coast of Devon


First shark attack on surfer in UK waters leaves man with small cut on his thumb

There seems to be some disparity here, as these two stories are about the same incident with the same surfer.  See what I mean about hyped shark attack stories in the summer?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tom Blake

[Originally posted in August of 2016.]
Blake and a collection of his surfboards, which probably earned their own garage.
Travel Agent:  I have some good news about your flight from Sydney.
Me:  How much will this good news cost?
Agent: The same price as before.  I can get you a connection in Honolulu that's almost immediate.  You won't have to wait very long to take off again.
Me:  No, that won't do.
Agent:  It will save...what?
Me:  I need time between flights.  At least six hours.  Maybe eight.
Agent:  Really?
Me:  Yes.  How far is Waikiki from the airport?  I might need ten to twelve hours.
Agent:  You want to go to the...beach?
Me:  Sort of.  I want to go to the surf.
Agent:  [Awkward pause].
Me:  It's because of Tom Blake.
Agent:  Is he a friend of yours?
Me:  In a manner of speaking, yes.  It's important to ride at least one wave at Waikiki in honor of Tom.
Agent: Um...okay.  That will cost more, then.
Tom Blake was and is a metaphoric friend to all surfers, and is also the reason why a distinctly Polynesian/Hawaiian pastime became more strongly associated with fair-haired, fair-skinned guys from the mainland.  He is, to use a term common in theology, philosophy, and physics, the nexus, or point of connection, between an ancient cultural hobby and the billion dollar contemporary industry that promotes both surfing and the "surf lifestyle".

Blake was born in 1902 in that surf mecca of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  [It's notable that, while many people surf in Waikiki just because of its association with Blake, I know of no one who visits Milwaukee for the same reason.]  Before his first birthday, his mother died of tuberculosis and his father, working several jobs at the time, left the infant Tom in the care of relations.  He sublimated his sense of abandonment, and the effects of some vague, unnamed childhood trauma, by learning to swim, devoting himself to water sports, and setting speed records in the local swimming pools.  [An aside: I knew an adult who had been an abused child and who also loved to swim in pools, lakes, and the ocean.  He would appear to others to be virtually emotionless, but when underwater would release screams and tears.]  His lack of a rooted upbringing lead him to a nomadic life in his late teens, as he traveled the country by rail and through hitchhiking, working a variety of menial jobs from one coast to the other.

When he was eighteen, a seminal and impressionistic age in the lives of many, during his travels he encountered the person who would alter his life in ways that were, I'm sure, unimaginable.  In 1920, he met Duke Kahanamoku in Detroit when the kahuna of surfing was on a tour of the United States.  Blake was attending a newsreel in a theater that was showing films of the U.S. Swim Team's successes in the Belgium Olympics earlier that year, an event made special as Kahanamoku and some fellow Hawaiians appeared in the lobby to display Duke's gold medal.  In a moment of profound happenstance, Blake introduced himself and shook Kahanamoku's hand, thus beginning a friendship that would unfold over several decades.

Blake's travels eventually led him to Los Angeles where, due to his swimming aptitude, he earned jobs at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and Santa Monica Swimming Club, and with those a place to train for competition.  Within a year, he would set a swimming record at a national AAU meet and become a sensation in what was still a rather intimate world of athletic achievement.  A trip to the beach in Santa Monica in 1924 encouraged Blake to try surfing for the first time, as a tight cadre of early surfers, inspired by Kahanamoku, had taken to building and riding their own alaia boards off the beaches of L.A. and Orange Counties.  Blake took a simple redwood plank, entered the water and, as he had with speed swimming, made surfing his own.  Later that year he would board a tramp steamer and head for Honolulu, beginning a special, lifelong relationship with Hawaii and the Hawaiians.

This was facilitated by the renewed acquaintance with Kahanamoku, who recognized Blake's talent and reverence for the sea and saw to it that he was invited to join the traditional surfing and canoeing clubs, organizations that had never accepted a non-Hawaiian before.  As Blake noted in his book, Hawaiian Surfboard,
Waikiki beach has been kind to me. The native Hawaiians have been kind. I have had the honor of riding the big surfs with these Hawaiians - I have sat at their luaus - watched their most beautiful women dance the hulas - I have been invited into their exclusive Hui Nalu surfriding club - a club for natives only. I have held the honor position (bow seat) riding waves in the outrigger canoe - the honor position (holding down the outrigger) on the sailing canoe. I have been initiated into the secrets of spear fishing far out on the coral reefs.
If Blake had just been responsible for popularizing surfing in mainstream culture, that alone would have made him irreplaceable in the pantheon of surfers, but his commitment to surfing as a manner of life, of a union of body, mind, and spirit, was so total and holistic that it enabled an athletic pursuit to become a manner of life and being.  Just a few of Blake's early accomplishments display his considerable contributions:

1922 – set the world swimming record in the ten mile open
1926 – first person to surf Malibu
1926 – invented the hollow surfboard
1928 – won the first Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship
1928 – invented the hollow paddleboard
1929 – invented the water-proof camera housing
1931 – invented the sailboard
1931 – patented & manufactured the first production surfboard
1932 – won the Catalina Paddleboard Race
1935 – invented the surfboard fin
1935 – published the first book solely devoted to surfing, Hawaiian Surfboard
1937 – produced & patented the first torpedo buoy and rescue ring

1940s – first production sailboards, leader in physical fitness and the importance of natural foods and a healthy diet

At the outbreak of World War II, having been too young to enlist during World War I, the 40-year-old Blake was accepted into the U.S. Coast Guard where he commanded a search and rescue unit and pioneered the earliest techniques in lifesaving at sea.  His foundational standards and practices are still taught at the Coast Guard Academy in New London and at the National Search and Rescue School in Virginia.

Even Surfer magazine, which tends to appreciate mostly the young, contemporary competitors and is slavishly devoted to their sponsors [and Surfer's advertisers], recognized the fullness of Tom Blake's life and style:
Blake was autodidactic, a self-taught man and a wealth of knowledge. His contributions to surfboard design are immeasurable. From his varied inventions to his progressive templates, his biggest impact in surfing can be whittled down to the work he did with those era-defining boards. He made the first hollow board ever, calling it first a cigar box then later a kook box. The fin, a keel of sorts for the giant boards of the era, was his brainchild, as was the leash, which he at first attached around his waist. He invented the sailboard, which in itself invented windsurfing, and then there was the collapsible surfboard experiment, which is only worth mentioning out of novelty. He was doing so much on the water he wanted it documented, so he created the first waterproof camera housing, changing surf photography and kick starting what was probably the early genesis of a movement to compile those photos in a magazine with words written about them and thus, in essence, creating my job.
Blake believed that what mattered the most in all things was simplicity.  Whether in his technique, his life, or in his many surfboard designs, this was certainly his theme.  He lived in Malibu in a small house with only one chair and dinner place-setting, dispensing with the gifts and awards he had been presented as they seemed an unnatural clutter.  At the age of 55, he stopped surfing and eventually returned to Wisconsin, where he lived in the great woods until his death at 92.

For all of the elaborate structure that now surrounds surfing, with all of its bilious noise and color, it was for him as it was for those original Hawaiians:  A way to feel the rhythm of nature and find, within that natural cadence, peace with oneself.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Wages of Socialism


Money-wise, Bern and his brood have done rather well for themselves.  You ought to see his three homes.  This must be Nouveau Socialism.

(Disclaimer: I don't care for either socialists or communists.  This has nothing to do directly with their ideology, which is inane and childish when it's not malevolent, but because they have tried to kill me in the past.  I don't mean that they've hurt my feelings or have used words against me [university activists tell me that words are violence], but because they've tried to shoot me and blow me up.  Oh, and one joker tried to cleve me with a machete.

Really, uni kids, words aren't violence.  Violence is violence.

Such things give one a foul impression of such ideologues.  Ah, well.  I'm still here.  They're all gone.)

Polynesian Seafaring Canoe Completes Its Globe-Circling Journey

The Hōkūleʻa vessel is set to finish its first circumnavigation later this week in Honolulu

Dear Colleagues,

I know that many of you were terribly upset at the last election when your candidate didn't win.  That's just the way it works sometimes.  We surrender the past and plan for the future, like sane people do.  Many of you have overreacted, though, and continue to have moments of questionable emotional equilibrium in the pulpit, at coffee hour, and during Bible study.

Last week, I had to listen to a sermon that the preacher, both a priest and an academic, laced with sneering references to contemporary American politics, apparently to signal to those of us gathered that we have the correct view of the issues.  It was done in a way that assumed that no other legitimate world view could exist.

I appreciate that's what the insecure must do, even from a cathedral's pulpit, and I have become used to it over the past 3+ decades but, even when I agree with the ideology, I still find it a snotty use of preaching.

At any rate, may I make a strong suggestion based on what I've overheard many of you say in less guarded moments?

Tone down the rhetoric, will you?

We live in a time when many people think clergy are useless remnants of the past, and there is something to that regard, but we still have those who think our words carry a deeper resonance because of our supposed "closeness" to God and the nature of our service to others.  Among that group, there are some who are not stable.  There is no other way to put it and there isn't one of you who doesn't know of what I speak.

These folks can become easily aroused to violence if they think it has some sort of ratification from a cable news host, a crackpot political candidate, various social media bomb-throwers, and clergy.

Please do not think that either a conservative or a liberal is above political hostility.  I've spent too much of my life between the parties not to notice that, along with a sense of ideological entitlement, there comes a tendency to view those who disagree as a contemptible "other".  That perspective is not reflective of Gospel teaching and, I think, merely makes the speaker feel warm within their self-identified righteousness.

If encouraged, the mad will hurt people.  They will hurt those whom they love and those whom they hate.  They will hurt family, and they will hurt strangers.  They will hurt themselves.  They will create violence that disrupts the Body of Christ in ways too horrid and long-lasting to easily contemplate.

As those who practice a manner of life that transcends cultural boundaries and is far older than any contemporary ideological definition, perhaps we should examine our behavior in this regard.  I appreciate that we all think that we're on the side of the angels, but one should wonder if the voice we hear that always agrees with us is God's, or belongs to another, and very deceptive, source.

A Further Unpopular Thought: I Actually Like Hawaiian Pizza

Hawaiian pizza inventor Sam Panopoulos dies aged 83

It's common and popular in the Australian surf community.

Nothing Good, That's for Sure

Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed & What It’s Doing to Us

Unpopular Thoughts

The junior senator from New York, as we have noted before, is really working hard to make her "brand" that of political toilet-mouth.  It's laughably disingenuous.  Is this how she thinks she can earn her party's nomination and the White House?

See here: The Democrats' new tough-guy routine is painful to watch

If I may quote myself:
Speaking as one who grew up in the working class Midwest, public swearing is viewed as distasteful. There are places where it's expected and tolerated, but not while in the midst of service to the greater community. The practice is made absurd when it's a privileged millionaire wearing an Italian scarf worth roughly what I make in a month deciding to be a public potty mouth. Yeah, I feel real connected to you now, senator.
Thinking of which, the most foul-mouthed women that I've ever known are priests in the Episcopal Church.

I noted while watching a portion of the Tony Awards that the transgressive theater world of New York has been brutally reminded that much of the funding for arts comes from publicly traded corporations and tax revenue.  Since a couple of major corporate sponsors withdrew from Shakespeare-in-the-Park's clumsy reworking of Julius Caesar into another exercise in tedious presidential assassination fantasy, there was nary a peep about the current occupant of the White House.  Perhaps it was done during the portion that I didn't view; perhaps we're reaching rancor fatigue.

Historically, the artistic class is brave until reminded of the hand that feeds it.  Totalitarians throughout history have noted this and found the artistic class easy to manipulate.


Once again, the multi-generational failure to teach Civics has rendered school administrators, generally the dimmest collection of bulbs, incapable of understanding the Bill of Rights.  They still maintain the tradition of humorlessness, though.

Violating the First Amendment, High School Punishes Student for Satirical Campaign Speech

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Promises, Sacred and Other

Every member of the military, every person holding a top secret clearance pledges to uphold their oaths to the United States. The oaths may be different in verbiage but they all come down to one simple premise: the person taking them pledges to act in a certain way. In Winner’s case, she pledged not to violate the trust placed in her by her employer and by the United States not to reveal top secret information without prior authorization. If the media reports are accurate, she not only violated those oaths but she did so willingly and knowingly and has admitted to doing so.
I have taken, let's see, the Boy Scouts of America oath, that of the DeMolay organization, the Department of Defense's [the same taken by Winner], the diaconal and priestly ordination vows of the Episcopal Church, and those of the marriage sacrament.  Not to sound like a...well, Boy Scout.., but each has meant something deep and important to me and I have violated none of them.  I wouldn't even think of it.  I certainly wouldn't take an oath if I intended on using it as subterfuge so that I may purposefully violate the oath at a later time.

Winner should take comfort that I'm not in charge of her eventual punishment.

This seems to indicate something that is increasingly common in our nihilistic age.  Oaths, vows, promises, devotion, and the like are things to be ruefully regarded, if not ridiculed, and serve as the object of ironic commentary.  As this tendency continues, it will make for an ugly world, far beyond even the common ugliness of today's society.

If you wish to see a blueprint for this, consult the history of the fall of Rome.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Would You Like to Hear Some Good News for a Change? Of Course You Would.

Meet the Cambridge scientist on verge of curing Multiple Sclerosis

I think that I'm going to start digging for more stories such as this and posting them.  Now that the mainstream media has decided to completely indulge in its Trump obsession and related hysteria, too much good news is being ignored.

Gibberish, the Official Language of the University [and Increasingly, the Church]

Reflections on Being the Dumbest Man in the Room
It was not simply the brilliance of the presentations that impressed upon me my intellectual shortcomings. Topics ranged from artificial intelligence to transhumanism to sexual identity to the nature of beauty. None of these are subjects in which I am remotely competent. Yet all of them were clear, cogent, and comprehensible to me. Lacking the studiedly obscure jargon that dominates so much academic discourse, the presentations revealed my ignorance not by confusing me with opaque verbiage but by teaching me what I did not previously know.

Christian World News

Christian church DESTROYED as Chinese police drag worshippers into street and beat them

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Shark Attack Saturday: Ever Wonder about the Experts Behind Shark Attack Stories? [A re-post from last summer]

Meet George Burgess, the source behind all of these stories in the media and the fellow who is sometimes referred to by the plural "experts" whenever a lazy story is published.  While he may be of generous physical proportions, it's unfair to refer to him as anything but singular.

Here's a small portion of what George has wrought this past week:

Expert warns 2016 could see a record number of shark attacks
Shark attacks in Florida and California as experts warn shark attacks on rise
Shark Attacks Seem To Be On The Rise According To Experts
Shark attacks on the rise, say leading scientists
Summer is here and the number of shark attacks could rise
Swimmers beware: shark attacks set to rise to record highs around the world

Etc., etc., etc....

These stories tend to be written earlier in the year and printed when media staffing is lighter as a third of the newsroom is on summer vacation, then released at the beginning of beach season.  As one may see, they all seem to be slight variations of one another, indicating that they are adaptations from a single wire service story.

There is one fact that seems to escape their notice, however, that would have been worth remarking upon in my day as a reporter.

Mainly, George Burgess is also an advisor to the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, which begins in a couple of weeks.

Hmm, could one thing have to do with the other?  No, that's impossible and I shouldn't have even suggested it.  Forget I said anything.

Here's an alternative view:
Shark Week's biggest critic sharpening his Twitter harpoon 

Also, if you wish, please read of Eugenie Clark, the scientist who began the first serious studies of sharks.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dickey Chapelle

"I want to go as far forward as you will let me."

As it turned out, that was pretty far; as far an anyone could have gone, given the circumstances.

I've been amused of late of Hollywood's surprising lack of creativity when it comes to movie ideas.  I know that there are some really inventive, clever, and literate screenplays lying around producers' offices on the West Coast, but if they leave the desks, I suspect it's for the trash bin.  Creativity and originality require courage, and it is much, much easier to dust off an old idea and pretend, through some prosaic casting, that it's cutting edge and transgressive.  Thus, we wind up with a re-make of Ghostbusters, but with an all-female cast, or Ocean's 11, a re-make of a re-make of a re-make, with an all-female cast, etc.

This is a pity, because there are some true, compelling stories about women that remain largely un-told and, as is surprising in a feminized culture, largely unknown.  One such story is that of Dickey Chapelle's, a photographer who decided, through happenstance and determination, to become a war correspondent.  Ironically, Gender Studies majors in contemporary colleges have not heard of her, but any Marine who has made it through basic knows her story, as she has become part of Corps legend.

She was born one year after the end of World War I as Georgette Louise Meyer, the name that adorns just her birth certificate and her gravestone, as she preferred to be called "Dickey" for reasons she never explained.  After showing herself both intelligent and independent, especially after studying aeronautical engineering at MIT when she was just sixteen, the Milwaukee native was determined to be a professional pilot and aircraft designer.  However, a flirtation with a flyer alarmed her mother, so Dickey was sent to Florida to "live with relatives" for..oh, about nine months or so.  It was around that time that she started experimenting with a camera and discovered a whole new manner in which to be creative.

She moved to New York City to work as a photographer for Trans World Airlines, met Tony Chapelle [of whom history notes little], to whom she was married for fifteen years, and perfected her art.  At the outbreak of the U.S. involvement in World War II, and despite the fact that her photographic portfolio was rather ordinary, Chapelle was hired by National Geographic to be a war correspondent/photographer, mostly with the Marines in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where she managed to sneak off of a Navy hospital ship with a collection of medics and film the bloodiest fighting of the battle.  While not the only women journalist in the Pacific Theater, she became the most memorable for her desire always to be in the midst of the action.

It was during this period that she composed a wardrobe that would become familiar in war zones and other places of geo-political upheaval:  An Australian slouch [or bush] hat, either olive drab [standard mid-century military green] or leopard print camouflage fatigues, harlequin-style glasses, pearl earrings, and, of course, a variety of cameras. 

After the war, her professional credentials firmly set, Chapelle traveled the world on a variety of assignments.  She met with Fidel Castro in Cuba during the early revolution, traveling with him and his company as they evaded Batista's forces, was captured and held prisoner by the Russians for several weeks during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and, in the early days of America's involvement in Vietnam, in order to better cover this new style of warfare, trained with the paratroopers and added the "jump wings" insignia of both the U.S. and South Vietnamese armies to her hat.

It was in Vietnam that Chapelle, often of a conflicted political ideology, discovered the totalitarian brutality that exists behind the facade of Communism's mandated equality.  Thus, she came to appreciate the work of the early American advisors [mostly Special Forces members] and the Franco-Vietnamese resistance led by the Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Nguyễn Lạc Hoa.  Many of the U.S. media's earliest stories of the Vietnam conflict were illustrated by Chapelle's photos, making her the sentinel of what would be a decade's worth of historic memory. 

Ever one to be in the midst of it all, in 1965, while accompanying a Marine platoon on a reconnaissance mission, a booby trap set off by one of the Marines in front of Chapelle sent a piece of shrapnel through her neck, severing her carotid.  Henri Huet, a French news photographer who was Chapelle's protege in the field, remembered the deliberation with which she approached battlefield events and, with great difficulty, steadied his shaking hands and took a photograph of Chapelle's final moments as she was receiving "last rites" from the Navy chaplain assigned to the company.  She would become the first woman combat reporter to die in action.

Chapelle's remains were returned to the United States, accompanied by a six-member honor guard, and she was given a full Marine Corps burial worthy of the highest ranking general.  As mentioned above, her commitment to her job and her willingness to serve in the midst of the blood earned her a place of reverence in one of the world's most traditional martial organizations.  Her story, and her courage, are still taught to the poolies and butter bars* who wish to display even a portion of that battlefield moxie.

Dickey Chapelle is referenced in a large number of histories and memoirs about Vietnam.  The U.S. Naval Institute's press issued a biography of her, entitled Fire in the Wind, in 2001.  It remains the definitive biography and, while out-of-print, can easily be located in used editions.  Stray copies of her autobiography, What's A Woman Doing Here?, which is also out-of-print, may be found, too.  However, a bound edition of her war photographs, Dickey Chapelle Under Fire, is still available and worth a study.

While she remains virtually unknown in universities and Hollywood, each year the Marine Corps League presents to one woman the Dickey Chapelle Award, which was established "to extend recognition to a woman who has contributed substantially to the morale, welfare and well-being of the officers and men and women of the United States Marine Corps." Within a rather close community of warriors and their families, Chapelle is regarded as something beyond a gender pioneer, photographic artist, or battlefield character.  To quote a bellowing drill instructor whose voice echoes in my memory, "You will revere her name.  She was one of us."

*"Poolies" are those receiving basic training who have not yet ascended to the title of  Marine. "Butter bars" are newly commissioned officers, so named as the insignia for a second lieutenant is a single gold bar.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Connecticut = New Detroit

Though the suggestion might seem outlandish, it’s not entirely inconceivable that large swathes of Connecticut will, 20 or 30 years from now, look much like the Rust Belt does today. Certainly a set of factors points in that direction. The state has lost population for three years in a row, and the exodus is only accelerating; The story is not a fiscal one, as migrants from greater Hartford are moving to more, not less, expensive places. The ongoing collapse of the retail sector, as wonderfully elucidated by Kevin D. Williamson, will hit Connecticut especially hard: The state has the highest number of shopping malls per capita in the country. Meanwhile towns and cities across the state, rural and urban alike, are plagued by the opioid epidemic, which killed nearly a thousand Connecticut residents in 2016 alone. Connecticut in 2017 seems like a state on the verge of — or in the middle of — an inexorable decline. 

The Kids Are Alright*

A majority of students do not actively endorse safe spaces on campuses, according to a recently released study.

*The title of a song by The Who.

Under Analysis, This Has Been Found True

Better College, Better Scholars, Right? Not So Much

The analysis was rendered by The Coracle Institute for Analyzing Stuff.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Mozambique police warn bald men after ritual attack

Archaeological News

Laser technology uncovers 1,600-year-old Christian frescoes in Rome's biggest catacomb

There's No Weirdness Like Religious Weirdness

A saint’s brain is stolen and Catholics pray for its return

You Know, This is a Valid Point

What Liberal Students Could Learn from Conservatives: Politeness

I Feel Safer Already

An internal investigation of the TSA, leaked in 2015, found that many types of explosives apparently look to agents quite a bit like chocolate. Guns seem to closely resemble Tom Clancy novels in their eyes. Knives may be easily mistaken by the thin uniformed line against especially dim terrorists for those fuzzy troll dolls, though that part is a bit unclear. Well, maybe that's not all true. But such confusion would explain why "TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints."
After that embarrassing failure, the TSA's working theory seems to be, if you make everybody dump their sandwiches, tablets, and paperbacks into separate bins at the security checkpoint, we vastly increase the chance of intercepting backpack nukes and rocket-propelled grenades, which themselves could be mistaken for sandwiches, tablets, and paperbacks. Sure, the guards may still need some guidance as to which confiscated items are safe for noshing, but the security measures will be covering all bases.
Speaking as a world traveler [snooty much?], the TSA employs some of the thickest agents that I've ever seen anywhere in the world.  Israel is tops; Australia is interesting, as their agents are quite jolly and yet are scrutinizing everything about you and your belongings.  The TSA reacts with the emotional fragility of petty authoritarians left unchecked for too long.

Here Comes Summer... the shark attack stories, which are pre-written in the winter with the names and places to be added later when a newspaper or wire service needs easy filler during those weeks when much of the newsroom is on summer vacation, will now begin to be published.

Shark attacks spearfisherman, who captures it on video

Daredevils paddle alongside massive GREAT WHITE SHARK that got itself stuck in shallow waters…until one gets attacked by a passing stingray

Glenn returns to the ocean, months after a horrific shark attack
[Personally, I enjoy how Aussies newspapers refer to the subject of the article by his first name.  That's unheard of in U.S. style guides.] 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Man This Eloquent Deserves to Be Decorated

London attack: Football fan shouted '#######, I’m Millwall' and took on knife-wielding terrorists with his bare fists

Lewis is Looking More and More Prescient

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” - C. S. Lewis

For Me, It was Mrs. Haven

From Yale's Stephen L. Carter:

The Second Time I Learned to Read

News We Can All Use

How to Survive a Terror Attack

Run, Hide, and Call, the current British advice, is dangerous.  I discovered, from growing up in a rather gritty city, and from being trained by the U.S. government's best killers [USMC drill instructors tend to have active egos about that particular ability of theirs], that fighting quickly and suddenly can disrupt your attacker's rhythm enough to give you an advantage.  You might get hurt or killed by fighting back, but you're much more likely to be rendered mortal when curled up in a ball on the floor.  The former gives you a chance.

Monday, June 5, 2017

An Obituary of Note

Roger Smith has died.  I don't know if he was more of a hero to me at an impressionable age because he had a snappy wardrobe, a snazzy T-Bird convertible, a phone in his car, or a cool theme song.  When I was older, it was because he was married, for a very long time, to Ann-Margret.

So, Half My Congregation, Then?

The Face Of Binge Drinking In The U.S. Is A 60+ White Woman

To Think This Beardo Determined the Manner in Which We Regarded Ourselves, One Another, the Arts, Etc. for Most of the 20th Century. Sheesh.

How Freud’s Only Visit to America Made Him Hate the U.S. for the Rest of His Life

The United States is responsible for his indigestion?  The United States addressed him by his first name?  The United States is responsible for his dreams?  Jeez.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

It's Been a Long Time Coming

Connecticut’s Tax Comeuppance

The problem for me is that young families and retirees have been leaving for some time, but now they're being joined by the middle-aged.  That's my entire congregation that's effected.

I've also noticed that some of the senior clergy who are usually hyper-involved in diocesan stuff are now bailing on the state, too.

On This Date in 1965

Friday, June 2, 2017




Reactions to Last Night's [Horrible] Game

From the folks in the Cleveland Public Library system, who wore Cavs gear to work yesterday:

"No one has really said anything...yet."

"They lost the first two fairly badly last year, so I think Cavs fans are, as always, hopeful...."

"With any Cleveland sports team, 'It ain't over 'til it's over.'

"They had to experience the Warriors now that they have Kevin they could see what adjustments they need to make."

Continuing Discoveries

Newly Discovered Christian Philosophy in Arabic

Slouching Further Towards You Know Where

Diocese denies family’s request to hold funeral at Newport Beach church in middle of dispute

As Related to the Previous Posting

I see that we're bid to wear orange, again. 

My response to last year's appeal may be found here.

Since Senior Church Leaders are Weighing In on This...

I offer, in a friendly and collegial manner, some relevant information.

The first, from The Guardian:

Well, this guy is in for a long day.

The second, from the UN:
These nations are signatories of the accord.
They plan on building/operating over 2400 coal plants in the next couple of years.

The third, from Gallup: Percentage of what Americans regard as the most important problem currently.

Hint: It's not non-binding climate policy.  Again, The Episcopal Church narrows its concern to that which is of interest only to the narrowest band of its membership.

So, this was my question to the Office of the Presiding Bishop as to his response to the Paris Accord withdrawal, "If this was of such importance to The Episcopal Church that it warrants a press release, why didn't The Church encourage the previous administration to see to it that the treaty was ratified by the Senate?"

In that way, no one person, whatever their office, would have been able simply to remove the United States from the agreement.

At no time during the previous administration do I recall The Episcopal Church urging the then-president to use Congress to forge laws rather than rely on easily un-knotted executive orders.

I haven't received, and will probably never receive, a response to my question.  Then again, the powers-that-be have more pressing issues with which to deal than responding to a parochial nobody.

By the way, have any of our readers ever noticed how many plane trips to distant locales the members of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies take annually?  Love of the environment sure is fleeting.

Time to Retire

Robot 'priest' can beam light from its hands and give automated blessings to worshippers

Thursday, June 1, 2017

An Exploration Guide for Those Traveling to the Heart of Darkest Middle-America

First of all, middle Americans go to church. Not temple. Church. God and Jesus Christ play important roles in their lives. Elite liberals are fine with expressions of faith among African Americans and Latinos, but we often seem to assume that white people who are religious are conservative. It’s not remotely the case.

The Erasure of the Past; The Rebuke of Education

From archaeologist Paul Veyne's recent Palmyra: An Irreplaceable Treasure:
Why, in August 2015, did ISIS need to blow up and destroy that temple of Baalshamin? Because it was a temple where pagans before Islam came to adore mendacious idols? No, it was because that monument was venerated by contemporary Westerners, whose culture includes an educated love for "historical monuments" and a great curiosity for the beliefs of other people and other times. And Islamists want to show that Muslims have a culture that is different from ours, a culture that is unique to them. They blew up that temple in Palmyra and have pillaged several archaeological sites in the Near East to show that they are different from us and that they don't respect what Western culture admires.

A Letter from Home: "Never go on trips with anyone you do not love"

[Last year, when the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors were in the second of what will be, as of later today, their third annual NBA finals against one another, I was reading a long passage on the Cavs Facebook page from a person I described to my wife as some sort of "mega-fan".  I then glanced at the name attached and realized it was written by my sister.  As we once again face that most Cleveland of circumstances, as the underdogs in a national championship, I've asked my sister to add her occasional wisdom to The Coracle so that we might gauge what it's like to live in a city that will be consumed with nothing but basketball for the next week or so.]

 A Movable Feast 

Some will see the title of this post and what comes to mind for those who read this occasionally religious weblog are Christian holy days that do not fall on a specific date. Others are reminded of the work by Ernest Hemingway, reminiscing about when he was young, poor writer in Paris in the 1920's.  Lately, when I think of "A Moveable Feast", I think of the brilliant ball play of my Cleveland Cavaliers. (A stretch? Sure, but bear with me).

During this year’s play-offs, anyone hungry for excellent basketball need only look to the Cavaliers when they are playing at their best. Do you desire an appetizer? Witness J.R. Smith knocking down a smooth and easy shot from beyond the three-point line.

Perhaps you'd like a Caesar Salad? There is Tristan Thompson ruling under the basket.

The main course varies from meal to meal. We have LeBron James the beast effortlessly pressing to the basket, or you might prefer LeBron the assister who selflessly continues to pass the ball to his teammates. Maybe you are particularly hungry and want to see the LeBron who passes, makes lay-ups, fades back for a 2 or 3 pointer, and defends with inhuman moves and strength. When he’s on his game, like the sentences of Hemingway, his basketball moves are crisp, concise. and purposeful. 

Care to add a little spice to your meal? There’s Iman Shumpert, who seems to be everywhere at once, superbly defending with a hand in his opponent's face or knocking the ball right out of their hands for a steal.

For a beverage to complement your meal, you may sip on a smooth three-pointer from Kevin Love, or taste his bolder quarterback pass to LeBron from all the way down the court.

As for dessert, what could be more enjoyable than the artistic moves of Kyrie Irving as he displays dribbling skills that leave his opponents in exasperation?

One hopes by the end of these NBA finals, Cleveland fans will be able to push their chairs back from the table, loosen their pants. grab a mint, and smile feeling completely sated, while Warriors fans are doubled over with food poisoning.

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love," says Hemingway in A Moveable Feast.  From what I have seen of the Cavaliers performing fun, complicated handshakes before the game.  cheering on their teammates arm in arm on the sidelines, fiercely hugging after a win, giving each other credit during interviews. or even singing together on a plane trip home, there is a great amount of affection between these guys. They couldn't be traveling with better companions through this NBA finals journey. I can't wait to see what they serve us, and hope to give them a five-star rating!

Related: Five reasons why Cleveland Cavaliers can repeat as NBA Champions

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Unpopular Thoughts

I keep hearing from politicians, media, pop singers, and other deep thought-leaders that we will not be divided by Islamist terrorism.

Sorry, pards, but division is the last thing that Islamists want.  Quite the opposite.  They want no division whatsoever in society.  They want everyone to be part of a universal caliph with all of us using the same words, holding the same thoughts, worshiping the same understanding of Godliness, and practicing the same regressive worldview.

If thought-leaders would simply read what the Islamists write and distribute, this would not be as misunderstood as it is.

Looks like I'm not the only one to notice: The Ruin of England

[Before anyone loses their water, an "Islamist" is one who believes in conversion through terror and force, with mortal punishment for infidels.  That word does not describe the Muslims with whom I've been honored to share classrooms as colleagues and students over the past thirty years .]

The Loss of History

For Memorial Day some thoughts on historical memory.

We are losing it. We are less versed in the facts of history, not only of other countries but of our own. It is a crisis, and much has been written on it over the years. “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate,” observes the historian David McCullough in his latest book. He describes a bright Missouri college student who thanked him for coming to the campus, because, she said, “until now I never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.” Another student once asked him: “Aside from Harry Truman and John Adams, how many other presidents have you interviewed?”

What explains the new dumbness? Some blame boring textbooks put together by committee and scrubbed clean of the politically inconvenient and incorrect. Some argue that so many strange, culturally fashionable things are jammed into public school curricula that essentials have been forced out. Many point to a certain negativity, a focus on our national sins that has crowded out our achievements. This is counterproductive: a sophisticated presentation of our triumphs and tragedies makes our sins all the more poignant and powerful. Historical balance leaves young minds not cynical, which is always an excuse to do nothing, but inspired—we can right wrongs, we’ve done it before. 

Gradually, and Then Suddenly

How the Midwest went from the idealized to the derided
Jon K. Lauck’s “From Warm Center to Ragged Edge” surveys “the erosion of Midwestern literary and historical regionalism” between 1920 and 1965. This may sound dull as ditch water to those who believe that the “flyover” states are inhabited largely by clodhoppers, fundamentalist zealots and loudmouthed Babbitts. In fact, Lauck’s aim is to examine “how the Midwest as a region faded from our collective imagination” and “became an object of derision.” In particular, the heartland’s traditional values of hard work, personal dignity and loyalty, the centrality it grants to family, community and church, and even the Jeffersonian ideal of a democracy based on farms and small land-holdings — all these came to be deemed insufferably provincial by the metropolitan sophisticates of the Eastern Seaboard and the lotus-eaters of the West Coast.

I've Been Noticing This, Myself

The Western-Centric Nature of Intersectional Feminisism:
Attempts by non-intersectional feminists and human rights activists to discuss honour based violence are frequently shut down by western intersectional feminists who will immediately change the subject to domestic violence experienced by western women. 

 Any conversation about the horror of female genital mutilation is likely to be derailed away from girls in danger right now to a lecture on the pre-Islamic origins of the practice. Any attempts to discuss gender-specific modesty veiling will almost certainly result in a claim that Muslim women are exercising their own choice and are somehow magically free of the paralysing societal pressures claimed to be experienced by western feminists. When a petition to criminalise cat-calling and other gender-based annoying behaviour gets more than 58,000 signatures but a petition to strengthen multi-agency responses to ‘honour’-based violence receives only 406 (and consequently will not be addressed by parliament), people could be excused for thinking western non-Muslim feminists only care about themselves.
Most of the feminists with whom I've worked and lived have been first and second-generation, those dedicated to ensuring that there is equity in employment and educational opportunities.  One cannot be the son of the first woman in her family to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees, and be married to one of the generation of women first ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church, and not have an appreciation for their struggle and success.

Contemporary, third-wave feminism, or intersectional feminism, is more interested in a neo-Marxist world-view, with the politicization of, well, everything and the division of the human race into ever smaller and more detailed categories, with shifting rules of acceptance.  The only constant is that the "patriarchy", another term of nebulous definition, is the cause of any political or personal limitation.

Government Schools = Abuse Factories

A 6-year-old boy was repeatedly jammed into a dark hole in a closet ceiling by sadistic staffers at an after-school program inside a city school,...

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Divertimento For The National Holiday

From A Song For The Season, by Mark Steyn -
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored…

In 1861, the United States had nothing that was recognized as a national anthem, and, given that they were now at war, it was thought they ought to find one – a song “that would inspire Americans to patriotism and military ardor”. A 13-member committee was appointed and on May 17th they invited submissions of appropriate anthems, the eventual winner to receive $500, or medal of equal value. By the end of July, they had a thousand submissions, including some from Europe, but nothing with what they felt was real feeling. It’s hard to write a patriotic song to order.

At the time, Dr Samuel Howe was working with the Sanitary Commission of the Department of War, and one fall day he and Mrs Howe were taken to a camp a few miles from Washington for a review of General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. That day, for the first time in her life, Julia Ward Howe heard soldiers singing:

John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave
John Brown’s body lies a-mould’ring in the grave…

Ah, yes. The famous song about the famous abolitionist hanged in 1859 in Charlestown, Virginia before a crowd including Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth.

Well, no, not exactly. “By a strange quirk of history,” wrote Irwin Silber, the great musicologist of Civil War folk songs, “‘John Brown’s Body’ was not composed originally about the fiery Abolitionist at all. The namesake for the song, it turns out, was Sergeant John Brown, a Scotsman, a member of the Second Battalion, Boston Light Infantry Volunteer Militia.” This group enlisted with the Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment and formed a glee club at Fort Warren in Boston. Brown was second tenor, and the subject of a lot of good-natured joshing, including a song about him mould’ring in his grave, which at that time had just one verse, plus chorus:

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah…

They called it “The John Brown Song”. On July 18th 1861, at a regimental march past the Old State House in Boston, the boys sang the song and the crowd assumed, reasonably enough, that it was inspired by the life of John Brown the Kansas abolitionist, not John Brown the Scots far as I know, this is the only song about a real person in which posterity has mistaken it for a song about a completely different person: “John Brown’s Body” is about some other fellow’s body, not John Brown the somebody but John Brown the comparative nobody. Later on, various other verses were written about the famous John Brown and the original John Brown found his comrades’ musical tribute to him gradually annexed by the other guy.

Sergeant Brown died during a Union retreat: when the enlistment of Colonel Webster’s Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment expired in July 1864, only 85 of more than a thousand men were left to return home to New England....Huge crowds in Boston greeted the survivors with cries to sing “John Brown’s Body” but, as one report commented, “the brave heroes marched silently to their barracks and the ‘Websters’ passed into history.”

When the lads from the Boston Light Infantry cooked up their John Brown song, they used an old Methodist camp-meeting tune, “Brothers, Will You Meet Us?” So where did that come from? Well, back in the 1850s, a Sunday school composer, William Steffe of Richmond, Virginia, was asked to go and lead the singing at a Georgia camp meeting. When he got there, he found there were no song books and so improvised some words to one of those tunes that – like most of the others in those pre-copyright days – was just sorta floating in the ether. Steffe’s lyric, like the original John Brown song, had one verse – “Say, brothers, will you meet us?” – and one chorus: “Glory, glory, hallelujah…”

And somehow this combination – an improvised camp-meeting chorus with an in-joke verse about a Boston Scotsman – became the most popular marching song of the Union forces, the one bellowed out as Sherman’s men marched through Georgia in 1864...But, whatever the tune’s origin, when Julia Ward Howe heard the song for the first time that fall day, “John Brown’s Body” was already famous. She loved the martial vigor of the music, but knew the words were “inadequate for a lasting hymn”. So her minister, Dr Clark, suggested she write some new ones. And early the following morning at her Washington hotel she rose before dawn and on a piece of Sanitary Commission paper wrote the words we sing today, casting the war as a conflict in which one side has the advantage of God’s “terrible swift sword”:

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps…

She finished the words and went back to bed. It was published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. They didn’t credit Mrs. Howe and they paid her only four dollars.

Julia Ward Howe came from a distinguished lineage. Her forebear Richard Ward was Royal Governor of the British colony of Rhode Island and his son Samuel Ward was Governor of the American State of Rhode Island. Her husband, like his friend, the poet Lord Byron, had played an important role in helping the Greeks win independence from the Turks. Mrs Howe herself wrote many poems, Broadway plays and newspaper columns. But “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” is her greatest achievement. Henry Steele Commager called it “the one great song to come out of the Civil War, the one great song ever written in America”.

Whether or not that’s true, most of us understand it has a depth and a power beyond most formal national songs. When John F Kennedy was assassinated, Judy Garland insisted on singing it on her TV show – the producers weren’t happy about it, and one sneered that nobody would give a damn about Kennedy in a month’s time. But it’s an extraordinary performance. Little more than a year later, it was played at the state funeral of Winston Churchill at St Paul’s Cathedral. Among those singing it was the Queen. She sang it again in public, again at St Paul’s, for the second time in her life at the service of remembrance in London three days after September 11th 2001. That day, she also broke with precedent and for the first time sang another country’s national anthem – “The Star-Spangled Banner”. But it was Julia Ward Howe’s words that echoed most powerfully that morning as they have done since she wrote them in her bedroom in Washington 140 years earlier:

As He died to make men holy
Let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.
I would encourage those interested in music and/or history to read the whole book as it's filled with stories such as these.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

A day of reverence that even the nihilism of our post-religious age cannot besmirch.

Lord God Almighty, who have made all peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace: Grant to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Below, A.E. Housman's "Here Dead We Lie":

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

[For Jeff and Scott, who were young; and for those of the 1/4th who fought the good fight and kept the faith.  You were the best of us.]