Who indeed knows the secret of the earthly pilgrimage?

The Reverend Stephen Kumalo, Zulu pastor of a country church in pre-apartheid South Africa, goes to Johannesburg in search of his sister and his son:

But there were times, some in the very midst of satisfaction, when the thought of his son would come to him. And then in one fraction of time the hills with the deep melodious names stood out waste and desolate beneath the pitiless sun, the streams ceased to run, the cattle moved thin and listless over the red and rootless earth. It was a place of old women and mothers and children, from each house something was gone. His voice would falter and die away, and he would fall silent and muse. Perhaps it was that, or perhaps he clutched suddenly at the small listening boy, for the little one would break from the spell, and wriggle in his arms to be put down, to play again with his blocks on the floor. As though he was searching for something that would put an end to this sudden unasked-for pain, the thought of his wife would come to him, and of many a friend that he had, and the small children coming down from the hills, dropping sometimes out of the very mist, on their way to the school. These things were so dear to him that the pain passed, and he contemplated them in quiet, and some measure of peace.

 

Who indeed knows the secret of the earthly pilgrimage? Who indeed knows why there can be comfort in a world of desolation? Now God be thanked that there is a beloved one who can lift up the heart in suffering, that one can play with a child in the face of such misery. Now God be thanked that the name of a hill is such music, that the name of a river can heal. Aye, even the name of a river that runs no more.

 

Who indeed knows the secret of the earthly pilgrimage? Who knows for what we live, and struggle, and die? Who knows what keeps us living and struggling, while all things break about us? Who knows why the warm flesh of a child is such comfort, when one’s own child is lost and cannot be recovered? Wise men write many books, in words too hard to understand. But this, the purpose of our lives, the end of all our struggle, is beyond all human wisdom. Oh God, my God, do not Thou forsake me. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, if Thou art with me. . . .
—Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 10
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Out-of-fashion romantic nonsense

“What objection can you have to the young gentleman?”

“A very solid objection, in my opinion,” says Sophia—“I hate him.”

“Will you never learn a proper use of words?” answered the aunt. “Indeed, child, you should consult Bailey’s Dictionary. It is impossible you should hate a man from whom you have received no injury. By hatred, therefore, you mean no more than dislike, which is no sufficient objection against your marrying of him. I have known many couples, who have entirely disliked each other, lead very comfortable genteel lives. Believe me, child, I know these things better than you. You will allow me, I think, to have seen the world, in which I have not an acquaintance who would not rather be thought to dislike her husband than to like him. The contrary is such out-of-fashion romantic nonsense, that the very imagination of it is shocking.”

—Henry Fielding

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Book VII, Chapter iii.

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Country gentlemen, and gentlemen in town

He then bespattered the youth with abundance of that language which passes between country gentlemen who embrace opposite sides of the question; with frequent applications to him to salute that part which is generally introduced into all controversies that arise among the lower orders of the English gentry at horse-races, cock-matches, and other public places. Allusions to this part are likewise often made for the sake of the jest. And here, I believe, the wit is generally misunderstood. In reality, it lies in desiring another to kiss your a[rse] for having just before threatened to kick his; for I have observed very accurately, that no one ever desires you to kick that which belongs to himself, nor offers to kiss this part in another.

It may likewise seem surprizing that in the many thousand kind invitations of this sort, which every one who hath conversed with country gentlemen must have heard, no one, I believe, hath ever seen a single instance where the desire hath been complied with;—a great instance of their want of politeness; for in town nothing can be more common than for the finest gentlemen to perform this ceremony every day to their superiors, without having that favour once requested of them.

—Henry Fielding

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Book VI, Chapter ix.

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Death is certainly unavoidable . . .

And now the whole family, namely, Mr Blifil, Mr Jones, Mr Thwackum, Mr Square, and some of the servants (for such were Mr Allworthy’s orders) being all assembled round his bed, the good man sat up in it, and was beginning to speak, when Blifil fell to blubbering, and began to express very loud and bitter lamentations. Upon this Mr Allworthy shook him by the hand, and said, “Do not sorrow thus, my dear nephew, at the most ordinary of all human occurrences. When misfortunes befal our friends we are justly grieved; for those are accidents which might often have been avoided, and which may seem to render the lot of one man more peculiarly unhappy than that of others; but death is certainly unavoidable, and is that common lot in which alone the fortunes of all men agree: nor is the time when this happens to us very material. If the wisest of men hath compared life to a span, surely we may be allowed to consider it as a day. It is my fate to leave it in the evening; but those who are taken away earlier have only lost a few hours, at the best little worth lamenting, and much oftener hours of labour and fatigue, of pain and sorrow. One of the Roman poets, I remember, likens our leaving life to our departure from a feast;—a thought which hath often occurred to me when I have seen men struggling to protract an entertainment, and to enjoy the company of their friends a few moments longer. Alas! how short is the most protracted of such enjoyments! how immaterial the difference between him who retires the soonest, and him who stays the latest! This is seeing life in the best view, and this unwillingness to quit our friends is the most amiable motive from which we can derive the fear of death; and yet the longest enjoyment which we can hope for of this kind is of so trivial a duration, that it is to a wise man truly contemptible. Few men, I own, think in this manner; for, indeed, few men think of death till they are in its jaws. However gigantic and terrible an object this may appear when it approaches them, they are nevertheless incapable of seeing it at any distance; nay, though they have been ever so much alarmed and frightened when they have apprehended themselves in danger of dying, they are no sooner cleared from this apprehension than even the fears of it are erased from their minds. But, alas! he who escapes from death is not pardoned; he is only reprieved, and reprieved to a short day.

“Grieve, therefore, no more, my dear child, on this occasion: an event which may happen every hour; which every element, nay, almost every particle of matter that surrounds us is capable of producing, and which must and will most unavoidably reach us all at last, ought neither to occasion our surprize nor our lamentation. . . .”

—Henry Fielding

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Book V, Chapter vii.

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Bipartisan Football

The elephant extends his trunk and holds the ball on end, ready to be kicked through the goalpost.

The donkey, five strides behind the football, is skeptical.

(Joe Manchin, waving pom-poms and running along the sideline, leaps and cheers.)

Elephant: Come on, kick it through those goal posts!

Donkey: That’s what you said before. And then you pulled the ball away at the last moment, and I fell on my ass.

Elephant: That was then, this is now.

Donkey: And the time before that, same thing.

Elephant: Let’s not dwell on the past. I am here on behalf of responsible moderates in the Senate who want to put some points on the board.

Donkey: I’d rather score a touchdown.

Elephant: Wouldn’t we all! But let’s be realistic: three points is better than nothing.

The donkey hesitates. The clock is ticking.

Donkey: No funny business this time. Do I have your word?

Elephant: You have my solemn word of honor.

Donkey: All right, then. Here we go.

The donkey runs and takes a mighty kick at the ball, which the elephant whisks out of reach at the last moment as the donkey’s kicking foot, finding nothing but air, arcs high above his head. The donkey flips backwards, remains horizontal for a split second, and then crashes heavily to earth on his back.

And what do we get from all this?

Peanuts.

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Thackeray Knew Trump

He firmly believed that everything he did was right, that he ought on all occasions to have his own way—and like the sting of a wasp or serpent his hatred rushed out armed and poisonous against anything like opposition. He was proud of his hatred as of everything else. Always to be right, always to trample forward, and never to doubt, are not these the great qualities with which dullness takes the lead in the world? 

—William Makepeace Thackerary, Vanity Fair (1848)

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Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” (1848)

Thanks to my Kindle and my daily bus commute, I finally got around to reading William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Would I have appreciated it half as much, had I read it in my twenties? I doubt it.

Like some of my other recent reading, Vanity Fair reminded me how much of what I deplore in American and (to a lesser extent) Canadian culture comes from England.

Here are some of my favourite snippets.

“Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural,” answered Miss Rebecca. “I’m no angel.” And, to say the truth, she certainly was not.
We have talked of Joseph Sedley being as vain as a girl. Heaven help us! the girls have only to turn the tables, and say of one of their own sex, “She is as vain as a man,” and they will have perfect reason. The bearded creatures are quite as eager for praise, quite as finikin over their toilettes, quite as proud of their personal advantages, quite as conscious of their powers of fascination, as any coquette in the world.
“That was the most beautiful part of dear Lord Nelson’s character,” Miss Crawley said. “He went to the deuce for a woman. There must be good in a man who will do that.
The old gentleman pronounced these aristocratic names with the greatest gusto. Whenever he met a great man he grovelled before him, and my-lorded him as only a free-born Briton can do.
Miss Briggs, it will be seen by her language, was of a literary and sentimental turn, and had once published a volume of poems—“Trills of the Nightingale”—by subscription.
Picture to yourself, oh fair young reader, a worldly, selfish, graceless, thankless, religionless old woman, writhing in pain and fear, and without her wig. Picture her to yourself, and ere you be old, learn to love and pray!
Gratitude among certain rich folks is scarcely natural or to be thought of. They take needy people’s services as their due.
If people only made prudent marriages, what a stop to population there would be!
The best of women (I have heard my grandmother say) are hypocrites. We don’t know how much they hide from us: how watchful they are when they seem most artless and confidential: how often those frank smiles which they wear so easily, are traps to cajole or elude or disarm—I don’t mean in your mere coquettes, but your domestic models, and paragons of female virtue. Who has not seen a woman hide the dulness of a stupid husband, or coax the fury of a savage one? We accept this amiable slavishness, and praise a woman for it: we call this pretty treachery truth. A good housewife is of necessity a humbug . . . .
We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too. We let their bodies go abroad liberally enough, with smiles and ringlets and pink bonnets to disguise them instead of veils and yakmaks. But their souls must be seen by only one man, and they obey not unwillingly, and consent to remain at home as our slaves—ministering to us and doing drudgery for us.
Who has not remarked the readiness with which the closest of friends and honestest of men suspect and accuse each other of cheating when they fall out on money matters? Everybody does it.
One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is, that you must tell and believe lies against the hated object, in order, as we said, to be consistent.
Who was the blundering idiot who said that “fine words butter no parsnips”? Half the parsnips of society are served and rendered palatable with no other sauce.
Praise everybody, I say to such: never be squeamish, but speak out your compliment both point-blank in a man’s face, and behind his back, when you know there is a reasonable chance of his hearing it again. Never lose a chance of saying a kind word.
There ought to be a law in Vanity Fair ordering the destruction of every written document (except receipted tradesmen’s bills) after a certain brief and proper interval. Those quacks and misanthropes who advertise indelible Japan ink should be made to perish along with their wicked discoveries. The best ink for Vanity Fair use would be one that faded utterly in a couple of days, and left the paper clean and blank, so that you might write on it to somebody else.
“I wish they would have loved me,” said Emmy, wistfully. “They were always very cold to me.” “My dear child, they would have loved you if you had had two hundred thousand pounds,” George replied.
In a word, George had thrown the great cast. He was going to be married. Hence his pallor and nervousness—his sleepless night and agitation in the morning. I have heard people who have gone through the same thing own to the same emotion. After three or four ceremonies, you get accustomed to it, no doubt; but the first dip, everybody allows, is awful.
By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, my son, what good you may do.
Hither Mr. Osborne would retire of a Sunday forenoon when not minded to go to church; and here pass the morning in his crimson leather chair, reading the paper. A couple of glazed book-cases were here, containing standard works in stout gilt bindings. The “Annual Register,” the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” “Blair’s Sermons,” and “Hume and Smollett.” From year’s end to year’s end he never took one of these volumes from the shelf . . . .
Amelia had risen very early in the morning, and packed her little trunks with the greatest alacrity, while Osborne lay in bed deploring that she had not a maid to help her.
When don’t ladies weep?
As his hero and heroine pass the matrimonial barrier, the novelist generally drops the curtain, as if the drama were over then: the doubts and struggles of life ended: as if, once landed in the marriage country, all were green and pleasant there: and wife and husband had nothing to do but to link each other’s arms together, and wander gently downwards towards old age in happy and perfect fruition.
Already to be looking sadly and vaguely back: always to be pining for something which, when obtained, brought doubt and sadness rather than pleasure; here was the lot of our poor little creature and harmless lost wanderer in the great struggling crowds of Vanity Fair.
When the present writer went to survey with eagle glance the field of Waterloo, we asked the conductor of the diligence, a portly warlike-looking veteran, whether he had been at the battle. “Pas si bête”—such an answer and sentiment as no Frenchman would own to—was his reply.
To watch the behaviour of a fine lady to other and humbler women, is a very good sport for a philosophical frequenter of Vanity Fair.
(nor does the continental domestic like to be treated with insolence as our own better-tempered servants do)
Centuries hence, we Frenchmen and Englishmen might be boasting and killing each other still, carrying out bravely the Devil’s code of honour.
You and I, my dear reader, may drop into this condition one day: for have not many of our friends attained it? Our luck may fail: our powers forsake us: our place on the boards be taken by better and younger mimes—the chance of life roll away and leave us shattered and stranded.
She was not brilliant, nor witty, nor wise over much, nor extraordinarily handsome. But wherever she went she touched and charmed every one of the male sex, as invariably as she awakened the scorn and incredulity of her own sisterhood. I think it was her weakness which was her principal charm—a kind of sweet submission and softness, which seemed to appeal to each man she met for his sympathy and protection.
And for my part I believe that remorse is the least active of all a man’s moral senses—the very easiest to be deadened when wakened, and in some never wakened at all. We grieve at being found out and at the idea of shame or punishment, but the mere sense of wrong makes very few people unhappy in Vanity Fair.
To part with money is a sacrifice beyond almost all men endowed with a sense of order.
Everybody is striving for what is not worth the having!
It is all vanity to be sure, but who will not own to liking a little of it? I should like to know what well-constituted mind, merely because it is transitory, dislikes roast beef?
Henry VIII, the Defender of the Faith, seized upon the monastery and its possessions and hanged and tortured some of the monks who could not accommodate themselves to the pace of his reform.
When you think that the eyes of your childhood dried at the sight of a piece of gingerbread, and that a plum cake was a compensation for the agony of parting with your mamma and sisters, oh my friend and brother, you need not be too confident of your own fine feelings.
It is difficult to say what good the old man saw in these combats; he had a vague notion that quarrelling made boys hardy, and that tyranny was a useful accomplishment for them to learn. English youth have been so educated time out of mind, and we have hundreds of thousands of apologists and admirers of injustice, misery, and brutality, as perpetrated among children.
. . . when he drove into town he was as full of wine, beer, meat, pickles, cherry-brandy, and tobacco as the steward’s cabin of a steam-packet.
Desdemona was not angry with Cassio, though there is very little doubt she saw the Lieutenant’s partiality for her (and I for my part believe that many more things took place in that sad affair than the worthy Moorish officer ever knew of) . . . .
Any person who appreciated her paid a compliment to the Major’s good judgement—that is, if a man may be said to have good judgement who is under the influence of Love’s delusion.
Which, I wonder, brother reader, is the better lot, to die prosperous and famous, or poor and disappointed? To have, and to be forced to yield; or to sink out of life, having played and lost the game? That must be a strange feeling, when a day of our life comes and we say, “To-morrow, success or failure won’t matter much, and the sun will rise, and all the myriads of mankind go to their work or their pleasure as usual, but I shall be out of the turmoil.”
Pleasant Rhine gardens! Fair scenes of peace and sunshine—noble purple mountains, whose crests are reflected in the magnificent stream—who has ever seen you that has not a grateful memory of those scenes of friendly repose and beauty? To lay down the pen and even to think of that beautiful Rhineland makes one happy.
And it must be remembered that this poor lady had never met a gentleman in her life until this present moment. Perhaps these are rarer personages than some of us think for.
Lord Tapeworm inherited no little portion of the family gallantry, and it was his happy belief that almost every woman upon whom he himself cast friendly eyes was in love with him.
. . . the delighted people are permitted to march through room after room of the Grand Ducal palace and admire the slippery floor, the rich hangings, and the spittoons at the doors of all the innumerable chambers.
The Constitution is or was a moderate despotism, tempered by a Chamber that might or might not be elected.
and though, of course, these gentlemen were obliged to be civil in public, yet they cut at each other with epigrams that were as sharp as razors, as I have seen a couple of wrestlers in Devonshire, lashing at each other’s shins and never showing their agony upon a muscle of their faces.
They look pretty enough when they sit upon a rock, twanging their harps and combing their hair, and sing, and beckon to you to come and hold the looking-glass; but when they sink into their native element, depend on it, those mermaids are about no good . . . .
Those who know the English Colonies abroad know that we carry with us us our pride, pills, prejudices, Harvey-sauces, cayenne-peppers, and other Lares, making a little Britain wherever we settle down.
She became a perfect Bohemian ere long, herding with people whom it would make your hair stand on end to meet.
Frankness and kindness like Amelia’s were likely to touch even such a hardened little reprobate as Becky. She returned Emmy’s caresses and kind speeches with something very like gratitude, and an emotion which, if it was not lasting, for a moment was almost genuine.
He had placed himself at her feet so long that the poor little woman had been accustomed to trample upon him. She didn’t wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him. She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not unfrequently levied in love.
“. . . had she been worthy of the love I gave her, she would have returned it long ago. It was a fond mistake. Isn’t the whole course of life made up of such? And suppose I had won her, should I not have been disenchanted the day after my victory? Why pine, or be ashamed of my defeat?”
Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?
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Israel and Palestine: No Justice, No Peace

A democracy founded on equal justice and civil rights for all citizens is a ridiculously utopian vision, but it is also the only realistic solution.

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

—The Balfour Declaration (1917)

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 

—Martin Luther King, Jr. (1960s)

No justice, no peace. 

—Slogan used in protests against police violence (from the 1980s)

If God as some now say is dead, He no doubt died of trying to find an equitable solution to the Arab-Jewish problem.

—I. F. Stone (1967)

Impelled by centuries of persecution culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, the State of Israel was established on land captured by Great Britain from the Turkish Ottoman Empire and inhabited for centuries by Arab Palestinians. Despite the Balfour Declaration’s pious but vague stipulation that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” quite a lot was done, and thus in the effort to resolve one gross injustice a second gross injustice was committed and has continued to this day.

“If the Jews give one-tenth the devotion to Arab relations that they’ve given to the land, they can build a secure homeland,” wrote I. F. Stone in 1945. That did not happen. Instead, a political and economic struggle was spun into an ethnic struggle featuring implacable hatred on both sides. The abortive U. N. partition plan of 1947 sparked a war that resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel by force. In 1964 Stone wrote, “The usual Jewish attitude toward the Arabs is one of contemptuous superiority.”

Partition has never been the solution to such conflicts, whether it appears in the form of a wall, a border, a system of apartheid, or endemic prejudice that institutionalizes injustice. No justice, no peace. So long as the State of Israel’s slow-drip ethnic cleansing continues, though the level of violence fluctuates and creates at times the illusion of peace, the war will go on.

There is no reason to expect this atrocious situation to change. It would require extraordinary events and extraordinary leaders—one thinks of F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela—to imagine a better future and bring it into being. What’s needed is not a “two-state solution” but a single inclusive democracy founded on equal justice and civil rights for all citizens, whatever their religious, racial, ethnic, or linguistic differences. That’s a ridiculously utopian vision, but it is also the only realistic solution—not just for Arabs and Israelis, but for all of us, everywhere.

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Dear Politicians: Please check the facts and review your prejudices about nuclear energy!

If you are represented by politicians who are liberal or progressive, or if you contribute to environmental organizations like Greenpeace, they need to hear from you about nuclear energy and climate change. Here is my reply to my NDP member of parliament, Laurel Collins, after she responded to my first plea by sending me a link to an op-ed written by another NDP MP, Richard Cannings.

Dear Laurel,

Thanks for your reply and your link to Mr. Cannings’ op-ed about SMRs and nuclear power in general.

Regarding the two most popular fears about nuclear power—accidents and waste, both cited by Mr. Cannings—I would urge both of you to have a look at Nick Touran’s very informative site about these issues and everything else to do with nuclear energy, here: https://whatisnuclear.com. Short answer: both of those fears are overblown.

Mr. Cannings makes the point that nuclear plants take too long to build and that more immediate solutions are needed. I would agree, with the caveat that the best response is not either/or, but both/and. The fact that it takes time to build up nuclear generation capacity should tell us that we need to begin right now!

The other argument against nuclear power—its cost—seems suspect to me. Costs are always (a) comparative, and (b) determined by accounting methods. The costs of not effectively addressing climate change, I would submit, are far, far greater than the up-front investments needed to increase our nuclear energy capacity.

Finally, this is a global problem. Even if we were able to meet Canada’s energy needs without building up our nuclear capacity—a claim I find highly dubious—there is no way that developing economies can modernize their energy infrastructure and provide prosperity to their people without a huge global increase in the use of nuclear energy. Canada should be part of that effort. Embracing that cause would be good for the Canadian economy, for the planet, and for the lives of millions of people around the world.

Again, thanks for writing back. I hope that you and the rest of the NDP will continue to study these issues and be bold enough to revise conclusions that are not supported by the science and the facts.

With my best wishes,

Eric

See also my earlier posts about nuclear energy: “The argument for nuclear power,” and “Nuclear power: safe and economical.”

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Krishnamurti: separation is violence

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

—Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom From the Known

You know, actually we have no love — that is a terrible thing to realize. Actually we have no love; we have sentiment; we have emotionality, sensuality, sexuality; we have remembrances of something which we have thought as love. But actually, brutally, we have no love. Because to have love means no violence, no fear, no competition, no ambition. If you had love you will never say, “This is my family.” You may have a family and give them the best you can; but it will not be “your family” which is opposed to the world. If you love, if there is love, there is peace. If you loved, you would educate your child not to be a nationalist, not to have only a technical job and look after his own petty little affairs; you would have no nationality. There would be no divisions of religion, if you loved. But as these things actually exist — not theoretically, but brutally — in this ugly world, it shows that you have no love. Even the love of a mother for her child is not love. If the mother really loved her child, do you think the world would be like this? She would see that he had the right food, the right education, that he was sensitive, that he appreciated beauty, that he was not ambitious, greedy, envious. So the mother, however much she may think she loves her child, does not love the child. So we have not that love.

—Jiddu Krishnamurti, Varanasi 5th Public Talk (28 November 1964)

The Collected Works, Vol. XV

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“Where lies the final harbor . . . ?”

There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:—through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more?

—Herman Melville, Moby Dick. “CHAPTER 114. The Gilder.”

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It’s not guns, it’s addiction!

We need a logical, fact-based analysis of the “gun violence problem” in the United States. To begin:

Since we know that guns are not the problem, let’s focus on the real issue: addiction. 

Sex addiction, we know, causes people to shoot up massage parlours. 

Food addiction leads to mass murder at grocery stores. 

Addiction to prayer produces killings in all sorts of houses of worship. 

Shopping addiction leads to killings at malls. 

Video addiction causes murders in movie theatres. 

Sugar addiction would lead to mass murders in candy shops, except that it also causes obesity and lethargy. 

Gun addiction would lead, presumably, to mass murders in gun shops, but we haven’t seen any of that, which confirms what we already knew: guns are not the problem!

Addiction is the problem, and of course, addiction to violence contributes to every one of these specific variations. 

Obviously, we would not have these addiction problems if it weren’t for people. 

Clearly, then, people are the problem. Once we find a way to get rid of all these people, such needless tragedies will cease. 

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“A Straw From Victoria” (1866)

“A member of the late Legislature and an important official of Vancouver Island, in a letter to a professional friend in San Francisco, under date of October 22d, says:

“Victoria I have resolved to leave, and to leave in all human probability for ever, unless some more hopeful signs appear in the commercial horizon. • • • There is a general exodus talked of, and I confess with some show of good reason. In my judgment there are, at the present time, upon Wharf street alone, three solvent men—the whole commercial fabric totters to the very foundation, and when the crash comes it will be such as Vancouver Inland has never witnessed before. The failures of the past seven days will amount to over a million dollars. The future looms with dark lowering clouds without a solitary ray of light, unless Vancouver is turned over to the Yankees, in which case a magnificent and glorious harvest lies before us.”

—Marin Journal, Volume 6, Number 34, 3 November 1866

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=MJ18661103.2.8&srpos=1312&e=-------en--20--1301--txt-txIN-Bogy-------1
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Senator Blanche K. Bruce’s story, in his own words

Bruce was the first African-American elected to the Senate to serve a full term (1874 – 1880). He tells his story in this 1886 newspaper interview:

WASHINGTON LETTER.

Reminiscences. of the Kansas Life of Ex-Senator B. K. Bruce.

HIS ESCAPE FROM QUANTRELL.

A Number of Chatty Anecdotes Related by Him to an “Alta” Correspondent . . . .

Special Correspondence of the Alta California. 

Washington, October 11, 1886.— Some half dozen old-time Kansans chanced to gather together a few evenings since at one of the leading Washington hotels, and the conversation naturally drifted into reminiscences of the “Kaw” State in the early days, and the array of men more or less renowned, dead and alive, who had cast their fortunes in that then remote quarter of Western civilization. Two of these gentlemen were living at Lawrence when the guerilla [sic] chief Quantrell [sic] plundered that town and murdered several hundred people. After giving a vivid description of the attack and massacre, and narrating how they narrowly escaped death, one of the gentlemen casually remarked that Ex-Senator and Ex-Register of the Treasury Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi was a citizen of Lawrence at that time, engaged In teaching a colored school. Meeting Mr. Bruce on Pennsylvania avenue shortly thereafter your correspondent ventured to ask him if this was correct, and if so how he came to be in Kansas at that period. 

THE SACKING OF LAWRENCE.

“Yes,” replied the ex-Senator from Mississippi, “I was in Lawrence when Quantrell sacked the town and butchered so many people, and my life was saved by a miracle. Quantrell’s band certainly would not have spared any colored man. I was born in Virginia, and taken, while a slave, to Mississippi when a mere lad. From there I went to St. Louis, Missouri, and after the firing on Fort Sumpter and the opening of the War of the Rebellion, concluded I would emancipate myself. So I worked my way to Kansas and became a free man before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln. 

“I had, fortunately, managed to pick up something of an education during the period of my slavery, and finally settled down at Lawrence as a school teacher. The night before the Quantrell raid, I had been watching and nursing a sick friend, and when the day broke I heard firing, which indicated that trouble was brewing. Looking out the window I saw armed men riding by, firing their pistols, and immediately realized that the enemy was upon us. To remain with my sick friend would have been to invite certain death, so I bade him adieu, and with no clothing on my person but shirt and drawers, watched my opportunity, got out of the house and hid in the bushes behind a fence.

A NARROW ESCAPE

“I saw the fighting going on, and the rebs rode by without discovering me, although they pursued every man in sight. At last I had a clear field, ran down to the Kaw river as fast as I could, and jumped in. My flight was observed, and several armed men rode furiously toward me. Fortunately, keeping my head under water, I managed to hide beneath a hedge of vines and roots near by the shore. The troopers rode to the river and searched everywhere without discovering my retreat, although they came within a few feet of me a dozen times. Finally they rode away, and I remained I concealed in the river all day and did not emerge from my harbor of safety until after nightfall, when the town had been sacked and burned, and the guerillas [sic] hastily evacuated with their loot.

“General Jim Lane was at Lawrence at the time, and he, too, miraculously escaped. He subsequently followed Quantrell’s men away down into Missouri, and when he returned, Lane said he had managed to kill quite as many of the guerillas as they Had killed of our people. I asked him how he knew that those he killed were Quantrell’s men, to which inquiry he grimly replied that he felt certain of it, because going down his troops killed every man they met with new clothes on, and coming back they killed all they saw with old clothes on, so that no mistake could have been made in this particular. I did not, as is generally supposed, live in Mississippi during the war. I returned there after the war ended, and entered the arena of politics. I was elected and served two terms as Sheriff of my county before I was chosen a Senator in Congress. 

A SENATOR’S MAIDEN SPEECH.

“By-the-bye,” continued Mr. Bruce, “at my first canvass for sheriff, my Democratic opponent, who was a man of considerable force as a public speaker, challenged me to meet him in debate. I was reluctant to do so, especially in view of the fact that, as the county was largely Republican, my election was assured, and, therefore, nothing was to be gained thereby. But, being pressed to accept the offer, we agreed to divide time at a meeting in a precinct where the Democrats were largely in the majority. After eloquently narrating his services to the Democratic party, his participation in the war of the Rebellion, and the sacrifices he had made for and shared with the people, my competitor said he had nothing against me — that I was a decent man, for my color, but that he knew me when I was a boy, that I had been a slave and performed menial offices, and therefore was unfitted to fill the high office of Sheriff. 

“I hardly knew how to meet this logic and divert its force, considering existing prejudices. The only method seemingly open to me was to try to turn the laugh on my adversary, and fortunately I succeeded. When my turn came to speak I frankly admitted that I had been a slave, but it was a misfortune for which I was not responsible! True, as a slave I had been compelled to perform menial offices, but I had served my master honestly and faithfully. Now, however, I had managed to rise to a better position. I had outgrown the degradation and ignorance of slavery, and was now a free man and a good citizen; but the difference between my adversary and myself was clear and well-defined. Had he been a slave and performed menial offices, probably he never could have risen superior to his original condition, and would be performing menial offices even now. This sally was so well received by my opponents that my competitor never invited me thereafter to debate jointly and divide time with him. 

“A SINGULAR INCIDENT, worth relating, occurred when I was a member of the Senate. I had never exchanged a word with Mr. Bogy, then a Senator from Missouri. We knew each other merely by sight. One day, to my surprise, Senator Bogy came to my desk and explained that he was much interested in the passage of a certain bill. There was nothing in it of a political nature, and he invoked my active assistance to help him pass the measure. He did not then realize that we had ever met before, but I well remembered the circumstance. I listened to his statement, and then replied about as follows : 

‘It will afford me pleasure, Senator, to oblige you in any way, but really, you used me so shamefully in the last business transaction we had together, I am suspicious of you.’

‘Why, sir, what do you mean?’ excitedly replied the Missouri Senator, ‘we have never met before that I can recollect, and certainly have never had any business transactions together of any character.’ 

‘Let me see, I replied, ‘whether I cannot recall a certain transaction to your memory. Some twenty years ago a gentleman was hurrying through the streets of St. Louis one day, endeavoring to catch and board a river steamer. He was embarrassed with a heavy valise, and noticing a colored boy near by, asked if he did not want to earn a quarter. The boy replied affirmatively, and the valise was handed him to carry. The gentleman and the colored boy ran to the river together, and the gentleman jumped on board the boat just as the gang-plank was being drawn in. He halloed to the boy to throw the valise on board, but the boy halloed back to first give him the promised quarter. This the gentleman refused to do, and the result was the boat, which had drifted far out into the stream, was put again to shore. The gentleman, thereupon, somewhat unwillingly, handed out the quarter, and the boy gave up the valise, not, however, without escaping a round denunciation and fist-shaking from the angry gentleman, in which the words ‘black rascal’ were freely uttered in terms more forcible than polite.’ 

‘Yes,’ replied Senator Bogy, ‘I remember the incident as well as if it had occurred yesterday. I was the gentleman, and we had quite a scene of it. But what has that do with any business transaction between us?’ 

‘Very much!’ I replied laughingly, ‘since you were the gentleman and I was the colored boy whom you endeavored, while in haste to catch the boat, to beat out of a quarter of a dollar he had fairly, earned.’ Senator Bogy laughed heartily at the reminiscence, and we shook hands. I helped him pass his bill just to demonstrate that strange things frequently happen in this world, and that I bore him no malice. Who could have foreseen that the irate gentleman and the colored slave boy would have met years afterward as peers and colleagues in the Senate of the United States!”

A COLORED LECTURER. 

Mr. Bruce is now engaged exclusively in the lecture field, which he finds more profitable and certainly quite as congenial as holding public office. He states he is out of politics until 1888, when he will probably take the stump for the Republican Presidential nominee. Mr. Bruce is in his forty-sixth year, is reasonably portly and has quite a taking presence. His color is light, and it is the tradition that he is the offspring of one of the most distinguished of Virginia’s sons. He is studiously polite, well-poised, and of unobtrusive habit. As a consequence, he merits and receives universal esteem. He owns a large and well-cultivated plantation in Mississippi, and his wealth is estimated at nearly one hundred thousand dollars. Several ladies of the best Mississippi families, who were impoverished by the war, now hold clerical positions in the several departments through Mr. Bruce’s intercession while a Senator. 

—Daily Alta California, Volume 41, Number 13563, 18 October 1886
https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DAC18861018.2.21&srpos=1194&e=——-en–20–1181–txt-txIN-Bogy——-1

0

Border-line Madness

In 1966 I was fourteen years old, living in Southern California, and just beginning to understand the world around me. Occasionally we would cross the border for a day-trip to Tijuana, where I saw poverty that I had never seen before. Everything in Mexico was cheaper—much cheaper—but at what a price! Street kids in rags and bare feet; dusty, unpaved streets filled with an obstacle-course’s worth of potholes; wizened old men selling donkey rides or piñatas; wizened old women selling flowers or tortillas; an indescribable cocktail of odours both delicious and disgusting. And that was in the “nice” parts of Tijuana, where my mother took us.

Even then, there were more or less constant stories of Mexicans trying to cross the border. They were called “wetbacks” because some of them crossed by swimming a river, but I suspect a lot more of them were driven across in vans and trucks. At fourteen, I thought to myself, “If I were stuck in poverty like that, I would be a wetback, too.” It was clear to me then, and it is clear to me now: if the richest nation on earth shares a border with a country plagued by poverty, corruption, and violence, only one result is possible.

I had learned in school about the Marshall Plan. After World War II, the nations of Western Europe were in ruins. The U.S. feared that without significant aid their economies would struggle badly, depriving the U.S. of trading partners and inviting the growth of political movements friendly to the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan’s actual impact on Europe’s economic recovery is still being debated, but Europe did recover. To my 14-year-old mind, the connection with Mexico was obvious. “We need a Marshall Plan for Mexico!” I thought.

Instead, we built fences and turned the border into a Berlin Wall. In this case, however, people were not being shot at as they tried to escape. Instead, they were rounded up and sent back to Mexico. Some of them, anyway. Others crossed successfully and found that Americans were delighted to employ them at wages no American would accept, often doing work that few Americans would do. Like so many immigrants, they worked non-stop, sent money back home, saved all they could, and in many cases built better lives for themselves and their children.

Many Americans are outrageously hypocritical about “undocumented workers.” They love the cheap vegetables the undocumented harvest, they love the cheap chickens they process, but they don’t like them. Racism is a big factor, of course. Personally, I’m with Walt Whitman and Emma Lazarus: let them all come in! If there is work for them, if they can build a better life, they will come and they will stay. If not, they will either leave, or not come at all.

On the other hand, it would be cheaper and more humane, even at this late date, to bring back the Marshall Plan idea, on a much bigger scale (it’s not only Mexicans, now) so that millions of people don’t have to leave their homelands just to have a decent life. Imbalance never lasts in nature. If poverty is on one side of a permeable membrane called a “border,” and wealth is on the other side, osmosis will take place until a balance is reached.

To imagine that walls and fences and border cops will overturn the laws of nature is . . . madness.

+1

Whitman & Lazarus on the crisis at the border

We asked the Brooklyn poet, Walter Whitman, for his thoughts about the “crisis at the border,” and he sent us this:

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Though somewhat obscure, Mr. Whitman’s view of the situation seems to align with that of Emma Lazarus:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

+2

Election disputes, voter fraud, violence, and my great-great-uncle, the Senator

Lewis Vital Bogy (1813 – 1877). Photo: Mathew Brady.

America in 2020-21, it turns out, is a lot like America in 1876-77.

The disputed presidential election of 1876 finally resulted in a back-room deal that put the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, in the White House. In return, federal troops were removed from the states of the Confederacy, thus ending Reconstruction and marking the start of the Jim Crow era in which Southern whites reasserted political domination of their states through a campaign of terror, intimidation, and racist legislation.

In the following newspaper dispatch from January 1877, Senator John Sherman of Ohio, brother of the Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, debates with . . . my great-great-uncle, Senator Lewis Vital Bogy (1813 – 1877). Bogy—whose own election three years previously was widely reported to have resulted from bribery of the electors—was a Missouri Democrat whose grandfather, Joseph Baugis, was a French-Canadian who had left Quebec at the age of 14 and arrived in the Mississippi River Valley, where he engaged in the fur trade and eventually became the owner of eleven slaves on his property in Arkansas. Senator Bogy would die just months after this debate, in September 1877. His brother, Benjamin Ignace Bogy, was my great-great-grandfather. Most of the family (whose name is pronounced with a soft g or zh sound) subsequently became staunch bourgeois Republicans.

The capper to Sen. Bogy’s argument comes when he claims that Southerners “had been forced to resort to violence” and that “Southern whites had a right to rebel against State Governments forced on them by the Federal Government and sustained by Federal bayonets.” Oh, boy. I cannot say I am sorry to have missed those family gatherings with Uncle Lewis.

[It should be noted that Sen. Bogy’s older brother, Joseph Bogy III (1808 – 1881) ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) in 1863 as an “Unconditional Unionist” and did not share the Senator’s political views, at least. On the other hand, his younger brother and, alas, my great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Ignace Bogy (1829 – 1900) joined the Confederate calvary under General Marmaduke.]

CONGRESS.

Washington, January 9th.—SENATE.—By unanimous consent, the House bill absolutely abolishing the District of Columbia Police Commissioners, and to transfer their duties to the District Commissioners, passed. 

The resolution ordering the arrest of the recusant witness Runyon passed without division. 

Wallace’s resolution concerning the Electoral count was then considered. [Sen. John] Sherman [R-Ohio] spoke at length, and claimed that the evidence before the Louisiana Returning Board justified their action. 

The Senate discussed the resolutions of Wallace, in regard to the count of the Electoral vote, during the whole afternoon, when they were laid aside, and the bill to perfect the revision of the Statutes of the United States was taken up, so as to come up as unfinished business to-morrow. 

Sherman said the Louisiana Electors had already voted for Hayes and Wheeler. The vote was duly authenticated and delivered to the President of the Senate, and was entitled to credit. Hayes and Wheeler were legally entitled to that vote. He reiterated that Hayes had not sought the office, and would gain no honor by receiving it wrongfully, but if Constitutionally preferred, he was not to be tricked. He (Sherman) would accept any plan for an honest count of the vote. He read from the Louisiana law requiring the Returning Board to reject the votes in parishes where fraud and violence prevailed. He paid a tribute to the honesty of the Board and their respect for the law, rather than the Influence which was brought to bear on them. He reviewed the character of the evidence before the Board, which, he said, compelled them to act as they did about throwing out returns. This violence, he asserted, was to compel men to vote the Democratic ticket and elect Tilden. The intimidation extended to Mississippi, and these votes were to be counted for S. J. Tilden. The evidence before the ; Senate I Committee would show that Henry Pinkston owed his death to cheers uttered at a Republican meeting. If such intimidation extended to other States North and West, law would end. Tilden’s inauguration would be the greatest misfortune that could befall the country. He did not fear Tilden and his four years’ of power, but did fear such means of electing him. Tllden’s term of office would be dishonored from the beginning. The blood of hundreds of men would be on his garments. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia improper means had prevented Republicans from voting. In closing, he denied that the Government paid the expenses of the Republican Visiting Committee to New Orleans. Gov. Hayes did not know he was going, nor did Hayes make a suggestion concerning his course there. He was proud of the willingness of the country to acquiesce in the result. 

[Sen. Lewis V.] Bogy [D-Missouri] said he had heard the most humiliating effort ever made upon the floor of the Senate. Sherman’s speech amazed him. It was incomprehensible. If Sherman spoke truly of the condition of things in Louisiana, then the country had retrograded to the darkest ages of barbarism. If Louisians were assassins, it, disgraced the country as well as that State. He denounced the testimony alluded to by Sherman as that of villains and perjurers. He would, in the future, explain how the crimes in Louisiana were brought about, on account of the recent emancipation of a race not yet in a condition to enjoy the privileges given them by the Constitution. Kellogg, Packard and other men were responsible for the condition of things in that State. Whites there were as peaceable and law-abiding as anywhere. Tilden should not be inaugurated, if elected as Sherman claimed; but he was honestly elected. 

Boutwell and Bogy engaged in a discussion of some length, involving the question of outrages in Mississippi, Bogy claiming that the Mississippi Committee last year had greatly exaggerated the facts, and had the worst witnesses before them.

Boutwell denied this. He wondered that a people who had spent so much money and lost so many lives for the perpetuity of the Union would calmly see such outrages in the South. 

Bogy retorted by alluding to the carpet-baggers sent South by Boutwell and his friends to administer Governments. He particularly denounced the Ames Administration as an outrage and disgrace to the country. The negroes in Mississippi were now treated with more respect than in Massachusetts. Southern whites had been forced to resort to violence, as the people of San Francisco had some years ago. It was the great American common law of self-defence.

Boutwell and Sherman said that was admitting that violence prevailed there. Sherman said the people of New York, when Tweed stole his millions, did not resort to violence. 

Bogy said the Southern whites had a right to rebel against State Governments forced on them by the Federal Government and sustained by Federal bayonets. . . .

—Daily Alta California, Volume 29, Number 9774, 10 January 1877

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DAC18770110.2.33&srpos=129&e=——-en–20–121–txt-txIN-Bogy——-1

Senator Bogy’s character is further illuminated by this 1881 piece recalling his interaction with a fellow Senator, Blanche Kelso Bruce.

Hon. Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi. Photo: Mathew Brady. The chair appears to be the same one used in the photo of Senator Bogy, above. Presumably, both photos were made at the start of their term in office in 1874.

Senator Bruce (1841 – 1898) was the first African-American elected to the Senate to serve a full term. He was defeated for re-election in 1880 by a white Democrat and former Confederate officer in the Civil War. Bruce was just one of many black politicians who lost their offices after Reconstruction ended in 1877. The son of a white plantation owner and one of his house-slaves, Bruce studied at Oberlin College for two years. When the Civil War began he deliberately went to Kansas, a “free state,” to gain his freedom (and almost lost his life in Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas in 1863—see the link to his 1886 newspaper interview, below). In 1864 he opened a school for black children in Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal, Missouri.   —Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Bruce.

A Story of Two Senators

The late Senator Bogy of Missouri was anxious to have a pension-bill passed one day for a constituent, and came over to the Republican side to ask support for it. He approached the colored Senator from Mississippi [Sen. Blanche Bruce, elected in 1874, the same year that Bogy was elected], and said: 

“Now look here, Bruce, vote for this, won’t you? I only want another vote or two, and you can carry it through for me. It is a meritorious case.” 

“Certainly,” said Senator Bruce. “You know, Senator, that I have always been willing to do you any favor you asked.” 

“Sir,” replied the Missouri Senator, “I never asked you a favor in my life till this moment.” 

“Oh, yes, you have,” replied Bruce. “You may remember once, many years ago, that you were going from St. Louis down the river on a steamboat, and you were hurrying along to catch the boat with a big valise. You passed a little barefooted mulato, and said: ‘Here, you little black rascal, take this valise and come on with me.’ The boy took the hand-bag, and when you came near the boat, you saw it was about to push off, and you ran on ahead and just crossed the gang-plank when it was drawn in. The boy, however, had not been able to keep up with you, and arrived too late. You stood on the lower deck and yelled: ‘Throw that valise aboard, you black rascal; I can’t go without my valise.’ But the boat moved out till the boy was afraid it would fall into the river if be tried to throw it, and, besides, he expected to receive a quarter for carrying it, and you had, apparently, forgotten all about that. The valise was not thrown and you made the captain of the boat come back to the dock again to get it, and the boy collected the quarter. Now do you remember that circumstance, Senator?” concluded Bruce. 

“I do,” admitted Senator Bogy. 

“Well,” said Bruce, “I was the little mulatto-boy that carried your valise, and I am just as ready to accommodate you to-day as I was then. I’ll vote for your bill.”

—The Weekly Calistogian, Volume IV, Number 16, 6 April 1881

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=TWC18810406.2.6&srpos=241&e=——-en–20–241–txt-txIN-Bogy——-1

Twelve years after that story was published, Frank G. Carpenter re-told it rather differently in the San Francisco Call:

Returning to Senator Bruce: He had a number of curious experiences during that first term in the Senate, and one of the queerest of these was when old Senator Bogy asked him to vote for a bill which he had before the Senate. Bogy was one of the most aristocratic of the Senators. He came from an old St. Louis family, and as he asked Bruce to do this, he sat down beside him. Bruce laughed as he made the request, and said, “Senator Bogy, I think we can arrange this transaction better than we did our last business matter.” 

“What do you mean?” said Bogy. “I never did any business with you before.” 

“Don’t you remember meeting me before coming to the Senate?” said Bruce. 

“No, I do not,” replied Bogy. 

“Well,” said Bruce, “I am not surprised at that, for it was more than twenty years ago. You were trying to catch a steamer at St. Louis and you had a heavy bag with you. The day was hot and the perspiration was rolling off you in streams. A colored boy ran up to you and grabbed the bag, and he carried it for you to the wharf. You got there just as the boat was about to start. You jumped on and called for the valise. The colored boy stuck to the valise and called for his quarter. You had to go through every one of your pockets before you could find a quarter and throw it ashore. Then the boat was too far out for the boy to throw the valise. The captain had to stop the boat and come back to the wharf for you to get your valise. Now, do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” replied Senator Bogy; “but I don’t see where you come in.” 

“Oh,” replied Bruce, “I was the colored boy who got the quarter.”

—San Francisco Call, Volume 74, Number 151, 29 October 1893

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=SFC18931029.2.132&srpos=462&e=——-en–20–461–txt-txIN-Bogy——-1
 

In an 1886 newspaper interview, Bruce told the story himself, again in a slightly different way:

A SINGULAR INCIDENT, worth relating, occurred when I was a member of the Senate. I had never exchanged a word with Mr. Bogy, then a Senator from Missouri. We knew each other merely by sight. One day, to my surprise, Senator Bogy came to my desk and explained that he was much interested in the passage of a certain bill. There was nothing in it of a political nature, and he invoked my active assistance to help him pass the measure. He did not then realize that we had ever met before, but I well remembered the circumstance. I listened to his statement, and then replied about as follows : 

“It will afford me pleasure, Senator, to oblige you in any way, but really, you used me so shamefully in the last business transaction we had together, I am suspicious of you.”

“Why, sir, what do you mean?” excitedly replied the Missouri Senator, “we have never met before that I can recollect, and certainly have never had any business transactions together of any character.” 

“Let me see,” I replied, “whether I cannot recall a certain transaction to your memory. Some twenty years ago a gentleman was hurrying through the streets of St. Louis one day, endeavoring to catch and board a river steamer. He was embarrassed with a heavy valise, and noticing a colored boy near by, asked if he did not want to earn a quarter. The boy replied affirmatively, and the valise was handed him to carry. The gentleman and the colored boy ran to the river together, and the gentleman jumped on board the boat just as the gang-plank was being drawn in. He halloed to the boy to throw the valise on board, but the boy halloed back to first give him the promised quarter. This the gentleman refused to do, and the result was the boat, which had drifted far out into the stream, was put again to shore. The gentleman, thereupon, somewhat unwillingly, handed out the quarter, and the boy gave up the valise, not, however, without escaping a round denunciation and fist-shaking from the angry gentleman, in which the words ‘black rascal’ were freely uttered in terms more forcible than polite.” 

“Yes,” replied Senator Bogy, “I remember the incident as well as if it had occurred yesterday. I was the gentleman, and we had quite a scene of it. But what has that do with any business transaction between us?” 

“Very much!” I replied laughingly, “since you were the gentleman and I was the colored boy whom you endeavored, while in haste to catch the boat, to beat out of a quarter of a dollar he had fairly, earned.” Senator Bogy laughed heartily at the reminiscence, and we shook hands. I helped him pass his bill just to demonstrate that strange things frequently happen in this world, and that I bore him no malice. Who could have foreseen that the irate gentleman and the colored slave boy would have met years afterward as peers and colleagues in the Senate of the United States!

—Daily Alta California, Volume 41, Number 13563, 18 October 1886

https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DAC18861018.2.21&srpos=1194&e=——-en–20–1181–txt-txIN-Bogy——-1

For the full interview with Senator Bruce, see “Senator Blanche K. Bruce’s story, in his own words.


Having characters like Senator Bogy in my family tree, and growing up where I did, made me wonder how I ever turned out so differently. For my answer, have a look at Dear Maury.

+2

Premier sourire du printemps

Sent to me by my good friend, le sage du Mans, Christian Lebas:

de Théophile Gautier

Tandis qu’à leurs oeuvres perverses
Les hommes courent haletants,
Mars qui rit, malgré les averses,
Prépare en secret le printemps.

Pour les petites pâquerettes,
Sournoisement lorsque tout dort,
Il repasse des collerettes
Et cisèle des boutons d’or.

Dans le verger et dans la vigne,
Il s’en va, furtif perruquier,
Avec une houppe de cygne,
Poudrer à frimas l’amandier.

La nature au lit se repose ;
Lui descend au jardin désert,
Et lace les boutons de rose
Dans leur corset de velours vert.

Tout en composant des solfèges,
Qu’aux merles il siffle à mi-voix,
Il sème aux prés les perce-neiges
Et les violettes aux bois.

Sur le cresson de la fontaine
Où le cerf boit, l’oreille au guet,
De sa main cachée il égrène
Les grelots d’argent du muguet.

Sous l’herbe, pour que tu la cueilles,
Il met la fraise au teint vermeil,
Et te tresse un chapeau de feuilles
Pour te garantir du soleil.

Puis, lorsque sa besogne est faite,
Et que son règne va finir,
Au seuil d’avril tournant la tête,
Il dit : Printemps, tu peux venir !

 

0

Time is a good editor (amen!)

I’ve been working for weeks on what will probably be an 800-word article. Well, I’ve just been writing and writing and writing… searching for the right small focused part of the big [picture]. . . .

I’ve gotten more patient with the writing process, and with that period when you want to have all the thoughts in a row but they’re running around like kids at a playground.

Time is a good editor.

—Farai Chideya, @farai on Twitter

Farai Chideya is a journalist, author, radio host, and podcaster. Among other achievements, she was a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute from 2012-2016.

Along the same lines, Natalia Cecire (Senior Lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Sussex, @ncecire on Twitter) recalls the advice she was given about learning math:

Some things are just so hard you have to see them ten times to get it. So if you don’t get it right now, that’s because this is only time one.

0

It Don’t Mean a Thing, If Your Nose Can Be Seen

[Tune: “It Don’t Mean a Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing”]

It don’t mean a thing, if your nose can be seen
Pull up pull up pull up pull up
pull up pull up pull up your mask!

[Bridge]
It’s no good if it’s only on your mouth
It’s still not safe, if your nose is out!

So get with the scene, keep your nose behind the screen
Pull up pull up pull up pull up
pull up pull up pull up your mask!

[Bridge 2]
It ain’t no good to cover just your mouth
So pull that mask up, cover up your snout!

+3

Bakunin: freedom without socialism vs. socialism without freedom

We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.

—Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

From “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism”, presented by Bakunin as a Reasoned Proposal to the Central Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom, at the League’s first congress held in Geneva (September 1867). Source: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mikhail_Bakunin

+1

Trump’s attempted coup

On January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump led a conspiracy to assassinate Congressional leaders and the Vice President.

The aim was to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, either directly or by creating a crisis that would serve as an excuse for Trump to declare an emergency and seize power.

Like everything else Trump has done his entire life, this was a criminal enterprise from the beginning, it was inept, and it failed.

Trump and his co-conspirators in the Congress, in the media, in his family, and in the corporate world must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Because if they aren’t, they will try again.

+3

The Five-Year Marriage: My Brilliant Idea

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Conclusion”

I was reminded today of one of my more brilliant ideas to improve the world by these two paragraphs about Britain’s exit from the European Union:

Every five years, the UK and EU will review the agreement, supplementary agreements and any matters related to it. That corresponds to the standard five-year political timetable in Brussels and Westminster. In other words, each new Westminster parliament, or Council president, or European parliament, is going to have their own Brexit, their own appraisal of the relationship.

This is a pulsating, living deal. The metaphor of a divorce no longer really holds. It’s like a couple splitting up but then buying a new much smaller home where they’ll meet up at weekends. Maybe they’ll be sickened by each other whenever they arrive. Maybe they’ll start to remember what they saw in each other in the first place. Divergence or integration.

—Ian Dunt, “Never-ending story: Deal unveils next Brexit arguments”

https://www.politics.co.uk/comment/2020/12/29/never-ending-story-deal-unveils-next-decade-of-brexit-arguments/

This “five-year divorce,” with both parties obliged to reconsider the terms of their separation twice a decade, parallels my own idea, the “five-year marriage.” 

The five-year marriage is a simple plan. Every marriage would have a five-year term that must be re-negotiated by the two parties, and then either renewed for another five years or ended, in which case they shake hands and go their separate ways.

It’s an idea bound to be ignored, of course, because when two people are on the verge of marriage they are definitely not inclined to be considering seriously the terms on which their marriage might end. Only the super-rich have lawyers and pre-nuptial agreements. Moreover, the five-year marriage would have to be adopted by an entire society, or at least by a large group of people, to make it work. Nevertheless, let us consider the possible advantages.

First, marriage “until death do us part” immediately encourages bad behaviour. Why not leave your dirty socks on the floor, or leave the cap off the toothpaste tube? You have a lifetime deal that can be broken only by extreme measures: a messy, complicated, and expensive divorce. In a five-year marriage, you would think at least twice before leaving those dirty socks to annoy or even anger your partner: do you want to risk a good marriage over dirty socks? 

Similarly, if a marriage “until death do us part” is going badly, one or both parties may be tempted to cheat on their partner, leading to all the drearily familiar and ugly consequences of infidelity. On the other hand, imagine being three-and-a-half years into a five-year marriage that is not working out. In that case, why risk all the lies and hurt and anger of infidelity, when you can just wait eighteen months for your freedom?

Second, the five-year marriage plan recognizes a simple truth: we change. Naturally, the chances of two people changing over several decades and yet remaining ideal partners for each other are . . . remote. Most marriages that last, let’s face it, last for other reasons: the kids, the cost of divorce, the fear of change, simple laziness, etc. The five-year marriage, at least, takes the fear and shame and surprise out of separation. (And, if you decide to stay together, you get a new wedding every five years! Florists, caterers, wedding reception musicians, are you listening?)

I offer the world this brilliant idea satirically because I know that almost no one will take it seriously. And yet, I am serious. I am convinced that the five-year marriage would do wonders to improve the quality of our relationships and our lives, not to mention our emotional well-being. When I ascend to a position of sufficient authority, the five-year marriage will be one of my first decrees.

+2

Castles in the air

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Conclusion”

0

“A powerful money interest in preventing rudimentary legal and social decency from being established”

“Bribery, the corruption of government agents, the debauch of red Americans, murder, theft, piracy, hijacking, the liquor traffic, private war, the employment of public force in private war, and other criminal practices characterized the Western fur trade. (As they had characterized the French, Canadian, and British fur trade.) They were deplorable. But they must be seen in relation to such facts as the West itself. . . .

“Before legal responsibility could be possible in the West, it was necessary to settle the West.

“The West being settled . . . a rudimentary legal justice, and a rudimentary social justice could not be established till the settlers of the West so changed the sentiments they brought along as to desire them.

“The development of the American social pattern had given the East a powerful money interest in preventing rudimentary legal and social decency from being established in the West. . . .

“The West . . . has always been exploited by absentee owners and managers under the sanction of imported law. . . . The Indians . . . were the first victims of a developing system whose later and successive victims have been white. As such they must be seen in relation to . . . a system of financial control which converted property, manipulated credit, and stripped the resources . . . to the sole end of canalizing eastward whatever wealth the West might produce.”

—Bernard De Voto, Across the Wide Missouri (1947) pp. 300-01
0

Nuclear power: safe and economical

This report to the government of The Netherlands, published in September 2020, reaches conclusions that contradict common anti-nuclear talking points heard in the media.

Nuclear is a safe, secure and emission free energy with a low carbon footprint, which is able to supply a continuous and secure flow of electricity for generations to come. The main hurdle nowadays remains the economics of new nuclear power. . . .

Nuclear should not be viewed as being in competition with “renewable” sources of energy, such as wind or solar. Nevertheless, as the reduction of carbon emissions becoming a top political and public opinion priority, both nuclear and renewable sources could have much larger roles to play. The problem is that no “renewable” source has been demonstrated to have the capacity to provide the “baseload” electricity at all times of power needed to replace large fossil fuel plants. . . . 

Nuclear is a high investment/low fuel costs generation technology. . . . 

Another advantage is that the land‐use for nuclear power plants is negligible. Nuclear is by far the most concentrated way of generating electricity. . . . 

On the question, asked by the Ministry of Economy of The Netherlands, as to whether nuclear could play an important role in the future energy mix of the Netherlands, the answer is affirmative. Nuclear energy, both large units and SMRs, when compared to VRE [Variable Renewable Energy, i.e., wind and solar] by using the same metrics, are cheaper, able to deliver dispatchable electricity to the grid (and stabilise the grid when needed) in a reliable fashion independent of weather conditions, while having the orders of magnitude smaller land‐ footprint than any other source of electricity, in particular, VREs. . . . 

Read the full 88-page report. Thanks to John Quakes (Twitter: @quakes99) for pointing me to this important study.

+1

“If he threatened to shoot me, I would not trust him, for I believe he would do it.”

From the Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (1885), Chapter IX:

[After the First Battle of Bull Run, which ended in a headlong retreat by the undisciplined Union army of volunteers, Sherman tries to restore order among the soldiers of his brigade.]

The Sixty-ninth still occupied Fort Corcoran, and one morning, after reveille, when I had just received the report, had dismissed the regiment, and was leaving, I found myself in a crowd of men crossing the drawbridge on their way to a barn close by, where they had their sinks; among them was an officer, who said: “Colonel, I am going to New York today.  What can I do for you?” I answered: “How can you go to New York? I do not remember to have signed a leave for you.”  He said, “No; he did not want a leave.  He had engaged to serve three months, and had already served more than that time.  If the Government did not intend to pay him, he could afford to lose the money; that he was a lawyer, and had neglected his business long enough, and was then going home.”  I noticed that a good many of the soldiers had paused about us to listen, and knew that, if this officer could defy me, they also would.  So I turned on him sharp, and said: “Captain, this question of your term of service has been submitted to the rightful authority, and the decision has been published in orders. You are a soldier, and must submit to orders till you are properly discharged.  If you attempt to leave without orders, it will be mutiny, and I will shoot you like a dog!  Go back into the fort now, instantly, and don’t dare to leave without my consent.”  I had on an overcoat, and may have had my hand about the breast, for he looked at me hard, paused a moment, and then turned back into the fort.  The men scattered, and I returned to the house where I was quartered, close by.

That same day, which must have been about July 26th, I was near the river-bank, looking at a block-house which had been built for the defense of the aqueduct, when I saw a carriage coming by the road that crossed the Potomac River at Georgetown by a ferry.  I thought I recognized in the carriage the person of President Lincoln.  I hurried across a bend, so as to stand by the road-side as the carriage passed.  I was in uniform, with a sword on, and was recognized by Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, who rode side by side in an open hack.  I inquired if they were going to my camps, and Mr. Lincoln said: “Yes; we heard that you had got over the big scare, and we thought we would come over and see the ‘boys.'”  The roads had been much changed and were rough.  I asked if I might give directions to his coachman, he promptly invited me to jump in and to tell the coachman which way to drive.  Intending to begin on the right and follow round to the left, I turned the driver into a side-road which led up a very steep hill, and, seeing a soldier, called to him and sent him up hurriedly to announce to the colonel (Bennett, I think) that the President was coming . . . .

Lincoln visits the various groups under Sherman’s command, one by one, and gives a brief, well-received speech to each group.

At last we reached Fort Corcoran.  The carriage could not enter, so I ordered the regiment, without arms, to come outside, and gather about Mr. Lincoln, who would speak to them.  He made to them the same feeling address, with more personal allusions, because of their special gallantry in the battle under Corcoran, who was still a prisoner in the hands of the enemy; and he concluded with the same general offer of redress in case of grievances. In the crowd I saw the officer with whom I had had the passage at reveille that morning.  His face was pale, and lips compressed.  I foresaw a scene, but sat on the front seat of the carriage as quiet as a lamb.  This officer forced his way through the crowd to the carriage, and said: “Mr. President, I have a cause of grievance. This morning I went to speak to Colonel Sherman, and he threatened to shoot me.”  Mr. Lincoln, who was still standing, said, “Threatened to shoot you?”  “Yes, sir, he threatened to shoot me.” Mr. Lincoln looked at him, then at me, and stooping his tall, spare form toward the officer, said to him in a loud stage-whisper, easily heard for some yards around: “Well, if I were you, and he threatened to shoot, I would not trust him, for I believe he would do it.”  The officer turned about and disappeared, and the men laughed at him.  Soon the carriage drove on, and, as we descended the hill, I explained the facts to the President, who answered, “Of course I didn’t know any thing about it, but I thought you knew your own business best.”  I thanked him for his confidence, and assured him that what he had done would go far to enable me to maintain good discipline, and it did.

0

Teaching Through the Pandemic Blues

B.P. (Before the Pandemic), almost all the bus drivers were friendly and chatty.

“Good morning!” I would say as I swiped my pass. 

“How you doing?” the driver would ask, smiling.

No more. They don’t even acknowledge the greeting.

I think I know how they feel: like me, only worse. 

I ride the city bus to and from work each day, and the low-level anxiety never disappears. Why is that guy letting his mask droop down below his nose? Why are those teenagers not even wearing masks? Will this be the day some idiot gives me COVID-19, despite all my precautions?

Imagine spending your whole workday on that bus, worrying about the risk you’re taking. Not an easy time to be a bus driver.

I get off the bus, stop at the friendly coffee shop to fill my travel mug, then walk to school where I spend my day teaching, trying to feel normal.

But I don’t.

I’m lucky to live in a country with a better COVID record than most, and in a province doing better than the national average, and in a part of the province doing better than the rest. My school follows all the protocols. My students wear their masks more often than not, and quickly put them on when reminded, if they forget. But they are teenagers, and they do forget sometimes, and who knows what happens outside of school hours? So I feel that same low-level anxiety, all day, every day. 

The best protection against the virus, they say, is ventilation. I’m in my late sixties, and I have asthma, and I work with teenagers all day. I need whatever protection I can get, so I keep the door and windows open in my classroom. Lately the temperature has been dropping. It’s uncomfortably cold. When I come back to my room after someone else has taught in it, the door and windows are closed. I open them again. The choice: cold and anxious, or warm and really worried.

I live alone, in a small apartment. No pets. I haven’t visited with friends or been out to a restaurant or gone out to hear live music for . . . well, eight or nine months, but it feels much longer than that. The isolation, and the constant low-level anxiety, weighs on you. It probably helps to have a pet. It might help to have a spouse or a partner or kids, but then again that could turn into a No Exit kind of situation. Have domestic-abuse rates risen, D.P. (During the Pandemic)?

I keep telling myself that if millions of Europeans could survive five years of the Second World War, surely we can survive a few more months until the scientists rescue us with a vaccine. After all, no one is shooting at us, or dropping bombs on us. Right? I try to imagine that future, A.P. (After the Pandemic), when everyone is out together, eating, drinking, listening to music, packed into movie theatres. Will we, even then, feel comfortable without masks? Will we be able to stop imagining the aerosolized clouds surrounding us and happily, obliviously inhale the exhalations of all those strangers? Will we ever live again as we used to?

+4

Attention, Democratic Party Policy Wonks:

Democratic policy wonks had better be drafting legislation to reverse the damage done by Trump and McConnell:

1. Obamacare+, after the Supreme Court’s imminent overturning of Obamacare.

2. Federal abortion rights legislation after Roe v. Wade is overturned.

3. Anti-gerrymandering legislation.

4. Genuine campaign-finance legislation to take the money out of politics, to the greatest degree possible.

5. Re-enactment of the Fairness Doctrine to mandate equal time for opposing views on TV and radio.

6. Legislation to replace all the “norms” ignored by the Republicans in the Trump era, e.g.,

•Appointment of Supreme Court judges
•Separation of Attorney General and Dept of Justice from politics
•Beefed up Hatch Act
•Laws to put teeth into the Emoluments Clause
•Laws to require government officials to testify when called by Congress
•A law specifying the conditions under which a sitting President may be prosecuted

. . . and so on!

0

Your MAGA Hat Won’t Get You Into Heaven

[A variation on the late, great John Prine’s “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven,” with apologies.]

While digesting Reader’s Digest
In the back of a dirty book shop,
I stumbled on a box of MAGA hats,
Twenty-five cents a pop.
Well, I picked one out and paid two bits,
Pulled it down it over my eyes,
And if I could meet that Melania Trump
She’d get an awful big surprise.

[Chorus]
But your MAGA hat won’t get you into heaven, not today,
The pandemic’s dead are sharing harps and taking turns to play,
And Jesus don’t like hatred, no matter what those liars say,
So your MAGA hat won’t get you into heaven anyway.

Well I went to the grocery store today
And the doorman said to me,
“I’m sorry, sir, you need to wear a mask
Here, we’ll give you one for free.”
“I don’t need no freakin’ mask,
I got a MAGA hat!” I said,
I went on in and bought a dozen eggs,
And a loaf of that whole-wheat bread.

[Chorus]

Well, my MAGA hat kept slippin’ over my
Eyes so I couldn’t see.
I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I’ll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said…

[Chorus]

+1