THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 393 December 19 - 25, 2005
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December 19, 2005
Christmas week begins, and it's harder to keep up.
Regarding the President's speech: Whatever one may believe would have been a better strategy, the national strategy of the United States, duly adopted by those empowered to decide such things, is to wage war with the goal of building a non-hostile, non-jihadist more or less secular state in Iraq. That is likely be difficult. Before the invasion I would have said it bordered on the impossible. It now looks a little more likely, in part, perhaps, because the Iraqis themselves see building such a state as the only way to get us out of their country. And of course a sizable number of Iraqis, possibly even a majority, will feel some gratitude toward us.
The other Iraqis will fear us, and perhaps it is better to be feared and admired than loved. Certainly that is a more easily maintained state of affairs. And other would be enemies can take note.
Our policy is to wage war and proceed to victory. We have no choice but to support that decision.
I note there is a move to attach energy bills to the defense bills. I applaud those efforts. I would applaud even more new bills to streamline the construction of nuclear power plants, and new research into energy storage and distribution for using electricity in transportation. The best way to reduce our commitments to the Middle East is to reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies.
I want us out of Iraq, but not in a way that leaves any doubt about what will happen if anyone attacks us, or tries to overthrow the government we leave behind. It will not be a puppet, but it should have many shared interests with us, and that is all we can hope for; and indeed that is worth hoping for. Whether the blood and treasure expended to get that result would have been better spent on some other enterprise is no longer a consideration. It may be worth debating, but in deference to troop morale that debate can be delayed until the job is done. The world is better off with one fewer tyrant, and his example should be a salutary lesson to others: do not even appear to be a threat to the people of the United States.
Things to come: I have been making a list of what I would do if I were suddenly proclaimed emperor.
It's a fairly long list, and over time we can discuss each provision.
First would be to abolish the Department of Education, remove the Federal Government from any attempt to influence, pay for, or control state and local schools; require the Congress to pay attention to the District of Columbia schools with a view to setting examples for the nation; remove all Federal support of teacher unions; and return the question of teacher professionalism and qualifications to the states. Indeed, were I not only emperor but king I would require the states to return control to local school districts. As emperor I would annul the Supreme Court requirement that school districts be equally funded by state taxes, and return control of both education and school taxes to local school districts; justification being that study after study has shown that excellence in education is entirely unrelated to funding, with the directly Federally controlled schools in Kansas City being a prime example. I would not object to states adopting a policy of providing some minimum funding to schools with the balance to be provided by local taxes set by locally controlled boards, but I would not require it.
I would annul the US Supreme Court decision striking down state laws that required that those voting in elections setting local property taxes be taxpayers. The US was founded on the principle that taxation without representation is tyranny, and until Earl Warren that was reflected in many states by requiring that those who voted on taxes should pay those taxes. While I was at it I would annul the Warren Court decision abolishing State Senates, making them no more than another Assembly. Under the old California Constitution, state government size was restricted by the need to get compromises between the populous South which dominated the Assembly, and the wealthier but more sparsely populated North which dominated the Senate. Under those rules you could not simply have the South vote to strip the North of water. It is unlikely that the states which once had Senates (all but Nebraska) would return to them, but at least the Federal requirement would no longer exist.
I would annul the US Supreme Court decisions stripping the States of the power to set residency requirements before you could apply for or receive welfare, and requiring that those who vote in state elections actually reside in the state: which is to say, students paying out of state tuition, or residing in a different part of the state, should not vote in local elections in the University districts. We have had quite enough of students voting themselves benefits they will never have to pay for.
One more thing. Since the only way I (or anyone) could be proclaimed Emperor would be by acclamation of the troops, one needs to look to the needs of the military. My first move on that score would be to reclaim some of the more pleasant bases like the Presidio, and expand military housing so that all military dependents could if they chose be housed on posted military bases, and not have to go on welfare to support themselves. And of course Christmas and Birthday donatives to the military have always been traditional in empires. They need not be great. And providing decent employment to veterans by giving them preference for employment on general support and maintenance of base housing and family support on military bases seems a very reasonable idea. The US has been rather shameful in its treatment of military families; that must end.
And that, I guess, would be enough for my first day.
|This week:||Tuesday, December
I have attempted to summarize the copyright debates so far in today's mail. Those interested in my views on this matter should not miss this entry.
And for those who doubt that "all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," we have this:
-- Roland Dobbins
Subject: STALIN ORDERED THE CREATION OF HALF-MAN, HALF-APE SUPER-WARRIORS
>> STALIN ORDERED THE CREATION OF HALF-MAN, HALF-APE SUPER-WARRIORS: The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents. Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior. According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat." <<
J Neil Schulman
The War On Christmas
A long and somewhat rambling essay
There was a long discussion in the SFWA conference on "The War on Whatmas". I won't summarize other than to note I didn't think the discussion very substantial.
It did cause me to try a generalization, which I repeat here since it was in a closed forum:
I think there is one important point in this.
The basis of government in the US is "consent of the governed", and that generally means that the majority will prevails, except when doing that is manifestly unfair to one or another minority, in which case caution is in order.
To insure that caution and to make things work reasonably well we have elaborate mechanisms in place to thwart the will of the majority.
But note: these work only when the majority, particularly if it be an overwhelming majority, actually consents to the notion that doing these things would be unfair, and thus harmful to the tranquility of the republic as a whole. It works when the majority believes people who squeal because they are offended really are offended, and that we ought not to offend them.
Religion, though, is a rather special case, because it is mostly from religious, not logical positivist or rational ethical or ethical cultural reasoning, but religious motives and commands that the majority feels that the minority as fellow human beings have any rights at all, or are entitled to special considerations. Now of course that isn't true of most statesmen, academics, judges, and so forth; but it is pretty well true for most of the populace.
Our system is designed to appeal from Peter drunk with emotional appeals to Peter sober and rational, and it has generally worked; but I urge all of you to think on what happens when the majority finds its will frustrated over what it perceives to be trivial matters: trivial to those who object, but not at all trivial to the majority itself.
I would have thought that minorities concerned with rights against majorities would be the first to urge the display of religious symbols of religions that teach equality and good will toward all men and joy to the world, in the hopes that being reminded of their beliefs would make the majority a lot more tolerant and more willing to not merely tolerate but even embrace the strangers in their midst and those who have different beliefs.
And I would think simply on tactical grounds that acting as if the display of symbols is so offensive that the display ought to be suppressed by the public officers, most of whom themselves are comforted by the display of those symbols and the thoughts behind them, is terribly unwise.
Leave out the truth of any religion: the miracle of good government comes about when diverse peoples can live together and provide rights to the powerless. It is fairly rare in history, and usually happens in empires, not republics and very seldom in democracies. Empires acquire equality of citizens by their common obligations to the emperor (or the Policy Board, or the aristocracy that operates the empire in the name of the chief executive, but soldiers generally prefer a more personal loyalty to an actual person). The bond is supplied by their common allegiance, and the empire provides protection despite the will of the majority. And that can be quite stable, but the tolerance and good will are now entirely dependent on the good will of the emperor and the ruling classes, and if they decide that it is too costly to defend some group, they have only to remove their protection and the group no longer has any rights.
Rights in an imperial structure do not adhere to individuals and they are not rights held against the rulers. In the old USSR there were no legal rights at all: there was series of duties on the part of the public prosecutors and officials, but the notion of Hampden defying the King just had no place in Soviet Law, and there would have been no Hampden's case, nor was there anything similar in the history of the USSR. And that is merely an example of one kind of imperial structure in the modern world. The "minorities question" always bugged the Kremlin and providing protection for various ethnic minorities was a major problem for people of good will throughout Soviet history, brief as it was.
So my concern in this War on Christmas is that those who seek to manipulate the system to remove from it all traces of support for the religious principles that generated the nation may find they have done a better job than they intended; and that if enough people begin seriously to ask why they should put up with people not like them, and whom they do not like, they may come to conclusions most of those here would abhor.
That engendered a very long thread, little of which addressed any of the points I had been trying to make. After several days, I came up with another mini-essay. I warn you it repeats some of the above.
One more attempt at a substantive discussion.
The United States is said to be a democracy, and to be spreading democracy on the points of its bayonets and at the snouts of its Abrams main battle tanks.
Whatever else democracy means, it is that in all serious questions, the final answer lies in the votes of the majority of qualified voters; and if the will of the majority is to be thwarted, there have to be very substantive reasons for that; and those reasons have to be so compelling that the majority prefers that reasoning to its own, or the majority prefers the mechanisms that produce that decision contrary to its expressed wishes to taking matters into its own hands and simply insisting that its will prevail.
The United States in its founding document proclaims that it is self evident that all men are created equal, they are endowed by a Creator with certain inalienable rights, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. It is clear that the document does not recognize "unjust" powers, and it proceeds to enumerate a number of powers it considers unjust.
The Constitution is a compact among independent States to form a Union under certain conditions. It recognizes certain minority rights and the protection of those rights as part of the conditions under which union is possible, and pledges to confirm and protect those rights. Among those rights of states are the right to an established church (without that several of the States would not have ratified) and the right not to be subject to a National Established Church. (This is in an amendment but the amendments were adopted as an explication of the original Constitution, and nothing in them, according to the Framers, actually conferred any rights not in the original.) It doesn't explicitly state that the States are also to be free of the Federal establishment of secular humanism or atheism as an established church but I think no one would seriously argue that had that provision been inserted into the First Amendment it would have been considered needless but not controversial.
It also confers the right of the States to establish chattel slavery, to pass laws establishing that practice, and requiring the States that do not have slavery to cooperate in the return of slaves to their owners.
This last provision was as legal and as binding as any other; but it did not enjoy the approbation of a national majority, and after a while it became to be seen as intolerable to a national majority. Whatever the economic causes of the Civil War, slavery was really at the bottom and it was to make men free that the volunteers flocked to the Union Army; and while most Southernors owned no slaves and fought to protect their homeland, much of the officer corps was explicit that the fight was among other things for the retention of slavery. Nathan Bedford Forest was probably the most upfront about that, saying it openly to not only his troops but to his two black bodyguards on whom he relied for his safety throughout the war.
There was no legal way for the North to end Slavery in the South, and it took a war to make it go away. I have elsewhere argued that slavery was doomed for economic and social reasons and that the war was needless, but in fact it was ended in war fought by troops who understood that "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make them free."
In a word: religious convictions prevailed over all the legalities and contracts and courts and legislatures.
Indeed, when the Congress tried to form compromises to avoid war and prevent the spread of slavery, the US Supreme Court stepped in to thwart the will of a majority in a compromise that might have delayed the war until economic factors and the pressure of world opinion made it needless.
The point of all this preamble is two fold. First, one of the major issues in this nation was decided because religious principles prevailed over Rule of Law, either Strict or Liberal interpretation of the Constitution, and over the will of the legislatures both national and State which sought compromises to avoid war. To say that religion ought to play no part in national policies in the face of that one great truth appears to be absurd.
Secondly: the best way for most people to live under laws to which they consent -- to obtain consent of the governed -- is to break the jurisdictions down to as small a level as possible. Under our Constitution those entities are the States, which are then free to devolve various matters to counties and cities. The national Constitution, wisely in my judgment, left matters of religion up to and including the establishment of religion by law to the States. How much change to that was intended by those adopting the Civil War Amendments is fairly clear -- none, regarding religion. It was only later that Courts, not legislatures, decided that these Amendments applied to the States in matters of religion.
Thirdly: the best way to implement the will of the people and elicit consent of the governed is by legislation, not by judicial decree.
Now that may appear to be absurd: it may appear that judicial intervention is what has moved this country toward the protection of the rights of minorities. It may also be argued that is not true: that what really broke things open for minority rights, particularly rights of black Americans, was the enforcement of Civil Rights Laws enacted by the Congress which acted under its explicit authority do so; and that the passage and enforcement of Voting Rights Acts has had far more influence over local civil rights than all the Federal interventions.
Nor would that be surprising. Consent of the governed is a good governing principle precisely because it works; forcing good government on people for their own good but against their will hasn't been terribly successful through history and seems no more likely of success in the contemporary US.
Note that arguing for State, not Federal, power to decide matters of religion including such things a religious pageants and ceremonies on public property and even at state expense is not the same as arguing that any given state ought to adopt a particular practice. It depends on the state, and in my judgment on the county and city, as to what practices are acceptable to the local population.
The alternative is to force the will of a decided minority onto the population as a whole, and hope that the majority remains content and comfortable enough not to erupt with a cry of "enough!" and denounce the whole system; the eruption can be political in the entry of a sizable number of people who previously kept to themselves and took little part in politics, or direct and violent. Direct violence has up to now been the province of various fairly small minorities who are suppressed with variable difficulty. Direct action by a large part of the population would be a different matter.
The likelihood of general disobedience to the system over a matter like public Christmas pageants is very small; but every instance in which the strongly felt will of the majority is suppressed is one more time when the wisdom of the system is undermined, one more temptation.
And therefore, it would seem to me, arguing that the coercive power of the Federal Government ought to be used so that the Awful Majesty of the Law descends on some kids singing Christmas carols in school may be quite unwise, in that it is difficult to show the good that comes from that interference in comparison to the loss of respect for the law engendered by act.
Good government is close to a miracle, and good government long sustained is quite rare in history. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide, according to the Framers at the Convention of 1787. They tried to establish a new world order, and to bring about something new in history. Clearly they did that. It is not so clear that we understand how and why things work as well as they have; and it is not at all clear that we ought to push at the edges of what was established there without great provocation.
The Civil Rights Movement was a great cause for great principles, most of those derived from religious principles -- it is exceedingly difficult to impossible to justify the assumption of equality from any but religious principles. Removing the cross from the Seal of the County of Los Angeles, and forbidding the lighting of the lights in City Hall Tower in the shape of a cross on Christmas Eve, do not seem to be quite such compelling causes.
Winning the War on Christmas may well be accomplished; but the wisdom of waging that war, and the consequences of that victory, may turn out to be quite debatable matters.
This elicited two comments. One was that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, which is irrelevant. The John Birch Society used to assert that too, but I doubt one in a thousand can give a coherent contrast between "republic" and representative democracy, and if you substitute the word "republic" for "democracy" in the above it does not change the argument one whit.
The other was
Funny how "substantive" is something that only some
people are privileged to
which I failed to understand. Other comments were to the effect that I should not lecture, and my points were trivial.
It may well be that I have gone senile and prattle about unimportant things. I had deluded myself into a different cast of thought. In any event, I have no time for fresh words on the subject, so those, composed late at night in response to an on-going discussion, will have to do. Apologies, but I really do have to get to work.
Global Trend: More Science, More Fraud http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/20/science/20rese.html
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN and WILLIAM J. BROAD
The South Korean scandal that shook the world of science last week is just one sign of a global explosion in research that is outstripping the mechanisms meant to guard against error and fraud.
Experts say the problem is only getting worse, as research projects, and the journals that publish the findings, soar.
Science is often said to bar dishonesty and bad research with a triple safety net. The first is peer review, in which experts advise governments about what research to finance. The second is the referee system, which has journals ask reviewers to judge if manuscripts merit publication. The last is replication, whereby independent scientists see if the work holds up.
But a series of scientific scandals in the 1970's and 1980's challenged the scientific community's faith in these mechanisms to root out malfeasance. In response the United States has over the last two decades added extra protections, including new laws and government investigative bodies.<snip>
21 December 2005
A Federal Judge has ruled on teaching Intelligent Design as an alternative (not as a substitute for) Darwinian reductionism. I suppose I have no alternative but to comment on both the decision and the arguments.
I didn't want to get into this because a substantive discussion of the merits and deficiencies of Intelligent Design vs. "blind workings of chance" brings up matters a great deal more complex than adherents of either side would have you believe. Both positions are, at bottom, matters of faith, and can't be settled by science at all.
The blunt statement of Intelligent Design is, "If you find a watch in the woods and wish to know how it was made, you do not look for ways to take a pile of parts and shake them until they fall into place by chance; you look for a watchmaker. And if you find a Watchmaker and wish to know how he came about, for Whom do you look?"
The blunt statement of the Darwinian Reductionists is summarized in a book: The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins, 1986. There have been explications on Dawkins since, but his book remains the foundation of beliefs that the universe proceeds through the blind workings of chance.
Neither side of the issue quarrels with the notion of evolution as such. It is pretty clear that some forms of evolution exist, and the evolutionary hypothesis is useful in dealing with certain practical problems such as strains of bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and other treatments. DNA evidence shows great similarity among species and in general its findings are consistent with the notion of common ancestry. And, of course, the common wisdom of mankind accepts that different breeds (races) of animals have different characteristics including temperament and intelligence, and that you can "breed for" different qualities. It is politically incorrect to apply this finding to speculations about human strains, and many of the most vehement defenders of Darwinism are equally vehement about not applying the principles of evolution -- or animal husbandry -- to humans; but that, too, is a matter of faith, not science.
Proponents of Intelligent Design assert that although there is plenty of evidence for evolution taking place, there are gaps in the Darwinian chain of evidence. Some of those are likely to be filled, or at least are not important because we can easily see how they could be filled by finding the proper fossils. Others, they assert, can never be filled, because not even in theory can we account for certain features having arisen by chance. There is also the problem of the "two mountains": two species, one of which is said to have evolved from the other, inhabit peaks, but the valleys between them are not only filled with competing species, but have conditions deadly to the mountain species; to cross the valley a species would have to de-evolve as it moved down the mountain, evolve sufficiently to survive in the valley, de-evolve the valley adaptations, then re-evolve as it climbed the neighboring peak. It is highly unlikely that this happened. This and other gaps in Darwinian Evolution were discussed and explicated at length in some of the writings of the late Sir Fred Hoyle, particularly in his book Evolution From Space. Alas, my copy has vanished into chaos and may be the victim of the brotherhood of book borrowers, so I am working from memory here. One major point: Sir Fred believed in Intelligent Design, but his "Designer" was as far from the conventional Deity as you can imagine, and his deconstruction of evolution was of no comfort to theists. Exposing school children to the theories of Sir Fred Hoyle about the defects of Darwinian theory could never be inspired by any religious beliefs , and could hardly be construed as establishing a religion even by madmen in Federal Courts.
Intelligent Design proponents more usually proceed from theistic assumptions, which is where they run afoul of a silly interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that purports to allow Federal censorship of what is taught in local public schools. At bottom their thesis is that the gaps in Darwinian theory not only exist -- everyone concedes that -- but that some of them not only will never be filled, but can never be filled. "No way!" they shout.
Darwinian proponents assert that they can so be filled, even if they never will be, and trot out computer models which purport to prove that all the gaps can be filled by small incremental steps. The models don't actually FILL the gaps in the theory: no blind working of chance model has ever evolved an eye or created life; but it is asserted that even though each step is improbable and the entire chain of steps has a probability low compared to the life of the universe, they COULD account for the gaps in Darwinian theory. And that last statement is not science. It is an act of faith in reductionism. It is shouting "Way!' in reply to the ID cry of "No way!"
One could argue that in this decision the Federal Judge is in fact insisting on a Federally Established Religion: one called Scientific Reductionism, which insists that all questions can ultimately be answered by science, or as LaPlace put it to Napoleon when Napoleon asked where God fit into his reductionist schema of the universe, "I have no need for that hypothesis." And that, I put it to you, is as great an Act of Faith as is made by any advocate of Intelligent Design.
But my real point is that all this is irrelevant because the Federal Government has no business dictating to local school boards what can and cannot be taught. There is no word about education in the Constitution or its amendments. There is no authority for the Federal Government to spend one dime on education outside the District of Columbia, on military base schools, and in territories directly ruled by Washington. (We can also argue that given the manifest failure of public schools in the District of Columbia, it is absurd to assert that Washington has any competence in managing schools at all, and certainly has not earned the right to dictate educational policy or curricula to the States.)
But it gets worse. Suppose science proved that there is a superior race, more fully evolved than the others. Should science be able to mandate THAT be taught in the schools without any dissenting opinion? And please do not say that science could never do that.
Suppose someone asserts, on scientific grounds, that the statement "All men are created equal" is nonsense, lacking even rudimentary scientific evidence for its truth, and is clearly a religious statement. After all, it says "created" and in the next clause adds "endowed by their Creator", clearly a religious statement. Suppose he then asserts that there is no scientific evidence for the equality of the races, and sues to forbid teaching "equality" in the public schools. What would happen? How might judges rule? If they rule on scientific evidence, they may well rule against "teaching equality"; and since, according to this Judge, only "science" can be taught --- Q. E. D.
Could that happen? There was a time when I would have said "Of course not." Now I have to say "I don't know."
And I say again, regarding Intelligent Design in the schools, there are two questions. One is arguing Intelligent Design on its merits. My own view is that indeed the Universe was created, and that it has a purpose, and the Creator having built the universe in germinal causes allows it to evolve toward His unfathomable (My thoughts are not your thoughts) ends, but manifests Himself by unpredictably breaking the rules He established through interventions we call miracles; and the tools of science fail us in predicting miracles precisely because they are exceptions to the rules of orderly development. If you challenge my view I will defend it as best I can, but I will not pretend that we are engaged in a scientific discussion when I do; but I think I can make as good a case for my view as the Darwinists for theirs. They, of course, will resort to ruling out "anecdotal evidence" in favor of repeatable scientific "facts", and thereby they will always win if one agrees to their terms, because by definition there are never any exceptions to the Rules and Laws of Science. And I will continue to insist that my view is as tenable as theirs, and the only difference between myself and the ardent reductionists is that I know my views are based on Faith and supported by what scientists have to call anecdotal evidence, and they do not know that their views are just as thoroughly based on Faith in their reductionist principles.
The other, quite independent of the truth or falsity of Intelligent Design, is who shall control the curricula of local schools? And on that one, I will insist, all our experience indicates that it is best left to individual school districts, some of whom will insist on teaching patent nonsense (I can even imagine a local school board insisting on teaching "the True principles of Satanism, called Wicca"), others strict reductionist rationalism, and others the generally agreed public philosophy that has served this nation well for two hundred years. And, I will insist, that even if the States interfere with local school boards and mandate curricular matters (which they often do, most of those being unfunded mandates at that), the Federal Government has no authority in the matter.
In a word, the proper decision of that Judge would have been, "This Court has no jurisdiction in this matter."
December 22, 2005
The holidays approach.
For those who took the trouble to inform me of Gitlow v. New York and
other cases involving the so-called incorporation doctrine, thank you, but
as a one-time professor teaching Constitutional Law I was quite aware of
this judicial usurpation; it is indeed one of the key moves in the
centralization of the United States. There is significant opposition to this
view. For an excellent summary of the arguments, see
For those who feel triumphant because the voice of science has prevailed, I wish you well, but I remind you that once to allow the Federal Courts to censor the content of local school curricula, you give it that power over your schools. I do find it odd that people who purport to fear the power of the religious right over the Federal government rejoice at the expansion of Federal power in local matters. Power to censor is power to censor, and the prevailing will of the judiciary can change quickly.
I continue to worry more about what goes on around me than what happens in local schools in Kansas and Pennsylvania, and to point out that the nationalization of our schools does not seem to have brought about any great improvements. And see mail.
"One of the great and historic things about this war [in Iraq] is that whatever you think of it, justified or not, the right decision or not, no one--no one--has decided it is right to emotionally abandon the fighters in the field. This, as we know, is different from what happened in Vietnam, when a generation of those who served were given in response the distanced disrespect of a certain portion of our country. Everyone feels bad about that, and should. But amazingly enough we seem to have learned from it. Almost everyone knows--and the very small number who don't know at least know enough to go off and be quiet--that the men and women on the field are fighting for us, serving us, that they are putting themselves in harm's way with courage, that they deserve to be patronized by no one, that they deserve honor from all."
Good commentary from Ms. Noonan as usual, Dr. Pournelle.
December 23, 2005
I have mentioned this before. It is drawn from Van Loon's account of why Napoleon was so important to history.
You can find the entire text at http://www.authorama.com/story-of-mankind-54.html
and I recommend it to you. Here the excerpts:
In short, when we study the character of the Emperor, we begin to understand those anxious British mothers who used to drive their children to bed with the threat that “Bonaparte, who ate little boys and girls for breakfast, would come and get them if they were not very good.” And yet, having said these many unpleasant things about this strange tyrant, who looked after every other department of his army with the utmost care, but neglected the medical service, and who ruined his uniforms with Eau de Cologne because he could not stand the smell of his poor sweating soldiers; having said all these unpleasant things and being fully prepared to add many more, I must confess to a certain lurking feeling of doubt.
Here I am sitting at a comfortable table loaded heavily with books, with one eye on my typewriter and the other on Licorice the cat, who has a great fondness for carbon paper, and I am telling you that the Emperor Napoleon was a most contemptible person. But should I happen to look out of the window, down upon Seventh Avenue, and should the endless procession of trucks and carts come to a sudden halt, and should I hear the sound of the heavy drums and see the little man on his white horse in his old and much-worn green uniform, then I don’t know, but I am afraid that I would leave my books and the kitten and my home and everything else to follow him wherever he cared to lead. My own grandfather did this and Heaven knows he was not born to be a hero. Millions of other people’s grandfathers did it. They received no reward, but they expected none. They cheerfully gave legs and arms and lives to serve this foreigner, who took them a thousand miles away from their homes and marched them into a barrage of Russian or English or Spanish or Italian or Austrian cannon and stared quietly into space while they were rolling in the agony of death.
On the 15th of July he went on board the “Bellerophon," and surrendered his sword to Admiral Hotham. At Plymouth he was transferred to the “Northumberland” which carried him to St. Helena. There he spent the last seven years of his life. He tried to write his memoirs, he quarrelled with his keepers and he dreamed of past times. Curiously enough he returned (at least in his imagination) to his original point of departure. He remembered the days when he had fought the battles of the Revolution. He tried to convince himself that he had always been the true friend of those great principles of "Liberty, Fraternity and Equality” which the ragged soldiers of the convention had carried to the ends of the earth. He liked to dwell upon his career as Commander-in-Chief and Consul. He rarely spoke of the Empire. Sometimes he thought of his son, the Duke of Reichstadt, the little eagle, who lived in Vienna, where he was treated as a “poor relation" by his young Habsburg cousins, whose fathers had trembled at the very mention of the name of Him. When the end came, he was leading his troops to victory. He ordered Ney to attack with the guards. Then he died.
But if you want an explanation of this strange career, if you really wish to know how one man could possibly rule so many people for so many years by the sheer force of his will, do not read the books that have been written about him. Their authors either hated the Emperor or loved him. You will learn many facts, but it is more important to “feel history" than to know it. Don’t read, but wait until you have a chance to hear a good artist sing the song called “The Two Grenadiers." The words were written by Heine, the great German poet who lived through the Napoleonic era. The music was composed by Schumann, a German who saw the Emperor, the enemy of his country, whenever he came to visit his imperial father-in-law. The song therefore is the work of two men who had every reason to hate the tyrant.
Go and hear it. Then you will understand what a thousand volumes could not possibly tell you.
Hendrik Van Loon, The Story of Mankind
I suppose I was no more than twelve years old when I read Van Loon, and I have remembered him ever since. He made history live, and I can think of no higher compliment for an historian.
We are all recovering from colds. The Chaos Manor Christmas Tree is small, but it is up and lighted.
Merry Christmas to all.
Mr. Hastings, who wrote the scripts that bring you Chaos Manor in feed, recommends:
Subject: Science Toys You Can Make with Your Kids
This is wonderful. I could read this for hours and I might actually build some of the projects.
I suggest you start with Chapter 5: steam engines, match head rockets, film canister cannon...
I especially liked the radio chapter. He starts by having you build a radio with two parts. Then you make it better. Then you make it better. In each case he explains why it works, and how the change works to make it better. He even makes a variable capacitor out of some aluminum foil and an Isaac Asimov novel!
-- Steve R. Hastings
I recall as a boy getting a book called UNDERSTANDING RADIO that began with a single tube radio and showed how to continue to regenerative receivers, super-heterodyne systems, and on to transmitters. I learned enough from that to never have problems with electronics classes in later life. And there were two series of books, The Boy Mechanic and The Boy Electrician, in the Memphis public library. I read them all and while I was never all that good with mechanics, I did get to a home built Tesla Coil in electronics.
Aluminum foil and an Asimov novel. That would be one heck of a condenser. I recall getting the shock of my life from a home made Leyden Jar in about 10th grade...
Then there are people who send me email complaining about something I have said, or about mail. Sometimes I answer that mail. And get a message that "ospam" has rejected my reply and if I will jump through enough hoops I may be able to get my message to the person who sent me the message in the first place, maybe, if he wants it.
I don't answer such things. So if you sent me mail, and you do the ospam thing, I suggest you either put me on your white list, or rethink your spam filter. Or don't bother writing me in the first place.
I have to deal with a lot of spam, and I get a great deal of mail. Somehow I manage without driving people up walls.
December 24, 2005
Merry Christmas to all
Look now! For glad and golden hours
Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
And man, at war with man, hears not
For those defending themselves this night, as some did on Christmas Night, 1950, this is not meant as insult; it is a wish that it might be so. I do not think anyone in the situation of having to bear arms on Christmas Night will misunderstand or take this amiss.
And the best wishes of the nation to all our troops overseas. To those who are under arms this night, may you be safe from harm.
December 25, 2005
Merry Christmas to all
We had a wonderful family day at Chaos Manor. God save our soldiers and sailors.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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