Still true in 2021: Earth Day does not celebrate Lenin, who was anti-environmentalist – annual debunking of the annual Earth Day/Lenin hoax

April 22, 2021

This is mostly an encore post, repeated each year for April 22 and Earth Day — sad that it needs repeating; anti-environmentalists don’t appear to learn much, year to year.  (Yes, some of the links may be dated; if you find one not working, please let me know in comments.)

In 2021, we may need this post more, to put up with anti-science backlash to the defeat of Donald Trump.

You could write it off to pareidolia, once.

Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday, when the greatest number of college students would be on campus.

Google Doodle for Earth Day 2021

Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.  It’s as much a hoax on the ill-informed of the right, as anyone else. Many of them believe it.

No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:

One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist: They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.

Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22, on the new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — one might accurately note that Lenin’s mother always said he was born on April 10.

It’s a hoax. There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.

About.com explains why the idea of a link between Earth Day and Lenin is silly:

Does Earth Day Promote Communism?
Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.

“On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”

April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday “plot” seems just about as likely as the other. What’s the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys were born.

My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?). No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.

Certainly, the Soviet Union never celebrated Earth Day. Nor was Lenin any great friend of the environment.  He stood instead with the oil-drillers-without-clean-up, with the strip-miners-without-reclamation, with the dirty-smokestack guys.  You’d think someone with a bit of logic and a rudimentary knowledge of history could put that together.

Gaylord Nelson, Living Green image
Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson

The REAL founder of Earth Day, Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:

Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.

In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:

After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.

Lenin on the environment? Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource. Lenin believed in exploiting resources and leaving the spoils to rot in the sun, not conservation; in practice there was no environmental protection, but instead a war on nature, in the Soviet Union.

So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?

Can you say “propaganda?” Can you say “political smear?”

2017 Resources and Good News:

2015 Resources and Good News:

2014 Resources and Good News:

2013 Resources and Good News:

Good information for 2012:

Good information from 2011:

Good information from 2010:

2014’s Wall of Shame:

2013 Wall of Shame:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:

Spread the word. Have you found someone spreading the hoax, claiming Earth Day honors Lenin instead? Give us the link in comments.

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Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the story

February 26, 2021

Dan Price on LinkedIn, explaining what Rush Limbaugh got wrong

Dan Price on LinkedIn, explaining what Rush Limbaugh got wrong

Too few remember Paul Harvey now. In some ways that’s good — his columns for southern states of the old Confederacy were not the often-cheery dispenser of news and wisdom we heard at noon on ABC’s national radio network. Meaning, I found the columns too often-racist, and too seldom supporting freedom and civil rights. But Harvey hit on a good story-telling format that he marketed as “The Rest of the Story,” and selling hope, he was rarely racist and often informative.

“The Rest of the Story” was a five-minute insert, syndicated by ABC or someone else, often run in the afternoon on AM stations. Harvey would tell about a person who encountered a problem, and describe how the problem was solved and how happy it made people. Something like, ‘As an adopted immigrant child, young Steven didn’t take well to academic settings, coming close to flunking out of schools and finally dropping out of college, though sticking around campus to learn design, a topic the school didn’t have a major in.’ Then there’d be a lot more about things that sounded like failures, until young Steven started tinkering with building computers but got hammered by other computer makers in the market place, though people said they liked his machines. Then one day another worker at his company convinced him to build a phone, even though it was likely Steven would lose big in a market dominated by other legacy companies. But he introduction went well, and someone asked him what they’d call the phone to distinguish it from others. “‘We call it the iPhone,’ Steven said. And now you know the rest of the story.”

Harvey never used the format to criticize or denigrate anyone, which surprised me considering his newspaper columns. I wish someone had used the format recently when Rush Limbaugh died. You hate to say bad things about someone who recently passed; but Limbaugh was a special case. He created anger and division with his radio program, and he profited and reveled in that anger and division.

On LinkedIn, someone posted this story; and it fits the Paul Harvey format so well, and doesn’t really criticize Limbaugh that much.

Dan Price took the astonishing action of slashing executive compensation and dramatically raising pay for workers in his company. It was news for a couple of weeks. During that time critics of equality, like Limbaugh, lambasted Price and his company, and the idea of equity and equality in pay for workers. Then the story fell out of the headlines — except perhaps for snark from critics like Limbaugh.

Here’s what Price said in his Linked-In post:

Dan Price
Dan Price • 2nd Founder/CEO, Gravity Payments
1 week ago
I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh 3 hours a day as a home-schooled kid. My parents idolized him.
5 years ago my parents called me: “Rush is about to talk about you!” I was in the news for slashing my CEO pay to raise our min wage to $70k. I excitedly turned on his show.

Rush said: “I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work because it’s gonna fail.” I was devastated. My dad said Rush got it wrong. But it led to a flood of hate-mail against me.

Rush was right: we were a MBA case study. Harvard Business School concluded the $70k min wage was a huge success. Our revenue tripled. Retention & productivity skyrocketed. We were featured as success stories in the BBC & NY Times.

Rush incorrectly said everyone would make $70k when only me & a few new employees do. It’s a min wage. It’s not socialism; he knew that. He never agreed to have me on to give my side or do an updated story on our success.

His listeners still assume we failed. A top auto-complete search for our company is “out of business.” I’ve had 5 years to tell our story & prove him wrong but most people crushed with misinformation don’t have that luxury.

I’m sad he died & my thoughts are with his family. But I’m not sad his show is over. He hurt a lot of people with his words.

Price was victimized by Limbaugh. But Price was right, and his company and workers won.

Now you know the rest of the story.


Chess games of the rich and famous: T. Roosevelt, John Hay and Joe Cannon

February 1, 2021

Charles Davis Mitchell (1887 – 1940) penciled and penned this in 1905, showing John Milton Hay, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Joseph G. Cannon. It looks like Hay and Cannon are playing against each other, with Roosevelt just enjoying the game. National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian image.

Descriptions of the drawing from the National Portrait Gallery only identify the people portrayed above the chess board. It shows Secretary of State John Milton Hay playing against House Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon, while President Theodore Roosevelt looks on smiling.

That’s it?

It may be quaint today. I have found no description of issues portrayed in the drawing. But it’s a curious collision of now mostly-overlooked history.

NPG lists the drawing by Charles Davis Mitchell as circa 1905. We might presume it to be before July 1, 1905, since that’s the day John Hay died. If 1905, it’s after Roosevelt’s election in November 1904 — whether before or after his March inauguration, we don’t know.

Mitchell was famous for his drawings later, of women, for fashion magazines. We can assume he did other illustrations of political people — but those drawings don’t come up in quick searches.

Joe Cannon is a legendary Speaker of the House, after whom the first House Office Building is named (there are three: Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn). Early in Roosevelt’s first term Cannon complained that Hay had not consulted enough with Congress on foreign policy initiatives, but by 1905 that rankle had largely died down, as I read it.

John Hay may be the most interesting figure in the drawing. Hay was personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln. He had been active in statecraft and politics after Lincoln’s death, serving in diplomatic posts and supporting James Garfield’s campaign, for example — but Garfield did not offer him a cabinet position, and Hay returned to private life and writing the definitive biography of Lincoln with Lincoln’s other secretary and Hay’s colleague, John George Nicolay. After Garfield’s assassination, Hay was much in the political wilderness for a few years. Hay and Nicolay published ten volumes of the history of Abraham Lincoln in 1890.

Hay returned to government as U.S. Ambassador to Britain, and then as Secretary of State in 1898, in the first administration of William McKinley. McKinley was victim of the third assassination of a U.S. president — Hay and Lincoln’s son Robert share an uncomfortable closeness to the three assassinations. When Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency in 1901 he kept Hay at State. Hay remained there until his death.

What does the illustration attempt to illuminate? Was this meant as a barbed cartoon, or did it illustrate an article on politics of the time? Details from the National Portrait Gallery do not say.

Delicious mystery. Was this image ever published? Does it have greater historical significance on events of 1905? Was either Hay or Cannon a chess player? Mystery.

 


Scrooge’s continuing Christmas gift: Appropriate words for seeing 2020 out

December 11, 2020

I wish it were not so. These words of Dickens’s through Scrooge, remain salient, damning and depressing, every day Donald Trump holds the Oval Office. Now Trump’s been impeached, but left in place, and defeated by American voters, but he still sits on his throne, messing up America in every way he can think to do it.

And so our annual post on the lessons we take from “A Christmas Carol.”

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via Pinterest.

It’s a Quote of the Moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later), Trump’s platform, and life, edited down to just three words, in green:

Darkness is cheap,
and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

Isn’t that the entire GOP platform in three words? “Darkness is cheap.” Substitute “Trump” for “Scrooge,” you’ve got the picture. Three more words than the actual Republican National Platform of 2020, but more accurate.

I think of that line of Dickens’s often when  I read of the celebrations of calumny that pass as discourse in Republican politics these days. Although, with the 2008 renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, with the 2020 coming of COVID-19, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap. With the advent of Donald Trump’s insult politics, offending America’s allies and all American ethnic groups possible, with un-ironic calls to drop nuclear weapons, GOP politics is even darker than ever.

Cheap or not, darkness remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

Here is the sentence Dickens put before the quote, to add a little context; Scrooge was climbing a very large, very dark staircase.

Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

Speaking of darkness, a longer excerpt from a bit later in Dickens’s story, when the Ghost of Christmas Present ushers Scrooge to glimpse what is in the present, but what will be the future if Scrooge does not repent:

‘Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,’ said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, ‘but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?’

‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’

‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?’ The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

Think of 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, children abused in Central America and in the Middle East, fleeing as best they can, only to die, off the shores of Greece, on the southern deserts of the U.S., or be cast into incarceration after having achieved a nation whose very name promised them refuge, the United States. “Two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable,” Dickens described. Whose children? “Man’s.” Yours, and mine.

Christmas is a festival to celebrate light, what many Christians call “the light of the world?” If so, let us work to stamp out the darkness which the unrepentant Scrooge so dearly loved.

Darkness may be cheap, but it is not good.  Light a candle, and run into the darkness, spreading light. We need more light.

Hope you have a merry Christmas in the making for 2020. Let us remember, as Tom and the late Ray Magliozzi always reminded us, the cheapskate pays more in the end, and usually along the way. Is Darkness cheap? Let us then eschew it as too costly for a moral nation, too costly for a moral people.

Is Donald Trump as smart as Ebenezer Scrooge? Is his heart as good as Scrooge’s heart?

If Trump died, who would attend his funeral?

When we die, who will mourn our passing? Which spirit moves us to action?

God bless us, every one. Or gods, or family and friends bless us, as the case may be.

More:

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

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Silence him. Vote.

October 30, 2020

Screen capture from Joe Biden ad, "Silence him. Vote by drop box."

Screen capture from Joe Biden ad, “Silence him. Vote by drop box.”

Another stellar ad from Joe Biden’s very good team of advertising makers, below.

Wish I’d gotten this up a couple weeks ago. But I like a good cartoon anytime. It’s not Tex Avery, not Chuck Jones — but it’s good.

(Yes, the Shannon Watts from Everytown and Moms Demand.)


Ten most terrifying words in English language

September 28, 2020

Here. Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune, and for Cagle Cartoons.

Ten most terrifying words in the English language; Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune and Cagle Cartoons.

When is the Pulitzer committee going to give Bagley the prize for his work?
Tip of the old scrub brush to Twitter, and @PatBagley.


Signs of life; how we remember candidates

September 26, 2020

Campaign sign, “Biden and the Lady who made Brett Kavanaugh Cry 2020,” found on Twitter.

Not sure where this sign is, but I want one for the hearings and Senate vote.

Women on the Senate Judiciary Committee improve things a lot. Especially true for Kamala Harris.

More:


“It’s mourning in America”

May 15, 2020

Republican campaign consultants and others who want to save the Republican Party, and America, from Donald Trump, put a fine twist on the old Ronald Reagan campaign ad from 1984, “It’s Morning in America.”

“Mourning in America” came out of the The Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who find Donald Trump to be unacceptable as a president, including Rick Wilson, the author of Everything Trump Touches Dies.

At their YouTube site, the project say:

Donald Trump’s failed presidency has left the nation weaker, sicker, and teetering on the verge of a new Great Depression.

News accounts say this video’s one actual broadcast, in Washington, D.C., was seen by Trump, who erupted in a fountain of angry Tweets indicating that the ad hit where its makers and funders wanted it to hit.

In just a few months, over 71,000 American lives have been lost to this deadly disease, a loss that stands in glaring contrast to the president’s assertion, just a few weeks ago, that it would just “disappear . . . like a miracle.”

Trump didn’t create this virus. But his failure to prepare the nation for the pandemic has directly contributed to the growing number of COVID-19 deaths as well as economic devastation.

As of Wednesday, more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs. Millions more will likely do so in the weeks ahead. The Paycheck Protection Program, intended to save small businesses across the country, instead distributed much of its funds to large corporations, leaving thousands of small businesses with little hope of survival.

A still from the Lincoln Project’s “Mourning In America” ad.Lesley Becker/”Mourning in America, via Boston Globe

Twain’s novel Huck Finn, published in the U.S., February 18, 1885; “Every fool in town”

February 18, 2020

Today is the 135th anniversary of the U.S. publication of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another installment in the novelization with great embellishment of the childhood of Samuel Clemens in Hannibal, Missouri, before the Civil War. Earlier installments included The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  

Cover and binding of the first edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Wikipedia image

Cover and binding of the first edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel L. Clemens. Wikipedia image

It is THE great American novel. It is the novel in which America faces its coming-of-age, in the metaphysical ramblings of a 13-year-old boy in the dark, on a raft in the Mississippi River, with an escaped slave who is a good friend, and has saved his life. Huck Finn confronts reality: Should he do what the preachers say to do, or should he do the moral thing instead?

America, most of it, grew up with that realization, coming even as it did, a generation after the Emancipation Proclamation.

In a good school, one probably unaffected by the damage done to learning by George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act,” nor more recent purges of quality in the classroom such as “value-added teaching,” “Racing to the Top,” or Common Core State Standards or the folderol conservative backlash against education in general, Tom Sawyer is often a child’s introduction to Twain, and to book-length literature.

In my youth, Tom Sawyer was so popular with teachers, and reading aloud by teachers was considered such a great idea, I think I heard the book three times. I know Mrs. Eva Hedberg, in my third grade class in Burley, Idaho, read parts of it. My recollection is that Mrs. Elizabeth Driggs and Mr. Herbert Gilbert both read it to us, in fourth and fifth grade, in Pleasant Grove, Utah.  (There were other books; I think I heard five of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books between those three teachers.  Reading was golden to them. Mrs. Hedberg even gave me credit for reading encyclopedia, cover to cover, with each letter of the alphabet counted as a book. Our World Book volume for the letter S had disappeared; I’ve never been good at snakes.)

Twain once remarked that he didn’t think a youth could read the Bible and ever draw a clean, fresh breath of air again. Tom Sawyer can similarly haunt the life of a person, though generally to higher moral standards.

I had hoped they’d continue to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When they didn’t, I borrowed it from the Pleasant Grove Junior High Library and read it through. I read it in the middle of the modern civil rights struggle, between 1963’s horrors and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, just as our Vietnam tragedy was really ramping up.

Wait. I remember Mr. Gilbert being stopped by a question on Huck’s father, Pap. This was in Deep Mormonia, in Utah County. Pap drank a bit. Well, that’s not accurate. Pap drank to excess, often. Most of my fellow students had no knowledge of the drinking of alcohol. Their parents didn’t drink, not in front of the children if they did, since imbibing alcohol was a violation of the LDS Church’s Word of Wisdom, a commandment that they treat their bodies as temples, not as amusement parks. That bodily purity rule put alcohol, tobacco and caffeine off-limits. Most of the parents simply didn’t drink. It would have put sugar off-limits, too, had there been enough sugar to abuse as late-20th century America did. Also, there was the issue of the LDS Church having significant holdings in the U & I Sugar Company (Utah and Idaho), which made sugar from beets, and blessed the church with a significant stream of income, from the Coca-Cola bottlers alone. But I digress.

Maybe we did hear some of Huck Finn. I didn’t hear all of it — mumps, or something. And I checked it out on my own later.

In any case, there is that point where Huck Finn grows up and becomes an American who recognizes the possible misfortune awaiting his decision to do something contrary to the advice of the moral poobahs of the moment. But there, on a raft in the middle of the muddy Mississippi, at midnight or near it, Huck decides to do the right thing instead of what the preachers tell him he should do. It’s a nation-turning decision.

   . . .  I went to the raft, and set down in the wigwam to think.  But I couldn’t come to nothing.  I thought till I wore my head sore, but I couldn’t see no way out of the trouble.

After all this long journey, and after all we’d done for them scoundrels, here it was all come to nothing, everything all busted up and ruined, because they could have the heart to serve Jim such a trick as that, and make him a slave again all his life, and amongst strangers, too, for forty dirty dollars.

Once I said to myself it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was, as long as he’d got to be a slave, and so I’d better write a letter to Tom Sawyer and tell him to tell Miss Watson where he was.  But I soon give up that notion for two things: she’d be mad and disgusted at his rascality and ungratefulness for leaving her, and so she’d sell him straight down the river again; and if she didn’t, everybody naturally despises an ungrateful nigger, and they’d make Jim feel it all the time, and so he’d feel ornery and disgraced. And then think of me!  It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame.  That’s just the way:  a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace.  That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared.  Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”

It made me shiver.  And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better.  So I kneeled down.  But the words wouldn’t come.  Why wouldn’t they?  It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him.  Nor from me, neither.  I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come.  It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double.  I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all.  I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it.  You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray.  Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone.  So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway n***** Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.

Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.  But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.  And went on thinking.  And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time:  in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing.  But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.  I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ’stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place.  I took it up, and held it in my hand.  I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it.  I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.

Huck’s deciding he’ll stand by his friend, a great human being, and “go to hell” instead of turning his friend in to continue a life in slavery, is the moment America grew up.

Now Americans pretend to have forgotten that growing up and the lesson Huck learned.

Another line jumped out at me from the start. It is a powerful lesson in government and democracy.

In the course of the novel, Huck falls in with a couple of crooks, the Duke and the King.  They make their swindles in land deals on lands to which they don’t have title.

In Chapter XXVI (26), Huck accompanies the two swindlers to an orphanage of sorts. The Duke and the King decide to sell the orphanage, and leave town before their purchasers discover the sales are frauds. Early on in their hustings they collect a bag of gold. Then Huck sits down to dinner with one of the girls at the place, and he meets a few others who all treat him rather kindly, and in the course of an hour or two he begins to have second thoughts, fearing for the fate of the orphans.

Meanwhile with investments coming in so fast, the Duke and the King ponder leaving town earlier than planned, with at least the bag of gold, fearing they might be discovered. In the course of their conversation, overheard by Huck hiding in the room, the King works to convince the duke that most of the town’s people remain bamboozled:

Well, the king he talked him blind; so at last he give in, and said all right, but said he believed it was blamed foolishness to stay, and that doctor hanging over them. But the king says:

“Cuss the doctor!  What do we k’yer for him? Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?  And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

Savor that one, and let it sink in for a bit. “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson trafficked in democratic institutions at a metaphysical level, understanding men were no angels, as Madison put it, but with a bit of education a people should be able to rule themselves as well as, or better than, a tiny elite, even if that elite were educated. But they understood at the wholesale political level that a check was necessary on the people; in 1822 Madison defended free public education in a letter:

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance.  And a people who mean to be their own governours, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

In Huck Finn, just over a half-century later, Twain was writing about applied politics, the theory, not the hypothesis, on a retail level. Without education for the masses, the group who cynically bamboozles for money or power wins once they’ve got every fool in town on their side.

We have a political system that is more subject to corruption due to lack of education than lack of money.

To an honest politician, this is a huge burden. You won the election? You got the vote of every fool in town?  Then it’s up to you to act wisely, despite their foolishness. Robert Redford’s character in “The Candidate” pulls an upset win in a U.S. Senate race — the film closes with the candidate, rather scared, sitting down with the party-provided campaign advisor, and asking in all earnestness: “What do we do now?”

Happy anniversary, Huck Finn. Perhaps we should fly the flag today in honor of the publication of the book. We would fly it a bit nervously, perhaps.

What do we do now?

Illustration by E. W. Kemble,  from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

“Asleep on the raft” — Illustration by E. W. Kemble, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain himself hired E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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Scrooge’s continuing Christmas gift: Trump administration reduced to three words

December 23, 2019

I wish it were not so. These words of Dickens’s through Scrooge, remain salient, damning and depressing, every day Donald Trump holds the Oval Office. Now Trump’s been impeached, but he still sits on his throne, messing up America in every way he can think to do it.

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via Pinterest.

It’s a Quote of the Moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later), Trump’s platform, and life, edited down to just three words, in green:

Darkness is cheap,
and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

Isn’t that the entire GOP platform in three words? “Darkness is cheap.” Substitute “Trump” for “Scrooge,” you’ve got the picture.

I think of that line of Dickens’s often when  I read of the celebrations of calumny that pass as discourse in Republican politics these days. Although, with the 2008 renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap. With the advent of Donald Trump’s insult politics, offending America’s allies and all American ethnic groups possible, with un-ironic calls to drop nuclear weapons, GOP politics is even darker than ever.

Cheap or not, darkness remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

Here is the sentence Dickens put before the quote, to add a little context; Scrooge was climbing a very large, very dark staircase.

Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

Speaking of darkness, a longer excerpt from a bit later in Dickens’s story, when the Ghost of Christmas Present ushers Scrooge to glimpse what is in the present, but what will be the future if Scrooge does not repent:

‘Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,’ said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, ‘but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?’

‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’

‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?’ The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

Think of 2014, 2015, and 2016, children abused in Central America and in the Middle East, fleeing as best they can, only to die, off the shores of Greece, on the southern deserts of the U.S., or be cast into incarceration after having achieved a nation whose very name promised them refuge, the United States. “Two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable,” Dickens described. Whose children? “Man’s.” Yours, and mine.

Christmas is a festival to celebrate light, what many Christians call “the light of the world?” If so, let us work to stamp out the darkness which the unrepentant Scrooge so dearly loved.

Darkness may be cheap, but it is not good.  Light a candle, and run into the darkness, spreading light. We need more light.

Hope you had a merry Christmas in 2016. Let us remember, as Tom and the late Ray Magliozzi always reminded us, the cheapskate pays more in the end, and usually along the way. Is Darkness cheap? Let us then eschew it as too costly for a moral nation, too costly for a moral people.

Is Donald Trump as smart as Ebenezer Scrooge? Is his heart as good as Scrooge’s heart?

More:

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

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Nate White’s stunning answer to the question: Why do many British people not like Donald Trump?

June 24, 2019

It was a question asked on Quora last February 12: Why do many British people not like Donald Trump?

Nate White is a London-based copy writer — that is, advertising guy. His Quora profile says, “Drinks coffee. Writes copy.” Nate took a swing at answering the question, and knocked that ball into orbit.

The 90 year-old Queen is forced to go around our idiot President,
who doesn’t even know how to walk properly.” (The Wow Report)

Sadly, for some reason the thread has been deleted from Quora (threats from Trump’s side?) Several people were inspired to preserve it on blogs and in other forms. Ronald Lebow (@RonaldLebow) posted the piece in a series of Tweets, a thread, recently, and I finally found the entire piece from which I had seen only parts quoted before.

Here is Nate White’s answer to the question, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump.” It’s written so well, so strongly, that I wonder whether an intelligent rebuttal could ever be done.

A few things spring to mind…

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll.

And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think

‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’

is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.

You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form;

He is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit.

His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?’

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

Nate White, answering a question on Quora
Brits fly a Trump Baby balloon over London which makes the POTUS “feel unwelcome.”
(Photo, YouTube; T/Y Michaelam via The Wow Report)

Quora offers no explanation for why the question was taken down from its forums. I’ve found nothing to suggest Mr. White had pangs of remorse. If you have more details, please let us know, in comments.


Something broke in America this week

April 13, 2019

Photograph of the diorama of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 at the Chicago History Museum. Much of America feels like that night in Chicago.http://larchivista.blogspot.com/2011/08/chicago-history-museum-and-old-town.html

It’s a Twitter thread from David Rothkopf. It’s not hopeful, but it’s important to read and digest.

Rothkopf is CEO of the Rothkopf Group, a high-level consulting firm on international and world problems, based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Rothkopf continued his Tweet thread (I won’t post all the Tweets here, just the main content):

The Attorney General sneered at the Congress and placed himself imperiously above its questions. He continued to arrogate onto himself what portions of the Mueller Report–paid for by the people, essentially in its totality to the Congress to do its duty–we would see.

He asserted again that he was the final arbiter of whether obstruction of justice by the president had taken place. He even went so far as to imply that law enforcement authorities carrying out their duty to protect America were somehow “spying”, perhaps illicitly…



David Rothkopf @djrothkopf; his profiles says, ” Proud father of J & L, husband of C, CEO, The Rothkopf Group; host,Deep State Radio;, author of this & that.”

on the Trump campaign. (Ignoring that the reasons for the investigation in question were not only sound…but the core reason…that Russia had sought to aid the Trump campaign in the election had been proven again by Mueller.)

At the same time, the Secretary of the Treasury and the head of the IRS determined to violate a law that required in no uncertain terms for them to provide the president’s tax returns to the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee.

to those who break the law, encouraging a crime and abetting it. We learned that they considered an egregious abuse of power that would involve releasing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities controlled by Democrats.

We saw the president complain that our military would not rough up immigrants. We saw him continue the charade of an emergency at our southern border which was an excuse for him illegally divert government resources to an unnecessary, racist, vanity project.

The president repeatedly called law enforcement officers who investigated him traitors, guilty of treason–a crime that carries with it the death penalty. We discovered that the president considered appointing his grossly unqualified daughter to be head of the World Bank.

It is the stuff of the world’s most dysfunctional governments. But rather than generating a response from within our system commensurate with the threat, nothing occurred. The GOP leaders in the Senate circled round the president and supported his abuses.

In so doing, they sent a message that they would never challenge him much less convict him of the myriad crimes he has committed. The checks and balances our system was built upon are gone. Worse, the courts are being packed with Trump cronies–often unqualified.

Agencies are being left to appointed caretakers some outside the normal chain of succession, many unconfirmed for their current posts by the Senate. Political opponents tip-toed around these crimes daring not to appear “too extreme.”

This is how democracies die. The rule of law is slowly strangled. The unthinkable becomes commonplace. The illegal becomes accepted–from violations of the emoluments clause to self-dealing to Federal election law crimes to serial sexual abuse.

What once was black and white blurs into grey. Right and wrong, old principles, enduring values, fade from memory. Authoritarians arrive in our midst not in tanks but in bad suits and worse haircuts.

I have long thought our system was better than this–more resilient. But candidly, I’m no longer sure. I remain hopeful…hopeful that the next election cycle can redress this manifold wrongs. But it will not be easy. It will be too close. Trump may be with us for six more yrs.

Why? Because we allowed ourselves to become inured to the unthinkable. We are dying the death of a thousand cuts. Right now, this week, the president and his band of thugs are winning. They have become unabashed in their attacks on the law.

They are daring someone to enforce it. But what if…what if the courts rule against them but they ignore it? What if the Treasury Secretary has violated a law and no one arrests him. What if the president steals and canoodles with enemies and he goes unpunished?

Their crimes will only grow more egregious and their ways will only grow more ingrained in our system. Their violations will in fact become the system itself. Corruption will be the norm-greater corruption,to be sure,since it it was corruption that got us here in the first place.

End of the Tweet thread from David Rothkopf

Here is how some others responded on Twitter.

What do you think? Comments are open.


Annals of global warming: Rio Tinto urges mining companies to act on Paris Accord

April 13, 2019

Rio Tinto mines metals, not coal. Still it’s notable when a mining company threatens action if mining company associations do not act to enforce the goals of the Paris Accord, don’t you think?

Tweet from environmental lawyer Elaine Johnson @ElaineEDO

According to the news article in The Guardian, Rio Tinto’s position has been carefully worked out over the past two years.


Rio Tinto has signalled it is prepared to quit its membership of industry associations, including the Minerals Council, if it makes public statements inconsistent with Australia’s Paris climate agreement commitment.
The company published a global statement on Thursday night setting out its expectations of the industry bodies it belongs to about commentary they make on climate policy.
It includes an expectation that Australian industry associations will publicly argue against government subsidies for coal.
The statement comes after more than a year of talks between Rio Tinto and the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, a not-for-profit group that targets social, environmental and governance issues within large corporations.

Rio Tinto published its environmental statement, urging action against global warming climate change, in 2017. Another giant company using natural resources, urging the rest of us to be wise stewards of the Earth.

It’s a start.


Just how much does Nancy Pelosi own Donald Trump?

February 26, 2019

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump, at the State of the Union 2019. News photo via Leah McElrath.

A poem for our time, from our time, for the State of the Union, and 2019, from Houston poet Leah McElrath.

(Untitled)

I have threaded
the balls
that were on
your body

onto
this special necklace
crafted
for tonight

Forgive me
but they are mine now
so small
and orange

#SOTU
#SOTU2019


Special tip of the old scrub brush to Leah McElrath, on Twitter.




Beto’s convention speech

February 13, 2019

Beto O’Rourke, to the Texas State Democratic Convention in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sound feed came from a microphone on the camera, and not from the arena sound system — so it’s rather crummy.

But I’m not finding the official Texas Democratic Party version of this speech all the way through. And I think it ought to be preserved.

It’s not a usual “thanks for supporting me; let’s go win” convention speech. It demonstrates what happens when a thinking candidate tailors remarks to the audience in the hall, somethings thinking as she or he goes.

It’s why Texas should have sent him to the Senate.

Beto O'Rourke keynote at the Texas State Democratic Party Convention in Fort Worth, in June 2018. Fort Worth Star-Telegram video, screen capture.

Beto O’Rourke keynote at the Texas State Democratic Party Convention in Fort Worth, in June 2018. Fort Worth Star-Telegram video, screen capture.


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