Category Archives: Journal

What happens after we turn 80?

That interests me of course, what happens. Actually what is happening, for I’m already  84. I have called my blog, Dans Mes Quatrevingtans, that is, in my eighties.  In just six years will I call it, if alive, in my nineties? How about In my hundreds. I just read that the “oldest person”  in the world, Emma Morano, an Italian in her 110s, has just died at age 117.

I do want to write about these years at the end of life, perhaps more so than I wanted to write about any earlier period. If you asked me why is that I couldn’t say. For there’s nothing exciting about my life now, although in our favor my wife and I don’t live in a retirement community where things can be dull, but rather in an active, busy residential area, in South Tampa, where there’s  always a lot going on, new home construction, lots of it, and neighbors who could be us 40 or 50 years ago, mostly all young with young children (and a lot of dogs, and that’s where we see them mostly, walking their dogs).

And then right across the street from our front door is a city park, Friendship Center, our “Luco” (as we call it, from the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris), where there are always park visitors, mostly parents and their small children, talking, playing, on the swings and slides, and often celebrating using the park facilities for their get togethers with friends and their birthday parties with family members. The result is that we see a lot of the young people living in booming South Tampa but little or nothing of people our own age whom we might ask about what they’re doing in their eighties. But to hear from them to listen to their voices we would have to go South to Naples or Fort Myers.

So given our separation now in our old age from our peers, not to mention from the few friends remaining, also in their old age, but somewhere else usually far from Florida if they are still alive, our own eighties are to a large extent, unplanned and unwished for solitary femurexperiences. Although no surprise that the young couples we meet don’t want to hear about how well we’re sleeping or whether we’re back to walking again and even riding our bikes, following a bad fall and a broken femur, the latter while walking too fast and not looking, that which we shouldn’t have been doing at all at our age.

Then just earlier today while looking over my notes and collections of my thousands of readings from earlier years, which I’ve never wanted to let go, I stumbled on this article by Lewis H. Lapham from the New York Times Magazine of October 23, 2014, “After 80, some people don’t retire. They reign.”

Lapham was himself 79 when he wrote these brief portraits of men and women in their 80s and 90s, old masters he calls them, all rich in the rewards of substantial and celebrated careers. “Why do they persist,” Lapham asked, ” the old masters, with an unceasing effort to discover or create something new? Why not rest on the laurels and the oars?”

People like Sophocles who in his early 90s wrote “Oedipus at Colonus”  filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, 84,  I. F. Stone who began the study of ancient Greek in his 70s, T. Boone Pickens, 86, chairman of BP Capital Management, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 81, Edward O. Wilson, naturalist and author, 85, Ginette Bedard, long-distance runner at 81, Tony Bennett, singer, 88, Christopher Plummer, actor, 84, Carl Reiner, actor, 92, Senator Dianne Feinstein, 81, and a number of others.

And then there’s Lapham himself who writes at 79 about his own writing career:

When I was 6, I delighted in the act of writing, at 12, in the expecting that by the time I turned 21, I would know how to make of it an art. The birthday came and went, and no dog showed up with the bird in its mouth. Before I was 30, I’d written seven drafts of a first novel mercifully unpublished; I consoled myself with the thought that by the time I was 40, I would know what I was doing. Another dream that didn’t come true, and so when I was 45, I began to explore the uses of the essay, the term from the French essayer (to try, to embark upon, to attempt), the form experimental and provisional, amenable to multiple shifts of perspective and tone, and therefore the best of instruments on which to practice the playing with words. The essay proceeds from the question “What do I know?” and doesn’t stay for an answer until the author finds out what he means to say by setting it up in a sentence, maybe catching it in the net of a metaphor.

On the way through my 50s I could see signs of progress, producing manuscripts that required only extensive rewriting, not the abandonment of the whole sorry mess of a dumb idea. Revisions pursued through six or seven drafts allowed for the chance to find the right word, to control the balance of a subordinate clause, to replace the adjective with a noun. I didn’t enlist the help of a computer because words so quickly dressed up in the costume of print can pretend to a meaning and weight they neither enjoy nor deserve. Writing with a pen on paper, I can feel the shape and sound of the words, and I’m better able to judge how and why one goes with another, and on approaching the age of 70 I toyed with the hope that success was maybe somewhere not far away in a manger or on the near side of a rainbow.

Now I am 79. I’ve written many hundreds of essays, 10 times that number of misbegotten drafts both early and late, and I begin to understand that failure is its own reward. It is in the effort to close the distance between the work imagined and the work achieved wherein it is to be found that the ceaseless labor is the freedom of play, that what’s at stake isn’t a reflection in the mirror of fame but the escape from the prison of the self.

The men and women Lapham writes about are all my age. But they’ve all been creators, have done something special, extraordinary with their lives. I haven’t. They make me aware of all I haven’t done in the same number of years. Also as Lapham points out, now in their 80s and 90s they haven’t stopped, painting, acting, singing, writing, running….

Now in my 80s this is where in my own small manner I join up with them. And while I have few successes to my name, if any, comparable artistic, intellectual, athletic or other life achievements, I do share very much with them a life when I’m writing during most of time left to me, and trying to write better, to better express my thoughts, and yes, as the philosopher says, trying to better know myself, and as everyone says, trying to go on  with my own lifelong education.

Lately I’ve been reading Ayn Rand, probably because of the followers she has even today among the Republican majorities, first in the Tea Party and now in the House of Representatives, led by a life-long Rand follower, Paul Ryan. I’m not a fervent follower of Ayn Rand myself. For me her views were not complete. Or rather the coin of human nature has two sides and she wrote only about the one of them, individualism but not about collectivism on the other side. They need each other, are both essential for our happiness, and she never seemed to understand that.

But now, in my 80s, I very much agree with many of her ideas, in particular with what she has Kira Argounova say to Comrade Taganov (really Ayn Rand herself) in what I think is Rand’s best book, We The Living.  (In the following text I have considerably edited/altered Rand’s text but I have not altered, I trust, its meaning. To read the original text go to Part1, Chapter Five of We The Living.) or see below Continue Reading.

Kira:  “Haven’t you ever wanted, Comrade, a thing for no reason save one: that you wanted it?…And then when you’ve found it, and when you think you’re right, you do that thing at any cost?

“You have your ideals, Comrade Taganov, and your Party, no matter how much it promises to accomplish, no matter what paradise it plans to bring to mankind… there’s always one false claim that you and your Party make, one that will turn your paradise into the most unspeakable hell. This is your claim that man must live for the state.

“And you ask, than this, what better purpose can man live for?  Don’t you know?”  Here Kira’s voice trembled suddenly in a passionate plea she could not hide. “Don’t you know that there are things in the very best of us, that must not be touched by any collective, by any number of millions? Things sacred because, and only because, one can say of them: ‘These are mine alone.’ Comrade Taganov,” she whispered, “how much you still have to learn!”

The individuals that Lewis Lapham is writing about in their 80s and 90s show us clearly there are things within each one of them that only they can know and touch. They have been living their long lives to pursue what’s deep within them, for that which is theirs by nature, theirs alone. What they have done has not been done for something that is outside of them. And to some degree aren’t their lives telling us that the very best of us live only for ourselves?

In regard to my own life I would say that to the extent that I have lived for others, for family, my students, for organizations where I have worked, I have necessarily neglected myself. This is probably how most of us live, and probably most of us see it as the way to live, no longer for the State perhaps, but for others. Balancing the individual and the collectivity, —the two sides of the coin. Not like the men and woman Lapham writes about, where there was probably little or no balance. To speak in the language of Ayn Rand we are probably not selfish enough. They were.

Continue reading What happens after we turn 80?

Taking stock, one more time.

Now in my 85th. year I ask myself what do I know?

In this sense, do I know anything at all that I could in one-to-one, apprentice type situations pass on to someone else? How to play the violin, for example, how to describe the night sky, how to repair an automobile engine, and, particularly relevant to my own life as being a few of my own personal failures, the Russian language, differential equations, and any number of other like fascinating subject matters, including my reading of just this morning, “Is there a gene for Racism?” (No)

Haven’t the greatest among us acquired the requisite skills and knowledge of which I speak? And haven’t they through their works passed on to us at least to some extent their skills and understandings? Reading them and getting to know and to the extent possible understand their work has been the real story of my life.

Just in modern times I think of Shakespeare, Galileo and Newton in the 17th. century, of James Watt, Leonhard Euler, and Adam Smith of the 18th., of Edison, Pasteur, and Darwin in the 19th, and in our own time of of Einstein, Mandela, and Richard Feynman (whose Physics Lectures I’ve been struggling with all my life).

I have somehow lived a life, my life, and as I say above, have learned little or nothing myself, of substance, of real significance, let alone anything at all that I could, with the confidence that I would be heard and understood, pass on to someone else.

And the great irony of this is that, if I have accomplished anything in my 84 years, it’s that I’ve helped to found a school, school being, of course, where skills and knowledge are passed on to others. I have to admit that on my part the skills and knowledge were not there. Not there to start with, although I must have pretended that they were, and  certainly not there now in my 85th year when I’m literally grasping at the straws of knowledge that are still out there, and to me still unknown, and that I still might make, with yet more struggle and hard work, my own.

Furthermore what then might I say now about my own role in an independent middle and high school that I founded and where my wife and I both worked many years? My role couldn’t have been my own ability and readiness to pass on to the young my own skills and knowledge which were minimal or non existent. What then could it have been?

To that question I think I may now know the answer. I seem to have, for most of my adult life, that which began in France the summer of 1951, while accomplishing little or nothing myself, I seem at least to have recognized what many others have accomplished, if only just a few of all those skills and knowledge that man has acquired during the tens of thousands of  years of the common history of us, of humanity, of homo sapiens.

The acquisition of course, is still going on, and it may very well be accelerating. So what was my role in the school I founded with my wife? It does seem to me to be that I have almost always understood what at best school, any school ought to be most about, this being to help the young to come to something like “my own view”  and recognition of what is the true achievement, the true greatness of man. That which is not there to begin with. Is it there, we would ask and hope, at the end of schooling?

“It’s all just smack talk, baby. All of it.” David Horsey,

I’ve called Trump a liar,

citing as evidence a few of his outrageous statements and tweets, Obama’s supposed wiretapping of Trump’s phones for example. But now I would revise the liar epithet changing it to smack-talking. Smack talking is Donald’s mother tongue. That’s what he has been speaking all along. Not too different from the pre-fight talk of Muhammad Ali who in the 1960s evidently released a popular full-length album consisting largely of smack or trash-talk “poetry.”

Muhammad Ali called his “poetry” collection, I Am the Greatest! And as I think about that now isn’t this exactly how Trump would come onto the stage at the presidential candidate debates, projecting himself as “the greatest?” In any case he would always give all importance, not to his ideas which I might charitably say he doesn’t have, but to his great numbers in the polls, the very sort of smack-talk he would do later during and after the presidential election, as if by his superior numbers (for the most part probably made up by himself of whole cloth) he was putting down his opponents, much as Muhammad Ali would put down his opponent by his “I’m the Greatest” trash talk prior to the fight. Of course the big difference between the two is that Muhammad was the greatest, heavyweight boxer anyway.

It was an article in the Los Angeles Times, by David Horsey (yes, that’s right, “Horsey”) entitled, Smack-talking Trump tweets his way toward legal trouble, that first got me thinking about all this. Who was the first to make the connection between Trump’s tweets and trash-talk? I didn’t and I probably should have. And it probably wasn’t Horsey no matter how well he now writes about the subject. The tweets were more smacking than lying although I didn’t see it at first.

In any case I was never comfortable with the liar moniker on Trump. Smack-talk is better. While smack-talk is all lies these lies are somehow less offensive than real lies, and we see Trump as an adept in locker room trash talk rather than a full member of any circle of conspiracy theorists including the real liars out there, and helas many of whom are within Trump’s inner circle of strategic advisors, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, the Infowars guy, Alex Jones, Sean Hannity,  Rush Limbaugh and their ilk, these people, and there are tens of thousands of them, being much more than our child-president, the greatest threat to our liberal democracy.

Trump was probably never up to the level of being a real, authentic liar. For me he doesn’t come across as an evil person, rather hugely ignorant, full of himself, impatient with others and a playground bully. He probably never saw himself, still probably doesn’t see himself, as telling lies so much as smacking down others who are his competition on the playground, be it real estate where for many years he was smacking together deals, and now in our national politics where he is at least trying to do the same thing, although so far with little success. Also I don’t think Trump ever hated Hillary, or President Obama, but saw himself as being obliged to talk smack to both of them, and thereby smack both of them down that they be no threat to him. And in these two instances, at least, he does seem to have eliminated the competition.

Here’s the Horsey article (March 13, 2017) I refer to without the author’s illustrations. For that I’d encourage you to follow the link.

Our put-upon president has spent a lifetime talking smack, like a street kid in a pickup basketball game in Queens. Insults and demeaning remarks are just part of the game and part of his persona. When he called Mexicans “rapists” and said “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz’s father helped kill JFK, it was all in fun, right? Who could fail to see what was really in his heart (the biggest heart anyone has ever had, by the way)?

David Horsey

This is a man who built his business on boasts. Everything he did was “big league,” “huge,” “tremendous.” He never expected anyone to fact-check his endless claims that whatever he did was the best and biggest in the history of the world (or to sue him for fraud when they discovered their Trump University degree was worthless). Who knew some smarty-pants would count how many people really showed up for his inauguration, rather than taking his word for it that it was the largest crowd in history?

Poor Donald. He has now blustered his way into a job where his every comment is analyzed and picked apart as if the wrong phrase might start a war or set off an economic panic. What is he supposed to do, change his ways at age 70 just because he is president of the United States?

Apparently, the answer is yes, because not only has he gotten himself in trouble for what he says, but for the things he says that he subsequently tries to edit. The chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, have sent a letter to the White House warning the president that, every time he deletes or alters a tweet, he may be violating the Presidential Records Act. Pretty much everything a president says in public is, by law, part of the official record, even a poorly spelled, ill-conceived tweet dashed off in the wee hours of the morning.

The day Trump discovered Twitter must have been better than his wedding day (or days). Wives come and go, but tweets are endless. Finally, he had a way to share every malign observation and crackpot rumor that lodged between his ears — not just with whoever happened to be in the room, but with the whole adoring world. Obviously, it has become addicting. Asking him to stop would be like asking Winnie the Pooh to forgo honey, like asking Elvis never to move his hips, like asking a nymphomaniac to become a nun. Like a meth addict looking for the next rush, Trump cannot resist tweeting out boasts and smack talk. It seems not to matter to him that he is making trouble for himself and his administration.

Just days after giving a speech before Congress in which he inspired a tremulous hope that he might have the capacity to do more than be a caricature of the worst president imaginable, Trump sent off another early-morning tweet. This one accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of committing a major felony by wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

FBI Director James Comey quickly urged the White House to make clear that the accusation lacked any basis in fact. Instead, Trump’s minions doubled down and demanded that Congress investigate. Republicans rolled their eyes. Giddy Democrats jumped at the invitation. They knew an investigation offered two possibilities: either they would quickly expose the truth that Trump had mindlessly latched on to a fallacious rant by a right-wing talk radio performer, or they would find that there really was a wiretap — one authorized by law to follow connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian hackers who subverted the U.S. election. For Democrats, it would be a win, one way or another.

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe took to Twitter to argue that Trump’s accusation against Obama was “an impeachable felony in reckless disregard of truth.” Nevertheless, Trump did not retract anything, though insider reports said the president was privately admitting he had taken things a step too far this time.

Sad, isn’t it? How could one impetuous tweet cause so much trouble after he had gotten away with so many others? The president must feel so misunderstood, so beset by unpoetic literalists. After all, Trump has never been especially concerned with connecting the things he says to actual facts or deeply held beliefs. It’s all just smack talk, baby. All of it.

Blog Notes, February 12, 2017

What are the real issues facing our country?

They’re not, I believe, the subject matter of the President’s tweets. They’re not the porous Mexican border to the South. For bad people and drugs are never stopped by border walls. Nor are they the whereabouts of the Islamic terrorists. For how many Americans have ever encountered a member of ISIS, let alone been blown up by one?

These and other non issues that the President would address, first at the loud and raucous rallies during the campaign and now daily in his tweets are red herrings that function to keep his followers if not the whole country away from any real path to any real solution to any real problem.

Does the President even realize just how far from the real needs of the country are his own pieces of fake news, the wall, ISIS, the millions of illegal immigrants? Probably not. In any case his concerns probably stem from no research of his own, which he apparently never does, but come from the same small clique of advisors who got him elected in the first place, from the two Stevens, Bannon and Miller, from the  two former United States Senators, Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions, along with their choral director, Kellyanne Conway, and  principal soloist Sean Spicer..

This is not a President who reads. I take the following excerpts from Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article, Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz , Tells All, of July 25 of last year.  “The Art of the Deal,” says Meyer, made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth and [now] regrets it.
Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance…. That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites….I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”   During the eighteen months that Schwartz observed Trump,  he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment.

During 18 months he never saw Trump with a book! Is it safe to assume that this guy does little if any independent reading of his own and in his ignorance may even believe that the porous wall on our Southern border and ISIS together are the biggest threats we face. And he may even believe what he’s always repeating that his first job to assure the nation’s security (by the extreme vetting of refugees??!!).

What terrible things haven’t been done, even in our land of the free and the brave, in the name of national security? Right now, daily, we read how our agents, not my agents, Trump’s and Miller’s and Bannon’s agents? are separating long term illegal residents, who are not criminals, from their own children because they are a threat to our national security?

Trump may be a bit closer to a real problem when he talks about job losses, but he’s completely wrong about their causes and solutions. In fact jobs never stay in one place for long, other than those, say, of being a mother or father. Maybe it was at one time that one could spend a lifetime at the same job, but not any more.

Jobs are always changing and the changes, what some call job losses, result because  we are always finding more profitable ways to do things. Would Trump really want us to go back to burning coal, thereby giving some permanency to miners working under ground in the West Virginia and Kentucky hill country, that life itself being for the miners a kind of living death? Also, would Trump really want to return living people to the factory assembly lines in order to replace the non living robots that had earlier replaced them?

When Trump talks about bringing things back to the way they were, or, as he sees it, making things great again, does he even know what he means by that? When were things ever great, and what would they look like if they were ever great? Does anyone know?

Hasn’t happened. Nor could we know if it did happen. The bottom line is that things are probably greater now than they ever were. Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Estate and castle must know this. If nothing else there’s more food on the table, his table for sure and the tables of most of us, enough to feed more people than there ever were.

And furthermore how about the fact that the present unemployment rate of 4.7% is the lowest since the last years of the presidency of George W Bush, and this in spite of the fact that there was nothing done during the eight years of the presidency of Barack Obama to either close our Southern border with Mexico or to prevent our manufacturing plants and jobs from being transferred overseas? Here again Trump seems to completely ignore the facts.

So what’s left to our President in the way of real issues and problems? Is there anything there of substance? Perhaps in regard to health care (or education) But about both of these he has little  of substance to say, other than that Obama Care has been a disaster (as has public school education, as has NAFTA, as has the Iran Nuclear Deal, as has….) He has few ideas of his own about what to do to correct the disasters, be it Obama Care, NAFTA or the Iran Nuclear Deal, or even, as in one of his tweets, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term at Celebrity Apprentice.

China, Russia, Iran, do they represent big trouble needing big attention? In regard to all three no one knows what’s on Trump’s mind, if anything much, other than perhaps lately and little by little coming around to the thinking of his predecessor in the Oval Office, Barack Obama.

There have been other things, problems, trivia? that have got his attention. There was the project to send Hillary to prison but Trump abandoned that effort soon after being elected. (And for this he may have lost a good many of the thousands, if not millions of followers who at his rallies would shout following his lead, “lock her up.”)

Then there are nearly daily in his tweets, what he describes as the “fake news stories,” mostly those made up by the Trump haters, to put him down, and eventually perhaps to bring him down, the Times and the Post being most often the creators of these fake stories, attacking him and his family, as the other day when the Times and the Post handled the fake story of Nordstrom’s dropping Ivanka’s “stuff” from their shelves and displays.

Trump’s multiple daily tweets make it clear what’s important to him. If you read them you will quickly see that the most important thing for Trump is winning, is being always right, is being recognized as being always right. And for him to always be right others have to be wrong. His now hundreds, thousands of tweets are either putting someone (John Lewis, Judge Robart) or something (the NYTimes) down, or putting himself and his family, his followers, the Trump name and the Trump businesses up. There’s nothing in between.

I will need to post something just on Trump’s tweets. For tweets are his most favored manner to communicate with us, with the people. If we would know what he thinks we have to read his tweets. Here’s the link. Otherwise he doesn’t write himself. And as we’ve seen he doesn’t read. And when he speaks it’s most unoriginal, in clichés.

Let me conclude this post with a real issue that confronts us, that confronts our country. I take the chart below from an op ed writer at the Times, Thomas Edsall, who is in just about every respect the opposite of Donald Trump. He reads a lot. He thinks about what he reads, and he learns from his reading as he should, and what he learns he shares with us. His columns usually appear a few times, if not once a week, a month and most often he writes about American politics, inequality, campaign strategy and demographics.

His latest column, Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?, contains the chart that I post below:


This chart. by itself shows all too clearly why the country is struggling, and its not the Wall nor ISIS that should disturb us. It’s the fact that in this chart the math SAT scores are segregating our highschool seniors by race as much or more than did Jim Crow in the first half of the 20th. century.

In many respects we overcame the unequal world of Jim Crow. We haven’t yet begun to face up to the, in some respects, even more unequal world of the math SATS. (Edsall didn’t give us the results of the literature SATS, but they too were probably segregated by race.) Knowledgeable people have been aware of this situation, in my own experience, forever. Knowledgeable people have never ceased, almost from the first day some 200 years ago, to reform our schools, to make them places where everyone could be successful, but the reformers have never succeeded.

In the language of Trump our country has never been great in respect to utilizing the talents of all our citizens. Somewhere around half of our people have always been left out, have not had the fulfilling lives that a more thoughtful, more sensible, and more sensitive organization of both school (rather than school, places of learning) and society could have provided.

Edsall’s chart shows just how greatly not so much that we have failed, but that we have allowed what are at the moment anyway “natural” differences to get all the attention. And we have neglected, have done little or nothing to foster and develop the more natural ways that young people are all alike if not the same.

We need a world where SATS are not as now the determining factor in a young person’s future. And this, of course, would require much more than a reorganization, one more reform of our schools. We really need to walk away from it all and begin again. (Something that maybe a Trump like person could have done if he himself hadn’t had so many character defects.)

Imagine a learning place or situation when kids, all kids could be a part of whatever was going on, instead of as now when so many, through no fault of their own, are being left out of much of what is going on.

Two Visions, One America?

January 20. 1993

clinton_02My fellow citizens, today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal. This ceremony is held in the depth of winter, but by the words we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the spring, a spring reborn in the world’s oldest democracy that brings forth the vision and courage to reinvent America. When our Founders boldly declared America’s independence to the world and our purposes to the Almighty, they knew that America, to endure, would have to change; not change for change’s sake but change to preserve America’s ideals: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Though we marched to the music of our time, our mission is timeless. Each generation of Americans must define what it means to be an American.
On behalf of our Nation, I salute my predecessor, President Bush, for his half-century of service to America. And I thank the millions of men and women whose steadfastness and sacrifice triumphed over depression, fascism, and communism.
Today, a generation raised in the shadows of the cold war assumes new responsibilities in a world warmed by the sunshine of freedom but threatened still by ancient hatreds and new plagues. Raised in unrivaled prosperity, we inherit an economy that is still the world’s strongest but is weakened by business failures, stagnant wages, increasing inequality, and deep divisions among our own people.
When George Washington first took the oath I have just sworn to uphold, news traveled slowly across the land by horseback and across the ocean by boat. Now, the sights and sounds of this ceremony are broadcast instantaneously to billions around the world. Communications and commerce are global. Investment is mobile. Technology is almost magical. And ambition for a better life is now universal.
We earn our livelihood in America today in peaceful competition with people all across the Earth. Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world. And the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy. This new world has already enriched the lives of millions of Americans who are able to compete and win in it.

But when most people are working harder for less; when others cannot work at all; when the cost of health care devastates families and threatens to bankrupt our enterprises, great and small; when the fear of crime robs law-abiding citizens of their freedom; and when millions of poor children cannot even imagine the lives we are calling them to lead, we have not made change our friend.
We know we have to face hard truths and take strong steps, but we have not done so; instead, we have drifted.

And that drifting has eroded our resources, fractured our economy, and shaken our confidence. Though our challenges are fearsome, so are our strengths. Americans have ever been a restless, questing, hopeful people. And we must bring to our task today the vision and will of those who came before us. From our Revolution to the Civil War, to the Great Depression, to the civil rights movement, our people have always mustered the determination to construct from these crises the pillars of our history. Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our Nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well, my fellow Americans, this is our time. Let us embrace it.
Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. And so today we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift, and a new season of American renewal has begun.
To renew America, we must be bold. We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, and in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a world in which we must compete for every opportunity. It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice, but it can be done and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake but for our own sake. We must provide for our Nation the way a family provides for its children.
Our Founders saw themselves in the light of posterity. We can do no less. Anyone who has ever watched a child’s eyes wander into sleep knows what posterity is. Posterity is the world to come: the world for whom we hold our ideals, from whom we have borrowed our planet, and to whom we bear sacred responsibility. We must do what America does best: offer more opportunity to all and demand more responsibility from all. It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing from our Government or from each other. Let us all take more responsibility not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country.
To renew America, we must revitalize our democracy. This beautiful Capital, like every capital since the dawn of civilization, is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way. Americans deserve better. And in this city today there are people who want to do better. And so I say to all of you here: Let us resolve to reform our politics so that power and privilege no longer shout down the voice of the people. Let us put aside personal advantage so that we can feel the pain and see the promise of America. Let us resolve to make our Government a place for what Franklin Roosevelt called bold, persistent experimentation, a Government for our tomorrows, not our yesterdays.

Let us give this Capital back to the people to whom it belongs.

To renew America, we must meet challenges abroad as well as at home. There is no longer a clear division between what is foreign and what is domestic. The world economy, the world environment, the world AIDS crisis, the world arms race: they affect us all. Today, as an older order passes, the new world is more free but less stable. Communism’s collapse has called forth old animosities and new dangers. Clearly, America must continue to lead the world we did so much to make.
While America rebuilds at home, we will not shrink from the challenges nor fail to seize the opportunities of this new world. Together with our friends and allies, we will work to shape change, lest it engulf us. When our vital interests are challenged or the will and conscience of the international community is defied, we will act, with peaceful diplomacy whenever possible, with force when necessary. The brave Americans serving our Nation today in the Persian Gulf, in Somalia, and wherever else they stand are testament to our resolve. But our greatest strength is the power of our ideas, which are still new in many lands. Across the world we see them embraced, and we rejoice. Our hopes, our hearts, our hands are with those on every continent who are building democracy and freedom. Their cause is America’s cause.
The American people have summoned the change we celebrate today. You have raised your voices in an unmistakable chorus. You have cast your votes in historic numbers. And you have changed the face of Congress, the Presidency, and the political process itself. Yes, you, my fellow Americans, have forced the spring. Now we must do the work the season demands. To that work I now turn with all the authority of my office. I ask the Congress to join with me. But no President, no Congress, no Government can undertake this mission alone.
My fellow Americans, you, too, must play your part in our renewal. I challenge a new generation of young Americans to a season of service: to act on your idealism by helping troubled children, keeping company with those in need, reconnecting our torn communities. There is so much to be done; enough, indeed, for millions of others who are still young in spirit to give of themselves in service, too. In serving, we recognize a simple but powerful truth: We need each other, and we must care for one another.
Today we do more than celebrate America. We rededicate ourselves to the very idea of America, an idea born in revolution and renewed through two centuries of challenge; an idea tempered by the knowledge that, but for fate, we, the fortunate, and the unfortunate might have been each other; an idea ennobled by the faith that our Nation can summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity; an idea infused with the conviction that America’s long, heroic journey must go forever upward.

And so, my fellow Americans, as we stand at the edge of the 21st century, let us begin anew with energy and hope, with faith and discipline. And let us work until our work is done. The Scripture says, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” From this joyful mountaintop of celebration we hear a call to service in the valley. We have heard the trumpets. We have changed the guard. And now, each in our own way and with God’s help, we must answer the call. Thank you, and God bless you all.

January 20, 2017

tr-2-fistsChief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama,
fellow Americans, and people of the world: Thank you.
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.
Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another —

but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
That all change— starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.
January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now.
You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

We are one nation— and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.
But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
There should be no fear — we are protected, and we will always be protected.
We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.
Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger.
In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.
The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.
Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.
We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:
You will never be ignored again.
Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
Together, We will make America strong again.
We will make wealthy again.
We will make America proud again.
We will make America safe again.
And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

While Rex Tillerson and Jeff Sessions confront the Senators…

Charles Beard tells us that “the world is largely ruled by ideas, true and false.”

What did he mean by this? Unfortunately we can’t ask him. He died nearly 60 years ago, in 1948. He may have said somewhere to someone what he meant by that, and I may still find the answer by googling his words on the Internet, but haven’t yet done so.

At the time of this historian’s conclusion that the world was ruled by ideas I was alive and in high school, and if there were ideas there about me I wasn’t aware of them. I was going out on my very first date, at the time,  with an upperclassman and learning to neck. I was also playing football and learning to block and tackle, and my world didn’t go much beyond that sort of thing. In the neighborhood where we lived I would walk to school, and out of school play hard with my friends, until I was older and played football and lacrosse on the school playing fields. In the evenings I was back home trying to stay awake doing homework. What “ruled” my world then? My parents, certainly, my friends, and playing ball, but not my ideas about anything. Did I even have any at the time?

I must have known at the time that we had the bomb. Googling it I see that on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. “The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.”

Four years later in August of 1949 Russia, then the  USSR, exploded its own very first nuclear device. I’ve lived my life, now dansmesquatrevingtans, almost an entire lifetime, waiting as they say for the other shoe to drop. In this case the second shoe when it does drop might be enough to do us all in.

Might Charles Beard have lived a few more years, and experienced the atomic age, would he have said that the world is ruled by ideas? Or by force of arms?  But whatever it was Hiroshima was not an idea. It was real of course, a real nightmare.

Hiroshima has happened to hundreds of thousands of real people, much like us. So would Beard then have said that the world is ruled by the people with the most destructive weapons?

In any case the Pax Americana, that followed, the American century (not yet over), was based upon our having the bomb. BTW, that may be why so many countries have tried, some successfully, most not, to have the bomb. That’s what’s today probably driving the Ayatollahs in Iran. In that regard there are those who say, give them the bomb. There are others who say send it to them in a B-29 bomber, send it to the whole Middle East.

But there is something immediately compelling about Beard’s statement, that which probably originally  attracted me, and pushed me to immediately post it on my blogsite. And although I haven’t yet persuaded myself or anyone else that ideas do rule the world, it’s a work in progress.  I’ll need to persuade you the reader that ideas do and can rule the world. I didn’t know this as a child. Do I know it now as a man?

An interesting question, what ideas may be ruling our world. Our new president doesn’t seem to have any ideas at all, or any you’d want to sign on to. “Make America Great Again”???

Today I listened to Donald Trump’s first press conference. Trump seemed no longer the nonsense spouting idiot he was during the campaign. Nonsense spouting still, but much less, and not at all an idiot. Being elected president will change even the Donald for the better.

But our new guy in Washington continues to bother me. And although I still don’t like him he is not without qualities (that which I couldn’t say of his predecessor, George Bush). He’s still telling untruths, still in a world of untruth, much of his own making.

If he bothers me less today he still doesn’t make me feel good about myself, or the country.  If he bothers me less it’s probably because he’s so close to being the country’s president. That alone is enough to make even Donald Trump interesting. Just nine days from now this guy, still very much a pompous ass, still seeming to believe his own nonsense about the great things he and his appointees are going to do for the country, will be sitting in the Oval Office.

Why I still don’t like him is probably and most of all because he seems unable to laugh at himself. Even as an elected president one ought not to take oneself too seriously. I know he can’t take a joke although I haven’t actually experienced this because his wife and children and more and more the coteries of courtiers always surrounding him probably never risk a joke in his presence.

Does our new president even have a sense of humor, that which in my own personal opinion, even more than the faculty of reason, makes a man a man? I don’t know, but my very preliminary assessment is that he doesn’t. Does that mean that he’s not really a man?…


Seeing things at lunch

The other day my wife and I were outspider1side seated at our back terrace for lunch when she asked me if I saw the araignée. I looked and didn’t see it. I couldn’t imagine how she could look at something that small and see it up there among the branches of the oak tree. I only saw the tree and above it the sky and remained puzzled until she asked me for my iPhone and took a picture of her spider, and only then did I see it.


Yes, that’s right all spiders have eight legs.

My wife, Josée, reminds me, “There is only One Way to Live, the Trump Way”

From the Huffington Post of December 31

Trump Billboard in Mumbai


Outside of cropping the picture above and possibly tweaking the contrast, photographer Paul Needham assured The Huffington Post that the image is neither doctored nor edited in any way.

Needham is the co-founder of SimpaNetworks, a company that helps farmers and small shops in rural India install and use solar power systems. He said he stumbled across the scene while driving through Mumbai to meet with some investors.

He said he was inspired to take the photo because of the jarring juxtaposition of the Trump billboard and the poverty and homelessness down below, and that the text on the billboard struck him as particularly naive and offensive.

“I saw Trump towering over the homeless, the children sleeping on cardboard on the street, and I was reminded of the ways in which our [an] economic system can be painfully exclusive and unfair.”   Paul Needham


“I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.” (from the play, Heauton Timorumenos, by the Roman, Terence)

I’m clearly in over my head (without Lewis’s encyclopedic knowledge) but still writing about him. For this I ask your understanding. And now I’m writing about his 1943 book, The Abolition of Man, which has received probably the most attention of all his works. The National Review ranked the book #7 in its 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century list. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute ranked the book as the second best book of the 20th century. In a lecture on Walker Percy, Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College lists the book as one of six “books to read to save Western Civilization,” — yes that’s right, “to save Western Civilization,”— (the other saviors being  Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, The Everlasting Man  and Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.)

In this book Lewis would defend something he calls “objective value” a kind of natural law, and he would defend it from something that seems to be the activity of scientists, which would do away with objective value, by reduction, by reducing men created in the image of God to natural beings created in no one’s image, without chests, without feeling, without hearts.

Lewis elsewhere (in his book, Present Concerns) tells us there are Three Kinds of Men,  “those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them,”  (probably most of us) and then those “who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society,—and honestly try to pursue their own interests but no further than this claim will allow,” probably almost as many, and finally a third class of those “who can say like St Paul that for them to live is Christ. That the will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs.” Are there any at all of these? Well there are certainly some who would place themselves in this third class.

What about the scientist? A class of his own? Lewis doesn’t mention him specifically. But he is definitely not of the third class, the class to which Lewis himself would belong, those who have given themselves over to Christ. As for the scientist Lewis’s three types of men don’t seem to include him.

But the abolition of man (resulting as it seems from the activity of science) is not what this book, The Abolition of Man, is most about. Rather it’s the book’s Appendix that gets most of my and probably most of Lewis’ own attention, not to mention the book’s many admirers. The Appendix alone, perhaps, is what makes this book one of those six books that would, or could “save Western civilization.”

Lewis says that the Chinese speak of a great something called the Tao, that which is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge into space and time…. This conception of the Way, or Road in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Oriental alike is for Lewis the Tao, in his view, the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, about what we are, about what the universe is. In fact Lewis throughout all his writing is trying to make a case for the “really true.”

But there are a couple of great ironies here. For one, while Lewis would describe what he sees as the abolition of man he is in fact giving us in this book a man inherently moral, not needing God, evidently much alive on this earth well before the coming of Christ, and showing a highly developed understanding of right and wrong. (The restoration rather than the abolition of man?) I come away from the reading of the book, and most of all the book’s Appendix, and suggest a fourth kind of man, a natural moral man, one who is clearly present in all the earlier civilizations of which we have objective evidence, and one who comes closest to ourselves, to what we are, or would be.

The other great irony is that Lewis himself employs the method of the scientist and/or historian, not the Christian (whatever that method might be?), to tell us what he has learned about who we are. To that end he has collected hundreds, perhaps thousands or more illustrations of men’s natural morality, of man’s awareness of right and wrong, such awareness not coming from the teachings of one or another religion but in this instance from Lewis’ own efforts at gaining knowledge of self through his reading. All of this strongly implying that there is objective value, a moral law out there, coming in multiple representations and accessible to all of us. A widely read individual like Lewis himself would be continually encountering these and similar texts in his reading, and we should not be surprised by the Appendix, only that he didn’t see the full significance of what he had done. I call this the Montaigne effect because Montaigne’s essays while similarly rich in source materials also have much to tell us of the nature of man.

Lewis, no less than Montaigne, makes no pretense of completeness, and we know there is much more of the same to be found if we were ourselves were to read as widely and to look further. The idea of collecting independent testimonies of a natural moral law presupposes that civilizations have arisen in the world, often independently of one another, and that they point to multiple emergences of moral man on the planet. Montaigne knew this, Lewis seems not to have understood its full significance.

Lewis does group his evidence (why?) under such titles as the Laws of General and Special Beneficence, Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors, to Children and Posterity, the Laws of Justice, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.

These texts even in these artificial groupings are the evidence of a world-wide moral code that the historian/scientist Lewis himself has brought to our attention. For me, this is enough, the testimonies from so many who have come before us, from men like us. And it is enough to strive to be like them. No God, no religion is necessary.

Below are just a few of the quotations that Lewis has grouped together, presented here in no particular order. From all parts of the known world going back thousands of years the writers of these words are saying pretty much the same things about the nature of man, and in this work of C.S.Lewis, far from being abolished man is restored and reinstated.

‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6)

‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2)

‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17)

‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9)

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7)

‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140)

‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18)

‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)

‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. i. vii)

‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b)

‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9)

‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9)

‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)

‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22)

‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part… and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432)

‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15)

‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels)

‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i)

‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482)

‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15)

‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6)

‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312)

‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless. (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 446)

‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’… ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443)

‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131)

‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180)

‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161)

‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660)

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)

‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890)

‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv)

‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time … let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98)

‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phadeo, 81 A)

‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922)

‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John 12:24,25)

Re-thinking CS Lewis

Lewis, was a good man, and a wise man,

but wrong, terribly wrong, in regard to the respective places he gave to science and religion. I would say even that Lewis was too much a Christian, at least from the time of his own conversion in 1929, and his being too much a Christian, a believer, led him to see

lewis-picturenot the old world in which he grew up, but rather the new world of modern science which he saw taking shape around him, and in particular the uni/multiverse described by the cosmologists, while spectacular, —as a horribly, terribly empty, boundless space where God’s presence was not to be felt. (see “The Empty Universe” in Lewis’ occasional writings, Present Concerns.)

Had Lewis never had a conversion, had he remained an atheist he might have then “believed” in the new world of science and have seen therein more truth and beauty than was to be found in the old world of his youth, and he might have used his own exceptional rhetorical skills to describe that new world, the world of the founding fathers of science, of Galileo, Newton, and Albert Einstein, the world of many of his own friends probably at Oxford and Cambridge.

For then he might have, much as did Carl Sagan and the countless others, whose works were describing in great, beautiful detail the new, the uni/multiverse out there as well as the  earth’s no less beautiful and extraordinary evolutionary history. The works of these men, scientists, writers, and writer scientists, are the fitting and proper replacements for the beautiful, imaginative but no longer relevant works of the Middle Ages, those no less significant works at the time of which Lewis himself never wanted to let go. Lewis somehow, for whatever reason, remained in the past. This was at once his greatness, but also his great failure, the failure not to see what was coming if religion was not put in its proper place.

But there is much to be said in his favor, for in many regards Lewis was a great man. As has been often said Lewis was the classicists’ classicist. A celebrity in his own right. I, a mostly nobody, really am without a soap box of my own on which to stand and say even a single word about him, let alone a critical word. So allow me here to at least acknowledge Lewis’ many and real accomplishments. I take the following from, The Official Website of C.S.Lewis:

Clive Staples Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement.

Lewis wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. C. S. Lewis’s most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics in The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

My own skepticism, my criticism of Lewis and others like him, I would with greater legitimacy direct to the largest group of Christians in America, the Evangelicals, for whom, although I don’t know this, Lewis is probably a hero. It does seem that to some extent the views of the Evangelicals, now some fifty years after the death of Lewis, are changing. Although probably not yet do they recognize, what Lewis himself always refused to admit, or at least acknowledge, the harm that their “mere Christianity” might be doing to the country and the world.

Anyway here’s what they, or at least one of them, is saying: for they do not speak with just one voice.  But not yet are they speaking about the really thrilling discoveries of science, of the size and the origin of the cosmos, of the evolutionary history of birds and mammals, of the origin of us, of all the still great mysteries of science that the men and women of science are bringing to our attention, the quantum theory that no one understands, dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves…

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“evangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.

But my “present concern,” one of them anyway, is something else. It goes back to the words of Jeff Schweitzer in my previous post, “As we witness yet again the brutal and bloody consequences of religious intolerance in the form of ISIS, we have a majority of Republicans pining for a Christian America. Proponents of converting the United States into a theocracy do not see the terrible parallel between religious excess in the Middle East and here at home, but they would not because blindness to reason is the inevitable consequence of religious zealotry.”

Science and religion are not at all the same, and history tells us clearly, although Lewis didn’t see it, nor Billy Graham, nor the millions of evangelical Christians since then and now, that science has better answers than religion to the questions that concern us the most, the three questions of Paul Gauguin, for example, D’ou Venons Nous,  Que Sommes Nous, et Où Allons Nous. And if you put these three together you have much the same question that Art Buchwald, when he was about to die and eating yet another icecream Sunday, asked– “What’s It All About, Alfie?”

I’ve come to my own conclusion that science has more to say about this than religion. While religion has only belief science has the truth to be obtained from careful observation and measurement. What would you rather have, while building a house, or doing anything else? Isn’t the answer obvious? Reason not belief is what we should rely on.

Our greatest problem, right now, today, is that a majority of Americans are still turning to religion, totally unlike the Founding Fathers themselves as Schweitzer makes clear in his article. Our leaders for the most part, rather than turning to science for answers, are still looking for far out answers, in the Bible, the Koran, probably in the sacred books of the Eastern religions as well, not to mention astrology and fortune telling. One result of this being that many of our citizens, many of our people are being condemned because of something that was written thousands of years ago in a now mostly irrelevant and ancient text. Our leaders are not turning to reason, perhaps man’s greatest natural gift, but to feelings, emotions, opinions, and in the worst instances, bigotry and ideology for answers.

The result is that many, not without good reason, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens (the three plus one atheists) see religion, not science, as the greatest existential threat not only to our country, but to the world, to civilization itself. Would that CS Lewis, for all that he did see, that was just and right, had seen this coming. He might have helped to change the way that true believers believed, and thereby grow our hope for the future.