Friday, June 29, 2018

Justice Kennedy Channels Calvin Coolidge

I was struck by a passage in Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion in NIFLA v Becerra, the Supreme Court decision of last week striking down California's attempt to mandate pro-abortion messages be provided by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.  It made a point similar to that of President Coolidge in his 1926 speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Though Kennedy refers to the Constitution and Coolidge to the Declaration both warn of the dangers of progressive thinking which ignores the founding principles of this country.

Justice Kennedy:

The California Legislature included in its official history the congratulatory statement that the Act was part of California's legacy of "forward thinking".  But it is not forward thinking to force individuals to "be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view they find unacceptable".

It is forward thinking to begin by reading the First Amendment as ratified in 1791; to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders knew it; to confirm that history since then shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech; and to carry those lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for the generations to come.  Government must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions.  Freedom of speech secured freedom of thought and belief.  This law imperils those liberties.

President Coolidge:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
The Califo

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Having A Bad Century

On or around June 23 of the year 942, a strange looking army of horsemen arrived outside the city of Lerida in the Caliphate of Cordoba.  The strangers were Magyars, from the area now known as Hungary, on their westernmost raid during the late 9th and early 10th centuries, having already passed through the lands that are now today Austria, Italy, and France.

Though the Caliphate was Muslim, most victims of the pagan Magyars were Christian, and for Christian Europe the period from the early 9th century to the mid-10th was one of constant threats that must have seemed potentially devastating.  It was during this same period that in addition to the Magyars, Vikings (Norsemen) were rampaging across much of the continent, and the Caliphate of Cordoba was at its peak of power while Muslim raiders from North Africa were launching attacks along the northern shores of the Mediterranean.

First to emerge as a threat was Islam (much of this story can also be found in the THC post The Song of Jan Sobieski).  A faith unknown to Europe in 630, a century later it had destroyed the Persian Empire, conquered the most prosperous part of the Byzantine world, and spread across North Africa, reaching the Atlantic, hopping over the Straits of Gibraltar, occupying the Iberian peninsula and the south of France (for an explanation of how Islam was given the opportunity to expand read A Great War).

By the mid-8th century the struggle between the Christian and Muslim worlds seems to have stabilized.  In the east, the Byzantines had recovered enough to at least halt Muslim expansion from gaining a permanent foothold on the Anatolian plateau.  In the west, Charles Martel threw back the invaders at the Battle of Martel, the Muslim occupation of lands north of the Pyrenees ended, and a few decades later Charlemagne crossed those mountains and reconquered Catalonia.

That stability ended early in the next century when a new threat arose in the central Mediterranean from the new consolidated Muslim state controlling what is now Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria.  In 827 the Muslim conquest of Sicily began.  At the same time a wave of Islamic piracy was unleashed all over the Mediterranean world.  Freebooting Muslim raiders established their own mini-states in southern Italy, and hired themselves out to Christian rulers on the Italian peninsula where they fought other Christian states while, in their free time, looting the local inhabitants.  In 846, a Muslim fleet even attacked Rome, looting St Peters, and further attempts on the city were made into the early 10th century.

The raiders captured Christians to take back to Africa for sale as slaves.  Though coastal inhabitants in Italy were most at risk, raiders also penetrated into Greece, the Balkans, France, and even into the Alps.  In 889, Muslim pirates arrived in the Gulf of St Tropez in Provence.  On a plateau a few miles inland they occupied the fortress of Frexinet.  From there they, at times, occupied the Alpine passes to Italy, and the towns of Grenoble, Nice, and Toulon, until being expelled in 973.

The Vikings were next to appear on the scene.  Their first appearance outside their native homelands in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, was in 793 when they descended on the island of Lindesfarne, off the coast of Northumberland in the north of England, looting its holy monastery, and killing its inhabitants.  One English chronicler of the time wrote "Never before in Britain has such a terror appeared".

More than a century of terror followed.  The light and versatile Viking sailing ships allowed the raiders to appear out of nowhere.  Their boats not only roamed the oceans but were able to penetrate far upriver and threaten inland cities.  All of the British isles were under constant attack and Vikings conquered large parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

France was frequently attacked with violent assaults far up both the Loire and Seine Rivers.  During the 9th century, Paris was twice subjected to siege which was only lifted upon hefty ransom payments by the French king.  Finally, in 911 Viking raiders captured Normandy, creating a permanent base from which England and Sicily would be conquered in the following century.

The Iberian peninsula, both Christian and Moslem ruled was also a target with Lisbon and Cadiz the subject of attacks, as was Italy where Pisa was sacked and Florence threatened.

In Eastern Europe, the Vikings penetrated the Russian river network and created the state of Rus, based in Kiev.  The Rus rulers carried out a lively trade with the Islamic Caliphate, sending Slavic slaves and furs south in return for finished goods and luxuries from Moslem lands.

The last of the threats to materialize was that of the Magyars, who are better known today as the Hungarians.  The Magyars originated as a nomadic tribe from the great Asia steppes that stretch from the Dnieper River to the borders of China.  Sometime around the 4th or 5th centuries AD they migrated west of the Ural Mountains to the area of the Volga River, becoming subjects of the Khazar Khanate.  In the early 9th century they began moving further west under pressure from attacks by other nomads.

Around 860 they began raiding across the Carpathian mountains into Hungary and in 895, under their leader Arpad, began a full-fledged invasion of the Carpathian basin on both sides of the Danube.  Superb mounted archers their tactics overwhelmed slow moving and more heavily armored opponents and they soon established their own state, from which they began raiding more deeply into Europe.  Until 955 they had an consistent record of success, destroying or evading forces sent to oppose them. 

The Magyars penetrated Austria, Bavaria, Silesia, Burgundy, Alsace, and Provence.  They ventured deep into Italy, reaching Apulia in the peninsula's heel, and, as noted above, even venturing into the Caliphate of Cordoba. In the East, the Balkans were easy prey and the horsemen even reached the suburbs of Constantinople.

It was Otto the Great, King of East Francia, who finally and decisively halted the Magyar raids in the west when he defeated the nomads at the battle of Lechfeld in Bavaria during August 955.  Confined to the Hungarian plain and Transylvania, the Magyars began building a more stable, and less threatening state.  Coverting to Christianity by the end of the century, the Pope recognized Stephen I (later St Stephen) as the first King of Hungary in 1001.

The Magyar raids

Friday, June 22, 2018

Carpool Karoake With Paul McCartney

James Corden visits Liverpool with Paul McCartney.  Corden's carpool karoake series is always great fun but this one is really special.  Worth watching the entire 23 minutes.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Young Man's Working Life

A couple of the bloggers I regularly read recently posted on the jobs they've worked over their lives which prompts this post.

From the time I was about 10 or 11 years old through the spring of my senior year in high school (1969) I worked at the family store in the Noroton Heights section of Darien, CT, owned by my uncle and my dad.  Founded by my grandfather Louis in 1923, my Uncle Bill, ten years older than my Dad, took over running Stoler's in 1933, after Louis' sudden death via heart attack.  That year my then 13-year old father took on the job of delivering newspapers across Darien in the mornings before he went to school.

My first work experience was going in with my father early on Sunday mornings to help him and the crew assemble and deliver the New York papers.  It was a thrill for a young boy to get up at 4am on Sunday and go with his dad to the store.  The Sunday papers were the largest editions of the week with many inserts and sections that were delivered to newsdealers separately and then assembled for delivery and to sale at the store.  In particular, the New York Times was a bear to put together, and we had hundreds to assemble as Stoler's at that time had the home delivery rights for the New York papers for the entire town of Darien.

On days when the weather wasn't bad we sat outside with the various sections/inserts piled in front of us on the sidewalk in front of the store and then laboriously put them together.  It was always dark when we started but light by the time we finished. Once assembled we loaded them into vans and cars for the drivers to take them on their delivery routes.  Sometimes I rode with the drivers to help them make the deliveries.  Other times I stayed at the store with my dad.  Around 8 and 9am my uncle would come in and my dad and I would go home.

Within a year or two I was working occasional Saturdays and every summer at the store.  I often worked checkout (we had two or three registers at the front of the store). The store itself was a forerunner of a Walmart type store, though much smaller of course, though much larger than a neighborhood newstand or a 7-11 type store of later years.  Stoler's sold newspapers, magazines, records, greeting cards (a huge section of the store run by my dad), cigarettes (big sellers in those years), toys, small household goods, a limited amount of clothing, school supplies, and paperback books.

I also worked stocking shelves and in the office and remember being paid $1/hour (in cash!).   Basically, whatever my dad and uncle needed me to do, I did.  One job, at the end of the day, was to take a locked bag or bags, filled with cash and receipts to the drop box at the bank next door to our store.  Looking back on it the office was quite chaotic and disorganized and it's hard to figure out how the place actually ran! 

We always had a radio on in the office and warehouse if it was World Series time,  I remember listening when Mickey Mantle hit a tenth inning home run off Cardinals reliever Barney Schultz to give the Yankees a victory in Game Three of the 1964 series (I just double checked and the game was on a Saturday, so I would have been working).  Thankfully, the Cards came back and beat the Yanks in the series.

I always liked working at the store, but my dad would often remind me that he did not want me to end up working there when I was older.  It was his life, but it was not the one he wanted for his children.

I knew my father worked hard but only as I grew older did I truly register the extent of this workload.  From the time he graduated high school in 1939 until about 1970, with the exception of his wartime service, he worked 6 1/2 days a week with a couple of weeks vacation.  Monday though Saturday it was from 7am to between 6 and 7pm. Every other Sunday he went in at 4am to prepare papers for delivery and then went home around 8 or 9am when his brother came in.  The weeks his brother came in early, dad would come in at 8 or 9am and stay until closing up around 1230 or 1pm.  The only times I can remember our entire family having dinner together was an occasional Saturday evening and regularly on Sunday.  I don't know how he did it.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Bodhisattva (Yet Again)

We've visited this song several times because it contains my favorite Steely Dan guitar solo, courtesy of Denny Dias, one of the least known of the great guitarists of rock.  I spent some time looking at cover versions of the solo on YouTube.  Most weren't very good.  Then I came across the one below by Tom Lane.  It's the closest I've seen to Dias, almost capturing his tone, and to my ear only a little off in a couple of places.

Most impressively, Lane attempts the four phrases at the end of the solo, unlike most others who don't even try.  Lane has a lot of other outstanding covers which you can find by going here.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


From Assistant Village Idiot:

My friend Milan at work, a Serb, was correcting one of the other people in his lunch group. I believe it was Jelena, an Albanian, but it was one of the many folks from the Balkans we have working in environmental services at the hospital. She had talked a bit wistfully about how her village was close when she was young, and there were always people to go talk to and be with, but now she does not have friends close, and her family farther away than she would like. Milan's brow darkened.

We are close together because was for safety. You go out of village alone, maybe someone kill you, rape you. We are together, always together like animals to hunt. You come here you see this one French,* that one from somewhere Africa, friend for you but not close. But not kill you.
*Milan lives in Suncook, I think, so French-Canadian is likely 

Friday, June 1, 2018

They Can't Take That Away From Me

Written by George and Ira Gershwin and first performed by Fred Astaire in the Astaire/Rogers film Shall We Dance, my favorite version is by Frank Sinatra, arranged by Nelson Riddle.