Category Archives: History

Excerpt of Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr

Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, & the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

You will naturally examine first the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature in the case he relates. For example in the book of Joshua we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c.

But it is said that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine therefore candidly what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis as the earth does, should have stopped, should not by that sudden stoppage have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth’s motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities?

You will next read the new testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions 1. of those who say he was begotten by god, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven: and 2. of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile or death in furcâ. […]

These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all. Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love.

In fine, I repeat you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.

I forgot to observe when speaking of the new testament that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, & not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost. There are some however still extant, collected by Fabricius which I will endeavor to get & send you.

[]

Jefferson, T. (1787, August 10). Letter to Peter Carr. Retrieved from teachingamericanhistory.org September 9, 2015.

Best Scriptures for Academic Study

Judeo-Christian Bible

Quran

  • Recommended by Given of Missouri State University.*
  • Called the “best translation available” by Ehrman.*

  • Recommended by Ward in his History of Islam course syllabus.*
  • Assigned by Ostebo in his Introduction to Islam course at the University of Florida.*

  • The most popular, highly-rated version on Amazon on March 7, 2015.

Shibboleth

Judges 12:5-6
Young’s Literal Translation

5 And Gilead captureth the passages of the Jordan to Ephraim, and it hath been, when [any of] the fugitives of Ephraim say, `Let me pass over,’ and the men of Gilead say to him, `An Ephramite thou?’ and he saith, `No;’

6 that they say to him, `Say, I pray thee, Shibboleth (שבלת);’ and he saith, `Sibboleth,’ (סבלת) and is not prepared to speak right — and they seize him, and slaughter him at the passages of the Jordan, and there fall at that time, of Ephraim, forty and two chiefs.

Colbert and Sci-Fi v. Fantasy

So, I’m tempted to think that the reason I feel some apathy toward fantasy is how easy stories like Game of Thrones and LOTR make it for writers to use magic as a deus ex machina. Of course, the same could be said of Star Trek and “technobabble.” So, why is it easier for me to forgive Star Trek? Well, for one, I think it’s more fruitful to converse about technobabble. You can actually talk about real science when you’re talking about why Treknobabble is pseudoscientific.

So, why do I prefer Star Trek to Dr. Who? Well, for one, Dr. Who doesn’t give us a homo sapiens that has overcome its pettiness. Star Trek — to my delight — explores the possibility of what comes after Sagan’s, “If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” It seems to me that the Doctor performs a similar capacity to the Vulcans: overseer of the humans. They’re both waiting with their fingers crossed to see if we continue surviving each new genocide, pandemic, or other crisis and continue evolving (intellectually if not biologically) to eventually become spacefaring. (Also, the critical attitude of the Vulcans toward humans seems much more realistic to me than the avuncular attitude of the Doctor toward us.)

That’s infinitely more interesting to me than the idea of constant, secret alien visitation on earth by hostile aliens that require earth to be saved by other kindly aliens. This is essentially the idea of Transformers as well and how cool would it be if the Transformers did what Picard and company do? (Not cool at all if all you want to see is hot robot-on-robot carnage! But, that was well-covered in the first Transformers movie!)

Another thing about fantasy: why are so many important characters in Game of Thrones and LOTR humanoid? This seems forgivable to me with respect to Star Trek because the original series probably lacked funding for advanced effects and make-up. Humanoid aliens were just more practical to make and act. Game of Thrones and LOTR were books, though. Books don’t have budget constraints, right?

And, why, why, why must fantasy take place in a magical corollary to the Dark Ages? Actually, an answer occurred to me as I was typing the question: it may have been in the Dark Ages that magical thinking most flourished.

American Presidents Mnemonic

When a joke makes men afraid
Just be happy that past thoughts fade
Post bail, leave jail, go home
Great Asian cars have chrome
Machines rule the world; humans compare huts
Roast the Earth! Kick Johnson’s nuts!

  1. Washington
  2. Adams
  3. Jefferson
  4. Madison
  5. Monroe
  6. Adams
  7. Jackson
  8. Van Buren
  9. Harrison
  10. Tyler
  11. Polk
  12. Taylor
  13. Fillmore
  14. Pierce
  15. Buchanan
  16. Johnson
  17. Lincoln
  18. Grant
  19. Hayes
  20. Garfield
  21. Arthur
  22. Cleveland
  23. Harrison
  24. Cleveland
  25. McKinley
  26. Roosevelt
  27. Taft
  28. Wilson
  29. Harding
  30. Coolidge
  31. Hoover
  32. Roosevelt
  33. Truman
  34. Eisenhower
  35. Kennedy
  36. Johnson
  37. Nixon
  38. Ford
  39. Carter
  40. Reagan
  41. Bush
  42. Clinton
  43. Bush
  44. Obama

Mao’s Bath

His last and final marriage was to the Shanghai actress Jiang Qing. When that marriage, in turn, soured, he preferred to avoid a divorce and simply took mistresses, sometimes several at once. It was easy enough for Mao to get them from among his nurses and assistants or from a special army company of dancers and singers.

“Selecting imperial concubines” was how a senior general described it.[37] Mao preferred young, simple girls who felt deeply honored to be chosen by the great man, even to the point of taking pride in catching a venereal disease from him. When his doctor suggested that the chairman might want to stop his sexual activities while the disease was being treated, Mao refused. “If it’s not hurting me,” he said airily, “then it doesn’t matter.” As far as hygiene was concerned, Mao’s solution was more sex: “I wash myself inside the bodies of my women.”[38]

[source]


By the 1960s Mao was totally cut off from the country that he ruled, so isolated by his eminence that bodyguards and advance parties choreographed his every move. Sex was his one freedom, the one moment in his day when he could treat other human beings as equals and be treated as such in return. A century earlier the boy Emperor, Tongzhi, used to slip out of the palace incognito, accompanied by one of his courtiers, to visit the brothels of Beijing. For Mao that was impossible. Women came to him. They revelled in his power. He revelled in their bodies. ‘I wash my prick in their cunts,’ he told his personal physician, a strait-laced man whom he took a perverse delight in shocking. ‘I was nauseated,’ the good doctor wrote afterwards.

[source]

Richard Speck

Thank you, Mad Men, for this:

From Wikipedia:

Richard Franklin Speck (December 6, 1941 – December 5, 1991) was a mass murderer who systematically tortured, raped, and murdered eight student nurses from South Chicago Community Hospital on July 14, 1966.

And, this:

In May 1996, Chicago television news anchor Bill Kurtis received video tapes made at Stateville Prison in 1988 from an anonymous attorney. Showing them publicly for the first time before a shocked and deeply angry Illinois state legislature, Kurtis pointed out the explicit scenes of sex, drug use, and money being passed around by prisoners, who seemingly had no fear of being caught; in the center of it all was Speck, performing oral sex on another inmate, sharing a huge pile of cocaine with an inmate, parading in silk panties, sporting female-like breasts (allegedly grown using smuggled hormone treatments), and boasting, “If they only knew how much fun I was having, they’d turn me loose.” The Illinois legislature packed the auditorium to view the two-hour video, but stopped the screening when the film showed Speck performing oral sex on another man.

Continue reading Richard Speck