Quotable Quotes . . .

Quill Pen

“It would be inaccurate to say that Churchill and I conversed.  Like Gladstone speaking to Victoria, he addressed me as though I were a one-man House of Commons.  It was superb.”

               William Manchester quotes (American contemporary historian and novelist)



Mom cryng

America is rapidly becoming an unsafe country for young children!

Just short of a hundred days after the Newtown school tragedy, in which 20 young children were killed by a lone gunman, another incident has shocked the nation.

On Thursday, March 21st, a mother out walking with her 13-month old son was approached by two teenagers who demanded money.  She said she had none.  So they threatened to harm her son.  One of them then shot him in the face, killing him instantly!

As the two boys who committed this act were only 14 and 17 it’s likely that they will be out on the streets again shortly.  Meanwhile, a young mother’s life has changed forever and her young son is dead.

With so many murders on the news each day, it’s unlikely this will impact the current debate on gun control.

The United States, with a population of over 320 million, has more than 180 million guns in circulation.  That’s more than any other country in the world.  Yemen is second and Switzerland third.  Switzerland is an interesting country – every male there must have a gun in the house in order to be ready to defend the country.  In spite of all the weapons, violence is rare compared to the US.

Other western countries have fairly strict gun control laws.

What’s the answer for the United States?

Ask anybody outside of America and they will answer with “gun control”. About half  of Americans now favor some controls.  Gun controls work quite well in Canada, Australia and the UK.  The UK, with a population of 62 million, had only 30 gun-related deaths last year, compared to roughly 30,000 in the US.  Interestingly, in a reversal of the US experience, it is the conservative political parties in these countries that are most in favor of strict controls.

(Americans who are pro-gun should note – when you go outside the country don’t tell anybody how you feel – they will think you’re dangerous or crazy or both!  You might also remember this when posting on international social networks.)

I asked a Canadian friend, a former schoolteacher, if people in Canada are afraid to send their children to school.  He said “no”.  There are no fears for their safety.

Would Canadian gun controls work in the US?

Frankly, I don’t think they would.  Try to take those 180 million guns out of peoples’ hands and you would have a revolution or civil war.  Even if all the good people gave up their weapons, there would still be plenty circulating for the criminal element.

The pro-gun lobby says that the only solution to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.  They even advocate teachers being armed, as they are in Israel, where the country is faced with a constant threat from terrorists.

Our local school, attended by two of our grandchildren, has grandfathers patrolling the hallways.  The grandfathers are not allowed to carry weapons so they could hardly defend themselves or the school against an armed intruder, but they could hopefully call the police before any students got shot.

One solution is to make schools like airports, where security is tight, once you’ve checked in.

One historical fact that should be remembered is that Americans have always had the right to bear arms.  Always.  It was the English parliament in 1642 that gave all Englishmen the right to bear arms to defend themselves against the king, on the eve of the English Civil War.  As the American colonies were English that right was also given to the early settlers.  Without the right to bear arms, the American Revolution would never have got off the ground.

That right was later enshrined in the US Constitution.

Other former British colonies took away that right over the years for one reason or another.  99% of the people in those countries support tough gun control laws.  England will not even arm the police, sentiment is so great against guns.  However, it should be noted that, in spite of strict laws against handguns and assault weapons, people can hunt and can keep a weapon in their own home for that purpose.

The pro-gun lobby constantly repeats the mantra that gun controls don’t work anywhere in the world.  On this they are absolutely wrong.  They do work and the public would not change anything.

But this does not mean they would work in the US.

The rest of the world thinks the United States is a violent country, partly because of incidents like Newtown. This is one reason why foreign tourists are lacking, an economic repercussion of all the violence.  I often get asked when I’m visiting other countries why the US president doesn’t simply ban guns.   The answer to that is quite simple – he can’t!  He hasn’t got that power and most Americans wouldn’t want him to have it.

When we realize that Americans have had the right to bear arms for four centuries, literally from the very beginning as Jamestown residents brought weapons with them,

It should be noted that incidents like Newtown are relatively new.  So easy access to guns is not the only problem here.

In every case I’ve followed over the last few years, the perpetrator of these awful crimes has come from a broken home.  A fatherless home, that is.  2500 years ago the prophet Malachi wrote:  “God hates divorce, for it covers one’s garments with violence”  (Malachi 2:16).  This problem needs to be looked at.  Our local newspaper has been advocating stricter divorce laws for parents with young children, pointing out that 90% of the people in our prison system come from broken homes.  A broken home is usually a fatherless home, as mothers usually get full custody of their children.    Boys need a strong father in their lives.

Divorce is far more prevalent today than it was even fifty years ago.

Another change in the last 50 years is that schools no longer teach the Ten Commandments.  It’s ironic that public schools were first started with the specific intent of teaching the commandments, and now can’t teach them at all.  If children are not learning them at home, how are they supposed to know “Thou shalt not kill”?  If television is a bigger influence in their lives than any religious instruction, they can only conclude that murder is perfectly acceptable as it’s the staple of evening “entertainment.”    If you prefer not to teach your children any religious values, it’s still extremely important to teach them right from wrong and ensure that you are countering all the negative influences around them.

Add to this violent video games, which many young men are addicted to.  The producers will claim they have no effect on people who play them – if that’s true, why do companies spend millions advertizing on television if what people see on TV doesn’t influence them?

Also, drugs.  Again, when these acts are committed, it eventually turns out that the perpetrator was on prozac, or a similar mind-altering drug.

Do something about all of these and incidents like Newtown will be greatly reduced.

After changes are made in these areas, America may still be a violent place, but then the prevalence of guns would be the only factor.  At that time, the gun issue could be addressed.

Clearly, a lot needs to change.  This is why an in-depth national debate is needed, with television presenters questioning the so-called “facts” that are thrown around.  (If Americans knew that parents in other countries don’t have to worry about their children when they go to school, what would be the reaction?)


braveheart (1)

The movie certainly stirred up passions, especially for present day Scots and those in the Scottish diaspora.

But the movie made it to the top of the list of the ten most inaccurate movies ever made.  According to the list there were 87 historical inaccuracies in the movie.

Now, I have to admit I did not watch it a second time to check off the long list of inaccuracies.  I remember coming out of the theater with my wife in 1995, saying they got at least three things wrong – I obviously missed the other 84.

But, inaccuracies aside, “Braveheart” stirred up the passions of nationalist Scots who are disillusioned with their political and economic ties to the rest of the United Kingdom.  A referendum is to be held in September, 2014, to vote on breaking away.  The referendum is timed for just after the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Banockburn in June 1314, a battle won by Scots against an invading English army.  No doubt passions stirred by commemorative events will make a “yes” vote more likely.

Added to which, the voting age has been dropped to 16, which will also help the “yes” vote, as young people tend to be more emotional and less inclined to vote with their pocket books, as they may not have any money!

And, if the vote is “yes”, money will be Scotland’s biggest problem.

Not only does Scotland rely on London for 10% of its revenue, it shares a common currency in the British pound.

After independence, the Scots will have to renegotiate membership of the European Union, something which Westminster has already promised for the UK as a whole.  It is quite possible that Scotland could remain in the EU while England and the rest withdraw!

Scotland would likely need financial assistance from Brussels during a time of transition and would have to join the Euro as all new members are required to do.

It doesn’t end there.

The relatively minor details will also be challenging.

If Scotland leaves the UK, it will no longer receive BBC programming.  The BBC is financed by a license fee, which all households with televisions must pay.  With the money from that fee the BBC has made some outstanding programs over the years (as well as a lot of rubbish!).  Scottish television viewers could not possibly afford television of that quality themselves as their population is only 5.3 million, less than 10% of the total UK population.  That’s just one example of how life would change!

It’s not just the makers of “Braveheart” who were ignorant of history – most people are generally.  Forgotten in the emotion of the moment will be the history of the last few centuries.  Constant friction existed between England and Scotland for centuries, with Scotland often aided by continental powers, particularly France.  England had the same problem to the west, with Ireland.  A separate Scotland could eventually lead to a resurgence of those same security concerns, particularly if Scotland joins the EU while England withdraws.  It was only after the Scots and the English became one unitary kingdom that the whole island was secure.  The struggle to unite the two kingdoms took a long time – it was over a century from James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707.

The Scottish parliament voted itself out of existence in 1707 throwing its lot in with England, partly so that Scots could benefit from the English (then British) Empire, especially in trade.  One influencing factor was that Scotland was almost bankrupt following the financially disastrous Darien Scheme.  But the Union certainly benefitted both the Scots and the English – Scots contributed disproportionately to the British Empire militarily.

With the empire gone, the benefits of remaining in the UK may not be so evident but England is richer and helps subsidize government expenditure in Scotland.  That would end with the dismantling of the UK.

Sadly, many in England would be glad to see Scotland go, as it would save the tax-payers money.  This, however, would be very short-sighted.  Again, it shows a woeful ignorance of history.

Hopefully, there will be more debate before the final decision is made.  But that debate will need to have more historical basis for people to make an educated and responsible vote.  A strong united island of Great Britain (the name for the union of the two countries; the United Kingdom is the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) has been of historical benefit to Europe.  The British have often had to stand up to a powerful European despot trying to conquer the continent.  A divided island will be weak and at the mercy of any future more powerful European neighbors.


Le penseur de Rodin

“A world in which the US abnegates its leadership will be a world of unrestricted self-help in which China sets the rules of politics and trade in Asia, mayhem and chaos is the order of the day in the Middle East, and timidity and appeasement paralyze the free European states.  A world, in short, where the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and those with an option hurry up and get nuclear weapons . . . Not a pleasant thought”.

(“American Withdrawal and Global Disorder” by Eliot Cohen, Wall Street Journal, March 20th, 2013).


Snow flake

Yesterday was the first day of Spring – and it snowed all day.

That’s Michigan for you.

When I first moved here over 22 years ago, I was told, “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes and it will change!”   But it didn’t change yesterday, or today – it’s still snowing.

In America we still use Fahrenheit to list temperatures.   Our local weatherman yesterday told us that the difference between the temperature yesterday and the temp on the same day last year was an incredible 50 degrees!

Perhaps its time to move . . .

But the news is often dominated by climactic disaster seemingly everywhere else, except mid-Michigan where we live.  A few miles south of us was hit by a bad snowstorm a few days ago, while we escaped.   “Up north” is often hit, while its quite mild here.

Other states get tornadoes, hurricanes and struggle with drought, none of which have bothered us here (though we have had disasters in other parts of the state).

Lansing, the capital of Michigan, seems protected from those extremes.

So I think we will stay – and watch the news highlighting disasters everywhere else!


St Peter

I’m nauseated by the coverage of the change in the papacy.

It’s not that I have a problem with the new pope, because I don’t.  He seems a very humble man and his focus on the poor is commendable.

What’s wrong is not even his fault.

I’m talking about the constant references to the “fact” that he is the personal representative on earth of Jesus Christ.

It’s also frequently said that he is the 266th pontiff, a direct successor to St. Peter, who started the Catholic Church.

If that’s true, then Peter has a lot to answer for!

The Catholic Church today sets a very good example in some respects, adhering strictly to conservative teachings that most churches long since abandoned – just as their members have, in turn, abandoned them.  Pope Francis I is only going to boost the church with his stated interest in the poor and his very approachable manner.   Leaders of other churches should take note – not all churches are led by what you might call “people-people.”  Certainly, religious leaders are not generally humble.  At the same time, it has become the accepted norm for religious leaders to live in big houses and enjoy a high standard of living.

But the Catholic Church, the wealthiest organization on earth, has not always had the image it has now.  Its history has been violent and sordid.  You only have to watch Showtime’s The Borgias to see this.  (Please note:  The Borgias is remarkably historically accurate for a television series.)   The Borgias were a wealthy Italian family in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who got control of what was a very corrupt church – and made it even more corrupt.  Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia, left his wife behind and took a mistress whom he kept in the Vatican.   His son, meanwhile, was made a Cardinal and had a reputation for constant debauchery.  Alexander got to the papacy through bribery, threats, and even murder.  The political shenanigans that went on would embarrass most politicians in the world today.

Even that wasn’t the worst period in the church’s history.  In the ninth and tenth centuries, a Catholic monk labeled the government of the church “the pornocracy,” the government of filth.  Google that word sometime and you can read all about it.  There was even a female pope – a woman masquerading as a man who rose to the highest office and was only discovered when she gave birth to a child while surrounded by a crowd in Rome.

“If Peter came back as a pilgrim, how would he judge what goes on in the Vatican by the standards of the gospel?”  This question was asked by a former priest and graduate of Gregorian University in Rome, Peter de Rosa, in his 1988 book “Vicars of Christ” (page 26).

He then notes the contrast between the relative poverty of the disciples with the great wealth of today’s church.   “Jesus was born in a stable.  In his ministry, he had nowhere to lay his head.  Today, his Vicar inhabits a palace with eleven thousand rooms.  And then there is Castelgandolfo, overlooking the Alban Lake where pontiffs go to escape the summer heat.”  Here, in a palace bigger than the Vatican, Pope John Paul II had a private swimming pool installed.

“Jesus renounced possessions … Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, he said, where neither rust nor moth can spoil it.  Christ’s Vicar lives surrounded by treasures, some of pagan origin.  Any suggestion that the pope should sell all he has and give to the poor is greeted with derision as impractical.  The rich young man in the gospel reacted in the same way.”  Will Pope Francis be different?  He has already said he wished the Church was poor.

On the next page he points out another contrast.  “The celibacy of the clergy, popes included, might also surprise Peter, seeing that Jesus chose him, knowing he was married.”

He expresses consternation at the pope’s grand title “Pontifex Maximus,” “for in his (Peter’s) time, that was the title of the pagan high priest of Rome.”

At great length, he explains that the papacy’s claim to go right back to Jesus Christ is inaccurate and a convenient misreading of scripture.   (I will post something on this on another day.)  The legitimacy of the Church is based on this claim and gives them a big advantage over other churches – but it is totally, biblically and historically without basis!

Can Pope Francis really make a difference?  Two thousand years of history suggests not.  His age (76) is also against him.

But, if nothing else, he may be able to encourage some self-examination on the part of the government of the Church – the Roman Curia, the bloated bureaucracy that effectively controls the Church.   Looking at history, he is unlikely to make it worse.

As for television reporters, please read more history and get some depth!

"Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened." — Sir Winston Churchill