June 18

Time to consider some last words of famous folk in history.

“Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A women slew him.” Abimelech, king of Schechem, wounded by a stone thrown by a woman during the siege of Thebez, 12th century BC

“Heaven has turned against me. No wise ruler arises, and no one in the Empire wishes to make me his teacher. The hour of my death has come.” – Confucius, 479 BC. The Chinese sage and philosopher was, like Plato, often asked to consult on political matters and suggest reforms but, like Plato, saw few of his suggestions implemented.


Acta est fabula, plaudite.”  “Have I played the part well? Then applaud, as I exit.” Emperor Augustus, 14 AD

Seventeen centuries later, Samuel Johnson made this comment, alluding to the last words of Augustus:

A little more than nothing is as much as can be expected from a being who, with respect to the multitudes about him, is himself little more than nothing. Every man is obliged by the Supreme Master of the universe to improve all the opportunities of good which are afforded him, and to keep in continual activity such abilities as are bestowed upon him. But he has no reason to repine, though his abilities are small and his opportunities are few. He that has improved the virtue, or advanced the happiness, of one fellow-creature; he that has ascertained a single moral proposition, or added one useful experiment to natural knowledge, may be contented with his own performance; and, with respect to mortals like himself, may demand, like Augustus, to be dismissed at his departure with applause. 

“Vicisti, Galiaee.” “And yet Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!”

Julian the Apostate, Roman emperor (26 June 363 CE), mortally wounded in battle in battle against the Persians. Christian legend says that he was stabbed in the midst of the battle by the ghost of St. Longinus, the centurion who had supervised the execution of Jesus. His alleged last words were meant to acknowledge the triumph of Christ over Julian’s paganism.

I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen:—O man! place not thy confidence in this present world!

Abd al-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba, 961 was the founder of a new caliphate in Andalusia. He was a very successful politician and general, the scourge of the Christian kingdoms in Spain.

June 17

Joseph of Cupertino, the levitating saint

Giuseppe Maria Desa (1603-63) was a very unpromising recruit to the Catholic clergy in seventeenth-century Italy. He was born to poor parents in a garden shed because his father had been forced to sell their house to settle debts.

As a young shoemaker he tried a number of times to join a monastic order but was rejected because of his low intelligence, clumsiness, and frequents fits of temper and bizarre ecstasy. He served as a helper in the tables of an abbey of Franciscan Conventuals before he was admitted to the order and becoming a priest. Joseph soon attracted attention by levitating during the Mass and by falling into trances at the sound of church bells or hearing a psalm – phenomena that convinced the locals that he was saintly. These levitations had been publicly witnessed — such as when he placed a 36-foot cross atop a church — and attracted amazement from crowds of believers, and suspicion from the Inquisition that he was dabbling in the diabolical arts. His superiors isolated Joseph from the public for years and he died in seclusion. For his patience and humility he was canonized in 1763. He has been declared the patron saint of air travellers, pilots, astronauts, the mentally handicapped, test takers and poor students.

June 16

Joseph Butler: “Every thing is what it is, and not another thing.”

On this day Anglican churches honour the memory of Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752), controversialist and philosopher. Born a Presbyterian and thus barred from entering a university or the learned professions, Butler converted to the Church of England in his early twenties and became an Anglican priest. With the help of prominent patrons he rose through a series of lucrative appointments to become the Queen’s chaplain and eventually bishop of Bristol and Durham.

Today Butler is chiefly known as a philosopher, having taken on English heavyweights such as Thomas Hobbes (in his 1729 Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel) and John Locke (in his 1736 Analogy of Religion) as well as the proponents of Deism, then very popular amongst English academics. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us

Overall, Butler’s philosophy is largely defensive. His general strategy is to accept the received systems of morality and religion and, then, defend them against those who think that such systems can be refuted or disregarded. Butler ultimately attempts to naturalize morality and religion, though not in an overly reductive way, by showing that they are essential components of nature and common life. He argues that nature is a moral system to which humans are adapted via conscience. Thus, in denying morality, Butler takes his opponents to be denying our very nature, which is untenable. Given this conception of nature as a moral system and certain proofs of God’s existence, Butler is then in a position to defend religion by addressing objections to it, such as the problem of evil. 

June 15

And now for some really good examples of personal vituperation.

Two British public figures slugged it out early in the 21st century. Christopher Hitchens, a witty commentator known for his aggressive atheism and flight from far-left politics to a position which supported the American invasion of Iraq, faced off against Scottish Member of Parliament George Galloway, who courted Muslim voters and backed the Syrian Assad regime. Neither let courtesy get in the way during their debates and writings.

A drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay. – George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

Ba’athist, short-arse, sub-Leninist, Eastend carpet-bagger. – Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

Made natural history by metamorphosing from a butterfly to a slug. – George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

How unwise and incautious it is for such a hideous person to resort to personal remarks. Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill- brushed fangs. – Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

Ready to fight to the last drop of other people’s blood. – George Galloway on Christopher Hitchens

This is not just a matter of which of us can be the rudest, because I already conceded that to Mr Galloway. Or which of us can be the most cerebral, because he already conceded that to me. –Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway

June 14

Time for some remarks on national characteristics, mostly offensive.

The British don’t like music very much, but they do like the noise it makes. – Sir Thomas Beecham

The serpent, the origin of all ill, who first beguiled mankind by various frauds and illusions, that he might draw them to perdition, perceiving in these latter days, that the French nation was more capable of wickedness than any other, has poured without measure into their souls the poison of apostacy; and having first instigated them to civil war, and barbarous regicide, has finally plunged them into every species of impiety and ungodliness . – Patriarch Gregory V  of Constantinople on the French Revolution

The English are the people of consummate cant. – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Pakistan has many of the characteristics of mid-Victorian England – few, unfortunately, of the better ones. – John Bushell, British Ambassador to Pakistan

A few years back there was an opinion poll which asked the gentlemen of Italy, France, Germany and so on which country’s women they would most like to sleep with. If I remember rightly, the Italian babes came top, while British women – perhaps on account of their slatternly behaviour, weight problems, screeched obscenities and propensity to vomit – were at the bottom. However, when the question was turned around a little and the men were asked which country’s women they had already slept with, British girls topped the poll by a mile. – Ron Liddle, The Spectator

Canada is all right really, though not for the whole weekend. – Saki (H.H. Munro)

In New York every rainbow has an empty pot of gold at the end with a chalk outline of a dead leprechaun. – Bob Sarlatte

June 13


Tank ambush in Normandy

The June 6 D-Day landings were successful, in part, because of the German decision to station their heavy armour back from the beaches. Their theory was that their panzer divisions would be spared the initial aerial and naval bombardments that the Allies would use to secure their foothold, but that they could soon rush forward to crush the enemy. However, Allied mastery of the skies meant that German tanks could only move cautiously and at night. Consequently, Allied forces were able to penetrate inland before they encountered significant armoured opposition.

On June 13, British units moved toward the high ground near the village of Villers-Bocage. There they were ambushed by an SS panzer unit led by Hauptsturmfüfhrer Michael Wittman whose Tiger tank wrought havoc on the unsuspecting British. Within minutes Wittman had destroyed fourteen tanks and fifteen personnel carriers, along with two anti-tank guns – an astonishing feat that won him enormous propaganda fame in Germany and the decoration of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Military historians have called this the greatest single-handed action in tank warfare.

Wittman’s career did not last much longer. Less than two months later, his panzer unit was ambushed in turn by British and Canadian armoured formations, equipped with the up-gunned Sherman Firefly, one of the few Allied machines capable of taking on Tigers. A shot through the turret of Wittman’s tank ignited ammunition killing him and his crew.

Names of tank designs vary from country to country. Americans name their machines after generals: Sherman, Grant, Stuart, Abrams, Patton; Germans name theirs after deadly felines: Panther, Tiger, Leopard; British names all begin with the letter C: Churchill, Comet, Centurion, Chieftain, Challenger, etc. Iraqi forces employed the Lion of Babylon; Egyptians relied on the Ramses; South Koreans put their trust in the Black Tiger.

June 12

1925 A monument is approved

Few countries enjoy the bonds of goodwill and friendship that the United States and Canada share. Our common border remains the longest unguarded frontier on earth, and our nations have shared triumphs and tragedies throughout history. It was in this spirit of friendship that in 1925 Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King first proposed a memorial to the large number of United States citizens who enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces and lost their lives during World War I. Because the Canadians entered the war long before the United States, many Americans enlisted in Canada to join the fighting in Europe.
On 12 June 1925, President Calvin Coolidge approved the request, and on Armistice Day 1927 the monument near the Memorial Amphitheater was dedicated. Designed by British architect Sir Reginald Blomfield, the monument consists of a bronze sword adorning a 24-foot gray granite cross.
The inscription on the cross reaffirms the sentiment expressed by Prime Minister King regarding Americans who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. Following World War II and the Korean War, similar inscriptions on other faces of the monument were dedicated to the Americans who served in those conflicts.
From: James Edward Peters,  Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America’s Heroes

June 11

Time for a few more tidbits from the history of the Eternal City.


When some people–aware of the loose morality of Julia, the daughter of Augustus– expressed surprise that her children looked so much like her husband, Agrippa, she replied, “I never take passengers on board until the ship is loaded.” – Macrobius, Saturnalia


When the cost of buying meat to feed wild beasts that he had bought for a show was too high, Caligula decided to give them criminals to tear apart. Glancing at a line of prisoners, but paying no attention to the chart sheets, he stood in the middle of the colonnade and ordered everyone from ‘this bald man to that bald man to be led away.’ – Suetonius, Life of Caligula

The heretic Arius suffered a stomach upset and went into a public toilet in Alexandria. When he did not come back out, those who were with him with you and to look for him and found him dead. The seat on which she died was never used again, in recognition of his having thus been punished therefore his impiety. – Sozemus, History of the Church

In 1452 a single contractor removed 2,522 cart loads of marble from the Coliseum. Almost none of the marble use in building St. Peter’s Basilica was quarried for the purpose; it was plundered from existing buildings.



June 10

Time for a little look at some Roman oddities. 

Romulus ensured that his city should be large and populous by requiring the inhabitants to rear all their male children and also their firstborn daughters. He forbade the killing of any child under the age of three years unless it was born crippled or with deformities. In such cases he did permit exposure, provided the parents had first showed the child to five neighbours and obtained their agreement. – Dionysius of Halicarnassus

As censor, with the responsibility to defend traditional morality, the elder Cato expelled a member of the Senate for kissing his own wife in broad daylight in front of his daughter. He claimed that he himself never embraced his wife except after a loud peal of thunder, adding that he was happy when it thundered. – Plutarch, Cato the Elder

Putting goat dung in their diapers soothes hyperactive children, especially girls. – Pliny, Natural History

Sometimes we can refute a statement by pretending to agree with it. When Fabia, Dolabella’s wife, claimed to be 30, Cicero said, “That’s true, for I’ve heard her say it for the last 20 years.” –  Quintilian, Education of the Orator.

When the elder Cato was asked what he thought was the most profitable way of utilizing one’s resources, he replied,”Grazing livestock successfully”; what second to that, “Grazing livestock fairly successfully”; what third, “Grazing livestock unsuccessfully”; what fourth, “Raising crops.” When his questioner asked, “What about moneylending?” Cato replied, “What about murder?” – Cicero, On Duties

Dreaming that one is eating many onions is favourable for a sick man, for it means that he will recover and mourn for someone else whereas streaming that one is eating just a few onions signifies death since the dying shed just a few tears, whereas those who mourn ship may. – Artemidorus of Daldis, The Interpretation of Dreams

When Nero was singing, no one was allowed to leave the theatre, even in an emergency. Some women therefore gave birth during his performances, and many people, weary with listening and applauding, secretly jumped over the wall or pretended to be dead and were carried out to be buried. – Suetonius, Life of Nero

From memorial inscriptions it has been calculated that the mean age at death for charioteers was 22 1/2 years.

June 9


Senator McCarthy is rebuked

After being wartime allies, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the western democracies degenerated into a Cold War which resulted in both sides maintaining huge armies facing each other in central Europe. Back in North America, the Igor Gouzenko revelations pointed to Americans working as Russian spies in the US and spoke of Americans with loyalties wider than just their native land. Coupled with Soviet expansionism in Europe and the growing power of the Communist Party of China versus wartime US ally Chiang Kai-shek, dislike of communism again took root. The crusade against Reds was first led by HUAC, the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee, which dated from before the war but which was in 1945 made a powerful standing committee of the House with wide-ranging powers of investigation. Though HUAC had failed miserably in showing any real communist penetration of the movies, this attack on the so-called Hollywood Ten silenced the protests from the entertainment industry, created a blacklist of writers and performers whose careers were ruined, and set the stage for an anti-communist witch-hunt of government officials.

Anti-communist groups, such as the American Legion and firms of private investigators specializing in loyalty checks, spread stories about secret battalions of 75,- 80,000 trained communists manipulating a million leftist dupes, camp followers, and fellow travellers. Neighbourhood anti-communist watch groups were formed, sponsors of suspected programs or radio personalities were threatened with boycotts, libraries were scoured for leftist comics and books. This anti-communist mood forced a reluctant President Truman to institute government actions against federally-employed suspects. Loyalty boards screened civil servants and army personnel, firing many, not for disloyalty or treachery, but for once having belonged to left-wing causes or parties. Sensational cases included that of civil servant Alger Hiss whom Congressman Richard Nixon accused on television of spying for the USSR — Hiss denied it but was ruined; Nixon was launched into national prominence and was made Eisenhower’s V-P candidate in 1952 election.

This paved the way for further probes — the Rosenberg spy case sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair for passing on nuclear secrets to the Soviets who had soon produced the A-bomb and the H-bomb with help from such spies  — and convinced some politicians that the way to popularity with the voters was by denunciation of hidden communists. The leading proponent of this was the Senator from Wisconsin Joe McCarthy who in 1950 began announcing he had a list of red agents in the State department. The State Department was widely blamed for the failure of the US to support Chaing Kai-shek and the subsequent loss of China to the Communists, and though McCarthy’s accusations were usually drunken ramblings and without substance, they did create a climate of fear and an atmosphere of what became known as McCarthyism: guilt by association, intimidation of witnesses and abuse of democratic process. He announced that he had discovered 30,000 books in USIS libraries abroad were by Communist or pro-Communist writers: Sovietolators as they were called and he succeeded in panicking officials wherever his gaze lighted. His success lay in using television and mobilizing grass-roots anti-intellectualism and xenophobia and distrust of the university-trained, upper-class, anglo-Protestant elite in government as well as their urbanized, educated Jewish counterparts.  His downfall came when he attacked the US Army for sheltering communists — the establishment which had hitherto been timid came forth to denounce him and his alcoholic excesses caught up with him. On this day in 1954, Joseph Welch the attorney representing the Army lashed out at McCarthy, asking him in front of the television cameras: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

By December 1954 his colleagues in the Senate censured him for his behaviour; his reign had ended and he was not re-elected for a third term. But consider this: McCarthy succeeded in his crusade though he himself was brought down. He helped discredit leftist policies and officials left over from the Roosevelt era; he redefined political discourse in terms of “American-mindedness” and even his left-wing opponents had to claim that they themselves had espoused “Americanism” for years. The labour movement had to move to the right. In 1950 the CIO expelled 11 national unions, 20% of its own membership, for alleged Communist leadership. Just a few months before his downfall in 1954 a supporter of McCarthy wrote this in a magazine article: “As Russia and Red China advance nightmarishly toward the maximum power goals which they will reach in the 1970s, the American people will be as unlikely to think seriously of anything else, as to ignore an onrushing comet. Communism will be the issue of the 1950s and sixties. Those American leaders who most surely interpret the emotions of the American public in the face of the Communist challenge will be the man who will dominate American politics. Today Senator McCarthy is the articulate voice of the American people in a Communist-haunted age. On this issue he marches with history. He cannot lose.”