June 22

War is cruel and men sometimes try to mitigate its brutality with “rules of warfare”. One controversial practice is that of retaliation for the other side’s violation of the norms of battle. In the American Civil War, the Union sometimes executed prisoners in response to Confederate guerrilla tactics. 

In 1864 Major James Wilson of the 3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry and six of his men were captured and murdered by rebel irregulars. In retaliation, Union troops executed six prisoners from Missouri. Quaker Zadok Street wrote this letter to Abraham Lincoln to protest such acts.

Salem Ohio 9th of 11 Mo 1864
Esteemed & Honored Friend
Abraham Lincoln President

The shooting 6 Men in Missouri in retaliation for 6 Union Men murderd by Guerillas was the companion of my mind frequently day and night,’ And since then the shooting of others in Tennesse & Kentucky for similar retaliation is so inconsistent with the Gospel of Christ, and cannot be looked upon in favor by the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and as no Nation can be blessed only whose God is the Lord, which thy various Proclamations wisely made from time to time fully declares in substance, I therefore respectfully but earnestly request Thee to seriously consider in thy retired moments when asking secretly for Divine aid to conduct the affairs of the Nation rightly, and ascertain if Thee should not prevent such acts by our Union officers, We do not know the private feelings or the hearts of those Men thus selected to be Shot, what injury may be done to them and their families we know not,

With thy enlarged and comprehensive view of Justice and right, argument is entirely unnecessary and refrain therefrom,

Allow me to say from the time of a few moments interview at thy House in Illinois prior to thy going to Washington after thy election, I have felt a very great desire for thy Administration to be one of Justice and honor under the peculiar trials in which Thee is placed I feel that a Divine interposition placed Thee in the Presidential Chair, and that Thee has been highly favored in thy movements,

Thy sincere Friend
Zadok Street

The quintessential Norm Macdonald joke

Norm Macdonald, the brilliant enigma, left this earthly plane too soon, dying in 2021 of cancer. In his honour let us chuckle at the wisdom and hilarity of this story.

A moth goes into a podiatrist’s office. 

The podiatrist says, “What’s the problem?” 

The moth says, “Where do I begin with my problems? Every day I go to work for Gregory Vassilievich, and all day long I toil. But what is my work? I am a bureaucrat, and so every day I joylessly move papers from one place to another and then back again. I no longer know what it is that I actually do, and I don’t even know if Gregory Vassilievich knows. He only knows that he has power over me, and this seems to bring him much happiness. And where is my happiness? It is when I awake in the morning and I do not know who I am. In that single moment I am happy. In that single moment, before the memory of who I am strikes me like a cane. And I take to the streets and walk, in a malaise, here and then there and then here again. And then it is time for work. Others stopped asking me what I do for a living long ago, for they know I will have no answer and will fix my empty eyes upon them, and they fear my melancholia might prove so deep as to be contagious. Sometimes, Doc, in the deepest dark of night, I awake in my bed and I turn to my right, and with horror I see some old lady lying on my arm. An old lady that I once loved, Doc, in whose flesh I once found splendor and now see only decay, an old lady who insults me by her very existence. 

“Once, Doc, when I was young, I flew into a spider web and was trapped. In my panic, I smashed my wings till the dust flew from them, but it did not free me and only alerted the spider. The spider moved toward me and I became still, and the spider stopped. I had heard many stories from my elders about spiders, about how they would sink their fangs into your cephalothorax and you would be paralyzed but aware as the spider slowly devoured you. So I remained as still as possible, but when the spider again began moving toward me, I smashed my wing again into my cage of silk, and this time it worked. I cut into the web and freed myself and flew skyward. I was free and filled with joy, but this joy soon turned to horror: I looked down and saw that in my escape I had taken with me a single strand of silk, and at the end of the strand was the spider, who was scrambling upward toward me. Was I to die high in the sky, where no spider should be? I flew this way, then that, and finally I freed myself from the strand and watched as it floated earthward with the spider. But days later a strange feeling descended upon my soul, Doc. I began to feel that my life was that single strand of silk, with a deadly spider racing up it and toward me. And I felt that I had already been bitten by his venomous fangs and that I was living in a state of paralysis, as life devoured me whole. 

“My daughter, Alexandria, fell to the cold of last winter. The cold took her, as it did many of us. And so my family mourned. And I placed on my countenance the look of grief, Doc, but it was a masquerade. I felt no grief for my dead daughter but only envy. And so I have one child now, a boy, whose name is Stephan Mikhailovitch Smokovnikov, and I tell you now, Doc, with great and deep shame, the terrible truth. I no longer love him. When I look into his eyes, all I see is the same cowardice that I see when I catch a glimpse of my own eyes in a mirror. It is this cowardice that keeps me living, Doc, that keeps me moving from place to place, saying hello and goodbye, eating though hunger has long eft me, walking without destination, and, at night, lying beside the strange old lady in this burlesque of a life I endure. If only the cowardice would abate for the time needed to reach over and pick up the cocked and loaded pistol that lies on my bedside table, then I might finally end this façade once and for all. But, alas, the cowardice takes no breaks; it is what defines me, it is what frames my life, it is what I am. And yet I cannot resign myself to my own life. Instead, despair is my constant companion as I walk here and then there, without dreams, without hope, and without love.” 

“Moth,” says the podiatrist, “your tale has moved me and it is clear you need help, but it is help I cannot provide. You must see a psychiatrist and tell him of your troubles. Why on earth did you come to my office?” 

The moth says, “Because the light was on.”

June 20

Why, it seems like only yesterday when the French government was dragging its heels on joining the American-led war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Oh, how we mocked them for their pusillanimity (even we Canadians who also held back.) Despite the fact that the French are one of the most war-like countries in European history (anybody remember Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Louis XIV, Napoleon I, and Napoleon III?) we focussed on their poor performance in World War II.

Here are some of the rude remarks which, in retrospect and considering the mess that was made of the 2003 intervention, now seem regrettable:

The French will only agree to go to war when we’ve proven we’ve found truffles in Iraq. – Dennis Miller 

They’ve taken their own precautions against al Qa’ida. To prepare for an attack, each Frenchman is urged to keep duct tape, a white flag, and a three-day supply of mistresses in the house. – Argus Hamilton 

What do you expect from a culture and a nation that exerted more of its national will fighting against Disney World and Big Macs than the Nazis? – Dennis Miller 

War without France would be like World War Il. – Unknown 

The last time the French asked for ‘more proof’ it came marching into Paris under a German flag. – David Letterman 

Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion. –  Norman Schwartzkopf 

We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it. –  Marge Simpson 

It is important to remember that the French have always been there when they needed us. – Alan Kent

Somebody was telling me about the French Army rifle that was being advertised on eBay the other day the description was, “Never shot. Dropped once.” – Rep. Roy Blunt, MO

 

June 19

Dandified Cake Eaters Beware!

In 1923, a group of women in Washington, DC decided to form the Anti-Flirt Club, an organisation “composed of young women and girls who have been embarrassed by men in automobiles and on street corners”, its aim being to protect such ladies from any further discomfort. Its rules were simple:

  1. Don’t flirt: those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure.
  2. Don’t accept rides from flirting motorists-they don’t all invite you in to save you a walk.
  3. Don’t use your eyes for ogling-they were made for worthier purposes.
  4. Don’t go out with men you don’t know-they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
  5. Don’t wink-a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other. 6. Don’t smile at flirtatious strangers save them for people you know.
  6. Don’t annex all the men you can get-by flirting with many you may lose out on the one.
  7. Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
  8. Don’t let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
  9. Don’t ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.

June 18

286 Twin martyrs

MARCUS AND MARCELLIANUS were twin brothers of an illustrious family in Rome, who had been converted to the Faith in their youth and were honorably married. Diocletian ascending the imperial throne in 284, the heathens raised persecutions. These martyrs were thrown into prison, and condemned to be beheaded. Their friends obtained a respite of the execution for thirty days, that they might prevail on them to worship the false gods.

Tranquillinus and Martia, their afflicted heathen parents, in company with their sons’ own wives and their little babes, endeavored to move them by the most tender entreaties and tears. St. Sebastian, an officer of the emperor’s household, coming to Rome soon after their commitment, daily visited and encouraged them. The issue of the conferences was the happy conversion of the father, mother, and wives, also of Nicostratus, the public register, and soon after of Chromatius, the judge, who set the Saints at liberty, and, abdicating the magistracy, retired into the country. Marcus and Marcellianus were hid by a Christian officer of the household in his apartments in the palace; but they were betrayed by an apostate, and retaken. Fabian, who had succeeded Chromatius, condemned them to be bound to two pillars, with their feet nailed to the same. In this posture they remained a day and a night, and on the following day were stabbed with lances.

In 1902 their graves in the catacombs of Saint Balbina were rediscovered.

June 17

1565 Death of a Shogun

History is replete with stories of acts of defiance carried out at the moment of death. Nikola Subió Zrinski defended the fortress of Szigetvár against overwhelming numbers of Turks in 1566. When his last tower was about to fall, Zrinski ordered the powder magazine to be exploded and led his men in a charge to certain death. In 1941 Konstantinos Koukidis, a Greek soldier, wrapped himself in the national flag flying from the Athenian acropolis and hurled himself off the precipice rather than surrender to the invading German army. The self-sacrificial spirit of Japanese samurai in the face of defeat is legendary, but only in that country could a tea cup play such a prominent role.

Matsunaga Hisahide (1508-77) was a prominent daimyo in the midst of a century of political turmoil in Japan. Regional warlords such as Matsunaga vied for influence, invaded each other’s territories, and contested for the shogunate. He was particularly noted for his schemes and treachery. On this date in 1565 he assassinated the incumbent shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru and replaced him with his own nominee.

Late in his life he ran afoul of Oda Nobunaga, the so-called “Demon King”, the most powerful of the country’s great clan leaders. In 1577 Nobunaga besieged Matsunaga’s Shigisan Castle. Faced with capture, Matsunaga prepared for the usual ritual suicide but before disembowelling himself he destroyed a valuable teacup which Nobunaga coveted. Painters have captured the gesture of defiance.

June 16

1745 Fortress Louisbourg surrenders

To secure their hold on their North American colonies the French built an impressive fortress on the Cape Breton peninsula in what is now Nova Scotia. Designed by the Marquis de Vauban, Louis XIV’s military engineer, the fort with its ditches, thick walls, and cannon looked impregnable.

In 1744, Britain was drawn into conflict with France as part of the larger War of the Austrian Succession. The Anglo-French clash would be known in the British colonies as King George’s War. Until this time, Louisbourg had not participated in any military actions, although the fortress had provided refuge for Indigenous people allied with the French who raided English settlements. Louisbourg also offered a safe harbour for French privateers who preyed on fishing fleets and ships from New England.

On 24 May 1744, a force of soldiers from Louisbourg aboard a fleet of 17 vessels, under the command of Captain François du Pont Duvivier, made a surprise attack on the small English fort and settlement at Grassy Island, near Canso (on the present-day Nova Scotia mainland), forcing the British garrison there to surrender. The French destroyed the settlement and took the British to Louisbourg as prisoners. While the British awaited transfer to Boston in a prisoner exchange, their officers were free to move about the town. They took note of weaknesses in the so-called “impregnable” fortress.

In Boston, the freed officers reported their observations to Massachusetts governor William Shirley. They told him that Louisbourg’s garrison was undermanned, and that morale among the French troops was low, largely because of poor food and because they hadn’t been paid in months. They also said that due to poor construction, parts of the seemingly formidable walls were crumbling. They also revealed the presence of nearby ridges and hills overlooking Louisbourg’s landward walls. And they made sketches of Louisbourg’s defences, which they gave to Shirley.

Shirley raised a force of more than 4,000 New Englanders, commanded by William Pepperell, for an expedition against Louisbourg. The colonial army would be supported by a Royal Navy squadron under Commodore Peter Warren. In April 1745, Pepperell established a base at Canso, where he met with Warren in early May to plan a land and sea operation.

The first siege of Louisbourg began on 11 May 1745. Pepperell had captured strategic points near the fortress, and Warren’s ships blockaded the harbour. The colonial army used sledges to haul artillery across marshy ground to high points from which the guns could bombard the town and batter the walls. The French warship Vigilant carrying vital supplies and reinforcements, was captured by Warren’s squadron. By 16 June, Louisbourg’s walls had been breached and Warren’s fleet was poised to enter the harbour. Short of supplies and ammunition, and under pressure from the town’s merchants to capitulate, French governor Louis DuPont Duchambon surrendered.

Arrangements were made for most of the population to be transported to France. Warren was promoted to rear admiral, and Pepperell was rewarded by Britain with a baronetcy. Under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748, the British returned Louisbourg, and all of Île Royale, to the French, much to the disgust of the New Englanders, who considered it an act of betrayal by the British government.

 

June 15

Back in the days when JFK ruled in Camelot and Dief was the Chief in Ottawa, the Bowler family summer vacations were spent on highways in the American West. On our way in a Detroit land yacht to Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, or some fabled snake farm, my brother and I misbehaved in the back seat. Having exhausted all possible car games, and tired of comic books, we came alive when our parents spotted red signs by the road ahead. We sprang to the windows to read the Burma-Shave signs as we sped by.

The Burma-Shave company erected thousands of examples of sequential advertisements from the 1920s to the early 1960s when they were discontinued on the advice of lawyers who feared suits for causing distracted driving.

A Man A Miss
A Car - A Curve
He Kissed The Miss
And Missed
The Curve
BURMA-SHAVE

Saw The Train And
Tried To Duck It
Kicked First The Gas
And Then The Bucket
BURMA-SHAVE

A Beard
That's Rough
And Overgrown
Is Better Than
A Chaperone
BURMA-SHAVE

Every shaver
Now can snore
Six more minutes
Than before
By using
BURMA-SHAVE

Shaving brushes
You'll soon see 'em
On the shelf
In some
Museum
BURMA-SHAVE

June 14

2013
On this day nine years ago, Merle Haggard (1937-2016) is presented an honorary doctorate in fine arts by California State University, Bakersfield.

Mentioning this gives me a springboard to my real topic of the day: witty country and western song titles. Though I am not a huge fan of country music (especially in its latest and tamest iterations) I recognize that its lyrics come closest to being the best artistic expression of the thoughts of the average working-class American. It is also the genre that is least afraid to poke fun at itself and its audience as we can tell songs listed here.

“She’s Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without”
“Come Out of the Wheatfield Nellie, You’re Going Against the Grain”
“Run for the Roundhouse Nellie (He Can’t Corner You There)”
Ever Since I Said ‘I Do,’ There’s a Lot of Things You Don’t”
“Tennis Must Be Your Racket ‘Cause Love Means Nothin’ To You”
“If I Had It To Do All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You”
“Did I Shave My Legs for This? “
“Did I Shave My Back for This?”
“Get Off The Stove, Grandma, You’re Too Old To Ride The Range “
“I Fell Into A Pile of You and Got Love All Over Me “
I May Be Used, But Baby I Ain’t Used Up”
“I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me”
“If the Phone Don’t Ring Baby You’ll Know It’s Me”
“She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger”
“She Got the Gold Mine and I Got the Shaft”
She’s Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues)”
“It Took a Helluva Man to Take my Anne, but it Sure Didn’t Take Him Long “
“It Only Takes One Bar (To Make A Prison)”
Meet Me In the Gravel Pit, Honey, cuz I’m a Little Boulder There”

“Messed Up In Mexico, Living On Refried Dreams”
“We Used To Kiss On The Lips, But It’s All Over Now “
“I’m Going to Put a Bar in the Back of My Car and Drive Myself to Drink”
“I’d Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy”
“Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, Because I’m Kissing You Goodbye”
“Oh, I’ve Got Hair Oil On My Ears And My Glasses Are Slipping Down, But Baby I Can See Through You”
“I’m So Miserable Without You It’s Like Having You Here”

June 13

1893 Birth of Dorothy Sayers

Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force. – Dorothy Sayers

Dorothy Sayers loved to provoke. Born the daughter of an Anglican clergyman in 1893, she learned Latin at age 6, entered Oxford before women were granted degrees, and began writing poetry to shock traditional Christian pieties. She scorned popularity to the extent that she asked a friend to set off a scandal by writing a letter to the Church Times denouncing her new book. In her collection of essays entitled Unpopular Opinions, she included pieces such as “Are Women Human?” Speaking to an audience of British Christian leaders, she described her fellow believers as “tiresome, stupid, selfish, quarrelsome, pig-headed, and infuriating.”

Sayers’ unorthodoxy carried over into her private life. She conducted an affair with a Russian poet but dumped him when he proposed marriage. She then moved on to a relationship with a married car salesman who got her, at age 30, pregnant. Sayers gave birth secretly to a son whom she gave up to some relatives to raise – though she later adopted the boy he never lived with her and never learned her secret until after her death. Two years later she entered into a troubled marriage to a shell-shocked war veteran .

It was in these tumultuous years that Sayers fashioned herself into a very successful writer of mysteries during the Golden Age of that genre. Her detective stories featuring the effete English nobleman/sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey and the unassuming travelling wine salesman Montague Egg were best-sellers, making her comfortably well off. But equal to her fame as an author of middle-brow fiction was her place as a defender of Christianity. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her feisty character and challenging life circumstances, she was also a bold and effective expositor of religious truth.

Sayers believed that Christianity in the twentieth century had grown soft, undemanding and compromised. People had come to believe they were practising their religion when they were merely conforming to local social traditions and being nice. “The people who hanged Christ,” she said, “never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.” The solution, Sayers thought, was to shock them into reconsidering their position.

She did this first through the medium of radio. In her 1938 play about the Nativity of Jesus entitled He That Should Come, and The Man Born to be King, a cycle of 12 other BBC productions about the life of Christ, Sayers challenged a 300-year-old law that banned the portrayal of God in staged drama. Other shocks included actors speaking contemporary English, instead of King James Version-era Biblical speech, and characters whose daily concerns mirrored those of the vast audience the plays reached. Sayers was unmoved by the uproar she had created, saying, “Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious—others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honour by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.” The plays were enormously successful, often translated into other languages and frequently restaged.

Sayers continued her attack on religious complacency in books such as The Mind of the Maker and Creed or Chaos?, a book often compared to C.S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. She continued to insist that real faith must be grounded in more than emotion and sentiment; it must rest on a knowledge of, and acceptance of, the fundamental truths defined by the early church. She stated “It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and incompromising realism. “

Dorothy Sayers died on December 17, 1957. Every year on that date she is commemorated by the Episcopal Church with this prayer: Almighty God, who strengthened your servant Dorothy Sayers with eloquence to defend Christian teaching: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may always teach right doctrine, and teach doctrine rightly; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it. 

As I grow older and older,/ And totter toward the tomb,/ I find that I care less and less,/ Who goes to bed with whom.

None of us feels the true love of God till we realize how wicked we are. But you can’t teach people that – they have to learn by experience.

The worst sin – perhaps the only sin – passion can commit, is to be joyless.