07 October 2015

Notes on Conservatism

Recently I have been reading a selection of notes about Edmund Burke who is considered to be the father of the conservative  movement.  Mr. Burke served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. The reason for my interest was a desire to pin down the "conservative principles" that many of the current Republican candidates claim to espouse but do not actually enumerate and so I went back to find out what Edmund Burke had to say.

The characteristic passion of Burke's life was his love of order. Liberty should be connected with order and any political movements that undermine either liberty or order should be challenged at all costs. The wisdom accumulated by experience in the past should be venerated and the bounds of liberty should only be enlarged with great caution and even then only gradually. Whatever has served well up to this point must obviously be fit for its purpose and should not be substituted rashly.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that is exactly how I feel. As a matter of consideration I submit that the average American  feels the same way. When I look for "conservative principles", however, there seem to be a myriad of them depending upon which newspaper or magazine you read or what talk show host you listen to. So, I decided to skip forward to the beginning of the Republican Party when it was formed in Ripon, Wisconsin in February 1854. It turns out that in general it was formed by both conservatives  and liberals who were united against the injustice of slavery.

Many Republican candidates tout their party as the "Party of Lincoln" since Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. It is interesting to me that Abraham Lincoln would, in my opinion, have had no problem with Edmund Burke and his love of order. James Randall, the noted scholar from the University of Illinois who specialized in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War stated that Lincoln was "conservative in his complete avoidance of that type of so-called 'radicalism' which involved abuse of the South, hatred for the slaveholder, thirst for vengeance, partisan plotting, and ungenerous demands that Southern institutions be transformed overnight by outsiders."

I wonder what Lincoln would have to say about sending eleven million people back to Mexico, building a wall to rival the Great Wall  of China ("only much taller") between the U.S. and Mexico or blaming the proliferation of firearm tragedies on the proliferation of the mentally ill and not the proliferation of unregulated firearms. Or how about some of the "first day in office" projects promised by the current crop of Republican candidates like, cancelling the Affordable Care Act, or defunding Planned Parenthood health care services for millions of women who would otherwise have no access to breast cancer screenings, Pap tests & HPV tests, pelvic exams, and help with urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and vaginitis?

American conservatism is best characterized as a reaction against utopian ideas of progress. That's fine, nobody expects utopia. In Thessalonians 5:21, the Bible tells us to "Test all things; hold fast to that which is good." The phrase is divided by a semicolon. On the left hand side you have the Democrats who are more of a mind to "test all things" and especially those that are new and shiny, and on the other side there are the Republicans who aren't afraid to try something new as long as we proceed with caution. In the middle is where most people are, both Democrat and Republican. It is the people of both parties who are out on the fringes that are not willing to concede  that compromise is a fundamental tenet of Democracy and it is cable news and talk radio who fuel the fire.

It is the privilege of the political parties to serve their country and not the job of the people to serve the political parties in order to win some kind of "break the piñata" free-for-all. My high school history teacher, Jack Annetti (R.I.P.) drummed democracy into our heads quite well; "Demos Kratein, gentlemen, Demos Kratein, the government of the people". Unfortunately, in this day and age, the "vox populi" (voice of the people) is not quite the "vox Dei" (the voice of God)...but it ought to be.

05 August 2015

A Colloquy with God

One of my favorite Christian Humanist Philosophers, Sir Thomas Brown, wrote a book in 1643 called Religio Medici (The Religion  of a Doctor). Sir Thomas was a practicing physician and had a deep curiosity towards the natural world, and he also had wide learning in diverse fields including both science and religion. He wrote in his book that sleep so resembles death that he dare not go to sleep without saying his prayers and bidding the world adieu each night in a colloquy with God and before turning in at the end of  each day he recited this prayer and by the time he reached the end of it he was asleep. Perhaps it will have the same effect on you as it does on me. I call it the long form of "Now I lay me down to sleep." In any case it is charming.

Sir Thomas wrote as a preface: "This is the dormative I take to bedward; I need no other Laudanum than this to make me sleep; after which I close my eyes in security content to take my leave of the sun and sleep unto the resurrection"

"The night is come like to the day
Depart not Thou Great God away.
Let not my sins, black as the night,
Eclipse the luster of Thy light.
Keep still in my horizon, for me,
The sun makes not the day, but Thee.
Thou whose nature cannot sleep,
On my temples sentry keep;
Guard me against those watchful foes,
Whose eyes are open while mine are closed.
Let no dreams my head infest,
But such as Jacob's temples blest.
While I do rest my soul advance,
Make my sleep a holy trance;
That I may, my rest being wrought,
Awake into some happy thought.
And with as active vigor run
My course, as doth the nimble sun.
Sleep is a death, O make me try,
By sleeping what it is to die.
And down as gently lay my head
Upon my grave as now my bed.
However I rest, great God let me
Awake again at last with Thee.
And thus assured, behold I lie
Securely, whether to wake or die.
These are my drowsy days in vain
Now I do wake to sleep again.
O come that hour when I shall never
Sleep this again, but wake forever!"

AMEN !!!

03 June 2015

Fi Fa Fo Fum

For those who do not get the gist of the title of this post you might remember the children’s story of Jack and the Beanstalk where the Giant said:

"Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman;
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread!" 

In this case however the Giant is the game of Football (or in other words, Fútbol, Soccer, or Balompié) and the Giant smells a rat that symbolizes the executive body of The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), whose goal, as enshrined in its statutes, is the constant improvement of football. I heard one newscaster say that Fútbol is a religion. On the contrary, amigo, Fútbol is not a religion. It is a team sport, and large predatory organizations like FIFA are a symbol of the attempt to supplant religion with their own lust for money and power.

I feel a bit like the Madman in Friedrich Nietzsche's, "The Parable of the Madman" except that I proclaim that God is very much alive and even FIFA cannot kill religion and make everyone worship at the FIFA altar. From religion we get morals as in the Ten Commandments of Moses and the Golden Rule of Jesus Christ to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These morals are the basis for religions the world over for people who are decent and God fearing. The leadership of FIFA adheres to nothing but the rules of their highly vaulted Ethics Committee of whom all FIFA officials are supposedly subscribers.

Without a belief in the Supreme Being, the Uncaused Cause, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, we are left with nothing more than a tattered and war warn set of rules (or treaties) called ethics that is the cumulative effort of kings, emperors, corporations and other despots including the filthy rich and their legions of lawyers in seeking the greatest advantage in the “Texas Hold ‘em” material game of life. These so-called ethics don’t really serve for much beyond the platitudes bandied about in the hot breath atmosphere of political speeches and debates and do not separate virtue from vice as was the original intention.

In a letter to Pope Pius II entitled “Cribratio Alkorani” in the year 1460 the renowned philosopher, mathematician, and scholar Nicolas of Cusa defined Virtue as moving in a direction toward the Good which is God Himself. He said we recognize that in ourselves there is a certain appetite or “Spirit” which moves us towards the good and indeed we find the majority of people in the world so inclined. However, there are those who have either been led astray by others or have been deliberately chosen the path in the opposite direction from the good and are attracted to the bad. The Good we associate with “Virtue” (notice the resemblance of “Good” and “God”) and the bad we associate with the father of all lies and we call it “Vice”.

One of my favorite poems comes from a work called “The Fable of the Bees” by Bernard Mandeville, an Anglo-Dutch philosopher, political economist and satirist who was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in 1670 but who lived most of his life in England. One stanza goes:

"And Virtue, who from Politics
Has learned a thousand cunning tricks,
Was by their happy influence,
Made friends with Vice,
And ever since, the worst of all the multitude
Did something for the common good."

He is talking about how willing virtuous people are to look the other way when the activities of those who wallow in vice also produce a benefit to those who fancy themselves as “good”.

The so called virtuous who benefit indirectly from vice are quick to say, “Well, after all, it really isn’t all that bad and look at the benefits to society that it brings”.  This is a classic case of what George Orwell referred to as “doublethink”.  The term doublethink means to know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancel out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while at the same time laying claim to it. We sometimes call this “turning a blind eye” or “willful ignorance”. Blaise Pascal called it “the fault of voluntary illusion” and Fyodor Dostoyevsky called it “compromise with conscience”. Here in México people say “Hacen de la vista gorda” which means literally, “They give it the fat look” or in other words the "virtuous" look the other way. However, no matter what you call it, the truth is that it is nothing more than a convoluted form of lying

In the case of corrupt FIFA officials they drip-feed aid to small developing countries and youth organizations and then ballyhoo the effort as justification for millions and millions of dollars that slip through their fingers and into their own pockets. After all, isn’t it all too often the real purpose of non-profit organizations in general? Too many of them exist to feather the nests of a selected few insiders in the name (only) of “Virtue”. And so, when Vice and Virtue get cozy together in the name of the public good they always shake hands, pat each other on the back, and smile for the cameras. It is a shame…a crying shame.

The FIFA scandal can be compared to Mexican "Lucha Libre" wrestling. You have the "técnicos", the good guys, versus the "rudos", the bad guys. "Técnico" (TEK-nee-koh) means technician. These are the wrestlers that use their technique and ability to win. "Rudo" (ROO-doh) literally means ruffian or villain. The "rudos" are the wrestlers who cheat in order to win. You have to choose your lot in life by being a técnico or a "rudo". In the FIFA scandal, the corrupt officials at FIFA are the Rudos and the youth and lovers of the game of Fútbol the world over are the Técnicos. The call for justice is always the same, "¡Arriba los técnicos y bajo los rudos!"..."Up with the good guys and down with the bad guys”, and one more thing…¡Viva Fútbol!

07 May 2015

Día de la Madre 2015

Sunday, May 10th, is Mother’s Day in México. It is always on the 10th of May. In the United States, Mother’s Day is always on the second Sunday of May regardless of the date. In 2015 the second Sunday of May falls on May 10th and so this year the people of both Mexico and the United States honor their Mothers on the same day. That won’t happen again until the year 2020. Why does Mexico celebrate Mother’s Day on a fixed date and the United States celebrate Mother’s Day on a variable date but both in the first half of May? It's a rather long story. Originally they celebrated on the same date but things got a bit confused along the way. The important thing is that Mothers everywhere get their due. Let’s take a look at how the whole thing got started.

First of all, celebrating motherhood is nothing new. The practice goes way back in history all over the world. In England it evolved into “Mothering Day” which was a Sunday in Lent when servants were given the day off to return to their ancestral home and visit their mothers and share time with their families. The practice did not fare well in the American colonies at first and it wasn’t until after the bloodshed of the American Civil War and during the Franco Prussian war that an interest in celebrating Mother’s Day was revived. A lady named Julia Ward Howe, who in 1861 wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, made a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870. She called on mothers the world over to come together and protest the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. Her motive was not so much to revere motherhood as it was to use motherhood as a catalyst for peace. During the ensuing years the celebration of Mother’s Day was disorganized and sporadic but the seed that Julia Ward Howe planted began to grow.

At the same time that Julia Ward Howe was writing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” there was a lady in West Virginia named Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis who was organizing women to work for the well-being of their communities by holding “Mother's Work Days”, which were days when groups of women dedicated themselves to campaigns involving better hygiene, sanitation, and medical care in the small communities of rural West Virginia. During the Civil War she helped not only her neighbors but wounded soldiers from both sides as well and through all that she managed to keep peace among the various political factions in her neighborhood. Taking their cue from Julia Ward Howe, a women’s group led by Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis began to celebrate an adaptation of Howe’s idea called “Mother’s Friendship Day” in order to re-unite families and neighbors that had been divided between the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War. Her many humanitarian efforts were only cut short by her death on Tuesday, May 9th, 1905.

After Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis died, her daughter Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for the creation of an official Mother’s Day in remembrance of her mother and in honor of peace. The idea for Mother's Day came to Miss Jarvis on May, 9th 1907, the second anniversary of her mother's death, which happened to fall on a Thursday. On May 10, 1908 which was the second Sunday in May, the first official Mother's Day celebration took place at Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. From there the idea spread from state to state and foreign countries as well, including Mexico. In 1912 West Virginia became the first state to officially recognize Mother's Day, and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed it into national observance, declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day. This may be where the fixed date versus variable date separation took place. What had been originally celebrated May 10th had now been officially transferred to the second Sunday.

In Mexico City in 1917 a young man of 28 from the State of Puebla named Rafael Alducin Bedolla founded what was to become an important newspaper called Excelsior. In April of 1922 he invited all interested parties to a convention to propose a nationwide holiday in Mexico dedicated to Mexican motherhood. As a result of this convention the first official Mexican “Día de la Madre” was celebrated on May, 10th, 1922. Guess what…it was a Wednesday! Why they didn’t follow the second Sunday idea we’ll probably never know. If anyone does know, please tell me. Father’s day in Both Mexico and the United States is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. This year Father’s Day in both countries will fall on Sunday, June 21st.

There are various ways that Mexican people celebrate Mother’s Day depending upon their local customs. Here in Irapuato, Guanajuato, where I live, it is the custom to stand outside of the mother’s house after midnight and sing “Mañanitas”, a very old traditional song. It is usually reserved for the Blessed Virgin, Mother’s Day, and Birthday celebrations. If the people are wealthy they may hire Mariachis to do their singing or perhaps a small “Norteño” type band.  Some people, who are not so wealthy, band together and go in turn to the houses of each of their mothers with the men singing one part and the women singing another part. It is very beautiful. The night doesn’t end until everyone’s mother has been serenaded. On the morning of May 10th the mothers usually attend morning mass at their local church and after mass the children treat mother to breakfast. In the afternoon everyone gathers at the home of the oldest mother in the family and the ladies make chicken with mole sauce, jalapeños, corn tortillas, and red rice. If they don’t want to cook they send out for “carnitas” (braised pork) which is another favorite dish and it is served with refried beans, tortillas, and rice. Afterwards there is a desert of either ice cream or cake or both. Oh, yes, I almost forgot…there is generally plenty of tequila too, usually served with the carbonated soft drink “Squirt”. It is a special time that reunites the family with the mother at the center. Here is the Mother’s day version of “Mañanitas:

Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David.
Hoy por ser día de las madres, te las cantamos a ti.
Despierta Mamá despierta mira que ya amaneció.
Ya los pajaritos cantan. La luna ya se metió.

Que linda está la mañana en que vengo a saludarte.
Venimos todos con gusto y placer a felicitarte.
Ya viene amaneciendo. Y a la luz del día nos dio.
Levántate Madre mía. Mira que ya amaneció.


20 February 2015

Lenten Capirotada Revisited

One of the Lenten traditions that we enjoy here in Mexico is a desert called “capirotada”. It is a bread pudding made with stale bread, brown sugar (called piloncillo), cheese, butter, nuts, and raisins and several other ingredients depending upon who makes it. If you have one hundred people making capirotada you will probably have at least twenty variations depending upon regional and ethnic considerations. I noticed that capirotada is often mentioned in cook books as a Lenten-Passover dish and I wondered about the connection. Why do two religious cultures share a particular traditional dish tradition at the same season? It is quite apparent that Hispanic People and Sephardic Jewish people share a fondness for capirotada but the fact they both eat it as a traditional seasonal food made me curious. I decided to delve into the history of capirotada but I soon found myself aimlessly wandering around the attic of history until I stumbled upon some clues.
First of all, let’s examine the word capirotada itself. In Spanish, the word “capa” can mean various things but they all have a common theme. A “capa” generally means a covering or a layer. It can mean a “cape”, a “coating” or a “layer” of something as in a “coating of paint” or a “layer of chocolate”, or it can be a “cap”. A “capirote” can mean a cow or other livestock that has a head that is a different color that the body. Many bird names in Spanish have the word “capirotada” appended to them if the bird has some type of different colored “cap” of feathers on its head. The word “capirote” also signifies a long pointed hood that medieval penitents wore or the cap worn by prisoners put on display for public humiliation or the traditional penitent’s garb worn by cofradía participants during the silent march on Good Friday in Spain, Mexico, and other Hispanic countries. In the United States it might be referred to as the “dunce cap” that the teachers of years gone by made students wear if they acted badly or didn’t know their lessons. A “capirote” is also the name for the little hood that falconers put on the heads of their birds to keep them quiet. Lastly, a “capirotada” can also be a mix of something like a stew, or a hash, or a mincemeat or a layered casserole. Aha! Now we are getting somewhere.
There is a French word, “capilotade” that lends credence to the idea of a layered casserole. There are a multitude of recipes for French capilotade and some involve poultry, some involve red meat, and some involve fish such as “Capilotade de Morue” which is a dish made from salt cod, capers, and wine. If we go back in time, however, and we go as far back as ancient Rome, we come across several dishes that lend themselves to the idea of “capirotada” or “capilotade”. The most prominent of these Roman cuisines is a dish called “Sala Cattabia”. The Romans used a bread for this casserole dish that was little more than flour, water, and salt. After the bread was baked it was broken up and put in a pot, covered with a layer of goat cheese, and then layers of cucumbers, boiled chicken, onions, and pine nuts. The whole thing was cooked with some kind of dressing that contained vinegar, raisins, honey, pepper, and various herbs.
Okay, now it is time to “fast forward” quite a bit to around the year 1500. It appears to me from my wanderings through time that the various evolving forms of the Roman dish divided into two branches, one with meat or poultry or fish and the other meatless but still utilizing cheese. During this casserole evolution there were all types of breads evolving as well and the bread used could make a distinct difference in the dish. In Spain at that time there was a strong Arab Islamic presence and so no doubt some of the ingredients came from North Africa. In 1478 the Spanish Inquisition was established in by Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to maintain Catholic orthodoxy. Until 1492 the Inquisition only had jurisdiction over baptized Catholics. However, in 1492 the Jews were banished from Spain and in 1502 the Muslim Moors were also given the boot. The only way that a Jew or Muslim could remain under the jurisdiction and protection of the Spanish Crown was to adopt Catholicism. One of the main tasks of the Inquisition was to make sure that the so called converts or “conversos” had really converted and were not just faking it to avoid being burned at the stake.
I found several garbled references on the Internet that referred to the Inquisition and the year 1640 and Inquisition archives containing recipes for capirotada. Most of the references seemed to be nothing more that people copying each other’s errors which is something that the Internet is famous for. The date 1640 intrigued me though and upon checking further I learned that in 1640 there was a book printed called the Regimento de Inquisitor General that gave detailed instructions on how to search for fake converts from Judaism to Catholicism. By this time the Inquisition had learned how to ferret out the Crypto Jews (as they later came to be called) fairly well. Knowing this, many of the Jewish “conversos” emigrated to New Spain, and in Mexico in particular they tried to distance themselves from the mainstream of the Inquisition by moving to the northern frontier. Being supposedly “good” Catholics they would have been expected to eat traditional Lenten foods such as capirotada prepared in the traditional way.
In Northern Mexico and Southern Texas there is a bread called “pan de semita” which some people call “Jewish bread” because they claim the word “semita” means “semite”. Jewish people are sometimes referred to as “semites” along with Arab people because both groups are said to have evolved from Shem, the oldest son of Noah (if one is to give credence to the Biblical account in the Book of Genesis). The exact details are not crystal clear in the Genesis account but Shem being the father of both the Arabs and the Jews was taken by many as historical fact in the days when anthropology was still bound by the Bible. The actual word “semite” didn’t even emerge until the early 1830’s. The linking of “pan de semita” strictly to Jews is probably an error. No doubt “pan de semita” was a flat, course bread linked to both Jewish and Arab cultures. What may have set the pan de semita apart is that it can be baked as a type of nomad’s bread without the use of yeast. Some people speculate that pan de semita was a substitute for the traditional matzo unleavened bread at Passover and it may have been camouflaged by the Catholic capirotada. Another thing, and even more important, most bread made in those days was made using lard. The pan de semita of Northern Mexico is made using vegetable oil instead of lard. In the Inquisition days vegetable oil or olive oil was hard to come by on the frontier and so the inquisitors were no doubt on the lookout for anyone making unleavened pan de semita using oil instead of lard.
I am satisfied that I have a general idea about why capirotada is linked to both Lent and Passover but I reached this point by tugging at little random historical threads and my theory may not be entirely correct. If I find out that I am all wrong I will print a retraction and if I find some new and interesting information I will edit it in. We can never be certain about History because we are only seeing shadows of it. My great grandmother from Poland had a way of dealing with this uncertainty. Whenever she heard someone speaking with great authority about what happened long ago she would say, “And how do you know? Vas you dere Charlie?”. Gina makes capirotada and puts her own personal stamp on it by using English walnuts instead of peanuts or almonds and instead of using raisins she uses dried blueberries. Perhaps one hundred years from now someone will be searching the internet to learn about capirotada and after stumbling upon a remnant of my blog they will infer that the people of Irapuato were unique in the ingredients that they used in capirotada. Good grief! I certainly hope not.
Here is the traditional recipe for Irapuato, Guanajuato style Capirotada a la Gina:
1 kilo piloncillo. These are the little cones of raw brown sugar. One kilo sounds like a lot but believe me it isn’t. There are about twenty little cones to the kilo.
2 cups water
3 sticks of Mexican cinnamon
1 laurel leaf
4 black pepper corns
4 cloves
1 to 2 cups of raisins
1 to 2 cups of unsalted shelled and halved peanuts
1 dozen or more fine dinner rolls. Here they are called “bolillo amasijo”. They are pointed at both ends and about the size of your fist. You can use other kinds of bread but fine dinner rolls with a light crust work the best.
Slice the bolillos on an angle into pieces about one half inch thick. Put the slices on a cookie sheet out in the sun or into a warm oven until they are hard. Fry the slices in hot oil on both sides until golden brown. You can also deep fry them in a fryer in very hot light vegetable oil. Drain the bread slices on a paper towel. Place the piloncillo sugar cones into a pot with two cups of water, the cinnamon sticks, the laurel leaf, the pepper corns, and the cloves. Melt the piloncillos over low heat stirring frequently until you get a nice light semi-thick syrup. Dip each piece of bread into the syrup and put them into a big pot until the bottom of the pot is covered. Then sprinkle in some raisins and some peanuts. Put in another layer of bread slices and then more raisins and peanuts etcetera until the pot is full or you run out of slices. There should be enough for a four quart pot. Pour the remaining syrup over the top layer, put on a lid and cook over very low heat for five to ten minutes. Turn off the heat and let the whole thing cool down. You now have some wonderful Capirotada. Serve it in small bowls. Don’t even ask about the calories though. I can’t even count that high.
The above recipe was used by Gina’s mother and her grandmother and her great grandmother going back for many generations. The only difference is that now we use vegetable oil and years ago they used “manteca” which is very fine lard. This dish was served on Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent and of course, Good Friday. It was eaten as a desert to compensate for not eating meat on those days. On Saturday mornings, the leftover Capirotada was eaten for breakfast with a cup of “atole blanco” which is a hot drink made from finely ground corn meal. Some people would also eat “platano macho” that was sliced and fried in butter along with the Capirotada. The “platano macho” looks like a large hard banana and is generally referred to in English as “plantain”. Capirotada was a very expensive dish to make in the old days and for that reason it was reserved only for Lent when people ate less regular food and could afford to spend a little more for the ingredients. I only eat it at Lent because if I ate it all the time I would look like the Goodyear Blimp. I can tell you one thing though. It really is delicious!

10 January 2015

What about you, Charlie?

In the last few days I have watched the drama play out in the aftermath of the cartoonist assassinations at the offices of the political satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It is interesting to note that Charlie Hebdo was originally called Hara-Kiri Hebdo. The term “Hara-Kiri” refers to “hara-kiri” (腹切り, cutting the belly) which is  a form of Japanese ritual suicide, and “hebdo”, which  is short for “hebdomadaire “ (weekly). Hara-Kiri Hebdo was shut down by the French government in 1970 after making some satirical innuendos regarding the demise of French president Charles de Gaulle. The charge was “Lèse-majesté” which is the crime of “violating majesty”, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state. Charlie Hebdo rose like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes of Hara-Kiri Hebdo.  The publication describes itself as strongly left-wing and it publishes severely critical articles about the extreme Right, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Politics, Culture, etc. Some might question the wisdom of the French government in setting the precedent of claiming “Lèse-majesté” at the slighting of a former French president and ignoring the blatant and vulgar insults of the founder of one of the world’s largest religions not to mention the humiliation of six to eight million of its own citizens who happen to be Muslim. In a manner of speaking aren’t the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in question on par with crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre?

As it is, French xenophobia is creating a monster backlash against Muslims and Jews. The “Je suis Charlie” solidarity movement  reminds me of the mistrust among the ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, in 1914. It made every ethnic non-Austrian a suspect of nefarious collaboration with foreign entities. The Czech people of Bohemia were particularly humiliated when they were relegated to third place status by the Hungarians and the Austrians after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. As a result of the death of the Archduke, the Czechs were forced to participate in a conflict that they did not understand on behalf of an empire to which they had no loyalty. One million Austro-Hungarian soldiers died in World War I of whom around 140,000 were Czechs. One of the survivors of this conflict, a man named Jaroslav Hašek, wrote about it in the form of a funny satirical novel called “The Good Soldier Švejk”.

Jaroslav Hašek’s novel  is all about the fateful adventures of the good soldier Švejk during the first world war. It is the most translated novel of Czech literature. Švejk (or “Schweik” in English) has become the Czech national personification. A Czech citizen will proudly declare “Já jsem Švejk”, “I am Schweik”.

Mexican President Benito Juárez once said,  "Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" ("Among individuals, as among nations, respect the rights of others is peace"). To that I would add not only “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) but in terms of respect I am also Je suis Catholique (I am Catholic), Je suis Juif (I am Jewish), Je suis Musulman (I am Muslim), Je suis Hindou (I am Hindu),  Je suis Bouddhiste (I am Bhuddist),  Je suis Confucéenne (I am Confucian), and so on, and so on, and so forth.

We live in a tense world of “dogma eat dogma”. We don’t have to. We can withhold judgment, respect the rights and feelings of others, and live in peace. Join me and good soldier Švejk.

Statue of Josef Švejk in Przemyśl, Poland

28 December 2014

Theme for 2015

Every year at this time when people traditionally make their New Year's resolutions I inaugurate my theme for the coming year. For the year 2015 the theme will be Ancient Greek aphorism "Know Thyself". In Greek it is written "γνώθι σαυτόν" which transliterates from the Greek letters to Latin as "Gnothi Sauton" or "Gnōthi Seauton". In Roman Latin "Know Yourself" is "Teipsum Cognoscere" (or "Te Ipsum Cognoscere", or "Temet Nosce") and in Spanish it is "Conócete a ti mismo".

Thanks to the second century CE Greek traveler and writer Pausanias, there is a first hand account of the inscription on the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, also referred to as "The Oracle at Delphi". The inscription could be read by anyone who came on their long religious pilgrimage searching for answers and a look into the future.

To know oneself is first step on the path to enlightenment. Although the term "Know Thyself" is commonly attributed to the Greeks, the call to knowing the Self is universal historically and cannot easily be attributed to a single individual or even a singe culture. "Know Thyself" began appearing in cultures and traditions and at different times throughout Asia, Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe, from Chinese dynasties to the Hindu teachings, to Islam and the Sufis, and of course, to ancient Rome. All philosophical endeavors placed "Know Thyself" on a pedestal, acknowledging it as jumping off place in the search for true knowledge and wisdom.

I have already begun my journey down to the depths of my nature and it has been quite illuminating. I began by reading the "Essays" of Michele Montaigne who made this journey over a twenty year period in the second half of the sixteenth century centered around 1581. He made a detailed record of his observations of both his own thoughts and actions as well as those of his contemporaries, and compared them with those of philosophers who had gone before. He included everyone from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, Diogenes Laertus, Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, Plutarch, and Seneca just to name a few. He is so frank, honest, and contemporary that is seems like he reaches out and grabs you and pulls you back into his home in Bordeax, France just to chat with you, his special friend and confidant from the future. The name of the book is "The Complete Essays by Michele Montaigne, translated by M.A. Screech". By the way, the book has 1338 pages. It is almost like a course in knowing how to live. However, it is in no way boring and it has set me on a quest that should happily take me the rest of my life.

Happy New Year!


19 July 2014

Sunrise, Sunset...Dawn to Dusk

Not long ago I became interested in the schedule of the rising and setting sun at various times of the year and in different places. What I didn't realize is that there are two other periods associated with the rising and setting sun that are equally or even more important than the actual sunrise and sunset. These are the periods before sunrise and after sunset which we usually refer to as "dawn" and "dusk" but are technically grouped under a category called morning and evening twilight.

The twilight hours are further characterized by the amount of degrees that the center of the sun is below the horizon. The first of these, Civil Twilight, is the one that most people are familiar with. One important feature of Civil Twilight is that it defines our laws that govern illumination such as street lights and automotive headlights.

Civil Twilight is the time at which the the geometric center of the sun is between zero and six degrees below the horizon. At this point, there is enough light for objects to be clearly distinguishable and that outdoor activities can commence or end without artificial illumination. Civil twilight is the definition of twilight used by the general public.

Nautical Twilight is the time when the center of the sun is twelve degrees below the horizon, and only general or vague outlines of objects are visible. During the evening this is when it becomes too difficult to perceive the horizon, and in the morning this is the point when the horizon becomes distinguishable. This term goes back to the days when sailing ships still navigated by using the stars.

During Astronomical Twilight the center of the sun is between twelve and eighteen degrees below the horizon. Before the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning and after the end of astronomical twilight in the evening the sun does not contribute to sky illumination. In fact, for a considerable interval after the beginning of morning twilight and before the end of evening twilight, sky illumination is so faint that it is practically imperceptible. However, this period is very important to more than two billion people around the world for it announces the arrival time for a fasting to begin. It is even mentioned in the Qur'an:

"Eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of dawn"
The Holy Qur'an, Surah al-Baqara, verse 187.

In Spanish there are several vocabulary words used for dawn and dusk:

dawn - amanecer
very early in the morning - de madrugada
daybreak - al alba
twilight - crepúsculo,  las horas del crepúsculo
atardecer - dusk
tardecer - to grow dark
anochecer - nightfall
oscurecerse - to become dark
penumbra - semi-darkness

My favorite Spanish word for daybreak is "al alba". The word "alba" comes from the Latin word "albus" meaning white. Words in Spanish that end in "a" are generally feminine gender but "alba" is actually masculine gender and thus "a el alba" becomes "al alba". It describes the longing of lovers who, having passed a night together, must separate for fear of being discovered by their respective spouses. It is related to the Old English "aubade" which is a morning love song or poem about lovers separating at dawn. An aubade is the early morning equivalent to the evening serenade.

In English Literature the sunrise and sunset are described in countless ways. For sunrise one of my favorite poems is "The Road to Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling. Here is the first stanza where the sun rises abruptly:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-setting, and I know she thinks of me;
For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple bells they say:
'Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!'
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you hear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flying fishes play,
And the dawn comes up like thunder
Over China cross the Bay!"

My favorite poem about sunset, that I memorized in High School and can still recite from memory over four decades later, is "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray. Here are the first two stanzas where the light just fades away:

"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;"


22 June 2014

Between Today and Yesterday

Between today and yesterday we experienced the Summer Solstice. It was at 7:51 am Central Daylight Saving Time on Saturday, June 21st. I say it was "between today and yesterday" because the daylight hours for both days are the same length. The thing that I never really realized, however, is that here in Irapuato, Guanajuato we only experienced fourteen hours and thirteen minutes of total daylight while the lucky gee whiz folks in Chicago, Illinois received a whopping sixteen hours and twenty-two minutes. Hey guys...that ain't fair!

Wait a minute...this just in! At Christmas time we get eleven hours and 41 minutes of total daylight and you only get ten hours and eleven minutes but that is only if your sun is shining and not frowning. In Chicago during the Winter Solstice just before Christmas it will probably be cloudy or snowing and only ten degrees above zero while I will still be picking tomatoes in my shorts and flip-flops...so there!

15 June 2014

Three Little Pigs

The other day I read a blog post on "Ripples, Very Small Waves in R"
It is about a game of dice called "The Three Little Pigs" where only
one die is used. The rules are:

"Each turn, a player repeatedly rolls a die until either a 1 is rolled or the player decides to hold. If the player rolls a 1, they score nothing and it becomes the next player’s turn. If the player rolls any other number, it is added to their turn total and the player’s turn continues. If a player chooses to hold, their turn total is added to their score, and it becomes the next player’s turn. The first player who reach at least 100 points is the winner."

I showed this game to my eight year old grandson and he was delighted. He calls the game "Cochinito" (little piggy) because in this game you are penalized by chance if you get too greedy. He is playing it with anyone and everyone he can talk into it. He kept talking about good luck and bad luck so much that I decided to teach him a little bit about probability. I showed him that with one die each number has an equal chance to land face up and since there are six numbers on the die the probability of throwing any particular number is 1/6 or in other words about 16.7 percent. I made some simulations and graphs in "R" programming with the help of "R Workshop for Beginners" (Barry Rowlingson,Lancaster University, UK http://www.maths.lancs.ac.uk/~rowlings/Teaching/Stafford2013-Sept/dice.html

The simulations let you make multiple rolls of the dice and let you see the distrbution of the multiple roll results. Here are the results for four sets of 100 roll trials with a single die:

 1  2  3  4  5  6
18 18 15 15 22 12

 1  2  3  4  5  6
15 17 15 19 13 21

 1  2  3  4  5  6
19 18 14 18 20 11

 1  2  3  4  5  6
19 16 19 18 14 14

Here is the result of a 10,000 roll trial:
   1    2    3    4    5    6
1664 1639 1695 1651 1680 1671

You can see that as the number of multiple rolls increases the average gets closer to 16.7.

Here is the result order for the roll of one set of 100 rolls with a single die:
6 5 4 5 6 3 5 5 4 4 1 1 3 4 5 6 4 4 4 4 6 5 1 4 1 3 1 3 3 2 6 4 3 2 1 5 3 3 1 3 2 5 1 2 6 6 6 3 2 3 1 3 2 6 5 1 2 5 6 4 1 6 2 5 4 4 4 4 2 1 5 4 5 6 6 5 5 6 5 1 4 3 1 6 1 5 3 6 1 3 5 6 2 6 4 2 2 1 2 3

Each 100 rolls of a single die will result in a new random number. You can see that you never know when the number "1" will jump up and grab you or leave you alone for awhile.

This is the R code that I used:

table(as.integer(runif(10000, 1, 7)))  # method with one die

table(sample(1:6, 10000, replace = TRUE))  # Alternate  with one die

# Wrapped in a function and plotted - one die
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))

# Wrapped in a function and plotted - two dice
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
plot(table(die(10000) + die(10000)))

# A dice function to throw one die 100 times and return the result.
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
dice = function(T = 100, N = 1) {
  m = matrix(die(N * T), N, T)

# A function to throw two dice 100 times and return the sum.
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
dice = function(T = 100, N = 2) {
  m = matrix(die(N * T), N, T)

This video by Eric Cai is very helpful in explaining the probability of rolling dice:

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.