Wisdom knows no age….

Venice – Bodleian Library.

Back in the 14th century, a Venetian merchant put together a compendium of information practical, scientific, and wise, known as the Zibaldone da Canal. It included the following words of wisdom we would do well to heed today. (Courtesy of Medievalists.net)

These are beautiful words to understand

Courtesy from the mouth is very valuable, and costs little.

The excessive man cannot acquire great things that last long.

Whoever errs and does not believe that he has erred ought to find mercy, but whoever knowingly errs is neither true nor good.

If a man knows in himself that which he sees and knows in other people, I have a firm belief that he will not fail in the end, though at times he may fail grievously.

Who can control himself, it seems to me, rules a very great kingdom.

Good words and evil deeds deceive wise man and fool alike.

These are the three most hopeless things in the world:the first is a poor man, the second is the beauty of a whore, the third is the strength of a fool.

These are three things that are more displeasing to God than any others: the first is for a rich man to be greedy, the second is for a poor man to be arrogant, the third is for an old man to be lascivious.

The wise man says: He who breaks faith will find faith broken.

The wise man says: Whoever shall do well shall have good and shall not know whence it shall come.

If those who wound felt the pain of those who are wounded, they could not often wound with pleasure.

There is a time to climb and at time to descend. And a time to weep and a time to be silent. And there is a time serve those who offend thee. And a time to threaten, not to fear: and at such times a man ought to wait to know the good from the bad, according to which carries the best chance of success.

The wise man has his mouth in his heart, while the fool has his heart in his mouth.

Praise the fool and make him rise.

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No Room at this Inn? Shame on Us.

While the eyes of the world have been understandably focused on Paris this week, it is important to remember that what is happening in the world as, literally, happening in the World.

In the past year,  people in over 30 nations have been killed by terrorists.

Some of the 30+ nations hit by terrorism in 2015

Some of the 30+ nations hit by terrorism in 2015

At least 17 nations have been hit by Daesh (ISIL) or splinter groups/lone actors claiming association with Daesh, most notably its West African affiliate, Boko Haram. France is no longer even the latest. The other day, 32 people were killed in a bombing in a Nigerian market, and today there were reports of terrorist activity in Mali, Malaysia, Tel Aviv, and on the West Bank.

That each and every attack is a horrible assault on humanity is an understatement. But as a matter of numbers and facts, over 80% of those attacks have taken place in just 5 nations, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. Nations torn by years of war, internecine strife, and outside interference. (Note: This does not take into account the terror inflicted on indigenous populations in the name of on-going conflicts, such as the persistent actions by Israel against the Palestinians.)

While there is much talk of the horrors in Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan – horrors for which the West bears considerable responsibility in decades of both action, inaction, and colonial stupidity – the persistent bloodshed in Western Africa is largely ignored. And both pale in coverage compared to nonstop coverage of recent events in Europe. The reasons for this are surely racial and cultural: Americans are historically Euro-centric as well as being much more likely to travel to Europe than to Abuja or Kuala Lumpur. But, woefully myopic as this is, it’s the subject for another day.

On a daily basis, whole populations live in fear we here in the United States cannot even imagine. Fear which has driven millions to flee their homelands, risk their lives, seeking safe haven from torture and death. These are families, children, women, the vulnerable of the vulnerable.

Most are heading to Europe. It’s the only practical option. To get half-way round the world to the United States is a much more difficult and expensive proposition. Not to mention that the US has not been exactly welcoming to these people.

Finally, though, President Obama has said he will open our shores to 65,000 Syrian refugees. A drop in the bucket of terrorized humanity. Each and every one would be screened and vetted. Contrary to right-wing fearmongering, no one will  just be stepping off ships or airplanes and vanishing into the countryside.

Of course, in light of recent events in Paris, this oh-so-modest proposition has made the GOP lose its puny, collective mind. Aside from the fact that terrorism in the US is of a largely home-grown variety (Charleston and Boston) and that no refugees have been connected to Paris, the right’s knee-jerk response is to play right into ISIL’s hands, and move to close our borders to all Mideastern refugees. This only  confirms what the terrorists are saying, that the West hates and fears all Islam.

Syrian refugee child.

Be very afraid: Syrian refugee child.

And it gets worse.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two men seeking the highest job in the nation, have suggested a religious test for refugees, i.e. Christians only [How very Christian of them!], and lawmakers in Missouri and Virginia are talking internment camps. [Ask the Japanese Americans of WWII or the Palestinians how well that works.]

Most disturbing of all, to resounding cheers, Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner has proposed closing Mosques, a Muslim registry [but not one for gun owners!*], and special identity cards for people of the Muslim faith.

From a party that throws  Nazi analogies at President Obama and the Democrats at every turn, this is truly Hitlerian.

Not to mention unconstitutional and utterly un-American.

As the President said, this bold-faced bigotry is the recruiting tool ISIL has been dreaming of.

And every American should stand up to them and say, “No!” No to prejudice and fear, no to cowardice hiding behind the inflammatory rhetoric, no to shredding the Constitution because the world is not perfectly safe.

Nothing is perfectly safe. In the grand scheme of things, though, we here in the U.S. have far more to fear from our good Christian neighbors with their guns or, if people of color, from some cops on the beat, than from orphans seeking shelter from a deadly storm.

There is a saying, when you value your children more than your neighbor’s, war is near. The world has to come together, not to rain fire from the skies, but to find another way to value all our children. To live together. Without fear, without hatred, without violence.

Shame on those who turn their backs on a world crying for refuge and peace. Shame on those who let fear win. Lady Liberty would weep.

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*In this country alone, over 12,000 people were lost to gun violence in 2014. In that same time, only 6 people were killed in the US in 2 “terrorist” attacks; only one such attack was connected with radical jihadis and none were carried out by refugees. Americans have more to fear from home-grown militias and right-wing racists than refugees or immigrants.

Remember, Remember….

The 5th of November.

Tis Guy Fawkes Day, once more. A day whose meaning has been muddled by popular culture through the years, notably Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta and the 2005 anti-fascist film it inspired. G8yHZyP

The hack-anarchists over at Anonymous picked up the banner (and mask) and a modern anti-tyranny, liberal-leaning legend was born.

But how do these representations stack up against the historical Mr. Fawkes?

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My first introduction to Guy Fawkes was when I was 8 years old and we were living in Devon for a year. I knew little of the history then, but certainly enjoyed the fireworks and bonfires – what kid would not? It was only later, as my fascination with history grew, that I looked beyond the sparkling festivities to the story beneath.

Guy Fawkes – aka Guido Fawkes, aka John Johnson – was a Catholic at a time when being Catholic in England was not easy. The Church of England was less than a century old and anti-Papist feeling was still running high. Catholics were still being imprisoned, having their lands confiscated, and worse. It was the 17th century, after all.

After fighting with Spain against his king, James I, and country, Fawkes fell in with a group of provincial Catholics who were convinced the only thing to do was to bring down the government and restore Catholic supremacy across the land. King, ministers, Parliament, the whole shebang, had to go. Thus was launched the ill-fated Gunpowder Plot. Because of his years in the military, the cabal put Guy in charge of the powder.The_Gunpowder_Plot_Conspirators,_1605_from_NPG

So it was that on the 5th of November, 16o5, Fawkes was caught guarding kegs of explosives beneath the Houses of Parliament. Following a seriously enhanced interrogation, he gave up his fellow conspirators, and, in the gruesome fashion of the day, all were executed for High Treason.

So, the question remains, was he a hero or a religious zealot? Were he and his fellow plotters striking a blow against a royal tyrant or looking to unleash anarchy on their homeland? While James I wasn’t a perfect monarch, there had certainly been greater despots before and since. And, aside from their religious convictions, one would be hard pressed to find a cohesive political motivation for the plotters’ actions. They simply wanted to replace the authority of a lawful monarch with that of the Pope, without regard for the loss of life or social upheaval. Religious wars are like that no matter what the age or faiths. Hmmm. In the end,  it can be said that the attempted assasination of the King gave James a period of good will he might otherwise not have had. Certainly, in full, the poem we know of the day is pro-James/anit-Guy.

THE FIFTH of NOVEMBER

    Remember, remember!
    The fifth of November,
    The Gunpowder treason and plot;
    I know of no reason
    Why the Gunpowder treason
    Should ever be forgot!
    Guy Fawkes and his companions
    Did the scheme contrive,
    To blow the King and Parliament
    All up alive.
    Threescore barrels, laid below,
    To prove old England’s overthrow.
    But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
    With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
    A stick and a stake
    For King James’s sake!
    If you won’t give me one,
    I’ll take two,
    The better for me,
    And the worse for you.
    A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
    A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
    A pint of beer to wash it down,
    And a jolly good fire to burn him.
    Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
    Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!

In terms of modern politics and those who have latched onto Guy Fawkes as a symbol, in the United States the fundamentalist “religious liberty” types seem to have more in common with him than any liberal faction. After all, they believe their religous faith trumps anyone else’s rights, regardless what the law and Constitution say. They would likely be shocked by this link. But then again, over here ignorance often leads people to get their history wrong. Just look at the Tea Party. Never let something like history or facts get in the way of a little good old fashion demagoguery. God knows the current flock of GOP presidential candidates don’t.

For myself, I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the traitor Fawkes. And, being anti-totalitarian to my core, I am especially fond of his Fawkes-as-V incarnation. Is it historical, no. But it is good storytelling. And that – along with fireworks and rousing overtures – will always appeal to the rebelious 8-year-old lingering inside me.

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