Sunday, July 28, 2013

Westphalia visual supplement

The following are links to images to accompany the book Westphalia: The Last Christian Peace

Chapter 1

p.1: Portrait of Queen Christina, source of many of the quotations in this book and reigning Swedish monarch at the time of the Peace of Westphalia.

7: Witch scares: alive and well in the 1640's.

9: D'Artagnan and Cyrano de Bergerac were both duelists as well as French couriers at the Congress of Westphalia

10: Galileo died under house arrest in 1642.

Rembrandt as a young man and as an old man

11: Michelangelo's statue of David (left) next to Bernini's

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Theresa

Fall of the Damned by Rubens

Van Dyck's portrait of Charles I

Velazquez, The Surrender of Breda

Marie de Medici as the Roman goddess Bellona, by Rubens

The coronation of Marie de Medici by Rubens

12: Map showing the disparate realms of the elector of Brandenburg

Map showing the divided realms ruled by Philip IV -- and this just includes the European lands, not those in the Americas, East Indies, or Philippines

Chapter 5

127: Image of Münster in 1622

Image of Osnabrück in 1647

A common site in Münster's streets:  free-range pigs

128: A photograph of St. Lambert's church in Münster showing the cages used to kill the Anabaptist leaders

Painting of a Westphalian meal

Real pumpernickel, quite a bit denser and drier than what passes for pumpernickel in America

129: A woman wearing the distinctive Fellkenhaube headdress

133: Connections between Münster and Osnabrück
134: The Field of the Cloth of Gold:  how monarchs negotiated

136: An interactive map showing where the main representatives stayed in Münster

144: Ter Borch's painting of Adriaen Pauw's entrance to Münster -- quite restrained by contemporary standards

156: Postal connections  to the congress cities

Münster's connections to Europe's capitals

The "peace rider" announcing the Peace of Westphalia.  He blows the posthorn that was common to mail delivery in the Empire

Chapter 11

364:  An allegorical painting on the Peace of Westphalia by Joachim von Sandrart

366: An image of Otto von Guericke's demonstration of the power of the vacuum

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman and Racism

The liberal argument against George Zimmerman is based on the premise that he was profiling Martin because Martin was black.  Everything else about their defense depends on the idea that Zimmerman was wrongly "stalking" or even "hunting" Martin based on the colour of his skin.  I have seen liberals who, in other circumstances, would argue that it is never right to initiate violence, admit that Trayvon Martin attacked Zimmerman but exonerate him because of his right to "self-defense" against this suspicious person stalking him.  If there was no racial angle to this case, there would be no argument about self-defense against someone who was merely observing.  Indeed, if a white person had tried to claim self-defense to justify an attack against a black person who he thought was stalking him, liberals would be singing an entirely different tune.

The thing that strikes is that the idea that George Zimmerman is a racist is prima facie absurd.  He is one-quarter black; he took a black date to prom; he voluntarily tutors black students.  If he is racist, who isn't?  The next logical step is that a black person will be accused of racism against other blacks.  Lest that seem absurd, remember that Jesse Jackson has admitted to feeling anxious when meeting young black males alone on the street, an admission that would surely be considered racist if uttered by a white, a white-hispanic, an Asian, or any other non-black.

The liberal premise is that Martin was just returning from having bought Skittles and tea, so there is no way he could have appeared suspicious except by virtue of his race (or his hoodie -- although if the hoodie made Zimmerman more suspicious than he would have been without it, clearly that is not a racial marker but a cultural one).  Without hearing Zimmerman's reason for regarding Martin with suspicion, I don't grant this premise, but let's assume for the moment that it is true.  Would Zimmerman have any reason to regard a young black male as more suspicious than, say, a young white male?  What about a young, black female?  What about a 60-year-old black male?  The neighbourhood had been subject to several recent burglaries perpetrated (as far as I have heard) by young black males.  So is it not possible that Zimmerman, who otherwise has shown himself to be entirely at ease around blacks and without any hint of racism, was suspicious because Martin shared some similarities with other burglary suspects?  If the other burglars had been known to be wearing hoodies, would that have been a justifiable reason for suspecting him?  We're not talking about convicting him in a court of law for being like other burglars, only of observing him and his behaviour and his similarity to other burglars and trying to protect the neighbourhood.

Why should we assume that Zimmerman was motivated by racial animus rather than by concern to protect his neighbours from crime?  One interesting point that someone raised is that only one of the two people involved in this tragedy is known to have used a racial epithet to describe the other:  Trayvon Martin, who described Zimmerman as "a creepy-ass cracker."  Why does he get a pass for that?  Why is Zimmerman automatically assumed to be racist for considering Martin suspicious, when his real reason is unknown, whereas Martin comes in for no criticism for openly acknowledging his racism with regard to Martin?  If the case had been the other way, and a white person had pre-emptively attacked a black person whom he believed to be stalking him, would liberals consider it irrelevant if he described his stalker as "a creepy-ass nigger"?

One other aspect of this case disturbs me, and that is President Obama's famous statement last year that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon.  Is he saying that Trayvon Martin has a similar nose, or a similar cheekbone structure?  Or is he, as is far more likely, referring to their similar racial background?  If the latter, doesn't that come dangerously close to saying that all blacks look alike?  More to the point, why should this matter?  A president should stand for justice, not for solidarity with a racial group.  If Martin was wrongly killed, I would hope Obama would stand with him even if Martin were white, or Obama were black.  I am uncomfortable with an appeal to the racial unity in a matter of justice.  If there is a racial issue, the president should support justice, regardless of what race he is.  If we are ever going to overcome racial divisions, it will be because we stop grouping people by colour and start treating them as individuals, each of whom deserves justice regardless of his ethnic background or physical appearance.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Zimmerman verdict

Not much has happened to cause me to change my original interpretation of the George Zimmerman case.  We now know that Trayvon Martin described Zimmerman as "a creepy-ass cracker," and we have definitive evidence that Zimmerman was seriously injured in the struggle.  (I have heard people question whether Martin inflicted the wounds to Zimmerman, but I haven't heard a plausible alternative scenario.  Do they think Zimmerman broke his own nose to create a cover story?  Do they think he was on neighbourhood watch with a broken and bleeding nose?)

We still don't know how the encounter between the two of them went, having only Zimmerman's statement that he was ambushed and little else to go on.  Some people claim he was the one on top in the struggle, and it was Martin screaming for help.  This is only credible to me if Martin managed to turn the tables on him, because I don't see why Zimmerman would have pulled a gun when he was on top.  If he wanted to shoot Martin, why wait until they were in a physical altercation?  That makes drawing and using a gun much more perilous, with no corresponding benefit to waiting.

I visited the Daily Kos to find out what liberals are saying about the verdict.  I read several comments claiming that Zimmerman "hunted Martin like he was an animal."  This makes no sense to me (not that I expected a lot of sense from the Daily Kos, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt).  Zimmerman had participated in the neighbourhood watch before, and I find it hard to believe that he hadn't seen other people walking around unaccompanied.  There is no reason to think he wanted to kill Martin when he had not killed other people.  The idea of someone in a neighbourhood watch "hunting" someone is pretty unlikely in any case.  People who say that must never have lived in an unsafe neighbourhood where a number of robberies have occurred recently.  They can't understand why someone would be concerned for the safety and property of residents and would want to investigate suspicious behaviour.

This is a national story for two reasons.  First, some people think that Zimmerman went after Martin because he was black.  I don't know why they feel comfortable with that conclusion, which seems to contradict Zimmerman's history.  He obviously was on good terms with a number of black people.  His concern with Martin was that he was walking the neighbourhood at night in the way that a burglar might.  He may have drawn unjustified inferences, but I think it as likely that the hoodie concerned him as that Martin's race did.  (As far as I am aware, whites also wear hoodies.)  In any case, we can't know for sure whether race played a role in Zimmerman's suspicions, and I'm not sure why it should matter in a legal sense.

The second reason is that people don't think Zimmerman should have carried a gun, much less used it.  Of course, in their narrative, he was hunting Martin and looking for an excuse to kill him (and apparently wasn't too particular about the excuse, either, if you are to believe their story that he was on top of Martin in the fight).  In the more likely scenario that Martin was beating the crap out of him when he pulled a gun and shot in self-defense, the problem is more complicated.  One can make a case that, even in these circumstances, Zimmerman should not have shot Martin, but one has to accept that he was going to get beaten up and possibly killed in that case.  I don't like the idea of being defenseless, so I would not agree with that argument, but at least it would be an honest debate (as opposed to making Zimmerman out to be a cold-blooded killer).

As an interesting side note to the Zimmerman case, liberals have been making a comparison to the case of Marissa Alexander (also a Floridian) who was sentenced to 20 years merely for firing warning shots at her allegedly abusive husband.  Alexander is black, so I suppose this is meant to show that there is a double standard in justice based on the race of the perpetrator.  It doesn't quite work, because Alexander's husband is also black.  You could argue that it is an example of wildly inconsistent applications of the provision for self-defense, and I would have to agree with that.  Although Alexander was not being physically beaten at the time that she fired the shots, it does appear that her husband admits to being physical with her, to threatening to kill her previously, and to refusing to leave the house.  (See the court documents here.)  And, of course, she didn't actually shoot him, instead aiming for the ceiling.

To all appearances, this is also a travesty of justice.  Guns are especially important to women, who usually lack the physical strength to confront men who threaten them.  Although this incident had not, perhaps, risen to the level of actual threats, her husband's behaviour certainly seems threatening in the usual sense of the term.  Since she was not firing shots that had any chance of hitting him, I don't think she acted inappropriately.  On the other hand, the fact that this case was decided wrong does not mean that the Zimmerman case should have been decided in a manner consistent with it.  I'd rather fix the wrong case than be consistently wrong.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Democrat hate speech of the week

Many items from the link below aimed at pro-life Texas legislators, e.g. "I will drown @Scott_SanfordTX in blood & bile then feed his corpse to territorial crows," but mostly of the more mundane sort -- I hope you die, I hope your daughters get raped.  Repulsive, and enough to make some representatives feel physically threatened.  Of course, I don't blame Democratic legislators for the actions of these crazies, but I do think it is incumbent upon them to denounce it, just as Republicans are expected to denounce violent statements and actions against abortion clinics.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Limits of Stoicism

Stoicism is such an attractive philosophy. How can anyone object to being calm in the face of adversity, undisturbed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? It is not only personally promising, but also appealling in others, because we all admire someone with grace under pressure, someone who is always cool, calm, and collected.

I have always admired stoicism and aspired to be more stoic myself (without much success, I admit).  There seems something fundamentally wrong about railing against fate, whether you are religious or not.  If you are, surely God knows better than you; if not, the actions of inanimate forces are not worthy of your anger.  I think of the line from "The Color of Money," when Paul Newman's opponent loses and says, "I didn't deserve that."  Paul Newman just asks, "Is this your first tournament, Duke?"  What is the point of saying you didn't "deserve" to lose a pool game or to miss a particular shot?  You think the balls owed it to you to go somewhere other than where you hit them?

This seems especially relevant in the modern world, where so many people think they are owed something for nothing.  Criminals sue their own victimsLottery winners continue to collect welfare.  A woman who won $1 million said, "I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn't, I thought maybe it was okay because I'm not working...It's just hard, you know. I'm struggling."  These are not the kind of people you can expect to deal well with adversity, and, although they are extreme examples, they are representative of millions of people who don't mind gaming the system because they think their lives are hard.

A certain amount of stoicism is a pre-requisite for republican government, I think.  But it is also an attractive path to a quiet mind.  Who likes being upset?  With this in mind, when I finally got around to reading "The Enchiridion" recently, I was swept off my feet with its powerful opening:

Of all existing things some are in our power, and others are not in our power. In our power are thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid, and, in a word, everything which is our own doing. Things not in our power include the body, property, reputation, office, and, in a word, everything which is not our own doing. Things in our power are by nature free, unhindered, untrammelled; things not in our power are weak, servile, subject to hindrance, dependent on others. Remember then that if you imagine that what is naturally slavish is free, and what is naturally another's is your own, you will be hampered, you will mourn, you will be put to confusion, you will blame gods and men; but if you think that only your own belongs to you, and that what is another's is indeed another's, no one will ever put compulsion or hindrance on you, you will blame none, you will accuse none, you will do nothing against your will, no one will harm you, you will have no enemy, for no harm can touch you.

What could be more liberating than thinking that everything that happens to us is "slavish," "weak," and "servile"?  Only the things that we do -- our reactions -- are free.

The thing that concerns me about stoicism is not so much the idea nor how it has been implemented, but the logical conclusions which one can draw from its premises.  By dividing things into mental/spiritual (good, in our control) and material (bad, out of our control), it seems to set up a Manichaeanism in which the only thing to do is to withdraw into the spiritual realm.  Of course, unlike Machiaeans or Cathars, stoics do not believe material things to be evil; but since they are "weak" and "servile," it would seem pointless to devote any attention to them.

I am reminded of a scene from "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (which I may be misremembering and I don't have a copy of it handy) in which the author goes into a state of pure abstraction, sitting on the floor meditating for many hours, not bothering to get up to relieve himself.  How could a stoic object to this?  He is exhibiting concern only for the things that he can control, and not for external things.  And yet, somehow I find it profoundly disturbing that the idea of a philosophy could be to sit in one's own urine in contemplation.

I should clarify that I'm not saying stoics would approve of this outcome, but I think their premises (or at least, those in the Enchiridion) would require them logically to approve it.  (Unless, to be sure, there is some other aspect of stoicism that I am not understanding -- which is entirely possible.)  Therefore, while I continue to admire the stoic ideal and to try not to be moved unduly by external things, I can't accept stoicism as a complete philosophy.  I am a man, not an angel, and the material world is real and, for better or worse, not meaningless to me.  I pray I would accept whatever happens to me in it, but I can't agree that everything external is unimportant.