Old Glory on the Moon

Back on July 20, 1969 I remember staying up to watch this with my father.  Here is a NASA Contractor Report on the flag raising.  My father was not the most talkative man in the world, but I could tell he was quite proud when the flag was raised.  So was I.

The flag raising has been seized upon by conspiracy theorists who claim that the moon landings were government hoaxes.  How could a flag wave without an atmosphere?  This has been answered numerous times. (more…)

Published in: on October 8, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

October 7, 1571: Lepanto


(I post this each October 7 at The American Catholic.  I assumed the history mavens of Almost Chosen People would enjoy it.))



On October 7, 1571, four hundred and forty-four years ago, the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet.  This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean.  The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.

For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of  The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.

Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews:  ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’  The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme:  “No Heaven For Cowards”.    Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle.  Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship.  Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.

At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome.  He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward.  He then turned to the cardinals and said:   “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.”  So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory.  To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.


Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 6, 1889: Roll ’em

How rare it is in history for a scientific genius to also possess considerable business acumen and the ability to direct a large body of men working under him.  Thomas Edison possessed all of those gifts.  With one of the sharper minds granted to a man, he had the inspiration to invent hundreds of devices.  He directed eventually a large work force of employees, some of whom had intellects almost as sharp as his.  Finally he could take his inventions and develop markets for them.

Edison thought of “moving pictures” as doing for the eye what his phonograph did for the ear.  In February of 1888 Edison met with chrono-photographer  Eadweard Muybridge who used what he called a  zoopraxiscope to rapidly project painted images on a screen to give the illusion of music.  They announced they would combine this technology with Edison’s phonograph.  From the outset Edison envisioned “talkies”.  Most of the actual work in producing the first movies was done by Edison’s employee W. K. L. Dickson, who had served as Edison’s official photographer.

Edison devised the idea of a kinetoscope, but it was Dickson who brought it to reality, producing “moving” images by running strips of film across a light source.  Dickson invented the first practical celluloid film to serve as the medium upon which the photographs would be placed.  The first films were displayed as “peep shows” in penny arcades, the movies often focusing on boxing matches and other athletic contests.

Dickson went on to produce the first film for a pope, and had his camera blessed by Leo XIII.  (more…)

Published in: on October 6, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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October 5, 1945: Battle of Burbank

One of the major factors in transforming Ronald Reagan from a New Deal Democrat into a conservative Republican was his confrontation with Herb Sorrell in 1946-47 Hollywood.  Head of the Conference of Studio Unions, Sorrell was a veteran union organizer.  He was also a secret member of the Communist Party and a frequent contact for Soviet intelligence agents.

Sorrell in 1945 launched a strike to ensure that his union dominated Hollywood labor.  Sorrell had no problem using physical intimidation  to reach his goals.  This was demonstrated at what has been called the Battle of Burbank on October 5, 1945 when 800 members of the Conference of Studio Unions battle with police of the Los Angeles Police Department, using knives, bats, chains and pipes to shut Warner Brothers down.  The violence shocked Hollywood and attracted nationwide attention and led to a negotiated settlement of the strike. (more…)

Published in: on October 5, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grant: Man of Contradictions


Fate has a way of picking unlikely material,
Greasy-haired second lieutenants of French artillery,
And bald-headed, dubious, Roman rake-politicians.
Her stiff hands were busy now with an odd piece of wood,
Sometime Westpointer, by accident more than choice,
Sometime brevet-captain in the old Fourth Infantry,
Mentioned in Mexican orders for gallant service
And, six years later, forced to resign from the Army
Without enough money to pay for a stateroom home.
Turned farmer on Hardscrabble Farm, turned bill-collector,
Turned clerk in the country-store that his brothers ran,
The eldest-born of the lot, but the family-failure,
Unloading frozen hides from a farmer’s sleigh
With stoop-shouldered strength, whittling beside the stove,
And now and then turning to whiskey to take the sting
From winter and certain memories.
It didn’t take much.
A glass or two would thicken the dogged tongue
And flush the fair skin beneath the ragged brown beard.
Poor and shabby–old “Cap” Grant of Galena,
Who should have amounted to something but hadn’t so far
Though he worked hard and was honest.
A middle-aged clerk,
A stumpy, mute man in a faded army overcoat,
Who wrote the War Department after Fort Sumter,
Offering them such service as he could give
And saying he thought that he was fit to command
As much as a regiment, but getting no answer.

So many letters come to a War Department,
One can hardly bother the clerks to answer them all–
Then a Volunteer colonel, drilling recruits with a stick,
A red bandanna instead of an officer’s sash;
A brigadier-general, one of thirty-seven,
Snubbed by Halleck and slighted by fussy Frémont;
And then the frozen February gale
Over Fort Henry and Fort Donelson,
The gunboats on the cold river–the brief siege–
“Unconditional surrender”–and the newspapers.

Major-General Grant, with his new twin-stars,
Who, oddly, cared so little for reading newspapers,
Though Jesse Grant wrote dozens of letters to them
Pointing out all the wonders his son had done
And wringing one dogged letter from that same son
That should have squelched anybody but Jesse Grant.
It did not squelch him.  He was a business man,
And now Ulysses had astonished Galena
By turning out to be somebody after all;
Ulysses’ old father was going to see him respected
And, incidentally, try to wangle a contract
For army-harness and boom the family tannery.
It was a great surprise when Ulysses refused,
The boy was so stubborn about it.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

I am glad to announce that Dale Price is back to regular blogging at Dyspeptic Mutterings.  I am glad to announce that because I have ever stolen borrowed blogging ideas from him.  Here is his review of H.W. Brand’s bio of Grant:

The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace is an excellent biography of one of America’s most consistently-underrated historical figures. 

University of Texas history Professor H.W. Brands does a fine job of illuminating Grant’s early life and struggles, not only with the bottle but with his failings as a provider–both despite his best efforts. As he does so, Brands presents the determined character that enabled Grant to overcome these failures and rise to become the most beloved general since Washington, and the most popular President of the 19th Century (at least in terms of electoral success).

The description of Grant’s military tenure during the Civil War is very solid, demonstrating that he was the best strategic thinker on either side, and no slouch as a tactician. Brands points out–correctly–that Grant’s casualty rates were lower as a proportion of men in combat than Lee’s despite being on the offensive much more often. That said, I still think Lee was slightly better as a tactician, especially considering that the quality of leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia declined drastically over time, and that of the Army of the Potomac increased with the rise of men like Sheridan and Ord.

None of that was a particular surprise to me, given my other reading. The real eye-opener for me was Brands’ revisionist (and I use that term advisedly) assessment of Grant’s two terms as President. Far from the failure “everyone knows” it to be, Grant’s Presidency had a remarkable number of achievements: the Fifteenth Amendment, the squelching of the attempt to corner the gold market, the settling of claims against England stemming from the giving of commerce raiders to the Confederacy and, most crucially, Grant’s dedication to civil rights for freedmen. In enforcing the Ku Klux Klan Act and related civil rights legislation and appointing determined attorneys general like Amos Akerman (who had been a Colonel for the Confederacy!), Grant was the President most devoted to civil rights and racial equality until the arrival of Lyndon Johnson. Furthermore, Grant presented the most humane policy toward the Indian tribes by an American president up to his time.

Where this reassessment (slightly) fails is in providing a thorough explanation of *why* Grant’s reputation as President went to and remains mostly in the dustbin at this late date. To be sure, Brands’ treatment of 1872-1880 is not all praise–Grant is rapped for his too-restrictive handling of the Panic of 1873, America’s first industrial depression, which cast a shadow over much of his tenure. Though, in Grant’s defense, his restrictive approach to increasing the money supply was well-within the mainstream of 1870s economic thought.

Interestingly enough, the economic doldrums did not damage his personal popularity much (as opposed to damaging the GOP)–he came close to winning a nomination for a third term in 1880, and almost certainly would have won that election, too. 

All in all, the coverage of Grant’s presidency is an eye-opener which should act as a welcome rebuttal to the Good General/Bad President canard that unjustly haunts him.

Finally, Brands deftly handles Grant’s last battle–a race against time to finish his memoirs as he was dying of throat cancer. As he did through his military career, Grant won this battle through dogged determination, dying a few days after he finished them, ensuring that his wife and family would be well-provided for. The Mutt-and-Jeff friendship that arose between Grant and Mark Twain is also well-drawn. Brands also includes a hilarious anecdote of Twain’s one “battle” on behalf of the Confederacy in 1861 that left me–and my wife–laughing out loud. I am morally certain Twain would approved. (more…)

Published in: on October 4, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Saint Junipero Serra


Something for the weekend, the music from the movie Seven Cities of Gold (1955).  This came to mind for the weekend’s music due to this news story:


Bigots at work:

While in Washington, Pope Francis canonized a Spanish missionary buried at a mission in California. Over the weekend, a statue of the new saint was vandalized.

Staff at the Carmel Mission Basilica found the courtyard statue of St. Junipero Serra toppled and splattered with paint. Police are investigating, the basilica said on its Facebook page.

“Apparently a person or persons broke in, splattered paint and toppled down the courtyard statue of St. Serra and other historic statues on display,” the post said.

Go here to read the rest.   I wishes those bigots were in front of me right now.  I would sit them down and tell them about Saint Serra: (more…)

Published in: on October 3, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  

38 men-One B-17


Throughout the struggle, it was in his logistic inability to maintain his armies in the field that the enemy’s fatal weakness lay. Courage his forces had in full measure, but courage was not enough. Reinforcements failed to arrive, weapons, ammunition and food alike ran short, and the dearth of fuel caused their powers of tactical mobility to dwindle to the vanishing point. In the last stages of the campaign they could do little more than wait for the Allied advance to sweep over them. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower






One picture taken of a World War II B-17 and crew that demonstrates what a complex group effort it was to keep a B-17 flying.   At the front the nine man flight crew.  Behind them the ground crew starting with the mechanics, then the bomb supply crew, and the various specialists who ranged from maintaining radios to observing the radios.  The flight crew got the glory and the risks, but without the ground crew, and the huge logistical operation behind them, not a plane would have left the fields.  When it comes to military operations, the part known to the public, combat, is only a part, albeit the most important part, of a complex team effort.  Veterans understand this, but since modern society has few veterans, it is important that the public be reminded of this fact, if they are to have any understanding, especially with current technology, of just how mind-boggingly  complicated modern war is.

Published in: on October 2, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The First Papal Visit to America–Sort Of


To one who turns the pages of your history and reflects upon the causes of what has been accomplished it is apparent that the triumphal progress of Divine religion has contributed in no small degree to the glory and prosperity which your country now enjoys. It is indeed true that religion has its laws and institutions for eternal happiness but It is also undeniable that it dowers life here below with so many benefits that it could do no more even if the principal reason for its existence were to make men happy during the brief span of their earthly life.


The first papal visit to the United States is usually thought to be that of Pope Paul VI in 1965.  However, Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII, visited the United States in October-November 1936, becoming the first man who served as pope to set foot in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  As Papal Secretary of State, foreign travel came as part of the job, but the purpose behind his visit is still something of a mystery.  Some historians have claimed that he struck a deal with FDR by which the United States would establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican in exchange for the Church silencing radio priest Father Coughlin, initially a supporter of FDR but by 1936 a fierce critic.

It was usual for Pacelli to take an annual vacation and he changed plans to visit Switzerland for the United States on short notice.  He met with FDR on November 5, the day after his re-election.  He did secure a promise that he would appoint a personal representative from him to the Vatican, although this promise was not fulfilled until 1939, after Pacelli was elected Pope.

Pacelli never met with Father Coughlin.  During his tour of the US, Pacelli  brushed aside questions about Coughlin from newspaper reporters, although he made it clear that the Vatican did not agree with his criticisms of Roosevelt. (more…)

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Buckley and Big Sister

William F. Buckley on Ayn Rand.  During his lifetime Buckley functioned as a gatekeeper for the conservative movement.  Get on the wrong side of Buckley and a group on the right could quickly find itself relegated to the fringes of American life.  So it was with Ayn Rand and her Objectivists, a movement whose main tenet seems to have been to say “Yes Ma’am!” to anything that came from her mouth or pen.  Rand made her reputation and fortune by writing two novels:  The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).  The poorly written novels, with stick figure characters, were immense financial successes, combining Rand’s anti-collectivist libertarianism with heaping helpings of, for the time, explicit sex, her heroines, always Rand think-a-likes, having multiple lovers.  Between the sex Rand specialized in long, bloviating, didactic speeches:

“Did you want to see it used by whining rotters who never rouse themselves to any effort, who do not possess the ability of a filing clerk, but demand the income of a company president, who drift from failure to failure and expect you to pay their bills, who hold their wishing as an equivalent of your work and their need as a higher claim to reward than your effort, who demand that you serve them, who demand that it be the aim of your life to serve them, who demand that your strength be the voiceless, rightless, unpaid, unrewarded slave of their impotence, who proclaim that you are born to serfdom by reason of your genius, while they are born to rule by the grace of incompetence, that yours is only to give, but theirs only to take, that yours is to produce, but theirs to consume, that you are not to be paid, neither in matter nor in spirit, neither by wealth nor by recognition nor by respect nor by gratitude—so that they would ride on your rail and sneer at you and curse you, since they owe you nothing, not even the effort of taking off their hats which you paid for? Would this be what you wanted? Would you feel proud of it?”

Atlas Shrugged, page 453

Buckley assigned Whittaker Chambers to review Atlas Shrugged.  His review, entitled Big Sister is Watching You, appeared in the December 28, 1957 issue of National Review.


Several years ago, Miss Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead. Despite a generally poor press, it is said to have sold some four hundred thousand copies. Thus, it became a wonder of the book trade of a kind that publishers dream about after taxes. So Atlas Shrugged had a first printing of one hundred thousand copies. It appears to be slowly climbing the best-seller lists. (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: John Ireland



Be ambitious, seek to elevate yourselves, to better your lot;  too often we are too easily satisfied.  When a man is poor, let him live in a hovel.  I esteem him;  at any moment I tend him the right hand of fellowship;  but if by labor, by energy, he can secure to his family comfort and respectability, and does not, then I despise him.

Father, later Archbishop, John Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day sermon, St. Paul, Minnesota 1865

Published in: on September 29, 2015 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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