On rare occasions, the Ancient Romans practiced damnatio memoriae, which meant removing from the public eye all reminders—paintings, statues, coins—of a public figure who had fallen into disgrace or whom a successor wished dead in the memory of the people.
The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.
Since first reading the above line long ago in a novel—Sextus Empiricus, a Greek philosopher of the 3rd century A.D., is the original author—I have pondered its meaning. In some cases, I have witnessed this sentiment work its way through the lives and actions of others.
Various commentators interpret these words in different ways. One online site reports that Empiricus meant that justice may be slow, but it will come eventually. Another analyzes it as “It may take a long time, but evil will always be punished.” Another puts that the meaning as “the dark sides never have good endings.” Still another commentator writes “I think it means that all things come to those who wait.” (Surely this last writer means that “all good things” come to those who wait, otherwise his proposition is ridiculous).
All these interpretations strike me as off the mark.
Some people are devotees of whiskey, cigars, wine, and craft beer. Some are aficionados of the fine arts, experts on such high-toned subjects as the music of Bach, the paintings of Giorgione, or the sculpture of Frederick Hart. Some are expert in specialized fields: orchids, coins, stamps, old cars, incunabula, and a thousand other subjects.
And I? I am a connoisseur of libraries.
So last week Donald Trump rejected the Paris Accords on climate.
This rejection caused a firestorm in the media. Some commentators wrote that that our grandchildren would die from the coming climate changes. Some in the media and in online sites were furious that the United States, given world opinion,would back away from the Paris Accords.
Take a look at the picture. It’s 1933, the pit of the Great Depression, yet the men photographed at the relief office are wearing coats and ties, the woman a fashionable hat and heels. Go online and look up photographs of men and women of all classes between 1900 and 1960, and you generally find everyone attempting to look their best when appearing in public. Sure, you’ll see workers dressed in ragged pants and dirty shirts, farmers wearing overalls, and poor women wearing burlap dresses. But even these people, when off the job, away from the farm or factory and out in public, made an effort to dress up rather than down. An example: when I was about ten and living in Boonville, North Carolina—population around six hundred in 1962—my mother once told me that no woman in town would dare go out in public wearing curlers in her hair. It just wasn’t done.
Nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman once wrote “I hear America singing.”
Ah, those were the days.
What might Whitman write today? “I hear America screeching, screaming, and swearing.”
Today the dead lie heaped on the field of battle.
I bend over them, using a magnifying glass given me by one of my sisters, and see a few of them still battling with one another, their mandibles locked on an enemy’s thorax or backside, helped by a comrade to kill one more of the foe.
What three tools are necessary to produce educated citizens?
Reading, writing, and mathematics. Once called reading, and ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic in a 1907 popular tune called “School Days.”
That’s it. That’s what you need to become a lifelong learner. All the other stuff—driver’s ed, sex ed, whatever ed—is just fluff. The hardcore subjects are reading, writing, and math.
Think about it. If you can read with comprehension, write effectively, and understand mathematics up to, let’s say, trigonometry and advanced algebra, the world is your oyster. You can tackle history, psychology, literature, art appreciation, French or any other foreign language, biology, physics, chemistry, and any other subject that appeals to you. If you want to delve deeper into mathematics, well, you have the preparation to do so. Moreover, if you can read, write, and understand mathematics, you can find gainful employment.
So what are educated citizens?
Fill out an application to a university or a job, and many state and federal government forms, and chances are you will be asked to declare your race. In many cases, the law requires that declaration. Most of us bubble in “Caucasian,” “Hispanic,” "African-American" (which isn’t a race by any definition), or half-a-dozen other categories, without thinking about why we need to define our race to enter college or to apply for a job.
So my question: Why do we need to check off our “race” on a form?
What does “race” mean?
When verbally attacked and left speechless by an assailant, who among us has not long afterwards pondered the mot juste that might have left our assailant gasping for breath on the canvas, that perfect riposte that would have left us the winner standing in the ring?
Some of us have contemplated as well our last words. Let’s say you’re careening down a country road near Waynesville, North Carolina. You’re doing 50 on a 35-mile per hour road, you hang a curve, and suddenly a concrete truck is rushing straight at you on that narrow highway. What are your last words? Do you quote Stonewall Jackson: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees?” Or do you just scream “S**t” as your final farewell to earth before heading off to shake hands with Saint Peter? I am reasonably and ashamedly certain what I would say. (Please accept my regrets ahead of time, Pete).