Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Memoirs of Ulysses S Grant

_Memoirs and Selected Letters_ by Ulysses S. Grant
NY:  Library of America, 1990

(65)  A great many men, when they smell battle afar off, chafe to get into the fray.  When they say so themselves they generally fail to convince their hearers that they are as anxious as they would like to make believe, and as they approach danger they become more subdued.  This rule is not universal, for I have known a few men who were always aching for a fight when there was no enemy near, who were as good as their word when the battle did come.  But the number of such men is small.

(116)  As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man.

(142-143)  No political party can or ought to exist when one of its corner-stones is opposition to freedom of thought and to the right to worship God "according to the dictates of one's own conscience," or according to the creed of any religious denomination whatever.  Nevertheless, if a sect sets up its laws as binding above the State laws, wherever the two come in conflict this claim must be resisted and suppressed at whatever cost.

(157)  On a train in St Louis:  He turned to me saying:  "Things have come to a --- pretty pass when a free people can't choose their own flag.  Where I came from if a man dares to say a word in favor of the Union we hang him to a limb of the first tree we come to."  I replied that "after all we were not so intolerant in St. Louis as we might be;  I had not seen a single rebel hung yet, nor heard of one; there were plenty of them who ought to be, however."  The young man subsided.

(164-165)  I would have given anything then to have been back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do;  I kept right on.  When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted.  The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there and the marks of a recent encampment were plainly visible, but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place.  It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him.  This was a view of the question I had never taken before;  but it was one I never forgot afterwards.  From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety.  I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his.  The lesson was valuable.
NB:  Grant consistently uses the term "moral courage" to refer to the possibility of avoiding battle.  He seems to respect those who have the "moral courage" not to fight.

(238)  I am not willing to do any one an injustice, and if convinced that I have done one, I am always willing to make the fullest admission.
NB:  Grant seems to mean it and act upon it.  He seems to be a thoroughly decent man.

(304-305)  Everyone has his superstitions.  One of mine is that in positions of great responsibility every one should do his duty to the best of his ability where assigned by competent authority, without application or the use of influence to change his position.  While at Cairo I had watched with very great interest the operations of the Army of the Potomac, looking upon that as the main field of the war.  I had no idea, myself, of ever having any large command, nor did I suppose that I was equal to one;  but I had the vanity to think that as a cavalry officer I might succeed very well in the command of a brigade.  On one occasion, in talking about this to my staff officers, all of whom were civilians without any military education whatever, I said that I would give anything if I were commanding a brigade of cavalry in the Army of the Potomac and I believed I could do some good. Captain Hillyer spoke up and suggested that I make application to be transferred there to command the cavalry.  I then told him that I would cut my right arm off first, and mentioned this superstition.

In time of war the President, being by the Constitution Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, is responsible for the selection of commanders.  He should not be embarrassed in making his selections.  I have been selected, my responsibility ended with my doing the best I knew how.  If I had sought the place, or obtained it through personal or political influence, my belief is that I would have feared to undertake any plan of my own conception, and would probably have awaited direct orders from my distant superiors.  Persons obtaining important commands by application or political influence are apt to keep a written record of complaints and predictions of defeat, which are shown in case of disaster. Somebody must be responsible for their failures.

(348)  While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure;  but after the battle these scenes are distressing,and one is naturally disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as a friend.

(409)  Indeed, the beef was so poor that the soldiers were in the habit of saying, with a faint facetiousness, that they were living on "half rations of hard bread and _beef dried on the hoof_."

(419)  There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North.  The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation.  The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class.  With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so.  The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated "poor white trash." The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor.  The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor.  Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The war was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all it cost.

(464)  Forrest had about 4,000 cavalry with him, composed of thoroughly well-disciplined men, who under so able a leader were very effective.  Smith's command was nearly double that of Forrest, but not equal, man to man, for the lack of a successful experience such as Forrest's men had had.  The fact is, troops who have fought a few battles and won, and followed up their victories, improve upon what they were before to an extent that can hardly be counted by percentage.  The difference in result is often decisive victory instead of inglorious defeat.  This same difference, too, is often due to the way troops are officered, and for the particular kind of warfare which Forrest had carried on neither army could present a more effective officer than he was.

(470)  It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service.

(505)  Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation.

(622)  I congratulated Sheridan upon his recent great victory and had a salute of a hundred guns fired in honor of it, the guns being aimed at the enemy around Petersburg.

(632-633)  So far as General Johnston is concerned, I think Davis did him a great injustice in this particular.  I had known the general before the war and strongly believed it would be impossible for him to accept a high commission for the purpose of betraying the cause he had espoused.  Then, as I have said, I think that his policy was the best one that could have been pursued by the whole South - protract the war, which was all that was necessary to enable them to gain recognition in the end.  The North was already growing weary, as the South evidently was also, but with a difference.  In the North the people governed, and could stop hostilities whenever they chose to stop supplies.  The South was a military camp, controlled absolutely by the government with soldiers to back it, and the war could have been protracted, no matter to what extent the discontent reached, up to the point of open mutiny of the soldiers themselves.

(645)  The lady of the house, who happened to be at home, made piteous appeals to have these spared, saying they were a few she had put away to save by permission of other parties who had preceded and who had taken all the others that she had.  The soldiers seemed moved at her appeal;  but looking at the chickens again they were tempted and one of them replied:  "The rebellion must be suppressed if it takes the last chicken in the Confederacy," and proceeded to appropriate the last one.

(728)  Although Sheridan had been marching all day, his troops moved with alacrity and without any straggling.  They began to see the end of what they had been fighting four years for.  Nothing seemed to fatigue them.  Thjey were ready to move without rations and travel without rest until the end.  Straggling had entirely ceased, and every man was now a rival for the front.  The infantry marched about as rapidly as the cavalry could.

(749)  The Constitution was not framed with a view to any such rebellion as that of 1861-5.  While it did not authorize rebellion it made no provision against it.  Yet the right to resist or suppress rebellion is as inherent as the right of self-defence, and as natural as the right of an individual to preserve his life when in jeopardy.  The Constitution was therefore in abeyance for the time being, so far as it in any way affected the progress and termination of the war.

(754-755)  General Sherman had met Mr. Lincoln at City Point while visiting there to confer with me about our final movement, and knew that Mr. Lincoln had said to the peace commissioners when he met them at Hampton Roads, viz.:  that before he could enter into negotiations with them they would have to agree to two points:  one being that the Union should be preserved, and the other that slavery should be abolished;  and if they were ready to concede these two points he was almost ready to sign his name to a blank piece of paper and permit them to fill out the balance of the terms upon which we would live together.  

(1120)  I do not sleep though I sometimes dose off a little.  If up I am talked to and in my efforts to answer cause pain.  The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be;  to do;  or to suffer.  I signify all three.

Notes to the Doctor, July 1885

Monday, August 14, 2017


March is the three volume graphic novel of John Lewis’ account of his experiences in the civil rights movement.  Very powerful and very well done.  The final volume won the National Book Award, the first graphic novel to do so.  (Art Spiegelman’s Maus was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer.)

It was strange to be finishing the final volume at the same time Nazis were marching in Charlottesville VA [August 12, 2017].  Rereading "Violence does beget violence, but the opposite is just as true.  Fury spends itself pretty quickly when there’s no fury facing it” is useful to me in days like these.

March:  Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Marietta, GA:  Top Shelf Productions, 2013

(page 100-101)  Violence does beget violence, but the opposite is just as true.  Fury spends itself pretty quickly when there’s no fury facing it.

March, Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Marietta, GA:  Top Shelf Productions, 2015
ISBN 978-1-60309-400-9

(131)  While Dr King was in jail, Jim Bevel, who had left SNCC and joined SCLC, set out to organize and train Birmingham’s children. 

“What kinda movement are y’all trying to run here?  You guys are running a scam movement.”

Bevel went into black schools and churches, using the NBC white paper documentary “The Nashville Sit-In Story” - for which we had been interviewed back in 1960 - to teach hundreds of teenagers the techniques of nonviolence.

“In a movement, you don’t deal with the press - you act like there IS no press.  Otherwise you end up staging it.  A movement is when people actually do it out of _conviction_.”

March, Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
Marietta, GA:  Top Shelf Productions, 2016
ISBN 978-1-60309-402-3

(61)  Title 18, section 594 of the United States code makes it a crime to interfere with the right to vote - that law has been on the books since 1948, but nobody has ever been prosecuted under it.  I doubt if there is a policeman of any sort in Mississippi who has not broken that law several times since 1948, but not one of them has been arrested and prosecuted for it.

(91)  In Mississippi that summer (1964) we suffered more than 1000 arrests, 80 beatings, 35 shootings, 35 church burnings, and 30 bombings.

Doctors who evaluated volunteers returning home from Freedom Summer described the symptoms of the emotional and phusical toll as “battle fatigue,” marking “a crisis in the lives of those youths who experience them.”

(136-137)  [John Lewis meets Malcolm X in Nairobi, the last time they talked]  Malcolm talked about the need to shift our focus from race to class, both among one another and between ourselves and the white community.

He said he believed THAT was the root of our problems, not just in America, but all over the world.

Malcolm was saying, in effect, that it is a struggle for the POOR - for those who have been left out and left behind - and that it transcends race.

“I support what you’re doing in the South.  Don’t give up.  This is an ongoing struggle.  Be prepared for the worst, but keep it up - keep fighting.  Peopl are are changing.  There are people all over the world supporting you."

(139)  All the things that made SNCC what it was - decentralized leadership, consensus-driven decision making, respect for individuality - were now tearing it apart.

(159)  [teachers deciding to march in Selma, January 1965]  Besides, how can we teach American civics when we can’t vote?!
NB:  That’s fixed now.  We don’t teach American civics.

(173) Selma police:  “You just doin’ this for the cameras.”

 CT Vivian, long time civil rights campaigner:  “No, it’s a matter of facing your sheriff and facing your judge.  We’re willing to be beaten for democracy.”

Making good trouble, necessary trouble.

(181)  Speech at Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral on March 3, 1965 by Martin Luther King Jr:  “He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of law.  He was murdered by the irresponsibiity of every politician, from governors on down, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.  He was murdered by the cowardice of every negro who passively accepts the evils of segregation, and who stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice."

(222-223)  LBJ’s Voting Rights Act Address on Monday, March 15, 1965:  Wherever there is discrimination, this law will strike down all restrictions used to deny people the right to vote - if state officials refuse to cooperate, then citizens will be registered by Federal officials.

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.  At times, history and fate meet at a single time, in a single place, to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.  So it was at Lexington and Concord.  So it was a century ago at Appomattox - so it was last week in Selma, Alabama.  There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans.  Many of them were brutally assaulted.  One good man - a man of god [Rev James Reeb] - was killed.

But there is cause for hope - and for faith in our democracy - in what is happening here tonight.  For the cries of pain, and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government.  In our time, we have come to live with the moments of great crisis.  Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues, issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression, but rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself.

The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue.  And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue - then we will have failed as a people, and as a nation.  For, with a country as with a person, “what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

There is no Negro problem.  There is no Southern problem.  There is no Northern problem.  There is only an American problem.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

In Search of the Warrior Spirit

In Search of the Warrior Spirit by Richard Strozzi-Heckler 
Berkeley, CA:  North Atlantic Books, 1990, 1992, 2003

(16-17)  The sentry at the gate today is a woman.  First, the obvious question, "Does 'warrior' include both men and women?"  Jack and I both agree yes.  For the warrior power arises from a source that does not rely on a sexual hierarchy or, for that matter, any hierarchy.  It's a power of self-knowing, self-educating, and self-accepting free from trends or tyrannies, including gender.  The warrior is connected with him- or herself.  And only from that connection does he or she connect to others and the environment.

(19)  During conversations with both active duty and retired career officers, I often hear their concern about the loss of warrior virtues in an increasingly technology-oriented military.  While millions of dollars are spent developing robots to fight wars, the role of the soldier is quickly being reduced to that of technocrat and computer operator.  It gradually became clear that the officers and men who supported our program with the Special Forces were the ones hoping to reconnect the military with the traditional warrior virtues of service, courage, selflessness, loyalty, and commitment.

(28)  This sounds like my message:  Relax, breathe properly, work with one's energy.  They know this, yet how can I deepen it?  I need to discover their point of weakness, bring it to awareness, and then let it become their strength.

(90)  "Joel makes the grade in our book because he's genuine.  He doesn't try to be something he's not.  He is who he is."

(151)  I also realize that I'm envious of the closeness and bonding these men have with one another.  They have a genuineness in their closeness which shows a deep love and care.  It's also true - terribly true - that even though they are in a peacetime Army - their degree of intimacy and self-mastery could mean the difference between life and death, for them, their teammates, or even a good-sized part of an entire population.  This perspective of life and death, of having everything count, is the view of the warrior, and, as narrow-minded as these men may be, it adds an element of responsibility and impeccability to their lives that seems sadly missing for most people.

(183)  William Faulkner:  "You don't love because:  you love despite;  not for the virtues, but despite the faults."

(202)  Nietzsche, _The Wanderer and His Shadow_:  "Rather perish than hate and fear, and twice rather perish than make oneself hated and feared."

Tuchman, _The March of Folly_:  "Why do we invest all our skills and resources in a contest for armed superiority, which can never be attained for long enough to make it worth having, rather than in an effort  to find a modus vivendi with our antagonist - that is to say, a way of living, not dying?"

(216)  ...Thomas White's tale about entering his first dojo in Okinawa while serving in the Army in 1963:

"For what reason do you come?" the Master asked him.
"I have come to learn the art of self-defense," he replied.
"And which self do you wish to defend?" he responded.

(245)  Brainwave training, getting to alpha:

Others, significantly, Vietnam veterans, have a much more difficult time.  Combat veterans seem not only to have anesthetized their capacity for Alpha in order to cope with the stress of battle, but to continue to defend against openness and relaxation as unmanageable, and perhaps too vulnerable a state.  It occurs to me that this training would be an excellent way to work with post-traumatic stress syndrome so common among veterans.  They would be able to relearn their Alpha capabilities in a safe, supportive environment.

(337)  An alumni writes about his experiences in the First Gulf War:

"About Trojan Warrior [Strozzi-Heckler's training program]... during the last several months I have encountered, time and again, the unwillingness of the majority of my co-workers, and about all of my superiors, to know themselves and to live in reality.  'Pretending not to know,' I think, may well be a crucial factor in military sociology.  [During the Trojan Warrior Project we had a sign in the classroom that said, "What are you pretending not to know?" which we pointed to when we felt there was denial or irresponsibility present.]  The greatest vulnerability is to deny one's own shortcomings to the degree that one is entirely blind to them.  This denial is almost universal in Special Forces.  At this stage in my life, especially having experienced four and half years of real growth in recovery, I am nearly exasperated by the immaturity and dysfunction that hits me in the face like a bucket of gravel, every day."

(371)  ....courage is a morally neutral virtue.  We are called upon, individually and as a people, to re-examine our lives and priorities.  We must close ranks, watch each other's backs, and in doing so not back down from building a mature democracy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Rereading my notes on this book after a recent contretemps that Nassim Nicholas Taleb involved himself in, his twitter battle with historian Mary Beard, I realized that Taleb cultivates enemies as a self-development tactic or, possibly, strategy.  Interesting way to go through life;  however, having met Taleb at one of his readings, he is probably the most arrogant man I've ever met and perhaps that is  the only real use he has for other people.

The Bed of Procrustes:  Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
NY:  Random House, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4000-6997-2

(6)  A generous act is precisely what should aim at no reward, neither financial nor social nor emotional;  deontic (unconditional observance of duties), not utilitarian (aiming at some collective - or even individual - gains in welfare).  There is nothing wrong with “generous” acts that elicit a “warm glow” or promise salvation to the giver;  these are not to be linguistically conflated with deontic action, those emanating from pure sense of duty.

(11)  You never win an argument until they attack your person.

(12)  I wonder whether a bitter enemy would be jealous if he discovered that I hated someone else.

(21)  To be completely cured of newspapers, spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.

(23)  You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave;  you also need to avoid becoming a master.

(26)  The differences between slaves in Roman and Ottoman days and today’s employees is that slaves did not need to flatter their boss.

(27)  You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.

(31)  The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of the social utopia;  the twenty-first will be that of the technological one.

(39)  sprezzatura

(40)  We are hunters;  we are only truly alive in those moments when we improvise;  no schedule, just small surprises and stimuli from the environment.

For everything, use boredom in place of a clock, as a biological wristwatch, though under constraints of politeness.

(45)  A good maxim allows you to have the last word without even starting a conversation.

(50)  We are better at (involuntarily) doing out of the box than (voluntarily) thinking out of the box.

(53)  Many are so unoriginal they study history to find mistakes to repeat.

(56)  The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don’t know, rather than the reverse.

(58)  Randomness is indistinguishable from complicated, undetected, and undetectable order;  but order itself is indistinguishable from artful randomness.

(62)  My biggest problem with modernity may lie in the growing separation of the ethical and the legal.*
*Former US Treasury secretary “bankster” Robert Rubin, perhaps the biggest thief in history, broke no law.  The difference between legal and ethical increases in a complex system… then blows it up.

(64)  You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.

Trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down.

(65)  If you lie to me, keep lying;  don’t hurt me by suddenly telling the truth.

(68)  Just as dyed hair makes older men less attractive, it is what you do to hide your weaknesses that makes them repugnant.

(71)  When conflicted between two choices, take neither.

(73)  Passionate hate (by nations and individuals) ends by rotation to another subject of hate;  mediocrity cannot handle more than one enemy.  This makes warring stateliness with shifting alliances and enmities a robust system.

(75)  Games were created to give nonheroes the illusion of winning.  In  real life, you don’t know who really won or lost (except too late), but you can tell who is heroic and who is not.

(76)  Fragility:  we have been progressively separating human courage from warfare, allowing wimps with computer skills to kill people without the slightest risk to their lives.

(78)  It takes extraordinary wisdom and self-control to accept that many things have a logic we do not understand that is smarter than our own.

They think that intelligence is about noticing things that are relevant (detecting patterns);  in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).

The best way to spot a charlatan:  someone (like a consultant or a stockbroker) who tells you what to do instead of what _not_ to do.

(80)  The ancients knew very well that the only way to understand events was to cause them.

(88)  You can be certain that the head of a corporation has a lot to worry about when he announces publicly that “there is nothing to worry about."

(96)  A verbal threat is the most authentic certificate of impotence.

(99)  Bad-mouthing is the only genuine, never faked expression of admiration.

(102)  You will get the most attention from those who hate you.  No friend, no admirer, and no partner will flatter with as much curiosity.

(103)  A good foe is far more loyal, far more predictable, and, to the clever, far more useful than the most valuable admirer.

(106)  Counter to the common discourse, _more information means more delusions_…

(109)  Outside of what we now call religion, take the aphorisms of Heraclitus and Hippocrates;  the works of Publilius Syrus (a Syrian slave who owed his freedom to his eloquence, expressed in his _Sententiae_, potent one-line poems that echo in the maxims of La Rochefoucauld), and the poetry of the poet who is broadly considered the greatest of all Arab poets, Almutanabbi.

(111)  As a teenager, I was mentored by the poet Georges Schéhadé (his poetry reads like proverbs)…