April 25, 2018

“My man Friday.”

ROBINSON CRUSOE, third edition
The book by Daniel Defoe that is usually referred to with the shortened name Robinson Crusoe became a bestseller soon after it was first published on April 25, 1719.

The original title used the long, descriptive style common at the time: The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pirates. Written by Himself.

It went on to become one of the most famous and most widely-read books in history.

You may not have read Robinson Crusoe, as famous as it is.

“Classics” don’t seem to be “required” reading anymore, especially if they’re politically incorrect. And, Robinson Crusoe is not PC by today’s standards.

However, it’s almost certain that you know the two enduring fictional and linguistic tropes that come from Robinson Crusoe.

The name of the central character became and still is shorthand for a person who is stranded alone on an island or some other desolate place and uses his ingenuity to survive.

If someone says “like Robinson Crusoe,” most people will know what that means.

The novel is also the origin of the familiar idiomatic expression “Man Friday” — which led to the later female versions “Girl Friday” and “Gal Friday.”

A common dictionary definition of “Man Friday” is “a man who helps someone with their work and is loyal and can be trusted.”

A popular English idiom dictionary for people learning to speak English says “Man Friday” means “an assistant or companion, usually a capable one. The common feminine equivalent is ‘’Girl Friday’.” It also says a similar expression is “right-hand man.”

Those definitions of “Man Friday” are, so to speak, white-washed versions of the role of the character Friday in the book.

In Robinson Crusoe, Friday is a slave-like servant to Crusoe. Not exactly a slave, but close to it.

And, Crusoe is an excruciatingly-ethnocentric guy who has nothing against slavery and believes, like most white Englishmen in the 1700s, that non-white races were intended by God to serve them.

As you probably know, Crusoe gets marooned alone on a desert island after a huge storm wrecks his ship and drowns his shipmates.

Robinson Crusoe & Friday (art by Ernst Liebenauer & Karl Fahringer)If you haven’t read the book, you may not know the island was located off the coast of South America or that the ship he was on was bound for Africa “to fetch negroes” to serve as slaves on a plantation Crusoe had established in Brazil.

Crusoe is totally blasé about slavery, especially when it comes to Africans, who he views as ignorant, inferior, naked savages.

He has a slightly higher opinion of the Indians of the “New World,” and thinks the Spanish killed too many of them and mistreat them a bit too much. But he’s not fundamentally opposed to enslaving Indians either.

That — and the fact that Crusoe treats Friday like a slave — may be why Friday has been portrayed as being black in some film and TV adaptations.

In the novel, he’s a Carib Indian, a tribe that Crusoe describes as cannibals who regularly slaughter and dine on humans. Whether they actually were true cannibals, or practiced an occasional ritualized form of cannibalism, is a subject of historical dispute.

At any rate, during the more than two decades Crusoe spent alone on the island, he sees signs that Caribs had visited there, including footprints and remains of their cannibalized victims.

Then, in Chapter XIV, Crusoe sees a group of Caribs dragging some others along the shore, presumably to be slaughtered and eaten.

One runs away. Crusoe shoots his pursuers, frightens off the rest and saves the intended victim’s life.

Crusoe can’t communicate with the man he saved, since neither speaks the other’s language. But instead of using the simple “Me Tarzan, you Jane” approach to finding out the man’s name, Crusoe names him Friday, because that’s the day their chance meeting occurred. 

Over time, Crusoe teaches Friday to speak English and asks him a few things about customs of the Carib people. But he doesn’t ask his real name, and clearly doesn’t much care.

Crusoe first uses the term “man Friday” in Chapter XIV. Shortly after he saves the Indian's life, Crusoe says:

“I took my man Friday with me, giving him the sword in his hand, with the bow and arrows at his back, which I found he could use very dexterously, making him carry one gun for me.”

From then on, throughout the book, Crusoe calls him “my man Friday.”

By “my man Friday,” he really meansmy man,” in the controlling sense. And, in the book, Friday is fine with that. He’s a grateful, obsequious and obedient servant to Crusoe.

Below is what you might find to be a gagworthy passage from Chapter XIV in which Crusoe describes Friday’s looks and subservient demeanor. In it, Crusoe also explains that he taught the Carib his new name and the word Master (with a capital M):

    “He had a very good countenance, not a fierce and surly aspect, but seemed to have something very manly in his face; and yet he had all the sweetness and softness of a European in his countenance, too, especially when he smiled. His hair was long and black, not curled like wool...The colour of his skin was not quite black, but very tawny; and yet not an ugly, yellow, nauseous tawny, as the Brazilians and Virginians, and other natives of America are, but of a bright kind of a dun olive-colour, that had in it something very agreeable, though not very easy to describe. His face was round and plump; his nose small, not flat, like the negroes; a very good mouth, thin lips, and his fine teeth well set, and as white as ivory.
     After he had slumbered, rather than slept, about half-an-hour, he awoke again, and came out of the cave to me, for I had been milking my goats which I had in the enclosure just by: when he espied me he came running to me, laying himself down again upon the ground, with all the possible signs of an humble, thankful disposition, making a great many antic gestures to show it. At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this made all the signs to me of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me so long as he lived. I understood him in many things, and let him know I was very well pleased with him. In a little time I began to speak to him; and teach him to speak to me; and first, I let him know his name should be Friday, which was the day I saved his life; I called him so for the memory of the time. I likewise taught him to say Master; and then let him know that was to be my name.”

When an English ship finally comes to the island and Crusoe is rescued, he takes Friday along. The Carib remains his loyal servant when Crusoe goes back to Brazil, where his plantation is still thriving, thanks to slave labor.

He also takes Friday along with him in Daniel Defoe’s sequel to Robinson Crusoe, which few people are familiar with, titled: The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; Being the Second and Last Part of His Life, And of the Strange Surprising Accounts of his Travels Round three Parts of the Globe. (Now usually just called The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.)

In that second novel, Crusoe decides to sail with Friday and a small crew to the island where he’d been stranded. On the way, they are attacked by Caribs.

Friday is hit with three of their arrows and dies. Crusoe says with an underwhelming lack of emotion he was quite “annoyed at the loss of my old trusty servant and companion.”

It’s hard to view the term “Man Friday” as a positive thing if you think too much about how racist and pompous Robinson Crusoe is as a character. But he and Daniel Defoe were of their time.

The novel is still a classic adventure worth reading, though Crusoe is not really a “good guy” in the modern sense and Friday’s role doesn’t quite fit nice-sounding definitions like “a man who helps someone with their work and is loyal and can be trusted” or “an assistant or companion, usually a capable one.”

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April 10, 2018

The Original “12 Step Program”

William Wilson, aka Bill W (1895-1971)Today, there are many organizations that use a “12-step program” to help people deal with some type of addiction or other problems.

In addition to alcohol and drug-related groups, there are groups with 12-step programs for everything from food addicts and sex addicts to debtors, “underearners,” and workaholics.  

Of course, all of the current organizations that have “anonymous” in their names and teach some type of 12-step program are based on Alcoholics Anonymous and “The 12 Steps” in that venerable organization’s famed guide to overcoming alcoholism — officially titled Alcoholics Anonymous, but generally referred to as “the Big Book.”

The organization Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by two men who had struggled with alcoholism in their own lives: William “Bill” Wilson and Dr. Robert “Bob” Smith.

The official publication and copyright date for the what is called the first edition of the Big Book, as recorded by the U.S. Copyright Office, is April 10, 1939.

Most of the first edition was written by Wilson, under the name “Bill W,” though he used things written and said to him by other members.

The basic text of the book was originally compiled by Wilson in 1938. Prior to the official “first edition,” copies were printed by AA members using a multilith duplicating machine.

In part, Wilson’s use of the pen name Bill W. reflected AA’s approach of allowing people to come to meetings and avoid embarrassment by not using their full names.

This is the basis for the “anonymous” in Alcoholics Anonymous and led to the now familiar self-introduction: “My name is X, and I’m an alcoholic” (a line included in later editions of the Big Book, but not the first edition.)

It also reflected the belief of Wilson and Dr. Smith that AA organizers should not gain personal profit or publicity for their work on behalf of the organization.

12 Step Programs ListThe “12 Steps” Wilson included in the Big Book, with input from other early AA members, are the origin of the widely-used approach and term “12-step program.”

The basic gist of a few of the AA’s 12 Steps — such as making a list of people you’ve harmed and asking their forgiveness — is familiar to most people.

But the actual words of the 12 Steps in the Big Book are rarely cited as quotations or included in collections of quotes.

Arguably, they should be.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold more than 30 million copies since 1939. And, the 12 Steps have remained essentially the same in the three later editions of the Big Book.

In the first edition, the steps appear in Chapter 5: “How it Works.”

Wilson describes them as the process he and others early members of Alcoholics Anonymous used to recover from alcoholism and suggests them as the model for all AA members. He wrote: 

“Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
     1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
    6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
    7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
    11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

The religious aspect of the 12 Steps were a matter of controversy from the start, since some AA members were atheists or agnostics.

That aspect is still criticized and off-putting to some people.

But, whether you’re a believer or not, you may find the Big Book’s explanation of the role of spirituality in helping alcoholics recover interesting.

Chapter 4, titled “We Agnostics” says: “If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there...We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves.”

The Big Book’s view of that higher Power is more expansive than Christian Fundamentalism.

“We discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God,” Wilson explained. “Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps.”

You may disagree with those views.

But it’s hard to deny the good that Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 Steps have done for millions of people struggling with alcoholism.

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March 20, 2018

“Because it’s there.”

In March of 1923, British mountain climber George Leigh Mallory was touring the United States to raise money for an expedition to Mount Everest planned for the following year.

At that time no one had ever made it to the top of Everest — the highest mountain on the planet.

In 1921 and 1922, Mallory was a member of the first two expeditions that tried to reach the summit of the mountain. Both had failed.

During his 1923 fundraising tour, Mallory was often asked why he wanted to climb Everest.

The question seemed somewhat odd to an adventurer like Mallory, but he came up with a standard answer to use: “Because it’s there.” 

That reply became famous when it was quoted in a story in the March 18, 1923 issue of the New York Times.

The headline of the story was “CLIMBING MOUNT EVEREST IS WORK FOR SUPERMEN.”

Mallory’s standard response was included in the opening paragraph:

“Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, who was with both expeditions toward the summit of the world’s highest mountain, in 1921 and 1922, and who is now in New York. He plans to go again in 1924, and he gave as the reason for persisting in these repeated attempts to reach the top, “Because it’s there.”

Mallory wasn’t being entirely flippant when he said, “Because it’s there.”

He went on to explain: “Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”

During Mallory’s 1922 expedition, this desire to “conquer” Everest cost the lives of seven Tibetan Sherpa porters, who were killed in an avalanche.

Two years later, it cost Mallory his own life.

On June 8th, 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine made a final push to reach the top of Everest.

Observers below saw them reach a height within a thousand feet of the summit. Then they disappeared from sight — and did not return.

In 1953, the dream of conquering Everest was finally achieved by New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay.

Forty-six years later, in 1999, an expedition funded by the TV show Nova and the BBC discovered the frozen body of George Mallory about 2,000 feet below the summit, where he appeared to have died after a fall.

Andrew Irvine’s body has yet to be found.

Over the years, some people have speculated that Mallory and Irvine may have reached the top of Everest before dying and thus may deserve credit for being the first climbers to achieve that goal, rather than Hillary and Norgay.

When asked about this in an interview in the mid-1980s, Sir Edmund Hillary responded dryly:

“If you climb a mountain for the first time and die on the descent, is it really a complete first ascent of the mountain? I’m rather inclined to think, personally, that maybe it’s quite important, the getting down. And the complete climb of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again.”

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March 04, 2018

March 4th: a good day for famous presidential quotes – until 1933…

The date for the United States presidential inauguration was not specified in the original U.S. Constitution.

In 1788, the Continental Congress set Inauguration Day as March 4. Then, in 1933, the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed it to January 20, reducing the outdated four-month lag between the time a president was elected and took office.

That’s why famous quotes from inaugural addresses of presidents elected before 1933 are on a March 4th date and those of presidents elected after 1933 are on a January 20th.

The Inauguration Day speeches of all of the presidents (online here) are historically interesting and many include memorable lines. But only a handful of those lines have become famous quotes.

The earliest comes from the first inaugural address of Thomas Jefferson, which took place on March 4, 1801.

That speech includes Jefferson’s oft-cited warning against “entangling alliances.”

It’s part of a longer sentence that Jefferson said embodied his view on “the essential principles of our Government”:

“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

You have to flash forward 60 years to find another truly famous quote from a president’s inaugural address.

In Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, he coined the well-known, almost poetic phrase “the mystic chords of memory.”

It came near the end of his speech, in what was a clear plea to citizens in Southern states.

At that point, some states had already seceded from the Union, but no blatant act of war between the North and South had occurred.

Lincoln said:

     “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war...We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Six weeks later, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War had begun.

Four years later, when Lincoln gave his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, the end of that bloody war was in sight.

Knowing this, Lincoln expressed his hope for reconciliation in a speech that included his famous quote about “malice towards none” and “charity for all.”

Here’s the sentence in his address those words come from:

“With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Four weeks later, on April 9, 1865 , Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. The Civil War was over.

Four years after that, when Grant himself became president, Northern and Southern states were fighting in the legal arena over various federal laws, such as those related to the rights of the freed African-American slaves.

In Grant’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1869, he said he would not hesitate to use his power as President to veto laws that he opposed.

But he noted that he would faithfully execute all laws “whether they meet my approval or not.”

To those comments, Grant added one of the most slyly witty quotes ever uttered by a U.S. president:

“I know of no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.”

The next famous presidential quotations from a March 4th inauguration speech came half a century later, in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1933.

One line in that speech helped popularize the term “good neighbor policy.” Speaking about his views on foreign affairs, Roosevelt said:

“In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor — the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others — the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”

But the most famous line from Roosevelt’s first inaugural address was related to domestic policy.

In 1933, America was in the midst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt wanted to generate a renewed sense of hope in the American people and inspire support for his plans to restore the economy with ambitious new government programs. But he knew that many people were afraid for their future and some were afraid that a more activist federal government would just make things worse.

So, in the first paragraph of Roosevelt’s speech, he famously addressed those fears:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
Of course, Roosevelt did gain the support of the majority of Americans and was reelected to two more terms.

But his first inaugural address was the last presidential speech that included famous quotes spoken on the date March 4th.

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February 18, 2018

“I know nothing!” – the memorable catchphrase of a forgotten political party

Many people associate the catchphrase “I know nothing!” with the television character Sergeant Schultz (actor John Banner).

It was one of his frequent lines in the 1960s comedy series Hogan’s Heroes, along with “I see nothing.”

However, more than a century before Hogan’s Heroes first aired in 1965, the phrase “I know nothing” was popularized by a now largely-forgotten political group that has clear similarities to some current ones.

It was typically called the “Know Nothing Party” and its members were dubbed “Know Nothings” for short.

The Know Nothings started out as an unofficial anti-immigrant movement.

Its followers were primarily white Protestants who thought of themselves as the real, true-blue “native Americans.”

They felt that the growing influx of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere undermined the American way of life, took away the jobs of “real Americans” and insidiously influenced local elections.

The Know Nothings especially hated German immigrants, Jews and Irish Catholics. But they generally feared and disliked almost every other ethnic and racial minority.

The “Know Nothing” name arose as a result of the standard answer members of the movement were told to give to any reporters (or other disreputable types) who asked about the group’s secretive meetings and activities.

They were instructed to respond by saying “I know nothing.” As a result, they came to be commonly referred to as the “Know Nothings.”

In 1843, leaders of the movement in New York formed an official political party. They named it the American Republican Party.

Within a few years, local chapters sprang up in other states. They eventually coalesced into a national group called The Native American Party.

In 1855, the group was renamed The American Party, though it was still often unofficially called The Know Nothing Party.

On February 18, 1856, the American Party held its first national convention to nominate a presidential candidate.

Former U.S. President Millard Fillmore was chosen as the party’s presidential nominee and Andrew Donelson of Tennessee was named his running mate.

Their campaign slogan, which reflected the party’s Know Nothing heritage, was: “I know nothing but my Country, my whole Country, and nothing but my Country.”

Unsurprisingly, the American Party’s political platform wasn’t geared toward creating a “big tent.”

Planks included requiring political office holders to be “native-born” Americans, limiting the annual number of new immigrants allowed to come to the United States (especially Catholics), requiring public school teachers to be Protestants, and requiring daily Bible readings in public schools.

The American Party also had a plank proposing restrictions on the sale of liquor. At the grassroots level, I suspect that one wasn’t particularly popular with most white males (who were the only legal voters at the time) regardless of how they felt about “foreigners.”

In the 1856 presidential election, Democrat James Buchanan won with 45% of the vote. Republican candidate John C. Fremont got 33%.

The Know Nothings' American Party candidate Millard Fillmore got about 22% of the vote nationally. At the state level, he lost in every state except Maryland.

Historically, 22% isn’t a bad percentage for a third party in the United States.

Nonetheless, Fillmore’s defeat took the wind out of the Know Nothing movement and the American Party quickly faded away.

They did, however, leave behind a memorable catchphrase that some observers see as a fitting description of the views of anti-immigrant movements, past and present.

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