Friday, October 31, 2008
1517 : Martin Luther posts 95 theses
On this day in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther
approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg,
Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95
revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant
In his theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption
of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice
of asking payment--called "indulgences"--for the forgiveness
of sins. At the time, a Dominican priest named Johann Tetzel,
commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X,
was in the midst of a major fundraising campaign in Germany
to finance the renovation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of
indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to
purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons
they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to
repent for their sins.
Luther's frustration with this practice led him to write the 95
Theses, which were quickly snapped up, translated from
Latin into German and distributed widely. A copy made its way
to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his
tune. He refused to keep silent, however, and in 1521 Pope
Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic
Church. That same year, Luther again refused to recant his
writings before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of
Germany, who issued the famous Edict of Worms declaring
Luther an outlaw and a heretic and giving permission for
anyone to kill him without consequence. Protected by Prince
Frederick, Luther began working on a German translation of
the Bible, a task that took 10 years to complete.
The term "Protestant" first appeared in 1529, when Charles V
revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German
state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms.
A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a
protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their
allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their
opponents as Protestants; gradually this name came to apply
to all who believed the Church should be reformed, even those
outside Germany. By the time Luther died, of natural causes,
in 1546, his revolutionary beliefs had formed the basis for the
Protestant Reformation, which would over the next three
centuries revolutionize Western civilization.
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1517 : Martin Luther posts 95 theses
1926 : Houdini is dead
1961 : Stalin's body removed from Lenin's tomb
Posted by Steven Rosenfeld at 4:54 PM on October 29, 2008.
There were two important legal decisions on Wednesday that should help voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
In Pennsylvania, a federal district court ordered Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, to provide backup paper ballots if at least half of the voting machines break down in a precinct. Voting rights activists had sued the state, saying the ballots were needed because of voting machine problems during the 2008 primary, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. The plaintiffs presented their testimony at an eight hour hearing Tuesday.
"This is a huge victory for the voters of Pennsylvania," said John Bonifaz, legal director for Voter Action and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "This ruling will ensure that many voters across Pennsylvania will not be disenfranchised when voting machines break down on Election Day."
The court's opinion and order said:
If 50% of electronic voting machines in a precinct are inoperable, "paper ballots, either printed or written and of any suitable form," for registering votes (described herein as "emergency back-up paper ballots") shall be distributed immediately to eligible voters pursuant to section 1120-A(b) of the Election Code. Emergency back-up paper ballots shall be used thereafter until the county board of elections is able to make the necessary repairs to the machine(s) or is able to place into operation a suitable substitute machine(s).
The coalition that sued the state included Voter Action, the NAACP Conference of Pennsylvania, the Election Reform Network, The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and other private attorneys.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that the Justice Department will not push the state of Ohio to reveal the names of voters "whose registration applications did not match other government databases."
"The decision comes about a week after an unusual request from President Bush asking the department to investigate the matter and roughly two weeks after the Supreme Court dismissed a case involving the flagged registration applications," the Times' Caucus blog reported.
Ohio election officials contacted earlier in the day by AlterNet said the same thing, noting that career attorneys at the Justice Department -- who either would be leaving the government or seeking to stay on during the next administration -- would not want to put their careers at risk by pursuing such an overtly partisan intervention, despite pressure from the White House and congressional Republicans.
The bottom line in both these developments is the rights of voters, particularly in swing states, appear to be trumping partisan considerations or known shortcomings of the voting machinery.
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When I was a teen growing up in Schenectady, N.Y., during the early '70s, I had an alcoholic neighbor whose favorite saying was, "The trouble with people is that they are no damn good." I was friends with his son, and whenever I'd go over to hang out at his house, his father would sidle up to me as though we were in a cocktail lounge, put his hand on my shoulder, and mutter his cranky credo.
I didn't immediately make the connection between his soft-spoken, liquor-laced presentation and my own father's hard, locked-in mistrust of people and the world. But I realize now that if drink could have loosened my father's tongue, he probably would have said the same thing.
As a child, my father experienced the anti-Semitism of the Poles and then barely escaped the Holocaust, fleeing Warsaw with his family just one week before Hitler invaded. Still, that doesn't explain everything. Anne Frank, born five years after my father, got trapped in the same genocide he escaped. And yet, holed up in her hiding place with Nazis prowling the streets below, she wrote in her diary, "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."
I don't think she was naive. On the same page, she writes of feeling "the suffering of millions," of being able to hear the "ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too." Yet she held onto her belief in the goodness of humanity.
Over the years I've come to realize how much our basic opinion about humanity has vast repercussions -- not only on our personal lives, but also on our politics. If you assume people are "no damn good," you will probably favor more police officers and prisons, and you may not see anything wrong with capital punishment. You will also favor fences, walls and barriers of all kinds, and believe that it is prudent and perhaps necessary to own a gun. It's likely you will have supported George W. Bush in his pre-emptive war against Iraq, maybe even after you learned that he depended on lies and deceptions to carry it out. After all, life is about choosing the lesser of two evils.
And what if you think that people are "really good at heart"? Though you may be a dove, you will not necessarily be a starry-eyed dreamer. Many of those making the most basic contributions to society fall into this category: nurses, teachers, social workers, counselors. These individuals typically believe that it's better to rehabilitate people than to lock them up, and that negotiation and diplomacy are better than the use of tactics of domination and the last resort of war. They see true peace and security arising from goodwill and generosity, and probably keep a good book rather than a gun by their pillow.
I don't mean to suggest that everyone falls solidly into one category or the other. We have all internalized both attitudes to some degree, and they vie for ascendancy, depending on what is happening in our lives, and in the larger world. In times of peace and harmony we find more people agreeing with Anne Frank. In times of suspicion and mistrust, such as we find ourselves facing now, my alcoholic neighbor's rant has the world's ear.
It's not because of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Yes, 9/11 was a defining moment, but there were many ways we could have defined it. The way the Bush administration chose has made us more afraid and has given us more to fear. All the wonderful promise of a new millennium has been subsumed by alerts of yellow, orange and red.
There are many ways to make our country a safer and more secure place. As Samantha Collier, chief medical officer of HealthGrades, points out, far more people die each year from hospital errors than died when the Twin Towers fell. According to Collier, "The equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people are dying each year due to preventable, in-hospital medical errors, making this one of the leading killers in the United States."
Mark Klempner is a social commentator, historian and author of The Heart Has Reasons: Holocaust Rescuers and Their Stories of Courage. He would like to thank James McConkey and others who commented on an early version of this piece: Amy Denham, Paul Glover, Gerry McCarthy, Alice McDowell, Nicole Sault and Richard Silverstein.
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Softening up, crashing, going down, failing to launch, losing firmness -- it seems sex and money, or at least libido and the economy, have more in common than language.
In "Sexual Recession" in Forbes this week, Dr. Ruth cautions that people anxious about diminishing investments or "looming pink slips should turn their attention to a side effect of the present economic tsunami: the way it's washing away the love lives of couples caught up in the rushing waters. Stress, depression and anxiety all wreak havoc on the libido."
She talks about one couple in which a man fears he'll lose his job, which is affecting his sense of manhood, and therefore his sexual desire. He didn't want to burden his wife with his problems, so didn't tell her about any of this. His wife interpreted his silence and lack of interest to mean he was having an affair. Dr. Ruth says there will be many such misunderstandings in this kind of economy, and many will lead to divorce, because without sex, relationships fail. She says the cures are good communication, and the French approach: "L'appetit vient en mangeant," which means, "your appetite comes as you eat." Basically, take your clothes off, get into bed together, and it'll all work out. Otherwise, the "failing financial systems will rob you of the profits of your relationships" too.
Laboring in 'Splitsville'
"Will the Market Kill Your Marriage" is Time's offering on the subject. "Recession and divorce, it is said, go together like carriage and horse." And those "who labor in Splitsville" have three theories as to why. "There's the lawyer theory, that money provides the soft fatty tissue that insulates the marital skeleton; once it's cut back and people get a good look at the guts of their relationship, they want out. And there's the marriage-counselor theory, that couples who were never quite on the same page in the checkbook finally get pushed off the ledger by endless bickering over their dwindling resources. And the therapist theory, that financial worries cause stress, stress can cause depression, and depression is a total connubial buzz kill." It also floats a few new theories: some lawyers say that as stock prices have plunged, they've received inquiries from business owners and investors "looking to unhitch now, with the idea that being poorer on paper will work to their advantage when dividing assets." Nice.
And one Cambridge University researcher has just done a study measuring the naturally occurring steroids in 17 British male traders over time and found high levels of testosterone during bull markets and of cortisol during volatility. "Cortisol helps the body deal with threatening situations. But prolonged exposure to it, as during a lengthy downturn, makes people irrationally fearful, so when confronted with neutral situations -- say, that their spouse would like the leaves raked -- they react as if threatened. In other words, men can get funny when they're losing money."
The Best/Worst One Night Stand
It's not just sex but love that gets less trade. This week, there's also a sad essay by Salon's Sarah Hepola in Nerve called "Up in Smoke: How the Financial Crisis Ruined my Love Life" about a one night stand she had with a transactional lawyer. In the morning, she had decided she would either marry this guy or never see him again. Three days later, with no phone call ("I have no qualms about calling men, but I had come to a place where it was simply more interesting for me to be pursued") she figured it was the latter.