Thursday, May 04, 2006

Viva México, Viva Juárez

I'll be gone this weekend, and don't know if I'll have the time to post anything tomorrow, so I thought I'd put up my Cinco de Mayo post a day early.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which Mexican soldiers, facing a much larger French army, achieved victory. (It is not to be confused with Mexico's Independence Day, which is September 16; Mexican independence from Spain was achieved almost fifty years before the battle of Puebla.) During the administration of Mexican president Benito Juarez, an impressive political hero who deserves wider renown, Napoleon III had sent an army, under the pretext of debt collection, to establish French rule in Mexico under the viceroy Maximilian. It was a bold plan, but the odds dramatically favored Napoleon III: the French army was one of the finest in the world at that time, and the United States who would certainly have opposed the French incursion and assisted the Mexicans (and did indeed do so when they had a chance) was embroiled in the Civil War. The French smashed through the initial Mexican defenses.

Operating under the assumption that the Mexicans would capitulate if their capital were to fall, the French set out to attack Mexico City. The Mexican army, under the leadership of Texas-born Ignacio Zaragoza (Texas, of course, was at the time of his birth still part of Mexico; Zaragoza was born in Goliad and moved with his family to Mexico after Texas independence), retreated to the fortified city of Puebla. When the French arrived, they sent their cavalry out to the French flanks; the French army made the mistake of sending its own cavalry to chase them. The Mexican cavalry was easily able to take tie up the French cavalry, thus forcing the French infantry to charge the Mexican infantry unassisted. The ground was muddy from rain, making it difficult to maneuver. It is also sometimes said that the Mexicans stampeded large herds of cattle against the French; which, if true, would have no doubt been a bit disconcerting. In any case, the French were eventually forced to retreat from Puebla. The Mexicans won the battle.

But lost the war. The French brought in reinforcements and seized control of Mexico. Juarez was sent into hiding, where he organized the resistance. Maximilian ruled until 1867, when he was executed by troops loyal to Juarez.

Cinco do Mayo is celebrated in Mexico, but except for perhaps Puebla and the surrounding areas, it is not as popular as it appears to be in the U.S., where it is perhaps second only to St. Patrick's Day as the most widely celebrated ethnic holiday. And deservedly so, I think; it's a cool victory to celebrate, and serves as a useful occasion for remembering all facets of Mexican culture and legacy. (It doesn't hurt that in the person of Zaragoza it has a connection to U.S. soil.)

Physics and Philosophy

I found this interesting: R. F. Streater's Lost Causes in Theoretical Physics (HT: Reality Conditions). The primary purpose of this list is, as Streater says at the beginning, is to note topics of various degrees of popularity that, due to difficulty, obsolescence, or lack of promise, are probably not topics suitable for students. I don't have the expertise to comment intelligently on the more physics-related issues, but while some of the topics listed would fairly narrowly be of interest only to physicists, the list is also useful in giving sets of topics to be wary of if you are not a physicist, particularly if you are in a field (like philosophy) that will at least occasionally touch on physics-relevant issues. The most obvious case, because the most popular, is the many worlds interpretation, which secretly carries all the most serious dangers for the philosophically minded: it's different enough from ordinary assumptions that it gives an intoxicating feeling of liberation, its basic idea is accessible enough that it quickly gives you the misleading impression that you understand it, it has a long series of sci-fi associations that give the misleading impression of old familiarity, and it looks vague enough that you can think about it at will without bumping too often into pesky things like facts or needing to conform your inferences too often to rigorous mathematical equations. It's a breeding ground for bad reasoning. There are others among the topics listed by Streater that, although less popular, can get philosophers into similar dangerous territory. Even if some of these ideas eventually pan out in one way or another, or are eventually re-thought enough that they become useful, physicists at present simply haven't worked them out enough for others, and especially philosophers, to do anything with them (beyond writing fictional stories).

On a complete tangent, I liked the following passage in the discussion of the many worlds interpretation:

Science is not the collection of impressions got by watching Nature unfurl. In the most useful phrase from the book by Durr, Goldstein and Zanghi, Bohmian Mechanics and Quantum Theory, "we do not come to the Navier-Stokes equations by admiring water waves". We find the laws of Nature by reproducible experiments. The theory needs a cut, between the observer and the system, and the details of the apparatus should not appear in the theory of the system. The heat capacity of a crystal should not depend on the shape of the calorimeter used to measure it. The result of an experiment should not depend how it is performed (contrary to the claim of Durr et al. q. v. above, p 36, lines 1-2), but on what it is measuring.

It puts me in mind (on a tangent again) of the Romantic critique of Newtonianism in the nineteenth century. Contrary to what seems to be the common impression, the Romantics were not in general opposed to science; in fact, they usually regarded themselves as pro-science and their opponents as anti-scientific. Thus Goethe, for instance, criticizes Newton's theory of color not for being scientific but for not being scientific enough. But the Romantics had a quirky view of science, one that made science out to be very empiricist in its approach. So on the Goethean view of science science really does just collect impressions by watching nature unfurl; it eventually gets into the theoretical, but the theoretical is supposed just to grow out of the impressions, bit by bit. No fact is irrelevant, every fact -- including those pertaining to the observer -- has to be somehow taken into account in your theory, and idealization is not acceptable unless it is reached by carefully taking into account everything you experience in the phenomena. If that's your view of science, it's not surprising that you would have a problem with Newton's whole approach, doubting its status as scientific, since Newton makes all sorts of choices about which facts are most important for understanding the phenomena, and is willing to theorize about nature at large on the basis of a handful of carefully controlled experiments. I think one lingering problem of that dispute is that the Romantic view of science is fairly common in our culture: we have a tendency to overemphasize how empiricist its approach is, particularly with regard to physics. I once TA'd for a Science and Society course -- philosophy of science dealing largely with issues like pedagogy, popularization, and policy-making -- which was largely filled with engineering students. The course touched on the Romantics at a few points, and I was surprised at how much sympathy there was for this approach, despite the fact that most of the students had a science background; there was a tendency to regard Goethe as right about how physics in general should go, and Newton was allowed in as an exception. Try as I might, I couldn't convince most of them that it was odd to think of the success of Newtonian physics as a matter of Newton's just happening to luck out in diverging from good scientific practice. I don't know if some of this had to do with their being engineers, or if I had without realizing it oversold Goethe and the Romantics in explaining their view; but I'm fairly sure from some of their comments that a great deal of it had to do with pedagogy and popularization: one way or another they had had it so drilled into them that science was empiricist that they would sympathize with any critique that focused on neglect of empirical facts -- even if the neglect of facts were being done by Isaac Newton, in the midst of some paradigmatically good science, and the facts neglected weren't especially helpful for construction of theory, and the resulting idealization was wildly successful. In any case, the Romantic view still seems common; and it is worth reminding ourselves that science does not simply consist in gathering impressions from watching nature unfurl. That's what painting is for.

Notable Links

* The discussion of traversal of the infinite continues at "Alanyzer".

* Bonnie Kent, On the Track of Lust: Luxuria, Ockham, and the Scientists (PDF)

* The Dogs Playing Poker Code (HT: Another Think) All it needs to be complete are references to the Templars and the evil machinations of Opus Dei in trying to keep the Code secret. And Rolfes is just a little bit too sane to convey the fullness of what Umberto Eco fittingly called the psychosis of resemblances, the pathology at the root of it all.

* Monty Python's International Philosophy Match. The best part of all is when the Germans dispute the goal:

Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming it was offside. But Confucius has answered them with the final whistle! It's all over! Germany, having trounced England's famous midfield trio of Bentham, Locke and Hobbes in the semi-final, have been beaten by the odd goal, and let's see it again.

(HT: prosthesis)

* "Earmarks in Early Modern Culture" has a post on the maternal connection account of heredity, which was very popular in the early modern period (and well into the nineteenth century, despite rejection by occasional greats like Nicholas Steno). I've posted on this briefly in connection with Malebranche.

* Rebecca has a nice post up on Eternality.

* Clark discusses volitional belief. The old discussion of the subject he links to is also worth re-reading.

* Oppressed, poor, facing economic collapse, the people of Zimbabwe find some strength in their sense of humor. (HT: Magic Statistics)

* La Bandera de las Estrellas: The 1919 Spanish edition of the U.S. national anthem. They did a surprisingly good job. The last stanza:

¡Oh asi sea siempre, en lealtad defendamos
Nuestra tierra natal contra el torpe invasor!
A Dios quien nos dio paz, la libertad, y honor,
Nos mantuvo nacion, con fervor bendigamos.
Nuestra causa es el bien, y por eso triumfamos,
Siempre fue nuestro lema: "¡En Dios confiamos!"
!Y desplegara asi su hermosura estrellada,
Sobre tierra de libres, la bandera sagrada!

It's interesting that it is much less cautious than the English original, which pulls some of its punches with conditionals (e.g., the Spanish version says, "Our cause is good, and because of this we triumph" whereas the English says "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just," which is similar in meaning, but much less certain and more qualified, since it leaves open the possbility that our cause won't always be just. (HT: Rhine River)

* UPDATE: Anyone of my generation will appreciate the humor of this. (HT: Cnytr)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Traversal and an Infinite Past

A bit of blogging serendipity: I posted my recent thoughts on Bonaventure and Aquinas on the newness of the world because I was reading Benjamin Brown's defense of Bonaventure. Unbeknownst to me, there was a discussion going on at "Alanyzer" of the Kalam Argument, which is, essentially the same issue. In the comments Aquinas's response to the traversal argument came up. Aquinas's argument is this:

Traversal is always understood to be from term to term. But whatever past day is designated, from that (day) to this there are finite days that can be traversed. But the objection proceeds from this, that, positing the extremes, there are infinite terms in between. [ST 1.46.2 ad 6]

Alan in the comments replied to this:

Aquinas didn't come close to refuting the "traversal of the infinite" argument. On the contrary, the fact that traversal requires two termini supports the kalam argument. It's the absence of a beginning terminus given an infinitely old universe that creates the problems, exactly as the kalam arguer contends.

To which I replied:

I'm baffled by the claim that Aquinas doesn't refute the traversal argument. If every traversal requires a beginning and an end, and an infinite past has no beginning, this is a problem only if we already assume that traversal of an infinite past would require traversal of infinite days. But on the infinite past view, every day in the past is finitely distant from the present; it's just that for every finitely distant day there's a day that is more distant. Thus this is true: For every day in the past, traversal of the days from that day to today is traversal of a finite number of days. The fact that there are infinite such days doesn't change this. This is true just as much as it is true that the fact that every integer is a finite distant from 1 is not affected by the fact that there are infinite integers.

That's the background; Alan has a new post up in response to this that I'd like to comment on. But first I want to make some distinctions. With regard to this topic, we often make a distinction between a potential and an actual infinite. It is important that we tread carefully here, because 'actual infinite' does not mean the same as 'actually infinite'. Every actual infinite is actually infinite, but something can be actually infinite without being an actual infinite. If Aristotle's solution to the infinite divisibility problem is right, for instance, the potential divisions of a line segment are actually infinite. This is not the same as to to say that they constitute an actual infinite -- to constitute an actual infinite the line segment would have to be actually divided into infinite parts. Likewise, the set of integers is actually infinite; but it is not an actual infinite. The reason is that in one case -- 'actual infinite' -- the 'actual' means 'not of something potential'; in the other -- 'actually infinite' -- it means 'not merely apparently'. This is significant.

Alan's response to my objection is that it conflates potential and actual infinity. As he says:

(A) is clearly true when we're talking about a potential infinite. We start at the present and run through the time series in reverse, moving farther and farther into the past. Nevertheless, at any point we stop at, we're only a finite remove from the present. But if the distance from past event E to the present is actually finite, then we haven't yet captured the idea of an actually infinite past.

Similarly, the notion of ever larger integers being still a finite remove from 1 is that of a potential infinite, of a magnitude increasing without bound, not of an actual infinite.

(A) is the claim I made in bold above. This response, I think, conflates the actual infinite with the actually infinite. Alan is right that the integers are a potential infinite; it does not follow from this, however, that they are not actually infinite. And that's the key. If anything is actually infinite the integers are; but you cannot start from the premise "The integers are actually infinite" to "Some integer is infinitely distant from some other integer." In fact, the former is necessarily true and the latter is necessarily false: no integer is infinitely distant from any other integer, because every integer is, by its very nature, finitely distant from every other integer. Pick any integer you like, it is a finite distance from every other integer. Nonetheless, the integers are actually infinite, because there are infinitely many such finite distances. Alan is, I think, confusing 'indefinite finite' with 'potential infinite'.*

That is the point of Aquinas's response to the traversal argument. In claiming that the past is infinite the advocates of the eternity of the world are not committed to saying that any day is infinitely distant from any other day, only that there are infinitely many days finitely distant from each other. Thus the traversal argument fails because it assumes that the claim of an infinite past means that there is an infinite that is traversed; but this is false: necessarily, there is no infinite to be traversed, only infinitely many possible finite traversals of any size you choose. The case is, if we are considering only the infinity involved, exactly parallel to the case of the integers: within the set of integers, there is no actual infinite to be traversed from integer to integer because no integer is infinitely distant from any other; but the integers are actually infinite.

So, in other words, infinitely many traversals of finite distances is not the same as traversal of an infinite distance. The claim that there is no traversal of an infinite (as opposed to infinite traversals of finites) in the infinite past can't be shown wrong unless some other consideration is added that shows that the days of an infinite past must not only be actually infinite, but must constitute an actual infinite that has to be traversed.


* Added later: Perhaps a better way to put this is to say that Alan is confusing the syncategorematic/categorematic infinites distinction with the distinction between the finite indefinite and the actually infinite. A syncategorematic infinite is actually infinite: it is an infinite such that for any finite number there is a greater finite number. The categorematic infinite is an infinite such that it is greater than any finite number. Alan seems to be assuming that there are no merely syncategorematic infinites; but this would be denied by most defenders of an infinite past.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A New Poem Draft


Bent back, aching feet,
shoulders overladen,
endless march behind me,
in weariness I have journeyed,
seeking rest.

In this up-country climb,
endless driving days,
I have journeyed onward,
seeking the end.

But now the final hill,
swarded green and sandy,
falls back beneath my feet;
it opens endlessly out
to a never-ending roar.

It is morning here;
the march is done;
the strong light leaps,
somersaulting the sea.

UPDATE: With a sharp eye, Michael Gilleland recognizes the allusion.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Links and the Like

[There have been some updates.]

* "Islamicate" has a great series of posts on Islamic interpretation of the Qur'an:
(1) Interpretation
(2) Interpreting and Translating
(3) Translations and Secondary Sources
(HT: Dappled Things)

* The economist John Kenneth Galbraith recently died; you can read an interview with him online.

* The Online Philosophy Conference has begun. There's nothing especially interesting this week, although some readers might find Julia Driver's paper on Luck or Jessica Wilson's paper on non-reductive physicalism worth reading.

* In the modern Catholic calendar, today is the day of St. Joseph the Worker. In observance of the day, I direct you to Aquinas's discussion of the purposes of manual labor (they are: to obtain sustenance, to remove idleness, to submit the body to the higher faculties of reason and will, and to make almsgiving possible; these are the things that work contributes to a life of virtue and excellence). Also, the legend of the Miraculous Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe. The so-called Miraculous Staircase, a beautifully balanced piece of master carpentry, has been attributed to a number of people throughout its 130 years; the most favored candidate at present appears to be Francois-Jean 'Frenchy' Rochas. Local legend, of course, attributes it to St. Joseph. Whoever built it, it does seem a fitting symbol of the builder of Nazareth, who is the patron saint of all those who work with their hands to make useful and beautiful things.

* "Mode for Caleb" has a Jazz Primer.

* Sharon Howard discusses and provides links about the self-archiving of academic publications, with a link to her own archive page.

* The History Carnival should be up at some point today. I'll link to it when it is. [UPDATE: And History Carnival #30 is now up. Of especial interest is the post on Margery Kempe at "Quod She". Margery Kempe is no Julian of Norwich, but she's actually not bad at all once one realizes that she's doing much the same thing as Julian (namely, reflecting on her experiences and filtering them through what she knows theologically) -- it's just that, unlike Julian, she doesn't go through such pains to tell us that this is what she's doing, and (admittedly) her theology is much less sophisticated. I've found in my own experience that Kempe grows on you considerably once you get used to her. Yes, she's sometimes a little much, but there's a lot to admire in her.] [UPDATE 2: In answer to a question I asked about where one could find something about marginalia on Kempe's book (which would give some indication of how she was read), Dr. Virago pointed to the introduction to the TEAMS edition; this introduction is online. Very cool stuff.]

* Scott Gilbreath discusses James the Less and James the Just at "Magic Statistics".

* UPDATE: The 29th Philosophers' Carnival is up at "Daylight Atheism." Particularly of interest are About Morality at "Obsidian Wings"; and Pride and Humility at "Goosing the Antithesis" (which is basically a crude cousin of a genuinely interesting Humean argument); and Richard's post The Actual World is not a Possible World at "Philosophy, etc."

Sunday, April 30, 2006


A recent post at "Mixing Memory" has set me thinking about Schadenfreude. The only major philosophers I can think of who discuss it directly are Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Schopenhauer hates it:

But it is Schadenfreude, a mischievous delight in the misfortunes of others, which remains the worst trait in human nature. It is a feeling which is closely akin to cruelty, and differs from it, to say the truth, only as theory from practice. In general, it may be said that it takes the place which pity ought to take -- pity which is its opposite, and the true source of all real justice and charity....Envy, although it is a reprehensible feeling, still admits of some excuse, and is, in general, a very human quality; whereas the delight in mischief is diabolical, and its taunts are the laughter of hell. [Parerga and Paralipomena, Saunders, tr.]

Nietzsche thinks Schopenhauer is wrong:

Harmlessness of malice. Malice does not aim at the suffering of the other in and of itself, but rather at our own enjoyment, for example, a feeling of revenge or a strong nervous excitement.
Every instance of teasing shows that it gives us pleasure to release our power on the other person and experience an enjoyable feeling of superiority. Is the immoral thing about it, then, to have pleasure on the basis of other people's unpleasure? Is Schadenfreude devilish, as Schopenhauer says? Now, in nature, we take pleasure in breaking up twigs, loosening stones, fighting with wild animals, in order to gain awareness of our own strength. Is the knowledge, then, that another person is suffering because of us supposed to make immoral the same thing about which we otherwise feel no responsibility? But if one did not have this knowledge, one would not have that pleasure in his own superiority, which can be discovered only in the suffering of the other, in teasing, for example. All joy in oneself is neither good nor bad; where should the determination come from that to have pleasure in oneself one may not cause unpleasure in others? Solely from the point of view of advantage, that is, from consideration of the consequences, of possible unpleasure, when the injured party or the state representing him leads us to expect requital and revenge; this alone can have been the original basis for denying oneself these actions. [Human, All Too Human]

Those are the only significant explicit discussions I can think of. Aquinas does, however, touch on the issue indirectly in discussing the sin of hatred, which involves desiring and taking pleasure in another's misfortune. It also comes up in his discussions of the vice of savagery, which we exhibit when, instead of wanting people punished only according to what they deserve, we try to punish them simply in order to punish them. (The particular punishment involved in the case Chris is considering would probably be what Aquinas calls the punishment of ignonimy, in which one decreases the good name or reputation, or increases the bad name or reptuation, of someone in response to their deeds.)

Beginningless Pasts

Is it necessary for the world to have a beginning? Aquinas and Bonaventure provide us with two excellent attempts to defend the different sides of this question.

Bonaventure argues that it is necessary for the world to have a beginning. He has a large number of arguments for this conclusion. I will just focus on one, since there it was recently defended by Benjamin Brown in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly (Summer 2005). Bonaventure argues that an infinite series can never be ordered or traversed, and if the world had no beginning, an infinite series of days has been traversed. The classical response to this is that there can only be a traversal if there is a starting point and an ending point. So the traversal argument requires that there be some day that is infinitely distant in the past from the present day. If this were so, then traversing the past would face the same problem as traversing an infinitely divided line point by point: to reach any point from any other point, there would always be yet one more intermediate point, so it would not be traversable. In other words, in an infinitely divided line, there can be no such thing as a 'next point'. Such is the idea. However, the claim that the world had no beginning only requires us to say that for every day into the past we go, there is another day further in the past. Thus every day is only finitely distant from the present. (An objection that one sometimes meets with today, that an infinite is traversable in infinite time, is facile because it begs the question; I mention it merely because it seems to come up a lot.)

Brown argues that this objection to the traversal argument misses the point:

The nub of the question lies in how one should conceive of a beginningless past. Is it really analogous to the future, such taht it is infinite only potentially, not actually? If that were the case, then Bonaventure would think that an agreement was reached, for it would follow that no matter how old the world could be, it would still have a beginning, just as no matter how far into the future you go, there is still an ending. In other words, if there is no infinitely distant past point, which his objectors agree there cannot be, then every actual past point is finitely distant from the present one, so the past must be actually finite and only potentially infinite. In other words, if you deny that there is any point infinitely distant from the present, all you have is a finite past that could have been (but is not) further distant from the present, just like the future.

This argument is a bit obscure, so Brown helpfully breaks it down a bit. Let X be the infinite set of all past days, represented by {..., D-3, D-2, D-1, D-0}, where D-0 is today. Each element of this set must be touched on in succession, which requires: (1) that today be the last day; (2)that each element is distinct; and (3) that each element is touched on, but no two elements are touched on simultaneously. Now, this 'touching' can be done in any order one pleases, so long as these three conditions are met. However, even to get to D-0, an infinity of elements would have to be touched on first. The ellipse (...) represents an infinite series that has to have been completed step-by-step before we get to D-0. This is usually regarded as impossible.

Brown also argues that Bonaventure, contrary to the common view, is right to think that a beginningless world implies that there is a day infinitely distant from the present one. The actually infinite set of days, {..., -3, -2, -1, 0} can be re-arranged to {..., -6, -4, -2, ..., -5, -3, -1, 0} -- i.e., we can touch on all the even days first and then do all the odd days, finally ending with today. But on this rearrangement, -2 is infinitely distant from 0. Indeed, -2 is infinitely distant from any odd number. Brown thinks this shows that in the case of the days, as in the case of the divided line, there is no 'next'. It's very possible I'm missing some very subtle set theoretical point, but this strikes me as a very odd argument. The numbers of the set are not arbitrarily chosen; they are ordinals. Or, to be more exact, they are cardinals that index ordinals. We assign yesterday the number -1 because, and only because, it is the first day in the past; we assign the day before yesterday the number -2 because, and only because, it is the second day in the past. And so forth. Because of this, no matter how we rearrange the cardinal numbers in the set, they still index a rigid ordering. Place -2 anywhere you please, it still represents the second day in the past, and no other day. So it is simply false to say that if the past is beginningless the day indicated by -2 is infinitely distant from any odd day; by definition it is right next door to two odd days, those represented by -1 and -3, regardless of where we actually put the -2. I take it that something like this is Quentin Smith's point in his lovely paper Infinity and the Past that you can always re-arrange the set back to the standard {..., -3, -2, -1, 0}. Brown thinks this misses the point; but I don't see how.

In any case, it's an interesting issue. The most famous defense of the claim that a beginningless past is possible, the one I tend to agree with, is by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas thinks that, as a matter of fact, the temporal world had a beginning; but he denies that there is any contradiction in the claim that it did not. His reasoning is, very roughly, as follows. For it to be possible for the temporal world not to have a beginning, two conditions have to hold:

(1) It must not contradict the nature of a temporal world for it always to have existed. (This is what Bonaventure denies.) Aquinas argues that the standard arguments for this fail, and he presents the best known of the classical responses to the traversal argument. He also argues that this is not surprising. Natures are universal; they do not contain the history of the thing that has the nature. But when a thing begins, if it does, is a matter of its history rather than its nature. Therefore there is no formal contradiction.

(2) There must be no contradiction on the part of the causes. That is, even if a thing is formally possible, if it is to be actually possible it must be either necessary or caused. If it is not necessary and there are no causes capable of causing it, it is not actually possible. Aquinas argues that it is not necessary (indeed, it is not necessary for the same reason it is not impossible). However, he insists that there is at least one cause capable of creating a temporal world without beginning, namely, the omnipotent, eternal God. Therefore there is no contradiction on the part of the causes.

Promised Land

Sometimes comments are too good to languish unread at the bottom of posts. At "verbum ipsum" there was recently a post on the question of Mitt Romney's Mormonism. Romney, of course, is a likely frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and there has been speculation about whether Americans would vote for a Mormon. In any case, the post and all the comments are good, but this one by Lutheran Zephyr made my day:

Of course, one caution about having a mormon president is that Mormons believe that Jesus came to North America, and in this sense the USA is some sort of divinely-inspired promised land (oh, wait a minute, that's also the Great American Myth held by all kinds of Americans, not just Mormons. Sorry. God bless America.).

Seguín on the Alamo

In light of the recent post on Texas Independence, I thought this would be a fitting post, since it's of a passage on which I'd like to have the citation to the original.

Compañeros de armas: Estos restos que hemos tenido el honor de conducir en nuestros hombros son los de los valientes héroes que murieron en el Alamo. Sí mis amigos, ellos prefirieron morir mil veces a servir el yugo del tirano. Que ejemplo tan brillante, digno de anotarse en las páginas de la historia. El genio de la libertad parece estar viendo en su elevado trono de donde con semblante halagueño nos señala diciendo: "Ahí tenéis a vuestros hermanos, Travis, Bowie, Crockett y otros varios a quienes su valor coloca en el número de mis héroes.---Yo os pido a que poniendo por testigo a los venerables restos de nuestros dignos compañeros digamos al mundo entero. Texas será libre, independiente o pereceremos con gloria en los combates.

[Attributed to Juan Seguín; 25 February 1837, at the burial of the ashes of the defenders of the Alamo.

Roughly translated:

"Companions in arms: These remains that we have had the honor of carrying upon our shoulders are the most valiant heroes who died at the Alamo. Yes, my friends, they preferred to die a thousand times rather than serve under the yoke of the tyrant. What a brilliant example, worthy of being noted in the pages of history! The genius of liberty seems to be looking down from its high throne; with a look of praise it points it out to us, saying, 'Here you have your brothers, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and various others whose valor places them in the multitude of heroes.---I ask, with the venerable remains of our worthy companions bearing witness, that we tell the whole world: Texas will be free, independent, or we shall perish with honor in battle."

The last line is fairly well known; indeed, the whole passage is fairly easy to find (in Texas, at least). However, does anyone know the citation for where this passage is first recorded? I've never actually come across it.

UPDATE: In the comments Chris points out this website, which identifies the source as "Columbia (Later Houston) Telegraph and Texas Register
April 4, 1837". Chris also points out that Seguín wrote his own memoirs, which I had completely forgotten. Another website has a selection from those memoirs. Seguín's life story is a sad case of a significant hero -- certainly one of the more significant of Texas independence -- never getting his due afterward because of anti-Hispanic prejudices; facing several death threats, he had to flee with his family to Mexico, where he was promptly arrested and jailed; he was allowed out only on the condition that he fight for Mexico in the Mexican-American War. His memoirs were his apologia for his actions in this chain of misfortunes.

Chris also notes that the issue of slavery unfortunately played a role in Texas Independence. Technically slavery had been illegal in Mexico since before the Constitution, and this was reaffirmed under the Constitution of 1824 and under the 1827 Constitution of Coahuila y Tejas; but while Mexico had always been severe about the selling of slaves, it had scarcely done anything about the owning of slaves (slaveowners found loopholes in the laws, making slaves contractual servants forced to work for room and board), and there were unfortunately plenty of slaveowners who were not pleased with the limits they faced under the Mexican government. From then on out things got worse: further laws against slavery stirred up more unrest; the Constitution of the new republic recognized slavery; the state constitution after annexation went even farther; and when Texas seceded, it was one of the states that made the issue of slavery front and center. The almost continuous increase in pro-slavery powers throughout the period is one of the great tragedies of the era.