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Archive for November 2013

Put Your Own Mask On First

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When you fly, the flight attendants have to do the little safety ditty before takeoff. Part of the routine covers the oxygen mask, which will drop down “in the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure.” The attendants point out that you should put your own mask on first before helping others. Otherwise, you risk having two people incapacitated.

These are words to live by, and not just during in-flight emergencies. In everyday life, you should also “put your own mask on first.” Help yourself and then look around for other people to help. If everyone did that, radiating out from themselves in concentric circles, we would have much less need for the Great Crusade.


Written by srojak

November 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

Posted in Ethics

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Extreme Worldview Makeover

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A worldview is the framework through which you view the world and plan, execute and interpret your interactions with other people. Without an effective worldview, you cannot reliably gain the co-operation of others and you cannot sell your ideas.

The tests of effectiveness of a worldview are:

  1. Can you predict the actions of others?
    1. Can you understand others’ motivations?
    2. Can you identify what you need to know about another person to understand her/his motivations?
    3. Can you obtain that information, preferably without directly asking?
  2. Can you formulate plans that depend on the co-operation of others and reliably realize them?
    1. Can you obtain the co-operation of others whose behavior you cannot compel?
    2. How wide a circle of influence do you have?
    3. Can you influence people who you have not known for years?
    4. Can you influence people who are not related to you?

Without an effective worldview, it is hard to get through the day in a developed society.

Worldview Overhaul

If you have to fix your worldview, do it sooner rather than later. My observations are that it will take not less than three years out of your life to overhaul your worldview and replace what does not work in reality with what does. The sooner you get going, the sooner you get to harvest the benefits of the effort.


The first thing to get your mind around is the fact that everyone doesn’t want the same thing. Different people have different goals and expectations. The only way to find out other people’s objectives are to get to know the people for themselves.

Treating people as stock, one-dimensional characters won’t help here. Telling people what they should want gets one nowhere.


People buy emotionally and justify logically.
— Sales maxim

People are good at rationalizing: rationally justifying a goal or course of action they have chosen. This does not necessarily mean that they have chosen rationally. Often, the opposite is true. Successful salespeople know this, and sales demands testing theories of human behavior every day.


Many people take existential positions: statements of what they expect their lives to be like. Often, people engage in repeated experiments to prove their positions, and throw out any data that does not confirm the theory. Is this constructive? No, but it happens a lot.

Maier’s Law: If the facts do not conform to the theory, the facts must be disposed of.
— N. R. Maier, “American Psychologist”, March 1960

A cruise through Eric Berne’s Games People Play (1962) reveals a wide selection of existential positions:

  • “All people are ungrateful.”
  • “Everybody wants to deprive me.”
  • “People can’t be trusted.”
  • “I’m always wrong.”
  • “I am pure.”
  • “I am blameless.”
  • “Everybody wants to dominate me.”
  • “I can live gracefully.”

This is not a comprehensive catalog of all possible positions. Because it is a book about therapy, it is heavy on maladaptive positions (e.g., “I am blameless”) and has less discussion of constructive positions (e.g., “I can live gracefully”). Nevertheless, the idea is valid and offers an analytical toolset for understanding real world behaviors.

A person whose position is “I’m always wrong” won’t usually come out and say that, except possibly disguised in a joking way (ha ha only serious). Instead, you will continually see him engaging in behaviors that are meant to prove that he is right about something, and they are never enough. If, as usual, his plan falls through, it’s par for the course. If he does get some confirmation that he is right about something, he will find a way to dismiss it — or its source. There will often be a good reason why each individual initiative this person starts does not work out. Nevertheless, when you stand back, you will see a pattern of things involving this person not working out.

Early Warnings

People will give you warnings of what’s coming, if you’re listening. There is a beautiful example of this in the 1986 movie About Last Night. Debbie (Demi Moore) has a fight with her live-in boyfriend, so she goes to stay the night with her best friend Joan (Elizabeth Perkins). Joan has a man staying with her, and when he hears about Debbie’s situation, he says, “Guys can be real assholes sometimes.”

Later in the movie, Debbie finds Joan crying:

Joan: I am such a fool.
Debbie: Tell me. I’m your best friend.
Joan: He’s going back with his wife.
Debbie: I didn’t even know he was married.
Joan: Neither did I.

Well, he warned you.

Written by srojak

November 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm

An American’s Guide to the English Civil War

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Every US citizen should buy, rent or borrow episode 8 of Simon Schama’s DVD series A History of Britain. The episode, titled “The British Wars”, covers the causes and outcome of the series of wars from 1638 to 1649 that include the English Civil Wars and the Bishops’ Wars. Everyone should watch this episode over and over until every running second of it is burned into their brains, because it has important principles and lessons that relate to what we are going through now.

At the same time, there are a few important turns in the plot that the DVD does not address. I shall speak to these as well.

The question in dispute between us and the King’s party was, as I apprehended, whether the King should govern as a god by his will and the nation be governed by force like beasts; or whether the people should be governed by laws made by themselves, and live under a government derived from their own consent.
— Gen. Edmund Ludlow (c.1617-1692), Memoirs

The focus of this post will be on the First Civil War, which was fought between 1642 and 1646 between Royalist and Parliamentary forces. I will not be taking up the subject of Charles’ religious misadventures in Scotland that culminated in the Edinburgh Prayer Book Riots and the Bishops’ Wars, except to the extent that they accelerated events in England.


Cavalier and Roundhead, from Sellars and Yeatman

Cavalier and Roundhead, from Sellar and Yeatman

Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat and gay attire. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties and somber garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable.
— Sellar and Yeatman, 1066 And All That

But seriously, there were two principal issues in dispute which fused together because of the King’s personal agenda.

Royal Prerogative

Charles believed that kings were answerable only to God. He would call Parliament to discuss issues he chose, consider carefully their advice and ignore it if it displeased him.

The countdown to the Civil Wars started now — though nobody heard it. It was a countdown that could have been stopped time and time again, but the ticking grew louder and louder, until by 1642 it was deafening. And what triggered that countdown? Money.
— “The British Wars”

The English constitutional tradition was that the King needed Parliament to enact laws to raise taxes. Charles did not want to go to Parliament because he found himself in ugly discussions regarding what he wanted done and who he wanted leading it (such as the Duke of Buckingham, a royal favorite). So he sought to dispense with Parliament, having his ministers comb the books for various devices he could use to raise revenue without Parliament. His treasurer and attorney general sold monopolies, fined landowners for technical violations of obscure medieval forest laws and even levied fines on members of the gentry who had failed to apply for knighthood.

Charles dismissed Parliament in 1629, and ruled without one until 1640, asserting his royal prerogative. However, the constraints of raising revenue without direct taxation coupled with Charles’ spending reached the limits of what was possible to achieve even dusting off obscure laws to enforce. By 1635 Charles’ administration was having to reach even farther, assessing inland towns for ship money, which had always by custom been limited to the ports. John Hampden, a Buckinghamshire landowner, refused to pay. His attorney argued the royal prerogative is limited by law; if it were not, a man’s life and property were not secure. Hampden lost his trial, but he sparked a renewed interest among the gentry in asserting their rights under law.

Charles I said that any money which was Ship Money belonged to him; but while the Roundheads declared that Ship Money could be found only in the Cinq Ports, Charles maintained that no one but the king could guess right which was Ship Money and which wasn’t. This was, of course, part of his Divine Right. The climax came when a villager called Hampden (memorable for his dauntless breast) advised the King to divine again.
— Sellar and Yeatman, 1066 And All That

Religious Conformity

Even before Charles was born, there was no religious toleration. Catholicism was seen as a mortal threat; when Pope Pius V had issued the bull Regnans in Excelsis in 1570, declaring Elizabeth I to be a heretic and releasing her subjects from obedience to her, he linked Catholicism and treason in England. There was no acceptance of Jews; Edward I had expelled them in 1290. It would have been completely out of the question for a citizen to have publicly been a Moslem, an atheist or a pantheist; such a person would be in mortal jeopardy.


But it was not enough to be a Protestant; one had to be the approved kind of Protestant. The Act of Uniformity 1558 (actually enacted one year later) required all English persons to attend weekly services in the Church of England, with failure punishable by a stiff fine. The King, the bishops and Parliament regulated what the faith would profess, how the service would be conducted and who would be conducting it.

Protestantism had originated as a reform movement, challenging the authority of the Roman Catholic church. Rendering the Bible in English, putting it in the hands of ordinary people and asserting the qualifications of all believers to achieve salvation without the intermediation of priests, it should hardly be surprising that people formed their own opinions and were often not receptive to being told, “.. but believe this way.” A strong non-conformist movement developed in England, so called because its members did not conform to Church of England doctrine.


Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had sought to navigate something of a middle path between hard-core Lutheran or Calvinist reforms and Roman Catholic traditions. The more extreme Protestants were dissatisfied with this. They wanted to purify the church of lingering vestiges of Roman Catholic rituals and dogmas, and were thus known to contemporaries as Puritans. These were the people who wanted the church walls whitewashed, the stained glass smashed and the statues pulled down. To the Puritans, the images and the rituals had become ends of worship in themselves, getting in the way of the proper veneration of Christ.

The early Stuart kings, James I and his son Charles I, were not enthusiastic about Puritans. James sought to keep the Church on the middle way, acceptable to many Protestant reformers but not threatening to those who found comfort in tradition and ritual. James sponsored the King James Bible, finished in 1611. He was more than just a patron; he issued doctrinal guidance for the translators, and forbade the inclusion of notes. Under James, Puritans were dissatisfied, but not largely persecuted. Some, seeking to get away from what they considered the corrupting influence of the unpurified church, left for America on the Mayflower.

Official Repression

And alongside the lawyers in Parliament, Charles now faced another group of intransigent critics who had something even more unanswerable than Magna Carta — Holy Scripture — and they, of course, were the Puritans.
“The British Wars”

Charles was more willing to demand obedience than his father, and he found like-minded men to implement his desires. His reign turned a corner in 1633, when George Abbot died and William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud demanded strict conformity to official Church doctrine and was prepared to employ the full apparatus of the temporal power to get it, using the Court of High Commission and Court of the Star Chamber as his venues. Men and women who publicly deviated from the official line could expect jail or worse. Some were punished by having their ears cut off, their noses ripped open or their faces branded. Others, such as Anne Hutchinson and John Lathrop (or Lothropp), fled to New England.

Many ordinary people were secretly influenced by Puritans, such as the Parliamentary leader John Pym. Many others, who found the Puritans dogmatic and tiresome, were appalled at the way Charles and Laud repressed them.


Charles was also attempting to assert his domination over the religious beliefs of Scots, and this was not going well. The Scots prevailed in the Bishops’ Wars, and Charles found himself backed into a corner. Unwilling to accept defeat with the Scots, he had to summon Parliament in England so that he could have the funds to retrieve his position. The first try, the Short Parliament of 1640, lasted only three weeks before Charles shut it down. However, this did not solve Charles’ Scottish problem. The Treaty of Ripon, to which Charles was forced to agree in October, left the Scottish forces in possession of Northumerland and County Durham, with Charles paying their upkeep. Charles had to get out from under this, and needed Parliament to do it.

John Pym was the most visible leader of the opposition to the King in Parliament. Pym organized this opposition throughout 1641, as Schama describes in the episode. Finally, having all he could take, Charles led a troop of retainers to Parliament on 4 January 1642 to arrest John Pym, John Hampden and three other leaders of Commons. However, the five had been alerted that the move was coming, and they escaped at the last minute before the King and his party arrived.

It was an unmitigated fiasco. The gamble had only been worthwhile so long as Charles was sure of absolute success. Exposed now, just as Pym had wanted, as a naked, abject failure, Charles appeared to be something worse than a despot: a blundering despot.
— “The British Wars”

Members of Parliament now saw they needed protection from the King, and began to organized armed militia. The King also called upon his loyal supporters to put down the rebels. That August, when Charles raised his standard at Nottingham, the actual war began.

The War

Royalist support was strongest in the economically backward north and west of England, while the south and east, including London, were more favorable toward Parliament. This meant that Royalist resources were more limited, but also meant that Parliamentary supporters had more to lose as the war dragged on, disrupting production and trade.

Both sides made strategic and tactical errors. There were serious command problems, because most of the forces were local militia who were not paid well and did not want to fight far from home. The war brought death, disease, famine and misery.

The Solemn League and Covenant

By the summer of 1643, people on both sides were becoming disillusioned with their causes, seeking a way out. This was particularly true for the Parliamentary party. Landowners were facing financial ruin and starting to wobble. Pym took action, doing a deal with the Scots Covenanters. The forces that had fought Charles in the Bishops’ Wars would now be fighting on the side of Parliament.

Under the terms of the agreement, the conduct of the war for the combined Parliamentary-Scots forces would be supervised by a Committee of the Two Kingdoms.

Marston Moor

In September 1644 a combined Parliamentary and Scottish force totaling about 27,000 men defeated a force of 18,000 Royalists at Marston Moor, outside of York. From Schama’s description, one would think that this battle decided the war and that the battle of Naseby, a year later, was a final mopping-up. Actually, the outcome was less clear cut. While the battle did result in the destruction of Royalist support in the north, the principal Parliamentary commanders, the Earls of Essex and Manchester, failed to press home their advantage. The Royalists were allowed to limp away after the Second Battle of Newbury.

The Half-Measures Men

The truth was that Parliament would never prevail under the command of men such as Essex and Manchester, who did not have the will to win. The Earl of Essex brought his coffin with him on every campaign. After Second Newbury, the Earl of Manchester said, “If we beat the King ninety and nine times yet he is king still, and so will his posterity be after him; but if the King beat us once, we shall be all hanged, and our posterity be made slaves.”

The Puritan Takeover

Oliver Cromwell’s reply to Manchester was, “If this be so, why did we take up arms at first? This is against fighting ever hereafter. If so, let us make peace, be it never so base.” The failure to win in 1644 led to a showdown over command between Lords, exemplified by Essex and Manchester, and Commons, led by Fairfax and Cromwell.

I would rather have a plain russet-coated captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else.
— Oliver Cromwell, letter to Sir William Spring, September, 1643

The Self-Denying Ordinance

The Roundheads therefore made a new plan in order to win the war after all. This was called the Self-Denying Ordnance and said that everyone had to deny everything he had done up to that date, and that nobody was allowed to admit who he was: thus the war could be started again from the beginning. When the Roundheads had done this they were called the New Moral Army and were dressed up as Ironclads and put under the command of Oliver Cromwell, whose Christian name was Oliver and who was therefore affectionately known as “Old Nick.”
— Sellar and Yeatman, 1066 And All That

As the conflict within the Parliamentary command escalated, Cromwell proposed a solution: a man could be a Member of Parliament or a military leader, but not both. In April, 1645, Parliament passed the Self-Denying Ordinance, which denied Members command commissions. This applied to Cromwell, as MP for Cambridge, equally as it did for the Earl of Manchester, who sat in Lords. However, the Committee of the Two Kingdoms did not want to do without Cromwell, and repeatedly granted him temporary commissions which finally became permanent.

The New Model Army

Cromwell and Fairfax set about reforming the army to overcome the problems that had limited its effectiveness. Over the winter of 1644-45, they created a new army that would fight wherever its officers directed it. In return, the army could count on reliable supplies and officers with the will to win. This army was now filled with professional soldiers instead of part-time militiamen. It was also religiously radical, with strong Puritan and Leveller presences.

By the spring of 1645, the New Model Army had nearly a 2:1 manpower advantage over the Royalist forces. In June, Fairfax and Cromwell with 14,000 men wrecked a Royalist army of 9,000 at Naseby. The Parliamentary leaders paraded half the Royalist army through London as prisoners.

After Naseby, the wind-up began. The New Model Army went around England, cleaning out the remaining Royalist strongholds. In May 1646, Charles I surrendered to a Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.

What Happened to the Parliamentarians?

The war began in earnest at the Battle of Edgehill, in October 1642, with the lawyers and squires in charge of the Parliamentary cause. Over the next two years, they were unable to obtain more than a bloody stalemate.

In early 1645, the Puritans took control of the army and the cause. Under their leadership, the war was successfully concluded in just over a year.

Religion was not the thing at first contested for, but God brought it to that issue at last, and at last it proved to be that which was most dear to us.
— Oliver Cromwell, 1654

Why did this happen? Was there a necessary relationship between religious zeal and military victory? Evidently there was something going on, as the contrast between Cromwell and Manchester illustrates.

The Earl of Manchester wanted to preserve the rights of Parliament and the liberties of Englishmen, but not at all costs. What good was liberty if you were dead?

Oliver Cromwell expected to stand before the judgment of God and account for his actions. Cromwell knew that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” (Mark 8:35) Cromwell built an army of soldiers that feared only God.

The Fate of King Charles I

Charles spent the next two years trying to recover through political maneuver what he had lost in military defeat. He attempted to use his position as an anointed king, which still meant something to most people, and to play off Parliament, the Scots and the Army against one another.

Ultimately, the Army asserted itself, demanding Charles be brought to account. He was tried for treason before Parliament in January 1649. Charles still maintained that he was not answerable to any mere mortal:

No earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent … this day’s proceeding cannot be warranted by God’s laws; for, on the contrary, the authority of obedience unto Kings is clearly warranted, and strictly commanded in both the Old and New Testament … for the law of this land, I am no less confident, that no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King, they all going in his name: and one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong.
— Charles I in trial, 1649

Parliament wasn’t buying it. Charles was condemned to death, and beheaded on 30 January at Whitehall.


The English Civil War changed English governance forever. Although the Monarchy was restored in 1660, the King would now rule in Parliament, not above it. Parliament would take the crown away from Charles’ son, James II, and give it to William III in 1689. The King could do wrong. He was under the law, not above it.

Taxation, the very thing that had triggered the British Civil Wars, would do so again, this time in America. The taxes may have been different, but the result would once again be disaster. What really happened in America was really Round 2 of those wars: the civil war of the British Empire, with the Hanoverians playing the part of the Stuarts, and the Americans the heirs of the Revolutionaries, of Cromwell and of William III — the inheritors of a true British liberty that had somehow got lost in its own motherland.
— Simon Schama, A History of Britain, Episode 11, “The Wrong Empire”

The experiences of the seventeenth century were the foundations on which British colonists in the New World built their political principles in the eighteenth. Settlers came from Britain and set up their own colonial legislatures, which they expected to control the financial exactions on them to support the British Crown. If the colonists did not like London’s policies, the legislatures would then refuse to grant the taxes to pay for them. When Parliament attempted to take control away from colonial legislatures, it claimed that colonists had virtual representation in Parliament. This is the origin of the phrase, “taxation without representation.”

The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible idea that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation.
— William Pitt, speech in Parliament, 1766

The idea of a legislature challenging an executive by withholding funds to implement policies is not a departure cooked up in our time. It goes back to 1625 and the fight over Buckingham’s appointment. It was baked into the political understanding of the Framers of the Constitution. It is part of what legislatures do.

Executives, whether kings or presidents, do not like being limited in this way. They trot out all manner of arguments to evade accountability and assert their power to do as they please. Understanding the history gives us the context to make sense of it all.

Written by srojak

November 1, 2013 at 10:36 pm