The Atheist at the Funeral

Robert Ingersoll Pollsters tell us that 20 percent of Americans today are secularists—that is, they are atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a religion. According to author and atheist Susan Jacoby, the reason why secularists don’t wield an influence commensurate with their numbers is their own reluctance to speak out, “particularly at moments of high drama and emotion,” such as the massacre of the schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut.

Ms. Jacoby expanded on this theme in an opinion piece published last month in the New York Times. “It is vital,” she said, “to show that there are indeed atheists in foxholes, and wherever else human beings suffer and die.” In particular, she suggested that today’s atheists should emulate Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), the great 19th Century skeptic and freethinker, who frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals. Continue reading The Atheist at the Funeral

The Devil’s Due

Now that we’ve abandoned the people of Homs, Syria to unimaginable suffering, it is time to reflect on the meaning of the debacle.

The defection yesterday of Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameddin raises hopes, but isolation for the Assad regime may only render it more intransigent. Continue reading The Devil’s Due

Viva El Cinco de Mayo!

In Houston, as in other parts of the U.S. with large Mexican-American populations, May 5 is celebrated as El Cinco de Mayo — the day when a rag-tag Mexican army trounced a professional French force nearly twice its size at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Continue reading Viva El Cinco de Mayo!

Land Pirate

Carl Schurz

Abraham Lincoln called his second-floor office in the White House “the Shop,” an apt metaphor for a place people drifted in and out of constantly. At first glance, it was not the most impressive command center for the mighty war effort beginning to stir. Across the Potomac, in Alexandria, a Confederate flag fluttered insultingly, within easy view of the White House. Office-seekers, the bane of Lincoln’s existence, continued to show up, even as desperately needed troops failed to.

But at times, the flotsam and jetsam pouring into the Executive Mansion produced a welcome visitor. Late April brought an office-seeker Lincoln knew well, for his help asking German-Americans to vote. Now Lincoln needed them to fight; and Carl Schurz was just the man to speak to them. Continue reading Land Pirate

Yacht for Sale

James Gordon Bennett

In 1861, James Gordon Bennett, who owned and edited the New York Herald, was about the last man anyone expected to reach out to President Abraham Lincoln.

Perhaps invigorated by a terrifying mob that had threatened his paper’s offices on April 14; or perhaps genuinely motivated by patriotism, Bennett realized that he had to change course and support the beleaguered new administration. So he sent the reporter who knew Lincoln best to cut a deal. Continue reading Yacht for Sale