Melanchton on Fables

 Philipp Melanchthon was the great Renaissance scholar of the humanities who became Luther’s right hand man and a major Lutheran theologian, being the author of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology.  Melanchthon also more or less invented the Reformation schools, giving them a curriculum grounded in the classical liberal arts.  He also championed the use of imaginative literature, which was neglected in scholastic institutions.  SZ at Mockingbird quotes from Philipp Melanchthon’s  On the Usefulness of Fables:

‘There is altogether nothing more beautiful and pleasant than the truth, but it is too far removed from the sight and eyes of men for it to be beheld and known fortuitously. The minds of children need to be guided and attracted to it step by step by various enticements, so that they may then contemplate more closely the thing which is the most beautiful of all, but, alas, all too unclear and unknown to mortals… Therefore, extremely sagacious men have devised some tales which first rouse by wonder the children’s minds that are sleeping as if in lethargy. For what seems more unusual to us than that a wolf speak with a horse, a lion with a little fox or an oak with a gourd, all in the manner of men?…

‘I believe that fables were first invented with that intention, because it appeared that the indolent minds of children could not be roused more quickly by any other way of speaking… For we see that the most serious and wisest of men have used this kind of teaching, and I cannot say easily what a great public evil it is that it is now banished from the schools. The learned admire the sagaciousness of the poet Homer so greatly that they place him beyond the common condition of mortals and clearly think that his mind was roused by some divine power. Yet he wrote about the war between frogs and mice…

‘[Finally,] there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures that it is sufficiently clear that the heavenly God Himself considered this kind of speech most powerful for bending the minds of men. I ask you, what greater praise can fall to fables than that the heavenly God also approves of them?‘

via Melanchton on the Usefulness of Fables | Mockingbird.

“Rouse by wonder the children’s minds.”  Good pedagogy.

If you have a big estate, die or give it away by January 1

Income taxes for everyone are not the only taxes that will jump up, should we jump off the fiscal cliff.  The estate and gift taxes will also soar dramatically. George Will is sardonic about it:

If you have worked hard for five decades, made pots of money and now want to squander it all in Las Vegas on wine, women and baccarat, go ahead. If, however, you harbor the antisocial desire — stigmatized as such by America’s judgmental tax code — to bequeath your wealth to your children, this would be an excellent month to die. Absent a congressional fix before Jan. 1, the death tax, which is 35 percent on estates above $5 million, reverts to 55 percent on those above $1 million.

via George F. Will: Fixing the tax code at the cliff’s edge – The Washington Post.

Rather than dying, many wealthy folks are giving their money away to their heirs, something else that will be heavily taxed after January 1.  From CNN Money:

Currently gifts and estates of up to $5.12 million are exempt from taxes, but as part of the fiscal cliff, any portion of a bequest that exceeds $1 million will be taxed next year — and at a 55% rate (currently, the rate is 35%). That will kick in unless Congress and the president agree to extend the current exemption or agree on a new one. Many older Americans are not waiting to see if that happens.

“It’s crazy,” said Richard Behrendt, Director of Estate Planning for Baird’s Private Wealth Management. “I bet more wealth is transferred this year than in the past 10 years combined.”
Jonathan Blattmachr, a principal of Eagle River Advisors in New York who has lectured groups of estate planners about the expiring exemption, said the amount given away in 2012 will be three or four times that of any other year.

The drop to a $1 million exemption means that the tax bill on gifts or estates of $5.12 million will go from zero this year to $2.266 million next year, according to Blattmachr.

What do you think about the estate tax?  One strain of puritanism has always disapproved of the “idle rich,” such as those trust fund kids on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous jetting to Monaco and other of the world’s playgrounds.  The thought is, people should earn their wealth by hard work, not just live off of the hard work of their forebears.

Then again, inheritance is related to the unity of the family across generations.  Also, those with inherited wealth are not necessarily “idle,” since they usually have to keep the family business in good working order.

The inheritance tax is often devastating to farmers and owners of small businesses.  Farmers are often cash poor, but land rich.  That is, the soaring price of land makes them wealthy on paper, in terms of assets, but they don’t necessarily have much actual money.  Frequently, when the landowner dies, the farm has to be sold to pay the estate taxes.  The heirs don’t have that kind of money even if they want to continue the family farm.  The same can hold true for small businesses, which often have to be dissolved upon the death of the owner when the heirs can’t come up with the cash to pay the inheritance tax.

The one black Senator

The Senate finally has an African-American member.  He is a conservative Republican.  South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced  she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to the Senate, taking the place of Sen. Jim DeMint, who is leaving to head the Heritage Foundation.  Scott is a Tea Party favorite.  See Nikki Haley appoints Rep. Tim Scott to Senate.

Meanwhile, the NAACP is expressing “major concern” about the appointment, since Scott is a small-government conservative.

2012 as the best year there ever was

The British periodical The Spectator argues that 2012 was the best year ever:

It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.

To listen to politicians is to be given the opposite impression — of a dangerous, cruel world where things are bad and getting worse. This, in a way, is the politicians’ job: to highlight problems and to try their best to offer solutions. But the great advances of mankind come about not from statesmen, but from ordinary people. Governments across the world appear stuck in what Michael Lind, on page 30, describes as an era of ‘turboparalysis’ — all motion, no progress. But outside government, progress has been nothing short of spectacular.

Take global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too.

The doom-mongers will tell you that we cannot sustain worldwide economic growth without ruining our environment. But while the rich world’s economies grew by 6 per cent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 per cent. This remarkable (and, again, unreported) achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind farms. It is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.

And what about the concerns that the oil would run out? Ministers have spent years thinking of improbable new power sources. As it turns out, engineers in America have found new ways of mining fossil fuel. The amazing breakthroughs in ‘fracking’ technology mean that, in spite of the world’s escalating population — from one billion to seven billion over the last two centuries — we live in an age of energy abundance.

Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from Aids has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in half a decade.

Nature can still wreak havoc. The storms which lashed America’s East Coast in October proved that. But the speed of New York City’s recovery shows a no-less-spectacular resilience. Man cannot control the weather, but as countries grow richer, they can better guard against devastation. The average windstorm kills about 2,000 in Bangladesh but fewer than 20 in America. It’s not that America’s storms are mild; but that it has the money to cope. As developing countries become richer, we can expect the death toll from natural disasters to diminish — and the same UN extrapolations that predict such threatening sea-level rises for Bangladesh also say that, in two or three generations’ time, it will be as rich as Britain.

War has historically been humanity’s biggest killer. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that knows little of it. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century. Whether we are living through an anomalous period of peace, or whether the risk of nuclear apocalypse has proved an effective deterrent, mankind seems no longer to be its own worst enemy. We must bear in mind that things can fall apart, and quickly. Germany was perhaps the most civilised nation in the world in the 1920s. For now, though, it is worth remembering that, in relative terms, we have peace in our time.  . . .

Fifty years ago, the world was breathing a sigh of relief after the Cuban missile crisis. Young couples would discuss whether it was responsible to have children when the future seemed so dark. But now, as we celebrate the arrival of Light into the world, it’s worth remembering that, in spite of all our problems, the forces of peace, progress and prosperity are prevailing.

via Why 2012 was the best year ever » The Spectator.

Is this channeling Pollyanna, or is there a valid point here?  Might every age, in the words of Dickens, be both and at the same time “the best of times and the worst of times”?

Old Calendar Protestants

Eastern Orthodox folks celebrate Christmas on a different day than we Western Christians do.  They don’t go along with the change in the calendar that was orchestrated by Pope Gregory XIII back in 1582 in order to re-align our calendar with the motions of the solar system.  The so-called Gregorian calendar was accepted throughout the European-heritage nations by 1752.  But the Eastern nations remained under the old Julian calendar.

What I didn’t know is that some Protestants also kept using the Julian calendar.  They could be found in Appalachia as late as the 20th century.  From the Kairos Quarterly, a publication of an Orthodox monastery in West Virginia, via Trystan Bloom at First Thoughts:

As a Russian Orthodox monastery which observes the Julian, or “old”, calendar, we were surprised to learn about Appalachian “Old Christmas”, which is a most solemn and reverent time for families living in the mountains. The initial change-over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by the British Empire and the American colonies in 1752 caused a difference of eleven days. Thus, the date of “new” Christmas on December 25th was eleven days ahead of “old” Christmas, which fell (at that time) on January 5th. Some Protestants refused to honor the new calendar because it was decreed by the Pope, so their celebration of Christmas remained on the Julian calendar – which now falls on January 7. In the Appalachian Mountains, the celebration of Old Christmas remained until about World War I. Though they might also observe ‘new’ Christmas on December 25th, the festivities were very different. December 25th was marked with revelry and parties and visiting, but January 6th was primarily a reverent family observance.

via Old Calendarists in Appalachia » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

I’m fascinated by such living relics of past history.  One of these days I intend to get on a boat and travel to Tangier Island here in Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay.  This island was settled by British colonists in 1686, and the people have been so isolated that to this day they still speak the English dialect of that day.  Which means they talk pretty much the way Shakespeare did.

The presidential election was held yesterday

The Electoral College cast its ballots on Monday.  The results won’t be official, though, until Congress counts the vote on January 6.

Electoral college set to vote on President Obama’s reelection – The Washington Post.

Is this an anachronism or wisdom from our nation’s Founders?  Could the process for choosing a president be improved?  What if state legislatures simply chose the electors from each state, cutting the public out of it, as was apparently the original intention?  Would this result in a de-politicized chief executive, and might this be a good thing?


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