Proselytizers at Thomas Paine’s Deathbed

At the end of his life, Thomas Paine seems to have had visits from at least five people trying to convert him from deism to Christianity.  This post contains an excerpt of a book by G. W. Foote, first published by 1888, called Infidel Death-Beds.

Foote’s book mostly acts as a rebuttal to claims of deathbed conversion and recantation by famous heretics.  Certainly Paine was a victim of this disgraceful posthumous treatment, with Christians claiming he had died “howling and terrified”, recanting his assaults on organised religion and the reliability of the Bible.  But rather than focus on the rebuttals of all that here, I’ve chosen an excerpt that just gives an idea of Paine’s actual experiences with the proselytizers.

[Text copied straight from here and here, except that I’ve changed the layout & formatting slightly, added my own emphasis to a few bits, and made one correction.]

His last years were full of pain, caused by an abscess in the side, which was brought on by his imprisonment in Paris. He expired, after intense suffering, on June 8, 1809, placidly and without a struggle. [Life of Thomas Paine. By Clio Hickman. 1819. p. 187]

Paine’s last hours were disturbed by pious visitors who wished to save his immortal soul from the wrath of God: —

One afternoon a very old lady, dressed in a large
scarlet-hooded cloak, knocked at the door and inquired for
Thomas Paine. Mr. Jarvis, with whom Mr, Paine resided, told
her he was asleep. “I am very sorry,” she said, “for that, for
I want to see him particularly.” Thinking it a pity to make an
old woman call twice, Mr. Jarvis took her into Mr. Paine’s
bedroom and awoke him. He rose upon one elbow; then, with an
expression of eye that made the old woman stagger back a step
or two, he asked, “What do you want?” “Is your name Paine?”
“Yes.” “Well, then, I come from Almighty God to tell you, that
if you do not repent of your sins, and believe in our blessed
Savior Jesus Christ, you will be damned and –” “Poh, poh, it
is not true; you were not sent with any such impertinent
message: Jarvis make her go away — pshaw! he would not send
such a foolish old woman about his messages; go away, go back,
shut the door.” — [Hickman, pp. 182-183.]

Two weeks before his death, his conversion was attempted by two Christian ministers, the Rev. Mr. Milledollar and the Rev. Mr. Cunningham: —

The latter gentleman said, “Mr. Paine, we visit you as
friends and neighbors; you have now a full view of death, you
cannot live long, and whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ
will assuredly be damned.” “Let me,” said Mr. Paine, “have
none of your popish stuff; get away with you, good morning,
good morning.” The Rev. Mr. Milledollar attempted to address
him, but he was interrupted in the same language. When they
were gone he said to Mrs. Heddon, his housekeeper, “do not let
them come here again; they intrude upon me.” They soon renewed
their visit, but Mrs. Hedden told them they could not be
admitted, and that she thought the attempt useless, for if God
did not change his mind, she was sure no human power could.
[Rickman, p. 184]

Another of these busybodies was the Rev. Mr. Hargrove, a Swedenborgian or New Jerusalemite minister. This gentleman told Paine that his sect had found the key for interpreting the Scriptures, which had been lost for four thousand years. “Then,” said Paine, “it must have been very rusty.”

Even his medical attendant did not scruple to assist in this pious enterprise. Dr. Manley’s letter to Cheetham, one of Paine’s biographers, says that he visited the dying skeptic at midnight, June 5-6, two days before he expired. After tormenting him with many questions, to which he made no answer, Dr. Manley proceeded as follows: —

Mr. Paine, you have not answered my questions; will you
answer them? Allow me to ask again, do you believe, or — let
me qualify the question — do you wish to believe that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God? After a pause of some minutes he
answered, “I have no wish to believe on that subject.” I then
left him, and know not whether he afterwards spoke to any
person on the subject.

Sherwin confirms this statement. He prints a letter from Mr. Clark, who spoke to Dr. Manley on the subject. “I asked him plainly,” said Mr. Clark, “Did Mr. Paine recant his religious sentiments? I would thank you for an explicit answer, sir. He said, “No, he did not.” [Sherwin’s Life of Paine, p. 225.]

It sounds to me like Paine handled these Christian interlopers very well, considering the circumstances.

 

Footnotes

Some boring extra details …

If you follow the links to the two webpages that I got the plain text of the above excerpt from, you’ll see that they are actually copies of a more recent version of Infidel Death-Beds, with edits and substantial additions by someone called A.D. McLaren.  But the section on Paine is visible in this 1910 edition by Foote alone.

If you’re interested, something claiming to be the 1888 edition was made available in 2010 as a facsimile reprint, yet claims to have A D McLaren as the editor.  I don’t have access to this book in any format, so I don’t know how to reconcile these claims with my suspicion that A D McLaren wasn’t involved with the book until after Foote’s death in 1915.

I mentioned that Foote’s book mostly acts as a rebuttal to claims of deathbed conversion and recantation by famous heretics.  If you’re interested in that area, Robert Ingersoll seems to have written a whole book just to defend Paine against these Christian claims, called The Vindication of Thomas Paine (available here and here) (1877).  For more recent coverage of the subject, there’s a 2005 article about Paine, Voltaire, Darwin, and others, and a 2016 article on the claims made about Christopher Hitchens (which also mentions Paine).

A portrait of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine. (NPG 897) © National Portrait Gallery, London

The above portrait of Thomas Paine is from this NPG page, and is reproduced under the “CC BY-NC-ND 3.0” licence.

 

Treatment of Prisoners: An Excerpt from a Lieutenant’s Account of D-Day

Later that day I noted a white flutter or two from the snipers’ hedge.  What the snipers were using as white flags I know not, but it could have been their undervests.  They surrendered.  A small band of German prisoners began to collect on the beach, to be taken off later in the day.  They were well treated by the British soldiers, a fact which I found significant, for they had after all been sniping away, killing and wounding British soldiers.  I remember our troops selling cigarettes to prisoners, once the battle had passed on.  The commercial instincts of our troops were confirmed over and over again in the following months.  I never saw them robbing prisoners, but the sale of cigarettes at reasonably high prices was fairly common.

That was an excerpt from an account of D-Day by one of the soldiers who participated in the landings.  It is from a book of such accounts.  His entry in that book was titled:

Lieutenant D C Potter

Troop Leader

B Squadron

 

Even non-geeks should use this geek shorthand for “replace XYZ with ABC”

sedsubsitutionexamples

Intro

In some situations when you’re typing (or tapping) some text, every last character counts.  This includes any kind of live online conversation where your correspondent is awaiting your reply.  It could also include the use of any medium that deliberately enforces succinctness – even for formal and non-transient messages with a wide audience.  An example of such a medium is Twitter (with its 140 character limit).  A (random) example of such a message is this tweet:

Notice the use of an ampersand, a forward slash, and two abbreviations.

Now, let’s say I wanted to reply to that tweet, and part of what I want to say is “Personal relationships matter in all walks of life, not just in business”.  Or what if I just wanted to correct a typo?  Well, I am not aware of any shorthand in widespread use to accomplish those things.  So I would like to propose that everyone adopts a shorthand used by certain geeks.

Examples

Under my proposal, I could reply to that tweet with just these 29 characters, as a way of getting across my message that “Personal relationships matter in all walks of life, not just in business”:

s/business/all walks of life/

If they had misspelled “minister”, I could correct them with just these 19 characters:

s/minster/minister/

 

Now for two general examples (the ones in the image at the top of this blog post).  Firstly, the example I used in the post title would be:

s/XYZ/ABC/

And secondly, sometimes commas save lives:

s/Let's eat grandpa!/Let's eat, grandpa!/

I think you get the idea.

Details

As you have probably worked out, the shorthand always starts with “s/”, then has the text to be replaced, then “/”, then the replacement text, then a final “/”.

s/old/new/

The “s” stands for for substitute.

For what it’s worth, this ‘syntax’ for precisely defining a textual substitution was popularized by a software utility called sed, which has been around since 1973.  Geeks may want to look into it, but I am urging non-geeks to also adopt this syntax as a shorthand – without needing to learn about its origins.

A message using this shorthand contains:

  • the text to be replaced
  • the replacement text
  • just 4 extra characters

There’s no need to use speech marks or anything to indicate the start and end of the texts, which means that they can be part of the texts.  For example:

s/he said "yes but"/he said "yes" but/

In fact, any character can be part of the texts, except a forward slash.  The software utility I mentioned above actually has a way of dealing with them too.  But I recommend that in non-geek contexts, if the replacement text, or the text to be replaced, contains a forward slash, just don’t use this shorthand.  Instead, pick another way to express your message.

Is there a name for this particular shorthand?  Well, in a non-geek context I propose it be known as the “everyday substitution syntax”.

 

Superfluous Notes

Here is a list of Twitter recommendations, including several shorthands (such as using “+” instead of “and”).  Perhaps the everyday substitution syntax will be included on lists like that in the future.

 

I have been using the term “forward slash” for the following character:

/

This character has various other names, including just “slash” – which is the title of the relevant Wikipedia article.

 

In case it ever gets deleted, here is a screenshot of the aforementioned tweet:

775645294524559360-screen

 

Email Address Leaks

I have access to a ‘catch all’ email mailbox.[1]

This enables me to run a system in which, when a company or other organization asks me for my email address, I give them one that is unique to them.  I keep track of which email address I have given out to which organization in a list, and I try quite hard to avoid giving the same address to more than one organization.  This means that if an email address receives anything it shouldn’t (such as phishing attempts or spam), I can tell which organization is probably[2] responsible (either directly responsible, or indirectly responsible by allowing the address to be leaked to the people who were directly responsible).

So how have I used this knowledge?  Well, I haven’t much, to be honest.  I think ever since I started doing this I have believed there should be a website where all the people who do the same thing as me can record instances of abuse.  If enough reports were received from different people for a particular organization then it would be good evidence that the organization had leaked their list of people’s email addresses.  If anyone knows of such a website, please comment below.

For now, I’ll simply record my own such reports in this blogpost – just in case anyone in my situation ever uses a search engine to look for any other ‘victims’ of the same particular instance of leaking of personal data.

  • Organization that was given the email address : Subsequent use of that address
  • banksafeonline.org.uk : Invitation from airbnb.com on 2016-09-28
  • ft.com : “investment” spam
  • chemistdirect.co.uk : spam
  • torchdirect.co.uk : spam
  • moneybookers.com : spam
  • oracle.com : “IT jobs” spam
  • hotchilli.net : spam

 

Footnotes

[1] – ‘catch all’ mailbox

To explain what I mean by this I’ll use “abc.example.com” as an example.  If I had access to the ‘catch all’ email mailbox for “abc.example.com” then I would receive all email sent to something@abc.example.com – almost regardless of what the ‘something’ was replaced by.  So I would receive email sent to peter@abc.example.com and fred@abc.example.com and emporerofallmankind2016@abc.example.com and peterisaturd3583726@abc.example.com and … you get the idea.

[2] – “probably responsible”

I use the term “probably responsible” because there are some other possibilities: the leak could have come from me, or from an eavesdropper (since email is not intrinsically a secure medium), or it could even be that the unique email address was actually guessed by someone.  But all theses are far less likely than the possibility that the relevant organization is responsible (either directly or indirectly).

Freedom of Speech Debate, Hart House Debating Club, University of Toronto, 2006-11-15

Overview

It seems there was a debate by Hart House Debating Club at the University of Toronto on 2006-11-15, featuring four student debaters and Christopher Hitchens.  There doesn’t seem to be any official resource on the Web about this event, so I thought I’d create this post to act as a possible single point of reference.  Please feel free to comment below with any suggested additions / corrections / etc..

Main Sources of Info

The best written explanation of the event seems to be this report published 5 days later in The Varsity (“The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880”).

(For the record, the “Archives” drop-down menu here only goes back as far as July 2012.  And neither this page nor this website seem to have any archive information at all.)

Presumably, the main reason the event still interests people today (nearly 10 years later) is that a video recording was made, and broadcast by TVO, and has ended up being made available in various places online.  This TVO feed currently links to this MP4 file (duration 41:47), which seems to be the ‘main’ video of the debate, showing the speeches by the Speaker of the House, the four student debaters, and Christopher Hitchens.

And it seems that the actual TVO broadcast was an episode called “Christopher Hitchens” (duration 51:11) of a series called Big Ideas.  A transcript is available.  You can see that the extra 10 minutes of footage comes from the TVO presenter Andrew Moodie in a studio, giving an introduction, a cutaway just as Hitchens starts speaking, and his own opinion at the end – before finishing the episode with a discussion of an unrelated topic (the Ontario “2007 Best Lecturer Competition”).

Debate Details

From the transcript: “The resolution before the house today is: be it resolved that freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate“.  This resolution seems to be a reaction to a Canadian law that criminalizes ‘promoting hatred’, which is mentioned by James Renihan at the start of his speech.

Speakers:

  • “Ethan Hoddes as Speaker of the House”
  • “James Renihan as Prime Minister”
  • “Adrienne Lipsey as Member of the Opposition”
  • “Christina Veira as Minister of the Crown”
  • “Rory McKeown as Leader of the Opposition”
  • “Christopher Hitchens as himself”

As you can see, there seems to be some kind of debating society role-playing, similar to this.

Presumably after Hitchens spoke there was a vote.  “The resolution calling for the decriminalization of hate speech was upheld by 205 to 87 votes.”

Hitchens Partially Wrong About Justice Holmes

It seems that Hitchens was partially wrong in what he said at the start of his speech, about Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It is very often forgotten that what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape.

In fact it could be just as plausible argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists, who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, were the real fire fighters, were the ones who were shouting fire when there really was fire in a very crowded theatre, indeed.

(The above text is not from the TVO transcript, but from a transcript just of Hitchens’s speech, provided by the Skeptical Libertarian, which includes useful hyperlinks, and three minor corrections in square brackets.)

The “fire in a theatre” meme was indeed from a (1919) opinion by Holmes in which SCOTUS was upholding the criminal conviction of some socialists who opposed the First World War.  But the Yiddish-speaking Russians seem to have been defendants in a separate case, heard by SCOTUS later that year.  They were apparently anarchists supporting the Russian Revolution, and their conviction was actually opposed by Holmes.

Of course, correcting Hitchens’s mistakes doesn’t affect his argument.  Doing so just makes it briefer, as follows:

Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as an action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre.

It is very often forgotten that what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War, and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape.

In fact it could be just as plausible argued that the Yiddish-speaking socialists, who were jailed by the excellent and over-praised judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, were the real fire fighters, were the ones who were shouting fire when there really was fire in a very crowded theatre, indeed.

N.B.  I am not an expert.  This is my own simplistic research, mostly using Wikipedia, instigated by a You Tube comment I saw pointing out the mistake.  It is fashionable to be snobbish about Wikipedia but I shall remind you of their Verifiability policy, which means there should be reliable sources for all claims, and “any material lacking a reliable source directly supporting it may be removed” (by anyone, even you).  So in theory there should be reliable sources for everything I have claimed above (because I’m just repeating claims made on Wikipedia).  But as I said before, if you think I need to update this blog post, feel free to comment below.

More on Holmes

The “fire in a theatre” case is called “Schenck v. United States”.  Here are a couple of archive links:

  • originally at firstamendmentcenter.org
    • UPDATE 2017-02-01: This is now giving an error.
      • (“Page cannot be displayed due to robots.txt.”  But I’ll leave the link here in the hope that this will one day be rectified; I think there’s a good chance that firstamendmentcenter.org didn’t really want to prevent archive.org from making those resources available.)
  • originally at 1stam.umn.edu

Holmes also wrote the opinion in “Debs v. United States“, a similar outcome to Schenck.

For more thoughts about Holmes’s record on freedom of speech, here are two articles (both somewhat critical):

Books that discuss Holmes’s record on freedom of speech include:

 

Other Resources

Hitchens’s speech viewable on You Tube:

N.B.  In case anyone was wondering, the “2006-11-15” in the title of this blog post is in the ISO date format.

 

UK RSS Feed Resources

Intro

I haven’t found any websites / discussions forums / etc. that are specifically about RSS feeds provided by British organizations, or RSS feeds that otherwise pertain to the UK.

In fact it was a struggle to find any websites / discussions forums / etc. about RSS even in general.  Eventually I found RSS Circus, which is for “News on the RSS ecosystem … in French and English”  It does have some stories about the actual feeds, but seems to focus mostly on the software/services/etc. that are relevant to the RSS ecosystem.

So I thought I’d create this blog post, with a view to keeping it updated with any interesting UK RSS feed info that I come across.  Please feel free to comment if you have anything you think should be added, or if you are aware of a better place for this information to go, or if you’d like to discuss anything else pertaining to UK RSS feeds.

 

Generic Resources

 

Specific Sites

I am not trying to compile a comprehensive directory of feeds here.  If anything, I’d be more interested in listing large organizations that don’t provide feeds when they arguably should.

Anyway, here is the RSS info for some of the larger organizations in the country.

The Guardian Changed Their RSS Feeds

Until 8 days ago, my RSS feed URL for the Guardian newspaper was: http://feeds.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/rss  But now that returns a 404.

Luckily, I found this post at RSS Circus (which is for “News on the RSS ecosystem … in French and English”).

So now I am using https://www.theguardian.com/uk/rss and I haven’t noticed any difference in the kinds of articles or the quantity.

As the RSS Circus post says, “the Guardian new design totally hides RSS feeds”.  So the screenshot on the relevant Guardian help page is totally out of date.  At first I assumed that meant the whole help page must be out of date.  But no; just the screenshot.

Here are some more example feed URLs that seem to work: