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Seventieth Anniversary

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I was out for an early walk to avoid the heat this morning, and noticed how dark it is at 5:29 at this time of year, not the deepest dark, but still a while before dawn. It was seventy years ago today that the bomb was tested about two hours’ drive north of here.

I decided this would be the year I go to visit Trinity site. A lot of others made the same decision. The first Saturday in April was Easter Saturday, a time when many people travel. The site is opened only once or twice a year, depending on government cutbacks. Reports afterward were that while there are usually about 3,500 visitors at these openings, this spring there were 5,500.

Trinity site is located on White Sands Missile Range. The army is good at managing crowds. They were set up to check four cars at a time going in the gate. When I got there the back up at the gate was three miles long; it took me 55 minutes to get in. After that there is a 17 mile drive to a large parking lot so people get spread out. From the parking lot it is a quarter-mile walk to ground zero.P1000421.trinity walk

The army is not so good at other aspects of hosting visitors. There was a large golf-cart type vehicle providing rides from the parking lot to the site for those who couldn’t walk it, but I noticed there were not enough chairs at either end of the run to accommodate people waiting for the ride.

Some friends discouraged me from going. There’s nothing there, they said. It’s true that the crater has been filled in, to cover the radioactive green glass called trinitite which was the result of the explosion and to prevent its being stolen. There is trinitite for sale at locations around the edge of the range; some of it may still be the real thing. A few small samples are displayed at a table where the path meets the oval which represents the crater. There is a piece of one base for the tower which held the bomb, and two containers which helped move and protect the device. container 2

There are photographs hung on the enclosure fence, many of them of people responsible for the test, mostly white males looking pleased with themselves. If they felt any ambivalence about what they were doing, they kept it hidden from the camera.P1000424 cropped

It was once possible to view some of the trinitite on the crater floor. A structure was built with a window to look through. This is what it looks like now.P1000423

The army should have taken lessons from the National Park Service. “Years ago”? How many? And when was this sign installed? There’s no date given. “Years ago” sounds like the opening of a fable, or a tale of origins. It’s odd to find this in a place governed by scientific exactitude.

Outside the base, back at the road before the three mile backup, some people were protesting. They were not an anti-war group. They call themselves “Downwinders” and are asking for recognition and compensation for having been in the way of the radioactive fallout. No one warned them of danger. At the time of the bomb test no one had any idea what long range effects the radiation might have; though there had been accidents to show the immediate problems which high exposure caused.

The scientists acted as if they were testing in an empty space. No place on earth is that empty. I’ll let nature have the last word. This was along the path back to the parking lot.P1000430 flowers

Ft. Craig, Part II: Long Term Rivalry

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Ft. Craig sits on the western side of the Rio Grande.  In this photo the river is hiding below that dark line, where the land drops to the river’s level, and soon rises to the mesa on the other side.rio grande

To the west, there is mesa for some distance to the mountains.  These mountains are one set of geologically recent protrusions which have pushed up at intervals, scattered across the landscape.  This view is taken from a lookout site at the top of one of the large storage structures.366west warmer

These photos are closer to what I experienced as the color of the land and bushes than the ones I posted in my previous post.

And to the north is Black Mesa.  On the north side of Black Mesa one of the important battles of the Civil War in New Mexico took place.  The site is Val Verde, a set of arroyos and streams that drain into the Rio Grande.  The Confederate troops came up the eastern side of the mesa; the troops from Ft. Craig went up on the western side.black mesa 3.warmer

While the regular soldiers fought, New Mexico Volunteers, led by Kit Carson, held the fort.  The South won the battle, but the New Mexicans would not give up the fort.  The Confederate troops did not have enough resources to lay siege, so they withdrew.

The Battle of Val Verde took place on February 21, 1862.  On March 28 that same year, the Confederates lost a battle at Glorieta Pass, near Santa Fe, and their push to control the west was over.

I wondered why the New Mexicans were so supportive of the government from far away.  I was told it was because the Texans had already made a grab for New Mexico land earlier.

Kit Carson Slept Here (maybe)

Kit Carson Slept Here (maybe)

This rivalry continues.  I heard two instances of it just last week.  In a meeting about education in the state and financing, the new PARCC testing was discussed.  This testing is created by the Pearson company.  How much are they benefitting from adoption of this testing?  The question was asked “How much money is going to Texas?” where Pearson is based.

On another occasion, in a discussion of Voter I.D. laws a researcher, whose work had led a Texas judge to decide against a new law for that state, got a big laugh when he said, “Let’s see what we can learn from Texas.”

New Mexicans around here go down to El Paso often.  Some even work there.  But they still like to put down Texas.  After all, the Texans did try to take our land.

Maine Flowers

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Buttercups

Buttercups

I visited a site which has human as well as natural history.  There was a store, a dock, a farmhouse, even an Indian shell mound.

Daisies

Daisies

Now there is a beach and a meadow.  The native growth has covered all the foundations.

Wild Rose

Wild Rose

That brown area beside the top rose is a stalk with rose hips from last year’s roses.  I once imagined myself as the kind of person who would collect rose hips to make my own tea.  This meadow and its history brought to mind settlers and those who live off what nature provides.

beach

The beach by the meadow

 

Hike to Dripping Springs

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The “blogosphere” is a strange world of unlikely connections.  One blogger who found my website is Russel Ray.  I enjoy his photos of San Diego so much that I’ve added him to my blogroll, the links in the right hand column of this page.  You might like his work as well, especially if you have any connection to San Diego.

I’m not as accomplished a photographer, but I’ve been practicing, so here are a few from a hike I took in the mountains last week.  It has been too dry to produce many wildflowers this spring, but there are other things to see.  I hiked up to Dripping Springs in the Organ Mountains, a three mile round trip to several old ruins.  Halfway up are a stunning pair of alligator juniper trees.juniprs

One of the ruins is Nathan Boyd’s sanatorium, built in 1917 for patients with tuberculosis.  That disease brought many “anglos” to New Mexico in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.Boyd's sanatarium

A more substantial ruin is Van Patten’s Mountain Camp, actually a rather nice hotel resort in its prime, built in the 1870’s.  It once had stairs up to a nice entrance.Van Patten front

On the way back down the mountain one can see, though it doesn’t photograph very well, the town of Las Cruces in the Rio Grande River valley.view of Las Cruces

It had been about six years since I made this hike.  The ruins are not much changed in that time.  Two other hikes at Dripping Springs can take you to a cave which once housed a hermit, before Van Patten’s time, or to a waterfall – when there is water in it.  I left those for another day.

“Can Anything Good Come Out of Kansas City?”

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At the turn of the last century Kansas City was looked down upon by those in the eastern part of the country, just as Nazareth was despised in first century Palestine.  New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and even Chicago and St. Louis considered Kansas City a latecomer to civilized society, recently part of the wild west.  Kansas Citians fought against this view.

            Economically, the year 1900 was a time of optimism. Midwestern cities were thriving. Kansas City, having weathered the local economic upheavals of the late 1880s and the national crisis of the mid-1890s, was doing well. Its population had tripled in the past two decades, partly through the redrawing of city boundaries. In 1897, Kansas City had absorbed the town of Westport to the south, which had been the more important center, back in the days of the Santa Fe Trail.

A special event in 1900 was the opening of Heim’s Electric Park This type of development was not unique to Kansas City. Entrepreneurs would build street car lines and then build attractions to entice more people to use the lines. In this case, the Heim brothers built a brewery first, then added a street car line to provide transportation for their employees. That did not provide enough business for the line, so they created an ElectricPark, which opened in June 1900. Features included a summer theater, rides, and beer piped in from the brewery. Year by year, they added carnival rides. Kansas Citians believed their park compared well with those at Coney Island or Chicago’s Midway.

In the same spirit of boosterism, Kansas City leaders were happy to support John Emerson Roberts when he wanted to expand his “Church of this World.”  It would, those leaders hoped, make Kansas City “a center of agnosticism for the nation.”  They wanted to see Kansas City appreciated for more than its service as an important rail hub.

Roberts made periodic lecture tours to spread his ideas.  Developing new centers for the Church of this World, however, would require finding a long term substitute to speak at his podium in Kansas City.  This would turn out to be a problem.  His audience in Kansas City wanted to hear him.

94933_CoverFrontExcerpts are from the biography, John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.

The Warp of History

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Perhaps a better title for this reflection would be “How One’s Sense of History Gets Warped.”

The Victorian Era has always had special interest for me, long before I discovered the work of John Emerson Roberts.  As a child, I don’t think I understood the difference between “gilded” and “golden.”  When I heard people discussing the Gilded Age, I thought they spoke of a past universally esteemed better than the present.  As an era of long skirts and fine manners, I thought this must have been a splendid time, when people lived in a special golden light.  Like some ancient writers, I thought the present was flat compared to the past, an age of iron descended from an age of gold.

Currently, I cannot hear the term “Gilded Age” without thinking, if it isn’t said, “and Progressive Era.”  The period from roughly 1877 to 1920 has been labeled and marked off with this double title.  And a golden age it certainly was not.  It was an era of new ideas and inventions, but also one of urban and labor unrest and, in the United States particularly, of fear of immigrant populations.

My sense of the early 1950s was also skewed.  As I looked back on it from the sixties it seemed to have been an era of “returning to normal” after World War II.  I know now that it was not.  It was a new age of consumer goods and suburbs.  Cars and gas were now available and roads were rapidly being expanded.  Factories that had been geared up for war materials were converted to producing consumer goods.  It was also a time of great conformity.  People knew more about people who lived in other places, but that did not lead to appreciation of diversity.  Radio and soon television produced images of the right way to live, the “typical” family, and all the things that family should acquire.

As for a “return to normal” it slowly dawned on me that there had never been a “normal.”  Before World War II had been the Great Depression, before that the “Roaring 20’s” and Prohibition, and before that another war, the first and most disturbing, because unexpected, of the grim and ugly wars that characterized the twentieth century.  In another post I will expand on what I have learned about the cultural shock of World War I, which shattered the widely held belief in an ongoing progress of humanity and its projects, the cultural attitude which John Emerson Roberts held to as long as he was preaching.

As my confusion about “golden” and “gilded” lingered, I thought “normal” might have been back around 1899 or so.  Now I understand that every era in United States history has been one of transition from a past with difficulties toward an unknown future.  Change has been a constant feature and a great many mistakes have been made along the way.

Was it a case of inadequate education that I had these erroneous notions?  I don’t think so.  I think all children are subject to misconceptions, which the text books can’t erase easily, because the adults who write them have forgotten such possibilities.  Was I a child with too much imagination?  I don’t think there is such a thing as too much imagination.  It’s how you learn to use it that counts.  Sorting out these puzzles was an important part of my learning.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine

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Long before Martin Luther King, Jr., we might have had a January holiday by honoring Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, an important document in building support for the American Revolution.  Thomas Paine, who went on to write The Rights of Man,  was the first of a growing number of American freethought heroes.  Robert Ingersoll and Clarence Darrow have been added to the list.  Both of them honored Thomas Paine.  So did John Emerson Roberts.  One hundred years ago, celebrations were often held on January 29, Thomas Paine’s birthday.  Here is the report on one such event in Chicago in 1909, which was a special year because it was the centenary of Paine’s death.

The freethinkers of Chicago planned a large Paine celebration for January 29. This event would also honor Charles B. Waite, a Chicago judge and freethinker who had the same birthday as Paine and who turned eighty-five that year.  Nearly a dozen speakers were engaged to speak. Dr. John E. Roberts headed the list. Clarence Darrow was listed second. Darrow, like most of the others on the program, was a Chicago resident. Among those scheduled, only Darrow and Roberts had a national reputation in the freethought network.

The celebration was held at Hull House, Jane Addams’s famous settlement house. The weather was bad; a snowstorm led people to quote Paine’s famous line, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  Attendance was reported as good, but the weather caused a delay getting started, so a number of the speeches had to be shortened or eliminated. This restriction apparently did not apply to Dr. Roberts, who gave the keynote address on the life of Paine. The Truth Seeker promised to print the lecture in full at a later time, but never did.

Following Roberts, Mr. C. Stuart Beattie was to speak on “Paine and Waite.” He began by saying, “After the magnificent address that we have just listened to upon Paine, I should not attempt any remarks on that great character, but will proceed directly as to the other character who is known to us all.” Beattie proceeded to give a brief biography of Judge Waite. He was a personal acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln and was appointed by him to the SupremeCourtofUtahTerritory in 1862. In this position, he played a significant role in maintaining contacts for the Union, both in Utah and on to California. When the need there was past, Waite moved to Chicago and became a real estate lawyer and a scholar. Apparently, his experience with the Mormon leader Brigham Young helped him to reach the conclusion that all gods are man-made. His writing on the early Church was popular among freethinkers because, as Beattie expressed it, “his great idea was to take off from the character of Christ the crust of absurdity that his supposed historians and disciples had placed upon it.”

Among the other presentations was a “Vindication of Thomas Paine” in verse by John Maddock. This had to be abbreviated at the meeting, but it filled a page of The Truth Seeker in the issue published the week of the event. The poem begins:

We honor Thomas Paine to-night
Because he figures in the fight
Which has been waged by saint and sage
In every Christian land and age.

It ends, four columns later:

The work of Paine was done so well
The church is now the infidel –
Not true to truth, as reason shows.
Paine’s justified and so I close.

The page in The Truth Seeker is filled with pictures: of Maddock, the author of the poem, Thomas Paine, and Roberts and Darrow, the expected speakers. Darrow is not mentioned in the report of the event published two weeks later. At least four others of the intended speakers took no part in the actual proceedings. Evidently, the snowstorm caused more trouble than just a late start. The honors given to Judge Waite proved very timely. He died two months later.

From the biography, John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.

More From Freethinking Edith Roberts

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Edith Wilson Roberts filled in at her husband’s podium for a total of three weeks.  With her first radical lecture on “marriage and divorce” she caught the attention of the papers, including the local correspondent for the St. Louis Republic.  She is described as petite, pretty, and “not after the order of the ‘strong-minded’ woman.”  The reporter’s idea of a “strong-minded woman” is not clear, for he goes on to say, “She is practical, as witness the fact that for three years she managed a farm for her husband, and did it well.”

The Kansas City Star described her style of presentation, which differed quite a bit from her husband’s flamboyant rhetoric:

Mrs. Roberts’s voice is not strong, but like her husband she has the faculty of enunciating clearly.  She did not attempt gestures or rhetoric, but spoke in a calm, dispassionate manner, which, if nothing more, convinced her hearers that she was thoroughly in earnest.

Mrs. Roberts’s second and third lectures did not draw so much attention.  The second was on education.  In this she began by pointing out that college is only the beginning:

After a young man has finished his course he has had a surfeit of books, but he knows little of life, he has had no experience.  .  .  . No man is thoroughly equipped mentally until he has lived much; no man is educated who has not loved; it teaches us what nothing else can teach.  We learn most of all through parenthood.  The childless have missed the sweetest lessons of life.

She calls education “a sacred obligation” and declares, “The first requirement of education is absolute honesty with self.”  This leads into a discussion of religion and science, and the hypocrisy of the former in maintaining old doctrines.

Edith Roberts’s third lecture was on Ingersoll.  The Truth Seeker printed the lecture in full, noting that Mrs. Roberts spoke “acceptably to the large congregation.”  She uses many quotations from Ingersoll himself, calling them “the language he himself has made immortal.”  Following a survey of his attacks on Christian dogma and the Bible, she praises him for upholding justice, particularly for women:

            There was no modern question of importance upon which the great positivist did not speak, and always with unfailing justice.  Slavery, poverty, great wealth, prisons, punishments, labor, taxation, all called forth his intellectual fire, while from the heart he wrote of woman and the home, maternity and childhood, and of divorce—which he would give every woman for the asking.  What Ingersoll has done for the women of America is a theme worthy the dignity of an entire discourse.

More generally, she says of Ingersoll’s career:

            He gave us reason for dogma, truth for creeds, and in seductive speech he taught the busy throng what scholars learned from Huxley, Haeckel, Tyndall, Darwin.  He left behind no monument, no institution.  But he civilized the church as he had longed to do.  He spread the light, he lifted up his age.

Cleary, Mrs. Roberts admired Ingersoll as much as her husband did, but she told his story in her own way, perhaps with a copy of Ingersoll’s lectures, which were newly published as a set, in hand.

Edith Roberts was not my ancestor, but I could wish she were; I admire her greatly.  She was her husband’s equal and felt she should be treated as such.  This would cause trouble later on.  That story is told in my biography, John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.

Poetry and History: A Recommendation

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Eve Rifkah’s book Outcasts is a book of poetry which doubles as a history lesson.  The subtitle describes what the book is about: The Penikese Island Leper Hospital 1905-1921.  This hospital, really a kind of imprisonment on a deserted island, was an effort of the State of Massachusetts to deal with the problem of leprosy.  It involved a total of 36 patients in its sixteen years of existence, fourteen of whom died and were buried there.  Rifkah recreates twenty of the patients, who were of many different cultures and ethnicities.

Rifkah uses historical documents, including the journal of Dr. Parker, who ran the institution, as well as newspaper clippings and other records collected by Mrs. Parker.  To these she adds a large dose of sympathetic imagination.  The desolate island, the smallest of the Elizabeth Islands south of Cape Cod, is vividly portrayed, echoing the desolation of the residents.

Each of the characters has a history and a role on the island.  Willie does the laundry, Archie runs the wireless telegraph, and so on.  Some are characterized further by their religion: Isabelle and Flavia pray to Mary, Solomon laments in verses from the Psalms, Iwa speaks to the Buddha, whose statue is his one possession.

The title page, below the subtitle, describes this collection as “A docu-drama in verse” and the sections are called Acts.  This is misleading, there is very little drama.  The poems are mostly soliloquies or descriptions of an individual.  The sort of tensions that would surely exist in such a situation are scarcely referred to.  Those few interactions which are portrayed  are largely between a patient and Dr. or Mrs. Parker, who are presented as loving, highly competent and inventive people.  I would describe this book as elegy, not drama.  One moment of group activity is portrayed in the following poem:

Here We Are Safe

huddled around Lucy reading the news
between songs on the Victrola
Till We Meet Again
our eyes look away
at the floor      the windows   nowhere
goodbye means the birth of a tear drop
and the singer talks about love
in A-flat

I remember hearing how the Shakers
called all outside their home the World
wind-up songs and newsprint all we have from that
place

the farther shores

out there          war      the reporters now call
the Great War             the war to end
war
we look at each other              imagine
exploding buildings                men ripped apart
in the World                the place we left
as though waking or entering dreams

Rifkah does not tell us who the “I” in this poem is.  The lack of punctuation and irregular line lengths are typical of most of the poems in the collection.

The language of most of the poems is tight, often fragmented, and does not rely on images outside the barren landscape and experience of the people.  This helps to build the feeling of lament which runs through the collection.  An example of such lament is “Frank Counts the Waves”.  Frank had been a fisherman.  Rifkah uses this history to inform the poem.

Frank Counts the Waves

high tides follow a blind moon
storm from the west blows
spray to walls              salt
seasoned crust on my lips
shattered shuttered shake

white roughed waves
roll and heave              break and break
one two three four
daylong nightlong

I sit back to cabin wall
hear Iwa praying to his Buddha
his language hard as the wind
I look to the cross my wife sent with me
hanging over my narrow bed
Why hast thou forsaken me
who am I to turn to.

all the world comes in goes out

no return passage
I said when leaving Cabo Verde,
the flowering islands,
in New Bedford fished cold water
fed my laughing children
named my first born Isaac, to laugh
I have passed into uncharted seas
breath in out as waves counting

years roll the sun summer high winter low
still counting
one two three four
ready or not.

As here, the other patients are usually peripheral to each person’s personal laments. It is a sad world, yet only rarely an ugly one.  Rifkah’s compassion permeates the book.

A listing of the actual patients whom she has lovingly brought to life is included in the back of the book; the summaries look oddly like contributors’ biographies in the back of a journal.  Rifkah has also written an Author’s Note giving the historical background.  Those who still lived when the institution was closed in 1921 were transferred to a federal leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana.  There, she writes “they experienced conditions even more horrific than those on the barren island.”

Overall, a harsh history has been softened by carefully chosen, crisp language.  It is an excellent way to tell the story.  It is a story worth knowing.

Outcasts was published by Little Pear Press in 2010.  It is available on Amazon.com.

A Freethinker’s View of Women: From the Biography

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John Emerson Roberts was “Kansas City’s up-to-date freethought preacher” partly because he was an avid reader.  He readily absorbed new ideas and included them in his lectures.  One example of this is a lecture he gave in 1900 was called “Woman and Modern Religion.”

            The lecture claims that the Bible and Christianity have been the cause of the debasement of women.  Like many of Roberts’s lectures, this is arranged as a historical progression.  He begins with recent theories about the power of women in ancient societies, citing stories about Egypt, Rome, China and Zuni tribes as fact.  In each he finds a queen or a priestess with significant power.  He summarizes his view of the ancient past:

“The pagan philosophy that recognized the natural superiority of woman must have proceeded in the most rational way.  It looked upon her as the mother, the creator, and the preserver of man and of his world.  Man knew then as we know now that civilization began with the mother. All progress in this world is led forward by the divine guide, love.  Woman was the lover first; man was the fighter.”

Acknowledging that no one can explain how the matriarchal era was replaced by patriarchy, Roberts goes on to describe the patriarchal attitudes found in the Bible.  He declares it “the charter of masculine tyranny” and “the instrument that has forged chains for the enslavement of woman.”  Because of the Eve story, theology has made woman the cause of all sin.  He mentions the Levitical rules of cleansing after childbirth: 40 days for a son, 80 for a daughter.  He asserts, “The New Testament makes no advance toward the elevation of woman.  Jesus seems to have no regard for woman.”

Roberts continues his history with a tirade against the middle ages, one of his recurring themes:  He calls them “a period of a thousand years that has never been paralleled in the history of mankind for its debauchery, its superstition, its intellectual vagaries, its frightful and nameless criminal practices.”

            The concluding section of this lecture is a paean in praise of motherhood.  Roberts speaks of “the mother” but he is surely drawing from his own recollection, either of his own mother, who died in 1885, or perhaps from the example of other mothers, such as Josephine Parks, his second wife’s mother, who had lived with them:

.” . . .when I remember how all we are we owe to her, how in the glad and happy time she sang as she rocked our cradle, knitting or mending or sewing while under the inspiration of a chaste and holy love; when I remember how in the wayward and unthinking years of childhood and youth it was the mother whose love was never overtaxed, it was the mother whose arms were ever open with forgiveness in her heart; when I remember how she toiled and toiled that we might have a little better chance in this world than had come to her; when I remember how she grew old and white haired and wrinkled and wan and feeble with the patient and uncomplaining toil of many years and how we folded at last her cold hands in peace across the loving breast; how the smile, even after death’s cold touch illuminated her face like a halo from the home of God; when I remember the mother, I can worship the best by paying the homage of my honor, my respect, and my love to the motherhood of this world.”

Motherhood, as described here, was a nineteenth century concept.  It developed alongside the new idea that childhood is a special stage of life..  This idealization had little to do with equality or real power.  Roberts apparently did not see the difference between this admiration of motherhood and the matriarchies which he believed characterized the ancient world.

When Roberts spoke the idea that ancient societies were matriarchal was widely accepted.  Later scholarship has concluded that this idea was a figment of nineteenth century imagination.  The idea appealed to Roberts because it made an excellent contrast to Christian, and especially medieval, patriarchy.  The seriousness of the offense, in his view, would not be called into question by the error in his starting point.

 

Excerpts are from John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date’ Freethought Preacher, which is available from Amazon, through ERYBooks.  Or use the contact page to order directly.

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