This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 480) on Friday, July 15, 2022.
The United States is one of the few nations left on earth that allows capital punishment—the death penalty. And that punishment, according to Maurice Chammah, a staff writer at The Marshall Project and the author of Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty, appears to be dying.
Chammah cites many reasons for the death penalty’s slow decline. One of them is the increasing costs for prosecutors and for the state to pursue the death penalty for a defendant. Another is that those who have been out front in the pro-life ranks of the abortion debate have trouble justifying to themselves and to others the taking of a life under any circumstances. For these and other reasons, opposition to the death penalty has become a bipartisan affair with Republicans and Democrats joining together in their opposition. (Chammah’s article in the New York Times can be found here.)
I would add to those reasons the fallibility of our justice system. Too many people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit or by evidence and witnesses that are highly questionable. The death penalty, if enforced, never allows us to correct those mistakes.
None of these reasons is a moral argument, which is what I find the strongest. Thou shalt not kill.
Have a great and life-fulfilling weekend.
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Cicero, the quintessential public speaker
Citizens of ancient Rome loved public speaking. They put the highest value on a well-articulated argument or an emotion-filled oration. It wasn’t just good entertainment. An orator could make them think and feel.
Like many other Romans, Cicero studied what made a good, effective speech. He studied the techniques of the speaker and the expectations and reactions of the audience. Unlike most Romans, Cicero wrote extensively about what he had learned and what he had experienced. Much of what he wrote is available to us today.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 BC in Arpinum, a hill town about 100 kilometers south of Rome. His family was among the “equestrian class” of Roman society (which had little to do with horses), a class that gave his well-to-do family some rank but was not among the most powerful of Roman citizens. As with many Roman men of his time, Cicero had ambitions of rising into the most powerful circles of the Roman Republic. (Rome at that time was a “republic” with a complex governmental structure rather than an “empire” with a single ruler at the top.)
It was during Cicero’s lifetime that events moved Rome away from its republicanism and toward its single, all-powerful leadership style. Cicero believed deeply in the Republic and its governing principles—a belief that put him at odds with the powerful forces that wanted to do away with the Republic. Eventually, those beliefs cost him his life.
Cicero not only was a politician but also a scholar, lawyer, and philosopher. His influence on the Latin language was enormous. Roman education at the time of Cicero was dominated by Hellenistic (Greek) ways of speaking and thinking. Cicero’s work introduced many Greek ideas into Latin and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary.
Cicero entered public life as a lawyer, and his brilliant defenses and orations brought him much public acclaim.
He moved into politics, acquiring various official offices in the Roman Republic government and eventually served as consul, the highest office in the Republic. A consul could only serve for one year and had to serve alongside another consul. Cicero did this in 63 BC. He defeated political rival Cataline, who was later charged with sedition. Cicero aligned himself with Pompey, a rising star in the Roman political firmament, but it was a dangerous time to be a part of any political faction.
The Roman Republic was falling prey to the ambitions of several men who did not respect the Republic’s rules or governing traditions. Cicero maintained his allegiance to the integrity of the Republic, and ultimately it cost him his life.
Cicero was in the Senate when Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC but was not part of the conspiracy. Nevertheless, as events unfolded, Cicero was named as an enemy of the state and murdered by Roman soldiers in 43 BC as he was trying to escape the Italian peninsula.
Cicero’s politics are relatively unimportant to us today, but his writings have exercised a mass influence on modern thinking. Cicero wrote treatises on numerous aspects of politics and public life. His influence on education and the language during his lifetime was widespread and continued for centuries. His views on natural law and human rights were consistently cited by early Christian writers such as Augustine of Hippo.
The Founding Fathers of the American Revolution relied heavily on Cicero’s republican ideas. Thomas Jefferson (along with other Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, and David Hume) cited him often, and John Adams wrote, “As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.”
Cicero is most popularly known today for his work on rhetoric and oratory. In his last work on rhetoric, Orator, written three years before his death, Cicero says the three aims of the orator are “docere, delectare, et movere.” That is: to prove your thesis to the audience, to delight the audience, and to emotionally move the audience.
David Sloan’s memoir
My friend and former colleague, David Sloan, has written a memoir, I Remember: A Memoir, 1947-2022, and I am happy to say that it has been published and is available on Amazon.
David and I were on the faculty together at the University of Alabama for more than two decades, and I came to rely heavily on his friendship, wisdom, and integrity. He never failed to exhibit all of these qualities when it was necessary, not just convenient.
David is an imminent journalism historian, a wide-ranging and careful scholar, and a prolific writer. He has also mentored many students who have gone on to be excellent scholars and academicians.
He grew up in Texas, served in the U.S. Army, and taught at the University of Arkansas before coming to the University of Alabama in 1983. His wife, Joanne Stuart Sloan, is also an author and has for many years conducted the Southern Christian Writers Conference. Their daughter, Cheryl Sloan Wray, is also a published author.
David tells a great set of stories about his life, work, and career.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and the change in women’s status in the 1960s
This article was originally posted on February 21, 2018.
One of the often-overlooked phenomena of the 1960s—the time when I was a teenager and grew into adulthood—was the change in the status of American women during that decade. The change was one of the major motivating ideas for my writing the novel Point Spread. The major character of that novel, Maxine Wayman, has dreams and ambitions, but she runs into the roadblock of “being a girl.”
I make no claim to being a particularly progressive thinker as a teenager or a college student. I’m sure I was part of the problem more than part of the solution, but I did know many bright, talented, and ambitious girls who had to overcome obstacles that I never faced.
In some ways, Maxine is my continuing tribute to those young women.
These thoughts were sparked this week by a short piece in the New York Times Daily Briefing that noted that it was this week, 55 years ago, that The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published.
The book summed up many of the frustrations that middle-class women had experienced, especially if they had set aside ambitions and careers to become suburban housewives and mothers. From the day it was published, it sparked criticism from many quarters (and continues to do so today), but it struck a chord with many women and became a phenomenal best-seller over the following two years.
More importantly, the book became a touchstone of the women’s movement of the 1960s and is now considered its most important spark.
Friedan grew up in Peoria, Illinois, the daughter of well-to-do Jewish parents. She was smart and ambitious but unable to fully exercise those qualities until she arrived at Smith College in 1938. She graduated in 1942 and won a fellowship to study psychology at the University of California under Erik Erikson. She was awarded another fellowship that would have allowed her to work on a doctorate, but her boyfriend at the time pressured her to turn it down. She did, but she also broke up with the boyfriend and headed to New York City where she worked as a writer and editor.
By the mid-1950s, Friedan was a mother and suburban housewife, working when she could as a freelance writer. She had been asked by Smith College to conduct a survey of her fellow graduates for a class reunion in 1957. She expected to find those well-educated women happy and fulfilled as wives and mothers. She found instead a great deal of anger and frustration.
That finding led her to re-examine her own life and to begin writing articles about what she had found.
That writing, in turn, led to the idea of a book, and by 1963 The Feminine Mystique was on the shelves. During the next three and a half decades, it sold more than three million copies.
The criticism of the book and of Friedan herself never ceased. Part of the criticism was brought on by her outspokenness and her often-abrasive personality. She was also taken to task for supposedly ignoring poor and minority women and for being actively anti-lesbian. She was also attacked for denigrating motherhood and the importance of the work of women who stayed at home and raised children.
Still, both she and her book persisted in influencing generations of women and men into examining their roles and relationships. Friedan died in 2006 at the age of 85.
Group giveaways for July
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Keith G.: A really interesting newsletter as ever. The one point I want to make is that in your list of Shakespeare’s paintings, you have left out the Cobbe painting (upper right). This seems to be fairly well accepted as the one painting of Shakespeare from life. I wonder if his hair being combed back is the origin of the balding picture that we know so well.
Vince V.: I join you in railing against college rankings. In fact, the internet has cured me of reading any “top ten this” and “top twenty that” lists. How can anyone purport to name the 10 best places to retire or the 10 most livable cities. It’s all about capturing eyeballs with inane statistics.
Bill G.: I enjoyed your article about what William Shakespeare looked like.
The number of images were quite impressive. I wanted to make a comment about the Chandos Portrait. I have been using that portrait to show what Shakespeare looked like because I had read that the Chandos Portrait was painted by Richard Burbage. Richard Burbage was an actor who played the leads in most of Shakespeare’s plays. His father, James Burbage, had built THE THEATER, which was the first theater in London and was the “bones” of what became THE GLOBE when they moved THE STAGE to the other side of the Thames. (This is a long story not for here) 🙂
Richard Burbage also did a self-portrait (lower right). Comparing the style of the two portraits shows a strong possibility that Burbage painted both. So the Chandos Portrait is strong evidence because it was painted by someone who worked with Shakespeare everyday.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Tour de France, 2022
Best quote of the week:
What other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart! What jailer is as inexorable as one’s self! Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer (1804-1864)
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The face of Shakespeare, your brain on true crime, and railing against rankings: newsletter, July 8, 2022
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