Daily Update: December 10, 2010

12-10 - International Human Rights Day 2010 and Thomas Merton

We have no Saints to honor today. However, today is International Human Rights Day, which surely counts for something. The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on December 10, 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights. The formal establishment of Human Rights Day occurred at the 317th Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on December 4, 1950, when the General Assembly declared resolution 423(V), inviting all member states and any other interested organizations to celebrate the day as they saw fit. The day is a high point in the calendar of UN headquarters in New York City and is normally marked by both high-level political conferences and meetings and by cultural events and exhibitions dealing with human rights issues. In addition, it is traditionally on December 10 that the five-yearly United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prize are awarded. Many governmental and nongovernmental organizations active in the human rights field also schedule special events to commemorate the day, as do many civil and social-cause organisations. Human Rights Day 2010 recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination. Acting alone or in groups within their communities, every day human rights defenders work to end discrimination by campaigning for equitable and effective laws, reporting and investigating human rights violations and supporting victims. While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families. And, although he is not a Saint, I personally honor on this date Thomas Merton, monk and author (died 1968). Born in 1915 in France to a New Zealand painter father and an American Quaker mother, he was baptised in the Church of England at his father’s request. He grew up in New York, and after his mother’s death, his father took him to live in France at the age of ten. A few years later they moved to England, where Merton spent three years without graduating while living a rather free life. He moved back to America, and graduated from Columbia University in 1938, having become interested in Catholicism the year before. In 1939 he became a Catholic; he was going to enter the Franciscan order in 194o, but changed his mind. On December 10, 1941, he arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky; he became a fully professed Trappist monk in 1947. The next year he published his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and in 1949 he was ordained as a priest. In subsequent years Merton would author many other books, amassing a wide readership. A person’s place in society, views on social activism, and various approaches toward contemplative prayer and living became constant themes in his writings. During his long years at Gethsemani Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of The Seven Storey Mountain, to a more contemplative writer and poet. Merton became well known for his dialogues with other faiths and his non-violent stand during the race riots and Vietnam War of the 1960s. Over the years he had occasional battles with some of his abbots about not being allowed out of the monastery despite his international reputation and voluminous correspondence with many well-known figures of the day. At the end of 1968 a new abbot allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia, during which he met the Dalai Lama in India on three occasions, and also the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen master, Chatral Rinpoche, followed by a solitary retreat near Darjeeling. On December 10, 1968, Merton had gone to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks. While stepping out of his bath, he reached out to adjust an electric fan and apparently touched an exposed wire and was accidentally electrocuted. He died 27 years to the day after his entrance into the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1941. His body was flown back to the United States and he is buried at Gethsemani Abbey under the name of Father Louis, his name in religion.

First up, on Thursday night before going to bed I finished reading The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs.

Our day at work on Saturday was uneventful; I started out being a relief dealer, then was moved to be the permanent Mini-Baccarat dealer for the day. During the day I checked the Dictionary.com application on my BlackBerry, and found that the word for the day was “Fletcherize: to chew (food) slowly and thoughtfully.” I thought this was a good word for me to remember, because it is precisely how I should chew my food to avoid esophagheal dysphasia episodes. Up in the day I called the bridal shop; they told me my shoes would probably be in today or Monday, and that they would give me a call when they (the shoes) come in.

Once home from work after our eight hours, I ate my lunch salad and read the morning paper. Then, I took a nap (which lasted until I got up for work on Saturday morning) while Richard went to Wal-Mart for some cleaning supplies and to the funeral home for the visitation for his Aunt Weetsie. Our mail call brought us Christmas cards from Father Used-T0-Be-Married and from my friend Dago in Mississippi; and Richard lit the Advent candles.

 Our Parting Quote on this International Human Rights Day comes to us from Eugene McCarthy, American politician and poet. Born in 1916 in Watkins, Minnesota, he was a bright student who spent hours reading his aunt’s Harvard Classics and was deeply influenced by the monks at nearby St. John’s Abbey and University, where he spent nine months as a novice before deciding the contemplative life of a monk was not his destiny. He was a 1935 graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota and earned his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1939. He taught in various public schools in Minnesota and North Dakota from 1935 to 1940, when he became a professor of economics and education at St. John’s, working there from 1940 to 1943. He was a civilian technical assistant in the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department in 1944 and an instructor in sociology and economics at the College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota from 1946 to 1949. Representing Minnesota’s Fourth Congressional District, McCarthy served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1949 to 1959. In 1958 he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was a member of (among other committees) the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was introduced to a larger audience in 1960 when he supported twice-defeated candidate Adlai Stevenson for the nomination. He was later considered as Lyndon Johnson’s running mate in 1964, only to have fellow Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey chosen. McCarthy took up writing poetry in the 1960s, and his increased political prominence lead to increased interest in his published works. He published a collection of poetry in 1964 entitled Cool Reflections: Poetry For The Who, What, When, Where and Especially Why of It All. In 1968 McCarthy ran against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, with the intention of influencing the federal government (then controlled by Democrats) to curtail its involvement in the Vietnam War. His candidacy was dismissed by political experts and the news media, and given little chance of making any impact against Johnson in the primaries. But public perception of him changed following the Tet Offensive (January 30 – September 23, 1968), the aftermath of which saw many Democrats grow disillusioned by the war, and quite a few interested in an alternative to LBJ. When McCarthy scored 42% to Johnson’s 49% in the popular vote (and 20 of the 24 N.H. delegates to the Democratic national nominating convention) in New Hampshire on March 12 it was clear that deep division existed among Democrats on the war issue. By this time, Johnson had become inextricably defined by Vietnam, and this demonstration of divided support within his party meant his reelection (only four years after winning the highest percentage of the popular vote in modern history) was unlikely. On March 16 Robert Kennedy announced that he would run, and was seen by many Democrats as a stronger candidate than McCarthy. After Kennedy’s assassination after winning the California primary, he refrained from political action for several days, but did not remove himself from the race. Although he did not win the Democratic nomination, the anti-war “New Party”, which ran several candidates for President that year, listed him as their nominee on the ballot in Arizona, where he received 2,751 votes. He also received 20,721 votes as a write-in candidate in California. Following the 1968 election, McCarthy returned to the Senate, but announced that he would not be running for reelection in 1970, to the disappointment of many Minnesotans. He disappointed many more people nationwide by declining to take a leadership role in Congress against the war. Indeed, he almost seemed to take a turn to the political Right during his final two years in the Senate. In 1969, he left his wife, Abigail, after 24 years of marriage, but the two never divorced. After leaving the Senate in 1971, he became a senior editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishing and a syndicated newspaper columnist.McCarthy returned to politics as a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1972, but he fared poorly in New Hampshire and Wisconsin and soon dropped out. After the 1972 campaign, he left the Democratic Party, and ran as an Independent candidate for President in the 1976 election. During that campaign, he took a libertarian stance on civil liberties, promised to create full employment by shortening the work week, came out in favor of nuclear disarmament, and declared whom he would nominate to various Cabinet postings if elected. Mainly, however, he battled ballot access laws that he deemed too restrictive and encouraged voters to reject the two-party system. His numerous legal battles during the course of the election, along with a strong grassroots effort in friendly states, allowed him to appear on the ballot in 30 states and eased ballot access for later third party candidates. His party affiliation was listed on ballots, variously, as “Independent,” “McCarthy ’76,” “Non-Partisan,” “Nom. Petition,” “Nomination,” “Not Designated,” and “Court Order”. Although he was not listed on the ballot in California and Wyoming, he was recognized as a write-in candidate in those states. Nationally he received 740,460 votes for 0.91% of the total vote finishing third in the election. His best showing came in Oregon where he received 40,207 votes for 3.90% of the vote. In the 1988 election, his name appeared on the ballot as the Presidential candidate of a handful of left-wing state parties, such as the Consumer Party in Pennsylvania and the Minnesota Progressive Party in Minnesota. In 1992, returning to the Democratic Party, he entered the New Hampshire primary and campaigned for the Democratic Presidential nomination, but was excluded from the first and therefore most important televised debate by its moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC. McCarthy, along with other candidates who had been excluded from the 1992 Democratic debates (including “Billy Jack” actor Tom Laughlin, two-time New Alliance Party Presidential candidate Lenora Fulani, former Irvine, California mayor Larry Agran, and others) staged protests and unsuccessfully took legal action in an attempt to be included in the debates. Unlike the other excluded candidates mentioned, McCarthy was a long term national candidate and unlike all those who were in the debates, including Bill Clinton, he had run for the office in previous elections (died 2005): “One thing about a pig, he thinks he’s warm if his nose is warm. I saw a bunch of pigs one time that had frozen together in a rosette, each one’s nose tucked under the rump of the one in front. We have a lot of pigs in politics.”

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