Sunday, November 20, 2022

Frustrating Amazon and Buying Books

Years ago, I discovered, a site that aggregates the inventories of used book sellers (hereinafter "Abe").  When I would discover an interesting book title, I would first go to Amazon and read the reviews.  If that step further interested me, then I would go to Abe and compare the title's availability and price.  Often I would buy the book on Abe, if a used one would suit.  I got a better deal in terms of price, of course.  But, in the process,  I nicked the monolithic surface of Amazon, a tiny nick, of course, but a nick.

Several years ago, however, someone told me that Amazon acquired Amazon in 2008.  (So much for our antitrust laws.)  My nick, then, was reduced to whatever profit Amazon made on Abe's aggregation service because I settled for a used edition and not a new one.  (Of course, Amazon now prominently offers used prices on its website.)

When Abe lists a used book for sale, however, it shows not only the availability and price of the title, but also the vendor among the used book sellers whom Abe aggregates.  One may, then, go directly to the source and nick the Goliath with respect to the tiny price-profit  that I would otherwise deliver by using Abe.

Yet the problem with Amazon is not only its price power over the book market, new and used, but also its exercise of that power in an attempt to "cancel" a title.  That is, if the title is "controversial" in a way that Amazon dislikes, then it will not carry the title.  Amazon will censor the book.

An example of that practice is the title When Harry Became Sally, Responding to the Transgender  Movement (Ryan T. Anderson, 2018).  Recently, I have become particularly interested in the Transgender movement, and decided to read that book.  

I first looked on Amazon, and was not surprised that it still does not carry the title, new or used..

Then, I looked at Abe.  It did not appear there either.  The cancellation of the title appears to have extended to Amazon's control over Abe's aggregation part of the used book world.

However, by the time I started looking for a used copy of the forbidden title, thanks to Abe I had a list of favorite used book vendors who have an independent on-line presence.  I went to one of them. Voila! There was the book, and I ordered it. 


Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Briefcase

 When I was a young associate at S&T in the 1970s, the firm had a single office location, like most other law offices in Miami at the time. We were in the Dupont Building on the corner of Flagler Street and NE 2d Avenue.  We then numbered about 22 lawyers.  The firm had several briefcases that the lawyers could use, first come, first served, for us to carry lawbooks, exhibits, notes and other papers west down Flagler Street to the Dade County Courthouse for a hearing or a trial.  This was well before the days of things on wheels with pull-up/put-down handles.  These were manly, black, box-like cases, made of tough thick leather, sewn together with thick thread.  They had a thick, comfortable, leather handle on the top side and gold fasteners that snapped open and shut with authority.  On top of each case, the vendor had stamped in gold leaf  “Smathers & Thompson” (on the first line) and “Miami, Florida” (on the second).  The cases were very expensive to buy.  But they were generous in size and very useful.

The lawyer carried such a brief case, maybe two of them, one in each hand, like a knight with his shield and spear, through crowds of civilians on the sidewalk, as he walked the quarter mile west to the courthouse. The suit and tie indicated to all of Miami that you were a lawyer.  But those brief cases shouted, "Litigator on the way to court!” - a well-prepared trial lawyer. 

The firm had a closet where those cases were supposed to live.  It was too expensive to buy one for each lawyer, I was instructed, and the firm certainly would not for a green associate. But the closet was always empty when I was getting ready to go to court. The fact was, there were never enough of those brief cases to meet the demand. Lawyers who managed to locate a firm brief case and went to court would walk back down to the Dupont Building after the event, making it safely back to friendly territory,  totally fixed on sharing the court’s ruling with the people in the firm who wanted to know, and  calling the client with the result.  As to the brief case or cases those lawyers would usually throw them into a corner of their office and often did not unpack them until days later.  Meanwhile, I am looking for one of those cases, anxious about my upcoming event, trying to keep my presentation in my head, seeking a case for the pile on my desk of materials, specially selected materials, that I intended to take to court,  But there would be no brief case in the closet.

So, I would start down the hallway, looking for one, keeping an eye on the clock and beginning to seethe and often to sweat.  I would stick my head in an office and ask the lawyer if he had a brief case, if the lawyer was at his post.  If not, I would make a quick search of that office.  If I found a case, I would unload it and take the thing back to my office, letting that lawyer’s secretary know what I had taken and telling her I would bring it back.  That was the routine for all the lawyers there, and the secretary would not bat an eyelash.

I finally got tired of all that.  I also got tired of asking the officer manager to buy more of the cases.  I found out where she bought them, and bought one for myself, as expensive as those things were and as frugal as we were at home.  It got around the office that I had my own briefcase – it was news, really.  And I was hardly going to keep it in the empty closet no one used.  So, other lawyers would come in and borrow mine. Fair enough. No problem. (Unless I had a hearing scheduled that day.)  One afternoon the officer manager came into my office to borrow my new case.  She started to pick it up, but stopped in mid-motion.  “This has your name on it!  Not the firm’s!”  You better believe it, I said.  And I let her take it, of course.

Monday, August 08, 2022

Becoming an Anglican in Austin

A  few months after we moved permanently to Austin, we joined an Anglican church in the south part of the city.  Both of our sons and their respective families were already part of the congregation there 
(including among those families five of our seven grandchildren), and of course this made the church very attractive to us.

What do “Anglicans” believe?  Are they "reformed" in their theology?  A clue to the answer to that question is the liturgy in which our South Austin congregation participates.  As I listened to the liturgy each Sunday,  taken from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, itself based on Scripture, I found it sufficiently consistent with what I understand to be true Christianity to be willing on a faith level to join that church.

It certainly helped that, in the adult Sunday School Class at FPC Miami Springs, we had read works by John Stott and N.T. Wright, both priests in the Church of England, as we explored the Scriptures.  Furthermore, at FPCMS we had participated in several “Alpha” programs, an evangelistic program founded in London during the 1970s by a priest of the Church of England.

Since joining our Anglican church, I have been exploring the history of what is known as “The English Reformation.”  Among the books about that subject is a classic entitled The English Reformation by A. G. Dickens.  It is not a religious book; it is a history by an acclaimed British historian.

I participate in an on-line Sunday School Class.  For the last several weeks, we have been discussing the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone in our study of Galatians.  Getting the matter of works vs. faith straight has been challenging.  Dickens writes about that doctrine, a doctrine that he asserts came to the Church of England in the early 16th Century from Martin Luther via Thomas Cranmer.  Dickens writes that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is “the keystone” of what Luther believed. I find helpful Dickens's description of it, and I hope you will too:

“The antithesis between God and man presented by Luther, and indeed by the Apostle [Paul] himself, is stark in the extreme. On the one  hand stands the Deity in his unutterable majesty and justice; on the other languishes man in his corrupt self-centredness; his wretched nature being curved inward upon itself; he remains unable even to approach the divine standards by his own pitiful observances and good works.  But if God’s righteousness is terrifying, his loving purpose toward man is boundless.  In the Son he has furnished man with the sole means of transcending this awful inadequacy. God will justify men – put them in a right relationship with himself – only if they abandon all reliance upon personal merit and place their whole trust in the merits of Christ.  Truly, good works are an inevitable outcome of this faith, yet in themselves they contribute nothing to justification and salvation; they can form a dangerous stumbling-block to misguided men, who take pride in them as a title to redemption.  To this sequence of thought St. Paul repeatedly returns, and Luther took it as the very heart of early Christian theology.”

I would quibble with Dickens, however, about the idea that the doctrine is “the very heart of early Christian theology.”  It has been the true heart of Christian theology continuously from the beginning, remains so at this moment, and will continue to be so in the future.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

Micael Punke's "Ridgeline" and Greenberry Jefferson Stokes

 For Father's Day last month, Mary gave me a bag of coffee beans and a couple of books. One of the books is an historical novel by Michael Punke entitled Ridgeline.  The book tells the story of  “the Fetterman Massacre,”  a massacre of 60 or so Federal troops and a couple of civilians that took place during 1866 in a Wyoming valley.  The event took place a few miles from a newly built fort.  Wittingly or unwittingly, the US Army built the fort on some traditional hunting grounds of the Sioux, pursuant to a treaty into which certain Sioux entered, Sioux who lived nowhere near there and who had no authority whatever over the tribes who did.

The fort is known as Ft. Phil Kearny.  There were about 400 officers and men stationed there, as well as a number of civilians, including wives and children of some of the men.  All of the senior officers and many of the other troops stationed at the fort were holdovers from the Civil War.  Some of those holdovers included individuals who had fought for the Confederacy.  In the following passage from the book, the author introduces the Confederates while describing a conversation about food around a campfire among some of the enlisted men:

A new speaker joined the conversation, and his accent .  .  . told a story –  a Georgia drawl as thick as tar. .  .  Barely two years earlier, the Georgian had stood on the opposite side of the battle lines from some of the men at this very campfire. There were plenty of former rebels in the Second Battalion – “galvanized Yankees,” they called them, Confederate prisoners of war given early release if they agreed to renounce the rebellion and enlist in the frontier army.

In the early 1950’s, my father visited his widowed mother (Hettie Louise Johnson Stokes) in Atlanta to help her "break up housekeeping" as people called it and move to Miami Springs.  (In Miami Springs she would live with my dad's sister, Frances Stokes Harris, her husband, Harold, and their two children, Ken and Tim.  The Harris family had earlier moved from Greensboro, North Carolina, to a house not far from ours.) 

My father told me that, as he was going through some old paperwork in my grandmother's home, he came across a pension certificate issued to his grandfather by the US Army, a grandfather that, at least as he understood it, had fought honorably for the South.  He asked my grandmother about that matter.  A little embarrassed, she said the grandfather had, indeed, fought on the Confederate side, but in one battle he had been captured.  His captors offered him a proposition: he could spend the rest of the war in a military prison or he could join the Union Army and go out west to “guard the Indians.”  He would not be required to fight against the Confederacy, they told him.  He accepted that proposition, served out West, and again conducted himself honorably. Upon his discharge, the federal government awarded him a pension.

Of course, when I read the above passage from Ridgeline, I thought about the matter of my father’s grandfather fighting for both the Yankees and the Rebs.  But I could not recall which grandfather that would be.  On my Grandmother Stokes’ side, there were the Johnsons:  All I recall about my dad's maternal grandfather was that my dad referred to him as “Pappy” and that he was from Dade County, Georgia.  But on the other side, on my father’s paternal side, there was Greenberry Jefferson Stokes.

My family knows a little about this ancestor with the unusual name.  Mainly we know that as a soldier, he was part of Confederate General John B. Gordan’s “Raccoon Roughs,” a volunteer company raised in Alabama.  We not only have a photo of him but also a photo taken at an1889 reunion of his Rebel Company. 

I am not at all proficient with genealogies.   But via the internet, I found my way to a National Park Service website that has, among other things, a directory of soldiers who fought in the Civil War for whom records are preserved in one of the national archives.  One enters a name and the website will give a limited amount of information.  For example, if there are records for the “Union” army it will show you the number of those records in the archive.  If there are army records for the “Confederacy,” it will show the number of those records.

For Greenberry Jefferson Stokes, there are 1,196 Confederacy records.

For Greenberry Jefferson Stokes, there are 925 Union records.

My son, Walter, who has done some genealogical work, confirms that it was Greenberry's pension certificate that my father discussed with my grandmother.  (Or maybe Walter remembers this story from my father better than I do.)

But I would like to know at which Yankee fort in the West he was stationed.  It is possible it was at Ft. Phil Kearny.  But if he had been stationed there, then at the time of the massacre of a number of the forts troops, he must have been back at the fort. 

He was back at the fort:  Where any self-respecting Stokes would be, if he could be there honorably, when the environs are full of unhappy Sioux and their allies, the Cheyenne.