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November 1, 2014

Posted by Abi Sutherland at 10:00 AM * 101 comments

You know what? I miss the non-political relief threads we had back in 2008. I really enjoyed reading what was rattling around in the mathom-houses of everyone’s mind. So does anyone fancy another?

Today, after all, is a great day for such a thread. Not just because it’s (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) a gathering-in and hoarding time, but also because it’s All Saints’ Day. In the Catholic tradition, today is kind of the catch-all feast for the saints who didn’t make the Calendar, or who made it and were then superseded by some more recently beatified whippersnapper. It’s a good day for thinking about quirky, eccentric figures and their forgotten histories.

So tell me. Who, among the neglected and misunderstood figures of the past, inspires you? In whose story do you find delight and inspiration? (They don’t have to be Catholic, Christian, or religious at all. Just, you know, awesome in their own ways.)

I’ll start with kind of a gimme: Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

I mean, yes, it’s fairly clear that the loss of his fortune, and the loss of the subsequent court case, contributed to a fundamental departure from consensus reality. But, like alcohol, that kind of delusion is a real test of character. We’ve certainly seen other people who have suffered such reverses and become their darkest selves.

So what did Norton do when he’d slipped his moorings? What true self did he reveal? He made a number of proclamations, which seem to have ranged from “a good idea but impractical” to “wait a century or so and we’ll have it” (he called for a bridge across the San Francisco Bay and a tunnel under it). He spent his time inspecting the infrastructure of his demesne and paying attention to the activities of its public servants. He stopped a riot from becoming violent. He pardoned the policeman who arrested him for insanity and consistently thanked his benefactors.

If the proof of his life was in the ending of it, he proved out well: his funeral was paid for by well-wishers and attended by a reported 30,000 people. He’s an icon of the Bay Area, but really, he belongs to us all: a man who lost his mind, perhaps, but never his heart.


Comments on Hallowmas:
#1 ::: dimwit ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:29 AM:

I’ll nominate an author: Lois McMaster Bujold, in particular the Barrayar series. There are other reasons why I like her work, but simply put I find her characters inspire me to be a better person.

I wish that were more common.

#2 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:43 AM:

Oh! Oh! As usual, dear abi, thinking laterally here to your stated premise but... I will not seek denial but rather forgiveness afterwards.

I won't put up Br. Robert Lentz as a saint himself, but his images - first encountered by a serious, lonely, insecure 20-something, lit fire to my imagination: Mohandas Gandhi (called "Mahatma" or "Great Soul") pictured as a Russian-icon styled saint totally floored me, and spoiled me for anything less than the broadest possible understanding of what salvation meant to the people who would try and tell me how to believe.

I haven't visited the man's work in ages - I see that he's been keeping busy. Maybe I can add to my store of fridge magnets - I don't pray much, but when I do, it's under the benevolent eyes of some of the figures he's depicted, from antiquity up to not very long ago.

Crazy(and realizing how much she needs saints of the correct sort in her life)Soph

#3 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:10 AM:

Gerard Winstanley. If you're going to be a Biblical literalist, appealing to the Acts of the Apostles to advocate common ownership of land is the way to go. But I don't suppose that he'd have been in favour of celebrating saints.

You probably can't describe them as misunderstood and they're both still alive, but if we're going to commemorate people, I'd suggest Stanislav Petrov and Sir Nicholas Winton would both be worth a thought.

Slightly OT, but appropriate to the season: is it true that people wear white ties to funerals in Sweden (long ties, as I understand it, but I may be wrong.)

#4 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:12 AM:

Can I offer a figure who is not from the past but one day will be, and who will undoubtedly be misunderstood if not neglected? I thought so. Thank you. May I present:

Wavy Gravy

I spent a few days around him twice. He was a highly portable good vibes generator. The hundreds of clown noses and dozens of clown facials he and his folks provided us once kept me and the rest of a march from getting the holy crap from being beat out of us by some very unhappy police. He was better at calming a room than anyone I've ever seen. Just amazing.

Long may he wav!

#5 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:14 AM:

Abi, thank you so much for introducing me to the lovely story of Joshua Norton and the citizens of San Francisco.

#6 ::: Serge Broom sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:21 AM:

I first heard about Norton in Gaiman's "Sandman".

#7 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:22 AM:

God save Emperor Norton I and all those over whom he benignly reigns! As another Wise Man once said, "You'll never lose your mind as long as your heart always reminds you where you left it."

Serge Broom sees a ghost @ 6: For me, I believe it was the Illuminatus! trilogy.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:32 AM:

There even has been a movement to name the Bay Bridge, in its mismatched glory, for Emperor Norton. (Beats naming it for politicians, dead or alive, particularly the live one they chose for the new section.)

#9 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:35 AM:

P J Evans @ 8: They named that section Death Valley?

#10 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 12:09 PM:

Emperor Norton always makes me wistful: Ellie named one of past cats Norton in honor of the Emperor, and the other cat in the set was named Hayes, after Rutherford B. Great cats.

Everyone assumed they were named after computer people, though, and Ellie had to explain her hero the Emperor.

#11 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 12:10 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 3: I have "Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov Day" on my calendar every September 26th.

#12 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 12:13 PM:

I wouldn't identify her as a saint, but I still delight in knowing that Aphra Behn, besides being a witty playwright and author of queer love poetry, was also a spy who served Charles II and never got paid for her labors.

Here's a post I just read on Anne Lister, another non-saintly queer woman of history.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 12:13 PM:

I'm not getting that one, sorry. (They named the new bridge, on the Oakland side of the island, for Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and all politician.)

#14 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 12:41 PM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 7... Drat! Did it again!

#15 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 01:00 PM:

Emma Goldman is my personal saint. There are places where I think she was just plain wrong, but she lived a life of passion, compassion, and principle. But spare a sad remembrance for Leon Czolgosz, who was carried away by violent anarchist rhetoric. I always had the impression of a naive man too far down on his luck and too high on impassioned words.

#16 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 01:09 PM:

I offer a local historical hero of sorts in the hometown of my boyhood: Irwin A. "Nimrod" Robertson, though he was universally known only as "Nimrod" and his former cabin as "the Nimrod house" to the locals. He seems to have been both a mechanical and an artistic genius, and his relief map of the area is an astonishing feat of geography and sculpture for a man who apparently never saw the territory from the air (although he had attempted to invent an airplane before the Wright Brothers did). The widely repeated story that the dentures he fashioned from animal teeth included teeth from a bear that first tried to eat him? That one apparently wasn't true, though he was known to tell it sometimes.

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 01:34 PM:

People who I would want to be remembered while we're talking this way:

Bruce Pelz, who changed fandom in some very positive ways. While nobody's likely to think of him as a saint, he made an amazing guardian angel for several generations of fans.

Ian and Betty Ballantine, who changed the world by changing publishing -- over and over again.

And I've been blessed to know some marvelous quirky characters who are still alive, who I'm not going to name here. I will say I found Wavy Gravy to be a bit more problematic in person than John A. Arkansawyer -- but then, I'm sure people found Bruce and the Ballantines more problematic than I did.

#18 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 01:36 PM:

If Abi hadn't begun with Emperor Norton, I surely would have.

I offer first Sasha Shulgin, creator of his self-described "problem child" DOB (better known during the '60s as "STP"), the person who introduced MDMA to psychotherapists and the psychotherapy field (before it was made illegal), also inventor of 2CB and literally hundreds of other psycho-active chemicals in the interest of research, author of a couple delightful books on related subjects (and their intersection with his personal history), and steadfast advocate for sane drug research and drug policy. I was privileged to meet him some years ago - I had posted something on the Internet which he wanted to use in one of his books, and it led to a correspondence for a while - and spent a delightful afternoon chatting and getting a tour of his lab. An amazing man, he seemed to have a completely steady and optimistic outlook on life whatever difficulties were going on.

#19 ::: sherwood Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 02:21 PM:

Olympe de Gouges. Abolitionist and fighter for women's rights a couple of decades before the Revolution. Wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Women (which included anti-slavery rhetoric) and offered to defend Louis XVI when no one else seemed to be coming forth. Of course she ended up with her head chopped off, but before the Terror took it away she used it pretty amazingly.

In fannish circles? Have to think about that--there are so many I admire. But right up there would be a bunch of the female zine eds.

#20 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 02:50 PM:

Two of the historical figures I admire most, Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce, did not much admire Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico (of whom I first learnt from an episode of Bonanza!).

I'm with Praisegod Barebones in putting in a good word for Gerrard (note spelling) Winstanley, and the other Diggers. Of the major figures of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, I'm torn between John Lilburne and Thomas Rainborough. It seems to me, though, that both in name and in history, no seventeenth century radical can quite equal Sir John Wildman.

I have a small pantheon of heroes who have done much to shape my mental world. The one I find most compelling is a short, arrogant chap named Eric Eustace Williams. Often wrong, dreadfully insecure, but dedicated to democracy and truth. When he died, every household in his country lit a candle for him.

#21 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 03:55 PM:

My personal choir of saints:

Julian of Norwich, whose mantra has let me keep my cool when others were losing theirs: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

St. Anthony of Padua, without whom many more things around the house would have been eaten by the sentient black hole.

St. Francis, whom I fell in love with when I saw Brother Sun, Sister Moon. How could you not like someone who preaches to the birds, and on one occasion, a wolf?

St. Bernadette -- for things "visible and invisible."

And of course, Our Lady, whose devoted servant I have been and always will be.

#22 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 06:14 PM:

I'll offer the man who stood in front of the tanks in Beijing in '89. Saintly by his actions on this one day, his identity and fate seem to be up in the air.

Tank Man

The Tienanmen Square protests in hit me very hard - I had somehow come to the belief that things were going to work out well, and when the government forces demonstrated that this was not so it was a heavy blow.

I'm not sure I can really nominate this as neglected and misunderstood, but there you go. He stands as exemplar of every normal person who has been unexpectedly brave, and has found that their own safety is the only thing they have to barter with.

#24 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 06:32 PM:

I'd just like to note that this is what neo-Pagans call "naming Ancestors." Ancestors don't have to be your physical ancestors, just honored dead.

I second Emma Goldman, and I'd add Joe Hill. "Don't mourn; organize" is good advice, and I've tried to apply it. Mostly failed, so far, but I persevere.

Jane Austen, who was doing something no one thought she could do, had her own doubts, and did it anyway...and became an icon.

Velma has now joined the Ancestors, but we have another thread for her.

Yesterday we honored a relatively new Ancestor, Margot Adler, who was a great lady in so many ways that I could type all night and not do more than scratch the surface.

#25 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 06:37 PM:

Giordano Bruno. He was a nut, but he's the patron saint of science fiction. And he was a stand-up guy.

#26 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 08:04 PM:

To contribute, I'll have to go look up information I don't have time to look up at the moment.

In case I don't get back before this thread goes dormant, abi, thanks for starting it. One of the recent spam waves sent me rereading one of the 2008 non-political threads and I'd been thinking of asking for one. And I like the "mathom-house of the mind."

#27 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 09:50 PM:

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., for his crusade against puerperal fever and doctors with dirty hands. (His son also had a pretty inspirational career.)

#28 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:00 PM:

Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, who kept the home duchy functioning while her husband was invading England, subsequently kept the new kingdom functioning when William went back to Normandy to keep things under control there, and kept her husband and sons from killing each other. There's a lot of mythology about William and Matilda's courtship, but apparently he had great respect for her judgment and tact, and when she spoke, he listened.

#29 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:00 PM:

Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, who kept the home duchy functioning while her husband was invading England, subsequently kept the new kingdom functioning when William went back to Normandy to keep things under control there, and kept her husband and sons from killing each other. There's a lot of mythology about William and Matilda's courtship, but apparently he had great respect for her judgment and tact, and when she spoke, he listened.

#30 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:36 PM:

I was a lector tonight at the All Souls Vigil Mass. All Souls is specifically a Mass at which you pray for your beloved dead, even the ones you didn't like, and though I do that at every Mass, I did again tonight, con brio, with Velma's name first on the list. As I get older, the list gets longer. I believe in the communion of saints, so I hope and trust that as I pray for them, so they pray for me.

I find delight and inspiration often from the life and thought of Flannery O'Connor.

#31 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:37 PM:

My own personal pantheon would include lots more, but two people I think are misunderstood (if not exactly neglected) are Frank Zappa and Princess Diana. Frank was a personal friend and I miss his clear sight into things every day. He stood up for freedom of expression and left behind a legacy of amazing music. He died far too young, as did Diana, who could so easily have been just a celebrity clothes horse and instead used her fame to lead the way in showing humanity and love to AIDS patients and landmine victims and anyone else in need.

#32 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 10:58 PM:

I don't remember his name, but there's this one person - who I hope is still alive, since he's only a couple of years older than I am, and I'm not old - who went to the same elementary school as I went to for a year. I was new there and a really awkward kid, and I was not well-liked, and he saw me in the middle of a circle of other kids, noticed I was terrified, walked into the circle and was kind to me.

I'd like to be like that.

#33 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:00 PM:

(And I totally missed "neglected and misunderstood figures of the past", unless 1991 counts as "the past" for our purposes. I'll second Aphra Behn, but also greatly admire Mary Anning. Mary Anning was more of a stay-at-home badass than Behn was, but she pretty much invented modern paleontology at a time when Women Were Not Scientists, Oh My Goodness, The Very Idea.

#34 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:09 PM:

Jimmy Carter...

#35 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:34 PM:

I second Tank Man. I nominate Abdul Sattar Edhi, who has devoted his life to helping the poor and downtrodden of Pakistan.

#36 ::: Richard Hershberger ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:37 PM:

@ dimwit:

"I’ll nominate an author: Lois McMaster Bujold,"

Don't do that to me! You made me think she had died and I hadn't gotten the word. That would have explained why she hasn't had anything new in a couple of years, since the Ivan book.

#37 ::: Richard Hershberger ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2014, 11:51 PM:

Perhaps too well known to qualify, but I will throw out the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was doing postgraduate studies and teaching in New York (where he attended and taught Sunday school at at black Baptist church: he liked the music) when in 1931 he went back to Germany to work with the very unofficial Confessing Church to oppose the Nazis. Fast forward some years, and he was implicated (probably correctly) in the plot to assassinate Hitler, and was hanged by the
Gestapo about a month before V-E Day.

He also doesn't quite count because he is on the Anglican calendar of Saints-if-the-Anglicans-actually-canonized-people, and we Lutherans would certainly count him if we canonized people.

My brother once told me that his church was having a discussion of Bonhoeffer and this little old German lady member mentioned that she had heard him preach. This made everyone turn and stare at her. In Lutheran circles this would be like casually mentioning that you used to hang out with, oh, let's say Mother Theresa or Gandhi. It turned out that he had preached at her church in Germany when she was a girl. Some time after that the church got a knock on the door from men in black coats who explained that they had heard the church played Mendelssohn (whose parents were Jewish before converting to Lutheranism) and that they should stop doing that. This is when her parents realized it was time to leave, and she ended up in Ohio.

I mean no criticism of this family when I point out that Bonhoeffer rather stands out by looking at Hitler and deciding he had to go back, rather than having a comfortably safe career elsewhere.

#38 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 12:06 AM:

Harry Hill Bandholtz. Famous in Hungary for protecting the National Museum from looting by Romanian soldiers during World War I; according to legend, he personally chased them off with a riding whip.

A statue of Bandholtz was placed in front of the American embassy in Budapest in 1936, with the inscription "I simply carried out the instructions of my government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army."

#39 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 01:17 AM:

Hans and Sophie Scholl, Christopher Probst, Willi Graf, Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell: The Resistance of the White Rose.

They gave their lives, knowingly and willingly, in resistance against Hitler's Third Reich - leafleting and painting slogans to inspire civil disobedience and other non-violent resistance. I read a book on them in my early teens, which I still have, and will pass on to my son to read. It still makes me tear up to think about it.

Winston Rowntree did a brilliant piece on Sophie Scholl and the meaning of her life in his Subnormality comic 'The Line'.

#41 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 08:42 AM:

Friends and family of brilliant-but-absent-minded people, who looked after them so they could do what they were good at. Emma Darwin and Frances Chesterton are two who come to mind.

#42 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 08:51 AM:

At the All Soul's mass I went to this morning, our assistant pastor (young and newly ordained last summer) quoted Tolkien, talking about Strider and reading the first few lines of the poem "All that is gold does not glitter." His point was that we all have a layer of hidden nobility and that we should seek it out in ourselves and others.

#43 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 08:52 AM:

If I ever become ruler of the world, I'll style myself Norton II.

And if you mention Stanislav Petrov, you should also mention Vasili Arkhipov, who prevented the lauch of a nuclear torpedo during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

#44 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 09:20 AM:

Oh, is there an election going on?

Ms. North Carolina

#45 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 09:23 AM:

OtterB@42: I heard a 'sermon on Tolkien' from a very young priest in the early 80s in Leeds. (The text he sermonized on was Gandalf's report to the Council of Elrond of his meeting with Saruman: "I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours...") ISTRT Young Priest just did the sermon, the rest of the Mass being performed by the actual parish priest (ordained 50 years previously in the west of Ireland, and with matching fierce accent), who may or may not have approved.

#46 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 09:40 AM:

The researchers and staff at the Institute of Plant Industry (now the Vavilov Institute) who starved to death during the Siege of Leningrad rather than eat the irreplaceable stocks of seeds and potatoes they were guarding.

#47 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 10:56 AM:

@46 You beat me to it, and I cannot think of them without choking up. Gardening is a faith with many heroes but few martyrs, and those are ours.

I would add Henry Mitchell and Beverley Nichols to the ranks of gardening saints, along with the officially canonized St. Rose of Lima. (Have never warmed to the "official" patron saint of gardening, who hated women and would not be welcome in my garden.)

@24 I was stunned to hear that the Margot Adler I heard on NPR all the time was the Margot Adler who wrote "Drawing Down the Moon." Not a common name, but I just...never connected the dots. A very great lady indeed.

As a children's book author, I would add Eva Ibbotson, whose books delight me and who wrote a few marvelous books for adults that didn't sell all that well, which is a place I understand more than I really wish to.

I am as lapsed a Catholic as ever there was, but you will never pry the medal for Julian of Norwich off my keychain.

#48 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 11:18 AM:

UrsulaV @ 47: Sainthood for Beverley Nichols made me roar with laughter. Mind you, I do enjoy his books. Timber Press did some lovely facsimile editions. They survived my book purge before I moved cross country.

#49 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 01:30 PM:

UrsulaV: As another, less extreme example of Gardening Saint, I'd nominate Ruth Stout (author of "How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back" and all around cool person).

And I agree with you and Lori on Julian of Norwich. My favorite line of hers is her answer to Margery Kempe, on the question of how to tell if a vision is from God or the Devil: "The Holy Spirit is all love, and never does anything contrary to His nature."

#50 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 01:59 PM:

Neil Armstrong.

Barbara Mertz, in her guise as Elizabeth Peters. Now that I know the latter was a pseudonym, I'll look into the books she wrote under other pseudonyms.

UrsulaV 47: I was stunned to hear that the Margot Adler I heard on NPR all the time was the Margot Adler who wrote "Drawing Down the Moon." Not a common name, but I just...never connected the dots. A very great lady indeed.

And yet she was so friendly and down-to-Earth in person. She could go from making silly jokes about gods to Drawing Down in about 15 minutes. Hers was also the coven Judy Harrow trained in.

#51 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 02:00 PM:

I see lots of people being remembered for piecemeal salvation: how come nobody's mentioned Norman Borlaug yet?

Not many plant biologists can boast of having won the Nobel Peace Prize for quietly saving an estimated billion-plus lives ...

#52 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 03:19 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 3: Yes, that is true, and it is a long white tie with a black or other dark suit, not white tie as the specific form of dress. I once asked some Swedish friends (I am from the country next door, Norway, and we do not have this tradition) about it, and the tradition is that close male relatives wore white ties, and the rest of the men black ties. I also googled some Swedish etiquette pages now, and they confirm that the tradition is current.

#53 ::: Lenore Jean Jones/jonesnori ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 04:04 PM:

Oh! Jonas Salk, who didn't patent the first polio vaccine, saving many lives.

#54 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 04:30 PM:

I don't know a specific individual who gets credit (or blame) for Germany's enormous initial investment in solar energy. I'd like to thank whoever it was.

The reason this matters, and I'm probably preaching to the choir here, is the nature of the solar energy scale-up. You double the number of things built (in this case solar panels), the cost per item goes down by X%; you double it again, it goes down by another X%. The first few generations of solar panels were hopelessly expensive. Germany bought them anyway. And prices went down as predicted- or maybe faster.

And now, when solar panels are cost-competitive in large parts of the world, people everywhere are buying them, they're starting to produce a significant amount of energy and reduce CO2 emissions by a significant amount. And they just keep getting cheaper. (Under $1.90/watt in the US, for utility projects, earlier this year.)

#55 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 05:17 PM:

Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, two sides of the coin. They saved the US, but apparently it was only temporary.

#56 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 06:29 PM:

Charlie @51: Strong agreement re Norman Borlaug, who is also still very well remembered at the University of Minnesota and among former soil science and agronomy students there.

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 07:34 PM:

Charlie Stross, #51: The developer of high-yield hybrid dwarf wheat? There are some strong reasons to consider that a very mixed blessing. I won't go into them here, because I don't want to harsh the squee; if you're curious, ask me over on the Open Thread.

#58 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 07:49 PM:

@48 Well, gardening sainthood is a different bag than other kinds! *grin*

#59 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 08:46 PM:

My saints: of the official ones, St Thomas Aquinas has been a favorite since the first time I read a piece of the Summa Theologica (whether it is an article of faith that the world began). And second, St Thomas; his doubt is very familiar to me.[1]

In other bits of my life, Georg Cantor; his diagonal proofs for the countability of the rationals and the uncountability of the reals (even though both are dense on the number line) remains one of the most mind-blowing things I've ever learned. If I can make one complicated thing that clear in a lifetime of work, I'd think I'd done well.

In the "would be a saint if the Anabaptists named saints", Joseph and Michael Hofer. If I believed anything that firmly...

In the "random heroes": Fritz Haber-one of the few who competes with Borlaug for lives saved. Harald Hardrada, for his amazing journeys.

1)I am in RCIA; I have no doubt that Thomas is the saint's name I will choose, but dither over which.

#60 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 08:52 PM:

SamChevre, I've had it pointed out to me that Thomas the Doubter was also the first to recognize the Risen Christ as God.

#61 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2014, 11:10 PM:

SamChevre @ 59: I was thinking about Georg Cantor as well. He's not really forgotten, but he is underappreciated. I've been trying to read about his later theological work. It's hard going.

#62 ::: puddle ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 12:10 AM:

All of the conscientious objectors who volunteered to be starved so the US could learn how to refeed Europe after the war.

Vide The Minnesota Starvation Experiment

#63 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 12:16 AM:

I've always held a soft spot for Anthony and Jude and their caretaking of the lost.

I'm not sure if I have anyone more recent to add to the growing list. I sometimes wonder if we are so populous that if the number of acknowledged saints increased proportionately it would be overwhelming - it seems to me that the threshholds for sainthood have increased significantly in some ways.

#64 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 12:23 AM:

puddle @62: your link is borked beyond recall. Perhaps you meant this Wikipedia entry? If not, please try again! You probably left out the quote marks (I've certainly done that and gotten similar results).

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 04:08 AM:

SamChevre @59:

Congratulations on RCIA; I did it 26 years ago. I should note that my planned name when I went in (Jerome) is not the name I ended up taking (Ruth). These things can get complicated.

I am informed that in the Eastern church, Doubting Thomas is referred to as Believing Thomas.

(I've been reading bits of the third part of Summa Theologica, and am bemused by how much object-oriented software architecture owes to the philosophical approaches it uses.)

#66 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 06:55 AM:

Whatever Volvo executive who decided to not patent the car safety belt, to lessen the burden for other car manufacturers to provide them as standard.

In re Emperor Norton, when I went on my first work trip to SF, the first "touristy thing" I did (when waking up the next day) was to take BART to Colma, then walk from there to his grave. That, in turn, lead to reading up on The Widow Norton who arguably is competing with the unnamed executive above.

#67 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 09:34 AM:

"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is August Christopher. I was named for St. Augustan, who coined my favorite phrase, 'Give me chastity and give me constancy, but do not give it yet'."

Val Kilmer in 1997's "The Saint"

#68 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 09:36 AM:

John Woolman, a Colonial era abolitionist who convinced the Quakers in America and in England to give up slaveholding. This is even bigger than it sounds, since Quakers had been big players in the slave trade.

#69 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 10:20 AM:

puddle: I had never heard of that before. That's... amazing. Chilling. Horrifying. Impressive. All of the above.

#70 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 10:31 AM:

Detailed description of the experiment by a participant(!)

#71 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 10:57 AM:

Thanks, Cally! I had been wanting to put John Woolman on the list but had trouble finding his name.

For me one of the most impressive things about him is that he largely accomplished this change of heart in the Quakers by simply going about and talking to people face-to-face, in the assumption of their good faith and integrity.

#72 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 11:08 AM:

Ingvar, you might enjoy the Hallowmas events in Colma.

#73 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 11:38 AM:

SamChevre at 59, seconding congratulations!

I went through RCIA 45 years ago. I was baptized but could find no record that I was confirmed, so I was confirmed 12 years ago, and my confirmation name was Thomas -- for both Aquinas and Thomas the apostle. I chose not to choose between them.

Easter Vigil is my favorite liturgy.

#74 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 01:22 PM:

SamChevre @59: Welcome home!

I went through RCIA last year, and was received at the Easter Vigil this year. The RCIA team at my parish were wonderful guides, and my sponsor has become my friend and a good counselor as well.

I went in with the idea my confirmation name would be Magdalen, and ended up choosing Bernadette instead.

May I commend to your attention a little tome entitled: "Catholic Pocket Prayer Book" (ISBN 978-1-931709-43-9)? It has become my constant companion, being small enough to be carried in a pocket or purse. It is a gold mine of information, and has an amazing range of prayers for its size.

Oh, if you have a Perpetual Adoration chapel in your vicinity, you might want to visit it. I found doing so very helpful during my journey, so much so that I have become one of the adorers at the one in my parish.

May the Lord bless you, and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace.

#75 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 01:47 PM:

Congratulations, Sam! I hope the process is deeply fulfilling to you.

#76 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 02:03 PM:

Sam Chevre @59: Are you aware that Haber has been described as the "father of chemical warfare"?

#77 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 02:38 PM:

I don't have much to contribute to this thread; maybe Saint Podkayne.

#78 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 02:40 PM:

Saints Cosmas and Damien, twin brothers and physicians who refused to take payment for their services: also known as the Holy Unmercenaries.
We should have sent unmercenaries to Iraq, instead of the terror-clowns of Blackwater.

I too chose Thomas as my saint's name, though for Eastern Orthodox rather than RCIA. I was actually literally confirmed in the church of St Thomas' when C of E; my father came back to the church there; my parents are buried there; and I have nothing but doubt..

#79 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 06:24 PM:

Florence Nightingale, pioneer of modern nursing.

#80 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 06:30 PM:

Fritz Haber has the unique distinction of high places on both the lists of most lives saved and most lives lost.

#81 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 06:53 PM:

In the "if Anabaptists had saints" category, Dirk Willems is always popular. Held in prison for getting baptized as an adult and baptizing others, he escaped across a frozen pond but turned back to help a pursuer who fell through the ice.

I'd also like to mention a local hero. Kate Shelley was a teenager in the 1880s when flash floods weakened a railroad bridge near her home. A maintenance locomotive tumbled into the river when the bridge collapsed. Kate crossed what was left of the bridge with a lantern (which went out) to flag down a passenger train approaching the ruined bridge, then went back and led rescuers to the survivors of the original crash.

The railroad workers union maintains a monument to her, and the modern bridge across the Des Moines River is named for her.

#82 ::: puddle ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 07:12 PM:

Tom @ 64, yes thanks, that's what I was trying for. My main blogging home doesn't want/need the quote marks, and I just let my fingers do as trained, without thinking!

#83 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 07:57 PM:

Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, who did a lot in his short life, including save lives in an outbreak of Ebola, in Lacor, Uganda, and who died of Ebola himself, on December 6th, 2000.

Dr. Maria Bonino was just as heroic, in her battle against Marburg, while serving as a pediatrician in Luanda, Angola.

The Doctors without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres folks, who selflessly serve again and again, throughout much of Africa and the Middle East.

#84 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 08:39 PM:

Thanks to all for the good wishes and advice about RCIA.

I am glad--relieved, in a way--to be actually moving in this direction. In another way, I'm afraid: my historical affiliation is very very[1] anti-Catholic, and it will widen breaches that were starting to heal. The encouragement here helps, but I don't want to further derail the thread.

I am aware that Haber is also the father of chemical warfare; I've long thought that amid the horrors of the Great War, chemical warfare didn't add that much to the horror.

1) Note especially articles 1 and 4; note also that the heading is in error: Sattler was a Benedictine monk (likely a prior), not a priest.

#85 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2014, 11:11 PM:

SamChevre, #84: I think it's worth noting that out of "all the horrors of the Great War", chemical warfare is (AFAIK) the only one that people agreed afterwards needed to be banned.

#86 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2014, 04:13 AM:

P J Evans @ #72:

Ah, but normally I am in London, unless I happen to be visiting the other half of my team.

Does that mean I have to figure out someone else? Ummm... Maybe Sal Khan, for an excellent source of self-studies in assorted subjects?

#87 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2014, 08:39 AM:

Hmm, alright then.

Aelfred the Great, King of Wessex, who remains in my mind the greatest English King (though not King of England - that honour only begins with his grandson Aethelstan). Without him it is highly arguable that all of us would be writing this blog in some other language, probably Norse-derived. With three elder brothers, he was not destined for power or kingship or greatness. But greatness found him when, reduced to the ownership of a bit of bog in Somerset, he won back his kingdom from ruthlessly impressive and effective invaders, against whom many other "national" armies in Europe fell.

But it isn't Aelfred's military achievements that mark him out for me: mediaeval history is littered with great leaders on the battlefield. It is his relentless learning and rebuilding after this which marks him out as extraordinary. He reformed the military and founded the navy, establishing new more efficient govermental and burghal systems to support a stable defensible state. He reformed the legal ystem, with an emphasis on a literate merciful judiciary. And above all he championed a renaissance of learning in England, personally translating works from Latin into the vernacular and ordering their distribution around the kingdom. He not only saved his kingdom: he laid the foundation of such a jewel of a state that a bastard adventurer from Normandy was desperate enough to launch a seaborne invasion 167 years after his death.

Aelfred remains for me a symbol of humane, literate and thoughtful resistance and reconstruction in dark and difficult times.

He is the only king given the epithet "The Great" in England, even though he never even ruled it.

#88 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2014, 11:38 AM:

Ingvar, I understood that you were normally not in the SF area - but sometime, you might be there on the right day. (I dunno - who would you get with re-enactors at Bunhill Fields?)

#89 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2014, 05:24 PM:

Back in the 1980s, Leo Buscaglia, author and speaker, got Americans to be ok with hugging each other.

Jerry Garcia would have been really annoyed at anybody calling him a saint, so I won't :-) Dylan was less a saint and more a prophet, not in the sense of foretelling the future but of speaking the truth about the present to people who might not otherwise listen.

#90 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2014, 03:11 PM:

Now that all the sensible suggestions have died down, may I suggest one figure who is certainly neglected, but who I deeply admire: the rat who brought the gospel to the geese.

#91 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2014, 04:54 PM:

Let us not forget the classics: Consider Kurt Vonnegut's praise for Ignatz Semmelweis, to say nothing of that of a certain green-eyed lady:

What would you call your greatest success with Bleach?

Clearly that is our role in disinfection. Everyone knows about drinking water and swimming pools. We were even involved in deodorizing the body of Louis XVIII… But I would say our role in preventing child bed fever is something that is often overlooked. Our project with Ignaz Semmelweis in the 1840s did not gain the recognition it should have. His idea of disinfecting your hands after dissection of a cadaver and assisting in the delivery room was so new at the time it was rejected by the medical profession for decades. Semmelweis died at the age of 47 of gangrene after a severe beating in a mental institution asylum in Vienna, and I wish he would get more recognition.

#92 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2014, 10:09 AM:

It's an unfortunate way to make her acquaintance, but may I present Dr. Anne Szarewski, 1960-2014, whose life just passed across my screen:

In 1995, many doctors only knew of the human papilliomavirus (HPV) as a virus that caused warts, and were disbelieving of the suggestion that it caused cancer of the cervix...

All that was to change with the publication of a paper showing that testing for the presence of HPV DNA on cells taken during cervical screening would pick up cases of pre-cancer that were missed by Papanicolaou testing.

The clinician who led that research was Dr Anne Szarewski.

You know, they don't have to stay neglected.

#93 ::: John A Arkansawyer is so embarassed ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2014, 10:14 AM:

I didn't note the date on that article, so those dates for her are wrong. They're 1959-2013. Dammit.

#94 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2014, 10:37 AM:

Steve @ #90, the Latin made me do a doubletake. It says "I throw pearls among the swine" but I was briefly distracted by "margaritas" as something in my brain went, "ooh, margaritas, good idea." And I don't even drink.

I need a vacation. And it's only been about a month since I had one. *facepalm*

#95 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2014, 02:54 PM:

Lila @ #94 - thanks for the translation - I have no Latin, so I'm enlightened.

> I need a vacation. And it's only been about a month since I had one.

The plate's in the Louvre. You could always go and inspect it firsthand.

#96 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2014, 12:15 PM:

I wouldn't call them saints -- they cover the whole gamut of personalities from saintly to deeply flawed -- but I continue to be moved by the women I'm discovering for my current blog series[*] who, in the face of disbelief, devaluing, and vicious persecution, found their way to loving each other in all manifestations of the word. When so much of the data has been erased, neglected, twisted, or never recorded, I can't afford the luxury of asking for saintliness, only that faint, clear voice, "We existed; we loved; we were always here."

[*] The Lesbian Historic Motif Project which -- note to Rymenhild @12 -- will begin on Anne Lister's diaries next week.

#97 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2014, 03:06 PM:

P J Evans @ 8: the name was preserved elsewhere; I rode the Emperor Norton from SF to Sausalito many years ago. IIRC that was the first I'd heard of him.

My offering: John M. Langstaff Jack took huge joy in life, and communicated that to his students and his audiences. (IIRC, Tom W (at least) has connections to the Revels; what people see of them today is a dilute reflection of what they were when Jack was on stage.) Without him, I would not have had the skills to become a serious choral singer; singing has kept me sane when the rest of the world was going wrong. NPR did as good an obit as can fit in five minutes; Susan Cooper, who wrote a lot for the early Revels, also wrote his biography, The Magic Maker. (Amusing side note: his 5 albums of folk music were produced by George Martin, who introduced him to the Beatles (just before their first visit to the US) as an example of educated US speech.)

#98 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2014, 04:58 AM:

Gene Roddenberry, for offering up a vision of a future where we all live together in peace and plenty. A future which, sadly, seems to have fallen out of fashion.

#99 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2014, 09:55 AM:

I happened across vito excalibur's list of saints yesterday. I wouldn't agree with all of them, but do with some, and love the illustrations.

#100 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2014, 10:25 PM:

Ooh, you're right about Ignatz Semmelweis. The tragedy is that he figured things out in 1847 and it took more than twenty years for someone else to confirm his claims and get the concept accepted. That's twenty years of incredibly high maternal death rates for no good reason, and the reason that we think of childbirth as so very dangerous in pre-modern societies. (I mean, it is, but not as bad as it was in the early nineteenth century.)

#101 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2014, 01:30 PM:

I have a very odd one: William Topaz McGonagall. Bad poet: certainty. Severely deluded: probably. Died in poverty: yes. However, unlike say Amanda McKittrick Ros, there seems to have been no mean or self-pity in the man: he was going to do his work as best he could with what he had. To me, this seems extrodinary.

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