November 16th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Who Knew? Paved Roads Were the Result of Lobbying by Bicyclists

This tweet by prolific travel essayist Taras Grescoe caught my eye.

I followed the link to a website for what turns out to be a forthcoming book titled Roads Were Not Built for Cars, by Carlton Reid. At the site I found an interior spread with a cover and author info.

I had not really thought about it much before, but what I’ve read here reveals the author’s revisionist thesis that while Henry Ford and his ilk were eager to claim credit for the advent of paved roads in the 1920s, there had actually been a “Good Roads” movement harking as far back as the 1880s, when bicyclists began advocating for better riding surfaces. The writing and publication of the book has evidently been sponsored by bicycle makers in the UK and North America; with this underwriting it’s going to be a free, no-charge ebook download. I find what I’ve read in the spreads at the website reveals a fascinating, heretofore hidden aspect of modern transportation history–the development of decent roads not only made travel more enjoyable for individuals in all kinds of wheeled vehicles, it also enabled farmers and tradespeople to bring their goods to more readily bring their goods to market, spurring economic growth. If you’re interested in reading more on this topic I urge you to go to the book’s website and leave your email address so you can be notified when the book is ready.

Now that I think more about this, I’m reminded of a historical point raised in Alex Shoumatoff’s superb book, The Mountain of Names–a history of kinship that I had a chance to republish in paperback in 1995–which reported that the appearance of the bicycle in rural villages of Europe in the 19th century overnight extended the “courtship range” of male suitors  to a great many more miles than had ever previously been the case. I’ve previously blogged about Shoumatoff’s book in relation to the Mormons’ practice of posthumous baptism, which the late Christopher Hitchens tartly dubbed “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”

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February 29th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Philip Turner's Books & Writing

From the Annals of Religious Intolerance & Chutzpah

Wow, what a toxic mix.

In Gaithersburg, MD, Marcel Guarnizo, a Catholic priest officiating at the funeral of an 85-year old Catholic woman refused communion to Barbara Johnson, the late woman’s daughter, after learning that 51-year old woman is gay. Johnson was a guest Wednesday night on “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” Appearing on the program, only days ago having buried her mother she explained to O’Donnell that after denying her the sacrament, as Johnson began eulogizing her mother before the congregation, Guarnizo rose from his seat near the altar and left the sanctuary. She added that later he failed to attend the burial or arrange for another priest to be present at the graveside. She was grateful to a funeral director who at the last minute found a willing cleric to officiate over the burial.

The Boston Globe, with research assistance from former Mormon Helen Radkey, reported today that Daniel Pearl, the Wall St. Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan in 2002, was posthumously baptized in a Mormon church earlier this year. The revelation is the latest in a litany of similar discoveries made over the past few weeks, including so-called conversions done for the parents of Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and even Barack Obama’s late mother, Stanley Anne Dunham.

As discussed earlier on this blog, in Hitchens’ Book of Mormonism and  “‘A Crass Attempt at Mass Identity Theft’,” Mormon officials in 1995 had agreed to end this bizarre and unwelcome practice, but they now have told the Globe “it is difficult to police 14 million members worldwide.” And yet, it seems they have also declined to condemn these freelance baptizers. I first read about this issue, also in 1995, when I republished Alex Shoumatoff’s excellent book The Mountain of Names, a study of kinship and the history of the human family.

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February 15th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Philip Turner's Books & Writing

“A Crass Attempt at Mass Identity Theft from the Deceased”

Elie Wiesel has plaintively requested that Mitt Romney intervene with the Mormon church to insist that the organization finally end the barbaric and creepy practice of posthumous so-called “conversions” of non-Mormon decedents, including many Holocaust victims. Wiesel was interviewed tonight on “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” where he explained that notwithstanding a mid-1990s agreement that was supposed to have ended the practice, a former Mormon researcher–Helen Radkey, who was also interviewed by O’Donnell–had informed Wiesel that the practice has never stopped. Wiesel learned that among those whose have been posthumously ‘claimed’ were the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and weirdly, breaking with their own practice of claiming the deceased, Wiesel himself, and his wife.

Last October I wrote a blog post, “Hitchens’ Book of Mormon-ism,” after Christopher Hitchens published “Mitt Romney’s Mormon Problem” in Slate. Hitch’s piece, one of his last before he died in December, included a reference to a terrific book that I’d republished in 1995. By Facebook friend Alex Shoumatoff, The Mountain of Names is a superb study of human kinship and genealogy.  As I wrote then, the Shoumatoff book’s “title is a direct reference to the bank of names that Mormons, at least until the mid-90s, kept in the rocky innards of a private peak in Utah. . . . In his inimitable way, Hitch tartly dubs this ‘a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.’” Now we learn that the harvesting of names didn’t end then, and evidently has still not ceased. It’s a pity Hitch isn’t around to inveigh against this all the more.

A theology that envisions its modern day believers accruing some kind of divine credit for baptizing the dead is to me a bizarre and arrogant faith.

Feb. 16 update from a 2007 Newsweek interview with Mitt Romney:

“When asked by NEWSWEEK if he has done baptisms for the dead—in which Mormons find the names of dead people of all faiths and baptize them, as an LDS spokesperson says, to ‘open the door’ to the highest heaven—he looked slightly startled and answered, ‘I have in my life, but I haven’t recently.'”


October 30th, 2011

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Hitchens’ Book of Mormon-ism

Excellent Slate article by Christopher Hitchens on Mormonism, its core beliefs, and how it should be discussed in the context of the presidential campaign. Hitch’s piece includes a reference to a terrific book I republished in 1995, by Facebook friend Alex Shoumatoff. It’s his superb study of human kinship and genealogy, The Mountain of Names. It arises here b/c of the Mormon practice, indulged in for many years, of posthumously claiming souls to harvest for supposed salvation, even non-Mormon decedents, such as murdered Holocaust victims. The book’s title is a direct reference to the name bank that Mormons, at least until the mid-90s, kept in the rocky innards of a private peak in Utah. In his inimitable way, Hitch tartly dubs this “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”