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For the ancient world, birds played a powerful role in furnishing signs about what was to come in the future. In modern English we have the words “auspicious” and “augury,” each of which reflect the role of birds in telling us what the future holds – derived from an auspicium, or viewing of birds. To the ancients, the birds were vehicles through which the gods delivered their judgment to men. Plutarch recounts the tale of Romulus and Remus and their determination of the site of Rome based on identifying a flock of vultures. And Robert Graves, in his masterful I, Claudius dramatizes the legend by which Gaius Claudius was marked as a future emperor of the Augustine line when a young eagle fell to earth before him. There are hundreds of other examples of birds acting to reveal frauds and the impious, to warn of attacks, or to mark persons as leaders. Should we lightly dismiss a way of viewing the world which has such deep roots?
And yesterday, the auguries were taken on Alberto Gonzales. And they were exceedingly clear. Gonzales has besmirched our democracy and disgraced the government he serves – an almost unimaginable feat – they said.
An outdoor news conference in perfect spring weather, with birds chirping loudly in the magnolia trees, is not without its hazards.
As President Bush took a question Thursday in the White House Rose Garden about scandals involving his Attorney General, he remarked, “I’ve got confidence in Al Gonzales doin’ the job.” Simultaneously, a sparrow flew overhead and dropped excrement on the President’s sleeve, which Bush tried several times to wipe off.
You can watch the divine judgment being delivered on Gonzales here. Pay attention to the soundtrack and note the cacophony of the birds starting as Bush begins to speak.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”