The tale of King James and the many, many Bible versions

I have mentioned my Christian faith on this blog a few times over the years. Growing up, I was taught all about the Bible, with my first one given to me when I was still in elementary school. My family owned many different copies of the Bible, each a different “version”. There was the King James Version, New King James Version, Revised Standard Version, New International Version, New American Bible, and many others. Each of these translated the Bible’s passages with slightly different wording, and as such I came to appreciate the importance of comparing these editions to get a sense of how different scholars and translators saw fit to interpret each passage.

In fact, there are still new versions of the Bible being produced to this day – the Christian Standard Bible was published just two years ago! Yet, by far, the most popular version of the Bible in the United States is the King James Version, first published in 1611. This is the classic Bible most people think of when they think of the Bible and its passages, giving us such phrases as “Thou shalt not”, “feet of clay“, and the annual Christmas blessing of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward men.” According to a study conducted in 2011, 55% of Americans who read the Bible regularly prefer the King James Version. This far outshines the second-most-popular version, the New International Version (19%), let alone any other edition (all with usage in the single-digits). Indeed, there is a religious movement that insists that the King James Version is the only correct English translation of the Bible, far superior to all others.

Recently, I was re-reading Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired by Benson Bobrick, a book that goes into detail about the origins of the King James Version. This got me thinking about just why there are so many versions of the Bible in English in the first place, and why, in spite of this, the King James version is still so popular.

The list of English-language translations of the Bible is quite long, and there are a few key reasons for this:

  • How the text is translated
  • How English evolves over time
  • What text is being translated

Let’s start with the translation process itself. When translating anything from one language to another, you are going to run into idioms, turns of phrase, and grammatical differences that are unique to the source language. Do you take these and translate them literally, word-for-word, or do you try to convey the intended meaning in the idioms, turns of phrase, and grammar of the receiving language? This is one of the major sources of variability between Bible versions. Some versions prefer literal, word-for-word translations, others prefer a “sense-for-sense” translation, and still others attempt to walk a fine line between the two methods.

Another major reason that there are so many Bible translations is that the English language itself has evolved over time. The King James Version’s use of “thee”, “thou”, “thy”, and a whole host of other archaic words preserves the English language as spoken at the start of the 17th century, but this is not how we speak today. Most modern editions of the Bible try to update the text for a modern audience in plain, everyday language. There are even some versions that are explicitly tailored to American English as opposed to British English, such as the American Standard Version or New American Bible.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is the earliest known copy of the Book of Isaiah.

Finally, you have to consider what text, exactly, you are wanting to translate. See, the Bible wasn’t originally a single text, but a collection of writings that were gathered in a process over the centuries into an accepted “canon of scripture” that were agreed by the faithful to be the Word of God as written by early prophets and apostles through divine inspiration.

It was, ironically enough, a pagan Pharaoh of Egypt descended from Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy that we have to thank for starting this process. According to legend, as Ptolemy II Philadelphus built his Library of Alexandria, intending it to be the great repository of all knowledge, he hired 70 Jewish scholars to translate their most sacred writings into Greek. This meant those scholars had to determine which ancient Hebrew writings were to be considered “sacred”. The result of their work was the Septuagint, the first codified Bible. This was the sacred text used by faithful Jews in Jesus’ day. Today, we know thanks to numerous archaeological discoveries in recent years, most notably the Dead Sea Scrolls, that these books of the Bible had been around for centuries and were treated as sacred before this time by the people of Israel, but the Septuagint brought them all together into a single edition for the first time.

However, it was not to reign supreme for long. The followers of Jesus Christ collected their own set of writings that were added to the canon by early church fathers, collectively known as the “New Testament”; the earlier writings they dubbed the “Old Testament”. Meanwhile, Jewish religious leaders and scholars began editing down the books of the Septuagint, removing some writings and verses that they felt were not truly divine, resulting in the Masoretic Text, the standard text of the Hebrew Bible to this day. The edited-out books and verses were dubbed the “Apocrypha”, and their inclusion in the Christian Bible varies by denomination – Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians include these books in their canon, while Protestants do not.

The question of what text is being translated, however, doesn’t just apply to which books of the Bible you are including in your canon, but also what physical copy you are using as the basis of your translation. See, we have numerous early collections of Biblical writings, some complete and some incomplete, dating back centuries. In addition to the aforementioned Dead Sea Scrolls, we have the Codex Vaticanus (a 4th-century Greek manuscript of the Bible held in the Vatican Library), the Codex Sinaiticus (another Greek manuscript of similar age discovered in Egypt in the 19th century), the Peshitta (a Syriac-language translation used by some churches in the Middle East believed to date from the 3rd century), the Vulgate (a Latin translation compiled by St. Jerome in the 4th century), the Cairo Codex and Aleppo Codex (two partial Hebrew Masoretic texts dating to the 9th century), the Leningrad Codex (the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament, stored in the Russian National Library), and the Textus Receptus (a collection and synthesis of medieval Greek New Testament manuscripts produced by Dutch philosopher Erasmus). Today, it is common for Biblical scholars seeking to translate new editions of the Bible to compare these ancient texts and try to create the best-fit translation based on these writings.

See, which text you use matters, as demonstrated by that verse I mentioned earlier, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men”. This is the correct translation of the text in the Codex Sinaiticus and Textus Receptus epi gēs eirēnē en anthrōpois eudokia, but other early Greek manuscripts read epi gēs eirēnē en anthrōpois eudokias, the addition of that single letter changing the translation to “Peace on Earth to Men of Goodwill,” or as the New International Version writes it, “on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” This is quite the change in connotation!

The first page of the original printing of the King James Version in 1611

So, where does the King James Version fit in all of this?

In the late middle ages, the Vulgate was the official version used by the Roman Catholic Church for all its services, and it was rare to encounter any other translation as the church placed heavy restrictions on translations of the Bible into the vernacular. This didn’t stop William Tyndale, a Protestant scholar in early 16th-century England who decided to try his hand at translating the Bible into English. He used both the Vulgate and the Textus Receptus to translate the New Testament. He then turned to the Old Testament, and was about halfway done, but then he was caught by the English authorities, convicted of heresy, and strangled to death, his corpse burned at the stake. Ironically, King Henry VIII would break the Church of England away from the Catholic Church just one year later, and Tyndale’s Bible would be used by the new church as the basis for the Great Bible, the official English-language Protestant Bible that all churches in England were required to use by royal decree.

However, the Great Bible was a bit of a mess. It was rushed out in a great hurry to meet the king’s demands, with poor Myles Coverdale, the bishop asked to prepare the work for printing, having to fill in the gaps left by Tyndale’s unfinished Old Testament by translating from German copies that had been acquired from early Lutherans, as well as making edits to various Biblical passages that were meant to satisfy the conflicting political demands of both more conservative and more radical church leaders. According to Bobrick’s book, when King Henry was informed of the many flaws in the translation, he asked, “Are there any heresies maintained thereby?” Upon hearing a “no” as the reply, he said, “Then in God’s name let it go abroad among our people!”

So it was that the Great Bible became the standard Anglican Bible, flaws and all, for a few decades while the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in England for supremacy raged under the reigns of Henry VIII’s children. Queen Elizabeth I of England ended up cementing the Church of England’s place on the Protestant side of the equation, but was aware of the Great Bible’s deficiencies. In the meantime, Calvinist English nonconformists that had fled into exile produced the Geneva Bible, a far superior translation that was praised by scholars of its day and widely read by many in England. However, the Geneva Bible also included a host of margin notes that “helped” in “interpreting” various verses, invariably arguing for a Calvinist interpretation, and these notes were offensive to the Anglican church leadership. So, the queen authorized the creation of the Bishops’ Bible in 1568 as the new official Bible of the Church of England. However, this version was deliberately written to be different than its unofficial competitor, sometimes twisting sentence structure into odd formations just to not be the same. For example, where the Geneva Bible said “mother-in-law”, the Bishops’ Bible would say “wife’s mother.” Thus, it was unpopular with the general public, who just kept buying Geneva Bibles.

Then, in 1603, Queen Elizabeth passed away, and King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England as King James I.

Hey, that’s me!

King James had already decided that the existing English Bibles weren’t good enough for the Church of Scotland, and had discussed the matter with the Scottish clergy as early as 1601. In 1604, he called a conference of English and Scottish church leaders and demanded that a new official translation be created. This version would need to be based on the “original text”, meaning the oldest texts available at the time – the Masoretic Text and Septuagint for the Old Testament, the Textus Receptus and Peshitta for the New Testament. The translation would use the Bishops’ Bible as a guide, but replace the awkward wording and unnecessarily complex sentence structure with plain English (or, what would have been considered “plain English” at the time), consulting the earlier English translations to help determine the easiest phrasing to read and say. There was also an emphasis on using the traditional interpretations of the original Hebrew and Greek words rather than the Puritan interpretations that were floating around at the time – “church” instead of “congregation”, for example. Lastly, unlike the Geneva Bible, there would be no margin notes.

King James wanted this task done right, so instead of entrusting it to one person or a handful of people, he hired 47 of the best biblical scholars in England and Scotland to write this new version. Breaking into six committees, each of which included people across the spectrum from Catholic-leaning high Anglican to radical Puritan, the scholars would constantly translate and re-translate the same passages, comparing drafts and debating the meanings of the text until they were satisfied they had the perfect translation.

The result was published in 1611 and became the official English-language version of the Bible in the realm. It wasn’t adopted uniformly all at once, however, with the Mayflower pilgrims bringing the Geneva Bible with them to America, and the Book of Common Prayer used by the Church of England continuing to quote from the Great Bible until 1662. By the mid-18th century, however, virtually all Bibles printed in English were the King James Version. This would have been the version used in colonial America during the War of Independence, and throughout the English-speaking world in much of the 19th century.

The only exception would have been the Douay-Rheims Bible, an English translation of the Vulgate made for Catholics, but even this wouldn’t have been seen often as until the 1960s most Catholic mass and liturgy was still conducted in Latin.

In the mid-19th century, however, there was a growing interest among academics and scholars in revisiting the Bible and examining its text more critically. In 1862, Scottish publisher Robert Young produced Young’s Literal Translation, a version that translated every single word as literally as possible from the earliest available Hebrew and Greek texts. In 1885, the Church of England authorized the creation of the Revised Version, in order to update the language of the King James Version from Shakespearean English to Victorian English, and also to take advantage of the discoveries of older copies of ancient scriptures such as the Codex Sinaitica. A version in American English based on the Revised Version was published in 1901, the American Standard Version. Every version of the Bible published since has been made in this tradition.

That’s not to say that everyone agreed that the Bible needed updating. By the time Biblical scholars of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries had started preparing new translations of the Bible, the King James Version had been so pervasive in the English-speaking countries of the world for so long that it had taken on a life of its own, permeating both religious and popular culture. To many, the first version of the Bible they think of when someone mentions “the Bible” is the King James Version. People love the beautiful poetry of 17th-century English, after all.

Let’s be honest, though, it is a bit hard for a modern English-speaker to read that language, beautiful as it may be. Interestingly, a new group of translators that has come up with a solution: the 21st Century King James Version! Yes, this is a thing – an edition of the King James Version that leaves in the verbs ending in “-eth” that people love, but replaces some archaic words that nobody uses today with modern equivalents. For example, the original KJV text of Ezra 9:3 reads “And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.” The KJ21 (yes, that’s how they want it abbreviated) reads “And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down stunned.” Credit where credit is due, that is an interesting compromise.

Now that you know all of this, here’s an experiment you might want to conduct. Next time you happen to be in a book store, pay attention to the Bibles on sale. What version or versions are they selling? This might be interesting to know.

Wait… who am I kidding. People don’t go to bookstores anymore. They shop on Amazon. I forgot.

The Inspirations behind the U.S. Constitution

 

US constitution and flag by wynpnt at goodfreephotos

When I was in elementary school in Ohio back in the 1990’s, schools were first starting to do standardized testing of their students. Teachers had to set aside a couple of days in the school year for all the students in the school to sit down and bubble-in multiple choice answers in a cheap booklet printed on thin, easily-torn paper. The teachers and the school were going to be graded on how well we students performed on this boring, menial test. Therefore, as I sat in the classroom waiting for the Social Studies portion of the test to be passed out, the teacher told us all, “Okay, class, on question 14 when it asks ‘Where did the Founding Fathers get the idea for the Constitution?’, the correct answer is ‘B: The Iroquois Confederacy.’ Yes, I know that isn’t actually the correct answer, and you all know that, too, but that’s the answer the state wants.”

Yes, really, she actually said that.

I remember that specifically because I thought it was incredibly strange. I mean, we had just recently learned in history class that the Founding Fathers drew inspiration from many sources when writing the Constitution. Why was the state government wanting us to say that only one of those inspirations mattered? Looking back on this today, as a full-grown adult, it seems clear to me that someone in either Ohio’s education department or the company that made these standardized tests had a political agenda and was trying to get all the schools to teach to that agenda. I’ve talked on this blog before about how history classes in schools don’t actually teach the whole truth, and this is an example of why.

I’m not sure what happened to fifth-grade history classes in Ohio after I moved to California. Maybe future generations of Ohio fifth-graders grew up learning that the Founding Fathers were just inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy. Unless someone with a different agenda came along and changed the tests. Maybe now they learn that the Founding Fathers were inspired by the ancient Greeks and Romans. In any case, as I said, the actual truth of the matter is that there were many inspirations that they drew from when writing the U.S. Constitution, and today, I thought I would go over some of the main ones. Starting, of course, with:

The Iroquois Confederacy

Iroquois flag image by Himasaram and Zach Harden

Long before Christopher Columbus sailed west into the unknown, the tribes of what is now Upstate New York lived in a constant state of war. Then, three people worked together to convince the five tribes to come together and make peace: Hiawatha, a warrior disillusioned by the constant fighting, Jigonhsasee, a woman known for her hospitality toward guests from any tribe, and a spiritual leader known to history as the Great Peacemaker. This trio managed to get the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk to join forces in a federation called the Haudenosaunee, governed by a constitution that they called the Great Law of Peace.

In the federal government that they created, political power was based around clan mothers, a reflection of the Iroquois’ matriarchal society. Clan mothers had the power to appoint whomever they wanted to serve as their tribe’s chiefs, and could dismiss them at any time for any reason. One type of chief was the “Sachem”, who represented the clan at the Haudenosaunee Great Council, made up of 50 Sachems from all five tribes who would make decisions by consensus.

The American colonists would have been familiar with the Iroquois Confederacy, partly due to their close proximity, and partly due to the fact that the colonists and Iroquois were partners in the fur trade. In many colonial wars between the English and French colonies, the Iroquois usually sided with the English. Benjamin Franklin, in particular, spent some time among the Iroquois, and was inspired by their successful federation. In the mid-18th century, he called for the British colonies in North America to join forces in a federation of their own, in what he called the “Albany Plan of Union”. He was unsuccessful in convincing the colonies to adopt his plan – they already reported to London, and didn’t need an extra layer of government above them that they would have to obey the laws of and pay taxes to. However, when the colonies rose up against the British, the idea of the colonies joining forces was resurrected, as now they had a reason to stick together as they fought for their independence.

A few specific ideas that made it into the Constitution came from the Iroquois, such as having a Congress that represented all of the states, creating a balance of power between the states and the federal government, and barring any person from holding more than one political office in the U.S. government at a time.

Ancient Athens and Rome

Ancient Rome scene illustration by Edgar S Shumway

Of course, since the Founding Fathers were educated men of European descent, they would have been intimately familiar with the historical roots of Western civilization, namely, ancient Greece and Rome. These city-states developed unique (for the time) political systems that laid the ideological foundations for democracy and republicanism. Indeed, “democracy” is a word with Greek roots meaning “rule by the people”, and “republic” comes from the Latin for “public matters”.

The idea of democracy came from ancient Athens, a Greek city-state that had recently overthrown its king. Initially, after the monarchy was deposed, an oligarchy of the city’s wealthiest families ran things, but then infighting between these families led to factionalism that paralyzed the city’s government and wreaked havoc on the political process. To resolve this, a reformer named Solon advocated for the creation of a new political system that got every male Athenian citizen directly involved in political decision making: democracy. He believed that if every citizen, regardless of class, could vote and have a say in political matters, there would be no more factionalism.

Laughter image from Rawpixel

He thought WHAT?

As a result, the ancient Athenians would pass laws and make important decisions such as going to war or making peace by a vote of all the citizens of Athens. A council known as the “Boule” decided what went before the Athenians for a vote, and a committee known as the “Prytaneis” worked to implement the Athenian citizens’ decisions. Athenian elections to these offices were a bit different than what we are used to – technically, the vote only determined which candidates would be eligible to be picked in a random lottery. This was officially a mechanism to let the gods have a vote, though it also made it much harder to buy an election through corruption.

Many city-states across the ancient Mediterranean would be inspired by the Athenians and experiment with their own political systems. One of the most successful of these was Rome, a city-state that would grow to conquer the entire region and become one of history’s most famous empires. The Roman Republic, like the democracy in Athens, came about after the overthrow of a king. The Senate, the king’s council of advisers, took power for itself. Initially, they intended to keep power in the exclusive hands of the patricians (the Roman nobility), but after several revolts by the plebeians (commoners), a carefully-constructed political system that balanced power between different political groups was established.

The Romans would divide power between the Senate, the people, and the various elected public officials who would follow a traditional career path called the cursus honorum. At the top of the pyramid of public officials were two consuls, who would share the duty of chief executive. There would always be two of them in order to ensure that neither could become too powerful, and they would only serve a one-year term in order to further limit their power. How much can one do in a year, after all? Meanwhile, the plebeians would elect Tribunes of the Plebs, whose job it would be to oversee the Senate and the officials and ensure they didn’t abuse their powers. Most notably, a tribune could veto any government action that they felt threatened the interests of the plebeians. This was important, as all Roman elections, except the elections for the tribunes, were rigged in favor of the wealthy elite.

The idea of a government with no king, where the people have a say in their own government and choose their leaders, and where a careful balance of power that keeps any official from becoming too powerful, was clearly a major influence on the thoughts of the Founding Fathers as they framed the new U.S. government that they were creating.

The very same British that they were rebelling against

Redcoats image by Jerry Saslav

While the Founding Fathers had declared their independence from Great Britain, they did so in large part because they saw the British king and parliament as having violated their rights as Englishmen. There were many parts of the English political tradition that they absolutely weren’t about to reject.

While the Kingdom of England started out as just another feudal, absolute monarchy, during the Middle Ages the nature of the kingdom’s government and the role of the crown evolved. A rebellion against King John forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the first law that explicitly put limits on the king’s power, most notably by requiring him to get the people’s consent to raise taxes. This “consent” eventually took the form of Parliament, a body chosen by the king’s subjects that would meet to examine and decide on the king’s request for money. Over the centuries, Parliament would use this power to win concessions from the crown, forcing the monarch to accept further restrictions on his power or the granting of further rights to the people in return for approving new taxes. This process was very slow and gradual, and it was not always peaceful. In fact, at times it led to out-and-out civil wars. However, it was successful in securing such important concessions as a Bill of Rights and restrictions on the power of the king’s officials to lock people up.

This legal tradition found its way into both the original Constitution itself and the American Bill of Rights that was added to it shortly thereafter. Just as the British Parliament had two houses, the U.S. Congress would have two houses. Just as British laws need the assent of the monarch, American laws would need to be signed by the President. Just as all Englishmen would have the right to challenge the legality of their arrests in court, so, too, would all Americans. Just as a suspected English criminal would be tried by a jury of his peers, so would an American suspect.

The Age of Enlightenment

Perhaps the most important influence of all, though, was the political movement that was captivating the minds of many educated, middle-class Europeans at the time: the Enlightenment. People would gather in coffeehouses and in their caffeine-induced highs, they would apply the notions of science and reason that had powered the discoveries of the Scientific Revolution toward human society. Not content to just accept that the social order was the way it was because God said so or because it had always been that way, they would question and challenge and debate instead. Famous political philosophers like John Locke, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Baron de Montesquieu would write about their ideas as to how human societies could be improved.

Well, the newly-free United States was the perfect place to experiment with putting these ideas into practice. The Founding Fathers were avid readers of the works of Enlightenment philosophers. The Declaration of Independence’s lines about how everyone is entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a paraphrasing of some of John Locke’s lines in his Two Treatises of Government. Indeed, the idea that a Declaration of Independence was needed at all came from the “social contract” theory of government – the idea that society agrees to have a government in return for protection from murderers and thieves. This theory, and its name, comes from the works of Rousseau.

It was Montesquieu who first proposed a government with three explicit branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The influence of his writings is why the Founding Fathers created a President, Congress, and Supreme Court. Similarly, Voltaire’s arguments that people should have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion led directly to the First Amendment.

United States Constitution image from Wikimedia Commons

What the Founding Fathers did with the constitution they wrote was synthesize various ideas and inspirations that were floating around in the late 18th century into a single, experimental document that tried to create their ideal government. In return, what is most fascinating of all is just how much later constitutions around the world were influenced by the American one. Today, most countries around the world have a written constitution that lays out the creation of some form of legislative, executive, and judicial branch as well as a bill of rights that includes freedom of speech, press, and religion and protections for accused criminals.

North Korea image by Conan Mizuta

Now, the degree to which they actually respect those rights… well, it can vary.

This is what was truly, well, revolutionary about the American Revolution. Sure, the ideas it was inspired by had been around, in some cases for a while. Yet it sparked a revolution in the collective mind of the world, showing that, yes, we actually can run a country like this. Successfully. And that, well, it’s pretty inspirational.

HAPPY 4TH OF JULY, EVERYONE!

Cat Flag: Utah Edition

 

I just got back from a wonderful week-long visit to the Beehive State. Yes, that is the official state nickname of Utah – it was chosen to represent the hard-working Mormon pioneers who built the state into a prosperous community out of the desert soil. Indeed, according to the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Deseret”, the name Brigham Young first proposed for the state, is an ancient name for the honeybee. Congress rejected this name, instead insisting on naming the state after the Ute people who lived there first. Still, one can see bee-related symbols all over the state, including on Utah’s state flag:

I have made multiple trips to Arizona in the past few years, but I had never been to its northern neighbor before. This year, I decided to make a road trip up to Utah to see what I’ve been missing.

Specifically, the part of Utah I visited was southern Utah, the lands just to the north of the Grand Canyon where the geological complex that becomes one of my favorite places on Earth begins. This region is home to numerous national parks that preserve the upper canyons, and I visited three of them: Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion.

 

 

While on my tour of southern Utah, I noticed a few interesting things about this part of the country. One thing I noticed was that there were constant references to “Dixie” everywhere you looked. Businesses in the area often have “Dixie” in their name, the local college is named Dixie State University, and much of the land between the national parks and up in the mountains is part of the Dixie National Forest. It turns out that the southern part of the state is known colloquially as “Utah’s Dixie”.

Why? Well, it is located in the south of Utah, some of the early Mormon settlers in this area came from southern states, and the area was home to many cotton farms. I find that both hilarious and endearing.

Another thing I noticed was that the street names in Utah’s cities all follow an interesting, and consistent, pattern. In town after town, the streets all had names like “100 South”, “1500 East”, “900 North”, and so on. In seemingly every town I visited, most streets would have a numerical designation that was a multiple of 100, followed by a cardinal direction. Now, I’ve been to cities where they had a “First Street” or “Fifth Avenue”, but this was something new. After some research, I discovered that this street-name convention originates with Salt Lake City, where the streets are laid out on a grid originating at Temple Square, where the LDS Church built their headquarters and largest temple. The idea was that the streets emanating away from this focal point would act as grid coordinates – when you tell someone that you are at the corner of 700 South and 400 West, he or she will know you are seven blocks south and five blocks west of Temple Square. Apparently other Utah cities and towns copied this same naming pattern, using their main street or a major local landmark as the origin points of their grids.

What was far more surprising to me, however, was just how diverse of a landscape Utah has. You can drive through the stereotypical hot, dry Southwestern desert, fertile valleys lush with greenery, and snow-covered mountain vistas in a single afternoon. I know because I did exactly that.

Three environments 1

 

Three environments 2

Three environments 3

These three images were all taken on the same day

Sure, I saw many parts of Utah that were stark, rocky deserts with red canyons like the ones I’ve seen in Arizona. On the other hand, I also drove through many miles of farmland and green pastures that wouldn’t look out of place in the Midwest. On top of that, it actually snowed while I was there. As someone who lives in coastal California, I was captivated by the white flakes drifting to the ground, and looked in awe at the mountainsides as I saw them grow even whiter and more brilliant. Utah says that it has the “Greatest snow on Earth”, and while I admit I am no expert on snow by any means, I thought the snow that I saw was absolutely wonderful. For a visit. I imagine scraping my car off and shoveling my driveway would get old real quick.

Still, the three national parks I visited were all definitely within the “rocky red desert” part of the state, which has a wonder and beauty all its own:

I also noticed a pattern in the national parks I visited and the other tourists who were at these parks with me. These parks are clearly geared towards the outdoorsy, adventurous, doesn’t-mind-roughing-it crowd. There were campgrounds and hiking trails a-plenty, especially in Canyonlands, and most people I saw had brought at least a backpack, water bottle, and hiking shoes. I saw plenty of bikes, rock-climbing equipment, tents, RVs, and off-road vehicles. This was especially true at Canyonlands, the park with the fewest services and creature comforts. It had a single, tiny visitor center and outhouses for restrooms. It didn’t seem like the other people I saw at the park minded all that much; they were usually too busy getting their gear out and getting ready to hike the trails.

My favorite of the national parks I visited, though, would have to be Zion. It was far more, for lack of a better word, civilized than Canyonlands was. Not only does it have plenty of creature comforts like actual restrooms, a shuttle that takes you up the canyon, and a very nice lodge, but it also grades its trails so that you know which ones are good for beginners, intermediate hikers, and experts. I really appreciated that about it.

I also appreciated the amazing beauty of the place. The trail I took went up the Temple of Sinawava, the part of Zion Canyon where it first widens up around the Virgin River. It has some amazing sights, including the Weeping Cliffs, so-called because water from snow-melt seeps through the rock itself and runs down into the river.

The presence of the river in Zion really makes a difference with the wildlife that is present there. It has become an oasis and refuge in the Utah desert. According to the park’s museum, 70% of all plant species in Utah can be found only in that canyon! It is also home to 289 species of birds, 28 species of reptiles, and 79 species of mammals. The river itself is also home to 7 species of fish.

As you can tell, Zion was my favorite of the national parks that I visited during my trip, and I fully intend to go back there someday and explore even more of it. I still think that northern Arizona is my favorite travel destination, but Utah is now a very close second. This likely won’t be the last time you see me blogging about this wonderful state!

Why are so many Companies Moving to Ireland?

 

Galway Castle in Connacht, Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! I have talked about Irish history many times here on Cat Flag, but this year, I wanted to talk about something that is happening RIGHT NOW in the good ol’ Emerald Isle.

Right now, the largest medical device manufacturing company in the world is based in Éire. Dublin-based Medtronic makes everything from pacemakers to insulin pumps to surgical equipment. What a success story for a company that started as a single repair shop in 1949 in… Minnesota??

Another major manufacturing firm based in Dublin is Ingersoll-Rand, makers of heavy machinery for various industries. This company has grown to become a global superpower thanks to the luck of the Irish. Just kidding! Actually, shareholders of the already-huge American company voted to relocate their headquarters to Ireland in 2009.

For the past few years, many American companies have decided to pack their bags and move over the sea to the land of leprechauns and shamrocks. The list includes auto parts maker Johnson Controls, electric power equipment maker Eaton, pharmaceutical firm Perrigo, computer storage firm Seagate Technology, and consulting firm Accenture. Even those companies that aren’t willing to make such a huge commitment – learning Irish is hard, after all – will still choose Ireland as the base of their European operations. The largest company in the country is Apple Ireland, and the list of the largest firms in Ireland reads like a who’s who of major global enterprises: Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are all in the top 10.

So, why? What has got all these companies so interested in Ireland? Do they just like the taste of Guinness that much? Do they really believe the Irish are that lucky? Actually, it’s something a bit more practical…

TAXES

See, Ireland is the world’s largest tax haven.

Oh, wait, no, sorry. The Irish government insists it is NOT a tax haven. See, because most people see tax havens as a bad thing, a sneaky way for greedy companies to avoid paying their fair share. No, Ireland couldn’t possibly be a tax haven, it’s just a country that has decided to implement a tax scheme that benefits major multinational businesses in order to attract investments and jobs. Totally different thing.

Here in the United States, corporations pay federal income tax at a rate of 21%, plus whatever state taxes are charged in the states where they are based and do business. In Ireland, the corporate tax rate is only 12.5%, one of the world’s lowest. In addition, Ireland allows many companies to pay even less tax for certain kinds of business.

Let’s say you are a business that needs lots of patents, like a technology, manufacturing, or pharmaceutical firm. Any income you make from Irish patents you own is taxed at 6.25%. To Ireland, this encourages a robust research and development sector; to big American firms, it means they have an incentive to get lots of Irish patents.

It gets even better for multinational businesses, though. See, the United States only taxes foreign businesses on income that they make in the United States, thus for large companies that operate globally, becoming a foreign business by having your headquarters outside the United States is a very attractive option. Meanwhile, Ireland taxes income made outside Ireland differently than income made in Ireland, thanks to a series of tax treaties Ireland has concluded with many countries. This means some companies, like Apple, have made headlines for being able to get away with paying, in effect, only 4% in total on taxes. Indeed, headlines like this are one of the major reasons that the Trump administration and Congress thoroughly reformed U.S. tax law in 2017, to help close these legal loopholes. Ireland, on the other hand, gets 80% of its corporate tax income from multinational businesses, so it doesn’t exactly have an incentive to discourage these practices.

Besides, even with the United States now clamping down on companies that try to play fast and loose with their taxes, the number of businesses relocating to Ireland is about to go up, not down, thanks to one simple word…

BREXIT

The European Union is a topic I have covered many times here on Cat Flag before. It is a unique hybrid of international organization and federal government that 28 countries are a part of. However, that number is soon to become 27, as the United Kingdom is in the process of leaving the bloc. This is making many British companies think they would be better off taking a hop across the Irish sea.

Why? Well, big multinational businesses LOVE the European Union. They absolutely love it to pieces, and are one of the major forces behind its continued existence, growth in power, and expansion in spite of local opposition in many countries.

See, doing business around the world is very complicated. You have to comply with every local law in every country you operate in, pay taxes in each of these countries, and enforce your intellectual property rights in accordance with different standards in each country. The European Union, however, has harmonized the laws on the European continent, as EU law in things like trade, transportation, environmental and consumer safety regulations, intellectual property, and more takes precedence over the separate national laws. This is in much the same way that U.S. federal law trumps state law. Not only that, but within the EU there is a “single market” where goods and people can travel freely across the continent, making it much cheaper and faster to do business than having to pay tariffs and wait to check through customs at every border.

Companies in the United Kingdom made good use of these advantages, using London’s status as a global financial capital to expand across Europe with ease. With Brexit looming, though, British firms are facing being treated by the EU as foreign companies, subject to all the tariffs, trade restrictions, and regulations attached with that status.

But, wait, what’s this? An island that is right next door, that is staying in the EU, speaks English, and has really low taxes? How could a British company refuse? Already, 21 British companies in the financial services industry have plans to move to the Emerald Isle. These include Barclays and, ironically enough, Lloyd’s of London.

For Ireland, this transformation is bound to have a substantial impact on their economy and society. Once a nation known for famine and millions fleeing the island to settle across the world, in the very near future we may well think of Ireland as an economic powerhouse to which people around the world flock in search of opportunity. How the Irish people themselves respond to these changes is something that remains to be seen.

For now, though, I’d just like to wish you all a Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Sláinte!

Presidents’ Day: The Holiday that Doesn’t Exist

This weekend is a three-day weekend here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. The third Monday of February is Presidents’ Day, a day where we honor the history and legacy of our nation’s leaders by, apparently, holding big sales at all the major retail stores and car dealerships. It’s a day off of work for government employees and bankers, and a day off of school for children nationwide. This is the weekend where the Daytona 500 is held, and various historical societies will hold reenactments to educate Americans about our nation’s history.

Except Presidents Day doesn’t technically exist.

The official, legal name of the federal holiday is Washington’s Birthday. It is a holiday intended to honor George Washington and his role as father of our country. So, where did this President’s Day business come from?

Let’s start at the beginning. When George Washington was born, his birth date was recorded in colonial Virginia’s records as February 11, 1731. However, at that time Great Britain and its overseas colonies were all still using the Julian calendar, the ancient Roman calendar devised by Julius Caesar that had been phased out in most of western Europe in favor of the more accurate Gregorian calendar we use today. As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, the Gregorian calendar was adopted by Pope Gregory XIII for use by Roman Catholics, and many non-Catholic countries, such as Britain, were reluctant to adopt it. In 1752, however, the British decided to make the switch, and their colonies soon followed suit. At the time, it was common practice for people to “adjust” their birthdays to match the new calendar. For this reason, George Washington’s birthday was now February 22, 1732.

Washington was a modest man who really didn’t like making a big fuss about his birthday, and usually spent it the same way he would spend any other day. However, he couldn’t escape the enthusiasm of his countrymen. During the War of Independence, the Continental Army’s band would play music for him outside his quarters. Once he became president, big parties were thrown in his honor all across the nation. After his death, the day remained a popular holiday among Americans, but it only became an official federal holiday – meaning it would be a legal day off for workers and students – in 1879.

Posters like these were used to inform people that businesses would be closed on the day

Of course, this was after the presidency and death of that OTHER great American leader we all know and love:

Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as the man who led America through the Civil War, freed the slaves, and became the first U.S. president to be assassinated led to many wanting to honor his memory with an official holiday. The city of Buffalo, New York, held a celebration on his birthday in 1873, and one of the city’s prominent residents, Julius Francis, lobbied Congress to make Lincoln’s Birthday a federal holiday. Unfortunately for Francis, Congress never did, perhaps in part because of the bitter feelings felt in a certain collection of states that had just been brought back into the Union. *Ahem.*

Still, many states decided to go ahead and make Lincoln’s Birthday an official state holiday, meaning that within their state it would be a day off of work and school for festivities honoring Honest Abe and his legacy. To this day, the anniversary of Lincoln’s birth is marked by ceremonies at his birthplace and at the Lincoln Memorial.

Just one problem. Lincoln was also born in February. His birthday was February 12, 1809. This means that Lincoln and Washington have birthdays that are only 10 days apart.

This came to be an issue in the 1960s, as Congress began trying to reorganize American federal holidays to create fewer disruptions to business and commerce. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was adopted, moving several national holidays, including Washington’s Birthday, so that they always fall on a Monday. It was reasoned that creating the “three-day weekend” as a standard for American holidays would benefit businesses and workers and reduce the number of awkward workweeks that are split in two by a holiday falling mid-week.

This desire to reduce disruptions to the workweek also motivated most of those states that had made Lincoln’s Birthday an official state holiday to combine it with Washington’s Birthday. Otherwise, these states would end up with two holidays, back to back, in the same month. So it was that states like Colorado, Indiana, Montana, Minnesota, Ohio and Utah ended up adopting a merged holiday, naming it something like “Washington-Lincoln Day” or “Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday”.

However, these names weren’t very snappy. Many businesses in the retail industry quickly realized that this would be a good time of the year to push their February sales, but they wanted a catchy name that people would immediately recognize. Since the day honored two famous U.S. presidents, they decided to go with “Presidents Day”. Their advertising popularized this name, and it quickly became the name most Americans used for the holiday, and gradually, most states adopted this name for it as well.

There was an interesting consequence, though, to having this name being one that was popularized informally. Have you noticed that I have been inconsistent throughout this blog post about how I punctuate Presidents’ Day? This is deliberate, and it’s because there is no consistent punctuation for President’s Day. Different states will place the apostrophe before or after the “s”, or drop it altogether. Arizona makes things even more complicated, officially calling it “Lincoln/Washington/Presidents’ Day”, thus defeating the whole point of adopting the shorter, easier “Presidents’ Day” name.

Inconsistency between the states making things more complicated is one of the defining characteristics of this holiday. Today, the vast majority of the states honor Presidents Day, by whatever name, as a way to combine the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington into a single holiday. However, six states still honor Lincoln’s Birthday as a separate holiday, accepting that they will have two holidays in quick succession: Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, New York, and my home state of California.

Meanwhile, some southern states that sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War have gone the exact opposite route, refusing to honor Lincoln with a holiday. Virginia simply has George Washington Day, and Louisiana has Washington’s Birthday. Oddly enough, Massachusetts, a Union state, also only honors George Washington’s birthday, though this may in part be because the state has a separate “Presidents Day” held on May 29 to honor the many U.S. presidents that were born in the state.

Alabama and Arkansas, however, take it one step further. They are so opposed to honoring Lincoln that they actually decided to honor someone else alongside Washington on the third Monday of February. In Alabama, they have “George Washington/Thomas Jefferson Birthday” as their celebration, even though Jefferson was born in April. Then again, this is the same state that decided it would be a good idea to designate the third Monday of January as “Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday”, so I guess rational consistency in their holidays is just a bit too much to ask of Alabama’s politicians.

Arkansas, on the other hand, decided to name the third Monday of February “George Washington and Daisy Gatson Bates Day”. Daisy Gatson Bates was an African-American journalist, newspaper owner, and civil rights activist whose Arkansas State Press reported on the controversies surrounding the racial integration of schools in Little Rock in 1957.

Who would have guessed that something so seemingly simple as a holiday would turn out to be so darn complicated? Well, I suppose whatever holiday you happen to be celebrating this weekend, I certainly hope you have a good one.