Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Armistice Day

"I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method (the League of Nations) by which to prevent it."

- Woodrow Wilson, trying to sell the League of Nations to the American public in the fall of 1919.

The Senate shot down the League of Nations proposal. 63 nations did sign on, but the League couldn't prevent Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Shortly after that, Italy, Japan and Germany pulled out of the League of Nations.

Don't forget to hug a Vet today.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


During a recent trip to Japan, Lady T____ and I toured Kanazawa, a town of about 450,000 in Ishikawa Prefecture, a peninsula jetting out into the Sea of Japan.
We took the bullet train (aka shinkansen) from Omiya to Echigo-Yuzawa, a little over halfway across Honshu, well in the mountains and not too terribly far from Nagano, as the crow flies. That took only about 30 minutes. Be forewarned, if you ever take the shinkansen from Omiya and window gazing is at all important to you, be sure to get your seat on the upper level, as cement barriers along the tracks block most of the view for those on the lower level. On the way back, we were on the upper level and enjoyed an impressive nighttime view as the shinkansen sped along past the miniature buildings of the Kanto plain. The view from the traditional JR line during that two and half hour leg of the trip was more noteworthy, especially in the mountains. Though there were plenty of industrial scenes for each town, there were also plenty of picturesque views of country living - rice paddies and farm houses, country roads, etc., as the photos show. At some point, we reached the coast and followed it down for about an hour. The view became somewhat monotonous, ocean on one side, verdant mountain inclines on the other. For much of way I noticed a shinkansen line under construction, apparently connecting Echigo-Yuzawa. It seemed about halfway complete.
The historic areas of Kanazawa were in one part of the town and to get there, the train traversed some significant urban sprawl, though nothing compared to that of Tokyo or Osaka, before reaching the artistically conscious Hokutetsu-Kanazawa Station conveniently located at one end of the Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus loop, the tourist part of the city snuggled up the mountains. The buses on the Kenrokuen Loop can take you to pretty much all the sites within minutes. The name, Kenrokuen, refers to the most prominent point on the loop, a large garden considered to be one of the top three in all of Japan.

Kanazawa is notable because it is the second largest city in Japan (behind Kyoto) that was not bombed by us during the war, which means that it has several prewar historic sites intact. First and foremost, in my mind, was Nagamachi, an old neighborhood for the samurai class that offered several varying historic sites including a museum dedicated to the ruling Maeda family, a restored home of the upper-class samurai family, Nomura, and some reconstructed homes of the ashigaru, the foot soldier class. It was an interesting district. The highlight being the home of the Nomura clan, which had an ideal garden (shown) for a back yard. The tea room on the second floor opened up to the same garden from atop the trees. It was an ideal place to relax. Although the weather on the day of our visit was rainy and muggy, the small tea room invited a pleasent breeze that made it cool and refreshing.

The Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan Museum, dedicated to the ruling Maeda family, offered some scrolls and record books going make to the late 1700 and early 1800s, but was scarce on artifacts and offered little in the way of English translations. The latter seemed odd to me, as I'd heard this area was popular among the gaijin living in Tokyo. I did notice that the the museum was currently working to remedy that. They provided me with a headset for translations, though only a portion of the tour was translated. The most enlightening portion of the Maeda museum was the video explain how the historic town was zoned by class. Also, there was an impressive suit of armor on display.

The tea-house district makes for an enjoyable stroll, though we did not have the necessary time to explore the interior of several of its homes and shops. We did, however, enjoy some green tea ice cream served up with some mochi balls and sweet bean.

Kenrokuen Garden sits on some high ground, the summit of Yamazaki yama overlooking a swath of the city neighborhoods. The garden dates back to the 17th century and went through a variety of manifestations before it was opened to the public in 1874. If you enjoy waterfalls, groomed trees, coy ponds and a variety of flora and fauna, then this place is not to be missed. The descriptions in brochures almost always mention that Kenrokuen Garden is one of the top three gardens in Japan - which is pretty high praise indeed.

Across the street from the garden is the Kanazawa Castle. Unfortunately, time restraints prevented us from exploring it, though we managed to observe it from the outside. The history of the castle is a series of fires and rebuilding. In 2001, much of the castle was rebuilt to its early 19th century manifestation.

I would not be fulfilling my blog duties if I failed to mention the Omicho fish market. Most of our meals were eaten there. It was a little more bustling than the Nijo Fish Market in Sapporo (Nijo offered great crabs and plenty of good sashimi - perhaps I was just there off-season), and a little less bustling than the incomparable Makishi Market in Naha, Okinawa. Still, it was a splendid place to view fish and fruits. The sushi was most excellent.

Had time permitted, there were many other things to do in Kanazawa, including a contemporary art museum, Ninjadera, and the Oyama Shrine...not to mention the sites along the Ishikawa peninsula coast.

The next portion of our trip brought us to the small hot springs town of Kaga, but that's a post to itself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fledgling Freedom takes a baby step forward in Honduras - Update: Nevermind

I haven't seen any other reports about this, and I don't trust the declaration that Honduras has won, as the link suggests, but it seems that the the tide is turning for the pro-constitutionalist freedom lovers in Honduras and that their exiled president, a wannabe-socialist-dictator, will remain in the dustbin of history. The U.S. apparently is no longer pushing for sanctions against the interim government of a free Honduras, though Obama is still calling for Mel Zelaya to be returned to power as of Monday and our State Department is still playing games with Honduran visas.

Fortunately, congress can't find anything illegal about the interim government, so that should tie our President's hands from doing anything too undemocratic to the little Central American country.

"President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president and, for the sake of the Honduran people, democratic and constitutional order must be restored," Obama said. "Our three nations stand united on this issue."

Oy! I'm no Honduran constitutional lawyer, and I'm pretty sure our President isn't either, but it seems that ousting Zelaya was restoring order. That guy was bad news and if there was any doubt about it, just look at his supporters. It's hard to fathom how wrong President Obama has been on Honduras. It's about as wrong as he's been on Iran. I don't know how he sleeps at night. I suppose years of leftist ideology teachings have left their mark.

UPDATE: The story initially linked was inaccurate and nothing has changed: our State Department and President are still trying to tar the interim government with the word "coup" and still working to cut their aid and force them to accept the dictator instead of their constitution.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Grasses of Idleness #55

from Kenko
"A house should be built with the summer in mind. In winter it is possible to live anywhere, but a badly made house is unbearable when it gets hot.

There is nothing cool-looking about deep water; a shallow, flowing stream is far cooler. When you are reading fine print you will find that a room with sliding doors is lighter than one with hinged shutters. A room with a high ceiling is cold in winter and dark by lamplight. People agree that a house which has plenty of spare room is attractive to look at and may be put to many different uses."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Grasses of Idleness #71

from Kenko
"As soon as I hear a name I feel convinced I can guess what the owner looks like, but it never happens, when I actually meet the man, that his face is as I had supposed. I wonder if everybody shares my experience of feeling, when I hear some story about the past, that the house mentioned in the story must have been rather like this or that house belonging to people of today, or that the persons of the story resemble people I see now.

It has happened on various occasions too that I have felt, just after someone has said something or I have seen something or thought of something, that it has occurred before. I cannot remember when it was, but I feel absolutely certain that the thing has happened. Am I the only one who has such impressions?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grasses of Idleness #82

by Kenko
"Someone once remarked that thin silk was not satisfactory as a scroll wrapping because it was so easily torn. Tona replied, "It is only after the silk wrapper has frayed at top and bottom, and the mother-of-pearl has fallen from the roller that a scroll looks beautiful." This opinion demonstrated the excellent taste of the man. People often say that a set of books looks ugly if all volumes are not in the same format, but I was impressed to hear the Abbot Koyu say, "It is typical of the unintelligent man to insist on assembling complete sets of everything. Imperfect sets are better."

In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth. Someone once told me, "Even when building the imperial palace, they always leave one place unfinished." In both Buddhist and Confucian writings of the philosophers of former times, there are also many missing chapters."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grasses of Idleness #25

from the Buddhist priest, Kenko:"The world is as unstable as the pools and shallows of Asuka River. Times change and things disappear: joy and sorrow come and go; a place that once thrived turns into uninhabited moor; a house may remain unaltered, but its occupants will have changed. The peach and the damson trees in the garden say nothing - with whom is one to reminisce about the past? I feel this sense of impermanence even more sharply when I see the remains of a house which long ago, before I knew it, must have been imposing."

A note on Kenko: Yoshida Kenko is a priest of the Zen sect. He wrote Grasses of Idleness (AKA Essays of Idleness) from 1330-1332, during the very end of the Kamakura shogunate under the Hojo Regents, marking the transition from a patrician to a feudal culture (according to George Sansom's Japan: A Short Cultural History). He will, for an undetermined space of time, serve as Liverputty's man outside of the court intrigue of Kyoto.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

167 years from this day!

Yes, dear reader, as Herman Melville lived, 167 years from this date he jumped ship and began an exotic adventure that jump started one of America’s great and tragic literary careers. There’s nothing particularly significant about 167, unless you’re predisposed to celebrate prime numbers. I just ran across the date the other day and it stuck to me since I've been reading Hershel Parker’s Herman Melville, A Biography: Volume 2, 1851-1891, an account so exhaustive it has kept my lips moving for several months – and prodded me into a renewed interest in poetry. I’ve spent so much time reading about Mr. Melville and, in the interim, his own work, and in so doing become so attached to him that I’m sure I’ll get emotional when he passes, especially knowing that he departed the world not knowing that his work would ever be celebrated.

But his first two books, Typee: A Peep At Polynesian Life and Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas, were very popular in their day, so today’s anniversary is a joyous occasion, marking the time when a new mode of travel adventure was created and made Mr. Melville one of the first sex symbols of America with expertly crafted narratives of jumping ship, bathing with young Fayaway, partaking of calabashes of poee-poee, stirring up mutinies, combing the beaches of Tahiti, bowling in the Sandwich Islands before such alleys were known in the States, and serving aboard a United States Man-of-War.

So celebrate: prepare a vessel of bo-a-sho, crack open a young coconut and enjoy a chaw of arva root. Let Herman Melville know you care.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Kennedy - An Early Promoter of Tax Cuts to Fuel the Economy

An except from Robert Dallek's "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917 - 1963":

Kennedy also hoped that appeals to the national well-being might sway congressional majorities to support a tax cut and other reforms. In his January 1963 State of the Union message, he announced a program of changes, which he described as essential to the nation’s future. Although the most recent recession was over, with a million more people working than two years before, this was no time to relax. “The mere absence of recession is not growth,” he said. To achieve greater expansion, “one step above all, is essential – the enactment this year of a substantial reduction and revision in Federal income taxes….It is exceedingly clear…that our obsolete tax system exerts too heavy a drag on private purchasing power, profits, and employment.” He proposed to lower tax liabilities by $13.5 billion, $11 billion on individuals and $1.5 billion on corporations. Individual tax rates were to drop from between 20 and 91 percent “to a more sensible range of 14 to 65 percent.” The corporate rate would drop 5 points from 52 to 47 percent. To combat the temporary deficits anticipated by the cuts, Kennedy proposed phasing them in over three years and holding expenditures, except for defense and space, below current levels.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

233 Years of Sweet Luscious Aroma-Therapeutic Independence

Despite our current President’s reluctance to adequately value Liberty in the big bad World, evidenced by his half-hearted, fool-headed response to freedom seekers in Iran and his flagrantly appalling response to the Honduran's trying to preserve their democracy, American Independence is still worthy of universal celebration, as it has benefited the earth many times over. Our Declaration of Independence is a tenacious piece of paper whose spirit still ripples outward from Manifest Destiny and beyond: to the fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe under the ominous shadow of the Russian bear; to the world's second largest economy in East Asia enjoying unprecedented freedoms and prosperity; to the Parisian youth enjoying his right to demonstrate; to the Shiite in Basra free to take part in her government; to the South Korean, mourning the plight of family living in the North, but thankful people in Seoul have it a hundred-fold better; to the Vietnamese-American in every state of the Union enjoying prosperity instead of being cold and dead; to Afghan girls, still bearing a lot of oppression, but able to go to a school; to the Italian that remembers Mussolini and Hitler - American Independence was there.

God bless our forefathers for their incredible contribution to mankind and to the heroic men and women who have fought to defend it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

deadCENTER, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, North America, United States, Western Hemisphere, Earth

Our very own Shelby Button (AKA Charlie Parsley, AKA Farm Boy) went to OKC's premiere film festival featuring serious cinematic features as indicated in the shot above (the aftermath of some bad Popeye's methinks) and then turned around and filed a report over at the House Next Door.

Monday, June 22, 2009

And the punks shall inherit the Earth

"I know a lot of you are saying 'What can I do? I'm just a little punk. I don't count.' Well, you're dead wrong! The little punks have always counted because in the long run the character of a country is the sum total of the character of its little punks.

But, we've all got to get in there and pitch. We can't win the old ballgame unless we have teamwork. And that's where every John Doe comes in. It's up to him to get together with his teammates. And your teammate, my friend, is the guy next door to you. Your neighbor -- he's a terribly important guy that guy next door. You're gonna need him and he's gonna need you, so look him up. If he's sick, call on him. If he's hungry, feed him. If he's out of a job, find him one."

- John Doe, "Meet John Doe"

And in case you need more of a kick in the's the First Lady. I don't want to be the one to tell her I'm too busy to help my neighbor.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Easy Pickin's: The Gerald R. Ford Museum

Last week, a business trip took me to Grand Rapids, Michigan, home to 38th President Gerald R. Ford. The museum was just across the Grand River from my hotel, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity, even for someone considered to be a caretaker president.

As is typical, the museum starts off with a 20-minute video, in which the late president himself takes some credit for ending the Cold War. While this may sound like an overreach, in reality, foreign policy regarding the Soviet Union was actually a consistent thread from Truman through George H. W. Bush. Reagan had great follow-through in knocking down what had been teed up for him by previous presidents. No doubt Ford getting Brezhnev to recognize the principle of human rights at Helsinki further eroded the foundation of Stalin's legacy.

The exhibits themselves started off with a cultural check of the mess that was the 70s. Personally, I could have done without the reminder that white guys wore Afros in the days that disco was king, as well as the persistence of bell bottoms. I suppose, however, a museum devoted to the 5th-most-short-lived presidency has to have some filler.

The next space is devoted to Watergate, the genesis of Ford's ascension. It doesn't pull any punches in detailing the disaster Nixon created, while detailing the justification of Ford's pardon of Nixon. I honestly think Ford truly believed it would help move the country forward.

Interspersed with the story of how Ford became the first person not elected as president or vice-president is the requisite biography. The most interesting detail is LBJ's insistence that Ford serve on the Warren Commission (and that Ford and JFK had been friends in the House).

The foreign policy area is the most compelling. During his tenure, Ford had a hand in the following:
  • Overseeing the hasty evacuation of Americans from Saigon to close out the Vietnam War. Interestingly, he pushed to open America's borders to 130,000 refugees of South Vietnam, something Congress was reluctant to do. He saw it as living up to our commitment to those who support democracy and freedom. (The museum includes the stairwell used to get to the rooftop helipad of the American embassy...again, a symbol of freedom to Ford.)
  • Evacuating Americans from Lebanon after the assassination of the American ambassador.
  • Conclusion of Sadat's initiative for Egypt to sign peace with Israel. Kissinger had an active role, and Ford did his part by keeping all of Nixon's cabinet that remained at Ford's inauguration.
  • The Helsinki meeting with Brezhnev and signing of Salt II.
  • Starting the Group of 7, forerunner to today's G-20. Ford saw the G-7 as a way to figure out a way to break OPEC's lock on oil prices. Some people see the G-7/G-8/G-20 as a financial cabal, but we're probably better off when the world's richest countries try to coordinate efforts.
There were a number of displays that were not functioning during my tour. Again, probably the cost of maintaining a museum for a president that doesn't stir the passions of partisan supporters the way Clinton or Reagan does. However, the critical exhibits were functioning, and they were enlightening.

A section is devoted to Betty Ford as first lady. The one point that interested me was her support of the Equal Rights Amendment.

On the domestic front, Ford faced the following problems:

  • Blowback from not writing a blank check for NYC's bailout. He tied any federal assistance to budget reforms that helped New York cut much red ink. Congressman Ed Koch blasted Ford, but the President foresaw other municipalities lining up if New York got its bailout.
  • 9.5% unemployment and 15% inflation. The Democratic Congress wanted to tackle unemployment with more government spending. Ford dropped a number of vetoes on spending bills. The end result was expanded unemployment assistance, but less spending than Congress initially wanted. This paved the way for inflation to fall under 6% in Carter's first year. Fortunately for the current administration, inflation is not tying their hands.
  • 2 assassination attempts in less than a month, one by a Manson follower. Did I mention how much the 70's sucked?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Random Vice-Presidential Quote of the Day

"Dick Russel is absolutely shittin' a squealin' worm. He thinks it's a disgrace for a kid who's never practiced law to be appointed (Attorney General)....I agree with him."

- Lyndon Johnson on RFK's appointment as AG
From "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Using Market Forces to Solve Many of the U.S. Healthcare Problems

I recently took a detour from presidential bios to read Tim Harford's "The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!" (2006). The book makes economics accessible to the layperson, and reinforces my belief that market forces are the best way to solve problems, since the underlying motivation for everyone is self-interest. (And really, I owe a debt to P.J. O'Rourke for bringing me around to that viewpoint.) Altruism, while nice, isn't sustainable.

Harford does a great job of explaining how scarcity and inside information affect pricing, how Starbuck's customers signal they aren't bothered by price, and how China has made a more successful transition to capitalism than Russia.

In Chapter 5, he details how a national healthcare system could use market forces to encourage patients to ration their own healthcare, while avoiding medical catasrophes that bankrupt them. Additionally, it would make sure the poor were able to afford health care:

"These requirements suggest: people should pay for all medical care; but insurance should cover the largest bills; and that everyone should have a savings account dedicated to medical expenses, to which the government would contribute in the case of the poor or the chronically ill.

Catastrophe insurance, which pays out only when a particular course of treatment is very expensive, is fairly cheap. The savings are no problem either; simply reduce each person's tax bill by, say, $1,500 a year - this is very roughly the cost, in taxes, of both the UK and the US public health systems - and make them put the money in a savings account. For people who pay less than $1,500 in tax a year, the government would contribute money to make up the shortfall. Since the system is compulsory, no adverse selection takes place.

If you participated in such a program, how would it work for you? Your health-care savings would automaticaly go into a high-interest bank account. They would build up gradually throughout your life. For most people, medical bills are low in their younger years. So you could expect to have thirty thousand dollars in your account when you turn forty; more, if you've managed to keep your spending low and watched the money earn interest. Thirty thousand dollars buys a lot of medical care. Of course, it could all be consumed by a single expensive procedure, except that catastrophe insurance restricts your expenses."

He goes on to suggest that the health savings accounts could be willed to heirs, so that at all stages of a patient's life, they would have an incentive to avoid over-using health care. This would avoid having the government making decisions on what procedures were appropriate for any diagnosis.

And the system sketched out has been used in Singapore for more than 20 years, where the average life span is 80, an the total private and public cost of the system is $1,000 per person. Granted, the diet of the average Singaporean is probably significantly different than the average American, but if patients shoulder more of the health expenses incurred by obesity, then perhaps the average serving plate at The Cheesecake Factor would begin to shrink.

Now, while this type of system may not be exactly what Obama had in mind, it does line up with the 3 principles he has outlined:

  • Reduce costs — Rising health care costs are crushing the budgets of governments, businesses, individuals, and families, and they must be brought under control
  • Guarantee choice — Every American must have the freedom to choose their plan and doctor – including the choice of a public insurance option
  • Ensure quality care for all — All Americans must have quality and affordable health care
And, unlike the Clinton plan, it does not put the burden of providing coverage on employers.

Monday, May 25, 2009

for Memorial Day

a poem from Herman Melville's Battle Pieces (1866)

On the Men of Maine
killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Afar they fell. It was the zone
Of fig and orange, cane and lime
(A land how all unlike their own,
With the cold pine-grove overgrown),
But still their Country's clime.
And there in youth they died for her -
The Volunteers,
For her went up their dying prayers:
So vast the Nation, yet so strong the tie.
What doubt shall come, then, to deter
The Republic's earnest faith and courage high.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Random Presidential Quote of the Week (or other time period of your choosing)

"If one thing was bored into me as a result of my experience in the Middle as well as the Far East, it is that Communism cannot be met effectively by merely the force of arms. The central core of our Middle Eastern policy is [or should be] not the export of arms or the show of armed might but the export of ideas, of techniques, and the rebirth of our traditional sympathy for and understanding of the desires of men to be free."

- JFK, after a 1951 tour of Israel, Iran, Pakistan, India, Singapore, Thailand, French Indochina, Korea, and Japan

Thursday, April 16, 2009

All Presidents Were Not Created Equal

by Dude
In a bid to better understand our country's history, I've begun reading presidential biographies. All too often, history is presented as a collection as facts. But it's so much more than that. It's an inter-tangling of compelling story lines. (Jefferson Davis was the son-in-law of Zachary Taylor, and served under him during the Mexican War. Robert E. Lee was married to Martha Washington's great-granddaughter.) The path someone takes to becoming president says a lot about how they will act as president. (As the son of the ambassador to England, JFK sat in the gallery when Neville Chamberlain, Churchill, and the rest of the Parliament laid out the reasons England was going to war with Germany.) Some men stumbled into the presidency (Taylor), while others followed the ambitious bootstraps model (Lincoln).

A side effect of reading the bios is that they reinforce each other, so stories are etched in memory better then a college course. Jefferson's election was a reaction the Federalist administration of Adams. Jackson's was a counter to the perceived "Corrupt Bargain" JQA supposedly made with Henry Clay.

So, it's really interesting so far. There are more dynasties than you might think (Bush, Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt), but there are a number that came out of nowhere (Lincoln, Cleveland, Jackson, Polk, Zachary Taylor....well, unless you count that Taylor was cousins with Madison...though he never played that up).

Some were great in roles other than being president, but only so-so at best while president. We owe Jefferson for our intellectual legacy ("all men were created equal"), but he's also a guy tormented by slavery, perhaps having even fathered a son into slavery. Madison was a great Speaker of the House, although that position doesn't lend itself to being the Chief Executive.

Grant was a better general than president. Too often, generals make the assumption that their military colleagues will behave the same way in the civilian world as they do within the military framework. And too often their colleagues respond by grafting the federal coffers. Grant does make up for it with intriguing memoirs of the Civil War.

In the first few dozen years, being Secretary of State was a sure stepping stone to the White House. However, Buchanan broke that string (probably by letting the South secede).

Someone asked me the other day if Buchanan could have done anything about secession. I say hell yes...we only have to look at Andrew Jackson, a Tennesean who threatened to send federal troops to the South when South Carolina threatened to bail. (Don't get me started on South Carolina....for 70 years or more, they never really wanted to be a part of the Union).

What really intrigues me is the notion of how a Chief Executive tries to carry out his agenda while being buffeted by the waves of domestic and foreign events. Clearly Lincoln responded much more vigorously than Buchanan. Cleveland moved his agenda forward, but he didn't have the nation-wrenching discord that LBJ did. (Though truth be told...LBJ made some hellified progress on his domestic agenda, despite it all.)

Polk answered the question I had about what would happen if a president announced he would not run for re-election before starting his first term...we marched down to Mexico City to claim New Mexico, California, and Arizona as ours, while cementing our rights to Texas all the way down to the Rio Grande. Mission accomplished. Or at least, his was.

Lincoln is my favorite to date. He salvaged the Union. Some might argue that without Washington, there would have been no Union. That is truth owing more to Washington being an exceptional general than to Washington being a great president. Maybe it's Washington steering the middle course between the entanglements of France and Britain that makes him seem a hair's breadth behind Lincoln as a president.

However, it should be noted that Washington very nearly freed his slaves while he was alive. He made arrangements to have those he owned (not those inherited from Martha's family) to be freed upon his death. During the Revolutionary War, his mindset changed from one of low regard for African-Americans to a realization that they were every bit as capable as European Americans. His second cousin was saved by a black man at the Battle of Cowpens. Additionally, received a poetry reading from Phyllis Wheatly, a slave from Gambia later freed by her Boston owners.

Interestingly, July 4th is quite the date. Adams and Jefferson, who patched their friendship a dozen years after Jefferson left office, died on the 50th anniversary of our Nation's Independence. Grant won the siege of Vicksburg on July 4th, the day after Meade blunted Lee's northern invasion at Gettysburg.

Some presidents may take more than one reading. The complexities and lasting impact of Lincoln, Washington and FDR cannot be contained within one book.

So far, 15 down, 28 to go (Cleveland won the popular vote thrice; the electoral twice, but non-consecutively). But damned if I can find a non-fiction book on Millard Fillmore in my local library...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Gloomy humbugs and bug bears

From Melville's The Confidence Man, which I've been rereading after finishing P.T. Barnum's Struggles and Triumphs (more on that later...maybe. I haven't been into commitment of late). The following is from Chapter IX: "Two Business Men Transact a Little Business." The two men are discussing the stock market:

"Why, the most monstrous of all hypocrites are these bears: hypocrites by inversion; hypocrites in the simulation of things dark instead of bright; souls that thrive, less upon depression, than the fiction of depression; professors of the wicked art of manufacturing depressions; spurious Jeremiahs; sham Heraclituses, who, the lugubrious day done, return, like sham Lazaruses among the beggars, to make merry over the gains got by their pretended sore heads—scoundrelly bears!"

"You are warm against these bears?"

"If I am, it is less from the remembrance of their stratagems as to our stock, than from the persuasion that these same destroyers of confidence, and gloomy philosophers of the stock-market, though false in themselves, are yet true types of most destroyers of confidence and gloomy philosophers, the world over. Fellows who, whether in stocks, politics, bread-stuffs, morals, metaphysics, religion—be it what it may—trump up their black panics in the naturally-quiet brightness, solely with a view to some sort of covert advantage. That corpse of calamity which the gloomy philosopher parades, is but his Good-Enough-Morgan."

"I rather like that," knowingly drawled the youth. "I fancy these gloomy souls as little as the next one. Sitting on my sofa after a champagne dinner, smoking my plantation cigar, if a gloomy fellow come to me—what a bore!"

"You tell him it's all stuff, don't you?"

"I tell him it ain't natural. I say to him, you are happy enough, and you know it; and everybody else is as happy as you, and you know that, too; and we shall all be happy after we are no more, and you know that, too; but no, still you must have your sulk."

"And do you know whence this sort of fellow gets his sulk? not from life; for he's often too much of a recluse, or else too young to have seen anything of it. No, he gets it from some of those old plays he sees on the stage, or some of those old books he finds up in garrets. Ten to one, he has lugged home from auction a musty old Seneca, and sets about stuffing himself with that stale old hay; and, thereupon, thinks it looks wise and antique to be a croaker, thinks it's taking a stand-way above his kind."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Incredibly big shoes to fill

"As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before Nine-Eleven. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our Nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe."He did just that...and more.
I had a pretty long piece lined up detailing his term in office, the absurdity of his critics and the scourge that is BDS - but there's a lot of articles out there saying most of the same things I would have (though even many of the more glowing ones don't give him the credit he deserves).  I'm thinking a simple expression of gratitude is best.

I am truly grateful we had a man of his integrity, resolve, humility and wisdom in office when our nation needed him most. A lot of people were saying 2008 was the most important election in our lifetime, but I thought more was a stake in 2004 and we got darn lucky that Bush prevailed.  

He is a moderate Muslim's best friend - especially moderate Muslim women. He has absorbed a tremendous amount of hate from all over, but kept his eye on the ball and remained a class act.  Despite what the critics think, he brought honor and dignity back to the Oval Office.  He protected every American with unyielding vigor, whether they suffered from BDS, drawing horns and swastikas on his likeness, cursing his name or whether they admired him like I did.  Often, he seemed to be the only adult in a Beltway of children.  I hope his successor appreciates everything he's done and builds on his successes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A good name for a ship

Today was a proud day for the US Navy. The last of the Nimitz class carriers, the USS George H W Bush, was commissioned and is projected to spend the next 50 years protecting America.