Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Muhammad Ali and a Forgotten Role

This is a somewhat forgotten story about 'The Champ.'  In 1990, Muhammad Ali traveled to Iraq to press a plea for peace and negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the release of U. S. citizens taken hostage after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.  Herein, find the video story.  It is compelling.

Ali is a major cultural, sports, political figure of our time. He was certainly a hero of mine.  He has been a philanthropist, a social activist,  maverick, a rebel, a character of our time......indeed "The Greatest."

Monday, February 25, 2013

The First African Americans in Congress

On February 25, 1870, exactly 143 years ago today, Hiram R. Revels was sworn into the U.S. Senate, making him the first black person to ever sit in Congress.

After the Reconstruction Act of 1867 was passed by a majority-Republican Congress, the South was divided into five military districts and all men, regardless of race were granted voting rights. Revels was elected by the Mississippi legislature, and seven black representatives were later elected for states like Alabama, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia thanks, in large part, to the support of African American voters.

Revels and some 15 other black men served in Congress during Reconstruction, and more than 600 served in state legislatures, while hundreds held local offices.

The Reconstruction Era is an engaging study in southern history, albeit complicated and prone to varied interpretation and analysis.  While 1877 is the usual date given for the end of Reconstruction, some historians extend the era to the 1890s. Reconstruction is unanimously considered a failure, though the reason for this is a matter of controversy.

- The Dunning School (in history department at Columbia University) considered failure inevitable because they felt that taking the power away from Southern whites was a violation of republicanism.

- A second school sees the reason for failure as Northern Republicans' lack of effectiveness in guaranteeing political rights to blacks.

- A third school blames the failure of not giving land to the freedmen so they could have their own economic base of power.

- A fourth school sees the major reason for failure of reconstruction as the states' inability to suppress the violence of Southern whites when they sought reversal for blacks' gains. Historian Nicole Etcheson points to the "violence that crushed black aspirations and the abandonment by Northern whites of Southern Republicans." Etcheson wrote that it is hard to see Reconstruction "as concluding in anything but failure." Etcheson adds, "W. E. B. DuBois captured that failure well when he wrote in Black Reconstruction in America (1935): 'The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.'"

Historian Donald R. Shaffer maintained that the gains during Reconstruction for African Americans were not entirely to no avail. The legalization of African American marriage and family and the independence of black churches from white denominations were a source of strength during the Jim Crow era. Reconstruction was never forgotten in the black community and remained as a source of pride and inspiration well into the mid and late 20th century.

Brandon Shepherd Photography

Above is a wonderful sunset photograph of the Chattanooga National Cemetery.  There is tremendous and rich southern history in Chattanooga, particularly Civil War history around Lookout Mountain.  The picture above was taken by my son-in-law, Brandon Shepherd, and it appeared on local NewsChannel 9 in Chattanooga recently.

Attached here is Brandon's photography blog.  He has quite an "eye".  He is doing a great deal of photograhy work in his spare time.  His work is just outstanding.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Evolving Facebook Experience

Facebook continues to amaze me.   Much of the time I clearly use Facebook as a platform to express my views on various social and political issues.  I use it to read and get exposure to the views of others.  The dialogue shapes and moves forward thought and opinion.   In addition, I use Facebook to stay abreast of family, immediate and extended, and friends, and their activities and events of life.  I use it to share about hobbies and interests.

But Facebook is becoming much more and is evolving.  Today I read about an old friend who was moved to Hospice in Banner Elk.  I may not have found out otherwise, or certainly not as quickly.  I have already contacted a member of his family as a result of the post.

I read on Facebook today about a friend who attended, reluctantly, the auction of his Mother's estate.  A portion of his posted comments: "I stayed outside and watched as people I'd never seen before and will never see again, drove off with their pickups full of furniture in which I used to tuck my nephews into bed and read to my nieces. Strangers walked down the driveway with items that I had seen on a regular basis for 50 years."  His total post was quite moving and probably very therapeutic for him.

He got such affirming, warm, and loving comments and responses.  "It's kind of like saying goodbye to old friends.....I remember when mom and dad sold the house I grew up in....I walked through when it was totally empty, and I could hear the echoes of my childhood....and the memories both good and bad coursed through my mind....", posted one  of his friends.  He received many comments along the line of , "I'm sure that it was difficult to watch. Other people can take your material possessions, but they can never take your memories. Hang in there

(Update: Another post which appeared under my friend's post: "Beautiful post, Bill. Thanks for sharing your experience, as always. The week my 14-year old son died from leukemia, we had a middle of the night heart to heart in which he bequeathed his possessions, few though they were, and told me what photo to use in the newspaper. He told me how much he loved his room and asked what I was going to do with it. I was stunned and not ready for the question. I told him I would probably leave it as is and come in there to feel his presence.  Danny knew that I was just embarking on art-making and said, 'Use my room as your studio.' That boy changed my life forever..."). Yes, the power of facebook.  

Mickey Charles Mantle

The picture of the day is that of Mickey Charles Mantle, one of the most iconic athletes of the 20th century.  Next to Michael Jordan, no other athlete has continued to resonate with his fan base like The Mick.  His memorabilia and signature continue to increase in value, decades after his death.
Mickey was, of course, the top draw for the New York Yankees dynasty of the 1950's. 

Mickey played on 7 World Series Championship teams with the Yankees from 1951 to 1962.  He won 3 MVP awards, a Triple Crown, and he hit 536 home runs in a pre-PED era.  He would probably tell you his only PED was cold Budweiser.   Mickey died at age 63, due to hard living and complications from alcohol abuse.  In eulogizing Mantle, sportscaster Bob Costas described him as "a fragile hero to whom we had an emotional attachment so strong and lasting that it defied logic."

I recommend Jane Leavy's recent Mantle biography, "The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and The End of America's Childhood."  The theme of the book, a great read (she was given close and personal access to Mickey for many years), is that America began getting more complicated toward the end of Mickey's career, 1968 being his last year, with the likes of Vietnam, civil rights, assassinations, and a general more serious agenda.

Mickey was a flawed and complicated person.  But he was the perfect hero for those of my generation, the first television sports generation.  For those who loved the game of baseball, the preeminent American pastime and dominate sport of the time, Mickey Mantle was a greatest performer of the day and a larger than life American character of the time.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Some Light Wisdom for the Day

Old Newpapers

I like old newspapers.  I have many of them.  The newpaper business is radically and rapidly changing.  The event depicted above is still hard to get your mind around, and the impact it has had on our lives.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Bonus Army - A Shameful Episode in American History

The story of the Bonus Army episode in 1932 is very compelling.  In my view, it is a story to which history has not done justice.  For me, it is near emotional to listen to the NPR "live" radio diary recorded transcript (found at the above highlighted link) of this historic Washington occupation by thousands of poor and desperate World War I veterans. 

In short, in 1932, during The Great Depression, a group of WWI veterans in Portland, Ore., rallied the Bonus Army to Washington to lobby for early payment of their promised bonuses. They set up camp along the Anacostia River that May. But by July, officials, unbelievably sent by Hoover and led by MacArthur and Patton, lost patience and went into the camp to evict the marchers. It turned violent. A soldier torched a tent, and the Army began torching everything still standing. There were deaths.

In my estimation, the event was a low point for veterans affairs and a low point in the treatment of American citizens who were only intent on having their case heard and acted upon.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, which many seem to be, do yourself a favor and read the above attached NPR account of the fascinating, albeit disturbing, episode in American history.

As you imagine, and hear firsthand accounts, of Generals MacArthur and Patton coming down Pennsylvania Ave on horseback, sent by an inept Commander-in-Chief Herbert Hoover, followed by active U. S. Army troops, intent on removing poor, hungry, heroic, World War I veterans during The Great Depression, veterans who were "occupying" a "shantytown / Hooverville" in our nation's capital in an effort to be heard, hopefully you will become less angry than I became at the thought of such a sight.

Yes, a compelling American story for which shame is in order.  How were we allowed to forget?

The Great Casey Stengel

In honor of the opening of baseball Spring Training, here is a favorite baseball photo.  This is Casey Stengel in the outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1915.  Casey played for five different major league teams from 1912 to 1925.  He want on to manage four major league teams, including 8 New York Yankee World Series Championship teams during the Golden Age of baseball.  Casey was known as "the old professor."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Road to a Better America and a Stronger Middle Class

After disturbing us with the theme of "Who Stole the American Dream", Hedrick Smith has left us with a "call to arms" for reclaiming the American Dream and re-building the American middle class.  He points out that our dilemma calls for new thinking and an ambitious new economic agenda.  He advocates for a government-led industrial policy, a domestic "Marshall Plan."  Here are Hedrick's ten steps for reclaiming the American Dream.  I like them:

Step #1):  A Modernization of America's Infrastructure and Creation of Infrastructure Jobs.  We must form a public-private partnership to modernize America's outdated transportation network.  He says we should follow the example of President Lincoln who built the transcontinental railroad, Teddy Roosevelt who built inland waterways, and Ike who fathered the American interstate highway network.  The United States has fallen from No. 1 to No. 15 in world rankings of infrastructure.  We must do better to become more competitive.  A more robust economy depends on it.

Step #2:  Push Innovation, Science, and High-Tech Research.  The National Academy of Sciences reports a "gathering storm" from foreign competitors threatening our traditional edge in high-tech and innovation.  The trends in patents are worrisome.  We must invest and we must act in this area.

Step #3:  Generate a Manufacturing Renaissance.  Technology-based manufacturing must be central to reviving the U. S. economy.  We are losing our edge in this traditional American strength.  "Close a manufacturing plant, and a supply chain of producers disappear with it."  Reversing this multiplier effect is essential to American economic growth.

Step #4:  Make the U. S. Tax Code Fairer.  We must balance the U. S. income tax code to reduce its heavy tilt in favor of the super-rich.  "Stop cuddling the super-rich", declares Warren Buffett.  For example, remove the $106,800 tax cap over which income is exempt from payroll tax to fund Social Security and Medicare.  Hedrick Smith points out that reform of capital gains, payroll taxes, loophole closing, off-shore shelters, all would make the tax code much fairer, plus cut the national debt by $1 trillion over a decade.  And there is plenty of evidence which cites that tax favoring the rich does NOT create jobs nor stimulate the economy.

Step #5:  Fix the Corporate Tax Code to Promote Job Creation at Home.  The tax code must discourage U. S. firms from off-shoring jobs and reward those that hire at home.  This is critical.

Step #6:  Push China to Live up to Fair Trade to Generate Four Million Jobs in the U.S.  We must take a tougher line with china.  China manipulates the value of it's currency, it steals intellectual property from foreign-made products, and it dumps products on the world markets below cost of production using government subsides. We must develop a new strategy regarding our trade relationship with China.

Step #7: Save on War and Weapons.  We must reduce the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion over the next decade.  We should be able to do this after the misguided wars in Iraq and Afhganistan.  Ike reduced defense spending 27% after Korea, and Nixon reduced the Pentagon 29% after Vietnam.  Reagan rolled back military spending, as did Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton.  Bowles-Simpson called for $750 billion in defense cuts over a decade.

Step #8:  Fix Housing and Protect the Safety Net.  We need to arrange for massive refinancing of millions of homes "under water" to help get the economy moving.  We must strengthen the nation's safety net programs, especially Social Security and Medicare.  We must re-claim America as the "land of opportunity", making certain to keep open the economic ladder of upward mobility for the 60 million Americans "aspiring to middle class status" -- the hardworking poor.  They depend on  safety net programs such as college student loans, Medicaid, food stamps, child care support, housing assistance, and earned income tax credits.  Without these program, the chance for rising into the middle class will disappear for them.

Step # 9:  Rebuild the Political Center.  We must regenerate the centrist core of American politics by rejecting extremist candidates in both parties.  We must reform the primary system, and design a way to increase voter turnout.  Higher turnout reduces the pull of extreme candidates.  We must deal with the corrupting influence of money and the surge of super pacs.

Step #10:  Mobilize the Middle Class.  The government and politicians respond to organized, mobilized citizens.  Smith says Americans must organize at the grassroots, put themselves on the line, show up at town meetings, demonstrate for jobs and homes, head to the state capital, take a bus or train ride to Washington.  Like the civil rights protesters, or the military veteran bonus marchers during the Great Depression, or yes, the Tea Party today, ordinary citizens can make a difference by mobilizing.

Hedrick Smith says, "We are at a defining in moment for America.  We cannot allow the slow, poisonous polarization and disintegration of our great democracy to continue.  We must come together and take action to rejuvenate our nation and to restore fairness and hope in our way of life  The time for action is now".

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Picture of the Day

"Fiddler on the Roof of the World", by Marc Chagall, a Russian artist, "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century."

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy President's Day - George Washington

In honor of President’s Day enjoy this portrait of President George Washington. When he first sat for Gilbert Stuart, Washington was sixty-three years old and near the end of his second term of office.
The portrait hangs in The Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York City.

Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828)
George Washington, begun 1795

A Changing America - Be Alert

Currently I am reading "Who Stole The American Dream" by Hedrick Smith (Pulitzer Prize-winning former Editor of the New York Times). The subject fascinates me and concerns me for America.  Recently I read a similarly themed book "Coming Apart" by Charles Murray.  Murray explored a new formation of American classes that are different from anything we have ever known.

In "Who Stole the American Dream", Hedrick Smith discusses how over the past three decades we have become two Americas. We are a sharply divided country: divided by power, income, ideology. The "income gap" is astounding and the middle class is shrinking fast. Americans sense that something is profoundly wrong, that we have gotten way off track as a nation. America's super-rich have accumulated trillions of new wealth while middle-class America has stagnated. We have unwittingly dismantled the political and economic infrastructure which underpinned the great era of middle class prosperity of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

In "Coming Apart" Murray discussed how Americans increasingly live in different cultures, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves and gated communities surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America.  The lower class suffers from erosion of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness.  That divergence puts the success of the American experiment at risk.

I am concerned how the Tea Party/GOP controlled NC general Assembly is cutting away, in a radical way, at the social safety net.  The "social contract", an important underpinning in America, is eroding.  The fact that the new GOP governor is turning his back on the state health care exchanges and refusing to accept Medicaid funds to assist with coverage for the uninsured is very concerning.

It is amazing for me to read about Facebook earning record profit of over $1 billion and paying no federal or state taxes. There are other large corporations in the same boat. This is in a time when we are attempting to reduce America's debt and deficit.   I am astounded and perplexed when we run a major party candidate for President of the United States who shelters his fortune, obtained through leveraged buyouts and outsourcing American jobs, in Caribbean and Swiss accounts to avoid paying taxes into a US Treasury he would purport to head.  America has fundamentally gotten off track.

Americans of good will must stay engaged in the political process and public policy arena.  We must stay focused on, and concerned with, the direction of America.  We must act on our values and our core beliefs. I am not pessimistic.  I believe that the arc of the moral universe, to which Martin Luther King often referred, will bend back toward the direction of fairness and justice in America. But as Barack Obama said, we must bend it. The foundation of the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is the basis for our existence and the foundation of our underpinning, is at stake. Be alert.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Picture of the Day

Wow.  What a beautiful spot.  Colors are extraordinary. 

Thought For the Day - E. B. White

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
― E.B. White

Friday, February 15, 2013

50 Years Ago: The World in 1963

The photos contained in the attached Atlantic Magazine article (the link is here) are some of the most wonderful historic photos a I have seen in sometime.  They are from 1963, 50 years ago.  What a time that was.  I was age 15 and becoming every engaged with the world around me.  The events of that era certainly shaped the person I became. For that I am grateful.

As the article introduces the photographs, "A half century ago, much of the news in the United States was dominated by the actions of civil rights activists and those who opposed them. Our role in Vietnam was steadily growing, along with the costs of that involvement. It was the year Beatlemania began, and the year President John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin and delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. Push-button telephones were introduced, 1st class postage cost 5 cents, and the population of the world was 3.2 billion, less than half of what it is today. The final months of 1963 were punctuated by one of the most tragic events in American history, the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1963."

Click the link provided above and go on a photographic voyage back into a time critical in 20th century history and a time critical to shaping the nation and the people we are. What a time it was.

San Francisco Bay Area

A none to unusual day of light precipitation in the Bay Area. That's Alcatraz in the Bay, with Mount Tamalpais (Marin County) beyond.  Just a delightful scene.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lincoln's Portrait

Just a stunning portrait, in my humble opinion.  It hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 State of the Union

The state of the union, with the possible exception of a lingering debt and deficit and slow jobs growth, appears strong and moving in the right direction.  The President's 2013 State of the Union address was one of his most inspiring and best speeches, in my view. 

For me, the most inspiring moment was the introduction of the 102-year old voter from Florida who was the guest of the President and the First Lady.  She is a voter who stood in line for 4 hours in Florida in order to exercise her hard earned right to vote, as Florida Gov. Scott seemed to do all he could to make the process difficult.  The President used the moment to announce the formation of a bi-partisan commission to address the issue of improving the voting process in America. 

In Honor of Black History Month

In honor of Black History month, pictured above is Charlie Scott, North Carolina's first black basketball player (the second in the ACC) shown between Dick Grubar (former Greensboro City Councilman) and 6' 10" Rusty Clark from Fayetteville, NC.  They are pictured after a Final Four win in Los Angeles in 1968.  The UNC basketball program, and in particular legendary Dean Smith, like Jackie Robinson for the nation, were very important parts of moving civil rights forward in the South. God Bless all of the bold and courageous pioneers of civil rights.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Marsalis, Clapton - Corrine Corrina

General Forrest at Carnton

Above is a great American Civil War art work by John Paul Strain.  Carnton is a plantation near Franklin, Tennessee, site a of bloody Civil War battle.  The Confederacy lost 1,750 soldiers at the Battle of Franklin.  The Civil War was devastating to the American South.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beautiful Civil War Art

'Bridge at Romney', by John Paul Strain.

John Kerry - 68th Secretary of State

Nuff said.

1896 Bryan-Sewell Ribbon

Above is a wonderful William Jenning Bryan for President ribbon from 1896.  It is a prized part of my political item collection. A "Veteran Soldiers Club" piece, it was most assuredly worn by a veteran of the American Civil War. There are some condition issues, but it is intact, and after all, it is about 118 years old.

Bryan was a leading American politician from the 1890s until his death. He was a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as its candidate for President of the United States (1896, 1900 and 1908).  In his three presidential election bids, Bryan received a total of 493 electoral votes - the most of any candidate in American history who never won the presidency

Bryan was one of the best known speakers of his time, and he became a fixture of the Democratic party and a hero to the common man.  Bryan's participation in the highly publicized 1925 Scopes Trial served as a capstone to his career.

Below is a great shot of opposing counsels Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes 'Monkey' Trial of 1925. Even then, in this highly charged trial about the issue of evolution, these fierce adversaries seem cordial and respectful of one another, a trait seldom seen today it seems.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

LBJ and Governor Sanford in Rural NC

This is a wonderful, historical, political North Carolina photograph. I love old historical photos.  Here Vice President Lyndon Johnson (center holding hat) and NC Governor Terry Sanford (seated to his right) meet with a large family in Rocky Mount, NC in the early 1960s.  The war on poverty had begun as part of what would become LBJs Great Society initiative and this was likely a photo opt related to that effort.

Sanford was an early southern supporter of the Kennedy/Johnson administration.  He gave the seconding speech for JFK at the 1960 Democratic Convention.  North Carolina has been blessed over the years with great "New South" progressive leaders (with a few recent, notable exceptions).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Picture of the Day - Jimi Hendrix

A nice Jimi Hendrix watercolor. He could play. Who can forget his dramatic virtuoso rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock on a screeching electric guitar that simulated the sounds of bombs dropping, explosions blasting, and machine guns firing, combined with the melody line of America's national anthem presented as an avante-garde work of musical art before the huge gathering of spellbound American youth. An iconic performance at an iconic event during the tumultuous 1960s.

Thought for the Day

You must understand the whole of life,
not just one little part of it.
That is why you must read,
that is why you must look at the skies.
That is why you must sing and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti ~

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