Saturday, July 31, 2010

Great American Literature- Robert Frost

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life – It goes on” – Robert Frost

Robert Frost (1874-1963) was born in San Francisco, California but spent the majority of his life living and working in New England. He was a man whose family was challenged by mental illness and disease and who was unable to complete his college education despite many attempts. Yet, he married his love, Elinor, fathered six children and received over 40 honorary degrees, including ones from Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge universities; and he was the only person to receive two honorary degrees from Dartmouth College. At the age of 86 he spoke and performed a reading of his poetry at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. He was honored with four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry.

Though Frost tried his hands at many things including farming to support his family, it was always the writing of poetry that called to him. In 1894 he sold his first poem, "My Butterfly: An Elegy" (published in the November 8, 1894 edition of the New York Independent) for fifteen dollars. Of his collection of well over a hundred poems, many easily recall “The Road Not Taken” (often referenced as The Road Less Traveled.) However, it was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” that Frost himself felt was his “best bid for remembrance.” He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. Frost continues to be a popular and often-quoted American poet as his contribution to American poetry is like the road chosen to be travelled. It “has made all the difference.”

Great Moments in American Sports - Billy Mills

Billy Mills was an American Indian of the Sioux tribe, born on June 30th, 1938, in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He was orphaned at the age of 13. He took up running and boxing while attending the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. He attended the University of Kansas on an Athletic scholarship and became an All American Cross Country runner three times and a member of two Outdoor Track National Championship teams. He was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps upon graduation from Kansas and was a First Lieutenant in the USMC Reserves when he ran in the 1964 Olympics.

In the 1964 Olympics he became the only U.S. runner to ever win the Gold Medal in the 10,000 meters run. It was one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. Mills, who placed second in the U.S. Olympics trial was a virtual unknown and not considered to be a factor in the race for a medal. The favorite was an Australian named Ron Clarke, who held the world record. Mills' time in the preliminary race was a full minute behind Clarke's. As expected, Clarke set the early pace and at the halfway mark only five runners were still in contention. With two laps left, only Clarke, Mills and Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia were left. It seemed to be falling into place for the world record holder, Clarke. Gammoudi took the lead going into the final stretch and Clarke gave chase. Mills appeared to be out of it. Clarke could not catch Gammoudi, but Mills miraculously sprinted past both of them to win the race in Olympic record time and 50 seconds faster than he had ever run before. I've always thought that the mark of a true champion is to save your best performance for your most important game or race. That certainly applies to Billy Mills! Billy was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1976 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984. He is the subject of the 1984 movie Running Brave starring Robbie Benson.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Great American Artists - Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was born in upstate New York in 1882 to a middle class family. He knew from early on that he wanted to earn his living as an artist. His family encouraged him but wanted him to study commercial illustration as it offered a more secure and stable way of life. He studied for a time in Europe and was most impressed by Rembrandt's The Night Watch. He first enjoyed commercial success in 1924 at a sell out show of his work in New York City. He became best known as a realist and his paintings were known for their starkness and loneliness. His most famous works were oil paintings, but he was also accomplished as a printmaker and water colorist. Two of his most recognizable paintings are featured above: Nighthawks and Gas. His style as you can see is unmistakeable.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This Week in American History- The Fourteenth Amendment

On July 28th, 1868 following ratification by the necessary three-quarters of U.S. states, the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed to black Americans citizenship and all its privileges, was officially adopted into the U.S. Constitution. The amendment stated that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States and of the state in which they reside." The amendment then reaffirmed the privileges and rights of all citizens, and granted all these citizens the "equal protection of the laws." Our great Nation has not always been perfect, but it has always recognized its flaws and, over time, has corrected them. It is important when studying history and when teaching it to our children to focus on that fact and not on the flaws.

Great American Heroes - Rush Limbaugh

This may be my most controversial post of the summer, but only because I am writing about the most vilified, misunderstood and misrepresented man on the U.S. political scene. Rush Limbaugh is a Conservative radio talk show host and the brains and driving force behind the Conservative movement. He is on every liberal/marxist/socialist enemies list and that is reason enough to admire him. He is a staunch defender of our Constitution, our Exceptionalism and our traditions, culture and storied history. He has been influential on the political scene for 22 years now, but never more important than at the present. He is often criticized by those who fear him - and they fear him because he is a threat to their agenda, which is more often than not anti-Constitution, anti-American Exceptionalism and anti-tradition, culture and storied history. His critics call him racist, sexist, and homophobic, but he is really none of those things. These are just the typical ad hominem attacks made by those who have no good arguments for their positions. Zev Chafets just wrote and published a biography of Rush. Chafets is not a card carrying member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. In fact, he probably leans left. His admiration for Rush, however, comes across loud and clear in the pages of the book. Here is an excerpt: "People who dismiss Rush as an entertainer, a pitchman, or a hot air balloon are very wrong. He is a passionate and tenacious advocate, a major political and cultural force who can't be wished away or shouted down or sniffed into irrelevance. Smart liberals will listen to his show, even if they hate what he has to say. The easily outraged will be. Those with a sense of humor will find themselves laughing despite themselves. But nobody will fully understand American politics and media culture until they get who Rush Limbaugh really is, what he does and how he does it." Too many people on the right are afraid to admit that they are fans of Rush, "Ditto-heads" as they are known. I am not. I consider him an American Hero!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Great Speeches - Lou Gehrig

One of the most memorable speeches of all time. Most of you can probably quote the most famous line from the speech - Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth - but you probably don't know that there was only a few more lines to the entire speech. It is considered a great speech because it was given by a beloved and humble man on a momentous, life-changing occasion and it was spoken with grace and dignity.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Great American Literature- Kurt Vonnegut

I can't actually say that I am a great fan of either Vonnegut's writing or his politics (certainly not his politics), but he was a very well known and influential American novelist and a veteran of World War II. As a Private with the 106th Infantry Division, he was captured in December of 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge and remained a POW in Dresden until May 1945. His experiences as a soldier and as a POW shaped his political opinions and his writing. He was also influenced by early socialist labor leaders and was a lifetime member of the ACLU. The main reason I am featuring Vonnegut today is his outstanding short story Harrison Bergeron, which surprisingly enough, given his political leanings, is an indictment of egalitarianism and totalitarianism. You can (and should) read it in its entirety here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Great Moments in American Sports - Tour de France 2001

In keeping with this week's theme, the subject of today's post is someone named Armstrong. On a Sunday in July 2001, my family and I were fortunate enough to be standing on the Champs Elysee in Paris, France, on the last day of the 2001 Tour de France. We were treated to the sight of Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest Bicycle racers of all time and an American, riding his victory laps for his 3rd Tour victory holding, alternately, a Texas flag and an American flag. Our President at the time was George W. Bush, a Texan. What a great moment for a patriotic American family traveling in France!
For those of you who are not familiar with Lance Armstrong's story, he is a cancer survivor who later went on to win seven consecutive Tours de France. He is currently wrapping up his last Tour and has said he will retire. He is also currently in the news facing accusations of fraud and doping violations. I certainly hope for his sake the allegations prove to be false. If he is guilty, it would also be a black eye for the United States, unfortunately.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Great American Artists - Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong

"I see trees of green... red roses too
I see 'em bloom...for me and for you
And I think to myself... what a wonderful world"

Louis Armstrong, also known by the names of Satchmo and Pops, was a jazz trumpeter and singer who rose to prominence in the Roaring 20's. He had a great impact on the jazz music scene and was also an influential singer, well known for his gravelly voice and deftness as an improviser. He was also able to bend the melody and lyrics of a song and was excellent at scat singing. He was a charming and captivating performer who was very popular and highly regarded throughout his career which ended in the 1960's.

Please enjoy the videos of two of Louis Armstrong's most popular songs, "What a Wonderful World" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Great American Heroes - Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, most renowned for being the first man to set foot on the moon, was also a test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, and United States Naval Aviator. As a Naval Aviator, he flew combat missions in the Korean War. His first time in space he was the command pilot of the Gemini 8. During this mission, he was involved in the first docking of two spacecraft together. He was commander of Apollo 11 for his second and final spaceflight, which was the topic of yesterday's post. Armstrong also received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. And, unlike Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong did not embarrass himself on Dancing with the Stars.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This Week in American History- The First Man on the Moon

On July 20th in the year 1969, at 10:56 at night a man 240,000 miles from earth uttered unforgettable words as he took an unforgettable step. Neil Armstrong, an American, became the first man to set foot on the moon. Over a billion people, across the world, listened as he spoke the words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

The desire to send astronauts to the moon began when John F. Kennedy delivered the Man on the Moon speech. At the time of his speech, the Soviet Union was more advanced in space technology Americans, living in the Cold War era, were excited about Kennedy's idea.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (a.k.a NASA) conducted several missions, manned and unmanned, beginning in 1966. Finally, on July 16th, at 9:32 a.m. Apollo 11, with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins on board, took off from Kennedy Space Center. Armstrong was the commander of the mission. Within seventy-six hours (July 19th) Apollo 11 had traveled 240,000 miles and entered into a lunar orbit.

On July 20th, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle dispatched from the command module, where only Collins remained. The Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface two hours later. At 4:18 p.m. the Eagle touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong radioed the now famous message, "The Eagle has landed" to the Mission Control in Houston, Texas. Then, at 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of schedule, Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module and made his descent to the gray, powdery surface of the moon. At 10:56, Armstrong's foot was printed into the large sphere that we see at night. At 11:11 p.m. Aldrin joined Armstrong on the moon. The two took photos, ran scientific tests, and planted an American flag on the surface of the moon. They also spoke with President Richard M. Nixon. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21st, the two had retreated to the lunar module, where they spent the night. Besides the American flag, a plaque reading "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon--July 1969 A.D--We came in peace for all mankind" was left on the moon.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Great Speeches - A Man on the Moon

This speech was given in a different era... An era when our country aspired to greatness in all things, including having the tallest buildings, strongest military, and being the first to put a man on the moon. Let's hope that that spirit and pride is once again roused in all Americans and that we will cease bowing down and apologizing to other countries.

Here is the speech:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Great American Literature- Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor was born on March 25, 1925, to Edward and Regina (Cline) O’Connor. Her childhood home stood in the presence of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia. Her life began to form, literally, with the constant impression and presence of Catholicism. Her parents were parishioners of St. John the Baptist and she attended parochial schools at St. Vincent’s Grammar School and Sacred Heart. Edward O’Connor was a realtor owner and Regina was the daughter of a prominent Georgian family. Flannery was their only child. Flannery and her family returned to her mother’s birthplace in Milledgeville, Georgia when she was 12. She later attended Peabody High School and the Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville. Flannery was a child who would rather draw and write than do most anything else. From the time she was small, she had affection for her fine-feathered friends, keeping chickens, peafowl, ducks and geese for company. Nine years after moving to Milledgeville, O’Connor was accepted into the University of Iowa’s writer’s workshops conducted by Paul Engle. In 1949 she met Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, fellow Catholic writers with whom she commenced a life-long friendship. She lived with them for many months and worked on her writing in their secluded Redding, Connecticut home. In 1951, she was diagnosed with disseminated lupus, the same disease that claimed her father’s life, and was forced to return to her ancestral farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville. She spent the remaining years of her life on the farm.

Known in literary circles simply as “Flannery,” O’ Connor has authored two novels, 32 short stories and hundreds of personal letters. She was the epitome of a fine southern lady, yet as a Roman Catholic, she veered from the Southern Baptist culture that surrounded her. For her writings, O’Connor relied heavily on her regional surroundings but not on the sentiments of the “Bible Belt.” Indeed, it was O’Connor’s fervent Roman Catholic faith that was the basis for all she thought, all she said, all she did, and all she wrote. She believed that the reason for her being was to reveal the grace of God in everyday life. While her writings may seem to be full of grotesque characters that commit evil acts, they serve the purpose of supporting her approach to life and death and uncovering the recurrent themes of death, morality, religion and God in her work. It is because of and not in spite of the fact that Flannery O’Connor was “such a Roman Catholic” that her life and her work existed in complete harmony.

If you would like to read more about Flannery O’Connor and her many wonderful works, visit Comforts of Home, The Flannery O'Connor Repository at

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Great Moments in American Sports - Jim Abbott

Jim Abbott was a baseball pitcher, who played for eleven years in the majors despite having been born without a right hand. He played for the California Angels, the New York Yankees, the Chicago White Sox, and the Milwaukee Brewers, from 1989 to 1999. He played his college ball for the University of Michigan and became the first baseball player to win the James E. Sullivan Award as the nation's best amateur athlete in 1987. He followed that up with a gold medal in the demonstration event at the 1988 Summer Olympics. He was then drafted in the first round of the 1988 Major League Baseball Draft and reached the Majors the next year.

It was an amazing thing to watch him pitch and even more amazing to watch him field. Many teams tried to exploit his handicap by bunting on him. This tactic never worked as he was quite a proficient fielder. When preparing to pitch the ball, Abbott would rest a right-handed thrower's glove on the end of his right forearm. After releasing the pitch, he would quickly slip his hand into the glove, and be ready for balls hit back up the middle. After fielding the ball, he would remove the glove by holding it between his right forearm and chest, slip his hand out of the glove, and take the ball from the glove, usually in time to throw out the runner and sometimes even start double plays. It was almost magical and certainly inspirational to behold. When your kids say I can't, show them a youtube video of Jim Abbott and tell them that "can't means won't" as my Dad used to tell me.

Abbott had many great moments that I could share, but perhaps his greatest was on September 4th, 1993. While pitching for the New York Yankees, Abbott pitched a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians. Imagine that, a guy who was born with only one hand in the NY Yankees pinstripes, pitching a no-hitter. That would seem a bit unrealistic even in Hollywood, but it really happened. You could look it up! Or just take a moment and watch the video.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Great American Artists - Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller was an American Jazz musician, arranger, composer and bandleader in the swing era. He was a best-selling artist and leader of one of the most popular "big bands" in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1942, at the height of his popularity as a musician he decided to join the war effort. At 38, he was too old to be drafted so he volunteered. He first tried to join the Navy but was told that his services were not needed. He used his gift of persuasion to convince the Army to take him on so he could lead an Army band. He was later transferred to the Army Air Force where he was permitted to form a 50 piece Army Air Force Band. He took this band to England in the summer of 1944 and gave over 800 performances. General Jimmy Doolittle praised Miller's military contributions by saying “next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations." On December 15, 1944, Glenn Miller and his Band were flying from England to France to play for Allied forces there. The plane disappeared over the English Channel and no traces of the plane, crew or passengers have ever been discovered. Miller's status is still missing in action. His wife, Helen, accepted the Bronze Star medal for him in February 1945.

He is best known for his Jazz recordings including Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood and Tuxedo Junction. Listen to Moonlight Serenade below.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Great American Heroes - General Doolittle

General Jimmy Doolittle was a Brigadier General, Major General, and Lieutenant General during World War II. He was a recipient of the Medal of Honor- the highest award one can receive in the military- for his gallantry and great leadership during the Doolittle Raid. With the intention of striking a major blow to Japan, physically and mentally, and raising the spirits and hope of the United States, the Doolittle Raid took place on April 18, 1942. It was the first time the U.S. had attacked the Japanese home islands, by air, in World War II. Sixteen U.S. Army Air Forces B-25B Mitchell medium bombers made their first ever take-off from a carrier from the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS Hornet. They succeeded in bombing military targets in Japan and continued their flight into what was then "friendly China." Every aircraft was damaged beyond repair and eleven crewmen were killed or captured by the Japanese Army in China. One of the B-25's landed in the Soviet Union, and it, along with its crew, were seized. The crew was imprisoned for over a year. A total of thirteen entire crews and all but one of a fourteenth returned to the U.S. Japan did not suffer much damage, but their morale took a dive and they withdrew their mighty aircraft carrier force from the Indian Ocean to defend their home islands. Please watch the short youtube clip below.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Week in American History- The Duel

Even in our greatest scandals we are exceptional. Alexander Hamilton was one of our most important Founding Fathers - George Washington's Aide-de-camp and a Revolutionary War hero, our First Secretary of the Treasury and, thus, the savior and architect of America's political economy and one of the framers of the Constitution. Aaron Burr was a scoundrel and a rogue, but also the Vice President during Thomas Jefferson's first term and very nearly the President as he and Jefferson finished in a dead heat during the Presidential election. He was also a Revolutionary War hero. When he was ousted from the Jefferson administration for the second term, he joined forces with a group whose goal was secession from the union of the New England states. To carry out this plan, Burr needed to win the Governorship of the State of New York. To make a long story short, Hamilton was the leader of a group who foiled this attempt. He called Burr "a dangerous man and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of the government." These remarks somehow got into print and Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton strongly disapproved of dueling but felt he could not in honor decline the challenge. Hamilton's supporters claim that his honor also forbade him to shoot and they claimed that he fired his shot into the air. Burr, however, shot straight and hit Hamilton, who died 30 hours later. Burr became a fugitive and traitor, but that is a story for another day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Great Speeches - The Evil Empire

I'm kind of partial to speeches by President Ronald Reagan because I like plain talk and someone who calls a spade a spade. Nobody did that better than Ronaldus Maximus (as Rush Limbaugh calls him). Some people incorrectly refer to a June 1982 speech to the British House of Commons as the "Evil Empire" speech, but while Reagan twice mentioned totalitarianism in that speech, the words "evil empire" were not actually used in a speech until later in his Presidency. On March 8, 1983 in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, Reagan said:

In your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

In this speech, Reagan made the case for deploying NATO nuclear armed missiles in Western Europe to counter the Soviets installing new nuclear armed missiles in Eastern Europe. Eventually, the NATO missiles were set up and used as bargaining chips in arms talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took office in 1985. The phrase also proved useful to Western anti-Communists in justifying a significantly more forceful defense and foreign policy stand against the Soviets. In addition to using the phrase "evil empire," Reagan described the Soviet Union as a "totalitarian" regime. His message resonates still today in an age when so-called leaders of our great country are very willing to resort to moral relativism in assigning equal blame to the good guys (us) in the current struggle between good and evil. Here is Reagan's message to us: Make no mistake about it, we are the good guys and the Islamofascists are the bad guys. If we stick to our guns, we will prevail because we are on the side of the good. If that is too simplified for you, you probably should try another blog.

Here is a link to the written speech and audio and video clips:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Great American Literature- Louis L'Amour

No favorite of your average college professor or community organizer, Louis L'Amour was nonetheless one of the greatest American storytellers and authors. At the time of his death in 1988, all 105 of his existing works were in print. This included 89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of nonfiction. He wrote mainly adventure stories and, most prominently, heroic tales of the west. His works of fiction typically pitted good guys in white hats versus bad guys in black hats and included none of the nuance favored by the aforementioned "intellectual" crowd. His personal life provided much of the inspiration for his writing. He grew up in North Dakota in the fading days of the American frontier and throughout his early life lived a somewhat itinerant life. He worked on ranches, in mines, sawmills and lumberyards and was also an accomplished prizefighter and fight trainer. He traveled around the country by rail with hoboes and sailed around the world on freighters as a merchant seaman. His short stories recount many of these adventures. In World War II, he served in Europe as an Army Officer in the Transportation Corps. Many of his books were made into movies and starred some of the greatest film cowboys including John Wayne, Sam Elliott and Tom Selleck. L'Amour was a favorite of President Ronald Reagan (no surprise there) who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984. I would hazard a guess that he was also a favorite of W.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Great Moments in American Sports - Hank Aaron

On April 8, 1974, Hammerin' Hank Aaron stepped to the plate in the 4th inning in a home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Al Downing was on the mound for the Dodgers and had said before the game that he would not pitch any different than he always did. His first pitch was in the dirt in front of home plate. His second pitch was a fastball over the middle of the plate. Hank drove it into the Braves' bullpen in left center field about 395 feet from homeplate. It was his 715th career home run and he had just overtaken Babe Ruth as the greatest home run hitter in the history of Major League baseball. He finished his career with a total of 755 home runs making him, in my mind, the career leader still. Barry Bonds surpassed Hank's record, but his record is tainted by the use of steroids. Cheaters don't qualify for records in my book.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Great American Heroes-Lewis and Clark

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned an expedition to explore overland routes to the Pacific coast. He chose his friend, Meriweather Lewis, an Army Captain, to lead this expedition. Lewis selected William Clark as his partner. The two Captains, with a party of thirty four soldiers and ten civilians, departed St. Louis in May 1804 for what was to be a two year and four month journey of exploration. Thanks, in part, to a Shoshone Indian woman named Sacajawea who acted as their guide and interpreter, they made it across the Continental Divide safely, found the Columbia River and reached the Pacific Ocean in November 1805. They divided their party for the trip back, Lewis retracing their route and Clark returning by way of the Yellowstone. They re-joined at the junction of the Missouri and the Yellowstone and followed the Missouri back to St. Louis. Their report to Jefferson read as follows: "In obedience to your orders we have penetrated the Continent of north America to the Pacific Ocean, and sufficiently explored the interior of the country to affirm with confidence that we have discovered the most practicable route which does exist across the Continent by means of the navigable branches of the Missouri and the Columbia rivers." It was perhaps the most successful and influential geographical expedition ever undertaken and truly the beginning of our great westward expansion.

Great American Artists - Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell, born in 1894, was an illustrator and painter. He is most well known for The Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations. He produced 321 of these covers which depicted sentimental scenes of American life. Mainly due to the idealistic nature of his paintings, snobbish art critics refused to give him due credit for his great talent. He was not considered to be a "serious" painter by the "intelligentsia" (spoken with a sneer). Only later in his career when be began to demonstrate a "social conscience" with paintings on subjects like racism did he gain respect from the contemporary artists - who were probably also big fans of the National Endowment for the Arts. Needless to say, I am more of a fan of his idealistic and sentimental portrayals of American families and his patriotic work during World War I and II. Samples appear below. His life work included over 4,000 original works, including commissioned portraits of four U.S. Presidents.

Monday, July 5, 2010

This Week in American History- The Signing of the Declaration

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

On July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the document that proclaimed the thirteen colonies' independence from Great Britain was adopted. The main author of the Declaration of Independence was Thomas Jefferson. Fifty-six delegates, each representing one of the thirteen colonies, signed this great document. The declaration came 442 days after the start of the Revolutionary war. In honor of this momentous occasion, please take the time to read it in its entirety. The text is below.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Great Speeches - The Gettysburg Address

In an age where "great orators" have to use a teleprompter and believe that they must speak for an exhausting amount of time, this short and sweet speech by one of our greatest Presidents serves as a true example of greatness.

Here it is:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.*

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

*Note the irony in the speech. The world has long remembered what many consider to be the greatest speech ever.

This audio version of the Gettysburg Address (below) is delivered by actor, Jeff Daniels, who coincidentally starred as General Joshua Chamberlain in the movie Gettysburg.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Great American Literature- Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was born in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He is most renowned for his novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was based on Twain's childhood in Hannibal and Tom was founded on Twain as a boy. Twain used the dialect of people living along the Mississippi River to capture the essence of living in that area.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been dubbed the Great American Novel. This book was an offshoot of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but was written with a more solemn tone. The foundation of the story is Huck Finn's belief that, in spite of what other's think, one should do what is right. This book truly established Twain as a great American author.

Twain's first distinguished writing was a short story, published in the New York Saturday Press, entitled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. To read the story go here.

Twain was a very admired writer and still is today. After his death, William Faulkner praised him as "the father of American literature."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Great Moments in American Sports - Rafer Johnson

Rafer Lewis Johnson was born on August 18, 1935 in Hillsboro, Texas. He lived in texas for the first nine years of his life and then his family moved to Kingsburg, California. In high school, Rafer was an all-around athlete, playing on the school's football, basketball, and baseball teams. Upon seeing double Olympic champion Bob Mathias compete, Rafer became interested in the decathlon.

Rafer attended UCLA where he was a starter on the men's basketball team under Coach John Wooden. In 1954, as a freshman, he competed in his first decathlon. He broke the world record in only his fourth competition. In Mexico City in 1955 Rafer won the title at the Pan American Games. He qualified for the decathlon and the long jump events 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. He suffered an injury and had to pull out of the long jump event, but he was still able to win silver in the decathlon, just behind Milt Campbell.

Rafer missed the 1957 season as a result of injury and he had to skip the 1959 season due to injuries acquired from a car accident. In 1958 and 1960, however, he broke his own world record improving the time twice.

The peak of his career was at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. His main challenger, Yang Chuang-Kwang from Taiwan, was actually a crony of his. Yang also attended UCLA and trained with Rafer under UCLA track coach Elvin C. Drake. The two were neck in neck throughout the entire event. When one would win one of the events, the other would return the favor with a victory in the next event. With only one event to go, Rafer lead Yang, but if Yang beat Rafer by ten seconds in the final event, the 1500 meter run, Yang would win the gold. Rafer Johnson was able to hang with Yang Chuang-Kwang, however, running his fastest 1500-meters ever. He won the gold.

Sports Illustrated named Rafer "Sportsman of the Year" in 1958. He also received the James E. Sullivan award as the top amateur athlete in the U.S., in 1960. He was elected into the first class of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 1994. ESPN named Rafer one of the 100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century, in 1998. The NCAA named him one of the 100 Most Influential Student Athletes of the past 100 years, in 2006.

After winning gold in the 1960 Olympics, Johnson began working as a sportscaster and actor. In 1968, he worked on the presidential election campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson lit the Olympic Flame at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.