Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Reagan-Bush Legacy: Breaking Precedents

Let it never be said that I don’t credit the Reagan-Bush era for something. Now that it’s approaching its end (except in the Supreme Court, where its legacy will, unfortunately, live on), it’s time to note some amazing accomplishments of the three Republican presidents of that era. All three broke long-established patterns in the history of the American presidency.

Ronald Wilson Reagan broke the Prophet’s Curse, but just barely. The story begins with the Battle of Tippecanoe. Tenskwatawa, brother of Tecumseh, was a religious leader known as the Shawnee Prophet. He definitely didn’t have the military skills of his brother. In 1811, Tecumseh had assembled a coalition of native peoples at a camp on Burnett’s Creek near present-day Lafayette, Indiana. He had convinced people from tribes all over the region that they should stop fighting amongst themselves and unite against the Americans, who were steadily encroaching on their lands.

William Henry Harrison, whose military brilliance matched Tecumseh’s, had his army outside the Indian camp. Harrison knew that Tecumseh would never be so foolish as to mount an attack on the American army with his fairly small force. But Harrison also knew that Tecumseh was away from the camp, known as Prophetstown, and seems to have goaded Tenskwatawa into attacking. It’s unclear who shot first, but it appears that Tenskwatawa’s forces were moving in on the American camp. Harrison was prepared, and defeated the Indian coalition.

Two years later, at the Battle of the Thames, (at present-day Chatham-Kent, Ontario), Tecumseh, allied with British forces in the War of 1812, faced Harrison again. Harrison, with superior numbers, triumphed, and Tecumseh died in the battle.

The story goes that Tenskwatawa cursed Harrison and every president elected in a year ending in zero. Harrison, after giving a two-hour inaugural address in the rain, and without a topcoat, died a month after taking office. It's a pretty unlikely story, especially since Tenskwatawa died in 1834, six years before Harrison's election. But until Ronald Reagan, every president elected in a year ending in zero died in office:

Abraham Lincoln, elected 1860, assassinated 1865
James A. Garfield, elected 1880, assassinated 1881
William McKinley, elected 1900, assassinated 1901
Warren Gamaliel Harding, elected 1920, died of a heart attack 1923
Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected 1940, died of a cerebral hemorrhage 1945
John F. Kennedy, elected 1960, assassinated 1963

The only president to die in office outside the Prophet’s Curse was Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, and died in 1850, after eating a dish of iced milk and cherries at a Fourth of July celebration. The cause of death was never established. Of course, Taylor was an officer in the War of 1812, and had fought Tecumseh’s ally, Black Hawk, at the Battle of Credit Island, (in present-day Davenport, Iowa). But Black Hawk and his British allies defeated Taylor’s forces in an ambush.

Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981. Modern medicine triumphed over the Prophet’s Curse. It appears that George W. Bush, elected(?) in 2000, will also live through his presidency. But then, does an election by a 5 to 4 vote in the Supreme Court count as an election?

George Herbert Walker Bush broke the Curse of the Sitting Vice President. Before 1988, the last time a sitting vice president had been elected to the presidency was in 1836, when Martin Van Buren, vice president under Andrew Jackson, was elected in his own right. Of course, there haven’t been many sitting vice presidents who have been nominated to run. John Breckinridge (1860), Richard Nixon (1960), and Hubert Humphrey (1968) are the only ones that I could find between Van Buren and Bush I. But still, it was a first.

That leaves George W. Bush, the only president to win office with less than a plurality of the popular vote and win re-election. The other three presidents who lost the popular vote either lost re-election (John Quincy Adams (elected 1824, defeated by Andrew Jackson, 1828) and Benjamin Harrison (defeated sitting president Grover Cleveland 1884, beaten by Cleveland, 1888) or did not seek a second term (Rutherford B. Hayes, elected 1876). Of course, vote suppression in Ohio probably cost John Kerry the 2004 election.

I don’t have a lot of good things to say about any of the three, but they all broke precedents.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bah! Humbug!

Bah! Humbug! When the early Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Christ sometime in the fourth century, why did they choose December 25? Some say it was simply nine months after the Annunciation, March 25. Others suggest they wanted to co-opt pagan midwinter ceremonies, such as those of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. Of course, they were living in the Mediterranean, where the weather is relatively mild in December. They had no idea that the celebration of Christmas would become the commercial frenzy it is today. And they certainly didn’t expect that people in northern climes would insist on traveling long distances in abominable weather in order to be together at Christmas.

After dealing with trains delayed by broken rails, switch failures, and engine breakdowns, driving past slide-offs on Interstate 74, and finally being diverted off the same highway due to a fatal accident, I concluded that we’re insane to be traveling at this time of year. I’m insane, as I had been planning to drive back to Indiana in below-zero weather to be home with my family. Kathleen talked me out of it. With another winter storm rolling across the Midwest tomorrow, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially since I‘ve got to be back to Galesburg to work on Wednesday. (I’ll be working the evening shift Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.)

I’ve often muttered, “The Puritans were right.” Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas when he became Lord Protector, though Charles II brought it back when the crown was restored. The Puritans of Massachusetts banned the public celebration of Christmas. Puritans saw the trappings of Christmas--the Yule Log and wassailing--as pagan. And of course they were. There’s some indication that wealthy Puritans were more bothered by wassailers demanding food and drink.

What became Christmas--the tree, the presents, Santa Claus, et cetera--was a Victorian invention. In fact, by marrying Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Queen Victoria had a lot to do with it. Albert brought the Christmas Tree, a German tradition, to England, where it migrated to America, and to the rest of the world. Charles Dickens, “the man who invented Christmas,” gave us The Christmas Carol, which is still a major influence on our perception of Christmas. (I admit to enjoying the book, and even more, the movie with Alistair Sim as Scrooge.)

Over here in the States, Clement Clarke Moore, or someone (there‘s a controversy about the authorship), wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” usually known by its first line, “Twas the night before Christmas.” The poem confounded the Dutch traditions of St. Nicholas’ Day with Christmas. There are many legends about Nicholas of Myra, a fourth-century Greek bishop who lived in what is now Turkey, but the most famous is of the three bags of gold. A poor man had three daughters, but not money enough to provide dowries for them. Without dowries, the young women would almost certainly have had to become prostitutes just to support themselves. The man was too proud to accept charity, so Nicholas, under the cover of darkness, tossed three bags of gold, one for each daughter, through the man’s window. Thus began the tradition of gift-giving on St. Nicholas’ Day, December 6. In Holland and Germany, children set their shoes outside their door or by the chimney on the night of December 5, and “Saint Nicholas,” (Sinterklaas in Dutch) fills them with candy or small toys. (Kathleen brought this tradition to our household. This year was the first where there were no children at home to put shoes outside their door.) Moore (or whoever wrote the poem) took these Dutch St. Nicholas Day traditions and transferred them to Christmas. Sinterklass became Santa Claus, lost his bishop’s miter, and began saying little but “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

And while I’m down on Christmas right now, especially the way we celebrate it here in the United States, I expect to be enchanted by a beautiful Episcopal mass Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Once the buying spree is over, and we get to the babe in the manger (or in the house, if you use Matthew’s gospel), then Christmas is an entirely different holiday. In fact, the celebration of Christmas goes on, culminating on January 6, with the arrival of the magicians from the East. My Bah! Humbug!, will, I hope, turn to “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My first disappointment with Barack Obama

It had to happen. Every new president has to move toward a consensus. But I'm troubled by Barack Obama's decision to have Rick Warren give the invocation at his inauguration. Yes, it's purely symbolic. But symbolism is important in a presidency, and Warren symbolizes intolerance. Most recently he was active in supporting California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage in that state. But personally, his his efforts to bring about a schism in the Episcopal Church--my church--trouble me even more. He's been working to break up my church for at least three years. In November, 2005, he spoke at a Pittsburgh meeting of Episcopal Church dissidents opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a committed relationship, as Bishop of New Hampshire. An excerpt from a November 11, 2005 New York Times article:


The Episcopalians and Anglicans were joined by well-known American evangelical Christians, most notably the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life." Mr. Warren gave encouragement to conservative church dissidents who are trying to break with the Episcopal Church but who have often been stymied by disputes with their dioceses over ownership of church property.


"What's more important is your faith, not your facilities," he told the crowd at the Convention Center here. "The church is people, not the steeple. They might get the building, but you get the blessing."


Warren, whose megachurch is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, is self-serving at best when he works to break up another church. He is a divider, not a uniter. There are conservatives who oppose the ordination of gays and lesbians, but are committed to the staying in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Edward Stuart Little of the Diocese of Northern Indiana is a good example.

For Obama to un-invite Warren would cause even more problems for the president-elect. If Warren has any decency, he'll politely decline the invitation and allow Obama to choose someone who will bring the country together.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Changing Place Names: Would You Fall in Love in Jesselton? Or Kota Kinabulu?

As I listened to coverage of the terrorist murders in India's financial capital (sadly, one rarely hears news from that part of the world unless it involves the loss of human life), I noticed that the correspondents referred to the city by its official name, Mumbai, while the vast majority of Indians called it Bombay, its former name. My son-in-law, who comes from a city nearby, calls it Bombay, as does Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.

The Portuguese, who in 1534 appropriated the islands that would make up the city, called the area Bombaim, which may mean "good bay" or "little bay." When the English took over in 1661, after receiving the island as dowry for Catherine de Braganza, who married Charles II, they Anglicized it to Bombay. Hindi- and Urdu-speakers called it Bambai, while Marathi- and Gujarati-speakers called it Mumbai. In 1996 the government of Maharashtra renamed the city Mumbai, in an effort to remove colonial names. Mumbai is derived from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi.

Other cities in India have had similar changes: Madras became Chennai in 1996 because Madras was believed to be a Portuguese name (a contraction of Madre de Deus), or more likely from the Madeiros family. Although Chennai predates Madras, quite a few of the residents still refer to the city by its old name.


Malaysia has also changed names--most notably Jesselton, in Malaysian Borneo, which was renamed Kota Kinabalu--literally, the city of [nearby] Mount Kinabalu--in 1968. I suspect the new name has been more accepted there, but Malaysian singer Pete Teo's hit, "Jesselton Tonight," uses the old name. But its line "Would you fall in love in Jesselton ere days of 'burn baby burn' hearkens back to earlier days. "Burn baby burn" refers not to H. Rap Brown's slogan of the 1960s but to the destruction of forests for agriculture.


Other countries have been much more successful in getting new names to stick. I don't expect Zimbabwe to revert to Rhodesia after Robert Mugabe is out of power. Nor will Kinshasa go back to Leopoldville. If a name represents a despotic government, it usually will be replaced. Leningrad is now St. Petersburg, thus replacing the name of one despot with that of an earlier one (though Tsar Peter the Great had the modesty to name it for the saint who shared his name). Tsaritsyn became Stalingrad in 1925, but Nikita Khrushchev renamed it Volgograd in 1961. I suspect that someday Myanmar will again be Burma. In fact, virtually all the opponents of the despotic Myanmar government call the nation Burma.

But the most successful sub-Saharan African country, the Republic of South Africa, has kept Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, etc. , even though they're reminders of the colonial past. Maybe they've decided that changing the name doesn't change the reality.

But if a name change is to be truly successful, it needs to be supported by the people. Had India changed Bombay to Mumbai in 1947, in the days of independence, the people might have embraced it. But to change the name a half century after Indian independence and without any popular referendum made no sense. But then, the expense of changing it back may make even less sense. There's the old joke about the expense of changing Boulder Dam to Hoover Dam--that it would have cost less if Hoover had changed his name to Herbert Boulder. So I suspect that Mumbai will continue to be the official name of India's largest city, while its residents will keep calling it Bombay.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jack Mabley, R.I.P

In doing research for my Dickens Challenge novel, which in part takes place during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention, I stumbled upon Jack Mabley, the Chicago American columnist who, in August 1968, publicized the Yippies' so-called plans to put LSD in the Chicago water supply, have Yippie women seduce delegates by posing as prostitutes, and then put LSD in their drinks, etc. I had read Mabley before and believed him to be something of a right-winger. I was wrong. While the American was a right-wing paper (the afternoon paper published by The Tribune Company), Mabley was not a rightist, but someone who was alarmed by the Yippie movement and took their guerilla theater a bit too seriously.

When I did a Google search for Mabley, I learned he had died in January, 2006, at the age of 90. I also found his blog, Jack Mabley's Web Log. And in it I found two predictions: one sadly wrong, the other dead-on:

I’ve never hesitated to make predictions. They don’t jeopardize my reputation because my reputation is being wrong more than right. On that note, I predict that Kerry’s margin of victory will be substantial. And he’ll carry a flock of Democrats into public offices with him. And Barack Obama will be the first person of color to become President.

Rest in peace, Jack. Sorry you didn't live to see your prediction come true.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Forty-five years

Like most of the people in my generation, I can remember where I was when I first learned of President Kennedy's assassination. For me it was outside the cafeteria at Madison Junior High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wasn't having an easy time in seventh grade, and the announcement of this catastrophe didn't make it any better. When it was time to go to math class, which met in one of the many barracks-classrooms erected to house the overflow of students of the postwar baby boom, I learned a little more.

I don't remember the teacher's name. I wasn't good at math, and this teacher wasn't my favorite. She had once confiscated a little doodle I made--spacemen getting out of a flying saucer while people all around ignored them--and sent it to the counselor, who decided it was a clear sign of serious emotional problems. That day she tried to calm students down, giving us in somber tones the facts as she knew them. At one pont a girl asked if Kennedy had been shot "with a rifle or a gun," causing some titters, and easing the tension. But the teacher berated the titterers and brought the tension level back up.

Mercifully, Albuquerque Public Schools decided to dismiss students before math class was over. I watched the coverage of the assassination, and the funeral, on our black-and-white TV. The news commentators referred to the new president by his full name--Lyndon Baines Johnson--which prompted my father to say that he hoped they'd stop using the Baines.

I was eleven that year, and turned twelve at the end of November. (Being a year younger than most of my classmates surely exacerbated my problems in junior high.) For me, the Kennedy assassination was tied in with sad events in my personal and family life. I had been a top student in sixth grade, but ended up with three Ds on my report card that semester. I probably would have received them had there not been an assassination, but the shock of Kennedy's death did affect my studies. My father, at a loss to know what to do , spanked me for the 3-D report card. I resented it for a long time, and fantsized about running away, escaping to the Midwest, where the world seemed more civilized.

The next year, my parents sent me to the Albuquerque Academy, where I did much better. I wasn't fantasizing about running away, but my dreams of returning to the Midwest came true, though not in the best way.

For this was also a time when my parents' marriage was deteriorating. I must have sensed it emotionally, if not intellectually. My brother, four years younger, sensed it better than I. When our mother asked him if he knew what a divorce was, he said, it was when you got "unmarried." "You're going to get one," he immediately added.

The divorce took place in the summer of 1965. My mother, brother, and I moved to Iowa City, wher she worked on a Master of Fine Arts and eventually began working for Paul Engle, who was then in charge of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

All of this turmoil in my own life, and that of my family, took place in the aftermath of that terrible day in November, forty-five years ago. I'm sure I would be a different person--perhaps less fatalistic and more self-confident--had Oswald's bullet missed the president.

On January 20 of next year, we shall, for the first time in forty-five years, have a young, attractive, energetic, optimistic, and progressive president. let us hope and pray that he is able to serve his term and be re-elected in 2012. For the sake of our nation and of all the people, at home and abroad, who have put so much hope in him, I pray that Barack Obama has a long and successful presidency.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Barack Obama, FDR, and NPR




Driving from Galesburg to Elkhart Sunday afternoon, blissfully unaware of the lake-effect snowstorm awaiting me in northwestern Indiana, I was listening to Weekend All things Considered on National Public Radio. I've never met the host, Andrea Seabrook, but I think of her as a friend--someone who brings a smile to my face by just the sound of her voice. Seabrook's audience may be in the millions, but she makes you feel as though you're part of her special circle of friends.


Susan Stamberg is a woman I'd trust about anything except Thanksgiving food. I've listened to her since she was co-host of All Things Considered in the early 1970s. She doesn't have the intimacy of Seabrook, but her voice has an air of authority and experience.


But that afternoon, Seabrook got Stamberg on the line to grouse about Barack Obama's decision to put his weekly radio talks on YouTube. I'm not sure they were entirely serious, but it bothered me that Stamberg made the comment that if radio was good enough for FDR, is should be good enough for the president-elect. The trouble is, radio wasn't good enough for Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the YouTube video shows. Of course there was no YouTube during FDR's presidency, and television was in its infancy. But there was video, in the form of newsreels. I'm old enough to remember when movie theaters showed newsreels, along with cartoons and short features, before the main attraction. By the mid-1960s most cinemas had abandoned the newsreel. But in FDR's time, newsreels were the only way to see and hear the news. And FDR took advantage of them by making his "Fireside Chats" avaialble to the reels. If there had been a YouTube, he would have been on it.

I rely on NPR almost exclusively for my news. And I agree with Stamberg and Seabrook about the advantages of radio over audio-visual. For one thing, it's something I can do while I'm driving, or lying in bed with my eyes closed. But Obama has the duty to communicate with as many people as he can. That includes the people who don't listen to radio, as well as those who don't happen to be listening at the time of day he gives his weekly talk.

An outrage? Or, as Stamberg says, like having roast beef on Thanksgiving? No to the first. And as for the second, roast beef on Thanksgiving isn't such a bad idea. The Pilgrims of the Plymouth Plantation, whose 1621 harvest festival inspired the American Thanksgiving, ate venison along with turkey and fish. While a steer isn't a deer, it's still a hoofed animal. Close enough. Besides, Stamberg's ideas about Thanksgiving food are, well, a little bit suspect.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My thanks to the Millennials

I first noticed the brilliance of Barack Obama’s campaign when I was looking up Hanover College on the Internet. I believe it was on the U.S. News college rankings website. When I pulled up the Hanover College page, there was an ad for Barack Obama, telling prospective Indiana students that there was only one day left to register for the primary.

My son, then a senior at Elkhart Memorial High School, voted for Obama in the primary, as did many of his classmates. Obama nearly won that primary. Hillary Clinton’s Pyrrhic victory in Indiana, coupled with her huge loss in North Carolina the same day, sealed the nomination for Obama. While Obama put together a vast coalition, the Millennial Generation--those between 18 and 30--was crucial to his victory.

Thirty-six years ago, another insurgent Democrat was counting on another huge generation to put him into the White House. He was, of course, George McGovern, and the generation was mine. I voted for him in 1972, but so many of my fellow Baby Boomers failed even to register, let alone vote.

The ‘72 campaign also occurred at a time when we were fighting an unpopular war and when the administration in power was trampling on the Bill of Rights. But the McGovern campaign (though not McGovern himself) spent much political capital righting past wrongs against fellow Democrats. Perhaps Richard J. Daley deserved to be thrown out of the Democratic Convention, but that one act cost McGovern Illinois.

McGovern gave his beautiful “Come Home, America” acceptance speech at around three in the morning, thanks to his supporters’ petty squabbles on the convention floor. Of course, he has to take responsibility for failing to control his enthusiastic, but vindictive, adherents. His failure to vet his first vice presidential choice, Thomas Eagleton, cost him dearly, in those days when clinical depression was far less understood. And his campaign was so tightly focused on opposition to the war that when Henry Kissinger announced that peace was at hand, McGovern had lost his main issue. The threat of being drafted to fight in Southeast Asia had been lifted; Richard Nixon coasted to a landslide victory.

Barack Obama was against the Iraq war, but General David Petraeus’s brilliant strategy of co-opting the Sunni militias and drastically reducing the violence in that war did not put an end to the Obama message. He did not depend on the antiwar issue, but talked as much about the economy, the environment, and America's role in the world as a whole, that his candidacy did not implode. His campaign had the benefit of Hillary Clinton’s endorsement. The prediction that her supporters would defect to the Republicans, widely touted, did not come true. (John McCain’s patronizing selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate surely hurt him with former Clinton backers.) In contrast, the 1972 credentials fight between McGovern and Hubert Humphrey was still smoldering in November.

But Obama’s greatest strength, through the whole campaign, was his unrelenting optimism and message of hope. It is was the strength of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John and Robert Kennedy. It connected with so many of us from every generation. And it brought a great new generation to the polls in large numbers. The Millennials did what we Boomers could not do: elect an insurgent Democrat to the White House.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Pitfalls of Dog Ownership, or Contemplating 1970s Trailer Life



Ten years ago this December, a dog followed my daughter Sarah home. Well, not exactly followed. Sarah coaxed him back with soothing words. Sarah had been wanting a dog for some time. She knew that my childhood dog had been a Golden Retriever mix. The dog she led home looked a lot like him. When I got home that night, Kathleen said she had a surprise. I came into the living room and saw a beautiful Golden Retriever mix, with white paws and a black spot on his muzzle, sitting on my son Jim’s lap. I couldn’t say no. Jim named him Copper, because he was the color of a copper penny.

Copper was a stray, and he had been abused. For quite a while he was afraid of me. He had no problem with women and children, but he was terrified of adult men. We checked with the city, and the animal control people said that it we had him for 30 days, he was ours. We took him to the vet, and he got the requisite shots, along with treatment for three different kinds of parasites--hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms.

About a month after we got him, some children came to the door and said that Copper was their dog. The family who owned him had taken off for the month of December. Recreational vehicle manufacturers often shut down for a month around Christmas, giving their employees an unpaid vacation. The dog had gotten out of their yard, and the family had left town without the dog. Kathleen told them that we’d already spent $150 on the dog, and that she’d have to talk to the children’s parents. We never heard anything from them again.

He’s been a wonderful companion for the past decade. For an eleven-year-old dog, he’s in good health, and can still do a walk of several miles and (unfortunately) jump a fence. But we’ve just learned the pitfalls of dog ownership.

We own a house in Elkhart, Indiana--a big, three-bedroom American Foursquare, which we have no hope of selling until spring. We’re slowly getting the house ready to sell--drywall work, plumbing, and electrical work, along with some other less important work. And slowly moving stuff out of the house to Davenport, Goodwill, the recycling center, or the landfill.

Meanwhile I’m staying in Davenport with my in-laws, driving the 55 miles each way to my job in Galesburg, and then a seven-hour drive to and from Elkhart every week. I have a week off, so Kathleen and I came to Davenport to look for a temporary place in Galesburg--a small house or even apartment to rent between now and next year. We figured there would be lots of places to rent. There are literally hundreds of vacant houses in Galesburg, a city which has yet to recover from Whirlpool’s closing of the former Maytag plant in 2004.

But nobody wants to rent, especially to a couple with a dog. People would rather let their houses sit empty rather than take a risk on renting. We visited two real estate agencies who gave us little hope. We got the same reaction from the third, but just as we were walking off in disappointment, an agent, appropriately named Carl Admire, asked us to come back to his office. He gave us some other alternatives, and showed real concern for us.

The one alternative that seemed to make sense was to buy an older mobile home, use that as my Galesburg residence until we sold our house, and then sell the trailer and buy a real house. It’s something we might be able to afford. The mobile home we looked at is in a decent park, populated mainly by retired people.

The trailer dates back to 1978 and looks it. Those 1970s colors of burnt orange, avocado, and harvest gold predominate. There’s even a built-in radio with an 8-track tape player. I’m not bothered by such things as orange carpets, though Kathleen is. But we’d own it (though having to pay lot rent), and Copper would be with us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Voting for the Rooster

I cast my vote at the courthouse last week, just in case I get stuck working on Election Day. I voted the straight ticket, so I filled in the little oval right next to the Democratic Party rooster. In virtually every other state, the Democratic emblem is the donkey, while the Republicans use the elephant. Not in Indiana. It’s the rooster and the eagle here.

The rooster as party emblem goes back to 1840, during the presidential campaign between Democrat Martin Van Buren and Whig William Henry Harrison. It was a tight race in Indiana, and both parties were calling out their best speakers to speak, or in the lingo of the time, to “crow” for their candidates. Joseph Chapman, a Democratic state representative from Greenfield, in Hancock County, was one such speaker. George Pattison, editor of the Indianapolis Constitution, sent a letter to the postmaster of Greenfield, which read in part, “Tell Chapman to Crow.”

Somehow the letter got into the hands of Whigs, who used the line to ridicule the Democrats. But the Whig effort backfired, and soon Democrats were chanting “Crow Chapman Crow. While Harrison won the election, the slogan stuck. Sometime later the Indiana Democratic Party adopted the rooster as its emblem.

After the Whig Party imploded in the 1850s, Northern Whigs and Free-Soil Democrats (those who opposed the expansion of slavery), formed the Republican Party. When Indiana Democrats urged voters to “vote for the big chick,” Republicans adopted the eagle, and the slogan, “Vote for the bird on the dollar.”

Thus, the Indiana rooster and eagle. The rooster emblem spread to other states, especially in the South, where it had more sinister legacy. The Alabama “white rooster” became a symbol of white supremacy. In the 1968 election, the Alabama ballot listed Hubert Humphrey under the Democratic donkey, but George Wallace, the segregationist candidate of the American Independent Party, had the rooster. In 1996 the Alabama Democratic Party formally adopted the donkey as its emblem due to the rooster’s racist associations.

But the Indiana rooster had no such legacy, so it remains the symbol of Indiana Democracy. Still, the reason for party emblems is mainly to aid illiterate voters. Illiteracy is much less common now than it was in the 1840s, but it still exists. For that reason I’ve argued that the donkey and elephant--universally recognized emblems--ought to be used on the Indiana ballot. It doesn’t seem likely to happen. Hoosiers are pretty stubborn.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Madison and the Gender Migration of Names

A couple of weeks ago, Kathleen learned that her twenty-something friend and coworker did not know the state capitals. The friend is intelligent, but she had never learned this basic of American geography--something that we baby boomers had to memorize.

So Kathleen decided to try to teach her. She did this by putting the capitals into categories: religious--St. Paul, Sacramento, Santa Fe, Salem, Concord, Providence; Native American--Tallahassee, Oklahoma City, Topeka, Cheyenne, Honolulu (maybe Native Hawaiian for the last); French--Des Moines, Baton Rouge, Boise, Montpelier, Pierre. There was a big category of English place names, such as Boston, Richmond, and Dover. Little Rock and Salt Lake City locate the city with a natural feature. A few, such as Phoenix and Bismarck were one of a class (Mythological Creatures and Iron Chancellors?).

But the cleverest category she came up with was women’s names. One is stretching it--Juneau is pronounced the same as Juno, but was actually named after a prospector named Joe Juneau. But the categories are mnemonic, not historical. Most of the others are pretty obvious--Augusta, Atlanta, Helena, Olympia. Annapolis, named for Anne Arundel, is also on the list. And one more that I wouldn’t have put in the class: Madison. In the past twenty years or so, the surname of our fourth president has become a popular girls’ name. And as a mnemonic, it worked.

Which is a way to get into the tendency of men’s names morphing into women’s names. And after they do, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be used for boys again. Most of these gender-changing names seem to fall into certain patterns. When men’s names share a traditionally feminine ending, they a seem to be fair game. Names ending in the latter a, such as Sasha, Dana, and Elisha have moved into the feminine column, at least in the United States. Judith (Hebrew in origin) and Edith (Anglo-Saxon), have made Meredith (Welsh) an acceptable girls’ name. Then there are the many-ley/ly names: Shirley, Beverly, Ashley, Kimberly, etc. (Somehow, Bradley has escaped feminization.) At one time, Lesley was a girls’ name, while Leslie was for boys. But in the States, it’s almost exclusively a girls’ name, whatever the spelling. Similarly, Tracy/Tracey and Stacy/Stacey are almost exclusively girls’ names in the USA.

Then there’s the “sounds the same” category. There are quite a few young women named
Aubrey today. I suspect it became a girls’ name because it sounds like Audrey.

A lot of surnames--Kelly, Taylor, and Courtney, for example, have become girl's names. I’m not sure why Kelly is a common girls’ name, while Murphy, despite the television program Murphy Brown, isn’t. Whether Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol will start a trend for that name, I don’t know. I hope not. Ditto for her boys’ names, Track and Trig.

When names make the transition, from masculine to feminine (I don't know any that have gone the other way), they usually do so completely. But Sidney, which shows up as a girl’s name as early as 1901, in Frank Norris’s novel, The Octopus, and Jordan, which is the name of a major female character in Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1922), are still used for both men and women.

And then there’s Madison. According to Wikipedia, it started with the 1984 movie Splash, in which Daryl Hannah plays a mermaid who takes the name Madison from the avenue in New York. But I suspect it wouldn’t have caught on if the nickname Maddie hadn’t been popular as a result of Maddie Hayes, the character played by Cybil Shepherd on the TV series, Moonlighting. Madeleine (or even Madolyn, the spelling of the character's name) is currently out of fashion, so it’s Madison to the rescue.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Gate of Horn, Gate of Ivory

In my last post, I mentioned a Chicago folk club called the Gate of Horn, which flourished in the 1950s and '60s. While the origin of the name is fairly well-known, I'll repeat it here. The Oneiroi, in Greek mythology, were either the sons (according to Ovid) or brothers (according to Hesiod)of Hypnos, the god of sleep. These winged daemons would send dreams to mortals through one of two portals. If they came through the gate of ivory, the dreams would be false, but those through the gate of horn were true. Several years ago, when I mentioned the myth to Kathleen, she noted immediately that the true dreams came through the more common material, where the more precious ivory produced false dreams.

The earliest reference to the two gates comes from the Odyssey, in which Persephone recounts a dream that Odysseus, her husband would return:

Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfilment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfilment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them. But in my case it was not from thence, methinks, that my strange dream came.

-Homer, The Odyssey, book 19, lines 560-569, Loeb Classical Library translation (via Wikipedia).


The Loeb translator, in a note, comments that "The play upon the words κέρας, 'horn,' and κραίνω, 'fulfil,' and upon ἐλέφας, 'ivory,' and ἐλεφαίρομαι, 'deceive,' cannot be preserved in English."


The gates also appear in Virgil's Aeneid, in which the hero, Aeneas, returns from the underworld by way of the ivory gate, which gave classical scholars a lot of room for interpretation. It seems to me that Virgil is cautioning the reader about the veracity of his story. Wikipedia uses the Dryden translation of Virgil, most likely because it's in the public domain. But it's also simply beautiful poetry. Aeneas, after visiting his dead father in the underworld, returns to the living world with the Cumean Sibyl:


Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn;
Of polish'd ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions thro' transparent horn arise;
Thro' polish'd ivory pass deluding lies.
Of various things discoursing as he pass'd,
Anchises hither bends his steps at last.
Then, thro' the gate of iv'ry, he dismiss'd
His valiant offspring and divining guest.


-Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 6, lines 893-898, tr. John Dryden

The gates of horn and ivory have turned up in modern literature, most notably in Robert Holdstock's novel Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn in his Mythago Wood fantasy series.

And of course the myth of the two gates gave the name t0 the Chicago folk club, where Odetta, Bob Dylan, Bob Gibson, Hamilton Camp, and virtually every other prominent folksinger of the 1950s and '60s performed.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Obama is the One for Me



I was just a bit too young to participate in the American folk revival of the late 1950s and early Sixties. Chicago's great folk clubs, Gate of Horn and the Earl of Old Town were closed by the time I got there. But the folk artists of that era continue to fascinate me, with their renditions of both new and old acoustic music, and their liberal to left-wing politics.

One of the great figures of that era was Peggy Seeger--Mike's sister and Pete's half-sister, who was married to another legendary folk figure, the late Ewan MacColl.

I was searching YouTube, hoping to find the Peggy Seeger/Ewan MaColl song, Come Fill Up Your Glasses, which used to be played every New Year's Eve on the WFMT Radio program, the Midnight Special. I didn't find it, but I found that Peggy Seeger is still active in folk music and politics. Her song, "Obama is the One for Me" reminds us that the idealism of the 1960s never really died, no matter what the last forty years have done to crush it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

As American as...Chop Suey?


Sarah Palin, after finishing the vice presidential debate without saying anything really stupid, has now declared that Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists.” Yep, American presidential politics are back on the moral high ground. Which is why I’m writing about something else--traditional American food such as chop suey and German chocolate cake. Besides, it gives me an excuse to use Edward Hopper’s wonderful painting, “Chop Suey.”

“As American as apple pie.” Of course, apple pie isn’t originally American. Wikipedia shows a 1381 English recipe, which suggests that people had been eating apple pie even earlier. But there are some American dishes which most Americans believe are foreign, but are far more American than apple pie.

You won’t find chop suey in China. And while it’s harder to find it in the United States today than twenty years ago, it’s an American, or Chinese-American dish. Its origins are unclear. I had read in a Time-Life book on the cooking of the Great West that it was first served in San Francisco. The phrase means “mixed pieces” in Cantonese, and seems to have originated with Chinese immigrants in California. The dish caught on with white Americans, and chop suey houses were common all over the United States by the turn of the last century. A recipe for chop suey can be found here.

After eating chop suey at a Chinese-American restaurant, you usually have a fortune cookie. Another Chinese-American invention, though it appears to be an adaptation of a Japanese recipe. Still, the fortune cookie as we know it was developed in America.

When Americans go to Germany and ask for German Chocolate Cake, they’re likely to get blank stares, or perhaps an explanation that the cake isn’t really German. In fact, if Samuel German had been, say, Samuel Irish, then it would have become Irish Chocolate Cake.

Samuel German was an Englishman, working for the Baker’s Chocolate Company. In 1852 he created a chocolate bar with extra cocoa butter, which became known as German’s Sweet Chocolate. A little more than a century later, a Texas housewife sent in a recipe for German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake to a Dallas newspaper. The cake itself may be older than that, but its first appearance in print was 1957.

Somewhere along the line, German’s was shortened to German, and thus Americans believed the cake originated in Germany. But it’s clearly from the American South, complete with that staple of Southern dishes, the pecan. The original German’s Chocolate Cake recipe can be found here. It’s a delicious cake. It’s just not German.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kennedy-Nixon All Over Again?

I didn't watch the first presidential debate last night. I listened to it on the radio. And while I thought Barrack Obama won on points, John McCain came through as a reassuring elder statesman--a man who could soothe the public in spite of policies that promise to turn the current recession into a depression. (You don't slash government spending during a recession. By throwing more and more people out of work, such drastic cuts can cause a snowball effect. You don't tax employer-provided health insurance unless you want take away health benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans.)

But Kathleen watched the debate. McCain, she said, came off as an "angry old man." The latest polls seem to bear this out, with Obama perceived as the winner by a skight margin.

It reminds me of another presidential debate, exactly 48 years before yesterday's debate, between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. I was eight years old in 1960, so I don't have clear memories of it at the time. But I've seen and heard recordings of the debates.

In the first debate, held September 26, 1960, most listeners perceived Nixon as the winner, while Kennedy was the clear victor with television viewers. Here's a summary from the Museum of Broadcast Communication:

... In August, Nixon had seriously injured his knee and spent two weeks in the hospital. By the time of the first debate he was still twenty pounds underweight, his pallor still poor. He arrived at the debate in an ill-fitting shirt, and refused make-up to improve his color and lighten his perpetual "5:00 o'clock shadow." Kennedy, by contrast, had spent early September campaigning in California. He was tan and confident and well-rested. "I had never seen him looking so fit," Nixon later wrote.

In substance, the candidates were much more evenly matched. Indeed, those who heard the first debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner. But the 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly and obviously discomforted by Kennedy's smooth delivery and charisma. Those television viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard. Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.

I wish Obama had sounded less professorial ("He was a professor," Kathleen reminded me.) and McCain less reassuring. But if McCain came off as an angry old man on the small screen, he may just be 1960 Nixon Redux.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hurricane Ike Hits Indiana

We don’t have hurricanes in the Midwest. We get virtually every other form of natural disaster: floods, tornadoes, forest fires, snowstorms, hailstorms, ice storms, earthquakes (though the last Big One was in the early 1800s), droughts, and heat waves, but no hurricanes. Those are for people living near an ocean. The trouble is, we get the remnants of hurricanes, and they can be almost as bad as the real thing.

Last weekend northern Indiana got over a foot of rain. I should have realized that the Borman Expressway would be flooded when I started driving east from Galesburg last Sunday afternoon. The Borman (named after astronaut Frank Borman, not Nazi Martin Bormann, though sometimes I think it ought to be) is a six-to-eight-lane highway extending from the Illinois border to the Indiana Toll Road exit at Lake Station, a distance of about 15 miles. It funnels virtually all the auto and truck traffic coming from Chicago and points west to Indiana, Michigan, and points east. When it shuts down, it’s a traffic nightmare. The alternatives are to go south to U.S. 30 or to head north into Chicago and get on the Skyway.

I was blithely driving Interstate 80 (the Kingery Expressway on the Illinois side), listening to a fascinating public radio program, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” about Generation X and its resentments against Boomers like me and Millennials like my kids, when I encountered a jam blocking all but the left lane of traffic. I stayed on the right, as the left lane would take me to Wisconsin. When I got to the Lincoln Oasis (a rest stop built over the highway), I could see flashing blue lights down the road. An accident, I thought.

But when I got back on the road it was clear that it was more than an accident. I was diverted off the Kingery and headed south. There were no signs or warnings, and public radio wasn’t giving traffic updates. (I couldn’t switch to AM because the space-age radio in my car didn’t come with instructions, and there was nothing that indicated AM.) By that time, I knew I’d need to make a 50-mile detour, as truck traffic would make a shorter detour even longer.. I got back to Elkhart about 2 a.m. Monday. A little before ten that morning I got a call from my son, who said he was coming home from college. Hanover College had no electricity and no water. The school would be closed for a week.

Southern Indiana got high winds and even worse flooding. When Jim got home, he called it the Hanover Apocalypse. Students were walking around muttering, “What do I do?” First the school planned to have classes on Monday, but then realized that with the water tower empty and no power to pump water into it, Hanover would have to close. Luckily, Jim got a ride with a friend who was from Elkhart. Otherwise we would have had to drive down and pick him up.

I got back to Davenport Tuesday night with a minimum of delay, though the Borman was still blocked. Still, I’m not used to hurricanes, or the remnants thereof, causing so much damage in the Upper Midwest.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Original Maverick

In a new irritating advertisement, John McCain and Sarah Palin are described as "the original mavericks." Like so many of the other McCain ads. it's misleading. (An earlier ad proclaimed that Barack Obama was "ready to raise taxes," though McCain wants to tax employer-provided health insurance--a huge tax increase on the middle class.) But the innuendos about Obama and the half-truths about Palin's accomplishments are par for the course. But "original mavericks?" Whether the are mavericks in any sense of the word is problematic. But there's only one original maverick, and it's not John McCain or Sarah Palin.

The term maverick comes from Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870), a Texas lawyer, politician and rancher. He fought in the Texas Revolution, first opposed, and then supported the secession of Texas from the Union, and was a major landowner. But his nickname came from his practice of not branding cattle. According to Wikipedia, "Maverick steadfastly refused to brand his cattle. As a result, the word maverick entered the English lexicon, meaning both an unbranded range animal as well as a slang term for someone who exhibits a streak of stubborn independence. Maverick's stated reason for not branding his cattle was that he didn't want to inflict pain on them. Other ranchers however, suspected that his true motivation was that it allowed him to collect any unbranded cattle and claim them as his own."

McCain isn't the original maverick, but his television ads--from the "Summer of Love" to the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton commercial to the current "Original Mavericks" ad demonstrate the kind of deception for personal gain that Samuel Maverick was accused of.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Vote Hasn't Counted

Lisa Kenney of Eudaemonia, in a very thoughtful post about presidential politics, admitted she hadn’t voted a lot in the past. Which brought the following response from Larramie of Sieze a Daisy:

Your admission, "I think I've only voted in one other Presidential election, which just goes to show how indifferent I've been in the past.," truly stunned me since your vote counts no matter who is running in what year.

For most elections, Larramie’s statement is true. But American presidential elections are a definite exception. While I expect to vote in the 2008 presidential election, I will do so with the firm expectation that my vote will not count, as it hasn’t counted in every presidential election I’ve voted in--and I’ve voted in every one since 1972.

The reason is, of course, the Electoral College. When I cast my ballot for Barrack Obama, I really won’t be voting for him, but for a slate of electors pledged to vote for him in December, when the real presidential election takes place. Had Obama chosen Evan Bayh as his running mate, my vote might have counted for something. But chances are, Indiana will go for McCain, and the electors from Indiana will go for McCain in the real election.

While I’m proud to say that I cast my first presidential vote for George McGovern, my vote didn’t count. Iowa went for Nixon. Four years later, Jimmy Carter won the election, but without my help. Iowa’s electors voted for Gerald Ford. By the time Iowa started voting Democratic, I was in Illinois, which went for Bush in 1988. And I’ve been voting in Indiana since 1992.

It seemed possible that we might change the presidential election process after 2000, when George W. Bush lost in the popular vote to Al Gore, and won the election by a five to four vote in the Supreme Court, which gave Florida’s electors to Bush. But it didn’t happen. For one thing, a Republican Congress wasn’t likely to support a constitutional amendment making a Republican victory more difficult.

One interesting idea to reform the Electoral College is one I believe was proposed by Curtis Gans, which would allot two additional electors from each state to the candidate who wins the popular vote. While it wouldn’t eliminate the Electoral College, it would make the travesty of 2000 a near-impossibility.

I encourage everyone to vote in the coming election. Even if you’re voting for Obama in Indiana or McCain in Illinois. There’s always hope. And then we should push for a constitutional amendment to assure that all of our votes will count in the future.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Chicago 10


I missed Chicago 10 during its theatrical realease, as it was shown only in large cities, while I was in Bloomington, Illinois and Elkhart, Indiana. It's out on DVD now, and it's well-worth the price. The film mixes actual footage from the demonstrations and the "Festival of Life" during the 1968 Democratic Convention with an animated re-enactment of the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial, in which eight members of the Yippies, the Mobilization Against the War, and the Black Panthers (Bobby Seale) were tried for crossing state lines to incite a riot. (When Seale was separated from the rest of the defendants, it was known as the Chicago Seven trial.) The name "Chicago 10" was taken from a quote from Jerry Rubin: "Anyone who calls us the Chicago Seven is a racist. Because you're discrediting Bobby Seale. You can call us the Chicago Eight, but really we're the Chicago Ten, because our two lawyers went down with us."

Brett Morgen's film was particulary impressive because it provided archival film not easily available, especially of the Lincoln Park police attacks. It gives me a much better idea of the actions of the crowds and the police, which until now, I've had to glean from books and newspaper articles.


Morgen was born in October 1968, after the police riots of August. Because he could look at the events without having lived through them, he gives us a fresh view. I was disappointed that the DVD did not have additional archival footage in the special features. Perhaps we'll get something like that in a subsequent DVD resease. But Chicago 10 is simply a fascinating movie, both in the use of archival footage and the brilliance of the voice actors. Roy Scheider as Judge Julius Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright as Bobby Seale, and Dylan Baker as David Dellinger stand out, but all the voice actors are thoroughly believable. According to the Wikipedia article, there will be two more Chicago 10 films. I'll be looking forward to them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hoosiers, Suckers, Badgers, Hawkeyes, and Pukes

Tea N. Crumpet, in a comment on my last post, asked, "What's a Hoosier?" That got me musing about state nicknames. The 1860 campaign song, "Lincoln and Liberty" mentions not only Hoosiers, but an Illinois nickname that's rarely heard now.






We'll go for the son of Kentucky,
The hero of Hoosierdom through;
The pride of the Suckers so lucky
For Lincoln and Liberty too!

-"Lincoln and Liberty"

The second stanza tells us that Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, lived for a time in Indiana, and was the pride of Illinois. That's right--Illinoisans were once known as Suckers. The Dictionary of Wisconsin History explains the nickname, by way of its definition of "badger:"

The name 'Badger' state for Wisconsin had its origin in the lead mining districts of southwestern Wisconsin. Miners from the south (Illinois) in the early days were in the habit of working in the lead mines during the summer and returning south for the winter, migrating like suckers [a species of fish], hence the name 'Sucker" state. Those who came from the east, however, could not return to their homes in the winter and made for themselves 'dugouts' in the sides of the bluffs and hills, burrowing like badgers, hence 'Badgers' or permanent residents of the Wisconsin country." From Wisconsin: comprising sketches of counties, towns, events, institutions, and persons, arranged in cyclopedic form, ed. by Ex-Gov. Geo. W. Peck (Madison, Wis., Western Historical Association, 1906).

Perhaps the Suckers were lucky, as they weren't called Pukes. Netstate also traces the origin of the Missouri Puke to the Galena lead mines:

The Puke State: This distasteful name is said to refer to the large gathering of Missourians in 1827 at the Galena Lead Mines. According to George Earlie Shankle, PhD, in State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols, 1938, "...so many Missourians had assembled, that those already there declared the State of Missouri had taken a 'puke.'

Iowans adopted "Hawkeye" before they could be tagged with something more insulting. Here's part of the Netstate entry:

The Hawkeye State: This popular nickname for the state of Iowa is said to have come from the scout, Hawkeye, in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826. According to the Iowa State web site, "Two Iowa promoters from Burlington are believed to have popularized the name." The nickname was given approval by "territorial officials" in 1838, twelve years after the book was published and eight years before Iowa became a state.

There also seems to be a reference to the Sauk warrior Black Hawk, who died in Iowa. In any case, the Hawkeye nickname seems to have been an effort to pre-empt the adoption of an offensive nickname, such as Puke or Sucker.

Or, perhaps Hoosier. While many Indiana residents, especially in the southern and central parts of the state, take pride in the label, a lot of us in the northern part of the state aren't comfortable with it. The article, "What's a Hoosier?" in the Indiana University Alumni Magazine gives a good overall summary of the term, along with a mention of Senator Dan Quayle's battle with Merriam-Webster to remove the negative definitions of "hoosier" (lower case) from the dictionary. But unlike the Suckers and Pukes, Hoosiers have stood by their nickname, even if it does mean a hick or rube.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Will The "Mother of Vice Presidents" Give Birth Again?

Update: No VP announcement, thought an Obama-Bayh ticket is still possible. One drawback: Republican governor Mitch Daniels is likely to win a second term, thanks to his almost unlimited campaign chest. Should Bayh become VP, Daniels would get to appoint his successor.

Barack Obama is coming to Elkhart Wednesday morning (August 6), and there's speculation that he may announce Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as his running mate. If that's true, he'll be following a hallowed tradition in American politics--a Hoosier vice presidential candidate.

I won't be there--I'll be in Davenport, Iowa, trying to catch up on my sleep, and then heading for work on the second shift at Galesburg, Illinois. But I'll be there in spirit. And just maybe, A Hoosier running mate may be the key to Obama's success.

The first Indiana vice president was Schuyler Colfax of South Bend, who had been Speaker of the House before agreeing to be Ulysses S. Grant's running mate in 1868. He was dropped from the ticket in 1872 because of his connection with the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. While Colfax was never formally charged, the scandal ended his politcal career; he spent his final years giving lectures about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He died January 13, 1885, of a heart attack, in a Mankato, Minnesota railway station, after walking nearly a mile in minus 30 degree (Fahrenheit) weather.

After the end of Reconstruction, Indiana was one of three swing states. The Democrats controlled the "Solid South" once the black vote had been suppressed, while Republicans could count on New England the Plains, and most of the upper Midwest. Whichever party took New York and either Indiana or Ohio would win the presidency. Indiana, being the smallest of the swing states, was more likely to get the vice presidential candidate.

Thomas Hendricks had been a congressman, senator, and Indiana governor before becoming Grover Cleveland's running mate in 1884. In 1872 he had received 42 electoral votes for president because Horace Greeley, the Democratic candidate, died after the November election, but before the Electoral College met. He ran for vice president in 1876 with Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College in what many believed to be a stolen election. Hendricks was a conservative Democrat with pro-southern views. His legacy as vice president is negligible, as he died just a few months after taking office. Cleveland was defeated in the 1888 election (though winning the popular vote) by Benjamin Harrison--the only Hoosier to win the presidency.

The third Hoosier VP was Charles Warren Fairbanks, the who was a U.S. senator until he became Theodore Roosevelt's vice president in 1904. The "Indiana Icicle," was a contrast to the ebullient president. His reputation as a teetotaler came to an end during his term, as "Lemonade Charlie" was seen drinking a Manhattan cocktail. Thereafter, he was "Cocktail Charlie." His name lives on, perhaps appropriately, in the city of Fairbanks, Alaska. In 1912, he ran for vice president with Charles Evans Hughes. Unfortunately for him, the Democrats nominated another Hoosier for the second office.

Thomas Riley Marshall, of Columbia City, Indiana, served as vice president for both of Woodrow Wilson's terms. As governor of Indiana, he had pushed through a child labor law, opposed Indiana's sterilization law, and opposed capital punishment, but most of his progressive legislation was thwarted in the legislature.

While Wilson kept Marshall on as vice president during his second term, the two men did not get on well; Marshall had little influence on the president. But he had some great one-liners. His most famous was when he was presiding over the Senate. After sitting through an interminable speech about "what this country needs," he is reputed to have said to the clerk, "What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar." Of his home state he said, "Indiana is the mother of Vice Presidents, home of more second-class men than any other state."

After 1920, Indiana became a solidly Republican state. Since the Franklin Roosevelt landslide of 1936, the last time the Hoosier State supported a Democrat for president was in the Johnson landslide of 1964. The only Hoosier VP since Marshall, of course, was Dan Quayle, whom George H. W. Bush chose for his youth and conservatism, not because he was from Indiana.

If Obama does name Evan Bayh as his running mate, Indiana could once again be a swing state. I'm convinced that had Al Gore made Bayh is running mate in 2000, he'd be finishing his second term. Barack Obama would do well to go to the Mother of Vice Presidents for the second spot on his ticket.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Virtually Out of the Virtual World

I've been in exile from cyberspace for the past two weeks, and will be mainly out of the loop for three more. I'm still in the process of moving out of my Bloomington apartment while having to work in Galesburg without a day off until early August. I took my PC into Best Buy had and them put in a gigabyte of RAM and a DVD-RW. And I've got it set up in my in-laws' basement. But, sadly, I haven't been able to keep up with my friends in cyperspace. I hope to be back in the blogosphere by mid-August. By then, I may at least have my regular days off. I'll take a cue from SzélsőFa and label this post "whining."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Three-Year Move and a Ten-Year Meme.

Since I began working in the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois Amtrak station in July, 2005, I've been trying get a transfer either to South Bend, near our house in Elkhart, or to Galesburg, Illinois, near my wife's hometown of Davenport, Iowa. At the end of 2006 I had accepted a transfer to South Bend only to find that another employee, who was still on the seniority roster, was entitiled to the job. It turned out that I was lucky not to get the job, as I would have been bumped later on by the elimination of another job.


Just a couple of weeks ago, one of the Galesburg ticket clerks took a job in management, giving me a chance to bid a job there. In the next few weeks I'll be moving out of The Closet Over the Stairs in Bloomington and starting the new job in Galesburg. I'll be staying with my in-laws in Davenport until we can get rid of the house in Elkhart and find someplace to live in Galesburg.


I'll be busy trying to get resettled, so posts will be more sporadic than usual. Chapter 19 of Things Done and Left Undone may take a while to complete. Meanwhile, here's the Ten Year Meme Lisa of Eudaemonia tagged me with:


What were you doing ten years ago?


In the summer of 1998 I was working at the Amtrak Call Center in Chicago, making the long-distance commute from Elkhart (drive to Michigan City, then ride the South Shore train to Chicago). I had enough seniority to hold a 4-day, 10-hour shift, so it wasn't so bad. That fall I'd start writing a column on local history for the Elkhart Truth, which I'd continue writing until 2003.

Anne had finished eighth grade and would start high school in August. Sarah was out of seventh grade. It seems as though middle school, or junior high school, is always a traumatic time. Sarah actually had a good seventh grade, but Anne hated both years of middle school. Jim would be going into third grade. Kathleen was not working outside the home at the time, as I was essentially gone four days a week.

In some ways, 1998 seems farther in the past than 1973, when Kathleen and I were married. But it was a turning point for me: I became a regular, as opposed to a sporadic writer.

Five things on your to-do list for today

Take some more books to Goodwill and continue getting rid of stuff .

Do some laundry.

Fill up the tank in my ancient Toyota.

Drive back to Bloomington.

Get rid of more stuff at my Bloomington apartment.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

I'm going to pass on this one. Money and I aren't friends --I wish there were some other way to get along in the world. I fear a surfeit of money would be worse for me than my current situation of being up to my neck in Direct Loans for my kids. Money would find a way to get me.

What are three of your bad habits?

General messiness.

A tendency towards pessimism (see answer to previous question).

Procrastination (To-do list was from last Thursday, though the procrastination here is doing the meme--I got all the tasks done).

What are some snacks you enjoy?

My own trail mix (Chocolate chips, unsalted peanuts, and raisins).

Greek olives.

Nutella on French bread (haven't had it in a long time).

High-cocoa dark chocolate (I can even pretend it's good for me).

What were the last five books you read?

Boom! Voices of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw--Brokaw is a journalist, and is more concerned with how the past affects the present than actually understanding the past. He makes the mistake of assuming that the Baby Boom generation made the Sixties. "They [the Boomers] made the Sixties. There's no doubt about that." Actually, there's a lot of doubt. It was his generation--the people born just before and during the Second World War who were the movers and shakers of that decade. Abbie Hoffman, Bob Dylan, John Lewis, Gloria Steinem, John Lennon, etc., etc. Plus some of the "Greatest Generation" such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (people he fails to mention in his book, The Greatest Generation). My generation gets stuck with the Seventies and Eighties. However, Jerry Rubin of Brokaw's generation had the distinction for being a Yippie in the Sixties and A Yuppie in the Eighties.

A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo--The best part isn't Rotolo's relationship with Dylan, but her description of the Village scene in the early Sixties.

Name Withheld by J. A. Jance--Not her best work, but entertaining. It was available on cassette, which is what I have in my '90 Toyota.

No one was killed, Documentation and meditation: Convention Week, Chicago, August 1968 by John Schultz--perhaps the best of the books about the '68 convention, though Schultz does take a pro-Yippie view, while viewing the McCarthy volunteers as smug and arrogant (even though his wife was one).

The Self Under Siege - Philosophy in the 20th Century by Rick Roderick (course on tape). Roderick's Philosophy and Human Values course is perhaps the best introduction to philosophy around. Self Under Siege is classic Roderick--brilliance in a West Texas drawl. He discusses Sartre, Heidegger, Marcuse, Habermas, Foucault, Derrida, and others. Roderick's lectures are available on the Web, now--click here.

What are five jobs you have had?

Working the grill and fryer at Henry's Hamburgers in Coralville, IA.

Bus driver (campus bus, Cedar Rapids Transit, and Iowa City Transit).

Rail coordinator for the Midwest office of CIT Tours (agent for the Italian State Railways).

Reservation Sales Agent.

Rate Desk Clerk--dealing with complicated fares and difficult people.

What are five places where you have lived?

Iowa City, Iowa

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Oak Park, Illinois

Elkhart, Indiana

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I was born in Peoria, Illinois. Some people find that fact hilarious--kind of like being born in Dull Center, Wyoming.

I'll forgo tagging anyone else. Virtually everyone whose blog I read has done this one anyway.




Monday, June 23, 2008

Hanover--Just up the road from Transylvania

In my last post on my visit to Hanover College, SzélsőFa commented, "It never ceases to amaze me how the names of European cities appear and STAY on the map of the USA." Most of the European city names come from the hometowns of the first white settlers. Lots of Londons, Bristols, Hamburgs and Amsterdams. I think the many Milans (almost all of which are pronounced to rhyme with smilin') and Parises were named because those cities had class and sophistication which the founders hoped would rub off on their towns. Some of Parises and other French-named towns may have been named by the voyageurs who plied the rivers of North America in the years before the French and Indian (Seven Years') War. In what would become the Louisiana Purchase, the French had even more time to name towns. Warsaw, Indiana, county seat of Kosciusko County, was named not by Polish immigrants, but for the capital of Poland, the home country (though not at the time a nation-state) of Thaddeus Kosciusko, the Polish patriot who had fought in the American revolution. A lot of the Spanish names in the Midwest are named for battles in the Mexican-American War--Churubusco, La Paz, Buena Vista, Cerro Gordo, etc.

But I came across one European name that has nothing to do with the region in Europe. While at Hanover, Kathleen and I met some very nice people from Kentucky. We were talking about colleges at lunch, and the Kentuckians were talking about "Transy." I asked if this was Transylvania University, and whether there was any connection between that institution and the Carpathian mountains.

It turns out that Transylvania University was founded in 1780, in Danville, Virginia, and moved to Lexington (now Kentucky) in 1789. What would become Kentucky was known as the Transylvania Colony, from the Latin, "across the forest." So the name came independently of the European region, though from the same Latin root. (According to Wikipedia, the European Transylvania is a Latinization of the Hungarian Erdély, which is derived from Erdő-elve meaning "beyond the forest.")

Thanks to Bram Stoker, the name Transylvania conjures up images of dark castles and vampires, at least in the minds of Britons and Americans. But when Transylvania University was founded, the novel Dracula was more than a century in the future. For Virginians, it just meant the land to the west of the great forest.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Off to Hanover


Kathleen and I will be driving down to Hanover, Indiana with our son Jim for the orientation program at Hanover College. The campus overlooks the Ohio River and is said to be one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. The picture, uploaded from WikiMedia, is of Parker Audiorium. We'll be back Saturday night. Beginning this fall, Jim will be a Hanoverian, though not of the Georges of England variety.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

John Ruskin, John Millais, and the Ideal of Womanhood






A lot of us men idealize women, especially the women we love. I'm guilty. Unfortunately, when the woman falls short of our ideal, which inevitably happens, things can go very wrong. In most cases, we come to realize that our beloved is just as human as we are, and we go on to love her with all her imperfections. Yet sometimes the idealization can go too far. Take the famous case of the critic John Ruskin and Euphemia "Effie" Gray (the model in the painting at left, Peace Concluded, by John Millais). Ruskin had fallen in love with Gray when she was very young, and had written the fantasy novel, The King of the Golden River, for her when she was twelve. They married when she was 18. According to Gray, he was an oppressive husband. That wasn't unusual. What was unusual was that Gray was still a virgin five years after her marriage.
Ruskin had championed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists and had taken a special interest in the painter John Everett Millais. Effie Gray had posed for a Millais' painting, Order of Release (right). Millais then accompanied the Ruskins on a trip to Scotland, where he fell in love with Effie. She had her marriage to Ruskin annulled on grounds of non-consummation and subsequently married Millais.

Why had Ruskin refused to make love to his wife? In a letter to her father, Effie wrote, "He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and, finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April." And Ruskin confirmed it in a statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings: "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."

What was it about this beautiful woman that so repelled Ruskin? Mary Luytens, in a biography of Ruskin, suggested it was pubic hair--he expected her to look like a classical Greek statue underneath her clothes. Other historians have suggested menstrual blood or body odor. We shall never know, but I think Luytens' theory makes the most sense.

Millais seems to have had no problem with Effie's body; they had eight children together.


And there's one more bizarre note to this story: Millais painted this portrait of Ruskin while he was in love with Effie: there must have been an incredible strain between the two men, but they stoically finished the portrait.
The story of Ruskin, Gray, and Millais has inspired a number of stories, plays, films, and even an opera. Check out Wikipedia for the particulars.
Although it's very much a Victorian tale, it's a reminder to those of us who idealize the beloved in body, mind, or personality. These beautiful beings are just as human as we are. (Peace Concluded and Order of Release uploaded from WikiMedia; Ruskin's portrait uploaded from Victorian Web.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Folk Etymology: Gringos and Long Knives

I recently checked out a tape called "Spanish for Gringos." On the cover of the the accompanying workbook was the following:

gringo n, pl gringos [Sp, alternate of griego Greek, stranger, fr Latin Graecus, Greek] (1849); a foreigner in Spain or Latin America, esp. when person is of English or American origin....
(Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary)

I'm pretty sure the dictionary is right about the word's etymology. But I had learned a more colorful story: that Mexican-American vaqueros came into contact with Irish-American cowboys after the United States acquired first Texas, and then New Mexico and California. The Irish cowboys were constantly singing the song, "Green Grow the Lilacs." The first two words of the song were slurred into gringo.

What I had learned was folk etymology--what Wikipedia calls "A commonly held misunderstanding of the origin of a particular word, a false etymology." Folk etymologies are usually more interesting than the actual word origin. Sometimes folk etymologies can unfairly cast a bad light on some perfectly innocent words, such as picnic, or phrases such as rule of thumb. But for the most part, folk etymologies can be a lot of fun.

One folk etymology (and who knows, maybe it's true), is the story of how American Indians came to call white Americans "Big Knives," or "Long Knives." The term was first applied to Virginians, then to all white Americans. Here's the story: Francis Howard, Fifth Baron Howard of Effingham, and royal governor of Virginia (served 1683-1692) traveled up to New York Colony to treat with the Iroquois tribe. He had brought with him a translator of Dutch origin. In the course of the treaty making, one of the Iroquois wanted to know the meaning of the name Howard. The Dutch translator, thinking of a Dutch word meaning "hanger" (I'm doing this from memory, so I don't remember the exact word), translated it as "big knife." Thus Virginians, and later all white Americans, became Big Knives, or Long Knives.

Most likely, the term came from the swords the Virginians carried. But the mistranslation story is a lot more fun.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

White Ducks: Jim's Senior Speech



I've had a week off so I could attend my son's graduation from Elkhart Memorial High School. He was chosen to give the senior speech at commencement, so I'm including exerpts from it. I've taken out some of the local and school-specific comments, but gist of the speech is here. A couple of things: Memorial's team is the Crimson Chargers. And Philoctetes was one of the Greeks who sacked Troy; specifically, he slew Paris, the guy who carried off Helen and started the whole sorry business. Photo uploaded from etruth.com. He did a wonderful job with the speech, in spite of some rather bad acoustics. Here it is:


The thing is that even though I've lived here all my life, a whole 18 years, I have never seen a white duck.Yes, I have been to zoos, public parks--even Wisconsin--and I have yet to see one single colorless snow glazed feather. That bugs me. I've heard people whine about the failings of their life, never doing this or that, never having kissed her, found time for him, gotten that job, gone bungee jumping, and through all their griping I can't help but think that I haven't even seen a white duck. I think I'm down on points here. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The Future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." It turns out that's our commencement topic by the way. And you're probably wondering what that quote has to do at all with ducks. White. Fluffy. Ducks. My Dream is to see this duck. It may be odd, it may be silly, but I believe in this dream. And I really want to see that duck! Obviously, and for the reassurance of my parents, since they're probably crossing their fingers up there about now, I have more life goals then that! I have college in a few months--hopefully I'll pull out a degree in something palpable, and later on a career and family. Those are pretty broad dreams, nearly universal, and something I probably share with most of you here graduating today.

What makes wanting to see that little duck special is the infinitesimal smallness of it. It's like the first stepping stone in a pond, and I intend to dream my way across one stone at a time. I believe in this dream...


Okay, Do you remember when you were five, and you wanted to be not a firefighter, a cosmetologist, a lawyer, or a doctor, but a Jedi? (beat)This seemed to me the perfect career choice for me, a way to browbeat my way to the future and a perfectly reasonable career choice to expend my life on.I didn't limit myself to that career choice though, I also considered being a cowboy, pirate, free range chicken, and Godzilla. However, I have yet to achieve any of these lofty childhood goals. These wishes consumed me, burning my insides like a ghostflame, and brought forth the sustenance for my daily trials...


But now that we can separate fact from fiction, our dreams are not so far-fetched, and we can attain them if we can dig up that cinder we have inside us, believe in it, and nurse it into a fire. Not so we can spit-roast that white duck when I find it, but to give ourselves those devastating dreams powerful enough to burn harder then mere crimson whisps, and charge forward to light the lives ahead of us. These dreams can give us the future sight, to aspire to the best in everything we do. Though we can all still feel like Jedi when we go through those automatic doors at Kroger's. We are consigned to dream the best we can.

And we have--in four years we've had so many dreams, and we've worked for them. In four years we've had a plethora of sports teams go to State, and Steve Stahl conquered that [state wrestling] title like Philoctetes over Troy. We've had some of the best artists in the country.

We've dreamed big. And we've dreamed small.
We've dreamed of not having those silly tardy lockouts.
We've dreamed of chasing those geese off the lawn.
We've dreamed of long nights out, and we've dreamed of senioritis.

We've lived life to the fullest, just like every pop song has ever told us to. And now high school is done. But there are so many more dreams we have to live, so let's keep sleeping in, so years from now we can say we lived in our dreams. So don't forget that burning wish, that yearning wish. It is no death wish, no out of scale dream; it is merely an ember that if we foster, can light a fire for the rest of our lives.

Jim will be going to Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana this fall. He's majoring in English/Creative Writing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"I am half sick of shadows"

Before we were married, Kathleen gave me a book on the Pre-Raphaelites. At the time I had never heard of them. She instinctively knew I'd like them, and I did. The Pre-Rapahaelite Brotherhood was a school of artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which held that the painter Raphael had corrupted painting through his use of classical poses. The Brotherhhod particularly rejected the Mannerist school of painting as mechanistic. Whatever their philosophy, the pre-Rapahelites gave us incredible detail and brilliant use of color. Their themes could be overly sentimental, but their best work shows emphasizes the beauty of nature and the human form. And just sometimes they give us a glimpse into the soul.

One favorite theme of the Pre-Raphelites was the Arthurian cycle of legend, and its many interpretations. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott," loosely based on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat, was the subject of several pre-Raphaelite paintings, including three by John William Waterhouse. The poem tells of a woman who is confined to a tower, and is cursed to weave a magic web without looking at the world. When Sir Lancelot passes by her tower, she is so enamored of him that she abandons her loom and sets off in a boat to pursue the knight. Because of the curse, she dies before reaching Camelot.

"'I am Half Sick of Shadows,' said the "Lady of Shalott," pictured above, illustrates the following stanza:

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

The painting now hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. A larger copy of the painting can be found here. And yes, I fell in love with the woman at the loom the first time I saw the painting. Kathleen doesn't have a lot to worry about. For one thing, the woman's hair and figure are very much like Kathleen's And for another, the painting is from 1916, and the model for the picture has surely passed on.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bring Back the Zonkers!

I was prowling the library shelves for books about the 1960s and came across one simply called 60s! by John and Gordon Gavna (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983). I opened it randomly and saw Screaming Yellow Zonkers! (The exclamation point is part of the product name.) The snack was inspired by the Beatles' animated movie Yellow Submarine. I mentioned Zonkers! to my wife and asked her if she remembered them, and she said, "Screaming Yellow Zonkers! Mmm."

Unlike a lot of 1960s snack food creations, Zonkers! actually tasted good. They were a glazed-popcorn treat much like Poppycock and Fiddle-Faddle. But the combination of the glaze and the creative name made Screaming Yellow Zonkers! a hit for Lincoln Snacks, a Lincoln, Nebraska based company. I hadn't seen the snack in a long time and assumed it had died with the Sixties. Not so, I learned from Wikipedia. They were available until 2007, when ConAgra purchased Lincoln Snacks and immediately discontinued the line.

ConAgra needs to rethink its decision. I suspect that Zonkers! lost popularity mainly because they weren't promoted. A creative ad campaign--Zonkers! were always about creativity--could make this product a hit with a new generation, along with the millions of Baby Boomers who already love them. What about it, ConAgra?