Reading, thinking, and the state of things

Andy Borowitz from the New Yorker Magazine posted a few days ago something like “It has been hilarious, but can we have a real President now?”  That is how I’m feeling these days as I’m bombarded with constant misspeaking, mismanagement, and simply ignorance.  Some days I wonder if anyone in the administration ever learned any history, geography or simple arithmetic.  As a defensive measure for my own psyche, I am mostly using social media to catch up on personal things posted by friends and have drastically cut the political stuff I post on Facebook and Twitter.  My sanity demands more selectivity.

Charles Blow, in an April 17 New York Times column, expressed much better how I feel.

His failures so far, I suppose, should bring resisters like me some modicum of joy, but I must confess that they don’t. Or, more precisely, if they do, that joy is outweighed by the rolling litany of daily horrors that Trump has inflicted.

The horrors are both consuming and exhausting. For me at this point they center on an erosion of equality. This by no means downplays Trump’s incessant lying, the outrage of his draining the Treasury for his personal junkets, or his disturbing turn toward war. But somewhat below the radar, or at least with less fanfare, our access, inclusion and justice are being assailed by a man who lied on the campaign trail promising to promote them.

And the very sad thing is that even with his approval rating hovering around 40%, his core still supports him despite the knowledge that his actions hurt them the most.

I’ve been reading a lot to escape and have found some very interesting books to recommend.  Rudolf Fisher was the first African-American to write a mystery.  His book, “The Conjure-Man Dies”, is set in a 1930s Harlem.  Fisher (1897-1934) was a doctor, music arranger, and writer, which explains his interest in using science to solve the crime.  Everyone in the book is black:  The police detective, the medical examiner, the victim, and all of the suspects.  “Conjure-Man” has just been reprinted and reissued.  In some ways, “Conjure-Man” is clearly a first mystery.  I’ve found that in many first mysteries the plotting is more complicated than needed, but the glimpse of life in Harlem is well worth the effort of getting though the twists and turns.

ows_136396805189380“Ordinary Grace” is a total opposite.  Set in the summer of 1961 in rural Minnesota, it is narrated by a now middle-aged man recalling the summer.  I think this is considered to be a mystery as it won an Edgar Award for William Kent Kruger, but I thought it was just a wonderfully written novel.  I read this for my book group, Malice on Main, and I was not the only one who reported crying through much of it.  “Ordinary Grace is an extraordinary book.

My final recommendation is “Writing to Save a Life” by John Edgar Wideman.  I’m not sure how to characterize this book which tells the story of Louis, Emmett, and Mamie Till.  The New York Times Book Review and the National Book Awards call it non fiction, but some of the almost stream of conscious speculation about Louis Till seemed to be excellent fiction writing.  Louis Till, Emmett’s father, was executed during World War II in Italy for the rape and murder of a young local woman.  I have to say I still am not sure how I feel about this book, but it is fascinating reading.

Reading, baseball, and gardening this summer will save my sanity – I hope.

Remembering Poe

Edgar Allan Poe died today, October 7, 1849 in Baltimore.  He was 40 years old.

My first introduction to Poe was “The Tell- Tale Heart”.  I think was in maybe the 5th or 6th grade when the teacher read it to us.  I found it frightening.  And then there were his other storied like “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and his very bad poetry.  I had always thought he was from Richmond – or maybe Baltimore, but have since learned he actually lived all over and went to school both at the University of Virginia and West Point.  After I moved to Boston, I found out that he had been born there.  I went looking for the tiny plaque in an alley honoring him.  There was also a reference in one of Linda Fairstein’s mysteries to the Poe cabin in the Bronx which is how I first learned of his New York connection.  So lots and lots of places claim him and there are at least three Poe historical sites:  Richmond, Baltimore and the Bronx.

But he and Boston had a terrible relationship.  According to the New York Times

Poe sneered at the city’s luminaries. Riffing off the Frog Pond in the Boston Common, Poe called the local swells “Frogpondians,” their moralistic works sounding like the croaking of so many frogs. As for residents here, they “have no soul,” he said. “Bostonians are well bred — as very dull persons very generally are.”

The Boston Globe explains that his relationship with “…with the city’s literary elite was famously tense…”

But now Boston has joined Baltimore, Richmond and New York with a tribute to Poe.  The New York Times quotes Boston’s Mayor

“It’s time that Poe, whose hometown was Boston, be honored for his connection to the city,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said.

The bronze Edgar Allen Poe’s briefcase overflows with the symbols that made him famous: a larger-than-life raven, and a human heart.

The bronze Edgar Allen Poe’s briefcase overflows with the symbols that made him famous: a larger-than-life raven, and a human heart.

The Times describes the statue

Now the city is burying the hatchet, and not in Poe’s back. On Sunday [October 5], civic and literary folk, including Robert Pinsky, a former national poet laureate who teaches at Boston University, are to unveil a bronze statue of Poe near the Boston Common and, they hope, usher in an era of reconciliation.

The statue captures the writer in a purposeful stride, his cape billowing out to his left. On his right is an outsize raven, uncoiling for flight. Poe is toting a suitcase so overpacked that various manuscripts — “The Tell-Tale Heart” among them — are spilling out. Also popping out is a heart.

He is heading toward the house, two blocks away, where his parents lived around the time he was born, though it has since been razed.

So the only person to write a poem that became the name of a football team, the Baltimore Ravens, has finally been honored in the city of his birth.  I wonder what Poe would make of it.

Photograph:  DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF

 

 

 

President Harrison’s new medical diagnosis

William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, served one month.  I learned in school that he gave a very long inaugural address, caught pneumonia, and died.  I think this is what most people know about him.  Oh, there is that slogan “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too”.  Harrison , while governor of the Indiana Territory, commanded troops that repulsed a raid by Chief Tecumseh.  According to his biography on the White House website

…In 1801 he became Governor of the Indiana Territory, serving 12 years.

His prime task as governor was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could press forward into the wilderness. When the Indians retaliated, Harrison was responsible for defending the settlements.

The threat against settlers became serious in 1809. An eloquent and energetic chieftain, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Indian confederation to prevent further encroachment. In 1811 Harrison received permission to attack the confederacy.

While Tecumseh was away seeking more allies, Harrison led about a thousand men toward the Prophet’s town. Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded.

The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon which Harrison’s fame was to rest, disrupted Tecumseh’s confederacy but failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring of 1812, they were again terrorizing the frontier.

In the War of 1812 Harrison won more military laurels when he was given the command of the Army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general. At the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie, on October 5, 1813, he defeated the combined British and Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh. The Indians scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest.

Then in 1840 he won the Presidency in a close election, gave his address, took sick and died.  But of what did he actually die?  Two New York Times science reporters think they have found the answer.

But a new look at the evidence through the lens of modern epidemiology makes it far more likely that the real killer lurked elsewhere — in a fetid marsh not far from the White House.

The first clue that the pneumonia diagnosis was wrong lies in Miller’s [Thomas Miller, Harrison’s doctor] own apparent uneasiness with it. “The disease,” he wrote, “was not viewed as a case of pure pneumonia; but as this was the most palpable affection, the term pneumonia afforded a succinct and intelligible answer to the innumerable questions as to the nature of the attack.”

An 1846 map of Washington, top, shows the home (A) of William Henry Harrison, above, its water supply (B), and a field of “night soil” (C) that could have harbored deadly bacteria.

An 1846 map of Washington, top, shows the home (A) of William Henry Harrison, above, its water supply (B), and a field of “night soil” (C) that could have harbored deadly bacteria.

The conclusion:  Typhoid Fever.

In those days the nation’s capital had no sewer system. Until 1850, some sewage simply flowed onto public grounds a short distance from the White House, where it stagnated and formed a marsh; the White House water supply was just seven blocks downstream of a depository for “night soil,” hauled there each day at government expense.

That field of human excrement would have been a breeding ground for two deadly bacteria, Salmonella typhi and S. paratyphi, the causes of typhoid and paratyphoid fever — also known as enteric fever, for their devastating effect on the gastrointestinal system.

Two other antebellum presidents, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, developed severe gastroenteritis while living in the White House. Taylor died, while Polk recovered, only to be killed by what is thought to have been cholera a mere three months after leaving office.

Thus, the lack of a sewer system may have lead to the death of two presidents and the illness of a third.

Re-reading “The Daughter of Time” or was Richard III a murderer?

"The Princes in the Tower"

“The Princes in the Tower” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a re-reader.  If I like a book, particularly a mystery, I will read it again.  Josephine Tey is a writer I first read in high school when I was introduced by my mother.  I remember thinking at the time that ‘The Daughter of Time” was one of her least interesting stories.  After all, Alan Grant is in a hospital bed reading books about Richard III and sending researcher Brent Carradine to look for answers about someone who died 400 years before.  I believed in the Thomas More/William Shakespeare version of Richard.  I was probably fourteen.  But since then, I have re-read it several times and since the discovery of Richard’s bones have done so again.

It is a very carefully constructed guide to how to conduct an investigation.  Grant starts out with one of his nurses’ history books from school and moves on to more complete histories of Richard and England.  He finds out that Thomas More, although written as if he were a witness to the events surrounding the princes in the tower, was actually between 5 and 8 years old.  Grant and Carradine go to original sources for answers to the kinds of questions anyone conducting an investigation would ask.  Who benefits?  What were people saying at the time?  Where were the relevant people at the time of the alleged murders?  Who was still alive after Richard died?

There are many, like Winston Churchill, who are unconvinced by Tey.  Thomas B. Costain presented much the same evidence as Tey in his history, “The Last Plantagenets.”

Many who believe that Richard was guilty believe that Richard somehow stole the throne.  Edward IV had died, his oldest son was very young and Richard was to be Regent.  Instead, Richard learned that his brother’s marriage was, as they said, irregular.  Parliament declared a Titulus Regulus making Edward’s son ineligible for the throne and Richard became King.

There is no question that Richard had been an excellent administrator of north England, including York.  At the end of the book, Grant lays out his case.

In the matter of the presumed crime:

(a)  He did not stand to benefit; there were nine other heirs to the house of York, including three males;

(b)  There is no contemporary accusation.

(c)  The boys’ mother continued on friendly terms with him until his death, and her daughters attended Palace festivities.

(d)  He showed no fear of the other heirs of York, providing generously for their upkeep and granting all of them their royal state.

(e)  His own right to the crown was unassailable, approved by Act of Parliament and public acclamation; the boys were out of the succession and of no danger to him.

(f)  If he had been nervous about disaffection then the person to have got rid of was not the two boys, but the person who really was next in succession to him:  young Warwick.  Whom he publicly created his heir when his own son died.

And Grant’s case against Henry VII.

(a)  It was of great importance to him that the boys should not continue to live.  By repealing the Act [Titulus Regulus] acknowledging the children’s illegitimacy, he made the elder boy King of England and the youngest boy the next heir.

(b) In the Act which he brought before Parliament for the attainting of richard he accused Richard of the conventional tyranny and cruelty but made no mention of the two young Princes.  The conclusion is that at that time the two boys were alive and their whereabouts known.

(c)  The boys’ mother was deprived of her living and consigned to a nunnery eighteen months after his succession.

(d) He took immediate steps to secure the persons of all the other heirs to the crown, and kept them in close arrest until he could with the minimum of scandal get rid of them.

(e)  He had no right whatever to the throne.  Since the death of Richard, young Warwick was de jure King of England.

I can’t predict whether the discover of Richard’s bones will lead to his rehabilitation as a ruler, but Tey makes an interesting case in his favor.  If you like mysteries or history or both, I recomment “The Daughter of Time.”

Reading Dickens and other stuff

I haven’t written about books for a long time but I am always reading more than one book at a time.  So here is what I’ve been reading the last week or so.

We all know that at Christmas time there are endless versions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” on television, but when, if ever, was the last time you actually read the book?  I was probably in my early teens when I read it last.  This year we decided to purchase a copy which I just finished reading last week.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It is nicely illustrated by Greg Hildebrant who used as models various friends and relations.

Dickens wrote in his 1843 introduction

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D.

I think we should all read it and/or watch our favorite movie version at least once a year.  (Here is one persons opinion of the 10 best television and film versions.)  It can teach us something about tolerance and old fashioned Charity.

One of my retirement projects is trying to figure out what books we actually own.  I had the idea of creating my own database and then stumbled upon LibraryThing.  It is a nifty online way to not only keep track of your books, but also to share with others.  You can post reviews, read what others think, and there are a lot of queries and statistics to play with.  Turns out to be a lot of fun in addition to being useful and easy to use.  You can also request free books in exchange for a review.  The book I reviewed for December was “Crime of Privilege” by Walter Walker.  It is a mystery which will be released soon.  Do not spend your money on this thinly disguised Kennedy family mash-up.  So far there is one other review posted and it is not good either.

Crime of Privilege: A Novel by Walter Walker

I am about half way through John Barry’s book about Roger Williams and separation of church and state.  It is fascinating history beginning in England and James’ efforts to make the Church of England more orthodox and more Catholic.

Roger Williams and the Creation of the…

Highly recommended.

And in between Barry, I am re-reading some Georgette Heyer.  Did you know there is a third book to what is called the Alastair trilogy? (“These Old Shades”, “Devil’s Cub” and “The Infamous Army”)  I’ve just ordered volume 3.  Heyer is still readable and fun.  Her stories remind me of  film comedies where people get into impossible situations but somehow all turns out right.  I have fun imagining them as movies.

It is getting cold out so pick up a book and curl up and read.

A Conservative History Lesson

This is from yesterday’s Shouts and Murmers column by Jack Hitt blogged in the New Yorker Magazine.  I thought about posting the entire thing, but decided on trying to pick some highlights.  The interesting thing is that often Shouts and Murmers is fictionalized or even pure fiction but Hitt has included approprite citations.  Let’s start at the beginning.

1500s: The American Revolutionary War begins: “The reason we fought  the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of  onerous crown.”—Rick Perry

1607: First welfare state collapses: “Jamestown colony, when it was  first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and  dying in the snow.”—Dick Armey

1619-1808: Africans set sail for America in search of freedom: “Other  than Native Americans, who were here, all of us have the same story.”—Michele  Bachmann

Bet the folks at Jamestown didn’t know it was socialist venture.  I always thought they were looking for things that would make them rich.

1776: The Founding Synod signs the Declaration of Independence: “…those fifty-six brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen.”—Mike  Huckabee

1787: Slavery is banned in the Constitution: “We also know that the  very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no  more in the United States.”—Michele Bachmann

1801: “Thomas Jefferson creates the Marines for the Islamic pirates  that were happening.”—Glenn Beck

And the blog helpfully includes a picture of the “Founding Synod.”

conservative-history.jpg

Illustration courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Moving on to the Civil War, I bet you didn’t know this.

1861:Civil  War breaks out over pitting “individual rights as proclaimed in the  Declaration of Independence against collective rights.”—The Weekly  Standard

More recent history doesn’t fare much better.

1916:Planned  Parenthood opens genocide clinics: “When Margaret Sanger—check my  history—started Planned Parenthood, the objective was to put these centers in  primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they  came into the world.”—Herman Cain

1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy saves America from Communism: “Joe  McCarthy was a great American hero.”—Representative Steve King

1963: G.O.P. clergyman delivers his famous “I have a dream” speech: “It should come as no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a  Republican.”—Human Events blog

1964: Republicans fight for the Civil Rights Act: “We were the people  who passed the civil-rights bills back in the sixties without very much help  from our colleagues across the aisle.”—Representative Virginia Foxx

1967: Indonesia brainwashes its first Islamic terrorist spybot: “Why  didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised—spent the first  decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father—as a Muslim and was educated in  a Madrassa?”—Steve Doocy

And to the Clinton years.

1993: Hillary Clinton claims her first kill, Vincent Foster—Jerry  Falwell video

1994: Bill Clinton tops Hillary with twenty-four murders: these people  died “under other than natural circumstances.”— Representative William  Dannemeyer.

1998: Actually, the Clinton murders number forty people: “There was  talk that this would be another body to add to the list of forty bodies or  something that were associated with the Clinton Administration.”—Linda  Tripp.

1998: Update: Clinton murders eighty people: “In recent months, a list  of more than 80 deaths associated directly or indirectly with Clinton has been  the buzz of the new media.”—Joseph Farah

And finally to things I know you didn’t know that President Obama can add to his list of accomplishments.

2011: Arabic is declared America’s second language: “Some of our  state’s educational administrators joined the feds in seeking to mandate Arabic  classes for Texas children.”—Chuck Norris

2011: Obama outlaws fishing: people “can’t go fishing anymore because  of Obama.”—Rush Limbaugh

2011: Obama provides health insurance for dogs: “In the health care  bill, we’re now offering insurance for dogs.”—Glenn Beck

All I can say it is a good thing that the President included health care for dogs because Seamus could have probably used it.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/shouts/2012/09/a-conservative-history-of-the-united-states.html#ixzz271B7Vxj5