The Slowest Foot in “Sports”

Perhaps it is stretching the definition to call our subject a sport. But I have hard of many strange events falling under this  broad  umbrella and so will borrow the term for this post. What we shall discuss  has been occuring for 25 years so it has tradition on its side. Besides it takes place in a quaint English village known as Congham.  The little town  is located in the eastern part of the country and has a population of  less than 500 folks.

But inJuly  have the world championships of snail racing, an event which is theirs and theirs alone. Somehow, this strikes me as something Rick Reilly, late of Sports Illustrated and now with ESPN,  could include in his next book about unusual sporting events.

The latest champion in the world of  mollusks is Sydney who won the title on July 17 with a time of 3 Grapevine snailminutes,41 seconds. By the way, that  is for a distance of 13 inches. Lest you scoff, Sydney triumphed over a field of 200  of his molluskan challengers. Lest Sydney feel over-confident, he did not match the world record set by Archie in 1995, who set a slime laden pace of 2 minutes. Archie, you are the king  of the gastropods. May Sydney be forever delivered from National Escargot Day, celebrated every May 24th in these United States. Hope Sydney never hears about that!


September 3, 2010 Posted by | Culture | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Adams

Just finished the David McCullough bio of John Adams and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard to do justice to such a lengthy book about such  a towering historical figure. Some initial thoughts. The author commented  in his intro that we cannot learn enough about our funding fathers, a sentiment with which I very much agree. Makes me once again wish that I had majored in history in college. My presidential reading continues to remind me of my lack of historical education. I shudder to think of how American history is taught or not in public schools today.

It was delightful to read the many excerpts from the letters of Adams and his wife Abigail. Their correspondence numbered well over a thousand missives of which about half have been published. It is quite remarkable how enduring was their relationship in light of the quantity of time they spent apart. Over the course of their first 14 years of marriage they had been apart over half that time. Of course with communication and travel in those days being what it ways, even their communication was difficult. Letters from the United States to France or England of Holland took months and sometimes never made it at all. There as at  least one incident in which  a packet of her letters was lost at sea when an American diplomat about to be captured by the English threw them overboard along with other sensitive documents.

i observed to my wife after finishing the book that I probably knew more about the Adams’ family and its manner of living than of my own parents, thanks to their prolific correspondence. In contrast, Adams’ contemporary,Thomas Jefferson,destroyed all such family correspondence. His was  somewhat limited however,since his wife Martha died at age 33.

There is much to write about in reflecting on the ” colossus of independence” as Jefferson called him and I will attempt to do some justice to our second President, who seems  to me as somewhat overlooked in the pantheon of early American leaders.

June 27, 2010 Posted by | History, Literature | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Part Deux of President #10

For those who are historically inclined, I  have a bit more to share about John Tyler. Just trying to alleviate that veil of obscurity to some degree. we left President Tyler as the first to succeed a president who died in office. But that was not his only “first” nor was all that occurred during his 47 months in office. Although often considered just a states rights guy he learned that presidential power could be quite the tool to accomplish his goals. And he did have a couple of big goals he wanted to accomplish.

He was quite the expansionist, always  driven by  a desire for America to grow, primarily as defined by its size. He was Texas minded from the very beginning and stayed focused on that acquisition which happened just at the end of his term. He doesn’t receive that much credit for that achievement, that usually going to Polk who initiated the Mexican War. Tyler probably even set that in motion by stationing military forces close by to provide for defense against Mexican attack. In his day, Tyler was acknowledged by some as the Texas architect, even having a city in east Texas named in his honor.

There was a significant amount of foreign policy activity other than the Texas question. He and his emissaries achieved a large commercial expansion with China and by recognizing Hawaii’s  independence and fostering commerce therewith began the process that culminated some 114 years later with statehood.

However, most of the foreign policy activity involved the greatest world power of that era, the mother country, England. Hard to realized now but there was a large amount of Anglophobia in Tyler’s day and he often used that to his political advantage, being a confirmed Anglophobe himself. There were significant boundary disputes regarding Oregon and Maine, the latter being settled by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of  1842.

What makes the treaty interesting is that Tyler, through his agents, actually spent money from what was known as the secret service fund, to influence public opinion in Maine to be favorably inclined towards the treaty. Not quite the dirty tricks of future presidents, but a bit nefarious to say the least.

In  a number of his goals, both foreign and domestic, he used the spectre of the English bogeyman to his  advantage. That was the case even in the  area of slavery, the ” peculiar institution” that dominated American politics and society both before and after Tyler. He himself was  a slave owner, although he seemed to have an ambivalent one. He knew that slavery was wrong, on some level, knew it was tearing at the country’s fabric, and sort of forecasted its end, although  he wasn’t quite sure how that would occur.

That ambivalence perhaps ensured a less than favorable legacy. For some 25+ years after leaving office, at the Civil War’s onset, he cast his lot with state over country and became a member of the Confederate legislature. When he died suddenly in 1862, he was mourned by is native state, but ignored or even vilified by the North me by an official silence. And so he remains as the only occupant of the White House and basically commit treason.

Sadly his reputation will doubtless not recover from  his tragic decision of betrayal to what he himself defined as “the first great American interest, ” the preservation of the union.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jefferson’s Great Gamble”

The title is that of a book by the same name by Charles Cerami about the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It was a fascinating read on a number of levels. Once again, I was able to revel in and learn about a major event of American history. Just the cast of characters is amazing. Jefferson was the major player of course. But, on the American side alone there were  James Madison and James Monroe, the next 2 presidents, Robert Livingston, John Quincy Adams, and after the fact a little Andrew Jackson. On the French side, one sees Napoleon and the wily Talleyrand as well as the lesser known but important Louis Pichon.

One quote from the book really hit home for me. Its source was our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. He called the purchase”next in historical importance to the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution. It was unparalleled in diplomacy because it cost almost nothing.” In raw dollars the price was $15 million. When interest is factored in up till the final payment in 1823( money borrowed from the Dutch) the total expended was around $ 27 million. That equates to less than ten              cents per acre for  an acquisition that doubled the size of the United States.So, in our infancy as a nation, we at one fell swoop surpassed the whole of Europe and “sea to shining sea” became just  a matter of time.

Among the many things on which to reflect are the quality of our nation’s leaders at that time. It just amazes me to realize how incredibly capable  our nation’s leadership was at what was our infancy as  a country. Less than 30 years prior, there was  a group of colonies with a rag tag army arrayed against the pre-eminent  military power in the world. Now, Jefferson,et. al are jousting diplomatically with France and to a degree England, whose spectre hovered in the background throughout the negotiations. Virtually all the decisions made by France and the United States had an English influence. France needed money to wage war against England. The United States feared English control of New Orleans and thus the Mississippi River, and so on.

So, in looking back, the purchase now  seems like  a no-brainer. An offer that you can’t refuse, in a very good sense. That is what I always thought, along with astonishment at the price per acre. But the beauty of studying history tells us much more.

First, France had bullied Spain into “giving” them the land by treaty with the provision that it could not be sold but would revert to Spain. Obviously that did not happen. And what actually was being purchased? What was the western boundary and was Florida included? Napoleon’s response, it’s what you want it to be.

  Did  Jefferson actually have the authority to make the purchase? He wrestled mightily with the idea, leaning as he did, towards the states rights side. Did James M0nroe, our point man in Paris, have the right to agree to  a price of $15 million when Congress had “approved” about 2 million. Would he be disgraced for the agreement? Might Jefferson even be impeached?

There was so much intrigue over the many months of negotiation that one must conclude it was near miraculous that the purchase  happened at all. To me, calling the deal for Louisiana in the health care legislation the  Louisiana Purchase did nothing but provide  a coarse  comparison to this monumental event that took place 207 years ago on May 2, 1803.

For certain, it was a gamble that not only brought the fledgling nation 875,000 square miles and all or part of 13 new states but in Madison’s words “one great, respectable, and flourishing empire.”

March 21, 2010 Posted by | Foreign Policy, History | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eat Your Veggies (Only)

As a young sprout, I wasn’t  a big fan of vegetables, unless you count potatoes which you probably can’t. However, as one of the many unexpected benefits of marriage, Mrs THT showed me the error of my ways and I learned that there was more than one food group. I doubt that I get my minimum daily requirement of the green and yellow leafys, but I have significantly improved. ( Do coffee beans count as  a vegetable? Shucks!)

From what I have learned in recent days, I may be in real trouble  if I do not significantly increase my vegetable intake. According to an article in the UK  Telegraph by Murray Waldrop, we might all need to become vegetarian  to save our planet from the  ravages of global warming.

Waldrop quotes global warming expert Lord Stern of  Brentford who authored the Stern Report in 2006 on the cost of  tackling global warming. He believes that in the future eating meat could become a socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. He is of course not the first to address this issue. There have already been questions raised about the cost of raising livestock in terms of the resources expended. Also, methane from pigs and cattle is  a source of greenhouse gases.

Listen to Lord Stern.” Meat is  a wasteful use  of water and creates  a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better. I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that included eating.”

Lord Stern is a former World Bank economist and believes that the Climate Change Conference scheduled for December in Copenhagen should call for an increase in the price of meat and other foods that cause climate change. Presumably this would cause people to consume less of these products.

Shockingly, the British National Farmers Union did not agree with him.

Let us just say for  a moment that Lord Stern is spot on and he among others holds sway in this area. What about the untold millions whose livelihoods would be affected? What happens to them? Could one buy carbon offsets and continue to eat meat? Looking down the road, could socially unacceptable become , shall we say, not legal? Sounds really far-fetched, I know. I guess we shall wait for Copenhagen and see.

October 27, 2009 Posted by | economy, Energy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pariah or What?

Joe (the outspoken) Wilson

Joe (the outspoken) Wilson

Congressman Joe Wilson of upstate  South Carolina is  a Republican in his 5th term in the U S  House of  Representatives. Betcha before last Wednesday you had never heard of him. He is  a native of Charleston, a father of four who have all served in the military in some capacity. I suppose  you could call him a back bencher. But his life has dramatically changed since he uttered a two word phrase  during the President’s speech on health care. “You lie” said Congressman Wilson and the proverbial firestorm has ensued. From earning a stern look of disapproval from Speaker Pelosi, a sad comment from Vice-president Biden, an accusation of racism from some media outlets, a huh from some in South  Carolina, a huzzah from Limbaugh and words of encouragement from Drudge; it has been quite a few days for the Congressman.

Both he and his probable opponent, Rob Miller, have raised tons of money since the outburst. Wilson has since apologized to the President through Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. However, House leaders are demanding a public apology which he is refusing to do. There could very well be  a vote to admonish him or worse.

So, what does one make of all this? First, a bit of humor, I think. I saw a picture somewhere that showed the two congressmen on either side of Wilson when he made his comment. They looked as they would have rather been anywhere else in the world at that moment. Will that be  how the Republican leadership reacts? Perhaps.

So, what about the comment. Wonder it was the comment or the venue? Senators(see Harry Reid) have called Presidents  liars before, State of the Union speeches have been booed. Even Presidents have called others  in the media, etc liars. I tend to think his comment was poorly timed and also an ill chosen one. I know that tarnishes me  a bit as a c nservative and I can accept that, I  suppose.

I might add that had it been in the House of Commons in England , it would have somewhat routine behavior. let’s just say for a moment, just for the sake of discussion, that Mr Wilson was genuinely convinced that there was info in the speech that was not truthful. What recourse is there that is suitable? Go to your Congressional leadership, make your own speech, go on CNN(oops, sorry), who knows.

Suffice to say that if he is your Congressman, you no longer can speak of having an obscure representative.

FYI , the White House rejected the claim of the esteemed Maureen Dowd that the comment was racist in nature.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

On the Brillance of Dogs

As a public service and a continuation of my ongoing campaign to prove exactly how great dogs are, I bring you this story from Moscow.Or, if you will, canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. Man’s best friend, indeed. Or as we refer in our family to our departed golden retriever, just “himself”.

The story  from Moscow would surely make him proud, not surprised , but proud. Seems that biologist Andrew Poyarkov has studied  the habits of stray dogs and has discovered an interesting fact. They seem to have taught themselves to use the subway. Dogs who apparently live  outside of town have been catching a  ride  into town where they have an easier time  finding  food. At the end of the day, they catch a ride back home.  Poyarkov has noticed an almost uncanny ability in the dogs knowing which station and which train and at about what time.

I just love stories like this. They seem to come  more from England, but no matter. Oh, the questions that arise. How do they  get their tokens, do they have a multiple  use  pass? And if any of these are true, where do they keep the pass ?

You know, I am assuming this  is true since I have read mentions in more than one credible source. But even if it were a hoax, I  could care less. It is just a neat story. And remember, our President has Bo, the first dog, who often wanders through Air Force One. Wonder who cleans up after Bo if has an accident? I  am guessing Biden. If he isn’t , probably Gibbs or one of the spokespeople. Remember the President used the phrase “wee-weed up” recently. Probably inspired by Bo in action, ya think?

Wonder if they sit or stand, wonder if……… ?

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Animals | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lessons from The UK

Seems that maybe   our British cousins are  not be as stodgy as we are led to believe. There is a new pamphlet published by the British National Health Service( this is all true, mind you and remember truth is stranger than fact) entitled “Pleasure.” Of course, no teen will ever see it say government officials because the booklet is designed for use by teachers. OK.

Steve Slack is the Director of the Center for HIV and Sexual Health in Sheffield, England and one of the those who produced the booklet. ( Sheffield is an industrial city of some 500K + people about 4 hours from London. There is no truth to the rumor that all British teenagers are trying to move there) He says that a main goal of the book is to help teens delay the onset of sexual activity until they are emotionally ready.

A couple of comments from those that both agree and disagree with the pamphlet’s approach. Ruby Smith is  the news editor of  Children and Young People Now Magazine. She  adds that another goal  is to  give young people skills to deal with the pressures they are  are facing in this area.  Further it is saying if you do, do it, wait until you are ready  and then enjoy it. So she says, adding that it is not a  license to have sex. News flash, license not necessary.

Now, a perspective from the other side of the coin. Anthony Seldon is headmaster of Wellington College, a school for teens. He does admit that some of the publication makes good sense. However, he added,  he thinks it is wrong to tell 16 year olds  that they should wantonly enter the area  of intimacy just for pleasure’s sake. ” I think it is medically and  emotionally wrong  and will increase teenage pregnancy and impact negatively on  the formation of a  long term loving  relationship.” He wants greater emphasis placed  on the value of long term relationships. I applaud that thought  on his part but think that he is probably in a minority. Not a lot of prominent examples of  his perspective  these days.

This publication is produced in a country that already has a high rate of teenage pregnancy and  sexually transmitted diseases. Is it designed to help in those areas, doesn’t seem so. But time will no doubt tell us.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Family, Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Into The Jaws of Death”

June 6, 1944

June 6, 1944

How does one do  justice in a few words to the greatest amphibious landing in history, to 156,000 Allied soldiers who fought there, to the thousands who died or were injured? The answer is quite simple,’it cannot be done. I looked at countless pictures of the invasion from all angles, even one with no living person, just a rifle stuck in the sand with a helmet on top. It was the grave of  an unknown American soldier somewhere on Normandy. The raw poignancy of this picture was somewhat overwhelming. I saw Eisenhower talking to paratroopers in England the day before and listened to his speech exhorting all his forces.  What a huge task he had with so many variables he could not control. What an amazing and horrific day it became.

But in retrospect, what stayed with me most was a bit of history of which I was unaware. There were practice landings, dress rehearsals , if you will occurring on April 28,1944. German torpedo boats attacked transports and landing craft of Operation Tiger, taking place at Slapton Sands off the coast of  Devon, England. Escort warships were assigned and there were warnings about increased German naval activity. But a tragic combination of poor timing, poor communication among other things produced tragic results. Accounts confirm 749 casualties that probably should not have happened. The end result was that the lessons learned that deadly day were crucial in the “success”  , a scant five weeks later of the Normandy landings.  History rightly calls their sacrifices  a “Prelude to Victory”.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | History | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There Are Too Many People

An adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown seems to think there are too many of us, of them, that is. Jonathon Porritt  is one of the leading “green” advisers to the British PM. He seems to think that there are far more Brits than need be. His report to the Optimum Population Trust will say that the population in the mother country needs to be reduced from its current 61 million to about 30 million, about what it was in Queen Victoria’s day.

At this point, few political leaders are jumping on board, but by no means is Mr Porritt alone in his point of view. Others chiming in to favor this view include Immigration Minister Phil Woolas and director of the science Museum, Professor Chris Rapley.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss these folks as part of a lunatic fringe, but that would be unwise. These kinds of theories and viewpoints doubtless resonate with others who might approach the issue from a pro-euthanasia stance or an anti- business bias. Of  note is that the developed world is seen as a greater drain on the  environment and as such is the area that needs to shrink.

Just think about this idea for a moment- of reducing population. How would it  be accomplished? Fewer babies – more abortion; too many old people- you know that answer, too many sick- ration health care and so it goes. How scary would it be if this type of thinking got traction?  Who would make the live or die decisions)? How many people should we have(why 30 million, why not 28 or 27?) and  how do you best achieve that magic number you have chosen? Couldn’t happen you  say, not here- I don’t know, i just don’t know.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Life and Death | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment