Tarheeltalker

The First Woman President?

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States...

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I have recently completed  a biography of Woodrow Wilson written by August Heckscher. There are many things that I could say about our 28th president from reading this somewhat lengthy tome, but I choose to confine my musings to just one topic.

Prior to reading this book I would have thought of probably three things when thinking of Wilson. They would be his efforts at establishing the League of Nations, his wartime presidency and his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, whom he married on December 8, 1916.

The events surrounding Wilson’s stroke in 1919 and the subsequent effect on his life and his presidency have always been a fascination to me. For the first time I was able to read a detailed account of those events, by, I might add, a sympathetic biographer.

As most observers of presidential history know, Mr Wilson’s stroke occurred on October 1, 1919. This event took place shortly after his return from  a grueling trip to the western US  in a vain attempt to sell the League of Nations. The stroke probably was not a great surprise since warning signs had been clear both in the recent and more distant past.

Mrs Wilson was actually the person to find  Wilson  and  from now  to the end of his term, she and his physician Dr Cary Grayson were those most in the know. Grayson was generally   responsible for issuing the concerned but generally unspecific health bulletins, as well as having the medical responsibility.

Although the cabinet, a few trusted advisers and the vice-president knew of his  condition, no one was willing to certify as unable to perform his presidential duties, although he was. Thus began the most elaborate cover up in presidential history, at least to that point.

So, what of Mrs Wilson’s role?  Throughout she had one overriding goal. Her husband’s life was above the effective functioning of the government. Mrs Wilson said of her activities, “the only decision that was mine, was what was important and what was not.” Now if that were true, she would be in effect acting as a modern chief of staff and serving as the gatekeeper for the president. For that alone she was not qualified, much less some of her other duties. She was intelligent but with very, very little formal education. She was of course affected by her own prejudices, preferences, likes and dislikes.

The author asks and answers this question, Was she running the country? He said no, that the country was not running at all. I realize that I am disagreeing with one far more informed and knowledgable than I about the events, but will proceed to do so.

Here is his reasoning. She only had power in  determining who saw Wilson and what he would hear, as well as exercising control over what information went out. Even in that day, that was  significant indeed. Among other things she pushed aside long serving advisers such as Col  Edward House and  Joseph Tumulty. On the signature issue of that time, the League, evaluate this. When she received a letter from Senator Hitchcock about  a possible compromise, her response was no. Other questions submitted to him came back with a reply in Mrs Wilson’s handwriting. She often prevented letters he attempted to write from reaching the light of  and thus embarrassing Wilson. She was even influential in forcing Sec of State Lansing to resign.And Joshua Alexander who was  a sort of random pick as the new Sec of Commerce was actually interviewed by Mrs Wilson. Her influence was often felt in deciding where Wilson coud appear and for how long.

So on the two major issues that affected the entire course of the government, she had no effective opposition. The first, keeping hidden the true nature of  Wilson’s illness ( already  mentioned) and keeping Wilson  from resigning. And what strikes me as perhaps the most intriguing of all is this. Prior to their marriage, Wilson was sending the widowed Mrs Galt state papers of which he expected her to read and comment. The future even then foreshadowed ? Seems so, does it not?

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June 4, 2011 Posted by | History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling with Mr Madison

stippling engraving of James Madison, Presiden...

In what I deem to be a significant accomplishment, I finally managed, on the third try, to complete a bio of our fourth president. The book is entitled, The Fourth President- A Life of James Madison by Irving Brant. Here I was thinking that this 642 page tome, written in 1969, was a tough read. This book is actually drawn from Brant's 6 volume, 3000 + page work. Guess I got off easy.

As always seems to be the case, I came away fascinated with Madison himself and all that he achieved, but also with the entire cast of characters with whom he interacted. Perhaps foremost among would be first lady Dolley, she who saved Washington’s  famous portrait just before the White House was burned in the war of 1812. She  was often described as glamorous and  arguably one of the best of our  first ladies. Or, as Brant wrote, ” Madison’s marriage had given him an effective sidearm.”

So, how can one describe the man who was the “father of the Constitution,” Secretary of State for 8  perilous years and the only president who served when his country was invaded? Brant used 3000 pages and  I will use fewer words than that. That is always a real dilemma when reading about a president, particularly an accomplished one, although his average ranking among presidents{ from 1948-2000) comes in around 12th. He just seems worthy of more. I kinda like him above Jefferson myself. His relationship with Jefferson himself was quite  was intriguing. They were rather close, although Madison want Jefferson’s puppet as he was accused of being. Nor was Jefferson controlled by Madison when he was Secretary of State. It was said that Madison often rescued Jefferson from some of his worst ideas.

Madison was often pilloried in the press, by the Federalist opposition and by  a somewhat belligerent Congress. It was amusing to hear him described by some of the above as well as the representatives of foreign governments. He was simultaneously weak nad timid but power mad. He was beholden to France , no he was in league with Britain. He wants war, why doesn’t  he  want war?

This quote from page 674 of Brant’s book in some ways summed up Madison for me. This was during some of the worst times of the war.

For more than four days the 64 year-old President had spent up to 20 hours in the saddle. Accused of fleeing to safety, he had been with the army at its farthest point of advance, followed it to battle, was under fire and came back to Washington  ahead of the army after the debacle. He found the  White House, (and) the Capitol………… a mass of gaunt and blackened ruins.

It often appeared that lies and falsehoods spread during his day were actually not refuted for many, many years leading to a less than flattering opinion of one to who, we owe much.

As he wrote in 1834 near the end of his life, the following,  which he desired to be  published after his death. ” The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.” A man small  in stature and  by no means physically  imposing, what he wrote and championed secures his place among the Founding Fathers.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Japan’s Cruel Ironies

Pacific Ring of Fire

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Things seem to be going from bad to worse and even beyond in Japan. I skimmed an article today written by Cynthia Tucker that emphasized a point that I have  made in talking to others. That would be the dependence upon and even faith that we have in technology. Her article drew an analogy between the tragedy in Haiti and the three-pronged tragedy that has occurred in Japan. In an underdeveloped country such as Haiti, one would somewhat expect a natural disaster to cause the  enormous devastation that took place. But, one of, if not the most technologically advanced  countries in the world, with all of its preparation has still incurred enormous devastation of its own from the tsunami and earthquake. This holds a   lesson  for other advanced countries, particularly one that has a significant population  in the Pacific Ring of Fire( Hint, hint, San Francisco,etc).

But there are still other ironies that are hard to ignore.Japan , of course, is the only county ever to suffer the effects of a nuclear attack. Now, it is incurring  an as yet undetermined effect from damaged nuclear power plants. I think that there are some points to be made vis-a-vis Japan and its reliance on nuclear power to generate its electricity. One would almost think that Japan is the mpst nuclear dependent country in the world.  Japan’s 54  reactors produce about 30% of its electricity. That figure puts  the country as the 15th most nuclear dependent country, far behind both Lithuania and France,both of which get over 75% of their electricity via the  nuclear route.

But, having said that, what still nags at me the most  is that of  which I spoke at the onset. Technology is not the cure-all and science  does not nor will it ever have all the answers. Yet, we( meaning the United States primarily, but others to be sure) think that if we throw enough money or scientific knowhow out there, that anything is possible. Sometimes, it makes me to just want to unplug, sorta the human equivalent of acoustic music, huh?

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Technology, Weather | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spinning a Yarn-Textile Style

 

My Dad explaining his job as a warper tender-from 1940s or 50s

The majority of my working life was spent  in the textile industry, although not actually in the plant. However, during  a span of several years. I worked next to 2 of our plants and visited the plants from time to time.

As is the case with almost all the textile industry in the United States, my company ( Fieldcrest Mills to Fieldcrest Cannon to Pillowtex)  is no more, having bit the dust in 2003 via the bankruptcy courts. The plants were scattered all over the southeastern U. S. but primarily in North Carolina, are no more.

This is still a bit poignant for me since  several my family members were employed at the company at one time or another, including my parents who were production workers in the Fieldcrest Mills Blanket Mill for  many years.

What is quite interesting to me is  that  the company is gone but the brand names live on, having ben purchased by various entities. One in particular  that comes readily to mind is Royal Velvet. I suppose that it would be correct to say that it was the flagship brand of the Bed and Bath Division. The towels sold under the Royal Velvet name were made in  aslant located in the small Virginia town of Fieldale. To say that this was a quality product would be a bit of an understatement. We are still using Royal Velvet products that were  purchased a number of years ago. The irony to me is that to get a towel equal in quality today, one would be required to spend a significant amount of money. The same holds true for bedding products( sheets, comforters, etc) .

Now, about all the former textile giants have in common is bankruptcy and imploded plants. But, as do many others, I remember some of those days when cotton went from the Card Room  to the Spinning Room to Yarn Preparation ( where my parents worked)  and finally to the Weave Room where a recognizable product surfaced.

It is in truth an industry that is gone but that will always be with us.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Business, Family, History | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Will Egypt be another Iran?

The ongoing turmoil in Egypt is in its sixth day with no obvious end in sight and it is far too early to know the outcome. Perhaps  even informed speculation is  premature. But speculate we do for many reasons. Egypt is a major American ally and has been for  several years, at least back to the Carter presidency.( More on the  Carter connection a bit later.) Egypt is the most populous and probably most influential Arab country with a very large army and air force and is  a very close neighbor of Israel. And so we  wonder about many things. How did this uprising or revolution begin? Was there a trigger event? What ( not if) outside influences are involved?  Vice-president Biden’s comments to the contrary, Mubarak seems unlikely to survive. If he goes, then what or who? Who do we  favor, the government or those opposing the government?

The UK Daily Telegraph has an article today  stating that we have backed Egyptian dissidents who have worked on regime change for at least three years, ostensibly trying to bring about a democratic government. Of course in its 6,000 year history Egypt has never had such  a government  and is unlikely to have one any time soon.

Much of the above referenced speculation is drawing parallels between this uprising and the Iranian hostage crisis  of 1979. The result of course was an Iran with which we still have issues. Some are calling this a Carter moment for Obama, i.e. Carter”lost” Iran and Obama could be well on his way to “losing” Egypt.

Meanwhile the turmoil, including  rioting, looting, organized prison breaks etc continues. And at least three countries, Israel, Turkey and the United States have begun evacuating their citizens with others preparing to do likewise.

The turmoil will eventually end  and answers to most if not all of our questions  will come. But what kind of outcome will that be?

January 30, 2011 Posted by | International politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The answer to my immigration questions?

Immigration and its legality/illegality and the needed reform of whatever system we have continues to be a popular topic. Opinions are not lacking and many answers have been offered. Some make a bit of sense, others( blanket amnesty or deportation) do not. Suffice to say that it is a many faceted issue.

I think that I have finally seen a definitive answer on the immigration question. See what you think about this solution. The quote I will relay comes from an person that arrived illegally in the year 2000, but not from Mexico. She lived here illegally until May, 2010 when a judge granted her asylum.She lives in public housing and receives $700 per month in disability payments. By the way, this individual arrived from Kenya which seems an interesting place from which to arrive illegally. Here is her quote: ” If I come as an immigrant,you (presumably meaning the United States government) have the obligation to make me a citizen.”

Before I  identify her, allow me to offer a hint. She does have relatives in this country and highly placed ones at that. Her name is Zeituni Onyango and her nephew is President Barack Obama. Noe as you consider that fact, compare the attention it receives to that which California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is receiving over the firing of her illegal immigrant  nanny/housekeeper. This person was employed at a salary of +40 annually and had worked for Whitman for over nine years before being fired just over a year ago. We are viewing a big outcry over what Whitman knew and when did she know it? Can we draw analogies between the two situations  ? Just wondering.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | Legal system, Politics | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Separation of Church and State?

The summer season is the time of year when many folks take to the highways for a little vacation. Some who are more intrepid will choose an overseas destination. I suppose that is what our friend Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf must be doing. He has been on a trip sponsored by the U S State Department and it is  a trip with  a mission. His trip is aimed at improving relations between the United States and the Muslim world. ( Thought that was NASA’s mission.) Of course, he has been enjoined to do no fund-raising for the Park 51 Project. Probably doesn’t need to. I expect that the $100 million plus for that effort is already in place.

One thing I have read about this trip stood. This is not  Imam Rauf’s fist American sponsored  trip. As I recall, it is the fourth. Two were during the Bush Administration and this is the second since Obama took office. He’s getting plenty of  frequent flier miles on these trips alone. These trips were arranged by Bush adviser Karen Hughes as part of a Muslim outreach. So we seem to have opportunity infatuation no matter what he says. Oh wait, the State Department says that his somewhat inflammatory comments(  in 00105, 06 I presume) were taken out of context.

Just  a bit more Islamic outreach. If you liked the Imam’s taxpayer-funded trips you will be thrilled to learn that we are also paying  for the renovation of mosques. A Washington Times article in April reported on our ambassador to Tanzania participating in a ribbon cutting ceremony for celebrating the refurbishing of a 12th century mosque there.  And, and  there was money provided to save the legendary 7th century  Amr Ebn El Aas mosque in Cairo. Who was the namesake for this structure? He was the Muslim conqueror of Christian Egypt. The site was  where he camped before doing battle with the country’s Byzantine rulers. A mosque on the site of a Muslim conquest. Does that sound familiar?

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

British Musings

Cover of "Londonistan"

Cover of Londonistan

Several days ago, I wrote about Europe and Great Britain in particular vis-a-vis Islam and terrorism and some of its implications. At the time I was attempting to read Londonistan by Melanie Phillips. I have finally managed to complete that self-assigned task. I might add that the fault is not that of the author but rather my unfamiliarity with her style and the complexity of the subject matter.

Moving forward, my intent is not to review the book but rather make reference to some  things that intrigued me and speculate  about what these things might or might not  mean.  As always dissent/disagreement is welcome. My comments do not follow the book from beginning to end since some areas were more pertinent for me than others. The  author has an excellent notes section if one desires to trace her source material and pursue things further.

There are many references to people in the book with the majority of those names probably being Arabic. I won’t refer much to those individuals. Upfront i will assert that neither the author  nor this writer  are anti- Muslim ‘ She does however, make use of the term  Islamaphobia which also appears in the American media. It refers of course to those who harbor an irrational view of the Islamic faith. An accusation of such is used at times  to stifle  even legitimate criticism of Islam. ( That didn’t work so well for Salmon Rushdie did it? )  She makes the point that adherents of the Muslim faith can often be sensitive to criticism( as are Christians) and  use that to justify or explain away certain actions. Her starting point, the London bombings of 2005 was such  a thing. Muslim leaders condemned the attacks but added that since the bombers were un-Islamic ( native Brits) they  could not have been real Muslims. And  this next that  they added which is a relatively prominent reoccurring theme, is  a concept she calls moral inversion. In general Muslims regard Western values as an assault on their principles  so they present  their own aggression as legitimate self- defense. Or, a country’s support of Israel or the Iraq war is ample cause for some sort of attack. Current example is related to the furor over the New york mosque/cultural center. The chairman of those efforts Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was interviewed by CBS just after 9/11. He opined that the United States did not deserve what happened but that its policies ” were an accessory to the crime.”

So what were the policies to which he referred? If you say support for Israel go the head of the class. That attitude in Britain, she writes, is even more prevalent. In Britain the prevailing wisdom regarding the Middle East is that of a territorial dispute. Before May 14, 1948 all was well between Arab and Jew  and would be again if Israel  acceded to legitimate Palestinian  demands. The problem, that is not factual. This cannot be totally addressed here but  factor in this one truth . Palestinians could have had a separate state in 1936, 1948 or 2000. Also, many Arab writers and leaders have often spoken of  the inherently evil  Jew out to conquer the world  and they are demonized as the source of all evil in the Middle East. Let me hasten to add that Israel is not always right in its actions/methods  but neither are they behind every conflict on earth as Palestinian Authority imam Ibrahim Mudayris said in 2005.

But let me continue. Let me refer to some of her conclusions but  encourage the reader to interpret them on their own. Britain is a hub of Islamic jihad and has been.In Britain there continues the long-standing policy of appeasing terrorism which has now been combined with the prevailing doctrine of multiculturalism and  ” victim culture.” She asserts that Britain is at a crossroads and could ease further down the road of appeasement. So the country that is the global leader of English speaking culture no longer champions those values. ( Sound  a little like American education?)

She wonders if her native country will reverse its  sleepwalk towards  “cultural oblivion ” or  sink further into disarray and drag the West down with it. Serious things to consider.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The High Cost of Service

The International Assistance Mission (IAM) began in 1966 in  Afghanistan and except for  a brief 3 month period in 2001, they have been there ever since. Their work primarily focuses on eye  care, although they provide other services as well. Their current executive director is Dick Frans who is based in Kabul. I  think one could  call them unique since Afghanistan is the only place they work.  Frans expresses their approach this way. ” Our faith motivates and inspires us but we do not proselytize.”

Most of those who serve do so at their own expense or through the generosity of  others. On August 5, a 10 member team plus an Afghan driver was returning to Kabul after an arduous 2 weeks working in the remote Parun valley. Initial reports said  they were surrounded by armed Taliban and brutally murdered by gunfire and hand grenades. As further information emerges, it appears that the act could have been perpetrated by armed bandits. It’s possible the truth will never surface or if so, not for some time. I would also doubt whether those responsible will ever be brought to justice.

I have read several articles about this tragedy and the more I read  the more devastated I become. Those ten who were killed were  quite  a disparate group. There were six Americans, a German, a Brit  and two  Afghans who served as a guard and a cook. Their  ages ranged from two grandfathers in their 60’s to a 25-year-old photographer/videographer   and the 24-year-old cook. One, Karen Woo, was a London surgeon who gave up  a lucrative career to serve. The senior member was Dan Terry who arrived in country in 1971 and  met and  married his wife and reared three daughters in the country. Tom Little was much like Cherry and had been in the country for four decades spearheading the mission’s work in providing eye care.  The group’s junior was member Brian Carderelli  from Harrisonburg, Va. Both of his parents had worked there and he knew somewhat the potential dangers he faced. When the opportunity came he grabbed it. Ironically he was putting together an album of photos entitled “The Beauty-It’s Not All War.”

Other team members were dentist Thomas Grams of Durango, Co, nurse Glenn Lapp of Lancaster, Pa and an interpreter from Germany Daniela Beyer. The Afghans killed were Mahram Ali, a guard and a young cook named Ahmed Jawed.

Certainly all had calculated the risks involved and chose to take those risks. Beyond the incalculable losses felt by the families and friends are the heavy toll on IAM’s work. At the least, much of it is in limbo. The  attack was one of the worst carried out on foreign aid workers in many years.

Heartfelt prayers go out to those impacted by these losses, especially those closest to these who gave their all.

Shalom

August 19, 2010 Posted by | Christianity | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Future of Europe?

This is a subject that   I have been pondering for quite  awhile and  is probably just an initial effort at expressing  some opinions. To me the subject is at once complicated, disturbing and perhaps  a view of  our ( United States ) future.

I am a great fan of political novels, especially those set in our era. Those that depict events similar  to those that are occurring and make reference to actual people and places in the course of their books. I have referred before to Daniel Silva whom I thoroughly enjoy and I have just finished a book by Michael Walsh, Hostile Intent, that addresses some similar issues but from a  quite different perspective. Factored in to my post is a challenging nonfiction book that I have just begun to read. It  is by British author Melanie Phillips  and it its premise dovetails nicely with my fictional reading.

These slightly disparate works all have one word common to them that struck me quite forcefully. That word is Londonistan, which is the title of Ms Phillips book. Walsh mentions and I am fairly certain that Silva does also. Both fictional writers speak heavily of the concept as well.

What is the concept of which they speak? Ms Phillips says it best in the intro to her book. She begins her intro with the London subway suicide bombings of July 7. 2005 and  its implications . She asserts that  it reveals London as the  epicenter ( good Joel Rosenberg word) of Islamic militancy. She uses the word ” Londonistan” which is  a mocking play of the names of London and state sponsors of terrorism such as Afghanistan. You can think of others. She added this chilling detail that one could argue that al-Qaeda actually began in London in the 1980s and 90s. She continues to  talk about Britain in essence turning on itself and attacking its own historical values.

And this next may be the most troubling. There is underway an attempt to establish a separate Muslim identity in the country. This is  in  a country approximately 5% Muslim . So there is a  minority attempting and succeeding in many ways to impose its values on the host country. A tiny but illustrative example is that piggy banks are banned from British banks lest Muslims be offended. Funny, maybe, but not ha-ha funny by any means. British Muslims actually insist they are under Western attack  and blame any wrongdoing by Muslims on others. One more thought before part #1 closes.

 British liberals fear being labeled racist or Islamophobic so Muslim extremism goes somewhat  unchecked and  criticism is against the so-called bigot. The London train bombings were, by this logic, caused by American , Israeli or British policies.

My intent is to refer to Ms Phillips book  again in part #2 as well  as some fictional  references from Walsh and perhaps Silva. As I alluded,  her book is a difficult read for me but I hope to plow through  a bit further.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | International politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments