R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Best Mother’s Day Flowers 2022 Tom’s Guide

Aretha Franklin raised the roof and our self-confidence with that song in 1967. Yes, 55 years ago, but the music resonates to this day. Why? Because as Aretha said: “Everyone wants respect.”

Being respected –no matter what makes the national headlines of the day—is the issue of prime importance. If we feel “dissed” and people don’t consider our needs, we melt on the inside and no longer stand up straight. We may not even look others straight in the eye as our self-confidence has taken a hit.

If you’ve read my blog during the Pandemic, you know that I have struggled to understand what’s really behind the divisions in our country. In the beginning, I thought Americans would find ways to tie the ends of the frayed rope between us after Covid passed. That might have been naïve. The differences among us only tightened when we were stuck away alone. Nothing good comes when we don’t attempt to communicate with others, particularly those with a different view. Instead, we let the concrete set around our ideas and beliefs. Our thoughts spool in our brains in an endless loop. No new ideas arise from that cycle.

It’s more difficult for new friends and ideas to come into our lives if we don’t create room for them. No two people think exactly alike, so there will always be areas of difference, possibly disagreement. Our current friendships already have a foundation of mutual respect that allows us to patch over the rough times when conflicts arise. But when we encounter people or ideas that appear to be the polar opposite of our own, it’s even more challenging to grant them a moment’s consideration.

I know listening to “the other side” strains my patience when I strongly disagree, but we’re stagnating –yelling across picket lines or opinion pages. This discourse does not improve the situation. Instead, we find ourselves digging a deep crevice across which are lobbed some of the ugliest words and images ever used in American public discourse (and there has been strong language used in the past). We are providing a hideous example for our children and laying down an embarrassing digital record that will live long after 2022.

If we as a nation take a small step back from this, we might begin to make a long-term change. Of course, it will take more than a finger snap to solve. But we can start by offering respect to all the people we meet at work, no matter the job they perform, the process can begin. Then if we can carry this on to those we see at the grocery or on a walk, the ball could get rolling. Even our partners and children could appreciate a spur-of-the-moment friendly smile or a nod of understanding. 

None of this will cure what ails the world, but you might feel better yourself, and it might be contagious.

That’s all I’ve got for Mother’s Day 2022.

Living Up to Lincoln’s Sacrifice

Abraham Lincoln lithograph, JoAnn 10, istock

After viewing the devastation in Richmond in April 1865, Lincoln knew the Civil War would be over soon. Yet he also realized that the most challenging task remained—bringing the country together as one people, not unlike the difficulty the nation faces today. This weekend we once again recognize Lincoln’s sacrifice156 years after his assassination. But few acknowledge his death came because John Wilkes Booth could not stomach giving even a few African American veterans the right to vote.

Lincoln wasn’t sure he had the words needed to temper Americans’ anger with their opponents or ease their grief for what we’ve lost. But he agreed to address those gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His first words met their expectations: “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in the gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender of the principal insurgent army (he did not identify it as Confederate) give the country hope for a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”

Speaking from the White House balcony, Lincoln didn’t notice a tall man dressed in black stalking the fringes of the crowd. John Wilkes Booth scowled at the President’s remarks. Less than a month earlier, on March 20, Booth and his conspirators had attempted to capture Lincoln to use him as a bargaining chip to negotiate Southern freedom from federal rules ending slavery.

Then Lincoln turned to the purpose of his speech–Reconstruction—to restore and unite the nation after the war. “No one man had the authority to give up the rebellion for another man. We must begin with and mould (sp) from disorganized and discordant elements,” he said.

He noted the political differences that stood between Americans. Nevertheless, Lincoln sought to begin to bind the wounds of Americans now that the war had ended. The President stated the nation’s problem: “We, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of Reconstruction.”

But then, the critical message that would seal the President’s fate. Lincoln told the crowd the nation should grant African American men, particularly those who fought for the Union, the right to vote. Before this speech, no president had ever publicly endorsed even limited suffrage for blacks.

Booth became enraged when he heard Lincoln speak of suffrage. The thought of giving any African American the right to vote infuriated Booth. Standing in the shadows across from the White House, Booth turned to his co-conspirator, Lewis Powell, and nearly spat out his disgust: “That is the last speech he will ever make.”  As an actor well known at Ford’s Theater, he learned when Lincoln would be coming to see Laura Keene perform there in Our American Cousin.

On April 14, 1865, just after 10 pm, Booth’s lightning-quick tempter drew him up the stairs, where he pushed open the door to Lincoln’s box and pulled out a derringer that fit into the palm of his hand, which he used to shoot the President. Booth shouted: “Sic Semper Tyrannus! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South be avenged.”

Lincoln’s plans to restore the country equitably died with him. His vice president, who took control, Andrew Johnson, a Dixie Democrat and an enslaver from Tennessee, came from the opposite political view. Johnson believed in States’ rights. He allowed Southern governors to make their own decisions regarding the treatment of African Americans.

Four million enslaved people were freed when the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed on January 31, 1865, while Lincoln was alive. However, laws to establish freedom of movement and voting rights for African Americans would not become law for a century.

What would Lincoln say today as Congress fails to support voting rights for all Americans? He acted because he believed it to be right and just. Today’s Republicans, who express their pride in being “the Party of Lincoln” but can’t support voting rights, the principle for which he gave his life. fail to live up to his sacrifice. They lack the courage to stand up for all the voters in their state. They betray Lincoln’s legacy and further rip apart our delicate democracy.

Sarah Moore Grimke: Trailblazer

Women leaders throughout history. Sarah Moore Grimke takes the pole position in this modern rendition “feminists at work” of the 1932 photograph of steelworkers taking lunch 850 feet above NYC by Lewis Hines.

How did I not know about the contribution of this woman born in 1793, just 17 years after the Declaration of Independence? But if I missed her contribution earlier, I can’t be the only one. So, younger women of all hues and backgrounds with dreams of becoming lawyers or setting right the wrongs in our society, I present Sarah Grimké. Today, she comes to mind as the House of Representatives confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to join the Supreme Court.

The picture above of 11 women and a youngster posed on the steel beam, just like Lewis Hine’s photograph of the steelworkers in 1932, provides a unique view of America’s female leaders throughout the decades. Sarah sits at the head of this group. The Bill of Rights came before her. Yet, even if you were to say that “We the People” meant everyone, the nation did not treat everyone the same. For example, women could not vote until 1920, yet Sarah worked to achieve voting rights more than 100 years earlier.

Sarah Moore Grimke

If you believe we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, Sarah’s strong shoulders and nimble mind form a good foundation. She grew up in South Carolina, the sixth of 14 children on a plantation supported by slave labor. Despite her quest for knowledge, she knew then she would not be admitted to law school as a woman while her brother Thomas was. Nevertheless, she consumed the books he studied for a degree at Yale College while fulfilling all the required “female” arts—embroidery, French, watercolors, etc.—required of a proper Southern maiden.

Her father, an attorney, and speaker of the House of Representatives in South Carolina, realized her intellect but would only allow her to study geography, history, and math, but denied her an opportunity to learn Latin. Her brother, Thomas, secretly filled in the gaps with Greek and a bit of Latin.

Ironically her father praised her ability, saying if Sarah were a man, “she could be the greatest lawyer in South Carolina or the greatest jurist in the country,”

On Sundays during her teens, Sarah would teach the Bible to young enslaved people, which was against the law in South Carolina, where they feared educated enslaved people would revolt. Secretly she taught reading and spelling to her slave, Hetty, by screening out the light in the keyhole to her door and lying flat on their stomachs before the fire. On the plantation, she became aware of the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Soon realizing that South Carolina would not tolerate her belief that slavery was wrong, she went to Philadelphia when she was 26 and joined the Quakers. They were early abolitionists and allowed women to preach. But Quakers did not tolerate her growing interest in women’s rights and were critical when she and her sister, Angelina, preached to mixed audiences of men and women. They called these groups “promiscuous.” Nevertheless, they were the first women to address a legislative body in New England.

Sarah’s writings, considered radical, were among the first to express the links between racial and sexual oppression boldly. Sarah wrote to the clergy against the evils of slavery. She wrote “Letters on Equality,” which received a rebuke from the General Association of Congressional Ministers. Churches and the public burned her writings, and Sarah received threats of arrest. But Sarah wrote on. In 1839, Sarah, Angelina, and her husband, the abolitionist Thomas Weld, published American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.

The sisters walked the talk. When they learned that their brother fathered mixed-race children before his death, they took the boys in and supported one through Harvard Law and the other as he completed the seminary at Princeton. Sarah didn’t give up. She passed out copies of Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill’s pamphlet The Subjugation of Women on the street when she was 79.

Decades, even a century would pass, but the relentless courage reflected in her writing became the bedrock upon which other women built a political case to have their say-so concerning the nation’s decisions.

In her confirmation hearing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid tribute to Grinké by using her quote: “I ask for no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Her predecessor also gained recognition in 1998 when Grinké became recognized by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Looking back upon Grinké’s work, we recognize her contribution to women in 2022. Yet we wonder what she could have achieved if she and others could have reached their whole potential centuries earlier in her lifetime. Today Judge Jackson opens a new chapter in the history of the Supreme Court, recognizing the capability of an African American woman.

Maybe we will come closer to a paraphrased quote from Grinké: “I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights; human rights (and human intelligence and judgment) are all that I recognize.”

Notes:

APA: Alexander, K.L. (2018). Sarah Moore Grimké. Retrieved from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke

Chicago: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museum. 2018. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke.

MLA: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museumhttps://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke. Accessed [date]. 

Books for more information:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Life Up Thy Voice  by Mark Perry

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina  by Gerda Lerner

Lincoln – Kids 2 Turning Around a Bad Situation

President Lincoln, a rendering of his Gettysburg Address, given November 16, 1863.

If you have a bad day, think the next day will be better! Thinking positive can help good things happen. Abe Lincoln had nearly 4 X 365 days of bad days during the Civil War. Everyone came to him for answers, but there weren’t any easy ones. He worried about the loss of life both in the North and the South. He prayed he could find a military leader who could bring the war to an end. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not find the right general until March 1864, three years after the war began. So it might be difficult to believe that Lincoln used humor to turn his bad days into better ones.

In this time of war in Eastern Europe, it might seem a strange time to think of humor. But Mark Twain, known then as the Nation’s humorist in the 19th century, denied that joy created the Nation’s laughter. Instead, he found sorrow to be humor’s, as did Lincoln. Of course, Lincoln had a lot of sadness in his life: the loss of his mother when he was nine, death of his only sister in childbirth when he was 19, typhoid took his first love at 20, and two of his sons died in childhood. Nevertheless, he self-treated himself with humor and even published a book of jokes when he was in the White House.

One tale about two Quaker women particularly tickled Lincoln. They discussed whether Confederate President Jefferson Davis or U.S.President Lincoln would win the war. “Well,” one reasoned, “Davis is a praying man.” The other said: “Lincoln is a praying man, too.” The first smiled and said: “But God won’t know if Lincoln is kidding.”

He liked to poke fun at himself.

After moving to New Salem, after his family went from Indiana into Illinois in 1830, he joked about the nearby Sangamon River being so curvy and serpentine that “he had camped at the same place on three different nights.”

He helped build and then managed a general store there. Clark Carr, who worked with Lincoln, said he was “the most comical and jocose of human beings, laughing with the same zest at his jokes as at those of others.” Carr added that he’d never seen “another who provoked so much mirth, and who entered into rollicking fun with such glee.”

“He could make a cat laugh.”

Lincoln didn’t waste his time between customers at the store. He borrowed books and studied math, philosophy, astronomy, history, and poetry. He asked for help from one of the local teachers to learn English Grammar in Familiar Lectures. Lincoln particularly enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth and went to see them in Illinois and Washington.

 After participation in the Black Hawk War in Illinois (leading a group of men, but seeing no military action), at 23, Lincoln ran for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. In announcing his run, Lincoln said:

“Every man is said to have a particular ambition. But, whether it is true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men that they would have conferred upon me for which if elected I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate the favor. He got 277 votes out of 300 in his home county but lost in the final tally. He was not well known outside New Salem, but that would change.

Before entering national politics, Abe Lincoln worked as a lawyer in Illinois’ Circuit Court. He rode on horseback from one tiny town to another. In Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit, lawyers who opposed each other during the day would be in the same local hotel or tavern at night. Lincoln, according to historian Ronald C. White, Lincoln “seemed to possess an inexhaustible fund” of humorous stories and anecdotes. No one could relate a story without reminding him (Lincoln) of one of a similar character.” Lincoln became known for his laughter, taking pleasure in his humor and others’. “The heartiness of his own enjoyment” drew others to him, even more than being the “Rail-splitter” energized the North for his first Presidential run in 1860.

Lincoln did not take for granted that the country loved him and wanted him to be their President again in 1864. He knew he had the support of half the country– the South DID NOT like or want him to be President. The President expressed as much when the votes for Indiana and Ohio favored him. He knew then that he had the support he needed.

He told the telegraph operator at the War Department down the block from the White House: “It does look like the people wanted me to stay a little longer, and I shall have to if they do.”

Lincoln wanted to stay for a second four years. Finally, as the war wound down, many problems would remain after the war ended. He did not have an opportunity to bind the Nation’s wounds because he died at Ford’s Theater a few days after General Grant signed the surrender.

Gordon Leidner, Lincoln’s Gift: How Humor Shaped Lincoln’s Life and Legacy (Naperville, IL, 2015.)

Vote Your Choice!

Primary voting begins in Texas on Tuesday, March 1. November’s General Election Ballot choices are being made in each state starting now. See dates at bottom. No right to complain later if you don’t vote in your State Primary! Find candidates at http://www.vote.org.

Sure, there’s less whoopla about the candidates, no Presidential or Senator’s races in some states, but here in Texas we have candidates for the top State offices, including Governor. If you are one of the 17 million eligible voters in Texas (who haven’t voted in the Early Voting) March 1 is your last opportunity. (For a list of dates for Primary in the other states -see below.)

It’s your right and responsibility to go to the polls to vote to help solve local, state, and national problems. Particularly right now, as citizens in Ukraine are fighting to remain free and hold tight to their free and fair elections, you who can do so must exercise this right.

I live in Texas, where people are flocking to avoid state taxes. * We do have our own challenges. Voting precincts are being carved up to favor one Party’s candidates, but that is even more reason for Texans to VOTE. Texas historically has had one of the lowest rates of voting in primary elections, 25% in 2020. Even general elections do not entice substantial numbers of voters to turnout here –the rate rose to 66% in 2020, but that’s not a number to brag about. Texans don’t like to rank so low, preferring to be at the top. SO help Texas get on top as a voting state.

Important choices indeed. By failing to vote in a primary, you are leaving it up to others to decide who will be on the ballot in November. Write in candidates very, very rarely stand a chance to win. Others will decide, leaving you with a far-left or a far-right candidate from which to pick. Today’s much smaller net of Primary voters tends to cling to the two sides of the political spectrum because they are voting with their ideology, not their community in mind.

Do not forfeit these crucial primary decisions about who will represent you and be on your ballot in November. If you sleep in, work late, or go out to lunch instead of voting, you let someone else make the decisions about who will lead in Washington, your State Capitol, your local government, and your neighborhood.

If you want to help America to pull back from the edges, check out the League of Women Voter’s Voting Guide online. www.vote.org It publishes a nonpartisan flyer about the candidates and short biographies. If you cannot find this in your community, then go to your local library for a listing of the candidates along with biographical information.  Be informed. If you go to the polls without doing a bit of research, you might actually vote against your best interest. It is well worth the effort to strengthen your community, your State, your country by participating.

Now MORE THAN EVER is the time to vote in your STATE’S Primary. Here’s a list of the Primary voting dates in the States. Check for 2022 Primary times and locations. Go to www.vote.org for local information by inserting your zip code to get specific information about candidates you will be voting for in your precinct at the time of the primary in your state.

State Primary Timetable

DATE                                 STAT

March   1                          Texas, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania 

                                           Michigan also listed on Aug. 12. First date is the primary.

May 3                                Indiana, Ohio

May 10                              Nebraska, West Virginia

May 17                              Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania

May 24                              Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas

June 7                                California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota

June 14,                            Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia

June 28                              Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Utah

August 2                            Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington

August 4                            Tennessee

August 9                            Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin

August 13                         Hawaii

August 16                         Alaska, Wyoming

August 23                         Florida

September 6                    Massachusetts

September 13                  Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island

November 8                     Louisiana

Exercise your right. Get to the polls early or before 4 pm, so you don’t get lost in the 7-8 pm and avoid the wait.. Insure you don’t miss your opportunity. I commend those of you who stand in long lines. Bring water or snacks, just in case. Trust me, it is worth the effort!

*There are no state taxes and the schools are supported by local property taxes in Texas. Tough decisions will need to be made to maintain quality elementary, secondary, and higher education institutions Texan’s brag about. With the growing number of people flocking to the state, timely decisions about the energy grid that supports the Lone Star state are also essential to those living here. So important decisions need to be made here and in every state. Primaries are the entry point, so we have the most qualified people running in November.

Who Knew Nixon Would Not Be Last?

Tall stack of paper against a background of stormy sky covered with dark clouds represent the rising stack of documents protected by the Presidential Records Act to givde Americans an insight into our past to provide wisdom in making future decisions.

How 44 Years of the Presidential Records Act Impacts Us Today

When Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA) in 1978, it placed the records of subsequent Presidents in federal custody to prevent their destruction. Congress reacted to Nixon’s destruction of incriminating documents. PRA reduced secrecy, allowed the public a peek behind the veil of government, and provided historians and journalists the resources to do their jobs. Politics being politics, PRA didn’t have enforcement teeth, nor could it overcome future Presidential Executive Orders designed to limit what power it did carry. As a young Congressional staffer and future amateur historian, I believed PRA would be a highlight of my four-year career on Capitol Hill. Ignorance was bliss.

A House Government Operations Subcommittee crafted the PRA bill in 1977 to assist America in preventing a future President from swiping or destroying documents created in the Oval Office. At the time, it seemed impossible to believe there would be another President whose ego, fear of reprisals or concern about his (or her) legacy would supersede an interest in the public’s need to examine the Chief Executive’s records.

Specifically, the PRA put the ownership of official Presidential Records in the hands of the American people to build trust in the work of the federal government and its Chief Executives. The National Archives and Records Administration scheduled retrieval of documents under PRA to begin January 20, 1981, as the Reagan Administration began.

Under this custody and management of Presidential records, the Chief Executive would file personal papers separately from official Presidential records. Then, when leaving office, the official records would be automatically transferred into the custody of the U.S. Archivist at the National Archives.

Under PRA, the Archivist has five years to process the documents from a retiring Chief Executive before releasing any. Unfortunately, processing has become a Herculean task with a minimum of 30 million records coming from a single four-year term, including audio files, and videotapes. Freedom of Information requests, based on the 1974 law from citizens, journalists, and historians, are accepted after the documents are processed. But can in emergencies, like court orders seen recently, can be applied earlier.The Archives can have 12 years to protect various aspects of a President’s records. (The Pandemic partially halted the Archives’ efforts to process documents, increasing the timeline.)

Presidential Documents Release: Nixon’s Secret Tapes

President Richard Nixon’s worries about being defeated are evident in the secret tapes he recorded in his office. That marked the beginning of his demise in August 1974, when he left the White House. While Nixon died two decades later, the final release of those secret tapes did not occur until 2013—thirty years after his death and 48 years after he left D.C. for California. LBJ’s audiotapes, recorded in the Administration before Nixon’s, were released piecemeal, but the last batch did not open until 2016.

The temptation to Presidents to protect “certain” documents from public view has stretched America’s patience, and now we are in another battle that could rival what’s gone before. I mention the role Executive Orders have played to amend, stretch, and sometimes erase the intent of the Presidential Record’s Act.

Power of the Pen: Executive Orders

Today, with the nation politically sliced in half, winning legislative battles has become an eternal struggle. However, to accomplish some segments of the legislative agenda that don’t require a Congressional vote, a President can take advantage of the Executive Order.

Now with changes made sinde 1987, the complexity of the guidelines issued by Executive Orders requires a spreadsheet to comply. During the last four decades, the weaving routes of politics and culture have complicated the process.

Three critical Executive Orders concerning Presidential Records have been signed since 1978, adjusting PRA or countermanding the prior President’s penned desires. Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12667 in 1989 when he left office. It allowed former U.S. Presidents to limit access to certain records created in their terms. Before releasing any presidential records, the Archivist must notify both the incumbent and former President which document is requested and whether they may claim Executive privilege.

President George W. Bush increased the number and types of documents and the withholding timetable for Presidential Records when he issued Executive Order 13233 on November 1, 2001. It permitted a President or former President to withhold several types of documents. In addition, his father’s papers (George H. Bush’s Vice Presidential and Vice Presidential papers–1981 and ended in 1998) fell under enhanced protection.

Executive Order 13233 allowed a President to retain certain types of documents longer, including:

“military, diplomatic, or national security secrets, Presidential communications, legal advice, legal work, or the deliberative processes of the President and the President’s advisors and to do so in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), and other cases….”  

Some aspects of George W. Bush’s executive order were a reaction to 9-11, which occurred less than two months before he issued the order. As a result, security rose to top priority. Still, the only way to avoid future disasters would be to know how the intelligence community failed and where America could be better prepared.

The Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association criticized the President’s exercise of executive power. They charged George W. Bush’s order with “violating both the spirit and the letter of existing U.S. law on access to presidential papers as clearly laid down in law. They noted that the order “potentially threatens to undermine one of the very foundations of our nation.”

John Wertman, a member of former President Bill Clinton’s White House staff, wrote in 2006: “Order 13233 “represents a wholesale change in the way the federal government preserves and promotes our national public memory.”

Going Backwards to Iran-Contra

Questions arose about the Iran-Contra Affair in Reagan’s second term. The official justification for arms shipments to Iran in 1985 was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages in Lebanon held by Hezbollah. Reagan needed to return these Americans, fearing a repeat of the backlash that chased Carter out of the White House ahead of him.

Senior Reagan Administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. (President Jimmy Carter established the ban after  Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and took 52 hostages. Reagan pledged to continue the arms sale ban after his inauguration in January 1981.)

Congress had passed the Boland Amendment in December 1982 to prohibit further funding of the Contras. Oliver North and his assistant testified before Congress in 1985 that National Security Council documents related to the arms sale were destroyed to prevent proof of the arms sale and funding to the Contras.

International relations and national politics wound their way around Reagan’s pledge. Under the Reagan Administration’s plan or one devised among his advisors, the U.S. would use $15 million from the sale to Iran to fund the Contras fighting the Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Reagan vocally supported the Contras but told the independent Tower Commission (in testimony as a sitting President addressing the arms-for-hostages scandal) said he did not authorize the deal. The Commission’s 200-page report criticized Reagan’s oversight of the National Security Council (where Oliver North served as a military aide, who was indicted and fired for his role).

Bush’s Executive Order sealed documents related to Iran-Contra for an extended period. This frustrated historians and others trying to piece together American foreign policy decisions in the Middle East and Central America that still worry the U.S. and the world.

In 1985, personal health considerations arose in the Reagan Administration, which were not broadcast widely. The Gipper underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove two feet of his colon for cancer in July 1985. Three days later he met in the hospital with National Security Advisor McFarlane, who engaged in shuttle diplomacy with Iran to get hostages released. Later McFarlane resigned as one of the two dozen Reagan Administration staff or cabinet members indicted in the Iran-Contra Affair. Ten of those were found guilty, but George H. Bush, Reagan’s Vice President and a former director of the CIA, pardoned all on the last day of his presidency.

Before the PRA, Jimmy Carter, no questions asked, turned his Presidential Records over to the Archives at the end of his term. Former President Gerald Ford said: “I firmly believe that after X period, presidential papers, except for the most highly sensitive documents involving our national security, should be made available to the public, and the sooner, the better.”

Obama Reflects Faith in History

The day after his inauguration Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13489 revoking George W. Bush’s Executive Order. It would be unfortunate if Presidential Papers were to be tossed from one Administration to another like a ping pong ball or hot potato. I merely touched on the current matter of the former President’s records because of their coverage in the daily news, but this background information might shed some light on how we got here.

The lack of trust in American culture today has multiple sources, but locking up Presidential Records for an extended time further erodes confidence in the American government. As we live through dark political times, ignorance of our history can pull us full circle to relive the worst of our past. Or we can learn from our history and shine light into the future.

Lincoln’s: Kid’s Story Birth of Lincoln’s Beard!

Lincoln reaches out to shake Grace Bedell’s hand in 1861. Lincoln stopped on his pre-inaugural train tour in her hometown to thank her. SONY DSC

Did an 11-year-old influence a national election?

Story to remember Abraham Lincoln on his birthday 213 years ago (February 12, 1809).

On October 15, 1860, * eleven-year-old Grace Bedell from Westfield, New York, wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, a candidate for President from Illinois. She admitted it was “very bold” for her to write just a few weeks before the national election. But she “very much” wanted Lincoln to be President.

Grace Bedell statue in Westfield, New York, commemorating the meeting with Lincoln (1861).

Grace wrote Lincoln that her father “came home from the fair and brought your picture.” She noticed in the picture that Lincoln had a narrow face. “You would look a great deal better if your whiskers grew,” she wrote. Then suggested that “ladies like whiskers” and would “tease their husbands” to vote for Lincoln.

Judge for yourself. Remember facial standards of beauty change throughout time. The image on the left showed Lincoln as a younger man. The right shows Lincoln during the Civil War, when his worries show.

Her four brothers were split on who they preferred for President. But both of her parents supported Abe. She agreed with them.

Before completing her note, she asked Lincoln if he had any daughters. If you have any daughters “as large as I am,” give them my love. Grace thought maybe this older daughter, if he had one, could write her back if Lincoln were too busy.

A copy of Lincoln’s return letter latter typed for preservation. Typewriters were not invented until 1874.

Lincoln responded within the week, thanking Grace for her “very agreeable letter of the 15th. Regrettably, I have no daughters, but three sons: seventeen, nine, and seven.”  At the time of the letter Lincoln questioned the whiskers: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?”

He closed with “very sincere well wishes.”

After the 1860 Presidential Election, Lincoln took a long train trip to Washington, D.C. from Illinois for his inauguration. Lincoln visited several larger cities, including New York City and Philadelphia. But he made a special stop in one small town: Westfield, New York. There he thanked Grace and had a surprise. He bent his tall figure down to shake Grace’s hand, so she could get a better look at his face:

“You see I grew these whiskers for you!” +

Your chance: Presidents and governors answer letters from Americans of all ages. Maybe you would like to express your thoughts and opinions. You can write the President today at:

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500        or      open   White House.gov   to send an email message.

Your thoughts and ideas are important because you will become voters who are especially important to America’s future!

————————

*More than five months into the Civil War  

+ America did not have national pollsters in 1860 and the letter came so close to the election, the impact Lincoln’s whiskers is impossible to judge. But Lincoln did continue to wear them. He either thought they helped soften his image or he liked not needing to shave!

Hey, Jude, Let It Be. . . Better!

A pillow on my couch reminds me to relax and enjoy life, not sweat the small stuff!

Hard to believe the Beatles hit the charts 60 years ago. We learn the backstory about Paul McCartney’s creative work in Lyrics. Now the British Library that I visited in January carries the exhibit. Here’s an inside view on the thoughts and melodies that grew into “Hey, Jude,” “Let it Be,” “Yesterday,” and “Eleanor Rigby,” plus hundreds of other songs we hum, dance to, and are inspired by–the background music of our lives.

“My interest in music came initially from my father, who was a musician,” McCartney said in an interview with Barnes & Noble and Waterstones (UK) CEO James Daunt, when Lyrics dropped late last year. Daunt noted that seven years of research took place to find and retrieve the Beatles archives around the country and stage interviews with the creators, directors, and producers of this tremendous trove of music. The book on the lyrics from 1956 to the present runs to 863 pages, but as one reviewer said, “It reads like having a conversation with Paul. It flows easily, and it’s a lot of fun.” As the Brits say, songs are alphabetic from A to Zed, which make it easier for casual readers.

Although his dad worked at the cotton exchange and his mom was a nurse, the McCartney’s were not wealthy. They lived in “Council Estates,” the low-income housing projects in Britain. But they had a piano in the living room, so Paul learned to play early on. When his mother died of cancer when Paul was 14, music helped him cover the wound. He traces his beginning in music and songwriting to the Liverpool Institute for Boys of 1,000 students that he joined at 11. A teacher who gave him insight into Chaucer’s unexpected “bits” spurred McCartney’s interest in reading. It led him to Shakespeare and nurtured his curiosity, nourishing the ideas that worked their way into his songs.

His collaboration with John Lennon, his schoolmate in graphic design, grew on their shared interest in songwriting. Quickly they realized they both enjoyed Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll included in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland.

Coming to America in 1964

Initially when they were Liverpool blokes trying to make a go of it, the Beatles’ financial aspirations were for a guitar, a car, and a house. But that changed when the Brits flew across the pond to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Five-thousand crying and screaming teenage girls greeted them at LaGuardia Airport in New York (only 1,000 saw them off in London). Seventy-three million people watched the program; the crime rate went down that night! The audience included Elvis Presley, who sent them a congratulations telegram. Young Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen were also listening. The Beatles saved “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for their viewers, sending shouts throughout the audience.

McCartney wrote “Hey, Jude” for the next generation. Bandmate John Lennon’s affair with Yoko Ono resulted in his divorce from his first wife in 1968. Their son, Julian, felt sad and alone, like Paul had as a youngster. Lyrics like “Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders” and “Foolish to make the world colder” led to encouragement: “Take a sad song and make it better.” Julian poured himself into creative arts–producing seven albums since 1984, exhibiting his fine art photography, and authored children’s books.

Let It Be”

The easy-going theme of the Beatles’ “Let it Be” could be living proof that there are fewer innovative ideas (or songs) than we might think. Consider “Let it Go,” an earworm for parents of eight-and-under daughters mesmerized by Disney’s Frozen. “Let it Be,” has a line recorded on their last album in 1970, “When I find myself in trouble, Mother Mary speaks to me.” In the November interview, Paul says this refers to his mother, who died when he was young. He said the phrase came to him in a dream, as she offered advice.

How Eleanor Rigby Evolved

As a British Boy Scout, McCartney visited an older woman and traded groceries and cheer for her counsel and friendship. He looked forward to his conversations with the older women, translating their lonliness into the song. In the song, the woman picks up the rice after a wedding, but never had her own. The sad story served with an upbeat tune. Paul created”Eleanor Rigby” as a name that fit the song’s tempo.

The song became a joint effort: John Lennon encouraged Paul to change the pastor’s name. Father McCartney became Father McKenzie, a name they picked out of the phone book under ‘MC.” George Hamilton suggested putting the song in C significant to provide drama, then added the trumpet and sax. Throughout their years together, McCartney and Lennon created 300 songs together.

Yesterday”: Popular Melancholy

McCartney’s song, “Yesterday,” earned praise as one of the best songs of the 20th century. A dream inspired this song too. He thought of the composer Cole Porter and dancer Fred Astaire. It started in F chord, but George suggested they detune their guitars to get the mellow F tone he sought. Their manager George Martin suggested putting a string quartet behind it. Paul offered the song to the band, but they agreed this was a tribute to his mother. As a teenager in Ohio, I knew none of this, but a friend and I tried to sing it for a school variety show. If you ever try it, you will realize how difficult it is!

When McCartney and Lennon were not getting along in the late 1960s, John told Paul, “All you ever did was “Yesterday.” But, of course, he wanted the dig to reach beyond the single song. After Lennon was assassinated in New York, McCartney wrote, “If I Said I Loved You,” feeling that in the 1960s, it was not common for men to say that to each other. Instead, he remembered John’s smile and how he would lift his glasses and say, “It’s only me,” and laugh, putting them back in place.

Now that he writes alone, McCartney says, “I always have a song on the go.” It starts with a guitar or a piano, working with a melody. Then, if a line or a word doesn’t seem right, he moves over it, looks into a poetry book for inspiration, or considers how others’ songs he likes handled similar problems. If he can stretch out three hours in the afternoon, Paul says he can get the crux of a song, but it works best if he has an inspiration to ignite.

Words for Young Songwriters

McCartney encourages aspiring songwriters to read widely. He pulls inspiration from others and carries a poetry book in his back pocket to trigger the right word to fit into an open phrase. He also draws inspiration from world events. For example, McCartney wrote “Blackbird,” thinking about the little Black girl who integrated the schoolhouse in Alabama.

 Not Afraid to Shake it Up

When the Beatles started making albums, audiences were satisfied with their picture on the cover. But Paul and John began to commission artwork. “Our agents were appalled that we spent 75 pounds on the (cover) art,” noting that the cost and variety of covers just kept going. They started the rush towards artistic album covers.

McCartney’s black lab comes into the room as one interview concludes, and he pets him while concluding the discussion about his music. Much as his composing work moves on, at a less frenetic pace, giving us more music to contemplate!

January Requires Bright Lights!

Kew Gardens’ digital light show delivers in London.

Palm House (above), a turn-of-the-century greenhouse, provides the ultimate setting

My crazy time in London (see January 17 blog) offered me a chance to see the digital light display at the Royal Botanical Kew Gardens before coming home. But much more than just a light display, Tchaikovsky’s classical Swan Lake creates sugar plum fairies and toy soldiers and helps us imagine the fluffy white swans on the lake in front of the showpiece multi-story, antique Palm House.

Become a kid again as you walk the magical trail through the grounds at Kew.

Kew’s imaginative winter wonderland provides digital delights for young and old. Plus, the two-mile jaunt winds through well-tended gardens aglow with imaginative light displays designed by London’s finest. Everything kicks off its first tour at 4:20 pm because London’s December brings total darkness ten minutes later. Along the way to help bolster the spirits of youngsters: hot chocolate with whipped cream, gingerbread cookies, and miniature mincemeat pies. Adults could choose from mulled cider, hot rum, or champagne paired with gingerbread, waffles, or churros (nice and crunchy, which I would expect to find in Texas!).

Take an opportunity to roast some colorful marshmellows among the forest of imagination!

My iPhone photos can’t do justice to the array of colors or the creative pairing of twinkling, syncopated, throbbing lights along the path, draping the trees and far overhead. My daughter’s skills far exceed mine, but the urge to enjoy the evening’s festivities overtook our desire to record the sights. So, without stepping on others ‘ creative work, I will attempt to dip into photography from Kew and other sources.

Trees are aglow with a silver beauty that resembles ice cycles. Christmas at Kew

I hope those who view this blog will consider a trip to London in a non-Pandemic future to see Kew Gardens for yourselves. It is a spectacular display that envelops and uplifts the spirit with music, color, and creative genius. Wonderful anytime, but there’s a reason it reaches out at Christmas and as the beginning of 2022 stretches out before us with promise!

A walk through this block of arched creamy-white lights seems almost a religious experience, as it reminds one of a cathedral of solitude.

As we move into February, take a little solitude, match it with hope, and thoughts of future joy in the year ahead.

There you have it. A roundabout comparison of language and a few tidbits tossed in for flavor. Next: I will finish my tales from the UK discussing Paul McCartney’s Lyrics book on display at the British Library and an interview he gave regarding the Beatles’ songs. Next I’ll address managing our habits for good or ill—how we can gear up for change.

London Sunrise

Positive British Words

East Sheen, a neighborhood south of London, 6:00 am. December 27, 2021

Nothing like a burning sunrise to encourage the day’s potential to shine. I took this photo from the third floor of a townhouse in East Sheen, off Richmond Road, about 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport. A few days later, Omicron descended upon everyone in the townhouse, one after another.

Looking on the positive side, being vaxxed and boosted paid off for the family and me. I got off with a few days sounding like an imitation Lauren Bacall with her deep voice. No fever or loss of taste or smell. Even the youngest only experienced fever at night. Being together for Omicron certainly beat being apart and not knowing its impact on the family.

As I settled in for a few Omicron days, I decided to use the time to make an amateur’s study of the differences in the British take on “English” and words employed by their American cousins. I enjoyed a quote by George Bernard Shaw: Britain and America—”two countries divided by a common language.” At the end I will include a comparison of the words that appealed to me. Some words surprised me, for example, my grandsons wore “jumpers.” Really? While I think of myself as open-minded, this didn’t seem likely. Until I learned their school sweaters were called “jumpers.” I got used to it.

Even though gray skies are the norm (50% of the time) and the pitter-patter of rain falls frequently in London, the Brits take it in stride. They manage to maintain their sense of humor. The words most likely to be heard are “lovely” and “cheers.” The cakes (British Baking Show), garden roses (even in December), and children are “lovely.” One thinks of earlier references to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon in America, where “the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.”

But this is different. The language expresses a refreshing outlook, particularly as we roll into the second year of the Pandemic. Omicron races through neighborhoods in London, just as it does in America. Yet “lovely” expresses a tone, that denotes a positive forward attitude, whether  or not it’s just the usual response in Britain. “Cheers” is a multipurpose response. “Cheers, I’m glad to see you.” “Cheers, your team/my team won the game.” “Cheers, to the high school/college graduate” (though the term high school is somewhat different in England). To be authentic, you want to sound more like Prince Charles or his mum, the Queen, and pronounce it “chairs.”

The third word that often reached my American ears: “brilliant.” You might judge that not everything that gets this tag could live up to the American meaning; that isn’t the point. I believe people strive for higher goals based on expectations. Rather than judging children’s initial attempt as being below the bar and criticizing the attempt, would it be more productive to find their effort “brilliant” in some area? Then they might be encouraged to “give it a go,” as the Brits would say, and continue striving?

As Omicron took the East Sheen neighborhood by storm, neighbors would say “touch wood” to wave it off in a comical way. Later I learned this was the British version of “knock on wood” and wondered how it evolved (see below). Challenges occur on both sides of the Atlantic. How you react is the key to your success.

{Touch Wood Superstition – Pick your as version. The first traces to the Celtics, who were said to knock on trees to prevent ruining their good luck and to “thank the leprechauns.” Or the Christian version—the wood of Christ’s cross was said to protect against the evil of the devil. Then, the German perspective: Stammtisch’s tavern had a table made of oak. According to legend, the guests believed that touching the table brought protection against the devil, who was unable to touch oak. Finally, in the 1800s, children developed a chasing game, “Ticky Touchwood.” Those children who touched wood were immune from being tagged.}

Downton Abbey Incentive

Like many American females taken by the male accents they heard on Downton Abbey, I enjoyed listening to British speech in London, even if I did not always understand the meaning of the words. To continue my British education, I listen to the BBC report on NPR in Austin. I have produced a chart of British words and equivalent American usage—some from first-hand discovery, others unique comparisons I thought you would enjoy.

Traffic Safety – Britain vs. America

Finally, I could not finish without a few words about traffic safety. It amazed me that there are many fewer stoplights in London than in Washington, D.C. or any other major American city. Scattered along city streets are “pelicans”– large yellow dots of light about five foot above the pavement that arise from single poles along highways, like Richmond Road. (Thus the name “pelicons,”in keeping with the British sense of humor.) Pedestrians push a button, then step out into the street as traffic stops. It’s hard to believe cars will stop, but they do. Roundabouts are circular roadways that allow drivers to cross to one of three directions–to the first right, straight across, or the second right–from where they entered. Virginia installed some further out rural areas, where highways met. They worked, but drivers would need to adjust!

Driving on the left side of the road also requires drivers to make their left-hand turn without driving in front of oncoming traffic–one of the more dangerous moves American drivers make. But drivers coming in from sidestreets depend on courtesy of other Britaish drivers, who let each other into the lane of traffic. It works because drivers exceed expectations. The statistics show the difference. Britain’s population is one-fifth of the United States, with 68 million Brits to 335 million Americans. The U.S. had 36,560 traffic fatalities (not collisions or injuries, but deaths) in 2018 vs. 1839 in Britain. Based on population, one-fifth of the fatalities would total 7312. Granted Britain is much smaller geographically, with fewer large cities and smaller towns not as far flung, but England lost a fraction of its people to driving fatalities.

One possibility might be that getting a driver’s license in England is more complicated than in the States. People study seriously to pass. Some compare it to getting a PhD. in safety. This may be too much of a challenge, but somewhere in the middle of the British difficulty and frankly the American ease in getting a license might be called for. Teenagers, as a rule, in Britain don’t attempt a license until they are older. Senior drivers are increasing in both countries, creating other challenges. Making it more difficult to get a license in America would be difficult to sell–but are we willing to lose more people on the highways? The simple fact is that in the U.S. highway fatalities are roaring back after the Pandemic’s emptier roads.  

OK, off soapbox. So what do they call khaki pants in the U.K.? Trousers. Look below for a more complete list comparing American and British English words.

British                                   American

            agony aunt                          advice columnist

            (dust) bin                             garbage can     An aging aunt: “I don’t think I’m ready for the bin.”

            barrister                               attorney           A barrister prepares documents but is not in court.

            biscuits                                cookie

            bonnet                                 car hood

            casualty                               emergency room

            draughts                              checkers

            flats                                     apartments

            car park                               parking lot

            chemist                               pharmacy/drug store

             crisps                                  potato chips

            dual carriageway              divided highway

            football                             soccer          Parents of elementary kids play in the evening.

            high street                         main street      See: “London’s High Streets” my December 17 Blog.

            (bank) holiday                  vacation            As we have vacations, Brits have holidays.

            Juggernaut                        18-wheeler        In London, commercial trucks are smaller in UK.

            jelly babies                        jelly beans

            ice lolly                             Popcycle

            green fingers                    green thumb

            knickers                           female underwear

            maths                               math                  British figure there is more than 1 type of math.

            nappy                               diapers

            pet hate                            pet peeve

            pavement                         sidewalk        Not paved, but ill-fitting 12″ squares mashed together.

            pub                                   bar               Pub food is better. Variety. Well beyond wings & BBQ.

            reception                          preschool                                                         

            reception room               living room Ground floor, floors above are the first floor.

            removals                         movers

            ring road                         beltway

            roundabout                     traffic circles  

            torch                               flashlight                                                                                              trousers                           pants

underwear            pants Confusion: When you say “pants” in UK, it means underwear.

            vest                                 undershirt

            Wellies                            rain boots

There you have it. A roundabout comparison of language and a few tidbits tossed in for flavor. In February will folow up with Paul McCartney’s Lyrics exhibit at the British Library (and a link to his YouTube interview discussing his life’s work. Next we’ll address the habits that we seek to manage at the turn of the year to see if we might turn a leaf on our own 2021 old songs.