Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Deal: Churchill, Truman and Stalin Remake the World by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

An interesting look at the beginnings of the Cold War. Strangely enough, Truman and Churchill come off as archvillains and Stalin as the good guy.

Could it be true?

"Churchill was to say, 'It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell....' The United States Strategic Bombing Survey said after the war, 'Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.' 
It was no longer necessary to drop either the bomb-as-weapon or the bomb-as-doomsday-machine on Japan. However, if the weapon were not dropped on Japan, the doomsday machine could have no psychological effect on Russia. 
The bomb was therefore dropped on Japan for the effect it had on Russia—just as Jimmy Byrnes had said. The psychological effect on Stalin was twofold: the Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians."

Friday, July 15, 2016

Abraham Lincoln As a Storyteller

From a cartoon (originally published in Harper’s Weekly Magazine, 
September 17th, 1864)
Abraham Lincoln is idealized as this tall, stoic, bearded giant who wore a black stove pipe hat and never smiled. The real Abraham Lincoln was nothing like that. He was a jokester. He enjoyed entertaining people with his stories and making them laugh. William Howard Russell noted in his diary, “Mr. Lincoln raises a laugh by some bold west-country anecdote, and moves off in the cloud of merriment produced by his joke.”

His friend, Joshua Speed said, “humor was an integral part of the way in which Mr. Lincoln created and cemented friendships.”

From all accounts, Lincoln was folksy in the way he talked. His law partner in Springfield, William Herndon, described his voice as somewhat squeaky, maybe even high-pitched and shrill. It may have even occasionally cracked as he was speaking.

George Alfred Townsend in his book, The Real Life of Abraham Lincoln, says:

“No man ever told so many stories, and he was seldom known either to repeat one twice or tell one that was hackneyed. His long, variable and extensive experience with common native people made him acquainted with a thousand oddities, and he had a familiar way of relating them that was as piquant as his application of them. It is also true that some of these stories were more cogent than delicate.”

Lamon confirms this, saying “His humor was not of a delicate quality, it was chiefly exercised in hearing and telling stories of the grosser sort.” Lamon says “telling and hearing ridiculous stories was one of his[Lincoln’s] ruling passions…The most trifling incident reminded him of a story, and that reminded him of another until everybody marveled that one small head could carry all he knew.”

Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War

Chief Black Hawk by George Catlin
(from Letters and Notes on North American Indians
by George Catlin, 1913)
Abraham Lincoln’s real story begins about the time he was chosen as a Captain in the Black Hawk War.

Before I tell you about Lincoln, I should tell you about the Black Hawk War. It wasn’t really much of a war. It was more like a slaughter of the Sac and Fox Indians. From the years 1827 to 1831 squatters crossed over into Indian Territory in Iowa and Illinois. They destroyed the Indian’s homes and planted crops while they were away on their winter hunt. Each time Black Hawk complained to the authorities, they told him to let it be.

In 1831 authorities warned Black Hawk, if he crossed the Mississippi and returned to his village in Illinois it would be considered an act of aggression. In 1832 he crossed the Mississippi, intending to meet up with a band of Winnebago’s who offered his people shelter at the Prophet’s Town.

What followed was a mix-up of frontier madness, mayhem, and murder. Illinois Governor John Reynolds called out the militia and raised thousands of volunteers. General Winfield Scott marched his regulars to Fort Armstrong. Zachary Taylor led a group of dragoons in the fighting.

Needless to say most of the Indians were slaughtered despite making numerous attempts to surrender.

Lincoln’s role in the war was minimal. He was elected captain of a regiment in New Salem. Later he became a ranger in Captain Elijah Iles’s company of Independent Rangers. After Iles’s company of rangers was mustered out of service in mid-June, he joined a group of scouts led by Captain Jacob M. Early.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: The Promise of a Pencil, How An Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

Andrew Braun's life story reads like the Hero's Journey as portrayed by Joseph Campbell.

At age seventeen, he set sail with the (SAS) Semester at Sea program, headed towards India, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. Rough seas tossed the MV Explorer cruise ship to and fro, almost swamping the ship full of kids. For Andrew, the cruise was a game changer.

"I'm going to die today," he thought. "I'm going to drown in freezing waters within the next two hours. I was in a free fall. How was this possible?"

Knowing he was going to die, somehow brought out the hero in young Andrew. He found a new determination, a will to live. Surprisingly, the experience brought him closer to his fellow travelers.

On the ground again, he decided to ask one kid in every country he visited, what one thing they wanted most. The answers were crazy. They were totally unexpected. A girl in Hawaii wanted to dance. A girl in Beijing wanted a book. A boy in Hong Kong wanted magic. And, a boy begging outside the Taj Mahal wanted a pencil.

His face lit up like he was given a million dollars when Braun gave him a Number 2 pencil.

Who's to say who's life was changed more that day, the boy who could finally write, or the young man who discovered his life was changed by the power of a pencil?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Can Cartoons Predict the Winner of a Presidential Election - Cartoon Trump, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Candidate Donald Trump - Part 1

The creators of Family Guy got Donald Trump's
 dander up when they released this image in an
attempt to win the Emmy Award.
Are cartoons a good predictor of real life?

A 2000 episode of The Simpson’s foretold the election of Donald Trump, and the eventual bankruptcy of the country due to Trump’s spendthrift policies.

How’d it all happen?

During a drug-induced (?) hallucination Bart catches a glimpse of a weird alternate future, where he is a loser, musician wannabe, and Lisa is president.  Our first view of Lisa shows her decked out in her best purple outfit, as she gets ready to address the nation. Right off the bat, she clears the air, and lets everyone know she is the “first straight female president.” Then she gets down to business.

Secretary Millhouse stands on the stage next to Lisa. He displays a chart that shows the economy’s downward spiral, while he relates the bad news. 

Apparently, the Donald’s decision to invest in our children’s future was a humongous mistake.

In disbelief, Lisa exclaims, “The Country’s broke! How can that be?”