Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Don't Mess With George

On December 26th 1776 George Washington crossed the Delaware River with his ragged army.  His surprise attack on the British at Trenton was a successful step in the long painful battle for independence.  The crossing was memorialized by Emanuel Leutz in his 1881 painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware".

Now comes a reinterpretation and a new painting offering an historically accurate version of the event.  You can read about it and see a picture of the new work at this link.  The painting is boring.  One is not drawn into the drama.  No heart palpitations. 

Leutz' painting has served a patriotic purpose for 230 years.  The viewer immediately recognizes danger, courage, resourcefulness and determination.  Does it matter if the picture is accurate? 

As an example of the success of Leutz' classic, look at Dan Deroux's painting "Washington Crossing the Khyber Pass".  Deroux is an acclaimed contemporary artist.  He is frequently inspired by historical events and the art of others.  Deroux understands the power of the ice flow and wind whipping at the flag.  He gets it that Washington is leading the way down an untrodden path.  My advice, don't mess with George.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Data Points

I no longer work in an office.  When I did, I maintained a personal goal to use as little business jargon as possible. Much of it is awful.  "Give me your input" is one of the older pieces of business slang.  I did not suggest that we "throw it at the wall to see if it sticks."  However, one bit of business slang is useful for this post: "Data points".  Used this way: "If you have several data points you may be able to draw a conclusion."

Here are my Christmas Eve data points. 
  • Use of the word "Christmas" in public space is frowned upon, banned or prosecuted depending on the level of notice it receives. 
  • Congress is convened in its daily work with a prayer that specifically invokes "The Lord" or "God". 
  • West Point Military Academy produces a wonderful Christmas concert, at taxpayer expense, that includes hymns and carols that refer to the birth of Jesus, God, heaven, and many associated wonders. 
  • Many churches will be closed tomorrow, Christmas day, so that parishioners can spend the holiday in celebration (opening presents) at home.
My conclusions:  it is impossible to separate a people from their culture.  Culture is dynamic, adding and subtracting as times change.  It is difficult to draw a bright line between religion and shared cultural heritage.  When we try, we appear as intolerant as those who drove many to our shores.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Last year I wrote about the winter solstice.  I was gratified to day that the author of one of my favorite comic strips called reader attention to this important event.  See Jan Eliot's "Stone Soup" for December 22.


Do you remember this acronym?  Keep it simple, stupid.  The politicians and media are all over each other today talking about the Social Security tax cut.  Anyone who dares to say anything negative about this new sacred cow is called haughty, uncaring, and perpetrator of an American caste system.

Well, I think it is a bad idea to continue to "temporarily" reduce the social security payroll tax from 6.2% to 4.2%.  Such carelessness immediately raises the ever-mounting deficit by 2% of the annual US payroll.  Notice, there is no accompanying reduction in proposed Social Security benefits.  I am opposed to deliberately increasing the likelihood that our Social Security promise will be hollow for my children.  The longer the temporary tax reduction remains in place the less likely it will ever be reimposed.  Already, political rhetoric refers to the end of this "temporary" cut as a tax increase. 

If we want to mess with Social Security, lets do it right: comprehensively.  Be honest about the relationship between funding and benefits.  Keep it simple. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa Came Early

Last Friday night the Ketchikan Humane Society celebrated its tenth anniversary with a fund raising auction.  If you are not familiar with Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan is one of the communities on the islands of the Alexander Archipelago.  Ketchikan is a small town, about 10,000 people.  Sounds big by "down south" standards, but those people live on a 40 mile road system with no way off the island except by air or sea.  I lived there for almost 20 years.  I was one of the founders of the Humane Society.  I went to the tenth anniversary party.  We raised more money than any of us believed possible.  One week before Christmas, a cold night with colder rain blowing sideways.  Our venue was crowded, the bidding enthusiastic.  At the end of the evening, the proprietor had sold all of his food and beverages, all of our items were paid for and carried out, nothing was broken and we were exhausted.  We watched our slide show one more time.  It was simple.  Before and after pictures of the animals whose lives we had saved.  Mostly dogs and cats.  We were reminded of the wonderful Rainbow Bridge where animals go after death to wait for their human friends.  Get a hanky if you follow the link.  The Ketchikan Humane Society is sustained by the devotion and care of many volunteers.  It succeeds because of the vision and passion of one woman, Gretchen Moore.  We agreed that when Gretchen approaches Rainbow Bridge she will be mobbed by the hundreds of animals who felt her loving touch.  If there is truly a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it is right there in Ketchikan at 12034 North Tongass Highway at Gretchen's boarding kennel and the home of the Ketchikan Humane Society. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Was This Necessary?

In today's paper are two stories that make me wonder, "why was this necessary?"  One is about Jessica Lynch, now 28 and about to receive her college degree in Education.  The other is about Dakota Meyer.  Ms. Lynch served in the US Army.  She did a tour of duty nine years ago in Iraq.  She was a supply clerk.  She was a passenger in a convoy that was attacked.  She was injured - spinal fractures, nerve damage, a shattered right arm and badly damaged legs.  She was taken prisoner.  That story is enough to demonstrate that her service to the country included great danger, and to warrant our appreciation.  But the Army exaggerated the circumstances of her capture, and her role in the combat. To improve their public image? To rally public support?  Why? 

Dakota Meyer served in Afghanistan.   He received the Medal of Honor for his action during an ambush of his unit in 2009.  We now learn that the narrative that accompanied his award was embellished.  Unnecessarily.  It seems he would be worthy of his honor without the misrepresentation of additional enimies killed and wounded rescued.  As with Ms. Lynch's story, the story of Mr. Meyer's heroism was enhanced by the Marine Corps' Public Affairs office.  To improve their public image?  To rally public support?  Why.

Both these young adults deserve our recognition and thanks for their service to our country.  They do not deserve to be pawns in a public relations campaign.  Their personal reputations are at stake.  Shame on the editors.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why "We"?

John Kennedy did not refer to himself as "we". Neither did Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson or any other of the presidents of my childhood.  Today's politician is all about "we" when referring to himself (or, sadly herself as women have adopted the same habit).  Perhaps "we" makes sense when speaking broadly as in "we will address the issue of entitlements this year" or "we have received many letters".  But, "We are the strongest candidate and will make the best President'?  Does the speaker have a frog in his pocket?  When did the aversion arise to speaking in the first person?  It is generally considered that a first person address is will create intimacy between the speaker and audience.  The use of "we" diminishes the personal commitment.  It buffers the speaker from association with his own words.  Winston Churchill did not talk about "we" when making his commitment to defend his country.  Do today's politicians flinch from accountability?   Do they believe that leadership is a collective undertaking?  Do they fear the accusation of conceit?  Listen in this political season for a candidate willing to walk his talk.  Listen for "I". 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Do You Trust?

The mainstream media have been surprisingly quiet about news that many find interesting.  Last week more emails were leaked from the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University.  Scientists affiliated with East Anglia have been in the forefront of climate research and include many of the recognized spokespeople for the belief that man-caused global warming is conclusively demonstrated by collected data and modelling.  Two years ago emails leaked from the same university fanned the flames of discord about the reliability of their conclusions and forecasts.  And now, a second round of emails that cast doubt on their projections.  You might be interested to read about these leaked documents.  Their authenticity is not questioned.  There are many bloggers and think tank scientists writing for electronic readers.  I am linking here to one that I think makes the case well for those who are troubled by the continuing evidence of hubris within the East Anglia fraternity. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Rule of God or the Rule of Man

Two items in the news this week trouble the Western mind.  In Afghanistan, the plight of a jailed rape victim draws attention to the condition of women in Islamic countries.  She was convicted of adultery because she was raped.  The child spawned by the act was born in jail.  Her pardon was from a 12 year sentence.  She was spared the fate of others who have been forced to marry their rapist.  Some have then been killed in an "honor" slaying because the original "crime" brought the family shame.

In Egypt the much heralded election favored not only the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, but also the ultraconservative Salafis.  Their leader, Sheik Shahat makes clear their view: "freedom restricted by Islamic Shariah, equality restricted by Islamic Shariah..." It is reported that the Salafis won 25% of the vote in the first round.  Those who love freedom do not understand the fervor for Islamic law.  In Egypt we may witness a different contest than we expected.  Not tyranny vs democracy, but the rule of god vs the rule of man.