Monday, February 17, 2014

George Washington's Very Merry Unbirthday

It's the third Monday in February and time for the holiday we know as Washington's Birthday. Research tell us that George Washington was actually born on February 22, 1732 or February 11, 1731 according to the Old Style calendar. At one time we actually had a Washington's Birthday holiday on February 22 but that changed in 1971 when the "Monday holiday rule" took effect. The rule was a postlude to a torturous twenty year saga of federal bickering, ineptitude, and state's rights issues over the national failure to honor our presidents, Abraham Lincoln in particular, with their very own holiday. The fallout left us with what is in reality a Washington's Unbirthday holiday and a three-day weekend. Honest Abe didn't make the cut.

Never keen to let a good shopping opportunity pass, American capitalists liked the idea of a President's Day, especially one that could be stretched over a full week . They saw the advantage of the patriotic fervor generated by matching silhouettes of Lincoln - log cabins - and Washington - axes and cherries - positioned over merchandise and big red signs reading "SALE." The concept caught on. Today, about all Americans have left with the third Monday in February is the opportunity to buy stuff, mostly stuff they don't need. On the federal level, this not only leaves us with nothing for Old Abe but also nothing for the other presidents save George and his big unbirthday.

I figure one could sooth this insult by ignoring the mess and shopping the day away. Even that strategy may not work. I seriously doubt shoppers can beat the price and associated costs that one can enjoy from on a 24/7 basis. A bit of research and we can find similar sites for those big, big ticket items like cars.

So what is one to do? Perhaps it's best to forget the issues of a misnomer and the neglected presidents and return to Lincoln and Washington as our February presidents. And they have more in common as presidents who share the quality of American exceptionalism, a term we've been hearing more often these days as the republic drifts ever deeper into its golden years. With that in mind, I suggest readers find a comfortable setting and reflect on these men and their place in the American experience. If readers need a bit of encouragement here are two statements, one so very brief, the other a bit longer, both reflecting the greatness of their authors and the hope they shared for our unique national experience:

Washington's Farewell Address, written in 1796 on his coming departure from the presidency;

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863.

A version of this post appeared in 2012.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fifty Years Of Music Tracks Worth Noting

Tennessee Troubadours                                                                      Ben Shahn

We can always count on PowerLine to bring us timely, informative, and entertaining posts about news from the world of music. Scott Johnson contributed two recent posts. Today he brings the world-class guitarist, Tony Rice, to our attention. Johnson notes that Rice is not well known outside world of  "bluegrass/newgrass/folk world" and deserving of far wider recognition. Last week he wrote about the great folk revival artist, Tom Rush, whose career now spans fifty years and shows no sign of stopping. Johnson says this: "If Rush has ever recorded a mediocre track, I haven't heard of it."  Also last week, Paul Mirengoff wrote about the Beatles performing in Washington two days after their Ed Sullivan Show appearance in 1964. His post includes links to comments from some of the folks both on stage and in the audience as well as a nine minute video of the event.

As always, the PowerLine music posts lead to interesting comment threads. I hope you enjoy them along with the fine sounds that are likely to descend from the thoughts of Johnson and Mirengoff.

Photo: Maynardville, Tennessee, October, 1935, for the Farm Security Administration. Library of Congress.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lincoln's Birthday

Today marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. 

As visitors climb the marble steps, pass marble columns, and enter the chamber of the Lincoln Memorial, they are awestruck by Daniel Chester French’s enormous marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. To what part of the Georgia marble figure is the eye drawn first? Possibly, the serious look on Lincoln’s face will remind the visitor of the critical time of Civil War through which the president guided our nation. Maybe the reeds wrapped together in the arms of Lincoln’s chair will prompt the visitor to remember the way that Lincoln wanted to keep us bound together as one nation.
If you want to settle into an evening with Lincoln and his age, your choice of titles will number in the thousands and in a variety of media. I am inclined to recommend Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. It is available as a one-volume abridgement or you may choose to tackle the original six-volume version. Not always accurate, not always "organized" as a traditional biography, Sandburg's work is really the story of Lincoln as American experience. It's romantic, rich, warm, organic, meandering, sometimes stormy, sometimes calm. I think the approach works well because the Lincoln story is in so many respects the American story. Also keep in mind that although well-known as a poet Sandburg soon was revered in the U.S. as a poet/writer for the people once the first volumes appeared . With that in mind, I believe Old Abe would have been proud to select a writer of popular history and culture as his official biographer.

Do take some time today to reflect on the life, time, and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. So much of what he was, as a nation, we are.

Credits: Quotation, Lincoln Memorial National Memorial webpage, National Park Service

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Babe From Pigtown

Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum 

Ruth at St. Mary's
February 6 is a legendary day in baseball history. On this day in 1895, George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born in Pigtown, one of Baltimore's many rough and tough neighborhoods near it's famous harbor. After seven years struggling to maintain their working-class family his parents assigned custody of their son to the St Mary's Industrial School for Boys. Ruth wasn't much of a scholar there but he excelled at baseball, the primary sport used by the monks to bring structure and discipline to their 800 boys. By the age of 19, he was a professional baseball player and destined to become the greatest ever. Learn more about the Babe here at his official page or here at his extensive Wikipedia entry.

His page at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum website has even more information, including videos, photos, and a wealth of amazing statistics.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Today Is Candlemas In The Christian World: A Celebration Of Light Entering The World

Menologion of Basil II                                                                          c. 1000 CE
Readers undoubtedly will hear something about groundhogs today. They are less likely to learn that February 2 marks a Christian festival day. It is known in the western Catholic tradition as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin or Candlemas, and more often in the Protestant world simply as the Presentation of Our Lord.

The festival marks the fortieth day following the birth of Jesus. Under Mosaic law, it was a day for temple rites completing the purification of a woman following childbirth. It was also the day to present the firstborn son for redemption in the rite of pidyon haben.

The Candlemas tradition emerges from Luke 2:22-39 where Simeon prays over Jesus with words that would become known as the Song of Simeon or Nunc Dimittis:

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, 
secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium,
 et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, 
you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 
For my eyes have seen your salvation, 
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, 
and the glory of your people Israel.

Beginning around the third century following the birth of Jesus, the blessing of candles and their procession about the church on this feast day became a symbol of Jesus as the light of the world. The practice emerged in the western church around 1000 CE.

Here is Arvo Part's setting for this sacred song:

This day has other interesting attributes. It marks the end of the traditional Christmas season in the Catholic calendar. It is also the mid-point of Winter, a cross-quarter day filled with pagan traditions symbolizing fire and the "return of the light."

In our house, the last Christmas decorations have been removed and stored for another cycle.  Our fireplace seems naked without its trimmings of red, green, gold, silver and glass. But the fire therein brings light and warmth, both spiritual and physical, as this joyous season comes to a close.