Instead of the usual review of the book by me, here’s Reverend Davis; let him tell you the story in his own way.
Monday, June 29, 2015
This is the story of Reverend Gary Davis, the blind preacher who gave up blues and jazz to play gospel music on the streets of New York City. He lived in Jamaica, Queens in the 1960’s when I was growing up. Along with Moondog; the Viking poet of 6th Avenue; he was an iconic figure in the life of the city.This is the story of how he came to be there and his influences upon modern folk music and even bluegrass.
If you are a Jorma Kaukonen fan then you are already familiar with Reverend Davis’ work; though you might not even know it. His guitar style was completely his own and his delivery of contemporary classics such as "Hesitation Blues" is a spontaneous romp. While the rest of the country was "discovering" many of the old Delta Blues players like Sun House and John Hurt, Reverend Davis was championing the old time gospel music of his youth.
Instead of the usual review of the book by me, here’s Reverend Davis; let him tell you the story in his own way.
Friday, June 26, 2015
The Supreme Court has done it again. They got it right; but for the wrong reason; in the decision this morning to protect Gay Marriage. That they used the 14th Amendment to do so, rather than striking at the root of the problem, is troubling to me, if no one else. Let me attempt to clearly state why.
The whole shebang centered on the ill-conceived DOMA act which was first introduced by Bill Clinton in 1996. It was a midterm election effort to retain those voters who were as yet uncomfortable with Gay Marriage. But in crafting the thing they put a major chip in the Constitution.
Article IV, Section 1: (1789)
Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.
This Article makes it possible to be married in one state and move to another without getting married again. It covers everything from car registrations to interstate commerce. It’s what keeps the local sheriff from knocking on a motel door demanding to see a local wedding license. It’s the very essence of the interaction between the states on so many levels that I have always wondered why they essentially broke it with the 2nd section of DOMA; the third section of which was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. But Section 2 was left intact, and as far as I can tell, in spite of today’s ruling, remains so.
Here is the entire act with the troublesome 2nd Section in bold italics.
Section 1. Short title. This Act may be cited as the "Defense of Marriage Act".
Section 2. Powers reserved to the states. No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
Section 3. Definition of marriage. In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
It is hard for me to understand just why the Court simply did not address the 2nd Section when striking down DOMA. That would have prevented the individual states from going through the unnecessary judicial proceedings of the last decade, with each state fighting for or against Gay Marriage on the basis of States Rights; which is clearly allowed by Section 2 of DOMA. In striking down DOMA’s 3rd Section only and leaving Section 2 intact they created the whole problem they resolved this morning by using the 14th Amendment to reach their decision.
But, still troubling is the fact that the 2nd Section of DOMA is left intact; giving rise to the question just why it has not been struck down by the Court; even with today’s new ruling. Leaving it intact only creates a precedent in law which still undermines Article 4 Section 1 of the Constitution.
If I am probably the only one troubled by this, I can only recall the time when I was working on an appeal for some charge against me while in the Navy aboard the USS Neosho. The Captain found me poring over the Ship’s Organization and Regulation Manual and refused to let me continue with my research. He would not allow me to use the book. I asked him if it would not be more convenient for the Navy to take only sailors who couldn’t read. He never answered but there are times when it does seem like a curse to be able to do so.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
There is a rising tide of resentment about the proposed removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the memorial at the State House in South Carolina. The center of the argument is along the lines of; “If the Battle flag; which flew for only 4 years, representing a singular evil; is wrong, then what about the American flag which has flown for over 200 years and reigned over such atrocities as slavery; the conquest of Texas from Mexico; the complete annihilation of the American Indian; the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; etc, etc; then why should it be permitted to fly?”
Well, the biggest difference of all is that each of the mistakes we, as a nation, have committed in the past have been addressed in some fashion. We abolished slavery; we no longer conquer our neighbors; and until recently we have led the world in the attempt to at least control the threat of nuclear weapons. While we look towards the future, the proponents of the Battle Flag still harken for the days and grand lifestyle of the antebellum South. In other words; given their druthers, they’d do it all again.
What it all boils down to is this; in much the same way as Moderate Islam has lost control of their religion to a supposed minority of radicals and misfits, so goes the way of the Confederate Battle Flag. Unfortunately; for some, with or without a flag; that war will never end.
Monday, June 22, 2015
When Arthur Miller won the Pulitzer Prize for his play “Death of a Salesman” in 1948 he said that the only other name on the list deserving of the Prize that year was Mike Johnson, a reporter for the New York Sun. Mr. Johnson’s series about crime on the waterfront would go on to inspire Bud Schulberg to write the iconic screenplay for “On the Waterfront” as well as Arthur Miller’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.”
In this colorful and enjoyable history, Nathan Ward has brilliantly tied together the story of corruption along the New York waterfront of the 1930's through the 1950's with the iconic film "On the Waterfront." Utilizing the Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles by New York Sun reporter Malcom Johnson, Mr. Ward has pieced together the facts behind the thinly disguised fiction of the Elia Kazan film. Working with playwright Arthur Miller, and actor Marlon Brando, gave that film a reality that still has a bite, even now when viewed almost 60 years later.
The author takes the reader on a pier by pier journey through the corruption that ate away at the social fabrics of whole neighborhoods, gobbling up livelihoods, and often lives, as it swallowed the promise of the American Dream based on hard work.
The "shape-up", the humiliating practice of having men bribe, and beg, for a day’s work, is explored in detail. The real life characters that were the basis for the main players in "On the Waterfront" are all exposed here through the real life experiences of the working men, and their families, who were all victims to the thugs and organized criminal enterprises who ran the docks. There really were Johnny Friendly's and Kayo Dugan’s, just as there were real life Terry Malloy's, all caught up in the struggle to provide either pinky rings for themselves, or food and shelter for their families. There really was a Crime Commission investigating the labor practices along the waterfront, and witnesses were killed for testifying before them.
Of special interest in this book are the preparations for the filming of "On the Waterfront", with both Arthur Miller and Marlon Brando walking the streets of Red Hook, where the movie takes place, in order to capture the real feel of the time and place. Brando didn't think he could walk the streets unrecognized as Marlon Brando. Donning his costume, and carrying his cargo hook, he strode through the neighborhood, without raising an eyebrow. That's when he knew he was ready.
From Albert Anastasia, in the area of the Fulton Street Fish Market, to Charlie Yanowsky, in Jersey City, the cast of characters is colorful in this engaging book which chronicles the sordid history of New York's waterfront. In 1948 it was written that "the New York waterfront produces more murders per square foot than any other one section of the country."
Sunday, June 21, 2015
This is a photo of me from 1987, the year I became a father. I already had 2 stepsons, but the haunted, frightened look on my face is that of a newly minted Dad. Sarah had been born that winter and I hadn’t slept since she came home.
It’s Father’s day; again. Being a father did not come “naturally” to me. I was as ill-suited for the role as my own parents were. The only difference is that I have always been willing to admit it. The daily grind of being a parent is probably only exceeded by the daily grind of being a kid.
Now, as a kid you have less money than your folks, and more time on your hands. But, for the parents it’s just the opposite; they may have more money than the kids, but it doesn’t go very far because they have kids. And as far as time goes, forget about it. It will be at least 18 years from the birth of your first child until you will have any real spare time again. And, by then you will be too old to do stuff anyway.
However, as I look at my kids today; and the grandkids; I’m glad to have made the journey and come through fairly intact. I even feel a real sense of satisfaction. The future is assured.
Thanks Keith, Shane and Sarah. I'm proud to be your father.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Here's one of the old Popeye cartoons from the Max and Dave Fleischer Days. The animation is always fluid; or "trippy" as we used to say; in these cartoons. The story lines are kind of entertaining as well; especially if you listen to Popeye's muttering closely. He says some strange things at times.
This one is the usual fare; Olive and Popeye struggling against Brutus as they also struggle with the idiosyncrasies of a new car.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
In this film Robert Downey Jr. plays attorney Hank Palmer, who is going through a rough time in his marriage. His wife is screwing around on him and he is on the verge of a divorce, even as he handles the high profile cases he is known for. Hank is a true shark; he can spot the jugular on anyone and knows just how to go for it. He had a lot of practice in learning the art of intellectual defense; his father is Judge Joseph Palmer, and the two have never gotten along well.
His two brothers; Glen, played by Vincent D'Onofrio ; and younger brother Dale; seem to have an easier time accepting their fathers semi abusive manner. Glen has a profession, while Dale is somewhat slow and has a learning disability which prompts him to film everything with an old 8 mm movie camera. He is; at least in his own mind; working on a film.
When Judge Palmer’s wife passes away Hank returns home to the small town in Indiana where he was raised and his father still presides as Judge. Old wounds quickly open up again when Hank returns and Judge Palmer may be drinking again.
The stage is set for a final show down between the Judge and his most combative son when the father is arrested on suspicion of murdering a man who had appeared before the Judge previously. With the Judge depressed over his wife’s death, and struggling with cancer himself, Hank is afraid his father doesn’t really want to fight for his own freedom. He seems to want to be punished for the sins of his past. To complicate that, Hank believes his father to be guilty of both the murder and drinking again.
In the fight of his life; and with a court battle that has the Judge on trial for his freedom; if not his life; Hank must use every skill he has ever learned to overcome his own emotions and free his father; while at the same time uncovering the truth behind the murder. In the end Hank finds that he has more in common with his father than he ever thought.
Riveting performances by all make this screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque; from the story by David Dobkin; shine. Billy Bob Thornton is also credible as the suit and tie Prosecutor Dwight Dickham.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
In this film from Poland, Agata Trzebuchowska plays the role of Anna , a novitiate nun in 1960s Poland. She is about to take her vows when she is summoned by the Mother Superior and instructed to go home to visit her only living relative; her mother’s sister. When Anna meets the woman who is her Aunt she is perplexed as to just why she is there. Aunt Wanda, played by Agata Kulesza, works as a judge for the Polish Government and informs Anna that she is a Jew, just as her mother was.
When the Nazis took over Poland they didn’t have too much trouble convincing the people to turn on the Jews. The Catholic Church did hide many of the children of the Jews who were transported to death camps. But they raised them as Catholics to protect them. When the war ended many were never told of their true identities. The Polish people were not very interested in giving back the properties which they had acquired after the Jews were expelled.
But some churches let God decide the issue by releasing the refugee children and requiring them to go back home before making the decision whether to remain a Christian or return to the religion of their birth. Anna’s story; although fictitious; is emblematic of those stories. The film is starkly realistic in it’s filming. Poland of the early 1960’s was a bleak place under Communist rule and the film captures that expertly.
There is a lot to learn from this film about people and how they act under extraordinary circumstances. After briefly tasting some odf the outside world which she has missed while in the convent, Anna must finally make a choice for her future based on the experiences of her past.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The photo above is of John "Pete" Corridan, the "Waterfront Priest,” testifying before a Senate Commerce Committee investigating waterfront crime in the late 1940’s.
If you have ever seen the film “On the Waterfront” with Karl Malden as the crusading Priest Father Barry, then you need to know that he was not a totally fictitious character. As a matter of fact, that soliloquy which he gives in the hold of the ship where Dugan is killed by the falling cargo was actually spoken by a Father Corridan who was the real life inspiration for the film version of the Priest.
Here is the portion of one of Father Corridan’s addresses to the men which inspired Bud Schulberg’s version;
“I suppose some people would smirk at the thought of Christ in the shape-up. It is about as absurd as the fact that He carried carpenter’s tools in His hands and earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. As absurd as the fact that Christ redeemed all men irrespective of their race, color, or station in life. It can be absurd only to those of whom Christ has said, ‘Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not.’ Because they don’t want to see or hear. Christ also said, ‘If you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me.’ So Christ is in the shape-up.”
Father Corridan gave the speech at a meeting in the Union trade school across the river in New Jersey, not in the hold of a cargo ship. But his words were almost identical. "The speech was written more by Father Corridan than me," writer Bud Schulberg said. "Eighty percent of it was his words."
Schulberg was soon treated to a tour of the waterfront by one of Corridan's longshoremen, a man named Arthur "Brownie" Brown. Schulberg became an admirer of the Priest and described him as “the greatest individual I have ever known.”
For more about Father Corridan use this link;
And here is Karl Malden delivering Bud Schulberg's version of Father Corridan's speech in the film "On the Waterfront";
Monday, June 15, 2015
When you watch films such as “The Four Feathers”, or “The Bengal Lancers” and “Gunga Din” you may be tempted to dismiss them as mere dramatizations of history, but you would be shortsighted to do so. Those films actually portray the British struggle to maintain control over India during the last days of the Raj in a fairly accurate way.
In his latest book, “Russian Roulette”, author Giles Milton takes us back to the days of the First World War and the Russian Revolution to illustrate the way in which Lenin’s Bolsheviks were prevented from exporting the Revolution to India by way of Afghanistan, Turkestan, and also how the British developed the Secret Intelligence Service; commonly referred to as MI6.
Reading this book is almost like watching one of those old movies I mentioned earlier; only better. When the Russian people finally had enough of the war; which was decimating the working class; they revolted. The Revolution is always considered to have occurred in November of 1917 when the Bolsheviks finally got to kill Tsar Nicholas and his family, but the truth is that it was brewing for some time.
Aside from the obvious problem of having Russia leave the war against Germany was the security of the large stores of ammunition stored within Russian borders. The concern was twofold; should the Germans acquire it then the tide of the war in the area would be turned. On the other hand, should the Bolsheviks get ahold of it then we risked losing Russia to internal strife. To deal with the political problems this engendered the British created an espionage network which spawned what some have termed “the Great Game”; a game which continues today in the same areas as it began, between the same powers that began it.
When the war ended the British efforts to stop the spread of Bolshevism didn’t end; if only for the fact that Lenin was actively pursuing a foothold in India to topple the British Raj. To that end, Amir Amannullah; the ruler of Afghanistan at the time; issued a jihad directing a Holy War against British India in 1919.
But as determined as the Russians might have been to expand their reach into India, the British were equally determined to oppose that expansion. To that end they chose to use some 50,000 shells of a toxic gas known as “the M-Device.” This was a nechloroarsine, which caused instant death in some; and violent illness in others. Churchill declared it to be more humane than explosives. Of those 55,00 shells, 47,282 remained unused and were dumped in about 240 feet of water in the White Sea, where they remain until this very day. Ninety years later Britain would be chief among those nations condemning Saddam Hussein for gassing the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
The book is filled with the characters you would expect to meet in films like “The Man Who Would Be King”. Some of these men were professional adventurers; some were men with political bents; others were just “doing their bit”; but all of their stories reflect, if not surpass, the antics of all the stars in those movies I mentioned earlier. Several have left manuscripts; published and unpublished; which the author has used to create a wonderfully accurate picture of a time and place which has not changed much since the time these events occur.
The names of men such as Mansfield Cumming; Arthur Ransome; Robert Bruce Lockhart; Sidney Reilly and George Hill may be lost in the greater annals of history, the rocky plains and mountainous areas of Afghanistan are still the same. And the “Great Game” still continues on its useful; and sometimes incomprehensible; course. This book will aid you in navigating that history.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
There won’t be too many people left in a few more decades who will remember the last time we added a star; or two; to our flag. So, I try to drag this story out as often as I can.
Today is Flag Day, which always prompts me to recall a day toward the end of kindergarten when my teacher, Mrs. Gerber, unveiled a new flag in our classroom. We had been saluting the 48 star flag, even though Alaska had entered the Union as the 49th state on January 3rd, 1959. Here it was June and we still had the old 48 star flag hanging at the front of the classroom in Public School 197 in Brooklyn.
With all appropriate drama, Mrs. Gerber unrolled the new 50 star flag as she carefully explained that yet another state, Hawaii, would be joining the Union in August. This would be just before we returned to school. Since the City did not have the funds to replace the flags twice in one year, they had opted to wait until the next state was added to make that change. We were getting a preview of the 50 star flag that would become our new National Symbol in August.
It wasn't until a few years later, while collecting stamps, that I actually saw a 49 star flag. The placement of the stars on the field of blue is somewhat of an art. It must be done in uniform rows to look right. The current 50 star flag relies on a pattern of two rows; 5 stars and 4 stars respectively, repeated 5 times and then the last row of 5 to make 50 stars. Very symmetrical.
The 49 star flag, which is seldom seen, has the same alternating pattern, only with 4 stars and 3 stars. The pattern, repeated 7 times, yields the 49 stars that represented the States in the Union at the time. The first row is 4 stars and by necessity, the last row is only 3 stars.
Flag Day was actually celebrated in the schools back then. Times have changed but history remains the same. So for those who have never seen it, here is the 49 star flag that reigned for a scant 8 months back in 1959.
Friday, June 12, 2015
The following story is about the aircraft carrier escort USS Card; which was designated a USNS vessel in her later years. It concerns her sinking by two determined Viet Cong saboteurs in 1964 while the ship was anchored in South Vietnam in 1964. An equally determined US Navy resurrected the ship and had her back afloat in two weeks, and back in service in a matter of months. This story comes to me by way of Edward Nanartowich on the MSC Old Salts site of Facebook. The photo above is of the Card in 1944, 20 years prior to the events described here.
It was shortly after midnight when two Viet Cong commandos emerged from a sewer tunnel that emptied into Saigon Port, each man carrying nearly 90 pounds of high explosives and the components needed to make two time bombs.
Their target was the largest American ship in port, USNS Card. An escort carrier that saw distinguished service as a submarine-hunter in the North Atlantic during World War II, during the early morning hours of May 2, 1964, Card was part of U.S. Military Sealift Command.
The ship supported an escalating military commitment of the South Vietnamese government that occurred well before the Tonkin Gulf Incident. Since 1961, Card had transported both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to the beleaguered nation as well as the U.S. pilots and support crews need to operate them.
The commandos swam toward Card, where they spent about an hour in the water attaching the charges just above the waterline near the bilge and the engine compartment on the ship’s starboard side. They set the timers and quickly swam away.
The charges exploded. Five civilian crewmen on board Card died, the explosion tore a huge hole in the engine-room compartment and a proud ship that had survived German U-boat attacks was on her way to the bottom — the last aircraft carrier in U.S. military history to date sunk by enemy action.
The sinking of the Card was stunning victory for the Viet Cong, yet little remembered today. It illustrated how vulnerable naval vessels can be even when faced with a low-tech enemy … and how difficult maintaining port security can be in a war with no real front.
But it also demonstrated how resilient American naval forces are. In 17 days, salvage crews raised Card out of nearly 50 feet of water, and six months later the ship returned to service for another six years.
Not surprisingly, North Vietnam celebrated the sinking of Card, considering it a propaganda victory of the first rank. The U.S. government refused to even acknowledge the vessel’s sinking, telling the public the carrier had only been damaged.
The North Vietnamese government even commemorated the event by portraying the operation on a 1964 postage stamp. Naval vessels often have a mystique about them — they look formidable, bristle with weapons and aircraft, and have the ability to project a nation’s power anywhere on the planet.
In particular, aircraft carriers are the symbol of a nation possessing “great power” status. But they are vulnerable to attack. For example, there are reasons why even aircraft carriers have numerous escort vessels — destroyers, guided-missile cruisers, even submarines — to protect a carrier as well as engage the enemy.
We shouldn’t be too surprised when an enemy takes out a naval vessel in combat, even if it is a commando with a time bomb, James Holmes, a naval historian and analyst who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College, told War Is Boring.
“We shouldn’t get carried away with thinking of warships as ‘castles of steel,’ or latter-day dreadnoughts, or whatever,” Holmes said. “A castle is a fortification whose walls can take enormous punishment, whereas most modern warships have thin sides — the nuclear-powered carrier being an honorable exception. So a guy with a charge can do a lot of damage.”
Holmes said the sinking of Card “provided a preview” of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 — a textbook case of a low-tech assault taking out a prime example of U.S. naval might.
Al Qaeda operatives mounted a suicide attack against Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, using a small boat packed with explosives that targeted the American ship while she was docked in Aden harbor. The blast tore a huge hole in the vessel, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 — the deadliest attack on a U.S. Navy ship in recent history.
The blast from the explosion reached Cole’s galley, killing and wounding many there as sailors were lining up for lunch. Investigators later said they did not consider the timing of the attack a coincidence.
Fifty years ago, penetrating harbor security was a major concern as well for the perpetrators of the attack on Card.
Lam Son Nao, 79, the leader of the Viet Cong commandos, was a maintenance worker at the port at the time of the attack. He used his job as cover while he gathered intelligence, hid explosives and planned the mission.
Despite patrol boats filled with harbor police, Nao and his companion were able to mount their operation because of careful planning and the corruption of Saigon law enforcement.
“For the Card mission, my fellow operative and I pretended to be fishermen,” Nao said in an April 22 interview with Vietnamese News Service. “When our boat reached Nha Rong Wharf, the police chased us to the bank of the Thu Thiem Peninsula. To avoid having my boat inspected, we pushed the boat to a swamp, so that the police boat could not reach it.”
Nao told the harbor police that he wanted to shop at a market on a nearby island, offering to share part of the clothing and radios he planned to buy there. Then, he gave the police a generous bribe — and they let Nao go his way.
The aftermath of the attack on the Card rallied American rescue and salvage crews to deal with a severe crisis. The American brass and Pres. Lyndon Johnson wanted to keep the results of the attack as quiet as possible.
However, raising Card would be a major salvage operation.
Five Navy divers investigated damage to Card. One said he found the remains of a U.S.-made demolitions pack — evidence that the Viet Cong might have used stolen American military munitions.
In the meantime, the Navy sent the salvage vessel USS Reclaimer and the tug USS Tawakoni to Saigon Port to begin pumping water out of the sunken vessel. Despite poor diving conditions and numerous equipment malfunctions, salvage crews raised Card in a little more than two weeks.
Soon, both Reclaimer and Tawakoni towed Card out of Saigon harbor on their way to the U.S. Navy port of Subic Bay in The Philippines for repairs.
Naval vessels are very flexible ships capable of recuperating from serious battle damage. Apparently, Card was no exception — ships are often “re-purposed” in the U.S. Navy and enjoy long lives in service, Holmes said.
“The carrier Midway went from being a World War II carrier to a modern supercarrier over the course of her life, which reached into the 1990s,” he said. “That philosophy — deliberately build ships to allow for easy changes and upgrades over a long life — is making a comeback.”
Even Cole survived her attackers. After 14 months of repair, Cole departed dry-dock on April 19, 2002, and returned to her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. The ship deployed again in 2003. Cole remains in operation with the Sixth Fleet. Card decommissioned in 1970.
For more about the USS Card visit her website at;
Thursday, June 11, 2015
With the TSA under the spotlight recently I thought I’d repost this parody of “A Night Before Christmas” which I first posted here in 2010 at Christmastime, with all apologies to C. Clement Moore. I don’t think there has ever been an agency that has pissed off so many people in so short a time. I also don’t think they have done anything to keep us safe. With that in mind, here’s the post;
A TSA Christmas- (with Apologies to C. Clement Moore)
'Twas the day before Christmas, when Santa’s sleigh
Got pulled over and grounded by the TSA.
They made such a noise, and raised such a clatter,
Santa got out, and said, "What's the matter?"
That's when they cuffed him, and roughed him up too,
And the ways that they touched him, some places turned blue!
Now, the sleigh was loaded (and Santa as well,)
But when they asked, “Where ya' going?”, he told them his tale.
“I’m going to houses, loaded with toys,
To spread Christmas Cheer to all girls and boys."
The TSA man then said with a smile,
“You may think that you’re going, but you’ll be awhile,
You see all these gifts- so neatly packed?
Without your elves here- you’ll have to unwrap
each little package, and each little toy,
Or there won’t be a Christmas for girls, or for boys.
Got Mrs. Claus with you? We really don't care,
We'll strip her down to her long underwear.
And if that doesn't irk her, we'll go with Plan 2,
We'll make her get rid of the underwear, too!
You see, we'll do all that we must, and all that we can
To kick Christmas season right in the can,
We’ll make you late, and angry and mad,
But don’t say a word, cause we can be bad.
We’ll take all the toys, the dolls and the guns,
And won’t give them back, not even a one.
See, if killing St. Nick will keep us all free,
Then we’ll do what we must to preserve liberty.
So, while doing our best to keep all things right,
We’ll mess up your Christmas, and then say Goodnight.
And when we’re finished, with our new scanner toys,
We’ll sell the best pictures to Hugh at Playboy.”
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
When Val; played by Al Pacino; is released from prison after 28 years he is welcomed back into “the world” by his old partner in crime “Doc”; played by Christopher Walken. The two men are part of a trio who were involved in a shootout which left the son of a local mob boss dead. That boss has waited for 28 years to have “Doc” kill his old partner or be killed himself.
Without telling Val about the plan, Doc takes his old friend out for one last crazy night. They even go to the old age home where their 3rd partner, Hirsch; played to perfection by Alan Alda; and take him along for the ride.
This may be one of the sharpest of all the “old guy/glory day” movies that have come along in recent years. The emphasis here is on old friendships and consequences. Great direction and a wonderful screenplay make this film al that it should be.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
I love comparing different versions of the same song. There’s something very telling about the way an artist covers a song written and performed by someone they admire. They have 3 choices; they can take the song to a whole new level, as Joe Cocker used to do with Beatle songs; or they can stick to the script, which sometimes can be pretty tepid. The third choice is to improve upon the original without taking anything away from it, yet at the same time putting your fingerprints all over it in a way that actually honors the original.
That 3rd choice is exactly what Jorma Kaukonen did with his cover of Doc Watson’s “Blue Railroad Train.” When Doc wrote and sang this song back in 1991 he was a tired old fellow. He had just lost his son a few years earlier in a farming accident. You can hear it in his voice. Merle was the son who played a “happy” guitar, like Mississippi John Hurt. And Jorma Kaukonen has that same “happy” sound to his guitar on this track. Of course he can also be really “down” when he wants to be; or it is necessary to convey a song, but here he plays homage to Merle by adding that “happy” sound to the original by Doc Watson.
When you listen to his cover of the song you have to wonder how the recording by Doc Watson would’ve sounded had Merle Watson still been alive. I suspect it would have sounded just like this.
Monday, June 8, 2015
When the American Revolution was over the real fight had just begun. All of the leaders of that Revolution were now vying for control of the new, as yet fully formed, government. While the Federalists papers were being debated in order to establish a working Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, new alliances; as well as divisions; were being drawn between some of our most illustrious patriots.
These divisions were the seeds which would bear the fruit of Political Parties, just as George Washington warned in his Farewell Address after leading the new nation through 2 four year terms as its first President. Ironically, the most bitter of these divisions was the one between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I say ironic, because the split occurred after Washington had served as President and he and Jefferson would never have to oppose one another in a political contest.
This split between the two iconic Founding Fathers was based on Principles, more than on parties. That these differing principles would go on to inform the basis for those emerging political parties; which both exist in some form to this very day; lends more than just credence to Washington’s warning.
Thomas Jefferson was a man ahead of his time. Way ahead of his time. Most people would cite Richard Nixon as the first President to use Executive Privilege to stymie the Courts. They would be wrong, it was Jefferson. Some people would point to more modern Presidents to illustrate a President overstepping his boundaries in attempting to influence those Courts. Again, they would be wrong; it was Jefferson in the Impeachment trial of Samuel Chase and again in the trial of Aaron Burr.
Jefferson believed the Courts were beholden to public opinion and as such the leading political party should control them. To that end he impeached Judges who did not fall in line with his own opinions. The Senate and Congress grew so disillusioned with this former idealist that they adjourned the night before his second inauguration, leaving him to be inaugurated with Congress absent.
When it comes to the modern day tax cuts for the rich and wealthiest Jefferson was way ahead of his time there, too. He had suspended all taxes when he became President, leaving us fairly defenseless and insuring that the lower economic classes supported the government disproportionately through high tariffs on imported goods; which the rich could easily pay, but were a burden to the poorer citizens. This was one of the chief reasons we were willing to abide the seizure of our ships and men by both the British and French for so long. We simply had no money for defense.
Foreign policy wise he claimed to be at peace with the world; unless you count our ships still being seized by Britain at sea; and paying a $60,000 tribute to the Pasha Yussef Karamali to release the 300 man crew of the USS Philadelphia, a U.S. Navy ship which had been seized by the Pasha. Think about that the next time you sing about the “shores of Tripoli”.
The XYZ Affair; and Jefferson’s love of the French Revolution were also points of disagreement between Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers. The duplicity of the French Revolution, and it’s descent into chaos and ruin were something which he just could not see. He was blinded by idealism to the point of betraying the very principles on which our own Revolution had been founded.
There is too much to cover here in a short review. Suffice to say that once the Revolution was finished, the real work of establishing a working, long lasting government had just begun. The divisions which informed this disagreement between two of our most illustrious founding fathers are still with us today.
It is important to consider; when reading this book; that with the establishment of the United States, the European powers of Spain, France and England, lost all hopes of ever establishing their own governments on the North American continent. Had they succeeded in doing so America would have descended into the patchwork of countries continually at war in Europe for hundreds of years. Indeed, there would have been no other nation to save Europe; twice in the 20th century alone; as they continued to pull one another apart over Kings and territory.
The closest we have ever come to such chaos here in America was in the decades leading up to the Civil War. With many people today echoing the cry of “States Rights”, it would be wise for many to read this book and heed the lessons of our own history, which are too often ignored.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
This is simply one of the best screen adaptations of any of Eugene O'Neill’s' works. Director John Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols did the adaptation of the 4 separate one act plays that comprise this movie. The work is seamless.
Beginning with the varied nationalities of the crew O'Neill explores the relationships of men at sea. With a stellar cast of actors which includes Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Ian Hunter, Ward Bond, Wilfrid Lawson, Arthur Shields and even John Wayne (who plays the entire role with a Swedish accent) Mr. O'Neill has given us a glimpse into the troubled lives of the men who sail on ships.
With his use of flawed characters he paints a wonderfully realistic portrait of life aboard a tramp steamer. Filmed in 1940 when U-boats were prowling the Atlantic to keep supplies from reaching Europe, this film captures all the darkness of the times in which it was filmed. It would be less than a year before the Rueben James was sunk off the East Coast of the United States by a German submarine.
From the overzealous camaraderie to the brawls and tragedies, this film captures all the pathos of life at sea. Even now, with DVD's and cell phones and e-mails, life aboard a ship is a lonely affair. Tempers run high, words are said and instantly regretted, and unfounded suspicions abound. That is the life of a ship’s crew.
One of the best moments of the film involves the crew ashore in England during a blackout. Thomas Mitchell- always the drunk- cries out to the heavens- "Blackout, blackout! Is there to be no more light in the world?"
The most amazing thing about this film is that John Ford would go on making films for another 40 years. He would use the same group of actors time and again in Westerns and later on even "The Quiet Man" with John Wayne and Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields and Maureen O'Hara. That these actors were so versatile, and John Ford so well versed in literature, is a tribute to the old school of film making.
The plot of this film would seem mundane were I to attempt to recount it here. Suffice to say that it is the story of a group of lost souls, looking for themselves. You'll just have to trust me on this one- Eugene O'Neill termed it the "best adaptation" of any of his works. That alone should be reason enough to see this film.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
One of my favorite R&B songs is "Maybe", which was recorded by the Chantels in 1957. The song was written by Arlene Smith and producer Richard Barrett. It went on to become a huge hit for the group, selling over one million copies, which made them the first "girl" group to accomplish this feat. They are considered to be one of the earliest of the "all girl" groups, which would eventually spawn acts such as The Cookies, The Supremes, and The Shangri-Las, to name only a few. The influence of these goups also spread into the Rock and Roll genre, with artists like The Beatles covering songs such as The Cookies version of "Chains", which had been written by Carole King.
By the late 1960's even Janis Joplin was covering some of the best songs of the 1930's through the 60's. "Summertime" by Cole Porter comes to mind, as does "Little Girl Blue" by Rodgers and Hart. But one of my favorite covers by her was when she did "Maybe" on the "I Got Them Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama" album. She infused that song with the blues, pure and simple. I have both versions on my flash drive, back to back, and sometimes even I have to stop and marvel at the two interpretations of this great song. There is also another live version of this song, by Janis Joplin, from the Dick Cavett Show, which left the audience near tears. This version is from Germany in 1969.
And this is a link to an interview with Arlene Smith, which I hope you will find interesting;
Friday, June 5, 2015
James Carr was born June 13, 1942 in Coahoma, Mississippi. His father was a preacher and church was young James first stage. He began his recording career in the mid 1960’s just as traditional soul music a la James Brown; was transitioning to a “funkier” sound. His first label was Goldwax Records in Memphis.
“You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up” was the first record which actually made the charts. 1966 was the year he began to be noticed with the release of his most enduring recording “The Dark End of the Street”, written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman. James remained with Goldwax until they closed in 1960.
Health wise, Mr. Carr suffered from both mental as well as medical problems. The former affected his career more than the latter, sometimes resulting in panic attacks which left him speechless in front of an audience. Anti-depressants only worsened the problem for him. For most of the 1970’s and 1980’s he was almost forgotten. It was Peter Guralnick’s book “Sweet Soul Music” which brought him back into the public spotlight in 1986.
In January of 2001, at the all too early age of 58 years young, Mr. Carr passed away from lung cancer. He was living in a nursing home at the time. His voice is so reminiscent of Otis Redding’s that I mistook this song for one of Mr. Redding’s when I heard it the other night in the film “Cold in July.”
For more about this artist use this link to the blog "The B Side";
As I prepare to lay down here alone dear
I can't help but to keep wishing that you were here
I done you wrong but now you are gone
what can I do?
don't make me live the rest of my life
it's too bad I didn't realize until you were gone
just what it meant to have a love like you for my own
but now that you've gone I can't go on
living here without you
don't make me live the rest of my life
it will be so hard I know
but listen baby
how can I forget you
every day I love you more and more
come back to me
I'm lone and blue
don't make me live the rest of my life
how can I forget you
when every day I love you a little more
and a little more
how can I forget you
when you fill my heart with so much joy
how can I forget you
when I love you all so much
how can I forget you
when every day I need you by my side
Oh, I love you baby
I love you from the bottom of my heart
tell me that we will never part
I love you baby.
Thursday, June 4, 2015
When Richard Dane; played by Michael Hall; shoots an intruder in his home one night he is hailed as a hero by the local townsfolk. But Richard; a local picture framer, doesn’t quite see it that way. He knows that he has taken a life and that no good can possibly come of it.
No charges are filed as the shooting appears to be justified, although the dead man was unarmed, Richard was blinded by a flashlight and was in fear for his safety as well as that of his wife and child.
Plagued by guilt over the shooting he goes to watch the body being buried. As he is watching the burial he is approached by the dead man’s ex-con father Russel; played by Sam Shepard; who is clearly looking for revenge. He intimates that Richard’s son is now in jeopardy. When he reports this to the local police they don’t really seem too concerned at first. But, as their interest in the case heats up, it becomes apparent that they are hiding something.
At this point another man enters Richard’s life, which is quickly spinning out of control. Jim Bob; played by Don Johnson; is a hard man. You can tell it by the way he carries himself. He quickly establishes that Richard has been used by the local au help cover up their own involvement in a Federal sting operation involving a pornography ring. The man Richard is supposed to have killed is involved in that ring and has received Federal protection in the Witness Protection Program.
This leaves 2 problems; if the man Richard is supposed to have killed is not dead, then who did he kill? And why do the local police now seem to be his enemy instead of his friends? As the plot thickens even Russel becomes part of the team with Richard and Jim Bob to find the truth behind it all. And when all the facts are in Russel has to face up to something almost unspeakable.
This may be one of Don Johnson’s best films to date. Sam Shepard is superb, as he always is, as the dead man’s father. He brings a physiological aspect to the film which really helps to convey the story. And Michael Hall is excellent as the prototypical “everyman” who is just trying to protect his home and gets caught up in something way over his head. Just how he manages to rise above it is one of the most gripping parts of the film.
Excellent direction by Jim Mickle, who also wrote the screenplay from the novel by Joe R. Lansdale, along with such excellent performances, will keep you on the edge of your seat for this entire film.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
I think most people wonder just how Haiti became Haiti. I know I always did. I just finished reading “The Great Divide” by Thomas Fleming. It will be next week’s review. But since I can’t cover every aspect of that book in a review, I thought I’d share a bit of the history of just how Haiti became; well, Haiti. As a nation, the United States had more than a little to do with it, which is why it was included in a book about American history.
In 1789 as the French were having their revolution in the wake of our own, the people living in Haiti- at that time a part of the island called Dominique; today’s Dominican Republic; had a revolution of their own.
By 1804, while the French were fighting all over Europe; and even as far away as Egypt; in Napoleon’s bid for world conquest, a black man named Toussaint Louverture took power. He created a multi-ethnic government which was supported by the American President John Adams. Adams saw the wisdom of having the island as a sort of early warning system should a European power entertain the idea of invading our shores. To aid the new government he supplied them with weapons and food, as well as establishing trade between our 2 new countries.
By 1805 the Presidency had changed hands and Thomas Jefferson was President. He immediately stopped the aid to the island nation and instead began to supply the French, who intended to retake the island.
Within a year the last man standing as far as military action goes, was Jacques Dessalines. He immediately ripped the white stripe from the French tri-color and used the remaining blue and red ones as the first flag of a new nation called Haiti. He then marched across the western portion of the island and killed every Frenchman he could find; including women and children.
There have been other governments since then; and the Dominican Republic sits just across an imaginary line in the island’s sandy terrain. But Haiti has remained an enigma ever since, mired in ancient superstitions and poverty that never seems to respond to whatever aid is sent its way.
There is no tangible reason which would justify the existence of Haiti as the poorest country in our hemisphere, if not the world, over 200 years since the events described above. Haiti’s poverty continues with no end in sight. You have to wonder just who is the benefactor of that continued misery.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
This is Washington’s complete second Farewell Address of September 19, 1796 as published in the American Daily Advertiser in Philadelphia. This is a different address than the Farewell to his Troops in New York at Fraunces Tavern on December 4, 1783.
David Claypoole, editor of the Advertiser, was so moved by the address that he told Washington he was loath to return it to the President. It was the only copy. Washington showed his modesty by allowing Claypoole to keep the original. It has never been found.
Most of us have heard snippets of this address as proof of one issue or another over the years. It is used as a “proof” of one political bent or the other. In reality it was a scathing denunciation of the events of his Presidency and the problems he had with his Cabinet in connection with establishing the fledgling government. However, many parts of the address are still applicable today. It’s worth the time it takes to read.
Friends and Fellow Citizens:
The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.
I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.
The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.
I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety, and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.
The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.
In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.
Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.
Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.
The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.
While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rival ships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the Union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.
In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them everything they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the Union by which they were procured ? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren and connect them with aliens?
To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of Revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities , is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.
So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils? Such an attachment of a small or weak towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing (with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them) conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.
How far in the discharge of my official duties I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.
In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, I793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.
Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.
19th September, 1796