Encore: Campaigning Obama visited the Dubliner on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012

March 17, 2015

(This is a slightly-edited encore post, for St. Patrick’s Day — I like the Corrigan Brothers’ droll tune.)

I’d forgotten about the birthers’ greatest nightmare — Obama’s got Irish blood in him!

Democratic Underground features a series of photos of President Obama with an Irish cousin at one of my favorite old haunts in Washington, the Dubliner.

President Barack Obama drinks a Guinness with his ancestral cousin from Moneygall Ireland Henry Healy, center, and the owner of the pub in Moneygall Ireland, Ollie Hayes, right, at The Dubliner Restaurant and Pub and Restaurant on St. Patrick's Day, Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Washington (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama drinks a Guinness with his ancestral cousin from Moneygall Ireland Henry Healy, center, and the owner of the pub in Moneygall Ireland, Ollie Hayes, right, at The Dubliner Restaurant and Pub and Restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Washington (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Many great memories of the Dubliner, including its own great business success.

In 1974, when I interned at the Senate, the Dubliner was just a small bar on the first floor of the Commodore Hotel.  Rocky Johnson of Sen. Mike Gravel‘s office, one of my roommates, introduced me to Guinness.  The Dubliner was the most reliable source in D.C. at the time.  The bartender was a guy named Paddy.  It was never crowded — and they had good fish and chips with a fine, imported malt vinegar. I wasn’t exactly a regular, but I made several a lot of visits.

Ironically, for my summer job later that year with the Louis August Jonas Foundation, we had a trip to D.C. planned with about 16 “boys from abroad” and the designated hotel was the Commodore — it was cheap and met our needs, being close to the Capitol.  I was asked to chaperone, and happily went.   So Freddy Jonas, the great benefactor of the foundation and Camp Rising Sun, and I could sneak down to the Dubliner for a nightcap after the boys were asleep.  Michael Greene, the foundation’s executive director at the time, warned me that Freddy would always ask if you wanted a second drink, but Freddy would not take one himself — and so, of course, neither should staffers.

One night while Freddy and I were capping off the evening we ran into a friend from my interning, Avis Ortner, a former rodeo barrel rider who had starred in a Kodak commercial series, and who worked in a Washington law firm.  She and Freddy struck it off very nicely.  I was surprised at how much Freddy knew about horses, and the questions he had about rodeo riding.  At some point in the evening he asked me if I were going to have a second drink, and of course I declined.  “Well, you only live once.  Avis and I are having a second one, and you should join us.”  People who knew Freddy well still don’t believe me when I tell them the story.  But it’s true.  It’s the magic of the Dubliner.  [Is Avis still cleaning up at bridge in D.C.? [Yes!]]

I was back in D.C. in 1975, again with the Jonas Foundation bunch, and again at the Commodore.  The Dubliner had a successful year, and had taken over the small cafe/dining room next door to bar.

In 1976 I visited again, and after a very successful year the Dubliner kicked out the gift shop of the hotel and opened a second bar there.  It was crowded on weekends.

In 1979 I moved to D.C.  Within a couple of years the Dubliner bought out the Commodore.  You couldn’t get a seat at the bar most nights.  St. Patrick’s Day 1980 the line wrapped around the block, and though the place never had a great or large stage, the live act was the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, if I recall correctly.

Reconstruction and massive redecorating made the hotel into a great stop, and a sometimes pricey room.  Eventually the bar company sold the hotel, but kept the location for the bar.  After Kathryn and I got married, we’d walk over to the Dubliner for lunch at least a couple of times a month, and the fish and chips at the Dubliner got better.  I may have done in half the cod from the Grand Banks all by myself.

We’ve been in Texas now since 1987.  I miss the Dubliner.  Have been able to make it back only a couple of times.  Obama’s lucky he could get in, on St. Patrick’s Day.  I hope he appreciates his luck.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


March 16, Freedoms Day 2015 – How to celebrate James Madison?

March 16, 2015

Celebrations of James Madison, who was born on March 16, 1751, fall to second tier, a paragraph if we’re lucky in your local newspaper’s “today in history” feature.

March 16 is not a holiday.  It’s not even a Flag Flying Day (though, if you left your flag up for March 15th’s anniversary of Maine’s statehood . . . no one would notice).

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marb...

Secretary of State James Madison, who won Marbury v. Madison, but lost Judicial review. Photo: Wikipedia

Should we leave James Madison out of our celebrations of history with such vengeance?

Madison left a great legacy.  The question is, how to honor it, and him?

  • Madison is known popularly, especially for elementary school history studies (the few that are done anymore), as the Father of the Constitution.  It’s fitting:  Madison engaged in a great, good conspiracy with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton to get the convention to “amend” the Articles of Confederation and create a better, probably stronger, national government.  But Washington stayed behind the scenes, and pulled very few strings Madison didn’t tell him to pull. Hamilton’s support from New York was weak; while Hamilton played a hugely important role in getting the convention called, and in getting New York to ratify the Constitution with the creation of the Federalist Papers project, the day-to-day operation of the convention and direction of the political forces to make it work, fell to Madison.
  • Madison’s notes on the Philadelphia convention give us the best record of the then-secret proceedings. 

    English: James Madison, fourth president of th...

    Notice the error in this caption:  “James Madison, fourth president of the United States wrote the Constitution at his estate near Orange Virginia, called Montpelier. Pictured here after an extensive renovation.” Photo from Wikipedia.  (James Madison didn’t write the Constitution; it was hammered out in Philadelphia, not Montpelier; the patriot and rake Gouverneur Morris wrote out the final draft.)

  • Madison devised the scheme of getting conventions to ratify the Constitution, instead of colonial/state legislatures.  He had Patrick Henry in mind.  Henry opposed any centralized government for the colonies, to the point that he refused to attend the Philadelphia convention when he was appointed a delegate; by the end of the convention, Henry was off to another term as governor where he hoped to orchestrate the defeat of ratification of the constitution in the Virginia legislature.  Madison circumvented that path, but Henry still threw up every hurdle he could.  (Henry organized the anti-federalist forces in the Virginia Convention, and hoping to kill the Constitution, called it fatally flawed for having no bill of rights; when Madison’s organizing outflanked him, especially with a promised to get a bill of rights in the First Congress, Henry blocked Madison’s election to the U.S. Senate, and organized forces to stop his popular election to the U.S. House.  That failed, ultimately, and Madison pushed the legislative package that became the Bill of Rights).
  • Andrew Hamilton started writing a series of newspaper columns, with John Jay, to urge New York to ratify of the Constitution; but after Jay was beaten nearly to death by an anti-federalist mob, Hamilton invited Madison to step in and help.  Madison ended up writing more than Hamilton and Jay put together, in that collection now known as The Federalist Papers.
  • Madison backed down George Mason, and got the great defender of citizens’ rights to add religious freedom to the Virginia Bill of Rights, in 1776.  Religious freedom and freedom of conscience became a life-long crusade for Madison, perhaps moreso than for Thomas Jefferson.
  • A sort of protege of Thomas Jefferson, Madison pushed much of Jefferson’s democratic and bureaucratic reforms through the Virginia legislature, into law.  Especially, it was Madison who stoppped Patrick Henry’s plan to have Virginia put preachers on the payroll, and instead pass Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom into law in 1786.
  • Madison wrote the best defense of American religious freedom in the Memorial and Remonstrance, a petition to the Virginia legislature to get Jefferson’s bill passed.
  • Madison sponsored and passed more Constitutional Amendments than anyone else in history.  We have 27 amendments to our Constitution.  Madison pushed through the first 10, now known as the Bill of Rights.  In the original package proposed out of Congress were a dozen amendments.  One of those became salient again in the late 20th century, and was finally ratified in 1992 — the 27th Amendment.  Madison is the author of 11 of the 27 amendments, including the first ten and the last one.
  • Yeah, James Madison was the defendant in Marbury v. Madison; he made history even when he didn’t do anything
  • Madison is the only president to face enemy gunfire while president, commanding troops on the frontlines during the British invasion of Washington in 1814.
  • Madison took over the creation of the University of Virginia when Jefferson’s death prevented his following through.
  • Madison’s record as an effective, law-passing legislator is rivaled only by Lyndon Johnson among the 43 people we’ve had as president.  Both were masters at get stuff done.
  • Madison is the ultimate go-to-guy for a partner In his lifetime, to the great benefit of his partners, he collaborated with George Washington to get the convention in Philadelphia; he collaborated with Ben Franklin to get Washington to be president of the Philadelphia convention, without which it could not have succeeded; he collaborated with Hamilton on the Constitution and again on the Federalist papers; he collaborated with Jefferson to secure religious freedom in 1776, 1786, and 1789; Madison collaborated with Jefferson to establish our party political system (perhaps somewhat unintentionally), and to get Jefferson elected president; Madison collaborated with Jefferson and Jay to make the Louisiana Purchase; Madison took James Monroe out of the Patrick Henry camp, and brought Monroe along to be a great federalist democrat, appointing Monroe Secretary of State in Madison’s administration, and then pushing Monroe to succeed him as president.  Also, Madison was a prize student of the great John Witherspoon at what is now Princeton; Witherspoon took Madison, studying for the clergy, and convinced him God had a greater calling for him than merely to a pulpit.

As the ultimate Second Man — when he wasn’t the First Man — Madison’s role in history should not be downplayed, not forgotten.

March 16 is Madison’s birthday (“new style”).

What would be fitting ways to celebrate Madison’s life and accomplishments, on his birthday?  Nothing done so far in the history of the Republic adequately honors this man and his accomplishments, nor begins to acknowledge the great debt every free person owes to his work.

Still, there are encouraging stirrings.

(Dolley Madison?  There are two topics for other, lengthy discussions — one on their marriage, and how they worked together; one on Dolley, a power in her own right.)

Previously, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Happy birthday, Albert Einstein! 136 years, today

March 14, 2015

How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day?  So, an encore post.
E=mcc - logo from AIP

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Happy Einstein Day! to us.  Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us.  Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.

Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein.

26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in another five years, in 1921.

In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Albert Einstein as a younger man – Nobel Foundation image

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo electric effect. Irony in history.

106 years later Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement. Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

English: Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp

Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

Everybody wanted to claim, and honor Einstein; USSR issued this stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein Русский: Почтовая марка СССР, посвящённая Альберту Эйнштейну (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character. His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets.

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Chess games of the rich and Famous: Marcel Duchamp and John Cage make music together

March 11, 2015

Duchamp was a chess-playing fool.

John Cage plays white, Marcel Duchamps plays black, on a chessboard modified to generate tones depending on where the chess pieces are.

Marcel Duchamp plays white, John Cage plays black, on a chessboard modified to generate tones depending on where the chess pieces are. Toronto, 1968. Teeny Duchamp at far left, camerman in the background.  This was a performance.

Composer John Cage sought him out in Duchamp’s last years, and made a point of meeting with the artist at least once a week. Cage experimented with a chessboard designed to generate music depending on the positions of the chess pieces on the board (hence, the wires).  This photo came from a performance at a festival in Toronto in 1968.

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Rachel Carson sketch

March 4, 2015

A Canadian artist posted a nice sketch of Rachel Carson on Twitter:

Rachel Carson sketch, by artist @moietymouse

Rachel Carson sketch, by artist @moietymouse

I’m often frustrated at how few good images of Ms. Carson exist on the internet, probably because I see them over and over again in working to stamp out the hoax claims about Carson, DDT and malaria, and environmental protection.

Maybe we can get @moietymouse to make some more? Check out her Twitter feed; maybe she’s got images for sale, and you can encourage her while improving the look of your walls.

Read the rest of this entry »


Millard Fillmore, live on Peachtree Street, 1854

March 4, 2015

Lower Peachtree Street, Atlanta, in 1910, 56 years after ex-President Millard Fillmore visited. Library of Congress photo via Chamblee54

Lower Peachtree Street, Atlanta, in 1910, 56 years after ex-President Millard Fillmore visited. Library of Congress photo via Chamblee54

Chamblee54, in a history of Peachtree Street studded with interesting photographs, notes Atlanta’s first-time brush with any ex-president:

In 1854, Atlanta entertained, for the first time, a man who had been President. On May 2, Millard Fillmore arrived from Augusta on a private rail car.

Two years after the Whigs refused to nominate Fillmore for a term of his own, he was out touring the country?

Several accounts explain that Fillmore and his wife Abigail wanted to tour the U.S. after his presidency.  Unfortunately, she died shortly after he left office.  He pined through the rest of 1853, but by February 1854 had decided to tour by himself, without his children, accompanied by friends he could persuade to join him.

That same month, Fillmore decided to take the trip southward that he and Abigail had not been able to take. Given the timing, some observers believed that Fillmore had a political motive in making the journey.  They suspected that he might be planning to speak out against the Nebraska Bill [proposed by Illinois’s U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas]. Others were convinced that it was a leisure tour.  But whatever Fillmore’s intentions may have been, his speeches to southern audiences were relatively neutral.  He restated his faith in the [Missouri] Compromise, but he spent mos tof his time enjoying a series of receptions, dinners, and parades in his honor throughout the region.  A marching band escorted him through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky.  Girls scattered his path with flowers in Montgomery, Alabama.  A row of trains blew their whistles in greeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  Fillmore returned home refreshed and with renewed faith in his fellow Americans.

Alison Behnke, Millard Fillmore (a child’s history of the man), 2005, page 92.

A longer description came out of Robert J. Scarry’s 1982 biography:

By late February 1854 Fillmore had resumed his plans to travel.  He perceived that a southern trip would do him good and that the journey would divert his mind from the loss of Abigail.

*******

Fillmore hoped Francis Granger, John P. Kennedy, and Washington Irving would go with him on the trip. Granger lost interest, and Irving, who had been asked by his friend Kennedy, was in no mood for politics.

*******

En route to Atlanta from Augusta on the Georgia Railroad, they stopped at Greensboro where a large crowd of teachers and students of the Female College greeted Fillmore and Kennedy.  They dined at Madison.  At Stone Mountain an escort committee from Atlanta met them.

At the Atlanta Depot a novel reception welcomed them.  A large number of locomotives were present with their steam up.  When the Augusta engineer signalled their arrival they all opened up their valves and whistled out a welcome the like of which, reported a newspaper, “no mortal man had heard before.” The shouts from the crowd and locomotive whistles were deafening to one reporter.  By carriage the party went from the depot to the Atlanta Hotel where a reception was held.

Fillmore had become hoarse. Nonetheless, he managed to say that he was impressed by the large population and that he had heard that it was a beautiful village in the center of the state. He also admonished the state legislature to to take note “of the array of female loveliness before me” seated at the reception.  If they did so, he joked, they wouldn’t hesitate to locate the state capital at Atlanta.  At that time the capital was at Milledgeville.  Atlanta became the capital in 1877.  In the evening, after dinner, a ball was held.  Fifty young ladies dressed in white with bouquets of flowers were a highlight of the occasion.

Robert J. Scarry, Millard Fillmore, 1982, pages 247-252 variously.

Any photos of Fillmore in Atlanta?

Millard Fillmore is in some ways the ultimate exemplar of American civic boosterism.  These accounts tend to be softball, even when the potential political effects of his trip to Atlanta are discussed.  One gets a sense that contemporary accounts of the trip were equally bland and uncontroversial.  Fillmore’s trip offered a lot of local chamber of commerce precursors a chance to plug their local industry, development and pride.  Fillmore seems incapable of not offering pride-stoking flattery to these group of people.  That’s not necessarily bad.

Within a dozen years the nation would be engulfed in the Civil War.  Atlanta would be burned.  The railroads Fillmore rode would be torn up by Union armies.

What a snapshot, even without photos.

A not-often seen image of Millard Fillmore.  Via Accessible Archives.

A not-often seen image of Millard Fillmore. Via Accessible Archives.


Quote of the moment: Calvin Coolidge, on building America: “Look to service, not selfishness”

March 3, 2015

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding).  History.com image

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding). History.com image

Referring to progress in the U.S. after World War I, Coolidge said:

With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision, nearer, clearer than ever before, of a life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision of a nearer, clearer than ever before, the  [of] life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. Education will tend to bring reason and experience of the past into the solution of the problems of the future. We must look to service and not selfishness, for service is the foundation of progress. The greatest lesson that we have to learn is to seek ever the public welfare, to build up, to maintain our American heritage.

Candidate for vice president Calvin Coolidge, “America and the War,” 1920

Digging a little deeper, I discover that the first part of this quote also appeared in Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 27, 1919, when he was  Governor of Massachusetts.  Knowing a good turn of words when he wrote it (I’m assuming he didn’t have ghost writers then), he used the same words in making phonograph recordings of speeches to be distributed in the election campaign of 1920, before radio was available to carry speeches to voters.  I have made minor corrections in the transcript, from the earlier text and the audio delivery.

According to Talking History, the 78 rpm record and audio version were saved and made available by the Library of Congress.

You may want to listen to Coolidge say the words himself. Mp3  RealPlayer


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