After the UK swing, I've been trying to get back into my training program for triathlons. With the races so far away and the weather cold, it's sometimes hard to motivate to go out and run or bike.
What I discovered yesterday is that if I put my iPod on and listen to "Aces High" or "Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Iron Maiden, I will sure as shit get my gear onand go running in less than ten minutes.
The Misanthrope got back from the UK on Wednesday night. He and the Scottish Lass had a blast at wedding outside Glasgow and then headed to Edinburgh, Brighton and London to see friends. It was a whirlwind trip, but we had a great time. The wedding itself lasted from 1:30 in the afternoon until 4:00 AM, which found us in the bar at the hotel with the bride, groom and several others.
Our return from JFK featured a delightful cab ride in which the driver inexplicably decided that it would be smarter to drive all the way to LGA on the Grand Central and then turn south to get the BQE to the Williamsburg Bridge. When I questioned this (absolutely ridiculous) route, the driver became enraged and told me he had lived in New York for 25 years. When I told him I had lived here for 38 and he was taking a route that made no sense, he started yelling at me and telling me that I must always trust the taxi driver.
Needless to say, no tip and I thoroughly enjoyed the call to the TLC to complain as I had written down his name, license number and all the relevant details.
I just noticed this article on CNN of the death, apparently by suicide, of a young woman who, as a child, had held the records for the youngest cross-country flight and trans-Atlantic flight. She was 11 when she flew across the US (with an instructor on board for safety).
Near the end of the article, there is a quick mention of the death of a 7 year old, Jessica Dubroff, attempting to break the record with her father (not just a flight instructor) in 1996. The short mention does not do justice to the grotesque circumstances of her death and the dangers of parents who forget that their children are children, not small adults, and should not be used as vessels for fulfilling parental dreams. Van Meter is quoted as having said, "accidents do happen," but this is a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened. An accident is something you don't expect to happen. Every decision surrounding Dubroff's flight was almost guaranteed to create a disaster.
I know about the circumstances of this accident because I receive a CD every two months called the "Pilot's Audio Update." It a helpful hour or so of commentators talking about aviation issues, mostly flight safety and recurrent training. On a recent edition, one of the commentators read through the NTSB report on the Dubroff accident.
This was not an "accident." The little girl and her father were flying very early in the spring (his decision) because her birthday was coming up and he (not she) didn't want to miss the record. The Rockies present serious safety challenges for a normally-aspirated plane (ie, one that does not have a turbocharger to produce consistent power as the air gets thinner at high altitude) at any time of the year. Flying them early in the spring is not the wisest safety choice due to the strong winds and mountain turbulence. At high altitudes, normally-aspirated planes rapidly lose their ability to climb, meaning that the pilot has fewer options as the terrain rises. We don't encounter this problem much in the East (except for maybe crossing the Alleghenies), but I have taken my own plane up into the 'teens in altitude and the loss of performance is substantial. Now try and imagine that the airport you are taking off from is already at 5,000 feet and you will realize that mountain flying in this kind of plane is a serious proposition even under the best of circumstances.
But the father went ahead with the early spring plan because he wanted the record.
When he and his daughter took off on the day of the accident, there was another, far more experienced pilot in a jet on the field who decided to delay his departure because of the severe weather and the mountainous terrain around the airport. Visbility was low. There were thunderstorms in the area and a wind shear advisory in effect. The terrain around the high-elevation airport was mountainous. Why did the father decide to depart instead of waiting? It turns out that he had media interviews scheduled at the next stop and he didn't want to be late.
It goes on and on, with horrific decisions made by the father that all seemed to be driven by his need to get the record (through his child) and to ensure that he made the next appointment with the media. Anybody with half a brain knows that a 7 year old girl is not equipped to make complex risk decisions concerning weather and flight safety. And I think anybody with a daughter will know how heavily invested little girls can be in pleasing their daddies. Even as I type this, I get angry and start to shake. The commentator on the Pilot's Audio Update could barely get through his piece without choking up with sadness and rage. It was just child abuse, plain and simple.
Tandem aliquando, Quirites, L. Catilinam furentem audacia, scelus anhelantem, pestem patriae nefarie molientem, vobis atque huic urbi ferro flammaque minitantem ex urbe vel eiecimus vel emisimus vel ipsum egredientem verbis prosecuti sumus. Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit. Nulla iam pernicies a monstro illo atque prodigio moenibus ipsis intra moenia comparabitur. Atque hunc quidem unum huius belli domestici ducem sine controversia vicimus. Non enim iam inter latera nostra sica illa versabitur, non in campo, non in foro, non in curia, non denique intra domesticos parietes pertimescemus. Loco ille motus est, cum est ex urbe depulsus. Palam iam cum hoste nullo inpediente bellum iustum geremus. Sine dubio perdidimus hominem magnificeque vicimus, cum illum ex occultis insidiis in apertum latrocinium coniecimus.
Quod vero non cruentum mucronem, ut voluit, extulit, quod vivis nobis egressus est, quod ei ferrum e manibus extorsimus, quod incolumes cives, quod stantem urbem reliquit, quanto tandem illum maerore esse adflictum et profligatum putatis? Iacet ille nunc prostratus, Quirites, et se perculsum atque abiectum esse sentit et retorquet oculos profecto saepe ad hanc urbem, quam e suis faucibus ereptam esse luget; quae quidem mihi laetari videtur, quod tantam pestem evomuerit forasque proiecerit.
Ac si quis est talis, quales esse omnes oportebat, qui in hoc ipso, in quo exultat et triumphat oratio mea, me vehementer accuset, quod tam capitalem hostem non comprehenderim potius quam emiserim, non est ista mea culpa, Quirites, sed temporum. Interfectum esse L. Catilinam et gravissimo supplicio adfectum iam pridem oportebat, idque a me et mos maiorum et huius imperii severitas et res publica postulabat. Sed quam multos fuisse putatis, qui, quae ego deferrem, non crederent, [quam multos, qui propter stultitiam non putarent,] quam multos, qui etiam defenderent [,quam multos, qui propter improbitatem faverent]! Ac, si illo sublato depelli a vobis omne periculum iudicarem, iam pridem ego L. Catilinam non modo invidiae meae, verum etiam vitae periculo sustulissem.
Bear Stearns just sold itself to JP Morgan for $2/share. That's down from $30 at the close on Friday, $57 on Thursday and about $150/share a year ago. That's 99% of its equity value wiped out. The deal was rushed to make sure that Asian markets did not open before the banks balance sheet was shored up. The Fed stepped in on Friday because they didn't want a major bank to start defaulting on credit derivative counterparty agreements. If the market started to freak out that counterparties on these CDOs were not creditworthy, all hell could have broken loose.
Kids, it's going to start getting even uglier out there.
John Adams, the second President (1797-1801), was also the first one-term President. Despite his massive accomplishments, he has somehow fallen between the cracks and is not nearly as revered as the members of Virginia Dynasty (Washington, Jefferson, Madison). There is a Washington Memorial and a Jefferson Memorial in DC, but, as far as I know, no Adams Memorial.
This is partially due to his misfortune in having to follow Washington. He took over the Executive Office at a time when the split between the Federalists (particularly Hamilton) and the Republicans (in the form of Jefferson and Madison) was exposed at last. With Washington in office, his legendary figure kept the spirit of the Revolution alive. When Adams took over, it was time to have the public debate about the form of government and, ultimately, what he Revolution had been about. Adams was on the Federalist side of the divide, but he was led, along with the Federalist faction itself, into ruin by the strong will of Hamilton and his increasingly far-reaching plans for Federal power (e.g., the controversy over the New Army).
His failure to find the immortality of Washington and Jefferson also seems to have been a matter of personality. Adams seems to have been both blessed and cursed with a kind of perverse contrarian streak. This certainly liberated his thinking and made him clear-eyed about many popular subjects (unlike Jefferson, he saw that the French Revolution was headed for disaster), but it could also make him small, combative and overly angry at the world. Where Washington was aloof and serene and Jefferson ethereal and complex (and self-contradictory), Adams was more direct and acerbic and this could make him an object of scorn and ridicule.
Unlike, say, Jefferson, Adams was at every major Revolutionary event, from the Stamp Act Congresses to the Second Continental Congress to the Constitutional Convention and played a major role in all of them. In later years, Adams was particularly vexed by the fame accorded to Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence, arguing that Jefferson had been chosen as a mere prose stylist to memorialize ideas that had been put forward by men like Adams himself over the previous years. Jefferson had barely spoken a word during the Second Continental Congress. Indeed, he was far ahead of most in his vision of independence from Great Britain as the way forward. In old age, Adams raged against the increasing reverence accorded to July 4th as the seminal date in the Revolution. The fact that this trend tended to elevate Jefferson also irritated him no end. He saw history as a messy affair, filled with uncertainties and contradictions, and he disliked the tidy narrative of inevitability that was developing around the Revolution. Sadly, his own acerbic personality and his periodic rages tended to render his attempts to set out his account of the era almost unreadable.
Which is a shame, because not only is Adams worthy of a place among the great marble leaders we revere today, he also holds the unique distinction among the early Presidents of not being a slaveholder and being an abolitionist. In that respect, his moral compass was a good deal more precise than Jefferson's or Washington's.
I do tend to bash the Grey Lady quite a bit these days, but mostly because it sometimes seems intent on destroying its own great legacy. But the paper's breaking of the Spitzer prostitution scandal and today's op-ed calling him out for his "arrogant" public statement are reminders of how good the paper can be when it is on its game.
As promised, the first in a weekly report of Misanthrope's 2008 President-a-Week reading festival.
What a way to start and what a time to start. "Father of the Country" is such a cliche, that it is easy to forget just how extraordinary Washington truly was. It is also fascinating to review his approach to the Presidency and how drastically different it is from today's view of the office.
The text I chose was Joseph Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington and the man that he describes is a force of nature. Washington was physically imposing (he was 6' 3" at a time when that was a gigantic height; by comparison, Alexander Hamilton was 5' 7") and seemed to be impervious to death. There is story after story of Washington riding into a hail of bullets during the Revolution with the calm confidence of one who believes he cannot be killed. He was also an unquestioned leader of men and there can be no doubt that his personal commitment was the single most important factor in keeping the underpaid, underfed and under-equipped Continental Army together until the British would blunder in to the trap at Yorktown. I confess to finding myself tearing up when reading about the privations endured by the Army during the lean years following Saratoga, sufferings that struck me deeply because I know that many of my ancestors on my mother's side (12 in all) were suffering there with him. It is an everlasting testament to his character and strength that those men, after suffering so much to follow him, loved him with a devotion that is deeply moving. And it is in this aspect of his character, his ability to endure and to remain the last man standing until victory was his, that Ellis locates the source of much of Washington's greatness.
In peace, Washington's decision to lay down his sword and commission at Annapolis and allow the new country to grow under civilian government is another testament to his unusual personal strength and honor. When compared against any other revolution in world history, the bloodless developments after success and the Treaty of Paris stand virtually alone. It was in large part due to personal loyalties and devotion to Washington that the tumultuous period of his Presidency was bloodless and calm. In a very literal sense, he simply "presided" over the government and held himself above the existential debate that was playing out in the new federal government. There is no doubt that Washington was a devoted Federalist and that Hamilton was his man, but he was also a close friend of Jefferson (at least until Jefferson betrayed him and began to insult him behind his back) and he let the eternal debate between local and federal government play out in a peaceful manner. Over 200 years later, it is still being played out today.
Inevitably, one must confront the fact that Washington was a slave owner and that he did not free his slaves until after his death (and after Martha's death for those slaves that were part of her dowry). Towards the end of his life, he was acutely aware that his slave ownership (he stopped buying slaves early on) was antithetical to the cause for which he had spent so many years of difficulty. One is struck by the chances lost. For example, during his first term, a petition from a group of Quakers appeared before Congress to introduce the gradual abolition of slavery. Normally this would not have been taken up seriously as even the anti-slavery northern delegations knew that the issue could tear the young government apart. This petition, however, was signed by Benjamin Franklin, the only other Revolutionary figure with a stature equal to Washington's. One must wonder what might have happened had Washington signed his name to it as well. But Washington believed the new government could not survive such a divisive measure and let the moment pass.
If you are only familiar with the general outlines of the Washington story, it is well worth going back and reading it in full. I was surprised at how moved I was by the story, by Washington and by the reminder of how incredible and extraordinary, in the most literal sense of the term, the American achievement was between 1775 and 1799.
Obama's key foreign affairs advisor, has resigned over comments she made to a UK newspaper in which she called Hillary a "monster." (Yeah, I know...no arguments here.)
There will be much hue and cry from the Obama faithful about how she was railroaded, etc. Unfortunately, she also managed to blunder in a BBC interview in which she essentially said that Obama won't be able to get U.S. troops out of Iraq in 16 months, as he says in his stump speech.
This all comes on top of the revelation that key economic adviser Austan Goolsbee had assured Canadian officials in private conversations that Obama's anti-NAFTA pandering was just campaign talk and not to be taken literally. And foreign policy adviser Susan Rice admitting on television that neither Hillary nor Obama are ready to take that "3 AM" call yet.
Are any of these missteps horrific? Not really, although if Powers is meant to be in a senior foreign policy position she should be more aware of using diplomatic language. Calling Hillary a monster was kind of a bush league mistake.
That being said, this weird trend in Obama's camp suggests two things.
First, a lot of Obama's policy talk is just pandering for votes and he shouldn't necessarily be taken at his word. Sure, politicians do this all the time, but isn't Obama's whole campaign based on the lofty notion that he would not be an "old politics" candidate?
Second, it suggests to me that Obama is a bad manager. A slip here or there is part of the game, but four advisors with very close relationships with Obama screwing up so royally tells me that he is not keeping on top of his policy team.
On top of it all, Hillary has managed to push him way off message and into a desperate, flailing attack mode. How did Obama get from "audacity of hope" to "when is Hillary going to release her tax forms"?
Crikey. Somebody needs to send an adult to Obamaland to crack some freakin' heads.
The Scottish Lass and I were in Washington, D.C. this past weekend for the 40th birthday of a very old and dear friend. We took advantage of the trip to visit Mount Vernon, the home of the first President of the United States, George Washington (b. February 22, 1732 - d. December 14, 1799). When contemplating this trip, I decided that it would be a good impetus to launch a project I had been thinking about for many years.
As a result, I am now on my "President-a-Week" reading program. For the next 42 weeks, I will be reading biographies of the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. No, I will not be reading Grover Cleveland's biography on two non-consecutive weeks.
The time frame of the project requires that some decisions be made. For example, choosing a Washington biography turned out to be incredibly difficult as many of the "standard" bios are as large as 7 volumes. That's a level of detail (and reading commitment) that seems out of step with the spirit of the project.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a series of biographies edited by Arthur Schlesinger that are nice introductions, but are a little too light. In certain cases like Millard Fillmore (to whom I happen to be distantly related - typical, huh?) these may have to suffice as there are, frankly, almost no biographies to be had. But when the subject is a major figure like Jackson, I have searched for a more substantial text.
Where I have read biographies (about 12 of them, by my count, including next week and the week after), I am going to look for something that adds a new perspective.
The chronological program is going to make for some rough periods. Let's just say that April (Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore) is going to be brutal.
Anyway, week #1's selection was His Excellency George Washington by Joseph Ellis. More thoughts on Washington later, but I leave you with Opal's summary after our visit to Mount Vernon: "He's like the 18th Century Superman."
Maggie went in for her third chemo session yesterday and we got a bit of good news. The echocardiagram showed that the tumor has not grown since the last session. This is a very good sign in fibrosarcoma, which tends to grow very rapidly. Another piece of good news was that her blood chemistry remained normal following the use of carboplatin, the new drug she got last time. As a result, we were able to increase the dosage for that drug in this round, which should be helpful. Having stabilized the disease somewhat, the next goal is to start shrinking the tumor. The vet is investigating what might be available to us in terms of radiation therapy as that would give us a huge boost in reducing the tumor.
All in all, a good result for this stage. We are very pleased.