Archive for January, 2012
The presidency changed neither Ulysses S. Grant’s approach to leadership, nor his character. In the White House, Grant exhibited the same even-tempered ability to guide the nation through eight years of tensions after the Civil War as he did in his most important victories on the battlefield at Fort Donelson, Vicksburg and Appomattox.
His has been, perhaps, one of the most underrated presidencies in American history, as charges of cronyism have rung down through the decades, but the facts remain: Grant kept the nation from certain turmoil during one of its most volatile, postwar periods, when Nathaniel Bedford Forest’s Ku Klux Klan was attempting to wreak havoc in the South, when southern leaders simply traded one form of racial oppression for another and when America was on the brink of war with Spain. As president, Grant signed civil rights legislation, oversaw the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and set up America as an arbitrator on the world stage. After a failed third term campaign, Grant toured the world to much fanfare from Japan and China and Russia, thus serving as a kind of “coming out party” for the nation for which he had fought so nobly years earlier.
Clearly, Grant’s presidency was not without accusations of scandal. Perhaps the most famous affair was Black Friday, in which gold speculators Jay Gould and James Fisk seduced Grant’s brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, and assistant treasurer Daniel Butterfield into the action. While Grant was never directly linked to the scandal to use the government to raise the price of gold for speculative purchasing, Butterfield and Corbin were the real and unsuspecting culprits, with Gould pulling the strings in the background. With the price of gold eventually reaching a little less than $160, Harris Fahnestock of Jay Cooke and Company was among bankers wiring telegraphs to Washington calling for government intervention:
Immediate interference in this gold market is imperative. Exchange of four millions gold for bonds immediately done would change current at once. Otherwise, advance [in the price of gold] is indefinite.
Fully aware of the gravity of the situation, treasury secretary George Boutwell suggested to Grant that the government buy $3 million in gold from the New York subtreasury. In characteristic coolness, one can imagine Grant uttering this terse command:
I think you had better make it five million.
And what of Fisk and Gould? Jennie and Abel Corbin made a special trip from New York to appeal to Grant to help Corbin’s his now-suffering friends who had played too heavy a hand in their speculative ventures. Smith recounts the episode in elucidating detail:
Grant listened politely, puffed on his cigar, and then rose from his chair, cutting his brother-in-law off in mid-sentence. ‘This matter has been concluded,’ the president said. ‘I cannot open up or consider the subject.’ The United States, for the first time, had intervened massively to bring order to the marketplace. It was a watershed in the history of the American economy.
Here is Grant at his presidential best, and Smith at his authoritative best: Grant, displaying the same decisive adroitness that carried many a crucial battle in the Civil War and Smith painting a sharp image of his subject’s calm demeanor and simple logic.
In “This Mighty Scourge, ” historian James McPherson leaves it to Union general John Schofield to give the best account of the driving force behind Grant’s decisiveness under pressure:
It is one thing to describe Grant’s calmness under pressure, his ability to size up a situation quickly, and his decisiveness in action. It is quite another to explain the inner sources of these strengths. Ultimately, as Sherman noted, the explanation must remain a mystery. … Schofield noted that the most extraordinary quality of Grant’s ‘extraordinary character’ was ‘its extreme simplicity—so extreme that many have entirely overlooked it in their search for some deeply hidden secret to account for so great a character, unmindful that simplicity is one of the most prominent attributes of greatness.’ Grant made it look easy.
Grant, who left the active campaigning to others during the 1868 election, did not receive the Republican nomination for a third term. As Smith said, he was relieved, telling John Russell Young that the happiest day of his life was when he left Washington. “I felt like a boy getting out of school,” Grant said. Smith concludes the biography with the words of James Garfield:
No American has carried greater fame out of the White House than this silent man who leaves it today.
As Smith well notes, Grant wrote his memoirs while watching the clock and dying of cancer. Despite Grant’s circumstances while gathering his thoughts, historians have described the memoirs as lucid and engaging. “Action verbs predominate:,” Smith said. ‘move … engage … start … attack.:’”
Grant is generous with praise and sparing with criticism. He admits mistakes: ‘I have always regretted that last attack at Cold Harbor was made …. No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.’
Further, McPherson wrote about Grant’s work:
To read the Personal Memoirs with a knowledge of the circumstances under which Grant wrote them is to gain insight into the reasons for his military success.
In “Grant” through Smith we see a man who seems void of most, if not all, of the contemptible qualities that we can recognize in less backboned leaders: disloyal, dishonest, fake, egotistical and pompous. For all of his accomplishments in the Civil War and in the White House, perhaps Grant can be granted a notch or two of slack for his one obvious character flaw: loyalty to a fault.
In any case, we can credit Smith for bringing the full breath of Grant’s life into crystal clear view in the most digestible, accessible biography I have ever read.
The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.
I thought I had posted this earlier, but something got gommed along the way (“Gommed” is Northeast Georgia slang for “clusterfucked”. Folks have their Southern sensibilities, you know, so they have to invent other “curse” words to replace real ones).
In any case, I feel a lot like the person in following video, who had this to say:
It’s completely baffling to me, and actually I really hate the fact that I don’t get it because I wish I could understand it. I really do. Because I think it would help me feel less annoyed with people and less baffled and less isolated and less frustrated. I really wish I could understand it, but I just can’t. I just don’t get it intellectually or emotionally. I don’t understand it on either of those levels.
And the clip:
I have often heard the following obligatory and rather futile complaint from believers when asked to supply proof for their claims about God and the universe: “I can’t prove that God exists, but neither can you prove that he does not exist.” Usually at that point in making their case for God, they say something about personal testimony and their own experiences with the Holy Spirit. Apologists in this way attempt to encase themselves in what they think is a win-win situation for them: 1) non-believers can’t prove me wrong and 2) I know how I feel and what I have experienced in my heart, and this stands above the scrutiny of logic; in fact, given what I have experienced, it’s even reasonable for me to believe as I do.
The first point is obviously true. One day, we may perhaps be able to disprove God scientifically because as Richard Dawkins has said, a universe in which a being intervenes in peoples’ lives, reads their thoughts and micromanages the weather, etc., has to be a vastly different universe than one in which this is not the case. Even if the God of Abraham and Isaac resides is in some “spiritual” realm, he still supposedly acts in the physical world and upon living organisms, and so in this way, may be, in some future technological era, within the scope of scientific discovery. This would only not be the case if we are to assume a deistic god, that is, one who only created the world but does not intervene in it. This god, perhaps, may be outside of the boundaries of science, no matter how advanced. But the theistic god … quite a different matter.
The troubling point is the second one and gives a person license to say they believe anything, and we must, according to them, then except it and respect it outright without question just because they have a personal testimony or have received some kind of revelation. Of course, we can see how well that has worked out for the legacies of Joseph Smith, Marshall Applewhite, Tom Cruise and many other deluded figures. Further, and as I stated elsewhere, it is not the freethinker’s job to stand up for or support her non-belief because non-belief is, indeed, the default position and actually not a belief at all. People are born with zero beliefs; it is only after being inculcated by whatever culture we happen to be born into that the cloak of religion is cruelly and forcefully draped over us before we have time to make up our own minds. The believers alone have to say 1) why they feel compelled to introduce elements like gods, angels and demons into the world when none were solicited and 2) how they explain their belief in the existence of such things. The onus, in short, is on believers to supply the proof because they are the ones making the claims. For the non-believer, no claims have been made; the world is the same as it was when we entered it.
This blogger over at Squidoo has made the point as well as anyone:
I get asked all the time to prove there is no God, and although I believe the evidence weighs heavily in my favor, I can’t prove a negative. I also do not have to because the burden of proof in this lies with the one making the claim, the theist. Someone could not claim to be an atheist had there not been a theist first, so it stands to reason the theist made the claim and has the burden of proof in this matter.
If I were to make the claim that I have little green men living under my bed, and at night they come out and talk to me, most people would assume that the burden of proof lies with me to substantiate this claim. It would not be up to others to prove I do not have little green men hiding under my bed, because it would be impossible for them to do so, you can’t prove a negative. I might say they only talk to me or that only I can see them making it impossible for anyone to prove that I am wrong. But since I am not able to prove my statement, most sane and rational people would discount my claim as the ramblings of a mad man.
I’ve watched Julia Nunes videos on YouTube for a good two years or more now, including most, or all, of the early shit. Glad to see that she is making headway on a national stage because she deserves it. I hope the nation eventually hears songs like, “Into the Sunshine, “The Debt” and “First Impressions.”
She performed recently on Conan with her new song, “Stay Awake:”
God and “his” church have had kind of a rough-and-tumble relationship, don’t you think, especially if we consider the Israelites’ disobedience and flirtations with rival gods through most of the Old Testament, and the god of the universe, almost comically, looking as if he is at his wits end and about to pull his proverbial hair out?
Loftus makes the compelling case that
If a human husband said that to his wife, we would classify it as domestic violence. And rightly so. It reflects a view of the wife as property, and the husband as her lord and owner with sovereign rights to inflict punishment on one who has “stolen” from him his exclusive right to “sow his seed” in a “field” that is his property. …
And verbal abuse is considered domestic violence, so Loftus is dead-on.
His comments on the wife and property also hit center, for that is the very message of Christianity, that we are and should be happy serving as slaves to the big brother in the sky, and if we dare look at another slave driver (maybe a more benevolent one, if that’s possible) with a covetous eye, we will be smashed to bits. And yes, I am comfortable calling Christianity both spiritual and physical slavery because the New Testament itself admits it: in a right relationship to Christ, we are, and no doubt must be, totally void of self-thought or action. Thus, to be “sold out” for Christ, as I have heard the phrase turned so many times, is to be a slave to a guy for which there is not a single contemporary source that confirms his existence, much less his benevolence or grace. Not one. Nonsensically, then, evangelicals will openly admit that they are slaves to Christ, although they have somehow convinced themselves, with the false security of bliss waiting for them all the while, that this is actually a desirable thing.
Just … wow:
All was going swimmingly until the former candidate took the stage.
Apparently the only person who missed the joke, Cain segued into a version of his stump speech, itself rehashed on Thursday for the South Carolina Republican leadership convention. The crowd shuffled awkwardly and wondered if it would be OK to leave before the encore. Satire threatened to fall apart in the face of grim reality as a candidate not famed for self-awareness appeared to be under the impression the crowd was there to hear about cainconnections.com
Thankfully, Cain remembered to make a point, perhaps the most genuine of the event, given the audience of the young and largely apolitical. Urging the collected to disobey Colbert and NOT to vote for him, he said, “I am going to ask you NOT to vote for Herman Cain because I don’t want you to waste your vote. Your vote matters.”
This also shows how silly some suffrage laws are in South Carolina, since some people who have already withdrawn from the race (Bachmann, Cain) will be on the ballot in that state.