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Clio's Temple

American Society

Brute memorization

Both on the way to and from Greenwood today, I heard readings of the Gettysburg Address. The first was delivered by NPR journalists. The second was delivered by a variety of persons from different fields; all 5 living presidents participated.

This put me in mind of Mrs. Harrell's 4th Grade class.  She was a great one for making us memorize and recite in class. I suppose there will always be differences of opinion about this. Some progressive educators pooh-pooh requiring students to commit speeches or poetry to memory, arguing that this doesn't build the higher-order learning they think is important.

A nation of kludges?

There's an odd sort of symmetry in my classes this week. In my Western Civilization class, I'm discussing with my students how Rome developed the first republican form of government. In my American History class, the discussion centers around the move to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution.

Which makes it particularly fascinating that I just came across an article online titled "Kludgeocracy in America." You can check it out at www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/kludgeocracy-in-america.

A nation by any other name

Today is the birthday of the U.S. Constitution. I know we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17, but to use a human analogy, that was the date of conception. Our basic law was actually born on this date in 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it.

When I was in the eighth grade, my American History class did a play on the Constitutional Convention. All the players wrote their own speeches and most were original, but one quoted Benjamin Franklin when asked what the Convention had given the new nation: "A republic, if you can keep it.

Places in the heart

In Europe, they have war cemeteries. Perhaps this is because the major European nations got into the habit of fighting wars before they coalesced as nations. Ironically, the building of Lenin's Tomb in the 1920s was one of the first "national" cemeteries (as contrasted to war cemeteries or royal crypts) created to enshrine a particular concept of nationhood. While no one shares Lenin's eminence, during the Soviet years burial at the Kremlin wall was the equivalent of interment in Westminster Abbey or the Yasukuni Shrine.

Presidential pivot

John F. Kennedy's Presidential reputation has ridden a roller-coaster in the half-century since his assassination. However, it seems there is always a patina of romance about the Camelot years that refuses to fade, no matter how many revelations about the backstory of JFK's administration come into the open.

As a scholar of American history, my personal take is that JFK was much more sizzle than steak for most of the brief years he was our leader. However, this month commemorates a pivot that, had gunshots in Dallas not interrupted it, might have done much to secure his reputation.

Would you believe in a love at first sight?

Last night, my wife and I watched a rock-'n-roll retrospective on PBS. It's obviously not contemporary, since the late Davey Jones was emcee. As we saw one Sixties group after another - The Vogues, Percy Sledge, Roger McGuinn - parade across the stage, it was just a good time being had by all. A jarring moment came when Jefferson Starship appeared, doing "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" (the latter one of my all-time faves). The vocalist had Grace Slick's voice, but the face didn't match.

The devastation of a small town

I'm sorry to be so downcast on Earth Day. This above all ought to be a day for celebrating the beauty of the world in which we live, and for renewing our resolution to protect it. Instead, my mind is reeling from the news that the West Fertilizer Company was apparently storing more than 250 times the quantity of ammonium nitrate as divulged to the public. It's apparent the devastation that struck there last week was in some key respects foreordained. What is equally staggering is the word that there are over 1,000 such fertilizer storage facilities in Texas.

Patriots Day

"On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five." The first Patriots Day marked the time when a group of upstart colonists took an irrevocable step toward making a new nation. On this day, we look at Monday's carnage in Boston and wonder whether something fundamental has broken in our land. From henceforth, admiration for the grit and tenacity it takes to run the 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon will be jostled by hateful images - two puffs of smoke, a runner falling to the ground, police and rescue workers scrambling to render assistance not knowing if or when another blast would occur.

Revolutionary life cycles

On this day in 1860, the Pony Express began its 18-month career of carrying mail from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, MO. Even as the first riders spurred their mounts to a gallop, this new wrinkle in fast communications was doomed. What the Native Americans would call the "singing wire," the telegraph, would shortly deliver information across vast distances with the speed of racing electrons. Within a decade after the Civil War, the transatlantic cable would make possible the development of the first international capital markets.

Who controls whom?

The search warrants which the police in Newtown, CT executed after the Sandy Hook shootings have now been made public. They show that the Lanza home was equipped to rival a National Guard armory. As if possession of an arsenal wasn't enough, apparently Adam Lanza left something behind when he went on his shooting rampage - a check from his mother noting that it was for the purchase of yet another weapon.

How much is enough? This question confronts many of us at some point in our lives. "How much" may pertain to weapons, money, food, sex, or anything else that may become the focus of an obsession.
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