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If Michelle Obama Is So Smart, Why Is She Not As Hot As Was Dolley Madison?

A portrait of First Lady Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison

I keep hearing about what Michelle Obama is wearing. 

If we are going to grade Mrs. Obama on her appearance, she will lose out to Dolley Madison. (Above)

So let’s judge Mrs. Obama on her talents and skills and have less focus on how she looks. That is the right thing to do fo this hard working  and successful person.

For all we know, Mrs. Obama is the smarter half of the First Couple.

(Dolley Madison was also smart.)

However, since we are on the subject. I will say that Mrs. Obama’s Inauguration outfit was almost as fluorescent—

—as are these fish below. 

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, History, Politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments

I Ended Up Watching The Inauguration

This past Tuesday I gave some thought to skipping the Inauguration on TV and heading down the road to Galveston for a walk on the beach. I’m not entirely sure what was motivating my feelings except to say that with time people’s interests can change.  

I did watch the ceremony and I’m glad I did. Yet for as pleased as I am in the change of administrations, Mr. Obama and his team want to manage and manipulate the news no less than did his predecessor.

( Here is the story about the phony music played at the Inauguration.)

Watching all that day-to-day stuff saps my life energy. I can follow the news without seeing Mr. Obama’s stage managed events.

Here is a link to the C-Span American Writers series. It goes all the way back to William Bradford (grave above) in Plymouth in the 17th century. Without context what do we have? The events of the day are often fun to follow, but it can take a few hundred years for the real facts to become clear.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Colonial America, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inauguration Poem Was A Winner—Obama Acknowledges Wait Staff

I thought the poem by Elizabeth Alexander that she read after Barack Obama’s Inauguration was a winner.( Here is Ms. Alexander’s web home.) The poem was lofty enough for the occasion without being abstract. (There is nothing wrong with abstract, but this was not the right event for that.)  

The poem addressed the words we use, the relationships we have, the work we do, and our history. These are important subjects that serve as foundations of the beliefs we hold and the public policies we pursue. They are things we don’t always talk about. I don’t know if that is because we think of them as mundane topics. Or if it is because they are subjects we find painful in many respects. (The lyrics to Simple Gifts, which was part of the music at the ceremony, are here in this blog post.)

I also noticed that Mr. Obama acknowledged the wait staff at the Statuary Hall lunch after the Inauguration ceremony was completed. He thanked them in his remarks at the lunch. If the President of the United States can behave in a respectful manner towards these workers, surely we all can behave in a respectful manner towards the people who help us during our day.

Here is the poem—

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Politics | , , , , | 4 Comments

22 Observations And Thoughts About The Inauguration Of Barack Obama

Here are 22 observations and thoughts about the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama—

1. Denied the ease of being in opposition, I feel alone in some ways. Many of the the old arguments and excuses are gone now.

2. Denied the ease of being in opposition, now we have to sink or swim on our own. 

3. It is good so many people are feeling hopeful in hard times.

4. Now we can move further to the left because now we expect more from our leaders.

5. Now we can see if the Democratic Party is really serious about helping people.  

6. Just as Republicans used September 11  to achieve policy objectives, so Democrats will use the current financial crisis.

7. Without the headwind of the far right in power, we must redouble our efforts as individuals to make this a successful political era. Are we as individuals for real or not?

8. I’m glad I took Inauguration Day off work.

9. I am hopeful about Mr. Obama, but he has not yet earned my trust.

10. Mr. Obama talks about leading a movement, but he is a mainstream politician and not the leader of a movement. When Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, he was no longer the leader of a movement.  If not even Nelson Mandela could lead a movement as President, Barack Obama surely cannot either.  

11. I’m glad the coalition that elected Mr. Obama was multi-ethnic and was geographically centered outside the South. What a welcome change from 2004 and 2000. This 2008 coalition is something I am glad to be a part of.

12. We as individuals are governing in partnership with Mr. Obama and the Democratic Congress. We must be decent and disciplined to make America better and to recover from our recession. Governance is a two-way street between elected leaders and the governed.

13. I hope Mr. Obama mentions how closely linked we as Americans are to the rest of the world in his Inaugural address.

14. I can see why some people see aspects of propaganda in Mr. Obama’s never ending campaign and in the creepy art of some of his campaign posters. 

15. I still resent the teacher who gave me a detention for arriving late to school after attending a Walter Mondale rally in 1984. I hope schools let students watch the inauguration.

16.  I hope Mr. Obama discusses the mix of government action and citizen participation needed to solve our problems. Both things are required in hard times and at all times.

17. I hope Galveston, Texas and other parts of the Texas coast hit by Hurricane Ike get some help from the federal government.  

18. Mr. Obama talks about full inclusion. But the fact is some portion of the country will never accept him as President. And some portion of the country will never accept the role of government in our economy and as a source of the social welfare. Not everyone wants to be included in Mr. Obama’s America. Mostly it is people who can take a hike in any case.

19. My satisfaction at seeing Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney go is greatly tempered by the fact of all the damage they did to the country and the world. The responsibility for the damage rests most with the people who voted for these men.  

20. Mr. Obama likes to paint himself as an insider and an outsider at same time. I think he is much more of an insider. Maybe—just maybe—he has some outsider still left in him. We’ll see.    

21. Mr. Obama’s willingness to deal with people who have previously opposed him, while self-serving, is the right course to follow and an example I could learn from.

22. Good luck to Mr. Obama and good luck to us all.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Politics | , , , , , | 2 Comments

January 19 Is Martin Luther King Day, January 20 Is Inauguration Day—Take These Days Off Work If You Are Able

Monday, January 19, 2009 is Martin Luther King Day.  Tuesday, January 20, 2009 will be Inauguration Day for Barack Hussein Obama.

I’ve taken these two days off from work.  What great days they shall be. Take them off work if you are able and enjoy the holiday and the great events of the inauguration.

Of course, some get King Day off in any case. Though many do not. In 2009, take the day if you don’t get it and enjoy a holiday of history, justice, and hope.  Take the next day as well and celebrate with freedom loving Americans such as yourself.      

Below—True Blue Americans will be taking both these routes come the third week of January. Maybe a new sign and a new route will have to be made where you can get off at the same exit for Martin Luther King and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.   

Here is the second edition of the Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. There are three additions for 2009.  

While it is always instructive to watch a rebroadcast or listen to a recording of the I Have A Dream speech,  there is a next level for someone who wants to better understand Dr. King and his message. 

Reverend King asked serious questions about America as a war criminal nation in Vietnam and he asked if America  merited divine judgement as a wicked nation of racism and social inequality.  These questions, even in the time of Barack Obama, are still worthy of consideration.   

Here is an admittedly incomplete, but I hope, useful Martin Luther King viewing, visiting, listening, and reading list. The three additions for 2009 are noted towards the bottom of the list.  

An excellent book is Martin & Malcolm & America—A Dream Or A Nightmare by James H. Cone. This book follows the words and the careers of both these men. The premise, which holds up, is that Dr. King and Malcolm X  (photo below) were not as far apart as sometimes portrayed. Malcolm was a man with a broader vision than one of simple racial solidarity, and King was in many respects a fierce and almost apocalyptic critic of America.  

I’m glad to say I bought my copy of Cone’s book at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.  This site is operated by the National Park Service. You can tour Martin Luther King’s boyhood home at this location. You’ll also want to tour the Auburn Avenue Historic District around the King home.    

Regretfully, the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church (photo below) , King’s home church, is currently under renovation. It will reopen in late 2009.  Still, the District as a whole is very much worth a visit.

In Washington, when you visit the Lincoln Memorial (photo below), you can find a small marker indicating the exact spot where Rev. King made the “Dream” speech. It is a good place to stand.

The best one volume work on King’s life is David Garrow’s Bearing The Cross—Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Bearing The Cross was the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography.  You can’t help but feel the almost deep-sea like pressure on Dr. King in the final years of his life. I wondered if towards the end of his life King felt that death was going to be the only escape from the exhaustion, the misunderstandings and the conflicts.

An interesting DVD is King–Man Of Peace In A Time Of War. Much of the hour long presentation is a rehash of King biography. What makes this special is a roughly 15 minute interview Dr. King did with afternoon television host Mike Douglas.  Mr. Douglas asked tough questions about Dr. King’s stance against the Vietnam War and about the effect of that opposition on the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King is calm, cool and collected. You could see how King was a leader who could speak anywhere and to anyone.     

A solid explanation of Reverend King’s theology and a good analysis on the failure of Southern segregationists to mount an even more aggressive opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, can be found in A Stone Of Hope—Prophetic Religion And The Death Of Jim Crow by David L. Chappell. 

A Testament Of Hope—The Essential Writings And Speeches Of Martin Luther King, Jr is needed for a complete King library. In honesty though, I’ve always found this book to be sprawling and without  clear focus. It consists of King sermons, some interviews and excerpts from his books. You need to have it on your shelf, but there are more concise ways to get the “essential” King.  ( Photo below is Rev. King with Coretta Scott King.)      

Here are the three new titles for 2009—

A quality children’s book on King is Martin’s Big Words  by Doreen Rappaport. The writing in this book is clear and concise and respectful of the intellect of children. It’s a great introduction to King and a gateway to further studies by young people.

A comprehensive examination of King’s radical views on economic questions can be found in From Civil Rights to Human Rights—Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice by Thomas F. Jackson. King had leanings towards forms of socialism and came to see the fight for fair wages as an essential element in the fight for full human rights. It should not be forgotten that King died in Memphis fighting for striking sanitation workers.    

A web resource to learn about King is the Martin Luther King, Jr, Research and Education Institute that is run by Stanford University. There are King sermons and addresses you can read and a link to a King Online Encyclopedia.  (These things said, there is nothing as good as having you own printed collection of King sermons that you can take anywhere and make notes and underline key passages as it suits you.)

 There are three reference sources on Dr. King that in my view stand out.

Strength To Love is the best collection King sermons. It is a concise manageable book. You can cram it in your back pocket or in your purse. ( A larger purse at least.) I think you could read nothing but this one 158 page book, and know everything you need to know about Martin Luther King.

The audio collection of King’s sermons called  A Knock At Midnight might change your life. Stick the CD’s in your car stereo or turn it on at home and you’ll  hear Dr. King just as he was—Mighty and frail at the same time. I’ve listened to the sermons on Knock many times and they never get old. You can’t help but learn something or see an old question a new way each time you listen.   

The definitive books on Martin Luther King’s life and the Civil Rights era are found in Taylor Branch’s three volume America In The King Years series.

These three books are the Pulitizer Prize winning  Parting The Waters 1954-1963, Pillar Of Fire 1963-1965, and At Canaans Edge, 1965-1968.  (Photo below is of Rosa Parks being booked during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.)

These books stand not only at the top of King biography, they stand as great examples of American biography. The picture of Dr. King is complete. You get the good and the bad. There will be times you’ll shake your head and ask yourself how Rev. King could have said that or done that.    

You’ll also see how brave King was and how brave the Civil Rights marchers and protesters were. You’ll get a clear sense of the obstacles faced not just from whites, but from status quo blacks as well.  Mr. Branch offers a great deal of context for King’s life and experiences. He provides full portraits of other great Civil Rights leaders.

I can’t recommend all three volumes strongly enough. Read them and you’ll be an expert.        

Please click here for a Texas Liberal post on King’s sermon Unfulfilled Dreams


December 26, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, History, Politics | , , , , , , | 6 Comments