Archive for July, 2011

As another disastrous month at the keyboard winds down – I either need to get it back together or let this proposition go – let’s talk a bit about President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and North Africa.

With the first half of 1942 “in the books”, President Roosevelt found himself in the middle of a debate concerning when and where American soldiers should fight the Germans.  To be sure, we were already doing battle with Japan – the Coral Sea and Midway engagements were recent history and Operation Watchtower (the landings at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands) were just around the corner.  But we had yet to make a concerted effort against the Axis’ primary belligerent.  And the President had already stated his “Germany First” policy, but where to put it into action?

Britain’s Prime Minister had his idea.  North Africa.  Churchill saw a boat-load of advantages to offensive action there, and he was happy to enumerate them.  Occupation of North Africa (particularly Algeria and Tunisia) would trap Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps between those forces and the British Eighth Army that was already protecting Egypt and the Suez Canal.  North Africa offered American soldiers a way to “get their feet wet” in a situation less dangerous and difficult than a frontal assault on France.  Removing the German presence from the Mediterranean would allow supplies to be shipped through the Suez Canal, which saved a massively long trip around the southern tip of Africa through German-infested waters.  And it got American soldiers into battle against Germans (thereby relieving the Russians) in 1942, rather than further down the road.  It made sense to Winston Churchill, and he told Roosevelt, saying, “This has all along been in harmony with your ideas.  In fact, it is your commanding idea.  Here is the true second front of 1942.”

Roosevelt’s military commanders most assuredly did not agree.  They saw North Africa as a sideshow.  They didn’t believe an invasion there would pull a single German soldier from the Russian steppes or from the approaches to Stalingrad.  In fact, American commanders believed that action in North Africa was more about protecting Britain’s flagging empire than winning a war against an aggressor, and they wanted none of it.  A frontal assault on Germany’s stronghold in Europe, though not feasible in 1942, certainly made more sense to them.

And in the middle sat Roosevelt.  He took these arguments in and then added his own ideas to the mix.  There was politics.  It was 1942, and mid-term elections were coming.  Early indications showed that a restless populace, eager for action against Germany, could give his party a ballot-box beating in November.  But ultimately, it came down to doing something – anything – to help the Russians in 1942.  Earlier in the year, he had stated “the simple fact that the Russian armies are killing more Axis personnel and destroying more Axis materiel than all the other twenty-five United Nations put together.”

And on July 30, 1942, the President made his decision.  As the sun set on summer-time Washington, D.C., Roosevelt gathered his military commanders and told them North Africa was the target.  A European invasion, while on the cards, would not be happening this year.

The torch of Operaton Torch had been officially lit.

Recommended Reading:  An Army at Dawn

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The Kansas City Royals aren’t a very good baseball team.  They’ve been pretty bad for quite a while.  It’s true that the Royals have a bright future, fueled by one of the best farm systems in the game.  But for the time being, Royals fans continue to suffer.

Some of you, however, may remember when the Kansas City Royals were a really good team.  In the mid-1980s, there were winning seasons, division championships, a pennant or two, and (in 1985) a World Series title.  The roster was full of big-name stars with last names like Saberhagen, Cone, and Gubicza.  And of course, there was the biggest name on the roster.

George Brett.

The life-long Royal is, in my mind, the most famous of all to wear a Kansas City uniform.  He is best characterized by his deep crouch in the batters’ box, the big wad of chewing tobacco, and a smooth, sweet left-handed swing.  The results speak for themselves.  A career batting average north of .300 (and 1980, when he and Rod Carew came oh-so-close to hitting .400).  Batting titles.  An MVP award.  A bunch of All-Star appearances.  A Gold Glove.  And ultimately, enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

And the Pine-Tar game…remember that?  There isn’t a baseball fan from my generation that doesn’t know the story.  But just in case…

On July 24, 1983, Brett launched a 9th-inning 2-run homer off Yankee closer Goose Gossage that stunned the Yankee Stadium faithful and gave the Royals a 5-4 lead.  As Brett crossed the plate and headed back to the cheers and hurrahs of his dugout, Yankee skipper Billy Martin left his dugout and headed to home plate.  He complained that the pine tar on Brett’s bat went too far up the handle.

After the umpires consulted among themselves for a few minutes, they agreed with Martin and called Brett out, nullifying the home run.  As you might guess, Yankees fans were thrilled.  As you might also guess, George Brett was not.  I remember well Brett leaping up the dugout stairs, flying out to home plate with his hands in the air, and politely disagreeing with the decision…or something like that.

Brett was thrown out of the game and the Yankees ended up with the victory…for the time being.

The Royals immediately launched a protest of the umpires’ decision, and the Commissioner upheld the protest.  The rules stated that pine tar was restricted to the first 18 inches of the bat.  And frankly, George Brett’s bat had about 12 feet of pine tar on it.  But the rules simply called for the bat to be removed from play, because pine tar doesn’t help the ball travel farther.  The Commissioner didn’t believe nullifying the home run was the proper response.

So later in the season, the teams picked up the game where Brett’s home run left off (with Brett still ejected from the game), and the Royals came away with a win.

Recommended Viewing:  The Pine Tar Incident

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The last time I checked in, it was a hot and steamy Sunday evening.  Tonight, it’s a hotter and steamier Sunday evening.  And, according to the weather folks, “hotterer” and “steamierer” (I don’t think those are real words) are coming.  Monday and Tuesday will see us in the furnace, with a slow break beginning on Wednesday.

The only reason anyone knows about the RMS Carpathia is because almost everyone knows about the RMS TitanicCarpathia’s notoriety was born when the Titanic died in April of 1912.  She arrived on-scene and rescued Titanic’s survivors, plucking more than 700 from the frigid North Atlantic.

We know the Titanic’s fate…it’s one of the most famous shipwrecks in history.  But what of the Carpathia?

After Titanic, the Carpathia continued her duties as a passenger steamship.  When America entered World War I in 1917, she was pressed into war-time service, ferrying American soldiers across the Atlantic to Great Britain.  Shortly after midnight on July 17, 1918, she was torpedoed by a German submarine and sank 12 hours later.

Loss of life was limited to just five of the 280 passengers and crew.

And there were plenty of lifeboats for all…

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It’s a hot, steamy, summer Sunday night.  There really aren’t any clouds to speak of, but I think if I went out and shouted loud enough, I could trigger storms.  It feels like one of those days where something bad weather-wise could happen at any time, but so far, nothing.

July 4th hasn’t always been a good day for Presidents.  We know that because we’ve discussed it on a couple of occasions.  Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe all died on this day.  And our 12th President, Zachary Taylor, overdressed for the 4th of July celebrations (wearing a heavy black suit), got overheated, and then tried to cool himself by over-consuming iced milk and cold cherries.  He apparently shocked his system to the point of death, which took him five days later in a bout of gastroenteritis.

And so Vice President Millard Fillmore became our nation’s 13th President on July 10, 1850.  Unfortunately, I know very little about Fillmore (my study of the Presidents is currently at #5…James Monroe).  Well, here’s what I know…

Fillmore was a member of the Whig Party and was the last Whig President.  Of course, the mid-19th century was dominated by the issue of slavery, and Fillmore came down squarely in the middle of the issue.  He was against it personally, but also supported slavery measures for the sake of the South.  My eyebrows are always raised when I come across this kind of logic, and I wonder what Jack Marshall over at Ethics Alarms would have to say about it (Fillmore’s dual stance on slavery, not my raised eyebrows).

Anyways, that’s pretty much what I know…so not very much.

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Happy Independence Day!!

Back in 2008, we took this day to reflect on the lives of Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  It seems so completely appropriate that both these Founders, so intertwined with the founding of this great nation, died as the last surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1826…the country’s 50th anniversary.

John Adams’ words on that last day (and maybe the last words he spoke before his death) were, “It is a great day.  It is a good day.” 

But as we know, Adams and Jefferson weren’t the only Presidents to call this day their last.  There is another.  And in fact, he’s also a Founding Father.  The last Founding Father.  The last President to live and serve his not-yet-formed country during her first, and greatest, hour of need.  I speak of President James Monroe.

The fifth President died on July 4, 1831.  Like Jefferson before him, he died essentially broke.  Early 19th-century politicians didn’t earn anything like their 21st-century counterparts, and Monroe’s long public service had left him with a lot of debt.  Eventually, he would be forced to sell most of his property and belongings to clear his financial name.

And James Monroe died broken.  Less than two years before, his wife (and lifelong partner) Elizabeth had died.  In his grief, Monroe became irrational to the point of refusing to leave her burial vault, saying he would wait there to die and rejoin his wife.  When he returned home, he burned all the correspondance he had with her.  Letters, papers, diaries…everything.  So unlike John Adams and his wife Abigail, an incredible treasure trove of early-American documentation went up in fireplace smoke.

But Monroe, like the four Presidents before him, laid the foundation for all who would follow.  In his new biography of Monroe, Harlow Giles Unger closes his book writing, “Across the nation, Americans in every town and city mourned the man who had fought for liberty in the Revolution, opened the West, and expanded the nation’s boundaries ‘from sea to shining sea.’  He had led his people into an era of unprecendented prosperity and ‘good feelings’…”

John Quincy Adams, the former President turned Congressman, offered up the following:  “…look at the map of United North America, as it was . . . in 1783.  Compare it with the map of that same Empire as it is now. . . .  The change, more than of any other man, living or dead, was the work of James Monroe.”

Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe.  While it’s true that all three died on this day, we should celebrate their lives as foundational to all the good things this nation has become.  They were not perfect men, nor do we necessarily agree with everything they wrote or said or did.  But these men, and Monroe in particular, loved their country as much as the hundreds of thousands of men who have died on battlefields (both here and abroad) defending the freedoms these men brought to America.

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It’s a Friday night, it’s hot like a furnace, and it’s a 4th of July weekend.  I highly doubt many of you are sitting by your computer wondering what Joel is going to write on July’s first day.  And that’s fine, because I’m not wondering, either.  I know what I’m going to write, and I know it’s going to be pretty quick.

Back in May, I visited the dentist…oh, yay, I’m writing about the dentist on a holiday weekend.  You’re probably thrilled if you’re not reading.

Normally the visit involves 45 minutes of torture, where I get to watch TV with my mouth ajar.  The assistant, who came in earlier and put her broom and pointy hat in the corner, is now mumbling things like, “My husband never makes the bed…my kids never pick up their toys…my husband…”.  The worst thing is she has those really sharp things in her hands and she punctuates each “never” and each “always” with a scrape across my teeth.  Nurse Ratchet then finishes with a smile and says, “You should floss more.”  I want to say, “You should take an anger management course”, but that slight smell of sulfur and brimstone in the air tells me it’s probably best to keep my mouth shut.  Besides, it’s not like I’ll be in any condition to speak for at least another hour.

But this time, I got Nurse Relief instead.  She was awesome.  My appointment wasn’t all that bad, though I’ll never say I enjoyed it.  It was tolerable.  Maybe it had something to do with flossing, that new hobby I picked up and began doing religiously in January.  But I think it was also because Ms. Relief didn’t have a devil-spawn above her manipulating the strings.

Going good so far?…yeah, I didn’t think so.

So way back in 1893, President Grover Cleveland went to the dentist.  I’m pretty sure he hated it, too, because they found cancer in his mouth.  Three weeks later, on July 1, 1893, the President “went on vacation”.  CNN and FoxNews (or whoever ran the show back then) probably showed pictures of the yacht right there off Long Island.  Of course, the vacation was just a ploy to keep people from worrying too much.  Even his wife (who was pregnant at the time) didn’t know.

The President was on the boat…but so was a surgeon.  And on this day in history, the surgeon removed the cancer from the President’s mouth.  Of course, the operation (done through his mouth to avoid all the cutting) involved removing some of his jaw and palate, which left his face somewhat disfigured.  So the news folks were fed a line about the President having a couple of rotten teeth removed, which they apparently bought.  Eventually, the President was fitted with an insert-thingy (I’m a computer guy, not a doctor) that made him look normal.

Now had I been a news reporter, I would have been suspicious right away.  Oral surgery is a delicate procedure…at least it better be when it’s done on my mouth.  So who does tricky dentistry-type things on a boat that’s rocking in the water?  I guess Nurse Ratchet was his surgeon, too.

I bet this is the where the phrase “Don’t rock the boat” got it’s start.  And it’s probably why we see the right side of President Cleveland’s face on the $1000 bill.

Recommended Reading:  The President is a Sick Man – Hot off the presses!

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