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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Tonight, the country is focused on the East Coast.  And that’s as it should be.  The storm that hit (and continues to pummel) has devastated parts of that region and left an incredible mess for lots of people to try and clean up.  Some of the images bring to mind the tsunami that struck Japan not quite two years ago.  So tonight, we’ll do a little bit of homage to the Big Apple.

Let’s talk about Ben Bailey and Cash Cab, since its home is New York City.

Now when you first think of game shows, your mind’s eye might conjure up images of a fancy set with a pretty hostess.    Maybe there’s a wheel that gets spun by some contestants, or maybe there are prizes on which people bid.  We might hear Johnny yell, “Come on down!!”  Or maybe it’s doors and deals that flash before you.  You can name that tune in just seven notes.  You want big bucks and no whammies.  You can be a millionaire.  What you see is a high-dollar production.

Cash Cab takes place in a taxi.  It’s a minivan taxi and its high-dollar production is limited to a series of small cameras placed throughout the taxi’s interior, a “video bonus” monitor, and a cool light panel mounted in the roof.

And game shows always have a host.  It’s usually a guy with a coat and tie.

Cash Cab has Ben Bailey.  Bailey, who was born on October 30, 1970, is a stand-up comedian turned game-show host extraordinaire.  He wears a shirt and jeans and looks to be the farthest thing from a traditional host.

Unsuspecting people climb into his cab, which then explodes with lights and music and Ben saying, “Welcome to the Cash Cab…it’s a game show that takes place right here in my taxi.”  The show is really just a very up-to-date (and very entertaining) version of Trivial Pursuit.  As contestants are driven to their destination, Ben asks trivia questions.  Every correct answer wins the group money.  Incorrect answers earn a strike.  If a question or two is particularly challenging, contestants can either phone a friend for help or use a “street shout-out”, where a person on the street has the ability to help.  But be careful!…three strikes and Ben pulls the cab over and kicks everybody to the curb.

There is also the fun “red-light challenge”.  If the Cash Cab reaches its destination, the contestants can either take their winnings or risk it all on a single double-or-nothing video bonus question.

The premise is simple, but it’s incredibly entertaining to watch.  Ben Bailey is charming, witty, and really gracious with the folks that get in his cab, expecting nothing more than a ride.

Cash Cab is a great trivia show built on a totally unsuspecting premise (a cab ride), and Ben Bailey is the perfect host.  Kudos to the Discovery Channel for running with the idea.

Happy Birthday, Ben Bailey!!

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The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 may have officially signaled the end of America’s fight for freedom with Britain, but in the Colonies, there were still battles being fought.  Those that had backed the cause of freedom took a very dim view of the Tories (or Loyalists), whose allegiances remained more strongly with Britain.  And now that the war was concluded, there was throughout America a wave of anti-British, anti-Tory sentiment – a sort of pent-up backlash against those that supported the losing side.

This was especially true in New York City.  The Big Apple – which, while a sizable city in the 1780s, was still a very Small Apple by today’s standards – had probably been the most “Tory-ized” city in the Colonies.  The city’s citizens were, in general, strongly loyal to the British when fighting broke out, and it was very quickly captured by the British.  As we know, a good portion of the city was burned at that time, though no one knows with certainty which side was responsible for striking the match.

Colonists that stood for independence from Britain felt compelled to flee the city, leaving behind homes, property, and possessions, which were subsequently confiscated by the British military.  New York City remained a British / Loyalist stronghold throughout the war.  It was also something of a prison camp, as ships moored in the East River served as jails for captured American soldiers.  Conditions in these prison boats were appalling.  Disease, malnutrition, and general mistreatment aboard these ships led to the deaths of more than eleven thousand Patriots.

When hostilities ended with Britain, they began anew when New York Patriots returned to their city.  Many found their homes badly damaged or destroyed and their possessions plundered.  Bones of dead Patriots littered the shores of the East River (and would continue to do so for years).  And since the British military was gone, most of the fallout landed on those Loyalist citizens remaining.

Persecution broke out against the Loyalists as their opponents vented their rage in a search for vengeance.  Some were killed, more were tarred and feathered, and all were affected by various laws that were passed against them.

There were some who argued for moderation.  Much could be said about how a victorious people treated its vanquished enemy.  Many countries around the world had very good relations with British subjects, and might take a dim view on their mistreatment, which could affect future diplomacy and trade.

But for now, anger won out.  The New York legislature passed laws allowing the seizure of Tory estates.  There were laws that allowed returning homeowners to sue their Tory occupiers for any damages.  Legislation robbed Tories of the ability to work, stuck them with heavy taxes, and took away many of their basic rights.  While some of these laws may have made some sense, many were passed simply as acts of retribution…or worse, authored by those who found a way to gain financially at Tory expense.

And on May 12, 1784, the legislature passed a law that rescinded the voting rights of all Tories for two years.  Many returning New Yorkers rejoiced at the measure, but others (besides the Loyalists) were horrified.  They pointed to the Treaty of Paris itself, which called for both sides to “forget all past misunderstandings and differences.”  But even more specific, one of the main points of the Treaty was as follows:  “The Congress of the Confederation will “earnestly recommend” to state legislatures to recognize the rightful owners of all confiscated lands “provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects [Loyalists].”  Voting restrictions were a direct violation of the Treaty.

But still the legislation had passed.  The war may have been over, but the fighting certainly was not.

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It wasn’t the White House, because it didn’t yet exist.  It was the Capitol building, because it didn’t yet exist, either.  And it wasn’t even Washington, D.C. because, well, that property still belonged to the states of Maryland and Virginia.  But when we think of a Presidential inauguration, all of those places are usually top of mind.  In 1789, however, they were completely out of mind.  So New York City provided the locale, and City Hall provided the venue for the very first Presidential inauguration.

George Washington was a very nervous man; probably way more nervous than when he had spoken his wedding vows.  He had been unanimously nominated to lead a new country with a new charter and a completely new form of government.  He had spent the winter talking about how he was unqualified to lead, even while the country believed, almost without exception, that he was the most capable man to do so.  His wife, Martha, didn’t really look forward to being First Lady.  In fact, in his biography of the First President, Ron Chernow writes that Mrs. Washington “talked about the presidency as an indescribable calamity that had befallen her.

Regardless of feelings, there was no backing out now.  Vice President Adams, in front of the First Congress, turned to the President-elect and said, “Sir, the Senate and the House of Representatives are ready to attend you to take the oath required by the constitution.

Washington stepped out onto the balcony shortly after noon on April 30, 1789 to an immense roar and took the oath.  Though not required, a committee thought it appropriate, at the eleventh hour, to have the President place his hand on a Bible.  But where to find one?  In the end, a local Masonic Lodge provided its Masonic Bible and Washington was administered the oath.

Then the President addressed the crowd.  Again, this was not required by the Constitution, but it seemed right.  Washington’s original speech, written by David Humphreys, spent too much time defending his decision to accept the Presidency.  It spent too much time talking about his faith in the American people (not necessarily a bad thing).  It spent too much time downplaying any form of dynasty (Washington was childless, after all).  It delved too close (and again, at too great a length) to legislative matters for executive branch comfort.  In fact, at seventy-three pages, it spent too much time on everything.

When Washington sent the speech to James Madison for his thoughts, he promptly tossed it out and wrote a much more succinct address that steered clear of legislative issues, which the President readily accepted and delivered.

Washington had become a household name in the Colonies during the French and Indian War.  He had become the hero of the American Revolution.  He had been a calming force (though he barely spoke) at the critical and sometimes contentious Constitutional Convention.  And now he was the President, chosen by the people (by a wide margin) and the Electoral College (by unanimous consent).

Recommended Reading: Washington – A Life

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“A little after noon on January 8, 1790, George Washington climbed into his cream-colored coach and rode off to Federal Hall behind a team of four snow-white horses.  In its sparsely worded style, the Constitution mandatd that the president, from time to time, should give Congress information about the state of the Union, but it was Washington who turned this amorphous injunction into a formal speech before both houses of Congress, establishing another precedent.”  Ron Chernow, “master” of Alexander Hamilton, penned those words in his biography of our first President, which was just recently released and is ready for your absorption.

In today’s world, with 220+ years of tradition to back us up, the State of the Union speech is something to which I look forward every year…to not watching.  I suppose it’s because I’ve become jaded to a process that has become so complicated and so expensive (to say nothing of being so mired in unrecoverable debt) that I no longer care to sit for 90 minutes and listen to the Commander-in-Chief talk about spending additional billions (or more) to assist us in our “pursuit of happiness”.  My dad has said many, many times that “everything translates to bucks”, and every word from a President’s lips (nowadays, at least) sounds to me suspiciously like a cash register ringing.

But in 1790, it wasn’t quite that way.  Oh, there was money that needed to be spent, but it wasn’t due to massive bloat in government.  It wasn’t caused by a debt so deep that simply paying on the interest was nearly impossible.

Nope.

It was more about getting an actual government started.  Everything was new.  Chernow writes that everything (including the protocol for this first State of the Union Address) “still had an improvised feel.”  There was no precedent to follow, because new precedent was being set as the sun rose on each new day.  And President Washington talked hopefully about each step forward, desirous that would make the country stronger and more prosperous.

There was joy for North Carolina’s entrance into the Union.  She had rejected statehood in 1788, but voted to join in November of the following year.  He talked of the need to establish credit and spur economic growth, hinting at Hamilton’s upcoming report (which I hope to discuss next week) and accompanying financial program.  Washington spoke of national defense which, along with the Revenue Cutter service (to be started later that year), had some folks already worrying about government expansion and intervention.  Improved learning and a proposal for a national university also had a place in an “Address” that was both brief and to the point.

And then it was done.  The legislators stood up, Washington bowed, and stepped down.

Recommended Reading:  Washington – A Life – Thanks to Martin over at What Would the Founders Think for a review that pushed me over the edge to purchase this book.  If I can ever get Madison’s biography finished…

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“I regret that I have but one life to live for my country.”

When I was in grade school, the extent of my knowledge about Nathan Hale was limited to just three things.  That he was captured by the British during the American Revolution, that he was hanged, and the words above were the last he spoke before the hangman’s noose did its deadly work.

I’m quite a bit older, and I still don’t know much about the man.  But I don’t think I’m the exception.  Nathan Hale died at just 21 years of age, and lived in a time when record-keeping was nothing like it is now.  So information is sparse, and what we have is sketchy.  There are no portraits of Hale, so we really don’t know what he looked like.  The statues formed in his honor?…they’re pretty much artist interpretations of what his appearance may have been.  His famous last words…the ones that made him famous that I learned at an early age?…people don’t actually know if he said them.

So what do we know?

Nathan Hale was a Captain in the Continental Army, and as the British worked to capture New York City in 1776, the 21-year-old volunteered to go behind British lines and spy on their movements.  That was early September.  And as we know, General Washington and the Continental Army were forced to leave and as they did, a fire broke out that burned a quarter of the city.

It was never determined if the fire was an act of nature, or an accident, or if it was deliberately set.  But the British believed that it was the work of rebel activity, and rounded up a couple hundred potential suspects.  One of them was Hale.

And apparently, it didn’t take them long to figure out he was a spy.  And if we recall the case of Major John André, the penalty for spying was death.  But unlike André, there was almost no delay in carrying out Hale’s sentence.  On September 22, 1776 (just one day after the fire and his arrest), Nathan Hale was hanged.

It’s pretty clear that the young man made some kind of statement before the deed was done.  And several accounts have him saying something at least close to the quote we all know.  But those may not be his exact words, however much they’ve been immortalized.  Still, Hale seems to have been a daring young man.  And he was certainly willing to risk the one life he could live in the service of his country.

So whether or not the statement is 100% correct, it is appropriate, because there are few deeds more noble than that.

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We’ll keep it brief this evening.

It was a foggy morning in New York City.  Of course, its proximity to water means that fog is not an uncommon occurance.  It’s just part of the deal.  The morning of July 28, 1945 was no exception.  Visibility in some places was near zero.

As the clocks rolled toward 10:00am, Lt. Col. William Smith was flying his B-25 Mitchell into foggy New York.  More at home carrying bombs and bullets, the light bomber was instead carrying a couple of passengers on a routine transport mission from Boston.  Seeking to land at LaGuardia Airport, Smith was advised by the tower that visibility was very poor.

Now soldiers, even those in the Air Force, spend their entire career taking orders.  They’re told what to do, where to do it, and when to do it.  And a soldier’s response is generally, “Yes, sir!”  If a soldier fails to obey orders, they’re usually punished.  In Lt. Col. Smith’s case, the control tower was not a superior officer.  But a recommendation from the tower is, in my opinion, pretty much an order to be followed.  I think it’s particularly true when the weather is bad and/or visibility is also bad.

Lt. Col. William Smith didn’t see it that way.  But then, there were several things he didn’t see in the fog, one of which was the Empire State Building.  Disregarding the tower’s warning, Smith attempted to land anyways, got disoriented, and flew his Mitchell into the upper floors of the Empire State Building’s north side.  He and his two passengers were killed, as were eleven others in the skyscraper.

One of the miraculous survivors was Betty Lou Oliver, a 20-year old elevator operator on the 80th floor.  Injured in the crash, she was put on an elevator to be lowered.  But as the doors closed, the cables (now weakened) snapped, and she dropped 75 floors, where she crashed in the basement…and lived almost 70 years to tell the tale.

If I’m ever a pilot (and none of you have to worry, because I won’t be), I will always heed the control tower’s advice.

NOTE:  Somehow, I got confused on the dates and neglected to publish this piece on time.  My apologies.

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During the American Revolution, New York City was very much a center for British sympathizers.  That’s not especially surprising, as we’ve mentioned it on a couple of occasions.  And what’s more, the violence and persecution (I think the term is appropriate here) against them was widespread, as the pro-independence Colonists there had little trouble finding Loyalists to torment.

So when General George Washington arrived on the scene in April of 1776 to oversee military preparations, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that the Loyalists might target him in order to exact a bit of revenge.  The British, still stinging from the loss of Boston in March, probably would have welcomed a change of leadership at the head of the Continental Army.

On June 21, 1776, a plot to convince Patriot soldiers to defect to the British was uncovered.  It was orchestrated by William Tryon, New York’s former governor, who had been ousted from his position by the Patriots.  David Matthews, New York City’s current mayor and a Tory, was accused of funding the operation, which involved bribes to Continental Army soldiers.  And while it was never completely proven, Matthews spent some time in prison.

But most shocking was the discovery that members of Washington’s guard, most notably, Sergeant Thomas Hickey, were involved.  Having been assigned to his position in March, he was caught passing counterfeit money.  While in prison, he told a fellow soldier that his crimes were part of a much larger plot.

Evidence seems to suggest that included in the plans was the capture or assassination of General Washington and other members of his staff.  There doesn’t seem to be 100% consensus on whether a plot to kill the General actually existed.  Some historians seem to think so, while others are doubtful.  In his biography of Alexander Hamilton (which I’ve quoted dozens of times), Ron Chernow writes of a definite assassination plot.  So I’m inclined to believe that one existed.

How far-reaching such a plan reached is hard to say, but we know for sure that only Thomas Hickey’s neck would feel the bite of the hangman’s rope, as his execution was carried out a week later.

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