history


11
Feb 21

I went back 11 years to jump back 82

Somewhere in all of my feeds, someone today discovered Radio Garden. Someone is always discovering Radio Garden. It’s a place where you can listen to almost any sort of radio station in the world. If there’s a stream, there’s a way. It’s a fascinating idea portrayed in a Google Earth-style interface, and it’d be easy to while away several hours and learn about other places or get homesick as you like.

It’s a fascinating online experiment. And, like any online experiment, it always feels like a proof of concept, like a demo. And, like any online experiment, you always want a little more. I want not only every radio station, but old feeds, as well. I’d like to hear the personalities I knew when I listened all the time, and when they were in their primes. I would like to hear the people from places I’ve only heard about. I’d like to make sure none of audio ever made it onto the site.

I’ve lately been going back through the “Memories” function of Facebook. I’m deleting dumb things, removing useless items and typos and laughing at how bad cell phone cameras were in 2009.

On this day, in 2009, I apparently discovered A Day in Radio. You can hear what was going into the ether in 1939. As I noticed when I discovered that site 11 years ago now, and I would note once more, the 1939 newscasts have this horrible pull of history. The newsman is superb. It is riveting, knowing what is to come; knowing what you can’t tell them, what they can’t prevent.

I suppose it’s like that all of the time. It’s easy to develop a mistaken impressions, when you learn about things as thumbnail sketches over a great distance of time, that a lot of what happens happens in isolation. It’s a surprise, a shock to the system. Who could have seen that coming!?

This first ran in a small town weekly.

But, as it often turns out, a lot of people aren’t completely surprised by the developments of the day, if they paid attention. And many people did! The war in Europe and the madness in Asia were front page news, of course. The newsreels were doing their best to keep people informed, and that was working. You could tell an American in 1939 about Pearl Harbor and they’d most likely wonder what a Pearl Harbor was, but they knew about Japan. On this day in 1939 the newspapers talked of Japan seizing islands, increasing tensions between Germany and the British over the Spanish Civil War, a bunch of new planes going to London via the lend-lease program.

The tea leaves were there. Maybe they always are. Or maybe history is unfair like that. You sometimes had to do more than skim the big headlines. Meanwhile, the decision makers were getting ready. The world was mourning the death of a pope, Congress wanted to reinsert itself into foreign policy and stories like this were popping up more frequently.

And in California …

That’s the famed P-38.

Makes you wonder what we’re paying attention to, doesn’t it? What we don’t understand because we don’t enjoy a holistic view, or, worse, what we’re missing altogether while we’re in our apps and reality TV.


20
Jan 21

Inauguration Day, riding with Bo

There was something pointed and determined and grim about the inaugural. They are, by design, designed in certain ways. And the impressive thing about this particular speech was that it hit all the hallmarks in keeping with the formula, so as to not sound as out-of-left-field as the previous one, and yet, it took it’s own tone. A historical one, in a way. Which is obvious, you might say, because these speeches are written for our contemporaries, but also our posterity. And that is true.

Today’s speech, though, seemed like a tone from a different time. This was an early nation kind of speech. It’s themes were humility and the continuation of our style of government. It was not global, but looking inward and to our own society, focusing on work, health care, safe schools, the coronavirus. It was foundational, and attitudinal, warning against the bitter extremes “anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence.”

A speech such as this finds its themes formed by the world around them. So you must think of the capitol city as it is today, the country and the mood of it as it is today. That’s how the text sought to strike a balance between basic aspiration and some more densely brooding spirits of the dangers to democracy, pinned with the needs to preach unity and togetherness.

It was a speech out of time, and a speech absolutely for the time. What an unusual time.

It will be interesting, and important, to see how this inaugural speech is viewed through the long lens of time. But for now, today, it does feel as though a tiny bit of breath you’ve somehow held onto for some time can now, finally, at last, be exhaled.

This evening we had the chance to go on a bike ride with a hero and a celebrity.

Bo had, you can tell, already warmed up a bit. And that is why he took off and left everyone. Never mind the fact that he’s 58 and is bionic. Bo can absolutely fly on a bicycle. If this was about anyone who isn’t already a superhuman, I would suspect video game shenanigans.

Put it this way. On this ride there were 49 Strava segments and I PRed 31 of them. I had the ride of the year — indeed, the ride of the last several years. I never had a chance stay with the lead groups. Never. None. And Bo was somewhere out ahead of all of them. Except for The Yankee. She was in front of him at some point, of course. But he was also answering questions from people on the ride. The same old questions, with charm and good cheer.

(You should not try the bat breaking trick(s) at home.)

Years ago there was a video of two sports reporters who took a bat out back of their newspaper and tried to do everything they could think of to break a bat like Bo Jackson. It looked painful. They looked silly, which they embraced. And they failed. I can’t find the video anymore.

Anyway, this wasn’t a nostalgia trip, this is a fund raising exercise. Good cause? Great cause.

This is the 10th anniversary of Bo Bikes Bama, and the second year with the Zwift installment, apparently. Zwift have become big supporters of the fast man who’s well up the road.

Where can you donate? So glad you asked. Over the years these bike rides and the surrounding efforts have raised more than $2 million for the Alabama Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. Bo Jackson’s efforts in the community have helped bankroll relief projects, the construction of 68 safe rooms and developed other disaster preparedness resources.

There’s no group ride this year, owing to the pandemic. But there is a ride from home fund raiser and another Zwift ride, in April. I plan on being easily dropped in that one, too.

Goodnight, Bo.


7
Jan 21

Sing and sing and sing and sing

I finished reading Jon Meacham’s Songs of America. Yes, Tim McGraw is listed as a co-author. He did contribute some sidebars. They were included in the book. For the most part it wasn’t clear why. Meacham doesn’t need the help with history, and maybe twice McGraw contributed something to our understanding of the music. (And he’s certainly capable of doing that, but it didn’t really pay off here.

It was a lot more like the guy at the next table over just offering his opinion on a song you just played him. Maybe he knows it well. Maybe it sparks a memory from long ago. Maybe he’s hearing it for the first time. And he figures, well, since you’re talking about it and played it for him, he should probably offer a paragraph or two of thoughts on the matter.

And that’s what Tim McGraw did. I wondered how this arrangement came to be. It’s Jon Meacham. Which kinda diminishes McGraw, who has three Grammy wins and 17 other nominations among his other honors. He knows music, this is not a matter of dispute. He’s apparently written five other books, and one of those was a bestseller. But here, why was he here if a few sidebars was all he was going to contribute.

And then, at the end, they mention it. They are neighbors.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. You’re going to learn about songs you know. You’re going to discover important songs you haven’t even heard of before. Here are two little excerpts, from Meacham.

Susan B. Anthony had gone down to vote in the 1872 Grant-Greeley election. She was arrested and taken before a federal judge. The judge asked her if she had anything to say after her conviction for … voting.

Ward Hunt was on the U.S. Supreme Court. History doesn’t remember him especially well. He didn’t let her testify, read aloud his pre-written opinion, told the jury how to vote and immediately overturned motions for appeals. Anthony was charged with a fine. She told the judge she would never pay. She never did. Probably you’ve never heard of Judge. Hunt. Everyone learns about Susan B. Anthony, even if only a bit, in grade school.

Just go ahead and play this video while you read the text in next image.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Marian Anderson’s participation in a concert at Constitution Hall under a “white performers-only” policy. Ultimately, a lot of DAR members left the organization, including Eleanor Roosevelt who would get the ball rolling for this Easter concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The contralto was in full force, a global star. No one knows how many thousands or millions listened on the radio, but one of the estimated 75,000 there in person was said to be 10-year-old Martin Luther King. (I’ve seen one reference on this, but I am struggling to find more.) He’d speak in front of Lincoln 24 years later, of course. She sang from the same spot that day, too.

Senator Mike Braun is from Indiana, and I have a question for him and the others who found themselves in this rickety position this week regarding the cynical political pandering of which he was a part. This was his message last week, and for quite some time:

And then yesterday happened — prior to which he was face-to-face with people in a way that rarely happens and he formalized his Arizona objection — but after the deadly assault, he wrote this:

So, senator, do us all a favor and explain this. You were certain, prior to the seditious raid on the U.S. Capitol, that this objection was something that needed to be done. Now, not at all. You withdrew your objection to the formal vote certification. So which is it, senator? Did you feel the wind change? Or are you that easily persuadable?

And which, in your estimation, is a better attribute for a United States senator?


6
Jan 21

We failed, we can succeed

If you haven’t noticed it before, it was made a bit easier for you to see today: we’ve failed.

The failures are, at all levels, institutional. A lame duck president and his lemmings, too vain and disbelieving to face the inevitable, behaved in ways most seditious and terroristic. We have failed in the teaching of our civics. That so many continue down this path, listening to outlets that serve no purpose but to stir fear and anger, show we have failed in teaching media literacy. That so many have shown themselves so susceptible to this nonsense shows we have failed in teaching critical thinking.

A seditious mob descended on the United States Capitol while the elected representatives were doing the nation’s business. A woman died. The vice president and next several members of the presidential line of succession were in immediate danger. Someone erected a slapdash gallows in front of the building. Perhaps others will die in the hours and days to come. Dozens more were injured.

The failures are, at all levels, institutional. And, thus, the failures are, at every stage, also individual. Impressionable, angry people made these decisions, and they have been meet with condemnation and revulsion, with further consequences to no doubt follow.

In the days to come it will be natural to seek a single failure point. People will study video frame-by-frame and pour over photographs. Jobs will be lost. And there will be investigations, too. You simply can’t inconvenience Congress, foment a coup and commit terrorism on cable television and not trigger dozens of investigations. Some will yield startling results across a wide array of agencies and jurisdictions. Some will provide disappointing outcomes.

In these ways, and perhaps more, we’ll come to realize in the coming days, we have failed. It is a frightening thing to confront your failures. A challenging thing. A necessary thing.

How we succeed is no less challenging.

As I write this, the Congress has gone back to conducting the business of the people. In some ways glorious, in others no doubt quite frustrating indeed. That’s the way of the legislative branch. Sometime in the overnight, or tomorrow, they’ll plod their way through the ceremony and a new presidential administration will ultimately begin.

Today you heard from President Trump and President-elect Biden and you saw them in stark contrast. Tomorrow, and later this month, and, hopefully for the next many years over the course of many administrations of different parties and congressional configurations of different makeups, we will start to undo the damage we have inflicted on ourselves today, and in our recent past and, indeed, throughout our history.

History is an important word loaded with hints and allusions and inferences and truths. I like the pursuit of history. Telling the truth of a story is a noble thing. I like the humanness of it. It is not to be ignored. Ignoring things brings us here, seeing our problems manifest today.

If we simply stuck to the problems above — a narcissist-in-chief, failings of civics and literacy and critical thinking are ultimately as cultural as they are individual — the challenges to correct them are immense. But we like to think we are at our best when we are faced with immense challenges. It’s comforting, it fits us. And, friends, the immensity is before us.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I know we won’t always be good at reaching for all of the remedies, even the obvious ones.

But, without trying to sound platitudinous in a too-tough week, I want to celebrate the words that become the ideas that move us. I hold onto the idea that we are an experiment. No less an architect than Thomas Jefferson and no less a keen observer than Alexis de Tocqueville used the word to describe us. An experiment is still alive in the moment, where the possibilities lay, where we can still impact the outcome.

The American Experiment. It really began with those few simple words that can stir you each time you really think of them, the ones found right near the beginning, in the preamble that you, perhaps, learned in school. The words that said simply, we are here “to form a more perfect Union.”

We are flawed, but we are forming. As I am sad and shocked and share in the hurt of the nation tonight, I think of those words, “to form a more perfect Union.” There’s so much power there. It was given to us. The power is still alive, in our hands, in our national will, where the possibilities remain, and where we must still determine the outcome. This is how we will succeed.


29
Dec 20

Today, some history and a big bike ride

Slept in this morning to the agreeable time of 9 a.m. That had not been my intention. The original plan was to begin the day in the dark, just to get a moving start on the day. Manufacturing enterprise!

But it was after 3 a.m. this morning and I was still manufacturing insomnia, so that played a big part of the sleeping in. The cat, the cat, woke me up. I took him downstairs, so he would not be a distraction. Put him on the cat tree. He promptly went to sleep. Jerk.

I went back upstairs and was wide awake.

So it was a late breakfast/almost-lunch. After which I helped planned dinners since The Yankee was going to the grocery store. Planning out the shopping list is the second worst thing we do every two weeks. Going to the store is, I think, the most annoying thing.

I listed off four or five things and felt like I’d at least contributed to the effort. Manufactured enterprise, finally! Probably she was hoping for 10 or 12 items to add to the list.

While she went to the store, I vacuumed. I tried to vacuum. It was quickly apparent that our over-engineered Dyson was stymied once again by the necessity of sucking things up through the system’s intake port. There’s a little button on the side of the over-engineered Dyson which usually fixes the problem caused by running over something more than 3/16 of a micron. But the button on the side did nothing. Well then. Turn the whole thing off, having its many over-engineered elements break down into their constituent parts in my hand in the process. Turned the vacuum over and realize that my wife, who I’m fairly sure used the vacuum last, actually killed someone with this appliance and tried to dispose of the evidence by the ol’ vacuum-it-up method.

So I performed surgery on the vacuum, cutting out just gobs of hair from the roller where everything is meant to begin, but really ends with this machine. Gobs of hair. I was fully prepared to be grossed out by finding a scalp, while wondering who had been to the house, and what happened to their service vehicle, and how I’d managed to also miss any authoritative followup visits.

Finally the vacuum was cleaned up and freed to suck up debris to an impressively average degree. Kitchen, library, dining room, foyer and living room would now pass inspection, if necessary.

Who inspects things these days?

Just as I finished with the floors The Yankee returned from the grocery store. I confronted her about what I’d seen, and admitted I might now be a willing — or at the very least, an unwitting participant — in something nefarious. (But also clean!)

It was a delightful interplay of conversation, the sort of thing you live for, while you’re putting groceries away. We have a system for that. We bring them both in from the car. She stands at the fridge and I present her all the cold stuff while making silly statements about the haul. When the fridge and the freezer are stocked she stands by the large cabinet where all the dry goods go. The cats, meanwhile, try to climb in the bags, chew on the plastic or sneak into the cabinets.

After everything is stocked, of course, comes a round of furious hand washing.

Then we take Clorox wipes and clean the handles to the fridge and the freezer, the little silver knobs on the cabinets, the door knobs to the garage, the sink fixtures and the button that closes the garage door.

This is my favorite part of the grocery system. Maybe the scientific understanding continues to conclude that contact issues aren’t the biggest concerns with Covid — which, hey, one less thing! — but I’m keeping this part of the system in place. I didn’t come into this thing a germophobe, and hopefully, I won’t emerge a germophobe. But I find that simple act of wiping things down to be a romantic gesture: we are taking an extra step to keep each other safe.

That’s always worth doing.

Here’s something I wonder about. Consider how the family name is an identifier. You might be a Jones, but you are also a Morrison, each of your biological parents family names. You inherited the genes and the good habits and you inherited the names. Now, consider your two grandmothers. Depending on the size of your family, how often you see people, whether you attend family reunions and the like, you might also consider yourself an Adams and a Williams, as well. What about your great-grandmothers maiden names and their own biological families? Are you also an O’Toole and a Glenn? And how far back with this should you go? Biologically it’s all there. But eventually, after just a few short generations for most of us, you probably don’t even know the names.

And it probably doesn’t matter. Names are just identifiers, after all, and only one of them at that. Besides, by the time you get interested in this stuff you probably have a somewhat decent handle on who and what you are. Sure, it’d be nice to have seven generations of medical history to fall back on, but those 19th century diagnosticians were only so helpful.

Anyway, I’d like you to meet Michael. He’s from the commonwealth of Virginia. Lived briefly, perhaps, in Kentucky. He was also a resident of northeastern Alabama for a time. Not sure when he arrived, but he was there in 1822, making his branch of my family tree one of the last to arrive in the state. He moved again and shows up in Illinois in the 1830 census. He died there some years later and is buried in a small, discrete, country cemetery. I discovered him on the web this weekend. And if the Internet is to be trusted (Bonjour!) he would be one of my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfathers.

The other night I followed one of the matriarchal lines and got back to that picture. He was born in 1751 in colonial Virginia. He was drafted into the militia twice. He was at Yorktown, where Cornwallis surrendered. Turns out my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather helped guard an estimated 500 British prisoners after they quit the field.

He died at 93 in a part of Illinois that, even now, is quite rural. The history of the community doesn’t even go back that far, so it was surely isolated when he was living. That photo, if it is indeed the man, would have been taken sometime in the first five years of the Daguerreotype style of photographs, and he would have been between 89 and 93 there.

You can find digitized versions of these guys wills. To my daughter I leave some land and my pony. To my son I leave some land, and a new sword. To my other son, I leave the land he now lives on and a skillet. That sort of thing. It seems Michael’s father, another man named Michael, sold some land to George Washington’s father. But I bet everyone said that after a time.

I looked up the place where he’s from in Virginia. It’s a nice bit of countryside not far out of modern Washington D.C. I traced his family lines back a few more generations to Ireland. The man that departed the old world for the new apparently left a wide spot in a narrow road outside of Dublin for the wilderness of Virginia. If you keep going farther and farther back on the genealogy pages you learn they were Anglo-Irish. There are a few Sirs. One was a Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland.

And you can keep clicking, farther back, and farther back, and farther back still and, eventually, time has no meaning and they all came from the Normandy region of France and, before that, some dude who lived in 8th century Norway.

At what point do you start questioning the validity of a well-intentioned, random genealogy site, anyway?

Michael, who’s family name I’d never heard mentioned in relation to my own, until Sunday night, is buried just three hours away from where I’m writing this. Perhaps one day next year I’ll go see the little cemetery where he was laid to rest. I’ll never know what prompted him to move from the places he was in to the places he wound up — people directly engaged in the research have done the heavy lifting and have only found so much information. I’m just skimming websites. Probably the usual reasons: they thought there was something better there at the time.

I got off my bike on the trainer this evening and stood in a puddle of sweat. It was my sweat and no less gross because of it. I was happy to get 30 miles out of my legs tonight.

After 132 miles this last week and 300 miles this month, I am feeling a bit fatigued. These numbers aren’t impressive. I’m a wimp.

I’ve been running a spreadsheet since early November, charting my progress for the year, relative to previous years. At the bottom of the spreadsheet I started doing math. You should only do math of this sort while in the most awkward conditions, but I was in a chair, and so goals were set. And then another, and another. Ultimately, five 2020 goals in all.

The first was always the next century mark, a goal that kept changing every few rides, giving the gratification of achievement and progress. Second, I wanted to set a new personal mileage best for the year. I blew right by the old mark, as I knew I could once I looked at the math.

Up next, I wanted to move mmy annual average from 10 years of bike riding over the median. Crushed it.

So I am now aiming at the fourth goal, getting beyond a big (for me) round number. Then, I’ll aim for a mileage mark that raises my annual average of the last decade to a nice even number. After tonight I have 10 miles and 48 miles to go, respectively, to hit those two marks.

Which is a good reminder to set goals. Acknowledging them makes them achievable, even late in the game.