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I felt like a kid, tonight.  In fact, it felt like I had the excitement of all my birthdays and Christmases all combined.

Quintin and I met Brian Pollock at The Greene to watch the movie I’ve waited several years to see.

The theatre, at 6:30pm, was packed for the 7:00pm showing, and we sat down in the lower tier, or as Brian aptly stated, “laying down in front of the TV on the floor.”  I was thrilled to see the theater packed.  At first, when I saw the immense lines of young teen girls, I was hopeful that LINCOLN-fever had reached their generation; however, I soon learned they were there to see the new TWILIGHT movie.

My bottom line reaction:  BRAVO!

I am sure the historians will find fault with this movie.  Naturally, there were items I knew, or believed to be historically inaccurate, but this is not a documentary.  LINCOLN is a fictional account based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, TEAM OF RIVALS.  Tony Award winning playwright, Tony Kushner, delivered a tight, believable, and emotional script that highlighted some of our country’s greatest individuals set against the backdrop of the Civil War.

Before the movie even hit theaters, folks were complaining about Sally Field being too old, photos of the White House set not being accurate, or a myriad of other picky items.  Folks were concerned the script would not be accurate.  Again, it was a fictional account, based on actual events.  If we were to examine THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE KING AND I, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, GYPSY, and others, we would be appalled at the truth versus the fictional accounts portrayed on stage.  LINCOLN is no different.

Following a robust applause, the credits scrolled upward.  It was an impressive line-up of names!  I asked Brian if there any actors left in Hollywood to film other movies while this was being filmed.  Incredible performances from some incredible actors.

Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field, as President Lincoln & Mary Todd Lincoln, were everything I hoped they would be.  I was not let down.  Hal Holbrook was brilliant, and I did love the fact that a former Lincoln-actor, LINCOLN (television 1974-1975), was included in this list of stars.  There was not one performance that disappointed me.

For me, the most delightful performance was delivered by Tommy Lee Jones, portraying Pennsylvania congressman, Thaddeus Stevens.  Outstanding!  I smell a supporting actor Oscar nomination!

Many have commented on Daniel Day Lewis’ voice in the movie.  I think everyone believes Abraham Lincoln had a booming baritone voice like James Earl Jones; however, Lincoln’s voice was described as “high pitched, thin and reedy.”  It served him well during speeches before thousands of spectators in an era without electronic sound amplification.  I believe Daniel Day Lewis captured Lincoln’s voice.

In the early stages, several colleagues were fearful of Sally Fields being 20 years older than Daniel Day Lewis, and not matching the 9 year age difference between Lincoln and Mary Todd.  I oft reminded the critics that Mrs. Lincoln, at age 44, looked much older, and with the blessings of Max Factor, Sally Field would be right in the ball park.

And, she was!

Sally Field has succeeded a long line of well-known actresses who have portrayed the first lady:

  • Jane Curtin
  • Donna Murphy
  • Sada Thompson (opposite Hal Holbrook)
  • Glenn Close
  • Ellen Burstyn
  • Mary Tyler Moore
  • Julie Harris (in the Broadway play, THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN, penned by fellow Ball State University graduate, James Prideaux)
  • Lillian Gish
  • Geraldine Fitzgerald
  • Ruth Gordon
  • and dozens more…

When Gore Vidal’s LINCOLN premiered on television, I was horrified by Mary Tyler Moore’s abrasive portrayal of Mrs. Lincoln.  With the combined script, direction and acting, I felt Tyler-Moore’s particular portrayal was just awful.  Sally Field, for me, personally, was Mary Todd Lincoln.  Ms. Field was terribly believable, capturing Mrs. Lincoln’s fire, intelligence, grace, doubts, feelings and frustrations of being left out of her husband’s White House work, charm, political savvy, tender and protective maternal nature, and a Mary that was very capable of holding her own in a world ruled by men!

Were there items I feel should have been included to better round out the character of Mrs. Lincoln?

Of course.  But this movie was not about Mary Todd Lincoln.  It focused on President Lincoln and those who fought to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  The writing and directing of this particular character was far better than previous attempts, and Ms. Field’s professional, and personal choices pleased me very much.

There were a few scenes that were historically adjusted, but those moments seemed to strengthen Mary Lincoln’s heartbreak and devastation at the loss of her son, Willie, who died within their first year of residency in the White House, as well as the fire and capacity that Mrs. Lincoln exhibited, much to Abraham’s success.

So… go see LINCOLN.

If you are a historian, take off your historian cap, as I did, and simply rejoice in the truly great work, and the fact that the Lincolns are currently a fairly hot commodity in motion pictures!

gfyjg

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This Saturday morning had a nice little twist to it.  We were up, showered, dressed, and out of the house by 9:45am, and eating breakfast at Panera in downtown Centerville where we were joined by Amy Kress, and her youngest daughter, Sarah, 6.  We moved next door to Town Hall Theatre to watch an 11:00am production of Disney’s adorable stage musical, LITTLE MERMAID, starring my piano student, Katie Kress, as Scuttle.  Katie was hilarious, cute, and did an amazing job with her terribly wordy patter song, “Human Stuff.”  Many other stage performers around could learn a thing or two about perfect diction from this 10 year old!  She rocked her consonants!

Quintin and I did the meet and greet following the show, and then hurried to the newly opened Mernards on OH-741, South of the Dayton Mall  where the original Walmart once stood.  It was incredible, but horribly crowded.  We loaded up on a few things and checked out.

At 2:00pm I attended a funeral of a student’s grandmother.  I will probably have two more this week: the grandfather of a student, and the mother of a former student who has been moved to Hospice.

I managed a quick nap upon my return home, and then we were out the door again.  We grabbed dinner at China Buffet, a shower curtain from Big Lots, and then purchased movie tickets at The Greene for FINDING NEMO in 3D.

With time to kill before the movie, we ventured over to Books & Company.  I quickly found a book on President Lincoln, LOOKING FOR LINCOLN: THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN ICON.  Despite finding two errors in the book within five minutes, I still decided to purchase the photo-filled book.

FINDING NEMO was a delight!  Quintin and I laughed, and laughed a lot.  We marveled at the beauty of the 3-D effects, and were caught up in the journey of a father searching for his son.  Very neat.

The movie was followed with some ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery.

This day was absolutely perfect!  Quintin and I laughed so hard throughout the day, and by dinner our conversation incorporated our Russian accents.  There were times when we were both doubled over with laughter, and tears filling our eyes.  This reminded me of when I was 17, and all the fun times I had, and still have, with my own mother, and my grandparents.  Humor, and even plain silliness is a great form of glue!

It was a swimmingly good day!

Quinny checking out the new Justin Bieber calendar.

 

Quinny sporting his new hat from Menards.

GFYJG

This is believed to be the oldest known recording of any U.S. President. It was recorded on an Edison wax cylinder sometime around 1889.

“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” – Richard Nixon

This morning, while relaxing, I watched the movie, FROST/NIXON (2008), starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, and directed by Ron Howard.  I found the movie superbly crafted, and the lead actors were indefinably believable.  

Ironically, the other night, as I was preparing to fall asleep, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN came on television.

“Always remember that others may hate you but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them…       And then you destroy yourself.” – Richard Nixon

I was between the ages of 7 and 9 year when Watergate was hot on the airwaves.  I preferred watching the Watergate hearings on television over baseball practice – but, I had to go to practice.  The drama that engulfed our nation was inescapable, even at my age.  When my grandparents took me to Washington, DC in mid-July 1974, the air was thick with tension, and uncertainty. A few weeks later, my parents and I were vacationing at Myrtle Beach.  Mother called me in from the hotel’s swimming pool, and commanded me to to hurry up to the room. Within a few minutes of settling in front of the television set, President Nixon appeared before the camera, offering to the nation his resignation of the presidency.

President Nixon’s history continues to be researched, and translated, and probably will throughout my life-time. Now, that we have entered the 40-years anniversaries of the events that unfolded during Watergate, we will surely be reminded of the darkest hour of our country’s history that defined the end of the twentieth century, and redefined the presidency.

Before President Nixon died in April 1994, he had already defined his legacy through the many contributions throughout his years as an elder statesman.  I’ve always believed this president’s choices were similar to his predecessors, and those who followed, maybe more, perhaps less. I still believe he served the country with great courage, and tremendous dedication.

“Certainly in the next 50 years we shall see a woman president, perhaps sooner than you think. A woman can and should be able to do any political job that a man can do.”

“Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”

Since March 1973 I have collected books, and other Lincoln memorabilia.  My most prized possession… the bust of Lincoln given to my by my uncle, Ron Barmes, 1973.  Another is a framed card de visite of Mary Todd Lincoln – signature on back; in emerald frame, a gift from my grandmother, Donna Barmes. 

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Edward Baker “Eddie” Lincoln (March 10, 1846 – February 1, 1850) was the second son of Abraham & Mary Todd Lincoln. He was named after Lincoln’s friend Edward Dickinson Baker, and the youngest Lincoln son to die.  Eddie died one month short of his fourth birthday.

Eddie’s remains are buried at Lincoln tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, USA. Both parents were devastated. Some historians believe Eddie’s death began Mary Todd’s journey to instability. A week after Eddie’s death, a poem entitled “Little Eddie,” was printed in the Illinois State Journal (a newspaper).  Despite a century dispute over the authorship of the poem, the author of this blog firmly believes it was written by Mrs. Lincoln for his mother spelled his name “Eddie,” while his father spelled it “Eddy.”

Those midnight stars are sadly dimmed,

That late so brilliantly shone,

And the crimson tinge from cheek and lip,

With the heart’s warm life has flown –

The angel of Death was hovering nigh,

And the lovely boy was called to die.

The silken waves of his glossy hair

Lie still over his marble brow,

And the pallid lip and pearly cheek

The presence of Death avow.

Pure little bud in kindness given,

In mercy taken to bloom in heaven.

Happier far is the angel child

With the harp and the crown of gold,

Who warbles now at the Savior’s feet

The glories to us untold. Eddie,

meet blossom of heavenly love,

Dwells in the spirit-world above.

Angel Boy – fare thee well, farewell

Sweet Eddie, We bid thee adieu!

Affection’s wail cannot reach thee now

Deep though it be, and true.

Bright is the home to him now given

For “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”‘


The final line is on the boy’s tombstone. The next child of Abraham and Mary, William Wallace Lincoln, was born ten months after Eddie’s death.

* The photograph included in this post has been in dispute since its discovery.  Some believe it is Eddie Lincoln, some believe it is his younger brother, Willie.  I, personally, have always believed it to be Eddie Lincoln.

Sam Waterston�s Remarks at Monticello, July 4th, 2007

It’s wonderful to be here and a privilege, indeed, to congratulate you, the heroes of the moment in the great work of making and sustaining a government that derives its authority from individual liberty.

My father came to this country from Scotland via England, and became a citizen.  He knew beforehand that the ceremony was going to be a significant event.  Even so, he wasn’t prepared for the emotional power it had for him.  He became a citizen in a group like this, neither very large nor very small.  The ceremony’s power multiplied with their numbers.  Everyone in his batch of new citizens was moved for themselves, my father included, but they were all overwhelmed by each other, new members of a centuries old tide of migration here ‘to the empire of liberty’.  It lifted them out of what we mistakenly call ordinary life into the realization that properly understood, life is grand opera, as one is sometimes made aware by a wedding, or the birth of a child.

Something like that, momentous and every-day, is afoot here.  Brand new Americans are being made, and I’m delighted to be here to celebrate my father’s becoming an American citizen through your becoming American citizens, and your becoming American citizens through celebrating him, and through all of you, the rest of us, who were lucky to be given what you reached for and took.  It’s delightful.  We are all lucky, the old citizens in what we got for free, and you, the ones, in knowing what it’s worth.  We have a lot to tell one another. Congratulations.  Bravo. Yay.  The conversation begins now.

Monticello is a beautiful spot for this, full as it is of the spirit that animated this country’s foundation: boldness, vision, improvisation, practicality, inventiveness and imagination, the kind of cheekiness that only comes with free-thinking and faith in an individual’s ability to change the face of the world — it’s easy to imagine Jefferson saying to himself, “So what if I’ve never designed a building before? If I want to, I will.”) — to make something brand new out of the elements of an old culture, be it English Common Law or Palladian Architecture. With its slave quarters and history, it’s also a healthy reminder that our old country, your new country, for all its glory, has always had feet of clay, and work that needed doing.

So it’s good that you’ve come, fresh troops and reinforcement. We old citizens could use some help.

It’s a glorious day, making allowances for the heat. It’s the Fourth of July, the 181st Anniversary of the deaths of the second and third Presidents of the United States, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, the individual who impertinently designed this house. It’s a double birthday, of the country, and of your citizenship. A great American Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, describing a similar day, said that it looked as if “God had just spit on his sleeve and polished up the universe till you could almost see your face reflected in it.”

We know all the beauty of this day wasn’t arranged exclusively for those of us gathered here, we’re reasonable people, but you who are about to become citizens here, are within your rights to look at it all and see your own faces reflected there, as Justice Holmes said, because it really is a place and time made for you. You’re joining a country already in motion that looks for your effect on it, so that it can better know what it needs to become, for tomorrow.

Welcome. We need you. There’s much to be done.

My talk is, effectively, your graduation address, and every good graduation address begins with a call to the graduates to help the world they are entering discover its future. Consider yourselves called. And if the sea that’s America looks large in comparison to the size of your ship, don’t be dismayed. Let Thomas Jefferson be our example:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. The words are so familiar, so potent, so important, so grand and fine, it’s hard to believe that a person, any single person, actually wrote them, picked up a pen, dipped it in ink, and, on a blank white sheet, made appear for the first time what had never before existed in the whole history of the world. By scratching away at the page, he called a country into being, knowing as he wrote that the country was no more than an idea, and the idea might, at any instant, be erased and destroyed, and the United States of America become just another sorry footnote in the history of suppressed rebellions against tyranny…. And went on writing. You can’t help but be impressed by all that that one person, and the small group of individuals around him, not much larger than your group of new citizens, won for so many.

I guess you can see where I’m headed.

Abraham Lincoln called ours “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” I claim that the word ‘people’, as used there, stands for a great many individuals, rather than for a collective. It wasn’t a mob, but individuals acting in a group that made this country up out of whole cloth. These are just the sort of people the country needs now, individuals acting together for the common good.

How apt, how opportune, that you should come to join us just now.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The foundation stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen.” That understates the case: the United States — a participatory democracy is one way political scientists describe it — counts on its citizens turning out to be above average, like all the students in Lake Woebegone.

And that’s where you come in.

Thomas Jefferson’s fragile idea looks pretty solid now, with all the history and highways and airports, and webs of all kinds tying us together. But for all the building and bulldozing, the wealth, and the resources, the United States is still a contract among individuals around an idea. If the saying is, ‘contracts are made to be broken’, we want this one to hold, which requires all hands to be on deck.

That’s where you come in. You come in from Togo; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Canada and Peru; Afghanistan, India, and Mexico; China, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom; Croatia, El Salvador, Ghana, the Philippines, and Vietnam; Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Guatemala, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey — The names themselves a poem about all the migrating peoples who come here. The United States may seem like a fixed star, but it isn’t. It is a relationship between citizens and an idea, and, like all relationships, it changes with the people in it. Its past is always up for reargument; its present is constantly unfolding, complex, a continuum of surprises; and the future is yet to be written. A country is alive, or it’s history. As long as this country endures, it will always be in search of how to understand itself and where to go from here.

That’s where you come in. That’s where we come in.

We all need to exercise our lungs in the discussion: what does our past mean, what are we to do now, and what will be our future? This is not a job just for the talking heads on TV and the politicians. Nor for moneyed interests, nor for single-issue movements. As the WWI recruiting poster said, “Uncle Sam needs you”, needs us.

You just heard John Charles recite the three cardinal rights that no one may take from us, to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. As newly minted citizens, they were already familiar.

But my question is for the rest of us, the ones who are citizens already. In the midst of the interests and pressures of our own lives, don’t we leave a good deal of Life and Liberty to the Government to attend to, so we may concentrate full-time on the Pursuit of Happiness?

Don’t we too often think of our part as being to vote, occasionally, not in very great numbers, and only if there’s time and inclination, to keep up with the news, if it’s amusing and entertaining, but, like the man in the song who was hardly ever sick at see, never, never, well, hardly ever interfere, as individuals, with the work of the politicians?

But if this be so, or partly so, would that be a reason to be concerned? History shows that America is the all-time greatest self-correcting nation. It almost seems to be both a perpetual motion machine and a self-righting machine. Why would any sensible citizen and patriot want to throw a wrench in the works, or try to fix what isn’t broken?

I would like to suggest that if we think this way even a little, we have the wrong idea. We are greatly mistaken to think sharing our views with the television set and our husbands and wives, and voting a little, is enough. Don’t you who are new pick up these bad habits from us.

America has been marvelously able to correct its course in the past because the founding idea — of individual freedom expressed through direct representation — has stirred its citizens to participate, and interfere. Information from the people makes the government smarter. Insufficient information from us makes it dumber. Or, as Abraham Lincoln more elegantly expressed it, ” Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?” Leaders, if they are wise, will be patient. But we mustn’t try their patience too much. For us, finding that ultimate justice means thinking and talking until we reach it, and continuing to speak until the politicians understand it.

We may not leave it to the three branches of government to sort things out, to bring us the right questions for decision, to make the right decisions themselves.

Never has that statement been truer than now. Our national politics have stalled over a quarter of a century over very large issues, including immigration, social security, health care, and especially, since it affects the countries you’ve left, the country you’re joining, and all the countries in between, the health of the planet. War has both parties running to extremes.

If you think the problems are not any more urgent, or the discord any worse, than normal, then, well, I disagree, but my point remains: in our country, things are ‘normal’ only when your voices are clearly heard. The old model of our citizenly relation to politics was of a group of people under a tree, taking turns on the stump all day, discussing the issues of the time. The old model was the town meeting where every citizen can have their say. Old citizens like me hope that between you and the Internet the old model will get a new lease on life.

Whether you work within the Democratic or Republican parties, or join in supporting a bi-partisan ticket for 2008 as I have, in an effort to drive the parties to work together and to show them how it’s done, do do something.

From your first breath as an American citizen, make it known what matters to you.

We can’t let ourselves become mere units of statistical analysis. It appears to be so, that if you ask any 1000 Americans their views on anything, you’ll have a pretty good idea what all Americans think. You might almost conclude that individuals didn’t matter at all anymore.

But then here you come in, and prove the opposite.

By individual choice and individual effort, you traveled the miles, and did the work required, to arrive here today to join the country whose whole monumental structure rests on personal freedom. Will you make yourselves content to become a mere grain of sand in a vast statistical ocean?

Don’t be discouraged by the odds. It isn’t all determinism and the tide of history. An individual can up-end what is determined, and speed or reverse the tide. The man on whose estate we stand, by pushing his pen across a blank page, proved that.

Besides, the science of statistics has another aspect. It appears that the most reliable way to know who will win the next election or whether the stock market will go up or down is to ask as many people as possible to make a bet about it. Their bets often tell more than all the opinions of the pundits and economists, politicos and market watchers. It turns out Lincoln was right about the ‘ultimate wisdom of the people’. But here’s the catch: if you don’t make yourself heard, your bet can’t be counted.

“Men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master,” as Jefferson predicted. But will we, by our silence, indifference, or inaction, give the trust away, cede it to the wealthy, present it to the entrenched, hand it off to the government, entrust it to any process or procedure that excludes our voices? It could happen.

“As a nation of freemen,” Abraham Lincoln said, “we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

That’s where we all come in.

As graduating citizens, you will know how the government is set up: the justly familiar separation of powers, the well-known system of checks and balances, and the famous three branches of government: the executive branch, the judicial branch, and the legislative branch.

If these are the branches, what is the tree? Do not think it’s the government.

We are the tree from which the government springs and spreads into its three branches. Every citizen is part of the root system, part of the trunk, no mere twig or leaf. Help our government never to forget it.

We have to bring energy, action, participation, and money to the three branches, or they get no nourishment, and nothing will prevent them from becoming brittle and dry, and unfruitful.

I hope you don’t waste all the time I have in figuring out how a citizen should relate to his government. Talk to it. Tell it what you like. Tell it what you don’t like. Vote, of course. Think about what you want our future to look like. Let the government know. Roll up your sleeves, stick out your chin, sharpen your elbows, get in the middle of things, make them different.

You will be bound to get a lot of things wrong. That’s what we do. But the possibility of error is no excuse for being quiet, and I say this on the good authority of past Presidents:

“Man was never intended to become an oyster.”

That’s Theodore Roosevelt talking.

“Get action. Seize the moment,” he said, and he also said, “The credit belongs to the man…. who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who… spends himself for a worthy cause”

And President Thomas Jefferson wrote,

“The evils flowing from the duperies of the people [— that is, the ignorant errors of folks like you and me —] are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents [ — that is, the arrogant errors of those who speak and act for us].”

So it turns out citizenship isn’t just a great privilege and opportunity, though it is all that, it’s also a job. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you this news, so late in the process. But don’t worry, it’s a great job. Everything that happens within this country politically, and everywhere in the world its influence is felt, falls within its province. It’s a job with a lot of scope. You’ll never be able to complain again about being bored at work. As we multiply our individual voices, we multiply the chances for our country’s success.

Which is where we all come in.

May your initiation here be a reminder to us all to put the participation back into ‘participatory democracy’.

May all our citizenship be individual, unflagging, and vocal, and may our old country, your new country, so prosper.

There’s lots to do.  All hands on deck.  Members of the class of 2007: Congratulations.  God bless you.  Let us hear from you.

July 4th, 2007, Jose and I were present for the naturalization ceremony that took place on the expansive lawn of Monticello, the mountaintop plantation of President Thomas Jefferson.  It was a poignant moment for me since this was also the dual-death anniversary of two American icons – Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

That morning, following the swearing-in ceremony, motion picture and television great, Sam Waterston gave the address.  I found it incredibly moving, and it has stayed with me to this day.

Tonight, Jose is working on an essay for his US Government class: What Makes A Good Citizen?

It came to us that a good starting point for his essay would be to read Mr. Waterston’s remarks from nearly four years ago.

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Sam Waterston’s Remarks at Monticello, July 4th, 2007

It’s wonderful to be here and a privilege, indeed, to congratulate you, the heroes of the moment in the great work of making and sustaining a government that derives its authority from individual liberty.

My father came to this country from Scotland via England, and became a citizen. He knew beforehand that the ceremony was going to be a significant event. Even so, he wasn’t prepared for the emotional power it had for him. He became a citizen in a group like this, neither very large nor very small. The ceremony’s power multiplied with their numbers. Everyone in his batch of new citizens was moved for themselves, my father included, but they were all overwhelmed by each other, new members of a centuries old tide of migration here to the ’empire of liberty’. It lifted them out of what we mistakenly call ordinary life into the realization that properly understood, life is grand opera, as one is sometimes made aware by a wedding, or the birth of a child.

Something like that, momentous and every-day, is afoot here. Brand new Americans are being made, and I’m delighted to be here to celebrate my father’s becoming an American citizen through your becoming American citizens, and your becoming American citizens through celebrating him, and through all of you, the rest of us, who were lucky to be given what you reached for and took. It’s delightful. We are all lucky, the old citizens in what we got for free, and you, the ones, in knowing what it’s worth. We have a lot to tell one another. Congratulations. Bravo. Yay. The conversation begins now.

Monticello is a beautiful spot for this, full as it is of the spirit that animated this country’s foundation: boldness, vision, improvisation, practicality, inventiveness and imagination, the kind of cheekiness that only comes with free-thinking and faith in an individual’s ability to change the face of the world — it’s easy to imagine Jefferson saying to himself, “So what if I’ve never designed a building before? If I want to, I will.”) — to make something brand new out of the elements of an old culture, be it English Common Law or Palladian Architecture. With its slave quarters and history, it’s also a healthy reminder that our old country, your new country, for all its glory, has always had feet of clay, and work that needed doing.

So it’s good that you’ve come, fresh troops and reinforcement. We old citizens could use some help.

It’s a glorious day, making allowances for the heat. It’s the Fourth of July, the 181st Anniversary of the deaths of the second and third Presidents of the United States, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, the individual who impertinently designed this house. It’s a double birthday, of the country, and of your citizenship. A great American Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, describing a similar day, said that it looked as if “God had just spit on his sleeve and polished up the universe till you could almost see your face reflected in it.”

We know all the beauty of this day wasn’t arranged exclusively for those of us gathered here, we’re reasonable people, but you who are about to become citizens here, are within your rights to look at it all and see your own faces reflected there, as Justice Holmes said, because it really is a place and time made for you. You’re joining a country already in motion that looks for your effect on it, so that it can better know what it needs to become, for tomorrow.

Welcome. We need you. There’s much to be done.

My talk is, effectively, your graduation address, and every good graduation address begins with a call to the graduates to help the world they are entering discover its future. Consider yourselves called. And if the sea that’s America looks large in comparison to the size of your ship, don’t be dismayed. Let Thomas Jefferson be our example:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. The words are so familiar, so potent, so important, so grand and fine, it’s hard to believe that a person, any single person, actually wrote them, picked up a pen, dipped it in ink, and, on a blank white sheet, made appear for the first time what had never before existed in the whole history of the world. By scratching away at the page, he called a country into being, knowing as he wrote that the country was no more than an idea, and the idea might, at any instant, be erased and destroyed, and the United States of America become just another sorry footnote in the history of suppressed rebellions against tyranny…. And went on writing. You can’t help but be impressed by all that that one person, and the small group of individuals around him, not much larger than your group of new citizens, won for so many.

I guess you can see where I’m headed.

Abraham Lincoln called ours “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” I claim that the word ‘people’, as used there, stands for a great many individuals, rather than for a collective. It wasn’t a mob, but individuals acting in a group that made this country up out of whole cloth. These are just the sort of people the country needs now, individuals acting together for the common good.

How apt, how opportune, that you should come to join us just now.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The foundation stone of national life is, and ever must be, the high individual character of the average citizen.” That understates the case: the United States — a participatory democracy is one way political scientists describe it — counts on its citizens turning out to be above average, like all the students in Lake Woebegone.

And that’s where you come in.

Thomas Jefferson’s fragile idea looks pretty solid now, with all the history and highways and airports, and webs of all kinds tying us together. But for all the building and bulldozing, the wealth, and the resources, the United States is still a contract among individuals around an idea. If the saying is, ‘contracts are made to be broken’, we want this one to hold, which requires all hands to be on deck.

That’s where you come in. You come in from Togo; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Canada and Peru; Afghanistan, India, and Mexico; China, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom; Croatia, El Salvador, Ghana, the Philippines, and Vietnam; Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Guatemala, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Poland, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey — The names themselves a poem about all the migrating peoples who come here. The United States may seem like a fixed star, but it isn’t. It is a relationship between citizens and an idea, and, like all relationships, it changes with the people in it. Its past is always up for reargument; its present is constantly unfolding, complex, a continuum of surprises; and the future is yet to be written. A country is alive, or it’s history. As long as this country endures, it will always be in search of how to understand itself and where to go from here.

That’s where you come in. That’s where we come in.

We all need to exercise our lungs in the discussion: what does our past mean, what are we to do now, and what will be our future? This is not a job just for the talking heads on TV and the politicians. Nor for moneyed interests, nor for single-issue movements. As the WWI recruiting poster said, “Uncle Sam needs you”, needs us.

You just heard John Charles recite the three cardinal rights that no one may take from us, to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. As newly minted citizens, they were already familiar.

But my question is for the rest of us, the ones who are citizens already. In the midst of the interests and pressures of our own lives, don’t we leave a good deal of Life and Liberty to the Government to attend to, so we may concentrate full-time on the Pursuit of Happiness?

Don’t we too often think of our part as being to vote, occasionally, not in very great numbers, and only if there’s time and inclination, to keep up with the news, if it’s amusing and entertaining, but, like the man in the song who was hardly ever sick at see, never, never, well, hardly ever interfere, as individuals, with the work of the politicians?

But if this be so, or partly so, would that be a reason to be concerned? History shows that America is the all-time greatest self-correcting nation. It almost seems to be both a perpetual motion machine and a self-righting machine. Why would any sensible citizen and patriot want to throw a wrench in the works, or try to fix what isn’t broken?

I would like to suggest that if we think this way even a little, we have the wrong idea. We are greatly mistaken to think sharing our views with the television set and our husbands and wives, and voting a little, is enough. Don’t you who are new pick up these bad habits from us.

America has been marvelously able to correct its course in the past because the founding idea — of individual freedom expressed through direct representation — has stirred its citizens to participate, and interfere. Information from the people makes the government smarter. Insufficient information from us makes it dumber. Or, as Abraham Lincoln more elegantly expressed it, ” Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?” Leaders, if they are wise, will be patient. But we mustn’t try their patience too much. For us, finding that ultimate justice means thinking and talking until we reach it, and continuing to speak until the politicians understand it.

We may not leave it to the three branches of government to sort things out, to bring us the right questions for decision, to make the right decisions themselves.

Never has that statement been truer than now. Our national politics have stalled over a quarter of a century over very large issues, including immigration, social security, health care, and especially, since it affects the countries you’ve left, the country you’re joining, and all the countries in between, the health of the planet. War has both parties running to extremes.

If you think the problems are not any more urgent, or the discord any worse, than normal, then, well, I disagree, but my point remains: in our country, things are ‘normal’ only when your voices are clearly heard. The old model of our citizenly relation to politics was of a group of people under a tree, taking turns on the stump all day, discussing the issues of the time. The old model was the town meeting where every citizen can have their say. Old citizens like me hope that between you and the Internet the old model will get a new lease on life.

Whether you work within the Democratic or Republican parties, or join in supporting a bi-partisan ticket for 2008 as I have, in an effort to drive the parties to work together and to show them how it’s done, do do something.

From your first breath as an American citizen, make it known what matters to you.

We can’t let ourselves become mere units of statistical analysis. It appears to be so, that if you ask any 1000 Americans their views on anything, you’ll have a pretty good idea what all Americans think. You might almost conclude that individuals didn’t matter at all anymore.

But then here you come in, and prove the opposite.

By individual choice and individual effort, you traveled the miles, and did the work required, to arrive here today to join the country whose whole monumental structure rests on personal freedom. Will you make yourselves content to become a mere grain of sand in a vast statistical ocean?

Don’t be discouraged by the odds. It isn’t all determinism and the tide of history. An individual can up-end what is determined, and speed or reverse the tide. The man on whose estate we stand, by pushing his pen across a blank page, proved that.

Besides, the science of statistics has another aspect. It appears that the most reliable way to know who will win the next election or whether the stock market will go up or down is to ask as many people as possible to make a bet about it. Their bets often tell more than all the opinions of the pundits and economists, politicos and market watchers. It turns out Lincoln was right about the ‘ultimate wisdom of the people’. But here’s the catch: if you don’t make yourself heard, your bet can’t be counted.

“Men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master,” as Jefferson predicted. But will we, by our silence, indifference, or inaction, give the trust away, cede it to the wealthy, present it to the entrenched, hand it off to the government, entrust it to any process or procedure that excludes our voices? It could happen.

“As a nation of freemen,” Abraham Lincoln said, “we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

That’s where we all come in.

As graduating citizens, you will know how the government is set up: the justly familiar separation of powers, the well-known system of checks and balances, and the famous three branches of government: the executive branch, the judicial branch, and the legislative branch.

If these are the branches, what is the tree? Do not think it’s the government.

We are the tree from which the government springs and spreads into its three branches. Every citizen is part of the root system, part of the trunk, no mere twig or leaf. Help our government never to forget it.

We have to bring energy, action, participation, and money to the three branches, or they get no nourishment, and nothing will prevent them from becoming brittle and dry, and unfruitful.

I hope you don’t waste all the time I have in figuring out how a citizen should relate to his government. Talk to it. Tell it what you like. Tell it what you don’t like. Vote, of course. Think about what you want our future to look like. Let the government know. Roll up your sleeves, stick out your chin, sharpen your elbows, get in the middle of things, make them different.

You will be bound to get a lot of things wrong. That’s what we do. But the possibility of error is no excuse for being quiet, and I say this on the good authority of past Presidents:

“Man was never intended to become an oyster.”

That’s Theodore Roosevelt talking.

“Get action. Seize the moment,” he said, and he also said, “The credit belongs to the man…. who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who… spends himself for a worthy cause”

And President Thomas Jefferson wrote,

“The evils flowing from the duperies of the people [— that is, the ignorant errors of folks like you and me —] are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents [ — that is, the arrogant errors of those who speak and act for us].”

So it turns out citizenship isn’t just a great privilege and opportunity, though it is all that, it’s also a job. I’m sorry to be the one to bring you this news, so late in the process. But don’t worry, it’s a great job. Everything that happens within this country politically, and everywhere in the world its influence is felt, falls within its province. It’s a job with a lot of scope. You’ll never be able to complain again about being bored at work. As we multiply our individual voices, we multiply the chances for our country’s success.

Which is where we all come in.

May your initiation here be a reminder to us all to put the participation back into ‘participatory democracy’.

May all our citizenship be individual, unflagging, and vocal, and may our old country, your new country, so prosper.

There’s lots to do. All hands on deck. Members of the class of 2007: Congratulations. God bless you. Let us hear from you.

In recent months, President Barak Obama has been needled by underground, or less-publicized media, and individual blogs for his support of Muslims celebrating their faith.

AN INVITATION TO THE WHITE HOUSE

I was just reading a passage in First Lady Hilary Clinton’s book, AN INVITATION TO THE WHITE HOUSE, in the “Christmas At The White House” chapter. The former first lady wrote (page 198):

“As much as Bill and I love our Christmas traditions, we’ve wanted to be sure other faiths felt welcome during the holiday season. In 1993 we put a menorah in the West Wing lobby to honor the Jewish festival of Chanukah. The President also lights another very special menorah in the Oval Office. Maryim Baram, an Israeli craftsman who lost his young son in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, created it from his love and grief and sent it to the President.

Starting in 1996, we have also hosted a Ramadan event to mark the end of the holy month of fasting and prayer for Muslims and to increase understanding of Islam.”

Interesting….

Also, from THE WHITE HOUSE: George W. Bush we learn:

“President Jimmy Carter walked to Lafayette Park in 1979 and lit one candle or shammash (the candle used to light other candles) in the 30-foot electric silver menorah.

President Ronald Reagan visited the Rockville Jewish Community Center in 1983 and gave remarks following the lighting of the menorah.

The Synagogue Council of America gave President George H.W. Bush a menorah, which was displayed at the White House in 1989. President Bush participated in a Hanukkah celebration for staff in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in 1991 and also celebrated with children and local Jewish leaders.

President William Clinton lit a menorah in the Oval Office in 1997 and joined Israel’s President Ezer Weizman in lighting the first candle of Hanukkah in Jerusalem in 1998.”

Another site, MUSLIM REPUBLICANS, discusses the following, written in 2007:

“Ohio was the first state to declare October 10th, 2007 as “Muslim Day”. This was over 15 years ago. Now congress and the business world have began doing the same trying to capitalize on the Eid spirit.

On the national level, it all started about eight years ago when the United States Post Office began offering US postage stamps with an Eid theme. Since then, various other government and business agencies began doing the same.

For many years, it’s been well known that Republican White Houses are far more Muslim-friendly than Democratic White Houses. Muslims have held this long standing belief for many years, and one needs to look no further than how each handles Muslim holidays.

Unlike previous administrations which barely mentioned Eid and Ramadan, the Bush White House has held countless Iftars (break fast dinner parties) for the White House staff as well as Muslim community leaders. Previous Democratic presidents never held Iftars, and Clinton even cancelled the one Iftar which was planned due to some “political pressure” from other Democratic party supporters. The White House and President Bush are celebrating and recognizing Eid, in the latest White House statement:

‘I am pleased to send greetings to all of those celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the culmination of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.'”

In fact, the White House has an entire section of their website dedicated to Ramadan and Muslims:http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/ramadan/2007/ Click on the different years to see what this Muslim-friendly White House has been doing to celebrate Ramadan and Eid.

Further, Congress just passed House Resolution 635- ‘The Ramadan Bill’- “recognizing the commencement of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, and commending Muslims in the United States and throughout the world for their faith.”

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Although I am a passionate historian, I must admit that I was rather lazy in my study of Dayton history. Normally, I am on top of my historical surroundings, and learn as much as possible. However, when I moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1990, I was not at all certain I would remain here more than 3-5 years. I anticipated moving to New York City, or even to Virginia near Williamsburg, or Washington, DC. Perhaps I had an unaddressable fear of learning too much about the Miami Valley for fear of it gluing me here.

Twenty years later, I still feel slightly negligent in knowing Dayton’s history. I seem to know more about the Wright Brothers than I do most of Dayton, and the surrounding area. Still, it was not until the summer of 1999 that I even gave the Wrights a second thought. I had been to the Air Force Museum when my parents visited in 1992, but I found it agonizingly boring. My dad had to stop and read every placard, and photograph nearly every plane. Mother, still with tints of red in her hair at the time, was photographed in front of the plane painted with the title, “Strawberry Bitch.” Each visit to the museum still prompts a photo with a family member standing in front of the plane.

Seven years later I was on my three week vacation that took me to:

  • Niagara Falls (ugh… another story)
  • a drive through the Adirondacks
  • a pass through Schroon Lake
  • Stowe, Vermont to visit the Trapp family members (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) at the Trapp Family Lodge
  • Manchester, Vermont to visit Robert Todd Lincoln’s home, Hildene
  • FDR’s home/grave in Hyde Park, NY
  • Val-Kil, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home & retreat near Hyde Park
  • New York City
  • Flushing Meadows – the site of the 1939 and 1964 World Fairs
  • Teddy Roosevelt’s home, Sagamore Hill
  • Montauk Point Lighthouse at the tip of Long Island
  • Assateague Island to see the wild horses because my fourth grade teacher, Diana Lane, read us the book, THE MYSTERY OF ASSATEAGUE ISLAND in 1974
  • A brief trip through DC – only driving and looking, no stopping
  • A trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel
  • A visit with my aunt and cousins
  • The Outer Banks
    • Wright Memorial (merely drove around it and left)
    • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (which had just finished its hydraulic move the day before)
    • Ocracoke Island
  • A visit with my grandfather and family at Grandpa’s mission program in Southeastern Kentucky
  • Gatlinburg for three days with family
  • Lexington, Kentucky
    • Mary Todd Lincoln
    • Henry Clay home
    • ice cream at Cheapside
    • Lexington Cemetery

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I took advantage of this East Coast vacation, packing as much in as possible. I knew that once I began adopting children, this kind of vacation would be on hiatus.

The memorial at Kitty Hawk meant absolutely nothing to me. I drop past it, only to return since it had a Dayton connection. I took a photo, and drove on not wanting to indulge any time in listening to a (biased) NC park ranger talk about airplanes.

September 1999, while roller blading in Centerville’s Stubbs Park, I was resting on a rock when I noticed a tiny sparrow hopping in the parking lot, picking at some food dropped by patrons from the previous evening’s concert. I had always been terrified of birds growing up, so I had never considered how they got their bodies into the air, supported by seemingly fragile wings.

As I watched the sparrow my eye caught a jet floating through the sky as it prepared to land at Dayton International.

“How did that thing get into the sky?”

As I continued to watch the bird and the plane (no Superman), I heard voices of two young boys arguing. I even turned around, expecting to find two lads arguing.

Nothing.

The voices continued.

Finally I heard the one boy call the name of the other, and there was no doubt as to who they were, and why I was privy to their aggravated conversation.

The next day, I returned from the USA Air Force Museum with nine books on the Wright Brothers. I had received “my mission” while resting in the park.

Prior to that September day, I had never given the Wrights much thought. By April 2000, I was finally sketching out plots, scenes, and characters.

July 2000, I drove to Kitty Hawk, stood on the Wright Brothers’ Memorial and flew a kite to toast the start of what would be a fascinating journey for the next decade.

My goal was to finish the musical, then titled, TWELVE SECONDS TO THE MOON, for the 2003 anniversary.

Gail Whipple - lyricist-composer

In 1998 I got a new saxophone student, Lucas Whipple – a neat 10 year old boy with a wonderful personality. I eventually began teaching his sister, Andra, piano and voice. Their mother, Gail, a fantastic musician (vocalist, pianist) was teaching music at South Dayton Preparatory School and asked if I’d please teach beginning piano there.

In January 2003, Gail and I were chatting about the Muse Machine musical we had just seen. Her husband, Tim, was the Muse board president. Gail and I began discussing musical scores, and she played a few of her own songs that were clearly “musical theatre.” I promptly asked her to assist me with TWELVE SECONDS TO THE MOON, and she agreed.

Leslie Merry, Composer

A month later, I hosted the first read-thru of the book with approximately 20 theatre friends at my town house. Gail attended, and brought her friend, Leslie Merry, introducing her as “a musician friend of mine.”

Within a few days, the trio of Gail, Leslie and Darin were embarking on our collaboration. Other than directing, this was my first collaborative effort, and I did not know what to expect with our first work session. I had tossed out ideas for styles on several songs. Quietly, Gail and Leslie tossed them back, presenting something completely different from what I was hearing… and it was magnificent. Throughout the years, I continued to toss to them what I was hearing in my head, and they provided something different… entirely different, and much more clever, and exciting!

As with any project, it evolved. The history of flight anniversary flew by and we knew that we still had a product. However, the Wrights’ story had changed. Their sister, Katharine, was now an integral part of the story, and it now began five years after they first flew at Kitty Hawk. We had uncovered more drama, and depth to their story – the story after the story with most are most familiar.

The working title soon changed to THE BIRD LET LOOSE, and the underlying theme was about “control.”

  • The secret to flight was in “control”
  • There was an international race to “control” the sky
  • There were battles over financial “control”
  • There were internal issues of “control” within the family circle

It was the right path for this musical.

Now, the 99.5% completed project is a grand mixture of our theatrical forefathers’ creations… there are hints of RAGTIME, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE SECRET GARDEN, EVITA, SUNDAY IN THE PARK, CAMELOT… the musical is dramatic, comedic, filled with suspense, interwoven with political intrigue (well, nothing that would arouse the interest of James Bond, but remember, it is 1908-1945)…

I was blessed to find a lyricist (Gail) who could arrange lyrics as wonderfully as Hammerstein, Lowe, and Rice, and a composer (Leslie) who could immediately whip out a strong melodic line rivaling Rodgers, Lerner and Webber but with a heavy flavor of Sondheim. And the score is, perhaps, more Sondheimesque. The lyrics, in many places, are simply too good to be true due to the clever, concise arrangement of thoughts and words. I would hand Gail a paragraph of thoughts, and she would return lyrics that made my jaw hit the floor. The lyrics and music, together, are outstanding, and I honestly believe their contributions to this project far surpass my work on the book. The three of us, each being musicians, have also contributed to one another’s individual assignments – which has been a splendid delightful process for we each trust one another, and are, too often, like one mind.

I humbly bow to my two collaborators, and will always be grateful for their magnificent contributions to the future success of this musical.

My personal journey with this project began a decade ago. The three of us were also working professionals, raising children, involved musicians, busy volunteers, and confronted with personal, and professional experiences that sometimes kept as from moving ahead on the project consistently. Before Gail’s family moved to California, we had many fantastic work sessions, and reading sessions (about six, in all). Now, Leslie and I will work together, and collaborate with Gail, using all the modern technologies.

What a thrilling journey it has been!

Well, not exactly…

This is the date in 1829 that James Smithson of England died (and not because Germany beat them in the World Cup in 2010).

Here’s the story…

How our country built The Smithsonian Institution

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