Monthly Archives: November 2012

Disappointed by the Martin Luther King Memorial

During our October vacation in Washington DC, Pam and I visited all of the memorials on the National Mall. The World War 2 memorial was new since our last visit in the 1990s, and it was quite impressive. Also new was the Martin Luther King memorial, which was dedicated in October 2011, just a year before.

I’m a great admirer of Martin Luther King. I’m an not an admirer of the MLK memorial.

The idea of a memorial to King was authorized in 1996, a groundbreaking was held in 2006, and building for the final project began in 2009.

The setting itself is beautiful, spanning four acres overlooking the Tidal Basin. As a bird flies, it’s between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. All of the other major monuments to people recognize presidents–Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt. The Martin Luther King Memorial is the only one recognizing a non-president. And I would consider it deserving. King was truly a transformative figure.

You enter the memorial through a stone “mountain.” The ends of the mountain are on either side of the gateway. The middle slice is located further in, and this slice bears a sculpture of King emerging from the stone. The granite slab says, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” which is a line from the “I Have a Dream” speech. So you pass through the Mountain of Despair to reach the Stone of Hope. The sculpture of King, staring across the Tidal Basin, is 30 feet high; the statues of Jefferson and Lincoln are just 19 feet tall (though Lincoln is sitting).

Behind the Stone of Hope is a 450-foot wall containing 14 excerpts from some of King’s sermons and speeches. I read them all. They are good quotes, chosen to stress four primary messages of King: justice, democracy, hope, and love. That’s what I read later, anyway. As I read them that night, with darkness fast approaching, I saw two themes: justice, and the poor.

What struck me was that racial themes were totally missing. They chose not to include what is my favorite King quote, and perhaps his most famous: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

I suppose they wanted to focus on more timeless, universal themes (justice, democracy, hope love), which will continue to be issues long after racism is, uh…eliminated? I didn’t like it. King’s crusade was focused on issues of race and discrimination. I considered it a serious error to omit mention of these issues at a monument dedicated to his memory.

So that was one disappointment.

Another disappointment was reading that the King family received $800,000 in a licensing deal for permission to use King’s words and image in fundraising materials for the memorial. That’s scandalous.

And then there’s the sculpture itself.

First of all, it didn’t look like any photo I’ve seen of King.

Second, it looks like a white person (since they used white granite).

Third, the sculptor was Lei Yixin, an artist from China who had previously sculpted Mao Zedong. As it turns out, the Chinese government contributed $25 million to the $120 million project. So this major monument on the National Mall, recognizing an American, was Made in China. They even used Chinese white granite, which was probably mined by Chinese workers in unsafe conditions. Scandalous again.

So I was severely disappointed. The silly mountain metaphor. The use of Chinese materials and a Chinese sculptor. The out-of-proportion size of King’s figure. The lack of resemblance to King himself. The demeanor they gave him–serious, authoritative, and way too reminiscent of statues we’ve seen of dictators in other countries. What were they thinking?

I read that they considered using “water” as a metaphor, based on King’s words from the “Dream” speech “let justice run down like waters.” I like that idea. The concept called for using fountains, with sheets of water flowing over quotations in a meditative setting. But they went with the monstrous Stone of Hope.

Maybe I was being picky. Maybe most people come away from the monument inspired. I just found it severely lacking.

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“The System Worked for Us”

Last week in Dallas I met a guy from Nebraska who runs a restaurant at a country club. His wife was attending the same convention my wife was attending.

He told me his father died of a heart attack at age 46, leaving his mother to take care of 11 children. That’s right–11. They scraped by on, I believe he told me, about $500 a month, depending a lot on government assistance.

“The system worked for us,” he told me. “Maybe that’s why I’m a Democrat.”

Today, he said, he and his siblings are adults with good jobs, paying their taxes and contributing to society. But at one time they desperately needed society’s help–and because they live in America, they got it.

We hear a lot of anecdotes, most of them negative. Add this one to the mix.

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Random Thoughts Prompted by Morning Joe

This morning, Joe Scarborough, on “Morning Joe,” pretty much retroactively endorsed Jon Huntsman for president. And most of the other panelists chimed in. Huntsman, he said, had the most conservative governing record of the Republican candidates, solid foreign policy credentials, and a much-needed populist streak.

But, they agreed, in addition to running a bad campaign, his downfall was that he was also compassionate. To win the nomination, you needed to be angry, vitriolic–and Huntsman wouldn’t play that game. (Plus, Huntsman was a moderate, believed in climate change and evolution, and had worked for the Obama administration–reasons why I was anxious to vote for him, but which sunk him with the Tea Party base.)

Scarborough also, several times, derided what he called the “right wing entertainment complex” for contributing to the Republican defeat. He was obviously referring to conservative radio (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity) and FoxNews in general. Romney had to pander to these media, running so far to the right that he alienated a large chunk of the electorate. And Scarborough alluded to ways coverage of the campaign by the right-wing media was confusing and often obsessed with trivial matters. In addition, I would add, the Tea Party is as much a media creation as a grassroots movement, and once created, it took over the party’s message (and has cost them the Senate).

I got a kick out of a comment from war historian Thomas Ricks, who was at FoxNews Wednesday morning after the election. He wrote on his blog, “There clearly was some head-scratching going on. Like, ‘Hey, perhaps the Republican Party shouldn’t have dissed women, Hispanics, the poor, and the rest of the electorate so much?’ I wonder if the jig is up for Fox: On election night, they looked like they couldn’t decide whether they were a political party or a news network.”

This right-wing entertainment complex definitely obsesses with stereotypes. Whenever they refer to latinos, they see only illegal immigrants–not Americans who live next door, at every economic level, and work in every aspect of the economy. When they talk about blacks, they seem to see only the ghetto. When they talk about single women, they see Sandra Fluke and “Sex in the City,” sex-obsessed women who crave birth control and abortions…as opposed to the quite ordinary single women you and I know. To appeal to these groups, the candidates and the right-wing media must get beyond these stereotypes…but I’m not sure the Republican base will let them.

Now, interestingly, lots of Republican voices are savaging Mitt Romney and his campaign, especially after Romney’s simplistic excuse to donors that people who voted for Obama were basically bought off (that certainly wasn’t the case with Obama supporters I know). Scarborough was incredulous that his party had nominated “Thurston Howell III,” referring to the millionaire on Gilligan’s Island who was clueless about ordinary people.

I agree with the comments being made, and hope the Republican Party can get its act together. It’s the party I grew up with, but which has renounced moderates like me. But power still resides with angry white people who take their cues from the right-wing entertaining complex. When the Republican primaries roll around in another three years, I suspect–and lament–that little will have changed. The moderate voices we’re hearing now will not prevail.

I’m a big fan of “Morning Joe.” It’s a show that political movers-and-shakers watch (as opposed to “Fox & Friends,” which incredibly still draws more viewers–a sad commentary on conservatives), and a show on which politicians like to appear. I think all of the Republican primary candidates showed up there (though I can’t remember Mitt Romney). Although Scarborough’s conservatism is front and central, everyone gets fair treatment, and Scarborough has no qualms about criticizing his Republican colleagues. It may be the only show on a commercial network where people can spend 20 minutes discussing a serious issue, with no spin and no ads.

“Morning Joe” seems totally out of place on the increasingly liberal MSNBC, but it could never exist on the highly partisan FoxNews. Every political player of every ideology wants to come on the show, and the list of guests every day is impressive. For me, it’s must-see TV…at least, until I need to go to work.

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A Different Slant on the Petraus Affair

I enjoy the writings of Thomas Ricks, who writes on military issues. He just released a book titled “The Generals,” which examines US generals in WW2 and each war since. Ricks is a huge cheerleader for the military, yet pulls no punches in criticizing what deserves to be criticized.

He posted, on his “The Best Defense” blog, some interesting comments on the David Petraus situation, and puts the affair in a historical context. I agreed with most of what he said and disagreed with some points, but he did raise points I haven’t seen others raise.

One area in which I differ: Ricks argues that Petraus, because he’s effective, should be kept in place. However, he writes as though Petraus is leading men in battle, which he’s not currently doing. As CIA director, it’s a whole different ballgame. But, that doesn’t detract seriously from what he wrote.

Ricks’ second paragraph stated: “We now seem to care more about the sex lives of our leaders than the real lives of our soldiers. We had years of failed generalship in Iraq, for example, yet left those commanders in place. Petraeus’ departure again demonstrates we are strict about intimate behavior, but extraordinarily lax about professional incompetence.”

You can read the article here.

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Are TSA Agents Less Unbearable?

During our trip to Dallas last week, it seemed that the TSA agents in airports were more friendly than I’ve seen them before (we last flew in October 2011). Instead of taking themselves very VERY seriously as Grim Faced Don’t Mess With Me Officer of the Law, I saw TSA people smiling and interacting with Ordinary Citizens in friendly ways.

It was still a hassle–taking off shoes and belts and extracting laptops, etc.–but I felt like the TSA folks, this time, understood the hassle and were trying to make it a less unpleasant experience. That I wasn’t viewed as a Terrorist Until Proven Innocent.

If this new attitude is system-wide, it indicates some good training (and re-training) from the fine folks at Homeland Security. But I might have just chanced upon an unusually amiable group of TSA agents, and my experience is nothing more than anecdotal.

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Why, IMHO, Romney Blew the Election

Rarely is an incumbent as vulnerable at Obama was. With the state of the economy and various other things, he was ripe for getting knocked off. And really, Romney came pretty close. It wouldn’t have taken all that many votes to swing the other way.

So why didn’t it happen? Lots of things conspired against Romney–some fairly, some unfairly. Here’s what I would point to.

  • During the primary, Romney chose to pander to the right wing and got colored by extreme views–on women’s issues, anti-immigration issues, and a militaristic foreign policy. He may have been forced to take such views to win the nomination, but it tarnished him.
  • Romney put out rosy claims–like create 12 million new jobs, and slash the deficit–but wouldn’t explain how he was going to make it happen.
  • Romney’s stupid 47% statement stuck, and was masterfully exploited by the Dems.
  • Romney apparently didn’t think the average person was very smart–that he could change his views on issues and get away with it. It’s astonishing the number of issues on which he has changed his views over the years. Hey, Mitt: people noticed, and it didn’t inspire confidence. (This was a central issue with me.)
  • His position on the auto bailout ultimately hurt him where it counted most–the industrial states, like Ohio and Michigan.
  • The primary, in which the candidates competed over who would build the biggest wall and be toughest on illegal immigrants, severely hurt Romney with Latinos.
  • Romney was tarnished, unfairly, by statements from Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
  • Being Mormon didn’t help.
  • Demographically, America is becoming more secular (non-religious) and more ethnic–and the Republican Party isn’t adapting.
  • Hurricane Sandy killed Romney’s momentum.
  • Some other issues that were a factor with me, and may have influenced other independents: his pandering to the Tea Party, his denial of man’s role in global warming, his refusal to denounce the birthers and Muslim-baiters, taking the Grover Norquist pledge, and his commitment to trickle down economics (which doesn’t work).
  • Romney just lacked charisma. He gave it a great shot, but in the end, voters had a hard time being excited about him.

Change just a couple of those factors above–like, no 47% statement and no Todd Akin–and Romney might have won. But reality isn’t nice.

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My Church at the Smithsonian

Steve with the Wright Brothers. Sorry for the smile. I’m out of step with the serious expressions required at the beginning of the 1900s.

(Sorry for the glare. Amateur photog at work.)

In October, Pam and I enjoyed a few days of vacation in Washington, DC. One of those days was spent mostly at the Air and Space Museum.

In the Wright Brothers exhibit, I was surprised, but delighted, to find the name “Church of the United Brethren in Christ” printed at least three times. I’ve spent my entire career working for the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Wilbur and Orville Wright were not only involved in the denomination, but their father, Milton, was a prominent bishop. And a bit controversial. Milton led our group away from the larger body (which is now part of the mammoth United Methodist Church) in 1889.

Anyway, I couldn’t help snapping some photos as proof. There was also a photo of the 1900 General Conference, with Bishop Wright standing front and center.

So, church and state–or at least my church–are not entirely separated at the Smithsonian.

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The Indisputable Redskin Rule

As we all know, everything important in life, including the fate of the world, revolves around the NFL.

Consider the “Redskin Rule.” When the Washington Redskins win their last home game prior to Election Day, the incumbent party wins. When the Redskins lose, the out-of-power party wins. Thus, since the Steelers beat the Redskins in a Monday Night Football game in 2008, Barack Obama won the election.

This has held true for 17 of the past 18 presidential elections–72 years! The only exception was 2004, when George Bush won re-election without a corresponding win by the Redskins.

Why did The Fates allow an exception? Truly a mystery deserving of scrutiny.

And there was scrutiny, resulting in a revision to the Redskin Rule. It’s about the popular vote. When the Redskins lose in their last home game before the presidential election, the party that lost the previous election’s popular vote wins. This would account for Bush’s 2004 victory. Thus: the Redskin Rule is 18 for 18.

Anyway…the Carolina Panthers beat the Redskins yesterday. Which means: Romney will win the election. If you’re the superstitious type.

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Picking Presidents

I’ve voted in 9 presidential elections, and my record is pretty good: 7-2. But I started out 0-1 after voting for Gerald Ford.

Now you’re wondering about the other election where I picked the wrong person.

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A Quick Trip to Gettysburg

Pam at Gettysburg

On October 24, after spending a lovely two days in Lancaster, Pa., Pam and I drove to Washington, DC. Our journey took us through Gettysburg. So, of course, we had to stop.

The Civil War has commanded my interested since third grade, when I read my first war-related book: “Heroes in Blue and Gray.” It was a book written for kids–shiny cover, big text–at third grade level. And it was a new book at the time, published in 1965, the year I was in third grade.

Each chapter looked at a major battle of the Civil War, and those names carved a place in my mind: Antietam, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Shiloh, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga, Bull Run…and, of course, Gettysburg.

Battle maps showed how the forces were arrayed, with a general’s name inside a rectangle; the larger the rectangle, the larger the force.

I studied those maps closely, fascinated by the clash of armies. And the names of those boxed generals, like the names of the battles, were burned into me–Longstreet, Jackson, Burnside, Ewell, Meade, McClellen, Hancock, Reynolds, Sherman, Hood, Thomas, Bragg, Early, Hill….

I’ve visited Gettysburg five or six times now. I attended grades 4-7 in Harrisburg, Pa., and in fifth grade (I think it was), we took a field trip to Gettysburg. Back then, we could crawl through the stone tunnels of Devil’s Den (and I apparently didn’t have claustrophobia), and we scampered over the big rocks on Little Round Top.

I went another time with my family, and I remember taking my grandparents another time. There may have been another visit or two during those years. Somewhere along the line, I bought a little metal souvenir cannon.

As an adult, I visited Gettysburg some years ago with Pam. Then, on October 24, Pam and I visited again.

A new visitor center had been built since my last visit, and it’s very nice, and very big. The tour begins with a short movie about the battle, and continues with the Cyclorama. The Cyclorama is simply spectacular–a huge, wrap-around mural of the battle. I remember seeing it in the previous visitor center, but it had been restored and enlarged, and displayed with excellence. I could have studied it for hours.

The museum itself seems to wander forever. I remembered a few items from my childhood years, like the two bullets that met in mid-air and fused together. And the stories of relatives who fought on opposite sides of the battle.

Soon after the battle, long before the war ended, efforts began to preserve the Gettysburg battlefield and make it a place people could visit. I’m sure it was all commercially driven, but that’s okay. Other battlefields, I imagine, are now covered by homes and factories and shopping centers. But at Gettysburg, you can walk the entire battlefield. You can roam around Little Round Top, walk the path of Pickett’s Charge, and still see canons positioned. It’s a great place, a national treasure. Truly, as Lincoln said, a place consecrated by the brave men, living and dead, who struggled there.

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