Wednesday, August 31, 2011

the rain in Spain

Today "My Fair Lady" was on while I was getting ready to go to work.

("I could have daunced -- daunced -- daunced -- All Night!")

It's like floating on a cloud of romance and beauty.

And silliness: "Why cahn't the English teach their children how to speak?! Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks are taught their Greek..."

When I was in eighth grade I had that record (soundtrack from the movie) borrowed from the public library and listened to it on my record player: I had not seen the movie, so listening to the songs, I figured out the story as best I could.
(Was thinking -- that might actually be an interesting learning / teaching method: assign students to listen to the soundtrack from a movie musical, and then figure out the story for themselves.
If I wrote the Curriculum: Oh! the kids would have FUN in school!...)

And the interesting thing about Rex Harrison in the role of Henry Higgins is, he's starring in a musical and yet -- he wasn't really a singer.
He says his lyrics with a lot of rhythm and feeling, in time with the music: a sort of mind-blowing white-guy-in-Edwardian (1901 - 1910) England antecedent to rap! ...


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

lately it occurs to me

Yesterday I read in the online encyclopedia that the Grateful Dead's song "Truckin'" had been designated a "national treasure" by the Library of Congress, in 1997.

(The song came out on the American Beauty album in 1970. That's 27 years to go from
"Turn 'nat down!!"
(dignified) -- "This song is a National Treasure." Ah yes.

Art is appreciated by people who originally disliked it, later, after it has become a solid, Acknowledged Accomplishment in the eys of enough other people.

Also the people who bought the album in 1970 then grew up and are Running Things now.

Thinking about it later, had mixed feelings about U.S. government making it governmentally official that the long-strange-trip song is a National Treasure.
I mean, Yeah, the government agrees with me, who am I to argue,
-- I agree with them!
Yet --

I don't need the government to be making pronouncements about my art (my favorite art made by other people) any more than I need government to be in charge of my religion, or vice versa.

I don't need a Nativity Scene to be displayed at the post office;
also don't need the Baptists to receive my mail --
am set, thanks.
By same token, it's like -- oh the Library of Congress said the Grateful Dead has some good songs -- great, NOW I'll buy their albums! ...

But that's not what they meant.
It isn't right to be that picky: the Library of Congress just wanted to respectfully recognize and salute Something Great.
And I have to be "for" that.

It's a generational thing -- the new "generation gap."
--When I was a child and a teenager, my parents did not introduce rock-and-roll music to me. I had to find that on my own.

--In the 90s, a friend mentioned to me that she and her husband had taken their teen-age son and daughter to see the Rolling Stones.

(?) That was a little hard for me to assimilate. (Their mom-&-dad took them to see the Rolling Stones????)
I mean -- there's nothing wrong with that, it's very nice, it's great, it was just -- weird, to me, because -- part of discovering rock-and-roll and related forms -- blues, etc. -- was, for me, going out --
on my own
on a limb
into the world
and learning and experiencing something -- beyond what I was going to get at home.
It was not -- like, being "against" your parents, or doing something "wrong," but it Was something which was MY choice, for me, not THEIR choice.

I think everyone in my age bracket probably experienced it that way, & then the NEXT generation -- it's different.
That's the new "generation gap."

And -- one thing is, children growing up -- teenagers, whatever -- still need things to differentiate themselves from their parents: some exasperated parents might think, "It's anything to tick us off and drive us crazy!" (Many people feel that is the Reason for rap music...?!)

I wonder if the new Musical Diversity -- now that people wearing suits listen to the Dead, and even put official stamps of approval on them, or at least on one of their songs -- is perhaps the reason why so many of these young guys are wearing their slacks at half-mast.
(I mean, seriously, what IS that?)
There's no music that they can repel the older generation with, so the pants are the last stand...??

One evening at work a young man came into my office to pick up some heavy supplies. As he transferred the items onto his hand-cart, he bent over and -- I don't know how those slacks were staying on, and I was studiously looking elsewhere -- and another "grown-up" (in my age group) came into my office -- and -- I was a little bit embarrassed, only I didn't know for whom, or about what... As I'm Not Looking at the Slacks Person, my glance accidentally met the glance of the other Grown-up in the room and then I quickly looked away, vaguely fearing the next thing that happened.

(Was thinking, "No, don't say it, you wouldn't--" Oh-gosh, there's the outline of a stealth smile which could turn to a laugh or an indigant command, and I thought, "No -- no -- I'm looking out into the hallway - I'm Not HERE..."
Grown-up (in an amped growl): "Pull-your-pants-up!!"

"Huuh?! And he laughed.
The kid laughed too, and did Not pull his pants up, and continued on down the hall, diligent at his job, as his slacks seemed diligent at his knees...

It's always got to be something ...


Monday, August 29, 2011

typical daydream

Truckin' -- got my chips cashed in
Keep Truckin' - like the doodah man
Together -- more or less in line
Just keep Truckin' on

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street
Chicago, New York, Detroit it's all on the same street
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings

Dallas - got a soft machine
Houston - too close to New Orleans
New York -- got the ways and means
but just won't let you be

Most of the cats you meet on the street speak of True Love
Most of the time they're sittin' and cryin' at home
One of these days they know they gotta get goin'
out of the door and down to the street all alone

Truckin -- like the doodah man
once told me you got to play your hand
sometime -- the cards ain't worth a dime
if you don't lay 'em down

Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine
all a friend can say is "ain't it a shame"

Truckin' -- up to Buffalo
Been thinkin' -- you got to mellow slow
Takes time -- you pick a place to go
and just keep Truckin' on

Sitting and staring out of a hotel window
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel
but if you got a warrant I guess you're gonna come in

Busted -- down on Bourbon Street
Set up -- like a bowling pin
Knocked down -- it gets to wearing thin
They just won't let you be

You're sick of hanging around and you'd like to travel
Tired of travel, you want to settle down
I guess they can't revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door -- light out and look all around

Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
what a long strange trip it's been

Truckin' -- I'm goin' home
Whoa-oh baby, back where I belong
Back home -- sit down and patch my bones
and get back Truckin' on ...

["Truckin'" by the Grateful Dead.
American Beauty album, 1970, Warner Bros. Records.]

{Wikipedia says that in 1997 this song was recognized by the United States Library of Congress as a national treasure.
There! The next time you hear someone complaining that Our government can't do anything right, here's evidence to repudiate.}


Friday, August 26, 2011

same time no smoking

"The sky was overcast and the air was cooler than it had been in Trenton. Bob tipped his nose into the wind and looked all perky, and I buttoned my jacket up to my neck and wished I'd brought something warmer to wear. Most of the big, expensive houses that sat on the dunes were shuttered and unoccupied."
[excerpt, Hot Six, by Janet Evanovich.
Copyright 1994. St. Martin's Press, Fifth Avenue, New York, New York.]

Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton are two authors whose books I read, each as it comes out. Sue Grafton's are "alphabet" titles: "A" Is For Alibi, "B" Is For Burgler, etc. She's up to about "U" I think -- have a feeling it might be "U" Is For Undertaker...?! But at any rate, it's like there's an end-point: "Z."

Janet Evanovich, on the other hand, used numbers --
One For The Money, Two For The Dough, Three To Get Deadly, Four To Score, High Five, etc. (A couple of weeks ago, zapped through Sizzling Sixteen... and -- you know -- there's no end point because numbers are infinite...!

Evanovich's "I" first-person narrator is Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter.
"Ramos," in Hot Six, is a Greek guy who's in the gun business...
{excerpt} I need you to take a look at the back of the house in Deal. Everyone else on the team would be suspect, but a woman walking her dog down the beach won't feel threatening to Ramos's security. I want you to catalogue the house. Count off windows and doors."

[space in the text]
There was a public-access beach about a quarter-mile from the Ramos compound. I parked on the road, and Bob and I crossed a short stretch of low dunes. The sky was overcast and the air was cooler than it had been in Trenton. Bob tipped his nose into the wind and looked all perky, and I buttoned my jacket up to my neck and wished I'd brought something warmer to wear. Most of the big, expensive houses that sat on the dunes were shuttered and unoccupied. Frothy gray waves came whooshing in at us. A few seagulls ran around at the water's edge, but that was it. Just me and Bob and the seagulls.

The big pink house came into view, more exposed on the beach side than to the street. Most of the first floor and all of the second story were clearly visible. ...

I continued to plow through the sand, not wanting to seem overly curious as I counted off the windows and doors. ... I had binoculars with me but I was afraid to use them. I didn't want to arouse suspicion. It was impossible to tell if I was being observed from a window. Bob raced around me, oblivious to everything but the joy of being outdoors. I walked several houses farther, drew myself a diagram on a piece of paper, turned, and walked back to the public-access ramp where Blue was parked. Mission accomplished.

Bob and I piled into Blue and rumbled down the street, past the Ramos house, one last time. When I paused at the corner, a man in his sixties jumped off the curb at me. He was wearing a running suit and running shoes. And he was waving his hands.

"Stop," he said. "Stop a minute."

I could have sworn it was Alexander Ramos. No, that was ridiculous.

He trotted to the driver's side and rapped on my window. "Have you got any cigarettes?" he asked.
"Gee . . . uh, no."
He shoved a twenty at me. "Drive me to the store for some cigarettes. It'll only take a minute."
Thick accent. Same hawklike features. Same height and build. Really looked like Alexander Ramos.
"Do you live around here?" I asked him.
"Yeah, I live in that piece-of-shit pink monstrosity. What's it to you? Are you gonna drive me to the store, or not?"

My god! It was Ramos. "I don't usually let strange men in my car."
"Give me a break. I need some cigarettes. Anyway, you got a big dog in the backseat, and you look like you drive strange men around all the time. What'd ya think, I was born yesterday?"
"Not yesterday."
He wrenched the passenger door open and got in the car. "Very funny. I have to flag down a comedian. ...Turn the corner here. There's a store about a half-mile down."

"If it's just a half-mile away why don't you walk?"
"I have my reasons."
"Not supposed to be smoking, huh? Don't want anyone to catch you going to the store?"
"Goddamn doctors. I have to sneak out of my own house just to get a cigarette."

I stopped at the store, and he jumped out of the car. "Don't go away. I'll be right back."

Part of me wanted to flee the scene. That was the cowardly part. And part of me wanted to go Yippee! That was the stupid part.
In two minutes he was back in the car, lighting up.
"Hey," I said, "no smoking in the car."
"I'll give you another twenty."
"I don't want the first twenty. And the answer is no. No smoking in the car."
"I hate this country. Nobody knows how to live. Everybody drinks fucking skim milk." He pointed to the cross street. "Turn up there and take Shoreline Avenue."
"Where are we going?"
"I know this bar."

...Without asking, the bartender brought Ramos a bottle of ouzo and two shot glasses. Nothing was said. Ramos drank a shot; then he lit up and dragged the smoke deep into his lungs. "Ahh," he said on the exhale.

...Ramos poured himself a second shot and tipped the bottle in my direction.
"No thanks," I said. "I'm driving."
He shook his head. "Sissy country."
I dropped him off a block from his house.
"Come back tomorrow," he said. "Same time."
---------- {end excerpt. Hot Six, Evanovich, St. Martin's Press.}


Thursday, August 25, 2011

stinking badges

People's children are so amusing and exhausting.

Yesterday evening two boys, one 6 years old, & one 8, hung out by my office waiting for their dad. The six-year-old asked questions beginning with the words "What if..." 94,887,132,745 times.

The 8-year-old came up with the observation which I wrote about here yesterday, that it was "a good thing" that I am "not evil." (!?!)

Because I'm in a position of protecting, and making sure things are OK and keeping track of things -- his imagination and line-of-logic led him to the thought, I guess: "It's a good thing you're not evil." He was imagining the possibility for "corruption in high places" -- not that I'm in a "high place," but a responsible place, you could say.

For a kid to think about corruption as a possibility seemed kind of advanced, to me. A complex concept for an eight-year-old child to come up with on his own.

I told a co-worker about it: I said,
"For an eight-year-old -- (second grade??) -- that's a complex thought."
"Too much TV!" she laughed.

------------------- After a space of time when they waited for their dad, and didn't "raise any hell" as children will sometimes do when they are bored, they noticed there was a computer and the eight-year-old immediately, confidently suggested that we "download a movie."
Our company has no less than three techs whose main priorities include preventing that sort of thing. (Plus, I SO would not know how to do it...)

So then I had to explain that to them, that people can have access to computers but they can't necessarily do everything they feel like. I told them, "Most of the movies and things are blocked," which is true. You click in and a tedious black and white sign comes up on the screen saying, "Access Denied" or something like that.

Mr. "you're-not-evil" was taken aback with the concept of blocked. It was kind of funny -- he was like, "Blocked? Blocked? What do you mean, blocked?"
He was used to whatever internet freedom his parents allow him (which probably leaves plenty of stuff out of reach, but he just doesn't know it) -- he had never heard of "blocked" before, & was not "on board" with it. (Since he's concerned about corruption, he is probably opposed to censorship also...?!)

The way he said, "Blocked? BLOCKED??" was funny...
It made me think of this classic (code: old & in black-and-white) movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre where Humphrey Bogart encounters these guys from Mexico and Bogart asks, "Let me see your badges." And the leading Mexican man says, with energy and outrage which increases as he speaks,

"Badges? Badges??!! We don't have to show you no stinkin' badges!!!!"

That's an often-repeated line -- I had heard the line many times before I ever saw the film.
And I thought of that last night, going home: "Blocked? Blocked??!! What do you mean, BLOCKED?! They can't block no stinkin' downloads!!!!"

Going to Google, and typing in the words
stinking badges
takes us right to what we need.
[excerpt, Wikipedia]-----
First appeared: novel, 1927, by B. Traven: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
"All right," Curtin shouted back. "If you are the police, where are your badges? Let's see them."
"Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don't need badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabro'n and ching' tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you."

The line was popularized by the 1948 film adaptation of the novel. In one scene, a Mexican bandit leader named "Gold Hat" (portrayed by Alfonso Bedoya) tries to convince Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) that he and his company are Federales:

Dobbs: "If you're the police where are your badges?"
Gold Hat: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"

In 1967 in the TV show The Monkees, episode 33, Micky Dolenz phrased bandit's line as "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges."

The 1974 parody film Blading Saddles repeated the line as "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges." ...Many additional examples exist.

The 1989 comedy UHF starring "Weird Al" Yankovic had the phrase "Badgers? Badgers? We don't need no stinking badgers!" by the character Raul Hernandez (played by Trinidad Silva) when he receives a shipment of animals.
------- [end Wikipedia excerpt]
Badgers. L-L-L-L-L-L-LOL


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

interest in integrity

This evening an eight-year-old person squinted at me and said thoughtfully, "You know what? It's a good thing you're not evil."

oh - kay.

"Because you know where everything is, and you can see everything."

I hesitantly told him (trying to catch up, and improvise an answer) that -- "yes," -- "Yes, it is always best if there isn't any corruption."

(Kids --??? where do they come up with it ????)


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the best thing we can do

Reading about Jacqueline Kennedy's efforts to do her best while traveling with her husband the president, in the spring of 1961, with hindsight and layers of reviewed commentary and opinion, and waves of information having come at us in the years between then and now, we have different awareness of how things went, and what it all came to.

Anyone, doing any kind of "job" always wants to do well for one reason or other, or maybe several reasons at once, take your pick.
Mrs. Kennedy wanted to dress right and have a nice image when she accompanied her husband to Paris and Vienna for several reasons --
1. to do a good job for her husband;
2. to portray her own love and respect for France and its culture;
3. to represent the United States well;
4. to be not-picked-on by the picky French fashion press...

Truth is, on one level, aside from being nervous to do a good job with the "world watching," she was also having the time of her life, in a sense, because going to Paris, and visiting with the de Gaulles and the André Malrauxs, and the lah-di-dahs of the world was -- like -- totally her thing! I mean, that's what she loved, what she was attracted to.

Asking Jackie Kennedy to
go to Paris, to
visit with President de Gaulle
about French art and culture and history
would be like --

asking me to--
go to London in the 1980s, to
visit with Princess Diana
about --
the music of Bob Dylan !!

I mean, it's one of those -- ooh, it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it! situations.

So that visit was a brilliant success for several reasons --
wanting to do a good job for husband and country,
wanting to not-screw-up (the flip side of wanting to do well),
and -- natural native enthusiasm.

As the American First Lady, 1961 to 1963, Mrs. John F. Kennedy did an excellent job and set an example that most people in that era appreciated -- she became, in the low-brow vernacular, a star. And that's a fine line -- I don't think she wanted to be "a star" but she did SUCH a Good Job that she Became a star, like it or not, with the media becoming an aspect which had to increasingly be "managed"...and then after the assassination, the public's natural supportiveness or enthusiasm for Pres. & Mrs. Kennedy sort of over-flowed into combination of grief, outrage, shock, and the love and support people wanted to express sometimes was expressed in a way that was nice, like all the sympathy cards Mrs. Kennedy received, but sometimes it got expressed in ways that were intimidating.

The various biographies state Jackie was intimidated living in Washington after the assassination -- she said if she took the two children out, women they didn't know would just sort of mob them and try to hug and kiss the children.

Tour buses drove by the house in Washington where they lived -- "That's where President Kennedy's bereaved widow lives with her two young children" ...great. Some tourist one day peeled a piece of bark off of one of the trees in the yard, to take home as a souvenir of the fallen president's bereaved widow...(??) So then someone else did it too and soon all the bark was gone from every tree in the yard.

(That could creep you out. Wake up in the morning and see tree trunks, shiny white, barkless -- "Have grasshoppers come through here?" No just those freaky tour buses...)

For the rest of her life, she had to deal with the over-publicity, freighted with the assassination trauma felt by the whole country. The whole World. Paparazzi followed her to take her picture at unsuspecting moments, in New York City when she moved there, & all the way over to Greece.

The "stardom" stuff was made exponentially worse by the horrifying "accident" of history that was the assassination, but the star stuff began when Mrs. Kennedy committed the "transgression" of --
Doing Her Job Really Well, in the first place.

Decades later when she was working as an editor for New York publishing company, she was scheduled to visit an author in Chicago -- he asked, in preparation, Do I need to line up some security for you, maybe a couple of guards to escort you, for your protection (protection -- could be from adoring fans as well as crazy nuts -- the possibilities went on and on...!)...?

I always remember the practical, quiet courage of her cheerful answer: "Oh no! I never want anything like that! The best thing we can do is just walk fast."

Just walk fast.


Monday, August 22, 2011

bouffant diplomacy

[excerpt]--------------- For a brief time, before the 1960s really began with the president's death and the rise of the hippie and drug cultures, there was now, with Jackie [Kennedy]'s patrician bearing, a heady sense of class in American life. For a brief time, Americans knew that their First Family, thanks to their First Lady, could be favorably compared with British royals and French diplomats.

Jackie conformed to no set standard; indeed, she broke the public mold of what had come to characterize the ideally desirable American woman. The buxom blonde had been America's fantasy in the 1940s and 1950s, but here was a tall, almost flat-chested brunette whose features were slightly out of proportion. She rode horses; she discussed classical history, music and French novels. And none of this was mere tokenism: she read voraciously with astonishing retention.

...Jackie had, according to Mrs. Gerald Ford, "such marvelous taste that all women in Washington, all the women across the country, copied her. We wore the same things she wore, the little pillbox on the head, the sleeveless shift. It was epidemic, that wardrobe." In no time, the famous and the unknown imitated the Jackie look, from Mary Tyler Moore's television character on The Dick Van Dyke Show, with her Jackie-like hair, pants and flat shoes, to advertising and fashion mannequins.

...Never was she more of a star than during her first international tours with Jack in the spring of 1961. But before their journey together to Canada, Paris and Vienna, she insisted that the president do his homework. "She helped him very much to understand France," said Hervé Alphand, that country's ambassador to the United States. "She asked him to read the memoirs of General de Gaulle," whom they were about to meet.

...Letitia Baldrige added that Jackie wrote letters to de Gaulle in advance of her arrival in Paris -- letters about French art and culture and about her family's French background. ...She worked out, in discussions with the president, her own type of diplomacy, which appeared not to be diplomacy at all.

The tour began in Canada in May, where the president met with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker....Both Canadian and American reporters, however, were more interested in Jackie, as even the Canadian Speaker of the Senate acknowledged in Parliament: "Her charm, beauty, vivacity and grace of mind have captured our hearts."

...Immediately before her arrival in Paris, Jackie read Marcus Cheke's exhaustive biography of Cardinal de Bernis, an aristocratic diplomat in eighteenth-century France who was also in the entourage of Madame de Pompadour. On behalf of Louis XV, this powerful churchman helped negotiate a treaty at Versailles between France and Austria.

...Aware that no stray thread or hair, no tiny flaw in hair or hemline would escape the French press, she had prepared her wardrobe to precise specifications and had sent ahead a lock of her hair to Alexandre, the city's leading hairdresser.

..."Paris simply went wild about her -- she was the topic of conversation," according to journalist Gwen Gibson.

...On that first day in Paris, Jackie completely overwhelmed General de Gaulle during an official luncheon at the Palais de l'Elysée. After chattering away with her in French about Louis XIV, the Bourbons and the geography of France, he turned to President Kennedy: "Your wife knows more French history than most Frenchwomen!" With that, according to Kenneth O'Donnell, "de Gaulle turned back to Jackie and did not take his eyes off her for the rest of the meal." Gaulle later described her as "dazzling and cultivated"....

At the formal banquet, held at Versailles, Jackie continued to undergo an unmistakable transformation in the eyes of Europe. ...Glittering in a Givenchy gown, her bouffant hairdo patterned by Alexandre after a Louis XIV favorite, the Duchesse de Fontanges...Here, she dared to wear a diamond tiara -- a touch that would have been entirely inappropriate on the head of any other woman who was not a legitimate European royal. Elle s'en tient was the general reaction: "She can get away with it."

...At the Jeu de Paume she viewed the great collection of Impressionist masterworks..her favorite was Manet's Olympia...She loved, too, her visit to Malmaison, the Empress Josephine's country retreat. From there, she went to La Celle de St. Cloud, the hideaway of Madame de Pompadour.

...For her tours of the Louvre, Versailles and Malmaison, André Malraux, the Minister of State for Cultural Affairs, escorted Mrs. Kennedy. ...She formed an instant friendship with this highly cultivated man. Later he shipped the Mona Lisa on special loan to America's National Gallery, as a tribute to the First Lady. ...

The effect of this portion of her journey was felt as soon as she returned to Washington. Inspired by the state dinner at Versailles, Jackie decided to host the formal dinner for Mohammed Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan, that July at Mount Vernon, with historic costumes, fireworks, marching bands -- all of it as unprecedented as the tiara. At the same time, she approached John A. Carver Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Public Land Managemenet. "Jackie wanted the public monuments illuminated," he recalled, "but the Department of Parks didn't want a French son et lumiére, and Jackie was frustrated" over the failure of her plan to bring a touch of Paris to Washington. After her tenure, the idea was eventually implemented.
------------------------------- [end excerpt]
{Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: A Life,
by Donald Spoto. Copyright 2000. St. Martin's
Press, New York, N.Y.}

I love picturing all that -- I really got interested in reading about this trip (and others) not because of the historical value and perspective on modern diplomacy, but -- initially -- to find out about the "fairy princess" dresses that Mrs. Kennedy wore. (Heavy intellectual challenges...! To heck with Khrushchev, I want to understand the Givenchy!!)

And I really like the last sentence quoted above, and its meanings & implications: "After her tenure, the idea was eventually implemented."
Here she encountered frustration -- and a person does get frustrated when they're all in a whirl of enthusiasm, and then they run up against some stodgy bureaucrat who isn't on board -- 'Fe fi fo fum, what's all this French influence and nonsense...that -- er -- wasn't OUR idea...we're not havin' any FRENCH stuff...rahr rar, rehr...' -- but then later -- "the idea was eventually implemented"... : )


Friday, August 19, 2011

man who accompanied

"I'd like to introduce myself: I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris. And I have enjoyed it."

President Kennedy greeted a batch of journalists with that quote, or something like it, in spring 1961, after huge crowds of people in France had turned out to greet the American President and First Lady. Admiration and enthusiasm directed toward Mrs. Kennedy led the president to affectionately (and admiringly) acknowledge her ascending "stardom," and, more substantively important, her value to his leadership. ...

First, a trip to Canada, where Pres. Kennedy injured his back in a tree-planting ceremony; the pain lasted all the way through the Europe trip which was --
France, then
Vienna, then

Meeting with --
President de Gaulle in France,
Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna,
and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in England.

De Gaulle visit went well -- (the French Pres., very charmed / fascinated by Jackie); in Vienna, after warnings to not get sucked into ideological debating with Khrushchev, President Kennedy went into meetings with the Soviet premier and -- got sucked into ideological debating with him ...!

Pres. Kennedy felt bad afterwards, like he had been pushed around, and like he had lost something -- "lost" the conversation. But -- a debate inside of a room, with only your advisors present -- that means, for your country and for the world -- erm, -- mmh -- Nada. It was just an ego trip for Khrushchev and an ego-battering for Kennedy -- psychological trash-talk, whatever...
Our social and governmental system is better than yours!
My father can beat up your father!
My dog is bigger than your dog!

Whatever, dude.
Of course, Khrushchev may have entertained wishful thinking that because he had surprised and verbally pummeled the new American president in private conversation, that our president would then be intimidated by him, Khrush., in all dealings in the future. But I doubt that the Russian premiere was that naive. He was probably just spending a few hours practicing up his techniques of Sounding Right, and Dominating.

Meanwhile, since there was so much public enthusiasm for Mrs. Kennedy, and breathless, glowing press coverage of her clothes, her glamour, her charm, her impressive knowledge of French culture, history, and art -- of course some bitchy journalist was tired of the unabated love-fest and wrote that at dinner in Vienna, the American First Lady might have had too much to drink.
(!) That was not something Mrs. Kennedy would do -- someone always has to come up with something mean to say...

So after Vienna, when they were with Prime Minister Macmillan, Kennedy, ticked off with himself for his perceived failure to hold his own with the Soviet premier, got onto a different subject, grousing about the speculation in the one press report that Mrs. Kennedy might have been tipsy:
"What would you do," he demanded to Macmillan, "if someone wrote that Lady Dorothy [Macmillan's wife] was a drunk?"

Macmillan: "I would reply, you should have seen her mother."


Thursday, August 18, 2011

"shut my mouth" - (?)

"Editing" my collection of music CDs: some I just don't listen to, and they're going to yard sale (someone else's - !)...
some I almost set on the "past history" line-up,
but then Listened To, and said
Hold it! There's a reason why I bought this!
And put it back in the Keep area...
The album (CD) Southern Star, by Alabama (1989) went that route:
1. Why do I have this?
2. Probably going...
3. Listen -
4. Keep.

Song, song of the south.
Sweet potato pie and shut my mouth,
Gone, gone with the wind,
There ain't nobody looking back again.

Cotton on the roadside, cotton in the ditch,
We all picked the cotton but we never got rich,
Daddy was a veteran, a southern Democrat,
They oughta get a rich man to vote like that,

Sing it --
Song! song of the south...

Well somebody told us Wall Street fell
But we were so poor that we couldn't tell.
Cotton was short and the weeds were tall,
But Mr. Roosevelt's a-gonna save us all.

Well momma got sick and daddy got down,
The county got the farm and they moved to town.
Poppa got a job with the TVA,
He bought a washing machine and then a Chevrolet.

Sing it --
Song -- song of the south,
Sweet potato pie and shut my mouth,
Gone -- gone with the wind,
There ain't nobody going back again...

That album also has the songs "High Cotton" and "Barefootin'" and other great cuts...


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

common sense

When I worked in state politics I noticed a trend, or pattern, when a legislator would tell me about something he accomplished: they tend to make it a little bit bigger and better than it was.

Like if, on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best) the accomplishment (bill passed; bill killed; rules written; people convinced...) was actually probably a 7, it would be described as a 9 or 10. ... that sort of difference. Which is not to criticize; I noticed this tendency, with admiration and affection for the individual unmoved. (After all, you don't like someone because they're perfect: if you did, you'd have a SHORT Christmas list...!)

Thought maybe that was a trait of all people, not just politicians, but that theory proved incorrect. When I first began at my current workplace, I could hear Maintenance people talking over a two-way radio and I was filled with awe and question marks. ("What are they doing?" "What is that thing he told the other guy to bring from the shop?" "What is that?" "What does that mean?" ? ? ?)

If you looked at the gigantic, heavy, expensive equipment they have to keep running, it's amazing to imagine how they --
figure out the problem
find the answer
and implement the "cure"...

I wondered, "How do people learn to do something like that?"
So I asked one of the mechanics one day, "Did you go to school to learn how to do this work?"
(incredulous): "Well, how did you learn it?"
{And as I asked the question of a variety of different mechanics, over time, the answers they gave were pretty much these...}

Working on a farm.
Working with my dad.
(shrug): I don't know -- just picked it up.
It's just common sense, really.
I'd hear pretty much the same thing, with the words re-arranged maybe, from these various different guys and I started to think, It's funny -- they're like the opposite of the politicians -- instead of making what they do sound even better -- like, embellish -- they actually downplay it, understating their accomplishments.

I found that interesting.
I think being able to figure out how to fix equipment is more like a natural talent you're born with, like singing and dancing -- like Jerry Lee Lewis said about Chuck Berry: "God-given talent!"

"Common sense" definitely under-plays it.
I mean, my Grandma Snow had "common sense." I have common sense. Amy the bank teller has common sense. But probably none of us could fix industrial equipment.

...and what the experts say:
"Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done."
~ C.E. Stowe (son of the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe [Uncle Tom's Cabin])

"Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (American poet, lecturer, and essayist, 1803 - 1882)

"I can never fear that things will go far wrong where common sense has fair play."
~ Thomas Jefferson (3rd American Pres. & author of Declaration of Independence. 1762 - 1826)

"The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense."
~ Thomas Alva Edison (American inventor. 1847 - 1931)

"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."
~ William James (American philosopher and psychologist. 1842 - 1910)


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

see the sea

"Walking Beside The Ocean"

Sand makes an uneasy, crumbly walking path,
stifling speed and converting the
to “make time”
into the desire to
just ease along—
Strolling, scrambling, hiking –
And watching the vast water,
Getting yourself a little dizzy with the
continuing movement.

The ocean has its life and priorities
And has no knowledge of
people's despair, joy or
unrequited hope.

Towering expanse.
and lush.

Tangy breeze whips your hair
and shirt
on the way back –
At the cottage, a simple meal – fish,
or steak. Or hamburgers on the grill.
Salad, fruit.
(“Sherbert,” the neighbor girl used to say.)

Evening on the porch. Books. Cigarettes.
Conversation is fine, yet Quiet is comfortable.
Soft, surface slosh,
Subterranean breath and roar
can just – be.
Like us.


Monday, August 15, 2011

damn darkness

In a conversation Friday someone reminded me to "light a candle" instead of "cursing the darkness."
(I had been thinking about how to have a positive political movement -- a third party, or something, for normal people...I don't know, negativity and moronicism (??) in our national political life was bumming me out...)

I was kind of surprised at myself -- that I needed to be reminded to "light a candle instead of cursing the darkness" -- I thought I knew that stuff already -- got funneled into my head in childhood formative years -- church, God, be nice don't kill

Then -- I was wrong again -- I thought the not-cursing-darkness quote came from the Bible but was wrong, apparently it came from Adlai Stevenson -- (he had such an enthusiastic band of supporters in his day, they might have thought if it came from him it might as well have come from the Bible...!)
(I remember a Peanuts cartoon where it's dark, and Lucy is standing there with her mouth open wide, hollering, "You stupid darkness!")


Friday, August 12, 2011

dance around

As I was trying to clarify my understanding of the
democracy - vs. - communism
conflict (cold war)
in the last century,
there were always two "tracks" of effort --
or, no -- three:

1. talking (Soviet leaders and American leaders were in communication with each other throughout that Cold War time, I think ...they would meet and talk, meet and talk. Try to be nice. Pretend to be nice. Try to find common ground. Pretend to be trying to find common ground. Build up ba-jillions of weapons, then agree to not use them, not test them, and not build any more.

2. spying

3. fighting on the ground (Korea, Vietnam...)

Talking, spying, fighting.
Of course if they would ask me what they should do, I would have recommended the talking without the fighting.
Similarly, I think when people go hunting, what they really want is to have a reason to be outdoors, and to have a goal -- so, leave the guns at home at take a camera! Take beautiful pictures of the wildlife!

My boss and I talked about that, and I also shared with him my recommendation that boxing not include any hitting.
Boxing is interesting to watch, the way the opponents bob and weave and move. You know -- that's nice, and then no one winds up with brain damage.
To me that makes perfect sense -- (I always try to select the activity which does not include brain damage. know?)

But my boss seemed to think I was joking, and said, "You think people would buy tickets to see two guys dance around?"
Um -- yeah -- I don't know...
Later I thought of a more intelligent answer to that very practical question -- he was thinking of ticket sales -- way ahead of me on the big picture...and I realized, "...To see two guys dance around...(very funny)...Yes! Darn it, YES! You could sell tickets to that! You'd just be selling them to -- different people...


Thursday, August 11, 2011


stock market
pounding, sweeping rain, thunder-lightning
and post-England riots Commentary, linking street explosions to corruption in governments-corporations-media -- one said it's "trickle-down behavior"...
I found a poem, "author unknown":

The ocean seems such a long way off,
high in the mountain drainage.
Boulders sit for centuries beside the stream,
unmoved by its perfect song.
So many days and nights,
circles spun 'round the brilliant sun,
seasons of change and return,
change and return.

Yet even massive rocks
so sure and solidly standing,
fall before the irresistible movement
of storms inevitably arising.
They spill into the flow,
they hear the water's song - finally!
and are drowned in it.

Now they are only movement,
sometimes almost imperceptible
yet irrevocably drawn -
bumping against one another,
becoming smooth
like cobbles
like pebbles
like dust
dissolving in the current.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

river deep, mountain high

And I was thinking the Cold War with the Soviet Union avoided
the Ultimate Insanity: matching nuclear capability vs. nuclear capability and thus Blowing Up The World,
by instead
expressing the conflict in ground wars, mainly 3, I think:

1. Korea in the 50s
2. Vietnam in the 60s and into the 70s
3. Afghanistan in the 80s -- which most people didn't know about because WE didn't fight it, the Afghans fought it & we arranged for them to get weapons (see film "Charlie Wilson's War"...many of us didn't understand U.S. backing of the 1980s Afghan rebel effort until four years ago when that movie came out.

We must turn to Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts to find out what's going on in world ...)

Basically -- meeting Soviet / communist aggression and pushing it back. And it's at the end of the 80s that the "wall came down" and communism was abruptly -- over. (Well, in Russia, anyway -- but they were the main ones...)

That's four-and-a-half decades of continuing struggle and periodically-renewed conflict, following World War II, to see communism defeated.

When I was a little kid, and while growing up, I didn't think we'd ever see the end of the Soviet Union. I thought that was simply a world dynamic we were going to live with forever.

And meanwhile of course, overlap -- as communist threat was cooling down, middle east and terrorists start to boil up as the new "Problem Crop." No sooner did communism end, than pretty soon, Gulf War. ...


Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Thinking of the Vietnam War and what it meant, remembered someone I know saying recently, "We fought in Vietnam but they didn't appreciate it!"
(He did two or three tours, I think.)
Naturally I said, "Yes they did."
I never knew anyone personally who showed any kind of disrespect toward American fighting forces in Vietnam. And it seemed I knew very few people (maybe none) who were enthusiastic about that war.

I think the generation that fought WWII -- they certainly were not "anti-military" but they didn't necessarily see the point of -- well the Vietnam effort didn't have the definite list of objectives, and goal / end-point that Second World War had (which everyone Understood).
And I think there was a sense of -- they fought to make the world safe for democracy, and now we WON -- and then, along comes this action in Korea which went on several years, and
Johnson - Nixon - whatever wants our KIDS slogging through swamps on the other side of the world fighting deadly invisible snipers in the f-----g jungle and think there must have been an overwhelming sense, among the "middle-aged" people who for the most part were Not carrying signs or protesting Anything, but I think there must have been somewhat of a sense of -- DO WE HAVE TO BE "AT WAR" ALL THE

A friend of mine who survived being a POW of the Japanese during WWII was on the draft board in the 60s and, he said, "Not everybody had to go. And that wasn't fair."

And some people questioned: is the Vietnam War being dragged out and going on seemingly forever because big military contractors are making millions?

"There's plenty of good money to be made
Supplying the army with the tools of the trade"
-- Country Joe McDonald

"Now the rovin' gambler he was very bored
Trying to create a next world war,
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
He said I never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes I think it can be very easily done --
We'll just put some bleachers out in the sun
and have it out on Highway 61...
-- Bob Dylan

Besides -- and before -- Bob Dylan and Country Joe and the Fish, President Dwight Eisenhower warned, in a speech before he left office, of the military-industrial complex -- the idea that a mutually profitable situation, Pentagon - business, could evolve into an entity that would protect and perpetuate itself, bureaucracy-like.


Monday, August 8, 2011

ask not

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on generals, let's move fast;
Your big chance has come at last.
Gotta go out and get those reds --
The only good commie is the one who's dead
And you know that peace can only be won
When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well come on Wall Street, don't move slow,
Why man, this is war au-go-go.
There's plenty good money to be made
By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade,
Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
They drop it on the Viet Cong.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send 'em off before it's too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die
That's a song by Country Joe and the Fish -- "Fixin' to die Rag,"
They performed it at Woodstock in 1969.
I knew that.
Country Joe wrote it in 1965.
Didn't know that -- seemed surprising to me: I didn't know people were that angry about the Vietnam war, that early.
The fact that this song got good reception at Woodstock in 1969 doesn't seem surprising -- it was then a year after President Johnson declined to run again -- "If nominated, I will not run; and if elected, I will not serve" -- but I didn't know something like that would be written as early on as 1965. ---------------------------
(In the 90s, a lobbyist once startled me by beginning to sing that song in the Senate Lobby of our state capitol building. He was sitting down on one of the leather-covered antique sofas, I think: his briefcase next to him: "And it's one-two-three, what're we fightin' for? Don't ask me I don't give-a-damn -- Next stop is Vietnam..." (Little musical notes bouncing in the air around his head...) I was like, "Hmmh, OK then..."

He sang the rest of the chorus.
Later, went on to become a judge.)
It was a long trip in a short time
("long strange trip," as the Grateful Dead would say)
a long ways, in only 8 years -- 1961 to 1969 -- from
"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"
"Whoopee! We're all gonna die" ...
"Hey hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
chanted in between.


Friday, August 5, 2011

cold war

{excerpt, Smith / Grace and Power}----------------
After France had been driven out of Southeast Asia, de Gaulle opposed American military intervention there -- a "bottomless military and political quagmire," he called it. He was also working to build a French nuclear capability -- both to achieve superpower status and to ensure an independent defense against the Soviets. In April, France tested its fourth atomic bomb.

JFK had clashed once with the French before his presidency, when he gave his farsighted 1957 speech promoting independence for their colony in Algeria. The French establishment was "wild with fury." Over a quiet lunch, Ambassador Hervé Alphand had admonished Sen. Kennedy for interfering in France's efforts to resolve the situation. "He promised me not to pursue the question," Alphand recalled. "He kept his promise." When Kennedy fretted that he would suffer domestic political consequences for his position, his practical father assured him, "You'll be out of the woods on the Algerian statement long before the people vote."

Kennedy readied himself for de Gaulle by ploughing through history books and contemporary analyses. He studied a translation of the de Gaulle memoirs so he could cite pertinent passages, and he was briefed in the Oval Office by Raymond Aron, the contrarian political philosopher and critic of de Gaulle. Bundy and Sorensen counseled JFK to lead his discussion with de Gaulle by asking questions. In a confidential memo, New York Times columnist Cy Sulzberger urged the president to "prepare a favorable atmosphere" beginning with areas of agreement, then progressing to more thorny issues.

Kennedy relied mostly on advice from Macmillan, who took a philosophical view after a long history with his imposingly tall French counterpart, whom he nicknamed "the little pinhead." On Kennedy's behalf, Macmillan wrote to"my dear friend" de Gaulle, advising him to "talk to [Kennedy] very frankly and set out your views fully." The Englishman well understood de Gaulle's "pride, his inherited hatred of England," and "his intense 'vanity' for France." Macmillan cautioned Kennedy that "conversations with de Gaulle are quite difficult to conduct" because the Frenchman "sometimes puts his thoughts in a rather elliptical way."
[space in text]

Far more challenging to Kennedy was the summit with the sixty-six-year-old Khrushchev, whom the American President had met fleetingly when the Soviet leader visited the Senate in the fall of 1959. At that time, Khrushchev had pegged the Massachusetts senator as a man on the rise. The first overtures for a summit meeting had come just weeks after the January 1961 inauguration, but the Bay of Pigs seemed to scuttle all prospects until Khrushchev surprisingly issued an invitation less than a month later. In one of his first forays into foreign policy as a back-channel operative for his brother, Bobby Kennedy met secretly with a Russian intelligence agent named Georgi Bolshakov, who led him to believe that Khrushchev might be ready to discuss a possible ban on nuclear weapons tests.

The nuclear menace lay at the heart of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949, but the magnitude of that threat took on new meaning in 1957, when they launched the Sputnik rocket into space and served notice that they could deliver nuclear weapons across the oceans in a half hour. JFK fanned American fears by harping on the "missible gap" during the presidential campaign. In fact, each superpower then possessed significant "overkill" -- 18,000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal and a smaller but still substantial amount on the Soviet side.

Even as the two superpowers raced to amass nuclear arms, they (along with Britain) had voluntarily suspended atomic weapons tests since 1958 and had also engaged in arms control talks in Geneva. ...
The possibility of engaging Khrushchev on arms control seemed a worthy goal for the Vienna summit.

Kennedy had no shortage of tactical advice on ways of approaching the Soviet leader. From India, Ken Galbraith relayed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's warning that the Soviet premier was "a man of exceedingly fast responses." Walter Lippmann, who had recently returned from the Soviet Union, observed that Khrushchev used deceptively simple language to connect with the average Russia, sometimes speaking in fables to make his points. CIA analysts warned that Khrushchev (who had shocked the world the previous year by brandishing his shoe during a speech at the United Nations) "is more aggressive when he's tired." Sixty-nine-year-old Averell Harriman, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, cautioned against taking Khrushchev's pugnacity too literally or trying to debate him. Rather, President Kennedy should try to deflect theSoviet leader's bluster with humor.
--------------------- {end Excerpt.
Grace And Power, by Sally Bedell Smith. Copyright 2004. Random House. New York.}

Floating in the background behind these ping-ponging efforts --

was the de Gaulle-named (then only potential) "quagmire" of Vietnam.
This was spring 1961.
Three years later, August 1964, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by Congress allowed Pres. Johnson to wage war without war being declared,
and nearly
years after
end 1972 --
by-now-President NIXON is sending Henry Kissinger out, as Candidate George McGovern said, "kept him in orbit for weeks ahead of the election," saying that "peace was at hand"...
And -----------------{Excerpt, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Hunter Thompson}: "President Nixon will be sworn into office for a second term today....Mr. Nixon will once again take the oath on a temporary stand outside the east front of the Capitol....It will be the President's first statement to the American people since his television appearance on November 6, election eve. Since then the peace talks have collapsed, massive bombing of North Vietnam has been instituted and then called off, and the talks have resumed without extended public comment from Mr. Nixon... -- San Francisco Chronicle, January 20, 1973


Thursday, August 4, 2011

do something positive

{Excerpt: Grace And Power}
--- The first major reverberation from the Bay of Pigs was in Southeast Asia. Macmillan worried that "the failure of the covert action in Cuba might lead to the Americans insisting upon overt action in Laos." In fact, the opposite reaction occurred. "I was ready to go into Laos," Kennedy told Hugh Sidey. "Yes, we were going to do it. Then because of Cuba I thought we'd better take another look at the military planning for Laos." Kennedy still believed, as he told Lem Billings, that if the communists prevailed in Laos, "Vietnam would be next. Then Thailand, et cetera." Yet when "we began to talk about maybe going into Laos," Kennedy recalled, "all the generals and other people disagreed about this, and you don't know whom to believe and whom to disbelieve."

Kennedy was asking those generals tougher questions than he had before Cuba, and the unsatisfactory answers steered him away from intervention -- mainly because he realized the United States lacked enough conventional troops to win. "I just don't think we ought to get involved in Laos," Kennedy told Richard Nixon, citing the possibility of fighting "millions" of troops "in the jungles." Moreover, said Kennedy, "I don't see how we can make any move in Laos, which is 5000 miles away, if we don't make a move in Cuba, which is only 90 miles away."

JFK's skepticism was reinforced by Bobby, as well as Sorensen, who favored a peaceful resolution. For public consumption, Kenedy continued to make warlike noises, keeping 10,000 marines in readiness on Okinawa. But he also pushed a face-saving political alternative -- a cease-fire followed by the creation of a coalition government including the Pathet Lao, with the country's neutrality guaranteed by an international conference.

By early May the Pathet Lao comfortably controlled half of Laos. The Soviets helped organize a cease-fire, and a conference convened in Geneva to work out the terms of a newly configured neutralist Laos. The solution was expedient and flawed, placing communists in numerous government positions and failing to prevent the Pathet Lao from continuing to quietly secure more territory. It seemed unlikely that Laos would achieve independence, but at least the United States couldn't be accused of abandoning the country to outright communist rule.

Chapter Sixteen.
Two weeks before the Bay of Pigs defeat, William Shannon wrote in the liberal New York Post that Kennedy was like "a lithe young diver on the high board bouncing conspicuously but never quite taking the plunge." With his foreign adventure ending in a belly flop, Kennedy sought new ways to make a more graceful impression. On May 25, JFK effectively started his presidency all over again, giving what he called his "second State of the Union address," speaking for forty-seven minutes to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience. As before, he presented a laundry list of domestic and foreign initiatives.

This time [the president] grabbed attention with a bold proposal to spend nearly $700 million ($4.2 billion today) as the first step in a $9 billion ($54 billion today) effort to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Space exploration, he declared, could "hold the key to our future on earth." Previously, Kennedy had viewed the space program as an unnecessary expense, although Lyndon Johnson, whom Kennedy had designated his point man on space issues, had long been a forceful advocate.

The president changed his mind in April after Russia successfully sent a manned spacecraft into orbit around the earth for ninety minutes. Three weeks later the United States conducted its own space launch, televised live for maximum effect by the president's order. Astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. soared 115 miles into the upper atmosphere, then emerged safely after his capsule landed 302 miles out in the Atlantic. It was a risky enterprise -- scientists had estimated a 75 percent chance of success -- but it paid off handsomely for the new administration. "With Shepard rode the hopes of the U.S. and the whole free world in a period of darkness," Time observed. The Soviets still held the technological lead, so the moon exploration plan was a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

A more promising effort to jump-start the Kennedy presidency was his first official trip overseas. In early April he announced a visit to Paris to confer with French president Charles de Gaulle; in mid-May he added Vienna to the itinerary for a meeting with Nikita Khrushchev. These consultations, and the pomp surrounding them, would be a major part of Kennedy's aggressive image-making.

The prospect of a Paris visit caught the public imagination instantly. Press accounts speculated that Jackie would serve as her husband's translator. Kennedy had a middling knowledge of French, telling Nicole Alphand, wife of the French ambassador, that he understood "about one out of every five words but always the words 'de Gaulle.'" The White House hastened to clarify Jackie's role, saying that instead of translating, she would be "tied up in other official good will duties." But Jackie's special French expertise -- her linguistic fluency, Bouvier heritage, sojourns in Paris, knowledge and affinity for the history and culture -- offered unmatched opportunities to burnish the image of the United States.

De Gaulle had been a source of special fascination for Jackie since World War II, when she had named her poodle Gaullie because her dog, like the French general, was "straight and proud with a prominent nose..." her stepbrother Yusha recalled. Later she read de Gaulle's Mémoires in French; during a primary campaign swing in Wisconsin, she had appeared with volume two at her side. ...

To prepare for her return to the City of Light, Jackie brushed up her language skills with a tutor from the French Embassy, read briefing papers prepared by the State Department, and organized a wardrobe of continental sophistication. She hewed to the now celebrated -- and widely imitated -- "Jackie look" of classic, simple tailoring, with an emphasis on what Oleg Cassini described as "sumptuous fabric, unusual color and distinctive details" to please the Parisian cognoscenti. ...

To President Kennedy, de Gaulle was a "great and gloomy figure" -- the hero of the French resistance during World War II, and as president since 1958 the apotheosis of French national pride. Kennedy knew, according to Sorensen, that the seventy-year-old de Gaulle could be "irritating, intransigent, insufferably vain, inconsistent and impossible to please."

After France had been driven out of Southeast Asia, de Gaulle opposed American military intervention there -- a "bottomless military and political quagmire"...
{author: Sally Bedell Smith. Copyright, 2004.
Random House. New York.}


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

live and learn

----------------------- When he returned to Washington on April 4, Kennedy didn't disclose the substance of his Florida discussions. But Mac Bundy and Schlesinger detected a toughening of Kennedy's attitude and suspected that Joe Kennedy, Earl Smith, and Smathers were responsible. On April 5, JFK approved the CIA plan. Bundy was not yet comfortable enough in their relationship to say to the President, "What the hell has happened to you on the weekend?" Bundy recalled. "But I didn't say that. I said, 'Yes, sir.'" ...

Although there had been a surprising number of press accounts on the CIA training in Guatemala, journalists were strikingly timid on reporting the invasion plans. ...

Charley Bartlett had the story...and censored himself. Bartlett had been tipped by no less than Ernesto Betancourt, Castro's representative in the United States who had just returned from Florida. "In Miami everyone is talking about the invasion, Bay of Pigs," Betancourt told Bartlett. "It will be a disaster." Bartlett refrained from telling Kennedy because "I thought, 'Why add to his burdens?" Instead, Bartlett told Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, who denied the account.

Kennedy had doomed the invaders even before they landed, leaving them vulnerable to attack by air. "Kennedy understood part of the plan, but he never understood that the navy planes were essential to the plan," said Douglas Dillon, who had been involved in the Cuba operation under Eisenhower. After a day of fighting, the refugee force was surrounded by 20,000 Cuban troops, and more than 1,000 were taken prisoner. It was a humiliating rout -- and the biggest failure of Kennedy's life.

...In his public statements, Kennedy appropriately took full responsibility for the debacle, and the American press and citizenry were in a forgiving mood. Two weeks after the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy's approval rating registered at 82 percent. ...

But the Bay of Pigs snapped the Kennedy spell and altered the course of his presidency. "Before the Bay of Pigs everything was a glorious adventure, onward and upward," Spalding said. "Afterwards it was a series of ups and downs with terrible pitfalls, suspicion everywhere, [with him] cautious of everything, questioning always."

Even more consequential was Kennedy's immediate expansion of the duties of Ted Sorensen and Bobby Kennedy, placing them at his side for all further foreign policy deliberations. Bobby had appeared at an early briefing on the Cuba plan two days after the inauguration and again five days before the scheduled landing, but otherwise he had been out of the loop. "I need someone who knows me and my thinking and can ask me the tough questions," Kennedy told Sorensen...According to Lem Billings, JFK knew that "Bobby was the only person he could rely on to be absolutely dedicated....From that moment on, the Kennedy presidency became a sort of collaboration between them." ...

------------ The first major reverberation from the Bay of Pigs was in Southeast Asia.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

swine bay backstory

{Excerpt from Grace And Power, by Sally Bedell Smith. Copyright 2004. Random House. New York.}-----------------------
--------------------------- Macmillan didn't prevail in their Key West meeting, however, as Kennedy insisted on keeping the military option open in Laos. The President had already made a tough televised statement and moved troops and warships into position. JFK's plan was to secure the Laotian capital of Vientiane with several battalions of American soldiers joined by troops from regional allies such as Pakistan and Thailand. Although Kennedy "pressed very hard," Macmillan couldn't offer British forces, explaining that he needed cabinet approval for such a commitment. "Kennedy obviously thought this was an excuse," said Henry Brandon, Washington correspondent for London's Sunday Times. Against his better judgment, Macmillan agreed that Kennedy might have to take action out of political necessity "in order not to be 'pushed about' by the Russians."

Privately, Kennedy assured dovish aides such as Schlesinger that his maneuvers were more theatrical than real -- bluffs intended to convince the Soviets to support a cease-fire. Kennedy thought Laos was not "worthy of engaging the attention of great powers," Schlesinger wrote. But the hawks on his staff believed Kennedy intended to proceed. In Walt Rostow's view, "Kennedy was ready to fight in Laos to hold the Mekong Valley" -- the strategic linchpin of the country.

A crucial factor in Kennedy's thinking had nothing to do with Southeast Asia. By late March he was immersed in plans for an American-backed invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro -- the infamous landing at Cuba's Bay of Pigs. The scheme had been hatched during the Eisenhower administration by the CIA, which trained Cuban exiles in Guatemala for what was known as Operation Pluto.

The numerous mistakes Kennedy made in authorizing and directing the ill-conceived invasion resulted from inexperience and over-confidence. In dismantling Eisenhower's national security apparatus, Kennedy had intended to broaden his sources of information for decision-making. Yet the ultimate irony of the Bay of Pigs was that Kennedy limited himself to advice that he couldn't test or analyze. "He tried to keep it very secret, and he succeeded too well," said Douglas Dillon. JFK's susceptibility to a covert preemptive operation also hearkened back to themes in Why England Slept, in which he argued that the cautious nature of democracy could hamper a nation's response to totalitatian aggression.

Having taken a stand as an anti-communist fighter committed to oust Castro, Kennedy considered several options. The simplest was to help a small cadre -- perhaps several hundred men -- infiltrate Cuba to strengthen an indigenous resistance movement. The most ambitious was a full-scale invasion including American troops, which was unacceptably imperialistic. JFK compromised on what Macmillan called "a complete muddle" -- an amphibious landing of 1,400 men that was expected to provoke a popular uprising against Castro. ...

Kennedy had serious doubts from the start; he questioned the likelihood of mass uprisings, for example. "He couldn't quite bring himself to trust his own sense," wrote Stewart Alsop. But a greater concern was that he would seem the appeaser -- the ghost of his father's legacy -- if he derailed the plan, handing the Republicans "the issue forever," said Rostow.

[Ambassador Joseph Kennedy had wanted to appease Hitler and avoid war. ('Mon over here Adolf, & sit b'side me. Set-a-spell.) -- I'm just making up that quote, but that was the -- that was -- Yikes. That was something the Ambassador never lived down, & here was his son trying to live it down for him. ... ]

Kennedy and George Smathers had visited Cuba together at the end of 1957....They stayed at the U.S. Embassy as guests of Kennedy's longtime friends Ambassador Earl Smith and his wife, Flo. On December 23 the two senators were honored at an embassy Christmas party, followed by gambling at the Sans Souci casino...."Kennedy wasn't a great casino man," said Smathers, "but the Tropicana nightclub had a floor show you wouldn't believe. . . . Kennedy liked Cuba. He liked the style."

Many in the State Department dismissed Earl Smith as a lightweight, but Kennedy gave him more credit....Said Charley Bartlett..."Earl had a very sharp mind, was a very good investor, a bit of a gambler. Earl had good judgment and was shrewd." A graduate of Yale who was fluent in three languages, Smith had been visiting Cuba since 1928 and had made many friends there before arriving in Havana as ambassador in July 1957, seven months after Castro landed with a guerrilla force he had trained while exiled in Mexico.

For the next eighteen months, Smith tried to manage an increasingly explosive situation as Castro gathered strength and Fulgencio Batista, Cuba's longtime president, tightened his dictatorial grip. Unlike Smith's predecessor, Arthur Gardner, who was friendly enough with Batista to play canasta with him several times a week, Smith kept his distance and reached out to an alternative "anti-Batista element" in the intelligentsia, middle class, and Catholic Church. Smith recognized early that Castro was an avowed Marxist, which the State Department and influential reporters such as Herbert Matthews of the New York Times...chose to ignore.

Shortly after Batista fled on New Year's Day 1959 and Castro seized power, Earl and Flo returned to the United States. Within the next year, Castro declared himself a communist and ally of the Soviet Union, prompting the Eisenhower administration to impose economic sanctions. The U.S. government viewed the close proximity of a Soviet client state as a significant military threat, not only to Latin American countries but to the United States as well. While Smith's warnings about Castro were vindicated, State Department mandarins continued to belittle the former ambassador. ...

[In 1961] Kennedy spent the long Easter weekend in Palm Beach, where he had more than three hours of private meetings with Smith at his friend's beachfront home. The topic, according to Earl Smith Jr., was the proposed attack on Cuba. "My father said they were talking about how could one remove the threat without an all-out military exercise," said Smith. "Kennedy said, 'What happens if we get bogged down?' My father said, 'Don't undertake it unless you do it 100 percent.' Jack Kennedy said, 'There are things at hand you are not aware of.'"

When he returned to Washington on April 4, Kennedy didn't disclose the substance of his Florida discussions. But Mac Bundy and Schlesinger detected a toughening of Kennedy's attitude and suspected that Joe Kennedy, Earl Smith, and Smathers were responsible.

On April 5, JFK approved the CIA plan.


Monday, August 1, 2011

haven't figured it out

Toward the end of Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail '72, there's a conversation between candidate George McGovern and HST (Hunter Thompson) --
McGovern: No, and I still haven't figured it out. I mean, I still haven't really figured out the dimensions of it. I think the war thing had a big impact at the end there, the fact that Kissinger was able to say that peace was at hand, just give us a few more days. It almost looked like if we threw them out it would disrupt all this effort that has gone on over the last months. You know, they kept him in orbit for weeks ahead of the election. I think that had an impact.

Reading that I thought, Nixon had already been president for four years -- 1968 to 1972. He had four years to get busy and end our involvement in Vietnam. Suddenly in -- Hello, October 1972, right before the election ("coincidentally") -- suddenly "peace is at hand." Aahhh.
[Excerpts from Grace And Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House]:
The public euphoria of Kennedy's first hundred days masked concerns in the West Wing over communist encroachments in Southeast Asia and Cuba. The first flashpoint was tiny (population an estimated two million) Laos, which, according to Schlesinger, occupied more of Kennedy's time than anything else during his first months in office. After the expulsion of French colonial forces from Southeast Asia by the communists in 1954, Laos had survived as a weak neutralist kingdom, bolstered by $300 million in American aid over five years. Now, with Pathet Lao guerrillas (backed by both the Soviet Union and North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, the victor over the French) poised to overrun the country, Kennedy was developing plans to intervene with the U.S. military.

Events in Laos also affected neighboring South Vietnam. Communist Viet Cong guerrillas, who relied on North Vietnam for men and materiel, would benefit greatly from unfettered supply routes through Laos. "The President was watching this thing," recalled Walt Rostow. "He knew that he had inherited a disintegrating situation." If the pro-Western governments in both Laos and South Vietnam fell, according to the prevailing "domino theory," the communists could gain control of Southeast Asia before extending their reach to India and possibly the Middle East.

Among those Kennedy consulted in his deliberations was Sir William David Ormsby Gore....They [Kennedy and Ormsby Gore] had first met when Joe Kennedy was ambassador to Britain, and Jack and David were students at Harvard and Oxford. ...
JFK admired Gore as an exemplar of what Schlesinger described as "English political society, with its casual combination of wit, knowledge and unconcern." ...They shared a sense of the ridiculous, and an impatience with long-winded or self-important bores.

Both men were sons of dogmatic fathers, and were touched by the tragedy of losing a beloved older brother in his youth. Kennedy and Gore gave the appearance of being laid-back and unemotional in the stereotypical English manner. Recognizing aspects of himself in Kennedy, Gore observed, "I think he had deep emotions, but he very much disliked the display of them"....

As they matured, the two friends recognized the extent of their political and intellectual compatibility. A member of Parliament since 1950, Gore was a Tory -- but of the "wet" or liberal variety, an advocate of the sort of policies Kennedy supported. ...

In that spirit, Gore and JFK had dinner in late February at the White House. "Speaking with the bluntness of an old friend," wrote Schlesinger, Gore "offered a caustic picture of American policy in Laos." The British government opposed military intervention, advocating instead a cease-fire negotiated by an international commission. But Kennedy leaned nevertheless toward using American troops to keep at least part of Laos in friendly hands.

A month later, in a state of "deepest anxiety," Kennedy sought advice directly from [British Prime Minister] Harold Macmillan [a relative of the Kennedys by marriage] in a hastily convened meeting at Key West, Florida. ...Macmillan...possessed "a sharp, disillusioned mind," wrote Schlesinger, and "a vivid sense of history."

...At age sixty-six, Macmillan was close to Eisenhower, a contemporary whom he had known since World War II. He and Eisenhower had "common experiences," Macmillan said at the time. "Now there is this young cocky Irishman. . . . How am I going to deal with him?"

Macmillan disliked Joe Kennedy and feared the possibility of his malevolent influence. The British prime minister had also been alerted by Eisenhower's ambassador to Britain, Jock Whitney, about JFK's flaws. "Kennedy must be a strange character," Macmillan wrote in his journal after Whitney's post-election briefing.

...When Kennedy and Macmillan met for the first time in Florida,...Macmillan later told Jackie, ..."We seemed to be able (when alone) to talk freely and frankly to each other (as if we had been lifelong friends) and to laugh (a vital thing) at our advisers and ourselves."
...Their shared irreverence provided a level of comfort neither man had anticipated....Kennedy's bond with Macmillan was his most important among America's allies, and he would repeatedly tap the elder statesman's judgment in international crises. They would meet seven times in three years.

Macmillan didn't prevail in their Key West meeting, however, as Kennedy insisted on keeping the military option open in Laos. {end Excerpts}------------------

Fear / Loathing. Hunter Thompson. 1973.
Grace / Power. Sally Bedell Smith. 2004.