American Elephants

Jonathan Winters: What You Can Do With a Stick by The Elephant's Child

Jonathan Winters passed away last Thursday at the age of 87. Funny, funny man, and an extraordinary comedian. I somehow missed that news. Here is a video of an appearance on the Jack Paar show in April of 1964.  (That was before Johnny Carson) , (Who was before Jay Leno) for you young folks.

Jonathan Winters was at his best simply improvising, as he does here with a stick.  What a quick (and bizarre) mind.  Our world was richer for his humor.

Paul Revere’s Ride by The Elephant's Child


[A little Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the eighteenth of April]
Today is the 238th anniversary of the “Shot heard Round the World”


Listen, my children, and  you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.


He said to his friend,”If the British march
By land or sea from the town tonight,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light—
One if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”


Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, a British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.


Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.


Then he climbed to the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.


Beneath in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.


Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now gazed at the landscape far and near.
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth
And turned and tightened his saddle girth:
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.


And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!


A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.


He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides:
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.


It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.


It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.


And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.


You know the rest.  In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.


So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm—
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will awaken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the  midnight message of Paul Revere.


A lovely paperback edition illustrated by Ted Rand, if you have kids.


Barack Obama: Great Expectations, Tragic Failure. by The Elephant's Child

Barack Obama has been, as president, a very private person, in spite of his constant presence wherever there is a camera. .He doesn’t pal around with Congressional Democrats, nor with much of anybody else. Somebody actually called him “a man of mystery” a few days ago.

He does not reveal much of himself; and according to aides, associates with only a very  few close allies, and keeps much to himself. He avoids meetings, and prefers that advisers present their ideas in writing, with three options for him to choose from, which he tackles late at night. Yet he loves large crowds, the cheering and applause — which explains the constant campaign.

Because he reveals so little of himself, people are quick to attempt to categorize him. He has made no secret of being drawn to radicals, and of seeking out the more radical teachers, advisers and mentors. Is he then a communist, as many have claimed, or a socialist? I think not, though he leans towards communitarianism and is concerned with “fairness” as an ideal.

I think Barack Obama is a truly tragic figure. Shuffled around from one country to another, from parent to grandparent, always the odd one out, the different one. He took his story and made it a triumph of the exotic and the different that destined him for something truly special. It came when he spoke to the Democrat Convention in 2004. A promising state legislator, and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he was invited to give the keynote address. He stood before 4,322 Democrat delegates in the Fleet Center in Boston, and told them the story of his life, and they cheered and applauded.

Obama noted his unlikely presence on the convention stage. His father was a foreign student, born and raised in Kenya. He grew up herding goats. Obama’s mother was born in Kansas to a father who served with Patton and a mother who worked in a bomber factory. …I stand here today grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, That I owe a debt to all who came before me and that, in no other country on earth is my story even possible.

The media were enchanted. To Obama it was the moment when he said to himself “I can do this.” His term in the United States Senate was extremely boring to him; he believed he was destined for bigger things. So he ran for President.

Michelle, according to reports, had doubts. He hadn’t done anything yet. She was right. He had no executive experience, no management experience, and no understanding of the private sector. But he really enjoyed being on the campaign trail, doing and saying whatever it takes to get elected, including lying shamelessly about his opponent, the nation and the world.

Supplied with vast political theatrics, from songs for children to a podium with an almost-presidential seal, and the infamous Greek Columns, it was a campaign such as Americans had never before seen.. He promised much, but the promises were empty.  They were only designed to please.

Governing was something else again. Obama was an amateur. Confronted with a recession as so many other new presidents have been, he proclaimed it the worst since the Great Depression, the worst trouble ever left by a former president, and quickly rammed a Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) through Congress with the help of that former president, who went to great lengths to make the transfer of power easy.

So Obama embarked on a massive stimulus, $860 billion flooded into the economy only to learn that there weren’t any shovel-ready jobs. Much went to government agencies who sat on it, and the rest was simply wasted. The Auto Industry had to be saved from normal bankruptcy with another $63 billion, the bondholders were illegally shafted, a third of the company was given to the unions who were the reason the companies were bankrupt, and auto dealers (private businesses) were abruptly put out of business.

The federal government made a huge effort, behind closed doors, to take over the world’s best health care system to imitate instead the world’s worst health care system — Britain’s NHS. ObamaCare is an unworkable, unbelievable mess that will ruin lives, kill patients and destroy the medical industry. It is unaffordable, and its nature and its costs are not yet apparent to most people who think they are getting “free” health care.

The facts on climate science have changed, but no one in the administration has noticed. There has been no warming for over 15 years. CO2 continues to rise in the atmosphere and is greening the world, as CO2 is a natural fertilizer for plants. Fracking has changed the earth’s energy picture and the United States has exceeded Saudi Arabia in oil production; but the President is still trying to protect us from our “dependence” on “foreign oil.”And federal subsidies for wind farms and solar arrays continue to multiply although both only exist with constant support from fossil fuel fired power plants, and represent only a miniscule portion of electricity produced

The U.S. National Debt is $16,809,211,500,878 and climbing too fast to count.  Our Gross Domestic Product is $15,692,319,919,688 and not climbing nearly as fast as the national debt. We have ten million Americans looking for work, and a president who has no idea how jobs are created.

The president’s narcissism and self-regard do not allow him to consider criticism as meaningful. After this morning’s temper tantrum in the Rose Garden, he will undoubtedly go out campaigning again. He “has a gift,” as he has told us. He can move crowds with the magic of his baritone voice, and he tells people what he believes they want to hear.

He is a tragic figure. Not a tragic hero. When he secured the presidential nomination, he said: “If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on Earth.” Looking back on that— it’s only words.

Many Democrats remain enthralled. He is theirs, the first black President of the United States of America, and he is their absolution. They have been burdened with guilt. Slavery and segregation are the history of the Democratic Party. Their parents and grandparents fought against the Civil Rights bill. Racism is the worst, the greatest sin of the modern world, and electing the first black President proves that they are no longer racist. They are absolved. That leaves them free to call everybody else “racist.”

Will the rules continue to be different for this president?  I don’t know. Will the media continue to absolve Obama of every failure? Obama wants to bury the deficit, raise more taxes so he can “invest” taxpayer money in new projects.

When he demands a new entitlement of national preschool for every four-year-old to be paid for by raising the tax on cigarettes as a solution to America’s unemployment problem — does no one notice the absurdity?

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