American Elephants


General John Kelly: An Emotional Press Conference by The Elephant's Child

If you haven’t watched this today, please watch it now. It’s important. General Kelly takes on the media reaction to a presidential call to a bereaved widow who just lost her husband.

He patiently explains just how the American military treats the loss of one of their own, step by step. General Kelly understands the whole thing deeply, from all sides. He understands enlisting in the military, serving in war, reaching a position where he must send men into harm’s way, and losing some of them to an enemy, and making calls and sorrowing with the bereaved. And he’s been notified of the loss of his own son and received the condolence calls and visits himself.

A Florida congresswoman disgraced herself and her party. Contemptible.

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A Little Inspiration for a Chilly October Day by The Elephant's Child
October 11, 2017, 10:33 pm
Filed under: Education, Freedom, Heartwarming, Military, The United States

Admiral William R. Raven, 2014 Commencement address
 University of Texas at Austin.

It’s not Commencement season, but this excerpt from Admiral Raven’s address to University of Texas grads, is a particularly memorable one. And inspirational. Commencement addresses always strive to be memorable, to give new graduates encouragement for their first steps into the real world. New graduates are usually so wound up with finally getting to that point, wearing the caps and gowns, having parents and family in the audience. It’s a pretty big deal in a student’s life. I don’t know about you but I can’t remember who the speaker at my graduation was or what he said.

This one is memorable.



Good Speech by The Elephant's Child
October 3, 2017, 6:02 am
Filed under: England, France, History, Military, Politics | Tags: , ,

Henry V  by William Shakespeare

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will
stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son:
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

……………………..Victory over the French at Agincourt 1415



Vice President Pence Spoke Today at a Ceremony of Remembrance, on a field at Shanksville, PA. by The Elephant's Child



Draining the Swamp at the Veterans Administration by The Elephant's Child

Our Veterans seeking care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can perhaps breathe a little easier. Five hundred and forty-eight VA employees have been terminated since Donald Trump took office and David Shulkin  took over as secretary of what was called “probably the most incompetently run agency in the United States.”

Another 200 VA workers have been suspended and 33 have been demoted. Those disciplined include 22 senior leaders, more than 70 nurses, 14 police officers and 25 physicians. A program analyst dealing with the Government Accountability, which audits the department, a public affairs specialist, a chef of police and a chief of surgery were also disciplined.

Food service workers, housekeeping aides were also fired.  Lower level jobs in which the deportment has employed felons and convicted sex-offenders were also fired. You could call it a rigorous housecleaning.

The record of failed care for veterans has become a national scandal. Mr. Shulkin was initially appointed by former president Obama as a VA undersecretary, but by the end of the Obama administration he was increasingly frustrated with the American Federation of Government Employees union which defended the rights of bad employees to a government paycheck even when they are harming the veterans they were there to serve. Managers were reluctant to vigorously pursue firings, and firings were often overturned by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Put in charge by President Trump, Shulkin asked Congress for new legislation to reduce the role of MSPB, especially when firing senior leaders. Congress passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in response, and Trump signed the bill in June.

The VA has been found to be a prime abuser of extended paid leave. Two or more years seems excessive, but it was not unusual. Here’s how bureaucracy works: the inspector general’s staff is designed to avoid conflicts of interest in internal investigations. Their work can lead to criminal charges, but they become involved only in an internal review finds evidence on criminal activity. VA internal investigative policies are designed to see if policies and procedures are followed, not to look for criminal activity.

In a 2013 case where an elderly hospitalized veteran died at a Louisiana hospital, in March of 2013. A VA internal investigation found that Harris, a nurses aide, had violated no policies and was not negligent, so was returned to patient care, in April.  However, the local coroner found that the veteran had died of blunt force trauma to the head, and witnesses told him and the VA inspetor general that they saw Harris striking the man. Harris was arrested on December 10, 2013. Harris was out on bail, and on extended (2 years) paid leave until just 3 days before his trial. It was the coroner’s intervention that led to a criminal probe by the IG.

It seems that when the VA wants to appease congressional critics or media critics or even just prevent poor-performing employees from doing further damage, the department paid them to stay home instead of firing them. Even during the campaign Trump talked about “draining the swamp” and the care we owed to our veterans. There is no excuse for such irresponsible practices. Looks like the swamp is finally starting to drain. 548 terminated, and that may be only the beginning. The organization has been put on notice that our veterans will be faithfully served.



The Indispensable Man: A Search for the Real George Washington by The Elephant's Child

This portrait of George Washington is by Charles Wilson Peale.

 Be sure to click on the links to the forensic reconstructions, which is the whole point of this post: (A search for the real George Washington)

The George Washington that most of us see most often is the engraving after the Gilbert Stuart portrait on the one dollar bill.  Reproductions of the Gilbert Stuart portrait and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln used to hang on the front wall of every elementary classroom, with an American flag standing in the corner. But back then we celebrated separate birthdays, and didn’t lump them together into 3-day weekends in which no one remembers any president at all.

The portrait above, was painted by Charles Wilson Peale, who I believe to be the most skilled portraitist of his day. He painted six major portraits of Washington from life, and nearly 60 others based on those life portraits. People all over were hungry to know what their president looked like.  If you look closely at those and at the life mask below by Jean Antoine Houdon, they are clearly representations of the same man. In an age when there were no cameras, portraits were the only way people who could not see the subject in person had of knowing what they looked like. Only a few of the portrait artists were skilled, and many were no more than sign painters — and if they got the hair and the costume more or less right, it was the best they had.

We all know, I think, that George Washington had dreadful false teeth.  A terrible pity, both for the President — because they must have been instruments of torture in his mouth — and because they distract our attention from far more important things about the man. Certainly Washington must have had access to the very best dentists of the day. By 1789, he had only one of his own teeth left.  The teeth were horrible-looking contraptions made of substances like hippopotamus ivory, hinged at the back and operated with springs. He complained that they distorted his lips, and they must have distorted his appearance as well.

Gilbert Stuart was the most celebrated of portraitists.  He trained in London, and was thought to be a potential successor to the famed Sir Joshua Reynolds.  However Stuart was extravagant and fled in debt from London. He turned up in Philadelphia during 1795, hoping to pay off his creditors by creating a multitude of portraits of the world’s greatest man. Washington sat to him for three separate portraits, and Stuart made hundreds of copies. Take a minute to get out a dollar bill, and recognize the Gilbert Stuart image from which the engraving was made.  It is a cruel portrait.

According to James Thomas Flexner’s Washington:The Indispensable Man, Washington and Stuart did not get on. The portraitist usually kept his sitters amused and their faces alive by a flood of showy and outrageous talk. Washington always felt uneasy at having to remain still and being stared at and was put out rather than being amused.

Stuart, who felt that “artists were fundamentally superior to all other men including Presidents, resented Washington’s formality.  He could not forget what had resulted when, in trying to unstiffen the hero, he had gone to the length of saying, “Now, sir, you must let me forget that you are General Washington and I am Stuart the Painter.  Washington replied (as it seemed to him politely), Mr. Stuart need never feel the need for forgetting who he is and who General Washington is.”

Stuart emphasized, as no other portraitist did, the distortions of Washington’s mouth.  Flexner suggests that since Stuart was known to have angrily used General Knox’s portrait as the door of his pigsty that perhaps the harm he did to Washington’s historical image was somewhat deliberate.

This life mask by Jean Antoine Houdon gives us more clues as to what Washington actually looked like.  He was tall, about 6’2″, and most verbal descriptions mention his ‘roman’ nose, so it was perhaps a little prominent.

This is not the face of the Stuart portrait, but looks more probable, and it is close to the Peale portraits. It’s a strong face.

Washington was an outdoorsman who spent much of his life in the saddle, and his complexion would have reflected that — more wrinkles, more weathered.  They didn’t have sunglasses and baseball hats with a brim to keep the sun out of the eyes,  lots of squinting.  The portrait above seems to match the life mask fairly well.  A far cry from the disagreeable Gilbert Stuart portrait.

I’m going a bit out on a limb here, but I spent some years in art school attempting to capture likenesses, and the smallest errors in size and distance relationships can lose a likeness completely.  Also, people see likenesses differently. Some will insist that two siblings look just alike while others will see no resemblance between the same two.  I have no real explanation for that.

I suspect that Gilbert Stuart had such a reputation as a great portraitist, undoubtedly aided by his own self description, that perhaps people were apt to accept his work as the “right” one.  Portraits are an odd matter. One tries to capture a mobile. alive face that changes its expression constantly and represent it on a flat surface.  If you have ever had photographer’s proofs of pictures of you to choose from, that will explain the problem.  They’re all you, but you’ll like some much better than others.

Here are “reconstructions” done by a forensic reconstructionist of Washington at his inauguration, and as a general. (There is another reconstruction of around the age of 19, but the picture is no longer available) They are startling in their realism. I suspect (nit-picky as I am) that the face is too free of wrinkles, and too pinky-white, and not rawboned enough.  (I said I was being picky)  But they give you a vastly different impression of the man.  Haul out a dollar bill and compare.  Stuart played a cruel and nasty joke on Washington.

Washington didn’t know much about being a general when he was appointed by Congress to lead the American armies, but he was the best we had, and he did fine.  His men loved him, and he gradually taught them to be soldiers.  He was elected unanimously to be President when he wanted nothing more than to return to Mt.Vernon and retire from public life. The people idolized him.  He could have been a king or an emperor, or like some — a dictator for life.  But it was he, with his sterling character, who set the nation on the right path.  He was consummately aware that he was setting a path for those who were to follow him. He had a horrible temper, and mostly kept it under firm control.  Any of his deeds alone would have made him famous, but in twenty-four years he led our armies, won the war,  led the country, shaped a constitution, set a nation on its path and then went on home.

Here’s a Gilbert Stuart portrait. If the forensic reconstructions, the Houdon death mask, and the Peale portraits all agree, we can probably assume that Stuart was just mean.  Pity that Stuart’s portrait is the more commonly seen one. I’d just like people to remember the heroic general, not nasty Gilbert Stuart’s mean trick.

Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_Washington



D-Day Through German Eyes by The Elephant's Child

In one of the posts on D-Day on and around June 6th, I came across a review of a new book, or rather 2 books on the German side of D-Day. The books are D-Day Through German Eyes and D-Day Through German Eyes—Book 2, by Holger Eckhertz. The author’s grandfather was a journalist for German news magazines during World War II. In the spring of 1944, prior to D-Day, he toured sections of the so-called Atlantic Wall, including the Normandy beaches, and interviewed soldiers from units in the area. About ten years later, he determined to track down the soldiers he had interviewed or at least someone from their units and interview them again about their experience during the invasion.

The books are apparently available only as E-books, and are in interview format, that is questions and answers—small vignettes of individual soldier’s experiences. The review isn’t long, and includes some surprising bits of information. The Germans did not expect an invasion at the Normandy beaches, the Allies had control of the air right from the beginning. The German troops were third rate troops, generally soldiers that because of a medical or psychiatric condition were no longer regular infantry, but there were also troops who had defected from the Soviets. They were surprised at the physical size of the American and Canadian troops, presumably because of better diet.

Do read the whole thing. It’s surprising and interesting.  It seems that the Germans were working on a thermobaric weapon — I had to look up the unfamiliar term.  A thermobaric weapon is a type of explosive that utilizes oxygen from the surrounding air to generate an intense, high-temperature explosion, and in practice the blast wave of such a weapon produces a typically significantly longer duration than a conventional condensed explosive. The fuel-air bomb is one of the most well-known types of thermobaric weapons. Fortunately, a stray Allied Bomb inadvertently destroyed to development works.




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