American Elephants


Seafair in Seattle by The Elephant's Child

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SEATTLE (Aug. 8, 2010) The U.S. Navy flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, perform aerial maneuvers over Lake Washington during the 61st annual Seattle Seafair Navy Week. Seafair activities allow U.S. and Canadian Sailors and Coast Guard personnel to experience the local community and to promote awareness of the maritime forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason M. Tross/Released)

Today and tomorrow are celebrations of Seattle’s Seafair. The highlight is always a performance of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team. My house seems to be on the back part of their route, and yesterday, when they were practicing, I thought perhaps they were going to drop in for a cup of coffee after they landed on the roof.

It’s loud when they roar directly overhead, but I love it. Sound of freedom! Height of Summer. Older photo.



A Little History for Mr. Kaepernick and Nike by The Elephant's Child

Perhaps you have seen this picture from Barack Obama’s Inauguration which has been widely circulated in response the the Nike shoe flap. You will notice the Betsy Ross flags at each end of the display. And the other flags depicting a time when we had fewer than 50 states. Hawaii and Alaska became the 49th and 50th states in 1959.

The Betsy Ross flag was the first official flag of the United States of America.

Jane Hampton Cook does a nice job of dispelling the myths about the Betsy Ross Flag at The Federalist.:

The Betsy Ross flag is not a colonial flag. It is the first official flag of the United States of America.

The Betsy Ross flag is the first flag of the United States of America, not of Britain’s American colonies. Independence Day, July 4, 1776, marks the day that the Declaration of Independence changed the American colonies into states.

While submitting to the authority of the Continental Congress, the new states began to set up new state governments and write new state constitutions. At the same time, Gen. George Washington knew that his army and the American people needed a new flag to symbolize this change from a government based on royalty to one based on representation. Betsy Ross, a known upholsterer in Philadelphia, sewed the first flag, according to sworn affidavits given by her descendants.

When Congress officially issued this flag on June 14, 1777, they emphasized the symbolism of the thirteen new states, not the thirteen colonies. “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation,” declared the Journal of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.

Do read the whole thing. Someone might send a copy to the idiots at Nike.



Two Hundred and Forty Three Years of Freedom by The Elephant's Child

President Trump’s Fourth of July speech was excellent. Democrats extended every effort to disparage, demean and dump on the occasion, but it was a very good, very patriotic speech from the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the service of all branches of our military who have served and saved the nation over the years since our founding. I have seven ancestors who fought in the Revolution, and two died, one was a leader of a group of Minute Men who was killed at the Battle of Bridgeport, and a great (6th I think) grandmother who was killed when a troop of Hessians broke into the house looking for her husband. She was still abed recovering from childbirth, and so frightened she jumped out of the window, fell into the well, and drowned.

During the speech as each branch of the service was honored, there was a flyover from that branch of the service, ending with the Blue Angels.We usually see them once a year here at Seafair, and the cranks complain about the noise, and the rest celebrate as the “sound of freedom.” They always put on a spectacular close formation show.

For those of you who might have missed it:

It was a speech of national pride, a celebration of America, and not political at all. Unfortunately,celebrating America has become political.

And the unfortunate campaign among the Democrats for their party’s nomination seems to have devolved into the idea that the nomination will go to whoever can come up with the biggest insult to President Trump. Strange indeed, but that seems to be where we are.



The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by The Elephant's Child

On the actual 18th of April, the country was consumed with all things Mueller report, and I forgot to post this. Good for kids, who like the galloping rhythm of the poem, a lesson in history, and encourge them to memorize part or all of it. Memorizing is a skill that would serve them well through school and probably their future occupations as well.

Paul Revere’s Ride posted annually by The Elephant’s Child


[A little Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the eighteenth of April]
Today is the 244th 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.

(The illustration is from a lovely edition of the poem illustrated by Ted Rand for children or any Longfellow lovers. Copies still available from Amazon at very reasonable  prices)



A Search For The Real George Washington by The Elephant's Child

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 when I was growing up, with an American flag standing in the corner.

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.

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
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.

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 better than others.

Here are “reconstructions” done by a forensic reconstructionist of Washington at his inauguration, as a general, and at around the age of 19. 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 quite 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 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 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 the armies, led the country, shaped a constitution, set a nation on its path and then went on home.

The portrait above is by Gilbert Stuart. He made many copies and others made copies of his copies which were sent around the new country so people could see what their new president looked like. Unfortunately, one of them was copied for the engraving on the dollar bill. Just mean.

ADDENDUM: I especially recommend Richard Brookhiser’s
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. It is not a life history, but a moral biography, only 199 pages. It’s a rewarding book. I post this every year on Washington’s birthday.



Why Do We Say “Remember Pearl Harbor”? It Was 77 Years Ago. by The Elephant's Child

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Every year on December 7, we say “Remember Pearl Harbor” but fail to point out why we should be remembering. John Steele Gordon in his essential history An Empire of Wealth: the Epic History of American Economic Power, outlines the state of the world then:

In a fireside chat on December 29, 1940, Franklin Roosevelt first used  a phrase that would prove enduring when he called upon the United States to become “the great arsenal of democracy.”
…..War had broken out in Europe on September 1, 1939, after German troops invaded Poland, and France and Great Britain stood by their pledges to come to Poland’s aid. Few Americans thought the Nazis anything but despicable, but public opinion in the United States was overwhelmingly to stay out of the conflict.  Many newspapers…were strongly isolationist. In 1934 Senator Hiram Johnson of California had pushed through a bill forbidding the Treasury to make loans to any country that had failed to pay back earlier loans.  That, of course included Britain and France.  On November 4, 1939, Congress had passed the Neutrality Act, which allowed purchases of war materiel only on a “cash and carry” basis.
…..Seven months later France fell to the Nazi onslaught, and Britain stood alone.  In the summer of 1940 Germany proved unable to defeat the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and thus gain the air superiority necessary to mount an invasion across the English Channel. It tried instead to bludgeon Britain into submission with the blitz and to force Britain into submission by cutting off its trade lifelines across the Atlantic. It nearly worked. …
…..At the time American military forces were puny.  The army had about three hundred thousand soldiers—fewer than Yugoslavia—and was so short of weapons that new recruits often had to drill with broomsticks instead of rifles. The equipment it did have was often so antiquated that the chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, thought the army no better than “that of a third-rate power.” The navy, while equal to Britain’s in size, lacked ammunition to sustain action, and much of its equipment was old or unreliable.

Roosevelt realized what was at stake in terms of America’s own security, but he felt that Britain must survive long enough to hold the Nazis at bay while the U.S. rearmed and he was able to  bring the American people around to see where their own true interests lay. This was easier said than done.

On September 16, 1940 Congress approved the first peacetime draft in American history and 16.4 million men between the ages of 20 and 35 registered. But it specified that none was to serve outside the Western Hemisphere and that their terms of service were not to exceed twelve months. In 1941 Roosevelt was able to get Lend Lease through Congress, and after Pearl Harbor, isolationism vanished from the American political landscape.

Japan ran loose over the Pacific for the next six months, taking Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma while threatening Australia and India.

The rearming of America was one of the most astonishing feats in all economic history. In the first six months of 1942, the government gave out 100 billion in military contracts— more than the entire GDP of 1940. In the war years, American industry turned out 6.500 naval vessels; 296,400 airplanes; 86,330 tanks; 64,546 landing craft; 3.5 million jeeps, trucks, and personnel carriers; 53 million deadweight tons of cargo vessels; 12 million rifles,carbines, and machine guns; and 47 million tons of artillery shells, together with millions of tons of uniforms, boots, medical supplies, tents and a thousand other items needed to fight a modern war.

In 1933, the army of the United States was 137,000 men. The U.S. Army was 16th in size, in the world. The French Army was 5 million., but they had Germany next door. In May of 1940, Germany invaded France. We reinstituted conscription. By Pearl Harbor Day, the army was 1,640,000. With U.S. entry into World War II, the army expanded to 8,300,000 officers and men. About 5,000,000 served overseas. George C. Marshall was Army Chief of Staff for the whole war, and the author of the Marshall Plan.

By 1948, the army had declined to 554,000, and entirely unprepared for the Korean War. If I remember correctly, Victor Davis Hanson once said that History is about wars – what led up to them, the war itself, and the aftermath. The American people, always optimistic, are relieved to have it over, and expect peace to last indefinitely. If families cannot get along, and they can’t, neighbors can’t, city councils can’t and so on to every larger form of government. That’s why Globalism will never, never work.



Pearl Harbor Day December 7, 1941 — 77 Years Ago by The Elephant's Child

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Sailors and others try to get good viewing spots to witness the surrender of Japan USS Missouri
Japanese Diplomat Toshikazu Kase, who was part of the official delegation surrendering to General Douglas MacArthur, above, on the deck of the battleship Missouri, wrote about the surrender:

Here is the victor announcing the verdict to the prostrate enemy.  He can impose a humiliating penalty if he so desires.  And yet he pleads for freedom, tolerance and justice.  For me, who expected the worst humiliation, this was a complete surprise.  I was thrilled beyond words, spellbound, thunderstruck.

It took 3 years, nine months and eight days.  Pity, and sorrow, but no apologies.

The numbers of those who actually remember Pearl Harbor are declining as the greatest generation passes away. Big events loom large in the lives of those who were alive at the time, and then slip gradually into that broad category of history. But it is important to understand how those big events changed history, and changed the world. Knowledge and understanding may help us avoid mistakes and untoward reactions when something happens in our lives.




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