Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's on my iPod?

A week ago, my friend posted to her blog what were the last twenty songs she had listened to on her iPod. So after finishing up listening to a podcast of "This American Life", I switched my iPod over to shuffle songs and recorded the first twenty songs. This list was made on Monday morning after arriving at work and transcribed and posted on Wednesday evening so as to not interfere with Monday's Recipe and Tuesday's President. Here is the list with some comment on why this song appears.
  1. Tequila Sunrise - The Eagles (I enjoy the Eagles. This particular song will always make me think of the movie of the same name - that and one too many nights drinking the devil's clear liquid.)
  2. Smile - Natalie Cole (I am a product of my parents. Growing up I would listen to WNEW 1130AM - home of the Make Believe Ballroom and Saturdays with Sinatra. Natalie Cole's album where she remixes her father's stuff is good listening. In the interest of full disclosure - Natalie Cole also came up at number 3 and number 5 - with 710 songs on my iPod, I need to understand how the shuffle software really works - when it doesn't. The other songs were This Can't be Love and Paper Moon)
  3. Madly - Tristan Prettyman (I subscribe to the iTunes New Music Tuesday newsletter, which offers up a free song each week, it has certainly broadened my musical range. I got this one there or it might have been one of the songs that Starbucks is offering each week in their stores. In any case, she's got one of those voices that I could listen to forever.)
  4. The Way You Look Tonight - Frank Sinatra (I loaded almost my entire collection of Sinatra songs to my iPod. You can't beat the Chairman of the Board. "You shook Sinatra's hand - and you should have known better, Willy." Movie?)
  5. Never Can Say Goodbye - Gloria Gaynor (I may own some "best of the 70s" music and I may have put some of them on my iPod. Maybe I like that music. Maybe. Stop Laughing!)
  6. (And it goes from bad to worse) One - Finale - The Company, A Chorus Line (Sorry what can I say? It was one of the first Broadway shows I ever saw.)
  7. Mercy - Duffy (see #3. She's Welsh and well, Have Mercy on me!)
  8. The Marvelous Toy - The Chad Mitchell Trio (yes, it's a Christmas song, but I love it. Get over it.)
  9. East Bound and Down - Jerry Reed (Smokey and the Bandit anyone?)
  10. Searchin' So Long - Chicago (For several years in a row, I went to see Chicago in concert, on more than one occasion they appeared on the same bill as the Beach Boys. Talk about your wide variety of concert goer there . . . Chicago, Alive Again, came on right after this and then again with We Can Last Forever after Billy Joel)
  11. We Didn't Start the Fire - Billy Joel (One should not be surprised at all by this. One could be surprised that only one Billy Joel song came up in the first twenty. Did I mention that I would have given my right arm to have been here? I used this particular song, released as a single, as an educational tool in my classroom back when I was a teacher. Hey, using music to sooth the savage beast that are middle schoolers works.)
  12. The Boy in the Bubble - Paul Simon (not my favorite Paul Simon song, but it's catchy.)
  13. Let's Dance to Joy Division - The Wombats (there are times that I wonder that my iPod doesn't explode when a song like this (scored from Apple for free) comes on in close proximity to Sinatra or Natalie Cole.)
  14. Walk Like an Egyptian - The Puppini Sisters (This is a great remake of the Bangles "classic." Also free from iTunes.)
  15. Homeward Bound - Simon and Garfunkel (While this song comes from "The Essential Simon and Garfunkel" - there is also a version on my iPod from the Concert in Central Park, which leads to a rant I could go off on about live music on iPods. Sometimes it doesn't work. For example, after the Dream Academy came the first song from the Concert in Central Park, Mrs. Robinson, which includes the introduction by Mayor Ed Koch, and some talking by Paul Simon at the end of the song. Bah.)
  16. Life in a Northern Town - The Dream Academy (A song that I bought on iTunes. It is one of my most favorite songs, ever. It is also my default ringtone on my phone.)
  17. It's Only a Paper Moon - James Taylor (This song comes from the League of Their Own soundtrack - which does not feature the Madonna song from the end of the movie, but does feature a lot of good music.)
  18. Fever - Peggy Lee (she's one of the original "one of those voices" that I love)
  19. Running on Empty - Jackson Browne (another live song, but not nearly broken up as bad as "The Load-In" and "Stay" which, when live, should always be played together.
  20. The Guide - Borne (possibly the first free song I downloaded from iTunes. Love it!)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#30 - Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929

Our thirtieth President, John Calvin Coolidge (another President who did not use his first name - and a fact that had escaped me until I started writing this post!), came to the presidency upon the death of his predecessor, Warren Harding. In fact, when Coolidge was awakened at his home in Vermont and informed that he was now President, his father, a notary public, swore Coolidge in on the Coolidge family bible.

Born in Vermont, Coolidge rose to political power as a conservative Republican Governor of Massachusetts. Upon becoming President, he tried very hard to be successful at doing very little. Keeping the status quo and the prosperity being enjoyed by a majority of Americans led to his overwhelming victory in the election of 1924. Coolidge spent most of his presidency restoring America's faith in the office after the scandals of the Harding administration and left office with high popularity. "Silent Cal," as he was known, was amenable to a variety of "publicity stunts," allowing himself to be photographed in Indian headdresses and inviting groups to visit with him at the White House.

Coolidge married Grace Anna Goodhue, who was a perfect match for Coolidge. Outgoing and gregarious where he was reserved and reflective, he was very much in love with his wife. He wrote in his autobiography of Grace, "We thought we were made for each other. For almost a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces." In 1924, shortly after receiving the Republican nomination, Coolidge suffered a personal tragedy. His son, Calvin, Jr., developed an infection and died suddenly. Coolidge later remarked that "when he died, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him."

The most notable foreign policy achievement of the Coolidge Administration was the passage of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, adopted in 1928 and ratified the next year. Signatories included the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Germany, and Italy. While it did not achieve its ultimate goal of outlawing war, war was renounced and it became the foundation for international law following World War II.

The Facts
  • born July 4, 1872 in Plymouth, Vermont
  • died January 5, 1933 in Northampton, Massachusetts (age 60)
  • party: Republican
The Election of 1924
  • While July 4 had previously been noteworthy as the departure date for three Presidents (Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe), Coolidge is the only President to have been born on the Fourth of July.
  • Coolidge gave 529 press conferences and was always available to reporters. He met with reporters more regularly than any president before or after him.
  • Coolidge enjoyed the advances in communicating technology. He became the first president to have his inauguration, addresses to Congress, and political speeches broadcast on the radio.
  • Coolidge's successor, Herbert Hoover, served as Secretary of Commerce in the Coolidge (and Harding) administration.
  • Coolidge was one of three Presidents to have also served as a mayor.
  • At the time, the Vice President's duties were primarily ceremonial. President Harding invited Coolidge to attend cabinet meetings and Coolidge became the first vice president to do so.
  • When Coolidge returned to Washington the day after his father swore him into the Presidency, he was sworn in again by a DC Supreme Court justice as there was a question of whether a state office had the power to swear in a federal official.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sangria Recipes

Growing up in New York, a popular destination was Beefsteak Charlies, where the plentiful all-you-can-eat Salad Bar also featured peel-and-eat shrimp. Their ads also featured "all the beer, wine, and sangria, you could drink." Does anyone wonder why they aren't in business anymore?

Here, by popular request, are two sangria recipes. The first comes from NJM and it is for red sangria:
The basics, as I learned them in Segovia, are:
  • A bottle of half decent red wine
  • up to a cup of some sort of spirits: gin, brandy, or citrus (or fruit) vodka, depending on how strong you want it
  • the juice of a lemon, a lime and an orange
  • some sugar - up to about half a cup depending on the quality of the wine and the amount of added spirits
  • a lemon, a lime and an orange sliced.
Combine all in a pitcher. Add lots of ice. Serve.
The second recipe was for a white sangria featured at little OSGs birthday party. However, that recipe has not yet come through the tubes. NJM related a recipe to me verbally this afternoon, but I didn't have my mental pen handy and didn't get it all down. I am sure that she will be happy to put the recipe in the comments section though. Same goes for Mrs. OSG, if she finds the recipe in her inbox.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Do you see the light?

I like lighthouses. I think we've already covered that. So I noted with interest this recent story from CNN. It would seem that a Massachusetts lighthouse, presumed destroyed had just retired to California instead.

I also have a thing for "gummi" products. Bears, worms, coke bottles, whatever. Now it would seem that I can combine my love of lighthouses and gummi stuff. Provided all of you people can keep your minds out of the gutter, unlike the link above.

Making a dirty joke out of our nation's navigation beacons. Really . . . It's not like lighthouses are you know, phallic or anything.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hey, I Want That!

My friend Amy frequently posts items to her blog with the tag, "I Totally Want This." She would probably be all over this list of "16 Elusive Movie Objects of Desire." I'll leave most of the movies off this and make it into a little quiz. No cheating by clicking on the item links, as some link to the movie in which they are featured.
  1. Gray's Sports Almanac
  2. The Fountain of Youth
  3. Treasure Map (and not the National Treasure one)
  4. White Castle burgers
  5. A bike (in several movies, including this one and this one)
  6. The Mysterious Briefcase of Doom (at least two movies, this one first, and this one second. But then again, this movie has a pretty serious briefcase also)
  7. A bird statue (if I give its title, that sort of gives it away, doesn't it?)
  8. A 1964 Chevy Malibu (from this movie)
  9. The Holy Grail (the article list this movie, but I can think of at least three others)
  10. The Ark of the Covenant (duh)
  11. The Necronomicon (from this movie - and the only one on here that I don't know)
  12. Part of a dinosaur (this movie and not this one)
  13. More treasure (specifically this one)
  14. A Ring (you know, this ring)
  15. A gold watch (from this movie)
  16. A really old piece of paper (which does not have a treasure map on the back!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

#29 - Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923

Our 29th President, Warren Gamaliel Harding is one of those that is consistently found at the bottom of the presidential pile, despite his enormous popularity while in office. However, there are several things about Harding that will keep people talking about him for some time. First, there is the whole mysterious death thing, there is speculation that his wife may have poisoned him because he was having an affair. Then there is the possibility that the United States may have already elected our first black president. In the April 6, 2008 issue of the New York Times Magazine, there is an article about Harding's lineage. The historian William Estabrook Chancellor assembled a family tree for Harding that shows Harding to be the great-grandson of a black woman.

Harding's election may be well due to the efforts of his wife Florence. Florence stood behind her husband propelling him higher and higher. A divorcee, she pursued Harding until he reluctantly proposed marriage. Florence's father forbid his wife to attend the wedding and did not speak to Harding or Florence for several months.

Harding's time in office was marked by some successes, but also scandal. Harding signed several of the peace treaties that formally ended World War I, but kept the United States out of the League of Nations. He oversaw the Washington Naval Conference, the first disarmament conference ever held. The Teapot Dome Scandal is what many will remember about the Harding Presidency, however. The scandal was named for an oil field in Wyoming that was under public control and funding was diverted into the wrong pockets (wait, that's illegal?).

Harding's death in San Francisco came after he contracted pneumonia on the train ride down from Alaska through Canada. Here's a picture from the National Archives showing him receiving a salmon. He gave a speech in Washington and then arrived in San Francisco. When he died, doctors believed it was a heart attack or stroke that killed him. Florence Harding refused to let an autopsy be performed, leading to the speculation that Harding had been the victim of a plot. Harding was known as somewhat of a ladies man, reputed to have had several affairs with women in Ohio. Given Florence's reputation, the speculation may not be that far off.

The Facts
  • born November 2, 1865 in Marion, Ohio (now Blooming Grove, Ohio)
  • died August 2, 1923 in San Francisco, California (age 57)
  • Party: Republican
The Election of 1920
Harding was another "dark horse" candidate who was not well known outside of his home state. The election of 1920 also marked the first election where the power of "Hollywood" became a factor. Stars like Al Jolson, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks all traveled to campaign with Harding. The election of 1920 was also the first one where women were allowed to vote nationally.
  • Warren G. Harding / Calvin Coolidge [next week] (R) - 16,144,093 (60%) / 404 EVs
  • James Cox / Franklin Roosevelt [next month] (D) - 9,139,661 (34%) / 127 EVs
  • In 1889, at age 24, Harding suffered from fatigue and exhaustion. He spent several weeks at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, founded by the Kelloggs (yes, those Kelloggs).
  • Harding was the first person to be elected to the presidency from the Senate. John Kennedy was the second, and in November, we will elect the third sitting senator to the presidency.
  • Harding is the only president to appoint a former president to the Supreme Court, when he appointed William Howard Taft to be Chief Justice in 1921.
  • Harding became the first president to visit Alaska and Canada, on his ill-fated trip to the West (Harding died in San Francisco).
  • Harding and John Kennedy are also linked in that (in addition to the sitting Senator issue) they both predeceased their fathers.
  • Harding was the first president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile.
  • Herbert Hoover was in Harding's cabinet, as Commerce Secretary, the position from which he would run and win the Presidency in 1928.
  • Harding's sister was a Washington, DC policewoman.
  • Harding wore size fourteen shoes, the largest of all the presidents.
  • Some additional trivia from the New York Times.

Monday, July 21, 2008

By Popular Request: Orzo Salad

This is a popular treat at many a Brave Astronaut party / barbecue / picnic. And I have been called out by Special K to get it up here. So I bumped the normal recipe scheduled for here (it was for potato salad and will appear in September) to honor the request. Coming next week: Sangria recipes! I'll ask NJM to recreate her favorite (if it is similar to the one enjoyed at the SoBA party) and Mrs. OSG to give up her peach one enjoyed at the Little OSG first birthday party.

Zucchini and basil pasta salad
Makes eight generous servings
  • 4 medium zucchini very coarsely grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 3/4 lbs. orzo
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, asiago or hard Monterey jack cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional) salt and pepper
Sprinkle zucchini with salt in a colander and toss. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Squeeze zucchini dry. Transfer to a large bowl. Blend basil, oil, garlic, and oregano together well in food processor or blender. Add to zucchini; reserve.

Bring chicken broth to a boil in large pot. Add orzo and reduce heat, cooking until orzo is just tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain well. Stir the pasta into the zucchini. Add the lemon juice, grated cheese and parsley if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Excellent as a main dish or side dish with barbecued meats.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No, Not Over, On the Moon

Here's some random moon news on the anniversary of the moon landing by Apollo 11. Of course next year we will observe the 40th anniversary of the moon landing (raise your hands if you remember - I was not yet two, but it's one of those events I feel like I remember but probably because I've seen footage of it so much since).

Two items crossed my radar screen recently concerning Earth's only satellite (in my book, man-made ones don't count, besides, they fall down - see Skylab to name one). First, from the source of all knowledge,, there is evidently a museum on the moon. But it would seem that no one wants to own up to it as there may be porn involved. has the story of a small art catalog of drawings that went up with the Apollo 12 mission.

The second story came to me first from strange maps, but then of course, kottke picked it up. The page shows the ground covered by the men of Apollo 11, superimposed on a soccer field. kottke also has a link to the same map superimposed on a baseball diamond.

It is noteworthy that much of the information for these maps came from the NASA history division and one assumes, their archives. And the first link is to a document from the National Archives regarding the flight plan for the Apollo 11 mission. I'm just saying.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday's List of the Week

"Borrowed" from Stitch Bitch, who got it from Hip to be Squared.
  • What is in the back of your car? The seats fold down in the back of the Mazda and the currently are and there isn't anything back there right now as I got the car washed yesterday and put the seats back up.
  • What color is your toothbrush? The Oral B Triumph is white and silver, with a blue ring. My "manual" toothbrush is purple, the color of royalty.
  • Name one person that made you smile today? NJM, because when I got to work this morning there were two glazed donuts from Rawlin's on my desk. She's the best.
  • What were you doing at 8 am this morning? Heading to work, listening to the CBS World News Roundup (as I try to do each morning).
  • What were you doing 45 minutes ago? Playing in the rabbit hole of the Internet.
  • What is your favorite candy bar? Do I have to pick just one? Today, it's probably this one. Just this morning, Amy in Ohio posted this quiz on recognizing candy bars from their middles. There are lots of other quizzes there, so have some time if you go to the site.
  • Have you ever been to a strip club? Yes, but it's not my thing. Really. Honest.
  • What is the last thing you said aloud? Be there in a minute.
  • What is the best ice cream flavor? Ice Cream again? In the interest of full disclosure, I may have eaten a whole pint of Ben and Jerry's Pistachio, Pistachio by myself the other night. And last night I polished of the dregs of some Raspberry Chocolate Chip.
  • What was the last thing you had to drink? Nantucket Nectar's Half and Half
  • What are you wearing right now? My jammies, which tonight consist of a t-shirt and lounge pants - it's damn cold under the desk where the A/C blows right on them. Plus the poison ivy on the legs is not yet 100% gone.
  • What was the last thing you ate? Dinner - hamburgers and hot dogs (and maybe a little ice cream).
  • Have you bought any new clothing items this week? No.
  • When was the last time you ran? Ha, ha. Funny. Remember, there's a gym in my building, but it's really far from my office.
  • The last sporting event you watched? Hey it's the British Open, but also "a little baseball" for LBA before bedtime.
  • What is your favorite flavor of popcorn? Lots of butter and salt (as enjoyed at the movies on Wednesday night)
  • Who is the last person you sent a comment/message on Facebook? Stinkypaw and Eileen, who commented on my status update yesterday.
  • Ever go camping? Not in many years. But I would do it again. Perhaps a Father-Son weekend will be planned.
  • Do you take vitamins daily? No, should I?
  • Do you go to church every Sunday? No, but that's OK. God Understands.
  • Do you have a tan? Unfortunately, no. But remember what Mrs. BA says, everybody looks better with a little bit of color.
  • Do you like Chinese food over pizza? Yes.
  • Do you drink your soda with a straw? Sometimes
  • What did your last text message say? I get text messages when baseball games end, so it told me that the score of the Nationals game.
  • Are you some-one's best friend? Yep, and I'm married to her.
  • What are you doing tomorrow? Going to two wedding ceremonies (and getting LBA a haircut, which is long overdue)
  • Look to your left, what do you see? The rest of the living room
  • What color is your watch? I haven't been wearing one recently, which is weird because I normally feel out of sorts when I don't have one on. But the normal watch is a boring old Timex with a brown band.
  • What do you think of when you think of Australia? Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country."
  • Do you use chap stick? I prefer the stuff in the little round blue container
  • What is your birthstone? Blue Topaz
  • What is your favorite number? A new number has been decided on, 12, the month of my birth and my two sons, and the day of the month my true love was born.
  • Do you have a dog? No, allergic. But I would get a cat . . .
  • Last person you talked to on the phone? My sister
  • Have you met anyone famous? Several hockey players, a few baseball players, but the banner night was when my mother and I got to meet Brian Dennehy after seeing him in Death of a Salesman and getting the bonus of meeting Robert Goulet, who my mother loved.
  • How many states have you lived in? Just two, New York and Maryland
  • Ever go to college? Yes.
  • Do you dye your hair? No
  • Biggest annoyance in your life right now? Looking after the lawn and the yard.
  • Last song listened to? I don't listen to music that much in the car, I'm more of WTOP guy.
  • Can you say the alphabet backwards? If I have to. But if I have to, I'm probably at a sobriety checkpoint and I am likely hosed.
  • Do you have a maid service clean your house? Would that were true.
  • Are you jealous of anyone? I don't think so.
  • Is anyone jealous of you? I don't know
  • Do you love anyone? Yes.
  • Do any of your friends have children? Yes and some with more on the way!
  • Do you eat healthy? I know that I should, but if I'm having too much fun enjoying myself.
  • What do you usually do during the day? Working for the man.
  • Do you hate anyone that you know right now? Not that I'm aware of.
  • Do you use the word 'hello' daily? I do.
  • What color is your car? Blue, it has been referred to by Mrs. BA as the "blueberry"
  • Do you like cats? Yes.
  • Have you ever been to Six Flags? Which one? New Jersey (Great Adventure), yes. The one here in MD, soon. Any of the others? No
  • How did you get your worst scar? I have a bevy of scars, but the worst (and most recent) is the one on my wrist where I slipped with a pocket knife while opening up a box. As people say about me, "careless with a can-do attitude."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's the Baseball All-Star Break - Let's Talk About Hockey!

Tonight I am off to the movies (Get Smart), taking full advantage of the MIL Babysitting Service (as are the OSGs) but I thought I would make a few comments about a sport that will bring to mind cooler weather as DC heads into some more hot weather.

The Mid-Summer classic was played last night and as is right and fitting, the American League emerged victorious, although I never saw it as I fell asleep in the 13th inning. At least it didn't end in a tie as they did in 2002. Because, remember this time it counts! So the AL will have home field advantage in the World Series this year. I have been to a few games this season so far (all Nationals games, including Opening Night). I was even at the Nationals game and was transported to the game on a bus that was later involved in this gruesome accident.

So hockey. My good friend, ADR, addressed the subject of hockey during the off season by discussing the moves made by the Washington Capitals in the NHL draft and the free agent moves. The team that I prefer did not do a great deal in either the draft or free agent signing period. They were making headlines in other areas.

First and foremost
, the owners of the New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden are facing the possibility of having their team taken away from them. It would seem that the Rangers owners are in violation of their franchise rights, prompting the NHL to sue the team. MSG has countersued the NHL. I don't profess to understand all of the ins and outs of this case, suffice to say that it is but one reason that New York sports teams get a bad rap. If you would like to read more about it (I think I will) you can click here for a good synopsis, including links to the case files.

Secondly, the Rangers have parted ways with the Czech dreck, Jaromir Jagr. Jagr, who came to the Rangers from the Washington Capitals (who paid his salary all the time he was a Ranger), never belonged in a blue shirt. It pained me to see him wear the "C" on his jersey, But there is hope. On July 3, Rangers GM Glenn Sather announced that the Rangers were moving on without Jagr. Jagr, in typical pretty-boy, whiner fashion, took his marbles and left for Russia, signing a contract with a Russian team that he had played with during the NHL Lockout. Good riddance to bad rubbish is my take.

How long until training camp?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

#28 - [Thomas] Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1919

It is somewhat appropriate that Woodrow Wilson's entry should come the day after Bastille Day. He was of course, President of the United States and the representative at the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles at the conclusion of World War I.

Our 28th President, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, came to the Presidency with the ideals of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. He believed he was the personal representative of the people. His values and ideals led the nation into the First World War to "make the world safe for democracy." Wilson had seen war up close. He was the son of a Baptist minister and had spent the Civil War in Atlanta, Georgia and most of the Reconstruction Era in Columbia, South Carolina.

Wilson dedicated his life to academia and was not thinking about a political career. He became a president for the first time in 1902, when he became the 13th President of Princeton University. He also served on the faculties at Bryn Mawr (I'd get in trouble if I didn't mention that) and Wesleyan University. His growing reputation led democratic leaders to come calling, who persuaded Wilson to run for Governor of New Jersey, an office he was elected to in 1910. (It had nothing to do with the extra-marital affair that Wilson had, no not at all.) Two years later he received the nomination of the Democratic Party for President and won the election in a three-way vote, where the Republican votes were split between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

President Wilson spent the majority of his first term on domestic issues, lowering tariffs and improving the plight of the American worker. It was during the first Wilson Administration that the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System were established. When he ran for reelection in 1916, he used the slogan, "he kept us out of war," as the conflict that would become the First World War had erupted in Europe shortly after he was first elected President. However, shortly after his reelection, he determined that the United States could no longer remain neutral, primarily due to Germany's decision to begin unrestricted submarine warfare. He asked Congress for a Declaration of War in April 1917.

American involvement led to an Allied victory and Wilson traveled to France to help negotiate the treaty. Encompassed in the Treaty of Versailles were Wilson's Fourteen Points and the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations. Upon returning to the United States, Wilson set out on a cross-country tour to promote the Treaty and the League. While on the trip, Wilson suffered a stroke and never fully recovered. It is widely speculated that Wilson's second wife, Edith Wilson, was indirectly responsible for running the country while her husband recuperated. Wilson left the presidency and retired to a home in Georgetown, in Washington, DC, where he died just five years after leaving the presidency.

The Facts
  • born December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia
  • died February 3, 1924 in Washington, DC (age 67)
  • Party: Democrat
The Election of 1912
  • Woodrow Wilson / Thomas Marshall (D) - 6,296,284 (41.8%) / 435 EVs
  • Theodore Roosevelt / Hiram Johnson (Bull Moose / Progressive) - 4,122,721 (27.4%) / 88 EVs
  • William Howard Taft / Nicholas Butler (R) - 3,486,242 (23.2%) - 8 EVs
The Election of 1916
  • While associated from New Jersey as that is the state from which he was elected, Wilson is, to date, the last of the Virginia Presidents. Wilson became the first Southerner elected since Zachary Taylor in 1848 (although Andrew Johnson became President in 1865, but was not elected).
  • He was also the first Democrat elected since Grover Cleveland (in 1882) and another Democrat would not be elected until Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 (just a month away!).
  • Wilson was an avid baseball fan and in 1916, became the first President to attend a World Series game and throw out the first pitch at a game (so it is also fitting that the Mid-Summer Classic, also known as the All-Star Game, should take place this evening).
  • Wilson appointed Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court, the first person of Jewish faith to sit on the high court
  • While in Europe to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson traveled to Rome and became the first President to meet with a sitting pope while in office.
  • Wilson supported the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, however it was not ratified until June 1919, three months after Wilson left office.
  • In 1914, Wilson declared the first Mother's Day
  • Wilson enjoyed golf upon becoming president and holds the record of all presidents for number of rounds played while President (over 1000).
  • Wilson recalled that his earliest memory was at age 3, hearing that Lincoln had been elected President and that a war was coming. He further recalled standing next to Robert E. Lee and looking up at his face.
  • Like his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Though never diagnosed, it is alleged that Wilson may have suffered from dyslexia or ADHD. He did not learn to read well until the age of 12 and created his own personal shorthand for note taking.
  • Wilson is the only president to have earned their doctorate as well as the only political scientist to serve as President.
  • Wilson is the only President to be buried in Washington, DC. He and his wife are buried at Washington National Cathedral.
  • After losing three elections for President, William Jennings Bryan tried to back door his way, serving as Wilson's Secretary of State. It still didn't work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The French National Dish

Coming on the heels of my Arc de Triomphe post, it is only appropriate that today, Bastille Day, the recipe should be the quintessential French dish, Cassoulet. One could certainly argue there are any number of really good french dishes to promote, but research more or less shows that Cassoulet is the French National Dish. There are a number of recipes out there for Cassoulet, below is but one from Epicurious and here's a link to a "Cassoulet experience" from from one of the food blogs that I read with some frequency, the Amateur Gourmet.

I will note here that possibly one of my favorite French food is escargot. If they are on the menu, chances are I will order them, as I told my blogging friend, Mary when she posted about "eating slugs." Thinking about my trip to France (mentioned in yesterday's post) reminded me of when I would head out to a small local eatery where I was staying for possibly the best frites I have ever had along with a cold GLASS bottle of Coke. I long for those days. If you are having a party, here's a posting from someone else, that might give you pause.

For cassoulet
  • 1 1/2 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern or cannellini (3 2/3 cups), picked over and rinsed
  • 2 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 4 qt water
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic plus 2 cloves, halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 confit duck legs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 lb saucisson à l'ail or other fully cooked garlic pork sausage (not cured or dried), casing removed
For garlic-crumb topping
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from a baguette)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Special equipment: cheesecloth; kitchen string; a 17- by 11-inch heavy roasting pan or 7-qt shallow flameproof casserole dish

Make cassoulet:
Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a bowl and soak at room temperature at least 8 and up to 24 hours, or quick-soak (see cooks' note, below). Drain well in a colander.

Make a bouquet garni by wrapping parsley, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns, and 2 sprigs thyme in cheesecloth and tying with kitchen string, then put in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot along with pork shoulder and water (4 quarts). Simmer, uncovered, skimming froth occasionally, 1 1/4 hours.

Add beans, onions, carrot, and chopped garlic and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until beans are just tender, about 45 minutes.

While beans simmer, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Straddle roasting pan across 2 burners and heat 1 tablespoon oil in roasting pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown duck legs, turning occasionally to brown skin and meat all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer duck legs with tongs to a platter as browned.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from roasting pan, then reduce heat to moderately low and cook halved garlic cloves, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Drain bean and pork mixture in a colander set over a large bowl (discard bouquet garni). Stir salt and pepper into broth in bowl and reserve.

Spread bean and pork mixture in roasting pan (with garlic halves), then nestle duck legs, skin sides up, in mixture. Add remaining 3 sprigs thyme and 6 cups reserved broth (liquid should come up around base of duck legs; reserve remaining broth, covered and chilled, for reheating if making dish ahead, or for another use). Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes.

While cassoulet bakes, heat remaining tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. If necessary, halve sausage crosswise to fit in skillet, then brown, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cool slightly. When sausage is cool enough to handle, halve pieces lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Nestle sausage into cassoulet and bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes. Gently stir beans, mashing some with back of spoon, to thicken broth before serving.

Prepare garlic-crumb topping while cassoulet finishes baking:
Cook garlic in oil in cleaned 10-inch skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until crumbs are crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.

Serve cassoulet with crumb topping.

Cooks' notes:
  • To quick-soak beans, cover dried beans with cold water by 2 inches in a 4- to 5-quart pot. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, over moderate heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and soak beans, uncovered, 1 hour.
  • Cassoulet can be made 3 days ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat, covered, in a preheated 350°F oven 30 minutes. If beans have soaked up the liquid, add some of reserved broth before reheating.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Arc de Triomphe Gets a Makeover

Sacre Bleu! Some time ago, I spotted this story about one of the many monuments to grace the City of Light, Paris. The Arc de Triomphe was started on the orders of Napoleon, who declared to his troops, "I will bring you back to France. You will pass through arches of triumph on your way to your homes!" This was in 1805, after Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz. Construction began the following year. However, after that, things began to go downhill for Napoleon and he, of course, was removed from power and sent finally to the island of St. Helena, where he died in 1821. (One of the greatest palindromes around - Napoleon's alleged words upon arriving for his first exile on the island of Elba, "Able was I ere I saw Elba.") The arch was not completed until 1836 and has served as a backdrop for Paris scenes ever since. The arch now serves as a memorial to the unknown soldiers of France. In 1840, the remains of Napoleon were returned to Paris and passed under the arch on their way to their final resting place at Les Invalides. The arch has served as the backdrop for two state funerals, Victor Hugo in 1885 and Marshal Ferdinand Foch in 1929.

When the arch was finished, it contained a small museum that never saw very much traffic (well there's traffic - on the circle that surrounds the arch. Almost all travel guides will inform you to not attempt to cross the traffic circle, there's a tunnel underneath the roadway) and was poorly maintained. As the story explained, finally that has changed. The museum has undergone an extensive renovation, installing a new multimedia exhibition in the arch.

The arch will be prominently featured tomorrow when France will celebrate Bastille Day, marking the day when the monarchy of Louis XVI was toppled and the prison at the Bastille was stormed.

I am of French heritage. My father was born there and did not come to this country until he was seven years old. My grandfather was returned there after his death. He had served in the French army in World War I. My siblings and I were all given the opportunity to travel to France when we were teenagers to spend time with our French extended family. My trip to France took place 25 years ago. I can't believe it has been that long. Excuse me while I go and drag out the pictures I took and reminisce. Vive la France!

Friday, July 11, 2008

If It's Friday, It Must Be Another Meme

"Borrowed" from my blogging buddy from north of the border, Stinkypaw. It's OK, she got it from somewhere else.
  • My ex . . . was just not the right person for me.
  • Maybe I should . . . focus more on the tasks at hand (damn this rabbit hole thing called the Internet).
  • I love . . . my wife endlessly and my children unconditionally.
  • People would say . . . I am a bit too sarcastic at times (no, not me, never).
  • I don't understand . . . why bad things happen to children.
  • When I wake up in the morning . . . I really want it to be the afternoon (God, remember those days?).
  • I lost . . . my high school class ring twice. First time on a beach and the second down a sewer drain. I guess I was never meant to have it.
  • Life is full of . . . surprises!
  • My past is something . . . that I try not to dwell on too much. But it certainly will preclude me from ever running for President.
  • I get annoyed when . . . things don't go according to plan. Especially when it's not my plan. Ask Mrs. BA, she'll tell you.
  • Parties are . . . a problem for me in planning, but enjoyed in the execution.
  • I wish . . . that everything would just happen the way it was supposed to and that I wouldn't have to worry about making sure it happened correctly.
  • Dogs . . . are slobbery but have their place in the world, I just don't need to be in the same place with them all the time.
  • Cats . . . are something I would really like to have again someday.
  • Tomorrow . . . is Saturday and little OSG's first birthday! And there's a party!
  • I have a low tolerance for . . . stupidity.
  • If I had a million dollars . . . I'd buy you a green dress, but not a real green dress, that's cruel. (would you have expected anything else?)
  • I'm totally terrified of . . . spiders. Well, you asked!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Days of my Youth

On Friday nights growing up, I would often be out with my friends, taking in a movie*, going to the diner** afterward for a late bite, and sometimes we would head out to the beach or to one of two local arcades. One of the arcades was at the beach (the beach was across the street) in Bayville. It is now a whole lot more than it used to be, as it is now a small theme/water park. In my day it was just some mini-golf, batting cages and a whole lot of video games and pinball machines (which you could play for a quarter). (Yes, I know, and I hiked in the snow, uphill both ways to get there - I'm old.) Out other arcade destination was Nathan's in Westbury. In addition to the great hot dogs and fries, you had access to many more video games and pinball machines.

This memory is brought to you by a post from (again) discussing the old television show, Starcade. If you grew up in the eighties (and you were a bit of a nerd) you likely saw this show on television. Each week it featured kids facing off on a variety of video games for prizes. No worries if you missed it, the site has fifteen episodes online for you to watch. Maybe you will catch a tip or two for the next time you find yourself with a pocket full of quarters and the door to a game room in front of you.

* The movies were almost always at the Loews theaters in Levittown (which is now an AMC theater) or one of the two theaters in Syosset, the Syosset triplex or the Cinema 150, which sadly, are both gone now.

** The diner was always Syosset House. We had the same waitress who would flirt with us (she was younger than your average diner waitress), we often sat with "Bob," a senior citizen who was hanging out in the diner, and the hosts (Greek, of course) knew us and always greeted us, "Hi guys, your table's over here, c'mon back." Syosset House Diner, unfortunately, also gone. (i know some of my Syosset brethren may be saying, what? no On Parade? Sorry, my diner was Syosset House.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

#27 - William Howard Taft, 1909-1913

Our twenty-seventh president, William Howard Taft, remains our only president to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It was there that Taft really made his contributions. He was not the best of politicians and received little credit for any successes of his presidential administration. I am sure that it didn't help to have served in the shadow of Teddy Roosevelt.

Taft really wanted to be on the Supreme Court and pursued his career in law with great vigor. However, his wife, Helen Herron Taft, had other ideas. She persuaded Taft to take a series of administrative appointments, including Governor / Administrator of the Philippines following the conclusion of the Spanish American War. He was tapped by Roosevelt to become Secretary of War and soon became the "heir apparent" to Roosevelt.

Taft disliked campaigning and won the election over William Jennings Bryan by using surrogates to calm the rival factions of the Republican Party. After his election, the Progressive Party blossomed with defections by liberal Republicans. As a result, in the 1912 election, Roosevelt, who had broken with Taft, bolted for the Progressive Party, which further divided the party, leading to the election of Woodrow Wilson (and there's next week's entry!).

During Taft's administration, success was made in getting two amendments sent to the states for ratification, a Federal income tax and direct election of Senators, which had been previously chosen by state legislatures. The new Interstate Commerce Commission regulated railroad rates along with the betterment of the Postal System.

After his defeat, he taught law at Yale Law School. In 1921, President Harding named Taft as the tenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, his greatest honor. He wrote of the position, which he held until his death, "I don't remember that I ever was President."

The Facts
  • born September 15, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio
  • died March 8, 1930 in Washington, DC (age 72)
  • Party: Republican
The Election of 1908
The Election of 1912
  • Taft is one of two presidents to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Taft was the first president to have a presidential car.
  • The Tafts of Ohio are one of the most storied political families. William's father, Alphonso, served as Secretary of War to Ulysses Grant.
  • Taft appointed six men to the Supreme Court, placing him third, behind Washington and Franklin Roosevelt. Taft also elevated a justice to Chief for the first time, naming Edward White Chief Justice in 1910.
  • As Chief Justice, he is the only former president to swear in other presidents, when he administered the oath to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
  • Taft is the only president to finish third in a reelection bid.
  • Helen Taft was responsible for the planting of the Japanese Cherry Trees that bloom each Spring in Washington, DC.
  • According to legend, the seventh inning stretch is credited to Taft. While at a baseball game, he got up to stretch his legs. Out of respect, the crowd also rose.
  • Arizona and New Mexico were admitted to the Union during Taft's presidency, completing the contiguous United States.
  • James Sherman, Taft's Vice President died shortly before the 1912 election (the last Vice President to die in office). The party determined that his votes would go toward Nicholas Butler.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ice Cream Treats

As many of you may recall, I recently returned from a few short days at the beach. There is something about the beach and vacation that just says ice cream to me, particularly soft serve. I had scheduled this post some time ago to promote this post that featured the best ice cream shops in Washington DC. In the interim, this other post appeared in my reader for Pistachio Gelato, so I include that recipe below to satisfy the requirements for Recipe Mondays.

Now, if I may digress for a few moments on the topic of ice cream. Just last week, on my Teddy Roosevelt post, my friend Lana left me one of the most thoughtful comments I have ever received, reminding me of a time when I would go to a local beach and then on the way home stop at the Bonanza Ices stand for a homemade lemon ice (with pits!).

I am an unabashed ice cream-aholic. When I went to school in Albany there was a soft ice cream place that I would frequent. On at least one occasion I even traveled from my home in Poughkeepsie (a two-hour drive) for what was referred to as the "Capital City food trifecta" - Sovrana's pizza, Krause's Chocolate, and Kurver Kreme. The stuff is that good.

When I was just on vacation, the soft serve that was available to me was from Dairy Queen. I know, I know, it's a chain, but it was what was there. It did allow me to relive another portion of my childhood, when we would vacation in Maine and invariably, these would appear in the freezer for after-dinner treats. I had to get a box for my son and niece and nephews to enjoy.
In addition to the Dairy Queen runs, there were a number of really good ice cream parlors that our family would make an appearance at during our many summers spent "Down East." Unfortunately, most, if not all of them are gone now.

At home, my sweet tooth came to me genetically. There was usually ice cream in the freezer, most likely whatever half gallon was on sale that week. I could list all of my favorites here, but we'd be here a whole lot longer than you might be already. Pin me down and tell me to pick one? Quite possibly Breyer's Heavenly Hash.

I wrote here last May when I was on Long Island, about the Ice Cream Man. There is something about getting ice cream from a truck that makes it all taste better. I miss the days of cocking my head and listening for the tinkle of the bells of the ice cream man. Occasionally, the poorly named "Mister Softee" made the rare appearance in the neighborhood, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the soft serve that I love so much.

Finally, for those of you on or from Long Island, there is/was a place where you could order something called the kitchen sink(?) where several people would dig into this mammoth serving of ice cream and toppings. But for the life of me, I can't remember the name of the place. I also expect at least one of my readers to recount for us her experiences working at an ice cream shop. I already like her, it just reminds me to stay on her good side. She has a connection to my frozen weakness.

I could go on and on about the joys of ice cream. But I know there are those of you out there who, for one reason or another, don't "do" ice cream. I won't hold that against you. It also won't stop me from getting it when I have the opportunity. Hey, it's summer, ice cream should be enjoyed often. So go make some gelato and cool off.

Pistachio Gelato

  • 150 grams (1 1/4 cup) raw (= untoasted, unsalted) shelled pistachios
  • 65 grams (1/3 cup) unrefined cane sugar
  • 1/2 liter (2 cups) whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 30 grams (1 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) agave syrup (substitute 2 tablespoons honey or rice syrup or corn syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon limoncello (or amaretto, or other fruit or nut liqueur) (optional)

In the bowl of a food processor (or blender, or mini-chopper), combine the pistachios and sugar, and process in short pulses until the mixture is reduced to a fine powder. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the milk with the cornstarch, and stir with a spoon to dissolve. Set aside.

Combine the rest of the milk (440 ml or 1 3/4 cups) with the pistachio mixture in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring just to a simmer, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring continuously as the mixture thickens. The custard is ready when it coats the wooden spoon, and you can trace a neat path on the back of said spoon with your finger.

Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. (At this point, you can opt to strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve if you'd prefer a smooth texture; I myself like the tiny chunks of pistachio.)

Stir in the syrup and limoncello and whisk to blend. Let cool to room temperature on the counter, whisking from time to time to prevent the formation of a skin, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled (I usually prepare the custard the day before and refrigerate it overnight).

Whisk the chilled mixture, and churn in your ice cream maker following the manufacturer's instructions. Serve on its own or with a few raspberries.

Friday, July 4, 2008

On the subject of fireworks

"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
- John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776
The Brave Astronaut family has returned home from a long day of celebrating America's independence. We did not see any fireworks and the smallest members of the family were done for the day. The older members of the BA family (including my birthday boy father) are watching fireworks displays from around the country on TV. It's the best we can do.

My friends over at ChvBlog wished their readers a Happy 4th with the admonishment of being careful not to break the laws of my county regarding fireworks. I am reminded of years past, when I took part in many fireworks displays in our neighborhood growing up. Was life just simpler then? Or were the neighbors paying off the cops? I had friends and neighbors up the street who would travel to Florida and stop at "South of the Border" in South Carolina and stock up on fireworks to put on a moderate display of fireworks on our street. We didn't worry about the police, we didn't worry about fire, and to the best of my memory, no one was ever seriously injured. But we always had a good time.

I remember one year, I went into Chinatown in New York City and got myself a selection of fireworks and put on my own display in the vacant lot near my house. I even set it to patriotic music. As the Fourth is my father's birthday there were usually people around to come over and watch what was being put on.

Growing up in New York (and I just said this again today) I never took the opportunity to go and watch the enormous fireworks display put on by the Grucci family. Maybe someday. I have seen my fair share of fireworks displays over the years, in fact, shortly after moving to Washington DC, I found myself sitting in the shadow of the Washington Monument with Mrs. BA to watch the fireworks over the National Mall. It was July 2002, and it was a little weird and a bit unnerving to be in a space with lots of people so soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I understand the need for regulation of fireworks. There are just too many stupid people out there and I get that people suffer grave injuries on this day. But John Adams seemed to trust us over two hundred years ago. I've even gotten in trouble once for fireworks, but since it was with the University Police Department and I kept myself out of trouble the record was expunged (some day I might even tell you about the comment I made to one of Mrs. BA's oldest friends that nearly derailed the nascent relationship - regarding university police departments).

I don't think I really have an answer here, but I am just putting this out there to see what people think. Fireworks good, fireworks bad? Heavy regulation or minimal regulation? Got a really good fireworks story to share? Lay it on us. Happy Fourth everybody.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Independence Day

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation . . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness . . .

. . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Tomorrow, the United States will celebrate the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It will be celebrated with parades, cookouts, and of course, fireworks. I will celebrate it by watching one of my favorite movies, traveling to the National Archives to hear the words above read aloud, seeing my good friend OSG march in a parade, general recreating (there is to be some swimming and a backyard barbecue), and if LBA can take it, some fireworks.

My father also arrived today to visit. His birthday is tomorrow (he turns 79), although he was born in France, so the date did not mean anything until he arrived in this country when he was seven years old. But Happy Birthday to him! And Happy Birthday to America!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

#26 - Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909

I like to keep my pulse on the finger of what is happening on Long Island. Growing up there, I often found the opportunity to take visitors to Sagamore Hill, the home of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. It got to the point where I knew the descriptions of the rooms so well that one day they changed the cards in the rooms. As I was leaving, I said to the ranger at the door, "when did you change the cards?" He looked at me incredulously that someone had actually noticed.

Recently, there has been a brouhaha developing in Oyster Bay, the town that TR called home. The Theodore Roosevelt Foundation has proposed a $100 million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Research Center to be built in Fireman's Field, in the center of the village. Local opposition has been so fierce that the Foundation has been forced to scale back plans for its museum and research center. People have questioned why the museum will not be built on the grounds of Sagamore Hill. Fine, but there are two issues with that: one, it's a federal (National Park Service) site and you can't just build there; two, the National Park Service is hoping to return Sagamore Hill to the more rural setting that it once was, so a museum on its grounds won't do. The President of the TRA also pointed out that Sagamore Hill only has 1500 square feet of exhibit space (less than a tenth of what can be found at the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum in Ohio!) and certainly not fitting to a president like Teddy.

But to the man himself. Born into a prominent New York family, Teddy was a sickly child and was educated by tutors through his childhood. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University, Roosevelt tried law at Columbia University, but dropped out. In 1880, he married his first wife, Alice. Tragically, Alice died just four years later, shortly after giving birth to their daughter, also named Alice. Roosevelt's mother also died on the same day as his first wife. Two years later he married his second wife, Edith. Together they had five children.

Roosevelt entered politics at the age of 23, when he was elected to the New York State Legislature. He quickly became a foe of corrupt machine politics, something of which there was plenty in New York State. In 1888, Roosevelt supported Benjamin Harrison, who appointed Roosevelt to the Civil Service Commission, where he served until 1895. That same year, Roosevelt became Police Commissioner in New York City, serving for two years.

Devastated by the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day, Roosevelt went into his "wilderness years," moving to the Badlands of the Dakota territory. While there, Roosevelt developed his passion for environmental causes. He returned to politics, trying unsuccessfully to become mayor of New York in 1886. He was tapped by President William McKinley to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy and prodded McKinley to declare war on Spain. His heroics in leading the Rough Riders in Cuba made him a national figure and in 1898, he was elected Governor of New York. His progressive reforms and brash style prompted Republican leaders to try and squash Roosevelt by offering him the vice presidential slot with William McKinley in the election of 1900. They figured that Roosevelt would be quieted by the largely ceremonial post. But Roosevelt was thrust into the presidency with the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. Upon hearing the news, McKinley's closest advisor, Mark Hanna, is reported to have said, "Now that damn cowboy is President."

At the outset, Roosevelt continued most of McKinley's policies. After being elected in 1904 in his own right, he moved the Presidency to the left and far from the conservative wing of the Republican party. He was labeled as a "Trust-buster," attacking monopolies with great zeal. He set aside huge parcels of land for public parks, more than all of his predecessors combined. By the end of his administration, 194 million acres were designated for national parks. Roosevelt's most famous foreign policy success was the building of the Panama Canal.

Roosevelt became the first US President to win the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1906 for his successful negotiation to end the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt is usually ranked in the top five presidents and is credited with changing the way the presidency was perceived by the American public, placing it at the center of government and making character as important as the issues themselves (imagine that!).

After leaving the Presidency in 1909, he went off on an African safari, thinking he had left the country in the good hands of his successor, William Howard Taft (come back next week!). Upon returning to the US, Roosevelt publicly broke with Taft and campaigned as the Progressive Party's candidate under the banner of the Bull Moose party. It was during the campaign that Roosevelt was shot at while on his way to make a speech. The bullet pierced his eyeglass case and the 50 page speech that he had folded in his breast pocket. Roosevelt determined that he was not in grave danger (he wasn't coughing up blood) and gave the speech, speaking for ninety minutes, before getting medical attention. The bullet remained in his chest for the remainder of his life. Roosevelt's hope of getting elected dwindled away and on election day in 1912, he was only successful in splitting the Republican vote, and thereby electing the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson (come back in two weeks!).

After the election, Roosevelt again left the US, this time for South America. While there he contracted malaria and was severely weakened by the trip. He returned to the US once again and frequently spoke out against President Wilson and the looming world war on the horizon. Roosevelt died in his sleep in January 1919. His son, Archie, telegraphed his siblings saying simply, "The old lion is dead." Wilson's Vice President, Thomas Marshall was quoted as saying, "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."

The Facts:
  • born October 27, 1858 in New York, New York
  • died January 6, 1919 in Oyster Bay, New York (at Sagamore Hill) (age 60)
  • Party: Republican / Progressive (Bull Moose)
The Election of 1904
The Election of 1912
  • Woodrow Wilson / Thomas Marshall (D) - 6,296,284 (41.8%) / 435 EVs
  • Theodore Roosevelt / Hiram Johnson (Bull Moose / Progressive) - 4,122,721 (27.4%) / 88 EVs
  • William Howard Taft / Nicholas Butler (R) - 3,486,242 (23.2%) - 8 EVs
  • After the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt, at 42, became the youngest man to become President.
  • While Roosevelt is the fifth vice president to rise to the presidency following the death of the president, he is the first to be elected to a term of his own. (Hanna, his main opponent had died in 1904.) Upon his election he pledged to serve only the one term, which left him out of a job at fifty, at the height of his popularity.
  • Roosevelt is credited with changing the name of the Executive Mansion to its current name, the White House.
  • The Teddy Bear is named for Roosevelt, based on a story from when Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear cub while on a hunting trip.
  • Roosevelt's oldest daughter, Alice, married Congressman Nicholas Longworth in a White House ceremony in 1905, which was considered the social event of the decade.
  • Roosevelt put Lincoln on the penny, replacing the Indian Head cent.
  • Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor for his charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. The medal was awarded posthumously by President Clinton in 2001. Roosevelt had been nominated for the medal by his company, but his griping to the War Department cost him the award at that time. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. also received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Normandy invasion in 1944, during World War II. They are one of only two father and son to win the Medal of Honor.
  • Roosevelt is the only 20th Century President to be included on Mt. Rushmore (alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln). Mt. Rushmore was dedicated in 1927, eight years after Roosevelt's death.
  • Along with Jefferson, Roosevelt is considered to be one of the most well read American Presidents.
  • Among the many talented individuals in Roosevelt's "brain trust cabinet" was James R. Garfield, son of the assassinated president. When he died in 1950, he was the last surviving member of Roosevelt's administration.
  • In August 1905, Roosevelt became the first president to ride submerged in a submarine, aboard the USS Plunger, for 55 minutes.
  • Roosevelt is credited with coining the trademarked phrase, "Good to the last drop," while enjoying coffee at the Maxwell House Hotel in Tennessee.
  • He is the only president (to date) from Long Island, New York (does anyone wonder why I like TR so much?)