No, Virginia, There’s No Such Thing as President’s Day

washYup, there’s no such holiday as President’s Day – at least officially. It’s just Congress’ way of making Washington’s birthday fit a three day weekend.(Really – see Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code).

Washington’s birthday was a major holiday in the U.S. long before the Civil War, it was formalized as a Federal holiday in the 1880’s, it took an act of Congress in the late 1960’s to muddle the waters.

There was a push to move holidays to the Monday schedule we now enjoy. Given the proximity of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Illinois tried to roll Lincoln’s Birthday into the already celebrated Washington’s Birthday Federal Holiday.

Since this new holiday, giving us all a three day weekend in the middle of February, would celebrate two prominent former presidents, it was naturally enough labeled ‘President’s Day’.

Who would argue with a day devoted to Washington and Lincoln? Well, Virginia in the mid-1960s for one. The late unpleasantness between the States was only a hundred years passe and Virginia didn’t like the idea of a usurper from Illinois sharing the spotlight with its most visible son. Virginia blocked the proposed bill in the House of Representatives in the discussion stage. It never passed.

The third Monday of February was designated Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday remains as it was – a state by state optional holiday. It has never been a Federal holiday.

Interestingly, Presidents since the 1968 Act don’t seem in a hurry to correct those who refer to President’s Day, opting instead to embrace the all inclusive, let’s celebrate all the Presidents Day. As in, it’s a day celebrating all 44 of us (or does Grover Cleveland get to celebrate twice?), because, hey, all President’s are created equal.

It has become the equivalent of ‘every kid gets a trophy’ – except most kids deserve it. Take, for instance:

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Warren G. Harding, he gets a trophy even though he wandered around behind the bench picking daisies while the others played;

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William H. Harrison, he only showed up for two practices and one game, but he wanted to be there;

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John Tyler …. even though after election he was the other team’s most valuable player . . .

Could do this all day…. but that would be a waste of a nice, sunny, Washington’s Birthday . . .

The Eleventh Minute

Perhaps if we take  a moment to remember that today is Veterans-Armistice-Remembrance Day and that at eleven past eleven this morning, 1918 The War to End All Wars ended; and then take another moment to read Siegfried  Sassoon’s poem – written in the trenches – we could begin to start not needing to make new veterans.

HAVE you forgotten yet? …
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow

Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same — and War’s a bloody game. …
Have you forgotten yet? …
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets.
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”
Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads – those ashen-grey
Mask of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?
Have you forgotten yet?
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

A Letter to Gettysburg …

Dear Judge Harvey:

Unlike certain other visitors to your town, I know when to give up.

Gettysburg Hotel Interior and Exterior PhotosI paid for my parking space for the date in question, as the enclosed receipt clearly shows. I was in town so my son could visit Gettysburg College, we stayed at the Gettysburg Hotel. I paid for parking late in the evening, the ticket says it was good for 24 hours, I retrieved the car just over 12 hours after parking, I never moved it during the night.

I returned the original ticket with an explanation and the original receipt to your parking authority. A few weeks later I received a summons. Believing (forlornly hoping is more accurate) that everything crossed in the mail, I ignored the summons.

I received a second summons earlier this week. I note that to plead not guilty will cost me $58.00 and I would be required at some point to drive the five and one half hours down to Gettysburg to appear in your court and pleasantly point all this out in person.

While I love Gettysburg and would really love to have someone acknowledge that fact that I Landscapedid indeed do exactly what the hotel told me to do in paying for parking and “whatever you do, don’t move the car before you leave” that’s too much of a time commitment to save $12.00.

I am not pleading guilty, because (a) it’s over a $10 parking ticket; (b) I’m not. However, while I feel I have been ‘Dan Sicklesed’, I’m sure my $70.64 would do some good for a great town, so please accept my payment.

Best Regards

The Bert Bell Bowl and the VP Debate

instant-replay-green-bay-diary-jerry-kramer-hardcover-cover-art-1One of the seminal books of my child hood – right up to 1971 and Ball Four– was Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay. Jerry Kramer was an all-star guard on the great Green Bay Packer teams of the ’60’s. On the many occasions that golden-boy Paul Hornung was injured or suspended for gambling, Kramer also kicked field goals.

Kramer played every season of Vince Lombardi’s run with the Packers. He wrote Instant Replay in 1968, it ends with the Ice Bowl game against Dallas, Kramer’s the guy who made the block that allowed Bart Starr score the winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the wind chill at the time was -56.

Kramer’s description of the Ice Bowl is riveting … well, especially to a pre-teen who got to see maybe one NFL game every other week before the playoffs. What really struck me about the book though, was Kramer’s description of life in the game. He didn’t hold back – for a mainstream book in 1968, I suppose – in describing his injuries, some really gruesome, or Lombardi’s brand of intensity and sometimes nastiness, though even then, I realized it was the kind of nastiness a coach can get away with when the iplayer knows the guy really cares about him.

Kramer didn’t flinch from the brutality of the game, this might account for the fact he’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team not in the Hall of Fame. He also didn’t hold back from describing some of the more ridiculous aspects of the NFL.

One such inanity was the Playoff Bowl. Between 1961 through 1970 the division championship game losers met in the Orange Bowl to decide who would finish 3rd.The game was, unsurprisingly, loathed by the players – except when they got to play the perennial runner-up Dallas Cowboys, they were that hated by the rest of the league.

The game really didn’t have an official name, Third Place Bowl was too depressing, Playoff Bowl wasn’t used because, logically enough, the teams playing it were, in fact, already out of the playoffs. Some referred to it as the Bert Bell Bowl, after the former commissioner of the NFL. Lombardi called it the Shit Bowl.

playoffbowl-e1450633792223Kramer didn’t skimp on describing one of the Packers two ventures into the Shit Bowl. He skipped their win in 1963 but vividly described their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (ask your grandfather) in 1964. Well, vivid to a ten-year old – Kramer described the huddle as reeking with stale alcohol and staler vomit.  Players were either hung over or still somewhat drunk, no one cared, least of all Lombardi who just wanted out of Miami (he said it was a “hinky­dink football game, held in a hinky­dink town, played by hinky­dink players.”)

Naturally, I thought of the Kramer and his description of the Shit Bowl when my youngest asked me if I was going to watch the Vice Presidential Debate. I don’t know if I ever saw a Playoff Bowl game, but I did see the Bentsen-Quayle ‘debate’ and experienced the Jack Kennedy moment first hand. I was in a bar in Manhattan after rugby practice, the place erupted. And that was it. Everyone remembers that 20 seconds and nothing else. The exchange effected the election as much as the Playoff Bowl effected the NFL Championship game – not at all.

images-1The Playoff Bowl occurred in what’s considered almost the primitive days of the NFL. The Bentsen-Quayle debate occured in the primitive days of cable TV news. The news wasn’t really a 24/7 thing then, many people first read about the debate in newspapers.

Mostly, though, no one had been subjected to weeks of appearances by campaign ‘surrogates’ on news shows hour after hour after hour to regurgitate and spin and regurgitate the spin for their bosses.

The VP debate isn’t a debate between two governors, it’s a debate between two more surrogates. We have as much chance hearing something different, or hearing their own opinions on anything, as the winner of the Playoff Bowl did being invited to play the NFL champs.

And, barring an otherwise memorable but ultimately impotent soundbite, VP Debate’s share the fate of the ten years of Playoff Bowl games – the NFL erased them from history years ago. That’s right, according to the NFL, they never happened. The outcomes, stats, everything, no longer officially exist.

So instead of wasting ninety minutes of my life with Hillary/Trump stand-ins I’m going to catch dial up a movie from the late ’60s. Maybe something with a Dandy Don Meredith cameo.

 

Just In . . .

The Trump campaign announced that hot on the heels of Jerry Falwell’s endorsement in today’s Washington Post (favorably comparing Donald J. Trump with Winston Churchill) comes another major endorsement: Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr.

little-carmine-lupertazzi-1024The DVD movie mogul released a statement this morning reading, in part: “This country is on the precipice of an enormous crossroads . . . we are, as a nation, in a stagmire. We need Donald J. Trump. . . He’s an old-fashioned kind of guy – very allegorical, with a grasp of the sacred and the propane . . . Donald J. Trump will guide our military to previously unheard of heights because he knows, better than most, that a pint of blood is worth more than a gallon of milk. But, if the time comes when military action is needed, Donald will not hesitate because he understands that historically historical changes come about because of war . . .

. . . Trump will be a more effective leader than Clinton, even more so until he is elected but until he is it will be hard to verify that he will be as effective as I am sure he will be.”

Faulkner and Running …

IMG_2389Went for a run this morning in Faulkner country – Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss. My daughter directed me to a rail trail behind campus … I hit it at 7:45 am, already 83 out with humidity at 70%, no breeze, not a cloud in the sky. Some observations:

  • Mississippi is hot.
  • No matter which way you go on a rail trail run it always looks like it’s uphill. This was no different, I was cursing my daughter all the way out (2.25 miles) while looking forward to the downhill back … only to be struggling going back? A look at MapMyRun a few minutes ago showed a kind of short, sickening, shallow roller coaster pattern that I somehow interpreted as always up … except for:
  • Almost dead center of the trail there’s a quick, nasty, 60 foot drop, then a quick, nasty, 60 foot hill, all over just overIMG_2386 a hundred feet on a straight line – it’s a ravine, there used to be a trestle across the gap but …
  • Dead bottom of the ravine is a historical marker – the Buckner Ravine was spanned by Buckner’s Trestle. Two major train tragedies occurred there – one in 1929 that injured 50 or so Ole Miss Students and professors, and one in 1870 that made national news – 20 dead, 60 injured.
  • This was interesting on the way up, on the way back I realized that I was the third train wreck at that particular spot,
  • I’m used to chipmunks running underfoot every two feet. There were no chipmunks. None. Where are the chipmunks? There ought to be chipmunks. Well, maybe next year.
  • IMG_1010All of this naturally made me think of Oxford’s most famous non-football resident, William Faulkner. It’s a Sunday morning in JUNE and it’s 83 before 8 am – it was 89 when I finished. Not the hint of a breeze, not a hint of a cloud. Back in the day, the rail line ran pretty close to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. Faulkner didn’t believe in air conditioning, he refused to install it. When he died in 1962 his widow put in air conditioning before she put him in the ground. This was a man who embraced misery. Like his characters.
  • For me, this says it all about Faulkner. Forget sitting through Comparative Lit 301; go to Oxford in the summer, walk, run, crawl around town for a few hours, try to sleep with the windows open and ceiling fans twirling, and for God’s sake avoid air conditioning for a day or so, and I guarantee you will learn more about the man and his literature than you will ever learn sitting around talking about him.

 

 

 

Too Long A Sacrifice …

proclamation-irish-republic-1916One hundred years ago today one of the most ill-considered, worse-executed rebellions in history began. Dublin, Easter 1916, while over 35,000 Irishmen were dying fighting for Britain on the Western Front and Gallipoli, a group of Irishmen, some veterans of that fighting, took over the Post Office and other key buildings in Dublin, ostensibly waiting for the populace to rise up and join them.They issued a Proclamation establishing an Irish Republic.

It never happened. There were over 5,000 British troops – many of them Irish – around Dublin at the time, the rebellion lasted six days, over four hundred – mostly civilians – were killed, a swathe of downtown Dublin was blown to pieces by British artillery. The self-styled Irish Volunteers surrendered, were vilified by the people of Dublin who had had no warning of the rebellion.

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Lower Sackville Street, Dublin (1916)

That was that and it probably would have been another short circuited Irish uprising doomed to historic obscurity along with Vinegar Hill and the skirmishes of the ‘Year of the French’ except for what followed. Despite British Prime Minister Asquith’s assertion to the House of Commons that the Irish Volunteers “fought bravely and did not resort to outrage” harsh reprisals followed.

The British arrested 3,430 men and 79 women all across Ireland. One hundred and eighty-seven men and one woman were tried in secret by military tribunals and were not allowed a defense. The British government later found that the trials were illegal. That would come as little comfort to the the leaders of the rebellion, ninety were sentenced to death.

3785171459_c48090d777Sixteen were executed over the course of five days in the first week of May – despite warnings and pleas by the Irishmen in Parliament. With every execution public opinion in Ireland changed. Radically. The execution of the rebellions de facto leader, James Connolly appalled the world – severely wounded, probably with a day or two to live, he was brought to the place of execution on a stretcher and had to be tied to a chair to keep him upright enough to be shot.

World outrage was so great all the other death sentences were commuted to penal servitude. Almost two thousand Irishmen were held in prisons in Scotland and Wales for a year or more without ever being charged with a crime.

In an instant, Great Britain snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Public opinion swung, unrest grew, the British fed into it, Ireland achieved independence a half a dozen years later.

The inept, local, uncoordinated rebellion succeeded in the long run. There’s scores of lessons, from every viewpoint to be learned.

William Butler Yeats was caught as off guard by the Easter Uprising as most of his fellow countrymen. He wrote one of the great poems of the English language a few moths after the executions. It’s beautiful and ambiguous. But, he saw the future, the last line of the poem is A Terrible Beauty is Born.