Monday, July 8, 2013

Pursuit of Happiness

“The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness.  You have to catch it yourself,” Benjamin Franklin

Thomas Jefferson biographer Jon Meacham wrote a piece for Time’s cover story about the pursuit of happiness.  What Founding Father TJ was referring to in the Declaration of Independence was public happiness – or the good of the body politic – in other words, civic responsibility.  Jefferson believed governments should be instituted to enable its citizens to live their lives as they wished in order, in Meacham’s words, “to enable human creativity and ingenuity and possibility, not to constrict it.”

Alissa arrived Friday evening, and we dined at Sage restaurant (the scallops were delicious).  Next day on the Miller Garden Walk she and Toni ran into several old acquaintances, including artist Cindy Fredrick, who we met through Bailly Alliance activities.  Cindy recently donated WAND (Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament) records to the Archives.  Almost 400 people came to Dick and Cheryl Hagelberg’s place on Saturday alone; they offered them free lemonade and cookies (as long as they lasted).  Alissa returned to Grand Rapids Saturday night, much to dog Jerry’s relief.
 "Happiness is a warm puppy," Charles Schultz

Met Pete Major (we have a mutual friend, my Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity pop at Bucknell Dick Jeary) for breakfast at Round the Clock.  I told him I’d be wearing a crimson IU Northwest polo shirt; he had on a Purdue t-shirt.  His parents grew up in Gary during the 1920s and 1930s; one graduated from Emerson, the other from Froebel.  His mother’s parents were White Russians who opened a mom and pop grocery.  His father was Hungarian and a tailor; Pete visited the village where he was born and found numerous Majors in the town birth records but no gravestones in the Catholic cemetery.  Afterwards his dad told him that they would have been in the smaller Protestant burial site;  he had converted to Catholicism after marrying Pete’s mom.  Pete works part-time for a company that has factories in China, where he goes several times a year.  His wife died just a month ago, and he seemed somewhat shell-shocked about it.  During the 12 years that her cancer had been in remission they had gone on Viking river cruises to Moscow and Beijing.  In a 1927 Gary City Directory I found an Oliver Major, occupation tailor, married to Rose, with two children, living at 1439 Washington.  The other two Majors were Hamilton, a meter reader, and James, a mill worker.

Alfonso Soriano hit two homeruns to lift the Cubs over Pittsburgh, which surprisingly has the best record in baseball.  In a front page Post-Trib photo of kids (for a story about eating healthy) one is wearing a Soriano jersey.  In the background is someone with a Joe Crede White Sox shirt, dating probably from 2005, Chicago’s World Championship season. Pitching hero Jose Contreras, now 41, presently labors in the minors for Indianapolis, hoping for another shot at the Big Dance.

On “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood was an interview with actor Bradley Cooper, best known for the “Hangover” trilogy but an Oscar nominee for his role in “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Growing up in Jenkintown, PA, a Philadelphia suburb close to my hometown, Cooper recalled watching “CBS Sunday Morning” with his dad when Charles Kuralt was host.  In the 1950s Jenkintown was a big rival of Upper Dublin, and several Watts brothers starred in basketball, including Stoughton “Stodie” Watts, who once scored 78 points in a single contest. 

The ABC Sunday show contained a joint interview with Michele Obama and Laura Bush appearing together at an event in Africa, as well as one with W.  One nice thing about the young Bush, he decided not to criticize his predecessor while in retirement.  In fact, the two first families seem to like each other. Big stories in the news include rioting in Egypt, offers of asylum for Edward Snowden from Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, and a crash landing of a 777 in San Francisco.

I hate A T and T commercials featuring snotty kids.  In one a man sits with several supposedly darlings asking why more is better.  Even worse is one where several smug, obnoxious middle schoolers expound on how a younger girl can’t imagine what the state of technology was like when they were young.  Yuck!

I caught the end of Andy Murray’s victory over Novak Djokovic, the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years (and it happened on 7/7/13).  The final game was a nail biter.  After going up 40-Love, Murray lost the next four points and overcame several add-outs before finally triumphing.  After a long walk I watched the first three episodes of “The Sopranos.”  We didn’t have cable during the HBO show’s eight-year run beginning in 1999.  Perhaps inspired by the outpouring of praise for the late James Gandofini, I quickly was hooked.  Not only is the character Tony Soprano fascinating, sensitive one moment, ruthless the next, but the minor characters are hilarious, especially Tony’s ethnic mother from Hell, played by Nancy Marchand, who was Mrs. Pynchon on “Lou Grant.”

After describing the emergence of hip capitalism in San Francisco, with entrepreneurs capitalizing on the appeal of acid rock and the hippie subculture, Michael J. Kramer’s “The Republic of Rock” then describes what the author calls “hip militarism” – the effort to use rock music to combat low morale among soldiers turning against the “lost cause” war.  He covers in-country radio stations, touring groups, and cover bands composed of soldiers themselves.

Marianne Brush attended Cracker at the Windy City Rib Fest.  I’ll be seeing them for three days in September in Pioneertown, CA.  Meanwhile Brenda and Sam Barnett attended the second annual Charles “Duke” Tanner Freedom Cookout and Concert.  A former boxer from Gary, who had been undefeated in the ring, Tanner received a life sentence in 2006 from U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano for trafficking in cocaine despite having no previous arrest record.  Federal prosecutors indicted 14 people, then coerced 11 of them to testify against the other three in return for lighter sentences.  During sentencing Tanner pleaded, “I’m not a drug dealer.  I’m a fighter, and I’m a family man.”  Indeed he has two children and friends describe him as a beautiful person.  Unsavory acquaintances apparently led him astray at a vulnerable time in his life.  He may have been targeted for special punishment because of his celebrity status.  Two years ago, after the Seventh Court of Appeals refused to grant Tanner a rehearing, defense attorney Andrea Gambino said, “We dishonor our system and our society by keeping Mr. Tanner and so many like him incarcerated with such Draconian sentences.”  As Breea C. Willingham wrote of the current shameful, racist sentencing policies in “Black Woman’s Prison Narratives and the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in U.S. Prisons,” similar Draconian policies have resulted in a six fold increase in incarceration rates for African-American women, 70 percent of whom are serving time for nonviolent offenses, mostly drug-related.
Sam and Brenda, photo by Mark Terrence
Phil Arnold’s wife Bev sent me an article about the signers of the Declaration of Independence entitled “The Price They Paid” that, according to contains some false information.  While the British captured five signers, in only one case (Richard Stockton of N.J.) was it because he signed the Declaration; the others were captured in battle.  Instead of nine of the 56 dying from wounds or hardships of war, only Button Gwinnett of Georgia died from wounds and it was an American officer who killed him in a duel.  John Hart of New Jersey wasn’t driven from his wife’s bedside in 1776 by the British (she died weeks earlier) and forced to live for a year in caves (the Continental Army recaptured the area within a month) and didn’t die a few weeks later “of a broken heart” (he succumbed to kidney stones in 1779).  There were numerous other embellishments, exaggerations or misstatements, done probably for the purpose of making a better story. Chris Young, who directed me to the Snopes site, was sorry he could not attend the Merrillville History Book Club session on Jon Meacham’s “Thomas Jefferson” but was out of town.

Lake County Surveyor George Van Til led the discussion on Jefferson, whom he deeply admired as truly a Renaissance man and consummate politician.  He joked that folks in his profession refer to the four presidents on Mount Rushmore as the three surveyors and that other guy.  Veteran newsman Rich James asked George what recent political figure resembled Jefferson the most.  George answered Ten Kennedy, who also came from wealth but believed his class an a civic obligation to go into public service.  James thought William Jefferson Clinton was a more fitting choice, given his Southern background, intellect, and wide range of humanitarian interests.  I mentioned that the only intellectual to inhabit the White House since Jefferson was Virginian Woodrow Wilson, who idolized him but lacked his ability to compromise without sacrificing his principles.  Jefferson was a pragmatist, as all successful politicians have to be.  I stated that most reviews were extremely positive although in the New Republic Henry Wiencek, author of “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” complained that Meacham opted for story-telling over analysis and glosses over facts indicating that he had slaves whipped, beaten, sold, and sent to work in his nail factory at the tender age of 10.  Clearly Jefferson was not devoid of hypocrisy, and even Meacham admits that he could be at times a paranoid schemer

The group was interested in Jefferson’s octoroon mistress Sally Hemings, the half-sister of his deceased wife, whom he had promised never to wed again.   Ken Anderson stated that Annette Gordon-Reed’s “The Hemingses of Monticello” proves conclusively that Jefferson sired Sally’s offspring.  Ken and Joy visited a museum in Cooperstown, NY, where life masks of several presidents were on display.  When a sculptor applied plaster to Jefferson’s face to make a cast, it almost suffocated him.  Meacham wrote: “Only by banging a chair next to a sofa on which he lay did Jefferson manage to alert his butler Burwell Colbert to his plight.  His life was saved, as his life had been shaped, by the act of a slave.”

Showing considerable emotion, Van Til concluded by saying that in his 40 years of public service he had tried to follow Jefferson’s example as a practical idealist.  He referred only indirectly to the hounding he has taken from the U.S. Attorney’s office, which must have been under great pressure from George’s enemies to pursue such petty charges.  Name me a single elected officeholder whose staff never engages in political activities.  One surveyor office employee actually complained, horror of horrors, that a superior asked him (or her, prosecutors refuse to reveal their sources) to pick up a tuxedo from the cleaners for an event George attended that evening.  Don’t we want elected officials to be out among the people?  How is that different from a Congressional aide giving constituents tours of the Capitol building, complete with a photo sent to their mailing address afterwards?

No comments:

Post a Comment