Favorites From the NPR 100

I just found some notes I made from a bucket list item I checked off a few years ago–listening to NPR’s 100 essential American recordings of the 20th century. I thought I’d blogged about this before, but apparently not.

Some of the items were familiar, but many were new to me. Here are my favorites from the ones I was hearing for the first time.

“Adagio for Strings” This beautifully ethereal piece is just magical. It’s heart rending and haunting.

 

“Ain’t That a Shame” Fun, early rock track.

 

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” An early bluegrass track with a legacy in folk and country music. Feeling connected to roots here.

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Display an American Flag on Cinco de Mayo

On May 5, 2010, in California, four high school students were disciplined by their assistant principal.  What did they do wrong?  They wore American flag apparel on Cinco de Mayo.  Some other students were offended and complained, and the young men were told to change their shirts so that racial tensions wouln’t turn violent, the administrator said. 

In interviews with reporters about the incident, at least two students at the school said that they were offended by the shirts because they felt it disrespected their Mexican heritage.  They said Cinco de Mayo was “their” holiday, and that they wouldn’t wear Mexican flags on the Fourth of July.  

Videos of students announcing that American flags are not appropriate in America on Cinco de Mayo are at 1:20 to 1:27 here and 0:55 to 1:10 here

Clearly, their language suggests that these students identify themselves as Mexicans first, and as Americans second, if at all.  That is wrong. Societies have a right to expect loyalty from those living within their nation’s borders.

Therefore, I’m calling on all of us to display the American flag this year on Cinco de Mayo: Thursday, May 5, 2011.

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American Literature Honors

For the past several years, I’ve taught a class called American Literature Honors. Immersing myself in that subject has made me realize that each of the three words in that title implies something powerful, and something contrary to the mainstream. In fact, I wonder if such a title will become controversial in the near future.

The first idea stated by the name of the class is that there is such a thing as an American identity, a nature that must meet some kind of criteria and that is discernibly different from any other identity. This is important to recognize.

It is undeniable that the term “American” exists, and therefore must mean something. Even relativism, the great intellectual cancer of the 20th century, can’t look the word in the face and say it means nothing, that it carries no more semantic weight than any current youth slang. It stands to reason that “American” can’t be defined as anything we want it to mean, but must have parameters that will include some things and exclude others. Simply admitting this is a victory over the foggy forces of multiculturalism.

The second is that “literature” exists, as opposed to other kinds of artifacts or fields of knowledge, and even other kinds of writing, and that this is worthy of being studied. Also, there is an area of intersection between the two, that some amount of this “literature” is decidedly “American” in character.

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Brain Game #5

These games are fun enough, but daily postings are getting tedious, so this will probably be the last one.

I set a timer for five minutes and listed every U.S. city I could think of with a religious name.  I came up with eleven.  See how well you do.  My answers are after the jump.

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Brain Game #4

In five minutes, I listed every American city I could think of whose name was an allusion to the world of the classical Greeks and Romans.  (Not only was our Constitution largely inspired by those civilizations, but everything from the architecture of Washington, D.C. to the many statements by our Founders on the subject shows that America was meant to be a conscious reincarnation of the glory of the ancients.) 

I came up with six cities.  See how you do.  My answers are after the jump.

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Washington and Lincoln Dedicated Thanksgiving As a Religious Holiday

As we gorge ourselves on turkey, overdose on football, and pass out on our couches this year, let’s also remember that the origin of this holiday is no less religious in nature than Christmas or Easter. 

There were Thanksgiving holidays before George Washington proclaimed one (think of pilgrims, of course), but it’s significant that in the first formal day of Thanksgiving set aside by our first president, the source of our blessings and our obligation to worshipfully express gratitude are so clearly expressed:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

G. Washington, Wednesday, October 14, 1789

Similarly, during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln made his official proclamation of a Thanksgiving holiday, his language also acknowledged the divine source of those things for which we should be giving thanks, and the reverent manner in which those thanks should be given:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Ask The Founders

Here’s one for Independence Day.  This is the thrid time I’ve posted this now, and I like it more each time I read it!

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The Federalist Papers are a collected series of essays that originally appeared in New York newspapers during the period of debate and ratification for the new Constitution.  In them, the series’ three authors–Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay–very clearly explain the nature of the Constitution and how it was to implemented. 

Their authority is, of course, unimpeachable.  Hamilton would become the first Secretary of the Treasury.  Jay would become the first Chief Justice of the United States.  And Madison, the primary architect of the Constitution itself, would go on to become our 4th president.

Here are some of our most auspicious Founders’ answers to the pressing issues of the present day:

  • Is America a multicultural society, or a basically homogeneous Christian nation?

Answered by John Jay: “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs…”  –Federalist #2

  • Should American government be more Democratic (populist) or Republican (representative) in nature?

Answered by James Madison: “A pure Democracy, by which I mean, a Society, consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischief of faction.  A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole….A Republic, by which I mean a Government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”  –Federalist #10

“In a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents.  A democracy consequently will be confined to a small spot.  A republic may be extended over a large region.”  –Federalist #14

  • Can America ensure that its citizens have equal success and comfort?

Answered by James Madison: Continue reading

Freedom Is Risky, Essential, and Wonderful

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. 

Benjamin Franklin

Source: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor, November 11, 1755.The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, vol. 6, p. 242 .This quotation, slightly altered, is inscribed on a plaque in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

 

Think intrusive airport security.  Think bailouts.  Think unconstitutional gun control laws.  Think about an awful lot of things.