Thursday, July 31, 2014


On July 31, 1789, the U.S. Congress passed its fifth act establishing 59 custom collection districts in the eleven states that had ratified the constitution, and, thus, began a tradition of service that has grown with the nation.

I have worked in international trade at the United States Customhouse in San Francisco since August 1983 (except for a four-year-plus absence for grad school and other things between 1987 and 1991).

Our customhouse opened in 1911-- two years before the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which legalized the income tax. (I emphasize 'legalized' since Lincoln had imposed an income tax during the Civil War; but the Supreme Court later declared that tax unconstitutional, requiring the amendment.)

Prior to the income tax, customs duties were the principal source of revenue for the federal government. President Jefferson used customs duties to purchase Louisiana. They were used also to acquire Florida, finance the Mexican War, the Gadsden Purchase, and to buy Alaska. So a large proportion of the physical territory of the United States is a direct result of customs duties.

Several people have commented that our building is a cross between a fortress, a palace and a bank. All three descriptions are apt because the customhouse then represented the might, majesty and wealth of the United States of America.

When I started in 1983, our mission within the Department of Treasury was "To collect and protect the Revenue." Today our primary role within the new Department of Homeland Security is Anti-Terrorism. Even so, revenue collection continues to be an important function of the Trade side of the Bureau of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Image:courtesy GSA

Internal Defibrillator Procedure ~ July 31, 2008

Six years ago today I had an operation at Kaiser-Permanante in San Francisco to implant an internal defibrillator-- or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This was recommended by my cardiologist, Dr. Sheryl Garrett, because of damage to my heart after my heart attack nearly ten years ago.

I was resistant at first, but was persuaded by two other cardiologists when my regular doctor was on maternity leave. My good friends Adam, Justin and Martin came to visit me right after the procedure, and Adam took me home by taxi the next day. Fortunately, it hasn't been used yet, though I am rather curious to know what it would feel like. My defibrillator is about the size of an average cell phone on my chest. The battery should be good for another three or four years. Then I'll need another minor procedure to replace the battery, which will actually be the entire unit. Chances are it will then be smaller and more powerful.

An internal defibrillator is a small, battery powered electrical impulse generator that is implanted in patients who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. They provide an electrical shock to the heart during periods of irregular heartbeat, and can save someone’s life. Internal defibrillators sense intrinsic cardiac electric potentials, and then send electrical impulses if the potentials are either too infrequent of absent, due to a problem with the patient’s heart. The electrical pulses stimulate the myocardial contraction, which causes the heart to beat at a normal rhythm.

The process of implanting an internal defibrillator is similar to the implantation of a pacemaker, since both devices contain electrode wires that are passed through a vein to the right chambers of the heart. In most cases, the wires are lodged in the apex of the right ventricle, and the device is kept in the patient as long as they live.

An internal defibrillator works to continuously monitor the heart, and detects overly rapid arrhythmias. They can detect ventricular tachycardia, which are a rapid regular beating of the ventricles and the bottom chambers of the heart. Internal defibrillators can also detect a rapid irregular beating of the ventricle, which is referred to as ventricular fibrillation.

When a patient experiences either of these arrhythmias, the pumping efficiency of the heart is impaired. Fainting and sudden cardiac arrest are usually a result if a patient experiences an arrhythmia, but an internal defibrillator can prevent that from occurring. Patients with coronary heart disease and heart muscle diseases tend to experience arrhythmias; therefore they are the most qualified candidates for an internal defibrillator.

The implantation of an internal defibrillator is much less invasive than is used to be, due to advanced techniques and technology. An internal defibrillator is a tiny computer hooked up to a battery, and then placed inside a tiny titanium case. It weighs only about three ounces, and is about the size of a cassette tape. The device is implanted under the skin below the collarbone, and tiny wires are used to send signals from the heart to the internal device. A programmer is also found on the small device, and it allows a doctor to set it at the correct rhythm for each specific patient.

The internal defibrillator is able to correct irregular and regular heart rhythms, just by sending a timed and calibrated electrical shock directly to the heart. It is similar to a defibrillator used in hospitals when someone’s heart stops, yet it is implanted in the body and ready to be used at any time. It can save the life of a loved one suffering from a heart problem, because a stopped heart needs to be shocked right away. By preventing cardiac arrest, patients with heart problems can live normal lives without having to worry. Patients with internal defibrillators can live normal lives and participate in activities they like, since they don’t have to worry about experiencing cardiac arrest or any other serious heart problems.

(Two years about a week and a half ago, I thought that my defibrillator was about to go off, because I had severe pain in that area of my chest. It turned out instead to be an outbreak of shingles-- nevertheless, not a very pleasant experience. I've been on anti-viral medication for a week, and with luck I should have no permanent residual pain. Evidently some older people do. I learned from a doctor at dinner at my weekend retreat that shingles is the primary cause of suicide in patients over 75. I think I caught mine in time. I was persuaded, however, to continue taking vicodin for pain-- that it's essential to break the cycle of nerve irritation. In addition, there is also a shingles vaccine, which I should get some day, since it is possible to get shingles more than once. My good friend Deb Cornue has had it twice a few years ago, and last year had the vaccine, which should prevent any additional outbreaks.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Catherine Palace presented to Russian Empress Elizabeth ~ July 30, 1756

The Catherine Palace (Russian: Екатерининский дворец) is the Rococo summer residence of the Russian tsars, located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 25 km south-east of St. Petersburg, Russia.


The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I of Russia engaged the German architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to construct a summer palace for her pleasure. In 1733, Empress Anna commissioned Mikhail Zemtsov and Andrei Kvasov to expand the Catherine Palace. Empress Elizabeth, however, found her mother's residence outdated and incommodious and in May 1752 asked her court architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to demolish the old structure and replace it with a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style. Construction lasted for four years and on 30 July 1756 the architect presented the brand-new 325-meter-long palace to the Empress, her dazed courtiers and stupefied foreign ambassadors.

During Elizabeth's lifetime, the palace was famed for its obscenely lavish exterior. More than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof. It was even rumoured that the palace's roof was constructed entirely of gold. In front of the palace a great formal garden was laid out. It centres on the azure-and-white Hermitage Pavilion near the lake, designed by Zemtsov in 1744, overhauled by Rastrelli in 1749 and formerly crowned by a grand gilded sculpture representing The Rape of Persephone. The interior of the pavilion featured dining tables with dumbwaiter mechanisms. The grand entrance to the palace is flanked by two massive "circumferences", also in the Rococo style. A delicate iron-cast grille separates the complex from the town of Tsarskoe Selo.

Although the palace is popularly associated with Catherine the Great, she actually regarded its "whipped cream" architecture as old-fashioned. When she ascended the throne, a number of statues in the park were being covered with gold, in accordance with the last wish of Empress Elizabeth, yet the new monarch had all the works suspended upon being informed about the expense. In her memoirs she censured the reckless extravagance of her predecessor: "The palace was then being built, but it was the work of Penelope: what was done today, was destroyed tomorrow. That house has been pulled down six times to the foundation, then built up again ere it was brought to its present state. The sum of a million six hundred thousand rubles was spent on the construction. Accounts exist to prove it; but besides this sum the Empress spent much money out of her own pocket on it, without ever counting."

In order to gratify her passion for antique and Neoclassical art, Catherine employed the Scottish architect Charles Cameron who not only refurbished the interior of one wing in the Neo-Palladian style then in vogue, but also constructed the personal apartments of the Empress, a rather modest Greek Revival structure known as the Agate Rooms and situated to the left from the grand palace. Noted for their elaborate jasper decor, the rooms were designed so as to be connected to the Hanging Gardens, the Cold Baths, and the Cameron Gallery (still housing a collection of bronze statuary) - three Neoclassical edifices constructed to Cameron's designs. According to Catherine's wishes, many remarkable structures were erected for her amusement in the Catherine Park. These include the Dutch Admiralty, Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk, and Marble Bridge.

Upon Catherine's death in 1796, the palace was abandoned in favour of the Pavlovsk Palace. Subsequent monarchs preferred to reside in the nearby Alexander Palace and, with only two exceptions, refrained from making new additions to the Catherine Palace, regarding it as a splendid monument to Elizabeth's wealth and Catherine II's glory. In 1817, Alexander I engaged Vasily Stasov to refurbish some interiors of his grandmother's residence in the Empire style. Twenty years later, the magnificent Stasov Staircase was constructed to replace the old circular staircase leading to the Palace Chapel. Unfortunately, most of Stasov's interiors - specifically those dating from the reign of Nicholas I - have not been restored after the destruction caused by Nazi Germans during World War Two.

When the Nazi German military forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they had the residence intentionally destroyed, leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. Prior to the World War Two, the Russian archivists managed to document a fair amount of the contents, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory. In order to attract funds, the administration of the palace has leased the Grand Hall to such high-profile events as Elton John's concert for the elite audience in 2001 and the 2005 exclusive party which featured the likes of Bill Clinton, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Naomi Campbell, and Sting.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Johann Sebastian Bach ~~~ March 31, 1685 ~~~ July 28, 1750

Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 [O.S. 21 March] – 28 July 1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose ecclesiastical and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. Although he did not introduce new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, an unrivaled control of harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France.

Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty, Bach's works include the Brandenburg concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Partitas, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor, the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion, the Magnificat, The Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue, the English and French Suites, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Cello Suites, more than 200 surviving cantatas, and a similar number of organ works, including the celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.

Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time.

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My Dennis loved the Bach suites for unaccompanied 'cello, originally written for viola da gamba. Yo-Yo Ma's recordings were some of the last sounds he heard. I had Greg, a fellow Bohemian, play a sarabande at his funeral at Grace Cathedral from the font before the procession. Someday I may work on them again.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis ~ July 28, 1929 ~ May 19, 1994

Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (July 28, 1929 – May 19, 1994) was the wife of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and served as First Lady during his presidency from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. She was later married to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis from 1968 until his death in 1975. In later years she had a successful career as a book editor. She is remembered for her style and elegance.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

GERTRUDE STEIN ~ February 3, 1874 ~ July 27, 1946


Picasso portrait of Gertrude

Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American writer who spent most of her life in France, and who became a catalyst in the development of modern art and literature. Her life was marked by two primary relationships, the first with her brother Leo Stein, from 1874-1914 (Gertrude and Leo), and the second with Alice B. Toklas, from 1907 until Stein's death in 1946 (Gertrude and Alice). Stein shared her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, first with Leo and then with Alice. Throughout her lifetime, Stein cultivated significant tertiary relationships with well-known members of the avant garde artistic and literary world.

Two of Gertrude Stein's notable quotations are: "A Rose is a rose is a rose." and in reference to Oakland, California: "There is no there there."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wager's PARSIFAL Premiered July 26, 1882

Parsifal is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner. It is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, the 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his quest for the Holy Grail.

During the first act, Parsifal, an apparently witless fool, sees the suffering of the wounded Amfortas, King of an order of knights who guard the Grail. In the second Act Parsifal wanders into the domain of Klingsor, a magician who is trying to corrupt the Knights of the Grail and who has stolen from them the spear used to pierce Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. There Parsifal meets Kundry, the slave of Klingsor, who attempts to seduce him. In resisting her, he destroys Klingsor, and recovers the Spear. In the third Act, Parsifal returns to the Grail Kingdom to heal Amfortas.

Wagner first conceived the work in April 1857 but it was not finished until twenty-five years later. It was to be Wagner's last completed opera and in composing it he took advantage of the particular sonority of his Bayreuth Festspielhaus.
Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882. The Bayreuth Festival maintained an exclusive monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Wagner preferred to describe
Parsifal not as an opera, but as "ein Bühnenweihfestspiel" - "A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage". At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that there is no applause after the first act of the opera.

Wagner's spelling of Parsifal instead of the Parzival he had used up to 1877 is informed by an erroneous etymology of the name Percival deriving it from a supposedly Arabic origin, Fal Parsi meaning "pure fool".

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I was in the offstage chorus for the San Francisco Opera production of Parsifal starring Jess Thomas.

A re-posting from November 8, 2008:

A brief return to the Bayreuth-like acoustics of the top balcony at the San Francisco Opera: when I saw Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love last Saturday night, I was somewhat surprised and amused that Adina’s story of the elixir was actually a version of Isolde’s love potion – and was written decades before Wagner’s supreme creation, with a very different outcome, indeed!

Last year I finally joined the local Wagner Society –many years after I probably should have. I figured it’s the only way I’ll ever afford to go to Bayreuth. The year before last, my Australian friend Jeffrey Hardy looked into my getting tickets to the Bayreuther Festspiele in August before returning to Venezia with some of Dennis’ ashes. It turned out the price for a single ticket was greater than the roundtrip airfare from San Francisco to Munich! But as a member of the Northern California Wagner Society, I would actually be able to afford to go someday. Next year’s program would be ideal:
Tristan und Isolde, Meistersinger, the complete Ring, and Parsifal, of course (which was written especially for that theater, and for many years restricted to be performed only there.) Alas, this year won’t be financially feasible or fit into my planned schedule! I also haven’t been a member long enough to be eligible, I think.

A few months ago at coffee hour after the Sunday morning service at Grace Cathedral, I mentioned to Dr. Jeffrey Smith, organist and choir director, that I noticed he had quite a collection of books on Richard Wagner and Bayreuth. He stopped and beamed and then began an extended discourse on the wonders of Bayreuth. He had been there a few summer’s before with his wife, Elisabeth, who is a journalist. Almost all the Wagner operas are long – indeed endurance events for the singers and for the audience. But at Bayreuth, the operas begin in the early afternoon— with hour intermissions between acts for lunch, tea or dinner— so even though extending throughout the day, there is sufficient rest between acts for singers and audience alike to appreciate the grandeur and majesty of Wagner’s art.

At Bayreuth there are no center or side aisles between rows of seats. Instead there are separate doors for each row, I imagine a little like the doors on English trains. Dr. Smith described how at the end of each intermission, patrons silently line up in order, and then return to their seats without a sound. Whenever I go to a performance here in the States and hear hacking and coughing, particularly at quiet moments— when I conclude the audience is really only bored— I think how that would never happen at Bayreuth. Patrons who are actually sick choose not to attend. And others, who need to cough, somehow do it in a way that is totally inaudible! (Reportedly Igor Stravinsky was once severely frowned upon by surrounding patrons for daring to withhold a sneeze at Bayreuth.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

CONSTANTINE ~ Declared Emperor of the West ~ York, England ~July 25, 306 C.E.

Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus (27 February c. 272 – 22 May 337), commonly known in English as Constantine I, Constantine the Great, or (among Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Christians) Saint Constantine, was Roman emperor from 306, and the undisputed holder of that office from 324 until his death in 337. Best known for being the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine reversed the persecutions of his predecessor, Diocletian, and issued (with his co-emperor Licinius) the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious toleration throughout the empire.

The Byzantine liturgical calendar, observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine rite, lists both Constantine and his mother Helena as saints. Although he is not included in the Latin Church's list of saints, which does recognize several other Constantines as saints, he is revered under the title "The Great" for his contributions to Christianity.

Constantine also transformed the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium into a new Imperial residence, Constantinople, which would remain the capital of the Byzantine Empire for over one thousand years.

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Below is repost from October 28, 2008

[Thirteen years ago [this October 28th] I stood in the middle of the Milvian Bridge in Rome and listened to a tape of my song of the same name, from a music drama about Constantine, I had written originally for the Bohemian Club as a submission for a Grove Play. The lyrics had been written a few years before, but I didn’t write the music or record it until after the play had been rejected by the Jinks Committee, following previous acceptance by the Reading Committee. When I retire in a few years, I intend to complete this and another play now on the back burner. But these won’t be resubmitted to the club. Instead, I’ll see where else there might be a place for them. More importantly, I plan to complete multi-media presentations on DVD.

Song: The Milvian Bridge

By the Cross of Christ I conquer.
~~ I am Caesar ~~ Imperator ~~
No longer ~~ merely One of Four,
But Ruler of the Western World.

With flags unfurled & standards raised,
My legions march to victory:
~~ (O’er the grave?
~~ Who knows?)

With power supreme~~
which grows far greater
than any peasant
e’re foretold~~

The world is weary,
and bodies ... cold;
But Roman might

By the Cross of Christ I conquer.
~~I am Caesar ~~ Imperator ~~
No longer merely One of Four ~~
Soon ruler ~~ Augustus of the World.

Dennis and I had been in Venice and were in Rome before starting a ten day Mediterranean cruise ending up in Istanbul on Election Day 2000. (That was the only time I have voted by absentee ballot. I’ve never missed an election; but I like to vote in person.)

This was my second time on the Ponte Milvio. The first was in 1997 after dinner on a Sunday night with the choir from St. Dominic’s in San Francisco on a concert tour in Italy. We had just spent a frustrating day in Rome with little opportunity to go sight seeing on our own; so after dinner near the Vatican, I walked to the Victor Emmanuel monument at the Piazza Venezia and from there strode a power-walk about five kilometers up the Via del Corso in a straight line through Via le Tiziano, Via Flaminia to the Milvian Bridge and arrived just before midnight. (I returned to our hotel in the outer hills by taxi.)

One-thousand-seven-hundred-one years ago [this October 28th] in the year 312 C.E., Constantine defeated the Emperor Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (then at the northern most boundary of the city) and became sole ruler in the western half of the Roman Empire.

What initially interested me in the story of Constantine was the sheer scope of the geography. Even today it would be staggering for a single individual to affect events in places diverse as York, Rome, and Istanbul, let alone found one of them (now the largest city in Europe). Constantine —the Great— born in Dalmatia, accomplished all that. CONSTANTINE, the play, is based on actual history, legend, and a good bit of fiction. The major character is the hero Constantine. He is the real figure who changed the course of history. In the beginning we hear about his exploits second hand from other people when he became one of four tetrarchs after his father’s death in York, England. But at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he demonstrates his valor, his stubbornness, his ingenuity, and his ability to exploit the situation.

After seeing angled rays of the sun through clouds the day before the battle, followed by a vision of the cross in a dream later that night, and then adopting the symbol of the Chi-Rho (the first two Greek letters of the word for Christ) to be painted on his soldiers’ shields, Constantine was able to win a victory against great odds. This victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge was the significant event in his life. It led to Constantine’s later conversion and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire – an event which has had continuous impact on Western culture ever since.

Constantine becomes a Christian, yes, but primarily as the means to win the battle in order to gain absolute power. Later he insists on unity at the Council of Nicaea, again not so much from a religious standpoint as from a concern for conformity. His principal goal is to maintain order and hierarchy with himself at the top. He also wants family unity. This is the major source of conflict in the play. The single idea unifying the plot is the oftentimes difficult relationship between fathers and sons. The central irony is that Ossius saves Constantine’s life only – mistakenly – to recommend the execution of Crispus, Constantine’s son.

So the secondary major character is Lucius Marcellus Ossius, essentially my invention. He evolves from being a naive idealist to become a politically astute prelate. Ossius uses Constantine to gain acceptance of the Christian faith. He succeeds, but at the very moment of victory, he compromises the essence of that faith. Ossius becomes my metaphor of the Church as an institution and how it was changed by official recognition after the conversion of Constantine. This was a crucial intersection in history. Before that time it took great courage to declare oneself a Christian. Ever since, it has often been the reverse. In becoming an established institution, the Church lost sight of its original mission. This is not to imply that there is no truth in the Church, only to suggest that the great truths are hidden beneath the fabric of ritual and organization, and need to be rediscovered by seekers in each generation.

Ossius is basically a composite. There was a Bishop Ossius from Spain who advised Constantine on Church matters, may have interpreted the dream at the Milvian Bridge, probably presided at the Council of Nicaea and presumably counseled Constantine about the fate of Crispus. One fact I changed is having Ossius baptize Constantine. This act rounds out their relationship. (It’s unclear who really did baptize Constantine. Rome insists that it was Pope Sylvester, but he had already been in his tomb for at least two years.) It is fully documented, however, that Constantine was baptized just before his death.

Color photo of Rob Bell in front of colossal head of Constantine 1997

(Refer to post on November 1, 2008 for my comments on the Council of Nicea.)

Thursday, July 24, 2014



The Kitchen Debate was an impromptu debate (through interpreters) between then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the opening of the American National Exhibition in Moscow, on July 24, 1959. For the event, an entire house was built that the American exhibitors claimed anyone in America could afford. It was filled with labor saving and recreational devices meant to represent the fruits of the capitalist American consumer market.

My Dad, Sherry Bell, was in Moscow with the Harrisburg Chamber of Commerce at the time of the Kitchen Debate. He told me that the Russians were absolutely convinced that the 1959 Cadillac was purely a mock-up made for the show. They couldn't believe that anyone actually owned one. They thought it was an American version of a "Potemkin Village." [Potemkin villages were purportedly fake settlements erected at the direction of Russian minister Grigory Potyomkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. According to this story, Potyomkin, who led the Crimean military campaign, had hollow facades of villages constructed along the desolate banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the monarch and her travel party with the value of her new conquests, thus enhancing his standing in the empress's eyes.]


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jacques Soufflot ~ July 22, 1713 ~ August 29, 1780

Jacques Germain Soufflot (July 22, 1713 – August 29, 1780) was a French architect in the international circle that introduced Neoclassicism. His most famous work is the Panthéon, Paris, built from 1755 onwards, originally as a church dedicated to Sainte Genevieve.

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My brother Sherry and his family lived right across from the Pantheon at #1 Place du Pantheon, when he was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Paris in the early '80's. I visited them for my 31st birthday. Below is a re-posting from October 3, 2008:

For my 31st birthday, Mother and Dad gave me a week in gay Paris Ah, April in Paris…..but ………….with Dad and Mother! We stayed with Sherry and Sallie at their wonderful apartment (rented from Georges Clemenceau’s granddaughter) at Nombre 1, Place du Pantheon. My birthday dinner was at café Le Procope, the oldest coffeehouse in Paris (possibly in Europe) and a favorite hangout of Jefferson and Franklin’s.

Sherry drove me to Fontainebleau so I could see the famous horseshoe staircase, from which Napoleon delivered his farewell to the troops at the time of his first abdication. I took the metro and walked to La Malmaison— an extraordinary house and furniture collection. Unfortunately the rose gardens have not been maintained.

[Did you know that Josephine's given name was Rose? And that her first cousin, Aimee du Buc de Rivery, was captured by Barbary pirates, sent to Constantinople, put in the harem, and was either the actual mother, or guardian of Mahmud II, Turkish Sultan at the time of Napoleon's invasion of Russia? There's a recent novel, "Seraglio," by Janet Wallach, who doesn't explore the possibility— but I've read an earlier book "The Veiled Empress" by Morton, who suggests that Mahmud II secretly broke his treaty with Napoleon soon after the Josephine divorce – the old blood is thicker routine – and that this may have been the critical difference in Napoleon's defeat in 1812. Counterfactual history is fascinating speculation, but, of course, guarantees absolutely nothing. I wrote a separate post on Aimee on May 28, 2009.]

I had spent my first day in Paris, as part of a fortnight holiday in Britain, a year and a half before. So I figured I could do the reverse, and spend a weekend in London to see my friend Jeffrey, as part of my week in Paris. Remember that this was a gift from Mother and Dad – and it came with strings. Mother had wanted me to go along with them to Mont-Saint-Michel that weekend. So I telephoned Jeffrey to say that I wouldn’t be able to make it.

As a result, I was available to have dinner with an ex-girl friend of Boyd Jarrell’s, then baritone soloist and cantor at Grace Cathedral. He had given me Lynn Davis’ phone number. When I called to take her to lunch, she invited me to dinner instead.

Sallie said it was a very good address, and recommended I take a potted plant, rather than cut flowers, since a hostess preparing dinner wouldn’t want to have to deal with them. The florist shop insisted otherwise. And when I got to the door, and was met by a liveried servant, I realized that it was not an issue.

Lynne had invited me to dinner at the home of her friend—whom I later learned was her fiance— Pierre Firmin-Didot, a publisher, and chairman of the Chartres Cathedral Organ Competition. Lynn was a church and concert organist, originally from Michigan, and had met Pierre the year she won the organ competition.

At dinner were several other guests, including an Australian photographer. That turned out to be a very fortunate coincidence. As I related to Dennis many times, this dinner was one of the few occasions in my life that my table manners matched my surroundings. I must have thought of Mother. I think I was actually the last one done. But partly that was due to conversation.

Learning that M. Firmin-Didot was chairman of the Chartres organ competition, I talked about my first day in the Cathedral the previous year. As a preface, I related a story I had read about the Persian Room nightclub at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Evidently the policy had been to overheat the room, and then suddenly drop the temperature several degrees immediately before a performance. That had a tendency to wake up the audience. And the chill down one's spine wasn't entirely a result of the music.

At this point, the conversation came to an abrupt halt. What was this foolish young American talking about? But I managed to pull it out of the fire. I said that when I entered the front door of Chartres Cathedral on a glorious, warm May afternoon, the temperature inside was immediately cooler; but the chill down my spine was due entirely…to the splendor of the stained glass and the magnificence of the architecture within. There was an audible sigh……. then conversation resumed.

M. Firmin-Didot had a wing in the Hotel (townhouse with a courtyard in front) originally built for Louis XV's finance minister. His family owned the building, and he shared it with several relatives. Hearing that a professional photographer was among his guests— and had his camera in the car— M. Firmin-Didot offered to show us his entire section of the house. He had needed to have some photographs taken for insurance purposes.

So I saw Voltaire’s death mask in the library, and an extraordinary marquetry commode given to Madame de Pompadour by Louis XV. I counted at least twenty bergeres and fauteuils in the main salon—with its beautiful boiserie. And with the groupings, the room didn’t look crowded. I think I also recognized several paintings…..which did not appear to be copies.

All in all, it was an extraordinary evening – thanks to Mother’s insistence that I go to Mont-Saint-Michel with them, instead of London to visit Jeffrey.

I regret I thought I couldn’t afford the airfare a few years later, when I was invited to Lynn and Pierre’s wedding in Michigan. I’ve seen her only a few times since.

The weekend in Normandy at Mont-Saint-Michel was indeed glorious. It wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted to go. I had just wanted to wait to go with Gary someday. But it’s a good thing I did then, because I have not yet returned.

I remember Sallie’s eating mussels at every possible occasion at Mont-Saint-Michel. Sheridan says she still has a passion for them. I also have fond memories of playing with Sheridan and Morgan around the cloister, in the turrets, and on the walls.

Lynn and Pierre were married for nearly a quarter century. I understand that Lynn is now a widow. But Pierre was considerably older.

Monday, July 21, 2014


The "Scopes Trial" (State v. Scopes, Scopes v. State, 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W. 57 (Tenn. 1926), often called the "Scopes Monkey Trial") was an American legal case that tested the Butler Act, which made it unlawful, in any state-funded educational establishment in Tennessee, "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals." This is often interpreted as meaning that the law forbade the teaching of any aspect of the theory of evolution. The case was a critical turning point in the United States' creation-evolution controversy.

After the passage of the Butler Act, the American Civil Liberties Union financed a test case, where a Dayton, Tennessee high school teacher named John Scopes intentionally violated the Act. Scopes was charged on May 5, 1925 with teaching evolution from a chapter in a textbook which showed ideas developed from those set out in Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species. The trial pitted two of the pre-eminent legal minds of the time against one another; three-time presidential candidate, Congressman and former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan headed up the prosecution and prominent trial attorney Clarence Darrow spoke for the defense. Scopes Trial: In Dayton, Tennessee, high school biology teacher John T. Scopes is found guilty of teaching evolution in class and fined $100. The famous trial was made infamous by the fictionalized accounts given in the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, the 1960 film adaptation, and the 1965, 1988, and 1999 television films of the same title.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

APOLLO 11 MOON LANDING ~ July 20, 1969

The Apollo 11 mission was the first manned mission to land on the Moon. It was the fifth human spaceflight of Project Apollo and the third human voyage to the Moon. It was also the second all-veteran crew in manned spaceflight history. Launched on July 16, 1969, it carried Mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon, while Collins orbited above.

The mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, which he expressed during a speech given before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

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July 20, 1969 was also Gary Murakami's 24th birthday; though this was seven years before I met him. He died three days before his 36th. (For more on Gary, please see my post on December 7, 2008.)

HELEN & EVELYN ~ July 23rd

Today is the birthday of two of my favorite people: Helen Heisey and Evelyn Graham. Helen is now ninety years old!!! Born July 23 in '23.

Helen was my Father's best friend and a surrogate mother to me. Evelyn was Dennis' step-mother --and after Dennis' death seven years ago -- almost another surrogate mother-- along with Toki Murakami, Gary's Mom.

Helen lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in St. Michael's. Evelyn lives in Clarence, Iowa. That reminds me of my surrogate grandmother, Marie Bronson, who was Mrs. Clarence Bronson, Yale Class of 1900.

I have been blessed indeed to have several grand ladies as a significant part of my life!

Helen Heisey on a ferry to Oxford, Maryland. Evelyn Graham in front of the old Iowa state capitol.

Failed Hitler Assassination Attempt ~ July 20, 1944

The 20 July plot of 1944, led by German Army Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, was a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, inside his "Wolf's Lair" field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The plot was the culmination of the efforts of the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi regime. The failure of both the assassination and the military coup d'état which was planned to follow it led to the arrest of at least 7,000 people by the Gestapo. According to records of the Führer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 people were executed, resulting in the destruction of the resistance movement in Germany.

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Tom Cruise was in an intriguing --if somewhat accent-flawed-- film on the the subject, entitled Valkyrie released five years ago. (See my post on December 26, 2008 for my review of the movie.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lady Jane Grey Deposed as Queen ~ July 19, 1553

Lady Jane Grey (1536/1537 – 12 February 1554) was a claimant to the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Ireland. She was de facto monarch of England for just over a week in 1553.

Executed on 12 February 1554, Lady Jane Grey's claimed rule of less than two weeks in July 1553 is the shortest rule of England in the history of the country. Popular history sometimes refers to Lady Jane as "The Nine Days' Queen" or, less commonly, as "The Nine Day Queen" owing to disagreements about the beginning of her claimed rule. Historians have taken either the day of her official proclamation as Queen (10 July) or that of her predecessor's death (6 July) as the beginning.

Lady Jane had a reputation as one of the most learned women of her day, and the historical writer Alison Weir describes her as one of "the finest female minds of the century". She is sometimes reckoned the first Queen regnant of England.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

GREAT FIRE OF ROME ~ July 18, 64 C.E.

According to the historian Tacitus, the Great Fire of Rome (Latin: Magnum Incendium Romae) started on the night of 18 July in the year 64 C.E., among the shops clustered around the Circus Maximus. As many Romans lived in wood houses without masonry, the fire spread quickly through these areas. The fire was almost contained after five days before regaining strength. Suetonius claims the fire burned for six days and seven nights in total. The fire destroyed three of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven, while leaving only four remaining undamaged. Also destroyed were Nero's palace, the Temple of Jupiter Stator and the hearth in the Temple of Vesta.

According to Tacitus, who was nine years old at the time of the fire, it spread quickly and burnt for five days. It destroyed four of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven. The only other historian who lived through the period and mentioned the fire is Pliny the Elder who wrote about it in passing. Other historians who lived through the period (including Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch and Epictetus) make no mention of it. The only other account on the size of fire is an interpolation in a forged Christian letter from Seneca to Paul: "A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks have been burnt in six days; the seventh brought a pause”. This account implies less than a tenth of the city was burnt. Rome contained about 1,700 private houses and 47,000 apartment blocks.

It was said by Cassius Dio that Nero sang the "Sack of Ilium" in stage costume while the city burned. However, Tacitus' account has Nero in Antium at the time of the fire. Tacitus said that Nero playing his lyre and singing while the city burned was only a rumor. Popular legend remembers Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned, but this is an anachronism as the instrument was invented a thousand years later.

According to Tacitus, upon hearing news of the fire, Nero rushed back to Rome to organize a relief effort, which he paid for from his own funds. After the fire, Nero opened his palaces to provide shelter for the homeless, and arranged for food supplies to be delivered in order to prevent starvation among the survivors. In the wake of the fire, he made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads. Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus Aurea in an area cleared by the fire. The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres). To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.

It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire—whether accident or arson. According to Tacitus, some in the population held Nero responsible. To diffuse blame, Nero targeted the Christians (or perhaps Chrestians; see below). Christians confessed to the crime, but it is unknown if these were false confessions induced by torture. Also, the passage is unclear what the Christians confessed to—being arsonists or Christians. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist with an insane desire to destroy the city as his motive. However, major accidental fires were common in ancient Rome. In fact, Rome burned again under Vitellius in 69 and under Titus in 80.

According to Tacitus, Nero ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified or burned to serve as lights.

He describes the event as follows:Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

Modern scholars tend to agree with Tacitus and believe that Nero probably did not cause the fire of 64 CE. If the fire had been intentionally started to create room for Nero's Domus Aurea, it is strange that the fire started 0.62 miles (1 km) away from the site where this palace would later be built, on the other side of the Palatine Hill. Moreover, the fire destroyed parts of Nero's own palace, the Domus Transitoria. It seems unlikely that Nero wanted to destroy this palace since he actually salvaged some of the marble decoration and integrated it into the new Domus Aurea. Even the paintings and wall decorations of the new palace were similar to the ones that had been burned. Last, the fire started just two days after a full moon, a time which presumably would not have been chosen by arsonists who did not want to be seen.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

NICHOLAS II ~ May 18, 1868 ~ July 17, 1918

Nicholas II (Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov; Russian: Никола й II, Никола й Алекса ндрович Рома нов) (18 May [ O.S. 6 May] 1868 – 17 July 1918) was the last Emperor of Russia, Grand Duke of Finland, and claimed the title of King of Poland. His official title was Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, and he is currently regarded as Saint Nicholas the Passion Bearer by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until his abdication on 15 March 1917. His reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to an economic and military disaster. Critics nicknamed him Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy, Bloody Sunday, and those anti-Semitic pogroms that occurred during his reign. As head of state, he approved the Russian mobilization of August 1914 which marked the first fatal step into World War I and thus into the demise of the Romanov dynasty.

Nicholas II abdicated following the February Revolution of 1917 during which he and his family were imprisoned first in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, then later in the Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk, and finally at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. Nicholas II, his wife, his son, his four daughters, the family's medical doctor, the Tsar's Valet, the Empress' Lady in Waiting and the family's cook were all killed in the same room by the Bolsheviks on the night of 17 July 1918. This led to the canonization of Nicholas II, his wife the Empress and their children as martyrs by various groups tied to the Russian Orthodox Church within Russia and, prominently, by the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia.

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Today is also the 32nd anniversary of the tragic death of my dear friend Gary Evans Mamoru Murakami. He took his own life as I was flying to England to join Chanticleer on our first European Concert Tour. I still keep in touch with his mother, Toki, and sisters Annie & Mako. I was even asked to speak at his father's funeral. I visited Toki and Mako tonight. For the first time in many years, Toki told me that she missed Gary -- three times. She's in her ninety's and is bed ridden after a stroke. Of course, I did not mention the significance of today's date -- but I think she somehow knew.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

John F. Kennedy, Jr. ~ November 25, 1960 ~ July 16, 1999

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. (November 25, 1960 – July 16, 1999), often referred to as John F. Kennedy, Jr., JFK Jr., John Jr., John Kennedy or John-John, was an American journalist, lawyer, pilot, and socialite. He was the son of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and was known as the "American Son” because he was one of the few presidential children to actually be raised in the White House. He was killed in a plane crash along with his wife and sister-in-law in 1999.

I can hardly believe it's been a decade and a half since John Kennedy, Jr.'s death. I remember his birth in 1960 a few weeks after the election. Fifteen years ago, I heard about his missing plane on NPR as I was driving to the summer encampment. I was the first to tell David Gergen, who was walking down Kitchen Hill from Owl's Nest. Even though the Press was still speculating, Gergen immediately concluded that Kennedy had been killed. What a tragic family!

Sir Joshua Reynolds ~ July 16, 1723 ~ February 23, 1792

Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA (16 July 1723 – 23 February 1792) was an important and influential 18th century English painter, specializing in portraits and promoting the "Grand Style" in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. He was one of the founders and first President of the Royal Academy. George III appreciated his merits and knighted him in 1769.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"MALAISE" ~ the word not spoken

Below is a three-year old Op-Ed piece from the New York Times. I have to share it because it explains again one of my pet peeves: the fact that President Carter never used the word "malaise" in his famous July 15, 1979 speech. That was a characterization by others. But someone else might have interpreted it as "realistic." Remember that one of the first things President Reagan did in office was to remove the solar panels from the White House. What an example for energy conservation! Think how much further along we would be in developing alternate fuels if Carter had been reelected in 1980. I contend that he has received a bum rap on many issues. (Refer to my post on October 2, 2008 for an account of the October Surprise - posted again below Gordon Stewart's piece.)

July 15, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Carter’s Speech Therapy

In the summer of 1979, as millions of Americans idled in creeping gas lines, President Jimmy Carter was preoccupied with matters abroad: first he was in Vienna completing SALT II with Leonid Brezhnev, next pleading for it before Congress, then away in Japan and Korea, hoping to rest in Hawaii afterward.
Instead, a White House reeling from approval numbers lower than Nixon’s urged Mr. Carter to get back home fast and do something. In other words, make a speech that would silence the mobs and revive his presidency. The networks cleared their schedules for July 5, 1979.

We speechwriters hacked together a draft of what was to be the president’s fifth speech on the energy crisis since taking office, and sent it to Camp David, along with word that we didn’t much like it. No one there liked it either, and on the morning of July 5, The Times blared, “President Cancels Address on Energy; No Reason Offered.”

When the White House press secretary, Jody Powell, eventually said the president was listening and thinking and writing, it wasn’t spin. Some 130 V.I.P.’s from Gov. Bill Clinton to Walter Cronkite were shuttled in and out of Camp David to offer their advice on what he should tell the nation. The great and wise talked and talked, and the president took careful notes. For 10 days a country already speechless with rage had a leader who said nothing.

Some of the notables spoke in apocalyptic terms. Others seemed to be stocking up on even more than stories, as stewards feared they could run out of glasses inscribed with “Camp David,” while helicopter crews were far too polite to comment on the clanking jackets of departing dignitaries. Actually, Camp David is a wonderful place when you’re not trying to write your way out of it.

Meanwhile, mostly secluded in a cabin, sometimes working day and night shifts, my colleague Hendrik Hertzberg and I wrote and rewrote what we had no idea would still be known 30 years later as “The Malaise Speech.” Looking out the window of the lodge where we went to eat and avoid nervous glances, I saw Clark Clifford glide by on a bicycle and wondered how such powerful people managed to keep their hair looking so lordly. Later I learned he had fallen off. I worried it might be a metaphor for our unfinished speech.

We were hardly the only ones worrying. The pollster Patrick Caddell filled volumes of memos and hours of conversation with his views: that after Vietnam and Watergate Americans had become inward-looking, obsessed with consumption, fragmented, incapable of collective action and suffering a “crisis of confidence.” It was clear from what the president was writing himself that he wanted these ideas to be at the center of his speech. And they are.

Vice President Walter Mondale and the president’s domestic policy adviser, Stuart E. Eizenstat, were troubled by so much ruminating on the American condition; they were certain that Americans were less concerned with philosophical emptiness than empty gas tanks.

Between visits with staff, memos and, most important, the president’s own drafts, there were plenty of fine minds to work with. But the point of the speech, its overall direction, and how it would deal with Americans’ energy realities remained in deep, often bitter dispute. Eventually, we had to insist that all the principals gather around a very long table until they reached agreement.

Things did not go well, and we writers did not help. Seated at the far end of the table, we goaded both sides, implying that the confidence stuff was too airy and the energy programs too boring.

The two camps engaged in pitched battle and then, amazingly, found agreement: the idea emerged that while America’s afflictions were real, they could not be treated as abstract disorders. I recall scribbling faster than it seemed possible to put legible words on a pad, but the end result was: “On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny.” The speech had found its central argument. The policy steps fell into place.

On July 15 — 30 years ago today — at 10 p.m., President Carter and 100 million people finally faced each other across that familiar Oval Office desk. What they saw and heard was unlike any moment they had experienced from their 39th president. Speaking with rare force, with inflections flowing from meanings he felt deeply, Jimmy Carter called for the “most massive peacetime commitment” in our history to develop alternative fuels.

Contrary to later spin, the speech was extremely popular. The White House was flooded with positive calls. Viewers polled while watching found that the speech inspired them as it unfolded.

To this day, I don’t entirely know why the speech came to be derided for a word that was in the air, but never once appeared in the text. Still, the “malaise” label stuck: maybe because President Carter’s cabinet shake-up a few days later wasted the political energy that had been focused on our energy problems; maybe because the administration’s opponents attached it to the speech relentlessly; maybe because it was just too hard to compete with Ronald Reagan and his banner of limitless American consumption.

The real reason is probably that there was never any way the Jimmy Carter we all know would avoid saying: “There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice.” Where the speeches of Reagan and Barack Obama evoke the beauty of dreams, President Carter insisted on the realities of responsibility and the need for radical change. Mr. Carter’s sense of our own accountability, his warnings about the debilitating effects of self-centered divisiveness were the speech’s true heresies. They are also the very elements that keep it relevant today.

Gordon Stewart was the deputy chief speechwriter for Jimmy Carter from 1978 to 1981.

I remember waiting for a bus with my friend Gary Evans Murakami at Van Ness by the Jack Tar Hotel, when word came down that President Carter had made an early concession on election night 1980. I was angry about that—first, that he had been defeated*—but second, that he had conceded before the polls had closed on the West Coast. I felt that his action would almost certainly impact some of the House and Senate seats.

I won’t include it here, but I wrote a five thousand word letter to professor Gary Sick in 1991 about the October Surprise in the 1980 presidential campaign. I know that it’s been discounted by the press, and it’s dropped off the radar screen of general interest; but I’m convinced that there was—and still is—a significant story.

The issue was not Vice Presidential candidate Bush’s going to Paris. That was a straw man—easily demolished—and effective in shutting down the investigative reporting.

What actually happened – and it has to be true, because it was stipulated by all the participants— was a meeting in Washington D.C. at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, on October 2, 1980 with Richard Allen, Laurence Silberman and Robert McFarlane. Somebody claiming to represent the Iranian government offered to free the hostages to a President Reagan if the new government would sell arms to Iran to assist them in their war with Iraq. This meeting was never reported to the Secretary of State, though Silberman, as a former ambassador, knew that the law required him to do so. He later asserted the offer had not been credible.

Laurence Silberman is now a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. His was the deciding vote which overturned the conviction of Oliver North for his illegal activities in the Iran-Contra affair (which incidentally did not divert the largest amount of money to the Contras from the sale of arms to Iran, but instead set up secret Swiss bank accounts, whose purpose was to fund a permanent secret plumbers unit without Congressional oversight-- still an unaccounted-for fund).

The person who claimed to represent the government of Iran made offers that were eventually kept— and the hostages were released the actual minute Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981— 76 days after the election. Former Iranian President Beni Sadr claimed that the Reagan election campaign didn't want the hostages released until Reagan was sworn in, so that Carter would be denied any credit for their release. So were they held another 76 days just for spite? (During the last primary season, Rudy Guiliani cited the Iran hostages’ release on Inauguration Day as a prime example of Reagan’s influence and greatness.)

They were offered a deal— the terms of which were honored by both sides. Yet they claimed they had not accepted the deal. Is that credible? You decide.

It parallels what happened in 1968. And some of the same people were involved. The Paris Peace Conference was boycotted by President Thieu at the request of Madame Chenault, (wife of General Chenault of the "Flying Tigers") who stated on A&E's "Secret Biography of Richard Nixon" aired 2/19/91, that she did so at the behest of the Election Campaign for Richard Nixon. She persuaded President Thieu that he would receive better peace terms under a President Nixon than under a President Humphrey. Had it been reversed, would Republicans call this treason?

This episode was mentioned by Richard Allen on an NPR call-in show 4/17/91, though, he said it was an example of how "you cannot control people who work for campaigns and then go off the transom on their own initiative." That's how he also described the meeting on October 2, 1980. (I happened to call in and ask a question. Have you ever wondered why many people on call-in shows sound rather flustered and stupid when they ask their question? In my case I used my speed dial about 300 times before I got through and had my question screened. I was put on hold for about half an hour. Then without any warning, I was on the air. It sure would have helped if someone had given a five or ten second notice.)

Remember, almost half the names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington were added after the election of Richard Nixon, who had his "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. Did Madame Chenault's mission at the behest of Nixon's Campaign Committee actually block an earlier settlement of the war? We will never know. Former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's obituary in the NY Times cited this episode as one of the major frustrations and disappointments of his life.


*Carter has the reputation of being a much better ex-president than president. I contend he was a much better president than people give him credit, certainly in the area of developing alternate fuels. I think he was ahead of any of his successors. One of the first things Reagan did in office was to remove the solar panels from the White House. I’m sure that was because Nancy didn’t like the aesthetics; but think how much further along we’d be if Carter had been reelected in 1980. Carter is blamed for the terrible inflation in the late 1970’s. But he inherited that from Nixon and Ford, especially as a result of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Inflation was finally whipped (to use Ford’s term) and credit is generally given to Paul Volcker -- appointed by? You guessed it: President Jimmy Carter.

Rosetta Stone ~ Discovered July 15, 1799

The Rosetta Stone is an Ancient Egyptian artifact which was instrumental in advancing modern understanding of hieroglyphic writing. The stone is a Ptolemaic era stele with carved text made up of three translations of a single passage: two in Egyptian language scripts (hieroglyphic and Demotic) and one in classical Greek. It was created in 196 BC, discovered by the French in 1799 at Rosetta and contributed greatly to the deciphering of the principles of hieroglyph writing in 1822 by the British scientist Thomas Young and the French scholar Jean-François Champollion. Comparative translation of the stone assisted in understanding many previously undecipherable examples of hieroglyphic writing. The text on the stone is a decree from Ptolemy V, describing the repealing of various taxes and instructions to erect statues in temples.


In preparation for Napoleon's 1798 campaign in Egypt, the French founded the Institut de l'Égypte in Cairo which brought 167 scientists and archaeologists to the region. French Army engineer Captain Pierre-François Bouchard discovered the stone sometime – the sources are not specific – in mid-July 1799, while guiding construction work at Fort Julien near the Egyptian port city of Rashid (Rosetta). The Napoleonic army was so awestruck by this unheralded spectacle that, according to a witness, "It halted of itself and, by one spontaneous impulse, grounded its arms." (As quoted by Robert Claiborne, The Birth of Writing [1974], p. 24.) After Napoleon returned in 1799, 167 scholars remained behind with French troops which held off British and Ottoman attacks. In March 1801, the British landed on Aboukir Bay and scholars carried the Stone from Cairo to Alexandria alongside the troops of Jacques-Francois Menou. French troops in Cairo capitulated on June 22, and in Alexandria on August 30.

After the surrender, a dispute arose over the fate of French archaeological and scientific discoveries in Egypt. De Menou refused to hand them over, claiming they belonged to the Institute. British General John Hely-Hutchinson, 2nd Earl of Donoughmore, refused to relieve the city until de Menou gave in. Newly arrived scholars Edward Daniel Clarke and William Richard Hamilton agreed to check the collections in Alexandria and found many artifacts that the French had not revealed.

When Hutchinson claimed all materials as a property of the British Crown, a French scholar, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, said to Clarke and Hamilton that they would rather burn all their discoveries — referring ominously to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria — than turn them over. Hutchinson finally agreed that items such as biology specimens would be the scholars' private property. De Menou regarded the stone as his private property and hid it.

How exactly the Stone came to British hands is disputed. Colonel Tomkyns Hilgrove Turner, who escorted the stone to Britain, claimed later that he had personally seized it from de Menou and carried it away on a gun carriage. Clarke stated in his memoirs that a French scholar and an officer had quietly given up the stone to him and his companions in a Cairo back street. French scholars departed later with only imprints and plaster casts of the stone.

Turner brought the stone to Britain aboard the captured French frigate L'Egyptienne in February 1802. On March 11, it was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of London and Stephen Weston played a major role in the early translation. Later it was taken to the British Museum, where it remains to this day. Inscriptions painted in white on the artifact state "Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801" on the left side and "Presented by King George III" on the right.

The stone is 114.4 centimetres (45.0 in) high at its highest point, 72.3 centimetres (28.5 in) wide, and 27.9 centimetres (11.0 in) thick. It is unfinished on its sides and reverse. Weighing approximately 760 kilograms (1,700 lb), it was originally thought to be granite or basalt but is currently described as granodiorite of a dark pinkish-gray color. The stone has been on public display at The British Museum since 1802.


I've seen the Rosetta Stone several times at the British Museum. The last time was a few days before Sheridan & Sylvie's wedding in Nantes four years ago.

The De Young Museum in San Francisco had a Tutankhamen Exhibit two years ago. S & S saw it when they were here for a wedding . They weren't so impressed. It wasn't a very large show. I saw the same exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia four years ago last May when I was East for the Point to Point horse race in Wilmington, Delaware. On my free Monday I had planned to go into NYC to see the Venetian show at the Met, but since it was closed on Mondays, I went to the King Tut show instead. (It turned out I was able to see the Venice & Islam Exhibit at the Doges' Palace in Venice a few months later. It couldn't have worked out better!)

I was glad to see the Tutankhamen show in Philadelphia; but it wasn't as extensive as two previous ones I had seen. The first was at the Franklin Institute in the mid 1960's when the impressive throne-like chair was featured. The second was at the old DeYoung Museum here in San Francisco thirty-one years ago. It was a far more extensive exhibit. It featured the glorious golden mask, frequently shown as the cover shot on countless books.

I had gone to that show twice before with incredibly bothersome crowds, before Chanticleer (then in its first year) was asked to sing at a cocktail party for then new mayor Dianne Feinstein in a tent outside the DeYoung. We sang in horrible acoustics with a single hand held mic. It was totally useless...BUT as an unanticipated consequence, the twelve of us --in white tie and tails-- had the splendid opportunity to walk through the exhibit entirely by ourselves (of course with the standard number of security guards keeping watch over the priceless objects).

I was then able to figure out why the golden mask was so deep. It wasn't like a Venetian Carnevale mask as I had thought; that is, the mask was not directly on top of Tutankhamen's face. Instead, the mummy's head was at the very back of the headdress -- at least over a foot away. I had never gotten close enough to see that when I had gone to the exhibit with the crush of crowds.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Dennis had a collection of state and national flags. During the first Gulf War we flew three flags daily— the flags of the US, the UN and the ally of the day. Whenever we had house guests, we made a point of getting a flag from the state or country of the guests and fly it during their visit.

Dennis designed a Spizzwink(?) standard when we hosted a party back in 1989. It was a red ‘S’ with a superimposed ‘?’. (You may have wondered why I generally include a parenthetical question mark after the name Spizzwink(?) That’s because the name is so weird that most people question its accuracy.)

Dennis also designed a new French flag. It’s really splendid both from a design standpoint and an historical basis. Today’s French tricolore had its origin in the first French Revolution. Napoleon continued to use it with a superimposed ‘N’ and laurel wreath, or with Napoleonic bees, or various regimental insignia. The white Bourbon ensign with fleur-de-lis returned at the Restoration. Then the tricolore came back with the Second Republic and remained with the Second Empire. After 1870 and the fall of Napoleon III, there was a chance that France would become a monarchy again. The pretender, le Comte de Chambord, refused however to retain the tricolore and insisted on restoration of the Bourbon ensign with its fleur-de-lis. As a result, France then became a Republic again. Le Comte de Chambord would have been wiser to have followed the example of his ancestor Henry IV.
My nephew Sheridan was married in Nantes on July 6th, 2007. The Edict of Nantes was issued by Henry IV of France, who was willing to become Catholic in order to become King. “Paris is worth a Mass” was his famous alleged remark. The Edict granted religious toleration to Protestants (until revoked by Louis XIV.) Similarly, le Comte de Chambord could have said: “Paris is worth a flag,” but he didn’t. On the other hand, Dennis’ design would have been a suitable compromise.

Dennis was fond of saying that the French tricolore is a strong image, but reflects barely two hundred years of French history. Yet within its colors lies the entire spectrum of French history for a millennium and a half. The Red is symbolic of Charlemagne and the Capetian dynasty, the Blue of Valois, and the White of the Bourbon. As Napoleon had superimposed his ‘N’, so le Comte de Chambord could have accepted the tricolore with three superimposed fleur-de-lis in a chevron pattern as Dennis designed it – to make a French Unity flag.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)