The way things look ...
slave cemetery Christmas lights on balcony Christmas bow and bells blossoming tree and street light. gray dawn (estab. 1999)

Presidential Job Approval
(Gallup Wkly: 48% - 1/17/16)

Average Daily Consumer Spending in Dec: $99
What Americans reported spending "Yesterday"
Gallup Payroll to Population in Dec: 45.3%
% of adult population employed full time for an employer
Well, my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splitly .... Glen Frey, founding member of The Eagles and one of the group's lead singers and spiritual leaders, died January 18 at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, from complications following a long illness. He was 67. Tequila has seen its last sunrise. Glen has gone to rejoin the girl from yesterday. We'll still have the CDs, the digital files we cadged with Napster, a whole bunch of YouTube videos and now, all over again, some vinyl records. (It turns out Wordsworth was prescient. Once you've been here, you're here to stay.) But that's not likely to be enough for some people. Where Glen Frey is concerned it won't be the same just living with your memories. What's the opposite of a peaceful, easy feeling? Because we didn't just lose Glen Frey. We've lost The Eagles. Remember how you felt when they broke up? Well, this is worse.

 12/31/15 -- 1,000 Words: Should auld acquaintance be forgot ...  

BFFs and good times at Donald Trump's wedding to Slovenian supermodel Melania Knauss at the Mar-a-Lago Club January 22, 2005. Former President Clinton was unable to attend the ceremony but joined his wife Hillary, then Secretary of State, at the reception following.


No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
H.L. Menken
What he actually said. The original, oft-misquoted epigrammatic characterization of the American public by "The Sage of Baltimore." Pioneering journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English, Menken routinely lampooned religion, populism and representative democracy, which he described as a system under which inferior men dominated their betters.

From a Chicago Daily Tribune column, "Notes on Journalism" (Sept. 19, 1926), concerning the pros and cons of tabloid newspapers.)

 12/21/15 -- Christmas all over again! 

So how is it with you this year?

Feel like Santa? Feel like the Grinch? Are you Scrooge? Are you George Bailey running through town without a hat or winter coat on?

Don't take chances with your fragile emotional well-being at this time of year. Transparent insecurities can expose you to public ridicule, disrespect both in the home and at the office, and even taunting abuse from the likes of children, strangers or stray animals.

Try to blend in. Decorum matters. This year's Skelly Family Christmas Website with its Christmas Spirit Analyzer will show you how your own emotional state tracks with everyone else's. So you can adjust accordingly. Privately. Discreetly. No one need know.

While you're on the site, take a second to see how miserable you really could be at Christmas. You've got a lot to be thankful for.

Other posts on this page ...
Your freudian slip is showing
Facts that are just your opinion.
"He will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom."
Dying summer's brave (musical) display
Liberté, égalité, bombast
Budget review.
Eyes right.
Something in a garden.
And now for something completely different.
Ben E. King
The Pauls have this one figured out.
Getting back to basics.


This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner. That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president.
Michael Mann
Climate Scientist at Penn State University, commenting on Ted Cruz's climate change tweets. The Associated Press asked a panel of eight scientists to grade the accuracy of Presidential candidates' tweets on the subject using a scale of zero to a hundred. The tweets didn't include candidates' names in order to guard against bias. All nine Republican candidates graded got failing scores. Donald Trump received a fifteen, Ben Carson a thirteen, Cruz a six.
The New Yorker online, Dec. 4, ("Congress Moves to Sabotage the Paris Climate Summit" by Elizabeth Kolbert)

Thought for the Day
The hobgoblin of little minds
Americans' views on accepting refugees ...
children from Germany (1939) from Syrian conflict
Gallup: (November 23, 2015): Americans Again Opposed to Taking In Refugees

 10/31/15 -- Trick or Treat 

Happy Halloween! Click the pumpkin face for Sammy's annual letter of sage Halloween advice to his children. Two years ago I said I wasn't going to do this anymore, but Polonious couldn't shut up and neither can I. I'll be lucky if no one stabs me through the curtain this year.

The Art of Casual Deceit - Installment I

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a noted author and political commentator, appeared on Smerconish (a Sat. morning news show) over the weekend. Speaking favorably about Jeb Bush's tax plan, he said it would "spur the economy, which has stagnated under President Obama."

Inattentive listeners could be forgiven for assuming Obama had done something to "stagnate" the economy or at the very least let it stagnate on his watch. But they would be wrong.

The U.S. economy grew a surprising, and probably unsustainable, 3.9% in the 2nd quarter. The figure gyrates from quarter to quarter and even month to month with each re-estimate the Bureau of Economic Analysis publishes. But when Obama took office it was in negative territory. The US like the rest of the developed world was in a bad recession (ironically of its own making).

GDP has recovered, unsteadily and slowly, ever since. (Again, it was a bad recession.) But the US has easily and steadily bested the growth rates of the other economies of the developed world who it could be argued adopted less enlightened strategies for dealing with the downturn.

Long term, global GDP has, indeed, slowed over the last 20 years, for the US and almost everybody else, and it is, indeed, a worrisome structural concern.

But there is no fathomable way to argue that the economy has "stagnated" under Obama (even if you don't want to credit him with the improvement).

What's more, Barnes, a highly seasoned political and economic journalist, would be well aware of all this. One concludes he was simply hoping to slip in some disinformation damaging to the opposition and get away undetected.

Politicians can't exactly be forgiven for engaging in such deceptive ploys, but we can at least give them understanding. Politics in its daily exercise is a lot of "he said-she said" in an ongoing, and sometimes unattractive, game of one-upmanship.

But Fred Barnes isn't just another Republican booster taking a swipe at a Democratic president. Barnes is a journalist for a national news magazine, albeit one with conservative leanings, speaking on a national TV news show. Professional journalists are taught to not even answer questions, much less volunteer characterizing answers.

You're never going to get honest politicians if you don't have honest journalists reporting on them. As an executive editor and magazine co-founder, maybe Barnes should seek out a reporter with stronger journalistic chops to go on TV for him.

Bureau of Economic Analysis

 9/30/15 -- 1,000 Words: One of Us Isn't Nearly as Smart as They Think 


The fact that there is simply no evidence that Planned Parenthood is harvesting fetal tissue for profit and that there is abundant evidence that shuttering Planned Parenthood would actually be disastrous should appear in the calculus somewhere.
Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor, Slate ("Carly Fiorina's Big Lie")

 9/26/15 -- Cruz Hits Trifecta at Values Voter Summit 

2015 Values Voter Summit, Sept. 24-26, Washington, DC
Presidential Straw Poll Results
candidate vote
former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)
Dr. Ben Carson
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Carly Fiorina
Sen. Lindsey Graham
former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Gov. John Kasich (OH)
Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
Donald Trump
Write-In Cand.

White House hopeful Ted Cruz ruled the roost once again at the annual Values Voter Summit by winning the annual presidential preference straw poll here for the third straight year - further cementing his status a favorite among social conservatives that will play a pivotal role in picking the party's nominee. The Texas Republican captured 35 percent of the votes cast, outpacing his closest rival Ben Carson, who received 18 percent. Mr. Carson was the crowd's top pick for vice president. Carly Fiorina was the crowd's second choice for vice president, and Mr. Cruz was the third. Donald J. Trump landed in fifth place with 5 percent. The straw poll showed that the top issues for the 2,700 registered guests were protecting religious liberty, supporting pro-life efforts and defending traditional marriage. (The Washington Times)

 9/11/13 -- "Nobody on the Road ..." 

Fewer visitors return to the Summer Song Jukebox each year.

It could be generational. Time travelers who used to come back regularly finally outgrowing their mid-life crises. Less pleasant to revisit, much less relive, old summer adolescent selves.

The tunes that kindled myriad summer passions, and memories of the same, now get stored in one or more of memory's many dark closets, unopened, along with other summer souvenirs. Rarely taken out and viewed, summoning up more melancholy than pleasure.

The present intrudes. The past is borne back ceaselessly into ... well, the past.

Summer memories are like California beaches, more for driving by than lying on. The endless waves more for gazing upon than frolicking in. And as scenery, over time, the former grow old and common.

(Actually the beaches continue to look pretty good.)

I hardly go back myself these days.

With so little data to sift through, we could barely construct a list from this summer's plays. And may never again.

So this year's song list is of Sammy's personal all-time favorites. He never did care for your taste in childhood memories anyway.

There's a link below in case this sad paean moves you to let yourself just drift back and indulge one more time. There's room enough in this world for both our versions of the now fast-receding past. Maybe you'll recall it better this time.

Enjoy. (Sob.)

Summer 2015: Websitesammy's Personal All-time Favorite Playlist:

1) Boys of Summer Don Henley (1984)

2) The Lonely Surfer Jack Nitzsche (1963)

3) Summer Song Chad and Jeremy (1964)

4) Theme from a Summer Place Percy Faith and His Orchestra (1959)

5) Surfer Girl The Beach Boys (1964)

6) The Things We Did Last Summer Jo Stafford (1946)

7) Girls on the Beach The Beach Boys (1984)

8) The Girls in Their Summer Dresses Harry Belafonte (1966)

9) Summertime, Summertime The Jamies (1958)

10) Summertime Blues Eddie Cochran (1958)

11) Here Comes Summer Jerry Keller (1959)

12) Yesterday's Gone Chad and Jeremy (1964)

13) Girls In Their Summer Clothes Bruce Springsteen (2008)

14) Summer Of '69 Bryan Adams (1984)

15) Summertime Sadness Lana Del Rey (2012)

Go to Summer Song Jukebox playlist

Ocean City, NJ. The end of summer: live
(click bottom right to enlarge).


If you read a few hundred academic articles, I don't think you'll find one that identifies the desire to have children in the U.S. ... as a significant factor in people's thinking.
Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program, Migration Policy Institute,
(on research findings that economic factors are the big determinants of illegal immigration.)

 8/25/15—Citizen Trump

In The Bourne Ultimatum evil NSA director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn who does as good a bad guy as he did a good one in The River Wild) realizes one wimpy British investigative reporter can't be giving a crack grab-team of tough guys so much trouble.

He mutters to his assistant, "This guy's got help."

Similarly, Donald Trump may have begun as an out-of-control whirling dervish lurching mid-sentence from one inchoate thought to the next, but times change and great men change with them.

Maybe El Donald is getting some coaching. Maybe some arch-conservative super-villains have gained access to his ear, believing perhaps that they recognize when they see one the gift of a useful idiot.

Consider the graceful, and useful, pivot from defiling an entire nation of Mexicans to defiling just their government, and accusing them of—the literary term is "asteism"—excess intelligence. (Had to be a breath of fresh air for the Mexican government. No one's called them that in a while.) That was a tidy segue for Trump, who leans by instinct toward blunt instrument.

And now here he is doubling (tripling?) down on the Mexican issue by calling for a re-examination of the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship, which a lot of people foolishly thought would by now be settled law. He makes it clear he's received the benefit of counsel from "some very smart lawyers" on the subject. Like who?

Hard on Trump's 14th Amendment pronouncement, first made to an astonished Bill O'Reilly, a gaggle of fellow candidates announced their ready concurrence. As if they'd been just waiting for a chance to weigh in. (No suggestion of a conspiracy intended here. Most likely they just didn't want to be left behind—again.

Then who should lend his unremitting support for the idea but the right wing's resident brainiac, Mark Levin, radio host, lawyer and self-professed constitutional law expert who graduated from college at 19, only a few years older than Sheldon Cooper?

And as Sheldon might, Levin goes so far (on Hannity, where else) as to insist he'd thought of it first. (Hannity was in full agreement—and full harrumph.)

The truth is, there is simply no way one can get to the same place as Mark Levin, on any subject, without advance planning. Was he one of the very smart lawyers? How about Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who did a star turn at Trump's Mobile rally just to commend him for his really good work on immigration?

Sessions even put a Trump baseball cap on (and left it there for nearly six seconds). Immigration is a subject the state of Alabama seems obsessed with, God knows why.

Pew Research: Five facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.
(click for details)

Interestingly, the parties all use the same term, "anchor babies," but in somewhat different ways, several of them incorrect. And all blithely indifferent that the term greatly irritates Hispanics, for reasons that will probably become presently self evident.

The dictionary says anchor baby (noun, offensive) describes a child born to a non-citizen mother in a country that bestows citizenship at birth, especially where this designation is viewed as providing an advantage to family members seeking to secure citizenship or legal residency in that country.

Trump, surprisingly for a guy to whom "specificity" is a word only in a foreign language, took pains to make clear that his use of "anchor babies" referred to expectant mothers who wait until just before term to enter the country and give birth in the U.S. Putatively this gets them free medical care and welfare benefits and qualifies the child for free education for life.

His description: "They're in Mexico, they're gonna have a baby. They're only here a couple of days. They have the baby."

This description is notably narrower than that of most of his rivals and of course, he being Trump, it's basically wrong. Want proof? Lindsey Graham likes this definition too. Jeb Bush thinks the anchor baby problem is an Asian phenomenon. Apparently, none of these guys ever learned how to do their own homework.

The Donald may be conflating the anchor baby concept with a practice called birth tourism. (Bush assuredly so.) Some foreign mothers-to-be with the requisite finanicial resources enjoy expanding their birth experience with a luxury tourist junket to America, enjoying perks like superior U.S. medical care, sight-seeing and shopping expeditions and spa-quality massage and beauty treatments.

A number of U.S. businesses specialize in arranging such packages for clients in China, Asia and Latin America. And there's the bonus of U.S. citizenship for the child, which can be claimed at some time in the future, that makes it possible to circumvent national one-child policies or, in the fullness of time, compulsory military service.

No one is trying to sneak in the country, and the price tag can be downright Trumpian. Up to $40,000 all in. Welfare benefits? Not a thought.

Most conservatives use the term anchor baby to refer to the children of undocumented immigrants already in the country who are having the child to try to facilitate their own eventual application for U.S. citizenship. (Eventually U.S.-born children can petition for citizenship for their non-U.S. parents.)

But even this definition seems wrong-headed since it entails a scenario of events so improbable that it rises to the level of mythical.

The strategic timeframe involved is akin to the supposed scheme of Barack Obama's grandparents to plant phony announcements of the future president's birth (a Kenyan event) in the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. This was to establish his American citizenship claim when he would run for that office 35 years hence.

Trump liked that one as well.

Being conservative seems to entail loving conspiracy theories, the wackier the better. Politifact points out, "... citizen children cannot sponsor their parents for citizenship until they turn 21—and if the parents were ever illegal, they would have to return home for 10 years before applying to come in."

A Google search will provide a wealth of similar debunking articles for the curious to peruse. Here's a pretty thorough write-up from The Washington Post.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank, estimates that there are approximately 40,000 annual births to parents in the United States as birth tourists. Total births to temporary immigrants in the United States (e.g. tourists, students, guest workers) could be as high as 200,000.

And as everybody who's watched the news lately knows, the Pew Research Center estimates that undocumented aliens give birth to 300,000 babies a year on average, 7.5% of America's annual birth poulation (4,000,000).

There's an awful lot of statistical evidence to suggest that most Mexicans come to this country looking for a better job. And as for having babies, most of them are probably just having babies. It's part of life.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
14th Amendment, Section 1

When did birthright citizenship ("jus soli") become such a cause celebre for the anti-immigrant crowd? Well, basically around 1866, which is when Congress passed the nation's first Civil Rights Act.

The 14th Amendment was expressly created (in 1868) to repeal the Dred Scott decision and provide a constitutional underpinning for the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which among other things conferred citizenship on former slaves.

After several lower court challenges to birthright citizenship, one eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1898 (in United States v Wong Kim Ark) that any child born in the U.S. was a citizen, regardless of his or her parents' immigration statuses (Wong's were legal immigrant non-citizens).

Opponents have persistently risen, on both sides of the aisle from time to time, to inveigh against the policy. But somehow it became a conservative hot button in the 1990s and it's been sitting heavy on the extreme right wing mind since then.

The reasoning? Basically, that no court ever ruled on a case where the parents were illegal immigrants, and so no court had ever gotten to consider whether in such cases the new-born child shouldn't be regarded as being under the jurisdiction of the parents' birth country ("jus sanguinis").

Ah, Latin. Ah, politicians. They're a lot like the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in Terminator: it's never over for them.

Or like the McKenzie Phillips character, the too-youngish teen Carol, in American Graffiti. When John Milner, the town hot-rodder who's been stuck babysitting her all night, tells her since she wouldn't tell him where she lives so he could take her home, she'll now be expected to end the evening by putting out.

"It's not too late," she blurts out. It's never too late! 231 Ramona. Two-three-one! I'll show you. It's easy to find."

In 1991 Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) introduced a bill declaring that only children born in the US to mothers who are legal residents should be given citizenship. It died in committee, but not before gaining 19 co-sponsors and a goodly following in the anti-immigration community.

The Guardian news website reports that in every Congress since, some Republican has introduced a bill to undo birthright citizenship. Former representative and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough supported one. So did Republican congressional leaders Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay, as well as future presidential aspirants George Allen and John Kasich. (Kasich has since changed his position.)

Cynical observers will point out the potential benefit of endorsing such measures: it delivers a stark, stirring "red meat" message that rouses the base, yet would be near-impossible to implement, meaning no further effort is required.

Kind of like what The Donald did with Obama's birth certificate, when he announced his investigators in Hawaii were uncovering "amazing things." People are still waiting for that report.

The last amendment to the constitution was ratified in 1992. "No law varying the compensation for the services of Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of representatives shall have intervened." First proposed in 1989.

Ted Cruz, another candidate who publicly supports eliminating birthright citizenship, struck an uncharistically sober tone when discussing the issue during his Senate campaign in 2011. In the process, he revealed enough of his carefully analytical, Princeton- and Harvard Law-trained legal mind to put the lie somewhat to the bomb-throwing, cowboy-booted populist firebrand that he plays on TV.

(C'mon, He was a Supreme Court clerk and Texas Solicitor General. His wife was a managing director at Goldman Sachs; what did you think was going on?)

In a 2011 interview with "The Duke Machado Show," then senatorial candidate Ted Cruz called efforts to change birthright citizenship misguided because they stood on shoddy legal footing.

Of course, it could be that, as The Pentagon's generals are so often accused of doing, conservatives are fighting the last war when it comes to integration. The moving finger still moves and still writes. Immigration from Mexico has tanked. Most new immigrants now come from China or India. They're not climbing the southern fence. (Most common form of entry for illegal immigrants: flying in as tourists, overstaying their visa.)

It's time to start insulting whole new generations of new foreign nationals.

U.S. Census Bureau

Maybe the 14th Amendment thing is just a pilot-run for The Donald. Maybe he could be useful in channeling other popular conservative memes. If the right counselor could just get next to him. God knows, the man is looking for content.

But right-wing villainous ear whisperers should be cautioned to proceed with care with Trump. He could prove choosy in the positions he's willing to repeat and the way he delivers the message. He's already shown on topics from Planned Parenthood to the Iraq war, not to mention on any perceived foe, any narrative might not unfold in quite the way some Republican Nicodemus might have intended.

Clearly there are no second takes in his world. And if he doesn't get it all quite right he doesn't really care.

He may not always make a lot of sense, but Trump, whatever else you can say about him, is his own creation and hears his own muse. He's most likely going to sing it his way, no matter what you tell him.

Time Magazine

And the peoeple love him for that. At least, 25% of Republican primary voters do.

  7/11/15—My oh my, where does the money go?

"The Traveler has come! Choose the form of the Destructor."

Thus spoke Gozer to Spengler, Venkman, Stanz and Zeddmore. And, you'll recall, it proved beyond their power not to choose.

You're kind of in the same boat as the Ghostbusters. Only you don't even get to choose for yourself. You've got a bunch of chuckleheaded Senators and Congressmen doing your choosing. And soon President Donald Trump could also be telling them what to do. Wow. Good luck.

The point is, we still spend a little more than we make, and what do you want to do about that? Who are you gonna call?

It's not as easy as it looks. For instance, no fair cutting Social Security spending unless you're cutting Social Security receipts by an equal amount. You don't really think anyone's going to continue paying into what you're no longer paying out, do you?

And yes, Social Security doesn't contribute to the deficit, despite what the well-meaning folks at persist in thinking.

When Treasury borrows to cover those supposedly non-existant government securities they issued that the pesky folks at Social Security cash in to cover their revenue shortfall, it's not new debt. Treasury is just finding a new lender to replace the old one. They'd already borrowed the money. That's why they issued the securities in the first place. Kind of like when you refinance your mortgage. When it's all over you still have only one mortgage.

The people at Factcheck can't get their arms around this, probably because they don't take home enough to qualify for a refinancing anymore.

Still, Social Security needs some attention. Outlays are growing faster than revenues. And the Social Security Disability Fund is just about broke. People are using it as a retirement plan, which was never the idea. All eminently fixable, but someone needs to to make the fixes.

Health care costs are growing faster than weeds. The government picks up over half the tab, not counting tax deductions. Whatever your position on health care reform, it was certainly the right place to be looking.

There's talk Congress is quietly noodling over as-yet not-completely baked plans to shut itself down again this fall arguing over what to do about our runaway spending. Spending isn't actually running anywhere. The deficit is down to about half a trillion dollars, which in Dick Cheney's book is pretty much just Jake. And the trajectories of most spending categories look positively comforting to the uninitiated who are just looking at the chart above.

But you know how Congress is; they don't feel they're doing their jobs unless they're going all hyperbolic on your ass.

So it figures you might as well just start thinking about this right now, lest you get complacent and absent-mindedly start to enjoy the rest of your summer.

  6/14/15—What so proudly we hailed ... 

You could say the Pledge of Allegiance started out as a publicity stunt, by guys looking to sell magazines. But these guys really did believe fervently in what they were doing—in the important role of vibrant patriotism in sustaining the American experiment and the need for a fresh jolt of it in turn-of-twentieth-century America. They just also believed in selling magazines.

Today, the pledge is recited in every school at the beginning of every school day. Both houses of Congress begin their sessions with its recital as do many government meetings at local levels. Many private organizations begin their meetings in the same way.

The Pledge was penned by Francis Bellamy, an ordained Baptist minister (and utopian socialist by political inclination). If you were a little older that last name might possibly mean more to you, or if you were better read. Francis was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, also a utopian socialist and the rather famous-in-his-time author of the popular 18th century book, "Looking Backward."

Here's what Francis Bellamy wrote. It took him three hours of what he described as hard work.

I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all.
(Bellamy later added "to" before "the Republic" for better cadence.)

In 1891, Francis, looking for greener pastures than what he could see from the pulpit, accepted a job from one of his Boston congregants, Daniel S. Ford, who was principal owner and editor of the family magazine Youth's Companion. It was kind of the Reader's Digest of its day, and its contributors included Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Emily Dickinson, and Jack London. Its mission was to emphasize "virtue and piety" and warn against "the ways of transgression." In late 1880s, it was the country's most widely circulated weekly magazine, with 475,000 subscribers.

Bellamy went to work in the marketing department with Ford's nephew, James B. Upham. It was a good pairing. Youth's Companion had already launched a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions. By 1892, Ford and Upham had sold American flags to approximately 26,000 schools.

Bellamy and Upham were soon promoting a patriotic program for schools around the country to coincide with opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892. Bellamy successfully lobbied Congress for a resolution endorsing the school ceremony, and he helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday.

A key element of the program was to be a new salute to the flag for school children to recite. Millions of them nationwide took part in the Columbus Day ceremony, according to Youth's Companion.

And so a ritual was born. One that's outlasted the magazine.

Like all enduring monuments, it's been tweaked over the years. (Look at Yankee Stadium.) In 1923, a National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, decided that "my flag" should be changed to "the flag of the United States." The concern was that immigrants might be unclear just which flag they were saluting. The following year, the Conference refined the phrase further, adding "of America."

The Pledge of Allegiance recitation originally included a gesture called the "Bellamy salute," invented by Upham. It didn't survive. At the words, "to my Flag," the right hand was extended palm upward toward the flag. It looked too much like the Roman salute German Nazis adopted with the rise of Hitler. In 1942, Congress replaced the Bellamy Salute with the hand-over-heart gesture practiced today." the right hand was extended palm upward toward the flag. It looked too much like the Roman salute German Nazis adopted with the rise of Hitler. In 1942, Congress quietly replaced the Bellamy Salute with the hand-over-heart gesture practiced today.

In 1942, Congress also adopted the pledge as part of a national flag code. By then, the salute had assumed a powerful institutional role. Several state legislatures began to mandate that public school students recite it each school day.

In time such laws were challenged. Most notably, Jehovah's Witnesses maintained that reciting the pledge violated their own religious prohibition against venerating graven images.

In 1943, the Supreme Court agreed with the Witnesses and declared that under the principal of free speech school children could not be compelled to recite the pledge.

In 1954, in response to the threat of secular Communism, and following a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, and others, Congress approved the addition of the words "under God" within the phrase" one nation indivisible."

The bill's sponsors, anticipating that the reference might be challenged as a breach of separation of church and state, declared that the new language wasn't really religious. "A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," they wrote. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs."

UC Berkley linguist Geoff Nunberg observes in an article for NPR that the phrase "pledge allegiance" is something called a "hapax legomenon—an expression that only occurs in a single place in the language, like wardrobe malfunction, Corinthian leather or satisfactual. People don't pledge allegiance to Hadassah or the U.S. Marines or Kappa Kappa Gamma, much less to other inanimate objects. We only use the words when we're either quoting the flag pledge or riffing on it."

He goes on to note that "under God" itself is also a hapax legomenon. "People don't say things like 'Western Europe isn't under God anymore,' or 'She only goes out with men who are under God.'"

Actually the phrase doesn't even mean what the sponsors thought it did. The Knights of Columbus evidently believed they were channeling the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address ("... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom"). Nunberg points out that to Lincoln and his contemporaries, that phrase was simply another way of saying "God willing." He believes they would have seen its use in the Pledge of Allegiance as ungrammatical.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Bellamy commented on his own thoughts when creating the pledge and his reasons for the wording he chose.

It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution... with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people....

The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the 'republic for which it stands'. ...And what does that last thing, the Republic, mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation—the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches.

So basically to serve as a constant reminder to the South that they'd lost the war.

Bellamy also said he viewed the pledge as "an 'inoculation' that would protect immigrants and native-born but insufficiently patriotic Americans from the 'virus' of radicalism and subversion."

Surely Bellamy hoped to achieve a durable monument; little did he know it would be a living one as well. Every couple of decades or so, someone still wants to put something new into it or take something out. Herewith, some current examples.

  • Pro-life advocates would like to append "born and unborn" to the ending phrase "with liberty and justice for all."
  • Liberals are lobbying to hear "equality, liberty and justice for all" at the end of the pledge.
  • Atheists are still pushing to drop "under God," but courts are pretty consistent of late in finding no endorsement of religion in the phrase, and hearing only a traditional, and inoffensive, aspirational colloquialism consistent with the American culture we all, even parvenus, know and love.

Interesting that the father of the pledge, even though a man of the cloth, never thought to invoke the name of God within his opus, but then he never lived through the red menace. The principal actors, the school kids, are indifferent. They'll recite anything you want them to. For the most part, it would seem they just want to get it said and get on with their day.

A point possibly worth pondering for those aiming to improve the pledge. Nothing they might do to it, by that action alone, attains, or changes, the status of federal law or anything else, really. It's just a pledge.

And a nice one. Even kids who recite it indifferently, or the councilmen and women who recite it monotonously and perfunctorily, take pride in it. Just ask them. Maybe folks should just leave it alone for a while. Find another billboard for their political ideas. And get on with their day.

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  5/25/14—Disneyland for the Cerebrally Inclined 

F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously wrote, "The very rich are different from you and me."

Hemingway's famous retort: "Yes, they have more money."

Both being great writers, both were correct. Which is why in 1929, Archer Huntington, extremely well-heeled, adopted scion of one of the robber barons who overcharged the government to build the Union Pacific, found himself down in the environs of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. He was looking to buy an old rice plantation or two, so as to have a place to show off the many larger-than-life stone and metal creations his wife was always sculpting.

And so it came to pass in 1931 that Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington of New York society bought up 9,100 acres of South Carolina, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Waccamaw River.

Upon this acquisition they built a sprawling series of outdoor gardens, a 50-acre wildlife park featuring river excursions, multiple art galleries, a 90-foot-high aviary and a huge summer home that looked like a Moorish castle (which they called "Atalaya"). And plenty of room left over to display Anna's outsized objets d'art as well as the brobdingnagian output of fellow artists she was friends with.

Why rice plantations? Because there were plenty of them: 45,000 rice fields in Georgetown County alone.

It was not Cotton that was King in South Carolina, it was Rice. At least it was up until the Civil War: one more part of the old South that didn't survive the hostilities, one more thing gone with the wind (literally as things developed). By 1900, South Carolina's showcase rice plantations were all abandoned, their so painstakingly and creatively crafted rice fields rapidly returning to swampland.

Old rice fields skirting tidal rivers still cover nearly 70,000 acres of the state's coastline. And these walled-off sanctuaries, with gates that would be raised or lowered to draw tidal water in or out, can still make the Lowcountry, when it's viewed from the air, look like it's all water.

These diked fields constitute a natural wildlife preserve, nursery and feeding ground for nearly every kind of bird known to God as well as a wild variety of alligators, fish, frogs and other animals of every type and stripe up and down the food chain.


South Carolina's first English settlement was established in 1670. Emigrants from Barbados sailed up the Ashley River and built a town that soon wholly disappeared.

Ten years after, a new bunch of pilgrims chose a more favorable spot between the Cooper and Ashley rivers, and the city of Charleston was founded. In short order it became the largest commercial center in the south.

But the real wealth of the Palmetto state was invested not in Charleston's merchants, brokers, shippers or slave traders, but in the Rice Planters. This elite cadre, these happy few, whose plantations would have already been handed down for a couple of generations when the Revolutionary War came, were some of the richest men in America.

Rice was introduced to the region by 1694, coming probably from Madagascar. A sea captain purportedly gave a bag of seed to a South Carolina planter. It took a hundred years to bring the industry to perfection; to determine the right soil and labor and to invent the right machinery for harvesting, threshing, and husking.

It also took slaves. If rice was integral to South Carolina, slavery was integral to rice cultivation because of the labor-intensive nature of the business. And not just any labor.

South Carolina is about the same size as Sierra Leone and has a pretty similar geography and climate. Much of the state is humid and semi-tropical with long, hot summers, mild winters and abundant rainfall.

The early South Carolina planters knew little about rice cultivation. They learned to rely on the expertise of slaves who already knew how to properly dyke the marshes, flood the fields and mill the rice in sweetgrass baskets they wove. Planters zeroed in on slaves from the rice-producing regions of western Africa, referred to as "The Rice Coast," who came pre-programmed with crucial technical knowledge about rice planting, growing and processing.

Importantly, female slaves from that region brought with them specialized skills in seed selection, sowing, hoeing and processing. To the point where slave traders could command higher prices for women in Carolina's rice-growing areas than in other American slave markets.

The tidal marshes the slaves toiled in were snake- and insect-infested swamps, rife with malaria. Illness and accidents were common. Their work started with clearing the land. They then dug canals, ditches, levees, and dams for flooding and draining the fields. All that preceded the annual process of seeding, growing and harvesting the rice.

In March and April, slaves would sow rice seed in rows about fifteen feet apart. The fields were flooded for about a week, for the seeds to sprout, and then drained. Throughout the growing season, the fields were flooded and drained many times.

The rice was harvested in September. It was threshed, polished, and sold during the fall and winter months.


The four former, and storied, rice plantations Archer Huntington bought with his wife in 1931 were named Oaks, Brookgreen, Springfield and Laurel Hill.

The Oaks Plantation dated back to 1711 when Robert Daniell received a grant from the Lords Proprietors (eight Englishmen to whom King Charles II granted joint ownership of the Carolinas).

In 1730 Joseph Allston came into possession and built a house on the grounds. His grandson, (also) Joseph Alston, abandoned practicing law to become one of the wealthiest planters in South Carolina. He also served in the state legislature and was governor of South Carolina during the War of 1812.

In 1801, Allston had married the daughter of Aaron Burr, considered one of the most accomplished, cultured and well-educated women in the colonies. She reputedly spoke Latin, French and German, and read Greek, by the age of twelve.

Author Richard N. Cote in his biography Theodosia Burr Alston: Portrait of a Prodigy, described her thus: "...a brilliant, independent, highly-educated and freethinking woman in an age which valued none of those traits in females." The couple became the first recorded couple to honeymoon at Niagara Falls.

Their only child, Arron Burr Alston, died of malaria in 1812 at age 10. That same year, Theodosia was lost at sea at age 29. With British warships off the South Carolina coast, an ailing and depressed Theodosia set sail aboard the schooner Patriot from Georgetown for New York to visit her father, recently returned from a self-imposed exile in Europe following his federal trial and acquittal for treason.

The Patriot disappeared en route with all hands, possibly lost in a storm, possibly taken by pirates. No word of Theodosia ever reached her husband or her father, and her fate continues to fire imaginations.

A Federal Era portrait of an unidentified woman by an unidentified artist was found in Nag's Head, North Carolina, in 1869. The story is that it had been salvaged from an abandoned ship during the War of 1812. Today the painting hangs in Yale University's Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, CT. The subject in the portrait is generally believed to be Theodosia Burr Alston. (See this entertaining write-up at

Alston's career had already suffered from his involvement in Burr's affairs, and after Theodosia's loss, he reportedly lost interest in life. In 1816, he died alone in Charleston at the age of thirty-nine.

William Allston (different family—two "l"s) established Brookgreen Plantation around 1760. An avid patriot, Allston fought at Cowpens, and died shortly after the war ended. His widow, Rachel, eventually married Dr. Henry Collins Flagg, a surgeon in the Continental army. George Washington was a notable visitor to Brookgreen in 1791, spending the night with the Flaggs.

Years later, Flagg descendants died in the disastrous hurricane of 1893 that devastated the Carolina coast and finally sounded the death knell for rice cultivation in South Carolina.

The earliest records of Springfield Plantation date back to 1716. By 1742, it was owned by Isaac Marion, brother of South Carolina's original guerrilla fighter, Francis Marion—the "Swamp Fox" of Disney fame who raided British supply columns and disrupted Loyalist recruiting efforts. The British could neither capture nor defeat him.

By the late 1840s Springfield was owned by William Allston's son Washington, whose interests lay elsewhere than in rice. He would become a renowned painter and a leading light in America's Romantic movement of landscape painting.

Laurel Hill Plantation
Mill Chimney

Into the 19th century, rice was threshed from the stalks and the husk pounded from the grain by hand. Eventually steam-powered threshing and pounding mills were developed. The chimneys for the fires running the steam engines were often independent structures, connected to the mills via an underground ventilation system.
Laurel Hill Plantation derived its name from the many magnolia trees growing on the property. (Supposedly early settlers mistook them for laurel trees.)

It was a smallish plantation that at one point seems also to have been owned by Isaac Marion.

Both Brookgreen and Springfield Plantations eventually came under the ownership of Colonel Joshua John Ward, one of South Carolina's most successful rice planters. In 1850 Ward's plantations produced 3.9 million pounds of rice worth $527,000. Ward, was generally regarded as the largest American slaveholder in America, with an estate that at one point held 1,130 slaves.

Joshua John Ward, "King of the Rice Planters"

Ward served as lieutenant governor of South Carolina and also developed an award-winning strain of large rice.


By the 1780s rice production in South Carolina and Georgia had reached 80 million pounds per year. Half of that was exported, and half was consumed in the United States. Planters expected slaves to cultivate up to five acres of rice a year, in addition to growing their own vegetables to feed themselves and their families.

Rice made South Carolina the chief slaveholding region in the colonies. Almost from the beginning, slaves outnumbered whites in South Carolina. (Cotton, which would eventually become South Carolina's major export, also relied heavily on slave labor.) The population in 1760 was estimated to be 150,000, three fourths of whom were slaves.

Today the only colonial-style plantation in the Carolinas to grow rice for commercial sale is Plumfield Plantation on the Great Pee Dee River. Their brand is Carolina Plantation Rice, and they sell online.

The demise of the Lowcountry rice culture was hastened by a number of factors. Like better yields and better quality of rice grown in Louisiana and elsewhere. And technology that couldn't be used in soggy east coast marshes. Plus, cheaper and more accessible prairie land gave those states a built-in cost advantage. Then, with emancipation, many of the workers that made rice production possible in South Carolina pretty much walked off the job, away from the rice paddies and the dangerous and back-breaking existence they endured.

The death blow was assured by a series of frequent and violent storms that plagued the east coast between 1893 and 1911. They devastated crop after crop and took a severe toll in property and lives. Banks, trunks and dikes were washed away. Investment capital was virtually non-existent in the South's post-war economy. When repairs were made to the fields, often dangerous and expensive, they were swept away again in the very next storm. Two hurricanes struck in 1893 within seven weeks of each other, the second the worst in the state's history. Other major storms followed in 1894, 1898, 1906, 1910, and 1911.

An unusually eloquent document on the colonial rice industry in Georgetown County published by the US Department of the Interior creates a visual depiction of Carolina rice's heyday with the following third-party allusion. "The efficiency of [rice production] about fifteen years after the Revolution was described by a guest at one of the early plantations in the county.

"Nearly forty years later he remembered that '... during the summer months, rice crops waved over fields of thousands of acres in extant, and upon a surface so level and unbroken that, in casting one's eye up and down the river, there was not for miles an intervening object to obstruct the sight.'"

The publication, Georgetown County Rice Culture c. 1750 - c. 1910, concludes with this elegiac paean: "Most of the planters still struggling to produce rice gave up after one of these storms.... Elizabeth Allston Pringle, daughter of Robert F.W. Allston, attempted to keep up her plantation at White House, on the Black River. After some small successes but too many storms, she wrote in 1907, 'the rice-planting, which for years gave me the exhilaration of making a good income for myself, is a thing of the past now—the banks and trunks have been washed away, and there is no money to replace them.' Most of the rice grown in Georgetown County after this period was for local consumption, or for the sake of tradition, rather than for profit."


The Huntingtons surely fit Fitzgerald's categorization of "the very rich." Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955) was born a Worsham, but when he was fourteen, his mother married Collis P. Huntington, a founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, and Huntington adopted him.

Archer Huntington became a collector, author, poet and philanthropist with a deep appreciation for art and culture. Among his philanthropic ventures, he established the Hispanic Society of America in 1904, donated land for the Museum of the American Indian (New York City) in 1915, and founded a new home for the American Numismatic Society in 1921.

He divorced his first wife in 1918 and wed Anna Hyatt in 1923. She was the daughter of a Harvard paleontologist and sculptor who encouraged his daughter's art pursuits by erecting a studio in the family's backyard. By age 24, Anna Hyatt was living in New York, supporting herself by selling her sculpture.

Archer and Anna traveled widely even during a ten-year period when Anna was battling tuberculosis. (King Alfonso XIII of Spain entertained them before his abdication.) She frequented zoos and circuses to sketch and model the animals there. At one time, the Huntingtons kept at their New York estate in Haverstraw a personal menagerie that included bears, wolves and wild boars.

The Huntingtons supported many museums and parks across the United States and abroad, including the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery at the University of Texas at Austin.

Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington

After purchasing the Brookgreen property and creating their sculpture garden, the Huntingtons used to spend part of each year there. They traveled south from their estates in New York and Connecticut by trailer. Anna noted that the most comfortable mode of transport was a Greyhound bus modified to include living quarters. Ah, different indeed.


Brookgreen Gardens brings together art, history, and zoology in a theme park setting. After purchasing a ticket at a kiosk not far from the front gate, one then drives about a mile under ancient live oaks, landscaped foliage and bush arrangements, and meticulously attended flower beds to the parking area at the Welcome Center. The islands in the parking lot are festooned with historical markers.

Admission costs $15 a ticket. Various discounts are available, and unlike Disneyland or Carrowwinds, tickets can be reused for seven consecutive days. Hours are from 9:30 am to 5 pm. In April, when the spring foliage is in full bloom, the gardens remain open late, until 8 pm. Closed Christmas Day.

In addition to the sculpture garden, a variety of activities, free with general admission, is available including a docent-led, sculpture tour, an interpreter-led interactive show featuring local animals, a Lowcountry trail tour through a restored rice field, an interactive children's nature trail, an Enchanted Storybook forest, a Children's Discovery Room with activities for children 4-12, a butterfly house and a Gullah Geechee Program profiling the still-intact regional culture spawned by the East Africa slaves who worked on the rice plantations.

To cover the entire park entails a fair amount of walking, but a free tram loops regularly through the grounds shuttling visitors from location to location.

Click image for interactive map of Brookgreen Gardens grounds and attractions.

Additional programs are available for a small fee. These include a pontoon boat creek excursion along historic rice fields populated with alligators, water fowl and osprey, a ride-along tour of the grounds led by an interpreter, and a plantation history and nature walking tour also led by an interpreter.

Numerous historical, environmental, art, and sculpture exhibits can also be toured free with the garden admission.

Several dining options can be found on the grounds including a snack bar that offers pulled pork sandwiches, as well as a shop featuring books, curios and gifts.


As for the sculptures, they speak for themselves. Click here.

 5/24/15— Ben Carson Wins SRLC Straw Poll 

Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Oklahoma City, May 20-22
candidate vote
Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)
Dr. Ben Carson (ret. neurosurgeon)
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Mark Everson (form. IRS Comm.)
Carly Fiorina (form. corp. exec.)
form. Gov. Jim Gilmore (VA)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC)
form. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Gov. John Kasich (OH)
Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
Gov. Rick Perry (TX)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
form. Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
Donald Trump (businessman)
Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
The Southern Republican Leadership Conference Straw Poll is considered an early indicator of southern primary voter support. But a win here does not guarantee a strong showing in Republican primaries: In the 2011 straw poll, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul won by a margin of nearly 15 points over former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker finished second this year. About 1,500 eligible voters from 25 southern states took part in the conference, and just under two-thirds of registered attendees voted in the straw poll. (CBS News)

and thanks.
Obituaries here are often reserved for those whose passing doesn't attract much coverage outside the music industry. Ben E. King, lead singer for The Drifters (1959-60), is one of the exceptions. King died on April 30 at The Hackensack University Medical Center, near his longtime residence in Teaneck, NJ, at age 76. Not just frontmen but most Drifters' vocalists moved in and out of the group, not known for showering its talent with riches, as if passing through a high-speed revolving door. Anyone who got anywhere with The Drifters soon started looking around for some real money. King sang lead on just 11 of the group's releases, but in his brief tenure he recorded (and in some cases co-wrote) There Goes my Baby, Dance with Me, This Magic Moment, Save the Last Dance for Me and I Count the Tears. He launched his solo career with Spanish Harlem, followed by Don't Play that Song (You Lied), and Stand by Me. The last charted twice: in 1959 when it debuted, and then all over again in the '80s with the release of the eponymously titled Rob Reiner movie. Over their long tenure, The Drifters continuously sported an implausable musical roster studded with outsized talent. Even in such rare company, Ben E. King stood out at the top.

 2/28/15—Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll Field. Again. (Walker at his heels.) 

2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (National Harbor, MD, Feb. 26-28)
Presidential Straw Poll
candidate vote
Fmr. U.N. Amb John Bolton
Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)
Dr. Ben Carson (ret. neurosurgeon)
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Fmr. CEO Carly Fiorina
Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC)
Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK)
Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
Fmr. Gov. George Pataki (NY)
Gov. Rick Perry (TX)
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
Donald Trump (Businessman)
Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
Voting by 3,007 CPAC attendees,

Past winners (it's a family affair):

2014 - Rand Paul (31%)
2013 - Rand Paul (25%) edging out Rubio (23%)
2012 - Mitt Romney (38%)
2011 - Ron Paul (30%)
2010 - Ron Paul (31%)


On issues that range from monetary policy to the control of infectious disease, a big chunk of America's body politic holds views that are completely at odds with, and completely unmovable by, actual experience.
Paul Krugman,
The New York Times
("Hating Good Government")

 1/8/15—Presidential Coloring Book 

A whopping 81% of you don't know whether the federal deficit has gone up or down since 2010. Two-thirds of voters can't even name the three branches of government.

Maybe we've been aiming too high here. So let's just try and have some fun to start off the New Year. We'll get back to the weighty stuff just as soon as the new Congress does something stupid. Shouldn't take long.

Here are some fun and informative factoids and figurines about our American Presidents. Plus, bonus presidential outlines you can print out and color in to entertain yourself after you're done reading. Then, if you want, we can try putting them in their correct chronological order. Or see if we can put the right president's name to each picture. It will be fun. Click on image

To date, 44 different men have served as chief executive of the United States. Combined they've served 57 terms.

All but one occupied the White House. Although one of them was forced to vacate when the British burned it down in 1814 (along with the Capitol and other federal buildings). The British took one look at the city's road system and decided the best strategic move would be to just leave it intact.

George Washington served his two terms in New York while his engineers built the city of Washington. He actually paid people to design that street network. It's a good thing the Battle of Brooklyn Heights didn't take place in D.C. Washington never would have gotten his troops out.

The people in their wisdom have elected 16 Democrats, 18 Republicans, 4 Democratic-Republicans, 4 Whigs and 1 Federalist. Washington didn't have a party. He abhorred them and hoped America wouldn't adopt "factions" as he called them. Sorry, George. It's easier than thinking for most people.

  • Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson tied for tallest president at 6' 4."
  • James Madison was the shortest at 5'4."
  • Two presidents ran for election unopposed: Washington (both times) and Monroe.
  • The oldest was Ronald Reagan (74 on taking office for second term).
  • The youngest was Theodore Roosevelt (44 on taking office upon McKinley's death).
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt served the longest: just over 12 years. He died in the first year of his fourth term.
  • William Henry Harrison was in office the shortest. He delivered a lengthy address at his inauguration on a bitterly cold day without benefit of hat or coat, caught pneumonia and died a month later. Your mother was right. Bundle up; it's cold out there.
  • Four were assassinated.
  • Another four died of natural causes in office.
  • Two were impeached. Both were acquitted.
  • One resigned.
  • Four were elected after losing the popular vote. (One, John Quincy Adams, lost both the popular vote and the Electoral College, but was advanced to the White House by the House of Representatives. Andrew Jackson was pissed.)
  • One (Ford) assumed the presidency after having been appointed, rather than elected, vice president

Basically, our Head of State system seems to work pretty much the same way as Great Britain's. Both countries have been ruled by about five families over the centuries.

Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt were fifth cousins. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were father and son. George H.W. and George W. were father and son. William Henry and Benjamin Harrison were grandfather and grandson.

Daily presidential job approval ratings have been tracked by Gallup (and others) since 1945. The Presidents who attained the highest job approval ratings while in office were:
Truman (87%)
(Kennedy 83%)
George H.W. Bush (89%)
George W. Bush (90%).

The lowest ratings were scored by:
Truman (22%)
Nixon (24%)
Carter (29%)
George H.W. Bush (29%)
George W. Bush (25%).

One is inclined to ask, are we fickle or foolish?

Obviously Gallup wasn't around for the Civil War, but writer Larry Tagg points out in Hallowed Ground magazine (Spring 2009) that Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election with 39.8% of the popular vote, the poorest showing by a winning presidential candidate in American history.

Click on image

Extrapolating from multiple historical sources Tagg estimates that Lincoln's "approval rating" by the time of his inauguration would have been about 25%.

Which presidents get remembered most fondly can be a little startling sometimes. In a Gallup survey taken around Presidents Day 2011, Americans rated their greatest Presidents in this order: Reagan, Lincoln, Clinton, Kennedy, Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

One can feel the bleachers on the Republican side of the stadium start to tremble from exuberant foot-stomping. Quick, cold water. Just behind FDR, Barak Hussain Obama— ranked ahead of Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, Jefferson, Eisenhower and Jackson. Whew. Guess that middle name didn't hurt him after all.

Click on image

When Gallup's survey is broken down into Republican and Democratic respondents, the top scorers are, not surprisingly, Reagan and Clinton respectively. One is reminded that H.L. Menken once observed that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. But maybe it's just that people's top-of-mind recollections are tightly interwoven with their personal experience.

A more thoughtful take on the matter might be a compendium of historians' and scholars' surveys published by—yeah, yeah, yeah, but their citations are pretty good, better than you could do. In this collective view, the top quartile of American Presidents includes the following, in order:

  1. Lincoln
  2. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  3. Washington
  4. Jefferson
  5. Theodore Roosevelt
  6. Wilson
  7. Truman
  8. Jackson
  9. Eisenhower
Here is a link. Worth a look, for all save the most sanctimoniously self-persuaded.

Yet, even this compendium betrays bias. Several presidents rated in the lowest quartile are those immediately preceding Lincoln, and their common failing grace, surpassing any virtue or accomplishment, appears to have been their inability to wrestle down the twin monsters of slavery and secession.

This seems harsh given the problem remained unresolved and festering from the time of our founding, the "solution" when it did come was more thrust upon us than constructed, and the effect, for all its benefit, was a veritable national cataclysm.

Two common beliefs, that we favor taller candidates and younger ones, are correct but not to the extent people think. We've elected the taller candidate 29 times, the shorter one 21 times. The tallest candidate ever lost: General Winfield Scott, 6'5" (to Franklin Pierce, 5'10"). Scott was also one of the oldest (67) candidates, so it's hard to be sure what happened.

Click on image

With respect to age, we've actually voted in the older man slightly more often, 27 to 24. But, as a rule, we don't like guys over 66. Six who were 67 or older have run and lost. The two oldest were Bob Dole and John McCain. And you thought Palin was the problem.

Three presidents were elected age 67 or older. Two of them were Reagan. The other was William Henry Harrison. (See above.)

Everyone we've elected to the presidency so far has been an avowed Christian, although how devout in some instances could be disputed.

Only one ordained clergyman has been elected president (James Garfield), Notably, at the time of his candidacy he was an ordained clergyman serving his eighth term in Congress.

We've never elected a woman president. Until Barak Obama we had never elected someone who wasn't all white, so far as we know.

Did you really come here looking to color? Here are some additional resources.

no. President Born Age at inaug. Terms Took office Left office Notes Party Previous occupation Height Died
1 George Washington 1732 57 1: 1789 Apr 30, 1789 Mar 4, 1797 none Commndr. in Chief
Continental Army
6' 2" 1799
2: 1793
2 John Adams 1735 62 1: 1797 Mar 4, 1797 Mar 4, 1801 Federalist Vice President 5' 7" 1826
3 Thomas Jefferson 1743 58 1: 1801 Mar 4, 1801 Mar 4, 1809 Democratic-Republican Vice President 6' 2 1/2" 1826
2: 1805
4 James Madison 1751 58 1: 1809 Mar 4, 1809 Mar 4, 1817 Democratic-Republican Sec'y of State 5' 4" 1813
2: 1813
5 James Monroe 1758 59 1: 1817 Mar 4, 1817 Mar 4, 1825 Democratic-Republican Sec'y of State 6' 0" 1831
2: 1821
6 John Quincy Adams 1767 58 1: 1825 Mar 4, 1797 Mar 4, 1829 Lost popular vote and in Electoral College Democratic-Republican Sec'y of State 5' 7 1/2" 1848
7 Andrew Jackson 1767 62 1: 1829 Mar 4, 1829 Mar 4, 1837 Democrat U.S. Sen., Tennessee 6' 1" 1845
2: 1833
8 Martin Van Buren 1782 55 1: 1837 Mar 4, 1837 Mar 4, 1841 Democrat Vice President 5' 6" 1862
9 William Henry Harrison 1773 68 1: 1841 Mar 4, 1841 Mar 4, 1841 Died in office Whig Minister to Colombia 5' 8" 1841
10 John Tyler 1790 51 1841 Apr 4, 1841 Mar 4, 1845 Finished Harrison's term Whig Vice President 5' 8" 1862
11 James K. Polk 1795 59 1: 1845 Mar 4, 1845 Mar 4, 1849 Democrat Gov. of Tennessee 5' 8" 1849
12 Zachary Taylor 1784 65 1: 1849 Mar 4, 1849 Jul 9, 1850 Died in office Whig Major gen'l. 5' 8" 1850
13 Millard Fillmore 1800 50 1850 Jul 9, 1850 Mar 4, 1853 Finished Taylor's term Whig Vice President 5' 9" 1874
14 Franklin Pierce 1804 49 1: 1853 Mar 4, 1853 Mar 4, 1857 Democrat Brig. gen'l. 5' 10" 1869
15 James Buchanan 1791 66 1: 1857 Mar 4, 1857 Mar 4, 1861 Democrat Minister to UK 6' 0" 1868
16 Abraham Lincoln 1809 52 1: 1861 Mar 4, 1861 Apr 15, 1865 Assassinated Republican U.S. Rep., Illinois 6' 4" 1865
2: 1865
17 Andrew Johnson 1808 57 1865 Apr 15, 1865 Mar 4, 1869 Finished Lincoln's term
Impeached (acquitted)
Democrat Vice President 5' 10" 1875
18 Ulysses S. Grant 1822 47 1: 1869 Mar 4, 1861 Apr 15, 1877 Republican Commding Gen, Army 5' 8" 1885
2: 1873
19 Rutherford B. Hayes 1822 55 1; 1877 Mar 4 1877 Mar 4, 1881 Lost popular vote Republican Gov. of Ohio 5' 8 1/2" 1893
20 James A. Garfield 1831 50 1; 1881 Mar 4 1881 Sep 19, 1881 Assassinated Republican U.S. Rep., Ohio 6' 0" 1881
21 Chester A. Arthur 1829 52 1881 Sep 19, 1881 Mar 4, 1885 finished Garfield's term Republican Vice President 6' 0" 1886
22 Grover Cleveland 1837 48 1: 1885 Mar 4, 1885 Mar 4, 1889 Democrat Gov. of New York 5' 11" 1908
23 Benjamin Harrison 1833 56 1: 1889 Mar 4, 1889 Mar 4, 1893 Lost popular vote Republican U.S. Sen, Indiana 5' 6" 1901
24 Grover Cleveland 1837 56 1: 1893 Mar 4, 1893 Mar 4, 1897 Democrat President 5' 11" 1908
25 William McKinley 1843 54 1: 1897 Mar 4, 1897 Sep 14, 1901 Assassinated Republican Gov. of Ohio 5' 8" 1901
2: 1901
26 Theodore Roosevelt 1858 43 1901 Sep 14, 1901 Mar 4, 1909 Finished McKinley's term Republican Vice President 5' 10" 1919
1: 1905
27 William H. Taft 1857 52 1: 1909 Mar 4, 1909 Mar 4, 1913 Republican Sec'y of War 5' 11 1/2" 1930
28 Woodrow Wilson 1856 57 1: 1913 Mar 4, 1913 Mar 4, 1921 Democrat Gov. of New Jersey 5' 11" 1924
2: 1917
29 Warren G. Harding 1865 56 1: 1921 Mar 4, 1921 Aug 2, 1923 Died in office Republican U.S. Sen., Ohio 6' 0" 1923
30 Calvin Coolidge 1872 51 : 1923 Aug 2, 1923 Mar 4, 1929 Finished Harding's term Republican Vice President 5' 10" 1933
1: 1925
31 Herbert Hoover 1874 55 1: 1929 Mar 4, 1929 Mar 4, 1933 Republican Sec'y of Commerce 5' 11 1/2" 1964
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt 1882 51 1: 1933 Mar 4, 1933 Apr 12, 1945 Died in office Democrat Gov. of New York 6' 2" 1945
2: 1937
3: 1941
4: 1945
33 Harry S. Truman 1884 61 1945 Apr 12, 1945 Jan 20, 1953 Finished Roosevelt's term Democrat Vice President 5' 9" 1972
2: 1949
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower 1890 63 1: 1953 Jan 20, 1953 Jan 20, 1961 Republican Sup Allied Cmdr Eur 5' 10 1/2" 1969
2: 1957
35 John F. Kennedy 1917 44 1: 1961 Nov 22, 1963 Assassinated Democrat U.S. Sen., Mass. 6' 0" 1963
36 Lyndon B. Johnson 1908 55 1963 Nov 22, 1963 Jan 20, 1969 Finished Kennedy's term Democrat Vice President 6' 4" 1973
1: 1965
37 Richard Nixon 1913 56 1: 1969 Jan 20, 1969 Aug 9, 1974 Resigned Republican Vice President 5' 11 1/2" 1994
2: 1973
38 Gerald Ford 1913 61 1974 Aug 9, 1974 Jan 20, 1977 Finished Nixon's term Republican Vice President (appointed) 6' 0" 2006
39 Jimmy Carter 1924 53 1: 1977 Jan 20, 1977 Jan 20, 1981 Democrat Gov. of Georgia 5' 9 1/2"
40 Ronald Reagan 1911 70 1: 1981 Jan 20, 1981 Jan 20, 1989 Republican Gov. of California 6' 1" 2004
2: 1985
41 George H. W. Bush 1924 65 1: 1989 Jan 20, 1989 Jan 20, 1993 Republican Vice President 6' 2"
42 William J. Clinton 1946 47 1: 1993 Jan 20, 1993 Jan 20, 2001 Democrat Gov. of Arkansas 6' 2"
2: 1997
43 George W. Bush 1946 55 1: 2001 Jan 20, 2001 Jan 20, 2009 Lost popular vote Republican Gov. of Texas 5' 11 1/2"
2: 2005
44 Barack Obama 1961 48 1: 2009 Jan 20, 2009 incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen., Illinois 6' 1"
2: 2013