Reflections on the Spirit of Independence

Declaration_independenceI admit it.  I’m a bit of a history nerd.

Make that an American history nerd.  It’s difficult for me to get interested in the ancient history of Old Europe or the Greeks or the Roman Empire.  For me, it’s a matter of direct effect.  Although American society has its foundation atop the successful and advanced societies that preceded, it’s difficult for those ancient predecessors to elicit an excitement in me that overshadows the more recent authors of purely American success.

But that’s just me …

What really holds my fascination whenever I take the opportunity to reflect on our earliest American history is the foresight and fortitude demonstrated by our Founding Fathers, and the difficult and sordid compromises they made to bring to fruition a tenuous but entirely necessary experiment in Independence from tyranny.

In 1776, an eclectic collection of leaders, renown primarily within their regional communities, met for a second time in Philadelphia.  (The first Continental Congress met in 1774.)  They brought with them the depth and breadth of institutions, economics, religious beliefs, and governing philosophies prominent where they lived to Philadelphia in order to argue and decide the fate of British colonies chafing under the capricious actions of rulers residing a full ocean away.

These men were far from perfect.  Some held some views on women and slavery that many – living now – would characterize as appallingly backward or downright inhumane.  Some of them surely recognized – or at least refused to confront – their conflicted positions on the Equality of all Men, while themselves holding men in slavery.  And in the end, we like to think their better angels had no choice but to kick several very large cans of worms into the future.  These cans or worms required generations to resolve.  The biggest unresolvable issue – Slavery – eventually demanded the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands 85 years later in a civil war that threatened to tear apart a still fragile Union.

These compromises they made because they were blessed with a yearning that rendered one choice paramount to all irreconcilable differences …

Independence from England …. Freedom from oppressive rulers!

What I find most fascinating of all is that this Second Continental Congress was successful at all!

Think of the mindsets that drove a loose collection of men from geographically extended colonies with no standing army or navy; rife with regional differences; and faced with moral shortcomings that differed not just on Equality, but the actual definition of Man to slap the insolent glove of challenge across the face of the largest and strongest empire that existed on Earth at the time!

Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781Yes, they were fallible; and perhaps they were morally weak by today’s standards.  But they were also the social and political elite, who in the end had the most to lose if the insurrection failed.  Many of them would have been hunted down and killed, and their families as well.  Their property scattered among the triumphant British generals, if the miracle of victory was not somehow accomplished.

When I read about those days in the latter stages of the 1700s, I like to think that the stronger minds that were present knew that what they were putting into motion was an imperfect solution to an unavoidable problem.  That their only choice was a somewhat soiled compromise to accomplish a greater good.

They had faith that an initial success, no matter how unlikely to succeed against a well-trained British military, would allow for growth and an abiding strength for future generations to tackle the problems they could not resolve when forming a less perfect Union.  If they did think that way, they were prescient, even if those changes came by way of dramatic sacrifice and untold sufferings.

The image that comes to me this year on Independence Day is a fanciful look back through these 238 years into that hot, stuffy room in Philadelphia.  In that moment those brave men can also see the progress, the obstacles, the conflicts, and the sacrifices that have been experienced and overcome; and what those efforts have wrought.  They can see exactly how far their not-so-little experiment has grown.

At either ends of this fantastic time tunnel, both groups stand 238 years apart and in absolute awe of each other.

Enjoy your 4th of July!

 

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That Summer of ’79

He had just gotten discharged from a 4-year stint in the U.S. Air Force.  I had finished my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at LaSalle University.

He was looking to spend a few months enjoying his freedom from the rigors and discipline of military life.  I was frustrated with searching for a career path while still working my old high school/college job with Acme Markets.

It was the Summer of 1979.

Rich and I had known each other from our latter years at St. Jerome’s parish school on Holme Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.  We attended Father Judge High School (Class of ’74) together with a boatload of neighborhood friends.  Our neighborhood clan matriculated in typical middle class fashion through the hallways of Abraham Lincoln and Archbishop Ryan high schools in addition to Judge.

As we prepared to leave high school, I knew I wanted to go to college.  Rich wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in Life, so the discipline and focus of a military hitch appealed to him.

When he was discharged in early 1979, Rich was ready to enjoy Life a bit.  I was tired of the pressure of job searching and the possibility that maybe I hadn’t sufficiently thought through what Life after college would look like.

So I was an easy mark for Rich’s subtle suggestions to blow off the job search and spend the Summer doing nothing more than enjoying the freedom to do whatever we felt and – in the end – prepping ourselves for the decades-long haul of adult responsibilities.  There would follow many days of unproductive activity followed by nearly as many nights of unproductive activity.

In the wee hours of the morning, we often found ourselves sitting outside Rich’s parents’ house with a six-pack, after the bars had closed, just talking.

Rich always had his head screwed on right … though maybe just a tad too tightly.  He knew – maybe professed would be the better term – that once that Summer of ’79 was over it would be time to buckle down, settle down, and get on with the Serious Business of Life.  He already has his girl picked out, and his plans included marriage and family which – experience would show – he pulled off quite successfully.

He planned to work as hard as he possibly could, but openly expressed his optimistic goal of retiring at age 45.

Eventually that Summer of ’79 ended.  There is so much more I could share about what we did and how we essentially wasted the good part of a year doing little of value.  But much of that I will keep to myself.

Some of those memories have lingered between us over the 3-plus decades that have passed.

  • His greeting of “Michael, man!” whenever we got together
  • That night at the Play Pen at Diamond Beach on the Jersey shore, waiting for David Bromberg to take the stage while we struggled to segregate enough cash to buy gas for the ride home.  (As it turned out, Bromberg never took the stage that night due to audio problems.)
  • Him witnessing my first hole-in-one … (OK … Yes, it was only pitch & putt, but still!) … a shot that could have just as likely ended up 20 feet short of the green.
  • The night I drove my father’s car into a gaping hole on Delaware Avenue in Philly the size – I am not kidding – of a cargo container.  (“Dad, I only hit a pothole!”)
  • Space Invaders … constantly …
  • Laying around his future in-laws’ pool while they were at work
  • Spending the ’79 Eagles Superbowl season dutifully watching every game in Jim Pistory’s basement

As our adult lives progressed, we drifted apart and were never as close as we were that Summer.  That’s certainly not all that unusual.  Life tends to pull you in different directions.

The important thing is we were both successful in the truly important things in Life.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

My most poignant memory though is those long, late-night conversations.  Rich was full of plans and dreams, but we disagreed – rather agreeably – over the level of intensity needed to live all those meaty adult years, where marriage, family, and hard work would hopefully set the stage for those peaceful and plentiful Golden Years.

Rich was adamant that the nose had to be kept hard to the grindstone, once the fun and frivolity of that Summer of ’79 had passed.  I used to challenge him by suggesting you had to stop and smell the roses once in a while (Yes, I may have actually used that phrase!), because you never knew how things might work out later.

Rich didn’t agree much with that.  And from what I know, he kept to this viewpoint from the day that Summer ended.  Even when dealt an unfair employment termination in the wake of the ’08 financial crisis, he didn’t let up.  He simply started his own one-man handyman business.  Doing what he needed to support his family to the quality-of-life in which they had become accustomed.

richardI tended to be much more circumspect in my approach to Life as a grown-up.    And now I have never been so depressed over being so right.

Richard G. Tomaszewski left us suddenly on June 17, 2014 at the way-too-early age of 57.

A Fathers Day … Fifty years ago …

bunning5I was all of eight years-old, riding home from a family visit to relatives on my father’s side of the family.  It was a different time then, illustrated no less than by the way we stood on the floor of the back seat – unbuckled – to watch as Dad drove us home with all the windows rolled down in a car that knew not of air conditioning on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon.

The date is – in the interest of honesty – seven days short this Fathers Day of a full five decades of baseball history … June 21, 1964

Dad decides to spend the trip homeward listening to the Philadelphia Phillies playing the lowly New York Mets at Shea Stadium, which had opened for business just two months before.  Jim Bunning was on the mound that day in a game already in progress, the first game of a double-header.

For those baseball fans not born or baseball-aware before the turn of the century, a double-header is a scheduled event on a Major League Baseball team’s game calendar deliberately requiring the play of TWO games of baseball in one sitting. 

Baseball used to actually schedule double headers as a normal part of every team’s calendar, repeated several times a year … until they caught on to the concept of gate receipts and their effect on earnings and profitability.  You only see them nowadays when rain outs and tight scheduling require doubling up; and even then, they almost always require the fans to leave the stadium and buy additional tickets to see the second game.

They call this the Day-Night Double Header.  But you can refer to them as Double-Dipping-the-Fans-Because-You-Can Header!   

It was late that afternoon … around 4:00 when Dad turned the game on.  I was yet to reach the point of my full Phillies awareness.  That would be – rather traumatically – that following September when the renown ’64 Phillies would spiral in flames from 1st place in the National League with 12 games remaining …

Oh hell, I don’t want to go there!

My point being, I was hardly paying attention to the game as I bounced around the back seat, most likely in some sort of competition or conflict with my younger brother, Pat.  So I remember very little of the actual game, except for the conclusion when Dad mentioned that Jim Bunning had pitched a PERFECT GAME!

I knew not what that even meant at the time.

Bunning’s Father Day feat was most appropriate.  He was the father of seven children at the time (eventually having 12!!), only one of which was there in New York that day.

bunning1Bunning’s performance still goes down as one of the Top 10 perfectos in Major League Baseball history.  He threw only 89 pitches to complete the game, only 21 pitches were thrown as balls.  He struck out 10.  It was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880!  And Bunning became only the second pitcher at the time to throw a no-hitter in both the National and American Leagues.

The other pitcher to throw no-hitters in both leagues?  Cy Young

Bunning tortured his dugout mates by constantly talking about his developing perfecto, breaking a major baseball superstition.  He later recounted losing a no-hitter three weeks before against the Houston Colt .45s after keeping silent and decided he would not avoid the subject this time around.

What I remember most about Bunning was his wild follow through.  When he threw his hardest, he would fall off on his left side, often finishing with his left arm on the ground, his body almost parallel to the pitching mound.  Not exactly how the youngin’s today are coached.

Other interesting trivia from Bunning’s Very Special Fathers Day celebration:

    • Bunning’s first no-hitter was pitched on July 20, 1958 against the Boston Red Sox.  He was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and remarkably enough the game was also the first game of a scheduled double-header.
    • After the game, Bunning negotiated an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show for all of $1000., but it was enough to build a pool and pool house at Bunning’s Kentucky home!
    • Bunning struck out pinch-hitter John Stephenson for the last out throwing nothing but curve balls after recalling a similar game earlier in the season when Phils manager Gene Mauch told Bunning in at on-the-mound meeting that Stephenson “… can’t spell curve.”

Bunning went on to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.  His post-baseball career took him from local Kentucky political offices to an unsuccessful run for Governor to successful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually to a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bunning left the Senate in 2011.  He continues to reside in Kentucky at the age of 82.

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Birth of a Phillies fan

Mike Shortall:

A post from just a few months ago because it reminds me of Dad …

Originally posted on Cranky Man's Lawn:

(In celebration of Opening Day 2014, a trip down my personal baseball memory lane …)

My first recollections of Philadelphia Phillies baseball came during that Season From Hell – 1964!  You really do not have to explain that reference for most Philadelphia baseball fans, especially those over the age of 55.  Most long-time Phillies fans and – due to generations of legend sharing – even many of those newer to the game can recite the scenario that played out that year.

Gene Mauch

What I remember is my father sitting at the kitchen table; the radio playing; listening to By Saam, Bill Campbell, and Richie Ashburn (in just his second year as a broadcaster with the Phils); smoking cigarettes with a quart bottle of Schmidt’s or Ballantine’s beer, a glass sitting on the table beside him.  He would sit there throughout the game listening and visualizing the game being played.  In those days games were rarely televised…

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Cranky Man’s Lawn Diary ’14 – Severe growth and handling Summer’s heat

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Severe growth, Cranky Man style!

Pilots have a term for describing the best visibility conditions in which to fly.  They call it Severe Clear.

If you have been following the Cranky Man Lawn Program program, you spend your weekly mowings have mutated into a slog of high, heavy, and perpetually wet grass; and you have started second-guessing your OCD affliction for The Perfect Lawn.  The combination of Spring fertilizing, typically wet weather, and moderate temperatures results in what we Lawn Gurus refer to as Severe Growth!

And right about now you might be frantically searching for a heavy garden implement to chuck in my general direction.

That’s OK … It will all be fine.  Soon the Summer temps will kick in; your beautiful, thick lawn, which has been drawing rave reviews from jealous Lawn Lazies, will be growing more slowly and thinning appreciably; and you will spend little time cutting the lawn you currently curse for its density.

Nature is the Great Equalizer …

Until that happens stick to these tips for mowing that jungle you begat through all that hard work and tender loving care:

  • Bag your lawn clippings no matter how difficult or time-consuming.
    • Leaving lawn clippings – especially from a very thick lawn – lying on the grass can be both unsightly and unhealthy to the underlying plants.
    • Mulching your lawn is always good, but mulching an extremely thick lawn over and over runs the risk of too thick a layer of mulched grass that could block fertilizer and nutrients and allow water to run off too quickly to be absorbed.
    • Once your lawn thins a bit with the increasing heat of Summer, you can resume mulching your lawn clippings.
  • Take smaller cutting widths with your mower, even if it means you are using less than half your mower’s width.
    • When the lawn is especially thick, you must give the mower a chance to chew through what it’s being fed.
    • Whether mulching or bagging, it’s a good idea to cut smaller swaths, especially if you don’t want to be raking up excess clippings that choke the outlet and end up in a few days as a brown stripe of dead grass across your lawn.
    • Then again, you could just buy a more powerful machine.  Your call ..
  •  Slow your pace in cutting the grass.
    • Grass in Spring conditions, especially when well-fertilized will be thicker, wetter, and heavier as a result.
    • Depending on how think the lawn is and how powerful a mower you are using, slowing your pace and taking a smaller cut swath will help the mower keep up.
Burn, baby, burn

Burn, baby, burn

As you sweat from the added mower work and the annoyance of bending, lifting, and dumping a seemingly endless string of heavy bags of clippings, keep in mind all those wonderful lawn compliments and the realization that in August your neighbor could be using his lawn as an airport runway.

Comfort yourself with the thought that as soon as the Summer heat ratchets up, you will no longer need your clippings bag and your mowing workload will be cut in half!

You just need to remember these tips to help your lawn survive another long, hot Summer.

  • Water early and regularly.  Do not wait until you notice browning patches of grass!  Even when temperatures are mild, lawn watering should be performed every 2-3 days without appreciable rain.  Err on the side of caution, especially when the forecast calls for intermittent thunderstorms as opposed to reliable day-long rains.
    • Or your can install an irrigation system.  I don’t have one.  Again, your call …
  • Allow your lawn to grow longer with higher temps!  A big mistake by many lawn owners is cutting the grass way too short because they like the look of a golf course fairway.  Longer grass helps to shade the underlying soil and roots, allowing better retention of water.  Raise the cutting height of your mower deck with rising air temps.
    • Remember Cranky Man’s creed:  “A fairway in June is a runway in August!” (patent pending)
  • Mulch your clippings whenever lawn conditions allow.  Once the Summer heat hits, your lawn should thin out a bit, which makes mulching while mowing easier to accomplish.  Mulching will add an extra protective layer around the base and roots of your grass plants and helps the soil retain moisture longer during hot, sun-filled days.

Last but not least, take the time to enjoy your lawn whenever you can.  Take the opportunity to walk your lawn sans shoes and socks!  Nothing feels better than the cool softness of a thick, green lawn.  A lawn junkie’s reward …

Walking barefoot in the grass – your grass – can be oddly relaxing, a great way to shed the stress of the day and a fitting reward to those who work so hard to keep their little slice of Life green and lush!

Happy mowing!

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Worst trade ever …

BergdahlSo after five years Bowe Bergdahl is heading home.  But there is hardly unrestrained joy and relief outside of the small community of Hailey, Idaho, where Bergdahl grew up.  In fact, Hailey decided to cancel its planned celebration in the face of much doubt over his circumstances and the deal to exchange five Taliban military leaders for his freedom.

For the time being, you will not hear me calling him by service branch and rank.  From what I have read, he doesn’t deserve it.  I do not take this position lightly, even as one who never wore the uniform.

Normally, I stay silent in cases where an investigation is clearly warranted.  It’s not for me to judge.  But this situation truly makes my skin crawl.

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and ...

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and …

By all reports, accepted as truth by those who served with Bergdahl, he willingly; knowingly; and worse of all recklessly relative to the safety of his fellow troopers, walked off his duty station to “start a new life“.

Bergstrom did not simply walk out the gate or go under the perimeter wire; he may have even hid in a contractor’s vehicle to secretly exit his outpost.  He went out of his way to send many personal belongings home before abandoning his unit.

Bergdahl’s desertion is unforgivable for no other reason than the danger in which it put other troops once he was listed as missing.  When that happens, the U.S. military – whether you are on land, in water, or missing from the air – is going to try to find and recover you. They will not leave a man behind if at all possible.

That puts a number of military personnel in an order of magnitude several times greater than your personal worth in harm’s way; exposing themselves to all the dangers of that theatre of operations; going into dangerous and volatile situations they would normally avoid just to find you.  Bergdahl’s actions in this regard were unconscionable.

... Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

… Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

Certainly Bergdahl deserves his day in court, privileged by the assumption of innocence as provided by those very principles he decided to leave behind when he so clandestinely worked to melt into the Afghan countryside.  Hopefully the truth will come out, though I doubt he will receive more than a dishonorable discharge if found guilty.

Of course, that assumes he doesn’t receive a White House pardon.

The troops who served with him and who lived closest to him before he deserted his post are very free in their feelings towards Bergdahl.  They are – to say the least – angry at his selfishness and furious at the losses incurred on his behalf.  They knew him to be a loner, though no sin in itself.  They knew he didn’t want to be there.  They saw him gaze into the mountains near their base, wondering if he could reach China by heading in that direction.

They are the ones to whom we should be listening.  They are the ones who knew him best.  They could tell whether he was with them in duty or looking for a way to salve his disillusionment with his chosen profession.

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went to Afghanistan and announced the release and repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl, his announcement was met with stony silence from the American troopers in attendance.  Don’t buy the story line of young American troopers showing “reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief”.  That never seems to be a problem with emotion when the Commander-in-Chief shows up.

Their lack of reaction and none-so-fond memories of Bergdahl’s fellow unit members are good enough for me.

70 years ago this week: Battle of Midway Island (June 4-7, 1942)

Mike Shortall:

I repost this blog on the Battle of Midway Island that occurred on this date in 1942.  This was written two years ago on the 70th anniversary of this momentum-turning fight to the death.

Originally posted on Cranky Man's Lawn:

(Today our Navy command observed the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway as in commemoration of the recent Memorial Day holiday.  This was a different take on Memorial Day observations as it took a look at a specific, historical battle.) 

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

As was mentioned in my previous Memorial Day post, the Japanese fleet set off for Midway Island on May 27, 1942.  Their intent was draw U.S. Navy carrier forces into a trap by attacking Midway Island, one of the few military installations U.S. forces occupied west of Pearl Harbor and the Hawaiian Islands.  Once U.S. carriers responded to the Midway attack by seeking out Japanese carrier force, the hammer of Japanese battleship forces would then attack and destroy the U.S. carrier fleet.  All the U.S. battleships assigned to the Pacific theatre had been destroyed or damaged just six months prior to the Battle of Midway when the Japanese attacked…

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