The Very Rich Hours of the Lambrights

a digital diurnal

The Very Rich Hours of the Lambrights header image 1

Some Reading for the Weekend

May 21st, 2011 · No Comments

Both of these readings are from the New Revised Standard Bible.

Matthew 24:36-44

36 But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Mark 13:32-37

32 But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

→ No CommentsTags: Uncategorized

The NFL Labor Debacle: Who is to Blame?

May 14th, 2011 · No Comments

I’ve been following the NFL labor situation since the beginning and have read a lot of news articles, blog posts, tweets, and comments on who is to blame for this mess.  Like everyone else, I have an opinion.  This is not going to be long post full of analysis and links to websites with evidence to bolster my opinion.  I’m just going to say what I think, which is that the blame falls on the owners:

  • It was the owners who decided to end the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) early
  • It is the owners who are demanding a larger share of the league’s revenues while refusing to provide real evidence that the current arrangement is driving them into bankruptcy.  We’re all supposed to take their word on it which is hard when league revenues keep going up up up.
  • It was the owners who negotiated contracts with the major networks that brought in less revenue than they could have in exchange for a clause specifying that they would get paid even if no games were played.  Those same revenues are shared with the players and the owners were legally obligated to negotiate the best deal possible.  Not only did they not do that, they used the opportunity to buy themselves some “lockout insurance”.  A federal judge ruled the contracts unacceptable and blocked them.
  • The players haven’t asked for any changes to the old CBA.  It’s possible that should be seen as evidence that it was unbalanced in the players’ favor.  But until the league agrees to open its financial books, we really don’t know.

I’ve heard a lot of fans lay the blame on both sides equally, pointing out that this is fight of millionaires against billionaires.  I don’t buy that:

  • There are thousands of players in the NFL; most are not actually millionaires
  • The average NFL playing career lasts about 4 years.  Most of us have 30+ years to make our career pay off.
  • NFL players find it nearly impossible to get health insurance other than through the NFL.  Their bodies just take too much punishment.  The owners are counting on that as one of their trump cards during the lockout; the players have lost their insurance.
  • It is true that not all owners are billionaires but about 50% of them are.  The percentage of millionaires among NFL players is much lower than 50%.

One final thought.  Who makes the NFL possible?  The answer, of course, is that it takes both players and owners.  But who is more replaceable?  31 (the Packers are publicly owned) owners, many of whom don’t actually have strong roots in the game?  Or thousands of players who have the skill to play the game at the professional level?  I think it would be a lot easier to find 31 new businessmen to run the teams than thousands of professional-caliber players.

It’s just my opinion but I’m blaming the owners.

→ No CommentsTags: KC Chiefs

The Class of 1846

May 13th, 2011 · No Comments

The second book I read as part of my Civil War reading project is The Class of 1846: from West Point to Appomattox : Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan, and their brothers by John C. Waugh.  I read it upon its publication in 1994 but, after such a long time, it was worth a re-read.  As the title implies, this book looks at the West Point class of 1846, which boasted a large number of students who went on to serve in the war with Mexico, on the western frontier, and, finally, in the Civil War.  Among the alumni of ’46 were George McClellan, A. P. Hill, George Pickett, George Stoneman, and the legendary Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  Not all these men were successful in the Civil War; McClellan and Stoneman are best known for self-destructing after reaching positions of high responsibility.  Pickett is primarily remembered for leading the disastrous charge at Gettysburg that still bears his name.  Others, such as Jackson and John Gibbon, served with distinction.  Before all that, however, each was a teenager at the most prestigious military academy in the United States.  They started out as bumbling plebes, taunted by upperclassmen and regularly humiliated by the school’s rigorous academic requirements.  Four years later, they graduated and took their places as the newest generation of leaders of the U.S. Army.  Those who survived the four-year program had much to be proud of.

Waugh briefly describes the founding of West Point and provides sketches of the administrators and instructors responsible for the cadets’ military education.  Mathematics dominated the curriculum; each year, the top graduates were offered slots in the Army Corps of Engineers.  Students from the next-highest tier of academic achievement were offered postings in the Artillery.  After that, the assignments were less prestigious.  Those who managed to graduate at the bottom of the class (like Picket) were generally offered Infantry commands.  Success at the academy was not always an indicator of success in the Army.  The student who graduated at the top of the class left the military soon afterwards while Picket served with distinction in Mexico and afterwards, until the fatal day at Gettysburg.

As one might expect, the book is full of stories about friendships.  We learn that A. P. Hill and George McClellan, who went on to high commands in the Confederate and Union armies (respectively) were best friends at the academy.   The friendship suffered after graduation when they fell in love with the same woman.  She eventually married McClellan, though there is evidence that Hill was her first choice (apparently, her father had other ideas).  Stories of friends who ended up on opposite sides of the Civil War are too many to recount; the Brother vs. Brother meme that we hear so often in descriptions of the war didn’t only apply to brothers related by blood.

The class of 1846 was blessed/cursed with a lot of opportunities to pursue their chosen profession.  The Mexican War, which had been building for years, finally broke out a few months after graduation.  Most of the newly-minted junior officers ended up serving in combat and several didn’t make it home again (at least one picked up a Mexican wife).  Thomas Jackson, who hadn’t yet earned his famous nickname, got the attention of his superiors with a series of daring actions while in command of an artillery battery.  One is even more impressed by his feats after learning that he nearly didn’t graduate at all.  His boyhood education was completely inadequate to meet the math-heavy challenges of West Point.  He attacked the problem as he approached obstacles his whole life: through single-minded focus and relentless hard work.  He finished his first year at the bottom of the class.  He graduated in the upper 1/3.

After the war many were sent west, where they fought Indians, tried to police white settlers who tended to disregard the (limited) rights granted to Indians by the government (which lead to a lot of the fighting), and tried to stay engaged during mind-numbingly tedious stretches of time at tiny outposts in the middle of nowhere.  At this point, Waugh starts to expand his canvas and we see the political crisis building between North and South.  When states start seceding and war becomes inevitable, they start splitting up.  Some remain in the Army, some resign their commissions to go south, and still more who had left the Army come back to accept posts from governments suddenly desperate for officers who had some experience already.  Understandably, West Point graduates were highly sought-after by both North and South.

Waugh devotes a lot of pages to the bombardment of Fort Sumter, which started the war.  Several of the officers in the garrison were from the class of ’46 and we see how that shared experience ties them together as their situation becomes steadily worse.  Surrounded by a hostile populace, largely forsaken by Lincoln’s predecessor (who was afraid to send them reinforcements or supplies for fear of inflaming the situation), and finally bombarded into submission by an enemy with many more guns than they have.

The second half of the book narrows to follow a smaller number of graduates through the Civil War.  We watch Stonewall Jackson rise from an obscure assignment to command half of Robert E. Lee’s army.  George McClellan wins a number of small victories at a time when he is about the only Northern general who can boast any victories at all.  He is given control of the Union’s Army of the Potomic, facing off against Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.  McClellan excels at whipping his army into shape but fails utterly when it is time to actually start fighting.  Lee defeats him again and again until a disgusted Lincoln finally relieves him of command.  He goes on to accept the Democratic nomination for President in 1864 but Lincoln, buoyed by a series of Union victories, wins re-election easily.

The book approaches its end with the battle of Gettysburg.  McClellan and Jackson are gone, the first retired, the second dead after being wounded by friendly fire at Chancellorsville.  George Picket, in command of one of Lee’s divisions, is ordered to lead a charge against the center of the Union line.  There had been hard fighting on the two ends of the line and Lee is convinced that the center is weak, having been depleted to supply reinforcements.  But the center isn’t weak and Picket is repulsed after suffering 50% casualties.  The Army of Northern Virginia fights on for two more years but is never the same again.    The portion of the Union line struck by Picket is under the command of John Gibbon, a fellow graduate from the class of ’46.

I picked this book as my second read because I wanted some insight into the early lives and experiences of the men who went on to lead the blue and gray.  Through them, the book shows what it looks like on the ground when a modern democracy unravels and sinks into civil war.

→ No CommentsTags: The Civil War

Year Of Meteors

April 16th, 2011 · 1 Comment

YEAR of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective, some of your deeds and signs;
I would sing your contest for the 19th Presidentiad;
I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair, mounted the scaffold in Virginia
Walt Whitman – Year of Meteors [1859-60]

Year of Meteors by Douglas R. Egerton is the first book in my Civil War reading project.  This is a new book, just published in 2010.  The title invokes the Walt Whitman poem of the same name, which ponders the political crisis that erupted in 1860.

Egerton examines that crisis in close detail.  Chronologically, the book starts with the nominating conventions that picked the candidates for President in 1860.  There were four political parties that year, evidence of how the American political scene had splintered apart:

  • Democrat – The party of Andrew Jackson that had started out as the most populist party but, by 1860, had come to represent the status quo and the established order of things.  After years of successfully dampening down the growing tension between the Northern and Southern wings of the party, it finally split in 1860.  The northern Democrats united behind Stephen A. Douglas while the Southern delegates left the convention and formed a new party:
  • Southern Democrat – The southerners united behind John Breckenridge of Kentucky.  Their platform was like the Democrats in most ways but differed on slavery.  The Democrats favored Douglas’s concept of Popular Sovereignty, which held that each new territory on the western frontier should have a referendum to decide whether or not slavery should be allowed.  The Southern Democrats rejected this approach as too risky for the South and favored a policy that barred new territories from banning slavery.
  • Republican – The Republicans were a new party, risen out of the ashes of the old Whig party which had traditionally challenged the Democrats but fell apart in 1850s as its members increasingly couldn’t agree on how to handle the challenge of…  slavery in the western territories.  (See a pattern emerging?)  As we all know, the Republicans rallied behind Abraham Lincoln.  The Republican platform recognized that slavery couldn’t legally be barred where it already existed but was adamant that it should not be allowed to spread west into new territories.
  • Constitutional – Also made up mostly of Democrats with some old Know Nothings who didn’t feel comfortable with any of the other parties.  Their platform mostly sought  to evade the slavery issue by emphasizing the traditional virtues of the Constitution and the Union as it used to be.  Their candidate, John Bell, didn’t get very far in the general election.

Egerton devotes a full chapter to each of the four parties, following it through its creation, the nominating convention of 1860 and the general election.  The characters that emerge, while not all well known today, are fascinating:

  • Lincoln and Douglas – Both from Illinois, known respectively as The Rail Splitter and The Little Giant (Douglas was very short but with a barrel chest and enough fight in him for a much larger man).  These two had been rivals for years, running against each other for the US Senate in 1858 (Douglas won).  As younger men, they had both courted the lovely (and wealthy) Mary Todd who went on to choose Lincoln as the most suitable husband.  One of the more touching parts of the book describes an ailing Douglas, after losing the election, on a speaking tour through a hostile South telling the people to their faces that Lincoln was to be the President and that succession was treason.  Douglas was dead less than two years later, victim of a live of hard living and (especially) drinking.
  • William Seward – Considered the heavyweight of the Republican party and a shoo-in for the nomination until his political manager at the convention was out-maneuvered by Lincoln’s.  We went on to accept the post of Secretary of State, traditionally considered the spot occupied by the President’s right-hand man and heir-apparent.
  • William Yancey – One of the Fire-Eaters, a group of Southern agitators who believed that the South was doomed if it stayed in the Union.  Yancey worked behind the scenes with others of the same ilk to make sure the Democrats split.  Egerton shows pretty convincingly that the Fire-Eaters weren’t really interested in electing their man President but actually wanted to ensure a Republican victory on the theory that only then would the South wake up to the danger and secede.  It worked.

Why was slavery in the territories the major bone of contention in 1860?  It was all about the balance of power in Washington DC.  For years, Congress had been balanced between free and slave states.  The Missouri Compromise of 1820, for example, allowed the entry of Missouri as a slave state in exchange for the entry of Maine as a free state.  So long as Congress was kept in balance, the South could feel assured that the North would not try to forcibly abolish slavery.  There were two problems emerging for the South, however:

  • The great influx of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia that had been going on for several decades were mostly settling in the industrial North, where there were more economic opportunities for newcomers.  This rise in population was starting to tilt the House of Representatives toward the North.
  • The increasing settlement in the west was also starting to tilt toward the North, partly because of those same immigrants.  The South was hemmed in by Mexico while the North had access to a vast expanse of territory that everyone agreed was not economically suitable for slavery.  This is why the Mexican War had been supported disproportionally by Southerners.  If all that land to the North started becoming free states, the day might come when there was no more room for compromises to keep the Senate balanced.

Despite these worries, the South had one final trump card:  the Presidency.  In 1860, it had been literally decades since the President had not either been a Southerner or a Northerner sympathetic to the South’s view of slavery (these Northerners were known colloquially as Doughfaces).  So long as the South or it’s Northern allies occupied the White House, the Southern planter class could breath easier.

And then, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois won the election of 1860.

What was worse, Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in most Southern states (laws dictating how candidates got on local ballots were a lot looser then).  Mr. Lincoln became President based solely on votes from the North and West.  To the South, this was a fire bell in the night.  A sectional candidate could now become President without the Electoral College votes of a single Southern state.  The message seemed clear:  the South was under the effective control of other sections of the country that did not have her best interests at heart.  Were, in fact, hostile to her best interests.

On December 20, 1860, less than two months after the election and before Lincoln’s inaugural, South Carolina voted to secede from the United States.  Within a few weeks, Mississippi followed suit.  On February 4, 1861, a convention of southern states approved the constitution of the newly-formed Confederate States of America.

On April 12, 1861, South Carolina militia forces opened fire on the federal garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor.  The crisis had become a war.

→ 1 CommentTags: The Civil War

Why is Jeff Losing His Health Insurance Benefits?

February 16th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Family Of EEE Patient Fighting To Keep Insurance Coverage —  The guy in this article used to frequent a homebrewing online forum that I also belong to.  Last Fall, he came down with Eastern Equine Encephalitis which is a mosquito-borne illness that causes swelling of the brain.  He was in a coma for months but finally came out of it and has been battling his way back, learning to talk, eat, and interact with his family all over again.  And now, Blue Cross Blue Shield is trying to cut off his benefits because he’s not making enough progress.  Of course, they can’t seem to articulate the actual standard they’re measuring his progress by.

Reminds me of the stuff my folks went through with Dad’s Multiple Sclerosis and the insurance companies.  I’ve known several insurance salesmen over the years who were good, decent human beings.  I don’t want to tar them with this but when it comes to the companies…  Well, just remember: the insurance company isn’t, and never will be, your friend.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Merry Christmas!

December 25th, 2010 · No Comments

Wishing the joy of the season to all.

christmas protraits 2010 (16)

→ No CommentsTags: Family · Holidays

The New Pentagon Papers?

December 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

Like everyone else, I’ve been hearing a lot about WikiLeaks lately and have been trying to decide how I feel about the disclosure of so much classified information stolen from our government.  I haven’t read all the stuff (and don’t plan to; who has that kind of time?) but I do have a few thoughts:

  • WikiLeak’s founder says that nothing he has posted jeopardized any American lives, including those of our soldiers serving in war zones.  I don’t know for sure that he is wrong but I am pretty sure that he is not qualified to make that judgment.
  • I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to the Pentagon Papers.  I don’t see the comparison.  The Pentagon Papers exposed a pattern of lies told by government officials over more than 10 years; these lies were used to justify escalating the war in Vietnam.  There was clear wrongdoing exposed, which makes the guy who leaked the documents a whistleblower.  I haven’t read all the WikiLeaks stuff but I haven’t heard about anything that sounds like the Pentagon Papers.  Video of combat in Afghanistan?  Gossipy diplomatic cables that reveal government officials saying uncomplimentary things about leaders of other countries?  Please.  Sounds like the stuff you see on TMZ.  I don’t see how any of this qualifies as whistleblowing.
  • The newspapers that are publishing the documents have been falling all over themselves to explain that they, unlike the guy who stole the documents in the first place, are not breaking the law.  It’s illegal to steal classified documents but once they’re out already, republishing them in the paper is protected by freedom of the press.  I’m no expert on constitutional law but this puzzles me.  If you steal a car and I buy it from you (knowing it’s stolen), I can be charged with a crime even though I didn’t do the actual stealing.  How is this different?

It may not sound like it, but I’m generally pretty liberal on these kinds of First Amendment issues.  But I also believe strongly that our First Amendment rights work best when combined with civic responsibility.  I don’t see a lot of that here.

→ No CommentsTags: Politics

Jesus Wept

November 30th, 2010 · 3 Comments

The following letter was sent to the newspaper in Fargo-Moorhead and published on November 29, 2010:

Enough with holiday ‘beggars’
Seems it is that time of year again. Went to my local Hornbacher’s store and was instantly accosted by the first beggar of the year. You know, some guy wearing red and clanging around with some ridiculous bell while begging for my hard-earned money so they can give it to people who do not work as hard as I do.

These people go far beyond collecting donations by making an annoying racket and harassing would-be shoppers for their money. This has been a problem for as long as I can remember. Surely there must be something we can do about this. Noise ordinance? Panhandling laws?

I for one will begin by informing store managers that I will not spend money in a location that allows
beggars to make noise and harass customers at the door and by e-mailing corporate offices of larger companies. There is nothing that they sell that I cannot order and have delivered. It is time for this to end.

Wow.  Merry Christmas to you too, asshole.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Holidays

Time to Modernize the Post Office

November 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I was just listening to a story about the Postal Service on NPR that asked if we would all be willing to drop Saturday mail delivery to cut costs.  Honestly, I would be willing to see Saturday delivery go; I really don’t think it would have a major impact on my life.

But, on general principles, I think we should be looking at internal reforms for the Postal Service before we allow them to cut services.  Senator Tom Carper recently had an opinion piece in Politico.com that laid out some really good ideas on where to start.

→ 1 CommentTags: Politics

Some Election Night Thoughts

November 2nd, 2010 · No Comments

A few thoughts and opinions on this Election Night:

Things I Liked

  • The heavy debate schedule in the Minnesota Governor’s race.  The three candidates for Governor had 26 debates.  If you didn’t get a chance to see these guys in action, you weren’t trying very hard.
  • Watching PBS election coverage on Ustream while monitoring Twitter and various websites.  Much better than watching it on TV.
  • Minnesota Public Radio’s PoliGraph website, which did valuable fact-checking on statements and ads from a variety of MN candidates.  We need more of this kind of coverage.
  • The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.  Great political satire with a serious message hidden in the jokes.  I liked Joe Scarborough’s take on it even more.

Things I Didn’t Like

  • All these self-appointed Challengers who have taken it upon themselves to monitor polling places looking for voter fraud, which they seem to define as any voting by people they don’t like.  Minnesota Election Judges generally do a pretty good job of administering elections.  They don’t need some Minuteman-style vigilante group “helping out”.
  • People in the news media complaining about all the negative ads while the media industry they work for does absolutely nothing to discourage or eliminate such ads.

Some Things I Think I Think

  • I’ve read and heard many Tea Partiers complain about Progressive’s smugness and arrogant know-it-allism.  It’s a fair complaint; sometimes we do come off that way and no one wants to be lectured to.  But I have to say, it’s hard sometimes not to feel a little smug when the political opposition spends most of their time shrieking wild and over the top claims that we’re about to become a socialist nation, the President is a secret Muslim, our leaders have destroyed the Constitution, etc.  How ’bout we all make a deal?  Progressives will stop lecturing and looking down their noses at Conservatives and Conservatives will accept that we also love the United States and aren’t all part of some secret plot to bring it down.
  • After two years in office, it’s reasonable to hold the President accountable for the state of the economy.  But it’s also reasonable to remember how it got that way.  The damage caused by eight years of greed on Wall Street, tax cuts we couldn’t afford, and a government run by a party that was determined not to interfere in the excesses of a few top finance firms is not going to be fixed in a couple of years.
  • I’m not going to say that I like the Republicans getting control of Congress but it might not be that awful.  Now, they will have to lead and participate; it won’t be enough to simply block everything and engage in irresponsible rhetoric.  It will be interesting to see what happens when the rhetoric that got them elected meets reality.
  • The internet is going to eliminate the media as the place to get informed, accurate political information.  It will also be the place for those with narrow horizons to insulate themselves and only hear from people who they agree with.  We have to put the tools online to allow people to do the former rather than the latter.  One way or another, traditional media will have to give way to the new way.
  • We need a constitutional amendment that explicitly states that money spent on political campaigns is not protected from regulation by the First Amendment.  Furthermore, the amendment should ban any and all political spending by any organization, including labor unions, corporations, private businesses, non-profit groups, and political action committees.  Only individual people should be allowed to donate to any candidate or party.  And those donations must be made public.  There has been way too much anonymous money in this election.

→ No CommentsTags: Politics