Two New eBooks at Amazon Kindle!

FacebookMySpaceTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponRSS Feed

 

If you’ve never understood why Theodore Roosevelt is on Mt Rushmore reading his autobiography, published in 1913, will give you a clue. I’ve read several Roosevelt biographies, but this is the first time I read his words, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

President “T.R.” Roosevelt left us in 1919, too young at age 60, but he packed into his adult life an incredible amount of achievements, any one of which could have brought him legitimate acclaim. People remember Roosevelt came to the presidency through tragedy, President William McKinley’s assassination. Some remember he was only 42 years of age, the youngest president ever. Some may even remember his “Rough Rider” days during the Spanish American War of 1898 or his later guiding the construction of the Panama Canal. Maybe some remember him as a big game hunter and the founder of the Boone and Crockett Club. 

Most probably don’t remember Roosevelt was a prolific writer, authoring the most books of any president until surpassed by Jimmy Carter. Or do people remember this list of achievements? Roosevelt was nominated by several and should have (but for politics) won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his part in battles in Cuba. As Civil Service Commissioner and later as Commissioner of the New York City Police he led extensive reforms replacing the old spoils system with a merit system for employment. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for brokering the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

Note: in 2001, Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, making him the only person, let alone president, ever to have won both the nation’s top award for bravery in combat and the globally recognized top award for peace.

Yet beyond all this, perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest legacy can be summarized in the word “conservation.” Roosevelt contemporary Senator Robert LaFollete paid tribute: “And then, there is the great and statesmanlike movement for the conservation of our National resources, into which Roosevelt so energetically threw himself at a time when the Nation as a whole knew not that we are ruining and bankrupting ourselves as fast as we can. This is probably the greatest thing Roosevelt did, undoubtedly.”

For the record: Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 5 national parks, 4 national game preserves, 18 national monuments, 24 reclamation projects, and 7 conservation commissions. He placed approximately 230,000,000 acres of land under public protection, an increase during his presidency of over 400%. As importantly, he nearly single-handedly launched the forest movement, which became the conservation movement, which later developed into the environmental movement. In a word, his record on conservation alone is astounding.

Interestingly, several times in his autobiography Roosevelt referred to what he called the “right stuff,” a set of virtues he believed made people ready to care for their families, to contribute to society, and when the opportunity arose, to lead. In this he predated Tom Wolfe’s popularization of the term, The Right Stuff, in his 1979 book on the space program.

There’s much about Roosevelt’s theory and practice of leadership in this book. He speaks at length about taking action, even in the face of risk, and about adopting what he calls a Lincoln-Jackson school as opposed to a Buchanan-Taft view of power, the latter being what today we’d call “strict constructionists.” 

Roosevelt said, “I declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it. My belief was that it was not only his right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the Nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws…I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power. In other words, I acted for the public welfare, I acted for the common well-being of all our people, whenever and in whatever manner was necessary, unless prevented by direct constitutional or legislative prohibition.”

Roosevelt also said, “I bound myself more than ever to treat the Constitution, after the manner of Abraham Lincoln, as a document which put human rights above property rights when the two conflicted.” Together with his expansive view of the use of executive power, this concern for the common man, Roosevelt’s desire to assure them a “Square Deal,” and his lifelong interest in helping people—children with physical limitations, Indians, immigrants, and laborers—makes Roosevelt a different sort of Republican than those who dominate the party today. When Roosevelt fought the big trusts and monopolies he noted that he supported corporate leaders when they were “right” and departed from them when they were “wrong.” In other words, he aligned himself with principle, not given categories or groups of people, regardless of what they did or how they behaved. Contemporary pols on both sides of the aisle could learn from this.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Roosevelt’s autobiography is what’s missing. While he refers to his family and names at least one of his children and while he speaks glowingly of family life, there’s nothing in this account about his losing his first wife and mother on the same day when he was in his mid-twenties. There’s nothing about his leaving his daughter, Alice, behind with his sister when he went west to ranch in North Dakota and nothing about later marrying Edith or the five children coming from that union. In contemporary autobiographies family plays a central role. Perhaps in the day when Roosevelt wrote this was not the case. In any event I consider this the one major flaw in the record because readers are not permitted to glimpse how his family life influenced the man or his achievements.

My favorite quote: “A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

Contemporary Republicans could learn from Roosevelt: while he affirmed individualism, he did not believe in unfettered individualism or laissez faire. Roosevelt was not afraid to align, when needed, with labor versus management, and he stood up for the common man. He said he’d rather government help a poor man feed his family better than to help a rich man earn more profit for his company. He worked to protect minorities like Indians and immigrants and he had a soft spot for children.

Roosevelt’s autobiography contains long renditions of things that don’t carry present-day import, but mostly it’s an engaging read offering some timeless wisdom about politics, leadership, the greatness of America, and the public welfare. I recommend it heartily.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers

 

In our cynical world the word “hero” sounds quaint. But former Senator, former Astronaut, former test and combat pilot John Glenn is—yes, in August 2012 he’s still living at age 91 with his wife Annie age 92—an American hero. John Glenn: A Memoir is his story.

Whether or not one agrees with John Glenn’s positions during his political career, his pioneering spirit, courage, patriotism, and willingness to serve or even sacrifice for his country demand respect. From relatively humble beginnings in a small town during the Great Depression John Glenn’s love for flying took him to the Marines and ultimately world acclaim as a space pioneer.

Glenn learned faith, so-called middle class values, a work ethic, and integrity, all forming his character, from his parents, friends, and teachers in the village of New Concord. Then, like many others in the Greatest Generation, he rose to the challenge and his metal was tested in the crucible of World War II. For Glenn this meant flying scores of missions as a fighter pilot in the South Pacific. Later, he flew scores more missions in the Korean War and shot down 3 MiGs in the process.

As a test pilot in 1957 he set a supersonic speed record for flying coast to coast, gaining his first taste of unsought fame. Then Glenn became one of the original 7 NASA astronauts, the men with the “right stuff,” and the first man to orbit the earth, February 20, 1962 in “Friendship 7,” in what became a galvanizing moment worldwide.

Colonel Glenn eventually resigned his military commission, earned a living by working several years in corporate leadership, and then pioneered again, at least personally, stepping into politics. He eventually served 24 years as United States Senator from the state of Ohio and was a serious consideration for Vice President in several presidential elections.

If this wasn’t enough, on October 29, 1998, Glenn returned to space at age 77 as a member of the crew for Space Shuttle “Discovery.” Critics called it a NASA publicity stunt, but for the agency, Glenn, and the scientists his flight was about studying the affects of space travel upon aging.

Throughout his life, Glenn has been sided by his childhood sweetheart and wife Annie. Her resolve and courage in struggling with stuttering and her mid-life development of better speech patterns via new physical therapies is a remarkable story in itself. Theirs has been a model romance and relationship.

John Glenn was born in Cambridge, Ohio and grew up in nearby New Concord. I grew up in Byesville, Ohio, four miles from Cambridge and about fifteen miles from New Concord. My grandparents knew and thought very highly of John Glenn’s parents and often went to church meetings with them. I remember meeting them when I was a boy. I also have the memory of annual trips to homecoming parades at Muskingum College in New Concord where Glenn and his wife attended school. By the time I got into postsecondary John Glenn High School in New Concord was one of our local rivals.

While I never met John Glenn I’ve known of him and his exploits since my youth and he served as Senator during what was my first twenty-four years of adult and married life. This was a time I followed national politics carefully, including Senator Glenn’s service. Because of all this I feel some connection to the man and have certainly appreciated his example of patriotic service, proactive outlook, and leadership.

In part because of my connections with Glenn’s hometown and family, in part because Glenn’s remarkable accomplishments, and in part because this memoir is well written and relatively fast-paced for an autobiography, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’m going to recommend it immediately to my father, who grew up and still lives in the next county. Dad’s about ten years younger than the Senator but he’s close enough to be a contemporary and remember in personal terms much about Glenn’s story.

I highly recommend this book as “a good read,” as a book about “science,” and as a book about character and leadership.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Aesop’s Fables have been with us since the 6th Century B.C. The fables’ fame is rooted in their antiquity, story-telling form, and common sense.

Whether Aesop, reputedly a slave who later became a free man, wrote the fables or wrote some, compiled some (scholars lean to the latter) is still debated. Either way, the canon has been settled upon some 656 fables Aesop apparently told in his lifetime.

Not long ago I set out to read some of the classics, books I’d heard about all my life but never got around to reading. Aesop’s Fables made the list.

Aesop’s stories relate to common experiences in everyday life often as seen or spoken through the vantage point of animals, two attributes of his writing that have allowed the fables to translate easily across languages and cultures and most especially into the lives of children. And, the stories are an illustrator’s dream.

Some of the fables are what we’d call “lame,” not very weighty or convincing and not particularly useful. Then again, many are interesting for their universal appeal or for their surprising insight.

“The Fox and the Grapes,” that is to say “sour grapes,” has entered the conversational lexicon. So has “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs,” the ill-fated bird killed by a farmer’s greed. In “The Tortoise and the Hare” we see that “slow and steady wins the race.”

In “The Mischievous Dog” we learn that “notoriety is often mistaken for fame,” something our celebrity-mad culture could do to relearn. “The Crow and the Pitcher” teaches “necessity is the mother of invention.” This, our pioneer forefathers handed down to us, though such initiative and creativity are waning in contemporary culture.

“The Gnat and the Bull” teaches “we may often be of more consequence in our own eyes than in the eyes of our neighbors.” While “The Shepherd’s Boy and the Wolf”—remember the boy who cried “Wolf?”—warns “you cannot believe a liar even when he tells the truth.” This is applicable in today’s bloodsport national politics if not also in office politics. Another refresher we need in our politics is listed in “The Boy Bathing,” wherein the moral is “give assistance, not advice, in a crisis.”

“The Two Bags,” like several other fables, is reminiscent of Scripture. In this story we’re told that every person carries two bags, one in front and one behind, both packed full of faults. The bag in front contains our neighbor’s faults while the one behind contains our own. So, you guessed it, we always see our neighbor’s faults but never our own. Matthew 7:3 asks why we look at the speck of sawdust in our brother’s eye but fail to see the plank in our own.

“The Dog and the Shadow” addresses greed, while “The Crow and the Raven” is about the cost of pretentiousness.

Some of the reading was slow and, to me, nonsensical. But I can see why the fables have earned global acclaim. Aesop’s fables aren’t the proverbs of Proverbs, but they are interesting and thought provoking. I enjoyed reading them.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

If you like politics, especially presidential politics, like I do than you’ll like this book.

I enjoy reading behind-the-scenes stories, ones based on credible evidence, which the author’s provide in spades. My favorite stories herein: how Ronald Reagan taught Bill Clinton how to salute and the way George H. W. Bush conducted himself as a gentlemen during and after his presidency. Something I learned: how far Richard Nixon went during the 1968 presidential campaign (some say to the point of treason) to influence clandestinely the Viet Nam peace talks in Paris and thus the election. This was a precursor to Watergate or at least the unworthy character(s) that caused it.

The President’s Club is a study of the relationships of men who’ve served as President, with each other and with the current occupant of the White House. From Herbert Hoover and Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama and his living predecessors the authors examine how “the club,” this unique and limited number of men (so far) have functioned in a world all their own.

The watchwords of the club are competition, collaboration, and consultation. The club members’ common goals: to preserve the credibility and power of the Office of the President, to protect America, and to advance, as possible, their own reputations and legacies.

Hoover and Truman launched the modern club. Catching their partisan peers off guard they worked successfully in post-war Europe to save the lives of tens of millions of hungry people. Later, at Truman’s behest the Hoover Commission helped transform the Office of the President into a powerful platform for leadership of the Free World. Later still, they surprised themselves and became lifelong friends.

JFK and Lyndon Johnson leaned heavily upon Ike Eisenhower for private consultation about Viet Nam and much more. Nixon was a fatally flawed man, but his brilliant insights involving international relations helped Bush 41, even Clinton. Ford and Carter made amends and worked together off and on for over twenty years; they even tried to rescue Clinton, or at least his office, when Clinton became the second president to be impeached.

Bush 43 kept a public distance (in terms of consultation) from his father during his campaigns and presidencies, yet their relationship as son and father was and is deep and forever. It was 41 who later created the opportunity for 43 and Clinton to partner in humanitarian relief, launching what many and even they call a special “father/son” relationship. Now, it’s Obama and, after a testy time, Clinton, and surprisingly perhaps, Bush 43. President Obama sent Clinton and 43 to Haiti for humanitarian relief efforts that raised tens of millions. The club, all members have found, is useful politically and personally.

There’s something about the job of President of the United States, the crushing responsibility, tension and concern in the face of global threats, the loneliness in leadership that draws all who’ve held the position together. Who else can fully understand? And all, regardless of party and policy want the President and the Nation to succeed. Consequently, the Presidents Club, when it’s at its best, represents one of the blessings of a free, democratic, and peaceful transfer of power.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone interested American politics, the presidency, or leadership.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

This is a scholarly biography, but the word “scholarly” shouldn’t scare readers away. While hundreds of books have been written about Betsy Ross, mostly for children, no one until now has seriously attempted to separate fact from fiction and place the woman and the legend in context.

Marla R. Miller writes a book that presents Betsy’s Ross’s life and legacy in as accurate a manner as historical evidence allows. She respects the woman and even the myths that have grown up around the story of the origin of the nation’s first flag. In other words, this isn’t a book with an agenda aimed at trashing a cultural icon. That said, Miller doesn’t back away from citing what we don’t know, what we likely will never know, and what we do know that doesn’t match or corroborate certain iconic interpretation.

One reason Miller doesn’t write fluff is that she’s a recognized professional historian. Another reason is that early on she understood that, though the historical record is often sadly slim or silent, what we can know for sure about Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole is interesting enough.

The woman subsequent generations came to know as Betsy Ross did live in a unique time and place at this nation’s genesis, she did play an entrepreneurial and artisanal role as a woman with courage and resolve in early American life, she did make if not the first flag (we still don’t know for sure) than certainly hundreds of US flags in the first decades of the nation’s existence, and she became the beloved matron of a large and loving extended family. So we can remember, respect, and enjoy Betsy for what we know she did, not just for what we wish or think she did.

Not much about Betsy’s personality survives. But Miller believes what evidence we have suggests a woman that was decisive when necessary. She was a person who took considered risks, like marrying a second and third time when her first two husbands died young. She was apparently a woman with an admirable work ethic, and she was clearly a woman with compassion, for time and again she took down-and-out family members into her home, sometimes for years. She was a woman who knew her own mind and made decisions accordingly with respect to religious conviction. She married outside the church when she felt it right, and she became a key and long lasting part of the Free Quaker movement of her day.

Miller celebrates Betsy Ross as an early American woman who was what we’d call today a survivor. She didn’t give up, she didn’t fall apart, she didn’t run away. She did what she had to do to get through, and this she did until death claimed her as a woman full of experiences, full of the love of family, and full of days.

Betsy Ross and the Making of America is an interesting, well-written, and enjoyable book. I recommend it highly.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Few non-fiction writers have caught the public’s attention in the past few years like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Born in Somalia, educated but coming of age in a family with a strange mix of love and abuse, living in four countries mostly without a present father, an unwanted arranged marriage at 22 years, and a run for freedom to Holland, this is Ali’s background.

Then add a remarkable story of fortitude, resilience, and drive for independence that leads Ali from scared immigrant to Member of the Dutch Parliament to death threats by Islamists for producing a controversial film questioning the Koran. Ali is a rather amazing individual who by any reasonable guess should be a victim of her upbringing and circumstances. But she’s overcome them all to become an internationally recognized women’s rights advocate, writer, and speaker.

This book, The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, is a collection of essays, Ali’s first book. Since this book was published in 2002, she’s written two more books, both international bestsellers: Infidel and Nomad.

Since I read her later books before reading this one, it was easy to catch the differences in the writing and the yet-maturing nature of Ali’s thinking and social analysis, all of which are so evident in the later books. Don’t get me wrong. In this book Ali offers an hard-hitting evaluation of what she believes are the backward values embraced by so many followers of Islam.

She points to mental stagnation, repressive regimes, rejection of reason, and a collective mentality that suppresses individualism, sacrificing all to absolute obedience and a drive for “honor” and avoidance of “shame” at all costs. Ali believes Islam offers no credible political model, that Islamic societies are characterized by the lowest economic growth of any in the world, and that such societies are fueled by aggression, distrust, and fatalism.

Islamic culture is, Ali contends, obsessed with virginity, therefore turning girls and women into chattel of the men of the family and clan. This twisted view of sexual morality makes women invisible, figuratively and literally. They are persons for whom both external and internal freedom are inhibited. They are in the virgin’s cage, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Ali argues for an Islamic Enlightenment, an openness to self-reflection and criticism, a willingness to consider new ideas, attitudes, and behaviors. Islam, she believes, is static, and it's not being held hostage by terrorism but by itself.

These are powerful insights and allegations, ones that have earned Ali the continuing condemnation of Islamic leaders and even, incredibly, the criticism or disdain of some in the Western Left. The Left doesn’t like Ali’s comments not because they don’t see that female genital mutilation, for example, is a serious issue, but because the Left has bought into the Kool-aid of multiculturalism, i.e., cultural relativism, i.e. moral relativism. In its zeal for tolerance and freedom from judgment the Left has steered itself into an intellectual cul-de-sac in which it cannot offer credible critique of anything because anything goes.

This is perhaps Ali’s greatest contribution thus far. Not simply an able defense of women’s rights, though her words carry passion and power on this important issue. Not simply questioning Islam, though she is noteworthy for her combination of personal experience, hurt, and educated social sophistication, all of which she turns on a religion too long without evaluation.

No, perhap’s Ali’s greatest contribution thus far is simply to call boldly and articulately for freedom of inquiry based upon intellectual honesty. She wants to know the truth and to work with the truth. She wants others to get their heads out of their self-delusional sand and see for themselves. Just answer the question, she says: What set of values best advances individual life, liberty, and wellbeing? What moral framework actually works for the good of one and all? What set of values is better?

While this book, collected essays as it is, seems a bit choppy at times and doesn't give us the mature thinker we later read, it is nevertheless worth reading. I highly recommend this book.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.