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Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography
Written by Rex M. Rogers   
Saturday, 25 August 2012 00:00

 

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

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Thinking About Immoral Vs Illegal
Written by Rex M. Rogers   
Friday, 24 August 2012 00:00

Think with me about the difference between what's immoral and what's illegal.

Here's more on the subject:

© 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.

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Is There Any Difference Between Sin And Crime?
Written by Rex M. Rogers   
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 08:34

Sin and crime are, unfortunately, all around us and always with us. It's been that way since the dawn of time because human beings are, at their core, tainted by the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Remember The New England Primer? Maybe not, but you will remember "In Adam's fall we sinned all," a phrase used in the primer for teaching the alphabet letter "A." It's good theology.

However, though human beings are sinners by nature not all, thankfully, choose to sin to the extent of evil imagination. And, thankfully, when people do sin their sins are not always defined as crimes. I'm glad for this because otherwise I'd be in jail along with everyone else.

Crimes are actually certain acts (kinds of sin?), ones society or government if you prefer has defined as illegal. (Some acts defined as crime may not, from the point of view of Christian theology, really be sin, and some acts not defined as crimes are, from the point of view of Christian theology, indeed sins that perhaps should be considered crimes as well). So the point is: commit that particular sin and you'll not only transgress your moral code, you'll also be in violation of the law.

Thinking about the difference between sin and crime, and thinking about which sins should be crimes and which should not, is an interesting moral and political exercise. Where do you draw lines between sin and crime?

Here's more on the subject:

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

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John Glenn: A Memoir By John Glenn With Nick Taylor
Written by Rex M. Rogers   
Monday, 13 August 2012 13:35

 

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.

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Reading Aesop's Fables, At Long Last
Written by Rex M. Rogers   
Friday, 10 August 2012 00:00

 

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.

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Is Americana Always Christian?
Written by Rex M. Rogers   
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 06:00

Americans sometimes confuse their faith and their patriotism. In a country that pioneered the idea of separation of Church and State this is a rather interesting development. For ones who enjoy their faith and love their country it's easy to do. And the tendency is not always or necessarily sinister. But then again it can create blinders and cause problems.

In it's more developed form mixing faith and patriotism is called civil religion. But that's a subject for another time. Here I simply want to think about the question, Is Americana (not America per se but American culture) always Christian? Here's more on the topic:

© 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.

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Dr. Rex M. Rogers

Dr. Rex M. Rogers

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