America’s last space ship?

Last Thursday, July 21, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed, ending the United States’ Space Shuttle program. And it may mark the end of manned flight, at least as far as the United States is concerned. Russia will still be able to send people into orbit, and American astronauts can hitch a ride with them to get to the International Space Station, another program whose days are numbered.  But there are no plans to update manned spacecraft  or start any more manned space programs.  See Shuttle Atlantis Final Landing Completes U.S. Retreat from Manned Spaceflight – IT Infrastructure – News & Reviews – eWeek.com.

So does this mean all of those science fiction fantasies about space being the final frontier and all that were just a blip of technological and imaginative optimism?

A Civil War soldier’s letter to his wife

I am going to make you cry.  To mark the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, a.k.a. The Battle of Manassas, the Washington Post wrote a story about and reprinted the letter written by Maj. Sullivan Ballou to his wife a week before he was killed in that battle.  It shows a man highly devoted to his different and sometimes conflicting vocations as husband, father, soldier, citizen, and Christian:

July the 14th, 1861

Washington D.C.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God’s blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

From Wikipedia

For background details see Civil War soldier’s heartbreaking farewell letter was written before death at Bull Run – The Washington Post.

The 19th Century Depression

Canadian historian Francois Furstenberg reminds us of the economic depression that America had to struggle through in the 19th century:

Much like our time, the Gilded Age was an era of economic booms and busts. None was greater than the financial crisis that began in September 1873 with the collapse of Jay Cooke & Co., the nation’s premier investment bank. Like many other firms, Cooke & Co. overextended itself by offering risky loans based on overvalued real estate.

Cooke’s collapse launched the first economic crisis of the Industrial Age. For 65 straight months, the U.S. economy shrank — the longest such stretch in U.S. history. America’s industrial base ground to a near halt: By 1876, half of the nation’s railroads had declared bankruptcy, almost half of the country’s iron furnaces were shut and coal production collapsed. Until the 1930s, it would be known as the Great Depression.

In the face of economic calamity and skyrocketing unemployment, the government did, well, nothing. No federal unemployment insurance eased families’ suffering and kept a floor on demand. No central bank existed to fight deflation. Large-scale government stimulus was a thing of the distant future.

As demand collapsed, businesses slashed payrolls and reduced wages, and a ruinous period of deflation began. By 1879, wholesale prices had declined 30 percent. The consequences were catastrophic for the nation’s many debtors and set off a vicious economic cycle. When economic growth eventually began, progress was slow, with periodic crises plaguing the economy through the end of the century.

Neither political party offered genuine solutions. As historian Richard Hofstadter put it, political parties during the Gilded Age “divided over spoils, not issues,” and neither Democrats nor Republicans were inclined to challenge their corporate masters. . . .

With laissez-faire ideas dominant and the political system in stasis, economic decline persisted. The collapse in tax revenue only strengthened calls for fiscal retrenchment. Government at all levels cut spending. Congress returned the country to the gold standard for the first time since the Civil War: “hard money” policies that favored Eastern financiers over indebted farmers and workers.

With neither major party responding to the crisis, new insurgent movements arose: antimonopoly coalitions, reform parties and labor candidates all began to attract support.

via What history teaches us about the welfare state – The Washington Post.

Prof. Furstenberg goes on to cite the violent strikes of the growing labor movement and the prospect of social unrest–similar to what was happening in Europe that would spark the Marxist revolutions–that, according to him, encouraged even capitalists by the time of FDR to support social reforms and a welfare state, so as to promote social stability.  He then warns us about cutting the social safety net as we try to deal with today’s economic problems.

Since among my readers are experts in just about everything, I ask you, is Prof. Furstenberg’s account correct, or is it a leftist reading of a  history that is open to other interpretations?  Are there things we can learn from what happened in the Gilded Age?

HT:  Frank Sonnek

Where is the John Adams memorial?

Alexander Heffner in the Washington Post raises something that I have long called for:

When President Obama ponders tough decisions at the White House, he may join the cadre of presidents who have sought inspiration in the Truman Balcony’s stunning vista, gazing at the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, which commemorate our first and third commanders in chief. But there’s a man missing from this presidential panorama.

Where is John Adams, our feisty second president and lifelong American patriot? If George Washington was the sword of the revolution and Thomas Jefferson the pen, why have we neglected the voice of our nation’s independence?

Adams himself predicted this omission. “Monuments will never be erected to me . . . romances will never be written, nor flattering orations spoken, to transmit me to posterity in brilliant colors,” he wrote in 1819, nearly two decades after his single term in office. At his farm in Quincy, Mass., Adams worried that he would be forgotten by history, and for good reason: The temperamental Yankee could never outshine Washington and Jefferson, Virginia’s two-term presidential all-stars — one a brilliant general unanimously chosen to lead the nation, the other the eloquent author of the Declaration of Independence. . . .

It’s a shame he couldn’t see Adams, too. Still, as we celebrate July 4 — the anniversary of the declaration’s adoption and of Adams’s death — it’s high time we honored this “passionate sage,” as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis titled his Adams biography. He is the founding father most unsung in the capital’s memorial landscape.

What’s the case for Adams? Before the revolution, he was the nation’s first attendant to the American legal tradition of due process, defending British soldiers who fired on colonists during the Boston Massacre. One of Massachusetts’s representatives to the First and Second Continental Congresses, Adams was a champion of separation from England and the fiercest advocate of Jefferson’s declaration. Without his persuasive speeches in the Philadelphia chamber, the document wouldn’t have been signed. While Jefferson was silent during what he considered the convention’s editorial debasement of his work, Adams defended every clause, including an excised call for the abolition of slavery. Jefferson called Adams “a colossus on the floor” of the Congress.

Then, during the war and in its aftermath, Adams assured America’s birth and survival with diplomatic missions to Paris and London. He helped secure a line of credit for the new republic from the Dutch, establishing American solvency. He also helped negotiate a treaty with Great Britain that recognized the United States as a nation.

Most misunderstood — and mistaken as a failure — is Adams’s presidency. Elected in 1796, Adams went against public sentiment to avoid an expensive and unnecessary war. Under enormous diplomatic pressure from France and England to take a side in their interminable conflict, the president refused to entangle his young nation on faraway battlefields. Instead of rallying his Federalist party around aggressive war, he expanded the nation’s Navyto fortify American borders against assault. Adams’s one blunder — signing the Alien and Sedition Acts to empower the executive to limit free speech — overshadows the agile diplomacy that may have cost him a second term. . . .

“John and Abigail Adams should have been on the Mall 100 years ago,” Ellis said. “Adams was so imperfect, honest about losing his temper — he is the ultimate example of what we need to learn” from the founders.

via Why doesn’t John Adams have a memorial in Washington? – The Washington Post.

And then we should put up a monument to James Madison, the man who basically wrote the Constitution!

Misunderstanding our founding documents?

E. J. Dionne says that, contrary to what tea party conservatives are saying, our founding documents are not anti-government:

A reading of the Declaration of Independence makes clear that our forebears were not revolting against taxes as such — and most certainly not against government as such.

In the long list of “abuses and usurpations” the Declaration documents, taxes don’t come up until the 17th item, and that item is neither a complaint about tax rates nor an objection to the idea of taxation. Our Founders remonstrated against the British crown “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” They were concerned about “consent,” i.e. popular rule, not taxes.

The very first item on their list condemned the king because he “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Note that the signers wanted to pass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of “the public good,” not about individuals or “the private sector.” They knew that it takes public action — including effective and responsive government — to secure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Their second grievance reinforced the first, accusing the king of having “forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance.” Again, our forebears wanted to enact laws; they were not anti-government zealots.

Abuses three through nine also referred in some way to how laws were passed or justice was administered. The document doesn’t really get to anything that looks like Big Government oppression (“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”) until grievance No. 10.

This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. “The federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.

No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.

via What our Declaration really said – The Washington Post.

No, the founding documents were not anti-government, since they were concerned with establishing a government.  But what do you think of Dionne’s point, that today’s conservatives are taking the limited government bit too far?  (Certainly, traditional conservatives, like those in Europe, tend to favor a strong government, whereas traditional liberals were the ones who opposed strong governmental authority so they could do what they want.)

Rendering to Caesar and to God

Happy Independence Day! The birthday of our nation would be a good time to contemplate that great text on church and state, Matthew 22:21, in which our Lord charges us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

What “things” are Caesar’s, and how do we render them to him? And what “things” are God’s, and how do we render them to Him?

Obviously, all things are God’s, but Jesus must have had a particular sense of this in mind. A pastor I heard on Sunday–I’m on the road, so it wasn’t our pastor–said that the Greek implies that we are giving back what we have received. So we might think of this in terms of “what do we receive from the state” and so what are we obliged to a giving back. Jesus’s example of money works here. What else? And how does this apply to the gifts of God?


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