Friday, October 22, 2010

Counting presidents

Today I went down to Blue Bell to attend a rally in support of Pat Toomey who's running for a U.S. Senate seat. Toomey's running against Joe Sestak, who has gained some distinction by managing to advocate positions that are actually to the left of those espoused by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Sestak has been a disaster as a member of the House of Representatives, and he would be a worse disaster as a member of the Senate.

Pat Toomey, of course, spoke at the event, as did Rudy Giuliani who was here to endorse him and campaign for him. They're both very impressive public speakers, as you would imagine. At that level of politics there is seldom room for a candidate who can't give an excellent speech in person to a medium or large crowd. And there is absolutely no room for someone who can't impress a small crowd, impress them a lot.

I've only attended one other political rally in my life, and I went to that one as, ahem, a gentleman of the press rather than as a partisan. It happened that in 1992 I was writing an article and an opinion column each week for The Collegeville Independent and the newspaper got me a press pass to a campaign speech given by President George H.W. Bush at the Uniform Tube factory in Collegeville. Jimmy Stewart, the editor of the Collegeville Independent and I were in the front row of the press section for that speech along with reporters from other local papers. Reporters from the national press were in the second and third rows. Someday I'll find a copy of the rather quirky article I wrote about the event and transcribe it here. Suffice it to say that George H.W. Bush gave a great speech that day. He was not as good a public speaker as President Clinton who beat him in that election; but he gave the most impressive speech I've ever seen in person, and I've seen a lot of corporate speakers.

But that's not what I want to write about today. Today I want to mention that George H.W. Bush (the first President Bush) is the only president I've ever seen in the flesh. I've watched a lot of political speechers on TV; but, as I mentioned, I've never been a big one for going to political events.

The other night during our walk I learned that Linda has also only seen one president in person. In her case it was President Richard Nixon, who gave a brief speech in Hawaii when Admiral John S. McCain Jr. (Senator John McCain's father) retired from the navy in 1972.

All of this got me to wondering who I might know who has seen a lot of presidents; and that led me to call my uncle Bert DeAngelis a few hours ago. I knew that Uncle Bert had been involved in local politics, as a Republican Committeeman, for many years; so I suspected he had seen a few presidents in person and I was not disappointed. It turns out he's been a Republican Committeman for 51 years, so he's naturally attended a lot of political events. But even before he became a committeeman he was attending political events.

He saw President Harry Truman when Truman came to Bridgeport to give a speech. Bert said Truman was presented with a bolt of cloth from a local factory that was to be used in making him a new suit. And he saw President John F. Kennedy when Kennedy came to Norristown to give a speech while he was campaigning for the presidency against Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon gave a speech in Norristown on the same day; but Uncle Bert went to the Kennedy speech, so he never saw Nixon. Incidently, Uncle Bert mentioned that he voted for Adlai Stevenson when he ran against Dwight Eisenhower, and he voted for Kennedy. So, like Ronald Reagan, Uncle Bert was a liberal in his youth, before he became older and wiser.

But liberal and conservative are relative, of course. Today Truman, Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson would not be welcome in the Democratic Party. Going further than that, those three men could not have imagined how far left the Democratic Party would move and has moved in the past forty years.

But back to Uncle Bert. In addition to Presidents Truman and Kennedy, he also has seen Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. So in the course of his life he's seen five presidents in the flesh.

Leave a comment if you have ever seen a president in person. It doesn't have to be while they were president.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fried green tomatoes

A couple of years ago in Florida, while walking through the Market at Marion with Jas and Al, I bought a serving of boiled peanuts from one of the vendors. I quickly learned that folks who eat those things willingly must have acquired a taste for them during very hardscrabble childhoods. I threw away most of the little bag of them. They have no flavor and an unpleasant mushy consistency.

Yesterday I learned that fried green tomatoes have the opposite problem, at least when fried with only a simple corn meal coating. They're too tangy and taste almost like a pickle. Linda and I finished the six slices I fried; but I think the corn meal coating recipe is one for the failed file. Perhaps I'll try making them with a regular flour egg and bread crumb coating before my supply of green tomatoes runs out.

In other news, there was a raccoon on our patio last night after Linda went to bed. This is news because I've only seen raccoons four or five times in the 25 or so years we've lived in this house. They must be remarkably reclusive beasts. We've seen foxes much more often.

In yet other news, the sugar maple tree is now at the very height of its color. It's lost more leaves than usual for this early in the fall, perhaps because of the drought we had earlier; but it surely is still a magnificent looking tree.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Into the tunnel

It's getting cold around here. Yesterday, for the first time, I lit the woodstove during the day when it became clear that the sun would not emerge to warm up the house. And we're now down to a pitifully small selection of remaining ripe tomatoes from the garden. Later today I think I'll go down and gather the reasonable sized green ones. I expect we'll be getting our first frost any day now. There's also a picking of Swiss Chard down there.

I'm happy to report that the good guys appear to have triumphed once and for all over the naysayers at Wikipedia. The entry for Xenopus now correctly states that African Clawed Frogs can live into their twenties. There was a period a few years ago when I went back and forth several times with a denier at the site who refused to let my editing of that page stand. In the course of checking on the matter recently I found that at least two others have reported on their own long lived Xenopuses (Xenopi?) on the web.

Assuming those web sites are to be believed, William the Frog lived to be 21 years old and the unnamed frog at Downend School lived to 30 years old before dying in 2001. My Xenopus is now about 23 or 24 years old so he (or she - I remain too lazy to check on the matter) may now be the oldest in the world. At the least my frog appears to be the oldest one in the world that is memorialized on the web.

For the record he's still quite spry and active over there in his bowl, still quite capable of moving the rocks around and splashing noisily to get attention when he hasn't been fed for a while. And he's still possessed of plenty of energy and will to present a problem when it's time to put him back into the bowl after I change his water. One of these days I need to give him the run of the house again to see how high and far he can jump.

On to other business. I've been rereading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels over the past few weeks. And the other day I came across his assertion that Admiral William Mitchell of the Royal Navy had not only started his career as an enlisted man but had moreover managed to rise in rank after having been flogged around the fleet for desertion. According to the words O'Brian puts into the mouth of Captain Aubrey, Mitchell was an impressed man at the beginning of his career and he deserted his ship multiple times in order to continue a liaison with a young lady ashore. After having been several times been recaptured and punished with moderate floggings by his captain he decided to go the sea lawyer route and demand, as was his right, a court martial. Big mistake! The court martial board turned out to be a bloody minded one that decided to make an example of him in order to deter others. He was sentenced to receive five hundred lashes in a boat that was rowed from ship to ship so the sailors of the whole fleet could view his punishment.

The Wikipedia entry confirms that Vice Admiral Mitchell originally joined the Royal Navy as an able seaman; but it casts doubt on the flogging around the fleet story, saying that no official records exist of that event and that it's only provenance is a story told several years after his death. It remains potentially true however, because according to Wiki a whole chunk of Royal Navy records covering the early years of Mitchell's career are missing.

This interested me because when I served in USS Enterprise from 1970 to 1972 my boss was Lieutenant Commander Jack Henrizi, who said he was (at that time) the most senior unrestricted line officer in the navy who had started his career as an enlisted man. As I recall Commander Henrizi was careful to mention that he had worked his way up to Chief Petty Officer before becoming a commissioned officer; so it may be that there was a more senior grade officer who had started as seaman and then had immediately (more or less) been recommended for Officer Candidate School on the basis of test scores or such.

Jack Henrizi was nn interesting man with quite an extensive and colorful vocabulary. I vivedly remember the chewing out he gave me and the Fourth Division officer after the party pavilion at Subic Bay Naval Base somehow came to be burned to the ground during a joint party we had convinced him to let us hold for the nearly one hundred men of our two deck divisions, much against his better judgement. That was some party. And Commander Henrizi was some stand up guy. He took the whole brunt of reporting the incident to Captain Peterson, who never mentioned the matter to me or Mike Murphy even though he saw us every day on the bridge when we stood OOD watches.

Shortly after he retired from the navy in about 1974 or so Commander Henrizi was killed by a drunk driver who lost control of his car and came across the center lane of an expressway in California.

Update: I'm not the only one in the world with too much time on his hands. Behold - sheep fireworks - The nighttime sheep game of pong is neat, but you have to watch to the end to see the fireworks.