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Benjamin Harrison and National Radio Day

August is nearly done, and so is summer in the Great Lakes. Still hot, still sticky, air conditioner still grinding away–thankfully. But I replaced the furnace this year, so at least I know that blower will run all summer–and is on warranty.

On 20 August in the year 2 (we think), there was a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter visible in the morning sky on Earth. This happens every three years and change, but this one was so close that it may have been visible in daylight and is one scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. On 20 August 1794, near what is now known as Maumee, Ohio, the Battle of Fallen Timbers ended the Northwest War between the United States and the loosely-joined Native American tribes in the Western Confederacy and helped to open up the Ohio River country for American settlement.  The battle was fought by a purpose-built 2,000-man American force led by “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a famous Revolutionary War commander, and a similarly-sized Native American force that included a company of British regulars. Also on this day in 1914, Britain, France and Germany started the bloodletting in France in what would come to be called the Battle of the Frontiers. Simultaneously, the Russians and Germans had at each other at Gumbinnen, over in Prussia. The supreme irony here is that, on 20 August 1940, France would surrender to Germany. Today, for reasons surpassing understanding, is also National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day. But today we’re going to talk about an obscure but essential president, and about radios.

These assessments of blandness may be correct, but they obscure Benjamin Harrison’s many achievements.

Benjamin Harrison, born 20 August 1833 in North Bend, Ohio, is frequently said to have been something of a cipher. He was the grandson of the president with the shortest tenure, William Henry Harrison (31 days); a Civil War general of not great repute but enormous competence; and the president best known as the one between Grover Cleveland’s two administrations. These assessments of blandness may be correct, but they obscure Benjamin Harrison’s many achievements.

Harrison’s tenure as senator was lackluster, but as president, he was, for a 19th-century chief executive, remarkable.

Ben Harrison only held two elected offices in his life: a one-term senator from Indiana (1881-1887) and a one-term president (1889-1893). A more-than-competent attorney, Harrison always managed to be in the right place at the right time, and even though his friends in high office were few, US Grant was among them. He was a gifted orator, a better-than-average legal writer, a savvy investor who didn’t lose money in any of the various postwar panics, and a reliable campaign friend to have in Indiana. Harrison’s tenure as senator was lackluster, but as president, he was, for a 19th-century chief executive, remarkable.

The prevailing spoils system, where federal jobs changed with every new administration, was becoming not only awkward but obsolete because many jobs like postmaster and customs collector were becoming more technically involved.

Harrison wasn’t the first to be elected without winning the popular vote, but his election in 1888 may have been regarded as the most suspicious until 2016. The Electoral College vote wasn’t even close–233 to 168 in his favor. Then, as now, the losing Democrats wrote editorial after editorial arguing that the Electoral College should be disposed of. But Harrison ignored his party when selecting his cabinet, frustrating Republican bosses across the country by avoiding patronage. And patronage was at the heart of the civil service reform that was popular among politicians at that time, with a merit system being described and argued. The prevailing spoils system, where federal jobs changed with every new administration, was becoming not only awkward but obsolete because many positions like postmaster and customs collector were becoming more technically involved.

Harrison was the first president to have electric lights in the White House, was the first to have his voice recorded, and was the last for whom we have no moving pictures.

Harrison was in the White House when the last battle of the Long War between the Europeans and their African and Asian allies and the Native Americans broke the revivalist Ghost Dance movement among the Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on 29 December 1890. He didn’t have anything directly to do with it, but, like George HW Bush was in the scene when the Cold War ended, Harrison saw the end of the most protracted American war. But Harrison saw more states enter the Union than any other president–six–and his face appears on more stamps than any other Chief Executive–five. Harrison was the first president to have electric lights in the White House (though he was too frightened of electrocution to turn them off), was the first to have his voice recorded, and was the last for whom we have no moving pictures.

Harrison attended the first peace conference at The Hague in 1899, argued a boundary dispute case in Paris that won him international renown, and died of pneumonia on 13 March 1901 at age 67–not bad for a footnote in history.

The election of 1892 was a low-key affair in no little measure because Harrison’s wife Caroline was dying of tuberculosis (she passed two weeks before the election). Grover Cleveland won both the popular and the electoral vote handily, reentering the White House in March 1893. Ben Harrison went home to Indiana, remarried in 1896 (at 62, to a 37-year-old widow), and fathered another child in 1897. Harrison attended the first peace conference at The Hague in 1899, argued a boundary dispute case in Paris that won him international renown, and died of pneumonia on 13 March 1901 at age 67–not bad for a footnote in history.


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Something we can all identify with

Now, National Radio Day is today, 20 August. Once again, who first decided this is a mystery for the ages, though one theory is that 8MK, now WWJ in Detroit, first broadcast in the clear on 20 August 1920, and someone, some time decided to commemorate that day. The day has been observed regularly since the early 1990s, mostly as a promotional gimmick I would imagine.

The pretty young ladies on the beach in the lead picture, struggling to hold that (probably empty) boom box over their head, are posing for the camera. I do not know of anyone who gets that excited over commercial radio in the 21st century except maybe the broadcasters. Perhaps that’s the reason why there’s a website supporting National Radio Day that lists stations across the US that support National Radio Day in some way or another.

It’s been a long time since I listened to broadcast radio in any form, though I do get satellite radio in my car from time to time. Like most music-only consumers, I prefer commercial-free satellite radio or streaming these days. The babbling DJs, the shouting pundits I can do without.

Still, commercial broadcast radio has had an outstanding, salutary role in American society and the world. Most Americans first heard of the Pearl Harbor attacks and the death of Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Many adults–especially those over 40–courted their current significant others to the sound of the radio in the car or the park or the basement. So you don’t have to listen to appreciate radio anymore, just know and recognize what a role it has played in our lives for nearly a century.

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Something Happening Here…

And what it is pretty damn clear.

Last week some murderers in Paris killed a hundred-odd people in the name of their god.  Since then the mass media has taken certain people to task for not saying the right words, the right descriptions for the murderers who boasted about what a good job they did at killing, and what a better job they will do at it in the near future.

But words are meaningless.  Actions only have meaning.  And the French did something, just as the murderers did.  The French military attacked the center of where these murderous fiends are getting their support.  Made them hurt, if only a little.

And now a majority of American governors have declared that certain refugees are not going to be allowed to come to their states…as if they have any say in it.

What’s happening here is a bunch of very un-serious people who are in positions of influence and even authority in America are trying to tell the rest of us that this murder rampage that’s been going on in Syria for years is all the fault of…somebody else, somebody not in power any more, or someone who is in power but has the wrong letter (either a D or an R, depending on the speaker) after their names.  No one in the West is taking responsibility for what it going on except for those who are doing the majority of the murdering.  And they are proud of it.

So what now?  Not much, likely.  No American politician will commit the resources needed to anything that will last beyond their own tenure in office, and we all know that the American president will last no more than eight years.  So, the United States will essentially do nothing about the rampage.  And because the Americas can do nothing, very little else will be done by anyone else, except the French for a few wees, and the Russians who will continue their desultory campaign as long as the cameras are rolling.

I will say the words “Islamic terrorists” so that the right-wing media will not chastise me for my failure to key them to my sentiments correctly.  Then I will tell them they are phonies just as those that they condemn.  Their war of words is a meaningless exercise, a smoke screen to cover their lack of influence and real power.

Then I will say the words “Islam is the religion of peace” so that the left-wing media will not start their “racist/sexist/homophobe/Islamophobe” drum-circle chanting and condemn me with their “Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism” and “climate change causes terrorism” fantasies.  They will chant that they, too, are committed to ending the killing, but their solutions like a jobs program, or Muslim outreach in NASA, have as much to do with stopping it as a rubber band has to do with trout fishing.

This bloodletting needs to stop, but serious people need to commit to the HUMINT resources necessary, to start the enormously expensive and time-consuming work of understanding how their message of “my way or the highway” is so superior to the disaffected that it makes people want to kill–and to die while killing.

Terror networks are run by serious people.  Serious people need to oppose them.  We don’t have any serious people in America even talking about what needs to be done.  Our “leaders” and wanna-be leaders are too interested in the right words, in popularity and what they get credit for.  Networks like ISIS can be forever and claim that their credit will only be given after the are dead.  Western leadership is very short term, and thinks only in the short term.  Someone in the West has to take responsibility for something they will never get credit for until they are long gone.