Monday, November 24, 2008

Those who do not understand history are doomed to misquote it

In Oliver Stone's W, the 43rd President responds to his wife's comments on John Adams and John Quincy Adams by interjecting, "But wasn't that about 300 years ago?" (For an interesting round table on whether Stone's film got Bush right, see this article in Slate. I for one have never wondered whether it was important to Stone to get things right to begin with, but in any case, the discussion is enlightening.) Now, presidential historian Michael Beschloss reminds us that LBJ, who started life as a schoolteacher, can be heard on tape telling an associate that Lincoln returned to Springfield, Missouri—after he was President(!) I think my daughter's grasp of history was on firmer ground when, after I took her and her little brother to see the 1871 Woodruff-Fontaine house when they were small, summed up the experience by saying "Daddy, the people who lived in that house lived in the old-fashioned times, but today we use the right potties and we know everything."

As to the 16th President, someone else who apparently falls short in his grasp of the essential Lincoln is the director of the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, who was caught shoplifting DVD collections of House and Seinfeld from a local Target. A year earlier, he had been convicted of shoplifting ties from Macy's. Since the man made $200,000 a year, he would not have qualified for the President-elect's proposed tax cuts, so one can only hope that he learns the value of a little belt-tightening. I, too, would be tempted to shoplift if Target or anyone would stock a DVD copy of John Huston's 1970 Cold War thriller, The Kremlin Letter, with Richard Boone, Orson Welles, Patrick O'Neal, George Sanders, and Max Von Sydow. It was derided by critics, but I have certainly appreciated it on the 3 occasions since 1971 when I have been able to catch it on TV at 2 in the morning.

AdSense is still having trouble figuring out what ads to place here; it is displaying the same offer to post for $10,000 a week, or something to that effect, and I have no idea how that relates to anything I've said so far. Perhaps if I had quoted the Epistle of Jude—"Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints"—it might be understandable. Apparently picking up on my references to church, AdSense posted this message of comfort last night—"Are Gays Going to Hell?"—and about an hour ago, an ad for Dianetics® invited the reader to ponder the origins of irrational behavior, strangely fitting after two guards at the Church of Scientology were forced to shoot a man to death in self-defense after he appeared on the property brandishing two samurai swords. Otherwise, AdSense is reduced to advertising itself, inviting bloggers to "monetize" their ads by using this service. I wish I could say that making a noun a verb by attaching -ize to it was peculiar to our day, but I learn from William Manchester's biography of Douglas MacArthur that the general's father, himself a famous soldier of the 19th century, was fond of using "mediatize," a word he had invented.

Speaking of Presidents and their place in history, the BBC reports that former President Carter—the same man who assured the world in 1994 that the nuclear threat from North Korea was at an end—is shocked that things are as bad as they are in Zimbabwe. The former President is distinguished for his personal decency; he taught the men's Bible class at the Washington, D.C. Baptist church he attended as President and has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, but his career as a statesman inclines one to believe the claims of some cosmologists that there are parallel universes and forces one to wonder if the gentleman from Plains inhabits one of them.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

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