Listening to the babbling and braying emanating from elected officials today one pines for the days of classical antiquity when rhetoric was seen as an essential part a quality education.
There’s no doubt that effective communication – particularly public speaking – has waned in recent decades as leaders of all stripes have sought to tailor remarks (in dumbed-down fashion, in many instances) for television cameras, news reporters and, most recently, Twitter feeds.
The problem is, elegant discourse rarely comes in 140 characters or less. Sometimes, you actually have to give a real genuine speech in order to get a point across.
That also means you often have to listen to an entire talk to get its full meaning, or to understand the genius behind it.
Case in point is a brief speech delivered by a young Mississippi lawmaker in 1952.
Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, finishing his first and only term in the Mississippi Legislature, delivered what became known as the “Whiskey Speech.”
The transformation of the Canadian provincial capital of Regina, Saskatchewan, over the past 130 years has been nothing short of remarkable.
Today, it is a city of nearly 200,000 individuals, and features more than 350,000 hand-planted trees, an extensive park system and an array of museums, cathedrals and other elegant structures.
But back in 1882, it was little more than a pile of bones – literally.
The location, near a creek, had been a stopping point for buffalo hunters and gotten its name from remains left at the site.
The mounds of buffalo bones, some left by Cree Indians, were staggering, according to information from the Regina Library.
“The bones resulting from the slaughter were carefully assembled into cylindrical piles about six feet high and about 40 feet in diameter at the base, with the shin and other long bones radiating from the center to make stable and artistic piles,” according to the library’s website. “During the second half of the 19th century, the Métis also slaughtered large numbers of buffalo in this area, and the creek was littered with countless bones.”
Hence, the locale was called “Pile o’ Bones.” However, it was sometimes also referred to by the equally delightful names “Manybones,” “Bone Creek” and “Tas d’Os” – all of which would have taxed the abilities of even the most fervent chamber of commerce official trying to promote the locale.
Book reviews, when done well, can provide useful history lessons in and of themselves.
“Mr. Coolidge’s hallmark was distrust of government. He saw it as an entity that uses ‘despotic exactions’ (taxes) that sap individual initiative and prosperity across the board …” according to publication.
“Coolidge learned at first towards the surging progressive movement, which supported state intervention and union involvement in the economy,” the review adds. “But his views shifted when he saw what those ideas meant in practice.”
The Economist is not noted for being a publication of a particularly libertarian bent by any means, but it recognizes Coolidge’s achievements during his five-and-a-half years as president, during which American debt fell by one-third, the tax rate by half and unemployment dropped precipitously. It’s unfortunate that more Americans haven’t taken note of Coolidge’s accomplishments.
While no means perfect, Coolidge offers an interesting counterbalance to FDR and his New Deal approach.
John Marshall became chief justice of the United States on this date in 1801. Marshall would sit on the high court until 1835, and his opinions laid the basis for American constitutional law and made the US Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government, along with the legislative and executive branches.
But what of Marshall’s predecessors?
The best known of the three men to lead the Supreme Court before Marshall was John Jay, who, among other things, helped write the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
During Jay’s nearly six years as chief justice (1789-1795), the high court ruled on just four cases, rather remarkable considering today the court receives petitions to hear some 7,000 cases annually.
Jay resigned as chief justice in June 1795 after being elected governor of New York. President George Washington named John Rutledge of South Carolina, an original high court associate justice who had resigned in 1791 to become chief justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, to replace Jay.
Washington’s appointment took effect immediately as the US Senate was not in session.
However, Rutledge’s time on the court proved one of the shortest in the history of the nation. He was a vocal opponent to the Jay Treaty of 1794, which resolved issues remaining from the Revolutionary War but left many Americans unhappy.
His opposition cost him support in the administration and the senate. In addition, questions about his mental stability, driven at least partly by partisanship, were making the rounds.
South Carolina legislators, once again ignoring history and human nature, tacked on additional regulations and restrictions regarding the sale of scrap copper last year, a move some said would do little to thwart the theft and illegal sale of the nonferrous metal.
Since the new law was enacted in August 2011 requiring anyone buying or selling copper to obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s offices, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office alone has issued 9,187 two-year permits and an additional 1,076 48-hour permits, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
But guess what? Despite the additional work required of legitimate businesses and law enforcement, it hasn’t had much of an impact on copper theft.
Major Jim Brady of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Department told the publication that the number of thefts has remained about the same.
“The problem with this whole situation obviously is when you get metal, you can’t always link it back to a specific crime …,” Brady said. “When the stuff is sold, it’s sold as scrap metal.”
Last year, I wrote a story for my previous employer on this very bit of regulation, which built on previous anti-copper theft laws passed in 2007 and 2009. At that time a lobbyist for the South Carolina Recyclers Association said then he had doubts as the wisdom of passing additional legislation to try to curb the fencing of stolen copper.
One week after a ceremony honoring South Carolina civil rights pioneer George Elmore culminated with the erection of a historic marker in front of the downtown Columbia building he once operated, the structure was promptly razed.
Elmore ran the Waverly 5-and-10 cent store, and area mainstay, up until the late 1940s, when he dared to challenge the state’s status quo and put his name on a lawsuit that sought to end South Carolina’s practice of all-white political primaries.
Elmore’s actions led to economic reprisals and financial ruin, according to The State newspaper.
Last Friday, one week after a ceremony attended by city leaders, academics and Elmore’s descendants, the 1935 structure was reduced to a pile of rubble.
The property’s owner, First Nazareth Baptist Church, which sits next door, has not said what it will do with the razed site or why it chose to knock down the historic structure.
Not surprisingly, there is a good bit of unhappiness in area preservation circles.
Russ Roberts of George Mason University hits the nail on the head with a thought-proving piece that identifies an intrinsic issue that arises when government moves to increase its role in the daily lives of its citizenry.
Writing at Café Hayek, Roberts pinpoints the inherent problem as one of motives versus results.
Those within the government may seek to do good through enhanced regulation and many may truly believe they are indeed doing good so, but the simple fact is that government is nearly always operated by those who can’t possibly have knowledge or information regarding the “needs, desires or dreams” of the average individual, Roberts states.
Government, therefore, is basing its decisions on an imperfect understanding of the lives of those it seeks to further regulate.
In fairness, Roberts adds, government officials can’t be expected to know the dreams, desires and needs of each and every individual. In many cases, a single person’s friends and family don’t even fully have such an understanding.
The real difficulty arises when government busybodies couch efforts to regulate the lives of its citizenry as an exercise in virtue.
A 223-year-old book containing George Washington’s copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for nearly $10 million at an auction Friday evening in New York.
After an intense bidding war with an unidentified party, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, charged with the preservation of Washington’s residence just outside the US capital, purchased the book for $9.82 million, according to Agence France-Presse.
The sale price was $8.7 million; with the commission bringing the total to nearly $10 million, according to auction house Christie’s. Original estimates were that the work could fetch between $2 million and $3 million.
The manuscript, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to future President Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
The 106-page book, bound in white leather, features Washington’s signature on the document’s first page. The documents contain notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president.
“It’s an exciting day. We are thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary book back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” said Ann Bookout, a spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.
Local government is often said to be superior in many respects to state and federal government because it can respond more quickly, is said to be in better tune with the needs of its constituents and usually comes in personal contact with constituents on a far more regular basis.
However, local government is just as capable as its bigger counterparts of entangling residents in bureaucratic red tape that leaves people confused, irritated and, often, unwittingly in violation of the law.
Take the above sign, near an elementary school in White Lake, Mich., which is in the Detroit metro area.
Instead of simply installing a flashing light when the speed limit drops to 25 miles per hour, or having wording to the effect that the speed limit is 25 miles per hour from, say, 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and again from 2 p.m.-5 p.m., officials have detailed five 30-minute periods and one 26-minute period in which the limit drops to 25 mph.
And, as one can see, they’re all oddball segments, rather than, say, 7:00 a.m.-7:30 a.m., further enhancing befuddlement.