There were giants in those days …

whiskey bottles

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.”

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I’d rather eat barbed wire than go to a wedding

t rex wedding photo

I make no apologies for my disdain for weddings.

It’s hard to respect an event which costs, on average, nearly $28,000, turns (relatively) sane people into selfish boors and generally highlights all the deplorable excesses of society in a single day.

Worse, far too many brides focus months or sometimes years of attention on their wedding day, rather than the fact that, if things go well, this will be the person they’ll be spending their next 50 or so years with, while too many grooms see their wedding as just another opportunity to get their high school or college buddies together for one more booze-fueled festival of inanity.

And there are plenty of companies all too happy to exploit this ever-increasing celebration of the individual, rather than what it’s meant to be: The joining of a couple.

Weddings provide an interesting barometer for just how far off the deep end a sizeable proportion of society has tumbled.

As columnist Alexandra Gekas wrote not too long ago, “I really think a lot of people put more thought into their wedding than into whether or not they are marrying the right person. … They act like finding and catching that man is a victory of some sort and as if getting married is an accomplishment in itself, for which the reward is a big, gaudy party. Newsflash: Getting married is not an accomplishment, staying married is.”

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Medal of Honor recipient McGarity dies at 91

vernon mcgarity

Medal of Honor recipient Vernon McGarity, who overcame enemy gunfire to rescue wounded soldiers and destroy German weapons during the Battle of the Bulge, died last week in Memphis at age 91.

McGarity, a technical sergeant, was positioned with the rest of the 99th Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest in December 1944 when Hitler mounted a final desperate offensive, seeking to break through the region and make for the North Sea.

Hitler believed if the plan were successful he might be able to negotiate a separate peace with the US and Great Britain, dividing them from the Soviets and allowing the Nazis to then concentrate on fighting the Red Army to the east.

Allied forces, which had been moving toward Germany after the D-Day invasion of France, were caught unaware by the counteroffensive and were initially pushed back.

The battle proved the costliest of the war for the US in terms of casualties with 89,000 killed, wounded, captured of missing. German losses were comparable, but the Nazis could less afford the loss of both men and materiel that the battle ultimately claimed.

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Remembering what Memorial Day is about

ravenel photo

For the past two Memorial Days, this blog has focused on a single individual: Theodore Dubose Ravenel Jr., a South Carolinian who was killed in the final 24 hours of World War I.

Ravenel came from Sumter County and is buried in a historic churchyard in a small, withering community. Given that he died nearly 95 years ago, it unlikely that anyone who knew and remembers Ravenel is alive today.

That makes his story just one of many million that is all but forgotten today, but which represents the real, genuine sacrifice that Memorial Day is meant to honor.

Ravenel hailed from a noted family and was known throughout the state, according to a newspaper article written about him by The State following his death. In addition, he was acknowledged as Sumter County’s first volunteer following President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war in 1917.

Commissioned as a lieutenant, Ravenel was stationed at what was then Camp Jackson near Columbia, SC, before being sent overseas as a member of the 316th Machine Gun Battalion of the American Expeditionary Force.

News accounts of Ravenel’s death describe him as a “brave soldier” and noted that he “was highly esteemed by a wide circle of friends.” He was promoted to captain during his service on the Western Front.

An indication of his bravery may be the fact that he was killed on Nov. 10, 1918, the final full day of the war. Rumors were rampant by this point that an armistice was imminent and many soldiers were understandably content to essentially hang back and keep out of harm’s way.

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Josiah Martin: NC’s only floating governor

tryon palace

Great Britain had notable penchant for installing pompous, condescending asses as governors of their colonial possessions, and Josiah Martin, the last royal governor of North Carolina and the man who finished his term while ruling from a ship off the NC coast, appears to have been no exception.

Born in Dublin in 1737, he spent his early years in England and Ireland before traveling with his tutor to the West Indies in 1752 at age 15.

However, Martin did not care for the tropical climate in Antigua, and within a short time had made his way to London to study law, according to NCpedia, an online encyclopedia devoted to North Carolina.

In London, Martin benefitted from the influence of his older half-brother, Samuel, a member of Parliament, to gain favorable positions, and dropped a career in law for the military.

The nepotism paid off when Lord Hillsborough, the secretary of the colonies, was shuffling leadership posts in 1770, according to NCpedia.

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Boy unearths English Civil War cannonball

english civil war cannonball

An English schoolboy digging a hole in his family’s yard unearthed an eight-pound cannonball dating back more than 350 years to the English Civil War.

Jack Sinclair, 10, of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, continued tunneling after his father had dug down to remove a tree root and the lad came across what he at first thought was a rock.

Further work revealed that it was bigger and denser, and when Jack pulled it from the ground he had a heavy, rusty, muddy lump.

“His mother was concerned that it might be an unexploded bomb from World War II, but when they cleaned off the dirt, they saw it was an iron cannonball,” according to The History Blog.

Jack’s grandfather researched the artifact and took it to the nearby Museum Resource Centre in Newark, where experts verified with 90 percent certainty that it is a 17th century cannonball used during the English Civil War.

Its weight and dimensions suggest it was shot from a saker cannon, a medium-caliber long-range cannon widely used in the early 16th century and 17th century, according to The History Blog.

The find strengthens Southwell’s strong links with the 1642-51 conflict.

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NHL veteran sees logic in Stalin’s actions

2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Practice Sessions

Ilya Bryzgalov is a better at hockey than history – fortunately for him.

The Philadelphia Flyers goaltender recently raised some eyebrows when he said he could “see logic” in actions taken by Joseph Stalin during the dictator’s vise-like rule over the Soviet Union.

Bryzgalov, a native of the Russian city of Togliatti, on the Volga River, recently gave an interview to the Russian sports outlet Championat in which he was questioned on his views on Stalin, who had many millions killed between 1922 and 1953.

“Positive. I see logic in his action,” Bryzgalov said, according to a translation by Yahoo!’s Dmitry Chesnokov. “Not without going too far, of course. But he came to power in a country that had just lived through a revolution. There were so many spies, enemies, traitors there. A lot of people still had guns after the civil war. The country was in ruins, (people) needed to survive somehow. The country needed to be rebuilt, and in order to do that it needed to be held in iron hands.

“… He knew what he was doing. He is described as a ‘bloody tyrant.’ But at the time it couldn’t be any other way. Yes, there were innocent people who were victims of repression. But it happens.”

This may be nit-picky, but a word of advice to whichever public relations firm is advising Bryzgalov and/or the Flyers: when discussing the deaths of millions, avoid phrases such as “but it happens.”

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