Washington’s presidency set standard for future US leaders

president-washington_inaugurated-e

It’s inauguration day in the United States, and while there’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the man who will take office today, I prefer to believe that the presidency has an ennobling effect upon those who ascend to the office.

Certainly, the aura connected with the presidency, with its corps of staff and aides providing assistance, has great potential to provide a stabilizing influence on those elevated to the Oval Office.

The position can bestow a solemnity on even the most political of beings, given the gravity and history connected to the office.

If the United States has an unusual place in the world, it’s due in part to its tradition of peaceful transition of power. Consider that even some of the world’s smallest nations, such as Gambia and Equatorial Guinea, are despotic tyrannies where leaders refuse to let loose of power.

From the start, the US has followed a protocol in which opposing parties have handed off power without incident, even when election results didn’t go the way the majority of voters had wanted.

That is due in no small part to George Washington, the US’s first president and one of the history’s most remarkable individuals.

Washington, who took office in 1789, remains the only man to receive 100 percent of the electoral votes cast under the US system.

His accomplishments were legion even before he became the first chief executive.

Against almost unfathomable odds, he led a rag-tag collection of volunteers and state militia troops to victory over the then-greatest military force on the planet, enabling the Thirteen Colonies to secure their independence from Great Britain.

He also presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and his support convinced many states to vote for ratification.

As president, Washington avoided the temptation of war. His farewell address has been cited as a primer on republican virtue and as a warning against partisanship, sectionalism and involvement in foreign entanglements.

He reluctantly began a second term in office in 1793 but afterward retired to Mount Vernon, Va.

Few men, given the opportunity to hold office for life, as he was, would be able to walk away in the manner of Washington.

Washington did it twice, first after the American Revolution and again after his second term as president.

That didn’t escape the notice of British monarch King George III. Following the end of the American Revolution in 1783, George asked painter Benjamin West what Washington would do next and was told of rumors that he’d return to his farm.

The king responded by stating, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

There has been no other president like Washington and there never will be. But Washington set a standard for the office which all who follow in his steps would do well to attempt to emulate.

(George Washington being sworn in as the US’s first president in 1789 in New York City.)

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Local leader fights for right for employees to remain ignorant

Henry Reilly

One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.

Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area  in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.

“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.

Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.

“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”

So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.

The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.

As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.

The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.

I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.

Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.

If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.

(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)

Perception or not, corruption isn’t limited to Third World

corruption index

Transparency International, a German-based organization, recently released its world Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015.

Not surprisingly, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan ranked near the bottom of the index, which measures widespread corruption in the public sphere, and also factors in instances of abuses of power, secret dealings, bribery, child labor, human trafficking, environmental destruction and terrorism, among other things.

Transparency International found that corruption was rife in 68 percent of the world’s countries: It would be interesting to see a similar index for US states.

If the actual machinations that go on with misuse of tax dollars, corporate incentives and lawmaker ethics, among many other things, weren’t both so well cloaked by those in power and so often overlooked by US citizens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of states ranked somewhere around the nations of Eastern Europe in terms of corruption.

The difference between the US and other parts of the world isn’t a lack of corruption, it’s that our elected officials are better at hiding it, aren’t quite so ostentatious in showing off their ill-gotten booty and generally don’t kill those who threaten to expose them.

I’d imagine the same is the case in other so-called “first-world” nations such as Canada, the UK and France. Even highly ranked countries such as Denmark (No. 1), Finland (No. 2) and Sweden (No. 3), have problems.

They just have fewer issues than lower-ranked countries and their corruption occurs in a more “white collar” manner – say spanking new roads and public buildings in friends’ areas in exchange for laundered kickbacks along with incredibly generous government pensions, as opposed to naked looting of the government coffers and outright execution of opponents.

Like most things in life, it’s all in how you play the game.

(Top: Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The darker the country the more corrupt the public sector; the lighter the less corrupt. Greenland, Antarctica and Western Sahara seem pretty safe.)

Former Egyptian royal diamonds to be auctioned in NY

nazli

Among Christmas gifts Mrs. Cotton Boll should not expect under the Christmas tree this year is an Art Deco diamond necklace that once belonged to Queen Nazli of Egypt.

The jewels, made in 1939 by Van Cleef & Arpels, will be auctioned next week by Sotheby’s. Set with 217 carats in a sunburst motif, the necklace has been tagged with a pre-auction estimate of $3.6 million to $4.6 million.

Queen Nazli, once married to King Faud, who had died in 1936, and mother of King Farouk, commissioned the diamond necklace and a matching tiara of 274 carats for the wedding ceremony of her daughter, Princess Fawzia, to the Crown Prince of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the future shah, in March 1939.

The ensuing wedding banquet has been described as the most lavish event to ever take place in modern Egypt, and Queen Nazli attended practically covered in diamonds.

However, all did not end well for many of the above individuals.

In 1950, Farouk stripped his mother of her rights and titles after his sister, Princess Fathia, went against the king’s wishes and married Riyad Ghali Effendi, a Coptic Christian, despite the fact that the latter had converted to Islam.

Nazli had left Egypt in 1946 and moved to California because of health problems, but Farouk banished her and Fathia from Egypt, and they would spend the rest of their lives in the United States.

Nazli continued to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle and in 1975 sold the Van Cleef & Arpels diamond necklace and tiara at a New York auction. The pair fetched $267,500, according to the website Jewels du Jour.

However, the former Egyptian royals apparently continued to live high on the hog. The following year, less than a year after the auction, Nazli and Fathia appeared in a Los Angeles bankruptcy court. They hoped that Nazli’s diamonds and rubies would bring $500,000, and the money could be used to settle their debts but bids only reached $180,000. However, the court rejected the offer, instead granting permission for a private sale of the jewels.

Three months later, Fathia was killed by her ex-husband, who then shot himself in the head but survived. Queen Nazli died in 1978 after suffering from years of painful arthritis.

Farouk was overthrown in the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son Ahmed Fuad, who succeeded him as Fuad II of Egypt. Farouk died in exile in Italy in 1965.

Faud II, born in January 1952, formally reigned as the last King of Egypt from July 1952 to June 1953 before the monarchy was abolished. He is still alive and lives in Europe.

The marriage of Fawzia and the future Shah of Iran did not go swimmingly, either. Queen Fawzia left Iran and moved back to Cairo in 1945, where she obtained an Egyptian divorce. She remarried four years later and lived until 2013.

Mohammad Reza’s reign as Shah of Iran ended in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution. He died in Egypt in 1980 at age 60.

(Top: Queen Nazli of Egypt wearing Van Cleef & Arpels’ necklace and tiara on the occasion of her daughter Princess Fawzia’s wedding to the future Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi. The necklace will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on December 9 in New York.)

The mystery behind fledglings lighting up on the down low

birds smoking

While there’s no doubt that the US government has been known to squander money that would seem better used elsewhere – see the $856,000 National Science Foundation grant allotted to the University of California at Santa Cruz to, among other things, teach mountain lions how to use a treadmill, for example – there are some pie-in-the-sky projects that I would love to see funded.

Take the above image. If government officials needed money to create a device that could translate bird-speak so that it was intelligible to humans, then required additional cash to develop a way-back machine in order to go to the above point in the past, so that they could interpret what our two feathered juvenile delinquents were saying to one another, that is a project with which I would have absolutely no issue.

Are they discussing where to steal birdseed? What’s the best place to perch their rear ends and “roost?” Where the “easy” chickadees hang out? We just don’t know, and that, at least in my opinion, is one of modern science’s great failings.

Just think, if this pair were a little bigger and had opposable thumbs, they’d probably be ruling the planet by now.

And don’t tell me this image was photoshopped. I for one am prepared to hail our new avian overlords.

(Required disclaimer: I in no way condone underage smoking among fish, fowl or other beasts of the wild, and hope these two fledglings got a sound thrashing when they returned to their nest.)

Researchers close in on solving American chestnut blight

American-chestnut

The American chestnut once dominated Eastern North America, with the total number of trees estimated at 4 billion a little more than a century ago.

They were the prevailing species in many areas, particularly in the Appalachia region, where 25 percent of trees were chestnuts.

“Entire communities in Appalachia depended on the chestnut for everything,” said Marshal Case, former president of the Asheville, NC-based American Chestnut Foundation. The nonprofit has been leading the effort to re-establish the trees.

Chestnut trees were integral to everyday life in Appalachia and were known as “cradle to grave trees,” Case told National Geographic.

“Craftsmen made baby cradles and coffins from the rot-resistant hardwood. The trees were also used to build houses, telephone poles, and railroad ties,” he said. “Wildlife thrived on the trees, which each year produced bumper crops of nuts.”

The American chestnut was dealt a near-death blow with the introduction of Chinese chestnuts into the New York Botanical Gardens, now known as the Bronx Zoo. The Chinese chestnut brought with it a blight that, while it didn’t affect its carrier, was devastating to the American chestnut.

First identified in 1904, the blight, a fungus, infected and killed about 99.9 percent of the American chestnuts from Georgia to Maine and west to the Ohio Valley within 50 years.

New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before blight returns.

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Alphabetical rankings: The United States’ national shame

US ranking

As if Americans – beset by murder, mayhem and political strife – haven’t had enough bad news lately, there’s this staggering bit of misfortune:

Of 196 countries in existence today, the United States ranks 182nd in the world alphabetically.

This, despite the fact that the US has an abundance of natural resources, top-notch health care, one of the highest literacy rates in the world and is one of the longest-existing modern democracies.

Now, we Americans could stand around and play the blame game, but the simple fact is we should all be embarrassed. Ponder this: There are but 13 countries the US ranks ahead alphabetically, and they include such political basket cases as Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Consider those nations that have outpaced us in the ABCs: Cuba, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau and even Kyrgyzstan, where citizens struggle daily to even spell their country correctly.

Sadly, even after years of conflict in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is still classified behind both of those nations alphabetically, despite pouring billions of dollars into military efforts.

As has been noted, it’s time for Americans to take a long, sobering look at this country, and how it ended up all the way down at No. 182.

If we’re ever going to remedy this deplorable situation, we have to act now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for future generations. As always, think of the children!

(HT: Clickhole)