Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Andrew’s take on Andrew

July 22, 2009

Written by Andrew Glaser. Andrew is a junior majoring in finance at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. This is his second summer working for the Indiana Humanities Council.

I find few presidents to be quite as interesting as Andrew Jackson. Apparently you have to do quite a lot to get your face on the 20 dollar bill. Those acts include:

  • Refusing to shine a Redcoat’s boots at the age of 14 and being slashed with a sword for your defiance
  • Allowing an opponent in a duel to shoot at you first, killing him after that, and carrying the bullet that hit you in your arm for the rest of your life
  • Beating with your walking stick a would-be assassin whose pistols both mysteriously failed to fire

Joking aside, great presidents tend to be remembered and glorified as larger-than-life, but Jackson was a flawed—and contradictory—man. Though he adopted a Native American orphan to raise as his own (the boy died only a few years later), he was a staunch champion of the removal of Native Americans from their tribal lands, arguing that “red” and “white” people could not coexist in proximity. But, as author Jon Meacham insightfully reminds us, “not all great presidents were always good, and neither individuals nor nations are without evil.”

Meacham’s biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion, explores the fascinating life of our seventh president, whose views about the presidency still shape the balance of power among the three branches of the federal government. Hate the spoils system? Blame Andy Jackson. Love the president’s power to veto anything he doesn’t like? Thank Andy Jackson.

This isn’t the first biography of Andrew Jackson, but it’s easily the best and most readable, probably because it focuses primarily on his White House years. (Take it from me—I couldn’t even finish the last AJ biography I read. I can only read so much of 18th century Tennessee political life.)

It’s a must read for any history buff—or any aging man seeking inspiration and/or a reminder that 70-something-year-olds can still pack quite a wallop with a well placed cane hit.

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Reflections on the men of World War II

June 19, 2009

Written by a Hoosier History Live listener

I was interested in 90- year- old P.E. MacAllister’s appearance last week on Hoosier History Live! and his reaction to host Nelson’s question about his possible misgivings about relocating to Indianapolis (then truly a “No Place”) after he had served in World War II.  Mr. MacAllister had been enamored of his former city, Milwaukee.  But he seemed to imply that “minding” was not in his mindset; he simply did what he had to do. “My career and future were in Indianapolis,” he said. “Besides, all of us were going through a sort of culture shock.  I had been living in a tent in North Africa for years.  When I came back to the U.S., people were complaining about the price of gas and sugar!  That was a little bit difficult to relate to.”  

These World War II veterans are dying now at the rate of about a thousand a day. It was good to hear a fresh perspective on Hoosier History Live!

My 87-year-old friend Jane says that when the men came back from the War (including her “once-husband”) they just went to work, often at whatever jobs they could find. They also got married and had children, as was the expectation.  She says  “They just quietly went about the business of living.  They didn’t talk about the war.”  Certainly, they did not sit around in therapy groups and talk about their feelings!  And of course, Jane also got married and had children during that era.

Jane had also worked in a furniture-making company in Indianapolis during the War, and says that some of the German workers were let go because of their heritage.  “That was too bad, they were excellent craftsmen!”  

My mother wisely observed that the World War II era was the last time that all Americans were really united in the same cause.    

Will it it take WWIII to unite us once again?

Tune in Saturday morning from 11:30 a.m. to noon on WICR at 88.7 FM to catch this week’s Hoosier History Live! show: Digging up History: Madam Walker Home, Ransom Place & Two-Story Outhouse

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Making it Relevant: Although it’s a Roman classic, The Satires could have been penned today

June 12, 2009

“People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything now retrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things – bread and circuses.” –Juvenal, from The Satires

If I were to turn on the news right now, a deluge of tales concerning our crooked politicians, wild celebrities, and the downfall of American civilization would rush at me faster than if I had upset the herd of elephants at the Indianapolis Zoo (which I nearly did last week). This week I’ve considered the work of the Roman poet Juvenal who, to my delight, had to deal with essentially the same things I deal with today. In his body of work, collectively known as The Satires, he lambasts the civilization and culture of the day for being corrupt, materialistic, and displaced from its tradition. If Romans had allowed themselves to laugh, he may very well have been a toga-wearing Stephen Colbert.

In an age like his, he asks us, when basic civility has collapsed and people have forgotten their heritage, why shouldn’t he write satire? When prelates rob the city treasury, eunuchs marry, and foreigners can buy noble titles, what joy can he find? It’s no joke, of course, that we could replace the names of some of the Roman senators known for taking bribes with the names of some modern American senators and emerge with essentially the same text.

When we consult the classics, we learn something truly wonderful about ourselves: people have remained essentially the same in their concerns and motives. It is a real delight to find our thoughts today expressed long ago by people who dealt with the same concerns. Juvenal’s satires prompt us to ask the same questions of ourselves and of American culture that he asked of himself and of Roman culture. What are those institutions which remain sacred to our culture? How did they form and where are they headed? How do we participate in them individually? How do we respond when it seems that our entire culture seems to be headed in the wrong direction?

Juvenal asked these questions thousands of years ago, and we should ask them today. We won’t come up with the same answers, but we’ll find where our values lie. Classics like The Satires help us to see the paths already tread, to sweep the dust away or, if we like, to clear a whole new way.

What other classics are as relevant today as they were when they were penned? Or, is timeless-ness what makes a classic?

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: All the King’s Men

June 10, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at Indiana Humanities Council

Somehow, I escaped college and high school without reading many of the classics—a feat I thoroughly enjoyed at the time, but one that I now regret. So, I am constantly trying to weave in a few of those with my ever-expanding list of “new” novels. My current classic is the Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the King’s Men,” by Robert Penn Warren.

Set in the South during the 1930s, the story follows the rise and fall of Willie Stark—a farm boy turned governor, narrated by Jack Burden, Willie’s right-hand man. What I love most about this book is not it’s overarching themes—original sin, responsibility, love, hatred, etc.,–it’s that each sentence Warren writes is ripe with imagery—whether it’s Willie’s stump speech, an apartment building or his mother’s demeanor towards men.

Willie Stark is bigger than life–so big, in fact, he has to be fiction. Or is he? Some say he’s patterned after politician Huey Long, and we can all pull a few traits out of ol’ Willie that have infected even our favorite politicians. But what about Jack Burden? Anne Stanton? Like any good novel, the characters are bursting with fictional and non-fictional experiences, choices and thoughts.

There are many classics that I avoid reading, some for sheer length, but this should not be one of them. “All the King’s Men,” is a great, timeless novel that offers a one-of-a-kind glimpse into 1920s and 1930s politics in the South. History? Check. Poetry? Literature? Check, check. Politics and law? Check, check. Entertainment? CHECK.

Does Warren present an accurate portrayal of what you think  politics were like in the South during the 20s and 30s? Why should we continue to read about fictional politics from the past?

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What-Are-You-Reading-Wednesday

June 3, 2009

In this weekly series, we’ll touch base with Council staff members, board members and friends to discover what book is on their nightstand. This week, intern Christian Hines catches up with Orwell.

As a student of the English language and literary tradition, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m just now getting around to 1984. I’ve read my Bradbury, I’ve read my Huxley, and I even made it through Ayn Rand’s tirade at the end of Anthem. But not having read 1984 is akin to being on the outside of an inside joke. So much of Orwell’s phraseology like “Newspeak” or “Doublethink,” and even the adjective “Orwellian,” have assimilated into the English vernacular. Even a scant familiarity with figures like Big Brother functions as a sort of cultural currency in American society. 

Though I’ve only completed roughly 70 percent of the novel, Orwell’s frightening vision strikes me not so much for its political, but for its historic import. It is not necessarily the story’s plot, but the story’s mood, that has left an indelible impression upon the literary world. The book was published only four years after the close of World War II, right as the Cold War embers were beginning to glow. And though Orwell creates a terrifying villain in the government of Oceania, there is still an element of satire and humor to the work.  The Capitalists, according to the government’s history textbooks, were barbaric industrialists who created monopolies, suppressed the poor, and always wore top-hats. Like all humor, there is truth in such a depiction, and Orwell recognized that one need not abstain from poking fun at the propaganda of radical politics even as it destroys a society. 

Despite Orwell’s subtle humor, 1984’s influence has persisted because of its prophetic critique of radicalism and authoritarian intervention. Perhaps I’m too young to really be frightened by his vision, but I still recognize the biting accusation against the pattern of political and societal revolution which, in this case, led to the dystopian world of 1984. The paradox, of course, is that it takes a revolution to undo a revolution.  “If there is hope,” Winston mutters, “it is in the proles” (short for Proletariat). Though society produced a monster in its discontent, it is discontent, once again, which must overturn the beast. Orwell’s most prominent work, therefore, is not only an admonition against a certain type of government, but against the excess, folly, and capricious passion of the masses.

Have you read 1984? If so, what book should I check out next? And, if you haven’t, what’s stopping you from pulling the book off the shelf?

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2009 – Hoosierati is Back

February 1, 2009

January has come and gone, the month named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks both backward and forward, guarding the doorway to the new year.

Jim, the founder of Hoosierati, has also gone on to new enterprises, and we wish him every good fortune.

Among the festivals of January were New Year’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Inauguration Day, and the Big Snow. All of these were times to look back (especially on Dr. King’s legacy) and to look ahead because sometimes the only way forward is through. Another myth from classical times tells us that when all the evils of existence are let loose on the world, one thing alone remains in Pandora’s box – hope.

Watching the inauguration of Barack Obama, I was reminded of another winter day when Robert Frost was the first poet to be invited to read his work at the inauguration of an American President. Frost wrote the poem “Dedication” for John F. Kennedy, but the glare of the sun on the snow made it impossible for the elderly man to see the words on the page. Instead, he recited his poem “The Gift Outright,” declaring that we (Americans) gave ourselves to the land, “Such as she was, such as she would become.”

In 2009, the poet Elizabeth Alexander was able to read her offering for another young President, saying in conclusion:
        In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
        any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
        On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
        praise song for walking forward in that light.

So the festivals of January are past, and we look ahead to the celebrations of February:  Lincoln’s 200th Birthday, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, Mardi Gras, Black History Month. (Check out the Indiana Humanities Council’s Resource Connection for learning resources.)

But first, let us pause to observe one of the great American festivals – the Super Bowl. Tomorrow, Groundhog Day.