Water Man Spouts

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Thirteen Days

One of life's greatest pleasures is turning off the tv and computer, and reading a good book. This weekend, the Guernsey Memorial Library in Norwich, NY held its annual book sale. The selection of reading material I was able to obtain provides not only a welcome break from George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Sean Hannitys .... but a stark contrast, as well.
The first book I picked up was a copy of Senator Robert Kennedy's "Thirteen Days." This copy of the 1969 book was still in its original wrapper. I still have a tie clip that Robert handed out on the courthouse steps, a couple hundred feet away from the library, in 1964. It felt good to open this crisp, like-new book, and to read one of Robert's favorite quotes. It is from Keat's "The Fall of Hyperion":
"Who feel the giant agony of the world,
And more, like slaves to poor humanity,
Labor for mortal good ...."
As the television has been reporting on Bush, Rice, and other administration officials attempts to confront Iran on its nuclear program, a number of reasonable people on the internet have noted how different the Kennedy brothers were in their approach to potentially deadly conflict. As I read the first chapters, the differences in character between the Kennedys and Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld stand out.
The second book is W. Averell Harriman's 1975 "Special Envoy." The book is described as the memories of last of the major participants in WW2's highest levels of planning. Although I have never cared for Harriman, he was certainly one of the most influential American politicians from the past century. Again, while one may not approve of his poliicies, he was clearly far more capable than the clowns in the present administration. (I also find it interesting that he autographed the book, and wrote a brief note to a local political figure in it.)
Next was "Diaries of Mario M. Cuomo: The Campaign for Governor," from 1984. I have always admired Governor Cuomo, and believe that he delivered one of the greatest political speeches of our time at the democratic convention. But more, I admired his ability to tell the truth in the heat of a political debate. I had the opportunity to met Governor Cuomo a few times, to discuss Native American burial protection issues. The first time was in Norwich.
I also found a copy of George Seldes's "Witness to a Century." The book was published in 1987, when Seldes was 96 years old. I'm fascinated by the memories of a man who spanned the centuries, especially when the sub-title is: "Encounters With the Noted, the Notorious, and the Three SOBs." I'm particularly interested in his meeting with William Jennings Bryan. I do not think you can find many things as thought-provoking on tv today, with the exception of Link TV and Bill Moyers.
Three books remind me of more capable journalists than most found today: "Hold On, Mr. President," by Sam Donaldson (1987); "American Moments," by Charles Kuralt (1998); and "The Greatest Generation," by Tom Brokow (1998) are offer enjoyable reading.
Three books on education remind me of the promise our schools actually have. "Political Ideology," by Robert Lane (1962); "The Ascent of Man," by J. Bronowski (1973); and especially "Free Schools," by Jonathan Kozol (1972), the author of "Death at an Early Age," make me realize that we need to not only reclaim the House and Senate, but the school boards as well.
I also bought Michael Beschloss's "The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev 1960-1963." It quotes Chip Bohlen, who had been in Washington on the first of those "Thirteen Days" that RFK describes, but then went to Paris. It was from Paris where he spoke on November 22, 1963: "There was an unknown quality about Kennedy, despite all his realism, that gave you infinite hope that somehow or other he was going to change the course of history."
One of my favorite RFK quotes notes that, "As Erik Erikson tells us, the archetype of human progress is in the story of Moses, who brought his people within sight of the promised land and then died, leaving to Joshua the leadership in achieving goals that both completely shared."
And one of his favorite lines from Tennyson:
"Come my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world."


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