Has Jim Thorpe Become a Vortex for Pennsylvania Spirits?

View of downtown from the Asa Packer Mansion

I’m not sure that I buy into those New Age notions of inter-dimensional portals or spiritual vortexes–but there have been those lonely late night strolls through the myriad of narrow brick passages that connect to the dimly lit streets of Jim Thorpe that have led me to consider such paranormal possibilities.

The author J. K. Rowling apparently found a fair amount of inspiration concerning the behavior of young precocious wizards and witches during her time in the ancient city of Edinburgh. Much of the first book in the Harry Potter series was written at The Elephant House–one of the many fine cafes in this Scottish bastion that can boast the pens of such notables as Robert Burns, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Had the fates which drove her life instead placed her in any number of the appealing pubs and eateries tucked away within the Victorian and Gothic Revival architecture of this unique Pennsylvania community, Hogwarts might have been fashioned after the Old Jail Museum–and the purveyors of broomsticks and potions would have been selling their wares along Race Street instead of Diagon Alley.

The Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe

For the better part of the last twenty years, most of my in-town explorations have been assisted by my dear friends Bob and Sheila–the proprietors of the Gilded Cupid Bed and Breakfast. They have, in fact, become my personal guides to the more spirited aspects of this seemingly otherworldly old mining community. And while they haven’t necessarily introduced me to any of the inhabitants of the ethereal nether regions of town, they have done an absolutely superb job of directing me toward those spirits that please the palate and soothe the soul. And in keeping with those standards, during the course of my most recent visit, they brought me to the Notch Eight Craft House.

This warm and welcoming neighborhood pub, located in the heart of Jim Thorpe’s historic downtown, can best be described as a bit of tasteful gentrification with a steampunk persona. But what sets this unique establishment apart from the competition is its dedication to promoting the state’s craft industry. Whether it’s brewed, distilled, or fermented, if it’s poured here–it’s from Pennsylvania. And with a state that can boast over several hundred breweries, wineries, and now scores of independent distilleries– the spirits should be passing through these portals for a very long time to come!

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Sand

Yesterday, I once again forced myself to endure yet another rhetorical rant from that real estate developer from Queens. But then again, who might be more qualified to exaggerate the terms of our latest shady land deal in the Middle East while blaming the former minority tenants for the bad conditions and at the same time being able to extol the virtues of the new owners than Donald Trump?

In the course of his justification for the reckless abandonment and betrayal of our Kurdish allies, he seemed to fixate, as he has as of late, on the word sand. As if to suggest that our involvement in the Middle East is and always has been as barren as the Arabian Desert, a policy with no purpose and a fruitless exercise in protecting those who have only known conflict and war. I will not argue the fact that radicals, reactionaries, and religious zealots, whether they hail from Saudi sands or sunny American shores are capable of holding onto a grudge for a very long time. But most human beings, in spite of their global positioning, want only peace and the opportunity to achieve their own personal potential.

USAF 204th Fighter Wing Over Kuwait - Public Domain Photo

Historically, our presence in the Middle East has seldom been about anything other than our own security and self-interests. Simply put, it’s not about what’s above the sand, but what lies beneath–tethered to a friendship with Israel and a fear of the former Soviet Union. But much has changed since the days of Communist aggression and oil embargoes. North American tar sands challenge Saudi reserves, our once blind allegiance to Israel has been tempered with concerns for the Palestinians, and while the Russians remain ruthlessly aggressive, Vladimir Putin’s brand of transactional leadership seems to resonate with our current President. So why not retreat to a position of America first and the rest of the world be damned?

From a practical standpoint, while we appear to be oozing oil at the moment, in reality, based upon our 20 million barrel a day thirst, the good ole we are number one USA could only go it alone for about five years. And while we may be able to weather a major interruption in supply better than most of the developed world, the resulting economic calamity would quickly find its way through our lovely little white picket fences.

However, in the interest of personal transparency, I must admit that I harbor a bit of my own “America First” tendencies. But in my model of national superiority, we are the first to champion human rights, the first to challenge the rule of despots, the first to provide aid to those in need, the first to give safe haven to those displaced by war and natural disasters–and always the first to stand by those who have stood by us!

My vision of America does not include a sandbox controlled by a petulant child of privilege threatening to withhold the use of his Tonka toys just because he’s not getting his way or fashioned-challenged fat cats scratching their way out of the sand traps at Trump National Doral. In my vision of our troubled republic, the sand in my shoes is the result of peaceful strolls on a beach where all who seek freedom, justice, and protection are welcomed. Until such time, I’ll just let my tired feet carry me to the next friendly Tiki bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Setting Sail to Safer Seas

Narragansett Bay – photo by Mark Paltridge

Perhaps it was just the usual flurry of televised bad news and the seemingly never-ending baffling behavior by the gentleman at the helm of our foundering ship of state that caused me to consider forgoing my usual morning cup of coffee in favor of a way before noon tankard of grog. But then I remembered it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! So before the sun sets over the yardarm, let us once again review my own personal code of buccaneer decorum so that you’ll be better equipped to navigate these troubling tides as you make way for safe harbor and happy hour.

  • Always put your best peg-leg forward.
  • Remember to press your pantaloons.
  • Compliment the fit and finish of your shipmate’s puffy shirt.
  • Never fly your Jolly Roger above the Stars and Stripes.
  • Buy your crew the next round of Grog.
  • Extend your hook to one in need.
  • Never wear more than one eye patch while steering the ship.
  • Share your booty with the less fortunate.
  • And always let your parrot have the last word!

Included below are a few of our favorite shanties guaranteed to woo any wench or prancing privateer.

A Very Hearty Yo Ho and Aaarrr from the Crew at American Public House Review!

Aim Higher

“Aim higher. You don’t need to talk. They are American citizens. They won an election. Take on their policies. The bottom line here is this is a diverse country.”

Part of a statement from Senator Lindsey Graham during a recent interview on Fox & Friends.

“He said, ‘Aim higher. Shoot higher.’ What am I going to do? Wait until we get somebody else in a higher position? A higher office? These are people that hate our country.”

A portion of President Trump’s response to Senator Graham’s call to tone down the rhetoric.

While I could go on ad nauseam about my extreme disappointment with the senator from South Carolina who once fashioned his political behavior after that of the late John McCain, even I don’t believe that presidential apologist and lackey Lindsey Graham was suggesting that the President set his sights on someone in an elected office higher than the four freshmen female members of Congress who were the most recent recipients of Mr. Trump’s bigotry and bogus patriotism.

Perhaps I’m being a bit old-fashioned, but during my lifetime when our presidents talked about improving our aim, it meant walking that high road, taking that next hill, or even reaching the Moon! As we take the time this weekend to celebrate the achievements of all those who brought about the success of the Apollo 11 mission, and to remember the martyred President that united all Americans behind a common goal of placing human beings on the lunar surface, I find the present state of our national discourse disgusting and disheartening.

A well placed wood carving behind the bar of McSorley’s Old Ale House in lower Manhattan bears the following warning for those patrons who might be lacking in proper tavern etiquette “Be good or be gone.” We are privileged to live in a country where a bartender has the right to tell unruly customers to go back from whence they came, but a president, or for that matter any elected official, is bound by their oath of office to accept, tolerate, and even embrace anyone who exercises their rights to legally express their dissatisfaction with the conditions of this 243 year old establishment called America. It would appear that the longevity and prosperity of both taverns and countries depends upon their ability to better serve the needs of an ever changing neighborhood.

Even McSorley’s, a place that had served the enlightened likes of Abraham Lincoln and Woody Guthrie during its long storied history, finally relented on its own bit of provincial prejudice by opening its doors to women clientele in 1970. Today every freshmen member of Congress would gladly be welcomed!

As for the President’s lack of welcome to the ladies of the House, many of his critics have used his latest Twitter feed channeling of McCarthyism as ironclad proof of his blatant racism. While I am not yet fully prepared to commit to that particular point of view, I am of the opinion that what he has done might even be worse than racism. Any politician that seeks to maintain their power and position by pandering to those who are the victims of their own fears and insecurities is guilty of committing an even more reprehensible act!

There is always the hope that through experience and a greater understanding of those differences that divide us, even the most hardened heart will conclude that we are all equal in this life and the next. But demagogues almost always take their ways to the grave.

Thankfully though, our Constitution provides that the person in the voting booth enjoys the same power as that person behind the bar. It’s simply a matter of …

Posted by Chris Poh for American Public House Review

The Quality of Light

Sunrise at Acadia – photo By Bill Trotter – Bangor Daily News

“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us thru that darkness to a safe and sane future.” – John F. Kennedy

Even while our citizens endured the partial shutdown of government and the near total shutdown of governance, that lead photon on that first ray of sunlight coming over the horizon each morning still managed to awaken the continental United States by hitting its mark on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park. And while the roads of this nation’s first national park east of the Mississippi remained unplowed, the garbage uncollected, and the visitor’s center unmanned, the sun still continued to shine. It seems the natural order of the universe and nature function quite well without government–the human species not so much!

In the course of my own travels, I have found there is a bit of magic in that light that caresses the coast of Maine. For me personally, it has been a source of comfort, clarity, and inspiration. Not that I’m questioning the effectiveness of sunshine south of the Piscataqua, but that mix of both man-made and metaphorical pollution seems to have somewhat diminished the curative effects–especially along that storied stretch of the Potomac in Washington.

Morning in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Afternoon in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Approximately 116 nautical miles south of Acadia lies one family’s fortress that has weathered many Atlantic gales and has witnessed many a sunrise since the turn of the last century. And for most of my time, while trying to unsuccessfully coax the ocean’s bounty onto the end of my fishing rod in the waters off Kennebunkport, I was pretty much unaware of the potential political dynasty that was mixing vodka martinis on the lawn and playing tennis on the court at Walker’s Point. But during the summer of 1990, a few months before our armed incursion into Iraq, I became keenly aware that the price of oil was of far greater concern than the price of lobster. It was also during this period that I discovered that the 41st President of the United States enjoyed a good glass of beer as much as he enjoyed his martinis.

Evening on the Kennebunk River near Walker’s Point

“We are a nation of communities… a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” – George H. W. Bush

The talk around town was that George H. W. Bush on occasion would be spotted hoisting a pint with locals and tourists alike. And by the end of his presidency, the opening of Federal Jack’s Brewpub in Kennebunkport would help to make his loss to William Jefferson Clinton in 1992 and subsequent retirement at Walker’s Point a bit more tolerable. And while there may have been a few dark clouds that obscured the late president’s so-called “1000 points of light”–he was a man who truly believed in the value of selfless public service to country and the possibility that we could actually become a kinder and gentler nation. Sadly, the flame of that fanciful notion seems to waning as of late.

“America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” – Ronald Reagan

At the close of of last Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Trump may have been attempting to evoke that Reaganesque view of our place in the world when he said, “We must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one Nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world!” Unfortunately, for many of those most in need of seeing America’s light–that light will be nothing more than a brief glimpse between the slats of some steel barrier on our southern border

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.” George Washington

During the stifling summer of 1787, our nation’s first president presided over the Constitutional Convention. Hot days and even hotter tempers fueled the often contentious proceedings at the Philadelphia Statehouse.

On September 17, 1787, nearly four months after the convention convened, even the most cantankerous of those among the delegates would choose consensus and compromise–and commit their signatures to the United States Constitution. With the grand bargain now in hand, Doctor Benjamin Franklin of the Pennsylvania delegation could forego politics in favor of his much preferred philosophical musings. With his gaze fixed upon the carving of the sun on the backrest of the chair that gave George Washington some measure of comfort during the trials of that long, difficult summer, Franklin said, “I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length, I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

Closing time at the White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island

While I have normally shared Mr. Franklin’s optimism about America’s future wellbeing, as of late, a few vexing shadows of doubt have darkened my horizon. Certainly, many thousand points of light continue to illuminate American skies, but our elected guiding lights have spent too much of their time in retreat under their respective red and blue bushels. So from my perspective, I’m not sure whether I’m seeing the dawn’s early light, the twilight’s last gleaming, or just the flickering lights of last call.

Make mine a double–it’s an awfully long road home–and an even longer road to 2020!

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

A Journey Shared

Robbie Mcbride

Robbie Raising a Glass at the St. Patrick Pub in Old Quebec City

Glasses Raised…Spirits Lifted…and Journeys Shared, since its inception these words have been the mantra and mission of American Public House Review. And during the course of this online venture, and for a good part of my own personal life, it has been both a privilege and a blessing to have been able to traverse some good roads and to navigate a few patches of tough terrain with my dear friend Robert McBride. We have raised many a glass, shared many a journey, and few have done more to raise my melancholic prone spirit than this exceptionally talented human being.

At present, that exceptional talent is being put to good use as Robbie and his equally gifted wife, Karen, document with stunning imagery and a literary flair their extended travels through Europe and the British Isles.

I highly recommend that we all take some time to enjoy: 

The View From Here

The View From Here

Unfortunately for myself, I was unable to accompany my friends on this grand adventure. But along the way, there have been a few common crossroads that have allowed me to feel somewhat included in the itinerary. Click on the tavern signs below for some virtual pubbing from both sides of the pond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to experience the journey from Karen’s perspective.

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

Prosperity–but at What Price?

Neville Chamberlain

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at Heston upon his return from Munich

On the afternoon of September 30, 1938, a Lockheed 14 Super Electra, piloted by Victor Flowerday, touched down at the Heston Aerodrome west of London. Among the small group of passengers returning from Munich, Germany that day was Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. The large crowd that had gathered at the airfield cheered Chamberlain’s announcement that both Germany and England had agreed to never again go to war. That ill-fated pact, known as the Munich Agreement, promised all of Europe a new peace and prosperity that would never come to pass. And less than a year after the Prime Minister’s  Downing Street declaration of “Peace for our time”, the dive bombing Stukas of Hitler’s Luftwaffe would lay waste to the city of Poland.

While initially it may have seemed that the British population as a whole celebrated Chamberlain’s efforts at ensuring peace, there were many who viewed it at as an attempt by Germany to lull the English people into a state of blissful status quo as the forces of fascism, ever lurking in the shadows, awaited their marching orders from Berlin. At the forefront of those who who spoke out against the Munich Agreement was the former First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. The man who would eventually replace Chamberlain as prime minister viewed this bargain with Hitler as a flawed policy of appeasement that would inevitably lead England into war, and a crisis of conscience for all those that believed in the rights of self-determination and democracy.

Today. as Americans head off to the polls, we are facing our own crisis of conscience. We must ask ourselves at what price prosperity?  For the sake of some promised growth and financial security, that, quite frankly, no president or congress can guarantee, will we ignore the plight and suffering of those beyond our borders?  Will we fail to address those issues and concerns that threaten our environment? Will we allow our fellow citizens to face financial ruin as a result of inaccessible and unaffordable healthcare? And will we continue to tolerate the blatant disregard of ethical behavior by those in power in exchange for a few more jobs in some coal mine?

Our values and principles hang in the balance. As Americans, if we do not stand for something, we will eventually stand for nothing–other than, perhaps, the national anthem at some meaningless Sunday afternoon football game

Mind you, I am not making a case for either the blue wave or a red tide at this particular political crossroads. If water is to be the metaphor of choice, I’m putting my faith in the constant stream. That stream in which swims the vast majority of Americans who are reasonable, rational, responsible, and always ready to work toward the common good in spite of our differences and varying opinions.

For the most part, historians have not looked upon Neville Chamberlain favorably. But there are a handful who believe that his compromise with the Germans in 1938 bought England the time it needed to rearm and make ready for the unavoidable conflict that lie ahead. And for whatever reason, the wiser minds at Morrison Bowmore Distillers did opt to include Mr. Chamberlain in their commemorative Prime Ministers series of very fine 15-year old blended Scotch whiskies.

So as I watch the incoming returns on this election eve, I will raise a glass to the well-intentioned efforts toward peace put forth by Mr. Chamberlain, but my glass will be filled with a spirit drawn from the well of Mr. Churchill.

“If the human race wishes to have a prolonged and indefinite period of material prosperity, they have only got to behave in a peaceful and helpful way toward one another.”    Winston Churchill

Mr. Churchill

Mr. Churchill

 

Mr. Chamberlain

Mr. Chamberlain

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

 

 

Sunset Over Sedona

Cathedral Rock Above Oak Creek - Sedona, Arizona

Cathedral Rock Above Oak Creek – Sedona, Arizona

“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s, I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.”   An excerpt from John McCain’s 2008 Republican National Convention speech.

Beyond the backyard, childhood fantasies inspired by those tall in the saddle gents that dominated the small screen of my family’s television set on most Saturday afternoons, I was always a bit leery of putting too much stock in the idea of there being such a thing as a true American hero. While I was that typical male child that always appreciated a slow drawl and a fast gun, even then I sensed the danger of letting ones view of reality being shaped too much by the painted sunsets, fan assisted tumbleweeds, and cattle town facades of Southern California. And as to those towering figures that stood at the podium, the pulpit, or at home plate – I realized that success and failure was only a matter of a bad call or the next swing of the bat. So my handful of heroes could almost fit into the hand of a newborn. But among that very short list will always appear the name of Senator John McCain!

John McCain and Ted KennedyWhile countless others have experienced the almost unimaginable physical and psychological pain endured by John McCain while held in captivity, few could forgive their captors–and even fewer would promote reconciliation and a working relationship with their former enemies. But this was a profound human being whose reach could always extend across the aisle, and when necessary for the sake and wellbeing of all–that reach would cross oceans. In triumph and in tragedy he always maintained his sense of purpose and his unique sense of humor. And he never wavered in his service to both country and humanity. I feel very blessed to have stood under some of those same western sunsets that the senator from Arizona so loved. And I am so very grateful to live in a nation that could give rise to the likes of a John Sydney McCain!

Prior to their parting repast at the City Tavern, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 gathered one last time at the Philadelphia Statehouse to sign the document that would serve as the blueprint for our attempt at democratic governance. Among those early American founding mavericks was the esteemed Doctor Benjamin Franklin. Before taking his leave, he made the following observation about the carving of the sun that had adorned the back of the chair at which George Washington had sat while presiding over the assembled body during the nearly four months of contentious debate:

The Rising Sun Chair

 “I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

The sun will once again rise above Sedona, and John McCain will continue to serve this country in death as he did in life. His ghost will haunt those who merit a haunting–and his spirit will inspire those who are worthy of inspiration.

Commander John Sidney McCain

 

 

To this very honorable statesman and sailor we bid fair winds and following seas!

 

 

 

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

The Much Maligned and Dreaded 13

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,”   A bit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ biblical rational for current immigration policy

In most instances throughout history whenever a politician or government appointee cites scripture, the moral high ground has already been lost. In the case of Romans 13, during the life of our nation it has been used to justify loyalty to the English Crown during the American Revolution, and in support of slavery during the Civil War. Mr. Sessions may want to consider furthering his time at Bible study.

Since the age of eighteen, I have spent some portion of my working life behind the bar. My first patrol of the mahogany rail was at the Montville Inn in northern New Jersey. It was there during the summer of 1972 that I first encountered some of America’s immigrant workforce. My late afternoon crowd consisted partly of Portuguese and Spanish laborers that were repairing and resurfacing the roadway out front. While some of my two martini and three-piece regulars may have felt some degree of discomfort about having to share their space with those who had just put down their shovels in favor of a beer mug,  I found these hard-working men to be kind, generous, and decidedly less pretentious than the local gentry. I was not about to question the legitimacy of their presence.

Over the many years now spent in the restaurant business, I’ve worked with hundreds of people from different countries, mainly from Mexico and Latin America. Whether or not they were there legally was of little concern. At no time did I ever feel that my position was in jeopardy, nor did I ever see any of my fellow American’s clamoring for the chance to take on the toils and troubles of my foreign compadres. Even the most ardent voices against immigration from our southern hemisphere show very few signs of willingness to send their sons and daughters into the kitchen to wash dishes or the fields to pick lettuce.

In the interest of making a point in a somewhat succinct fashion, I am going to once more resort to my favorite format–the bullet item. And while the following generalities might be called into question by some, I assure you that they will contain more facts and more truth than your average daily White House press corps briefing.

  •  Gangs, whether it be MS-13,  the Aryan Brotherhood, La Cosa Nostra, the Russian Mafia or any of the estimated 33,000 large and small criminal enterprises that operate in the United States are a valid cause for concern. But because of the extraordinary dedication and effectiveness of local, state, and federal law enforcement very few Americans will ever be directly affected by these malicious organizations.
  • In those countries that make up the infamous Northern Triangle, the reality is quite different. The citizens of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are subject to extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder on a regular basis, and those who commit these atrocities carry them out with near impunity. There should be little question as to why so many woman and children are now knocking on or attempting to break down America’s back door.
  • Throughout our nation’s history, there are those who have preached either the politics of inclusion or the politics of exclusion. While the former has not always gone smoothly, the ladder has always ended in disaster. The graves at Gettysburg are proof enough of that! Sadly though, a philosophy of exclusion seems to serve the demagogues well. It feeds on our fears and prejudices, and it offers simplistic solutions to very complex problems.
  • Consumer economies such as ours, with an aging population and a near historically low birthrate, depend on immigration. Our cash-strapped entitlements sorely need an influx of younger workers. But at the same time though, we need security and sound reform–but this policy of “zero tolerance” offers neither. By all appearances, it is nothing more than an improvised plan by a petulant real-estate developer from New York getting an assist from a self-proclaimed far-right nationalist from California. For Donald Trump, it’s simply about needing to get his way on that unfunded wall along the Mexican border. And in Stephen Miller, the President has found a willing ally who would gladly supply some portion of the building materials by repurposing the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
  • As to the matter of separating families, unless there is evidence of a serious crime or a child’s welfare is in question, the administration’s ad hoc strategy is unconscionable and counterproductive. As someone who has taught inner-city youth and has worked directly with incarcerated adolescents, I have seen the trauma and the irreparable damage that is so often the outcome for those who have been taken away from their parents or have not had the advantage of a stable family environment. Our current course of action at the border may, in fact, help to bolster the future ranks of those same malevolent groups that the President is supposedly trying to protect us from.

While I have never had children of my own, I have on occasion had the good fortune of being able to play the role of the Dutch uncle. The photograph at the top of this post captures one of those special points of passage. It was at the St. Patrick Pub in Old Quebec where I was able to pass along a bit of  my vast knowledge of bar stool etiquette to my godchild Alanna and her older sister Emma.

These days there’s a lot more gray and far fewer hairs on the back of my head–and those two delightful young girls are now two very accomplished young women. Their achievements are the result of individual talent, the love and nurturing of exceptional parents, and a home life that has always been safe, secure, and supportive. Embedded within the story of their lives lie the solutions to our crisis at the border. While a good fence might make for good neighbors, better homes will always trump the need for bigger walls

As we reflect upon the founding principles put forth by those who represented America’s thirteen original colonies, on this particular 4th of July we might want to consider the following about that old bedeviling  number 13:

  • In order to further his own personal agenda on immigration, the President has vastly exaggerated the threat posed by MS-13. This is nothing more than just another variation of the bogey man tactic employed by many a politician throughout our nation’s history.
  • While Romans 13 might provide some cover for the Attorney General and for those who once swore their allegiance to King George and Jefferson Davis–hopefully, the majority of American hearts will answer the call of Hebrews 13:1.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Thomas Paine Portrait

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.” – Thomas Paine

In keeping with the spirit of the day, let us once more celebrate the life of our favorite American revolutionary with Dick Gaughan’s  version of “Tom Paine’s Bones.”

Click on the title or Paine’s portrait to hear the music.

 

Posted by: Chris Poh for American Public House Review

 

 

The Chronically Blue & Red State of The Union

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

Robot Painting by Eric Joyner

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”                                       Mark Twain

It has been nearly two months since the grand proclamation of that “new  American moment” proposed by President Trump in his State of the Union address–that moment when those forces that thrive and profit on the unraveling of that delicate weave that is the tapestry of American democracy will be swept away in the wake of some bipartisan epiphany. But according to those who make it their mission to measure the metrics of our discord, distrust, and discontent–our house is sorely in need of repair and reunification.

Even in those areas where one might expect that we were like-minded there are apparent differences. A recent Gallup poll tied to last month’s Winter Games in  PyeongChang found that liberals are 25 percent more likely than conservatives to ski. That may explain why so many of my Republican friends are so concerned about those so-called  slippery slopes.

While it’s easy to blame the pundits, politicians, and the President for what appears to be disharmony by design, there is also the possibility that the incessant polling and pulse taking  is also adding to both the political and cultural divide. We are being convinced by the mere statistical analysis of our beliefs and behaviors that we can’t possibly work together to find solutions or common ground. Even now, as the nation tries to come to terms with another horrendous mass shooting, those on both sides of the gun control issue have their defenses and data points ever at the ready for another predictable partisan debate. And afterwards, what we are left with is just another case of numbness and nullification by the numbers, and the prospect that the United States Congress might once again fail to enact any meaningful legislation.

While I agree with Mark Twain that the search for truth by way of some  numerical measure of reality is folly, nonetheless, in this instance, I am going to stir some additional stats into this already overcooked stew:

  • The murder rate in Colonial America in the year 1700 was 30 per 100,000 people. By the time our Constitution was fully adopted in 1788, the rate had dropped to approximately 20 per 100,000 of population. And when Teddy Roosevelt assumed the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, the murder rate had dropped to less than 2 per 100,000.
  • During the Twentieth century, the murder rate for that 100 year period reached its peak of just over 10 per 100,000 during the Carter administration. The rate then dropped under President Reagan, it rose under George Bush, and then again dropped during Bill Clinton’s time in office.

Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 - 1998

Murder and Suicide Rates 1900 – 1998

  •   The murder rate in America in 2016, the most recent year of complete FBI crime statistics, was 5.3 per 100,000.
  • Of the approximately 33,000 gun related deaths that now occur each year, roughly 1.5 percent are the result of mass shootings.
  • There are an estimated 73-81 million gun owners in the United States, of that number about 8 million, or 3 percent of the total U.S. population, own 50 percent of all legally purchased civilian firearms..
  • Depending on whose count you believe, the NRA, the group which claims to be the legitimate voice of all gun owners, has somewhere between 4 and 5 million members.
  • There are currently about 236 million people of voting age in America. Of that number approximately 200 million are registered to vote.
  • Nearly 84 percent of Americans, including a large majority of gun owners, favor some level of enhanced regulation of firearms.
  • While nearly 100 percent of Americans seem to have an opinion on just about everything, those opinions don’t necessarily find their way into the voting booth. The average turnout for a presidential election is around 60 percent, the midterms attract about 40 percent of the voting public, and congressional primaries tend to bring out less than 20 percent of eligible voters.

So based upon these numbers, here are some of my observations and conclusions on the overall state of our union and how that might pertain to the contentious debate over guns and the Second Amendment:

1). The steep decline in America’s murder rate between 1700 and 1800 can most likely be attributed to the rule of law versus some frontier interpretation of Old Testament justice–as in an eye for an eye or perhaps a scalp for a scalp. Those brilliant minds that crafted the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution helped to bring about greater social order and a fairer system of criminal justice. But we should not lose sight of the fact that even our Founders, as borne out by the Hamilton and Burr dispute, were more inclined to settle their differences with pistols than we are today.

2). If we examine the homicide rate throughout the twentieth century, many of our notions as to when and why we are most likely to pull the trigger don’t hold up. In 1901, a year when there were virtually no laws governing the sale or use of firearms, America experienced its lowest murder rate ever. Neither is poverty, prosperity, or war necessarily an accurate predictor of human behavior.

After the First World War, the murder rate climbed steadily for over a decade. But those soldiers who returned from Europe and the Pacific in 1945, were mostly content to leave the tools of their trade behind on the battlefield. And while America’s worst recorded murder rate occurred in the midst of the 1980 recession, during most of the depression years of the 1930s, the murder rate was well below that of the boom years of the Roaring Twenties.

3). The idea that we can legislate away mass murder is akin to thinking that we can stop tornadoes from occurring. But in both instances, we have the tools to better forecast the threat of an outbreak and the capability to reduce the number of dead and injured. When it comes to the regulation of firearms, commonsense and moral responsibility dictate that our laws address the mental health of those that have access to guns and the lethal potential of civilian firepower.

2nd Amendment

For those who view the Second Amendment as some immutable piece of inspired text, I would simply point out that  ever since the Civil War some of the best long robes and legal minds have not been able to find consensus over the use of twenty-seven words and two commas. Even the term “well regulated” has been the focus of rigorous debate. So for all the praise we heap upon the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it seems that even these enlightened mortals were susceptible to ambiguity, questionable punctuation, and bad grammar.

The common approach when dealing with any controversy that might arise because of the wording of the Constitution has been an attempt to glean the original intent of those that penned the document. The difficulty with that approach is whose intentions are you going to believe, Mr. Hamilton and his Federalists, or the Anti-Federalist crowd spurred on by the likes of Jefferson and Madison?  So picking your favorite Framer is like our choices for cable news, one can always find a source that will support their point of view.

While our Constitution is the result of some bitter philosophical battles and quite a few compromises, it is probably safe to assume that all those involved in its creation shared the common goal of insuring domestic tranquility for the greater good of all Americans.  The Framers certainly had their fair share of distrust of government, but at the same time, they also were somewhat leery of rule by way of the angry mob. I don’t suspect that they would have called for a well-regulated government sanctioned military entity without also considering putting some limitations on an armed civilian population.

4). With the next midterm election less than eight months away, there are those who are hanging their hopes on the next blue wave while another large part of the nation will opt for a rerun of the red tide. As for myself, I’m not concerned about the color of my state. The solution to our political problems has never been about more Democrats or Republicans–more liberals or conservatives. Positive change can only come about when principled people in power choose the welfare of the country over the survival of their party.

Later today, young people will gather in mass to express their fears and concerns about the violence that has ruined so many lives and shattered so many families. Those among us who we normally ask to march off to war on our behalf will be marching on the nation’s capitol and hundreds of public squares throughout America. Those long marches will be in vain if the rest of us fail to make that short walk to the voting booth!

Posted by: Chris Poh  for American Public House Review 

Author’s note: I began writing this particular piece several weeks ago after a long political conversation with my friend and musician Mike Kratzer. It took a very different path after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Here is a link to Mike’s song Chronically Blue which reflects upon those somewhat old age cynical leanings that even I give into after another one of these American tragedies.

 

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