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

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

Still Holding the High Ground

Cannons at Gettysburg

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”   General George Pickett’s reply when asked some years after the war as to why his assault on Cemetery Ridge failed.

Recently, I found myself once again patiently absorbing that all to familiar diatribe from one of my patrons about the imminent fall of America because of the current state of our politically divided house. As a bartender in fairly good standing with the profession, I am expected to patiently listen and not offer much in dissent, ascribing to that time-honored philosophy that states that the customer is always right. But as is usually the case, I opted to give up the high ground and take a step down onto my ever handy soapbox.

When confronted with the pessimistic view of the future of our republic, I normally counter with a quick history lesson that begins with those contentious compromises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and ends on the fields of Gettysburg in 1863. This year marks the 150th anniversary of that defining battle of our Civil War.

On the third and final day of the battle, July 3rd, General Robert E. Lee ordered Confederate forces under the command of  General James Longstreet to attack the Union center lodged on Cemetery Ridge. After an impressive, yet mostly unproductive exchange of artillery fire, Longstreet gave the reluctant nod. And under the blistering heat of the afternoon sun,  three divisions of Southern infantry led by  Maj. Gen. George Pickett, Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew, and Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble began the ill-fated ascent toward death and destruction. Of the 12,500 men that followed their general’s lead on that day, over four thousand would be wounded by Union steel and fire, and another nearly twelve hundred sons of the South would soon join their other fallen comrades under the blood soaked soil of Pennsylvania farmland.

On July 4th , Robert E. Lee remained readied on the battlefield assuming his Northern counterpart, General George Meade, would attack–but the guns remained silent. While many historians cite Meade’s cautious nature when explaining his inclination not to press his advantage in the aftermath of Pickett’s Charge, I would like to believe that there may have been a more transcendent reason for the quieting of hostilities on that particular day, something akin to the Christmas truce of 1914. There are those sacred days that serve to remind us of the possibility of  achieving that greater potential for good as both men and nations.  And those days should always be honored as intended by those that have gone before us.

America still holds the high ground.  

Have a joyous 4th of July!!!

Blue Tag

Posted by: Chris Poh

Throwing the Feds Under the Bus

There it was parked right across the street from my favorite local watering hole, the big bus that delivered the cadre of Tea Party types to my hometown. A small group of men, women and children had gathered to hear  the lady, with the hairdo and affectation of one former Alaskan governor, spread the message and principles of  Liberty in America.org. Being overcome by my own political curiosity, I was forced to put down my pint and venture out to find a place on the periphery of meeting.

The event was conducted as if it were something between a 5th grade civic’s lesson and a Bible study group. The speaker extolled the virtues of the Founding Fathers while damning to hell the 535 current voting members of Congress for their egregious assault on the United States Constitution.

It has been my experience that political fundamentalism is very much like religious fundamentalism. Both share a common belief that a bunch of guys a long time ago, who supposedly stood in better favor with God than the current crop of humanity, were able to divine sacred texts that if properly adhered to would provide a simple black and white solution for all of society’s ills. This kind of thinking has led many Americans to view the resulting document of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as something akin to Moses coming down from  the mountain with the Ten Commandments.

While I cannot speculate as to the actual influence of the Divine on what occurred atop Mount Sinai, I can tell you that God just barely got his foot in the door of the Pennsylvania State House. A motion by the good Doctor Franklin to begin each day’s work with a clergyman leading a prayer was vigorously debated and ultimately defeated.

I’ve heard it said as of late that our political class has done a less than admirable job of honoring the intent of “The Founding Fathers.”  I would tend to disagree with this school of thought, since we know that the framers of the Constitution did not share one common vision as to how to govern the somewhat unruly states of America. Their views on the proper role of government were as conflicted and divergent as those being currently expressed in the national discourse.

 In reality, our beloved Constitution was the direct consequence of the discord, dissention and divisiveness amongst the  states brought about by the more libertarian leaning  Articles of Confederation, that were drafted by the Second Continental Congress in  1777. One might conclude that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the tyranny of one, while the Constitution was the result of the tyranny of thirteen.  

A More Perfect Union - by Alton S. Tobey

In May of 1787, many of the same men that had crafted the Articles of Confederation converged in Philadelphia to reconsider their earlier attempt at promoting  unity,  harmony and governance. For 100 days “an assemblage of demigods,” as Thomas Jefferson had characterized the convention, were shuttered behind closed doors in the longest backroom political deal in the history of the Republic. When the delegates finally emerged from the state house in mid-september, they presented their fellow countrymen not with a perfect piece of consensus–but instead with a pretty damn good piece of compromise!

But that compromise would not be enough to ensure a more perfect union. The strength and validity of the compact would be contested in the courtroom, the convention hall and ultimately on killing fields from Manassas to Appomatox.

On the 17th day of September of 1787, the final draft of the Constitution was signed. With the toil and turmoil of that brutal summer now behind them, the delegates could now attend to their own personal constitutions–certainly a bit of leisure and libations were in order. Many would seek those pleasures at the nearby stately City Tavern. While those of lesser means might have adjourned to the  Man Full of Trouble Tavern. As I am one who fully supports the constitution of the Founding Fathers, I ended my meeting with the local libertarians by returning to an awaiting pint of Harpoon IPA at the National Hotel in Frenchtown, New Jersey. 

Posted by: Chris Poh

A Nation Rising

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler ChristyBy the spring of 1787, less than four years after the signing of “The Treaty of Paris” which formally ended British hostilities in America, the new nation was already facing an internal crisis of such proportions that the demise of democracy in the New World seemed imminent. In response those that had crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation agreed to hold a convention at the Philadelphia State House. Their goal was to strengthen the articles of governance so that the intense differences between the states might be resolved.

Through most of that summer the delegates argued, cajoled and deliberated over several state and individual initiatives designed to stabilize the American government. The harvest of their cultivation and compromise would be our Constitution. Benjamin Franklin made this astute observation about the document.

“There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. … It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies…”

 The ultimate success of that convention may be attributed to the hand that guided those proceedings. For three months George Washington presided over what was at many times an extremely contentious affair. And when an accord was finally achieved and it was time to ink the deal, once more it was the words of Benjamin Franklin that defined the moment. As he stood waiting to attach his signature to the final draft, he made this comment about the half sun carved onto the backrest of the mahogany armchair that Washington had occupied while overseeing the Convention.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.”

As American Public House Review begins its third year of publication we thought it would be fitting to spend an extended amount of time in the city where our forefathers conceived and constructed our democracy. During our two-year sojourn to America’s historic taverns we have been witness to many of the same attitudes and conditions that threatened the wellbeing of this nation in 1787. But like those men that came to Philadelphia during that long sweltering summer over two hundred years ago, we believe that when good-natured rational people gather to address their concerns and disputes – democracy shall prevail.

Following the signing of the Constitution on September 17th, many of the delegates repaired to the City Tavern for a hearty meal and ample celebratory refreshments. According to George Washington, they “dined together and took cordial leave of each other.”

in that same spirit our staff will spend some quality time in some great chairs throughout this fine city. Because like Doctor Franklin we are of the same opinion that America is not in her decline – but we are in fact a “Nation Rising.” Just don’t ask us to rise before last call.  

Check out these featured locations in the current issue of American Public House Review:                            

Posted by: Chris Poh

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