Thursday, October 24, 2013

Discovered: The Leonard da Vinci Mural

Self Portrait - Leonardo Da Vinci -

Restoration workers recently discovered one of Leonardo da Vinci’s remarkable murals.  Hidden beneath “17 layers of paint” at the Sforzesco Castle in Milan, Italy, the delicate markings of da Vinci’s mural was a wonder to behold.  Workers used both traditional methods and modern technology to find the rare beauty that da Vinci painted in 1498.  Further information will become available to the public once the research is complete.  For now, you can watch the video that shows the discovery process at TheBlaze.   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Desensitized Americans?

News and events that unfolded recently reveal a shocking disregard for civilized behavior in our society.  In the last few days, there were reports of people raiding Wal-Mart stores in Louisiana when their EBT cards malfunctioned because of a glitch that allowed them limitless funds for purchases.  In another incident, as fellow students stood by, someone allegedly sexually assaulted a young woman during Ohio University’s homecoming weekend celebrations.  In both incidents, onlookers were more interested in taking pictures and videos to post on their social media accounts instead of offering help to the victims.  Have Americans become so inhumane and desensitized to reality that they are unwilling to stop wrongdoing even when it happens right before their eyes? 

The common thread in both these incidents seems to be people’s interest in scoring points on social media.  Social media is an excellent tool to convey information, create networks with others, and communicate with friends and family.  The unfortunate part is when people become so engrossed in virtual reality, that actual reality becomes distant and blurred from their daily lives.  How many of those onlookers who were taking pictures of the chaos at the Wal-Mart stores took the time to help the personnel?  How many were willing to stop the mayhem?  How many of those students at the Ohio University homecoming bash stood by as someone assaulted their helpless fellow student?  How many of them felt compelled to intervene and stop the assault?  How many of them thought about calling the police? 

Some may find all this amusing and others may shrug their shoulders but the coldness of the individuals participating in these incidents ought to shock us all.  Yet, before we begin blaming social media or others for our societal problems, we may want to evaluate our own position in life.  The true fight remains within our own hearts and minds.  It is within our homes.  It is what we learn and teach our children.  It begins with looking at the plank in our own eyes before pointing out the speck in those of others.*

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Brush with History

Sorting through a series of articles in The New Criterion, I came across one that was a dedication to the great historian, Edmund Sears Morgan (1916-2013).  In the article, Professor Marc M. Arkin noted Morgan’s background as a professor at Yale University and his contributions to the study of American history, more specifically the American Revolutionary Era.  As I read the article, I remembered my personal experience with Professor Morgan and the magnificence of this incredible man.

In 2009, as an undergraduate student at Columbia College, I was taking a course on the American Revolution.  One of our required texts for the class was Morgan’s The Birth of the Republic.  Unfortunately, I could only find a 1959 version of the book and used it for my class assignments.  As I read the book, I discovered an error where Morgan argued that prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution, every state constitution had a bill of rights.  I compared this to my research on Alexander Hamilton’s argument in the Federalist Paper, No. 84 where he stated that a bill of rights was absent from the New York state constitution (amongst others).  I decided to write to Morgan to find out how he had reached the conclusion for his book because it was in direct contrast to Hamilton’s assertions.

I half expected Morgan to receive my letter and thought a reply from him was unlikely.  Imagine my surprise when he not only wrote back but also chose to do so in old-fashioned style:  pen to paper.  Indeed, he graciously acknowledged my letter and after complimenting me, admitted his error in concluding that all states had a bill of rights prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution.  Morgan mentioned that he had corrected the error in later editions of the book but asserted that even with those corrections he had taken some liberties.

For an historian of his repute to respond to my letter, accept his error, and offer encouragement was a refreshing experience.  I found Morgan’s thoughtfulness and humility most charming.  The Birth of the Republic and Morgan’s letter are two of my most cherished possessions as an American historian.  They are a constant reminder to me of my brief but significant brush with a great historian and an incredible man.    

* You can read The New Criterion article here.  


Friday, October 4, 2013

How Government Spends Taxpayer Money

With the recent government shutdown in full swing, it makes sense to consider how government spends American taxpayer money.  The Obama Administration has wasted scarce time in closing the World War II Memorial to Veterans, the Lincoln Memorial and privately funded historic sites such as Mount Vernon to the public but is any of it necessary?  What other areas could government possibly shutdown instead that would make a significant difference in curbing the excessive government spending that has brought our nation to almost $17trillion in debt?  In a 2009 study for The Heritage Foundation, Brian M. Riedl listed 50 examples of government waste.  Although the study is almost 4 years old, the information provided is still relative.
According to Riedl, there are six categories of wasteful spending in the federal government but two of them in particular are noteworthy.  These two categories are the “duplicative programs and inefficiency, management, and fraud.”  Indeed, many of the examples in Riedl’s research fit one or the other category perfectly.  Of the 50 examples of wasteful spending listed in his report, below are 15 (in random order) that are especially interesting:

1. The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.

2.  Washington spends $92 billion on corporate welfare (excluding TARP) versus $71 billion on homeland security.

 3.  Washington will spend $2.6 million training Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly on the job.

4.  A GAO classified nearly half of all purchases on government credit cards as improper, fraudulent, or embezzled.  Examples of taxpayer-funded purchases include gambling, mortgage payments, liquor, lingerie, iPods, Xboxes, jewelry, Internet dating services, and Hawaiian vacations.

5. The Securities and Exchange Commission spent $3.9 million rearranging desks and offices at its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

6. The Pentagon recently spent $998,798 shipping two 19-cent washers from South Carolina to Texas and $293,451 sending an 89-cent washer from South Carolina to Florida.

7.  The refusal of many federal employees to fly coach costs taxpayers $146 million annually in flight upgrades.

8.  Members of Congress have spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars supplying their offices with popcorn machines, plasma televisions, DVD equipment, ionic air fresheners, camcorders, and signature machines—plus $24,730 leasing a Lexus, $1,434 on a digital camera, and $84,000 on personalized calendars.

9.  Washington spends $60,000 per hour shooting Air Force One photo-ops in front of national landmarks.

10.  Taxpayers are funding paintings of high-ranking government officials at a cost of up to $50,000 apiece.

11.  Washington has spent $3billion re-sanding beaches—even as this new sand washes back into the ocean.

12.  Washington recently spent $1.8 million to help build a private golf course in Atlanta, Georgia.

13.  Congressional investigators were able to receive $55,000 in federal student loan funding for a fictional college they created to test the Department of Education.

14.  Government auditors spent the past five years examining all federal programs and found that 22 percent of them—costing taxpayers a total of $123 billion annually—fail to show any positive impact on the populations they serve.

15.  Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.

Riedl admits “wasteful spending is not easy” and much more is needed to “balance the budget” including reforming government programs.  Yet, before the government can "reform" other programs including creating Healthcare (to Obamacare) and Comprehensive Immigration, it ought to curb its excessive wasteful spending.  Riedl’s report offers a great place to begin the process of reformation.  For there to be true reform of any kind, the leaders of our nation must exhibit restraints on their own indulgences before oppressing the American people with programs that are bound to fail.