The Art of Power and House of Cards

Art of Power - Thomas Jefferson

All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions…but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.  – Thomas Jefferson, 1st inaugural address, 1801

Such measured, unifying, moderate words from the same man who also remarked of his political rivals, the Federalists and Monarchists, “Their leaders are a hospital of incurables and as such are entitled to be protected and taken care of as other insane persons are.”  Sounds like big government socialism to me!  Taking care of the insane, indeed!

These are but a few of the engaging, enlightening, entertaining, astounding words taken straight from Jefferson in Jon Meacham’s masterful biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.

I swear to god by the end of this magnificent tome where Meacham describes Jefferson’s granddaughter in a dreamlike state wandering the vast empty rooms of Monticello following her grandfather’s death, I too was swept up in an all encompassing reverie where Terrence Malick was directing the story of Jefferson’s life and the images from Jefferson’s earliest memory of being lifted upon a pillow to a slave on horseback to his final moments with yet another slave dedicated at his bedside – all of his life – flashed before me in a cacophonous stream-of-consciousness scored by Micheal Nyman.

This biography is that intimate…that transportive…full of excerpts from letters, diaries, reports both second and first hand from those closest to him, from family and friends, from foreign diplomats, from rivals and scoundrels, even from his own slaves.  Continue reading

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Leopold Bloom’s Coffee Table

The dead of winter haunt not only the cold grounds outdoors but the cineplexes as well. That’s why in the cruel grey months of January and February this writer all but abandons the cinema (well, not completely, of course, I can always be drawn into the darkness of the theater) and finds the greatest warmth in the comfort of books.

Here’s the current snapshot of what sits on my coffee table:

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On the non-fiction front, I am about half-way through Jon Meacham’s intimate and entertaining take on one of the most misunderstood and trailblazing presidencies, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.  I’m enjoying how Meacham carefully draws modern parallels but makes it clear Jackson should be examined in the context of his own times and his legacy.  And Jackson was one hell of a duel-challenging, lead-popping, horse-riding, Native American-exiling, Union-solidifying, bill-vetoing sum’bitch.

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I always keep a short story collection on hand for those Kurt Vonnegut prescribed “Buddhist catnaps”, and The Collected Stories of Richard Yates have been just what the doctor ordered.  Yates is a great author to read for scribes trying to hone their dialogue writing skills.  He uses dialogue to define his characters and places and has an amazing ear for everyday conversation, dialect and accents that add shades of complexity to his effortless and deeply felt prose.  His stories often deal with the ordinary tragedies of common folk, so he’s sometimes dismissed as a downer, but his dark humor and sharp but poetic style make him easy to digest while providing much literary nourishment.  Be forewarned of a sometimes bitter aftertaste.  At this point my favorites from the collection have been “Doctor Jack-o’-Lantern”, “A Glutton for Punishment”, and “A Really Good Jazz Piano”.

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On the “Big Thick Novel” front, I’ve finally decided to begin my odyssey into James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Allegedly the greatest novel ever written in the English language but declared unreadable by countless college students, Joyce’s prodigious 1904 tome has been the subject of great controversy and the victim of numerous revisions, edits, restorations and editions over the decades.   It’s been gestating on my bookshelf for over nine months, and even if it takes me that long to get through this edition’s over 1,000 pages, I will persevere.  Any writer or reader worth their salt should be proud to say they spent a day in Dublin with Leopold Bloom, even if it that single day lasted for years.  Hopefully soon when people ask me, “Have you read Ulysses?” I will be able to say that even though my heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

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Written by David H. Schleicher