Wistful for Whist


A leather Whist marker produced by the English...

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My grandparents used to play a card game called Canasta. They hosted Canasta parties one night a week. As a kid, I enjoyed being at their house, with all their friends, and substituting in for someone who needed a partner.

I never knew anyone else who played the game. And I haven’t played Canasta since those days when I was eight or ten years old. It was kind of strange that the only card game I really knew was a game no one else had even heard of.

Of course, I eventually learned other card games. But one game I’ve never played and have never known others to play is the game of Whist. I first heard of Whist reading a biography of my favorite American President, Theodore Roosevelt. He played Whist. Knowing him, I’m convinced it must be a card game worth playing. So, though I’ve never played, I am sort of “wistful for Whist.”

A little Googling reveals that there are Whist games for play on the internet, and software versions of the game. I’d like to know whether any of my readers:

  1. have heard of Whist;
  2. have played Whist;
  3. like the game of Whist;
  4. have a favorite card game other than Whist;
  5. have played Whist online;
  6. have played a software version of Whist;
  7. have played Canasta.

Classic Films for Commemorating Pearl Harbor and a Nation at War During Christmas


Today we commemorate “Pearl Harbor Day.” Sixty-nine years ago, “Battleship Row,” in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked with vehement force and incomprehensible destruction by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The next day, in his address to Congress and an anxious nation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.” And thus we were drawn into fatal conflict with Japan, and soon after, with Germany.

And it is fitting that we should remember America’s war effort, even during this Christmas season.

  • It was during this season that the United States entered the war with Japan, in direct response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • American service men and women engaged the enemy for several consecutive Christmases during World War II.
  • Notable events of the Second War happened during the Christmas season.
  • Today, the United States is engaged in war in the Middle East, and many American men and women will be far from home at Christmas, while others prepare to be deployed.

Film provides us with a unique way to remember. Here is a list of a few films that recall Pearl Harbor and Christmas during wartime:

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

This is the classic reenactment of events during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It re-tells what happened, from both the American and the Japanese perspectives.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Two boyhood friends, Navy pilots stationed at Pearl Harbor, endure the trauma of the attack.

Joyeux Noël (2005)

I first recommended this film last year. It recalls a most unusual Christmas eve encounter—called “the Christmas Truce”on the World War I German front, between the Germans on the one side and the French and Scottish forces on the other. Joyeux Noël is on my list of movies to see again each Christmas season.

For other posts I’ve written about this film, see Favorite Christmas Movie for 2009 and Joyeux Noël: A Film Discussion Guide.

Stalag 17 (1953)

This may seem an odd entry. First, Christmas plays an understated role in the film. Second, this is a Billy Wilder comedy. Third, it is an older movie, filmed in black and white. But in its defense, note that Stalag 17 was one of the first films to join laughter with the ignominy of war. In it we observe a group of men courageously, though often raucously, making the best of a bad situation. Yes, there is comedy, some of it (okay, much of it) silly. This is, after all, a Billy Wilder product. But there also is pathos and suspense.

On close inspection, many people today, with no war experience at all, can relate to the diverse feelings exhibited by these men, feelings that are compounded during the holidays. Loneliness. Unrequited love. Disillusionment. Alienation.

Wilder was an intelligent director. He was interested in far more than the easy laugh. You see this in Stalag 17 when you pay close attention. Grown men revert to childishness to comfort themselves. They are resourceful, both at play and in the attempt to re-gain their freedom. Group dynamics are explored with sensitivity to how leadership and courage are perceived by others, what happens when the wrong person is blamed for serious misconduct, how trust is built up, then dissolved, and what people are willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

Stalag 17 stars William Holden, Otto Preminger, and Peter Graves (of the original Mission Impossible TV series). The movie was the “inspiration” for the TV series Hogan’s Heroe’s, which even “borrowed” the Sergeant Schultz character.

I saw this movie for the first time last night, and I recommend it.

Recommended links related to the attack on Pearl Harbor:

Links related to Christmas during World War I and World War II:

Do you have a movie to recommend that fits the category of this post? Of so, please let us know in the comment box.

The movies mentioned here:

On This Date in 431: The Council of Ephesus


Today is an apt day for reflecting on the Christian doctrine of the two natures of Christ. Read more of this post

Julian Jackson on Daniel Cordier on the French Resistance


Anyone interested in the history of the French Resistance should become familiar with the memoirs of Daniel Cordier. To be convinced of that, I recommend Julian Jackson’s recent critical review of Cordier’s book (here). Read more of this post

Favorite Christmas Movie for 2009


I know, it’s January 2, 2010. But within the past few days I watched a movie that ranks as one of the best—maybe the best—Christmas movie I’ve seen. It’s the foreign film called Joyeux Noël (translated, “Merry Christmas”).

The setting is Christmas Eve, 1914, on the battlefield, with French, Scottish, and German battalions hunkered down in their respective trenches. Conditions are grim. But something very special happens.

Plotting, casting, cinematography, soundtrack are all good. But crucial to the success of this film is that the story it tells is true.

The film is realistic down to the language and accents. The French Lieutenant speaks French, the German Lieutenant speaks German, and (most challenging of the three?) the Scottish Lieutenant speaks English, but the way they do in Scotland. There are no subtitles in the digital version I viewed. But to me, this was a major plus. Read more of this post

Bearing Books from New England


A week ago I returned from a New England holiday with my family. We journeyed to Maine and New Hampshire in quest of respite from the cacophony of California. We found it. Harbor views, the Maine woods, marine vessels, lobsters, crisp air, and fall leaves.

And I found bookshops—with mountains of second-hand books—ranging from the maximally disheveled to the customary semi-organized to the immaculate (for example, The Old Professor’s Bookshop in Camden, ME). Read more of this post

Presidential Leadership


So today is Presidents’ Day. We can’t all be in Washington, DC to visit the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, or the National Museum of American History. But there are interesting and edifying (or not) ways to memorialize the date and celebrate our presidential heritage. Some of these you can spread out over the week, others over a year—until the next Presidents’ Day.

  1. Visit the C-Span site for the Historians Presidential Leadership Survey for pages and pages of interesting facts and rankings. See also The American Presidency Project.
  2. Visit a presidential museum. We have two in southern California, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.
  3. us-constitutionReview U. S. Constitution guidelines for the presidency. Amazon has a nice paperback edition here.
  4. Have some fun. See if you can arrange pictures of the presidents in the chronological order of their administrations, at MIStupid.com. Do a word search puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle of the American presidents. There’s even a People’s Choice Presidential Card Game.
  5. Browse a pictorial reference book on American presidents. I recommend The American President: The Human Drama of Our Nation’s Highest Office.
  6. Select four presidents you’d like to know more about. Determine to read one substantive biography of each before next Presidents’ Day (15 Feburary 2010). Here are some recommendations: John Adams, by David McCullough; Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer; T. R.: The Last Romantic, by H. W. Brands; An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, by H. Paul Jeffers; and, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Or you might select from The American Presidents Series, a stunning set of easily digested volumes. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the general editor writes, “It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar. Each volume offers a distillation of character and career.” This is a great series for getting to know those forgotten presidents—James Buchanan, book-coverbenjamin-harrisonBenjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley, James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren. I have the volume on Chester Alan Arthur, by Zachary Karabell, and the one on William McKinley, who was assassinated, written by Kevin Phillips.
  7. Alternatively, read a book that compares presidents from an interesting vantage point. For this I suggest Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, by Michael R. Beschloss. Beschloss is the fellow you see interviewed so often about presidential history. He has several bestselling books to his credit.
  8. For the biographies of those who ran for the presidency and lost, I recommend They Also Ran, by Irving Stone.
  9. In the category of historical fiction, you might try something like The Shut Mouth Society, by James D. Best; The President’s Lady: A Novel about Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Irving Stone; or, Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant—The Final Victory, by Newt Gingrich. In the “alternate history” category, there’s 1901, by Robert Conroy, imaging the transder of power from William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt when Germany invades the United States. For speculative fiction involving presidential decision making during crisis, try Brad Thor’s novel State of the Union, or Absolute Power, by the bestselling thriller novelist David Baldacci.
  10. Identify a favorite non-living president and write down ten things you admire about him. Share these with a friend or family member.
  11. Pick a president you know little about, and see if you can learn ten interesting things about him. Try to identify skills or character traits you admire.
  12. Imagine a conversation with one of our past presidents. Who would you like to spend an hour with? What would you want to talk about? Write down ten questions you would ask? Do this with friends or family, and compare.
  13. Write an imaginary conversation between yourself and one of the presidents, or between three presidents who never knew each other (I did this in a blog post recently).
  14. Read select speeches of various presidents (for example, nomination and convention speeches, inauguration speeches, state of the union speeches, or speeches on important occasions—as when Reagan addressed the nation after space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch).
  15. Rent a movie. Here’s a list of some “presidential” films, of different state-of-the-unionposter1kinds and quality: State of the Union, The American President, Dave, All the President’s Men, Nixon, Jefferson in Paris, Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, Wag the Dog, Primary Colors, JFK, Young Mr. Lincoln, Wilson (1944, with Charles Coburn), Gabriel Over the White House, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The First Wives Club. Don’t forget about movies from The History Channel: JFK: A Presidency Revealed, FDR: A Presidency Revealed, and Nixon: A Presidency Revealed. Here’s the IMDB site for a listing of Ronald Regan’s movies. For a book on how Hollywood has portrayed presidents and their administration, see Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History.
  16. Watch past episodes of 24 and The West Wing.
  17. Write a blog post with your own suggestions.
  18. Post suggestions in the combox for this post!

Related posts:

A Conversation on Presidents’ Day


456px-abraham_lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portraitAbraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States was born on this day, February 12, in 1809—exactly 200 years ago. He’s one of three Presidents born in the month of February: George Washington on the 22nd in 1732, and Ronald Reagan on the 20th in 1911.

Washington died in 1797, at the age of 67. This was just thirteen years before Lincoln’s birthday. Had Lincoln lived to be 67 (and died in 1876), Reagan’s birth would have followed only 35 years later. Of the three, Reagan lived longest—93 years. If all three men had lived to be 93, Lincoln would have been 14 at Washington’s death in 1823, and Lincoln would have lived another 46 years, dying the year Reagan was born. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election in the year I was first eligible to vote.

Imagine eavesdropping on a conversation between these three great figures. What would they talk about? Here are portions of one scenario that occurs to me.

Washington (to Mr. Lincoln): We all feared and half-expected that the union of our colonies under a shared constitution might not last. There were many reasons to be skeptical. One, of course, was the problem of black slavery. We believed that a titanic struggle over slavery would come. We expected it much sooner than it happened. But in those days, the infant nation had fought to the fringes of its might the power of king George. The issue of slavery, something that plagued our consciences to our dying days, could not be addressed directly at the time. What little there was of “union” would have dissolved in an instant. Mind you, we also felt that delay on this point would reinforce and perpetuate that damnable practice, so that the struggle which had to come sooner or later could mean the end of our union. It was a risk we had to take, you understand?

Lincoln: That is all as I suspected. It was my singular duty to have charge over the Union when the inevitable occurred. I had no doubt that Providence was at work in the timing of my presidency and what is called the “Civil War.” It was that . . . a civil war. We were a nation of men and women at war with each other. There’s truth in calling it “the war between the states.” Robert Lee’s agreement to lead the “Confederacy” was, I have to say, a shock to me. I believed then that our country would be torn in two, with no prospect of reconciliation. But it turned out we had generals equal to Lee. In due course, I began to imagine the possibility of re-union. Sadly, though the war had been won, my time for leadership—ordained by God—was over before the challenge of reconstruction could begin.

Reagan: It’s a wonder that war didn’t end in anarchy. That it didn’t is a tribute to your leadership, Mr. Lincoln. It’s also a tribute to the ratification of the United States Constitution, General Washington.

Washington: Ratification almost did not happen. Some of us wondered if it would matter. We realized that a document, a piece of paper, could be shredded. Our Republic depended on government “by the people,” as Jefferson wrote, to the consternation of Georgie. If the people could not abide the Constitution in the years ahead, . . . well.

Reagan: Well, some have threatened to shred the Constitution. The greatest offenders have been our own justices of the Supreme Court, and appointed federal judges, who swear to uphold the Constitution.

Washington: That is one of the great surprises for me. Many at the Convention thought a Supreme Court was a bad idea, that it would disallow adequate representation of all the states. They thought the law could be drafted and enforced by the states themselves. This, of course, was nonsense.  There had to be laws that protected the union of the states, as well as states’ rights. That called for a judiciary at the federal level. Congress would make law. But there needed to be a sensible body with a steady grip on the Constitution, so that laws passed in Congress and signed by the President would safeguard the survival of a fragile union. It was, I think, one of our better ideas to provide for a federal court.

Reagan: No doubt about it. But appointing judges to the bench was among the most difficult challenges I faced as President. It was clear that certain judges, whom we called “liberal,” were legislating from the bench, and doing so in violation of the Constitution. During my administration, two opposing views about the Constitution had taken root and defined much of the “conservative-liberal” debate. Some held that the Constitution is a “living document,” meaning that the justices had to adapt its general configuration to the needs and circumstances of the times. The other main group argued for “original intent.”

501px-gilbert_stuart_williamstown_portrait_of_george_washingtonWashington: Yes, the idea that there should be strict adherence to the Constitution as it was intended to be understood by its framers—by those of us who were there. You wish to know the position of the framers on precisely this point? Believe me when I tell you that this was a matter of considerable controversy during the convention. Jefferson warned against a fluid constitution quite explicitly, and I sided with him in the matter. I am happy to say that most agreed that the Constitution should be framed for timeless application. And I dare say that all who were there and finally ratified the Constitution had no doubt about “original intent,” as your generation called it. There were misgivings, to be sure. And this is why the Constitution made provision for amendment. The process of amendment was meant to be deliberately cumbersome. This, no doubt, explains why some preferred to think of the Constitution as a “living document.” Perhaps judges could be influenced to make unofficial amendments and write law when they were supposed to be interpreting law.

Lincoln: It would be odd, would it not, to argue for the “living document” theory on the grounds that this was the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution?

Washington: Is that how they argued?

Reagan: It is more or less how they argued.

Washington: Well, I can tell you that any person who thinks that is wrong.

Lincoln: “Living document.” That would have been a convenient trick in my day. The justices could have settled our issues with the stroke of their pens. I believe our civil war was fought with deference to the Constitution by both sides. The Confederacy did craft its own constitution, in preparation for independence from the Union. Their constitution was actually adopted, in March of 1861. But I’m sure you know about all that.

Reagan: Well, I know the confederate constitution was virtually identical to the U.S. Constitution.

Lincoln: Quite right. The two main differences were additions. Their constitution stressed greater independence for individual states, and it permitted the ownership of slaves. I always thought their document was a tacit concession to the authority of our Constitution and an admission of guilty rebellion against it.

Washington: This is the form of challenge to the Constitution that we expected in those early days. Secession was a grave concern. And it could not have been tried without bloodshed.

Lincoln: If the southern states had won their independence, their own constitution would have led to strife between the confederate states themselves, with no constitutional recourse to prevent the convenience of secession. I think this would have happened very early on. Within a decade.

Reagan: Why is that?

Lincoln: The states in the south may have shared an approval of slave-ownership—enthusiasm even for that varied considerably from state to state—but they differed on other points. Commercial imports and exports, for example. Some states were bound to enjoy greater wealth and thus be in a position, eventually, to attempt annexation of bordering states with weaker defenses. I never understood why Cobb Howell, and all the others, could not see that their constitutional efforts were thwarted in the very act of waging war with the union army.

Washington: Mr. Reagan, you presided over the conclusion of an altogether different war, the so-called “cold war.”

479px-official_portrait_of_president_reagan_1981Reagan: Yes, the “cold” war. There was always the threat of nuclear war and mutual annihilation. Nobody wanted it. But warheads that could destroy whole cities proliferated. One nation would seek its security in the development of more and more arms, just to keep pace with other nations capable of causing mass destruction from a safe distance.

Lincoln: I shudder at the thought of it. We fought with conventional weapons. Had it been otherwise, there may have been nothing left in the end—or no one left—and nothing that could be salvaged and rebuilt into a viable state. The European nations would have swooped in and re-colonized.

Washington: I agree. America’s independence has always depended on its strength as a unified nation. France and England kept a constant vigil for any opportunity to ruin our Republic.

Reagan: The Brits were our closest allies during the cold war. It was fortunate for me and our great country that Maggie Thatcher was prime minister at the time. The French didn’t really enter into the equation all that much. They were, in my judgment, opportunists who might play the sides of the Soviet Union and the United States against each, to whatever advantage they could. They had a reputation for that sort of thing in the twilight years of the 20th century.

[Later in the conversation . . .]

Lincoln: Mr. Reagan, you narrowly survived an assassination attempt. I understand you were wounded, and didn’t know about it for the first few minutes.

Reagan: That’s true. I knew there had been gunfire, and I worried that there might have been injuries. Things happened quickly. I was shoved by security agents into a limousine. We were on our way back to the White House when it was noticed that I was bleeding. So we changed course and went directly to Walter Reed Hospital. It saved my life.

[A few moments pass before anyone speaks.]

Lincoln (quietly and slowly): I lost consciousness the moment Booth fired his pistol. The situation never improved.

Reagan: What happened in that balcony that night is unspeakable.

Lincoln: You know, don’t you, that I would not have won re-election. I was never popular with the people during my presidency.

Reagan: That’s what the history books say. But you were admired by every American in my day.

Washington: Citizens are a fickle lot. Mr. Lincoln, given the opportunity, would you have run for re-election, regardless of public opinion and the likelihood that you would lose?

Lincoln: I would. I was responsible for the conduct of the war, and I wanted desperately  to oversee reconstruction. I didn’t think there was anyone else who knew what to do. I still believe that. The Confederacy had surrendered. But the peace had not yet been achieved—not really. They needed to see me reaching out to them with an olive branch. They needed to be able to trust.

Washington: Our enemy was king George. Yours, Mr. Reagan, was the communist party of the Soviet Union. But Mr. Lincoln, for you the enemy was your neighbor.

Lincoln: Sadly true. Our militia was more of a police force at first. It was deployed to deal with internal rebellions. But the southern states formed their own union, declared secession, and mustered an army and a navy. Suddenly, we were at war.

Reagan: No president since the Civil War questioned the wisdom of your leadership during that trying time. Even your vice president, Andrew Johnson, who was a Democrat from Tennessee, supported you. I find that remarkable. I was on friendly terms with many leading Democrats in Congress, but I don’t know that I could have counted on their support in the way you could with Johnson.

Lincoln: I’m glad you mention Johnson. President Johnson was a man of honor. Anyone in his position during Reconstruction would have been in a hard place. He may have been too conciliatory and moved too quickly to accommodate the grievances of the South. I can’t be sure I would have acted much differently.

Reagan: I can tell you this, Johnson was wise in his purchase of Alaska from the Russians. Most people don’t even know about that. I realize he could not have known the significance this investment would have for my generation. But I’m eternally grateful. He didn’t know about the gold in the Alaska territory. He didn’t know about its oil resources. And he certainly didn’t have any reason to expect conflict with the Russians on the scale that we faced during the cold war.

Lincoln: You have my friend, William Seward, to thank, as well. William was my Secretary of State. The purchase of Alaska was William’s idea. Here’s the kicker. He brought it up to me, with annoying frequency, I should say. I could not see the point in it. And it was a distraction. Thank God, Johnson listened to him. William probably made such a nuisance of himself that Johnson simply relented out of sheer exasperation.

Washington: That Johnson fellow was vice president for barely a month before your assassination, Mr. Lincoln. This business of comparing Presidents and sorting out who was the best and who was the worst is unsettling. Andrew Johnson made one momentous decision that might never have been made by anyone else. But the experts rank him down there at “the bottom.”

Lincoln: Would you agree, Mr. Washington, that Providence has a hand in these things?

Washington: I do.

Lincoln: And you, Mr. Reagan?

Reagan: You bet I do.

Related posts:

Lead-Up to “The Unnecessary War”


I was in Boston last week, hanging out with a friend and fellow-philosopher. He gave me two book recommendations:

and

I’ve read the first four chapters of Dubay, but that isn’t enough to have a firm opinion about it yet. I’m halfway through Buchanan and I’m prepared to recommend it for its carefully documented but iconoclastic interpretation of the lead-up to World War 2.

buchanan-unnecessary-warThe verdict on Hitler is pretty well-established, I’d say. Buchanan doesn’t veer from that. But Winston Churchill may have been a more dangerous war-monger than most would think. The evidence of Churchill’s predilections for military engagement, and for shifting blame for the war’s outcome, casts a pall over the received view of his leadership through “inevitable crisis.” David Lloyd George has become a person of interest to me. And I now know more about Chamberlain than before. Lord Balfour is a puzzle to me. These are achievements of the author. They reflect his success in stirring my interest and leaving clues to follow for further study.

Buchanan is not a professional historian; but he is a provocative interpreter. His thesis is controversial and has already been challenged by aficionados. He could get to the point more quickly. But he’s determined to support his claims with statements made by the players themselves and by sharp historians of the period. He quotes someone on virtually every page, sometimes at length. In every case, however, his choice of quotes is a valuable contribution. Each remark helps to capture the mood of the figures who made the critical decisions and altered the course of history.

Buchanan’s chief objective is to explain how World War 2 might have been averted, if it hadn’t been for vanity, or incompetence, or misinformation at numerous turns and among numerous parties. This story has no doubt been told before. But only here is it told in Buchanan’s style, and with his perspective on current events.

My thoughts about the war, its lead-up, its aftermath, and its present significance have been enriched:

  • I can now entertain the possibility that the Kaiser’s war (i.e., World War 1) was a war of German survival without imperialist ambitions.
  • I think I understand better how Hitler managed his coup and led a demoralized people into unwelcome conflict with the European powers.
  • I hadn’t known of Mussolini’s disgust toward Hitler and of Hitler’s almost obsequious admiration for Mussolini.
  • The hypnotic effect of Hitler on Western leaders who knew of his diabolical behavior (who were even, at times, on the receiving end of it) never ceases to astonish. This mystery is compounded by Buchanan’s telling of the story.
  • Ever since my visit to the Brenner Pass in the majestic Italian alps I’ve wondered how it came about that this region, formerly a precinct of Austria, had been handed over.
  • The roles played by Czechoslovakia and Poland impress me as much more significant now.

I could go on. Instead, I’ll read on, and probably learn more about how America came to abandon its protectionism and make war on the continent (I suspect it has something to do with the Japanese, who had been disenfranchised by the British), the mystery of alliance with Stalin’s regime, and much more. I expect—I hope—I’ll have more questions when I’m done reading. But before the book is closed, I feel comfortable already recommending it to others.

Note: There’s a Kindle version of Buchanan’s book. If there wasn’t, I might never have gotten round to reading it. Learn about Kindle here.

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