Monday, February 21, 2011

Who's Your Favorite President?

Happy Presidents' Day everyone!

In honor of the Presidents who each took a monumental task to serve the country and attempt to make the country a better place in his own way, I am going to talk about a President I currently am reading about on my new Amazon Kindle.

Currently I am reading A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent.

James K. Polk was one of our most unlikely Presidents. After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Polk eventually became Speaker of the House. Polk left Congress in 1839 to run for Governor of Tennessee. He won election, but lost re-election and lost a second attempt in 1843. 

So we have this Polk guy--a young ambitious man who gained early success in Congress. Then his career curtailed in the state of Tennessee...losing elections for Governor twice after serving in the office. So his chance to win the Presidency look good at this point, right? Who would even think the Presidency would even be on his radar?

Well Radar didn't exist back then but political ambition did. Polk never lost ambition but never intended to serve our nation as President. In the election of 1844 his goal was to become nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democrats. The nominating conventions were nothing like they are today. There were smoke-filled room making deals that often placed candidates not predicted to become president or vice president on the ballot. It took 9 ballots at the convention before Polk was unanimously nominated as the Democrat candidate.  He promised to serve only one term. But boy, did he have a lot on his agenda. Why was he so popular? He was an expansionist. He wanted America to acquire Texas and the Oregon Territory.

So what did Polk accomplish--We can thank Polk for acquiring Texas, California, New Mexico and the Oregon Territory--all in four years. Polk, nicknamed Young Hickory, was a protege of Andrew Jackson. Polk believed the government should take in revenue only to provide the basic constitutional requirements of government. He greatly reduced tariffs. He sought strict constructionists to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today we would probably call Jackson and Polk--conservatives.

James K. Polk is probably a lessor known president to many Americans. In just 4 years, Polk acquired a massive amount of land that proved to be his greatest legacy. Though not perfect (was a slave owner), without Polk and his determination, America may have had the British Empire to our west between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

I like reading about some of our lessor known presidents.  We all know about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them), Kennedy, Reagan, and for all their good and bad, the famous guys are famous because America faced crisis during the times of these men.  And we certainly needed each president to step up and save the day. I am not saying each of these were great men, but Greatness found each of them. Relative peace (or wars that are further from America's memory) often excludes presidents from the fame of greatness. Yet, give the presidents their due! Each (yes even the bad ones) served this country in ways very few have. They gave up any private life to make sure this land stayed free. 

So Happy Presidents' Day everyone!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Records Records Everywhere

Is it a Blizzard Dad? Oh those winters of 1977-79. Those were the good old days of winters being like winter. I remember the winter of 1977. I was living in Hampton,  IL as far removed from civilization as a boy just transplanted from the center of the city in Springfield. Living on the bank of the Mississippi River was cool for like a few weeks. After that you realized just how isolated it was. And nothing isolates like a winter storm. But luckily, one weekend in 1977, my Dad was in town staying with us. I remember it snowed like crazy--not the record we all remember, but an incredible amount of snow none the less.

It was a Saturday morning, and like any Saturday morning in January, I had basketball practice at St. Mary's school in East Moline. St. Mary's was a unique school. It sat on the middle of 13th street hill. This hill was incredibly steep, as are most hills that create the Mississippi River valley. My Dad and I, both troopers, headed out to the basketball practice. The roads on Highway 84 were bad enough, but soon enough, we got to the hill.  My dad and his little Mercury Bobcat hatchback, I with my basketball in hand made the turn from 17th Avenue to 13th Street. And we slowly attempted to head up a snow packed hill, the first car to do so since the snow began falling. That little Bobcat's wheels spun and spun, snow flying from under the wheels to reach the hood and windshield of the car. As we traveled at a rate of about 3 feet a minute, I looked over at my dad and said, "Do you think it's a blizzard Dad?" He laughed and laughed, "I think it's worse than a blizzard" he said. My dad, being my dad, could have let me out at the bottom of the hill and walk the half-block up the hill to go to basketball practice. But Dad, either out of the goodness of his heart or because he wanted to see if he could do it--climb his Mt. Everest, (I've made the personal decision Dad did it for both reasons) made the turn and drove all the way to the door of St.Mary's. All along Dad kept saying, "There is no way they are going to have practice today." I kept saying, "But Dad, I won't play in the next game if I am a no show at practice."

We finally reached our destination to find a white 8 1/2" X 11" paper saying "Practice canceled due to Snow." If the lack of snow tracks and cars on the road couldn't confirm this already--that note did. My Dad smiled and said, "Oh well, it was fun getting here." This story would forever be etched in my Dad's memory--one of his happiest memories. When we'd visit, he'd almost always revisit this memory--it was a good one that has been forever stored in my memory.

Winters would continue getting worse and worse. Finally in January 1979 we received "The Big One!" 18.4" of snow from January 11-13. It was a mess! Those old cars with rear wheel drive cars couldn't  maneuver the roads in that snow depth. Cities didn't have as many snow plows as they do today. Cities shut down. We didn't have 800 satellite t.v. channels. We did have about 30 cable channels...but we had board games, cards, music, and the companionship of family. We survived and had fun doing it. School was canceled for 3-4 days because of it. I gained an enthusiasm for winter weather that winter season. I didn't want snow of 2 or 3 inches. I wanted it nice and warm...or blasted with a blizzard. If you have to endure winter-do it big!

This week we had "Blizzard Watches" for 2 days prior to the storm. Lately, storms have been fizzling out before they ever reach their potential severity. Not this one. And I knew it. My enthusiasm for weather has evolved into at home meteorology. There are so many tools to use to track the storms via the internet. The computer models all indicated this was "The Big One!" I think some local weather forecasters had a hard time forecasting that much snow. They may have been overcome with recent storms from the 90s on, that just didn't materialize to the fullest potential. But this storm had all the makings for being big. A huge amount of moisture, a terrific snow to liquid ratio, and a favorable track for blasting the QCs with record snow falls. On Monday morning, I forecast 16-20 inches for the QC area...more specifically said I thought the QC Airport would receive 18.9 inches. We received 18.4" tying exactly the three day winter storm of Jan. 1979. We also set a record of 16.7 inches of snow in a 24 hour period--the most ever. The shoveling would prove brutally difficult but that is a story for another day.

And through it all I kept hearing my voice "Is it a blizzard Dad ?" Irony?? well the Blizzard of 2011 ended on February Dad's 75th Birthday! Happy Birthday Dad..and the answer to my question has always been--YES!