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American Airlines: This Page Has Taken Flight

I was recently trying to book a flight on American Airlines using accumulated miles/points. Every time I got to the end of the booking process, I reached a page that said “This Page Has Taken Flight”, and I lost all of the booking information I had entered thus far.

Eventually I found the solution on a web forum posting. Apparently, despite having flown on American Airlines many times, my account had gotten into a state such that my home address was not on file. Entering my home address into my account details enabled me to complete the flight booking.

This error message was very mysterious, and nothing about it even remotely suggested what the problem was. Sharing this tidbit here in case it helps anyone else!

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The Forgotten Founding Father

I just finished reading The Forgotten Founding Father, Joshua Kendall’s biography of Noah Webster.

Preceding President Trump’s “America First” campaign by some 230 years, Webster was an adamant supporter of breaking from European influence and promoting development of resources within the United States:

At dinner, [George] Washington happened to mention that he was looking to hire a young man to tutor his two step-grandchildren—Nelly and Wash Custis, then living at Mount Vernon. He told Webster that he had asked a colleague in Scotland to offer recommendations. A stunned Webster shot back, “What would European nations think of this country if, after the exhibition of great talents and achievements in the war for independence, we should send to Europe for men to teach the first rudiments of learning?” Immediately grasping Webster’s point, a humbled Washington asked, “What shall I do?” But even before he had finished his question, the General himself knew the answer. Out of respect for the emerging new nation, he would restrict his job search to Americans.

If we are ever tempted to look at the current state of United States politics and pine for the good old days of the 1830s, we might remember that Webster was pretty distraught back then too:

He detested President Andrew Jackson as the second coming of Jefferson. In the 1832 election, he supported the third-party candidate William Wirt, as he no longer wanted anything to do with either of the major political parties. By 1836 … he also looked down on his fellow Americans: “I would, if necessary, become a troglodyte, and live in a cave in winter rather than be under the tyranny of our degenerate rulers. But I have not long to witness the evils of the unchecked democracy, the worst of the tyrannies. . . . We deserve all our public evils. We are a degenerate and wicked people.”

The impact of humans on the environment was also a popular topic in Webster’s time:

Ever since the Revolution, numerous writers had taken the position that American winters were becoming milder. These advocates for the eighteenth-century version of “global warming” included Thomas Jefferson, who had addressed the question in his Notes on Virginia; Benjamin Rush; and Samuel Williams, a Harvard historian. The man-made cause was allegedly the rapid deforestation of states such as Vermont. Webster challenged his predecessors on the basis of their lack of evidence. Noting Jefferson’s reliance on personal testimony rather than hard data, Webster wrote disparagingly, “Mr. Jefferson seems to have no authority for his opinions but the observations of elderly and middle-aged people.” Though Williams, in contrast, did engage in some statistical analysis, Webster convincingly argued that he had misconstrued the facts at hand. While Webster acknowledged that winter conditions had become more variable, he maintained the America’s climate had essentially remained stable….

The work of compiling his American English dictionary apparently demanded intense concentration. In one house, “to make sure that he wouldn’t be disturbed by the children, he packed the walls of his second-floor study with sand.” In another house, the construction of which he personally oversaw, “Webster had double walls installed in his second-floor study.” Adding mass to the wall and constructing two layers of walls both remain recommended tactics for sound isolation today.

The story of Webster’s life itself was fascinating to learn about, but perhaps just as interesting are the various side remarks about the people and places he encountered. In this book we learn bits of history about New England states; the founders of familiar cities and organizations; and details about Revolutionary-era battles, pamphleteering, and government development from a more personal perspective than usual.

What about the implication of the book’s title? Was Noah Webster a founding father of the United States? Others certainly appear more instrumental in initiating and developing the foundations of the country, but Webster clearly played a major role in supporting the new republic through a prolific number of articles and numerous speeches. Webster’s role may have been more supportive than creative, but that does not diminish his importance.

As usual, I read a paperback edition, but as the cover became worn from being stuffed into the back of the seat in front of me on several airplane trips, I thought a digital edition might have been nice too, at least for reading as a travel passenger.

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Nixon Now

IMG_2938I was recently at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. Having never before taken the time to learn much about Nixon, my impression of him, molded by superficial academia and mass media, was that he was corrupt, disgraced, and most definitely a “crook”.

Perusing the exhibits, I learned for the first time about what might have been one of the best presidents in United States history. His accomplishments both within the country and in relations with other countries are numerous and impressive. Why has his reputation been watered down to Watergate? Even there, it seems that what actually happened is not be as bad as what the general public has been led to believe. Nixon himself offered in 1978:

Some people say I didn’t handle it properly and they’re right. I screwed it up. Mea culpa. But let’s get on to my achievements. You’ll be here in the year 2000 and we’ll see how I’m regarded then.

Now in 2018… it seems that he remains best-known for Watergate.

He also had some amazing campaign songs:

Thanks to the great exhibition displays at the museum, I look forward to learning more about our 37th president. Happy Election Day!

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The Greatest Love

819925-R1-013-5At our 2008 wedding, Jennifer and I had my cousin Hannah McDonald sing the Harlan Rogers composition The Greatest Love (with lyrics later added by Phil Driscoll). In celebration of our ten-year anniversary, we at Atmosphere Control Productions have published a single of this song, retaining the original drum track from the wedding (courtesy of Carl Albrecht), along with updated keys, guitars, bass, and vocal tracks. Available as a digital download now from iTunes, Amazon Music, CDBaby, etc. Buy a copy today! Better yet, buy a thousand!

And Happy 10-Year Anniversary to Jennifer! I love you very much!

See also: original instrumental version from 1986 by Harlan Rogers with Koinonia

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Lower East Side Memories

Yonah Schimmel's Knish BakeryA little bit late, but Happy New Year! I just finished reading Hasia Diner’s book Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place In America. For several decades around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, many Jewish people from immigrated from Europe to the United States, with many of those living either temporarily or permanently in a Manhattan neighborhood subsequently known as the Lower East Side. Not all of the Jewish immigrants lived in the Lower East Side, and not all of the Lower East Side immigrant residents were Jewish at all. But that particular subset of immigrants created a culture in that neighborhood which formed a primary basis for Jewish culture throughout the country.

Many Jewish immigrants ended up in Boston, and in Chicago, and in St. Louis, and in Los Angeles, and in other cities across the country, and even in other parts of New York City. But a clear majority ended up staying in the Lower East Side, filling cramped apartments with so many people that Jewish culture flourished, and was easily found not just in the privacy of individual homes, but openly on the streets, in shops, in restaurants… And with such overcrowded housing, there was little privacy anyway, leading to characteristically private conversations happening in larger groups, spreading and sharing cultural ideas even further.

In this atmosphere of open exchange, many artifacts of historical and cultural record were created. Factual accounts were written. Journalistic photographs were taken. Novels and plays and poems and songs were authored, all in much greater abundance than what happened in other Jewish communities.

That wealth of history about, and emanating from, the Lower East Side surely would have been significant in its own right, but after the 1940s it became even more significant. Through the Holocaust events of World War II, huge amounts of European Jewish culture and history were destroyed. Many people were killed, yes, but on top of that, houses and businesses and religious institutions were wiped out. Italian immigrants still had Italy. Irish immigrants still had Ireland. But the Jewish people who had left their “old world” homeland for the “new world” in the United States no longer had an “old world” to correspond with or to ever return to, even for a visit.

As such, the Lower East Side took on a new level of importance in Jewish-American culture: it became their new “old world”. Whether if they ever actually lived there or not, through historical accounts and stories and other media created in or about the neighborhood, Jewish people all over the country began to see it as a common ancestral home. They started to travel to the neighborhood, take tours, sample food, and learn more about what “real” Jewish-American life was like.

More: read the book.