I need to hold my head up and lose the cardigan, and maybe let the gracious, skilled and knowledgable Joe Nash get a word in. I'm looking forward to seeing him again at the William K. Sanford Library in Colonie when I give a talk there on March 27 from 12:15 to 2, and hope to flog a few books.
Before then, in fact tomorrow, I'll be signing books from 1 to 2:30 at The Open Door in Schenectady.
And at noon on April 3 I'll be at the Saratoga Springs Library.
As an addendum to yesterday's post, The New York Times editorialized today in support of proposed defense cuts, including to soldiers' compensation. It said: "Mr. Hagel made a strong case for 'fair and responsible adjustments' in compensation. His proposals include slowing the growth of tax-free housing allowances for military personnel and increasing health insurance deductibles and some co-payments for military retirees and some family members of active servicemen. Even more reforms are needed, but these are a reasonable start."
So now, after years of hand-wringing about the stress of repeat deployments on the mental health of soldiers and the negative effects on their families, and with repeat deployments to Afghanistan continuing even as the Army shrinks, the Times' solution is to cut pay and benefits for the remaining soldiers by more than Hagel is proposing. So I think that means we can categorize all their years of purported concern for the well-being of the troops as just so much b.s.
For all the "support our troops" malarkey (to use a highly sanitized term) that politicians and other civilians come up with, the essentials of military service don't seem to have changed much since the days of Kipling. Today's Albany Times Union carries an AP story about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposing "a variety of changes in military compensation, including smaller pay raises, a slowdown in the growth of tax-free housing allowances and a requirement that retirees and some families of active service members pay a little more in health insurance deductibles and co-pays."
Seems like "a little more" here and a little less there could add up to real money for people like my daughter, an Army sergeant.
" 'Although these recommendations do not cut anyone's pay, I realize they will be controversial,' Hagel said, adding that the nation cannot afford the escalating cost of military pay and benefit packages that were enacted during the war years."
Actually those "war years" are ongoing, with people like my daughter quite likely to be redeployed into Afghanistan, and the nation seems able to "afford" a great many things of dubious value. But apparently fiscal conservatives and antiwar liberals -- including Hagel himself, a former sergeant who was sold as a defense chief for the rank-and-file -- can find common ground on stiffing the troops.
Philip Seymour Hoffman's death from heroin is described as a "beautiful helplessness" in this New Yorker headline and article by Lee Siegel. As someone who worked for many years in journalism, and for the past four in drug/alcohol counseling (mostly part-time), I think this kind of article glamorizes drug addiction as the price to be paid for artistry, and is a form of enabling, feeding more drug use and death. While I am using this piece as an example, I don't mean to imply it is unusual. Rather, it is all too typical of the coverage after this kind of event. It is a lie because, as Hoffman perfectly well knew, he was not helpless against his addiction. There is help available everywhere, not just to rich and successful people like him but to anyone at free meetings of groups like Narcotics Anonymous and AA. Because addiction killed him does not prove he had to pick up, and there is nothing beautiful about his doing so. To claim otherwise is a viciously destructive disservice to any living addict or potential addict.
Universal pre-K backed by NY gov won't come cheap says the headline today on an AP story in The Wall Street Journal. "How Cuomo intends to pay for it is not yet clear, but he may offer some insight Tuesday when he releases his 2014-15 budget proposal."
Actually, a lot about this is "not yet clear." In the Jan. 9 State of the State, the governor said "we formed the new New York Education Reform Commission headed by Dick Parsons, they have done extraordinary work; they have called for a full day Pre-K ... We can do better, we must do better, we will do better, let's invest in the future ... It is time for New York State to have universal full day Pre-K statewide."
The first recommendation in the final report of Cuomo's commission says the state should "commit to developing a clear plan to expand access to high-quality full-day pre-k, starting with New York's highest-need students" -- which sounds more reasonable and less ambitious than the State of the State. Expanding pre-K options for poor children makes a lot more sense than a "universal" baby-sitting entitlement -- or requirement? i.e. would it become compulsory? -- to solve a problem that for most people doesn't exist.
Creating further confusion is the campaign by new New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund pre-K by taxing the rich, which is more or less the opposite of Cuomo's tax plan. So where does Cuomo aim to find the money? A bond act to add to the state's already heavy debt load (probably justified with some dubious tech spending thrown in on smart boards or whatever the new fashion is)? Does "universal" pre-K make any sense when cash-strapped local districts are cutting educational programs such as art and music? Why not give them the money instead of cutting taxes (as Cuomo is apparently poised to propose)?
In other news, the governor has been making headlines lately on the Capitol Pressroom radio show of Susan Arbetter, who will have a rather more obscure guest on Monday (Martin Luther King Day), viz. me talking about da book (General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind "Juneteenth" by Robert C. Conner). Thanks to her for a skillful and knowledgeable interview (taped Friday as if live, at the LCA in the Capitol). The show starts at 11 a.m. Monday, when you can listen online, and airs at various times over 22 stations in upstate New York.
I'll also be giving a talk and book signing on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at the Malta Library off Route 9 (you can register here, though I don't think they'll turn anyone away). And here, by the way, is a free Gazette clip about the book.
Thanks to Fred Dicker for having me on his Talk 1300 radio show today -- that would be the second half of his Dec. 24 podcast -- to promote the Gordon Granger book. He knows a lot about the Civil War era, and is a skilled interviewer.
Fred broadcasts out of the state Capitol, specifically the LCA (Legislative Correspondents Association) on the third floor, between the Assembly and Senate, where he works for the New York Post and I used to for the Daily/Sunday Gazette of Schenectady. The ever-gracious Jean Gutbrodt was holding down the fort at the LCA on Christmas Eve, and I also chatted with some reporters working on the pre-holiday: Susan Arbetter, Jimmy Vielkind, Rick Karlin, Michael Virtanen.
I have to admit that opening up the skylights at the top of the Assembly and Senate staircases was a good idea (I had been privately skeptical about the expense), continuing the laudable, bipartisan restoration of the Capitol undertaken by the past four governors and the Legislature.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo deserves credit for displaying more and better labeled artwork. Now when you enter the building from Empire State Plaza, you are greeted in the lobby by paintings of Washington and Lafayette and a bust of U.S. Grant (though for some reason there is no sculptor listed for the latter). Still there is the bust of Christopher Columbus, which I believe was installed in the prior Cuomo administration on the initiative of the current governor's mother, Matilda.
But it's upstairs on the second floor that the art comes into its own. The new Hall of New York has some wonderful paintings on loan from around the state. And the Hall of Governors is much more accessible, introduced with the dazzling full-length Gov. George Clinton by Ezra Ames, at the Senate staircase entrance. Inside, I was struck by two more full-length portraits: a young, handsome Gov. William H. Seward, still at the dawn of his enormously productive career, by Chester Harding (although I'd dispute the label describing Seward as a leading abolitionist before the Civil War -- although he was a lifelong antislavery man, he would not have embraced that label then); and at the far end of the hall, a rather ominous looking, cowlick-haired William Sulzer, the only governor to have been impeached -- and perhaps unjustly so -- painted by Leo Mielziner. Mario Cuomo's portrait is finally there, but none yet of Eliot Spitzer or David Paterson. I liked Douglas Volk's relaxed, cross-legged version of the Happy Warrior, the great Al Smith.
I see the "Irrepressible Conflict" (Seward's phrase) exhibit is still on at the State Museum, at the other end of Empire State Plaza. It has the best, largest version I have ever seen of an iconic, very beautiful photo: Grant, deep in debt, 10 days or less before he died of cancer, is working on his memoirs at Mount McGregor.
Obscure, crucial war hero
A generation later, after he lost all his money in a Wall Street scam, Grant told those stories and more in his Personal Memoirs, which he completed three days before dying of cancer in Saratoga County. The place where he spent those last weeks, preserved since then as a shrine to his memory, is on the grounds of Mount McGregor, a medium-security prison which is scheduled to close next year. It is reliant on the prison for sewage, water, power and security, but is owned by a different state department, the Parks Office, and operated by a private nonprofit, Friends of Grant Cottage.
If and when the prison does close, yet another state entity will try to sell it to a developer. But Grant Cottage and the nearby visitor center and overlook (which has a beautiful view of the Hudson Valley) may become part of an expanded Moreau State Park — which would be a good outcome.
I served as site interpreter at Grant Cottage in 2011 and 2012, when I began researching the life of another 39-year-old man who dwelt in obscurity in 1861, Gordon Granger. Granger was then still an Army lieutenant, who like Grant had gone to West Point and fought in Mexico. The two men never got on, as Grant's memoirs make abundantly clear, but there is another side to that story — Granger's — that seemed to me worth telling.
Granger was from upstate New York, and after the war had ties to this area. He had an infant daughter who died in 1875 in Saratoga Springs, as I found out from a filing cabinet at the Washington Street office of Bethesda Episcopal Church, which conducted her funeral service.
Grant became famous, the man who won the Civil War. Granger's name fell back into obscurity. But in 1865, just after the war, as commander of all U.S. troops in Texas, Granger's June 19 order abolishing slavery was one of the most significant documents of Reconstruction. It sparked "Juneteenth" celebrations that continue to this day all over the United States, including the Capital Region.
Grant was not the only man who won the war. On Sept. 20, 1863, Granger marched on his own authority to reinforce Gen. George Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga, and prevented a Union defeat from becoming a catastrophe. Had he and Thomas not held the line through the daylight hours, the entire Army of the Cumberland might well have been captured. That would have immeasurably raised Confederate morale and Union war-weariness. The results would definitely have reverberated into the next year, possibly contributing to the defeat of President Lincoln's re-election campaign, thus enabling the Confederacy to establish its independence. The actions of ordinary people can carry great weight.
Robert C. Conner is author of "General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind 'Juneteenth'," published last month by Casemate. He lives in Saratoga County.
So this is my excuse for light blogging in recent years. Not that I've been doing much on this book lately, but I'm into the next one (a historical novel set in 1885 New York). I'm still working part-time in a halfway house, and otherwise keeping busy.
As for the Granger book, it was published this week by Casemate; here's the link from their Web site. Here's something they had me write a while ago for the Casemate blog. If you're in the media and want a review copy, or an interview or article, or you want me to give a talk in a local library, book store or other venue, drop a line to: firstname.lastname@example.org. (I'd get the publisher to send you a review copy, but handle the other stuff myself.)
Update: I guess to keep the search engine bots happy I should put my name in the text of this post, Robert C. Conner, along with the book title, "General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind 'Juneteenth'".
Another update: Here's a Nov. 21 item on the Casemate blog.
And here's a good deal from the publisher announced Dec. 4: "... from today until December 11th, all Casemate titles are 40% off* when you use the code CHEER40 on our website upon checkout."