Sunday, July 26, 2015

Thomas Jefferson Was a Hero, Not a Villain

On Wednesday night, the Connecticut state affiliate of the Democratic Party voted to remove Thomas Jefferson's name from its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. This follows some suggestions in the media back in June, during the intense debate over public displays of the Confederate flag, that perhaps it might be time to "rethink" public monuments of Jefferson, even the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. The issue at hand, of course, is that Thomas Jefferson was a slave-owner.

This is just a part of a trend that has been ongoing for several years. At a time when interest in America's Founding Fathers seems more intense than at any time during my life, Jefferson's popularity seems to have taken a nosedive. Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and even Madison seem to be in the ascendant, while Jefferson is now dismissed as a despicable hypocrite or, worse, ignored altogether. A few years ago, the Texas State Board of Education voted to revise its United States history standards so as to remove Jefferson from the list of important political philosophers that schoolchildren should learn about. Needless to say, if the Jefferson Memorial did not already exist, I highly doubt that a proposal to build one now would gain much traction.

This is to be truly lamented, because Thomas Jefferson is one of the greatest men who ever lived. The gifts he gave to both our country and the larger world are incalculable.

In dazzling prose that still shines brightly across the space of two centuries, Jefferson articulated better than anyone before or since the ideals on which America was founded and which should inspire America still. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." If he had never done anything else then write these thirty-five words, Jefferson would still have been rendered immortal. They gloriously summarize the intellectual and moral awakening that took place during the Age of Enlightenment. They are the values upon which America was founded. In the two centuries since, they had rightfully been held up as the greatest statement of freedom and equality ever put on paper.

History has seen no greater champion of democracy than Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson's legacy to our country goes far beyond mere words, however. He was one of the most influential statesmen during the era that saw the birth of our nation. More than any other single individual, Jefferson can be considered the father of public education in America, on both a grade-school and university level. In partnership with his friend and ally James Madison, Jefferson secured religious freedom for Americans, for us no less than those in his own time, by establishing the separation of church and state. Jefferson also established the uniform system of weights and measures and established the parliamentary procedures that still largely govern the United States Senate. He rewrote the laws of Virginia to abolish primogeniture and reform the previously brutal laws of criminal punishment into something more humane and worked to ensure that British and Hessian prisoners-of-war were decently treated.

In the 1790s, the High Federalists led by Jefferson's arch-enemy Alexander Hamilton passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to try to silence their political opponents and raised a large army intended, at least in part, to intimidate the followers of Jefferson into obedience. Jefferson refused to be cowed and led his party to victory in the 1800 election, thereby saving the country at the moment when the American experiment in self-government faced perhaps its greatest peril.

As President, Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of our nation and ensuring that North America would never become part of the colonial empires of France, Britain, or Spain.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition, the greatest exploratory venture of the United States before the launching of the space program, was Jefferson's brainchild. He pardoned everyone who had been convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts. He balanced the budget every year of his term and never issued a single presidential veto. He established the United States Military Academy at West Point. During his administration, the Navy and Marine Corps fought and won the First Barbary War, defeating the North African pirates who had been capturing and enslaving American sailors and passengers on the high seas.

Even in his retirement, from 1809 until his death in 1826, Jefferson continued to work on behalf of his nation. He devoted his final years to establishing the University of Virginia, which became the model for all the public universities around the United States. Almost as an afterthought, he essentially created the Library of Congress, which is today one of the great libraries of the globe.

Jefferson's gifts to the nation are greater and more varied than any other single individual. Yet his accomplishments as a private man are no less impressive. In addition to being a statesmen, Jefferson was an inventor, a pioneer of archeology, a renowned architect, a linguist who could speak seven languages, an accomplished musician who played the violin, an astronomer, and a scientific gardener.  He was the greatest wine connoisseur of the age and one of the greatest of all time. When John F. Kennedy addressed a White House gathering of all living American winner of the Nobel Prize in 1962, he said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Indeed, I often suspect that the true reason so many people are determined to belittle Jefferson in our time is that they simply resent the fact that they can never become as accomplished as he became.

Yes, it's true that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Indeed, at any given time during his life there were around two hundred slaves working his farms. Nobody denies that this was morally wrong, and neither did Jefferson himself. He was born into the slave system in 1743 and he was still enmeshed in it when he died in 1826. In one memorable phrase, Jefferson said that the institution of slave was like holding the wolf by the ears. As a member of a landowning Southern family in the late 18th and early 19th Century, Jefferson was trapped in slavery much as we are today trapped in the carbon-based economy. He did not like it but could never devise a way to get out of it.

Then you have the Sally Hemings controversy, but despite popular belief and what the "pro-paternity" advocates would have you believe, there is no conclusive evidence that Thomas Jefferson was the father of the children of Sally Hemings. The DNA test conducted in the late 1990s only proved that a member of the Jefferson family, not necessarily Thomas Jefferson himself, was the father of one of the Hemings children (Eston Hemings, to be exact). There are only two other pieces of evidence that have ever been presented. One is a scurrilous attack piece in an 1802 newspaper written by James Callender, a scandalmonger who personally hated Jefferson and was thoroughly despised throughout America as a liar, drunkard, and all-around reprobate. The other is an interview given to a Republican newspaper editor in 1872 by Madison Hemings, which has been found to be so full of errors and distortions that no stock can be put in it.  Personally, I think it much more likely that Randolph Jefferson, the President's brother, was the father of Eston Hemings and that the others were fathered either by Randolph or one of the Carr nephews. Either possibility is perfectly consistent with the results of the DNA test and there is enormous circumstantial evidence to back them up as well. If you ask me, it is extremely unlikely that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings' children.

(It would take far too much time to fully explore the nitty-gritty details of why I reject the idea that Jefferson fathered the Hemings children. Readers who want a deeper explanation should read In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal, by William G. Hyland. Whatever you do, though, don't read the book on Jefferson by David Barton. Although he also doesn't accept the Jefferson-Hemings story, his books are not worth the paper they are printed on and pretty much everything else in his book on Jefferson is. . . well, never mind what it is.)

It's important to remember that though Jefferson owned slaves, he recognized that he should not own slaves. He would have been aghast if he could have seen his fellow Southerners such as John Calhoun decades later claiming that slavery was a "positive good", for he recognized all his life that it was an evil. Had he been able to destroy slavery, he would have, as the historical record proves. As a member of the Virginia state legislature, he pushed several plans for emancipation. In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson included a ringing denouncement of slavery and the slave trade and was distraught when the Continental Congress removed it. He was the crafter of the Northwest Ordinance, which forever banned slavery in the states north of the Ohio River. Had he had his way, slavery would have been banned completely from all the Western territories, but his proposal to implement that policy was defeated in 1784 by a single vote. In his innumerable letters, and in his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson says again and again that he looks forward to the day that the scourge of slavery would be removed from America.

Others try to blacken Jefferson's name by calling him a racist, pointing out that his writings also state his belief that blacks were inherently inferior to whites and that the two races could not exist side-by-side in a free society (Jefferson advocated that freed slaves be removed to a separate colony). In doing this, Jefferson's detractors are committing the fallacy of historical anachronism. It simply makes no sense to subject a historical figure who lived two hundred years ago to modern standards of which he could have known nothing. Even the term "racist" would not make any sense to Jefferson, because virtually every white person in Jefferson's time and place could be classified as a racist if one uses the modern definition. For that matter, even later figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill could be as well. One can speculate on what we all do on a daily basis in the year 2015 which will be seen by future generations as morally repugnant.

To sum up, Thomas Jefferson was a hero, not a villain. He deserves to be celebrated, not condemned. He was one of the greatest men in American history and everyone reading this blog post owes him an enormous debt. If a wrecking ball crew ever arrives at the Jefferson Memorial, they will find me chained to its pillars and daring them to do their worst.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dreams Of New Horizons

My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

That was how my third grade teacher, Ms. Griffin, taught me and my classmates to remember the order of the planets of the Solar System: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Learning about the planets, like learning about the dinosaurs, is one of those few things that almost everyone who has passed through the American education system can count on. As far back as I can remember, I knew that Mars is red, that Jupiter is the biggest, that Saturn has rings, that Mercury is the closest. . . and that Pluto is the farthest.

Amidst a strange and constantly changing world, the fact that there were nine planets, from Mercury out to Pluto, seemed like one of the few constants I could count on. As I got older, math class got harder, history class got more complicated, health class got more embarrassing. Even the world maps changed, with the big red bulk of the Soviet Union giving way to seemingly dozens of smaller bits of different colors that had unpronounceable names. But I could always count on those nine planets.

It's all different now, of course. When I graduated from high school in 1994, not a single planet outside our Solar System had yet been discovered. Since then, thousands of extra-solar have been found and more are being discovered with every passing day. Moreover, the scientists are telling us that Pluto isn't really a planet and that there are probably lots of other worlds like it orbiting in that hazy, dark realm out there on the fringes of our Solar System. All the planets I had learned about as an excited schoolboy, it turned out, were nothing special. And Pluto was the least special of them all.

Hogwash. On July 14, 2015, Pluto had its big moment in the limelight.

Years ago, I was one of thousands of people around the country who sent letters to our representatives in Congress imploring them to appropriate funds for NASA that would allow it to send a robotic spacecraft to explore Pluto. Partly as a result of the huge outpouring of civic activism, the funds were appropriated and, in early 2006, the New Horizons probe was launched. After a journey of more than nine years and more than three billion miles, it flew past Pluto two days ago. While doing so, the seven scientific instruments on the plucky little spacecraft gathered a treasure trove of data on Pluto, as well as its large moon Charon and its four smaller moons. This priceless data will rewrite the science textbooks on the Solar System and help us sharpen our understand of exactly how the Solar System was formed.

It will take more than a year for all the data collected to be downloaded from the New Horizon's onboard computer. Yet even in these early days, its discoveries are already opening new mysteries. It had always been assumed that Pluto and its large moon Charon were similar worlds, but they in fact seem to be very different from one another. It had always been assumed that the surface of Pluto would be extremely ancient and covered with impact craters, but the initial close-up images show very few impact craters, indicating that the planet's surface is geologically quite young. All of this is astonishing and will keep our scientists busy for a very, very long time.

It was very fitting that the spacecraft carried one ounce of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the Kansas farmboy-turned-astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930. Now that the flyby of Pluto is completed, the New Horizons probe will hopefully be directed to use its remaining fuel to fly past one of the smaller of the "Kuiper Belt objects" that lies in its path. Then, it will sail on to wander the Milky Way Galaxy forever. This means that Tombaugh is the first human being whose remains are leaving the Solar System.

I'm a history geek first and foremost, but I have a lot of the space geek in me, too. I have been fascinated by space ever since my father took me out into the countryside in 1986 to look at Halley's Comet through our small family telescope. In the summer of 2000, as an eager history graduate student at what was then Southwest Texas State University, I was lucky enough to participate in the NASA Oral History Project, interviewing engineers throughout Central Texas who had worked on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. I now own a decent telescope and very much enjoy breaking it out in the back yard or taking it on camping trips.

If you ask me, anyone who reads about the Pluto flyby and isn't enthralled has to be a person utterly devoid of a soul. We live in an age of mediocrity, in a society more interested in banal and inane popular culture rather than spiritual uplift and intellectual achievement. This is dissolving our spirit like a steady dripping of acid. Yet occasionally something happens which goes a certain way towards restoring my faith. Seeing the ecstatic faces of the engineers and scientists in the control room of New Horizons when confirmation was received that the spacecraft had survived its encounter with Pluto was one of those moments.

Thank you and congratulations to the whole New Horizons team. And thank you and congratulations to that lonely little spacecraft out there on the edge of the Solar System. Godspeed and have many new adventures!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Golden Age of Wine

It's easy to become disillusioned in this unsettled age of ours. One can turn on the TV and be flooded with stories of ISIS atrocities in the Middle East, of corporations exploiting people in pursuit of higher profits, of politicians bickering about the latest media-manufactured "controversy" or "crisis" rather than solving our nation's real problems, or whatever else. I don't really blame people who want to throw up their hands and conclude that the human race is a lost cause. But rather than dwelling on what's bad about the modern world, I think it's more healthy to turn one's attention to those aspects of the modern world which are pleasant and uplifting.

For me, one of these things is the undeniable fact that we live in the Golden Age of Wine.

Thomas Jefferson, in addition to being one of the great Founding Fathers and America's original Renaissance Man, was the greatest wine connoisseur of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. In his time, if he ordered a shipment of wine from a Bordeaux merchant, it might take as long as a year before it arrived, if it arrived at all. Today, one can go into just about any convenience store, in even the smallest town in America, and find a decent bottle of wine for less than $10. The art and science of winemaking has advanced over the last hundred years to such a wondrous state that it is almost impossible to make a bad bottle of wine. In fact, almost every bottle on the wine list of a nice restaurant is probably superior to the best wine that was ever enjoyed by Henry VIII or Louis XIV.

When I walk down the wine aisle of my local grocery store, I'm in a wine-lover's wonderland that Thomas Jefferson could only have dreamt of. The shelves are lined with wines from California, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and just about every other place that makes wine. For less than the average American's hourly wage, one can purchase a wonderful bottle of wine from almost anywhere in the world.

I love wine. As I often remind my wife, there are two things I cannot live without: books and wine. Mostly for my own edification, I earned my certification as a wine sommelier from the International Wine Guild a few years back.  Knowing about the history of the various wine regions, the processes by which the different kinds of wine are made, and the fascinating blend of national rules and regulations governing winemaking vastly increases the pleasure one gets from sipping a glass of wine.

I can't say that I have an especially good pallet for wine. I was recently reminded of this in the most humiliating fashion at a family wine tasting organized by my father on Independence Day. It was a blind tasting, with the bottles concealed in velvet wine bags. The five bottles ranged in price from $8 to $85. Despite my much ballyhooed sommelier certification, I picked the $8 bottle as the best and ranked the $85 bottle dead last. Needless to say, the family had a good laugh at my expense. I have always envied those extraordinary people, like Thomas Jefferson, who can sip a bottle of wine and tell you exactly what vineyard it came from. Such people are very rare, though snobs pretending to be such people are annoyingly common.

(My wife would be angry with me if I neglected to mention that she ranked the most expensive wine first and the least expensive wine last. She has a better pallet than I do.)

Despite the embarrassment it entailed, my Independence Day wine experience is proof that one does not have to have a lot of money to enjoy wine. I have enjoyed many bottles of wine between $10 and $15 that I found vastly superior to much more expensive bottles. While I would be overjoyed beyond belief if a friend gifted me a 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild or a 1973 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, one does not need a huge amount of money to obtain good wine in this day and age. This, too, would have delighted Jefferson, who wanted wine to be enjoyed by ordinary citizens rather than just a wealthy elite. As Benjamin Disraeli once said, "I rather like bad wine. One gets so bored with good wine."

One does not have to up-to-date on the latest wine fads to enjoy wine. In fact, wine faddists should generally be avoided. I always wince when I hear someone say that such-and-such wine "is big this year." Anyone saying something like this clearly doesn't know what they're talking about. Human beings have been making wine for 10,000 years; there's nothing faddish about it. One should drink whatever wine one likes, not whatever wine happens to be the most popular at any given moment.

Every time one opens a bottle of wine, no matter where one got it or how much it cost, one is opening a little piece of magic with its own special history and personality, a product of a unique combination of land, weather, climate, and the skills and techniques of the viticulturists and winemakers themselves.

There are wines for every occasion. On a hot summer day, there's nothing like a crisp, chilled glass of Portuguese vinho verde or New Zealand sauvignon blanc. On a cold winter night, there's nothing like a glass of Burgundy in one hand and a good book in the other, preferably in front of a roaring fire. If you're having pizza, open a Chianti. If you're having a steak, open a California cabernet sauvignon. Id you're having Indian food, a Syrah is always nice. But these are just my preferences. Since everyone's pallet is different, everyone will have different tastes. There's no such thing as a right and wrong answer and, in the Golden Age of Wine, we have a virtually infinite variety of choices.

As Ernest Hemingway said, "Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things in the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other sensory thing."

So if you feel discouraged by the state of the world, remind yourself that we live in the Golden Age of Wine and take some comfort from that. Then, go open a bottle and pour yourself a glass.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What I Love About America

Happy Independence Day, folks!

It is July 4. Two hundred and thirty-nine years ago today, a group of brave and determined men voted to approve a document, written by a young and brilliant Virginian, which declared the thirteen British colonies hugging the eastern coast of North America to be an independent nation. That day in Philadelphia is rightfully seen as our country's birthday.

Now, we spend a lot of time talking about what's wrong with our country and it is true that we have our fair share of problems. Yet on Independence Day, I think it's healthy to stop thinking about those things that trouble us about our country and consider instead what we love about it. So, here goes.

I love the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I love the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and the hundreds of beautiful letters that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote to one another in retirement. I love the journals of Lewis and Clark. I love Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address. I love the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. I love FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech, MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech, and the speech JFK gave at Rice University in which he declared that America chose to go to the Moon.

I love Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott and Edgar Allan Poe. I love Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I love the poetry of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost. I love The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

I love the Statue of Liberty (thanks, France!), the Liberty Bell, and Mount Rushmore. I love bald eagles and American bison. I love Mount Vernon and Monticello. I love the monuments and memorials around the National Mall in Washington D.C. I love the USS Constitution - "Old Ironsides" - launched in 1797 and still officially a commissioned warship in the United States Navy. I love the Space Needle in Seattle, the Empire State Building in New York City, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I love the Art Deco architecture of Miami. I love the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the thousands of small bridges one passes over while driving the back roads of our vast nation.

I love the cultural institutions of New York City: the Met Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hayden Planetarium, and the musicals of Broadway. I love the museums of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.: the National Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of American History. I love the Boston Aquarium, the San Diego Zoo, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. I love the Library of Congress.

I love the National Parks: Yellowstone, the Everglades, Yosemite, Acadia, Bryce Canyon, and all the rest. I love the national battlefields: Saratoga, Yorktown, Antietam, Gettysburg, and all the rest. I love Carlsbad Caverns and Mammoth Cave. I love the carefully preserved homes of historical figures and sites of historical events. I love the haunting stillness one can feel amid the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park and Bandelier National Monument. I love the way the wind howls through "The Window" at Big Bend National Park.

I love NASA. I love the rovers wandering the surface of Mars, the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn, and the plucky little New Horizons spacecraft that will fly past Pluto in just over a week. I love the two Voyager probes, still functioning decades after being launched and embarking on their lonely journey into the vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy. I love the beautiful photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. I love the fact that the United States was the first nation to land human beings on the surface of another world (why aren't we sending anybody these days?).

I love Texas barbecue more than words can express. I love the breakfast tacos of Austin. I love locally brewed beer and locally distilled spirits in cities and towns all across this bountiful country. I love the overpriced hot dogs and pretzels at baseball stadiums. I love corny dogs at the Texas State Fair. I love the cabernet sauvignons of Napa and Sonoma County and the pinot noirs of Oregon and Washington. I love New York pizza and Massachusetts haddock. I love cheddar cheese from Vermont and colby cheese from Wisconsin. I love the Steak Dunigan made at the Pink Adobe restaurant in Sante Fe. I love Boston cream pie and I love s'mores around the campfire. I love those Cuban sandwiches you can order in Florida restaurants. I love Kentucky bourbon. I love the grits, catfish, fried okra, and pecan pie of the South. I love coffee, bacon, eggs, and hash browns served at dingy highway diners by sarcastic old waitresses who reek of cigarettes.

I love New Orleans jazz, Memphis blues and the indie rock of the Pacific Northwest. I love the bluegrass of the Appalachian Mountains, the Creole music of southern Louisiana, and the amazing music that comes out of my own beloved Austin. I love country stars singing patriotic music. I love the singing of James Taylor and Bing Crosby, the guitar of B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the trumpets of Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. I love the beautiful voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. I love the classical compositions of Aaron Copeland and John Philip Sousa. I love the haunting music that can be produced by the Native American flute.

I love silly American traditions. I love that the Le Pavillion Hotel in New Orleans serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ice-cold milk in the lobby every evening at ten o'clock. I love the singing of Sweet Caroline by Red Sox fans at Fenway Park in the middle of the eighth inning every game. I love the daily duck parade between the elevator and the lobby fountain at the Peabody in Memphis. I love the different drinks and different theme songs for each of the Triple Crown horse races. I love the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil from Gobbler's Knob on Groundhog Day. I loved the Poe Toaster, wonder what happened to him, and still hope he comes back.

I love the goalkeeping of Tim Howard, the swimming of Michael Phelps, and the gymnastic grace of the Fierce Five. I love both the men's and women's national soccer teams, as well as the incredible enthusiasm of the American Outlaws that support them (I believe that we will win against Japan tomorrow!). I love the speed of American Pharoah. Whenever the Olympics rolls around, I love to see great athletes of the United States stand on the victory podium as they are presented with their medals to the sound of the Star Spangled Banner.

I love the mystique of the Golden Age of Hollywood: Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, John Wayne. I love old Frank Capra movies, especially Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I love the movies Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together. I love Frank Sinatra. I love the script-writing of Aaron Sorkin, the documentaries of Ken Burns, the acting of Tom Hanks, and the films of Steven Spielberg. I love watching the Academy Awards.

I love liberals, conservatives, and libertarians - all equally American. I love freedom of expression, and I don't much mind that it means that people can express opinions with which I disagree and which I might even find repugnant. I love that I can stand on any street corner and denounce the governor of my state or even the president of my country and not fear arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, or execution. I love freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, which allow me to worship God as I choose, and I don't much mind that it means people can practice religions different from my own or choose not to practice any religion at all. I love that I can go into a voting booth and cast my ballot for whomever I wish.

I love the men and women who have served or are serving in the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and Marines. I love the grizzled old veterans of the Second World War, who helped rid the world of fascism. I love SEAL Team Six, who took out Osama bin Laden on an epic night in the spring of 2011. I love the 1st Battalion, 5th United States Field Artillery, formed by Alexander Hamilton in 1776 and today the oldest continuously serving unit in the United States armed forces, with battle honors stretching from the Revolutionary War to the modern campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. I love the men and women of every battalion, every ship, and every squadron who put their lives on the line every day to protect everything else I've written about in this piece.

I could go on and on and on, but I think the point I'm trying to make is pretty clear.

I love America.