Naming

Channelling my inner Andy Rooney, it seems to me that the messier and more contentious our politics gets, the bigger the egos. Hubris has been

The Royals

on full display lately. Don’t the names Newt Gingrich and Donal Trump resonate with that? I’ve had some fun from time to time mocking the egos of English royalty, because their job is all about image. Whenever I think about them, the memory of a skit by Carol Burnette, Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway comes irresistibly to mind. Clearly, people have a need to imagine that their country and their leaders are of superior quality and the sight of royalty on parade seems to help that along. (Not to mention that the Royals are the country’s main tourist attraction.) But image does help.  I was impressed yesterday to see an image of the Queen sealing an historical image by shaking hands with the leader of the Irish Republican Army, apparently ending an era of visceral hatred between political blocs.

Here in the colonies, politicians have to polish their own images without the help of royalty. It is really quite clever of the Brits to keep the Royals apolitical since they generally view their politicians like we do, on a par with pond scum, or at least those of one’s party’s opposition. In my lifetime I can only recall two presidents whom the public esteemed so highly as to approach royalty, Kennedy and Reagan. Neither deserved it by virtue of his works in my opinion, but they had that special quality that over-rode reality. Reagan raised taxes and had Iran Contra, and Kennedy had the Bay of Pigs fiasco.  But it didn’t matter, they were both Teflon-coated.

Image is something always under political construction and one of the principal means of embellishing both the person and his political party is to name big public things after him. Back in the day, Americans were so carried away with John Kennedy’s Camelot image that they not only named the space-port after him but converted the name of Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy, quietly reversing that decision later when sanity set in. A similar mania prevailed for Reagan who not only got an airport but an aircraft carrier named for him while he was still alive. I guess that set a precedent because the pols got the same two things for George H. W. Bush, even though he was a little more Teflon-challenged than Reagan.    (“Read my lips, no new taxes.”)  Even Jimmy Carter got a ship, likely through partisan pay-back. On the other hand, presidents who get impeached apparently don’t get that treatment. So far there is no USS Bill Clinton.

I have a problem with naming stuff for people because all people are flawed and their accomplishments are invariably viewed by history as mixed at best after enough time has passed. Maybe with the exception of George Washington. But, I don’t doubt that he had his faults too. Probably made children with slaves, destroyed whole orchards of cherry trees, and who knows what else, but he was smart enough to stay above petty politicking and limit his oration. In any case, the perceived glory usually fades and people forget why some things were named as they were. Who was Love Field in Dallas named for? How many people know the story behind naming O’Hare airport in Chicago?  But the naming thing has been going on for a long time and will likely continue.  Just think of all the guys out there named Mohammad.

There used to be a fairly strict protocol for ship naming,but it seems to be fading even as our politics become more rancorous. As some politician said about naming submarines after cities and states instead of fish, “Fish don’t vote.” When I first went into the Navy I had the notion that U.S. ships were never named for living people, but it turns out that the pols have always tinkered with that protocol so much you can’t even call it a

Red Buttons

rule. Conveniently, Wikipedia has a historical list of ships named for living people and it’s a pretty long one. It has some interesting links to other articles about ship naming as well. Heck, I was shocked to learn that even Gabrielle Giffords got a ship. It’s getting so that if you don’t get a ship, you weren’t successful. Makes me think of the comedian Red Buttons who often appended to his jokes a wistful, ” . . . and he didn’t get a dinner!”

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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13 Responses to Naming

  1. IzaakMak says:

    I always thought it was a typo of some kind when I saw “Cape Canaveral” instead of “Cape Kennedy” somewhere Jim. Why did they change it back? The USS Gabrielle Giffords? Really? Well I guess she is a symbol for resilience under fire…

    Linking politicians naming things after themselves with comedians is precisely right, IMHO. Of course, I think that on most subjects involving politicians anyway. And I have no sympathy for the ones who are now stuck with much less to name after themselves now that the really big things get named after the highest bidder either. Just another extension of the “corporations are people too” mentality I suppose. 😉

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      The Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy name change was all politics of course, Mak. Glad you asked, because it makes an appropriate addition to the post. Here’s an excerpt from Cape Canaveral’s Wikipedia page:

      From 1963 to 1973 the area had a different name as US President Lyndon Johnson by Presidential edit renamed the area;Cape Kennedy." President John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing on the moon. After his assassination in 1963, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, suggested to President Lyndon Johnson that renaming the Cape Canaveral facility would be an appropriate memorial. Johnson recommended the renaming of the entire cape, announced in a televised address six days after the assassination. Accordingly, Cape Canaveral was officially renamed Cape Kennedy.

      Although the name change was approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names of the Interior Department in December 1963, it was not popular in Florida, especially in the neighboring city of Cape Canaveral. In 1973, the Florida Legislature passed a law restoring the former 400-year-old name, and the Board went along. The name restoration to Cape Canaveral became official on October 9, 1973. The Kennedy family issued a letter stating they “understood the decision”. NASA&’s Kennedy Space Center retains the Kennedy name.

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  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    (I am inserting here a comment from “Grant” which I received by email. Grant has told me he would like to comment on some posts, but has been having some computer problems doing so. – Jim)

    Jim,

    Today’s American History classes are likely not as patriotic as the classes I attended. In the 1940’s and 1950’s we pledged allegiance to the American Flag every day; in the 7th grade we learned the American’s Creed (shown below), and we learned what the Statesmen of their day did for our country. There was never any suggestion or discussion about any possible flaws in character, etc. No one was trying to peddle or justify social behavior by way of suggesting that our “heros” were not really all that good.

    But today, it seems that the schools and writers make unsubstantiated inferences such as suggesting that George Washington, my hero, “probably made children with slaves, destroyed whole orchards of cherry trees, and who knows what else, but he was smart enough to stay above petty politicking and limit his oration”. This distraction has the effect of not teaching the importance of their professional accomplishments, and subconsciously justifies some of today’s social behavior.

    Grant

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    The American’s Creed is the national creed of the United States of America. It was written in 1917 by William Tyler Page as an entry into a patriotic contest. It was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives April 3, 1918.

    The American’s Creed hung in Butler University’s Jordan Hall
    “ I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
    I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.[1]

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Grant,
      (To all: Grant is a USNA classmate of mine.)

      Grant, please allow me to explain how I think about this.

      When you and I went to school, as you say, we were taught an image of our country’s leaders that made them appear virtually perfect. I have learned since that time that no human being is perfect. However, the United States is most fortunate to have had founding fathers who were exceptionally talented and wise and they left us with a Constitution that is superior to anything else in history, one that depends on three separate but equal branches of government and which was intended to promote compromise and reasonable political discourse. When you and I took our oath of commissioning as officers in the U.S. Navy we swore allegiance not to the President or the Secretary of Defense, but to the Constitution. This is different from all other countries, and the reason for it is what I said – all individual human beings have flaws, and the more power they have the more critical those flaws become.

      Do I need to list the foibles and mistakes of past politicians? Surely you know many of them as well as I do. JFK’s womanizing, Ike’s cheating, Iran Contra, Watergate, LBJ’s games with the Vietnam war, Jefferson’s black children, etc. The closer you look the more you find. I suggest reading “The Presidents Club” – I am about 30% through it myself. It shows very well just how human our presidents have been.

      I submit that most of the flaws our leaders had should not disqualify them from receiving credit for their many great accomplishments, but I also think it would be a mistake to close our eyes to the reality of their imperfection. Our confidence should be in principles more than in specific human beings. This is why I think the character flaws exposed during primary elections are very important – character counts. We should elect people only with open eyes and ensure that they govern in the open sight of all.

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        [From Grant]

        You left out the most recent and most notorious: William Jefferson Clinton. Some renamed the White House office, the “Oral Office”. We should be praising Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

        Grant

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        (posted out of order due to diminishing thread)
        Actually I didn’t leave out Bill Clinton. In the post I noted that no ship had been named for him. But I simply can’t see this issue as black and white (pun, if you wish) but rather a matter of shades of gray. “The Presidents Club” surprised me with some admirable facts about, of all people, Herbert Hoover. C’mon, Grant, where’s your Christian forgiveness?

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  3. Jim Wheeler says:

    Apropos of the errant humanity of political figures and relative to the theme of this post, please consider these excerpts from this week’s Parade Magazine, with apologies for likely redundancy:

    1. Devastatingly handsome and, according to one historian, “brimming with libido,” Alexander Hamilton was the nation’s first public figure to be embroiled in a sex scandal. The good news: He confessed to the misdeed. The bad news: Instead of offering a simple apology, he described his indiscretions in what was termed “almost picaresque detail,” making colleagues squirm.
    2. Renaissance man Thomas Jefferson was a violinist, an inventor of words (belittle, to name one), a gourmet, and a wine connoisseur—during his eight years in the White House, he ran up a wine bill of over $10,000 (nearly $200,000 today!).
    3. Centuries before the word cougar became part of the vernacular, Ben Franklin offered a pal eight reasons why he should take an older mistress. Among them: “Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.”
    4. He was short and stocky (his nickname around D.C. was “His Rotundity”). But in letters to wife Abigail, John Adams was Mr. Smooth: “I am, with an Ardour that Words have not Power to express, yours.”
    5. George Washington had two horses shot from beneath him in battle, but the bruiser had a soft side, too: He named one of his hunting dogs “Sweet Lips.”

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    • Grant Rees says:

      My comments relative to Bill Clinton’s “escapades” in the White House was to contrast factual historic events with your unsubstantiated and sneer comments relative to George Washington. My observations should not be misconstrued with my willingness to forgive.
      In addition to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, we might also praise Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Grant, my comments relative to George Washington were indeed unsubstantiated, but I must point out that I did not characterize them otherwise. I instead was clearly referring to the cultural context of the era relative to the behavior of others of George Washington’s class, i.e., wealthy plantation owners. Relative to the Presidents Bush, I do not choose to denigrate their intentions; I consider them both honorable men. But of the two, the elder Bush clearly has the superior record in my opinion, whereas the son rendered his personal and familial interests subordinate to the nation’s.

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  4. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    I agree with Grant about George Washington . If you must cite examples of George Washington having human faults, and not being God like, you can cite real incidents . You could cite his suppression of the whiskey rebellion, Having lead a war against taxes, it was a bit hypocritical, but probably necessary . You could also cite his execution of rebelling soldiers during times when they were starving during the Revolutionary War . Also probably unavoidable .

    Now what were George the Younger’s faults you mentioned ?

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      The case against George W. Bush is circumstantial, Alan, but nevertheless a strong one. Saddam Hussein, in the wake of the First Gulf War, publicly vowed to take revenge on W.’s father personally. Subsequently, W. clearly let the CIA know what kind of WMD evidence he was looking for and that led to the completely nonsensical Iraq War and the deaths of some 600,000 human beings. Secondarily, but still important and counter to the values of his party, W. completely abandoned any sensible government budget and that led to the profligate spending documented in painful detail by the book, “Top Secret America”, a scandal that is ongoing and includes the unnecessary massive agencies of Homeland Security and the Directorate of National Security.

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  5. Alan Scott says:

    Jim ,

    I will agree only with Bush’s spending . Though in the last year as the banking system was freezing up and the Administration had to spend to save it . The interesting thing about the high level of spending in that last year is that Barak Obama has used the elevated baseline to claim that he has increased spending less than any other recent President . Normally sane Liberal bloggers have latched onto this logic with a death grip . As I have pointed out the hypocrisy of this point of view , I have been labeled a troll and been frozen out of the discussions .

    President Obama tries to link Romney with Bush . Bush’s policies and overspending . Romney will be Bush on steroids . From a strictly spending context President Obama is Bush on crack .

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  6. Jim Wheeler says:

    It was not with pleasure but rationality that I wrote this post to criticize “Naming” public objects for people, and especially people who are still alive. It was controversial and I believe I offended some by simply speculating that some historical icons might have been imperfect. It is with sadness but a feeling of some vindication that I now append to this post one more piece of evidence, the tragic downfall of Joe Paterno. The sports section of today’s USA Today reports:

    The conclusions of former FBI director Louis Freeh, who drew on more than 400 interviews and 3 million documents over a nearly eight-month independent investigation of Penn State’s sexual assault scandal as requested by the school, have complicated and sullied the image of major-college football’s all-time winningest coach. Freeh found that Paterno was among five Penn State senior leaders who covered up information to avoid bad publicity after they became aware of sexual molestation allegations against Paterno’s former longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse. Freeh said Paterno could have stopped the sexual abuses “if he wished.”
    “The facts are the facts,” Freeh said of Paterno. “He was an integral part of the act to conceal.”

    The article also contains this:

    And Keith Dorney, who played left tackle at Penn State from 1975 to 1978, in a telephone interview said Paterno “is not the man we thought he was. No one is perfect, but you talk about egregious errors? My God. It’s hard to conjure up something worse.”
    Dorney, a unanimous All-American in 1978 inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005, added, “All of us feel duped. A little bit. Everything that was said, everything that was preached to us rings a little bit hollow.”

    I do not believe the downfall of characters like Paterno needs to discourage people from revering heroes. There are still many who accomplish great things and who deserve admiration, but I submit that admiration should not extend into adulation. We also need to remember, I suggest, that just because someone is good at one thing shouldn’t make him above reproach or even suspicion if evidence suggests otherwise. I also draw this conclusion from the affair: secrecy corrupts. (There’s a lot of that going around these days.) The Paterno scandal, a cover-up conspiracy at the highest levels of a trusted institution, derived from hubris. His name has now been removed from the campus child-development center. I wonder what will happen to his bronze statue? The article says they have posted a guard on it.

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