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John Marshall, on his birthday Posted - Sep 17, 2017

September 24 is John Marshall’s birthday. By nearly all accounts, John Marshal is our greatest Supreme Court Chief Justice. A goodly number of his words issued from the bench have been chiseled in stone, but he was anything but a marble man, as the following will attest. It’s a letter to his to wife written while riding circuit in South Carolina:

Raleigh Jany 2nd 1803

“My dearest Polly

“You will laugh at my vexation when you hear the various calamities that have befallen me. In the first plan when I came to review my funds, I had the mortification to discover that I had lost 15 silver dollars out my waist coat pocket. They had worn through the various mendings they had sustained & sought their liberty in the sands of Carolina.

“I determined not to vex myself with what could not be remedied & ordered (our son) Peter to take out my clothes that I might dress for court when to my astonishment & grief after fumbling several minutes in the portmanteau, staring at vacancy & sweating most profusely he turned to me with the doleful tidings that I had no pair of breeches. You may be sure this piece of intelligence was not very graciously received; however, after a little scolding I determined to make the best of my situation & immediately set out to get a pair made.

“I thought I would be sans culotte only one day . . . but not a tailor in town could be prevailed on to work for me. . . . I have the extreme mortification to pass the whole time without the important article of dress I have mentioned. I have no alleviation of this misfortune but the hope that I shall be enabled in four or five days to commence my journey homeward & that I shall have the pleasure of seeing you & our dear children in eight or nine days after this reaches.

“In the meantime I flatter myself that you are well & happy.

“Adieu my dearest Polly

I am your ever affectionate

J. Marshall”

John Marshall was born in a log cabin on the Virginia frontier in 1755, and never left home until he joined Washington's army. He was home-schooled by his strong-willed father, who rose to prominence in local and state politics. There was a copy of Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism” in the little cabin, and Marshall all but memorized it. Later on he got a few months’ legal lectures at the College of William and Mary—that was all. He married, settled permanently in Richmond, and by character and brilliance rose to prominence in the bar. He served briefly as secretary of state under John Adams; Adams then appointed him chief justice of the Supreme Court. Years later, Adams wrote: ”My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.”

At the time of Marshall’s appointment (1801), the Supreme Court was supreme in name only. It met in a dank, cramped 24-by-30-foot committee room in the basement of the Capitol building. The nation’s highest court had little power, and was despised by President Thomas Jefferson. How did Marshall make the Judicial Branch of government the equal of the Executive and Legislative Branches? By picking a Constitutional issue so trivial as to seem ridiculous, and decided it in a way that gave Jefferson a "victory" while asserting the court's own right to overthrow acts of Congress that conflicted with the United States Constitution. This was Marbury v. Madison (1803), the landmark case that established the precedent of Judicial Review.

MAKING CONVERTS

There followed a series of decisions that cemented the rule of law, the sanctity of property, the corporation clothed like an individual, the rights of expanding U.S. capitalism, and the supremacy of the federal government. Politically motivated decisions? Jefferson thought so. He appointed judges of different persuasion to the court, only to have the charismatic Marshall make converts of them all. Marshall made their living arrangements in the backwoods capital a kind of cozy bachelor's club, where the judges lived, ate, and studied court cases together. The pleasant atmosphere coupled with Marshall's humor and congeniality discouraged bitter disagreement. As new judges replaced old, Marshall won them all over, confounding the presidents who appointed them.

For 35 years, and five presidential administrations, John Marshall’s was the voice of the Supreme Court. Marshall rarely cited cases. He launched his opinions as though they were inevitable deductions from self-evident propositions. When a legal precedent was called for, he would ask Justice Joseph Story—a renowned legal scholar—to find the appropriate citations. “There, Story; that is the law in this case; now go and find the authorities.”

“By a few opinions—a mere handful—he gave institutional direction to the inert ideas of a paper scheme of government. . . . His opinions had the persuasiveness of compelling simplicity.” — Justice Felix Frankforter

“There fell to Marshall perhaps the greatest place that was ever filled by a judge.” — Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

“He exercised a magnetic force on his Court contemporaries and on his time. All greatness has a historical reference, a context. The question is what a man does with it. It is hard to envisage any other judge doing as much as Marshall did, and with his unmistakable flourish of grandeur.” — Max Lerner, professor, syndicated columnist, and author

MARSHALL ETCHED IN STONE

“We must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding.”

“This provision is made in a Constitution, intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.”

“It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is . . . If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each. . . . This is the very essence of judicial duty.”

“Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.”

“The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection.”

“The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation, if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right.”

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A Movement Led By Ministers
Posted - Sep 04, 2017

Anyone who knows John Lewis, or is familiar with his role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, is aware that this is no ordinary person. Lewis is a man of undeniable integrity and inner strength, who triumphed over unspeakable brutality. He was beaten many times, and arrested and jailed 40 times for no other reason than standing up for his rights as an American citizen. What makes him unusual—as with many who partook in the Movement—is that he forgave his attackers–not partially, but completely and whole-heartedly. “We were consciously aware that unity was our ultimate goal, and if that was truly our aim, we had come to grips with the fact that after all the warring was done, reconciliation, love, and forgiveness would have the final say.” Lewis is living testament that love triumphs over hate.

Lewis’s book, ACROSS THAT BRIDGE (2012), discusses what it was like to be brought up in the Deep South in the days of Jim Crow, of being the son of a poor share cropper, of barely getting by, living on hand-me-downs, attending second-rate schools, seeing his father whom he loved and respected being referred to as “boy” and ordered around whenever he set foot in town. Living such an existence was more than degrading, it was dehumanizing. It tried to rob people of their self-worth, their self-respect, and their dignity as human beings. The people Lewis grew up with were impoverished, yet “these people were actually rich,” he says, “rich in character and rich in faith. They may have been denied the most basic material resources, but they did not lack the drive.”

Hearing a speech on the radio by Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged Lewis to join the Civil Rights Movement. “(King) was preaching about the responsibility of Christians to respond to the injustices of segregation,” remembers Lewis. “He was delivering the message I had prayed to hear.” Further on, Lewis writes: “It was no accident that the movement was led primarily by ministers—not politicians, presidents, or even community activists—but ministers first, who believed they were called to the work of civil rights as an expression of their faith.” King and others, including Lewis, studied the power of nonviolent resistance as practiced by Mohandas Gandhi and adopted into their faith.

“We not only had grown together as we discovered the transformative power of nonviolent resistance, but we had risked our lives to see its truth manifested before our eyes.” Protest marches, sit-ins, freedom rides drew the rage of Southern whites who attacked with billy clubs, lead pipes, rocks, bricks, and attack dogs, to no avail. “After the initial fear, each protest became an exercise in freedom instead of a cause for alarm.”

Among the many marches that drew the nation’s attention, the most significant was the march from Selma to Montgomery. The focal point, as it turned out, was the horrific violence reigned down on the marchers as they attempted to cross Edmund Petus Bridge. “We were silent,” says Lewis. “Just six-hundred of us walking in quiet persistence. To me, it felt like a holy march. . . . I had made peace with the understanding that if I died on that bridge, I would have offered my life in contribution to an effort that was larger than myself.” They didn’t make it across the bridge that day, but would a few weeks later. The 600 peaceful protestors would grow to 10,000 by the time they reached their destination, Montgomery, the capital of Alabama.

Among the chapters in the book is one entitled “Patience.” Among the subjects is The National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. From its inception until the time of its creation, exactly 100 years elapsed. The setbacks were many, and the project was thought dead many times, but persistence and patience—lots of patience—and at last the museum opened its doors in 2015. As fate would have it, Lewis, elected to Congress in 1986, played a significant role in seeing the project be restarted, properly funded, designed and built. “Patience is a guiding light in all the work of change,” says Lewis.

The following are a few quotes that struck me as significant while reading this book:

“Faith, to me, is knowing in the solid core of your soul that the work is already done, even as an idea is being conceived in your mind.”

“We had nothing to prove. Our worth had already been established before we were born. Our protests are an affirmation of this faith, and our belief that we could never be separated from the truth.”

“We in the movement decided to actualize our belief that the hatred we experienced was not based on any truth, but was actually an illusion in the minds of those who hated us.”

“Our approach was not passive, as some believed; it was uncompromising.”

“(E)very change in the world starts within. It begins with one individual who envisions his or her micro-universe the way it can be, and settles for nothing less.”

“Being willing to withstand their rage, to serve as a reflection in which they could see themselves, was actually an act of compassion and love that helped release millions of white Southerners from the burdens inherent in the work of hate.”

“Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Violence can never overcome violence, only peace can do that. Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that.”

This is a beautiful book. It’s proof positive that there is an active moral force in the universe guiding the hearts of those willing to listen—and willing to act.

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Passion Knows No Bounds
Posted - Aug 27, 2017

This review is from: Man on Wire (DVD)

“Passion is something that knows no bounds,” says Philippe Petit, the man who strung a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and stepped out on it, performing before a crowd of awestruck New Yorkers—one-quarter mile below. This documentary of his breathtaking exhibition was made after the Towers were brought down by terrorists. The tension one feels watching this film, of the painstaking planning and of the event itself, is quite palpable. Philippe Petit’s story of dreaming big and overcoming impossible obstacles is timeless. The Frenchman’s charisma and enthusiasm spills off the screen. If ever there was a film to motivate people, to free them of their fear of failure and dare them to seek their dreams however difficult, this is it. Listening to Petit for 30 minutes you begin to believe with enough passion anything is possible.

I first learned of Philippe Petit during an interview on CNN mere days after the Towers came down. The French wire walker was on a program with American George Willig, “The Human Fly.” Willig likewise became famous in connection with the Towers, by scaling the South Tower in 1977, three years after Petit’s daring wire walk (on August 7, 1974). Listening to them talk about their achievements, it was apparent that once they got their idea—despite the very real possibility of landing in jail, never mind falling to their death—there was no turning back. The idea possessed them.

For Petit, it was a long journey, consuming a number of years, of several flights back and forth across the Atlantic, of finding ways to get some 400 pounds of equipment and three accomplices past a network of security, and most important of all, of finding a way to get a three-quarter-inch cable strung from one tower to the next, plus four guy-wires necessary to stabilize the cable, and secure it safely on both ends, without being detected. The task was as much an engineering feat as it was a test of Petit’s ability to actually step out onto the wire and perform his routine without a safety net. The lively documentary shows how he did it, and says much about his character. “To me, it’s so simple that life should be lived on the edge of life,” says Petit. “You have to exercise in rebellion, to refuse to taper yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a challenge—and then you are going to live your life on a tight rope.”

THE PACESETTER

This review is from: The Pacesetter (Paperback)

What does the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Miami Beach, and the Lincoln Highway have in common? All three were the creations of Carl. G. Fisher (1874-1939), a promoter and business tycoon with the vision, energy, determination and wealth of his good friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, but, alas, not with their well-thumbed niche in American history. Finding Fisher a prominent place in the history books is the avowed purpose of this book, written with clarity by one of Mr. Fisher's cousins, Jerry M. Fisher.

Like many captains of industry who rose to wealth and power early in the 20th century, Carl Fisher left school at an early age and worked in a variety of low-paying jobs before making his fortune. From the beginning, he exhibited boundless energy and a lust for life that inspired confidence in investors and eventually United States presidents. The Indiana native's early years were closely associated with the automotive industry. He made his fortune with Presto-O-Lite, the first effective automobile headlight. He created the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a place for auto makers to improve their product through competition. Ever civic minded, he worked tirelessly to raise private capital to build the nation's first transcontinental highway–the Lincoln Highway (the "Father Road" to John Steinbeck's “Mother Road” — Route 66).

The 1920s were Fisher's high-roller years. He hosted parties that would be the envy of Jay Gatsby, fished and gambled off the coast of Florida, drove exotic cars, played polo and raced speedboats, spent millions on a whim, and made a second fortune converting a mosquito-infested mangrove swamp into Miami Beach. The stock market crash of 1929 ended Fisher's run as a free-wheeling tycoon. By the mid-1930s he was bankrupt, drinking heavily, and in poor health. He died in 1939 not as a broken man but rather as a lonely man.

HOW TO SUCCEED WITH TRYING

This review is from: How to Become a Rainmaker: The Rules for Getting and Keeping Customers and Clients (Hardcover)

There are rainmakers and there are rainmakers. There are rainmakers operating at the senior level of management who make deals involving acquisitions and mergers entailing tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in company assets, and there are rainmakers who deal on the retail level who call on small, medium and large companies trying to make a sale. This book is about the latter. These are the salespeople who knock on doors for a living, who need that bonus check to make ends meet, who operate under the old adage, If you don’t sell you don’t eat.

When I was in retail we were taught the five steps to making a sale: (1) greet the customer (2) determine the need, (3) discuss benefits, (4) overcome objections, and (5) ask for the order. Simple, effective, artless. The really good salespeople, however–the 20 percent of the sales force that generated 80 percent of the business–worked hard and mastered the art of selling. And that’s at the heart of this book: mastering the art of selling. And it is an art, as surely as the Van Gogh hanging in the museum—a joy to behold.

I like this book for many reasons, but I like it mainly because the author, Jeffrey J. Fox, keeps it simple. Effective selling, the kind that can turn a business around, is hard work but it’s not complicated. Fox walks you through what it takes to succeed. Among the points I particularly liked: (1) customers are people too; treat each customer as you would treat yourself; (2) prepare: 90 percent of all sales calls are won or lost before the salesperson sees the customer; (3) selling is problem-solving: show how your product will make them more money; (4) it’s not about lunch; it’s about getting the customer’s commitment, getting the bill, and getting on to the next appointment; (5) salespeople welcome objections because they know objections are simply the way customers express their desires; (6) be nice to everyone; business can come from unexpected places; (7) never knock the competition: to do so is to impugn the intelligence of the customer; (8) return calls ASAP—rainmakers are not too big, too important, or too busy for anyone; (9) your job is to listen to your customer: turn off smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices before you meet with a customer, and (10) don’t talk with food in your mouth; bad manners are off-putting: they signal insensitivity to others, an overly self-interested person, and an incomplete education. Be a model of decorum: acquire good table manners.

I knew people, good people, educated people who, for a variety of reasons, wound up in sales and didn’t like it. They either failed or barely eked out a living, forever dissatisfied with their lot in life. Why? Because they felt selling was beneath them. All the good sales people I knew, educated or not, were not proud. They worked hard, mastered the art of selling, and lived full, dignified and satisfied lives.

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Money and Metaphysics
Posted - Aug 13, 2017

You have to wonder about a book with the words, “banking and metaphysics” in the subtitle. What does banking have to with metaphysics? Quite a lot, actually.

The full title of the book is, “Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence.” The author, Tom Parks, makes a compelling case regarding money and metaphysics, and he’s not alone. Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” made the same case way back in 1776. A more recent example is “The Alchemists” by Neil Irwin. This book, however, is focused specifically on the Medici family business, which in fifteenth-century Florence was dealing in woolen and silken fabric: importing it, dying it, and shipping it to cities throughout Europe. This, in turn, involved money in its many forms: bills of exchange, promissory notes, letters of credit, and usury. Before the advent of wire services, overnight couriers, railroads and armored trucks, payment in gold and silver over long distances wasn’t easy or safe. Thus, a great deal of business was transacted with paper, with actual payment in hard currency being made some time in the future, thus tying up large sums of money over long periods of time. This involved banks—and usury.

Usury is charging interest on bank loans, and changes the game significantly. “With interest rates, money is no longer a simple and stable metal commodity that just happens to have been chosen as a means of exchange,” writes the author. “Projected through time, it multiplies, and this without toil of the usurer. Everything becomes more fluid. A man can borrow money, buy a loom, sell his wool at a high price, change his station in life. The usurer, or banker, meanwhile, lending lots of money, grows richer and richer.” This is where the Medicis come in. They started out as dealers in fabric, with client cities throughout Europe, making untold thousands on textiles. They ended up as bankers, making untold millions in the shuffling paper. “No sooner does money project itself through time and space then it generates vast quantities of writing,” says Parks. “It becomes a thing of the mind, fluid and fickle.”

Cosimo de’ Medici (the genius behind the family business) was a master banker. “Banking,” he said, “involves manipulation, risk, power. It’s magic that works.” Where others saw risk, he saw opportunity. Banking became his passion: “I would be a banker even if money could be made by waving a wand.” Having so much wealth means you must do something with it. Medici knew hoarding money decreases its value, while spending increases it. The act of money moving from hand to hand spreads wealth and benefits everyone. His hometown of Florence grew rich under his watch. He became a great patron of the arts, gave to charities, financed municipal building projects, and was a large benefactor of the Catholic Church (mostly to save his soul from hell, as usury was considered the greatest of all sins). At its height, the Medicis owned banks in Florence, Rome, Naples, Milan, Venice, London, Geneva, Lyon, Ancona, Basle, Pisa, Bruges, and Avignon.

As rich and as generous as he was, Medici preferred staying out of the spotlight. He did not flaunt his riches. “He mixed power with grace,” writes Machiavelli, a contemporary. “He covered it over with decency.” “Whenever he wished to achieve anything,” says Vespasian da Bisticci, “to avoid envy he gave the impression, as far as was possible, that it was they who had suggested the thing, not he.”

With the death of Cosimo, the Medici empire gradually receded. Bank after bank shuttered it doors and eventually the Medici business collapsed, 30 years after Cosimo’s death.

ZERO SUM GAME

The Medici empire expired, but the lesson of creating wealth through banking and paper money was not lost. Following in their tracks were the Netherlands, England, the early American Republic, and eventually all of Europe. The results were stunning. Tying money to the traditional forms of wealth—to land and to material substances, particularly gold and silver—was limiting. It was a zero sum game, one in which if any player gained, another lost in proportion. The 20th-century economist Sumner Slichter has calculated mathematically that through human history the annual production of wealth could not, in fact, have increased a great deal from, say, the days of Adam and Eve until approximately the year 1750. That is the time when banking and paper money took hold in Western Europe, and an explosion of wealth followed that benefitted the many.

The same phenomenon began in the U.S. in 1790 when Alexander Hamilton became Treasury Secretary. Where others saw the Revolutionary War debt as a national curse and recommended repudiation, Hamilton saw opportunity. He monetized the debt by converting the vast unpaid public debt into federal securities, which traded on what would become the New York Stock Exchange. Then he created the Bank of the United States (B.U.S.) to insure the value of these securities never dropped below par. In America’s cash-strapped economy, these securities passed as money among businessmen. Coupled with the Federal government’s newly-acquired power to tax, America was able to issue dividends and begin paying back foreign creditors. Within two years, America’s credit rating rose from the world’s worst to the world’s best. In turn, B.U.S. was able to make loans to U.S. businesses and charge interest on these loans. Instead of decreasing, national wealth increased dramatically. The depressed national economy took flight, and the war debt was retired in the time Hamilton had prescribed—in 20 years. Metaphysics? You bet.

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When You Smile Created by Bill Nisley
Posted - Mar 28, 2012
"When I would know thee...my thought looks upon thy well made choice of friends and books; then do I love thee, and behold thy ends in making thy friends books, and thy books friends."
-- Ben Jonson
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
--United States Declaration of Independence
 
Music by Bill and Scott Nisley
--Released in 2014. Bill made guitar riffs and synth tracks at home, got Lya Finston to write some lyrics and sing, and got Scott to provide some bass.
--Released in 2014. With his piano melodies and vocals, Scott entrusted the production of his album to several studio musicians.
--Recorded in 2010. A collaborative effort between Scott and Bill Nisley, Adam Sherman, and Zach Belka.
--Recorded in 2014. Songs written by Bill, at home. Synthesizers were added later. Some drumming done by Brendan Lenihan.
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