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The Stuff of Dreams Posted - Jan 07, 2018
Three reviews:


“Superpower: The Making of a Steam Locomotive” (Hardcover)

If you grew up with electric trains and still are a captive of the magic and majesty of the steam locomotive, this book is for you. Not only are the graphics superb, but so is the writing. Kudos to author/illustrator David Weitzman who shares our passion, and has the talent to make it come alive. While few of us know what it’s like to operate a steam locomotive, Mr. Weitzman does the next best thing—he puts us inside the high steel cab of one of these “gentle giants,” in this case the prototype A-1 Berkshire, fresh from the locomotive works in Lima, Ohio. It’s a trial run, a magnificent morning journey on the steel highway, from the industrial heart of Albany, New York, through the rising hill country of western Connecticut, to the North Adams Junction.

We experience the sights and sounds and smells of life at the controls, see the pulsating dials and multitude of levers being operated, feel the big machine hiss, groan, and lurch into motion, build up speed gradually, slow for crossings, charge over bridges, lean into long-bending curves, and behold an ever-changing panorama of farms and forests, small towns, junctions and water towers. That’s chapter one. The balance of the book is dedicated to the design and build of the A-1 locomotive, the first of more than six-hundred such 2-8-4 Berkshires that would revolutionize American railroading prior to the advent of the diesel locomotive. For us young-at-heart railroaders, the stuff of dreams.


“1964 Sheraton Thompson Special” (Hardcover)

I purchased this book in a fit of nostalgia. The day the Sheraton-Thompson Special won the Indianapolis 500, I was anything but a fan of its driver, A.J. Foyt. I was a fan of Scottish sensation Jim Clark. When I awoke the morning of the race, I fully expected Clark and his Lotus-Ford to win easily. Poor tire choice led to severe vibration from tread chunking that caused the suspension to fail and put Clark out of the race. After that the day was Foyt’s. Years later, older and experienced with what it takes to get ahead in this world, I have come to appreciate Foyt’s victory and, indeed, become a fan of SuperTex. This is a man with a lot of heart, impulsive, hot-headed, kind, generous, never petty, never a pessimist, who never gives less than his best. Foyt knows his own mind. He wants to win, no matter the odds, and no excuses. That’s what this car represents: winning. The high-tech Lotus-Fords of Clark, Dan Gurney and Bobby Marshman were quicker, and so was Rodger Wards’ less-tech Watson-Ford. Still, Foyt had a hunch. The Sheraton-Thompson Special was dated but a proven winner, still very fast, and bullet-proof. On Memorial Day, one by one the Lotuses fell by the wayside. Foyt lapped Ward and won going away.

Race cars are never finished but a work in progress. This book is mainly about the 1964 Watson Sheraton-Thompson Special—how it was designed, built and developed over time. A number of people are quoted: designer-builder A.J. Watson, chief mechanic George Bignotti, Foyt himself, and others. Donald Davidson, who is the official historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, did a bang-up job researching and writing this book.


“Edsel Ford and E. T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team and Their Classic Fords of the 1930s and 1940s” (Paperback)

Suave, elegant E. T. “Bob” Gregorie was the man behind the flair of the classic Fords of the ’30s and ‘40s. Author Henry Dominguez interviewed Gregorie and others who worked at Ford during this time. The result is a fascinating account of how Edsel Ford managed to pry the Model T from his father’s vice-grip, withstood a heap of abuse, and transitioned the Ford Motor Company into the modern era.

The role played by Gregorie in the real-life psycho-drama between father and son was crucial. Gregory could not fight Edsel’s battles for him, but he was the rock Edsel leaned upon, in a world gone mad, of management bullies, employee harassment, paranoia, and archaic thinking. As important, Gregorie shared Edsel’s vision of cleaned-lined, low-slung automobiles. Together, they constituted a dream team that brought style to the artless Ford line-up. Gregorie’s role (which he freely admits), was to put Edsel’s ideas on paper, see them through to full-scale clay mock-ups, and then finished body designs ready for the tool-and-die makers. Gregorie did his share of original design, certainly—the famed 1940 Continental was his alone—but he couldn’t have done it without his close working relationship with Edsel Ford.

Without Edsel’s influence, it’s likely the Ford Motor Company would have continued making crude Model Ts into the 1930s and the company be snuffed out by the Great Depression, as so many auto makers were. As company president, Edsel spear-headed the transition from the Model T to the Model A, introduced color into the product line, oversaw the acquisition of the Lincoln Automobile Company, expanded the Ford line-up from one to five cars, and created the Ford Styling Department (and put Gregorie in charge).

Sadly, Edsel Ford succumbed to the same ailment as a number of Ford executives, known as “Forditis,” or stomach ulcers. In Edsel’s case, it was fatal. He died May 26, 1943, age 49. Says Gregorie: “The old man (Henry) was always an anchor around Edsel’s neck, as far as the product was concerned. The old man didn’t know a thing about design, but he was an obstruction in the way of design, and he had to be reckoned with. And that was an unfortunate situation. I think that is what ultimately killed Edsel—worrying about how to handle the old man.”

There is more to this book, about the industry, car design, and how design proceeds from simple sketches to finished cars, which is fascinating in itself. Mostly, the book is about the symbiotic, creative working relationship between Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie, and the stylish cars that were the result.

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Why Macho Has To Go
Posted - Dec 10, 2017
Can the world know lasting peace without equality between men and women? “Sex and World Peace,” by four acclaimed scholars (Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmet) makes a compelling case that it cannot. Throughout most of the world, women are viewed as inferior and therefore poorly treated, not just in Asia, India and Africa, but in liberal Western Cultures, including the United States. The question is to what degree.

The book covers the gamut of ill treatment, from the extreme practices of much of the world (sex selective abortions, honor killings, purdah, female genital cutting) to what is commonly accepted in western societies (unequal pay, fewer job opportunities and career advancements, sexual harassment ranging from spousal abuse and date rape, to uninvited and inappropriate touching and kissing). Throughout the world the message is the same: men are superior and therefore entitled to do what they will to women, ranging from the extreme of femicide in Guatemala to sexual harassment in the halls of the United States Congress.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this behavior is not inbred in the human species, but is learned. According to a number of studies, men and women were equal in hunter-gatherer societies. It wasn’t until agriculture and animal husbandry became mainstays of human food supply, about 10,000 years ago, that generalized male dominance took root in human societies.

In twelfth century northwestern Europe, this began to change. Instead of parents choosing the partner for their sons and daughters to marry, the sons and daughters began to make the decision for themselves. This paved the way for the development of equal rights and individual freedom. In turn, this set the stage for the rise of sustainable democracy in human society. This explains a lot, including why democracy is frowned upon in Islamic nation-states, where the authoritarianism of government reflects the authoritarianism of men over women. This is also true in Russia and China and any number of countries where authoritarianism and tyranny reign supreme. In these countries, women are without rights.

The cost in human lives is overwhelming. According to the authors, more lives are lost through violence against women “from sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, suicide, egregious maternal mortality, and other sex-linked causes than were lost during all the wars and civil strife of the twentieth century.” This includes the nearly one-hundred million women that are missing from the populations of China and India due to similar sex-related violence. “We take this to mean,” say the authors, “that the true clash of civilizations in the future will not be over religious or cultural differences but along the fault lines between civilizations that treat women as equal members of the human species and civilizations that cannot or will not do so.”

Add to this the financial costs of holding women down. According to UNIFEM, the unpaid labor of women, if valued monetarily, would translate into about 40 percent of the world’s gross product. Furthermore, salary analysts in the United States consistently value the unpaid work of wife and mother at between $120,000 and $280,000 per year. In some parts of the world, women are the primary growers of food, especially subsistent crops. In addition, women are the providers of nearly all caring services such as elder care, and care for the ill, which are invariably priced very low in the marketplace. According to one source, women do two-thirds of the world’s work.

Add to this two crucial points: (1) with reproductive freedom, women tend to have fewer children, children that are healthier, better educated, and live longer and lead more productive lives, and, (2) according to an Inter-Parliamentary Union survey of 187 women holding public office in sixty-five countries, women’s presence in politics increases the amount of attention given social welfare, legal protection, and transparency in government and business, and 80 percent of respondents said that women’s participation restores trust in government. Indeed, the old-boy club of alpha males (where women’s input is not valued or welcomed) is more likely to take risks that bring down businesses and lead nations into war. In other words, men need women on the management team to lead businesses and governments more effectively and thereby insure better decisions in both the marketplace and in national and world politics. In order for this to happen, macho has to go.

“Sex and World Peace” is a call to action, and offers a variety of measures than can be taken now, from “Effecting Positive Change Through Top-Down Approaches” (chapter 5) and “Effecting Positive Change Through Bottom-Up Approaches” (chapter 6).

Finally, the politician who has spoken out consistently on men-women equality has been Hillary Clinton, who, ironically, lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. She has said: “Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights and the instability of nations is almost certain. . . . The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.”

“Sex and World Peace” was published in 2012. It’s well-footnoted, contains charts and graphs and, at 212 pages is not long. The writing is scholarly but relatively easy to read. Dealing with the personal accounts of women who have suffered abuses at the hands of men can be difficult to take, but is necessary to understanding the evils of inequality throughout the world. Five stars.

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Frank Sinatra, My Way
Posted - Nov 27, 2017
Frank Sinatra was famous for “My Way”— the song and what it said about him. Music was personal for Sinatra. It was the one thing in his life—perhaps the only thing—that he felt absolutely certain about. Everything else—performing, acting, celebrityhood—was secondary. He could be cavalier about acting in movies and joking around with Dino and Sammy on a Las Vegas stage, but when it came to his music he was deadly serious. This was especially true when making records, a process Sinatra controlled every step of the way.

Here’s how it was done. First, Sinatra picked all the songs. Oh, he might allude to a record company exec wanting this song or that, or the producer putting together a playlist, or the arranger having picked some of the material. Absolutely not true. Sinatra might accept a suggestion or two, but the final decision was his alone. Sinatra would pick the songs, meet with the arranger to determine the right key for each song, and whether or not the song should be arranged as a ballad or a swinger, for jazz band or string orchestra, or both. Sinatra was very particular about all of this. He knew exactly what he wanted, and chose arrangers who could carry out his vision.

Once the songs were selected and Sinatra and the arranger had gone over the material, Sinatra would then meet with his pianist, Bill Miller, and always at the singer’s house. Sinatra could not read a lick of music or play an instrument, so he relied on Miller to help him become familiar with each song. While Miller played, Sinatra would sing each song over and over again, searching for the inner meaning of the lyrics, to discover which words to emphasize, and which not to, where to pause, and for how long, where to be soft, and where to be strong, until he reached the point where he had the exact right inflection for each phrase. Some songs came easier than others, but the process always consumed long hours and several days. The result was utter mastery of the material. Sinatra didn’t write songs, but at the end of his sessions with Miller he knew them intimately, as if he had written them himself. He sang with such understanding and conviction that it seemed he was singing his life story. In fact, having chosen the songs, that is exactly what he was doing. Sinatra relied on many people to make records, but the key to his art was in personally selecting the songs, and rehearsing them to perfection.

The recording sessions began promptly at 7:00 in the evening. When Sinatra arrived—usually at seven sharp—he expected the studio orchestra to have warmed up and be ready to go. This put a great deal of strain on the arranger, who had to write the score for 10 to 14 songs, often on short notice, and to have them ready by the start of the session. It was never easy. Nelson Riddle sometimes worked all night before the first session, while Billy May was famous for finishing scores and handing them to the copyist while the band was tuning up. The idea was to be ready WHEN the singer arrived. Riddle and May always made the deadline—if barely. Those who needed more time to compose, such as Quincy Jones, employed “ghost” arrangers to meet the deadline.

If Sinatra was in good voice, and the orchestra was cooking, the song was recorded in one or two takes. If something wasn't quite right—Sinatra had incredibly good hearing and detected things others missed—then another one or two takes was required. Sinatra reveled in the moment when the orchestra took flight and the instrumental soloist would stretch for the high, hard notes. Mistakes would be made at such moments, and afterwards the producer would emerge from the booth shaking his head, saying, “Frank, we need another take.” If Sinatra was moved by the performance, he would wave him off. “No way to top that. Next tune.”

Recording an album generally took three sessions, with each session lasting about three hours. The songs were cut “live”—singer and orchestra recored at the same time. Overdubs were rare. The analogue tapes would then be mixed down, mastered, and sent to the record plant for pressing. The album usually appeared in record stores about a month later.

Below are reviews of three Sinatra albums that are among his very best:

SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS (1956) — In 1953, Frank Sinatra’s career was over. He’d been fired by Columbia Records and publicly disgraced by his breakup with actress Ava Gardner. At the same time, a song arranger was beginning to make a name for himself in Hollywood. The arranger was Nelson Riddle, who was doing the charts for the singer who had replaced Sinatra as the nation’s favorite balladeer—Nat Cole. After Sinatra’s agent failed to get the singer signed with RCA in New York, a then-small West Coast jazz label expressed interest. One thing led to another and, now with Capitol Records—and partnered with Nelson Riddle—Sinatra’s recording career shot off into the stratosphere bigger than ever. Riddle’s arrangements were the catalyst: imaginative, lightly textured and lively, even for ballads, allowing Sinatra to change from the boy singer of the 1940s to the urbane swinger of the ‘50s and ‘60s. The album that personified the changed was “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers.” Fourteen irresistible uptempo toe-tappers that had the jazz critics raving, the public buying again, and the kids swinging at sock-hops from coast to coast.

The song that best personified the change was Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” It was the tune that was almost overlooked. At the last moment, Capitol execs decided they needed another song to fill out the album. Sinatra choose “Skin” and Riddle was asked to come up with an arrangement by the following day. “It was a work of pressure,” recalled Riddle, “because I had to stay up quite late and finish it.” In fact, Riddle finished it in the car on the way to the studio. Sinatra had specific instructions. He wanted a long crescendo for the bridge (the instrumental break between verses). Riddle thought of Ravel’s “Bolero,” which had “the most calculating orchestral crescendo” that builds agonizingly slow to a musical peak. Riddle liked the idea but was stuck on how to bring it off in a three-minute pop tune. He was thinking of Afro-Cuban rhythmical patterns when he remembered a record by Stan Kenton with decided Afro-Cuban rhythms, called “23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West” (the geographical location of Cuba).

“I remembered that trombone back-and-forth thing (that Kenton employed),” said Riddle. “I was always fascinated by it.” There was only one trombonist on the West Coast who could do Riddle’s chart justice—jazz trombonist Milton Bernhardt. He was called shorty before the session was to begin. Can you be here in 20 minutes? Bernhardt rushed to the studio and later recalled that both Sinatra and Riddle seemed to know that this would be a very special track and they were keen to keep doing take after take until they had it exactly right. How many takes? For Sinatra, who didn’t have a lot of patience, two or three, four at most. Not this time. Not with this tune. Sinatra was not satisfied until the 22nd take. Bernhardt, who had to hit the same lofty notes over and over again, was exhausted when Sinatra said at last, "Next tune."

ALL ALONE (1962) — A sleeper in the Sinatra canon. Old fashioned songs, written mostly in the 1920s, in waltz time, many by legendary Irving Berlin, arranged by the stoic string master Gordon Jenkins, and sung with tenderness and heart by Frank Sinatra. Sentimental songs, rendered smart and urbane by Sinatra, not smarmy or routine. The closing number, "Come Waltz With Me," written specifically for this album by Sinatra’s pals Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, provides the perfect finale for a perfect album.

Familiar songs too, recorded by a host of singers over the years, but never better and never fresher than on this 1962 release. The theme is loneliness, which is reflected in the opening number, "All Alone," and felt throughout. Under any other guise, this would be considered another Sinatra "saloon album" but somehow it's not. It's more than that. There's grandeur here, an elevated purpose at work, that somehow transcends categorization. These songs have a timeless quality about them. Most of them date back to Sinatra's youth and therefore have a special meaning to him, which comes across strikingly in his knowing and nuanced singing. These are sad songs with a sweet gentleness about them that Sinatra conveys with understated passion. "Charmaine," "What'll I Do?" "When I Lost You," “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight," "Indiscreet," all of which Sinatra makes his own. This is an especially classy album that a great deal of thought and care went into. Never a big seller, not until the CD era did the album get the recognition it deserves.

TRILOGY (1979) —"The most ambitious project of Sinatra's career," says jazz critic Will Friedwald. "It captures all of his sides: swinging, loving, serious, and grandiose.” Here's how the album was conceived. Sinatra was musically out of answers in the mid-70s, having come out of retirement and tried his hand at being contemporary with two albums that were, alas, underwhelming. He was thinking of doing a country album, then thought better of it. Then of doing an album with Nelson Riddle comprised of songs with women's names as titles. A few tunes were recorded—"Emily," “Sweet Lorraine,” “Nancy,"—before the project was dropped. Then Sinatra read a column in the New York Times. In so many words, the columnist said: “Frank, forget about being contemporary, do what YOU want to do: pick the songs YOU want to sing, work with the musicians YOU like, and by all means get back into the recording studio and do what you were born to do–make records.”

The result was “Trilogy," a three-record set, each record with a title: (1) “The Past," a collection of Tin Pan Alley classics, many never previously recorded by Sinatra, and arranged by swingin' Billy May; (2) “The Present," a sampling of contemporary tunes arranged by “the Puccini of pop,” Don Costa, including what was to become another of Sinatra's signature songs, “Theme From New York, New York"; and (3) “The Future," a song suite written and arranged by Gordon Jenkins, about space travel and the end of war, that was, alas, stillborn, despite Sinatra's valiant effort to give it life.

The best of the three records—and vintage Sinatra—is the “The Past." “The Present” is good but let down by a few songs that do not exactly fit the Sinatra persona. The strongest cuts are the aforementioned “Theme From New York, New York,” and George Harrison’s masterpiece, “Something.” “Something” is particularly noteworthy because it was arranged for string orchestra six years earlier by Nelson Riddle. Indeed, one can't help but feel that had Riddle been a part of the project, the Sinatra-Riddle relationship would have rekindled the old magic and “The Present” would have been equally as sensational as “The Past." Word has it that Riddle wanted to be involved but—incredibly—no one asked him. The less said of “The Future" the better. The good news is Gordon Jenkins made amends two years later with "She Shot Me Down,” the last great Sinatra album.

Final note: Sinatra seldom listened to his own albums. Why? For one, he preferred classical music, especially string quartets. But also because he gave each album his all; he milked every last ounce of emotion out of each song and so the mystery was gone. No need for him to hear the playback. Next tune.

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Nice Guys Finish Last
Posted - Nov 19, 2017

Nice Guys Finish Last: the presidencies of Gerald R. Ford & Jimmy Carter

“Our long national nightmare is over,” Gerald R. Ford announced to a relieved nation in 1974, after sworn in as the 38th President of the United States. Safe, honest, decent, the son of America’s heartland, Gerald R. Ford was tonic for the bruised psyche of the American people. That he should come to be ridiculed as less-than bright and a clumsy oaf was not merely cruel but utterly untrue. Ford had been a linebacker and center for the University of Michigan football team and turned down an offer to play in the NFL in order to attend Yale Law School. Like his successor, Jimmy Carter, Ford was perceived as a nice guy, and everybody knows what happens to nice guys. Below is a short recap of both presidencies.

38. GERALD R. FORD (1974 - 1977)

The consensus opinion of Gerald R. Ford—the man, the politician, the president—is that he was a nice guy. What did Leo Durocher say about nice guys? By implication nice guys are weak, indecisive, easily stepped on. Who but a nice guy would pardon Richard Nixon? Or fail to intervene militarily when South Vietnam was under assault by the North Vietnamese communists? Or “sell out” to Russia by signing the Helsinki Accords? Or offer amnesty to draft dodgers and army deserters? Or wear a WIN button as a means of halting runaway inflation? President Ford did all of these things, and it cost him the 1976 presidential election. When he left office everyone agreed: Ford was a nice guy out of his depth as president. That was then. Today, Ford is praised for the same accomplishments for which he was once were condemned. Writes his biographer: “(Ford) left the presidency in far better shape than he had found it, perhaps even healthier than it had been in decades.”

Ford never wanted to be president or even a senator. In 1948, the year he was elected to the House of Representatives, becoming a senator was the ambition of his friends and fellow congressmen John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Ford’s dream was to be Speaker of the House. He may have been a nice guy, but he had goals and did what needed doing to achieve them—without making enemies. He made it as House minority leader, but never as House Speaker because the Republicans—with the exception of the 1952 election—failed to win a majority of seats during Ford’s 25 years in the House. In 1968, running for president, Nixon discussed having Ford on the ticket as his vice presidential running mate. He chose Maryland governor Spiro Agnew instead, which was just as well—Ford didn’t want the job. Five years later, with the Nixon White House embroiled with the Watergate scandal, and Agnew having been forced from office for bribery, conspiracy and tax evasion while governor, Ford was offered the vice presidency. Due to his unshakeable honesty and rock-ribbed integrity, he was everybody’s first choice. Ford accepted.

At the time—October 1973—Ford was among the few people in Washington who still believed Nixon was innocent. Why? Because early on in the investigation Attorney General John Mitchell had assured him that no one in the White House was connected with the Watergate burglary. As the evidence mounted, Ford kept the faith, even after Mitchell was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Ford kept faith right to the end, when Nixon’s part in the cover up was made perfectly clear. Rather than face impeachment, Nixon resigned. At noon on August 9, Ford was sworn in as president of the United States.

Within a month of taking office, Ford pardoned Nixon. The presidential honeymoon was over. Ford was condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike. Ford didn’t take it personally. Writes the author: “Ford’s bedrock certainty of his own ethics enabled him to weather even the denunciation of most of his own countrymen.” Unemployment was high, inflation was rampant, and a recession appeared eminent. Ford’s response—wear a WIN button (Whip Inflation Now) on his lapel and urge Americans to tighten their belts. Yes, spend less, drive fewer miles, and stop wasting food. Everyone, including some of his own economic advisors, laughed off WIN as naive and unrealistic. Alongside the announcement of WIN, Ford put forth a ten-point plan to tighten the U.S. economy. Among Ford’s economic advisors who shaped the plan was future Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. The plan worked—the economy picked up and inflation waned.

There followed several White House decisions that made Ford more unpopular with Republicans than with Democrats—making liberal Nelson Rockefeller his vice president, proposing amnesty to draft dodgers and army deserters, and allowing South Vietnam to fall to the communist North Vietnamese. Ford could have sent troops to Vietnam and Congress probably would have supported his decision. But what was the point? The war was not winnable and the corrupt South Vietnamese government was hardly worth saving. On top of that, the war—and Watergate—had divided the nation badly. It was time for the nation to heal. Ford did everything in his power to get the few remaining Americans out before Saigon fell, and succeeded.

There followed Ford’s participation in the Helsinki Accords, another unpopular decision on Capitol Hill, which even Henry Kissinger opposed. As a result of the Accords, a number of Helsinki Commissions on Human Rights sprang up across the Soviet Union, as well as satellites and in other European nations, and proved very effective at shepherding individual cases to justice. Writes the author: “The Helsinki Accords were Ford’s greatest presidential achievements on the world stage, and an argument can be made that it proved to be the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.”

The nation was in a far better state when the 1976 presidential election arrived. The nation felt better about itself, the economy was better, and inflation, while high, was under control. The problem for Ford was that he faced not one but two opponents—Jimmy Carter, the Democratic Party nominee, and Ronald Reagan, whom Ford eked past at the Republican Convention. Reagan represented the growing right-wing of the Republican party which during Ford’s two-and-a-half years in the White House opposed him nearly as often as the Democrats. After the Republican Convention, Reagan did virtually nothing in support of Ford. In the closing weeks of the election, Ford overcame a 29-point deficit in the polls. On election day, Ford lost in the closest presidential contest since 1916.

Ford and his wife Betty retired to Palm Springs. With each passing year, his stature as president grew. Those who found his pardon of Nixon as morally corrupt realized it had been done in the best interest of the country. One of Ford’s severest critics, journalist Bob Woodward, changed his opinion as well: “Ford was wise to act. . . . Ford wanted to protect the presidency, a proper goal because the president is an extension of the nation. The only way out of the Watergate atmosphere was to move fast, to short-circuit the process. Preoccupation with Nixon’s fate could have continued for years.”

Journalist David S. Broder perhaps summed up the Ford presidency best. Shortly after the 1976 election he wrote: “In an odd, inexplicable way . . . the truth has begun to dawn on people in the finals days of Gerald R. Ford’s tenure that he was the kind of President Americans wanted—and didn’t know they had.”

39. JIMMY CARTER (1977 - 1981)

It wasn’t exactly Jimmy Carter’s finest hour. He was lost, searching for answers, and had called a number of political advisors to the White House to offer suggestions. Washington insider Clark Clifford, watching as President Carter sat on the floor and scribbled down notes as people spoke to him, couldn't help thinking that it would have been inconceivable to imagine “Lyndon Johnson sitting on the floor and saying, ‘Tell me what I am doing wrong.’” The image many of us have of Jimmy Carter—39th President of the United States—is of a micromanager who couldn’t see the forest for the trees. There is another side of Carter often overlooked: the political leader whose enduring legacy is the establishment of human rights as the central objective of American diplomacy.

Jimmy Carter was among the fresh faces to emerge from the New South, a bright young politician remarkably free of racial prejudice. In the 1960s, he was elected to state office by a combination of moderate whites and newly-enfranchised African Americans. Carter served with distinction in the Georgia legislature and as governor before running for president. In the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, Carter presented a renewed sense of idealism to the American electorate. With an engaging manner and infectious grin, he surprised the pundits with his victory in the Iowa caucus, after which there was no stopping his run for his party’s nomination. Against incumbent president Gerald R. Ford in the fall election, it was a case of two Nice Guys competing for the same job, with Carter perceived as the wiser and sharper of the two, giving him a slight edge that carried him to the White House.

While he was an excellent campaigner, Carter was not a mixer, which became evident once he became president. He had ideals aplenty but none of the Washington know-how to carry them out. On top of that, he entered office acting as if he didn’t need help from Capitol Hill. His first mistake was not appointing a chief of staff, which complicated and prolonged the White House decision-making process. His second was offending his very own party in Congress—the Democrats. According to one aid, as far as Carter was concerned, “anyone who disagreed with him was simply wrong.” There followed a number of embarrassing blunders. Adding insult to injury, the Senate overturned most of Carter’s decisions.

What Carter did get right was his decision to make human rights the centerpiece of his foreign policy. He made a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement a prime object, and achieved it with the Camp David Accords between Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Of equal historical significance was his negotiation of an agreement to return the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. On the other hand, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the taking of American hostages by radical Islamic students in Iran were a decided setback that proved beyond his ability to manage.

What hurt him politically was the state of the economy. While Carter pursued his ambitions for energy and human rights policies, the Democratic Congress was far more interested in alleviating the impact of stagnation on their constituents. High rates of unemployment and inflation were hitting voters from both ends, and representatives were feeling their anger. A gasoline shortage, a scandal involving one of his aids, the nuclear meltdown at the Three-Mile Island nuclear energy plant, and Ted Kennedy’s decision to seek the Democratic nomination in 1980, further hurt him. Carter not only began to question himself, but to question the nation, which he did openly in a televised address. He told Americans that they faced a crisis of confidence and urged them to recognize—and to accept—that their families lived in an age of limits. The speech drew mixed responses. Many felt that Carter blamed the nation for the problems they were struggling with rather than offering solutions and leadership.

In 1980, when Reagan emerged as the Republican Party’s candidate for president, a testy Carter implied that his opponent was an outright racist and willing to launch a nuclear war if elected. Carter later apologized for his remarks. A bigger blow to Carter occurred during the presidential debate, when Reagan asked Americans to consider whether they were better off in 1980 than four years earlier. Despite the economy, despite Reagan’s unexpected savvy as a debater, the election remained close until the final weekend. On Sunday night, Carter went before the nation and announced that a deal to release the hostages being held in Iran would not be reached before the election. Two days later, Reagan won in a landslide.

After losing to Reagan, Carter did a great deal to resurrect his reputation. He traveled widely, met with a number of world leaders, and back at home lent his name, his time and his energy in support of Habitat for Humanity. As I write this, Carter is 95 years old and still active. “For all of Carter’s equivocations and inconsistencies,” writes one historian, “the mere fact that an American president had used his bully pulpit to raise a cry about human rights had profoundly affected the rest of the world and the American public.”

Coming up: Ending the Cold War: the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
Work of My Sons

Morning Softly - Water Echoes Movement
-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.

Morning Softly - Early Eerie Feeling
-Recorded in 2014. Songs written by Bill, at home. Synthesizers were added later. Some drumming done by Brendan Lenihan.

Scott Nisley - Brick City Skies
-Released in 2014. With his piano melodies and vocals, Scott entrusted the production of his album to several studio musicians.

The 45's - Roof-Hopping
-Recorded in 2010. A collaborative effort between Scott and Bill Nisley, Adam Sherman, and Zach Belka.

Oh, Yeah...

Richard Nisley's Brothers in Cars
Thanksgiving Day, 1967. From L to R: my brothers David, Charles, and Rob. Photo by John Nisley.
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