Monday, December 31, 2007

The Resolute Desk

One of the "central" characters in National Treasure-Book of Secrets is the Resolute desk which is used by the president in the oval office. I remembered that the Resolute Desk was the desk used by President Kennedy in the Oval Office. Do you remember "John John" looking through the door in the front center of the desk?

Here is some information about the desk that I found to be interesting.

HMS Resolute was an Arctic exploration ship of the British Royal Navy.

Originally a Tyne built vessel named Ptarmigan, Resolute was purchased by the British Government in February 1850 and commissioned into the Royal Navy originally as HMS Refuge, but was renamed HMS Resolute a month later. The ship was fitted for Arctic service by Green's of Blackwall (Thames), with especially strong timbers and an internal heating system.

In 1852, HMS Resolute was part of a four-ship expedition under Edward Belcher, investigating the fate of the John Franklin expedition, which had searched for the Northwest Passage to Asia. The Resolute and one of her sister ships became lodged in the Arctic ice of Viscount Melville Sound and was abandoned there in 1853.

Two years later, the empty ship was found by the American whaler George Henry, captained by James Buddington of Groton, Connecticut. She was then stuck in the ice of Davis Strait off Baffin Island, 1200 miles away from where she had been abandoned. The Americans freed Resolute from the ice and took her to New London, Connecticut. The United States Congress bought her for $40,000 and then had her refitted and sailed to England, where she was presented to Queen Victoria on December 17, 1856 as a token of peace.

The HMS Resolute then served in the Royal Navy for over 20 years, but when she was retired in 1879, Queen Victoria ordered some of the timbers of the ship to be made into two desks. One was placed in Buckingham Palace, and the other was presented to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Since then, the U.S. desk - known as the Resolute desk - has been used by every president except Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Most presidents have used it as their official desk in the Oval Office, but some have had it in their private study in the Executive Residence.

The desk has twice been modified. Franklin Roosevelt had the whole desk raised on a 2inch base to accommodate his wheelchair. He also requested that the kneehole be fitted with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal (he preferred people not see his leg braces and often placed a waste basket in front of his desks), but he did not live to see it installed. When President Reagan came into office in 1981, the desk was raised up on a 2 inch base to accomodate his chair which he had brought from his days as Governor of California.

The hinged panel was commissioned in 1944 but was not delivered until 1945, following Roosevelt's death. President Truman had the panel installed anyway. The panel features one of three presidential seals in the White House that has the eagle's head turned towards the 13 arrows in the eagle's left talon as opposed to the more common eagle turned towards the olive branch in the right talon with the 13 leaves. (One seal is over the entrance to the Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor of the residence; the other is in the cornerstone of the East Wing.)

There are four replicas of the desk residing in Presidential Libraries: Kennedy Libary in Boston, Carter Library in Atlanta, Reagan Library in Simi Valley California, and Clinton Library in Little Rock.

If you are interested in purchasing one for your home study, you can at Starting price is $7,500 and goes up to $14,500. Price varies with size and the wood.

National Treasures -- Book of the Secrets

Over the weekend, we went to see National Treasures--Book of the Secrets. It was a good movie and I enjoyed it. I went with the preconceived idea that I would see a lot of "Masonic stuff" in it, like I did in the first movie and I would have to explain what all those things meant to my wife. That was a false preconception. There really was very little about Freemasonry in the plot and for that I was somewhat disappointed. The only significant mention in the movie pertaining to Freemasonry was the supposed willingness of Queen Victoria to support the Confederate cause in the Civil War through her overtures to General Albert Pike. Well if you are not a Scottish Rite mason, you probably have never even heard of Albert Pike.

Nicholas Cage is a good actor (my wife says he is a "babe"...maybe that had something to do with why she wanted to go) and I always enjoy Jon Voight's performances. There were some beautiful scenes in the movie with Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills (did all of you Freemasons know that Gutzon Borglum was a brother of the craft?) and the technical filmwork of the City of Gold was really great.

All in all it was a good movie and I would recommend it, but to my brothers don't go expecting to see as much Masonic symbolism as you saw in National Treasures I.

P.S. I wonder what "G.W." has put in the Book of Secrets---hope he didn't fill it up!

Jolly Holiday Lights

Last evening Danene and I drove into Des Moines to Waterworks Park and toured the Jolly Holiday Lights display which is an annual fundraiser for the Make a Wish Foundation of Iowa. For the past couple of years, I have helped with this event and have really come to enjoy it. The Iowa Chapter of CPCU always takes a night and helps out taking money and handing out the program brochures at the gate.

This is a great organization that helps so many kids and their families. A lot of people think of Make a Wish as only helping those children that are terminally ill, that is not necessarily the case. Thankfully many of the children that are helped go on to lead full and productive lives.

Here are just a few interesting facts about Jolly Holiday Lights:

* the average cost for one wish in 2007 was $8,200

* it takes an average of 800 cars driving through Jolly Holiday Lights to grant one wish

* each light display can take up to 3 hours to assemble and altogether they require nearly 3.5 miles of extension cords

* Jolly Holiday Lights depends on over 5000 volunteer hours

Over the past 12 years over 1.5 million central Iowans and visitors have made Jolly Holiday Lights one of their holiday traditions, driving through the 2.8 miles of lighted winter wonderland. Over $2 million dollars has been raised and over 400 wishes have been granted. This year the goal is to raise $350,000 and help grant 50 wishes.

One of my favorites last night was the carousel with dancing reindeers. A perenial favorite of mine is the lighted snowflakes hoisted high in the trees, this scene is so peaceful to look at.

I thought one of the wishes that was portrayed in this year's program book was particularly neat. A little boy named Alex had his wish granted when he and his family went to Washington D.C. They ate in a D.C. restaurant (where there meal was donated). The family had been told they would be given a tour of Washington, they were not told how...until a presidential motorcade passed the restaurant they were standing outside. Alex was pretty impressed with that, but he was really impressed when the motorcade did a "u turn" and came back to pick him and his family up. The family was actually driven around down in one of the president's own limousines.

Alex was met at the Pentagon by a real life Admiral. At each of the monuments they visited, as the motorcade pulled up the secret service agents held the crowd back and Alex was escorted through. He was introduced as "president of the day" and everywhere he went he received a round of applause. When they got to the White House, he was given a personal tour of the West Wing and got to spend time with "Barney" and "Beasley", the "first" dogs. He even had his picture taken in the press room behind the podium.

Alex's mother quoted in her letter: "The people were amazing--they each gave their time, but gave so much more in the messages they gave to Alex about courge, bravery, spirituality, strength, resilence and character! So many people that night prayed for Alex--a true gift! A MAGICAL NIGHT!

Check out to learn more about this great organization.

Caucus Mania!

This is the start of an amazing week in Iowa...countdown to caucus day on January 3rd. Things are really getting crazy in the Hawkeye State. On Saturday when I was uptown in Newton, it was interesting to see how many "strangers" were bustling about in the downtown courthouse square. You could see cars pulling into parking spots and folks (particularly younger ones) getting out who were definately not natives.

Just outside our lodge building and across the street, we have the Jasper County headquarters for John Edwards and Barak Obama. Across the courthouse lawn to the northeast, we have Hillary's place.

Our phone rang about every 15 minutes on Saturday...John called, then Hillary, then Barak, and Mike, and lastly Ron with a survey! Before we went to bed, we had a Barak supporter from Chicago stop by.

The "MittMobile" was in town and as I went to the bank, here comes Mitt and crew out of the hotel.

Yesterday, I drove down to Knoxville to see Barak Obama. It was really interesting to watch the festivities. The CNN Express bus was parked out in front of the high school, with two huge satellite dishes hoisted upward. In front of their bus, was FOX news. Out front of the school was Wolf Blitzer doing an interview. I finally got into the school auditorium and stood next to a young man who was working on the Obama campaign who said he was from Austin, Texas. We had a nice conversation. He said Iowa seemed like a really nice place and the caucuses were really something.

I was impressed with Obama. He seemed pretty down to earth and gave a good speech. I'm still undecided who I'm going to support. One day I'm learning towards this person and the next day I'm swayed another way. This afternoon Joe Biden is going to be in Newton, so I'll go hear from him.

Last night my oldest stepdaughter called laughing. Her five year daughter had answered the phone and was saying "yes", "yes", and then "I don't understand" that Andrea decided she better see who it was. When she wresteled the phone away from Ashleigh, she found out that this little 5 year old was taking an automated phone survey from Ron the computer was wondering how to interpret those answers!

I loved all of those special Christmas cards...from the Edwards', the Obamas', Bill& Hillary, and the Romeny family and those special holiday television ads...the Obama family reminded me so much of a Christmas on "Waltons' Mountain"...I almost thought I could heard John Boy in the background and then there was Hillary sorting through her packages, I hope she got them all delivered to the right folks.

This is definately an interesting experience that we Iowans and the folks of New Hampshire go through every four years. Despite the intensity of it this year, we really should feel honored that we two states get to know these folks who want to be the leader of our country so well. As Barak Obama said yesterday, you get to take us out for a little "test drive", get to "kick the tires" and "look under the hood".

Two of these folks will lead our two major political parties and quite likely the vice presidential candidates will also come out of this group. Whatever your political persuasion, be it Democrat, Republican, or Independent, I encourage you to go to your caucus on Thursday night and participate. Even if you decide not to support a candidate, go and be a part of the process. The eyes and hears of the country and the world are upon Iowa this week.

I think I might give Hillary a call today and see maybe if Bill could drop by later on and help me with the dishes!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

History of the New Year

I ran across this interesting little article today by Borgna Brunner and I thought I would share it.

The celebration of the new year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice.

Early Roman Calendar: March 1st rings in the New Year
The early Roman calendar designated March 1st as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. That the new year once began with themonth of March is still reflected in some of the names of the months. September through December, our ninth through twelth months (septem is Latin for "seven", octo is "eight", novem is "nine", and decem "ten').

January Joins the Calendar
The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C. (In fact the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second King of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February). The new year was moved from March to Janaury because that was the beginning of of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls--the hightest officials in the Roman Republic--began their one year tenure. But this new year date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1st.

Julian Calendar: January 1st Officially Instituted as the New Year
In 46 B.C. Julius Ceaser introduced a new, solar based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildely inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1st, and within the Roman world, January 1st become the consistently observed start of the new year.

Middle Ages: January 1st is Abolished
In medieval Europe, however the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout the medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on December 25th, the birth of Jesus; March 1st; March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.

Gregorian Calendar: January 1st Restored
In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored Janaury 1st as the official start of the new year. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire--and their American colonies--still celebrated the new year in March.

So here is the history of why we celebrate New Years' Day on January...cheers to 2008!!!

Radio City Rockettes

The Radio City Rockettes have been at the Des Moines Civic Center since December 6th. Today is the end of their performances in Des Moines. Danene and I saw their peformance on the afternoon of December 22nd. This was my anniversary treat to her. What an awesome show! For those of you who missed it, you missed a real treat.

Des Moines was one of seven cities that the Rockettes performed in this Christmas season. Other cities were Chicago, Costa Mesa, Ft.Lauderdale, Nashville, Phonenix, and Tampa. Des Moines was the smallest city they had ever brought their touring company to, so it was a real treat for Iowa. This was the 75th annivesary of the Rockettes Christmas show.

I always had thought of the Rockettes as just being a bunch of beautiful young female dancers with awesome legs doing high kicking performances. I was wrong, it was that and so much more.

Some of their more memorable scenes were the "Twelve Days of Christmas", the "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and the grand finale was the "Living Nativity" which featured live animals.

Seeing this performance of the Rockettes will be something I will long remember.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Here I Am!

Welcome to my Blog. This is my very first entry. My good friend Jay said it is easy. So far it seems so. I'm looking forward to experimenting with this new form of technological communication.