Teddy Roosevelt: How to Criticize the President


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Teddy Roosevelt

“Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where the people are themselves free. Our Government is the servant of the people, whereas in Germany it is the master of the people. This is because the American people are free and the German people are not free.

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”


Written in May 1918, a letter from Teddy Roosevelt published in The Kansas City Star (as quoted in The Nation at War by James Scherer).

Teddy Roosevelt

“Hunger for Something” by Chase Twichell


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Sometimes I long to be the woodpile,
cut-apart trees soon to be smoke,
or even the smoke itself,

sinewy ghost of ash and air, going
wherever I want to, at least for a while.

Neither inside nor out,
neither lost nor home, no longer
a shape or a name, I’d pass through

all the broken windows of the world.
It’s not a wish for consciousness to end.

It’s not the appetite an army has
for its own emptying heart,
but a hunger to stand now and then

alone on the death-grounds,
where the dogs of the self are feeding.


“Hunger for Something” by Chase Twichell, which can be found in his 2010 collection Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been.

The photo: shot in New Ulm, Texas

More favorites written in a similar tone and style:

As She Sends Her Son to College


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Claire Messud

“Over the years I’ve tried to understand my mother’s emotion at that moment — regret about an unconsummated love affair? Her own Lucy Jordan moment? Simple sadness at my brother’s departure, and thoughts of all the things that now would be forever unsaid? — but all I know is that I’ll never know. I decided, for a long time, that it had to do with the ending of a maternal role, with the painful knowledge of all she’d sacrificed to raise him, when now she was handing off her son to the world. But more recently, I’ve thought that maybe it was about an unconsummated love affair after all, maybe about a flirtatious exchange with a stranger in a train station, or an unanswered letter from a college sweetheart, one of those secret moments when you think that now your life will have to change, only it doesn’t. Something small but big that she regretted and that tormented her each day. With my children, I’ve discovered over the years that the simplest explanation is almost always the right one; and that hunger of one kind or another — desire, by another name — is the source of almost every sorrow.”


Pulled from The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

This is a reflection from the main character, Nora Eldridge, as she remembers seeing her mother cry the night before sending her son, Nora’s brother Matthew, off to college at Notre Dame (who wouldn’t regret sending a kid off to South Bend?). The family was finishing their final meal at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, when they opened their fortune cookies and each read their fortunes. Her mother’s elicited tears, though years later Nora still couldn’t understand what about — it read “It is what you haven’t done that will torment you.”

More good writing:

Stalin’s Son


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Stalin and daughter

“Stalin really hated him. It took me several days of subliminal work to accept this. The standard interpretation may seem ridiculous, but it is probably the right interpretation. We have seen something of Stalin’s violent insecurity about his provenance. This insecurity was now turned on Yakov. Stalin hated Yakov because Yakov was Georgian. Yakov was Georgian because his mother was Georgian; Yakov was Georgian because Stalin was Georgian; yet Stalin hated Yakov because Yakov was Georgian. The racial and regional tensions within the USSR constitute an enormous subject, but Stalin’s case was, as usual, outlandish. We have to imagine a primitive provincial who (by 1939 or so) had started to think of himself as a self-made Peter the Great: an Ivan the Terrible who had got where he was on merit. Thus Stalin was Russia personified; and Yakov was Georgian. Yakov is said also to have been of a mild and gentle disposition, to his father’s additional disgust.

Raised by his maternal grandparents, Yakov joined the Stalin household in the mid-1920s. He spoke little Russian, and did so with a thick accent (like Stalin). Nadezhda seems to have liked him and fully accepted him. But Stalin’s persecution was so systematic that toward the end of the decade Yakov attempted suicide. He succeeded only in wounding himself; and when Stalin heard about the attempt he said, ‘Ha! He couldn’t even shoot straight” (Volkogonov has him actually confronting his son with the greeting, ‘Ha! You missed!’) Soon afterward Yakov moved to Leningrad to live with Nadezhda’s family, the Alliluyevs.

Like Vasily, Yakov joined the armed forces, as a lieutenant (rather than a field marshal), reflecting his more peripheral status. He was the better soldier, and fought energetically until his unit was captured by the Reichswehr. This placed Stalin in a doubly embarrassing position. A law of August 1941 had declared that all captured officers were ‘malicious traitors’ whose families were ‘subject to arrest.’ Thus Yakov came under the first category – and Stalin came under the second. As a kind of compromise, Stalin arrested Yakov’s wife. When the Nazis tried to negotiate an exchange, Stalin refused (‘I have no son called Yakov’). He feared all the same that the supposedly feeble Yakov might be pressured into some propagandist exhibition of disloyalty. He need not have so feared. Yakov passed through three concentration camps – Hammelburg, Lubeck, Sachsenhausen – and resisted all intimidation. It was precisely to avoid succumbing (Volkogonov believes) that Yakov made his decisive move. In a German camp, as in a Russian, the surest route to suicide was a run at the barbed wire. Yakov ran. The guard did not miss.”

Stalin's son 2


Pulled from Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million by Martin Amis.

Read on:

Stalin's children

Glory’s Moonshine


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William Tecumseh Sherman 2

“No one can deny I have done the State some service in the field, but I have always desired that strife should cease at the earliest possible moment.

I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers. You, too, have seen these things, and I know you also are tired of the war, and are willing to let the civil tribunals resume their place. And, so far as I know, all the fighting men of our army want peace; and it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded and lacerated (friend or foe), that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. I know the rebels are whipped to death, and I declare before God, as a man and a soldier, I will not strike a foe who stands unarmed and submissive before me, but would rather say—”‘Go, and sin no more.'”


William Tecumseh Sherman, writing in a letter to James E. Yeatman, May 21, 1865.

William Tecumseh Sherman and staff

Andrew Sullivan: What I Believe


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Andrew Sullivan 345

“I believe in liberty… I believe in a system of government that places that liberty at the center of its concerns, that enforces the law solely to protect that freedom, that sides with the individual against the claims of family and tribe and church and nation, that sees innocence before guilt and dignity before stigma. I believe in the right to own property, to maintain it against the benign suffocation of a government that would tax more and more of it away. I believe in freedom of speech and of contract, the right to offend and blaspheme, as well as the right to convert and bear witness. I believe that these freedoms are connected — the freedom of the fundamentalist and the atheist, the female and the male, the black and the Asian, the gay and the straight.

I believe in the pursuit of happiness. Not its attainment, nor its final definition, but its pursuit. I believe in the journey, not the arrival; in conversation, not monologues; in multiple questions rather than any single answer. I believe in the struggle to remake ourselves and challenge each other in the spirit of eternal forgiveness, in the awareness that none of us knows for sure what happiness truly is, but each of us knows the imperative to keep searching. I believe in the possibility of surprising joy, of serenity through pain, of homecoming through exile.

And I believe in a country that enshrines each of these three things, a country that promises nothing but the promise of being more fully human, and never guarantees its success. In that constant failure to arrive — implied at the very beginning — lies the possibility of a permanently fresh start, an old newness, a way of revitalizing ourselves and our civilization in ways few foresaw and one day many will forget. But the point is now. And the place is America.”


From Andrew Sullivan’s article “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

Wallace Stegner: What I Believe


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Wallace Stegner

“It is terribly difficult to say honestly, without posing or faking, what one truly and fundamentally believes…

However far I have missed achieving it, I know that moderation is one of the virtues I most believe in. But I believe as well in a whole catalogue of Christian and classical virtues: in kindness and generosity, in steadfastness and courage and much else. I believe further that good depends not on things but on the use we make of things. Everything potent, from human love to atomic energy, is dangerous; it produces ill about as readily as good; it becomes good only through the control, the discipline, the wisdom with which we use it. Much of this control is social, a thing which laws and institutions and uniforms enforce, but much of it must be personal, and I do not see how we can evade the obligation to take full responsibility for what we individually do. Our reward for self-control and the acceptance of private responsibility is not necessarily money or power. Self-respect and the respect of others are quite enough. […]

Man is a great enough creature and a great enough enigma to deserve both our pride and our compassion, and engage our fullest sense of mystery. I shall certainly never do as much with my life as I want to, and I shall sometimes fail miserably to live up to my conscience, whose word I do not distrust even when I can’t obey it. But I am terribly glad to be alive; and when I have wit enough to think about it, terribly proud to be a man and an American, with all the rights and privileges that those words connote; and most of all I am humble before the responsibilities that are also mine. For no right comes without a responsibility, and being born luckier than most of the world’s millions, I am also born more obligated.”


Excerpted from Wallace Stegner’s essay “Everything Potent Is Dangerous”.

John Updike: What I Believe


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John Updike 2

“A person believes various things at various times, even on the same day. At the age of 73, I seem most instinctively to believe in the human value of creative writing…

I also believe, instinctively, if not very cogently, in the American political experiment, which I take to be, at bottom, a matter of trusting the citizens to know their own minds and best interests. ‘To govern with the consent of the governed': this spells the ideal. And though the implementation will inevitably be approximate and debatable, and though totalitarianism or technocratic government can obtain some swift successes, in the end, only a democracy can enlist a people’s energies on a sustained and renewable basis. To guarantee the individual maximum freedom within a social frame of minimal laws ensures — if not happiness — its hopeful pursuit.

Cosmically, I seem to be of two minds. The power of materialist science to explain everything — from the behavior of the galaxies to that of molecules, atoms and their sub-microscopic components — seems to be inarguable and the principal glory of the modern mind. On the other hand, the reality of subjective sensations, desires and — may we even say — illusions, composes the basic substance of our existence, and religion alone, in its many forms, attempts to address, organize and placate these. I believe, then, that religious faith will continue to be an essential part of being human, as it has been for me.”


Excerpted from John Updike’s short article “Testing the Limits of What I Think and Feel”.

Neil Gaiman: Why Defend Offensive Speech?


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Neil Gaiman

“I loved coming to the US in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was paramount. I still do. With all its faults, the US has Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment states that you can’t be arrested for saying things the government doesn’t like. You can say what you like, write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it. I loved that I could read and make my own mind up about something. […]

You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.”


From Neil Gaiman, in a blog post responding to one of his readers.

The Cartoons the Media Will Show Us


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Douglas Murray - Private Eye

“This is about freedom of speech.

What is going on at the moment, worldwide and particularly in Europe, is an attempt to shut down any and all criticism of Islam — one religion alone.

I’ll hold up for a moment — don’t worry it’s not a cartoon of Muhammad, you don’t have to get scared.

This is the Christmas edition of Private Eye. An image which, on the front cover, lampoons — quite amusing, not very — the Virgin Mary and Jesus and has various jokes about where the frankincense should have been bought from and so on.

That’s perfectly commonplace. But you know what: if anyone had gone into Private Eye’s offices yesterday and massacred the staff because of it in the name of Christianity or Jesus, I think that not only would all the papers today have been a lot more robust, they would have shown — at the very least, shown — this image to give us a sense of what the person who did the killing was so irate about.

The fact is that there is something going on, which we have to identify. It is an attempt, in our society, to make Islam and in particular the founder of Islam immune from any criticism.

It cannot be allowed to continue.”


Douglas Murray, debating Asghar Bukhari on Britain’s Sky News last week.

The Excuses Terrorists Haven’t Asked For


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Charlie Hebdo cover

Interviewer: You hear the excuse that the Muslim community is not integrated into the larger French community, they’re stuck out in the banlieues. But is that really the cause of this terror?

Douglas Murray: It has nothing to do with whether you like the suburb you live in or not, whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor. Most of the terrorists who have been coming from Britain in recent years: very well off.

The man who tried to bring down a plane over Detroit: a student at University College London, millionaire Nigerian family.

The man who decapitated your colleague at the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, ten years ago: very well off, private school educated, London School of Economics.

I’m fed up with people trying to give excuses to the terrorists that the terrorists themselves have not asked for.


A quick section from Douglas Murray’s interview with the Wall Street Journal, given the day of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.


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