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David's Bookclub: Battle Cry of Freedom

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Of course the Civil War was about slavery

In October 1864, Robert E. Lee sent a proposition to Ulysses Grant.

In May and June of that year, Grant had chased Lee across Virginia in the murderous Overland Campaign. Union forces had suffered about 50,000 casualties; the Confederates, about 32,000. Yet that smaller Confederate total represented a higher proportion of Confederate strength, 46%.

Now, Lee's force were besieged inside the Richmond-Petersburg fortifications. Lee needed every man he could get to defend the lines, and he didn't have enough. He proposed to Grant that the two armies resume the prisoner exchanges that had ceased in the first half of 1863.

Despite his reputation as a ruthless practitioner of attrition warfare, Grant was amenable to Lee's request. By the fall of 1864, word of the horrific conditions at Southern prisoner of war camps - especially Georgia's Andersonville - had spread through the North. More than 100,000 men were held in camps on both sides, but more in the South than in the North. A presidential election was approaching, and anything that could be done for the benefit of the soldiers would redound to the benefit of the administration party. Grant imposed only one condition: black soldiers must be exchanged on the same terms as whites.

My son Nathaniel delivered this eulogy to his grandfather at Peter Worthington's funeral in Toronto yesterday.

When I was a young boy, I noticed on on our family visits to my grandparents’ house in Toronto that my grandfather Pete often sat in the living room to watch the Blue Jays game alone. Not by choice – but because no other member of the family was interested. One afternoon he noticed me sheepishly looking at the screen. I was not a baseball fan – I had never even watched a game before. Pete wanted to change that.

He called me over and pointed to the screen. “Nathaniel, you see that player on the screen? That’s Shannon Stewart. He’s up to bat. And you see that thing on his head? That’s a batting helmet. Do you know that Shannon Stewart has a phone in his helmet? Well I have that helmet's number – should I give him call?” I nodded.

Pete picked up his phone, dialed, and spoke into the phone. “Hi Shannon, it’s Peter, Peter Worthington, yes that Peter Worthington. If you can hear me tap your bat on home plate.” He did, as he did before every at bat. “I have my grandson here and I would really appreciate it if you got a hit for him. I know you can’t talk right now but if this next hit is for Nathaniel, take a practice swing with the bat.” Again, Stewart complied. He smiled and put his hand over the phone. “He owes me a favor," Pete said.

Your feel-good story of the day.

For years, the Jews and Muslims of Bradford [U.K.] have lived in close proximity to each other: Bradford's only remaining synagogue sits just 500 meters from the city's main mosque in the inner city neighborhood of Manningham. But the two groups kept to themselves. That is, of course, until the synagogue's roof started to leak and Bradford's Muslim community stepped in as a surprise donor for the repairs.

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Some of the Al-Aqsa beams were brought to the settlement of Ofra in the 1980s. Pictured: Ze'ev Erlich, who helped truck the ancient wooden pieces from a junkyard north of Jerusalem (photo credit: Matti Friedman/Times of Israel)

Have archaeologists identified ancient beams from the First and Second Temples, reused by 7th century Arab conquerers in the Al-Aqsa mosque? The Times of Israel offers an interesting report:

Many of the beams were removed from Al-Aqsa in the late 1930s, during a renovation that followed two earthquakes, and some were taken by British scholars to the Rockefeller Museum, where they remain. Other beams were removed in a later renovation of the structure’s dome under Jordanian rule in the 1960s.

In 1984, a scholar from Tel Aviv University, Nili Liphschitz, published a brief scientific paper looking at 140 of the beams in a Hebrew journal, Eretz Yisrael, along with two other scholars.

Liphschitz, a dendochronologist — a specialist in determining the age of trees — found that most of the beams she examined were of Turkish oak, with a smaller number of Lebanese cedars. There were also beams of cypress and several other types of wood.

Bad lines

Scandals Do Not a Party Platform Make

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JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Ramesh Ponnuru warns at Bloomberg View that Republicans will be very foolish to believe that scandals are a substitute for ideas:

For the most part, Republicans didn’t campaign on impeachment in 1998: They didn’t say, “Vote for me and I’ll do my level best to oust Clinton.” Their strategy was more passive. They were counting on the scandal to motivate conservatives to vote while demoralizing liberals. So they didn’t try to devise a popular agenda, or to make their existing positions less unpopular. That’s what cost them -- that, and the mistake of counting on statistics about sixth-year elections, which also bred complacency.

Republicans have similar vulnerabilities on the issues now. They have no real health-care agenda. Voters don’t trust them to look out for middle-class economic interests. Republicans are confused and divided about how to solve the party’s problems. What they can do is unite in opposition to the Obama administration’s scandals and mistakes. So that’s what they’re doing. They’re trying to win news cycles when they need votes.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Washington Examiner's Byron York catches Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in an awkward set of talking points. Rubio (emphasis added):

“What I am concerned about is the regular order of doing things in this city, where the debt limit has been raised consistently, without any conversation about the fact that this government borrows 40 cents out of every dollar that it spends,” Rubio said. “My concern is that I do not have trust in Washington DC. I don’t care who’s in charge.”

Great! So Rubio opposes granting Washington a sweeping set of new powers when it comes to administering his proposed immigration reform, right? 

York:

Dumbest Butt Dial Ever?

Dial 911 For a Murder Charge

Next time you're planning a murder, make sure you aren't on the line with 911:

On a recorded line, [murder suspect Scott] Simon can be heard telling someone else that he’s going to follow the victim home and kill him. Minutes later, 33-year-old Nicholas Walker was shot and killed while driving his car onto Interstate 95 in Oakland Park. ...

Homicide detectives arrested Simon, 24, of Pompano Beach Tuesday night. He is charged with first-degree murder. Moschella said while detectives do not believe Simon was the triggerman, he did coordinate the shooting.

Worst butt dial ever, and the cops aren't releasing the tapes.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the immigration reform bill by a vote of 13-5 last evening, bringing a path to citizenship one step closer for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants.

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(Anuska Sampedro, Flickr)

All Democrats voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee, joined by Republicans Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, and Jeff Flake. (As the Huffington Post's Elise Foley notes, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said he'd have voted in favor of moving the bill to the floor had the margin been close enough for his vote to make a difference.)

Notable succesful amendments to the bill include a mandatory biometric exit system for visa holders at the country's busiest airports, an agreement on H1-B visas to make it dramatically easier for companies to import high-skilled labor, and a severe curtailing of the power of immigration authorities to raid places like churches, hospitals, and schools.

Cars

How to Be a Racing Pirate King

Years ago, Ben Stein published a sweet eulogy for his departed father, the economist Herb Stein. Ben wrote of the pang he felt when he saw his father's obsolete Cadillac land yacht parked in the basement of his apartment building, like a horse awaiting its rider.

I've had a somewhat different experience these past days driving the car of my late father-in-law, Peter Worthington. My mother-in-law kindly lent me the car to help me visit the Toronto hospital where my own father is ailing. And I've noticed a very peculiar thing:

Peter had many great skills, but even in his prime he was a heedless driver. In his later years, he was a speeding menace to society. His bright red Subaru hatchback came to resemble … well, I can't describe it. Better just see the photo.

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I took some time this weekend to read through some of our old posts here on the blog, and one thing rang true: my work is never finished, rarely clean and satisfying like deeply edited pieces, and always missing something.

By definition, that's part of blogging. I've written about the farm bill for months, cleaning up the filibuster since the election, conservative renewal since... forever, and about the jobs crisis since I started back in August. I write about it, you guys critique and discuss it, and I eventually revisit the idea.

Over time, ideas are gradually refined and evolved. That's really fun, and part of what makes blogging the best job in the world. (I will stand by that).

But there's a dark side to the practice. My prose is frequently weak, spelling and grammar vary on the day, and it never feels like I have the time to deeply dive into any subject, let alone those that really matter. You'll never see a blogger publish a 10,000 word essay on an arcane subject, mostly because taking the time to write such a tome is a huge risk in an era of pageview journalism.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mark Krikorian takes up the question at National Review. In an editorial National Review published yesterday, multiple examples are listed of why conservatives are right to be concerned that this bill will set the stage for future waves of unauthorized immigration:

Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) offered an amendment that would have required the completion of 700 miles of double-layer fencing along the southern border before the bill’s liberalization program could kick in. The committee rejected that amendment.

Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) offered an amendment that would have substantially increased the personnel and equipment available for policing the southern border and would have implemented direct accountability procedures — including docking the pay of political appointees and imposing budget cuts — if well-defined border-security benchmarks were not met. The committee rejected the amendment.

Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) offered an amendment that would have required Congress to conduct a simple up-or-down vote ratifying or rejecting the Department of Homeland Security’s certification that the border-security measures contained in the bill are in fact operational. This was an especially crucial measure: Members of Congress are directly politically accountable to their constituents, whereas members of the permanent bureaucracies and political appointees do not face election. The committee rejected the amendment.

Wow

Pray for Oklahoma City

Horrifying damage from a reported F4 tornado that hit near Oklahoma City earlier this afternoon:

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KFOR

The Daily Beast is live-blogging the aftermath. What a sad day.

Compared to the relatively smooth Senate procedure for immigration reform, the process in the House of Representatives resembles a confused, three-headed monster that will baffle even relatively informed voters.

In the spirit of knowing how our government thinks it works, here's a brief primer on how to understand the House's path to an immigration reform.

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(Rep. Raul Labrador, Getty Images). (Rep. Xavier Becerra, Getty Images) (Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Getty Images)

A comprehensive reform bill is expected to be introduced on June 3, after the House returns from Memorial Day weekend.

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Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal reports that the average college graduate from the class of 2013 will enjoy a lovely $30,000 in student debt.

Total outstanding student-loan debt stood at $986 billion at the end of the first quarter of this year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s up 2.1% from the previous quarter and nearly 50% from the same quarter in 2009.

The average debt load for each borrower receiving a bachelor’s degree this year is about $30,000, according to an analysis of government data by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at student-marketing company Edvisors. That number has doubled over the course of a recent graduate’s lifetime. Even adjusting for inflation, the average debt burden was half that size 20 years ago.

Other groups put the average debt figure even higher. A poll from Fidelity Investments earlier this week found 70% of graduates had at least some debt, and the average was $35,200. That figure is higher in part because it includes debt owed to family and credit-card balances.

Three senators are heroically attempting to reduce federal government price supports for America's sugar industry. Roll Call's Niels Lesniewski writes:

[Sen. Mark] Kirk is one of three senators leading a push to reduce price-support levels for sugar. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., and Kirk will reintroduce their sugar program overhaul as an amendment to this year’s farm bill after it reaches the Senate floor Monday afternoon.

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Uwe Hermann (Flickr)

This effort will almost certainly fail, and it won't be the first time common-sense efforts like this fallen short. Why, you ask?

About the Author

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David Frum

David Frum is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of eight books, including most recently the e-book WHY ROMNEY LOST and his first novel Patriots, published in April 2012.

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