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Falstaff in Love Posted - Dec 09, 2018
Word has it that Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) was so amused by Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1 she asked William Shakespeare to write a play about Falstaff in love. “The Merry Wives of Windsor” was the result. Thought to be written in two weeks, it’s Shakespeare’s comment on the state of marriage in Elizabethan England.

Falstaff is a knight, but hardly young or dashing. Think W.C. Fields. In Henry IV Part 1 he describes himself as “A goodly portly man, i’faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage . . ..” Prince Hal describes him as “a stuffed cloak-bag of guts” and “an old white-bearded Satan.” Falstaff’s idea of love is to find a woman who will fund his considerable appetite for food and drink.

Falstaff has focused his attention on two such women, both of whom are married to wealthy town merchants and control the family purse. Both women have flirted with him, or so he has deluded himself into believing. They are Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, a.k.a. the Merry Wives of Windsor. He writes them identical love letters, and says, in effect: we both like to drink, neither of us are young; when your husband’s away, let’s get together and have some fun.

The merry wives are on to Falstaff, however. They invite him to their homes intending to make a fool of him. Their husbands learn of the planned rendezvous and one of them–Master Ford–believes his wife is about to cheat on him and becomes crazy-insane with jealousy. The other trusts his wife. That’s half the plot. The other half involves Anne Page, the daughter of Master and Mistress Page. As was the Medieval custom, the parents have decided who their daughter will marry, while Anne has ideas of her own. She wants a marriage of equals, such as the merry wives enjoy, where women are independent and free to have fun too–to be merry wives. It was yet another idea that resulted from reading the Bible, and that likewise resulted in public education, the rise of the middle class, the democratization of government, finance, invention and marriage, as well as social breakthroughs that would make England the freest nation in Europe.

The play has its fair share of slamming doors, silly pranks, and elements common to farce. In the end, the merry wives succeed in making a fool of Falstaff (and the jealous husband sees the error in not trusting his wife), and Anne marries the man whom she loves. At the conclusion, Anne’s husband tells Anne’s parents: “You would have married her most shamefully, / Where there was no proportion held in love. / The truth is, she and I (long since contracted) / Are now so sure that nothing can dissolve us. / Th’offence is holy that she hath committed, / And this deceit loses the name of craft, / Of disobedience, or unduteous title, / Since therein she doth evitate and shun / A thousand irreligious cursed hours / Which forced marriage would have brought her.”

Final note: The Merry Wives is the only play Shakespeare ever wrote about England’s emerging middle class, and he wrote it mostly in prose.

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Bush 41–a modest man of supreme accomplishments
Posted - Dec 03, 2018
George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, is our most under-rated of recent presidents. This is not merely the author’s opinion, but the opinion of historians who, in a recent poll, rated Bush 21st among presidents—middling rank. His accomplishments, particularly in foreign affairs, would suggest otherwise. He (1) skillfully judged the dissolution of the Soviet Union and bucked the advice of foreign policy hard-liners by not interfering, believing (correctly) the failed Soviet system would collapse under the weight of its massed ineptitude, and would, in turn, release Eastern Bloc countries from its iron grip. He (2) forged a coalition of some 30 nations to halt and repel the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. And (3) he intervened successfully in the arrest of Manuel Noriega, drug trafficker and corrupt dictator of Panama.

Where Bush comes up short is with his management of the U.S. economy, which cost him a second term as president. I have not been an admirer of George H.W. Bush—until reading this book, about George H.W. Bush's presidency. The author Timothy Naftali is a story-teller of the first rank who emphasizes Bush’s intelligence, judgement and perseverance. If Bush had a failing, it was his modesty—an unwillingness to blow his own horn.

Running for president, Bush was tagged as being a wimp, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. In fact, he was a bonafide war hero. In World War II, as the youngest Air Force pilot stationed in the South Pacific; he flew 58 missions and made 126 carrier landings. On his 50th mission his plane was severely damaged by shrapnel. Displaying true grit under fire, he completed his bombing run before having to bail out.

After his discharge from service in 1945, he attended Yale, then moved to Texas where he became a self-made millionaire in the oil business, before the age of 40. After that, he focused on politics. He served two terms in the House of Representatives but lost twice running for the U.S. Senate. All the while he made friends with people in high places. President Richard Nixon appointed him Ambassador to the United Nations and then chairman of the Republican National Committee. President Gerald Ford appointed him Envoy to China and then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. However, these were merely consolation prizes, after having been turned down by both Nixon and Ford as a potential running mates. In 1980, at long last, he got the nod, as Ronald Reagan’s running mate. He served under Reagan for two terms, before turning his attention to the prize he had wanted all along—the presidency. He was elected in 1988, as the Cold War was coming to end.

Bush exhibited what the author calls “unexpected greatness” in keeping the drama of Eastern Europe’s Revolution from cascading into a broader East-West crisis. Bush kept his head and refrained from inflammatory rhetoric. He avoided rubbing Moscow’s nose in the reality of its collapsing empire and went out of his way to engage America’s former enemy in the responsible management of the Cold War’s end, masterfully so in negotiating German reunification and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from central Europe. In the Middle East, meanwhile, Bush was masterful in building a coalition of nations against Saddam Hussein’s hostile invasion of Kuwait. Military action was swift, well-coordinated, and stunningly effective in driving out Iraq’s famed Republic Guard. Thanks to broad world support, the U.S. military actually had a cash surplus at the close of the war. Also, it was the U.S. military’s first victory since World War II.

Where Bush had trouble was in dealing with the slumping economy, and with a growing faction of doctrinaire conservatives who couldn’t see the forest for the trees in refusing to compromise with the leader of their own party. Led by Newt Gingrich, rather than supporting the president’s economic policies and thereby helping him get re-elected, they fought him and helped elect Bill Clinton instead. Writes the author: “Bush’s problem was that while he was held responsible for the financial mess left by Reagan, no one seemed to give him credit for trying to fix it.” The growing conservative movement led to the candidacy of Patrick Buchanan— who tried and failed to take the Republican Party’s nomination away from Bush—and to the candidacy of quirky independent candidate Ross Perot. As a result an impression was created that the nation lacked genuine leadership under President Bush. Partly to blame was his lack of charisma as a public speaker, and a voter base that had never been strong. Says the author: Bush’s support among voters "was as shallow as it was wide." As a leader, his effectiveness was in one-to-one conversations in the perennial “smoke-fill rooms” where decisions are made and consensus reached. On the campaign stump, however, his speeches lacked the passion that drives voters to the polls on election day. By the fall of the 1992, the economy was in recovery but Bush failed to get this message across. His campaign rhetoric was measured, reasonable, and calm, but out of touch with voter sentiments, while Clinton empathized with unhappy voters (“I feel your pain”), striking again and again at where Bush was weakest. “It’s the economy, stupid,” Clinton reminded his staffers. When it counted most, Bush would not get down and dirty as politicians often do when elections are closely contested, and it cost him dearly–a second term as president.

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Elizabeth I, the ideal theatergoer
Posted - Nov 22, 2018
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) loved the theater, as the following excerpt attests—from “William Shakespeare of London” by Marchette Chute:

"The Queen probably made her entrance (in the theater) about the time that the actor who played the Prologue began pinching his cheeks to get some color into them, and when she came in even the most experienced member of the acting company might be permitted the cold clutch of stage fright. For Queen Elizabeth was the golden and glorious sun about whom all of England revolved. Even the greatest lords approached her kneeling, spoke to her kneeling, played cards with her kneeling, and she moved in a glitter of jewels and of homage that made her in many ways the fairy-tale figure that the poets of England said she was.

"Queen Elizabeth was in her sixties when Shakespeare’s company faced her from the stage in the Christmas season of 1594, and very little was left of her youth except her straight back and her beautiful hands. She still dressed as a young girl in spite of her wrinkled face and false hair and missing teeth, and occasionally some self-confident male would conclude her mind was aging also and that she was a conceited and impressionable old woman. The French Ambassador who came to her Court three years later began with some such impression, but a few days later he was recording in his journal with reluctant admiration, “She is a very great princess who knows everything.” The men of her Court did not altogether like being ruled by a woman, especially a brilliant woman, but most of them both loved her and were a little frightened of her.


"As far as her lesser subjects were concerned, Elizabeth had decided early that the only way to get obedience from her turbulent and opinionated countrymen was to be loved. She played the courtier with her people even more than her anxious lords courted her, and the smile that was “pure sunshine” came often enough from England’s greatest politician where ordinary English citizens were concerned. This was not a matter of policy alone, for she loved England more selflessly and devotedly than she ever loved anything else in her long and difficult life; but the special grace with which she handled herself before the general public was born of a very clear idea of the value of courtesy in politics. When a schoolmaster at Norwich attempted to deliver a Latin speech to her and lost his head altogether in that glorious presence, the great Queen was as concerned over his stage fright as were any of the sweating Norwich managers of the affair, and when the schoolmaster had finally staggered through to a conclusion she told him, “It is the best that ever I heard; you shall have my hand.”

"Elizabeth of course expected a much higher standard of performance from a group of professionals like the Chamberlain’s company (of whom William Shakespeare was a shareholder), especially since she had paid for the costumes and properties and was giving them a ten-pound fee, but in general she was the ideal theatergoer. She hoped and expected to be amused, and from the actor’s point of view it would be difficult to find any more attractive quality in a spectator than that. She and the Londoners shared the same kind of interest in the theatre and liked the same kind of things, for that vigorous woman was far too well educated to play the snob and to give her support to tenuous classic productions only. On her mother’s side Elizabeth was descended from middle-class stock and her great-grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn, had been a merchant of London. The Londoners always felt she was one of them, since she was “descended of citizens” and her ancestor’s tomb could still be seen in St. Lawrence’s Church; and although her father and her successor had their court fools, Elizabeth preferred to share the great clowns (of the stage) like Tarleton and Kempe with ordinary London public.

"Elizabeth was much more learned than the majority of her subjects, but she did not have the exaggerated respect for learning that plagued so many of the gentlemen of the Renaissance. When the French ambassador expressed admiration at her ability to speak six languages, she remarked “that it was no marvel to teach a woman to talk; it were far harder to teach her to hold her tongue.” She made translations from Cicero and Plutarch to relax her lively mind, and read Seneca to calm herself after she had been 'stirred to passion' by what she considered the stupidity of her harassed Privy Council; but she was quite willing to stop off and ask the meaning of an unfamiliar word in Latin, 'being of the mind of that philosopher who in his last years began with the Greek alphabet.'


"The actors who played before Queen Elizabeth faced a woman with a lively, critical mind and one who knew a good deal about the details of their trade. The Queen was a poet herself, and as one respectful subject put it, her 'learned delicate, noble Muse easily surmounted all the rest . . . be it in ode, epigram, or any other kind of poem heroic or lyric.' She was an expert musician who could play her own compositions, and an experienced dancer with such a strong sense of rhythm that when she watched a dance instead of taking part in it she followed 'the cadence with her head, hand and foot.'

"In her ideas of comedy, Elizabeth leaned towards the same easygoing humor that her subjects did, and the strict sexual propriety that she enforced in her Court had nothing to do with her enjoyment of a bit of Shakespearean plain-speaking on the stage.

Elizabeth had about twenty-eight maids of honor, for whose welfare she was directly responsible to their parents, in a Court that consisted otherwise of about fifteen-hundred men, and she had trouble enough with those lively and marriageable young ladies in Court that was completely masculine down to male cooks and launderers. It is noteworthy that during Elizabeth’s reign the dramatists never wrote anything that condoned or encouraged sexual immorality. Adultery was a subject for tragedy, not for comedy, and when Shakespeare went to complicated lengths in ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL to prevent the hero from committing adultery in his comedy, he was following the normal practice of Elizabethan playwrights. It was not until well into the next reign that the situation changed. By then Elizabeth was dead and the influence of her sisters in spirit, the wives of London citizens, was receding; and it was only old-fashioned dramatists like William Shakespeare who still wrote the kind of plays that had once been popular with everyone."

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Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26, 1789
Posted - Nov 16, 2018
Early to bed, early to rise: that was the farmer in George Washington.

Each day, the President rose before dawn, shaved by candlelight, dressed with the help of his valet, and while the house was quiet he sat at his desk and read several newspapers and did correspondence work. After two hours, he stopped for a breakfast of hoe cakes smothered in butter and honey and chased with several cups of tea taken with milk.

After breakfast, he studied state papers, signed documents, met with staff and, as necessary, met with advisors, cabinet members, congressmen, and foreign ministers. In the evenings, as often as he could, he attended the theater. There was one theater in New York City, the John Street Theater, where the President was often seen in the company of dignitaries, cabinet members, Congressmen, family and friends. After the theater, and on most nights around 8 p.m., Washington would eat a light supper and go to bed. Most nights he was in bed by nine o'clock.

George Washington loved the theater. He appreciated its power, not merely to entertain, but to communicate ideas. He enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays most of all, particularly “Julius Caesar.” During the bleak winter at Valley Forge, he staged a play for his soldiers, one with an unmistakable message, entitled "Cato." Cato was a Roman patriot and staunch supporter of the Roman Republic who opposed Caesar's usurpation of power. Rather than capitulate to a tyrant and give up his freedom, he commits suicide. The message: freedom is so precious, without it life is not worth living.

Washington's journal entry for Tuesday, November 24, 1789 reads: "A good deal of Company at the Levee today. Went to the Play in the Evening." What did he see? A comedy, entitled: “The Toy; or A Trip to Hampton Court.” A newspaper reported: "On the appearance of The President, the audience rose, and received him with the warmest acclamations." The play must have been very funny because this was said to have been the only pubic occasion at which George Washington was seen to laugh.


Before adjourning in September, Congress had resolved that the president should proclaim a day of national thanksgiving. Thus, on October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation assigning November 26 as Thanksgiving Day. This was the first national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated in the United States.

On November 26, Washington wrote in his journal: "Being the day appointed for Thanksgiving I went to St. Paul’s Chapel though it was most inclement and stormy–but few people at the church." In honor of the day, he contributed seven pounds, ten shillings out of his own pocket to purchase "provision & beer" for inmates at the City's debtor prison.

Going forward, Thanksgiving would be celebrated irregularly. For example, the next thanksgiving day was not proclaimed until 1795. Washington’s successor, John Adams, would proclaim but two Thanksgiving Days; Thomas Jefferson none at all. Thanksgiving would not become an annual national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a yearly event.

What Thanksgiving meal was served that day at the Presidential Mansion on 1 Cherry Street in New York City is not known. What is known is this: most days Washington dined at two in the afternoon. The meal consisted of various meat dishes: fish, fowl, ham, beef steak, accompanied with a variety of fruits and vegetables and rounded off with lavish deserts. Washington's dinner usually consisted of a single entree and afterward he drank champagne or Madeira wine while conversing with guests, family and friends. Later, he went for a walk, usually to the Battery and back, or rode on horseback, or took a carriage ride with Mrs. Washington.

There was much to be thankful for that first year of the federal government under the new U.S. Constitution. In completing what was left undone at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the First Congress had created the Federal Appellate Court System, including the Supreme Court; the executive departments of State, Treasury, and War; wrote and approved Ten Amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights; and passed a federal revenue system to pay the government's bills–this was the 1789 Tariff Act, signed into law on July 4. The principle failure of Congress under the Articles of Confederation was its failure to pass the 1783 Tariff Bill. Under the old government, passage required a unanimous vote. Under the new Constitution, that was no longer the case; a two-thirds vote of approval in both houses was all that was required. In the works that Fall was "The Report on Public Credit," requested by Congress, and being drafted by newly appointed Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to make provision for paying the war debt and thereby restoring the nation's faltering credit. As word spread that the government intended to pay the debt, the price of government securities began to rise, business picked up and the sluggish economy showed signs of recovery. The feeling spread that the new government that Washington accurately described as an "experiment" was going to succeed after all.

No subsequent Congress would be as productive as the First Congress in its first six months. Then, too, no subsequent Congress ever again would feel as compelled to act as the First Congress had, when the very existence of the republic was at stake. Incredibly George Washington's mere presence made it all possible, such was the faith the nation had in his leadership as the first president of the United States.

Henceforth known as "The Father of his Country" George Washington was a man of unimpeachable honesty, deepest dignity, and unquestioned integrity.

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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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