Category Archives: What I Learned Today

What I Learned Today – Grover Cleveland

The Kansas City Public Library continued its year of incredible programming on Wednesday with “The President is a Sick Man” presented by Matthew Algeo, a writer who enjoys writing about obscure events in American history. His new book, The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth (longest title ever!) was released recently.

The President is a Sick Man

It’s the story of President Grover Cleveland undergoing risky, serious surgery on a friend’s yacht out in the waters of Long Island Sound, so no one would know. I haven’t read it yet, thought I did buy a copy of the book, but here’s some interesting facts about Cleveland that I learned from Matthew. Since he’s not exactly Washington or Lincoln, you might not know most of these:

  • He’s the only President to get married in the White House (two others got married while they were President but not in the White House)
  • That marriage was to a 21 year old woman (he was 49), the grieving daughter of a friend of Cleveland’s.
  • He was the only Democrat elected President in the 50 year period between Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson
  • He’s the only President to serve non-consecutive terms. After losing the 1889 election to Benjamin Harrison, he left the White House, only to return four years later after defeating Harrison in the 1893 election.
  • Because of that, Cleveland is the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Though we’ve had 44 Presidents, only 43 men have actually taken the oath of office.
  • He was the first President to come to Kansas City, arriving in 1887 for the National Agricultural Exposition and staying at the Coates House Hotel, which still stands at 10th & Broadway.
  • He vetoed more bills than all the previous Presidents combined. He’s still #2 in that regard, being surpassed only by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served three terms.

Check out the book; I can’t wait to read it, just gotta get through 1,600 more pages of Teddy Roosevelt history that I’m in the middle of! And please, please check out the Kansas City Public Library’s event schedule; they put on great lectures, presentations and events almost every day of the week and are an incredible asset to our city.

What I Learned Today – WWII & the Japanese

The Kansas City Public Library is outdoing itself in March, with incredible programming all month long. They’ve got so many good events that they’re overlapping each other this Thursday with the Great Commanders series presentation about Admiral Horatio Nelson and “How Well Did the New Deal Work?”, a presentation about government’s role in economic recovery. I chose the New Deal event but wish I hadn’t needed to choose! They’re also hosting a KC Mayoral Debate tonight, which I’m attending. I encourage you to check out their calendar of events; they’re all free and cover a wide range of subjects.

Retribution: the Battle for Japan 1944-45

Last night, I attended a lecture by Sir Max Hastings called “Retribution: the Battle for Japan 1944-45”. He’s one of the world’s leading historians on World War II and was in the area because last Sunday was the 65th anniversary of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

Sir Max delved into the psyche of the Japanese culture at that time and how they still think very differently about the war than the rest of the world. He discussed the violent atrocities carried out by the Japanese military and also got into some strategic decisions made by the Allies, especially General MacArthur, whom Sir Max is not a big fan of.

Towards the end, he talked about the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While expressing regret that so many were killed by those awful devices, he also said that he believes if that hadn’t happened, Russia or the United States would have used them during the Cold War and the world could have ended up a very different place indeed.

Sir Max has written a variety of books on World War II, including Winston’s War, which is a new look at Churchill different than the countless other biographies out there. Check out all this books here.


What I Learned Today (WILT) – Terrorism

I’ve decided it might be fun to do an ongoing series of short posts whenever I learn something interesting, during the day – could be about politics, marketing, history, etc.  So here goes…

The Kansas City Public Library does a fabulous job of putting on free community programs at lots of their locations. Just about every day there’s something going on, whether a kid’s program, a concert or a lecture on a serious topic. Check out the events calendar here. Tonight, I went to a program at the Central Library (10th & Baltimore – downtown) about the cultural, theological and historical roots of terrorist ideology.

I thought I’d share just a few bullet points I learned, along with links to more info.

  • The two most-cited Muslim scholars, by terrorists today, are:
    • Ibn Taymiyyah – gained notoriety during the Mongol Invasions in the 14th Century
    • Sayyid Qutb – mid-20th century Egyptian author of 24 books, also known for his intense disapproval with American life
    • According to Bill Braniff (tonight’s speaker), each of them believed Islam had lost its way with God and could gain favor again by returning to the core tenants of the Quoran.
  • There’s a difference between “Islam” and “Islamism” (great article on differences here).  Islamism is a belief that just about everything in life should be strictly governed by Islam. It’s becoming a primary ideology in the Middle East today, according to Braniff.
  • The term Salaf – it means “pious predecessors” or, basically, founding fathers (more on it here)
    • A sect of Islam today are “Salafists,” who, according to Braniff, ignore the last 1,400 years of research, study and interpretation of the Quoran.  Basically, they’re fundamentalists.
    • Within the Salafist sect, there’s “Salafi/Jihadists” that take the Salafist beliefs to the extreme
  • Al-Queda used to be a large, bureaucratic organization with corporate structure and even benefits plans/vacation days!  And now, there are less than 400 full-fledged members of Al-Queda in Pakistan right now.

If you’d like to read more, check out the Combating Terrorism Center – I learned a lot and I’ll be doing some follow-up reading for sure.