Rush to Judgment

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“I’m taking this one”, I excitedly announced to Jenna, the staff person behind the counter at Booktowne last week with July 4 looming.  It turned out to be one of several proofs that I took, pledging to read them all and do a write up if one struck my fancy, which the memoir on Rush certainly did – perhaps because so much of it is ensconced in the story of the American Revolution.  Here is a brief synopsis from the Kirkus Review.

Penn Archives LogoBiographical information on Benjamin Rush is readily available, for example this piece from Univ. of Pennsylvania’s Archives & Records Center.  Rush is memorialized in Philadelphia, and in Chicago by a med school bearing his name, but this penetrating work by Stephen Fried due out at the end of September brings him to a much wider audience.

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know that Dr. Benjamin Rush was a co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, his name found below John Hancock’s, and surrounded by more familiar names such as Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, and Jefferson.  Among the many less luminous of the 56 signatories was John Stockton, known principally these days in New Jersey for the Jersey Turnpike Rest Stop that bears his name, and of course Stockton University.

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Benjamin Rush married Richard Stockton’s daughter, Julia, who was considerably younger.  It wasn’t until Julia’s death in 1848 that his voluminous papers left in her possession passed on to the next generation.  A substantial number of these papers were inherited by James, one of the Rush sons, who married the wealthy Phoebe Ridgeway.  Having inherited his Phoebe’s fortune upon her death in 1857, James donated a million dollars to house a library in her name on South Broad Street that would be a repository for Benjamin Rush’s papers.  The Ridgeway Library is a centerpiece of what is now Philadelphia’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA).

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The papers that didn’t make their way to Ridgeway wound up in the hands of Julia Williams Rush, the daughter of James’ brother Samuel.  Julia married into the prominent  Biddle family, with its rich Quaker tradition, most recently upheld by Jesse Biddle – a pitcher selected by the Phillies in the first round in 2010 after having starred for Germantown Friends, a Quaker School in Philadelphia.  (Jesse by the way flamed out with the Phils, but is now pitching well for their divisional rivals in Atlanta.)  Another of the Biddle lineage who can be seen in or around Philadelphia is Gail Biddle Cooper, friend to Miriam and me and the Museum of the American Revolution.

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In his afterword, Fried writes:  “In the early 1890s, Julia Rush Biddle’s husband, Alexander Biddle, ordered transcriptions of two sets of the papers his wife had inherited: a selection of the letters John Adams had written to Rush (without any of his replies) and a selection of the letters Rush had written to his wife during the yellow fever epidemic (without any of her replies).  These were privately published in 1892 under the nondescript title Old Family Letters: copied from the Originals for Alexander Biddle … In the early 1940s, the last of the children of Julia Williams Rush Biddle died, and the estate hired a Manhattan auction house to hold one of the largest sales of Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary ‘signature’ documents ever.  There were more than nine hundred lots, sold at three massive auctions during the summer and fall of 1943, involving multiple examples of previously unknown signed letters from every major and minor Founding Father.  The sale literally altered the history of American history, not only leading to new writing on Rush but also fueling a revival of interest in John and Abigail Adams and other founders.”

Just after the bicentennial in 1976, Julia Rush Biddle Henry, Benjamin Rush’s great, great, granddaughter (who died in 1979 at the age of 92) donated a large collection of letters to and from Dr. Rush and Julia to the Rosenbach Library on Delancey Place in Philadelphia.

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Among these letters were a shocking one that Rush had written to Julia in early 1778 about the possibility of forcing out George Washington, whose ability to lead was in question, and which Fried and his researchers transcribed for what they believe is the first time.

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Goodbye to Summer, Just as It Begins

What a great piece by Pat Cunnane in the Review section of the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend edition!

Summer Trip GraphicILLUSTRATION: PETER ARKLE

By Pat Cunnane
July 5, 2018 12:15 p.m. ET

“Summer’s over!”

Every year, not long after Memorial Day, one of the boys—my future uncles—would inevitably shout it, often on the drive back to the city. Stuffed into their parents’ station wagon, they would suddenly come to terms with the end of their first weekend down at the New Jersey shore (or as we Philadelphians say it, just “down the shore”).

It was my Uncle Harry, during one of those weekend trips in the early ’60s, who first realized that summer’s arrival also portends its end. It hit like the lightning that cracked through the muggy July afternoons. Then it spread among the siblings of the Dean family, like the sand they were supposed to kick off before creaking through the busted screen door out back and clattering to the front porch to watch the storm rumble by.

Summer’s inevitable passing became a kind of half-serious family joke for all the Dean children—five boys and two girls, including the youngest, my mother, Madeleine. By mid-June they were taunting each other about what they’d wear for Halloween. Soon after, you might hear my grandmother, indignant, responding to her morose children: “What do you mean, who’s bringing the stuffing to Thanksgiving?! It’s June 28th!”

Eventually, it became a weapon, wielded when somebody was getting a little too high on the ocean air. If my Uncle Bob came back to the family’s seaside house in Avalon, N.J., after a particularly exhilarating beach day, Harry would surely ask: “Picked your pencil case for school yet?”

These days, the declaration is often shared by text message, as we scattered relatives look for the right moment. My Aunt Maryann or I will get it going as early in the season as possible, sending off the two words at the height of an otherwise beautiful June morning. “Summer’s over.”

As family traditions go, this one may sound insane. Why deflate the pleasure of it all? But summer is different in the Northeast. The season’s impermanence—that fleeting window between Memorial Day and Labor Day—is what defines it. Romantic writers and painters have struggled to capture the wistfulness of that ocean air, the cloud shadowing those sunny skies; poets have called it forth with the squawk of the seagull.

At the Jersey shore and other beach towns of the Northeast, the monuments to summer are bike rental places and pizza stands, surf shops and dive bars—and most of all, that great summer highway, the boardwalk. Yet all stand vacant for most of the year.

And the beach changes in the off season. Pulling in on the Friday before Memorial Day, after a traffic-packed lurch down the Garden State Parkway, you never know what you’re coming back to: a favorite joint replaced by a new restaurant, a familiar beach now eroded, a previously invisible jetty jutting out from the sand.

From New Jersey and Maryland to Massachusetts and Maine, beach towns revert to a quieter mode in the off season. Locals get their streets back, and we seasonal visitors go away.

Not so across the country, where I live now, pulled by the Pacific to Santa Monica, Calif., a few blocks from the famous pier—a nonstop monument to summer. For most of the year, it’s paradise. The massive beach never changes, or if it does, you fail to notice because you’ve lived it every day, walking the sandy expanse in October just the same as in June.

But summer down the shore is better, richer. It’s a way to measure progress, to recount the year’s failings, to reconnect with last season’s friends and flings. The beach’s changes underscore our own. Another year gone. It’s the transience that matters, the brevity that bonds beachgoers.

The next generation of Deans—16 cousins, including me—is united by the same anticipation and grief that our parents felt in the station wagon, those pangs of summer’s looming end. There’s something in our DNA. Unprompted, my six-year-old niece Aubrey, recently texted my brother: “Summer’s over, Alex. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.”

I know what you’re thinking: Live in the present, you fool. For those who can, I implore you to do just that. Seize the summer; tell yourself it has just begun.

But for those East Coasters like the Deans, who are more comfortable anticipating, and worrying over, what’s next, be grateful for the good that comes with the bad. After all, for nine months, from September to May, we get to look forward: Summer’s almost here.

—Mr. Cunnane, a television writer and a former senior writer in the White House under President Barack Obama, is the author of “West Winging It: An Un-Presidential Memoir.”

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Sunset Sequence

One evening’s transition over Little Silver Lake from a Van Gogh-like cloud swirl into a blood-red backlit feast for the eyes.

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The BioPsychoSocial Model of Disease

A self-described “Gay Leftie” (in the YouTube video below) who learned something valuable that may surprise you by spending time amongst the Amish, Johann Hari has written a masterful book that is, on the surface about anxiety and depression, but is so much more.

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At the core of Lost Connections is the premise that the best model for treating most chronic diseases is a three-pronged approach consisting of biological, psychological, and social factors.  The so-called biopsychosocial model  is widely acknowledged in mental health, and a basic premise of Hari’s book is that the anti-depressant properties of social connection is as potent as what any drug (bio) or psychotherapy (psycho) has to offer.

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Whatever your cultural or political leanings, you’re bound to find this presentation at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C. entertaining if not informative.  Hang in there all the way through this compelling hour-long video, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

One of the hallmarks of a good presentation beyond the valuable information it puts forth is the extent to which it stimulates your own thinking.  I’d be interested in yours, and here are two of mine.

  1. The book mentions the three year “universal basic income” in Canada that was shelved, prompting thoughts of what we mean by “Social Security”.  We  associate that only with the financial program that the U.S. Government still offers which is basically a financial rebate for staying alive.  What role if any does the government play in the components of “Social Security” that aren’t financially based?
  2. In a toss-away moment, the video mentions the difficulty one would have in designing a double blind study about talk therapy, necessitating  that one group participate in placebo talk therapy.  What would placebo talk therapy consist of?
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May The 4th Be With You

Greetings on July 4 from PPB, and hope you’re having a beautiful day wherever you are!  The red, white, blue is on display full force here.

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It’s always cooler at the shore, but warm enough that fountain statues were watering themselves.

Here’s a cute factoid I didn’t know about our beach:

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Cat Stevens sang about the Peace Train, but we had the Beach Train.   And what better way to celebrate Jenkinson’s 90th Anniversary than with its own salt water taffy commemorative?

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And a beautiful afternoon to take a walk over to the Inlet, with boats aplenty making their entrance and exit.

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In the course of reading an intriguing new book by neuro-ophthalmologist Frederick Lepore, Finding Einstein’s Brain, I learned of the clever naming of an idyllic patch of land  in 2005 by the city of Princeton, New Jersey, in honor of one of its most celebrated residents.

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Einstein never obtained a driver’s license, and relished the daily walk to and from his home on Mercer Street to Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study with his colleague, Kurt Godel.  A proud immigrant and independent thinker, Einstein relished his American citizenship – something worth celebrating on this Day of Independence.  I think you’ll enjoy this article from New Jersey Monthly published last year, and the reminisence of Dr. Stanley Levy of his Princeton Passover with Einstein commemorating of freedom.

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Alexa-thymia

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My neologism for the latest foray into making ourselves less dependent on human beings.  The origin of the term is a play on alexithymia, a clinical construct for lack of emotional depth, as detailed by Deborah Serani in her Scientific American Mind blog.   The prefix “alexi” means without words, and the suffix “thymia” means emotions.  So the literal meaning of alexithymia is a condition in which words do not trigger emotions.

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Alexa-thymia therefore represents emotions triggered by Alexa.  We have developed great fondness for Alexa as a personal assistant.  I first encountered Alexa in my techie son-in-law David’s kitchen in late 2014.  He was an early adopter (as he is with all things tech) and initially Alexa was more of a parlor trick for obtaining information.  “Alexa, who won the Phillies game today?”  Or, “Alexa, what’s the weather going to be tomorrow?”  But gradually she morphed into another piece of your offloaded brainpower.  Everything from voice activated to reminders about events, or predictions about the future.  Alexa does have one key feature as a personal assistant: she never lets her emotions cloud your relationship.

Here is a brief timeline of the Alexa-thymia revolution:

 

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