an arrest record one can be proud of

If you’re like me and try to read the BBC every day you’ll realize that at any given time, probably 1/3 of the links on their News main page is pure clickbait.  I’ve always found this weird and kind of shameful for what should otherwise be a professional news organization.

But I guess every website feels compelled to use clickbait now.  There’s a charity that helps cure malaria in children, and on their web page front and center is a link that says: “You’ll never guess what job can increase your happiness this much!”.  Hint, it’s undertaker.

Hey speaking of death, the BBC got me.  I’m so ashamed.  I couldn’t help myself and dove into this clickbait headline:

Ethiopian ‘prophet’ arrested after trying to resurrect corpse

Essentially this dude had folks dig up a corpse and he tried to bring said dead body back to life:

Getayawkal Ayele had tried to revive the corpse of Belay Biftu by lying on top of him and repeatedly yelling “Belay, wake up”.

When this didn’t work (for whatever reason) the guy’s family started to beat up this false god.  For his efforts, Mister Ayele got himself arrested for messing with a dead body, which is apparently a crime even if you received the family’s permission to do it.

We at TAP have a few conclusions to draw from this most consequential of today’s events.  Please bear with us as we display only keen insight and brilliance.  Your cooperation, as always, is truly appreciated.  We truly desire to keep liquidation to an absolute minimum.

1) What did the family of the deceased expect to happen?  I’ve seen some pretty crazy shit in my life, but I’m pretty sure there are some things you can bet your life on.  For example, unicorns don’t exist.  Did the family really expect that they would be the first folks to experience something that has never, ever happened before in all of human history?

2) What did Ayele expect to happen?  Either he’s insane, was intoxicated, or what?  But did this guy actually expect this to work?  Usually a grifter has a backup plan.  When he discovered that he could, in fact, not actually resurrect the dead what was his next move?  Was he just going to run away in a puff of smoke ala the Roadrunner?

3) This is an arrest record one can be proud of.  If you’re going to get wrapped up by the authorities, it should be something you can be proud of.  “I got taken in for drunk driving”, makes you sound like a dick and a loser.  “I got taken in for trying to resurrect a corpse”, instantly makes you the most popular dude in the bar.

4) Fuck Netflix’s The Frankenstein Chronicles.  So bad.

5) This will not be the last time in your lifetime you see an attempt to resurrect a corpse.  Soon, they’ll be growing human hearts in a lab.  And a guy or gal will have a heart attack and essentially, well, die.  Then they’ll rush that corpse to the ER and instead of calling it, the doc will try and put a new heart in the person and essentially bring them back to life.  The social and religious implications of this are astounding, but it’s going to happen.

6) “My mum found my first grey hair at seven.”  Hmm, that sounds weird.  Maybe I’ll click on that, and so [eyes glaze over], no, No, NO! [waves hands around head as if shooing away flies]

7) The title of this blog post was intentionally clickbait.  Did I get you?  If so, I’m not sorry.

PS, I really am sorry.

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Alexander Part II: The journey aboard the Memnon

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Years later, we would often debate on who had made such a grave mistake.  With the remains of the previous night’s raki still fogging our brains every memory was clouded by nonsense.  And so each version of events was as different as the personalities in our party.  But I for one, regardless of whose mistake it was, am always reminded of a tenant of life: Never ask a thief to buy something for you.

And so after an expert, hearty breakfast prepared by one of Zeki’s men, we prepared to depart Istanbul bound for our adventure.  Stelios met us at the central terminal having bought the tickets that (somebody) had volunteered him to procure.  With glee, and a slap upon his packet of papers did Stelios state with a flourish, “Granicus.  Let’s go!”

All of us stared at Stelios without comprehension.  Until Mut offered, simply, “Granicus is Ottoman.”

“Yes!” Stelios lit a cigarette and dragged with pleasure.

“We’re going to Greece,” said George wearily.

Stelios waved his lit cigarette, “Why would we…”

“Greece is where Alexander started…”, George implored.

“…but to find Alexander,” Stelios clapped his palms together, “we must of course venture to his first great victory against the Persians!”

Mut shook his head, “Greece first.”

“No, Granicus,” Stelios stabbed his cigarette, “We will let you guide us through the oh so many Moslem worlds that await us, but for the moment, this is my part.  My part, and to Granicus we go.”

Mut again, deadpan, “Granicus is Moslem.”

Either out of frustration or sheer drive, Alianna stepped forward and ripped the tickets from the packet, and with the slightest of whispers did state into Stelios’ ear, “Idiot.”  And she was off toward the ticket office.  The rest of us meekly and with resignation followed.  She returned shortly afterwards with the steamer tickets for Chalcis.

Alexander was born in Pella, in theory.  But at that time he was just a baby, a human, and a reasonable calculation would have termed his political future (and his very life) doomed.  We were bound for Chalcis, and then through the dusty background of the Greek countryside we would edge the outskirts of Attica and then cross over the borders into Boeotia.  Finally we would stumble upon a little hamlet, the place where Alexander was born.  Chaeronea.  Granicus would come, but only later.

We bade goodbye to Istanbul, a place we would remain inexplicably linked to throughout our adventures but would not see for a very long time.  Zeki had left me with a great deal of letters and contacts for our forthcoming journeys.

The docks were a mass of humanity.  Shoulder to shoulder we pushed through the crowds for the steamship piers.  All of Istanbul seemed primed to dispense with most of the day’s business before the afternoon, before the heat returned.  Yet surrounded by traders, hackers, herders, moneymen, longshoremen, one quickly heats up anyways.

As always I was glad for my loose traveling clothes which equally fit a sun scorched mountain as a busy dockside.  George’s apparel quite agreed with my style.  I didn’t know how Mut and Stelios did it, with their tailored and pristine suits, saved from a bath only by the handkerchiefs they repeatedly bore.  Or Alianna, who wore her styled intoxicating garb with grace, but seemed to carry no handkerchief nor any sweat upon her brow.

We plowed our way to the jetty and our ride in Memnon, a coastal steamship whose material condition seemed perfectly suited to safely take us the seven-hundred yards across the Bosporus without incident, but not much further.  I made a note to thank my Uncle for teaching me how to swim the next time I found myself compelled to pray at some point in the forthcoming month.

I observed with pleasure the timetables and that our journey south would likely mirror the routes in which the triremes had sailed these waters.  We would hug Ottoman Europe and the Greek coast until we met Chalcis.  We would stop for passengers by choice.  The Ancient Greeks had to stop most nights and pull their vessels ashore just to remain afloat.  Our journey would take two days, theirs took weeks.  We would eat comfortably amongst our fellow passengers.  They would cook along beaches by the fireside.  Despite Memnon’s condition, I felt safe enough to enjoy the forthcoming ride.  They praised the gods every time their journey ended without them consigned to the deep.

As we pulled from the shore we left behind the heat that emanated from the city like a bird fleeing a warm desert rock.  The cool sea breeze dried the moisture from our faces and we drank it in as energy more powerful than the best of coffee.  Though Alianna had already found a mug of that too, and I began to wonder if she would always have some attached to her hand.

Memnon’s captain helmed her with the skill of a man who has done something thousands of times, effortless and with art.  The Bosporus certainly had all the charm of history, but could have done without the filth that clouded its historic waters.  After five thousand years, civilization had taken its toll on the cliffs, the stark beaches, the fishing settlements, and suburbs of the great Ottoman city.

I found my forearms planted upon the rail until the sun reddened the back of my neck.  Mothers dumped buckets of waste across the shore as children played behind them.  Fisherman plied their trade in thumb sized boats unchanged in their design since Alexander.  Bland villages found their way atop bluffs, astride cliffs, all competing pell-mell for access to the sea.

It was difficult, impossible even, to accurately imagine a time with most of this land as barren countryside between the oasis of villages that dotted the desolate landscape like stars in the night sky.  Much to my sickness, I allowed my mind to wander too far, too beyond usefulness.  And my thoughts turned to the reality that all our ship passed as it strode south was now in service to the maw of one singular man in The Sultan.

So much history, so much progress, and yet a poor fisherman still conducted his life driven by base needs, equipped with the minimalist of technology, and still bound by fate of the same kind of ruler as had been in charge for longer than it took the wind to smooth jagged rocks.

Were my adventures, my efforts any different?  I began to regret ever coming upon this journey.  I suddenly found myself wondering what in God’s name I was thinking.  I felt the need to escape.  My Browning, expertly tucked inside my belt at the small of my back, round chambered, began to feel three times as heavy.  I wanted the adventure, but I felt as if I didn’t want to go through the effort to get it.

Only shame kept me from doing anything other than gutting it out.  And the hope that once we really got started, things would begin to feel better.  Though my companions were all volunteers, and certainly knew the danger, I wondered if they understood just how many of those I’d traveled with in the past were by now but dust and bones.

George seemed much the same, only more so.  It seemed Allah’s sight did not progress beyond the brow of the Ottoman ship, and given the large number of Greek passengers, alcohol was served with abandon.  It wasn’t long before George was drunk, and stayed drunk.

Mut gambled, and gambled.  Then he gambled some more.  Cards, dice, dominoes, what bird would get the next fish, what time we’d make our next port, the fate of his daughter (I don’t believe he had one), and whatever else struck his moment.

Stelios seemed glued to the stern, where he had somehow procured the finest of deck chairs.  There he planted his liberated bare feet upon the rail, his jacket off and sleeves rolled, leaned back and read almost anything he could find.  I did not inquire where he got the chair, one that seemed fit for a king, or perhaps a steamboat captain.

I tried, quite hard, to make myself useful in what became an expedition for Alianna to talk to just about anybody who seemed capable of conversation.  It quickly dawned on me that she either relished it or needed it, constantly, it was her alcohol, her gambling, her reading material.

She seemed to select candidates from among the other passengers.  Once she found her mark, whoever was the most interesting, they became her focus to the exclusion of all others.  The Sultan’s detective from Gallipoli who was on the case but bound for the wrong port, the accountant from Alexandroupoli who had just made his fortune, the graceless Thessalonian grandmother who Mut couldn’t beat at anything, and the Albanian child who wrote poetry in pencil on the margins of discarded newspapers.

I couldn’t keep up with her, much to my disappointment.  I didn’t know yet if I wanted her, but any man in the presence of any such woman would be inhuman not to desire at least some attention.  As it was never forthcoming, I found myself retiring to my meager cabin more and more.  Often with the kicker required to relax and sleep with ease, though not nearly at the levels George seemed to require.

Somewhere along our brief time at sea I once again had that feeling of being watched.  But my mood, the drink, or the benign nature of riding a derelict steamship all combined to force my aspect into one of complete disengagement.  If we were watched, I didn’t care.  It didn’t matter to me.  The adventure had just begun, but perhaps had already lost its edge.

It had never been that way for Alexander.  His adventure took half a decade to lose its steam.  Mine lasted three days.

But as with all things, life can turn at any moment.

And in the dark of my cabin, well into the dead of a silent night, was broken by pounding, a sharply opened door, and a wide-eyed-bare-shirted Stelios who scraped, “George went over the side!”

I was out the door in a blink and darting with Stelios towards the stern.  Our bare feet patted the deck in slaps.  “Why didn’t you go in after him?” I fiercely shouted.

Between breaths, “I can’t swim, by God.”

As we made it to the stern and Stelios’ deck chair I nearly vaulted over the rail but found it nearly impossible to see anything other than the whitewash of the wake against black water and a cloudy night sky.  Within a second I came to the overwhelming calculation that a drunk George was a dead man the second he departed the boat and well before he ever hit the water.

And then my eyes caught up with my nerves, and I realized that Stelios’ deck chair hadn’t been vacant, but very much occupied.  I snapped around and behind me, very much seated, was George.  I then received the unbridled laughter of them both.

Out of relief, and remembering things I had done in my past, I began to smile and chuckle, but fueled by anger I grabbed for Stelios’ collar, but got his neck instead forgetting he was without a shirt, “In God’s name are you insane!”

“His face,” Stelios spit to George, “His face was the payoff.”  More laughter.

George, his eyes barely open but hopeful, “We’re out of fuel, have you got any money?”

I turned about, my palms on my head.  Then came about again and rammed a crunch of bills from my pocket into George’s chest.  He was on his feet and headed forward far faster than he should have been able in his condition.  And I suddenly knew I needed a huge pull of whatever he returned with.

Unconsciously, I began to smile, widely.  Then I laughed, and felt alive, so very alive.  Stelios, now clearly intoxicated to my calmed eyes, clapped me on the shoulder and leaned in, “Just so you know, I really can’t swim.  Not a bit.”

the false promises of doing good

It seems every few weeks something that was once benign is placed in the crosshairs and suddenly becomes beyond the pale.  Did you know plastic straws were evil?  Well, I guess they are now.  Because a bunch of people said so.

Accordingly, Starbucks is set to ban the use of all plastic straws within two years.  This will supposedly help do better for the planet by removing a source of plastic that for the most part can’t be recycled.

Here’s my problem though.  People might feel good about this, but in the end it’s not even a rounding error.  Plastic straws were fine, now they’re bad.  So folks will hate on them and get rid of them.  Just like plastic bags.

In the end though, what does all this actually accomplish?

I read an article that said in order to overcome the carbon footprint of making a reusable bag verses a plastic bag that you have to use the reusable bag like 150 times.  Let’s say the average shopper goes to the grocery once a week.  That’s three years of using your reusable bag before you were better off asking for plastic.

Are folks actually using their reusable bags for north of three years?  I do, but I’m not sure most people do.  And so banning plastic bags may have done some good, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.

Think banning plastic straws is going to help the planet?  It might, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.  Just take a gander as this report from The Economist which shows the life cycle of plastic throughout the planet.

The vast, vast majority of plastic that enters the oceans comes from Asia where consistent recycling and landfills do not exist.  So Starbucks can ban all it wants, but that’s not going to stop rivers of plastic from flowing down the Yellow River into the sea.

And Starbucks also doesn’t seem to love the planet enough to stop using disposable coffee cups that can’t be recycled.  I hope folks realize this.  That over 99% of disposable coffee cups are in fact not recycled regardless of what’s claimed or where they’re tossed.

But do you think Starbucks is going to do something about getting rid of disposable coffee cups?  I doubt it.  Why?  Because: $

There are ways to help the planet.  And even executing rounding error efforts like banning plastic straws helps.  But false promises can also be dangerous.  Solving ocean plastic is hard.  Just comprehend what it’d take to help all of Asia establish coherent trash and recycling policies.

But when all you’ve got from folks is easy answers like: “Oh, I’m not using a plastic straw, I’ve done good for the planet today. [pleasing sigh]”  Then that’s a false promise and in the end doesn’t really help the planet.  Particularly if the thought stops there, and doesn’t move on.

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Godless – this was good

Netflix has rolled the dice on an awful lot of content.  They’ve placed their faith in a business model where they generate their own stuff and not show other people’s stuff.  In short, they want to be HBO, not a distributor like Blockbuster [cue scene of creepy cemetery with Blockbuster jingle playing in background].

The problem is as they’ve transitioned to this model they’ve ended up producing or contracting a large amount of garbage.  In other words, Netflix is no longer infallible and falls into the same trap as other content creators.  Sometimes things work out, sometimes they’d don’t.

If you’re looking for one where Netflix mostly succeeds, you can safely go with Godless.  This was good.  It wasn’t great, but good.  With all the recent Netflix failures I’ve had, I’ll take good, and be happy for the experience.

As Western’s go, this one’s pretty straightforward.  The plot almost doesn’t quite matter.  What you get is incredible acting, set design, costumes, etc.  And you can then check out your brain and enjoy the experience.  The plot isn’t magical, but it works and works well.  You care what happens to these people.  You’re invested in what’s happening on screen.

Where it nearly comes off the rails is in tone, which is why I can’t consider it great.  I could list several examples.  Instead I’ll just list one:

Is this a shocking, horrific Western like Unforgiven?  It certainly starts out that way.  The very first scene is a town massacred with a child hanging from a church.  But, then later in the series they seem to forget about this horror and it becomes some kind of cooky Western where in a battle where thousands of bullets are flying they won’t allow themselves to show one horse shot (because everybody loves horseies) and an important villain comically gets shot out a window into a pile of flames.  Not the biggest of problems, but often in Godless the tone just didn’t make sense.

My biggest two positive takeaways:

1) They take their time.  Did you ever think a modern series would take 15 minutes of screen time just to show how a cowboy tames a wild horse?  I didn’t.  And I loved it.  In a world where studios think the viewer’s attention span is eight seconds this idea is to be supported.

2) Jeff Daniels.  I don’t get why people don’t think Daniels is one of the great actors of our time.  This is a dude who can play an outstanding role as random dude (a), George Washington, a comedy idiot, a Civil War general, and here in Godless an absurdly creepy villain.  Daniels is simply amazing.  Godless is worth it just to see him go at it.

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This was good.

having had some time to think on it

I probably first discovered Bourdain in about 2007.  This was during his time at No Reservations back when I still had cable.  It was well before anybody really knew who he was.  At this point he was just another obscure cable television host.

Sure, those in the food scene knew him and he’d written a relatively famous book.  But most average folks had no idea who he was.  I got immediately hooked on No Reservations and ended up watching most episodes.

It was also at this point that Bourdain began to become a wider part of the food / travel scene and also our wider modern culture.  I remember he gave some interview online and I forwarded it to my brothers.  I think they thought this was weird, and were like, who’s this random guy?

But years after that I remember my brother forwarding me a radio interview he’d done.  Bourdain in a few short years had gone from relative obscurity to being well known across a variety of circles.

I kind of kept in touch with what Bourdain was doing over the years but never really got into Parts Unknown.  Whenever I was at the airport or entirely bored in a hotel, if it was on, I’d watch it.  But I never sought it out.

Part of my issue with Parts Unknown is it had a poor food to travel ratio.  This was also the case with later episodes of No Reservations.  I could be entirely mistaken but it seems as time went on, more and more of each episode was just Tony eating.  Whereas in say 2007 most of the episode was travel focused.

Again I could be wrong, that’s just my impression.  I like food too, but the most compelling parts of No Reservations to me was never the food, but always Bourdain traveling and giving his thoughts on life and the local areas.

Ultimately what drew folks to Bourdain was his ability to to put himself into the shoes of anybody on the planet, understand them, capture that, and then explain it to somebody else not there.

This is not an easy skill to master and employ.  And one that if you spend eight seconds on social media and the news, that most folks don’t even care to learn.  Today’s culture seems to be about conquest, not understanding.

And that was never Bourdain.  And that’s why people like me who are just not into celebrities or modern culture sort of worshiped this guy’s message.

One of the most compelling episodes is where Bourdain spends time with Ted Nugent.  A guy who even his most fervent supporters could not deny is a total lunatic.  Bourdain had his politics too, but he always wore it with a light touch, something other entertainers could learn a lot from.

I forget the line, I’m summarizing, but Bourdain essentially says something like: I don’t have to agree with you, to like you.  If I’m remembering this right, then that line should be tattooed onto everybody’s skull cavity today.

I’ve avoided thus far writing about his death, so I could think on it.  In the end, sadly I believe he’ll be known to many as just another celebrity who killed themselves.  I don’t know why he did it.  Nobody ever will I suppose.  It doesn’t matter though.  Life is sacred, but suicide is all too easy.

My coworkers and I found another coworker at a gas station with a whiskey bottle and a loaded pistol in his lap.  I still get the shakes wondering what if we’d been a half-hour late.  Like most people who’ve been to the darkest of places, once or twice I was probably at very serious risk of suicide.  My family, my friends, my dogs, my coworkers helped me back.  But essentially, suicide is no joke, and it’s everywhere.  Even when somebody seems like they’re okay, you should always be there to help, always be there for somebody, because you never know what’s going on inside somebody’s head.  Nobody can do life alone.

I suppose in the end, all I can say is that there are many, many voices in today’s world.  Most of them are simply not worth listening to.  Anthony Bourdain was a voice to absorb, and to pass on.

We need more people like him.

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Kamakura – Engaku-ji

Lost amidst the fervent nationalism that’s now the norm in the Western Pacific is how longstanding and deep the ties are between peoples.  From 1274 to 1281 the Mongols, alongside their Chinese and Korean vassals, conducted a series of invasions against Japan.  All failed for a variety of reasons, not least of which was a series of typhoons and the emergence of what would become the samurai warrior class.

In 1282 to commemorate the victories, honor the dead on all sides, and to push forward Zen Buddhism in Japan, the then shōgun Hōjō Tokimune ordered the construction of Engaku-ji.  He enlisted the help of a Chinese monk in Mugaku Sogen.  Zen became a huge part of the ruling culture’s psyche and was integral in the emergence of the samurai and what they were.

In the sense, Hōjō got exactly what he’d wanted.  He’s buried there.  And while the days of the Kamakura Shōgunate long passed it remained a key feature in Japanese Buddhism throughout history.  It’s a must see if you’re anywhere near Kamakura and it couldn’t be easier to get to via JR East’s Yokosuka Line which essentially drops you right at the temple entrance.

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The Sanmon, two story main gate, looking from it’s back towards the entrance.  As is typical for just about any ancient Japanese structure, fire constantly requires rebuilding.  The current version was reconstructed in 1785.

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Now walking up from the front of the Sanmon.

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Engaku-ji is still a functioning temple.  I didn’t get too close but there were folks practicing archery.  Note the target in the distance.

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Note the guy on the right with a typical Japanese longbow, as tall as a man (he is kneeling).  Despite the reputation of the katana, I suspect the real killers on most Japanese battlefields were the archers.

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I love the contrast in light on this shot.

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Find the fishy.

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The monk’s quarters.

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The Great Bell, Ogane, cast in 1301.  The largest temple bell in the wider Tokyo area.

“to see more clearly to the end of the business”

242 years ago 56 men signed a document that made them traitors.  This incredibly brave and reckless act changed humanity.  We take their ultimate success as a fact of history.  For them it was far less certain.  Not all of them lived.  All of them suffered.  All of them fought.  And victory was ultimately theirs.

If I can manage to remember, every year we’ll take a look at one of these men and reflect upon their lives.

Thomas McKean – Delaware

Son of a tavern keeper whose parents immigrated from Northern Ireland.  He was a lawyer at age 21 and already on the move.  Like many of his contemporaries he bridged the gap between the law and politics.  In many cases he held jobs in both camps at the same time.

County attorney general, general assembly representative, judge, and ultimately assembly speaker were just some of the titles he held.  He married at 32 and spent ten years with Mary and had six children with her until her early death.

Often forgotten is that the Revolution was as much as civil war as anything else.  McKean was a member of the pro-independence faction of Delaware and spent many years prior to 1776 in the political fencing act with his neighbors who were pro-British.  He remarried in 1774 to Sarah and had four more children.  I would gather he ultimately had a hard time remembering his grandchildren’s names.

As early as 1765 he is already an openly active member of political organizations dedicated to resisting the power of the British crown.  During the crucial years came in 1774-1776 he’s one of the most fervent speakers pushing for Independence.

Immediately after his 1776 Independence vote at Congress he assumed command as colonel of a regiment of militia.  And so bizarrely it’s believed he didn’t actually sign the Declaration in 1776.  It’s thought he signed it many years later as one of the original voting members was permitted to do so.

He spends most of the war in Congress and is it’s leader at the time of the surrender at Yorktown.  He also began service as chief justice of Pennsylvania in 1777 and would hold that title for twenty years.  Apparently back then you could be the ranking judge of one state, represent another in Congress, and lead Congress, all at the same time.  I don’t think any of our jobs are hard by comparison.

He played a key role in the subsequent creation and signing of the Constitution.  By 1799 he settles down for the rest of his life not in Delaware but Pennsylvania and serves three terms as governor there.  He had a rocky time as state boss.

He seems to have had such a fervent view of things that he frequently quarreled even with friends and was known for his temper.  Yet maybe that was what was needed during those chaotic times of change?

John Adams said of him: “one of the three men in the Continental Congress who appeared to me to see more clearly to the end of the business than any others in the body.”

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