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Articles written by William H. Benson


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  • Some thoughts on the College Bowl and University Challenge

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Apr 25, 2024

    The quiz show, “College Bowl,” was first broadcast on radio in 1953, 71 years ago. The show transitioned to television in 1959, and stayed there until 1970. Its first host was Allen Ludden, future husband of Betty White. He hosted the show until 1962 when he left to host “Password.” Robert Earle replaced him, and he remained until 1970. The game show pitted four students from a college, such as Rutgers or Princeton, against a second team composed of four students from a second college, such as...

  • 14th Amendment: Sections 4 and 5

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Apr 11, 2024

    Two weeks ago in these pages, I looked at the second and third sections of the 14th Amendment. Today I continue with its two final sections, the fourth and the fifth. Section 4 clarifies which debts the U.S. Federal government will honor as valid. The first sentence reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” In oth...

  • Abraham Lincoln: Infidel or Faithful?

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Jul 20, 2023

    The two books that Abraham Lincoln read often and loved the most throughout his life were the King James Bible, published in 1611, and William Shakespeare's works, first published as the First Folio in 1623, both the best of English literary works. There were some-including his law partner in Springfield, Illinois, Billy Herndon- who were convinced that Lincoln displayed little religious faith whatsoever, that he was a skeptic, a thinker who scoffed at organized religion. Hence, Lincoln's... Full story

  • Servants of the People

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Jun 22, 2023

    Edward Muir is president of the American Historical Association. In the May issue of that non-profit's magazine, "Perspectives on History," he wrote a column he entitled, "The United States Needs Historians." Muir states his thesis, "Our culture needs historians who can look behind today's headlines and the latest 'fake news' to think about longer patterns in the past, even as they engage in current struggles." Yet, Muir begins with a two-minute scene from the Ukrainian television series,... Full story

  • STORIES

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Apr 27, 2023

    This past week I listened to Craig Wortmann's book, What's Your Story: Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful. Craig encourages readers to place their stories into a matrix of sixteen cells, four columns by four rows. He identifies four columns, top to bottom: success, failure, fun, and legends. A success story is how a project succeeded. A failure story is how a project failed. A fun story is a joke. A legend story is a once-upon-a-time story, that of a hero. The idea of a m... Full story

  • Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Mar 30, 2023

    Last time in these pages, I mentioned Jonathan Winthrop's "city on a hill" sermon, "that all the eyes of all people are upon us." Winthrop considered himself a type of Moses who was leading his people, like Israel, to a new land, to build a new Jerusalem. This is spelled out in John Barry's 2012 book, "Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty." Winthrop and his fellow Puritans believed the city on a hill should have a church and a state, and t... Full story

  • Jonathan Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity"

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Mar 16, 2023

    In recent days, I have begun reading John Barry's book, "Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty." Although published in 2012, Barry tells the story of how the Puritans chose to leave old England to build a plantation on the rocky New England coast of Massachusetts. In England, the Puritans wanted to purify and simplify their church. Hence, the title of Puritans. They wanted a rustic sanctuary, without stained glass windows and gaudy... Full story

  • War and Peace in Ukraine

    William H. Benson, Guest Columnist|Mar 2, 2023

    On February 17, 2023, David Remnick of the New Yorker podcast interviewed Steven Kotkin, history professor at Stanford, and biographer of Joseph Stalin. Kotkin said, "Let's think of a house with ten rooms, and let's say I barge in and take two of those rooms. I wreck those two rooms, and I also wreck your other eight rooms. You try to evict me, but I'm still there wrecking your entire house. "You need your house. That's where you live. You don't have another house. Me, I've got another house,...

  • St. Valentine's Day / Presidents Day

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Feb 16, 2023

    We celebrated St. Valentine's Day two days ago, February 14, a day when we reflect upon our good fortune that we have that special person in our life, our Valentine. Next Monday, February 20, government officials grant us a holiday to consider the forty-five Presidents, all men. Because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, officials count him twice, as #24 and #26. Thus, we give honor to forty-four men. First President George Washington was born on February 11, 1731, by the Julian... Full story

  • Groundhog Day

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Feb 2, 2023

    On February 4, 1977, the band Fleetwood Mac released their record-selling "Rumours" album. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie sang one of its songs, "Don't Stop." "If you wake up and don't want to smile. If it takes just a little while. Open your eyes and look at the day. You'll see things in a different way. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. Don't stop. It'll soon be here. It'll be better than before. Yesterday's gone. Yesterday's gone." Last week, for the first time, I watched Bill...

  • White Christmas

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Dec 22, 2022

    The crooner Bing Crosby first sang "White Christmas" live on the "Kraft Music Hall" radio show on December 26, 1941, nineteen days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a frightening time, one of our country's darkest moments. The nation felt wounded, violated, and every living American knew that a tough fight would follow. Holiday spirit was at a low. Yet, Bing's song set aside the worry for a moment, and because of its "nostalgia around the holidays, regardless of religion," it...

  • Thoughts on Thanksgiving

    William H. Benson|Nov 24, 2022

    Elias Boudinot, a member of Congress in the new Federal Government, introduced a resolution in 1789, to form a joint committee that asked President George Washington to call for a day of prayer and thanksgiving. That joint resolution passed both Senate and House. Washington chose to respond. On October 3, 1789, he called for a day of "Public Thanksgiving and Prayer," that he set for Thursday, November 26, 1789. Washington celebrated that early Thanksgiving, by attending services at St. Paul's...

  • Phantom of the Opera

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Oct 27, 2022

    Gaston Leroux published his novel, “Le Fantome de l'Opera,” or “Phantom of the Opera,” in 1911. Earlier he had worked as a theatre critic for a French newspaper, the “L'Echo de Paris,” and had heard talk of a chandelier, fastened above the crowd, in the Paris Opera House, that had crashed down, killing one, injuring others. He also learned of murders and kidnappings at the theatre. He then heard rumors of a ghost that haunted the Paris Opera House, who lived near an underground lake, deep...

  • Tact

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Oct 13, 2022

    News broke early this month that school officials at New York University fired an adjunct organic chemistry professor named Dr. Maitland Jones, after 82 of his class of 350 students signed a petition, that charged Jones with making the class too hard. The mean grade on one midterm was 30 percent. In their petition the students did not ask school officials to terminate Jones’s employment, but just to address his degree of difficulty when grading. Jones is eighty-four years old, and was a w...

  • 'On Writing' and 'Why I Write'

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Sep 29, 2022

    In the year 2000, the horror fiction writer Stephen King came out with a different kind of book, a nonfiction book that he entitled, “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft.” He begins with a series of scenes from his childhood, and explains how he launched his career of writing popular fiction. King uses a metaphor, that of a toolbox, to describe how he works when he writes. At the bottom of the toolbox lie the fundamentals: appropriate vocabulary, sticking with accepted grammar, the use of act...

  • Recap of Queen Elizabeth II

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Sep 15, 2022

    Queen Elizabeth passed away last week, Thursday, September 8, 2022, at 96. She was born on April 21, 1926, and had one sibling, a younger sister named Margaret, born August 21, 1930. When ten, Elizabeth discovered she was next in line to inherit England’s throne, whenever her father, King George VI, would pass away. Eight-year-old Margaret asked Elizabeth, “Does this mean you have to be the next Queen?” Elizabeth replied, “Someday.” Margaret said, “Poor you.” When a child, Elizabeth und...

  • Vaclaf Smif

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Aug 31, 2022

    Vaclav Smil was born in 1943, during World War II, in Czechoslovakia, in the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. As a teenager, Smil's parents expected him to chop wood, every four hours, to keep the fires burning in the house's three stoves, “one downstairs and two up.” One writer suspected that Smil may have thought then that “this is hardly an efficient way to live.” A bright student, with a strong work ethic, Smil left his small hometown in the Bohemian forest and made his way to...

  • Bill Russell and Retirement

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Aug 17, 2022

    Three weeks ago, on July 31, 2022, the former Boston Celtics’ imposing center, Bill Russell, passed away, at age eighty-eight. Over thirteen seasons at Boston, from 1957 to 1969, he collected a total of eleven championship rings, a record never since eclipsed or matched. When he retired in 1969, he moved to Mercer Island, in Seattle, Washington, and it was there he passed away. For fifty-three years, he enjoyed a well-deserved retirement in the cool Pacific Northwest, although he coached s...

  • Battle at Rzhev

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Aug 3, 2022

    In the early days of World War II, 1939 to 1940, the Nazi German war machine advanced across eastern Europe, until its soldiers stood on the outskirts of Moscow, deep into the Soviet Union, poised and ready to attack the Russian capital city. However, the Battle of Moscow stalled when the Soviet’s Red Army found sufficient strength to initiate a counter offensive, at Joseph Stalin’s insistence, that pushed Germany’s 9th Army west, some distance from Moscow. The counter-offensive worked for a...

  • Pestilence

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Jul 20, 2022

    On June 26, 1284, officials in a German town called Hamelin hired a musician to rid the town of its rats. The “rat-catcher’s magical flute” hypnotized the rats that followed the piper out of Hamelin’s gates and into the Weser River, where they all drowned. Although the story is based upon verifiable historical facts, it has since passed into folklore, as a fairy tale once told by the Brothers Grimm. One can only wish for as simple a solution as a magic flute to drown and destroy all forms o...

  • '1776'

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Jul 6, 2022

    The logo for the Broadway musical “1776” features an eaglet inside a broken egg shell, biting down on a flagpole. The small flag atop the pole shows its colors: red and white stripes, and a blue field in the upper left corner. Across the bottom portion of the egg appears a larger English flag. The musical begins with John Adams alone in the Pennsylvania State House’s belfry, four floors up, leaning on a massive bell. A messenger approaches and informs him that he must return to the hall. He ra...

  • George Armstrong Custer

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Jun 22, 2022

    The Native American tribes had pet names for George Armstrong Custer. The Crow called him Child of the Morning Star, the Cheyenne labeled him Yellow Hair, but the Lakota Sioux referred to him as Long Hair, even though a barber had cut off his curly blond locks, days before his Last Stand. A major general when the Civil War ended, but a Lieutenant Colonel during the Indian Wars in the Dakota’s and Montana, Custer harbored more lofty ambitions than only serving in the U. S. Army. At least that i...

  • Stewart Brand: 'The Whole Earth Catalog'

    William H. Benson, Columnist|Jun 8, 2022

    Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University on June 14, 2005. In it, he told three stories. The first was how he dropped out of Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. The second was how a manager fired him from the company that he and Steve Wozniak had started in a garage. The third story was about his pending death, due to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis a year before. Then, after he finished the three stories, he said, “When I was young, there was an amazing publication called “T...

  • Mythology

    William H. Benson, Columnist|May 25, 2022

    Tony Hillerman grew up in Oklahoma, and attended St. Mary’s Academy, a boarding school intended for Native American girls. One of the few boys permitted to attend, he developed a sensitivity for the various Native American cultures, mythologies, and religions. He joined the U.S. Army in 1943, was wounded in battle in 1945, during World War II, and suffered for several months with broken legs, foot, ankle; plus facial burns, and temporary blindness. A decade later, Tony was visiting Crownpoint, N...

  • Traditions

    William H. Benson, Columnist|May 11, 2022

    In recent days, I have re-read David L. Lindsay’s novel, Body of Truth. In it, he describes a cruel and gruesome civil war that terrorized the people of Guatemala for 36 years, from 1960 until 1996. It was the federal government, then run by a series of generals, who attacked the poorest of its citizens. A United Nations report, dated March 1, 1999, declared that, “An estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed during the civil war, including at least 40,000 persons who disappeared.” David L. Li...

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