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Arlen Hollis Kane

by Arlen Hollis Kane


It’s February and that means I’m musing about Presidents and love and technology.  Okay, you get the President’s Day reference and Valentine’s Day but technology? Hang in there, I’ll explain.  In the meantime, here’s a spoiler alert: Steve Jobs scooch over, George Washington was America’s first innovative techie.

I spend a lot of my television time watching documentaries about American history.  I also spend a lot of time watching docs about world history, civilization, and the workings of the brain.  Sometimes those make mine hurt.

Over the years my bookshelf has been periodically cleared of masses of books but not the history books.  Those are always lovingly dusted, the pages opened to be sniffed for the pure pleasure of memory, and then carefully replaced with the promise of a re-read.  Among those treasures are the books dealing with my American heroes – and heroines.

Books about the Adams family (not to be confused with the one created by the renowned cartoonist, Charles Addams, who I met, and though tall and lanky and nattily dressed, was not scary at all) take up real estate on my shelves.

Most beloved of them all is a treasure of letters John and Abigail wrote to each other over years of separation.  The exact number of letters exchanged is impossible to determine but scholars agree that it hovers near 1100, so many in fact that the love letters have been distilled into books of their own.  It gives me pleasure to read the racy salutations these colonial champions wrote to express their ardent love: “my most agreeable consort,” and “my dearest friend,” especially against the backdrop of today’s Bachelor and Bachelorette reality shows.  True, I can’t bear witness, but I’d bet my bottom buck that never in her entire life did Abigail shriek, “He’s amazing!”

I could go on and on about love in colonial times – no, I’m not kidding – and perhaps I will at a future date, but not today.  So having covered Presidents – well, just one but a doozy – and love, I’m onto technology as promised.

That brings me to GW, our first president, first in the hearts of his countrymen (and women, of course), inspiring general, refusenik of the title “king,” and forever immortalized as gallantly poised in a rather precarious craft as it crossed the Delaware.  I know I said that I was done with the love angle but I can’t fail to mention that George and Martha (not to be confused with the bitingly bickering couple created by Edward Albee, who I never met) also enjoyed a loving colonial-era marriage.  She joined him in many war encampments – as did other officers wives – spending a good chunk of the war with him.  Granted, there were servants, and silver tea service but still it was dangerous.

I promise no more crinoline-packed love stories, onto Washington and his techie strategy.  America had no business winning the Revolutionary War given the enemy’s resources and our lack thereof.   Our General GW made the ungentlemanly decision – hurrah, I say – to create a spy operation, which he headed.  He had talented help, one Benjamin Tallmadge who organized a spy ring that was so successful that none of its members was ever caught, GW himself didn’t know who was in it and its very existence wasn’t known until the 1900s.  But our agents needed a safe way to convey messages – (much as we do with today’s internet) – and although invisible ink had been bounced around since the Greeks and Romans, and the Brits made use of it, Washington asked John Jay’s brother James, a physician, to invent a new invisible ink.  He did and we won.  Thanks, George, for inspiring innovation, and now can you do something with my iPhone, it’s just not the same since Mr. Jobs left us.







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