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- Love letters from the White House
Love letters from the White House
🐴 Pesky pets | 💓 Internationalspacestationship | 🙄 Western guilt
Calvin and Grace Coolidge… tales from a chicken yard. Bettmann/Getty
Love letters from the White House
A new book compiling presidential love letters proves that the Oval Office’s early occupants weren’t as “bloodless and formal” as they looked, says Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal. President Warren G Harding appears in photographs from the 1920s as a “stern and beetle-browed model of rectitude”, yet once penned a “saucy poem” beginning: “I love your poise / Of perfect thighs / When they hold me / In Paradise.” His predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, asked his wife in a letter: “Are you prepared for the storm of love making?” Harry Truman was rather more modest. “You know,” he wrote to his would-be-wife in 1911, “were I an Italian or a poet I would commence and use all the luscious language of two continents. I am not either but only a kind of good-for-nothing American farmer.”
🐓🍆 Calvin Coolidge was no different, says Patrick Kidd in The Times. Passing the chicken yard on a visit to a farm in the 1920s, his wife Grace asked how often the rooster mated. “Dozens of times a day,” said the farmer. “Tell that to the president,” she laughed. When this exchange was relayed to Coolidge later, he asked if it was always with the same hen. “Oh no, Mr President, a different one each time,” came the reply. “Tell that to Mrs Coolidge,” he said.
Are You Prepared for the Storm of Love Making? by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler is available to buy here.
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Nato’s “family portrait” in 1957. UPI/Bettmann/Getty
Don’t be taken in by the West’s muddle-headed critics
One of the big failures of the West is to “accept at face value” the criticism levelled against it, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. We are constantly being told, for example, that US-led democracies are guilty of imperialism. But the evidence doesn’t stack up. Yes, there was Iraq, which remains “America’s error of the century”. But besides that? The West “abstained from Rwanda, dithered over Bosnia” and took only half-measures against Syria. America’s defence budget as a share of GDP has never again hit the levels of the mid-1980s – a “curious choice for an overbearing empire”. If anything, the post-Cold War era will be remembered for the West’s accommodation of rivals such as Russia and China, “not its chauvinism”.
The truth is that for a large part of the “non-aligned” world, the West can’t win. If the “forever wars” in the Middle East had never happened, or Nato hadn’t been enlarged, revisionist countries would just be complaining about something else. For Western governments to think they’re in a good-faith argument with their antagonists on these issues is naive in the extreme. Of course, “hostile-to-ambivalent” countries can and must be courted. But this needs to be done by appealing to their cold interests: security and prosperity. The “heart-and-minds approach”, with its “touching premise that everyone is open to being persuaded”, will achieve nothing. So much of anti-Westernism is “muddle-headed and vexatious”. But it targets the great “intellectual glitch” of the West. “Still Christian-tinged, the liberal mind is trained to entertain all notions save one: the weak can be wrong, too.”
In a situationship? Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits (2011)
For Valentine’s Day this year you can, if so inclined, buy a card celebrating your “situationship”, says Giles Coren in The Times. Like all words invented by the “pansexual post-Tinder generation”, situationship just means “an excuse to shag whoever you like”. Honestly, there’s no end to these neologisms. Get jiggy with a fellow dogwalker in the park? “Congratulations, you’re in a dalmationship.” Find yourself sleeping with two people one day, three the next and six by the end of the week? “What a lovely inflationship.” If you get lucky in a broom cupboard at the Tory conference, that’s a “onenationship”. And copping off with a hot cosmonaut while in orbit, 250 miles above sea level? “It’s the start of a beautiful internationalspacestationship.” I don’t begrudge our youth their “priapic, end-of-days bonkathon”. I just wish they’d stop pretending each “grubby random act of coition” was anything more than what my old man used to call “a sneeze in the loins”.
Martha Sitwell and Hecate. Instagram/@marthasitwell
Ponies in the nursery and ferrets in the walls
For anyone who “despairs of their pets’ bad behaviour”, there is solace to be found in Britain’s country houses, says Bronwen Riley in Country Life. Lady Martha Sitwell’s dogs have been driven off the sofas not by their owner, but by the latest addition to her menagerie: an incontinent magpie called Hecate. The bird has a penchant for looting ice from drinks, “and can’t resist a glass of wine”, explains her ladyship, but “what she really loves is cigarettes, pulling them to pieces and hiding them”. When lurcher breeder Tarn Riley kept jackdaws, they were also “partial to tobacco” – they would grab a cigarette directly from someone’s mouth before flying around the room “casting sparks like a phoenix”.
At Dyneley in Lancashire, Cosima Towneley’s white pencil ferret, Miss Fitzherbert, had the rather alarming habit of tunnelling through walls. “She once dropped out of the wall into my nephew and niece’s bedroom in the middle of the night and frightened them silly,” she says. “My sister has never forgiven me.” As a young girl, Caroline, Countess of Cranbrook chose to celebrate her birthday one year by “leading her pony upstairs as a treat for her mother”. She managed to get him up the Elizabethan spiral staircases of Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire, to the nursery. But “trying to get it back down the stairs proved more difficult”. Her son, Jason Gathorne-Hardy of Great Glemham, Suffolk, learned an important lesson when a university crush had a panic attack after hearing the wolf spiders he kept under his bed, “scratching to get out of their boxes” to feed on crickets. “He lost the girl, but kept the spiders.”
“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”