Skip to comments.Mark Twain Says Congress is an Idiot
Posted on 08/08/2007 2:12:05 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
Mark Twain has been dead for a number of years. He often voiced his opinion that Members of Congress were not the sharpest tools in the shed, but he hasnt actually made such a comment in more than a century. Still, an issue arose last week which allows me full permission to condemn Congress again in Mark Twains name. This concerns the sailing of the Delta Queen.
Practically everyone, even in land-locked states, knows the Delta Queen. She is the last surviving original-style paddlewheel boat to sail on the Mississippi. She was built in 1926 for use on the West Coast. In the 40s she sailed to Cincinnati, later in New Orleans as home port. She has sailed the Mississippi for sixty years, all the way to Minnesota.
I understand she is one of only two items on the National Register of Historic Places. which move. The other is Andrew Hallidies cable cars in San Francisco. Mark Twain would take a keen interest in the attempt by Congress to force the Delta Queen off the river. After all, Twain took his pen name from the call of the bow linesman measuring the depth of the river, The markin on the twine is two fathoms, shortened just to Mark Twain, two. And Twain served ably as a river boat captain on the Mississippi, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
So, what has Congress done to put the Queen out of service? For the first time in forty years, Congress has failed to vote through the exemption to allow the Queen to sail with overnight passengers, even though her superstructure is made of wood. All the modern boats on the river have steel superstructures and cabins. But the Delta Queen is an original, dont you see? Hellooo. Thats part of the point.
Its not like there arent wooden boats still carrying passengers on the water. There are skipjacks still sailing the Chesapeake Bay. There is a replica of a Baltimore Clipper, the Pride of Baltimore II, still sailing to ports around the nation and the world. And thousands of Americans regularly board and sail the Windjammer ships in the Carribean.
Anyone who sails in a wooden ship must, of necessity, rely on better fire safety in the crews training, and better ancillary equipment on board. But the Delta Queen has all that. Her safety record is absolutely spotless in the forty years she has sailed under her congressionally-granted waivers.
So, why has Congress neglected to continue the career of this national treasure which has been enjoyed by millions in the past, and should be enjoyed by millions more in the future?
I can think of two reasons. No one has a huge financial stake in the Delta Queen. Oh, there are hundreds of towns along the Mississippi, including Mark Twains (Samuel Clemmons) home town, Hannibal, Missouri, which will be much the poorer in their quality of life, when the great steam whistle no longer announces the stately arrival of the Queen. But, there is no monied interest, willing and able to slip large sums into the pockets of Congressmen legally (or sometimes not so legally), to make sure that the Queen keeps sailing.
No, this particular dereliction by Congress can be traced to sheer ignorance, blind neglect of the nations heritage. And its interesting that it is paired, as a movable monument, with Hallidays cable cars in San Francisco.
Back in the 40s the Board of Supervisors started the process of shutting down the cable cars, line by line. They reasoned, if reason is quite the correct word, that these were obsolete forms of transportation which got in the way of modern forms such as buses, and they should be ripped up from the streets of San Francisco.
There was a citizen uprising against the Board of Supervisors. The people wrote the surviving cable car routes into the City Charter, so the Supervisors could not abolish them, no matter how stupid they were, or how hard they tried. Now, those obsolete little cable cars, climb halfway to the stars, and are the very symbol of the City which almost abandoned them.
Im not suggesting that the Delta Queen should be written into the Constitution to protect it forever from the neglect of Congress. I AM suggesting that if you care about Americas greatest river, the Mississippi, if youve ever seen or heard the Delta Queen plying the waters of that great River, live, on TV or in movies, you should act.
Ask your Member of Congress, and your Senators, why they have neglected a simple act, which will not cost a single penny of taxpayer money, and will take just a moment of their time, to keep the Delta Queen afloat?
This week included National Underwear Day. I know some folks in Hollywood are protesting this national celebration. I, for one, think underwear is a pretty good idea. The point is, Congress declares stuff like National Underwear Day, and National Pickle Week. It would take no more time than that to pass a one-line statute that says, The Delta Queen is exempt until 2010 from the requirement that she be built of steel.
We could call that National Let the Queen Sail Day. Or perhaps, National Congress Got the Message and Is Not Really as Dumb as They Seem to Be Day. I like that one better. I want to see the Queen keep sailing on her mighty River.
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About the Author: John Armor practiced in the US Supreme Court for 33 years. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu He lives in the 11th District of North Carolina.
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John / Billybob
Wise man, that Mark Twain.
If that's his real name.
“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
Amazing how Twain and Roger’s comments about politicians can be so timeless.
No man’s life, liberty, or property are secure while the Legislature is in session. And, apparently, neither is our history.
John / Billybob
I just googled Twain for the 80th time: )
Priceless American humorist.
What the heck business is it of Congress whether or not a ship is wood or steel? I guess this law is allowed by the Commerce Clause or some such, but still ... such micro management of the details of our lives is the steady drip of death by socialism
If Congress only passed laws on matters it was empowered to legislate and that were essential federal mandates for our common security and well being, then we'd have a lot fewer laws, and maybe the powers that be behind the Congressional staffs would have a lot less ability to mess with the laws, by burying their doggie doo in a blizzard of petty legislation.
... on the other hand, that's probably a good part of the reason we have a bazillion laws ... it's easier to hide in a blizzard, and it empowers the Congressional staff and those lobbying them, because no mere mortal representative, much less ordinary citizen with other duties, can possibly keep track of even a few percent of the mountain of laws.
Thank you for sharing your article with us.
Some men are timeless. They are rare and few. Thanks for the article, I had heard nothing about this.
"Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators." Will Rogers
Mark Twain Ping!
John / Billybob
Well, learn something new each login! Thank you!
While we lived in Vicksburg, when the wind was right, we could hear the calliope on the Delta Queen 6-and-a-half miles away while she was tied up at the city dock.
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