Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What Fools These Generals Be!

While doing research for my history of part of WWII, I came across a book that was written recently by a journalist (as opposed to a historian). It did not take me long to realize that the author seemed to think U.S. generals were buffoons while German generals were a breed apart. The author, of course, armed with sixty years of hindsight and a degree in journalism, really knew what should have been done.

No doubt the German generals were quite good in some areas. But I really doubt that U.S. generals were buffoons. In fact, my research pointed out several important details of WWII in Europe that may have escaped this nameless journalist.

One important detail was that the Germans lost the war. They were kicked out of Egypt Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, Russia, Poland, and everywhere else they imposed themselves. They lost steadily for three solid years.

Another important detail that the journalist seemed to have missed was that the Germans fought over land contiguous to their own. That is, they did not have to launch an invasion over rough seas with a supply line that was some two thousand miles long. The Germans did not or could not even invade little England, which was a few miles away from France!

Finally, the journalist with all the right answers seemed to have missed the important fact that the U.S. was fighting two wars at the same time! We were dividing our resources between Europe and the Far East.

Yes, American generals had to learn how to conduct a type of war that no one had ever fought before. They made mistakes doing it. But they learned from their mistakes, did not give up, and stayed the course even when it was not clear that they were winning.

The Germans introduced blitzkrieg and technological innovations. But the Allies could move quickly and also innovated. On balance, the German generals got their butts kicked. But they seem to have won the media battle. German failures were attributed to Hitler and their few successes were attributed to the generals.

If Brig. General Mcauliffe were alive today, he would probably say “Aw, nuts” one more time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fallen Heroes

They're going pretty fast, those old soldiers from WWII. On the twelfth of December, Eli died. He was a third year student in The Citadel when his entire class was inducted into the military. They were trained and made officers. Eli was assigned to General Patton as his invasion of France was being prepared. Eli knew something about the General, since his older brother had served as Patton’s HQ Commandant since 1942 through the invasion of North Africa. Patton promoted his brother three times.
Of course Eli was not going to work for Patton as his brother had. He was going to be one of those expendable second lieutenants whose losses were so great in the 69th Infantry Division. But he did his full duty.

Eli swept through France and Belgium into Germany leading his men into battle as he went, attaining the rank of major. The Fighting 69th was the group that came up Buchenwald concentration camp.

Somehow Eli survived the bullets and was able to return home to central Kentucky in one piece. He got his degree at the University of Kentucky and was a framer who raised race horses and five kids. He did not whine or carp at his government for bad treatment or sympathize with the enemy.. He just carried on as normal a live as he could, passing away at the age of 83. What more can a country ask of its citizens?

There is no way Americans can repay its wartime soldiers, the often-forgotten heroes that quietly go about their business. But perhaps we can recognize Major Eli O. Jackson, Jr., for the hero that he was.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Freedom as a Catalyst

In my old files is a photograph of ancestors named Grover. I know who most of them are, too. The one in the back row a bit to the right of center with a beard was a U.S. Congressman in 1865. The folks in the picture are his brothers and sisters and a couple wives. They were all born about the turn of the century—the nineteenth century, that is.

What is remarkable about these people cannot be told from the photo. It is that they were all dirt-poor as kids. Their father was a farmer who lost a leg and who had to find another means of support for his twelve kids. He became a shoemaker in a small town in western New York State and supported everyone that way. It was through diligence and effort that he did a good job. What you see in the picture are fairly successful people in middle age, however grim they might appear. The seated man is a successful doctor while the congressman is a lawyer, politician, banker, farmer and land owner.

Dirt-poor no longer, theirs is a typical American story of personal growth in a nation that was growing.

The Grovers were religious. But people in other nations are religious. What seems to have made a difference with the Grovers and countless others is that they were optimistic, religious and free. Freedom was the catalyst, but the peculiar mixture of optimism and religion with the freedom made their lives and even ours possible. It is what separates us from the rest of the world, certainly from Europe.

There is an American culture. It has been in development for over two centuries and it is thrusting us forward toward unrivaled wealth and power. We do not want to give it up to satisfy the people who have their eyes fixed on European styles of civilization. Most of our ancestors came here to get away from European ways. They knew something some of us seem to have forgotten.

I am republishing a 1903 Grover genealogy. Included in the old details of the family will be corrections and additions and a few family stories. The Internet has allowed much more information to be discovered since 1903. My mother was one of the last to be recorded in the old book, so I can add a few more generations. It will not be a big seller, but for those of us in the Grover clan, it will be a very important book, almost as important as the family Bible.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Freedom Crosses the Centuries

Fortunate in friends, I was offered by one a copy of the book 1776 by the careful writer, David McCullough. As I read his pages, gobbling up the history of the Continental Army in America, I came across a quote from The New England Chronicle signed by a person who called himself "A Freeman." He said about America's battle for freedom, "Never was a cause more important or glorious than that which you are engaged in; not only your wives, your children, your distant posterity, but humanity at large, the world of mankind, are interested in it; for if tyranny should prevail in this great country, we may expect liberty to expire throughout the world." I added the italics.

What foresight! The writer was prophesying , correctly as it turned out, that if America lost its battle against England, the potential for freedom in the world would suffer in the distant future. Somehow this writer was able to step outside his daily experience and see across the centuries.

It is early in the morning of December 15, 2005 as I write this. Headlines flashing across the Internet (from the AP) are saying, "Iraqis voted in a historic parliamentary election Thursday, with strong turnout reported in Sunni Arab areas that had shunned balloting last January. . ."

Americans are responsible for the ability of Iraqis to vote. They are the distant posterity written about in 1776. While not necessarily blood-descendants of the Revolutionary soldiers as some of us are, today's freedom-loving Americans who cared enough to fight so that Iraq citizens might be free, are political descendants. They are the ones whose American heritage takes them to a distant country so that they might share their freedom.

Freedom is infectious. The American Heritage is important not only to Americans but to others around the world. People want to be free. Not only do most of us want to help them to be free, but it is in our self interest to make them so; democratic nations seldom war against each other.

It will be a glorious badge of honor to wear--the one that says "I helped Iraq to free itself from tyranny." Many of us see Iraqi freedom as the beginning of freedom throughout the Middle East. It is still true that "humanity at large, the world of mankind, are interested in it."

Thank you, David McCullough and thank you "A Freeman," for reminding us.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pages of History

When I was a kid in the late 1930’s we had several Regular Army officers as friends of the family. They told stories about Col. George Patton and his high society following, his polo ponies, and the envy that followed him because he was so wealthy. Even the doctor the army sent over to save Patton’s life in 1945, Glenn Sperling, was a good friend of one of the members of my family. And my first cousin was Patton’s HQ Commandant. Both my cousin and his wife knew the Pattons and General Wayne and Mrs. Clark.

It was natural for me to follow the career of the famous General as I grew up. Here it is, years later, and I am still involved with his career, this time by writing a small history of WWII in which Patton took a large part.

That is why I have added two pages to my conglomeration of web sites. I have added one for General Patton and one for the Fifth Army. I am hoping that those people who are interested in reading something new about Patton and Clark and the Fifth Army will take a look at my book. It is the only new material that has been written for years.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A General in the Marines

“I’ve sent a lot of men to their deaths,” my friend once told me. It has been my pleasure to know a man who has seen all kinds of trouble, and he has seen it on behalf of his beloved country. In World War II Tom enlisted as a swab jockey recruit, the lowest form of life there was in the U.S. Navy. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I know. I have been one.

A big man, half American Indian and half Irish, he stands at least six foot two. So there wasn’t any way for him to hide behind other recruits. He just stood out.

Somehow Tom and the Navy parted. He immediately enlisted in the Marines at a very low level. I know he flew pursuit planes. And that he was in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. I also know that when Tom was finally retired, he was a Lt. General in the Marines. He is not the type to run a desk. He is what some would call a combat general. I have seen him in full dress Marine uniform with lots of medals and campaign ribbons. I don’t know what they all mean, except for the Purple Heart.

Even though I am still deathly afraid of military officers, I generated enough courage to ask Tom if I could write a small book about him. I figured that anyone who went into the military as a seaman recruit, who went through three wars, and who emerged as a three star general in the Marines must have a hell of a story to tell. And I have five books to my credit already, one of them a small history of part of WWII in North Africa and Italy.

But when I asked permission to write, this giant Marine said, “What for? I didn’t do anything.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Elusive Oil Profits

There is a move afoot in the U.S. Senate to force oil companies to give a tenth of their profits to several worthy causes, such as relief of the poor in the cold northeast. Beside the fact that this is outside the scope of U. S. lawmaking ability, the idea has a great deal more dumbness attached to it.

Oil company profits are large in lump sum amounts but not as a per cent of sales. Therefore news media and populist senators talks in terms of the total amount, not per cent of sales. They seem to forget that profits are used to pay taxes. Since profits are taxed twice, they pay lots of taxes. Profits in the form of dividends are also used to help stockholders make ends meet.

Congress wants to stop oil companies from drilling for more oil. If they allowed more drilling, supplies would increase and prices would fall. But Congress wants no part of that. It wants more dependence on offshore supplies, less domestic supply and profits handed out so as to impoverish stockholders. (All oil stock holders are not rich--many are ordinary people who live on their dividends). Some senators are very liberal with other people's money.

In the final analysis, corporations do not pay taxes. They simply pass them along to the users of their products. The largess of congress with oil company profits may well result in another price increase.

It goes back to the notion that all money belongs to the Government. The Government just lets us keep some, part of the time.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Kentucky President

It is not a trick question: what three presidents had their roots in Kentucky? Some people can think of Abraham Lincoln and a few can think of Zachary Taylor. But few can name the third--Jefferson Davis. Taylor was actually born near Montebello, VA. But he made his home near Louisville, not far from where I lived as a boy.

President Lincoln and President Davis were born within a few months and a hundred miles of each other. Davis was born June 3, 1808 and Lincoln was born Feb. 12 1809. But Davis was certainly born to wealthier parents and to a family whose members fought both in the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.

However, it was Lincoln who articulated the view of many Americans of his day. He said in his Gettysburg Address, "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

A new birth of freedom in a land governed by its own people, that lives forever, under God. What concepts! These ideas are not acceptable to many people in 2005, but they were not all that unusual on November 19, 1863.

Yes, newspaper editors who wanted an hour's worth of bombastic and flowery oratory made fun of Lincoln's short and poignant address, but not of his ideas.

America was different one hundred and forty-two years ago. It was still a time of patriotic fervor, when people sensed they were part of a huge experiment in government. This was America where there was plenty land, and where people were freer than they had ever been at any time in history. This was America where people from "the old country" changed their names to appear more "American" and less old world. This was America where religious revivals swept the frontier whose outcome were hospitals, orphanages, and old folks' homes. It was in this environment that Taylor, Lincoln and Davis were raised.

Today, some people are convinced that America is too big, too pushy, too successful and too eager to spread freedom to other nations. They represent European thought; they seem to be ashamed of their own country. These people have always been among us. They were loyal to the throne of England during the Revolutionary War. They lost then, but have always looked for an opportunity to strike back. For some reason they sense an opportunity to succeed today when they could not succeed in past years. This opportunity seems to spring from a perceived weakness or vulnerability in the American social system. But if they win, they have no plan except to look and act more like a moribund Europe.

Perhaps America needs another Kentucky president. But with a wider view than that of Jefferson Davis.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Midwest Marvels

Yesterday I went to LA's airport and sat in a metal tube for four hours. At the end of that time I got out of the tube and found myself in Kansas City. It would have taken less time, but Midwest Airlines was doing some shenanigans that required a change of flight plans, and we lost an hour.

While I do not enjoy a trip to LA, I most certainly enjoy traveling to Kansas City and its suburb, Blue Springs. It is a big, sturdy, wealthy area in the middle of America where most things are new and growing. And where the people do not exhibit the effete snobbery of coastal cities.

This is definitely "flyover" country. Yet there are major companies headquartered here that hire "the brainy set" for such things as telecommunications. They are supported by solid universities and the arts in ways that you would never read about in The New York Times. The people here have worn grooves in the airways to such places as Austin, Texas and San Jose, California where other technologies abound.

It is an area where people and businesses are patriotic--you see flags and hear radio programs that make you proud to be an American.

Those of us who live on either coast tend to forget there is such a vast sprawling area of industry and endeavor in the middle of the nation. It has a beauty of its own and as an added attraction, four complete seasons. During a hike today down a country lane, with farmland on one side and large beautiful homes on the other, I passed a lake, a barn, a flock of geese, and almost no cars or trucks.

Leaves had fallen from the trees, so I had to shuffle through them. A slab of limestone lay by the side of the lane. Its surface was covered with fossils from sea life, hundreds of millions of years old, from a time when the middle of America was engulfed in a shallow, warm ocean. It extended east through Kentucky and parts of Ohio, where many of America's geologists come from.

A hundred years ago in Kansas City my great-great uncle owned a huge pharmaceutical company. His is one of the few old buildings that still stand. The rest are new with an architectural style all their own, a statement of the area's independence.

This is indeed an admirable place with opportunities for many and attractions for all.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Case of the Disappearing Manners

George Will, the most excellent columnist, had an interesting op-ed piece in our Orange County newspaper today. It was about manners and virtue. In the article Mr. Will talked about people doing all sorts of rude things in public, and allowing one's children to misbehave as well, as though such actions were a right. And they are a right in the sense that these actions are not formally defined as illegal.

But we live larger than that. There are lots of things we don't do, not because they are illegal, but as my mother told me some 65 years ago, "People just don't want to live in a world like that." Today, Will referred to this as the "obedience to the unenforceable."

In a secularist world we tend to rely on legalism, and we sue frequently. Legalism got a bad name some 2,000 years ago and for some, it still has that bad name. For the rest of us, who are ignorant of the past, legalism is the only way; it is our entitlement.

Remember the time when nearly everyone smoked? Well, they didn't. Not everyone smoked, although it seems like they did. Many of those who did, have quit. But those who smelled up your house, who blew smoke in your face and who spat little specks of tobacco on your walls and floor are still with us. They no longer use tobacco in their rudeness. Their personal disregard for others is just taking another form. Loud telephone conversations in public places, obnoxious children and making obscene gestures from automobiles are just other forms of blowing smoke in your face and spitting on your floor. But now those who do it feel virtuous because they no longer use tobacco. Good manners are still lacking, and it is too bad.

There is a certain amount of virtue in good manners, especially if one practices manners out of respect and gratitude. No one ever blew smoke in my face out of gratitude. Gratitude has been rightly called the mother of virtues. As a population, especially as a secularist society, we seem to have little of it.

Good manners are the oil that lubricates the ways of society. No wonder that even democratic societies creak and groan a bit.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Applied Natural Selection

Darwin Exhibit Champions Evolutionary Theory

Above is straightforward headline. It wouldn't raise many eyebrows, though. What else would a Darwin exhibit champion? Now, if the headline said Darwin Exhibit Champions Creationism, the news producer would no doubt attract a huge amount of attention.

There seems to be a general malaise in the news business these days. The New York Times has undergone two layoffs recently, and the Los Angeles Times has just announced a layoff. I can see why. No imagination.

Also, times are changing. There was a time when the three big industries in America were steel, automobiles and railroads. Books of the 1950's predicted how the rulers of these industries were going to take over American society, its economy and then the world. The industries are still around, but considerably weakened. The world does not seem overly concerned about being consumed by their CEOs.

We get our news in different ways, now. It is dished up with lots of flavors. The single-source control of news has lost out to multiple sources. People who think in "steel-automobile-railroad" terms of the old days are gradually losing out to the modern world.

Note that steel, automobiles, and railroads are all union-dominated industries. So is the news business. There are probably a few typesetters around, getting paid to set type for newspapers that ignore them and use computers to do the actual work. It is part of the contract to keep them busy. In some industries union domination was an omen that marked their decline.

But it is not the fault of the union or the worker that the industries declined. They probably contributed, but the lack of imagination of the industry leaders counted most.

That and natural selection in the evolution of economies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Researcher Makes Big Discovery

It was in the news this morning, an Animal Planet News story: Researchers discover a giant ape, ten feet tall, weighing 1,200 pounds. That's a lotta ape! The story did not say what kind of researcher found the critter. It may have been a statistician, for all I know.

Of interest to the writer of the big ape story was the method of dating part of the ape that was found. It was a complex system utilizing "electron spin resistance and uranium decay schemes," whatever those are. Of interest to me was that all they had was a big tooth. From that tooth they deduced that the former owner was a huge hairy ape that lived along side humans some 100,000 years ago.

Could be. But I was reminded of the Piltdown man. I consulted my son, who is an expert at big ape stories.

He surmised that maybe the statistician had found either Jimmy Hoffa or Judge Crater.

Could be. I love science.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Price Theory and the Media

Last week I was going through my dwindling library. In it was a shelf of of books about classic economic thought. There were several on price theory. That is right, the theory of how prices are set in the marketplace. I seem to recall that only wage theory was more complicated.

The reason I was going though my library was that I was setting aside books that might help those in the family who are attending college. I was interested only in the classics, such as writings by Keynes, Hume, Malthus, Gresham and Smith (no Marx). What my professors wrote several decades ago probably has little significance today. Certainly, my own papers do not. But the really old books are still useful.

I was impressed by those economists who dwelt on the reasons prices are what they are. And then I compared the thickness of my price theory books stacked together with what I just heard on television. One of the media, who has a large audience and a small vocabulary, was telling his listeners about oil prices. He summed up all he knew about price theory in one word: gouging. To him, prices are either unimportant or someone is gouging. It is that simple. There are only two states in his economy.

There is something about journalism school that makes experts of us all.

It was disappointing to hear this speaker talk with such authority. I just knew he was going to have some influence on the windbags in Congress who would have hearings about oil prices. They don't have such hearings when prices are unduly low, just when they are high. (Some prices of bottled water are much greater per gallon than those of gasoline, but I am not holding my breath until Congress has hearings on those. Or until media types speak out boldly about gouging in the water business.)

I can understand the windbags in Congress. They like to pontificate. But media people? Maybe it is true that many of them wanted to get into journalism school "to make the world a better place."

I wish they just wanted to report the news accurately. That would be a start toward a better world.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Management's Great Loss

It will be a severe blow to Claremont Graduate University. Its star died yesterday. He was ninety-five so it could not have been a shock.

Peter F. Drucker, called a "management guru" by Associated Press, died of natural causes in Claremont, CA. I feel as though I lost a friend. No, maybe a mentor. While I did not know The Professor personally, I read nearly everything he wrote, listened to his tapes, and even attended one of his lectures (I already had an MBA degree). Dr. Drucker helped prepare me for higher roles in management with his no-nonsense, yet philosophical style.

I can recall lots of quotes from Dr. Drucker. One that stuck in my mind concerned Industrial Psychology, a field in which many managers were taking interest forty years ago.. He said, in effect, "I do not know anything about psychology except that what is apparent to one person, another person does not understand all." I took it to be a warning that we managers should not spend our time worrying about so arcane a topic. On this basis I put my psychology books on a back shelf. (Having been on General Electric's corporate staff at the time, I had to keep up appearances and take some slight interest.)

Nearly all the lower level texts on management contained some industrial psychological lore. When I taught a few semesters of management at a local university, we studied the basics, but I told my graduate and undergraduate students what Dr. Drucker had said about psychology. I was always glad that I did.

Starting about 1955, we managers and aspiring managers at General Electric (and I suspect also at General Motors) spent much of our after-work hours studying and discussing Dr. Drucker's books. I have no doubt the successful CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, owed Drucker a great deal.

The Professor was one of the few visionaries who recognized that management was a separate field of professional endeavor, with its own disciplines. He also saw huge discontinuities in the American and world economies, including the "Knowledge Industry," especially computers.

There is never enough room to describe all Dr. Drucker's achievements. There were so many. And there are some questions, too. He helped General Motors to be a viable producer of transportation vehicles for many years. Now seriously in trouble with huge liabilities due to retired employee costs, GM faces possible ruin. One can only wonder if Dr. Drucker warned GM management about the pending crisis that attends a socialist-leaning company which tries to pay all its former employee pension and health-care costs when employees are now living longer than anyone thought possible.

If anyone saw this disaster coming, it was Dr. Peter F. Drucker. The world of management will miss him terribly.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pricing Oil

It is lots of fun to blame the oil companies for whatever is wrong with our society. The CEOs of these companies usually remain silent and just keep plugging away at keeping us supplied. We really need oil--some have correctly noted that oil runs the engine of Democracy.

What really bothers many people is that gasoline costs more than it used to cost. I can recall gas at twenty-five cents a gallon. Now it costs ten times that amount. So does everything else, but their are few complaints about those other things--just gasoline.

There are cries that oil companies are making too much money. This should please many on the Left, because they consider oil to be bad and know that as prices rise usage will fall. Yet they complain loudly instead of congratulating each other. It is hard to figure.

As a student of economics at the graduate and undergraduate level, I have wondered at the charge of price gouging by the oil companies. It seems that the laws of supply and demand are all right for salt but not for oil. On the one hand people on the left are saying that people have cut back. On the other hand they say that there is a large demand that has not changed. They can't have it both ways. Either demand has fallen or it has not. Since "they" are not economists but media types, "they" have special expertise that is not hampered by serious study. Only movie and TV actors know more than media types.

There is a world-wide demand for oil that has increased steadily over the years. The supply has not quite kept up with the demand so prices have risen.

Some argue that oil companies are making too much money and should be subject to an excess profits tax. That raises a group of related questions. Here are a few:

1) How much profit is too much?

2) Who will decide how much profit is acceptable?

3) When oil companies lose money, will the government give them money to make up for an "excess losses"?

4) Will other companies (such as Microsoft) be subject to an excess profits tax? Government should be universal, not picking on only one industry or individual.

5) Does the government really want to set prices and limit profits? So far as we know the planned economy has never been successful.

What about prices? Should a corporation give back part of its profits by reducing prices? How much should they give back, and to whom? Oil and all other companies are prohibited by law from getting together and setting prices. It was an oil company that caused the law to be enacted in the first place, over a hundred years ago.

Suppose executives in the Essoil Oil Company decided that making nine to eleven cents on every sales dollar was too much. So they decided to cut back and reduce prices by five per cent. What would happen? Would other oil companies follow suit? Demand is too high for that. All Essoil gasoline and oil products would be gobbled up and they would find their supplies gone. The other oil companies would continue to sell their products at their old prices. The president of Essoil would be tossed out because he did not look out for the stock holder.

Suppose times were different. Suppose there were more gasoline and oil products available than people could easily use. Then if Essoil reduced its prices, the other oil products companies would follow and reduce prices in order to keep their market share. They might even find that at lower prices people would drive more and use more plastics and other petroleum-based products and their total revenues might even increase. Profitabilty might increase because they have huge fixed costs. Those fixed costs spread over greater volume might mean that even at a reduced prices, profits increase.

It is a complex problem that each company has to solve for itself.

One thing that can happen immediately to reduce prices is Government taking less of a tax bite. Senators and congressmen will never suggest such a thing. But Government can meddle or threaten to meddle and bring about all kinds of unintended consequences. Government rumbling and jawboning may achieve votes for those about to enter a new election campaign, but it is certain to create uncertainty in business, which always increases risk and keeps prices up (except in the stock market, where prices often plunge).

Let the market decide if prices are too high. It is a marvelous mechanism for allocating scarce resources.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Freedom Rings More Loudly than We Think

Most Americans are proud of their freedom, when they think about it (others would rather be "Red than dead"). Our ancestors fought long and hard for freedom. We seem to feel it is our predestined right. When misguided judges on the Supreme Court take our freedom and our property away with silly decisions, we complain loudly. But when freedom is discussed for other countries and other peoples, some Americans are not so sure. They seem to be "pulling up the ladder." That is, the idea that once we have climbed the ladder to gain entrance, we pull up it up so no one else can get in.

It is an elitist idea that somehow Americans are the only ones who can handle freedom, that the "less free people" are in some way, akin to savages. We used to hear this idea expressed about civil rights for everyone. Perhaps you recall the cliche' "We're not ready for that." It meant, among other things, that the elite was not ready to lower its standards for what it thought were a people slightly above savagery. And it sure as hell meant that they were not about to lower the ladder they had so carefully pulled up behind them. History showed that they were wrong; it reinforced the idea that nobody was truly free unless everybody was free.

The desire for freedom appears to be inborn, not just in Americans but in all people. Mikhail Gorbachov of the late USSR found that you cannot give people a little bit of freedom, you have to give them complete freedom or nothing at all.

Now we are attempting to find freedom and democracy for people in the Mideast. This is partly for selfish reasons, since democratic nations do not often declare war on each other. However, for some Americans the desire to help others obtain freedom is more than that; it is a moral imperative. Still others have decided that people in the Mideast "are not ready for that."

This elitist attitude that would deny freedom to millions ignores the fact the the time is ripe. Freedom is all around Mideastern people in the form television, radio and books. The appeal of living in the eleventh century has to be losing its charm.

Tribalism is offered as an excuse for the failure of people's attempts to gain freedom in the Mideast; but we must not overlook the tribalism that we had to overcome in America. Not only did we have exclusive religious factions in each colony, but also we had ruralism tribes in the South against industrial tribes of the North. These latter differences festered for almost ninety years and finally blew up into Civil War. Why is it that we can endure civil war in America but other nations may not?

It is not the "white man's burden" to care for people in the Mideast, but it may well be the free world's burden to get them started on the road. Once they taste freedom, they can do the rest.

Freedom is a universal desire, not one that stops at our borders. It is infectious, and when the bells of freedom ring, which we are so pleased to sing about, the sound of those bells carries around the world.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Illegal Aliens Revisited

My earlier remarks on illegal immigration seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy. It was my thesis that illegals do NOT pay their own way and because of the underground economy in which many of them participate, no one could possibly know if they did. Yet, we have experts from biology professors to news media types who reassure us frequently that illegals pay their own way.

It does not matter if they do pay their own way. There are enough other problems with illegal immigrants (such as the numbers of them in prison) that make them undesirable.

As one trained in economics and as one who has experience with major employers, I can dispel at least one myth about hiring of illegals. Large companies such as General Electric do not attract and hire illegals. These are companies who carefully examine records of people and who have a lot to lose by hiring people who should not be in the United States.

General Electric and other large companies pay the prevailing wage in a community. Or they are bound by union contracts to pay a certain wage. They hire the best people they can get for a pre-determined wage, not the lowest wage people available. It doesn't make sense for them to hire illegals.

Low wage people are not drawn to large companies, because such companies often have experts who can check fake documents. If wages are a problem, the larger companies move off-shore or they close down and buy from companies overseas. But they do not hire low cost people to save money, or any other rational reason.

It is already against the law to hire illegals; it has been that way for some fifteen years. Larger companies know they will be fined and vilified in public if they are caught, even though the hiring is an error.

No doubt there are some sweat shops who are experts in hiring low wage people. But they are not the larger corporations that make up the backbone of American industry.

As a side issue, we often associate illegals with poor Mexicans. But there are probably thousands of British and Canadians working illegally in this country. They get away with it because they are white, professional, and speak a fairly standard formof English. They are not in the low wage group. There is also a fairly large group of people from the Middle East who are professional people, graduates of US colleges and universities, who overstayed their student visas and who managed to obtain work permits. Some have been here for 20 years or more.

Some have said (and I do not know if it is true) that colleges and universities are in favor of a certain type of illegal immigrant because there are too many schools for the U.S. population. The colleges and universities can only stay in business if they have a large enough body of students. To maintain such a clientele, they have to draw from the illegal immigrant population. If the Government were to stop illegal immigrants at the border, the argument goes, some colleges and universities would have to shut down.

One of the larger problems with illegal immigrants is that many of them are nice people who work hard. Citizens hire them for day work and pay them cash for a few hours of effort. Somehow they earn a meager living doing this. When hiring day workers, the average household is providing a magnet. It would be nearly impossible for the U.S. Government to track down every household that hires illegal people and pays them in cash. Therefore, it seems easier and better to cut off the supply of illegals than it is to put heads of American households in jail or than to try to find them and impose fines.

No one said it was going to be easy to solve the illegal problem. But it is not so hard to stop the problem from growing. There is definitely a magnet or two drawing people into this country. One political persuasion says it is not the benefits we provide. Yet, it has to be part of the equation. They say that illegals take the jobs that no one else will do. This has yet to be proved. So far it is another urban myth.

Maybe illegals have it so bad in their own country that it is better to accept even a low wage in this one.

Certainly, people are dying to get into America.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Slavery and the Supreme Court Revisited

I got this from a reader a few days ago: "Don't underestimate the complete stupidity and outspoken voice of a few."

It had to do with my post about people who thought the U. S. Supreme Court eliminated slavery.

I take the comment to mean that in the writer's opinion, only a few people believe the Supreme Court ended slavery. It could be that he is correct. If so, I met them all and so did those people such as Jay Leno, who interview the average Joe on the street. Interviewees had a hard time identifying the Vice President, much less anybody on the Supreme Court or one of its decisions.

I have had graduate and undergraduate students in college, and I have taught in several high schools and middle schools, sometimes in a very good school district. Believe me when I say the relationship between the Supremes and slavery is not something you want to put on a test.

Yes, I have taught in an outstanding school district. While I have treasured my relationships with boys and girls over the years (that experience is where I got the name for this blog--"old men plant trees"), I do not expect them to know much about any Supreme Court decision.

If they are not aware in an outstanding school district, think about the depth of knowledge on that subject that students have in an average school district, and how much they carry with them into adulthood.

In California we have a test for teachers called the CBEST. It is about a tenth grade achievement level test, and it is required. You can take each part several times before you are declared a failure. I took it once at the age of 59 and had no trouble. Yet, many new college graduates cannot pass the test. I would not ask them to tell me about the Supreme Court and slavery, either.

My conclusion: such things are not taught anymore.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Exciting Stuff

It's exciting. Although it is my sixth book I still got a buzz of excitement when I approved the cover. That is the last thing that happens before a book appears on the market.

It was a "duty book." I wrote it out of a sense of duty to one of my heroes-- a country boy from central Kentucky named Labe Jackson who graduated from college only to find there were no jobs. So he followed up on his ROTC training and suddenly found himself reporting to General Patton at Ft. Benning, Georgia. One thing led to another and he was Patton's HQ Commandant, going ashore on the invasion near Casablanca in North Africa.

After a bloody invasion Patton got a wire from Eisenhower directing Patton to send Labe to Oujda with a cadre of men to set up the Fifth Army. General Clark arrived a few days later to take over. Labe found himself in Life Magazine, which had taken a photo of him and others at a small, intimate feast for the Sultan of Morocco.

Going in on the invasions of Salerno and Anzio, Labe got to know General Clark fairly well. Also, he got to know Winston Churchill, King George VI, Lily Pons, Prince Borghese and many other political figures as well as the better-known generals of the ETO.

Labe followed the War to its conclusion as the Germans surrendered in North Italy. Then he went back to Kentucky to lead a fairly normal life as a farmer, businessman, and politician. He did this in spite of living outdoors for almost four years amid death, destruction and carnage that defies description.

His was an unusual story, but Labe was only one man among hundreds of thousands of heroes who survived the terrible war. Since I knew only him, I wrote about him. It was the least I could do.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Slavery and the Supreme Court

Someone on the radio recently said that the U.S. Supreme Court was responsible for eliminating slavery.

I did not hear where that person went to school. But I knew nothing could be farther from the truth. Slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment. The Supreme Court held that slavery was constitutional.

It used to be that Congress made laws and the Supreme Court interpreted them in the light of the United States Constitution; but recently citizens seem to have gotten the idea that the Supreme Court makes laws, and not only that, it makes better laws than the Congress. Since slavery was a bad practice, they reason, only the Supreme Court could have ended the practice.

They never heard of the Dred Scott decision.

It appears that ignorance is responsible for the error in thought about the purpose of the Supreme Court. Certainly, nine unelected lawyers should have no legal ability to make laws in this country. Only elected representatives can make law.

Perhaps this part of government was not taught in our schools. The only alternative is that many people could have been sick on the day it was taught. I suspect it was not taught.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Screwball on the Bench

That he was a screwball can hardly be denied. Or that he was the "biggest mouth in the South," either.

Roger Atkinson Pryor (1828-1919) was a true Virginian Southerner when he practiced law and when he was an editor of the Richmond Enquirer in 1854. He wrote two famous editorials, the best known of which was "A House Divided," which President Lincoln borrowed for his own use (and for which Lincoln gave Pryor credit).

As a Congressional Representative, Roger wanted War, and he wanted the South to have its own country, where it would not be voted down at every turn. Yet when war finally came and he was offered the first shot on Ft. Sumpter, he declined the honor.

Roger was made a Brigadier General in the Confederacy and given a small command. But he was not one of the better generals, except in his own mind. He demanded a larger force, but was denied. The next day Roger resigned his commission and re-entered the Confederate Army as a private soldier. No one knew what to do with him, so they asked Roger to become a spy.

By trickery, the Union Army caught Roger. News reached President Lincoln, who talked the capture over with his Cabinet. The Cabinet, almost to a man, recommended that Roger be hanged, and the sooner, the better. But President Lincoln did not want to do that.

Lincoln had Roger brought to Washington so he could talk to him. They talked off and on for a week. Lincoln got Roger to agree to go to war no more and then released him back to Richmond. True to his word, Roger did not go to war. But he and his family were destitute. He worked his way to New York City where he studied State law (he was already a member of the bar in Virginia). Through connections he got several cases and became famous. He sent for his family who were living in poverty after the Civil War and set them up in better conditions in the North.

Roger Pryor became very well known as a successful attorney in New York State. He practiced law, was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and judge of the court of common pleas. In 1894 he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court. (His wife was also active. With several other women, she founded the DAR.)

Roger served on the Bench until 1899 when he was retired because of his age. He continued to serve in other legal capacities until his mouth was silenced by death in 1919.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Illegals Paying Their Own Way

For a long time the media has told me that all those illegal aliens we have in the USA are paying their way. I couldn't see how that would be possible. And then I realized I had been making a mistake. Those crowds of Hispanic men at Home Depot I see in the morning, are not there to find work; they are actually waiting for the tax collector so they can pay their fair share of taxes!

How stupid of me.

You would think I know better. With a background in economics in graduate and undergraduate schools, I used to think there was no way anyone could possibly know that illegal aliens paid more in taxes than they were paid out in the form of benefits. But I guess I was wrong. All I had to do was ask any newspaper reporter and he or she would have set me straight.

Any journalism major always knows best. Maybe there is no underground economy after all.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Murder in the Streets

It was in 1950 that I went to central Kentucky as part of a funeral party to bury my grandmother. I recall seeing nearby the monument of a tree trunk cut off. It was many years before the significance of that image finally hit me.

The grave site was that of Henry Bruce Vallandingham (yes, he was first cousin to the Copperhead). Henry was my third great-grandfather, and he was murdered in 1856 by pro-slavery people in Lexington, Missouri. He was 49 years old. In effect he was cut down, like the image of the tree that covered his grave.

On July 18, on a Friday at noontime, a man named Fred Meyers stepped out from behind a tree on a busy street. In his hands was a shotgun. With one shot he blew away Henry's stomach and left him to die in the street.

The penalty for helping slaves escape was death. Not too many questions were asked when a man was killed for that reason. Of course Fred Meyers walked. It was a pro-slavery town. It had all been prearranged. And, because the murder was committed in plain sight during the day, one could easily conclude that it was a warning to other anti-slavery people in the area. No one attended the next anti-slavery meeting.

Not far away in miles or time John Brown had hacked to death some six or seven slave owners. He gained lots of sympathy for them. It was yet another reason no one was going to raise his eyebrow if an Abolitionist were cut down.

Henry Bruce Vallandingham had left central Kentucky a few months previously and moved to Lexington, MO to open a new kind of business called a 'restaurant .' You see, nearby Kansas Territory was about to become a state, and the town of Lexington saw many folks who were moving into Kansas. Some were on their own, but many others were fronted or outfitted either by Abolitionists from New England or by Pro-slavery folks from the South. Many went through Lexington on their way into the Territory. The restaurant business was brisk

It was very important to both sides which way Kansas voted--slave or free. The South saw Kansas as the beginning of a domino effect--all states could lose their slaves if Kansas were free, and the North saw Kansas as pivotal in another way. Both sides were sending in people with guns. War was inevitable.

Slowly but carefully, terrible stories were circulated about Henry Bruce Vallandingham in order to justify his eventual murder. He was a threat to the pro-slavery people, the local newspaper indicated. One of the stories involved the young wife of Fred Myers, but since Henry's wife was in Lexington with her husband, the stories were false, designed to make Henry look bad. In reality, Henry's wife had his body moved back to Kentucky in 1881 where she could be buried beside him.

That is the way these things were done--blacken a man's name and then kill him. If a jury is ever involved the defense can try the victim. One kills the reputation of a man before one actually pulls the trigger.

Kansas entered the Union as a free state, but not until representatives of Southern states had stalked out of Congress in 1861, determined to set up their own country. Perhaps the Civil War really began when John Brown hacked to death his first victims, or when Henry Bruce Vallandingham was brutally murdered in public in Lexington, Missouri.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Texas and France in the Civil War

I couldn't believe my good luck when I came across an old diary kept by a man in 1863 and 1864. He wrote it for his daughters, he said, in case anything happened to him. He was kind of hoping someone would take the dairy from his belongings and would deliver it to the girls in Austin, Texas.

Well, this man was a staunch Unionist in a the land of the CSA, so he might have felt a bit lonesome. Asked to go to Brownsville, TX, to serve as a commissioner of the provisional (Union) court, he left Austin on December 11, 1863 and rode and walked to San Antonio, and next a tiny town called Roma on the border with Mexico, where he crossed the Rio Grande. From there he went to Camargo in Mexico to avoid Rebels and on into Matamoros and back across the Rio Grande into Brownsville.

It seems that France had just taken over Mexico. President Lincoln was afraid France might strike a lucrative deal with the Rebels in Texas over cotton. France might supply weapons or it might even supply soldiers. So the Union Army needed to establish some kind of a toehold in Texas. The diarist also had a son who was a Lt. in the Union Army. He got to see this young man from time to time.

A wild man, a CSA officer by the name of RIP Ford was advancing on Union folks at Brownsville, so they and thousands of hangers-on, got in steam and sail boats for a flight to New Orleans. It was a rough trip.

When I quit reading, the diarist was cooling his heels in the beautiful city of New Orleans while he is waiting for his next move. He names names and discusses famous people of his time. I don't know what it is next because I do not have that part of the diary yet. But I will get it.

The entire diary would be a good backdrop for a Civil War epic, especially if I give the young Lt. a a pretty Southern belle for a girlfriend, and she turns out to be a spy. And just before the firing squad puts its collective finger on the trigger . . .

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Peace in 1861

The Copperhead was right. He was a Congressman (D, Ohio) and a fierce opponent of Abraham Lincoln. His idea was to end slavery without a war. He and his party flat did not want to have a war over slavery. So you could call his party the Peace Party.

Abolitionists wanted war, and common sense was an enemy to them. The Copperhead predicted fairly accurately how long it would take to prosecute the War and how many deaths there would be. But no, President Lincoln estimated about ninety days for the War and not very many casualties at all. The Copperhead's name, by the way, was Clement Laird Vallandigham. Hindsight shows that it would have been far better and cheaper to free slaves and pay off their owners, which was one of the ideas advanced by Vallandigham. He was immensely popular in the North.

I have found a diary written by a Union supporter from Austin, Texas in 1864. He wrote, prior to the election of 1864, ". . . the political devils are putting forward their most desperate efforts to destroy the nation. They are holding conventions to bring out more candidates for the presidential office and to try to unite the rebels of the South and the Copperheads of the North so they can break down the men that are fighting the rebellion."

What is interesting about this man's observation is that in 1864 people were still trying to unite Copperheads and Rebels. That is to say, they were not yet united! As it turned out they were never united. Yet, Republicans in the House (and this is in the Congressional Record) had been yelling at Rep. Vallandigham, saying that since he had family across the Ohio River, he was in cahoots with the South.

I can safely state that his family did not even recognize the Vallandinghams of Kentucky, even if they were his first cousins (I am one of them). Clement was not a Southern sympathizer, he just did not want to go to war over the slavery issue. But in politics a half truth is even better than a full truth.

So Vallandigham stated the facts and was arrested by the military and tossed out of the country. We went to war, anyway. Common sense was very uncommon in 1861.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Aggressive Girls

There was an article in the morning paper about aggressive girls in middle schools. The writer was talking about a middle school in Florida, in which sixth grade girls were becoming as aggressive as boys. The author was also trying to generalize from that school to the entire population of sixth grade girls, presumably in the U.S. The author also said the local study was part of a larger study by professors at Cornell and Columbia. Do I smell the sweet odor of Grant Money in the air?

Having taught in middle schools until last year, I have had an opportunity to observe the same age group of kids. I did not see what little aggressive behavior there was, as changing for the better or worse. I consulted with another teacher who had more years than I and she told me that a change in middle school aggression by girls was news to her.

Oh, once, just after school, I saw two little sixth grade girls using fisticuffs on each other, which was a shock. Girls do not usually do that. What bothered me most, though, was that one of the girls was Chinese and the other was Caucasian. I didn't want any race problems on the campus and I took care of it immediately. Fortunately, there was no resulting racial problem as there was no winner and students probably thought both combatants were blockheads.

How many times do we hear on the radio or TV about some new or imagined health or financial problem followed by the solution, which costs $29.95 plus shipping and handling? Professors seem to be following the same approach, except that they cost a heck of a lot more.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Fatal Bullet

It was 1874 and James M. Walker had been warned not to interfere in KKK business. If the truth be known, James had been trying to get them to stop killing defenseless former slaves and their children.

The Klan wanted these former slaves to get out of their county in central Kentucky. The Klan was "protecting its turf." But the former slaves were poor and had no place to go. So a confrontation was inevitable. There were several and they took place at night. After several warnings, a family was murdered by as many as fifteen masked men. Their cabin was set fire and their bodies were tossed in the fire to destroy the evidence of the shootings. Quite neat, really.

So James Walker obtained federal warrants for the arrests of some of the Klansmen. But the sheriff was in the Klan and he was not about to serve the warrants. It seemed that a second confrontation was called for--one to stop the man who was trying to stop the Klan.

On May 4, 1874, in a very public place on a rainy Monday afternoon James Walker was murdered with one bullet while his brother was wounded. It was a public execution designed as a warning to the rest of the white population that they were not to interfere.

James was 31 years old with three little children. It was the date of his eighth wedding anniversary. He was also my great-grandfather. That one bullet had a profound affect on his mother, his brothers, his wife, his children, his children's children, and even on me one hundred and thirty-one years later.

All because someone dared to stand up against the bullies. It was the beginning of the end for the Klan in that part of Kentucky.

The entire story can be found in the small novel, The Courage Place

Saturday, October 01, 2005


From the book Four on the Floor, Second Edition

An old story has it that in about 1899, the man in charge of the U.S. Patent Office said the government could close down patenting. It was his idea that everything that could be invented had already been invented. There was no reason to keep the doors of his institution open.

We seem to go through periods of people forecasting that the end is in sight, that our economy and our standard of living have reached their limits, and that we might as well get ready for a long, bumpy ride down hill to poverty and disease.
What did the 1899 expert miss? It was the automobile. It turned the world upside down. He also missed the invention of the airplane.

Often, when foolish people make predictions about the dismal future we are going to have, we are on the brink of something really useful that helps mankind enormously.
In 1945 we were at the same place with similar predictions when penicillin, atomic energy, the transistor and television were on the threshold of changing the world.

It was about 1971 when books about the dismal future of Americans were again popular. Someone I knew was so distressed that he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. We were on the very brink of the computer revolution. The standard of living of most Americans rose quickly since 1971. I cannot begin to list the developments that have changed our lives since then.

Computers and science have continued to help us live better and longer since 1971. Scientists are making great strides in medicine by discovering what is in our genome (the cell that determines our physical characteristics), thanks to the computer and the Internet. Medicine may well be the next area of great improvement. Or, maybe it will be space exploration.

Another area where we can look forward to bold, helpful changes, is in energy. We depend on coal, oil, and natural gas for much of our energy needs. These three energy sources tend to pollute. They are also expensive. (Other countries pay much more for energy than we do, but that is because they put heavy taxes on the supplies. It is about like shooting yourself in the foot. We Americans tend to keep guns pointed away from our feet, so we pay less. But energy is still expensive.)

Suppose a cheap, new source for energy could be found? It would be very damaging to oil companies and the countries where oil is found, but it would give the rest of the world a low cost way to produce food, water, medicines, and transportation. Think what that would do for poor countries in Africa! The standard of living for all people would suddenly rise.

Energy is just one example. There are many other new developments waiting for us in the future. And wouldn’t you know it? Just recently, another foolish person wrote that the end of scientific development was at hand.

It sounds like we are on the edge of a new, exciting technology.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Real and Imagined Horror in the News

Horror stories from New Orleans have been reported by news media. Tales of rape and murder and tens of thousands of dead bodies appeared frequently. These were not true stories but they exposed many in the media for what they were thinking, or for what they wanted to believe.

For one thing, such stories fitted an unfortunate pattern news media people seem carry around. It is that "This is what black people do." Pure racist baloney. The folks caught up in the hurricane in New Orleans were, for the most part, just hard-working, God-fearing people like almost everybody else. It appears that to the media, they were Southerners (horrors!), some were black (don't know any better!) and poor (probably stupid). Therefore, the horror stories were not checked for reality. They were just reported as true.

Recently, some newspapers began to chide other media people for their sloppy work (but not their assumptions).

Why did media people want the outlandish stories to be reinforced and reported? Many in the media were trying to make the Washington, D.C. administration look bad. They actively support an opposing political platform. There is the mental pattern among them that "everybody knows" the people in Washington do not care about its poor citizens. Well, at least the media know that, if not quite everybody else.

I hope people have figured out by by now that many media people have an agenda underlaid by false assumptions.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Planning for Grandchildren

One of the stories I told seventh graders had to do with names. That is, I warned them to start determining now the name they wanted their grandchildren to call them. And it was good advice. When I was first faced with the challenge, I was far too young to be a grandfather. So when the little guys would call me granddad, I would yell at them, "Uncle, darnit!"

It wasn't long before they began addressing me as "Uncle Darnit."

Well, maybe I didn't always say, Darnit." And maybe their mothers got after me. But I was happy.

Anyway, it didn't last. Somehow it was all perverted and now I am known simply as "Granddad," or "Uncle Granddad."

I was young and stupid and I didn't plan for the important things. Nobody warned me. I hope my former seventh grade students will be ready when their time comes.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Broken Bags in New Orleans

In my August 25 post to this blog, I talked about how my mother a white woman, reflexively helped a black woman in 1939 whose grocery bag broke, causing many small items to spread over the sidewalk in front of our house. As a curious seven year-old,I asked Mother why she bothered to help somebody's servant. Mother summed up a huge amount of Southern Baptist theology with the statement, "Her bag broke." That day I learned a broken bag trumped all sorts of social systems.

As I wrote the post, I had no idea that a huge bag was to break in the Gulf Coast in a couple days. But it did and places like New Orleans were heavily ruined by a hurricane. Sixty-six years after my mother's demonstration of concern, millions of people heard about the problems of folks on the Gulf Coast and went to work, helping them with their "broken bag." Some took in the homeless, fed them and gave them clothing. Others, living far away, contributed what they had, from food to clothing to money. Sometimes all three. Especially all three.

Contributors did not ask recipients what their skin color was, they just gave what they could. This of course, was bad for those who make their money from racism because it put to the lie many things they had been saying. Bags of racists may be broken, but frankly, I don't care.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Real "Man without a Country"

Most people know him as "The Copperhead," the leader of the Democratic "peace" party during the Civil War. As a fiery, handsome Democratic congressman from Ohio, Clement Laird Vallandigham, was fairly untouchable. Republican President Lincoln was not likely to arrest a U.S. Congressman in 1863. But when Clement lost a close election and was an ordinary citizen, Lincoln's bully boy, General Burnside, had him arrested as a civilian and tried by a military tribunal. He was found guilty, and then the tribunal convened.

The appropriate penalty for a Northerner opposing the Civil War was, of course, death. But Clement was far too popular to kill, so he was shipped out of the U.S. to Confederate lines. The Confederates knew Clement wasn't one of theirs, so they told him, in effect, to get out of the way. Clement took his case to the Supreme Court where the justices weaseled out with circular reasoning that would only work well in a spring factory. But they did not set this conviction aside. (Many of our problems with Islamic prisoners today stem from this and similar cases during the Civil War).

Working his way into Canada, Clement decided to run for governor of Ohio. He did and was winning when Lincoln's group hatched a plan to de-rail his campaign right before the election. A minister named Hale was to write a story about a man who damned his country and was exiled for it. He and the chief editor of Atlantic Monthly, a man named Fields were to produce the story in an issue that was to come out just before the election. It was designed to embarrass Clement. The story was the famous "The Man Without a Country."

It appears that Hale did not get the story to Fields in time so it failed to appear until December, well after the election. It also appears that soldiers in Ohio from other states suddenly decided to vote in the Ohio election, perhaps on orders from above. Many more votes were cast in the election than there were voters that year, and Clement lost.

In fairness, readers should know that Clement was my first cousin, several times removed. But I did not make up the story. It has been often documented by others and is often carted out as a weird footnote on history. And President Lincoln did not focus solely on Clement; historians report that over thirteen thousand civilian men (mostly in Northern states) were tried by the same military tribunals and put in prison.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Relative Beauty

We often look to the "beautiful people" for leadership. There are several for each decade. And some of them, often high school dropouts, are movie stars who decide to become experts in politics or weather or atomic energy or medicine. A few people take them seriously.

Many years ago I heard a man give a speech. He was not one of the beautiful people. He wasn't even ordinary-looking. He was truly ugly. Deformed from birth, he was small and twisted. His voice was high and thin. Strangely, children were not frightened by his appearance; they flocked to him.

I believe his name was Dr. Chester Swor. I don't recall Dr. Swor today because he was deformed. I remember him because of what he said. His talk was about love and hope and mercy. Of all the people I have seen, this one man had the greatest reason to be bitter and angry. Yet, he was concerned about others. He was immensely popular.

Beauty seems to be relative.

Monday, September 12, 2005

That Guy Can't Write!

I used to tell students in middle and high schools that before I went to college I would worry because I could not understand what some books were trying to tell me. I felt dumb. After graduate school I would read a few pages of a book, and if I did not get the meaning, I would put the book down and say, "That guy can't write!"

"Educators," I explained further, "are some of the worst writers in the world. So, if you do not understand a textbook right away, it might not be your fault."

If I got no other value from my college work, I got that very good understanding.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Keeping School Kids Safe

As a substitute teacher with several years' experience, I developed a sixth sense for danger on the 850 student campus for a local middle school where I often taught. Of course there were fire drills and city-wide earthquake disaster drills and even "man on the campus with a gun" drills. The kids were really good and knew what to do.

Once I was teaching when an actual fire occurred! Police sirens were screaming and fire engines were trucking up to the school while the kids were filing out of classrooms. Was there any hurry or anxiety on the part of students as smoke poured out of one of the rooms? Not a bit. They were bored as usual, because fire drills had become another rote experience. The fire was small and we were soon back in classes.

Then there came a day when something occurred that we had not experienced before. Yes, we were prepared for guns, knives, or worse, a person carrying a Bible. But not this: a mother in a new car she couldn't control, drove at a fast speed through the parking lot onto the lawn area and rammed the car into the solid brick wall of a library. Three eighth-grade girls were standing in the path of the car. It hit one of the girls and smashed her leg off above the ankle. Another sub administered first aide while I directed traffic around the scene while we waited for an ambulance.

We adults spent a lot of time protecting the kids and watching for problems. Especially where young girls are concerned. When a serious problem occurs, we are not always emotionally ready for it. Some of the teachers fell apart and had to go home. I wasn't in the falling-apart mode, but I was plainly upset. However, the bulk of the students were very practical and we did not have to close down the school. Oh, several friends of the injured girl had to go home. They were emotional wrecks.

A couple of months later, the brave girl was back at school, minus the lower part of her leg and weak from internal injuries. She continued her studies and slowly the matter was forgotten. Except for me. I will never forget. In the back of my mind, I think I might have been able to do something to protect that girl from the car.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Disaster Planning and Dumb Luck

Every city has a disaster plan. At least they say they have one. With this in mind, the incompetence of the leaders of the cities in the hurricane-swept areas surpasses all expectations (and mine were fairly low).

As the one-time disaster coordinator for a small company (under 100 million in sales), I have some experience from which to make observations. We had four major locations. Each had a computer that was interconnected with the other three at its manufacturing or warehouse site. What kinds of concerns did we have to worry about? One was that headquarters was on the flight path of low-flying jet planes that landed a a fair-sized airport. Another concern was that the Toronto installation was near an atomic energy facility which could release radioactive particles in the air, or worse. A third was that trucking strikes could shut us down. A fourth was that the wipeout of certain bridges on main highways could easily close down one or two facilities. A fifth was that a digging machine could easily break a fiberglass cable anywhere in this country or lower Canada and shut down the computers.

The list goes on and on. We developed contingency plans for each potential problem as we uncovered it. And we distributed the plans to each affected area of the company. Of course, problems did occur and we were able to cope with them.

One disaster occurred that we did not count on. It wasn't our disaster, it was our competitor's. He fired all his manufacturing staff suddenly and moved his manufacturing facility about a thousand miles away. We responded with a massive increase in inventory because we knew he wouldn't be able to provide items for delivery for six months. It turned out to be a year, but we were ready.

No amount of planning makes up for dumb luck.

The leaders of cities and towns and counties and even states that were affected by Hurricane Katrina did not find any dumb luck. They appeared to have blundered into a very bad situation with a very good plan but no execution. Unless, of course, they planned to do nothing and blame the federal government.

Citizens who paid their salaries did not get much for their investment.

This is another case that tends to prove that reliance on government to solve your problems is a fool's errand.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Nostalgia Isn't what It Used to Be

There was a time in the 1950's when my mother would read the evening paper and burst out laughing. I knew she was reading one of the funniest writers around. It was Louisville, KY and the columnist was B. M. Atkinson, Jr. He was a young man who had at least one young child at home. And he would sometimes describe the various ailments this child had.

One such ailment was "Potty Arm," in which the child was fascinated with the toilet. The child would roll up his sleeve, stick his little arm in the water, and plumb the depths of the toilet bowl. Atkinson could get an entire column out of the "diseases" of this one child. His descriptions were especially funny and close to home as my own child was beginning to look longingly at the white porcelain fixture in our house (he survived his water-logged arm problem and is now an artist named Caleb living in St. Pete, Florida).

Another column dealt with the misery of raking leaves out of the ivy in front of his house, as ordered by his wife. He could make such a dreary task ridiculously funny.

But alas, I left Louisville in 1957 and so did Atkinson. I heard that his columns got the attention of several Hollywood movie or TV people who asked him to write for them in the Los Angeles area. He seems to have disappeared over the years. I never heard from him again, except for a book he wrote, called What Dr. Spock Didn't Tell Us.

I seldom miss the past, seldom long for "home" and the good old days. But there are a few things I would like to revisit. One is the truly great rye bread from a German (Plehns?) bakery in Louisville. Also, I miss the thousands of acres of beautiful parks where I spent much of my time as a boy. And, yes, I would love to re-read those old columns by Atkinson.

Friday, September 02, 2005

September Song

Hot as it is, I can sense September is just around the corner, and with it comes the new school year. That should not be a problem for a retired industrial manager. But it does cause my heart to beat a bit faster.

Unlike most of my brethren, I did not retire completely. I dabbled at teaching in a local public middle school as a substitute. I know that you are going to say something about raging hormones and all that kind of stuff, but I really enjoyed seventh graders. Not only that, but also I became used to the school's rhythms. That is because I spent most of my teaching time at only one school (at the principal's behest).

If a person is alert, he or she can sense problems developing on a school campus. Patterns of behavior don't seem right. For instance, crowds of kids form in unusual places, or the kids become unusually quiet. Enough kids knew me that I could step into a small group and take care of problems quickly before all 850 kids on the campus were affected.

What did I teach? Mostly math and science. And every time I stood in front of an algebra class I thought of Mr. Wright, my own algebra teacher of over fifty years ago. If he were to come back from the grave and see me there, he would call the police to have me dragged off. I did it to torment his memory. He certainly tormented me enough.

So I am beginning to get restless as September approaches. And there is no reason for it. I am not going to teach a single lesson. This is my first year in a long time not to be licensed (credentialed) to teach in California public school.

Maybe I won't have those dreams any more--the ones about being late for classes.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In a Sense, we Are All Climatologists

A few days ago on this site I wrote that when some disaster strikes, some ass writes to his local paper and says, "In a sense we are all guilty."

Well, the terrible hurricane has struck Mississippi and Louisiana and the message has struck again. Only this time, it is coated with junk science. This time the ass or one just like him, is saying, "Why, if only we had signed the Kyoto Treaty, this might not have happened" (and since we didn't, we are all responsible for the terrible storm).

Nothing is more seductive than junk science. We should remember two things, though. One is that there have been very bad storms in the Gulf Coast long before there was much man-made thermal activity in the world. A climatological scientist on TV said today there is no known connection between "global warming" and the recent storm.

The second thing to remember is that a correlation between warm water and the strength of storms is very slight. The same climatologist said there was a ten per cent correlation. That means the strength of storms is ninety per cent related to other factors.

Another scientist said that if global warming resulted in melting glaciers, that would cool water, not warm it. I don't know about that.

But what I do know is that there no one surer of these things than newspaper writers. But climatologists? Well, that is another matter.

Maybe, "In a sense we are all climatologists ."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


"I don't know why they call it 'childishness' when it is adults that are doing most of it," I wrote to a friend on a Rootsweb List yesterday. A List is a home for group of people who are interested in a particular surname or area. Usually the people on the Lists are jointly working on some project that is mutually interesting or beneficial. Thus, they are supportive.

But once in a while (three years for the case in point) someone gets on a List and stirs up a hornet's nest, usually with caustic remarks. Then he takes great pains to spell every word correctly and use good punctuation as he says the most unkind things to people he does not even know.

It is like the man or woman who is generally kind and courteous until he or she gets behind the steering wheel of a car, inside that protective shell of steel and glass, and can drive away from problems that occur. That is the time when a person's real character becomes evident. Sometimes that otherwise courteous person is raging, rude, and intolerant. It may be because there is no accountability.

Recently former congressman J. C. Watts said, "Character is what you do when you are alone." He was quoting someone else; the expression is older than he is. But it is a good expression used by thoughtful people.

Being alone or being protected by the steel shell of an automobile or hiding behind the anonymity on the Internet are about the same things. That is when true character shows itself.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Never Sleep with Anyone Crazier than You Are

There was a time, when I was forty-two or so, that I found myself single and employed. For a while I felt I was the least desirable person on the world. All my time was spent on running a factory and helping its people to be productive. Then reality struck.

Evidently it was a mark of distinction to be a regular-looking single male in Southern California who was gainfully employed, and who was nice to women. The way I discovered all this was not easy, but it was fast. It wasn't long before women began to make themselves known as single, or wanting to be single. At the time I couldn't imagine why they were interested in me. (I had spent my previous years as the skinny little brother whose two older siblings were very handsome and attractive to good-looking women.) I was older than most of these ladies and couldn't take them seriously.

But serious they were. I dated a few of them before realized I needed answers to two questions. One was, "Are you really single?" and the other was, "How crazy are you?"

The answer to the first question had to be yes for obvious reasons. I had no desire to interfere in someone else's household. But the need to have answers to the second question is more subtle.

It seemed that there were many single women out there who were a bit unstable. Perhaps they had been divorced for ordinary reasons, but they did not respond well to their new situation. Or, perhaps they were divorced (or never married) because they were not stable emotionally. In either case, they were a potential problem for a stray male who already had enough problems of his own.

I had to date a lot of attractive, concerned, caring, willing, daring, nubile, crazy young women before I found a few old enough, wise enough, and sane enough that I wanted to spend time with. They were attractive, too. But I was willing to give up a lot of points on attractiveness in order to find someone with an integrated, interesting personality. Happily, there were a few such women available.

A person not into psychology and other such black arts, I had to use common sense to discern if a woman had a core in her life. A core, or an anchor showed up in various ways, but either it was close to the surface or I took a hike, no matter how nice the package looked. The term "core" implies values, and values imply some kind of thought. There seem to be more rootless people around than there are well-grounded people. I wanted to find one of those women with some roots. And in that I was fortunate.

But I was called a lot of names first.

I do not know who was first to establish the maxim, "Don't sleep with anyone crazier than you are," but I commend his (or her) thinking to all folks who find themselves in the same position I was in.