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.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sounding Pious

It must have been in the fall of 1939 or 1940 when my mother and I, white folks, were sitting on the front porch of our house in Louisville, KY. That makes me about seven years old. And in the South. As we looked out toward the street, we saw a nice looking black woman walk past the house, wearing a servant’s dress and carrying a bag of groceries.

As the woman got in front of the house, her grocery bag split and her groceries fell to the ground. Cans and bags tumbled to the sidewalk. She was helpless to stop the flow.

“Wait a minute,” my mother called to her as she ran inside the house. She returned in a flash with a brown grocery bag. She got down on her knees and helped the woman collect her valuables and place them in the new bag. When everything was picked up, the servant thanked Mother and went on to her destination.

“Why did you help her?” I asked. “She was a servant.”

Mother, a Southern Baptist, responded with a grand summary of her theology when she said, “Her bag was broken.”

I learned two things that day, over sixty four years ago. One was obvious and the other took some time.

The first thing I learned was that broken bags transcend all social systems.

The second thing was that sounding pious is okay, but what really counts is where your feet take you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Out of the Backwoods

When this nation was being formed, ordinary people stepped out of its backwoods to take positions of leadership. Who knew we had resources such as Thomas Jefferson, a man from Goochland County, Virginia, who had studied Locke and Hume? And yet he was only one of many who was totally prepared to set up an entirely new nation built on new principles.

It is a blessing of this nation that we had such resources available when they were needed. Through our over two hundred year history, men and women have continued to step forward to lead this nation through its most challenging times. It wasn't geography or diversity or supplies of iron ore that made this leadership great. At the end of all research the conclusion must be that Freedom was responsible for the greatness of this nation and its leadership. And that freedom was based on Judeo-Christian principles. So strong was that basis that it overcame such entrenched ideas as slavery.

With this background of ideas in mind I wrote a small history of part of WWII. During the research and writing, I marveled to myself how it was that we had such great brave generals who stepped forward to lead troops to victory.

In one of my chapters of Full Duty I wrote the following, which is still true as we face battles in Iraq:

It is the blessing of this nation that when problems arise, ordinary people step out from the backwoods and the cities to lead magnificently. This tradition of leadership began well before the Revolutionary War, and the halls of American history are covered with great names: George Washington, George Rogers Clark, Andrew Jackson, and U.S. Grant, to name a few. The names of Marshall, Patton, Truscott and Clark will be displayed with these great people. And no doubt there will be many more in the years to come.

Brave leaders did not come from the ranks of those dainty Americans who wanted fried chicken but did not want to kill any chickens to get such a tasty meal. No, the leaders came from the ranks of those who were willing to die for their country; but first, they were willing to kill for it. There is a huge difference.

May God continue to bless America!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hunter's Big Bang

Who was it that said, "When you can't laugh at yourself anymore you turn to drugs"? Maybe I did. I can't remember.

This idea occurred when I saw the latest news story about Hunter S. Thompson. Today his ashes are going to be shot out of a cannon, "fired from a tower the height of the Statue of Liberty in a ceremony at his Colorado home on Saturday befitting his eccentric and controversial life." I seem to recall the press release said it was to be done this morning, and the big bang is probably over as I am writing this Maybe the last ash is just now settling to the ground.

As I said earlier on this blog, I knew Hunter as a kid. He wasn't a serious writer then, and he didn't take himself so seriously. He was just a nice little boy who lived across the street. As I look at the reports about Hunter's life, I am beginning to read between the lines that he may have been a bit pretentious and pompous (in his own flamboyant way, of course).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

No Sense at All

It never fails. Whenever there is some kind of a disastrous event, some ass writes a diatribe to the local newspaper which includes the comment, "in a sense, we are all guilty." And the newspaper dutifully publishes the letter.

It seems to me that if we are all guilty, then no one is guilty. Maybe that is the purpose of the letter-writer, to make guilt disappear. But I will state here and now, I did not shoot J.F. Kennedy, I admired him. Nor did I shoot Robert Kennedy nor did I shoot the Rev. Martin Luther King. I can make these statements with a clear conscience.

There is some desirability for a collective guilt, as if one can hide among the masses of the guilty and not be noticed. At one time there was a popular tee-shirt whose motto in big letters was, "Jesus Is Coming." In smaller letters under the motto was printed, "look busy." Again, there is expressed the value of hiding among the masses to avoid some kind of fault or blame.

The knee-jerk reaction to assume guilt (but only in small amounts, which we of the genuinely "good" people can always afford) never fails. It seems to have its roots in a collectivist approach to social concerns and spills over into politics. Collectivism does not always sell well in the United States.

But it never fails to show up following a terrible crime. Watch for it in your local

Saturday, August 13, 2005

She Always Loved Jim

She was a pretty seventeen year-old girl. Of course, she attracted several young men admirers because she was pretty and because her family was better-off than many others in the community. But Alice Grover had her eye on Jim.

A big, handsome young man a bit older than Alice, Jim Walker was totally unsuitable for her. Her father was a leading politician in the area, a Democrat with potential, and he owned a few slaves. Jim's family were Republicans, anti-slavery, and while they were also well off, did not have the standing in the community that the Grovers had. It could be that his unsuitability made Jim even more handsome in Alice's eyes. Her parents had plans for Alice that included a large church wedding to some important political figure, if possible.

Then the War came and people chose sides. It was no problem for Jim who joined up with a Union cavalry group. It didn't matter that he had no military training. Hardly anyone else did, either. Jim was a corporal and could ride and shoot with the best of the men. His unit was full of crazy young men who took lots of risks. It wasn't his fault that he was captured and paroled twice. Alice thought he was the handsomest man in uniform she had ever seen.

Jim noticed Alice and they managed to spend a little time together when he was home. But their last names might as well have been named Montague and Capulet as far as her father was concerned. He did not like the Walkers.

It was 1866 and the War was over and the Grovers had lost their slaves. But it was easy to travel again. Grover took some of his family to a family reunion back to western New York State. And old sepia photograph shows that Alice and her brothers stayed home. Laura, Alice's sister, went on the long trip from the middle of Kentucky.

Alice was nineteen when her parents were away. She and Jim made a trip of their own. They took a ferry across the Ohio River and were married by a justice of the peace. Then they returned and set up housekeeping, waiting for the explosion. Sure enough, Mr. Grover was mad as hell, and Mrs. Grover wept because there was going to be no big church wedding. But they were not fools; they relented and waited for the grandchildren.

Sure enough, a year later Alice produced a son. To pacify her father, they named the boy Grover Walker. It helped only a little. Then came little Laura, named for Alice's dead sister, who died twenty years before. Then came little Stella. No one knows where that name came from.

It was 1873, and Jim's general merchandise business was growing. He built a small hotel in the area to serve the trading people nearby. Mr. Grover had became a U.S. Congressman and was active in State politics.

An nasty group of people emerged in the area. They called themselves the Ku Klux Klan. These people decided that no persons of African descent should live in their county, so they began chasing them out. If a family would not move, they were brutally murdered. Mr. Grover, a lawyer and banker, represented the Klan in court cases and got them off.

Jim Walker and his brothers, among other whites in the area, decided to stop the Klan from killing. It was almost impossible to convict a Klansman in State courts so they notified people in the federal government who issued warrants for the arrest of known killers. The sheriff was in the Klan, so he refused to serve the warrants.

Jim was warned. Anybody would say that he was asking for trouble. But he would not give up. On May 4, 1874, on a rainy Monday afternoon where everybody could see the event, Bill Smoot, the Klan chieftain, shot Jim Walker dead in front of the county courthouse. Jim was only thirty-one years old.

Alice was a widow. Fortunately, her father took her and her three kids in and paid some of her bills. Earlier, young Laura Grover married Jim's younger brother, Henry. It was not long before he was dead, too. So Grover had his daughters back and their children. Having lost two sons-in-law to the Klan, he was beginning to change his opinion of them.

Alice still loved Jim, the man she eloped with in 1866. After several years of grieving, she agreed to marry the town doctor, a middle aged bachelor named Munday. They had no children, but her son Grover was unhappy with his new step-father, so they sent him off to a military school. He seldom returned after that. He went to Kansas with his uncle Tom Walker, who set him up in a successful banking business.

So pretty Alice Walker had lost her son. Dr. Munday did not live long, and Alice had to bury him, too.

Deciding to get away from all the sad memories they had in their community, the Grover family moved to another town some twenty miles away. Grover started a bank, continued to practice law and buy up all the land he could find. He had two partners in the bank.

Alice still loved Jim. But after much of his attention, she agreed to marry her father's partner, an older man named Montgomery. He built a mansion for Alice. It still stands in Georgetown, Kentucky.

About 1887, Mr. Grover died. Alice took some of her inheritance and spent it on having Jim's remains moved from her previous home county to the city cemetery in Georgetown.

Mr. Montgomery died soon after. Alice and her two daughters lived in Georgetown until both Stella and Louise married and moved to Louisville. Then Alice moved to Louisville to be near them and her only living grandchild, also named Alice. In 1909 her son Grover was killed in an automobile accident in western Kansas. Two years later Alice herself died of cancer.

Alice still loved Jim, so she had herself buried beside him, the man she eloped with forty-five years before. She did this even though her third husband was buried a few yards away. Because Alice's legal name was Montgomery and no longer Walker, her daughters put on the headstone the title, "Mother". Eight-four years later I made a change by adding something to Alice's headstone. I had engraved on it the name, "Alice Porter Grover Walker." That was who Alice always wanted to be. I knew she really, really loved Jim.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Roman Ladies and their Meetings

I couldn't help it. I am writing a small volume about the life of a young patrician man during Roman times, about 48 BC. And even though I know better, I included a comment about the WMS. That is, the Women's Minerva Society.

Knowing Methodists have a busy group called WMS--Women's Missionary Society--I decided to use their initials. I couldn't see how the average Roman matron could have been evangelistic about her pantheism, but I am sure they had meetings, and presidents and dues and all that kind of thing. It is what humans do when they have enough to eat.

All I had to do was figure what reason these Roman ladies could use to get out of the house once in a while. The one I was writing about would go to the WMS meeting place front door and leave by the back door to see her boyfriend. That is probably something the younger women did. Then she could spend a few minutes, maybe an hour, with her boyfriend. After a brief dalliance she would have to return home or she would raise suspicions of the dominant male in her household.

So it was fun to write about and a plausible way to get my character out of the house.

But there is a fly in my Roman ointment that most people won't catch: Latin had no W character in it.

I am going to do it, anyway.

Illigitimus non carborundum

Sunday, August 07, 2005


I hate to walk the sidewalks at night. Where I live, in Southern California, you would think not much could go wrong, what with the good weather and all. Oh, maybe earthquakes could break open the sidewalks so that a person could fall down inside them, but that is seldom a problem. Anyway you get lots of warning about such things.

What really bothers me is the spiders. They hang new webs every evening about dusk from tree to tree or tree to shrub, or wherever they can hang a net. Then, when I go blundering down the sidewalk, I run into the things. It is unnerving.

Most of the time I can get free of the webs with some struggling, but the time is coming when I will not be so strong. And then I don't know what will happen.

Recently, my wife and I were taking an evening stroll in our neighborhood. I was craftily staying a foot or so behind her so she would walk into the webs and clear the way for me. But suddenly I felt the strand of a big web slide across my ear. It felt like a rope. I drew back and looked up. There in the shadows, was its manufacturer, climbing up, away from me. Apparently, it was as afraid of me as I was afraid of it.

I was extra glad the spider was fleeing, because it was clearly a man-eater.

After that experience, I did the only thing a sensible man could do. I switched sides with my wife so she would walk on the right hand part of the sidewalk and startle the next giant spider. I have had enough!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Facts about Tax

Many people don't know the difference between tax rates and tax revenues. It is a simple concept, really. Other people don't care; they just want to punish the wealthy for having more than they do. The result in any case is confusion, sometimes at a high level in government, such as in Congress.

Let's say you are selling apples. You charge five dollars an apple. Even though the apples are very good ones, you don't sell any at the rate of $5.00 each. Your revenues are zero dollars.

But then you visit a grocery store and see that the grocers are selling apples for one dollar a pound. That is about thirty-three cents each, (because the size is large and a pound amounts to three apples) . So you decide to lower the price of your apples some. You set a rate of one dollar each and you sell six to a few to people who are hungry but can't get to a grocery. Your rate is one dollar and your revenue from sales is six dollars.

Well, you don't want to stand outside and hawk apples for six dollars a day, so you decide to reduce prices even more. You price your apples at fifty cents each and you sell twenty the next day. Your revenue has rises to twenty times $.50 or ten dollars. You are beginning to get the idea that by lowering prices you can increase revenues. You don't pay your bills with rates, you pay them with revenues. So the next day you decide to compete with the grocery stores and charge thirty-three cents per apple and you sell fifty of them. Your revenues rise to fifty times $.33 or sixteen dollars and fifty cents. You are beginning to understand that the lower the price, the more apples you can sell, and the higher your revenues can grow. Of course, you realize that there are limits because you have to pay for the apples you sell, and you do not want to price them at a rate at which you will lose money. But for the moment you are quite happy with your discovery, called the classic supply curve.

There is a similar revenue situation with taxes. If a government taxes too highly (rates are 100%), commerce stops and tax revenue disappears. People will not work if they have to give the fruit of their labors to idiot congressmen. The economy stagnates. From that point, as a government reduces tax rates (same as lowering the price of apples) its revenues will probably increase. The economy will bloom again and people will be working overtime because they can keep most of what they earn.

There is a point at which lowering tax rates will not increase revenues and it differs for each economy. But we have not reached that point in the U.S. as far as we know. Each tax rate cut we have experienced has resulted in more revenues, the same as each reduction in apple prices results in more dollars received. Also there is evidence that tax increases have resulted in a poor economy and lower revenues. It works both ways.

An exception happened once during the Clinton administration: a huge tax increase was followed by an increase in revenues. But in that case the economy was moving ahead and was able to swallow the increase and still grow, if at a reduced rate. No one knows how large the revenues could have been if the economy had been unfettered by the tax increase.

There are lots of reasons to "raise taxes on the rich" because it sounds good to the bulk of wage earners who are not rich (and who have not taken economics in school). But such moves are self-defeating, because when the economy suffers everybody suffers. yet Congress loves to increase taxes, always in the badly-based hope that they will raise revenues.

A conclusion can be drawn from this discussion that is already well-known by economists: If tax rates are reduced and revenues increase, the people are over- taxed.

It is incumbent on Congress to make sure not that "the rich are soaked" but that taxation is at a level such that a rate decrease results in a revenue decrease. Then the tax level is about right.

Of course Congress could control spending, but that is asking too much.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Caesar, then Patton

I reversed the order; I should have written about Julius Caesar first and then George Patton. But, as luck would have it, I wrote about Patton first.

It was because my first cousin and his wife knew Patton personally. He served under Patton as HQ Commandant in Ft. Benning, GA, and on in to the invasion of North Africa. He saw Patton from time to time afterwards while he was HQ Commandant for Mark W. Clark.

I was writing about my cousin’s adventures as a country boy from Kentucky. He was the only such person I ever heard of who also knew Winston Churchill, the Sultan of Morocco and King George, VI. That book will be out this year (2005) and it will be called Full Duty.

After I sent the book to the publisher, I began another project. It was a novel about people in Rome in 50 B.C. Somehow, Julius Caesar got involved in the story and I found that he was as much fun to write about as was George Patton. I also saw a connection between the two men I had not thought of before.

Now, pop and clinical psychology are not my favorite topics. I avoid them whenever possible. Unhappily, when several of the Patton books were written, pop psychology was in vogue. Each author felt led to analyze Patton in a psychological manner, which probably led to faulty analyses and faulty images of this great man. From my point of view, the authors cheapened Patton. No doubt some authors tried the same technique on Gaius Julius Caesar.

Without the aid of psychological claptrap, one can see there were similarities in the lives of the two men. Both Caesar and Patton were leaders of men, who knew how obtain their respect. Caesar was a politician, while Patton had the ability but not the desire to be politic. Both men had a strong sense of purpose and a single-minded vision of what ought to be.

Both Caesar and Patton were students of history. Caesar was aware of Alexander the Great and must have known that he fell short of Alexander’s achievements. Patton knew of both men and many others besides. He knew of their battles and their battle sites and their battle plans. It may be possible that Patton saw himself as a modern Caesar to the extent that he was a winner of great battles. But I suspect he did not see himself as the leader of Rome or the president of the United States.

Both Caesar and Patton were actors on great stages. But they believed in their roles; they committed their lives to them. They presented images that they wanted other people to see, and eventually (in at least Patton’s case) became those images.

Both Caesar and Patton came into their glory in later life. Caesar was no boy when he took over Rome, and most military men Patton’s age were removed from active duty. Patton was one of the very few of his vintage to be given a starring role in combat.

Finally, both men were military geniuses.

There were differences, of course. Caesar was amoral and had all kinds of liaisons, while Patton was a family man who was devoted to his wife. As a young man, Caesar, while not poverty-stricken, did not have the wealth that Patton commanded.

Caesar was no doubt religious in his own way, especially when it paid to be pious in public, but Patton was pious in private. After all, Patton was a Christian whose convictions affected his life. And Christianity was a totally different philosophy from Caesar’s pantheism. No matter how great the temptation, I suspect that Patton could never lower himself to the moral level of a Julius Caesar.

Still, I wish I had written about Caesar first. Then I might have understood Patton better.