Category Archives: History

Mankato, another Minnesota town with some history

A few weeks ago an old acquaintance from Mankato, where I graduated from high school in 1969, asked me to write up a post on a popular boutique shop that my Mother set up with a collection of “faculty wives” who called themselves the “Harpies” and who’s store they named “Harpies Bazaar.” Unfortunately, he asked me to post it on Facebook, a notoriously upbeat online space where people get depressed because everyone else’s lives are made to look so good. I linked to a blog post about my Mother’s Alzheimers. Downer.

But then Brad asked me to tell a bit about my foreign exchange student, Bedru Beshir, from Ethiopia. Brad was a class ahead of me and within a year of his 50th year anniversary of his graduation. There had been some curiosity after all these years about what had become of “Beds.” Brad and others from Bedru’s class had located Facebook pages of various Bedru’s currently living in Ethiopia. I had to tell him they were not our Bedru. Other graduates of the class of 68 had already discovered my old Reader Column spelling out Bedru’s likely fate. It was not a happy one for the first black student in memory to have attended Mankato High School. Double Downer.

What caught Brad’s attention to me was a response I had left to a series of Mankato History Facebook posts that had been prompted by the news that the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The garden was in the news for a controversial piece of art depicting the massive scaffold built in Mankato in 1863 to hang 38 Sioux Indians. Downer number three. I wrote about that in the Reader as well.

There were some furious arguments going on in Mankato between descendants of murdered settlers and sympathizers of the Sioux warriors. I waded in to say that not all the hung men were guilty. To another comment pinning the blame on Lincoln and a rebuttal by Lincoln defender who pointed out that Abe had reduced the number to be hung from over 300 to 38 I stuck up for Abe. I pointed out that despite the cries for vengeance during the Civil War when the President needed all the help he could from the North to prosecute the Civil War, his ten-fold reduction of those to be executed was an act of bravery.

To a person who responded to my reply that it was time to forget the hanging and “move on,” I quoted Santayana, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” I read almost the same argument for ignoring Duluth’s lynching in a letter-to-the Editor in the Trib shortly after Duluth began paying attention to its infamous 1920 lynching. Mankato, like Duluth, has some infamy in its closet.

One of the people who spoke up for Mankato in the face of this third downer was one of the Saiki’s. She came out with a long Chamber of Commerce like list of wonderful things to have been invented in Mankato that changed the world including the Honeymead Corporation’s use of soybeans which has had a huge impact on our oversea’s trade with Asian nations. One of her Japanese forbears happened to bring those soy beans to Mankato from California.

I wrote back in reply explaining that I had graduated in 1969 with one of her family members. I then mentioned that my Mother had told me about her family’s arrival in Mankato. They had been interned (imprisoned) during the Second World War but their mysterious ability to sex chicks to be rid of the useless roosters-to-be was just what the Nation needed to produce eggs for its soldiers overseas. I told her that that the consequence of this fourth downer gave her family and Mankato every reason to be proud of that all but forgotten bit of local history. And that was not a downer.

In the same way, Duluth’s embracing of its notorious past offers more than a little redemption.

92 pages into Dark Money and a change of scenery

I am reading Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money. It is an intensely serious exploration of the unscrupulous but entirely legal attempt to subvert any trace of socialism that has accumulated in the United States over the last century. To call the billionaires who are bringing this about anarchists comes close to their objective – the rule of wealth.

This was an unplanned excursion into modern American politics because I have been busying myself reading up on the politics of my Grandfather’s youth and young adulthood. Karl Rove’s book about the McKinley/Bryan election was in the batters box. I’m sure I find it even more interesting after finishing Dark Money. One selling point for the Rove book is that the 1896 election is something of a model for 2016’s carnival. Like our most recent election 1896 was the first mega bucks presidential race. It pitted a free silver radical, Bryan, against Millionaires who thought he would bleed them dry with cheap money. This was Mark Twain’s “Gilded Age” when the gulf between rich and poor was vast as it has once again become. Since 1970 a collection of billionaires who have put their financial muscle behind a genetic re-engineering the Republican Party away from John Maynard Keynes and allied it with the ghosts of our unsavory past.

I checked the index of Dark Money to see how often Karl Rove was mentioned in it – 9 times and then took a second look at Rove’s dust jacket. It wasn’t only conservative pundits that praised his book. So did Jon Meacham author of a biography of Andrew Jackson and Doris Kearns Goodwin who has written some of my favorite books about Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. The Billionaires would love to erase all memory of the latter two presidents.

The Koch Brothers (2 of the 4) put almost a billion dollars into the 2016 election and tag teamed with Vladimir Putin to change our political landscape. Mayer says of them that they want to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society but FDR’s New Deal and even Teddy Roosevelt’s “Square Deal.” It was teddy who called the rich of his Era the “malefactors of wealth.” Mark Hanna, the Charles Koch of his Era and the man who elected McKinley, grimly said of Teddy after he succeeded the assassinated McKinley “Now that damned cowboy is in the White House”. Hanna’s modern day successors feel the same about the “trust buster.”

When Glenn Beck made his first appearance in the book (8 mentions) I was reminded of hearing Beck express great reservations years ago about Teddy for steering America wrong. Who the heck today doesn’t like TR? Well the Billionaires don’t and it seems Beck was one of the regulars at the secret gatherings at the Koch home. No doubt he drank deeply of the Koch’s antediluvian thinking.

BTW. Beck has been on something of a repentance tour. I was astonished to see him on Samantha Bee and even more surprised last Sunday to catch him in his confessions on Public Radio’s On Being.

I’ve run as a Republican several times although the last time in 2002 I had to beat the endorsed candidate in a primary. I think so. I can’t quite remember. Its a long time ago. Starting in 2006 I went to my first DFL precinct caucus and felt like a fish out of water although it was more tepid than the GOP waters I had been roiling in previously. That’s when I named the blog.

I was also delighted to hear Abraham Lincoln lauded at a DFL gathering. The GOP has been embarrassed by him ever since Ronald Reagan was elected President. And one of my one of my favorite political memories was attending the 2008 Seventh District convention and seeing so many other Obama supporters. I haven’t attended a DFL precinct caucus for a couple of elections. Its tough on my gills so, at best I’m a compromised Democrat but I am about to attend this weekend’s screening committee to ask Duluth DFLer’s to endorse me for the School Board race. I’ve left a message asking where and when to appear to have my credentials validated.

…………………………WeltyforSchoolBoard.com

Graduation Ceremony – Harry’s Diary

Claudia and I left early Saturday for the Twin Cities with our grandsons. The occasion was the following day’s graduation ceremony for the United Theological Seminary. Claudia joined our son, Robb, as a master hers being a Master of Arts in Religious Leadership degree. Of course, our son expects to jump further ahead at the end of next year with his Doctorate.

On Saturday, in advance of the ceremony, we took the boys to the Minnesota Zoo and checked out the new traveling Australian exhibition with Wallabies and Emus galore. We wandered the Zoo for six hours before retiring to our hotel and an hour in the pool. The next morning we took the boys to the Science Museum in Minneapolis and took in the Omnimax movie about the desolation of the Southeastern Asian reefs. I couldn’t help but think about the decimation of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. I barely read the press yesterday but did note that once again President Trump has come to the rescue of polluters.

It was lovely in the Twin Cities yesterday and while Claudia practiced her graduation rigmarole with peers I walked over to a local playground with the boys for a little diversion before the ceremony began. I took dozens of grainy cellphone pics and woke up today with an urgent request from my brother in law to share them through Facebook. Its one more chore for me to add to my list of to-dos most of them related to ISD 709. A weekend away from Duluth and they are piling up.

Before I’d left for the Cities I was hit up for budgetary info on the District that I had promised and failed to give someone a couple months ago. This morning I discovered a couple of small wildfires burning in the 709’s backyard. I guess there’s no rest for the wicked. And by the way – I plan to send up a third edition of the I won’t wait for 3 years posts. Then, I’ll have to compose a response to a pretty demanding set of questions sent to me by the Denfeld parent’s group on district wide equity. Sometimes being on the Duluth School Board feels like being an electron in a lightening strike. Maybe Claudia’s study of heaven can help me come to terms with this occasional hellishness.

I’ve also ordered a couple more books to add to my list and one of them strays from my reading on the political era my grandfather George Robb was born into Its called “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” It will be a nice follow up to Karl Rove’s book on the first mega-money election for the Presidency in 1896: The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters.

Oh, and a few minutes ago Claudia handed me another book from the mail. Driven Out: The forgotten war against chinese Americans. This is yet another issue that pervaded the America of my Grandfather’s youth. America has long been a land where the Enlightenment’s principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have wrestled with the messy resistance to the “Melting pot.”

A little “flight” reading – The Sage of Emporia

For years I’ve wondered if William Allen White “the Sage of Emporia” ever wrote anything about his fellow Kansan, my Grandfather George Robb. Although I’ve known about him and knew the famous quote about his sagacity for years it took Doris Kearn’s wonderful history Bully Pulpit about Teddy Roosevelt and WH Taft to fill in White’s biography.

That’s because as Kearns researched the book she discovered how closely Teddy was to the many “muckrakers” (Teddy’s description) the dedicated journalists who exposed the many evils of the “Gilded Age.” Teddy was just as effusive as Donald Trump but unlike Trump he was also well informed and a friend of the press and its investigative reporters. White was one of these although, unlike so many others of this era William Allen was a country boy. He retired from the Progressive era and New York to sedate Emporia Kansas where he owned and edited the Emporia Gazette with a national reputation gained in the Roosevelt Years.

Last year, after subscribing to Newspaper.com, I found that White’s Gazette regularly covered my Grandfather’s politics after he was appointed State Auditor of Kansas. Many of the articles mentioned his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but I’ve found nothing that suggests the men rubbed shoulders together which was a bit of a disappointment. But last Fall I discovered White’s name in a letter sent to my Grandfather by his closes brother, Bruce, while George Robb was hospitalized after the War.

“Uncle Bruce” mentioned in his letter that he had just read William Allen White’s short book about the War, “The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me” to better understand what trench warfare had been like. Well, I had to read that. I found it online as its now in the Public Domain. I printed it out and decided this trip to Florida was the prefect time to read it through.

White wrote the book when he and the editor/owner of the Wichita Beacon were asked to check out the theater of war by the American Red Cross just after Congress declared war. White was in France during the time my Grandfather volunteered and began his training.

Its a light read and it gave me some wonderful context. I’ll mention two such items:

White writes: “‘In the English papers the list of dead begins ‘Second lieutenant, unless otherwise designated.’ And in the war zone the second lieutenants are known as ‘The suicides’ club.'” Then White proceeded to explain why. My Grandfather was a second lieutenant.

White describes meeting an English mother of two children whose husband is in recovery after losing an arm and a shoulder. He suggests somewhat indelicately that her husband should get a good education and become a typist. When she says they couldn’t afford for him to go to school White reports his reply to her: “That’s too bad–now in our country education, from the primer to the university, is absolutely free. The state does the whole business and in my state they print the school books, and more than that they give a man a professional education, too, without tuition fees–if he wants to become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a chemist or a school teacher!”

As my Grandfather began his education in Kansas and became a teacher in Kansas and was chosen to be a principal in Kansas only to turn down the promotion for the trenches, I found White’s assessment of public education one hundred years ago fascinating.

Ripped (off) from the headlines

I twitted Wrenshall a couple posts ago so this post might be viewed as excessive harassment which I don’t mean to inflict. However, that post jogged the memory of an omniscient friend who sent me this clipping of the small unwitting part Wrenshall played 56 years ago in the promotion of the cinematic treatment of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. I was but ten years old at the time.

BTW – My son was born in 1984. He was a little brother.

Books that count

I just polished off my seventh book of the year and entered it on my reading list online. I set Destiny of the Republic aside a couple times to read books on China to Claudia and fuss with school board and family but whenever I picked it up it read fast and furious.

I seem likely to set a new second place – ten books in a year – since I began recording my serious reading. That first year 1979, was in the aftermath of losing a teaching job, losing my second race for the legislature and my discovery that I didn’t have it in me to sell life insurance. Instead, I decided to try once again to teach history and intended to do so by reading it. I began substitute teaching and the Assistant Superintendent made it a point to tell me that those subs who brought books to read to our substitute jobs weren’t serious about our work. It was one more example of someone failing to read my mind.

Vanity compels me to explain what I treat as a “serious book” and how such books get on my list. I’ve read a lot of children’s books but I don’t include them on my list. For instance, I’ve read all seven of the Harry Potter Books to Claudia and, with the exception of the final book, read them to her twice. They are perfectly serious books but they don’t count. I will count adult novels but I haven’t read a lot of them. Non fiction is my thing and I only include books that I’ve read cover to cover. I will leave an unread book like “Mr. Speaker” unfinished for years before adding them to the list. That one finally made this year.

I have two other partially completed histories I suspect I will finish this year. American Lion is about Andrew Jackson and I have another book on Presidents Monroe and Madison before they achieved the nation’s highest office. As with the Old Testament, which I finished a few months ago, much of this reading preceded this year. I also have two other political books waiting in the wing and one on World War I, but I may wait to dig into them until I get back from China on August 3rd. I’ve got to start a campaign for reelection and I’ve got half a dozen books on China that I’m reading to Claudia. Some of them may never make my list of completed books because I’m not that attached to the thought of reading them cover to cover. I’m 80 pages into a fat little general history of China but I suspect I’ll abandon it long before the Cultural Revolution because I’m already pretty familiar with that period. Ditto, the book Idiot’s Guide to Chinese. Sampling that will be sufficient and I hate reminding myself that I’m a school board member. Which reminds me…….

One of my recently retired idiot colleagues has recently been telling folks that our current school board is behaving badly and I have little doubt that she’s talking about me. With advertising like that I’ll have to hustle to win re-election.

I do aspire to more, which leaves me with one indelible memory from the book I just finished tonight. James Garfield was one of the most decent human beings ever to sit in the White House. He was so virtuous that his lingering two-month long death drove the most corrupt Vice President we ever elected, Chester A. Arthur, to reform himself and institute the far reaching reform of Civil Service which put an end to a crass system of political spoils in the national government.

The only similar example I can think of was LBJ’s passage of Civil Right’s legislation in the wake of John Kennedy’s assassination. Lucky for Chester there was no war being waged simultaneously. As one of his corrupt old political cronies explained it: “He ain’t ‘Chet Arthur’ any more. He’s the President.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say the same of Donald Trump?

Indian ghosts

I just keep adding more books to my reading list. The lastest is Killers of the Flower Moon. I’ve been catching reports on Public Radio for a presentation this week at the Fitzgerald Theater by its author David Grann.

The book is about the murders of Osage Indians which took place south of Kansas in Oklahoma about the time my Dad was born. I’ve never heard of them but I’ve always been fascinated by Oklahoma because of its eccentric ties to the South during the Civil War. When Andrew Jackson removed the Indians from the South in the winter of the Trail of Tears they took their African-American slaves with them. Ironically they had been civilized enough to adopt America’s slave tradition. When the Civil War broke out they looked at it as an opportunity to throw off Union control and sided with the same southerern slave holders that had removed them from the South.

The ex-slave Larry Lapsley, who had a farm next to my Grandfather after escaping from Texas had to travel at night through Oklahoma to avoid being caught by the slave owning Indians of the territory and being sent back.

My eight loyal readers know I’ve devoted a lot of space to Civil Rights in the blog tilted almost exclusively to African-Americans. However, I’ve never been in doubt about the treatment of Native Americans. I always wince on the Fourth of July when PBS reads the full Declaration of Independence and gets to this line about the wrongs of King George:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Reading about this book opens up another haunting tie to my past. I’ve often written that when I was in sixth grade I was a minority white kid in Mr. Ross’s class although just barely. It was a 15/15 white/black split with one Native American kid added to make minorities of all of us. Sammy was an Osage Indian and new to Loman Hill Elementary so I really never got to know him since I moved to Minnesota at the end of my sixth grade year. He was a quiet kid.

White Kansas had a long history with both black and Indian populations. My Grandmother Ruth Welty’s great-grandparents were saved by a black woman, Black Ann Shatio, when they crossed over into Kansas from Missouri. (I just found this link today while looking for a reference from the Kansas Historical Society. Jerry Engler would be my shirt tail relative). Kansas also contributed a Vice President Charles Curtis to the United State. He was three quarters Native American. And of course my mother’s father, George Robb roamed around on land well traveled by Indians. A month ago I wrote that I had probably lost the arrowheads he collected on his farm in Assaria, Kansas, when I sent them off for a grandson’s show and tell. Hooray, they were rediscovered and returned. Here they are:

Vice President Curtis was one-quarter Osage and I can’t help but wonder if he makes an appearance in the Flower Moon although he was a Kansan not an Oklahoman. The Osage were one of the minor tribes who were moved to Oklahoma and you can see by this map of their reservation they lived adjacent to Kansas.

One of my Mother’s great-grandfather’s, Joseph Freemong McLatchey, lined up to race across the Oklahoma border in 1905 in hopes of claiming a piece of the territory only to find the land already occupied by “sooners.” He ruined his daughter’s prize horse in the attempt and remained in Kansas.

In the map above you can see where I was born – Arkansas City, Kansas. I remember hearing a local tell a “funny” story about the Oklahoma Indians after they struck oil on the once worthless land they imprisoned in. It seems one Osage, bought a car with his unexpected wealth and drove it around until it stopped moving a day or two later. Then he went out and bought another. He didn’t understand that cars needed gas.

According to the Flower Moon book the Osage’s white neighbors didn’t just make jokes about the Indians. They did their best to steal the oil for themselves by poisoning and shooting the unlucky Osage. Exposing these murders was the making of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI which uncovered 24 murders. Grann’s research suggests that this was just the tip of the iceberg. There may have been over a hundred. An Osage historian said that today there is hardly an Osage descendant that didn’t lose a relative to the murders of the 1920’s. I wonder if Sammy was quiet because he was haunted by ghosts.

I recently mentioned that one of my grandson’s had some Choctaw blood. They were another of the Native American tribes that were removed to Oklahoma.

Beezus and the code talkers

Beverly Cleary was six days shy of turning one year’s old when the United States Congress voted to go to war against Germany and join World War 1. She turned 101 two days ago and I was greatly surprised to learn of her age. Her Books about Beezus and Ramona were read to our children and, had I been a reader myself, I would no doubt have read them in grade school. She published her first children’s book in 1950 as I was finishing up my gestation. I was 41 when I published mine. The less said about that the better.

I made sure to watch all three episodes of PBS’s American Experience on the Great War Monday through Wednesday. It was an excellent series. You can watch it here.

I knew that my Grandfather’s Infantry Regiment would be highlighted and so on the second night I waited eagerly to see if the historian Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons would be interviewed. I was not at all surprised, but delighted none-the-less, when he made his first of several appearances to talk about the role of African-American soldiers. I texted him my congratulations and he texted back that he had only a limited role in the production.

Dr. Sammons wrote The authoritative book on the Harlem Hellfighters or as he corrected the Harlem Rattlers which is what they called themselves. I’ve mentioned him a couple of times on the blog because he was commissioned to do some research on my Grandfather for a speech he delivered on Leap Day last year. (which launched my current drive to write a book about him.)

On Wednesday night I had my grandson’s over and let them watch the first few minutes of the last installment before they headed off to bed. The next morning I was able to tell my older Grandson, who has a little Choctaw inheritance, something that was new to me. The Americans found their cable telephone lines tapped into by the Germans who could listen in on their planning and thwart their plans of attack. When one American officer overheard two Choctaw troops speaking in their first language he asked them what they were doing. Both of the Choctaws froze expecting to be reprimanded. One recalled going to a school where the teachers washed children’s mouths out with soap for not speaking in English. Instead the officer put them on the telephones to confound the Germans.

I had known about “code talkers” in the Second world war but this was new. Not even the Army forgets a good idea.

More books I’m reading

I’m not sure where I read Richard Rubin’s promo/review of the PBS series on the Great War but its conclusion mentioned several of the books he had written of which two were about the Great War. That has been a subject of great fascination for me since childhood but it was another of his books that caught my attention. The review had a convenient link (which I can not immediately find) to his first book chronicling how he took his Ivy League History degree and got a job back in the 1980’s reporting on local sports for a Mississippi backwater newspaper. Confederacy of Silence : A True Tale of the New Old South is a New York Jewish kids memory of learning about the race issue in Mississippi in the modern era.

I sensed a kindred spirit so I checked out this books on the Great War. One particularly intrigued me. Mr.Rubin wrote a book about wandering over those the French battlefields: Back Over There. I could think of nothing to better prepare me for a similar expedition. I did mention the idea to Claudia. She told me to check it out. I ordered the book.

I would much rather spend this summer reading up on history than going door to door campaigning for the School Board. I’ll have to do both so if I must give up something it will just have to be sleep.

And for now the books are split between turn of the century American politics and China. One of the big fat Chinese histories I’ve been reading to Claudia started sounding a bit repetitive so I pulled a book that had been collecting dust to try out. It’s a “charming” tale about they young Mao Tse-Tung. That’s how one reviewer described it. And it is, which is a bit surprising considering Mao’s blood drenched record.

I found the paperback a quarter century ago and the title was irresistible to me: Mao Tse-tung and I were Beggars. Back in the day I paid $1.95 for it. Amazon lists it for $30.00. It was written by a student who went with his younger colleague, Mao, on a sight-seeing tour of China in the teens of the Twentieth Century.

The beginning of the book describes a headstrong boy who nags his resistant father into letting him go to primary school. Mao’s friend, the author of the book, describes how a hulking 15-year old Mao, looking every bit the peasant that he was, barged into the new primary academy for boys half his age and pleaded to be allowed to learn despite heckling he endured from the much smaller students.

The original book was published in 1959 when I was nine years old. That was ten years after Mao and company took over the mainland and the same year that Fidel Castro was posing as not necessarily a commie in his take over of Cuba. Like Donald Trump Fidel had imagined a career playing for the New York Yankees so he didn’t seem like too big a threat. He had his own set of fans who, like Mao’s biographer, did their best to allay American fears.

Speaking of threats, I sure hope the Chinese don’t treat me like a United Airlines passenger when I arrive. I’ve read they are burning up the Internet with outrage over this example of what they consider profiling.

Principles before Principals – The rush to war

I’m two days late mentioning the centenary of America’s entry into World War 1. For the next 20 or so months I’ll be reminding myself of my Grandfather’s service in that war. Maybe I’ll even write a book about him which will cover the subject. I just peaked into the news clippings I printed out from Newspaper.com earlier in the year and the first mention of his joining the service that I found was August 11th of 1917 in the Salina Evening Journal. Two weeks later the Topeka Daily Capital published a story that should have made the folks at Great Bend, Kansas burst their buttons with pride. The Capital reports that, “Every man on the teaching staff last year with the exception of the City Superintendent has been accepted in one of the two training camps.” Among the new volunteers was my Grandfather George S. Robb.

That had not been my Grandfather’s prewar plan. There was a short announcement in the Salina Daily Union a month earlier on June 4. “Mr.[George]Robb taught in the Iola High school the past season and will be the principal of the Great Bend high school next year.”

All the books I’ve been reading to Claudia about China must have put her travel bug into high gear. We’re still a hundred days before we fly off to China but she asked me where we ought to go next. I teased her about getting ahead of ourselves but it occurs to me that I’ve always wanted to tromp around the battlefields near Sechault, France. September of 2018 would be the hundredth anniversary of the actions at that village that led to the awarding of his Congressional Medal of Honor. That would be a sweet little trip.

An ounce of prevention

I’m just shy of half way through Destiny of the Republic. Garfield has had one bit of luck before derangement wins the day. His self-appointed tormentor Senator Conkling, a preening bully of a man, has just overplayed his hand right out of the United States Senate. What should be the path to well deserved reform and fame for the President will soon give way to what I found when I moved to North Mankato in 1963. Oblivion.

That fall I began three ignominious years at Garfield Junior High. No one called it that. It was always “North Mankato Junior High” the martyred President having been all but forgotten in the intervening 84 years. Within three months of my enrollment a fourth President would be assassinated.

Destiny has done a wonderful job of describing Garfield’s addled assassin Charles Guiteau. The Congress had made Garfield all the new President all the more vulnerable by cutting the Secret Service’s budget by half shortly before Garfield took office. Their job wasn’t to protect the President anyway back then. They were set up to go after counterfeiters.

Lincoln had been murdered fifteen years before. William McKinley would be murdered twenty years later and Teddy Roosevelt would be saved the same fate when a fat little speech in his breast pocket stopped a bullet not long afterwards. It was a bad run of luck for Republican Presidents.

I mentioned the importance of perspective in the last post. I am annoyed by the vast unexpected sums that are being required to protect our new President and his globe hopping family. There has been a whole raft of news stories on that subject. I have little choice but to support what it takes to keep our President safe. I’m pinning my hopes on impeachment but until then I am relying on Seth Meyers.

Snakepits

I was desperate not to sit at home all day and read and a Park Point walk beckoned. It was a little breezy on the shore when I started so I moved to the inland trail and found this little garter snake. I think this is only the second time since I moved to Duluth 43 years ago that I’ve seen a snake. I found a redbelly snake with my kids up by the Pigeon River when they were little. I think I took a picture, or tried to, of that one as well.

I know gartersnakes are not uncommon because Claudia told me Minnesota Power had troubles at sub stations when garters overwintered in them in huge groups and occasionally slithered into the works and shorted out whole neighborhoods.

Speaking of snake-pits the latest history of Republicans, Destiny of the Republic describes the war between “Stalwarts” and “Halfbreeds.” The halfbreeds were sort of the equivalent of today’s RINO’s and like them their nickname wasn’t one of their choosing. While both sides of the party were ungenerous to the South the Stalwarts were all big business and Spoils system oriented.

The Halfbreeds would ebb and wane they gravitated towards all manner of populist parties in the decades ahead but in 1880 when the Party nominated James Garfield it was the Halfbreeds who had the upper hand. I should have been so lucky.

This is a ripping good book and its author, Candice Millard, also wrote another highly regarded book that I’ve often thought would be interesting to read, “The River of Doubt.” That one is about Teddy Roosevelt’s near suicidal exploration of a tributary of the Amazon after he lost the 1912 three way race that put Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office. As my eight loyal readers no doubt recall I’m in the midst of reading books about the politics of my Grandfather’s youth. I have wondered for years whether my Grandfather supported the liberalish Teddy Roosevelt or William H. Taft who the conservatives found more acceptable in that race. I have my suspicions but I’m looking for something definitive – maybe I’ll find it in the many letters I copied and brought back from the Kansas Historical Society but have yet to dig into.

Reading these books is helping me put the 2016 election in perspective. My early years during the Cold War were a time of relative restraint once Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy was humiliated out of politics. There is something in people that drives them to divide themselves up and blow their differences of opinion out of all proportion.

A few days ago I reread the 22nd Amendment to check on the limits of Presidents. I couldn’t recall if it only forbade Presidents from serving a consecutive third term or any third term. I was wondering if Obama could serve a non-consecutive term like Grover Cleveland did after our four years of Trump are over. Sadly, that’s it for Obama. The Republicans who were outraged by FDR’s 4 consecutive terms got the 22nd Amendment passed in March 24, 1947, two years after Franklin Roosevelt’s death.

What I’ve learned from my recent reading is how often presidents in my Grandfather’s Era flirted with a third term. Teddy did, Wilson did and Ulysses S. Grant was willing to serve a third term as well. Lots of Republicans in the Reagan years wished the 22nd Amendment had never passed.

False Memories

I finished yet another book today, Mr. Speaker. Its the second book covering American politics leading up to my very Republican Grandfather’s adulthood.

Thomas Reed is described by some as one of the most important politicians that American’s have never heard of. He was a loyal Republican (hence the tie to my Grandfather) and he is famous for fixing the House of Representatives which had descended into a long Era of gridlock following the Civil War. In many ways the two political parties have changed markedly since then. Reed for his part resigned because he opposed the Spanish American War. That put him at odds with most of America at the time and his own Republicans.

I was interested in his expertise with Parliamentary procedure which is something that was missing at School Board meetings in my first couple of years back on the School Board. On Deck, Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard about the assassinated James Garfield, which will probably be followed by Karl Rove’s history of “the first modern presidential campaign” in 1896 that elected William McKinley who also was stopped by an assassin’s bullet.

Oh, and I almost forgot the title of this post – “False memories.” I wrote a couple of years ago that I’d first read about Thomas Reed in John Kennedy’s 1955 classic “Profiles in Courage.” As I finished Grant’s book on Reed today I was very curious to reread what JFK had to say about Reed’s courage. I found the paperback I’d re-read in 1995 (its on my reading list) and discovered in its heavily yellow-markered and separating pages that JFK made no mention of Reed in Profiles. I checked the index – nada. I skimmed a couple chapters of that Era to see if he was mentioned. No way.

Dammit!

Ideas when they are like mosquitoes

I’ve been spilling my thoughts out the past couple days with the same sort of orderliness one slaps oneself while standing in a swarm of mosquitoes. Reading four non-fiction books in short order has only added to the swarm of ideas that I’ve been swatting at. The 1920 Book has taken me through the GOP’s Chicago convention and dropped me off in San Francisco about to follow the Democrat’s quagmire. The book on China today left me with a rebuttal of sorts to my recent suggestion that a China that can’t take a joke (or criticism) can’t hope to surpass America. In fact, the last chapter described a millennial who has been dissing Chinese culture and politics for eight years and has a huge following on the Internet. Of course, the Chinese Communists are now insisting on choosing Hong Kong’s new leader twenty years after Britain handed its old colony back to the Mainland. (Claudia reminded me that we were in England with our kids when that took place.)

Today, I hope to get two things done. I’d like to read some more about 1920 America. In much the same way that visiting Israel last year put a match under my toes to finally read the Old Testament I’m getting more serious about reading good historical books about every decade from my Grandfather’s birth in 1887 until my youth when he advised me never to vote for a Democrat.

To that end I have a number of books I’d like to dig into. Next I may read the rest of Mr. Speaker. I only got through the first 79 pages of the 378 page tome five or six years ago…wait…Ah my search engine found it….three years ago. Thomas B. Reed brought order to chaos during the Gilded Age taking an unruly House of Representatives, not unlike today’s, and putting it to good use before its members spit him out like a prune pit. This was a time when America had relatively weak Presidents and the Robber Barons were in charge. Reed has always interested me since Junior High when I read John Kennedy’s spare history Profiles in Courage and saw Reed awarded one of JFK’s nominations for greatness.

The other thing I’d like to do is find the bass parts for tomorrow’s sing-a-long at St. Scholastica. They are on the Internet and I’d like to get in a little practice. I have the sheet music but I learn better by ear.

I also have to add one more post about another difficulty the old Red Plan school board has placed on the current board’s shoulders. That’s next.

Keeping one’s perspective while confronting local and national crisis

Tonight I plan to attend a fun event at Denfeld, its annual Speech “Concert.” This will be easier for me because Claudia will be home late tonight after returning from her Seminary classes in the Twin Cities. I figure this will help remind me that I have some responsibilities here in Duluth and can’t spend all my time dismayed by National events. Likewise on Saturday I plan to attend the second annual Bringthesing event up at St. Scholastica. I had a great time singing there last year.

Its not as though I can escape, or want to escape, my concerns as a school board member. Yesterday I had two long conversations regarding the District’s future, upcoming elections, and the issue I raised at the end of the last school Board meeting – how we might face the possibility of searching out new leadership should that be our lot. Its just that I feel at times like a soldier in a trench with an oncoming tank to the front and an airplane strafing the trench coming from the side. Somehow I have to prepare for both simultaneously.

(please excuse this pause – my hungry yellow cat Moloch just jumped on my desk to let me know he’s hungry. I’ll have to give him false hope that I will feed him by rushing downstairs and then shutting the door on him when he follows me out. Otherwise he’ll bop my hand for the next hour until I’m ready to oblige him)

Sorry Moloch.

I’d like to pontificate about this NY Times column by Nicholas Kristoff: “There is a Smell of Treason in the Air”

In one of my conversations an old timer said the times we are living in are just like the 1960’s. Well, my truncated Paranoia series had that idea in mind and raised that thought but compared today’s headlines with the 1920’s. Or maybe we are revising the 1940’s movie Casablanca . Remember when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) said: “…I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”? Well, my hill of beans is the Duluth Schools and it does count.

BTW I found the quote in this site devoted to the best lines of dialogue in the movie. This is one of Hollywood’s greatest movies. I recently read that during the Movie’s flashback scene of the Germans marching into Paris one of the cast members, who was there when it really happened, burst out in uncontrollable sobs at the memory during the shoot. Also, evil Major Strasser in the movie was Conrad Veidt who in real life had escaped Nazi Germany before taking on the role. There were many other refugees from Europe on the set as actors and extras adding gravitas to the movie’s completion.

As for the nefarious treason that columnist Kristof writes about; he take his readers back to 1968 when friends of the Nixon campaign lobbied to delay a peace settlement in Vietnam. Kristof notes that it has been confirmed in the last month that Richard Nixon ordered the attempt. There have been no smoking guns until now. I agree that this was far more heinous than the Watergate Break-in that cost Nixon the Presidency. I feel obligated to pursue the Trump/Putin inquiries with a vengeance and thank God for Trump’s “loser” Senator John McCain for arguing that Congress isn’t fit/suited to conduct such an inquiry. To paraphrase Heraclitus, “the only thing that doesn’t change is change.”

Oh my head is full….ouch, ouch, ouch.

Time for me to go back to 1920 where a crowded field of Republican Presidential candidates (Just as in 2016) is about to give way to a second rater, albeit a “kind” man – Warren G. Harding.

Oh, and there’s this from the Trib today on Denfeld High School. Its an initiative I support but without the additional financing that I want the school to have. I’m still working on that.

And I just remembered one more item that has me thinking. Its one more bit of evidence that helps explain the Trump vote. Its about the reversal of the long time trend toward longer lives. White people seem to be dying of despair. They aren’t dying in socialized Europe. Maybe we can thank the Republican nanny state fighters.

Paranoia Pt 4 China’s turn….Aw to heck with this topic.

In Chinese the character for “Crisis” is the combination of the symbols for danger & opportunity. I once asked a friend to draw the character for me for use in my old Website.

While Claudia cooked me lunch I continued reading from the Book Age of Ambition. Its chapter 9 echoed the threatened paranoia of Post World War One America.

Ah, but I have twenty minutes to get to tonight’s school board meeting. I’ll continue this later. We had a calm meeting. I’ll let Loren comment on it in a week or two if he wishes. Chair Kirby was very pleased it only took three hours. I was glad to get home in time two watch most of “The Americans.” Its a Cold War tale on Russian spies in Reagan America in its fourth season. Its hard to believe that looking back it was more reassuring to have Brezhnev in charge of Russia then than Putin in charge today. Of course the Ruskie’s themselves are now looking back to the murderous Stalin with nostalgia. I can almost forgive some addled Americans for cheering on Trump today – almost! Now back to the China of today.

China today is surging ahead in fast forward while the US seems to be circling some drain like the Romans on the cusp of the Gothic invasions.

Aw crud. Yesterday I woke up in a lather to write about Paranoia from several perspectives. Now, 24 hours later, I don’t so much have writer’s block as I do thick fingers that lost hold of a thread. [My Buddy] replied to the second Paranoia post with one word, “Oy.” I don’t blame him. So I am crawling out of this tangle of tangents that have lost their urgency. I gladly leave them to my eight loyal readers as proof of my limitations. Just understand that I believe ignorance and paranoia go hand in hand and I’ve been reading about several histories which have reinforced that conclusion for me.

If you want to see what I just typed as my thought process lost its steam you are welcome to waste your time reading them. Continue reading

Paranoia Pt 3 Sacco and Vanzetti

Last night I read something new about an old legal case that had liberals undies in a bunch back in my college days. Sacco and Vanzetti were two anarchists who were found guilty of murder and executed in 1927. Their convictions raised hackles then and on until today with many advocates saying one of them at least was almost certainly innocent. A similar advocacy for with wife of Julius Rosenberg continued until recent years.

Chapter 9 of 1920 was all about the excesses of the nation’s police in deporting dangerous foreigners from America during our enthusiasm for making the world safe for democracy. While I was looking up news stories for my grandfather from the years he enlisted to fight in World War I kept smiling at a series of stories about the patriotism of the Swedish community of Lindsborg near my Grandfather’s home in Kansas. It was painfully obvious that the Kansas Swedes were taking great pains to prove they weren’t disloyal Germans. It was doubly ironic to me because my Grandfather’s German-American mother had said she didn’t wan’t her sons to marry any dirty Swedish girls from Lindsborg. Obviously it was my Grandfather’s lineage that should have come under closer scrutiny when he volunteered. His soon to be Sister-in-law had to give up teaching German in deference to America’s surge toward nationalism.

It would be impossible for me not to think of today’s America while reading about my Grandfather’s America. And yet…

The “new information” about Sacco and Vanzetti in David Pietrusza’s 2007 book was from a book written by Paul Avrich published in 1991. In a nod to another historian Pietrusza said of Avrich that he was the “foremost expert” on the case. He then said that Avrich had determined who placed the humongous bomb on Wall Street that killed thirty people including banking magnate J.P. Morgan’s secretary. The last I’d heard that identity was still unknown after a hundred years.

In fact, the entire chapter was eye opening when it came to the ruthlessness of our government’s rooting out suspect people and detailing the extent of anarchist’s (that Era’s terrorists) bomb throwing extravagance. As is the case today, it made American’s paranoid in an all too familiar way.

I’m now persuaded to believe that Sacco and Vanzetti were bad guys. I am heartened that even then, 97 years ago, such luminaries as eventual Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, argued that the government’s heavy-handedness was wrong. The days of Trump will be limited too. Yes, their will be Breitbarts calling out the dogs of war and yes, there will be bad guys who aren’t caught. This is history come to life, or at least to reincarnation.

“Best of Enemies” – Still a good movie 55 years on

I have mentioned the old David Niven flick Best of Enemies half a dozen times now in the blog. It is not to be confused with the more recent movie chronicaling the several decade-long feud between conservative icon William F. Buckley and his liberal alter-ego Gore Vidal.

Well, as with the Coach Klar posts my recollections proved faulty. The Italian and British soldiers did switch sides being captors and prisoners but there were no German Armies that brought them together. Their battles took place in an even more remote theater of the African War than the Sahara. This story was placed in Ethiopia. After years of looking for the movie I discovered over the weekend that someone uploaded it to youtube in the last year. Its free to watch although it was broken up into two halves. I presume this was done to more easily upload it.

The movie came out in 1961 when I was ten and I’m sure that when I watched it on television it was in black and white and cut down from the letterbox format to a squarish size to fit on our old tv.

There was an third force that upended the Brits and the Italians but it wasn’t the Wehrmacht. It was the Ethiopians themselves. In case anyone is inclined to search it out I won’t offer any further spoilers.

I enjoyed the movie this time too but I enjoyed it as much for its historical perspective. In the real war there would have been no love lost between the two European powers but by 1960 Great Britain and Italy were allies not enemies. You see much the same generosity of spirit in American movies set in post war Japan that were filmed in that Era. The old hostilities were being smoothed over even though plenty of American And British soldiers had deep scars from their encounters with the Japanese and other members of the Axis.

On the day that President Trump will give his first speech to Congress…

… I was fixing old posts. One of them was this short post from JANUARY 23, 2012. Richard Nixon’s simple explanation for why America should have two political parties reaching for the center instead of the periphery demonstrates the wisdom he had and that he ignored in order to become President in 1968.

Today the Bernie Sander’s diehards are hoping to do to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party did to the Republican Party. Break it.

From that post:

In 1959, Vice-President Nixon, speaking to members of California’s Commonwealth Club, was asked if he’d like to see the parties undergo an ideological realignment, the sort that has since taken place, and he replied, “I think it would be a great tragedy . . . if we had our two major political parties divide on what we would call a conservative-liberal line.” He continued, “I think one of the attributes of our political system has been that we have avoided generally violent swings in Administrations from one extreme to the other. And the reason we have avoided that is that in both parties there has been room for a broad spectrum of opinion.” Therefore, “when your Administrations come to power, they will represent the whole people rather than just one segment of the people.”