Category Archives: Books

Mao

My Mother gave me one of these t-shirts back in the 70’s. Now I’m reading two books out-loud to Claudia that I’ve had for years, in one case two decades, about the man who’s name inspired this pun – Mao Tse Tung.

The older book I found in a used book shop. It was published when I was nine years old in 1959. That was ten years after Mao drove out the Nationalists leading to cries in America of, “who lost China?” and two years before Mao’s agricultural revolution starved twenty to forty million Chinese to death. It was possible then to imagine Mao as a benign nationalist which seems to be the point of author Siao Yu in his reminiscence When Mao an I were Beggars.

The other book was initially lauded as the first authoritative tell-all of Mao’s depredations. Later commentators cautioned that its author, Jung Chang, went overboard blaming every Chinese catastrophe solely on Mao. She’s a great writer. I read her family history Wild Swans to Claudia a couple years ago. She knows China well.

I’m half way through the gentle tale of a month in Mao’s life living as a beggar with the older Siao Yu with whom he had a teacher/student relationship. Written over forty years after their 1917 experiment in poverty, Siao Yu does his best to portray the young Mao as an inquisitive but dogmatic companion on the brusque side. The writing is a little pokey and I’ve taken to alternating a chapter of this book with Jung Chang’s history of Mao.

The latter book is a 600 page monster and so far I’m only up to the early years of Chinese Communism. Its interesting to see the scheming authoritarian emerge from the truculent young nationalist that Mao started off as. Mao’s begging took place in 1917 the year my Grandfather Robb was fighting in France. Mao, the communist war lord, was gadding about Yunan Province with an army of 3,000 in 1928 when my Mother was born.

As for me, I was trying to defend the Chinese “Cultural Revolution” to my gymnastics coach in 1966 while waiting for a bus to take me back to North Mankato, Minnesota. That was seven years after the Begging book and about the time that its author Yu, broke with his old begging buddy.

Today Mao’s posters live on. In six weeks I will see his hanging over Tiananmen Square, a tribute from a Party that has otherwise distanced itself from his legacy of keeping China backward and stupid. It seems that its America’s turn to emulate that failed legacy.

Lifehouse CHUMS and their alter egocentrics

I gave up trying to fall back asleep at 3 and padded downstairs to read the third chapter of Dark Money. The first two chapters gave me the background of the 800 pound gorillas of the big money movement to turn us back to the Middle Ages. They covered the Kochs and Richard Mellon Scaife. The third covered both the Olin Foundation and Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation. This book is reminding me of forty years worth of sporadic reports and tying them into a comprehensible bow. I certainly believed there was something behind Hillary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy” and this book lifts the veil. The “conspiracy” is all perfectly legal or at least legalish and court rulings like Citizens’s United have vastly if I dare use that adverb, enhanced the power of the big spenders.

I dimly recalled a news story about about some rich guy, (it was Richard Mellon Scaife) putting up a sign in his neighborhood announcing the loss of his dog and wife and offering a reward for the dog. But now I know more about this bonvivant. His rich and conservative Grandfather, Andrew Mellon, was the Secretary of the Treasury for all three Republican Presidents of the 1920’s. He also was a prolific tax cheat and his grandson took up his motto, “Give tax breaks to large corporations, so that money can trickle down to the general public, in the form of extra jobs.”

This philosophy makes for an interesting contrast to last night’s fundraiser for Life House which takes care of discarded young people. Scaife and his silky ilk generally decry coddling the weak putting a much higher premium on protecting the assets of America’s aristocrats. The hundred’s of million Scaife donated to “charity” largely went to maintain his and other rich folks wealth not to the needy.

Claudia and I sat down with some of the people she has been working with at the CHUM homeless Center. Spending the last few months checking people in has been eye opening for her. Seeing someone released from a hospital near death’s door looking for a place to sleep on the floor has a way of impressing itself on the imagination. A young couple sitting next to us volunteer at Life House as I did three years ago. We were a jolly crowd. Our speaker Famous Dave of Rib fame gave a rousing talk and I learned he was half Choctaw, a much larger percentage of that tribe’s heritage than my grandson has but enough for me to some kinship with the Rib Master.

I suspect the billionaires club would consider the Rib magnate an exception to their rule. Milwaukee’s Bradley Foundation financed the infamous 1994 book the “Bell Curve” which posited that blacks were intellectually inferior to white folk. Indians probably didn’t fare much better in the analysis.

There is no end to the unpleasantness emanating from Milwaukee. Its not just my old nemesis Johnson Controls, its Governor Tommy Thompson’s call to make poor people work for their welfare while Republicans happily outsourced decent factory jobs overseas. (Bill “Triangulation” Clinton latched onto both of these planks for his Presidency.) Its also the Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker, union buster extraordinaire and Koch Brother favorite. Its also a dreamscape for Secretary of Education Besty DeVos’s world of public education vouchers. I wonder where Billionaires fit on the Bell curve?

Famous Dave, who is a generous contributor to the needy, showed us pictures of his vast and messy library. He told us he reads for hours every day and gives his faithful reading credit for the half-billion-a-year enterprise he built off of a $10,000 business loan. That’s quite a contrast with our current President who can barely squeak through a teleprompter but then again, Trump inherited his start in life. I’m afraid Trump gives billionaires a bad name but the Koch’s are stoked. It was reported today that they are following up their $800 million investment in the 2016 election with a $300 million push to pass Trump’s tax decreases on the wealthy and ending the estate tax before Trump’s impeachment after which the GOP might be hard pressed to help the filthy rich.

A problem book

My Buddy metaphorically rolled his eyes over this story in the DNT about parents who wish to remove a young adult book by author Sherman Alexie from eighth grade assignments. His comment: “The **** with which school boards have to deal.”

Yup. I haven’t had to deal with a book banning since 1996, the year I was first elected to the School Board. (We left it, “War Comes to Willie Freeman,” in the library.) At issue this time is the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Written by Sherman Alexie in 2007, the young adult novel has been the subject of parental criticism and the target of school bans in other districts, but has also been the winner of numerous awards and the recipient of praise by many educators and parents. I read it to Claudia a couple years ago and found it very honest, funny and engaging.

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 “Minnesota Rag”

On the Flight back I finished up William Allen White’s book and then began the book “Minnesota Rag” by Fred Friendly

I bought the book two years ago at the suggestion of one of Art Johnston’s attorneys. It too is short and fascinating. I was especially drawn to Friendly’s comments on “defamation” which I have occasionally been accused of being guilty of myself. And by the way, accusations of defamation are themselves defamatory. Counting this post the word has shown up nine times to date in the blog.

Chapter 9 outlines the arguments made to the U.S. Supreme Court by the attorney for the “Minnesota Rag” (the Saturday Press). Quoting Blackstone the attorney argued that “Every person does have a constitutional right to publish malicious, scandalous and defamatory matter, though untrue and with bad motives and for unjustifiable ends.” There can be, however, a penalty for such “free” speech – a libel suit.

I found another sentence even more arresting: “…every legitimate newspaper in the country regularly and customarily publishes defamation, as it has a right to in criticizing government agencies.”

Defaming someone doesn’t necessarily mean lying about them. I hadn’t thought of this before but it makes perfect sense. People who do infamous things would be defamed if their actions were described in news stories. And if a newspaper simply repeated an accusation of infamous behavior this too would be defamation whether true or not. The News Tribune repeatedly reported that poor old Art Johnston was accused of making racist statements and had conflicts of interest. The accusations had no merit but reporting the accusations over and over was perfectly legitimate.

Although they were not sued for libel most of Art’s accusers paid a price for Art’s defamation – by retiring from the Duluth School Board.

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?

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.

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!

Chinese Bibliophiles

Again. A weekend with plenty of thinking and very little posting. Actually on Friday I spent a couple hours writing in an attempt to tie my reading on China today with America’s Gilded Age that I’ve also been reading about. One quick take away – plutocrats were a dime a dozen in both times and places. Another take away. American Government was in shambles. Is that true of one party China today? There certainly is a lot of order in Confucian China but there is much that is also unsettled. Anyway, I spent another couple hours tinkering with Friday’s work on Saturday before shelving it. I might post a vastly shrunken post on it later.

As for the rest of Saturday. I devoted it to China.

I long ago discovered that China was the other half of world history. I have a good handle on everything else but the Chinese language makes it hard for Chinese names to take seed in my brain.

I began keeping track of my serious book reading in 1979 when I read by far the largest number of books in a single year -30 of them. I’m not sure I’ve ever read as much as ten books in subsequent years. I occasionally bought books on China but I rarely got around to reading them. I got 53 pages into “A Short History of the Chinese People.” Taking it out again Saturday to see what I had previously yellowed out with a marker I found this:

“…Wang succeeded in cornering almost all the gold in circulation both within the empire and abroad. Even faraway Rome felt the drain, Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) prohibiting the wearing of silk because it was bought with Roman gold.”

I spent a couple hours on Saturday beginning Chinese for Dummies and finally understand the tonal system of Mandarin that I had mistakenly thought was strictly pitch based as in Do-Ray-Me. Time will tell how far I much I will pick up in the 107 days before I travel east. I finished reading the Osnos book to Claudia and began a book by Frank Ching I’d bought twenty years ago but through which I’d never gotten further than the prologue. I bought it for $4.98 on a remainder pile because it looked interesting. Indeed it is. Unlike the last two books on China in the 2000’s, Ching got in on China at the opening of China immediately after Mao as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

His book is not about China as it is today, although that comes through, but about his research into his Chinese Ancestors who have published histories (that escaped the book burnings of the Cultural Revolution) going back to the time of the Norman Conquest of England just shy of 1000 years ago. He begins with the grave he discovered of one of his earliest ancestors Qin (Chin) Guan. As I read it I couldn’t help but wonder if he was tied in with another Chinese personage I’d once bought a book about Su Tungpo. I’d never read far into “The Gay Genius” when I bought it for ten bucks thirty years ago from Atlantic World Books on 209 E. Superior Street in Duluth. It has a glowing recommendation of Pearl S. Buck on its book jacket which probably enticed me to purchase it. Frank Ching using the pinyin system writes the poet’s name as Su Dongbo. Su was Mr. Ching’s Great Grandfather’s times 33 muse and mentor. I’ll have to traverse over 800 pages to cover both books but I’ve pushed on with Frank Ching’s largely because it will cover one family line through the last 900 years of Chinese History. Its my latest read-a-loud to Claudia.

If China is to surpass the American economy in my lifetime I owe it to my curious self to find out more about this behemoth. Its been on my radar for fifty years since I got into an argument with my Gymnastic’s coach after practice waiting for a bus home. He interfered in a debate I was having with my Sioux-Norwegian Gymnastic teammate who subsequently married a Korean woman (Or was she Chinese?) and went into the Foreign Service from which he recently retired.

Claudia and I are making a little room in a downstairs bookshelf for all these books. Her reading list includes three Amy Tan novels and Life and Death in Shanghai while mine includes The Rape of Nanking and the Sons of the Yellow Emperor about the Chinese “diaspora.” Somewhere I also have a book on the Ming Era fleet that traveled to Africa a few decades ahead of the Portuguese. And of course, there is Wild Swans which I read to Claudia a couple years ago.

The Rape of Nanking

WDIO’s reporter, Julie Kruse, called me as I was adding another two books to “my reading list.” More on the books momentarily.

Today’s ongoing story in the Trib had caught Julie’s attention and the public’s apprehension about our superintendency has too. I gave her some background info and agreed to go on record so she and a cameraman zipped down for a quick interview. I had joked with her in advance that my inclination was to be more evasive than anything else and I tried to hew to that goal on camera.

I was wearing my wolf slippers when she came to the door and holding a stack of books on China. I explained I bought them the new feet with my grandsons at the Wisconsin Dells’ Great Wolf Water Park. Then I explained that I had gathered my books on China together to prepare for a summer trip to the same. Julie asked about the title “Rape of Nanking” which didn’t exactly sound like a travel guide.

The first of the books I entered on my old webpage was the one about the 1920 election. I powered through it and then today found the goodreads website which included almost 100 reviews from readers. Most enjoyed it as much as I did although a few quibbled about the gossipy things in it. Not me. I found FDR’s attempt to hush up the seamiest actions he took as Secretary of the Navy instructive. And when author, Pietrusza, commented archly that divorce rates had tripled in the decades leading up to 1920 so that by that date 1% of marriages had been sundered I appreciated that insight on the Era which was about to plunge into the Roaring Twenties.

I also added the book by Evan Osnos about China’s Age of Ambition to the list even though I still have about 50 pages to finish. Claudia and I have been tearing through it and it has taken some darker turns in the last couple of chapters. Among my unread Chinese related books was “Ancestors” by Frank Ching. I bought it on sale twenty years ago but it looks like just the book to take me back a thousand years into Chinese History. And last night I reread the prologue to Mr. Speaker so I’ll revisit that book about America’s Gilded Age.

All of these books are fodder to help me understand why we are the way we are today. From the preface of Mr. Speaker:

“The party labels of Reed’s day may seem now as if they were stuck on backwards. At that time, the GOP was the party of active government, the Democratic party, the champion of Laissez-faire. The Republicans’s sage was Alexander Hamilton the Democrats’ Thomas Jefferson. The Republicans condemned the Democrats for their parsimony with public funds, the Democrats arraigned the Republicans for their waste and extravagance. …..and what…constituted extravagance in federal spending? …a building to house the overcrowded collection of the Library of Congress.”

As one tidbit to support this I’ll note a news story from the Gilded Age which I found online last year. It mentioned my Republican Grandfather, Thomas Robb, and his neighbors taking the Santa Fe railroad to court for overcharging them. I know whose side Donald Trump would have taken.

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.

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.

Awash in Books

Thirty years ago I read that an early Chinese leader ordered the destruction of as many ancient Chinese history texts as he could lay his hands on. God praise the Internet but I just discovered that the Emperor was no less than Qin Shi Huang the Emperor who first unified China and is probably best known today for having interred the vast terracotta army with his own burial. He also reportedly buried alive 400 scholars who had hidden the proscribed histories from the book burners.

Today China may be poised to overtake Trump’s No Nothing America to become the Earth’s preeminent nation has done something similar. It has done its level best to scrub the Internet of unpalatable evaluations and especially the memory of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. By mentioning this I suspect Lincolndemocrat will be scrubbed from Chinese servers. That probably won’t stop me from passing out my lincolndemocrat.com business cards when I get to China this summer. (In my view China can never hope to overtake America until it gives its historians free rein.)

I mention this because the scrubbing of Tiananmen Square from History is mentioned in a second book on China that I began reading to Claudia today. Age of Ambition won a National Book Award and picks up about where Peter Hessler’s Country Driving left off ten years ago.

I happily added the Hessler book and the Book about Bleeding Kansas to my reading list which I began back in 1979 and later uploaded to my old website.

I’ve added to the list every year although the three years I fought hardest to get a vote on the Red plan my additions to the list were threadbare. What I’ve wanted to do for a long time is write a book myself and there are several topics I wish to pursue as my long suffering loyal eight readers know. I also resumed reading another history book this morning. Its 1920, The Year of the Six Presidents. This book will give me some insights on my Grandfather Robb’s early Republican years. This was the year that his biggest mistake left the Oval Office. 1920 is also the year of Duluth’s infamous lynching, another subject I’ve wanted to write about.

Until the second paragraph I swear its been a week since I mentioned President Trump’s name in the blog. He’s proving to be as hypnotic as Duluth’s Red Plan manic School Board. He’s been styling himself as Andrew Jackson reborn. On that point, I enjoyed watching author, Jon Meacham, taking Trump apart on CNN last night because Meach wrote a Pulitzer winning history of Jackson. I got half way through it just before traveling to Israel last year and am still meaning to finish it so that I can add it to my reading list. (I don’t add partially completed books to the list!)

Other than this darned blog I’m not sure when I’ll finally finish my first history. I just printed out most of the posts I wrote reviewing our school board attorney, Kevin Rupp. He might be a good chapter. But before I do that I’ll have to clean up some embarassingly awful passages like this godawful paragraph I discovered with Rupp’s name in it.

What I don’t know is whether, as an old Board member well acquainted with a villainous act on the part of Art’s accuser, I can safely tell a current school board member or even a Superintendent such confidential information. My retirement gurus, mentioned in the first half of this post, might be in a panic even now. Maybe I’ll get sued and my wife’s earnings will be wiped off the map. They would lose a nice account. Wouldn’t that be charming. Claudia would probably leave my bed all together not just for a couple hours early one morning. On the other hand maybe she could launch in the ministry with an even deeper conviction in her new found penury.

I’ll rewrite it Someday. Fortunately, most of what I’ve been rereading is pretty clear. And to cut myself some slack let me point out that this was stuffed in a 1300 word post that was cranked out over a long night I spent cranking four companion posts of similar size. That’s a lot of editing.

As I move closer to filing for the school board in June the history I may be concentrating on could be a lot more local. Explaining how we got our jam packed school classrooms may be the only way that the Duluth Public can be persuaded to pony up more money to fix the problem. I just have to hope that the authorities don’t square my Tiananmen first.

Two Books and flyover Country

I read three books for two second grade classrooms at Lowell this morning. One of the students asked me if I’d ever written a book. I told her I had although the book I wrote was nothing like Diary of a Wombat or Bootsy Barker Bites. In the meantime I’m reading a couple “grown up’s books.”

The first book is about Kansas its bleeding began in 1854 the year my Grandfather Robb’s father, Thomas, was a six-year old in Ireland. He landed in NY Harbor at age twelve a day or so after South Carolina seceded from the Union. Thomas Robb moved to Kansas as a newlywed nine years after the war and two years before “Reconstruction” ended. Long after the Civil War Thomas considered himself every bit as much a “Black Republican” as the anti-slavery Republicans of Kansas-Nebraska conflict.

I did a lot of reading over the last weekend that had me thinking about red and blue America. It began with a longish jerimiad sent to me by an old classmate. I was reminded that today’s “flyover Country” sent a lot of farmboys to fight for the North. However, these states were Red in the last election in an ironic allignment with the states their farmboys held fast to the union.

Here is the author’s bleak take on Flyover Country:

I grew up in rural Christian white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area of the country with a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on on their rural farms. I dated their calico-skirted daughters. I camped, hunted and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure to a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a broken-down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves or the reasons for their anger and frustration.

I too come from the midwest although a couple moves in my life have taken me away from the Kansas I remember. I’m not alone in sensing a change. Last week I asked a wonderful fellow from Glen Avon whose roots go back to Oklahoma how it was that his state had swung so far away from Will Rogers. He told me he wondered the same thing.

My wife hails from Iowa where teacher, Jane Elliot did a famous experiment after Martin Luther King Jr’s death with her grade school class about how racism works. At about the same time my wife’s family was planning on selling their home in West Des Moines when a black family took an interest in buying it. That sent her entire neighborhood into a tizzy to prevent their home values from tanking from such pollution.

Today Red Iowa honors a new King, Congressman Steve King who is also worried about a similar pollution.

I can’t help but wonder if Steve King or the Oklahomans or my old Kansas neighbors ever took these Sunday School verses to heart:

Red and Yellow Black and White
they are precious in his site.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I’m also reading the Country Driving book out loud to Claudia in preparation for my summer trip to China. I only have another 40 pages left to read out of 420. Much of it deals with the wrenching changes rural China is faced with as their nation forges ahead into a modern industrial economy. Like a lot of rural Americans these folks have been left behind. Its too early for me to predict how their frustration and resentment will manifest itself. Maybe their is a Donald Trump in their future too.

The Good Donald Trump

I had every intention of watching President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress last evening. Instead, I got Trumped by the School Board. We altered our February schedule so we could meet on the last Tuesday of February rather than the third Tuesday. And, as I’ve explained, our new more amicable Board pulled a Trump on me without warning. They rehired our oily, Machiavellian attorney, Kevin Rupp, whose practice has pioneered the removal of school board members who ask too many questions and bother their Superintendents.

So, I’m only catching up on Trump’s speech that today’s commentators are explaining was a traditional stick-to-the-teleprompter affair. (I gave a couple of those myself last night sans teleprompter.) But I haven’t changed my mind about our new President or the staff he has surrounded himself with – a staff that I think Attorney Rupp would find very agreeable.

An an old highschool acquaintance of mine and I recently “friended” each other on Facebook. Sue sent me a post this morning from the Guardian Newspaper that helps cement my contempt for our new “Common letcher and Chief.” Coincidentally, it involves an author whose book I plan to read at Lakewood Elementary next week. Its author is Australian, Mem Fox.

Last year when I read at Lakewood they asked me to read a book on forestry and suggested Dr. Seuss’s the Lorax. This year they are talking about recipes and asked if I had anything that might fit that topic for which I could bring a recipe for the students. I thought of Pavlova.

I love visiting book stores in other nations to see what local authors are writing for children. In England decades ago I discovered the charming book Five Minutes Peace. Four years ago in Australia I discovered Mem Fox among others.

My old classmate, Sue, sent me this disspiriting story about Mem’s latest trip to America and the moment she “loathed” America.

Thank you Mr. President. You have more than made up for the awful Nobel Peace Prize that those ditzy Norwegians gave President Barack Obama when he was beginning his administration.

HAPPY # 6 (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER OTHER THAN #1)

Before Claudia left for Seminary in the Twin Cities this afternoon I had time to read a little further in a book we’ve been going through in anticipation of our travels to China this Summer. My Aunt recommended it when I visited my Uncle Frank a week ago. Its very engaging.

Country Driving A Chinese Road Trip by Peter Hessler is the third in a trilogy of his experiences since volunteering as a Peace Corp worker in the Bill Clinton Era.

Also regarding books. After three months with no software to fix my old website I reloaded it and brought my reading list page up to day with the inclusion of “The Old Testament” which I finally finished reading a month ago.