Category Archives: Books

The new allure of Books and Bombs

A few minutes ago I grabbed my gym bag and got ready to head to a pool to swim laps. Swimming a thousand yards seemed vastlp preferable to continuing to pick up my office and sort through the detritus of my recent campaign. Trouble was I forgot that I had taken my second car in to put on snow tires. Claudia was with her book club so I disconsolately tromped back up to my office and turned on Pandora to listen to the Arron Copland station I created to write blog posts. I’ve been putting off my eight loyal readers for almost a week now satisfied to leave the most recent post where it was rather than cover it up with a string of less important additions.

Its only about 1200 words but they were very personal to me and I was very pleased with what I’d written. On the other hand I often second guess myself after such posts, even those I go over carefully edit. With some trepidation I just reread it and other than finding the word “sexed” instead of “sex” in the next to last paragraph I found it every bit as satisfying as I remember feeling about it upon first posting it.

I have often pulled my punches for the past four years of being a school board member. I know that this statement will shock a few people that I’ve written about but I have. Pulling punches is a habit. Abe Lincoln would write hot letters to his critics but then put them in his hat to think on and usually discarding them a short while later. The act of writing a response settled him down although he had as long a memory as any other person. He put up with his Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P Chase for a couple years because he had not practical option to dump the man who was helping figure out the complicated financing of the Civil War. But when the opportunity to dump Chase turned up he did so without a second thought…….except that he also gave Chase, who desperately wanted to be President, a royal send off making appointing him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Not a bad second act for the politically duplicitous Chase who nevertheless shared many of Lincoln’s political views.

Just before his assassination Lincoln was talking about traveling abroad for the first time in his life with Mary Todd Lincoln. He was ready for a second act himself which, however, would not be over for another four years of his second term. That never came to pass. His second act was as Martyr to the cause and civic saint.

My second act is about to start in a month’s time and I’m already slipping into it comfortably. I started growing a beard, still seedy at this early point, at my youngest grandson’s request. Maybe no one will recognize me. I have stopped hoarding unread Duluth News Tribunes and will end a 22 year habit of clipping out every article about the Duluth Schools. I’m even tossing my school board meeting books. Twelve three quarter inch books for each month for four years will empty out a file cabinet drawer.

I’ve resumed reading. I just finished listening to a book my daughter raved about by Trevor Noah, “Born a Crime.” Actually I listened to it as an audible book while I put together my first jigsaw puzzle of our Holiday Season. Actually its not done yet. I have about 200 of the 1,000 pieces left to insert. Its a hellish puzzle we stated a year ago and which I kept intact to finish this season out of sheer stubbornness. I’ve got another five puzzles after it to keep working on after I finish it. This is how it looked when I started but by now almost all of R2D2 has been completed:

Noah’s book is a marvel and a far cry from Alan Patton’s Cry the Beloved Country which may be the last full book I’ve read about South Africa and that was almost fifty years ago.

I’ve complained a couple of times about how the campaign was so all consuming that it put an end to my book reading for a couple months. Actually I’ve read a fair number of books in 2017 many about China. (I just added Trevor’s book to the list and Lynne Olson’s as well even though I still have another 74 pages to finish.)

I’ve got a couple of Pulitzer Histories that are half way done which I’d like to add to the list. Meacham’s book on Andrew Jackson and Tuchman’s on Vinegar Joe Stillwell and a book about the financiers behind the recorporatizing of American Politics, Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. They will have to wait however as I’ve finally finished a chapter in Back Over There by a World War I enthusiast Richard Rubin. Remember, I’m hot to write a book myself next year about my war hero grandfather. He’s already made it into the blog with over 40 posts.

As part of my research I’m keen to travel to France and walk the battle grounds of the Meuse-Argonne. That’s what Rubin’s book is about. It was a helluva war and this tidbit from Rubin puts it into perspective. Experts say that the unexploded bombs and shells of the Great War still lying in the old battlefields exceeds all of the bombs and shells expended in the Second World War. Farmers don’t much mind collectors going through their lands, after asking permission first, because they can spray paint the old bombs that turn up in the wake of a tractor, orange.

I don’t have much interest in blowing my leg off collecting old buttons and cartridges but I’d like to get a gander at the land my Grandfather spent almost all of 1918 defending. I’d rather begin preparing for that more than I would tonight’s meeting about our use of Compensatory Education funds to keep parents in eastern schools happy.

Veterans Day 2017

Since the election I’ve woken from a couple of dreams about going door to door. In much the same way I keep thinking of new things to blog about the campaign I’ve just been through. This all comes at a time when I feel free of a great burden of public service and pulled to a larger burden of using the past to shine a light on the future. Think Book writing.

I still have about eight weeks to wrap up my final school board work. For instance, I’ll be meeting with the Superintendent at 8 AM this morning as part of his five-month-old initiative not to let unhappy school board members feel like they are out of his loop. Each month all of us meet separately with Mr. Gronseth and Chair Kirby in groups of three so as not to violate the state’s Open Meeting Law. Continue reading

Oh, I am not done blogging –

I’ve done a lot of thinking and had a number of things to write about among them…..

uprooting lawnsigns and my keeping my bank account and options open

Post mortem

“Doomsday” Cassandra, Prophecy

2016 and The good news

Western Lens wakes up?

… Its taken me a little time to come up with a sound analysis of the results and consequences of the recent election and settle on my likely future plans. But I find that I have more fire to blog early in the morning. Instead I went swimming at the Fitness Center and resumed reading that fascinating little book to Claudia I mentioned a short while ago about England as an Island of Hope during the Second World War. I found myself identifying with the leaders of all the nations overrun by the German blitzkrieg.

But its dark out and I’m not in the mood to post at the moment. I may not be tomorrow morning either as it turns out. Claudia just told me that tomorrow is the last day of the Minnesota History Museum’s World War 1 exhibit. We decided to go see it. I’ve missed writing about that war and my grandfather as I campaigned this summer. I will now have two years of vacation from public service – at least. Maybe a book will escape from my fingers.

Small “d” democrat

So, I didn’t add anything to the last post before I went to bed. (I heave a great sigh)

When I last posted I was hot to add details – now – the next day, not so much.

Its not as though I couldn’t have. In the afternoon I began reading a history book to Claudia, “Last Hope Island.” Its about all the little nations overrun by Germany in World War II and how their partisans assembled in Britain, the last hope, to help prosecute the war. Then after we put our grandsons to bed we watched an episode of Mindhunters. Its a crackerjack if repellent series on the early efforts of the FBI to analyze serial killers by interviewing them to get into their heads. It is I suspect more imagined that history but its gripping. The Rotten Tomatoes audience give it a 97% fresh rating.

On Halloween night we only got about 10 doorbell rings leaving us with a pile of candy we didn’t want to eat. It was cold and snow had fallen and I had done nothing to tidy up our yard or patio. I’d spent a portion of the afternoon testing out my foot by lit dropping again. My old next door neighbor gave me an insert for my shoes and the go ahead to forge on. 14,000 paces according to my pedometer were sore ones but let me cover one of the shrinking number of neighborhoods that have not felt my campaign presence.

I was chagrined about the snow. My yard, like most others, was full of leaves. Before yesterday’s snow began to fall I attempted to rake up the few that weren’t covered with snow. I only filled 3 bags. Usually its 12 to 14 bags. If we don’t get a good melt I’ll have to work hard not to let leaves get into any snow sculptures I attempt this winter. Snow Freckles. Phooey!

I was stopped a couple times while lit dropping with calls and texts. I learned that all the happy DFL crowd was on Brad Bennett’s Radio Show. Josh Gorahm had an advertisement and Sally Trnka did an interview. I guess they are Brad’s new friends. Its been years since Brad had me on and I don’t listen to talk radio. But I know Brad’s crowd and they aren’t happy DFLers. The appearance struck me as a sign of desperation. I understand that Brad was cordial. I’m not surprised. I also understand that he said of Ms. Trnka afterwords that she was full of fluff. That’s not a surprise either as she has done little to begin absorbing the School District’s situation having attended few meetings.

I also got a call from someone on my cell who began “Who did you vote for for President?” I’ve not passed out my cell phone number much but it was on the big mailer we just sent out. I began gingerly by explaining that there was no way I could have voted for Donald Trump. That honest if tepid reaction was what the caller wanted to hear and just the opposite of most of Brad Bennett’s listeners. Many of Brad’s listeners know me as a bad Republican but also a politician who hates stupid spending. My anti-Red Plan bonafides should serve me well with most of them. Sally Trnka’s reaching out is frankly good but I suspect it could irritate the DFLers that gave her such a rousing endorsement.

I also learned that all sorts of Socialists have recently been saying good things about me on some Facebook Pages. I’m not sure why but I’m delighted. After the Republicans Medical Insurance Evisceration Fiasco I’m ready for single payer socialized medicine.

I’m a small “d” democrat. Not a Big Arse Republican.

Dear Duan

Back in Wuhan, at the end of my Yangzte River journey, I decided to give Barbara Tuchman’s book on Stilwell to our tour guide. He mentioned that previous guests had given him such books over the last decade that he has been leading tours. Some of them like “Wild Swans” are on the government’s version of the Vatican’s “Index list.”

He had told me, when I asked, that he mostly read histories and I was pretty sure Tuchman’s book was even rarer in China than it is in American used book stores.

I found time on our trip to get half way through the book reading out loud to Claudia. At times we we read about Chinese locales while we were actually passing through them. Giving the book before we finished it and departed from Shanghai would be no sacrifice because we had already downloaded it to our kindle account as well. I will buy another hard cover copy in any event. That is the collector in me.

I found myself mentally composing a thank you in the middle of the night to write in the book’s inside front cover. This is essentially what I wrote:

Dear Duan,

When I was 11 in 1962 the author of this book may have played a part in preventing World War III. Her book, Guns of August” had just been read by our President Kennedy when he discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Guns of August was about how the European governments unwittingly stumbled into W W 1. JFK having read it, was determined not to begin a nuclear war with the Soviet union because of miscommunication. Even if it hadn’t inspired Kennedy to save the world it was a great book. It was awarded our nation’s highest literary honor, the Pulitzer Prize, for history. The author would earn a 2nd Pulitzer for this history of General Stilwell.

I wanted to share it with you so you could see that some Americans have always looked on China with some subtlety and a great deal of sympathy. Joe Stilwell was one of them and by the way he was no fan of Chiang Kai-Shek. I don’t think my father was either when I was growing up. He is the person who gave Tuchman’s book to me.

You have been a wonderful, insightful and good humored guide to your land’s people and history. You have given me hope that our two nations can look forward to the future as friends and maybe even allies. Vinegar Joe seemed to anticipate that future as well.

You have my best regards and many thanks.

Harry Welty
AKA: www.lincolndemocrat.com

PS. To my knowledge this history has not been banned by the People’s Republic.

The “Schmeercase Affair”

This was a test to see if I could post a cell phone recording to you-tube. Yup! My intention has been to record the speech I gave, but which the sound system prevented me from broadcasting, to the DFL endorsing convention. This is my reading of a brief anecdote about General Joseph Stillwell in Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography about “Vinegar Joe.”

As you will see my cell phone stopped recording after its memory was overloaded but at a convenient point in the anecdote.

In order to upload it I had to free up some space and I did so by removing all my picture files which had already been uploaded to my Flickr account and which are in the Cloud. I am about to upgrade my cell phone which is a Samsung 5 while 8 is the current Samsung favorite. I have a reduced priced upgrade available and I want it to have a better cell phone camera for my trip to China. I plan on taking the Stillwell book with me and hope the Chinese don’t confiscate it when we arrive. I haven’t found it on the list of books they won’t let in. We have a couple of those banned books on our shelves.

At My Zenith

I pulled in front of the new Zenith Book Store soon to open on my way to have a mocha and some serious conversation at Beaners with Alanna Oswald. (We just learned that the State is not going to strip away $1.5 million in Achievement and Integration revenue as they had once planned to do) As I got out of my car Bob King the Astronomer Supreme and DNT photo journalist shouted to me from across the street, his Cannon dangling from his neck. He was there take a photo of the new bookstore, no doubt for the upcoming Monday Tribune’s business section. I backed my car out of the way so that all the bibliophiles in Duluth would have an unobstructed view of our newest independent bookstore.

Then I had my mocha.

Then Alanna and I wondered if the store was open yet or if we could get a sneak peak. Voila, the door gave way as the new owner Bob Dobrow rushed up to tell us they weren’t opening for a couple days. Still, he let us come in to smell the freshly, sanded, wood floor and the scent of ten thousand new books. It was heavenly. Then I saw the cool mugs on the shelf and told him I’d love to buy one of them. Bob’s son is a potter. The new owners hadn’t entered SKU numbers for them yet so he couldn’t take my credit card and I was out of cash. Alanna came to my rescue with some good old U.S. legal tender. I seem to have become the Zenith’s first customer. I’m not sure if I beat out the Chamber of Commerce’s customary framed first dollar bill.

Alanna took my pic to record this momentous occasion. They looked to have a good selection of my kind of 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 Yunnan 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 Tienanmen 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.