Category Archives: Books

The “wrong side” is winning

Despite the impossibly compelling news items today about our unraveling Presidency I have only one item to mention in the blog today.

It comes from the NPR interview with the author of the soon to be released novel “Varina.” It is about the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In real life Varina Davis left the South and took up life in New York City for the years following the war. I can’t vouch for the book but the author mentioned an anecdote that accords with other accounts I’ve heard about the leaders of the Civil War who were more interested in plow shares than swords in its aftermath. These included such luminaries as Robert E. Lee.

Here’s the sentance about Varina’s post war view of slavery that caught my attention:

“She, in later age, said very clearly: The right side won the war. “

Civil Rights in my lifetime came close to nailing the corpse of racism in a transylvanian coffin. Republicans, beginning in the era of George Wallace, did their best to use racism-lite to win over white southern voters with soft core appeals to their racist heritage until eventually they swamped the Party of Lincoln with the descendants of recalcitrant confederate loving, black vote suppressing, chip-on-the-shoulder types. I lived through a lot of this with Nixon, Reagan and most recently Donald Trump. There hasn’t been much room for Lincoln lovers like me in the Party since its ugly transformation. Lincoln lovers are tolerated if we shut up and sit outside the party’s windows on the ledge while the party defers to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk to prevent us from climbing back in. Our only choices are self defenestration or groveling debasement. Most have chosen the later. What’s their rationale? The think it would be terrible to lose control of America by arguing with Donald Trump’s cheerleaders. They are channeling Bashir – Gas my enemies – el Assad.

Me. Think of me as Wylie Coyote standing just beyond the ledge in mid air prior to a great fall. I’ve been levitating for the past 25 years.

Molotov’s Wife

Note: I’m afraid I lied. I have not taken the time to proof read and edit this entry. I studied French instead.

I woke up from a dream in which two of my life’s goals were pitted against each other. Contemplating politics I had moved to southern Minnesota while I was in the process of applying for a job in another southern Minnesota town. Come to think of it that’s not all that different from my life’s beginning in Duluth. The wake up time was 4AM a scant five hours since I went to bed after my brain slowed down from a couple rounds of cellphone French lessons. Five hours is still an hour short of my faltering attempt to stave off Alzheimers’ with six or seven hours of brain cleansing sleep.

And I mean brain cleansing. Not of dreams but of cerebrospinal fluid. According to a very brief synopsis of brain research I read recently the brain, unlike the rest of the body, has no lymph glands coursing through it to remove the detritus of the day for later disposal. What has evolved in our brains is the nightly process of fluid from our spinal system surging through the brain to carry out this function. It does so between in the waves of REM sleep that occur each night. The suggestion is that if you wake up before the full course deep cleaning is finished you are left with dirt in your brains. According to another science article I’ve read this gunk ends up being coated with another ancient gift of our evolution a colesteral-like deposits that shields the brain from the dirt. The problem with this is that our brains fill up with a plaque that crowds out the development possibilities for new neurons. In effect, this prevents our brains from collecting new information and worse removes memories. …. then another recent science story told me that the general consensus that adult brains stop growing new brain cells may turn out not to be ……Stop Harry!

The greatest threat to my full night’s sleep is thinking too much. I try to go to bed keeping my head empty of thought. This is, according to my wife’s understanding, threatened by looking a the blue lights of a cell phone before bed. So, when I study French before collapsing I muck up my melotonin…..STOP IT AGAIN, Harry……..Rememer……Molotov’s wife.

Yes, in the hour of wakefullness after my five hours of sleep, I was juggling a dozen blogable ideas starting with Papa Joe.

Claudia and I went to see the movie, The Death of Stalin on Friday. It was very a funny movie about a mass murderer who drew up lists of people to be murdered every day just before he expired, comically, of a stroke from which his toadies were afraid he might revive. All this, by the way, is true (except for the comic part – the movie was/is comical and not at all interested in letting history muck up the grim reality.

Some sober reviewers have found fault with this but not me. I’ll take my history lessons however I can get them and since the three or four generations following me know diddly squat about Papa Joe I’m happy to have his tyrannical story told in any form that will catch an audience’s attention. Not many years ago I read Montefiore’s marvelous history of Stalin’s Russia larded with information about it released after the fall of the Soviet Union. (Check that. It was eleven years ago)

I recalled that one of the Stalin’s henchmen, Molotov, stayed true to Papa even after his wife was put on one of the lists and terminated. According to the movie, which played fast and loose with facts, Stalin’s top executioner Leverenti Beria, hid her in a jail to present to her husband after Stalin’s death as a way of coaxing him to support Beria’s plan to take Stalin’s place.

I rushed up to blog so fast that I have yet to check that out. One moment. Nope. Not true. That was a half truth for cinematic punch. She was convicted of treason, a capitol offense, but merely sent to the gulags. Beria never pretended to kill her. At least according to Wikipedia which pretty much accords with Montefiore’s book.

There, forty minutes on this [prior to a belated editing four days later] and I’m ready to feed my cats and scan the news before returning to my French lessons.

I had a lot of things jump into my head this morning begging for me to write about them. They include the latest human organ to be discovered. The Dark Web, The Deep State, the Illuminati, The Simpsons, Thomas Jefferson vs. Abe Lincoln, My take on the fantasists who have conjured up a paranoiac “Deep State.” It is part of a deep sepsis infecting the Republican Party courtesy of Rupert Murdoch’s “Fair and Balanced” Fox News. Its too profitable to tell old baby boomers the truth because fake news sells ads. Think of it as the news equivalent of scammers calling old people to sell them insurance they don’t need. Oh yeah, and “Pick Pocket Proof Pants.” I’ve got to blog about that last one. I jotted that down in the dark while in bed but the pen’s ink didn’t flow. I had to rub graphite across the paper to read it. That made the unreadable note a palimpsest. That’s what got me thinking about the Deep shit in the first place.

Now its been 50 minutes. Those cats are hungry. I’ll proof read this later today [or three days later] but you can read it now. I know! I know! Reading my blog entries pre-final edit is kinda like watching me sculpt snow.

Half read books

I have finished reading two books so far this year but have been unable to upload them to my lifetime reading list for technical reasons I do not yet understand.

They are:

2018
The Last of the Doughboys Richard Rubin

Fierce Patriot (Wm Tecumseh Sherman) Robert L. O’Connell

Finding out how to fix this will require time – time I’m reluctant to spend. I’ve got a bunch of things to accomplish – since my return from Florida. I’ve got to shovel more snow. Begin a snow sculpture. Find out why, now that we have snow, Lowell Elementary is not clamoring to have me come and fulfill my commitment to sculpt them something. Make up the hour and a half of French language self-study that I’ve ignored while on vacation with my grandsons. Write another column for the Reader. And read more books.

I have not neglected the news over the vacation. I managed to find a couple hours each day to keep up with what’s going on in the world. Donald Trump’s election seems to have assured dictators everywhere that the cat’s away thus making it possible for the mice to play. The latest is the President of China who is bulldozing through a law that will allow him to become China’s lifetime leader (AKA Emperor).

I am grateful to have so many well reported stories in the New York Times to read although they have the tendency to make the world sound alarming. At least that grim view is thoughful – I got a small dose of the Republican Party’s news organ Fox News while in Florida. That is such thin gruel that I regard every minute spent watching it as a waste of, or more likely an annihilation of, brain cells.

I am about halfway though a highly regarded history of Western Europe written in the 1960’s called the Age of Revolution by an historian, Eric Hobsbawm

NOTE I just read what is found on that link and the link in it on Hobsbawm himself. Very interesting. Although a communist he is regarded even by conservatives as having been the penultimate synthesizer of the 19th century’s history. He evidently read all the books in his bibliography which no doubt took a significant portion of his life to complete. He still had another 40 plus years of life to look forward to afterwards.

I’ve currently detoured from my Grandfather’s life to find out more about France which I intend to visit this year. That visit became all the more likely because while returning home from Florida we were persuaded to purchase an American Airlines membership including a credit card that will get us to and from Paris for a couple hundred bucks. I searched out a good book on the first half of 19th century France because of David McCullough’s book The Greater Journey about the many Americans who made a pilgrimage to that nation. I haven’t finished that book either.

This line of reading puts me in touch with my Grandfather. Troops like him said: “Lafayette, We are here.” upon reaching French shores. Americans had an almost reverential attitude for France since its King financed the Revolutionary War insuring our victory and his own abdication execution after impoverishing France.

This post was going to continue on with a litany of other books I’ve recently gotten halfway through like Dark Money, Founding Rivals and American Lion. Not finishing them is a sorry reflection on my need to sleep.

I have another book that my reading has prompted me to dig out. Alexis de Tocqueville’s, Democracy in America. This was one of a dozen books Congressman Newt Gingrich sent off to Russia by the bucket full to teach them about Democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. That was before Newt fell under the spell of America’s wannabe dictator Donald Trump. I won’t hold that against De Tocqueville.

BTW – a month ago I finally memorized all the Presidents of the United States in order and now repeat them in my head at night to help me fall asleep. Just now I repeated them to myself in reverse from 45, Donald Trump, to number 1, George Washington. What a fall from grace.

Dirty Dealing

Its going to be a quiet and a long day. We’ve done all the sight seeing we are going to do and we will fly out of Las Vegas at 11 PM. We will arrive in Duluth early tomorrow morning. I went to bed last night reading through some of the used books I bought last night.

The book about Jewish pirates looks to be the most captivating. The one on a war between England and Scotland seems a bit more restrained. I haven’t peeked into the book on the Roman citizen Cato but the book Fierce Patriot about William Tecumseh Sherman looks to fit into my immediate reading. For one thing my Grandfather George Robb was intensely interested in the Civil War. This book promises to be one more undoing the southern historical romanticism that glorified their lost cause and vilified Sherman as a monster. It also mentions something that was probably not a feature of the histories my Grandfather read – little salaciousness. Cump, it seems, was a ladies man. History books that strip important people of the basic features of their personality don’t do history justice.

I woke early and read the New York Times and some NPR stories then decided to see what my stats said about blog readership. In doing so I looked at what my readers were leafing through. One reader found Lets Make a Deal a 2008 post riffing off the Red Plan’s architect Keith Dixon’s claim that the building plan would only cost a laughable $125 million. He passed on this gross fraud in a Duluth Budgeteer article that can no long be found on the Internet. (I’m sure I have a copy of it in my clipping collection)

It was unresearched fake news hyped by the clueless but shrinking Duluth News Tribune Empire. Its one of the memories that makes their sniffing today about the school board looking to the future most annoying. The people of Duluth will find it difficult to fix their schools until the Red Plan is finally paid off after today’s Kindergartners graduate.

I didn’t find a single story in the DNT worthy to read on line this morning. It used to take me two days to read through a couple weeks of Tribs after I came back from a vacation. I should manage the last seven days worth in about as many minutes when I return tomorrow.

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.