Category Archives: Books

Ripped (off) from the headlines

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

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

Books that count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beezus and the code talkers

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

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

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

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

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

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

More books I’m reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

False Memories

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

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

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

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

Dammit!

Chinese Bibliophiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rape of Nanking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ideas when they are like mosquitoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paranoia Pt 3 Sacco and Vanzetti

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awash in Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Books and flyover Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy # 3 (In no particular order other than #1)

After a Homecroft teacher asked me to return to read to her classrooms for “I Love to Read” month I sent out the following request to all our elementary and middle school principals today:

“Dearest children loving school principals of ISD 709,

I have missed reading regularly to classrooms for the past couple of years. When I served on the School Board from 1996 to 2004 I logged a lot of hours doing this. I even created a web page showing my favorite read aloud books.

I am quite capable of reading to any ages and have reading material in my own black bag library which I cart around with me.

If you know of any teachers in your schools who would like a guest to read please direct this offer to their attention. I would hate to miss out on another I love to read month.

Thanks much.”

When I checked my email tonight I had four requests from teachers to read to their classes.

A change of subject-

If I was going to squander my Saturday afternoon blogging it was to be on the MSBA conference but that may end up being a very short post mentioning a few highlights.

One of the things which I intended to report was unrelated. It was my drawing close to finishing the Old Testament which I began to read a few pages at a time over a year ago after my return from Israel/Palestine.

I woke up in the middle of Thursday night and couldn’t sleep so I waded through about thirty pages of the Minor Prophets. I have two of the twelve left or about 12 pages of Old Testament. I think about Trump and the GOP a lot when I read the Bible.

I’ve decided to postpone digging into the New Testament for a little while. I think it would be worthwhile to start from the beginning but I want to start writing that book on my Grandfather so I need to pack up a few distractions. That includes a devilishly hard jigsaw puzzle that no one wanted to help me with during Christmas. I carefully put it away about one fourth done to resume at Thanksgiving.

I have also added a distraction and a fairly big one at that. Claudia and I decided to travel to China this summer. We’ve already paid for it so I hope Trump doesn’t provoke a war. I chose a date to travel that will allow me to file and run for the School Board. Once again we intend to do some reading to prepare and even some study of the Chinese language – online mostly.

I read a short contemporary novel out-loud to Claudia already and she is plowing through Chinese novels. We didn’t get very far on a book by Simon Winchester who has written some great histories.

Coincidentally, I read today’s obituary of a remarkable Chinese economist who lived to age 111 and who simplified the Chinese language so that China could challenge the rest of the world. He got no thanks for it, of course. As is all too common in China no good turn goes unpunished.

Breach Birth of a Nation

There was an article on the movie title turned on its ear “Birth of a Nation” in yesterday’s DNT. The original “Birth” gave birth to modern Hollywood and also helped rebirth the Ku Klux Klan. DW. Griffith’s movie was unlike any movie audiences had ever seen and it made unprecedented scads of money. Think Star Wars Squared.

It looks like I’ve mentioned the movie a couple times in this blog starting with this post. To cap off my recent labor of Hercules – cleaning my office stables – I shuffled thirty year’s worth of family memorabilia into discrete piles for each of several familial lines and put them away for future reorganizations. The pile I kept out for further work is on my Grandfather Robb who has been a constant reference point for this blog and especially so this year on the eve of the centenery of his earning the Congressional Medal of Honor.

On February 29th, Leap Day, I attended a presentation by Dr. Jeffrey Sammons at the World War 1 Museum in Kansas City who spoke about his recent research on my Grandfather, George Robb.

Dr. Sammons wrote the book on the premier American Infantry Regiment in World War 1 called the “Harlem Hell Fighters” after the German assessment of their fighting abilities. White American officers didn’t want anything to do with them, didn’t want them to fight and earn “glory” and perhaps pick up dangerous uppity notions upon their return to America. General Pershing’s solution was to give the American unit to the French Fourth Army where they managed to accomplish two things 1. win a unit citation from the French which awarded the regiment the nation’s highest military medal the Croix de Guerre and 2. single handedly bring American Jazz to Europe making it an overnight sensation.

Sammon’s, an African American himself, was more interested in the black history of the regiment rather than the white second lieutenant Robb who helped fill the regiment’s depleated officer corps on the eve of its signature battle at Sechault, France. (for year’s I mispronounced it. It’s Say show)

Anyway, my blog was out of order for three months from December 15 until the beginning of March this year so I wrote little about my preparations for our trip to Jerusalem, our travels or my subsequent trip to Kansas City, Kansas to hear Dr. Sammon’s talk. In a month I’ll travel to Topeka, Kansas where the local VFW will dedicate a small memorial to my illustrious forbearer.

So this is pretty discursive of me. Whatever happened to Birth of a Nation?

As luck would have it my Grandfather earned his Master’s degree in History from Columbia University in New York City in 1915 the year Griffith’s Birth was born. There was a huge ruckus in that city with black Harlemites fighting to prevent the KKK inspired story of Civil War Reconstruction from being played in that City’s movie houses. What I wouldn’t give to be able to ask my Grandfather about that occurence.

Well this new version of Birth of a Nation is about an infamous 1831 slave uprising led by a black minister, Nat Turner. I wrote “infamous” but that would be a white slave owner’s interpretation of events. The aftermath was every bit as appalling.

The story in the DNT mentions the book by Richard Schickel “D.W. Griffith An American Life.” I happen to own a copy of the book although its 600 pages have kept me from anything more than a little nibbling at its corners. I bought the book some years ago when I thought I’d like to write a novel treatment merging my Grandfather’s story with the infamous history of Duluth’s tripple lynching in 1920. The prospective movie Hatestorm makes that a much less likely job for me to tackle.

I’m sorry to say that the principle writer/director/actor of the movie has a Woody Allen-Roman Polanski-Bill Cosby type past. I doubt that his riposte to Griffith will leave anything like the original Birth of a Nation’s mark on the world. I can only hope that it doesn’t inspire legions of black audience members to immitate the white audiences who watched its namesake – forget the Ku Klux Klan’s sordid reputation, give it a rebirth and spread it to the North. Even to Minnesota.

One of the reviews of the book I linked to about the Klan in Minnesota says this:

The Klan embraced Protestant Christianity, and small town values. It sought to preserve America for white, Christian, Protestants and resisted what it saw as threats to this vision of America.

Sounds a little like how some voters are looking at today’s presidential election.

ISAIAH AND THE ETHICAL PROPHETS

I slogged through the first six chapters of my first Prophet, Isaiah, last night. It was mostly words passing by my eyes. I’ve got a lot of prophets to read through to finish the Old Testament and if they are like the first and the longest it will be very tough.

Ah but Claudia is in her third year of studies at United Theological Seminary. I told her about it and she recommended I read the book she is currently immersed in called prophetically “The Prophets.”

Its a 600 page book so if I wade into it it will only be to nibble at its edges. Apparently its a one of its kind classic from the 1960’s written by a Jewish scholar, Abraham J. Herschel. Heck that’s longer than all the prophets together but with larger print.

Herschel calls these prophets “ethical” because they weren’t like today’s pundits…..schilling for their paymaster. As a result lots of them were persecuted for telling it like it is and asking their Kings to act in Godly ways. I guess their writing may be examples of someone other than the winners writing history.

Good. I was afraid I might be the only loser writing it.

Segue from Mr. Robot to Megamind with some religion and poly sci. mixed in

I just read a synopsis of Song of Solomon in a fat Bible Commentary to better understand what I had just read. The commentary told me it is the 21st book of the standard Old Testament used by Hebrews and most Potestants. Catholics and others have additional books labled as apocrypha and the pseudepigrapha which they also include in their Bibles. I don’t plan to read these anytime soon as part of my goal of getting the Bible read from cover to cover.

One of the challenges given to good little Sunday School students of the past was that of memorizing the books of the Bible in order. I had no more interest, as a ten-year old, of doing that than I did of slaughtering, dressing and cooking a cow. But let’s see how well I can do with the 21 OT books I’ve read so far:

Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1st Samuel
2nd Samuel
1st Kings
2nd Kings
1st Chronicles
2nd Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Job
Psalms
Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon

Whew I did it. A few minutes ago I forgot Psalms. Remembering their sequence (which is a tad artificial) isn’t really my goal. I just want to look at every tree in the wood lot. I can’t recall what the Book Esther is about off hand and I have 17 more books to read just to get through the Old Testament. They are mostly books of the prophets starting with Isaiah. I’m not sure I’ll be done with my cover to cover reading by the end of January 2017 which was my goal when I began this journey last January after returning from Israel and Palestine. I’ll be close.

This is just one of the goals I’ve set for myself to complete. I’ve long wanted a fairly intimite knowledge of US History from beginning to end. The two books by Chris DeRose are helping with that task. When a morning meeting I’d set up with a local “gender fluid” politician fell through I read Chapter 7 of DeRose Book, Founding Rivals.

It fit in nicely with the universe of subjects I’ve been concentrating on this year. I often grouse about how the Republican Party has styled itself the Party of God in recent decades. My Grandfather was about as rock ribbed a Republican as anyone could ever have been. Born years before the Pledge of Allegience was written by a Presybeterian minister George Robb was 66 before the United State’s Congress added the words “under God” to it. I’ll be sixty-six before the year is out and its entirely likely that folks calling themselves evangelicals will get their wish and elect a true 666 to the Presidency. The original 666 (referred to in Revelations as a code to prevent anyone from getting crucified by the Romans) was the Emperor Nero. I can’t think of a better exemplar of the first 666 than our man from Trumpville.

BTW – the word “evangalize” means to convert folks especially to Christianity. It seems that a majority of the folks in the US today who identify as evangelicals don’t bother with church even as they cling to “God’s Own Party.” That’s more than a little ironic.

The chapter I just read in Rivals was about Mr. Madison’s triumph as a member of the Virginia State Legislature. He managed to kill a proposal to make the Episcopal Church the official Church of Virginia but then topped it off by succeeding where Thomas Jefferson had failed two years earlier. He got the Statute of Religious Freedom passed that would protect the religious liberties of all Virginians from Atheist to Jew.

Incidentally, this statute was one of the most successful arguments in favor of the American Revolution. From Founding Rivals: “The Statute of Religious Freedom was celebrated throughout Europe, hailed and envied as a tremendous achievement in the story of mankind. Jefferson later noted that only this act stood to counter arguments in Europe that America was backward and divided.”

How fortunate that the non-church attending “evangelicals” and Donald Trump want to put a religious test back into practice in the United States. A few disordered middle eastern kids with pocket knives and pressure cookers might help them overturn two centuries of the best thing our Nation ever accomplished.

I haven’t finished the previous post about Mr. Robot yet. I yeilded to temptation last night after returning home from my daughter’s house and a satisfying Viking win over the Pack and opted for a good night’s sleep over finishing a blog post. I’ll get to it. But first I’m going to attack the heaps of paper strewn about my office. I want to vacumum the floor and give myself the illusion of being organized. I might even wait to finish it until after my scheduled meeting with one of our principals this afternoon.

Until then let me share the picture taken yesterday after church by my six year old grandson with an ap he put on his mother’s cell phone.

It makes me look like that cartoon super hero “Megamind.” If you’ve got grandkids you probably know who I mean. I should add that not only was he really, really smart he was a villian. Appropos, methinks!

The abandonment of true journalism

Donald Trump is, among other things, a fellow who has profited mightily by the faltering of twentieth century journalism. In its place is a dizzying array of Internet data dumps available for inspection by the curious and curated by interested persons from the honest to the nefarious. Somewhere in between are all the organizations which have a special interest in winning the public to their side. For the unwary and for people without the luxury of time to deeply investigate this inexhaustible library of data its far easier to let their tribal pals spoon feed them formulas.

My buddy is always telling me I’m being tribal when I bad mouth the Republican Party. I’m not sure what tribe this makes me a part of. I did attend Democratic precinct caucuses for about eight years never really becoming part of their machinery. For ten years before that I played gadfly in an increasingly purge happy Republican Party. Prior to that I quietly voted for Democrats when unappetizing Republican candidates won the primaries or GOP nominations. If I have a tribe to a large extent it could be called the tribe of the “Man without a Country.”

Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of this famous short story’s plot:

The protagonist is a young United States Army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who develops a friendship with the visiting Aaron Burr. When Burr is tried for treason (historically this occurred in 1807), Nolan is tried as an accomplice. During his testimony, he bitterly renounces his nation, angrily shouting, “I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The judge is completely shocked at this announcement, and on convicting him, icily grants him his wish: he is to spend the rest of his life aboard United States Navy warships, in exile, with no right ever again to set foot on U.S. soil, and with explicit orders that no one shall ever mention his country to him again.

I was haunted by the story which I read in an English class. That was the hope of the author Edward Everett Hale. Until perusing Wikipedia just now I had no idea who the author was or the circumstances for his the writing of the book. It was composed in the middle of the Civil War, a ripe time for an American to agonize about national identity. Lincolndemocrat takes particular note of the author’s being the nephew of Edward Everett, the orator and statesman, famous for the long forgotten speech that preceded Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and being the “grand-nephew of Nathan Hale (1755-1776), the Revolutionary War hero executed by the British for espionage.”

If I have a tribe its probably confined to my office. I will admit that it is a bit more capacious than the ship’s stateroom to which the story’s protagonist is confined for the rest of his life. Like the protagonist I have bits and pieces of evidence of my nation tacked to my walls. BTW – here’s the story long out of copyright. I didn’t reread it in full but just cut to the end to compare it to my memory of it.

About that end. I was probably 15 when I read the book and far less knowledgeable about the American history that had taken place prior to the story’s conclusion. That it was written during the Civil War and contemplation about what the union meant may not have registered with me quite as it does now.

My Buddy is no doubt right when he tells me the US will soldier on if Donald Trump is elected President. I suppose we would have survived if Huey Long had been elected or Joseph McCarthy but what a shame it would have been. The Presidents they would have supplanted were superior individuals. Its true that neither of these men were Adolph Hitlers but neither was Hitler early in his career. The great irony of Germany and the Reich was that a nation of such cultivated and sophisticated people could descend to the gas chamber, the charnel house and ruin. We seem to have past the time for a nuclear holocaust but our technology certainly leaves room for an even worse case scenario than that which transpired at the end of World War II. I can’t help but see seeds of destruction in today’s political tribal culture and campaign rhetoric and, frankly, its probably too late to stop Greenland’s icecap from melting.

I am troubled that the notion of American exceptionalism is often waved about by folks who mistake it for America’s wealth and power and not for the intangibles locked into our Bill of Rights. One of those intangibles is the right of a free press. Donald Trump can’t wait to get elected President so that he can change the libel laws like he plans to change the Generals and sue every newspaper that looks at him cross-eyed. Then he can enjoy the sort of freedom his good buddy Vladimir Putin enjoys behind the Kremlin’s walls. Donald Trump is just an eight hundred pound Albertson.

Yeah, compared to electing Trump, elevating Hillary Clinton to the Presidency would be a disaster. Remember Benghazi – or at least what the pretend newsman Roger Ailes wanted you to think happened there. That way you will be anesthetized to the coming of a White House with five letters tackily emblazoned on it in Gold leaf.