Category Archives: History

300 years and counting

Longer than England and France were united African Americans have worn dark skins which make their lighter shaded neighbors fret. American Catholics suffered for about a hundred years of abuse but unless they genuflected in public or were from Mexico they looked like other European settlers to America. Irish-Americans also had their “no Irish need apply” signs but that was mostly about Catholicism. The telegenic John Kennedy put most of that paranoia to rest. What his charm couldn’t smooth over the Republican Party’s appeal to the Catholic clergy and the South’s adoption of an issue where they could reciprocate Northern scorn – abortion – built a bridge between the once uneasy allies of the FDR coalition Catholics and Southern Baptists.

But blacks were still black and kept at the margins despite the election of Barack Obama after a disastrous Bush Presidency. This remarkable achievement convinced most white Americans that black grievance was at and end and I can not deny the progress. On the other hand I never once sat my white son down to tell him obey all police to avoid being shot. Three stories related to this crossed my path this weekend.

The first of the three stories appealed to my love of geography. It concerns a map that Abraham Lincoln poured over during the Civil War and which helped him devise a successful stratagem to woo some southern states away from the rebellious confederacy. The original story is in Slate here:

The second story came from the PBS program History Detectives. It was a follow up on a previous story that suggested some black slaves fought for the Confederacy. In the case first examined a few years ago the answer to one such example turns out to be no. The fellow below was from Mississippi which had a law preventing slaves from fighting for the state. In this case the black slave was more of a valet to his master.

The third story involved the gifted Nora Neale Hurston one of the famous writers of the Harlem Renaissance in the Jazz age. I’ve had her book “Their Eyes were watching God” for a couple years. I handed it to Claudia who told me it was a very good book but for the time being, like so many other of my books, its circling the airport awaiting for clearance to land.

The New York Times story was about the publication of her work Barracoon. Her subject was the fellow below, Cudjo Lewis. She interviewed Mr. Lewis about 1930 when she learned he was was a slave brought over on the last ship, a Barracoon I presume, to bring slaves to America. (I presume the operative word here is “legally.”)

Hurston wrote some of her stories of African-Americans speaking in their southern patois much as Mark Twain famously did. The publishing houses demanded that Hurston alter the pidgeon English dialect that she faithfully transcribed and she refused feeling that it denied Mr. Lewis his true voice. Today that slight has been rectified and the book will soon be on the shelves of America’s bookstores.

And finally a forth related item that I was reminded of in the Times story. Cudjo Lewis told author Hurston how strange it was to be placed with long time slaves who he could not understand and who no doubt regarded him with some perplexity. This reminded me of a movie I thoroughly enjoyed long ago. The movie Skin Game came out in 1971 when I was a sophomore in college. It starred my parents favorite actor James Garner and Lewis Gosset Jr.. Ed Asner plays a cruel slave catcher.

Its set in the pre-civil war south. Its about two friends who defraud southern slave owners by selling them Louis Gossett Jr. over and over. Each time Gossett is rescued by his seller Garner and then they skip off to grift new victims. As you can imagine its a dangerous game and in the climax the tables are turned on the con men. Gossett finds himself housed in a barn with three or four African warriors, who like Cudjo Lewis were straight off the slave ship. I suspect this movie still stands the test of time although I noticed it was not listed as one of the best movies about slavery on at least three Internet lists I found. Here’s the IMBD list. I think this is an oversight.

BTW – James Garner was one of the Hollywood actors who championed Civil Rights. My parents loved him for his TV western Maverick.

Whatever happened…..My latest Not Eudora Column

Whatever Happened to the Magnificent Seven

Thanks to the Reader for the nice graphic.

It begins:

In 1966, at age 16, I discovered pop music which was then a witch’s brew of pop, country, and rock about to go their separate ways. One of my early favorites was a song by the Statler Brothers “Flowers on the Wall.” It was about a guy who was dumped by his girlfriend. In the lyrics the fellow claims not to mind “playing solitaire alone with a deck of 51.” Seven years later, after the horrors of 1968 and Vietnam, the Statlers – now confirmed red necks – sang a new song that pined for the days of rugged cowboy heroes. I couldn’t stand it. The lyrics and chorus began:

You can read it all here.

Bread and Circuses

A lot is on my mind again. When I don’t post stuff it builds up like bran in a constipated elephant. This and the also empty post that precedes it both represent much that I want to write about. It almost goes without saying that it will be just like everything else that I’ve already written about and/or will ever write about and, in fact, everything that every other writer writes about.

But first, I should put the beginnings of a column together for my every other week contribution to the Duluth Reader. That too will be more of the same. Maybe I’ll write about my attempt to learn French in nine months or about my memorizing the order of service of our 45 Presidents or some of the interesting history books piling up on my shelves unread….. Gotta make a decision soon.

Rome’s “Bread and Circuses” were meant to keep its citizens from rioting much as the faltering Soviet Union’s drowning citizens in cheap vodka was used to keep them compliant. Keeping me from rioting is greatly aided by pointing me to a computer to pound out another column or post. That’s one way of keeping me out of gun shops for a quick non-solution.

A sick feeling

It is only a sense of deep obligation to keep my eight loyal readers focused on our nation’s future that keeps me away from my French lessons. I’ve spent a couple hours looking at a half dozen stories in the New York Times that reinforce my doubts that the Republicans will get a comeuppance in the 2018 mid terms. What could very likely happen might also take place in Duluth’s Eighth Congressional District. An unknown Democrat could be so beat up by other Democrats that a very attractive Republican, Pete Stauber, could defy expectations and cruise to victory in what is barely a blue district these days.

If a Democrat can’t win here Donald Trump may not only avoid impeachment but he might get reelected; the Republicans could retain control of the majority of the states they already control; and add more legal barricades; which will help them survive through the decade of 2020’s and a growing tide of discontented voters.

One of the ironies here is that while the Republican cause is successfully trumpeting a paranoiac vision of a “liberal” Deep State –
the real Deep State stems not from unions, funny colored people and immigrants but from allies of the Republicans. It is the successful and long running coalition of conservative _illionaires, prosperity Gospel GOPers, and Rush Limbaugh immitators who have made the Republican Party more anti-education, dogmatic, zero sum, and venal. Calling on God and American voters to save fetuses was only one of the early calls to cleanse the GOP of the contamination of moderation. Folks like me were deemed worse killers than Mao, Papa Joe and Adolph combined. Gun rights, right-to-work laws and making rural white and blue color workers jealous of the modest improvement in the lives of minorities were part and parcel of the project.

It is ironic that gay rights and a black President were part of this recent history but in many ways getting over these humps have taken a lot of the steam away from Democrats. Throw in a humming economy which may last through the tax cuts and Trump tariffs untill this year’s November elections and Donald Trump could get past his prostitute and Russian problems. If so, he could have another two years of Republican control of Congress and, who knows, a good shot at reelection. (Hence my sick feeling. I began warning about this a year before he was first elected and the cool heads knew he was just a joke.) I know the bad news for President Trump keeps piling up but don’t forget the old adage: “The only bad news is no news.” And with his tweets there is no chance for the latter.

Here are the stories in the NY Times today that have sobered me up:

Right to Work laws have devastated Unions and Democrats.

About that Blue Wave The early proclamations that Texas’s primary this week was great news for Democrats is bull.

Book Review: How Corporations Won Their Civil Rights.

What if Republicans Win the Mid Terms?

And I also found this story fascinating although not terribly surprising. The Jews who dreamed of Utopia. It reminded me of how Jewish intellectuals have been blamed by both right wingers and left wingers for all the world’s problems. I still don’t like Bibi Netanyahu.

Now I’ll return to my cell phone French Lessons on Duolingo.

Trip down Market Street

A couple days before the San Francisco Earthquate the Mile’s brothers put a movie camera on a trolley (infamous for their third rails) and shot a nine minute movie of a leisurely non-stop trip down Market street. Four days later all of the city would be lying in heaps of rubble with 200,000 homeless. You can see the video here and marvel at the orderly chaos of horses, cars, wagons, bicyclists and pedestrians meandering in and out of each other’s ways in the day’s before there were any proscriptions against jay walking.

https://www.livescience.com/61945-san-francisco-earthquake-footage-flea-market.html?utm_source=notification

It reminds me of the short video I took of city traffic from high above the streets of Shanghai last summer.

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.

CENSORING MARK TWAIN AND HARPER LEE? Coda

One of Duluth’s teachers who was brought up short by our Administration’s decision to pull Harper Lee and Twain out of the curriculum makes this argument quoted in today’s DNT editorial:

“There is no substitute. There is no novel that accomplishes what ‘Mockingbird’ does, and why anyone would deny (it) to students in a time when intolerance, violence, ignorance, and self-righteousness are rampant, I cannot possibly understand.”

I DISAGREE! Continue reading

Washington’s slaveless plantation

The public radio program “This American Life” features wondereful stories including this one by Azie Dungey. She recounts her summer as an employee at George Washington’s home, now a national park Mt. Vernon. A black woman she was hired to portray a real black slave on the President’s Virginia plantation. She was expected to stay in character as visitors asked her about her life on the plantation. As mentioned in the previous post Americans are distressingly clueless about black Americans and Azie shares her experiences with a selection of this surreal ignorance.

A taste:

“or they immediately asked questions with obvious answers that they just hadn’t thought through. Why don’t you go up to Massachusetts and go to school instead of being a slave. one person asked? Right, as soon as I can get rid of this very obvious brown skin, steal a horse and a map that I can’t read, I will be on my way.

Or they’d go into immediate denial mode, like the old woman who out of nowhere yelled at me, George Washington had no slaves. I said, yes, he did. She responded, no he didn’t. And this went on, back and forth until her son got embarrassed and pulled her away.”

You can listen to the entire hour long program including Ms. Dungey’s selection here.

I finished my first book of the year

It was great. Author Richard Rubin set out at the turn of the century to see if he could find and interview veterans of the Great War. Like me he had a grandfather in that war but never asked him much about it. The centenarians he found gave him a rich and profound understanding of what it was all about. The last of them, Frank Buckles, got the second to last chapter and his was quite a story of not one but two world wars.

Among the more suprising things Buckles told Rubin in answer to a sort of mundane predictable question was that he didn’t think the war and his experiences made the world a smaller place. This was just after Buckles told his interviewer that the most astounding invention of his 110 years on the planet was in the writer’s pocket – a cell phone. To explain why he mentioned a friend who had taken a call from his grandson in the China Sea on board a ship from and to a cell phone.

So, I expected what Rubin expected to hear – that the world was much, much smaller. But, No. Buckles said after the war it was a much bigger world. Before the war he came from a small town in the US and that was his experience. After the war he had been introduced to a much larger and fabulously more interesting world. I could relate. That’s why I study geography and history and its why the world will keep growing on me. After visiting the London Bridge yesterday I stopped at a used bookstore in Bullhead City and bought a hardcover about the Renaissance wars between Scotland and England a few decades before Cromwell decorated the bridge with severed heads. Now, more of the world beckons me and that book only cost me two dollars.

I believe I’ve explained previously that the book on the Doughboys is intended as research for my book on my Grandfather. Among my contentions will be that we can learn of a more civilized era when (at least among white Americans) we were vastly more tolerant of each other’s opinions political and otherwise. I say that despite the conversation my twelve-year old self had with my Grandfather during which he warned me that the greatest political mistake of his life was voting for a Democrat. He voted for Woodrow Wilson. He got my grandfather’s vote because he promised to keep America out of war. Even though Wilson proved unreliable my Grandfather was quick to volunteer and serve in the bone littered trenches of Northern France.

Despite this my Grandfather did not dislike, let alone vilify, Democrats. I hope the book I write, should I forge on, will show that Americans of my Grandfather’s Era set a good example from which the next generation of Americans can learn.

Joyeux Noël

This Christmas Season has had a subtext of World Wars about it for Claudia and me. I just finished reading the fabulous “Last Hope Island” out loud to Claudia and am half way through “Last of the Doughboys.”

We have both been working on French lessons on the app Duolingo . Given six or seven months of serious study perhaps we will be able to navigate through the two war’s French battlefields as something other than clueless “ugly Americans.” On Friday we watched two recent movies on the subject which had been getting good reviews. First, at Zinema, we watched “Darkest Hour” about the month of transition between the Chamberlain Prime ministership and Winston Churchill’s elevation. Its been dinged for historical inaccuracy but it was a pretty gripping film for me. I made a point of looking up the criticisms so as to winnow out some of the unhelpful theatricality. Watching it meant that I was more determined than ever to see Dunkirk and we watched it through live streaming. I’m sorry to say I found the latter movie quiet and disappointing. It was filmed with thousands when nearly half a million were involved and it delivered no sense of scale that honored its importance.

I’ll say this about Churchill and it relates to my earlier post on Character. Churchill was an outcast in his political party. Hell, he kept switching back and forth between political parties which made him suspect everywhere. To say that quality appeals to me is an understatement. Loyalty to party over principal holds no appeal to me. I’m drawn to folks like Winston and Abraham who also threaded his way to a new political landscape by blending political loyalty to a cause greater than party.

What Churchill stood for in his Conservative party that had been determined to stay out of war was the recognition that Hitler was such a great threat to Britain and the World that all the talk of peace was by far a greater danger. Dunkirk, however disappointing the recent movie, gave his early leadership a much needed boost and, perhaps saved us all from a grim authoritarian future.

(I feel much the same way about Donald Trump who has made ignorance rather than Arianism his chief goal with global environmental collapse one of his many likely future achievements)

Claudia and I added one more war movie to our watched list on Christmas Eve. It was the 2006 movie, Joyeux Noël, about the 1914 outbreak of Christmas in the trenches of the four-month old World War 1. (When my grandsons are older I’d like them to watch it.0 Its based on real events and the conclusion is damning. The very same sorts of folks who today are reaching back to a past they felt they could control had to deal severely with the men who accidentally allowed the Christmas spirit to overtake them in the trenches. In the true spirit of “let no good deed go unpunished” the soldiers who crossed no man’s land for a moment of ill considered humanity were sent off to become sausage on the Eastern Front, and Verdun in order to wipe the memory of human decency from the battlefront. That kind of contamination just couldn’t be tolerated. All over the world today there seems to be a rebirth of a similar intolerance today. You have no farther to look than at our own White House.

The Lost Children of Tuam

For the past two months I’ve read very little. No books. I’m looking forward to the end of this campaign so I can once again look beyond the Duluth Schools.

I woke at 3:30 and trudged up to my office to work on the mandatory Finance Report that will be turned in Monday it having been due yesterday, Friday. After returning to the accounting later this morning I paused to look at the New York Times online.

I have some Irish in me, although my Dad always joked that it was orange not green. The haunting photo above lured me into an extended story about human indifference and one woman’s quest to bring the dead to light if not life. Maybe it was the adagios I had playing on Pandora in the background but I used up a couple of tissues wiping tears away. Tales of human decency often do that to me.

Vietnam, 1968 – PBS and me

I stuffed another thousand envelopes watching Sunday night’s return to Vietnam. It was about 1968 when I was in my last year of Debate at Mankato High and would switch over to being a Senior. I would drop debate because I wasn’t quite as dedicated as our teams survivors. Our coach was a misogynistic jerk who leered at girls in short skirts. Besides, I’d overcome my panic attacks and was drawn into the speech team’s story telling and our schools theatrics.

1967-68 was the year our family hosted an African student, Bedru, who unwittingly integrated the all white Mankato High. I was dating for the first time, tentatively and politely. I could drive the family car. College was a certainty two years off but even for a high school kid it was hard to keep one’s eyes off politics.

Last night’s PBS episode covered the basics that I was watching in my peripheral vision that seminal year. Martin Luther King was assassinated. (Ironically my Ethiopian roommate did not seem very moved by this. Perhaps he was used to being in a minority back home. BTW – I suspect that our family stopped hearing from Bedru a few years later after he was murdered as a political prisoner by his pro-American government.)

Bedru was however intensely interested in the Kennedy’s who stirred such hope across the third world. My intensely political father had us all up late to watch the California returns that would almost guarantee that his little brother, Bobby, would be the next president. Bedru, who was pulling for the younger Kennedy, stayed up even later than the rest of the family to watch the coverage from California after the results came in.

The next morning we discovered he had silently gone up to bed after watching Kennedy’s assassination.

Civil rights and Vietnam both came to a head in 1968 and I have many vivid memories from the events laid out in last night’s episode. For instance, my Dad’s shutting me up as I yammered questions just moments before Lyndon Johnson declared that he would not seek or accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for reelection. Its the only time I recall him ever shushing me.

I remember the riots that blazed across the nation after King’s assassination. The riot in Detroit has now been portrayed in a recent motion picture that I’d like to see. One took place in Baltimore. Three years later when I worked as a summer intern in Washington DC. I visited my friend Jim Zotalis in a suburb where he was an assistant in the Don Budge Tennis camp. I had just given him a tour of the nation’s capitol and he was reciprocating by hosting me. The drive into downtown Baltimore was a shock. I went through the King Riot zone and all the shops that had reopened in fire blackened brick buildings had heavy iron bars across the storefronts.

As for Vietnam, it was the fighting in the Tet Offensive that lasted a month in Hue that prepared college for me more than the other way around. A year-and-a-half later as a freshman I would see my first-and-only draft card burning and participated in a counter productive blocking of the downtown’s most important intersection. I’ve shunned self righteous crowds ever since.

I watched George Wallace, Richard Nixon and a bevy of Democrats vying for the job LBJ no longer had the fortitude to endure and that left me prepared for Donald Trump last year.

It was a helluva year.

Tecla Karpen

No posts yesterday because I put in two 18-hour days in a row on my campaign. I shouldn’t have woken at 3AM tonight but when I did I thought about Tecla Karpen. She was the only person out of thousands of witnesses who commended me when she saw me at my finest. It was during the Vietnam War after a march on campus to protest it. It was the last march I would participate in until this year marching to honor Martin Luther King Day in Duluth. I wrote about it here along with that fine moment from my life. I did not however, mention Ms. Karpen who’s name was memorable enough for me to remember to this day. There is scant information about her on the web; she died last May; but there is this.

I thought I had mentioned her by name in the blog but was wrong. My Dad knew her but as the Faculty President at Mankato State, today’s Minnesota University, Mankato, he knew everyone. She was a speech teacher and I got an easy A or B in her class because I had long before gotten over panic attacks..

As I explained in the first post linked to I was outraged when a scruffy bunch of self righteous, preening protesters stood up before the quickly improvised speaking stand and screamed for a reporter to come to the microphone and justify his showing protesters at their worst on the news when they blockaded busy Highway 169. When he haltingly came to the microphone, a reluctant center of attention, they shouted him down with hoots and insults. Behind them stood a crowd of several thousand silent marchers who had just ended their two-mile march and had returned to the MSU commons to hear speakers. I was near the back by Armstrong Hall when I was overcome with contempt for them. I shouted over the gaggle and told the “suns of bitches” to shut up and let the man speak. Shocked at my flattery thru imitation they shut up. The reporter then explained, “I just reported what I saw.”

Only one person ever commented on this, Ms. Karpen. She told me I’d done a good thing and that she wished that she’d done it. Its about the best compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. It was my man before the Tienanmen tank moment.

I mention this because of Burn’s continuing episodes on Vietnam which I have watched with great intensity while stuffing thousands of envelopes with campaign materials recommending my return and a change from the Red Plan status quo that still rules the school board. Sticking up for Art Johnston at the Editorial Board interview for his honor and integrity probably sunk my chances of getting the Trib’s endorsement so I have no choice but to pull 18-hour days.

My sticking up for the much slandered Art Johnston probably explains the Trib’s injured sniffing that Loren Martell and I were part of an “Ugly” past that the people of Duluth should get over. What a truly, shitty analysis by the leaders of a “newspaper” that still can’t bear to report that the Red Planners cannibalized millions of classroom dollars annually, for the next twenty years, to to pay for pretty new schools with overcrowded classrooms. They could have added that our status quo school boards were too chickenshit to raise our taxes high enough to pay for their vanity. They would leave it to our children to pay for it with less teacher contact time.

Yesterday, as I was going door to door in the heart of Denfeld, I ran across an older couple (that’s funny for me, a 66-year-old, to say) getting in their car. Before they could depart I gave them my song and dance and the husband impatiently asked me whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. I told him I was neither but he would have none of it. “You’re one or the other he insisted.”

I made a stab at summing up my long, tortured history with the two-party system. I explained that I had been a Republican but that I’d recently asked the DFL to endorse me but that I wasn’t good enough for them. (Never mind the School board is a non partisan office) As we fenced he asked me if I went to church. That apparently would be a deciding factor about my party choice. I said that I’d sung in the church choir for a quarter century. He said he’d been a Democarat most of his life but he was through with them. I got the idea he didn’t think the Party was Godly enough because he told me that he was a Republican now.

I tried to change the subject by telling him that I just wanted to treat the western schools fairly and he allowed that I had just said the magic words and I would get his vote. That was good enough for me.

Oh, and since I haven’t posted any daily campaign pics for a while I’ll offer up this from today… er yesterday …as I continued to tramp the Denfeld neighborhood. It is one of the loveliest lawn ornaments I’ve seen and it was in the yard of a very modest but tidy home:

I won’t be campaigning today. Having recently joined the church’s Building and Grounds committee I will be spending the day painting and picking up Glen Avon Presbyterian.

Burns, Vietnam 3

I had hoped for a short meeting so that I could get to the second airing of the third PBS Vietnam installment. No such luck with the mulch discussion. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sDAgx5Yfic

I had to wait until 10 to catch a repeated episode and took the occasion to stuff my campaign materials for later door to door work. It was tough staying awake for the next hour and a half because I’ve had some pretty short nights lately. Still I soldiered on.

The chief takeaway from this episode was the loss of faith in our government because of officials and military men who refused to be honest about the developing debacle.

I watched that debacle and that cynicism grow for a decade. I got married a few weeks before the government of South Vietnam fell. Most folks of that era don’t think American’s faith in their leaders survived it just as many Duluthians faith in our public schools took a hit over the Red Plan.

That’s why my lawnsigns say: “Honesty is the best policy.”

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 Internet is leakier than the White House

Traveling down the mid stretch of the Yangtze River has been quiet enough to let my brain fret over China’s middling and meddlesome censorship. I came here hoping to post pretty pictures on Facebook and the blog but my cell phone is no match for the bamboo curtain.

So, I have been reading American/Chinese history and probing the Internet for the past couple days. It’s been fascinating. Vinegar Joe Stilwell just made General a year shy of Pearl Harbor (I am 32% done with Tuchman’s bio of him) and I found this Newsweek story from 20 years ago about Bill Clinton’s opening American tech to the People’s Liberation Army.

http://www.newsweek.com/chinese-military-power-us-might-643022

Chiang Kai-Shek would have killed for US war materiel like Clinton passed out.

I am still inclined towards the promiscuous spreading of information rather than to it’s stingy hoarding. I am a liberal arts kind of guy.

I will get to check out a Chinese school today on this sleepy stretch of our river cruise. Maybe it will give me some useful insights to bring back to the Duluth Schools. I just hope it’s air conditioned.

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.

Bringing back Phil to manage my school board campaign

Alanna Oswald told me yesterday that she might not to vote for me because of all the posts in which I whine about having to campaign instead of writing about my Grandfather. She says my getting off the School Board might be the only way she gets to read that book.

Its a tough choice. I’d love to compare George Robb with his fellow Kansan, oil billionaire fifty times over, Charles Koch. My Grandfather was a rock ribbed Republican but Koch is making it his business to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society AND FDR’s New Deal BUT the trust busting reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. Koch truly wants to take America back 100 years to the Gilded Age and Jim Crow. Perhaps that explains the jarring video I saw the 82-year-old Koch along side our Era’s Stepin Fetchit Snoop Dogg. Koch is a lot more comfortable with a black idiot sidekick than a sober and brilliant Black President taxing his billions and restraining his pollution.

Hell, when I was exploring the Kansas State Historical Museums files on my Grandfather I got a peek at his old College scrapbook which gave a pretty strong hint that my then 21-year old Grandfather liked Teddy Roosevelt. He pasted in a flyer from Park College’s Teddy Roosevelt Club into the book the year the ex-president’s Bull Moose party challenged Wilson and Taft. It was probably Koch who talked right-wing talk show host, Glenn Beck, to denounce Teddy. Beck was regularly invited to attend Koch’s soirees to return America to the days of John C. Calhoun and State’s Rights.

But as tempting as it is for me to try to save America with a boring reminder of a more decent political past, my Grandfather also set another standard before me when he fought in the Great War. As the lyrics to one of his Era’s war songs put it “…and we won’t come back till its over, over there!” I’m afraid that my school board work is not over either.

My Grandfather’s war lasted about one year. Mine began 28 years ago (if not earlier) when I first ran an unsuccessful race for the Duluth School Board in 1989. That was two years after moving to our new home on 21st Ave E and my Daughter Keely’s request that I build a snow dinosaur. I was reminded of this a week ago when visitors asked if they could look at my scrapbook of a 30 year snow sculpting career.

Following my second failed attempt to run for the School Board I decided to make a not so subtle comment about the struggles of the Duluth Schools in 1991 in snow. The DNT’s head photog, Chuck Curtis, snapped a photo which made it to the Front Page if I remember correctly. A passerby with a camera took a photo of me sculpting it and sent it to me afterwards. Until the advent of cell phones Claudia and I got used to flashes coming through our drapes on winter nights from folks dropping by to take a picture of our front lawn to mail to their friends in warm weather states.

Like my Grandfather I conceived of my campaigns for the School Board like his Meuse-Argonne campaign. I ran a third time and lost that election as well. As a consolation Claudia gave me a small black figurine of a disconsolate Gorilla sitting chin on hand like the thinker for my birthday. That became my inspiration for yet another snow sculpture and perhaps an augury for a change in my political fortunes.

This sculpture was the first of a couple which made it to newspapers on the Associated Press circuit.

By now I had a name for my gorilla. Phil. It was prompted by yet another gift from Claudia which came with a card inspired by the cartoonist Gary Larson:

After christening Phil I decided to attach a story line to him. He became my “campaign manager” who couldn’t get me over the finish line. I pinned the blame on him in a letter I penned to the News Tribune. That’s in my scrapbook too and for school board wonks its a most interesting peek back at our school district’s history.

What I wrote is the gospel truth. In the 1987 school year (the year in which, by coincidence, I lost my teaching job) our school district reported that we had 1200 seniors. And yet only 775 seniors graduated. We were paid by the state of Minnesota to educate 425 students who seem to have vanished into thin air. It was school board counselors who told me to check the numbers and they were confirmed by an employee in the Minnesota Department of Education. Sadly, the MDE didn’t lift a finger to call the District on the carpet. It was a preview of how they would handle the preposterous financing proposed for the Red Plan.

Discovering that public school administrators would lie was as shocking to me as it was for Loren Martell to find himself handcuffed for addressing the Duluth School Board during the Red Plan. Its the sort of experience that turns concerned citizens into ever vigilant watchdogs. Its been my Meuse-Argonne ever since.

I thought I had left the School District in pretty good shape when I retired from the Board in 2004. Three years later, after the voters were denied a chance to vote on the half billion dollar Red Plan, I realized that if I could get elected again I could put the issue before the voters. I was prepared to offer a smaller plan should that referendum fail. Instead, the Dixon administration worked hand in hand with my critics to attack my motives and those of Gary Glass. In doing so school administrators passed on one more great lie – that Johnson Controls would earn no more than 4.5 percent of the building program’s cost. Throw in the wildly incorrect promise that the Red Plan would barely increase property taxes and you can see how my vigilance was rekindled.

The travesty of seeing my colleague Art Johnston raked over the coals has done little to restore my faith – especially after it become evident that 30% of Duluth’s eligible ISD 709 resident students have left us. Golly! We’ve got new half-billion dollar schools to fill up and maintain and we are not succeeding at either objective. I’ve got five months to make a case for shoring up our schools even while my Grandfather’s life story begs to be told.

This began as a light-hearted reintroduction of my old campaign manager, Phil. I’m bringing him back.

Phil has given me the idea to raise money for my campaign by selling snow sculpture trading card packs in lieu of political propaganda. Goodness knows I’ve taken lots of pictures of my creations over the years. Here’s the first page of my scrapbook’s Table of Contents:

I’m going to do things a little differently. Rather than ask for donations by mail this year I think I’m going to offer the trading cards in sets of five to help me recoup my expenses incurred to defend Art Johnston. That was because the school board used the excuse of a nonexistent assault to remove him from the Board. My Mother’s death left me with a modest inheritance that allowed me to give Art $20,000 to help defray the $75,000 legal charges Art incurred to defend himself from the vile accusations hurled at him, to wit:

“Racism” (He was a member of Duluth’s NCAAP Board for crying out loud)
“Conflict of Interest,” for sitting in on meetings affecting the employment of his school district employed partner. Nevermind, that a Red Plan supporting Board member sat in on similar meetings when a relative ran a school bus into a child – the relative was given a desk job!
“Violence” Who wouldn’t be mad after serving five years on the School Board while constantly denied public data and then discovering that the School Administrator who recruited your last opponent was now orchestrating a spy network to harass your partner starting on the very day you beat the candidate that said administrator encouraged to run against you?

$20,000 is almost all I “earned” over my first three years on the School Board. I spent just as much trying to get a Red Plan referendum on the ballot. Its been expensive to pay for the honor of serving the public.

So, if I print up trading cards, I’ll treat it as a small business and use the proceeds to pay for my campaign. Maybe I’ll break even on the cards and avoid going any deeper into the financial hole to stay on a school board that has finally calmed down from the insanity of 2014 to 2015. Calmed down yes, but we still need to get out from behind a $3.4 million dollar a year eight ball that costs us 36 teachers.

It may be hard for folks to take Phil seriously as my campaign manager so thank goodness my old rival, Representative Mike Jaros, has agreed to be my campaign chairman. He ran a dozen or more campaigns and never lost. Having only won three of 16 campaigns for public office myself, I am in awe of his record.

I just can’t wash my hands of Phil. He’s been the logo above my old webpage for almost twenty years now. Like me, Phil deserves a little respect.