Category Archives: Books

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 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.


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.


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:

1st Samuel
2nd Samuel
1st Kings
2nd Kings
1st Chronicles
2nd Chronicles
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.

Madison and Monroe – state’s rights before States

Before I delivered my grandsons to school this morning I had a half dozen posts pounding on my door begging to be written and uploaded. Let’s see how many make it to the blog before the day is out.

I’ve just come in from my sun porch where I was forging ahead with the book Founding Rivals mentioned previously. Reliable Book Reviewer Kirkus describes this book as “lively, clear-cut.” It is. Both men, confronted the impossiblity of running America as 13 squabbling republics each with veto power over the whole. First friends, then foes and then friends again the two men, preside over the first resolution of the question. Madison and Monroe, the fourth and fifth Presidents of the United States, were simply among the first Americans to wrestle over the question and they were divided about the adoption of our Constitution.

Those questions continued to reverberate until the war that my hero (and the namesake of this blog) settled. But the question was like the undead. It rose again to search out more living brains to consume.

Today’s Party of Lincoln has taken up that call from the Dixiecrats who hated civil rights and fought integration. They have presided over what is being called the resegregation of the United States.

That’s enough for the first post. The next post will highlight the Grand Old Party’s latest champion.

Sex Education

One of the most engaging articles in the Sunday paper was written by an intern for the Duluth Budgeteer, Ryley Graham. It was about her appreciation for books written by today’s crop of American female comedians. Her story began with a bunch of rednecky old men who saw Ms. Graham reading Amy Schumer’s recent best seller “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.” . They let Ryley know they approved because Schumer was very funny and joked a lot about sex. That they were a bunch of red neck’s made no difference. Ms. Graham appreciated such books for a different reason. They are full of useful information. For instance, Schumer’s book has been controversial and contains anecdotes that none of the geezers probably ever heard about. Schumer’s candidly describes waking up to find her boyfriend stealing her virginity without asking permission. The memoir leaves it up to the reader to decide whether this was an act of rape or not.

I wrote about Schumer once before on the blog and the topic led me to use an all too common four letter word that I only use sparingly here. (A quick check suggests that this is only the 30th time that the word shit has made it into my blog either on its own or in compounds like “bullshit.”) That’s out of 17,598 posts or once every 586 posts. I’m not particularly prissy but after inflicting my fifth grade potty mouth on Topeka, Kansas, my Dad advised me not to waste perfectly good swear words through overuse. He said that if I wanted to catch people’s attention I needed to use them sparingly. Hell, (to use a word I’m less fussy with appearances in over 200 posts), young people today don’t think twice about using these words. I hear them shouted out by partying college students many a spring and summer night when my windows are open for the fresh air.

It’s a three letter word that had parents panicked during my junior high years “sex” as in sex education. Half of the parents were afraid these classes would give kids ideas. The other half were afraid that if we didn’t inflict the class on their children their children would inflict a lot of embarassing questions on them. A number of male comics have made hay with this subject through the years but female comics have been slower to follow suit. I’m not sure if this is because women want to appear demure or if they thought the “ick” factor would drive away the male half of their audience. But Ryley’s old farts haven’t been deterred. Yes, even the Chainsaw Massacre of subjects female business can catch a guy’s attention more successfully than the self submitted porno videos that litter the Internet.

Yesterday I finished reading American Rose to Claudia. Its a biography of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. I found it in a thrift shop this summer and to my delight it dished about a lot of historical characters I’ve been reading about lately as well as vaudeville, and burlesque. It makes clear that Gypsy mythologized her life while giving new meaning to the term “stage mothers.” Her Mother was a lesbian/psychopath/serial murderer. Trust me, none of that got into Gypsy’s self created mythology. Gypsy and her sister survived one helluva childhood.

Gypsy was a product of those bad old days before sex education classes. You know, the Era of brothels, madams, back alley abortionists and casting room couches. I doubt that the departure of Roger Aisles will put an end to that Era and God knows, today a pernicious new sex trafficking epidemic to taken root. Thank goodness the idea of “fallen women” is being put to rest by women like Schumer. She might even kill off “slut” or force us to find an equivalent term for men that doesn’t leave us jealous or in awe of them. Talk about bragging rights Casanova claimed to have gotten his own daughter into bed.

I was in junior high when Sex Ed classes relieved my parents from the responsibility of embarassing me but just in case my folks had no objection to my seeing the movie Gypsy should sex ed fall short. Heck, my Aunt and Uncle were sophisticates and when they were visiting Duluth they took in the Saratoga as many young couples did in the Mad Men Era. Myth or not I suppose seeing the movie was every bit as edifying as anything I learned in Sex ed. It wasn’t graphic; and it was a myth; but it also gave my parent’s way of giving me a preview of coming attractions. Today Amy Schumer fits that bill.

Gypsy was famous for giving her audiences as little sex as possible and performing a parody of strip tease with a wink and faux blushes.
I prefer the candid conversation prompted by today’s young comics who don’t wink and who leave all the blushing up to me.

The school board’s HL Mencken is retiring

Loren Martell just called. He is abandoning his coverage of the Duluth School Board.

Loren was frustrated that his column this week only made it to the Reader’s Online version. I too was surprised that it wasn’t in today’s paper copy. The Reader’s publisher Bob Boone, to whom I am grateful for his having published over 100 of my columns, gave Loren the impression that he thought Loren’s writing was a bit snarky. I’d be more inclined to describe his prose as aceberic like Mark Twain’s or HL Mencken’s. Okay, Okay. So the two words are not all that different.

Here’s a little dose of Mencken:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Also attributed to Mencken No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. but this, alas, can not be verified.

Oh and today I was reading American Rose about the ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee to Claudia. HL Mencken coined the term. He must have been a good biology student. He coined it for the incomporable strip teaser Gypsy. Claudia was so overcome that she had to leave immediately afterwords and travel to her Seminary in New Brighton and cleanse her soul.

Nibbling at my priorities

In no particular order:

A. I got this email from my Buddy and answered it. I won’t include my reply because it points a finger at a few folks and jabs hard.


This puzzles me, at
The debate about fairness and gaps was off and running again. In the end, the people on the low end of the pay totem pole lost two-bits/hr. The vote was a 3-3 tie. In the boardroom a tie is a loss for those trying to pass something. For readers counting the “yous,” there were only six Board members present. Member Sandstad had been granted another “excused” absence, though I’d bet a quarter she would have been another ‘nay’ vote with her DFL-endorsed comrades.
Why wouldn’t board members who are DFL-endorsed, be more likely to vote for the pay raise than those board members who aren’t so endorsed?

[your Buddy]

emails aren’t really priorities but common place daily experiences. Answering them all can become a priority especially after I’ve neglected going through them for a while.

B. Finishing the last half of the Pulitzer bio of Andrew Jackson will wait although I hope to add it to this year’s reading list as completed. In the meantime I found another book I’m falling in love with Founding Rivals about James Madison and James Monroe. The author is an attorney and political consultant not an historian but I fell in love with another of his books on the six living presidents who were still alive at the start of the Civil War.

He packs a lot into his books with great economy.

C. Continuing three days of searching into old newspapers from a newspaper data base which pulls out stories based on, among other things, Last names. I’ve printed out a hundred or more stories on my grandparents lineages – Welty, Robb, McLatchey, Marsh. I’m putting their histories into timelines.

D. I am persuing the Robb timeline with a deadline of the Next Armistice (Veterans) Day. I’ll be attending yet another memorial to my Grandfather this time in Topeka, Kansas. Some bricks with his name on them or something will be placed somewhere. I am attempting to put tons of material together for my own curiosity in the hopes someday of writing about him – one of the dozen books I continually threaten to write. Pay no attention to the man behind the typewriter! Maybe the Topeka VFW would like to put it in their library if I ever crank it out.

E. Gathering more information on Topeka’s history of integration. I’m sure you remember Brown vs. Board of Education. This post evidently marks at least its sixteenth mention in the blog. It made it to my old website as well – here and here.

I just sent an inquiry to the Brown v. Board of Education national historical site asking them if they could tell me the name of the segregated black school who’s students were sent to my Loman Hill Elementary in 1958 when I was in second grade. I’ll visit it when I travel to Topeka in November. BTW My father’s mother attended the original “Monroe School” (there’s that name again). She would ride her horse to it, hop off, and the horse would find its way home.

I got interested in looking this information up because Claudia is half way through one of the books assigned to a seminary class she is taking. Its the autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Ida was so fed up with the murders and lynchings of respectable black Memphis citizens that she eventually encouraged them to go west young black man. Many ended up in Topeka in the neighborhood called “Tennesee Town” that was a block from Loman Hill Elementary. Claudia finds “Crusade for Justice” a damned sight more readable than a lot of her other text books.

F. On the subject of lynchings – I just deposited my pay for playing “Mike” in the teaser which hopes to tease some money out of investors for a movie about Duluth’s famous lynching. Duluth and Topeka have ties to this event. Clayton Jackson, one of the victims was from Topeka. A Topeka attorney represented his interests in the ugly court case which followed. As Michael Fedo’s book makes clear the court was in the awkward position of finding at least one black man guilty of a rape that never happened.

BTW – Without that lynching Brown of Board of Ed might never have taken place. Roy Wilkins, a black Minnesotan was attending the University of Minnesota in 1920 and the shock of an anti-black lynching that far North made him switch his studies to law. He was instrumental in pointing the NAACP to Topeka when they began their assault on Plessy V Fergusson.

Oh yeah! And I finally got past Psalms. 137 inspired
the short story I read in high school that I mistakenly thought was meant to describe a post apocalyptic nuclear world. It was post apocalyptic just not nuclear.

As for Proverbs, the next book in line, here’s one for you: Proverbs 12:16 “Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.”

Oh and one more goodie: In all the old clippings I discovered that my teacher ancestors were “elected” to their jobs. In a 1909 story which had a list of their newly raised monthly salaries ( by five dollars!) I discovered my grandmother, Winona McLatchey, (later to be Mrs. George Robb) was going to earn $50’s a month. That’s a ten percent pay raise! What was her School Board thinking?

Books for students today and yesterday

I am off for a week with the grandsons and not planning on taking the computer or blogging. I do intend to check my email but that will be a problem on my cell phone. That’s because I rarely thin out old emails. I live by the illusion I should catalog them or eventually come back to old emails and deal with them. Well, if I’m going to start receiving them again on my cell I have no choice but to spend a couple hours culling them. Just now I looked at one that compared recommended reading lists for middle schoolers today with a list of recommended reading from 1908. Here it is.

The author makes several point among them: 1. A hundred years ago books were far less contemporary suggesting an emphases on time tested classics. The recent book list had books that tended to be less than twenty years old. And 2. The books in the 1908 list had more dense and complicated prose while today’s books are much simpler in word choice and sentence construction.

Those are both important points but the devil’s advocate in me kicked in. For years a statistic has stuck in my head. It is probably very wrong. As I recall it in 1939 only ten percent of children in the United States graduated from high school. Until today I’ve never bothered to confirm this. According to this site (which footnotes the statistic’s origin) 50.9% of students graduated. I’m glad to sweep out that faulty mental cob web.

But this same list says that in 1909 the year after the more classical book reading list was compiled only 8.8% of American students graduated from high school. What should I make of this?

Well, schools are being asked to do very different things now than they were expected to do a hundred years ago. We want everyone to be formally educated although that is no guarantee of success. Heck this blog’s namesake only had a couple years of elementary school education and today most scholars consider him the greatest of our Presidents to date.

Reading classic convoluted sentences (the kind Abe Lincoln memorized by the gross reading Shakespeare) isn’t necessarily the best indicator of intelligence or education. Perhaps there is something to be said for using straightforward simple prose. Hemingway was a revolutionary when he began publishing books with short simple sentence structure using day to day dialogue. God knows who wants to read an Ikea instruction book for putting furniture together with archaic or confusing prose?

A third point in the article was made. It suggested that the 1908 reading recommendations had books that emphasized qualities that inspired national cohesion whereas more contemporary books emphasized current events like acceptance of transgender people. I’m still thinking about that.

One thing that stuck out is that the US graduation rates seem to have hit a plateau. We just can’t get 100% of students graduated.

In 1964 just before I graduated the first of the baby boomers only had a 76% grad rate. In 2014 after a couple of decades of national hyperventilating about our education system the national graduation rate was only 82% according to this source.

Sadly that’s Duluth and not Lake Woebegon where all the children are above average. This gives me something to ponder for the coming school year.


In the co-ink-ee-dink department. After devouring a couple chapters of my biography of Wendell Willkie I picked up the Bible so as to stick to my regimen (attempted) of reading it daily. At the 63rd Psalm I read the lines above in the title and thought to myself. That’s the lyric of the duet I’ll be singing with my daughter at church tomorrow. Sure enough the sheet music lists that Psalm as the source. Not surprisingly the song’s lyric leaves out some of the colder portions of the Psalm attributed to King David. For instance this isn’t in it:

But those who seek to destroy my life
. shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
. they shall be a portion for jackals.

I probably mentioned in an earlier post that the duet was a casualty of last weekends movie shoot. Well, it got switched with some other musical performers in the congregation. My daughter and I will be practicing our vocals with the Choir director at church this afternoon.

Me, my summer Blog audience and a glimpse at the plethora of stuff brimming over in my head

My daily audience has shrunk by half this summer. I think there are two primary explanations for this and I have no idea which is more potent: A. I haven’t been posting about the Duluth Schools that much but spent my postings on Trump and race relations. B. I haven’t posted that much.

Its not that I haven’t had a lot of things to get off my chest. I’ve got a couple lists of topics I want to pontificate on but finding the time has been difficult. Over the past week I’ve begun a couple long posts – about race – but didn’t want to post them until I’d proofed and edited them. As editing takes even longer than writing what I poured out may never make the cut.

Also I’ve been distracted by other projects. Heck, after my last post my Buddy sent me a bunch of emails some with subject lines that hinted he was responding to my long winded exposition of awkward black white relations. I haven’t opened them because my head already seemed to full of other things and I didn’t want to nurse yet one more urge to respond to his retorts.

I’ve gotten into about four books this summer that I’m flitting between. A recent one on Gypsy Rose Lee does a lot of flitting itself between the turn of the 19th Century, and the 1940’s and beyond. American Rose has kept both Claudia and I intrigued as I’ve taken afternoons to read it out loud to her. I picked it up on our recent camping trip with the grandsons at a Goodwill store. I’ve also begun digging into a biography about my Dad’s first political hero the Democrat turned Republican Wendell Willkie.

Reading this is part of a longstanding effort of mine to understand the history of the Republican Party as it was experienced by my Dad before me and my Grandfather – Dad’s father-in-law the generation before that. I’m about to read the chapter about Willkie’s treatment of his wife which so scandalized a since deceased, online author, few other Minnesotans have read Tom Roeser. Roeser sneered how Willkie had taken up with a new girlfriend, something I’m sure my then 15-year old Father had no knowledge of.

I’m still only half-way through the Pulitzer winning bio on Andy Jackson and I’m up to the Psalms in the Old Testament although I was so busy last week I set the Bible aside for the first significant stretch of time since plunging in last January. The Bible is part of my quarter century study of the Christianity I’ve felt obliged to come to some sort of terms with since the Days of the Moral Majority gave way to the GOPification of Evangelical America.

Since my efforts to memorize lines in the Hatestorm “teaser” for last weekend’s shoot I’ve also been poking about in all sorts of corners trying tie various race related threads to Duluth and my life. Just this morning I got a call from Tim who asked me if we should have a school board discussion about the “school to jail pipeline.” Tim had just had a ten-hour drive along with a Duluth patrol policeman. He was in recovery because six of his stops that day involved attempted suicides a figure which shocked me. Tim also reported an unplanned meeting he had with Art Johnston and a local District Court Judge which ended up hashing over the Judge’s hours of court cases involving tickets issued by the Duluth Police as they walked Duluth’s public schools.

All of these subjects deserve a post of their own but I am leaving them at your doorstep in this state of dishabille (that’s French for a state of undress – I’m just showing off)

I’ve been putting lots of thought into the movie about Duluth’s lynching. It strikes me as a project so worthy that I’d like to see all of Duluth take part in its development as an antidote to ignorance and as a salve for old wounds.

Speaking of antidotes I was moved by the medal ceremony for Simone Manuel for the 100 freestyle event. While Malcolm X’s knife is not yet out of black America this and other recent Olympics have shown that some healing is taking place.

BTW – my Niece, no mean swimmer herself, has raised money with her swim club each of the last four years to help pay for swimming lessons for inner city kids. Black children are far more susceptible to drowning because they have much less access to lessons.

As Andrew Sullivan always used conclude his posts, “know hope.”

Psalm 10 and Octopus Ink

In the six months since I’ve returned from Jerusalem I’ve managed to get over half way from Genesis to the last of the minor prophets – Malachi. (Those are generally all the books in both the Protestant’s Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible) Last night after the end of the Democrat’s Presidential nominating convention I read Psalm 10: As with Job before it I couldn’t help relate many of the lines to current events, to wit:

Vs. 2: In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor- (Donald Trump ripping off legions of small contractors, college students, renters, investors)

Vs. 3: For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain….:(Ditto Trump)

Vs. 5: Their ways prosper at all times: your judgments are on high, out of their sight, as for their foes, they scoff (tweet) at them.

Vs. 7: …..under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.

Vs. 8: …Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless:

The Republican evangelicals really have nominated a fifth grader’s, middle finger of a candidate. I’d say fourth grade as that is one estimate of Donald Trump’s vocabulary usage but my older grandson is going into fourth grade and I just can’t stand the idea of my grandson being in the same class with Donald Trump.

Even my first grade grandson has a superior vocabulary to the Trumpster. Yesterday after our trip to the Duluth Aquarium we were talking about Octopus ink and he said it was an “obstacle illusion.” That’s also a good description of the Big Apple, rip off artist. The fifth grader in me can’t help but think of that stock fifth grade retort, “I know you are but what am I?”, when I hear him call Clinton “Crooked Hillary.”

It turns out that about two-thirds of Americans who call themselves “evangelicals” never or rarely go to church. Consequently, they have nominated a candidate who is disinterested in religion and contemptuous of today’s thin Republican dogma. Now they are faced with a candidate, like her or not, who was locked out of her house by her Mother to face down the neighborhood’s bullies. Too bad the Republicans didn’t have any candidates with Mother’s like Hillary Clinton had.