The Missing “G” in GOP

Years ago I read “American Odyssey,” long out of print, a history of the origins and development of Michigan.  For several years, while working at the Michigan Supreme Court as the State Court Administrator, I gave copies of the book to the people I worked with, particularly those who had come to Michigan from elsewhere in the U.S.

My goal was to afford new staff the opportunity to learn about the State of Michigan and some surprising aspects of its history, one of which was the first convention of the new Republican Party near Jackson, Michigan, just south of Lansing, in July of 1854 – a half dozen years before Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to be elected President.  A great part of the impetus behind the formation of the Republican Party was opposition to the extension of slavery.

Somewhere along the line the Republican Party became known as the GOP, the Grand Old Party.  I don’t argue about the words “Old Party,” even thought the Democratic Party is older.  But at this stage I must object to the word Grand, which is defined as stately, dignified, and highly idealistic, at least not when I think of our current Tweeter-In-Chief and many of his minions, some of whom are in the U.S. Congress.  Possibly the last straw for me was his recent reaction to the report on climate change prepared by U.S. government scientists: “I read part of it.  It’s fine.  I don’t believe it.”

To paraphrase a recent summary from an NPR news program summing up the current White House strategy: Start a fire, blame someone else for starting it, then take credit for putting it out.  One might well add: Be sure to disagree, disparage, and/or ignore most everything about former staff and much of the work of the intelligence community and other government agencies, except, of course, what is contained in the tweets emanating from the White House.  The G in GOP is missing these days.


The Last Town on Earth, by Thomas Mullen, Random House, 2006

I discovered the prize-winning novel that is the subject of this review at the Friends of the Wake Forest (North Carolina) Library annual book sale a few years ago. The book is historical fiction, a tale about a town called Commonwealth, whose citizens voted to keep outsiders from coming in and insiders from going out during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. (That I am just getting around to reading it and publishing this review is a subject for another day…..)

What happens when a cold and hungry soldier appears on the town’s only road in and pleads with rifle-toting town guards to let him come in for food and rest begins the story and proceeds to test the town’s values. Patriotism, loyalty, family – all these and more are on display andup for discussion as the citizens of Commonwealth struggle to maintain their quarantine.

Two main purposes spring to mind by way of explaining why this novel has had an effect on me that goes beyond entertainment from a good read.

First, there is so little written about the great flu pandemic. Mr. Mullen surmises that because it took place while World War I was raging the war was more interesting to writers of the time; the deadly flu could not compete for their talented minds. There is also the argument that the war presented the world with a complete set of villains to conquer,whereas the flu chose its victims randomly and quickly and there was no explanation for it, no one to blame.

Second, there are memories to unearth. Mention the flu pandemic to most anyone over the age of fifty and you are just as likely to run into what the author calls a“wall of silence” as you are to hear about a lost grandfather or uncle or cousin. In the 1910’s, he observes, people were inclined to greet great tragedy with a stoic reaction as opposed to today’s daily confessions to social media, television and radio talk shows.

Miscellaneous information from the novel and various sources on the Internet:

– Many more Americans died of this flu than in combat in World War I.

– The pandemic lasted over two years, from March of 1918 to June of 1920,

– 50 million people died of the flu and 500 million were infected (world population at the time was 1.6 billion, so almost a third of the world population was infected).

– Flu patients were mostly young, healthy adults, as opposed to most influenza outbreaks that affect juveniles, the elderly, and patients who are weak to begin with.

– A Wikipedia article has a list of “notable” victims of the 1918 flu, including Frederick Drumpf, Grandfather of Donald Trump.

If you love a good story that both entertains and educates, this book is for you!

December 6, Martin Cruz Smith, Simon &; Schuster, 2002 – A Review

Note: I wrote this about 12 years ago and forgot to publish it.  Came across it while attempting to clean up my laptop and delete files I no longer use.  What a coincidence to find it 2 days before the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

From time to time a book by a favorite author has ducked around some imaginary corner just as I have finished separating the twelve pounds of ads from the rest of the newspaper and located the new releases and best sellers sections. Such is the case with December 6 by Martin Cruz Smith, published in 2002 and plucked from the bookshelf at a book store in Wake Forest, NC, eight years later (a year or two before Page 158 opened). Surely the announcement of any new novel by the author of Gorky Park,Stallion Gate, Polar Star and Havana Bay was there for me to seize upon,but…better late than not at all.

Shades of James Clavell and Shogun and Noble House and his other wonderful novels about an English pilot (navigator) marooned in Japan when ships were powered with sails only. December 6 is the story of Harry Niles, son of missionaries, born and raised in Tokyo’s Asakusa section, “…a Japanese boy who pretended to bean American son when his parents visited….”

The reader holds on for a ride that takes him from Harry’s childhood to his ownership of a pub and dance hall, with his Japanese mistress as the disc jockey playing Benny Goodman and other American musicians, all the way to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Along the way you are treated to glimpses of Tokyo and Japan in 1922 and 1941 that only fictional characters could furnish. Harry must get out of Japan before he is discovered as an American who, while he loves Japan, hates the self destructive and brutal directions the Japanese military are determined to take.

Here in closing are a few short paragraphs that could have been written this morning with updated names and places. Ishigami, a Japanese Army Colonel back inTokyo after a few years of slaughtering Chinese, and Harry Niles, in fear of Ishigami’s revenge, have the following exchange:

“The emperor,” Harry prompted Ishigami, “when you saw him, did he say anything?”

“The emperor asked the aides how long a Pacific war would take. They said three months. He reminded them that the army had told him four years ago that a war in China would take three months. The problem is, we have won decisive battle after decisive battle, and nothing is decided. There are just more Chinese. Now we would lose too much face to leave. It would be better to lose to anyone other than China.”

“There’s always the option of sanity, declaring yourself winners and coming home.”

“It would be defeat. From then on, the hands of America and England would be around our neck. They could cut off our oil anytime, and we would be beggars. Better a truly decisive stroke than slow strangulation, don’t you agree?”

The “decisive stroke” was, of course, Pearl Harbor.

An instructor in creative writing once told me that often the only way to tell the truth is with fiction…..

Dangerous Assignments & Assassinations

Who?  Journalists. “Protecting The Press,” by Harold Evans (TIME, November 19, 2018), lays out the numbers:

“From 1992 to 2018, combat crossfire killed 299 journalists, 179 on dangerous assignments. No fewer than 849 were murdered at the instigation of governments – often their own – criminal gangs,terrorists, corrupt businesses, all of them maddened by a presstrying to do its job, independently winnowing verifiable facts from complexity and exposing wrongdoing.”

A free press is a requirement for genuine democracy, but am I am left wondering just how heroic journalists must be when targeted for death for doing their work and ridiculed as enemies of the people.

I recently forwarded an article to some family and friends by Washington Post fact-checkers claiming our Commander In Chief has made 6,420 inaccurate and just plain false statements in 649 days. 649 days of babble and counting. One of my friends wrote back to tell me that the CIC is “not a politician,” that he is keeping his promises, and that he, my friend, respects the office of President. I have yet to understand that response. Does that mean that politicians are never inaccurate or engaged in falsehoods? What do campaign promises have to do with just saying whatever comes to mind, true or false? And do those who find the babble worthy of criticism not respect the office? And did those fact-checkers makeup those 6,420 inaccurate and false statements?

I think not.

I have a few heroes left. Among them are the men and women who prod and verify and work to bring us the facts. At least we in the U.S. are not killing our journalists. But we can’t just look the other way when they are slandered for doing their job. To be sure there are some that have an axe to grind or don’t always get it right, but by and large they are not the enemies of the people.

Chicago Memories: Didn’t Shower Until I Was 13 and More

My first shower was in June of 1953 at the Southtown YMCA (the “Y”) in Chicago. I was 13. Of course, there were regular baths up to then, but no showers. By September I would be enrolled at Mt. Carmel High School and treated to showers from then on.

The memory of that first shower at the Y is just as vivid as those of other life experiences such as First Communion, the births of siblings, and the first satellite.

I was invited to the Y by some grade school (St. Bernard’s) pals to play some pickup basketball. They told me to bring a change of clothes and a towel and laughed when I asked why. “Because we’ll be taking showers after, you moron!”

Having been advised by my mother, I showed up at the Y on my bike with a change of underwear, t-shirt, socks, and another pair of shorts. The Kroger shopping bag I used to bring my clothes provided my pals with a few grins.

The basketball was fun; the shower with my skinny, naked pals was glorious. Just walk in a large room with 6 shower heads and controls, turn on the water, and adjust the heat. A far, far cry from our one bathtub at home, in which hot water was supplied by the heating system in cold weather, a separate little furnace in warm weather, or more often a huge pot of boiling water transported from the stove to the tub.

Home in June of 1953 was 342 West 61st Place, a single-family dwelling across the street from Englewood High School, then bordered on the north and south by 62nd Street and 61st Place, and on the east and west by Princeton and Stewart Streets. Our back yard was the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR); 4 elevated tracks that guided passenger and freight trains past our house at all hours of the day and night. A few city blocks to the northeast was Englewood Union Station (EUS), where the tracks of the New York Central and Rock Island Railroads crossed the PRR tracks, which meant that PRR trains, often with steam locomotives seemingly as big as our house and often stopping in our back yard to wait for the other trains to clear the tracks ahead. All manner of trains of each of the 3 railroads stopped at EUS to pick up and drop off passengers and freight.

In another article in this blog titled “Ghost Train” I wrote about German prisoners of war who were transported on the tracks in our back yard. I have also written about having to use the elevated track bed to get into and out of my neighborhood that last few years we lived there, when the gangs and the changing racial makeup of the neighborhood caused by “White Flight” made it too dangerous to walk on the sidewalks or even down the middle of the streets.

South Siders will recognize the proximity of that 61st Place address to 63rd Street, which runs all the way across Chicago, from Jackson Park to Midway Airport and beyond, and is chock full of every possible storefront endeavor, from currency exchanges to department stores, from dozens of taverns and liquor stores to clothing stores, from florists to dozens of restaurants and drug stores. There were a least two movie houses at that time: the Southtown and Stratford, featuring a newsreel, 2 or 3 cartoons, and 2 full-length movies for about a quarter ($.25), and sometimes even live performances known as “Vaudeville.” (I once saw Frank Sinatra at the State Theater, downtown, which required a trip on the “El,” the elevated commuter train that dropped into the earth to become a subway train downtown.)

The Southtown Theater, which was a short bike ride from home, featured indoor displays that included fountains, a small pond with swans and ducks, and glassed-in dioramas of famous scenes in Chicago history; e.g., the Chicago Fire and the 1893 Exposition.

Mentioning the Southtown Theater reminds me of my pals and I buying sacks full of White Castle “sliders,” the original sliders, for something like 15 cents each, and selling as we walked down the theater aisle. The aroma was irresistable, and theater-goers paid enough for them for us to make quite a profit and pay for our other adventures. Of course, the ushers and other theater employees didn’t care for our selling those little, tasty hamburgers in the theater and we’d have to dodge them. Didn’t much help our cause that we snuck into the theater by having one guy pay to get in and then open an exit door for the rest of us, the ones with the White Castle sacks.

I have often remarked that I consider having survived 17 years and 5 months in Chicago and graduating from Mt. Carmel H.S. two of my life’s greatest achievements, ranking right up there with still having a taste for those White Castle burgers.

Fiction and Truth

The novel “The President Is Missing” is as promised, “With details only a president could know, and the kind of suspense only James Patterson can deliver.” Those who like to read fiction now and then will enjoy a well-written novel. Those who believe that sometimes the only way to get at the truth is through fiction should be frightened.

Fictional President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan faces impeachment and a major terrorist has obtained the money and the people with the skills neccessary to develop a virus to infect all U.S. cyber systems.

The story moves along briskly and with lots of the kinds of surprises a good novel requires. Duncan’s political foes often frustrate him and waste precious time. Experts in cyber counter-terrorism are recruited. Questions about who can be trusted interfere with efforts to avoid the disaster.

Is the U.S. in danger of cyber attacks? They have already happened. Many have already been prevented. Is it possible the entire U.S. cyber system could be shut down with one virus? That’s the frightening question this novel has posted in large letters. Will fiction predict truth?

Shifting gears from that dire question and closing on a more hopeful note, without disclosing any specifics, I was taken with the following comment from the fictional president: “Think about how much more rewarding it would be if we all came to work every day asking, ‘Whom can we help today and how can we do it?’ instead of ‘Whom can I hurt and how much coverage I can get for it?'”

“Whom can we help today and how can we do it?”

What a great way to approach each day, provided to us by a fictional president.

Time To Work On Perspective

Mostly sitting around the house while the nose heals (basal cell surgery) gives me lots of time to read when I’m not taking a nap or engaged in medical appointments.  Lots of time to follow the news, the “fake news”, and news about the “fake news,” and attempt to put things in perspective.  
In the words of Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Jon Meacham: “In a twenty-first century hour when the presidency has more in common with reality television or professional wrestling, it’s useful to recall how the most consequential of our past presidents have unified and inspired with conscious dignity and conscientious efficiency.”  (Bold and underlining added.)  From his latest book: “The Soul of America – The Battle for Our Better Angels.”
His reference to the “Better Angels” comes from Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, 1861:
“We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Reality television and professional wrestling indeed; both seem to make more sense these days.