Archive for the 'History' Category

The real deal

November 18, 2008

From Wikipedia:

The saying “Do not drink the Kool-Aid” now commonly refers to the Jonestown tragedy, meaning “Do not trust any group you find to be a little on the kooky side,” or “Whatever they tell you, do not believe it too strongly.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly is known for using the term in this manner.

Having “drunk the Kool-Aid” also refers to being a strong or fervent believer in a particular philosophy or mission — wholeheartedly or blindly believing in its virtues.

Kind of disheartening that such an infamous expression has Indiana roots. The Indianapolis Star has an interesting 30th anniversary story about Jonestown exploring the memories of a Hoosier couple who lost 20 extended-family members to Jim Jones’ madness. The couple recall a lot of details of Jones’ change from someone who just seemed to be preaching the truth as he saw it:

In a Peoples Temple bathroom, June discovered a box of chicken livers that looked amazingly like the “cancers” that Jones would pull from the mouths of sick people cured at healing services.

“I kept saying to myself to keep quiet,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be a doubting Thomas.”

Then there were Jones’ incessant morning phone calls to issue what June called his daily “orders.” He wanted Gene to do things such as change light bulbs in the church, fix his car or tweak the choir practice to suit his needs. The calls became an irritant to June, who had three kids in diapers at the time. “I got disgusted with him,” she said.

Scary stuff. In the overheated world of political rhetoric, this or that group of political adherents is sometimes said to be “drinking the Kool Aid” by blindly following a charismatic leader (Obamamanicas being the latest group). It just takes a peek at the real deal to show how exaggerated such claims are.


Make it so

November 11, 2008

What the king decrees, the king can undo:

President-elect Barack Obama is poised to move swiftly to reverse actions that President Bush took using executive authority, and his transition team is reviewing limits on stem-cell research and the expansion of oil and gas drilling, among other issues, members of the team said Sunday.

While Obama prepared to make his first post-election visit to the White House today, his advisers were compiling a list of policies that could be reversed by the executive powers of the new president. The assessment is under way, aides said, but a full list of policies to be overturned will not be announced by Obama until he confers with new members of his cabinet.

“There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we’ll see the president do that,” John Podesta, a top transition leader, said Sunday. “

Without congressional action? Ya think? A lot of people will debate specific executive orders, but the bigger issue is how we’ve allowed our chief executive to have so much power. Though George W. Bush has been astonishingly profligate with the executive order, its use goes all the way back to George Washington. It has been employed to do some really big things. The Louisiana Purchase was done by EO. The creation of the Peace Corps was by EO, as was Homeland Security. FDR used an executive order to intern Americans of Japanese ancestry, and Truman used one to desegregate the armed forces. Though the Constitution doesn’t really authorize executive orders, the Supreme Court has overturned only two of them, including Truman’s attempt to nationalize the steel industry.

We’ve even gone to war on executive orders. Presidents have gone through the formality of getting authorizing congressional resolutions, but who says they have to? The Constitution — that old thing?

Semper fi

November 10, 2008

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, but today is the 233rd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Happy anniversary, Jarheads! When I was in the Army, the Marines had the reputation of being being elitist jerks who thought they were tougher and better than the rest of us. The reality was that they were tougher and better than the rest of us. So let them celebrate a day early.

So long, paper

October 29, 2008

We had to beat down a rumor a couple of years ago that The News-Sentinel had “a plan” to give up the paper product and go online only. It didn’t make sense for any newspaper then, and it doesn’t make sense for most now — the online revenue stream isn’t there yet. But we’re probably getting to the point where it will make sense for some papers. Here’s the biggest name so far to go online only:

The Christian Science Monitor is turning off its press and going fully online. I heard about this at my conference on new business models for news last week and said it makes perfect sense. The Monitor is a powerful and respected brand that already serves an international audience. I hadn’t looked at it on paper in decades but I’ve read its stories online. Paper was a drag.

Actually, as a commenter points out, the Monitor isn’t going totally paperless. It’s goiing to have a weekly magazine-type product for analysis and use the Web for its daily coverage. This has seemd like a good model to me lately, and the Monitor is well-positioned to pull it off. It has an audience of opinion makers and is underwritten by a group not obsessed with ever-increasing profits.

I wouldn’t have said so as late as a couple of years ago, but I think the end of paper is near. There will be better-than-Kindle products for books, electronic photos are quickly making hard copies pointless, we will soon have a newsprint-like digital device that can download the latest editions of the daily press. We’re in a transition period right now that’s scary for those who have always made money from paper (including my employer, alas). But it’s exciting to watch unfold, too.

In search of Jesus

October 23, 2008

At this late date, we’re really going to find something that will shock us?

A new 6-session Bible Study that “is bound to change your perceptions of who Jesus is” begins Wednesday, Oct. 29 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 126th St. & Rangeline Road in Carmel.

[. . .]

This new study, held from 9:30-11 a.m. each week through Dec.10, is based on Philip Yancey’s best selling book, The Jesus I Never Knew. It was developed to be equally enlightening to those who have known Jesus their entire lives and those meeting him for the first time.

Yancey’s book tries to discover the “real” Jesus who actually lived and breathed and walked with regular people. Isn’t that pointless? Jesus is either central to your religion or he is a historical figure of minor interest. In neither case would his daily life seem to be of much interest. Besides, we all know Jesus would have been a Democratic, pro-choice vegetarian.

Another round of conspiracy

September 15, 2008

Here we go again:

The professor of statistics at Texas A&M University organized a six-member team that compared the composition of bullet fragments from the JFK shooting with other bullets from the same manufacturer.

The group found that those fragments weren’t nearly as rare as the government’s expert witness concluded in 1976, when Dr. Vincent P. Guinn determined that all five fragments came from two bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. A third shot missed.

The study doesn’t say there were two or more gunmen, only that the single-gunman theory can’t be supported by science.

Naturally, that triggered “a bit of a buzz,” said Gary Mack, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

A bit of a buzz? I guess. Oliver Stone, call your office.

Seven years later

September 9, 2008

Let’s just savor the moment:

In a moment of bipartisan unity, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama will come together at Ground Zero in New York City on Thursday to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The two campaigns issued a rare joint statement on Saturday announcing the plans of the Republican and Democratic rivals. They also will appear together at a forum later that day at Columbia University.

“All of us came together on 9/11 – not as Democrats or Republicans – but as Americans,” the candidates said in their statement.

It was a remarkable time to live through in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. We really were “one nation, indivisible” there for awhile.

45 years ago

August 28, 2008

Good lord, where does the time go? It was 45 years ago today that Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most memorable and famous speeches in modern history.

A few of us were talking today about how good Bill Clinton sounded last night after all the pretty awful speechmaking that had come before; whether or not we agree with everything he says, he is one hell of an orator. Can that be learned? someone wondered. Or do the best speakers have an innate gift? As someone who struggled in Toastmasters for a few years (and I do mean struggled), I think the best speakers are born, not made. They might have had some experience that helped them hone their skills — like Ronald Reagan’s acting or King’s preaching — but people are either comfortable speaking to large numbers of people, or they aren’t.

happy birThday!

July 22, 2008

The Model T turns 100 this week, and more than 900 of them are expected at the Wayne County Fairgrounds for the Model T Ford Centennial Party. This article explains some of the significance of the Tin Lizzie:

John Heitmann, a history professor at the University of Dayton who has taught classes on automobile history and its impact on American life, said the Model T is one of the most historically significant cars of the 20th century and maybe the single most important American car.

[. . .]

The Model T, nicknamed the “Tin Lizzie,” was probably the most important vehicle in causing social change in America, Heitmann said. It helped transform the nation’s cities, enabling residents to move farther away from the trolley lines and creating the first ring of suburbs, he said.

All of that is true, but it considerably understates the Model T’s transformation of society. Ford’s mass production ushered in the industrial age, establishing, among other things, the minimum wage and the eight-hour work day. And because the car was so cheap (becoming even cheaper, going from $825 in 1908 to $260 in 1925), the people who made them could actually buy them. So could millions of ordinary Americans. It might be stretching it to say that Ford and his Model T created the modern middle class, but they sure helped make it an enduring force.

Dark Knights and strange days

July 21, 2008

A few years ago, I thought we might be headed for a cultural bottoming out when I read that Steven Speilberg really doesn’t read — all his movies were inspired by other movies. (I haven’t been able to find the quote since, so maybe I dreamed it, or maybe it was George Lucas). I think the bottom is either here or very close. The top two opening weekends in movie history, and three of the top five, now belong to films inspired by comic books. (And one of the others is based on a theme ride.)

The critics are ecstatic, of course:

The Dark Knight” is not a simplistic tale of good and evil. Batman is good, yes, The Joker is evil, yes. But Batman poses a more complex puzzle than usual: The citizens of Gotham City are in an uproar, calling him a vigilante and blaming him for the deaths of policemen and others. And the Joker is more than a villain. He’s a Mephistopheles whose actions are fiendishly designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies.

Batman is good, but complex. The Joker is more than a villain. That such an analysis would be made in all seriousness says something important about the United States, but I’m not sure what — it’s been years since I read comics, after all. Maybe we’d better brush up. With Obama in the Middle East and foreign policy questions now ascendant in the presidential contest, we will need as sophisticated an understanding of good and evil as possible.

TODAY’S BONUS: Figuring out the No. 1 movie of all time can be tricky, because what the industry counts — gross revenue — is subject to inflation and other factors. If you go by number of tickets sold and try to adjust for inflation, what’s the top hit in American history? Hint: It’s been seen by far people more on TV than it even was in the movie theaters.

The name game

July 18, 2008

Oh, well. At least somebody tried:

The Indianapolis International Airport board on Friday reaffirmed their plan not to rename the airport after Col. Harvey Weir Cook, an aviator in both world wars.


Instead, the road leading to the new terminal building and the terminal itself will be named after the colonel, 6News’ Julie Pursley reported.

Guess that’s about all we can expect for a hometown hero in the age of globalization. How about the Paul Baer Snack Bar in the Art Smith Terminal of Fort Wayne International Airport?

This just in

July 16, 2008


We just got a tip that the Indiana coalition is one of the finalists in the bid for the Lincoln Museum. That’s good and unexpected news, although the cynic in me wonders if we were included just to soften the blow when the exhibit is awarded to one of the more famous national brands.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here are some details from Indiana’s NewsCenter.

Love thine enemies

July 15, 2008

Pssst. Wanna hear about a strange endorsment by a foreign country of an American presidential candidate? No, not an Islamic country and Obama:

We hope McCain wins,” says the 62-year-old Vietnamese. “He remembers us and will do good things for Vietnam.”

Just about everyone in Vietnam agrees. They all know who McCain is, and no one seems to hold a grudge about the 23 bombing missions he flew against targets in and around Hanoi. That goes for ordinary Vietnamese, senior bureaucrats and people who met him during his captivity—the district nurse who may have saved his life after he was shot down, and the hard-line military officer who was his chief jailer for more than five years at the Plantation and the notorious Hanoi Hilton.

The story points out that the Vietnamese like McCain in large part because he pushed Washington to normalize relations, which has led to trade that grew to $12 billion as of last year. Enemies become allies, and the world keeps turning. A few years ago, I would have had trouble with this story, but time moves on for everybody. I wouldn’t mind visiting Vietnam today. I’d even like it, in fact.

This being Newsweek, naturally the editors had to put the “no one holds a grudge about the bombing missions he flew” spin on it. It wouldn’t occur to them to say that McCain “doesn’t hold a grudge for being tortured for years.”

America the Beautiful

July 4, 2008

Didn’t it seem for a while there that 9/11 was going to bring us together? Oh, well. Happy Fourth of July from Willie and me and the rest of the gang. John and Barack, too, OK? You can’t possibly want to lead a country you don’t love. The modern world began with the American Revolution. And for all its faults, the very presence of America continues to inspire people the world over. We were founded on the best ideas and embody the principles that offer the best hope for civilization’s advance.

Now go grill something.

Hurry, hurry

June 26, 2008

Just a reminder that if you want to see the Lincoln Museum, you’d better do it before Monday. And don’t count on any of the collection being in Fort Wayne for very long, despite the best efforts of a lot of people:

Among the powerhouses of historical preservation hoping to divvy out the collection, according to today’s Washington Post, are the Library of Congress, Ford’s Theatre, the National Museum of American History and President Lincoln’s Cottage, all based in Washington, D.C. The organizations have jointly submitted a proposal to assume ownership of the collection.

“The field will be narrowed as early as a month from now. … I would say within the next several months. They hope to narrow it down to three finalists,” Moser said of the process that is involving a private consulting firm and the board.

With bidders like that, what are the chances of the museum being awarded to a Fort Wayne group? And there’s really no logical reason for the museum to be here, except that it always has been and we want our city to continue to have an attraction that cool. Something of such historic interest and significance deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. There’s a better chance of that with one of the big Washington, D.C., players than here in a modest Midwestern city. I know, I know, Abraham Lincoln stuff in the nation’s capital! Whatever are they thinking?

Out there

June 24, 2008

Happy 60th anniversary to the flying saucer:

1947: Pilot Kenneth Arnold sights a series of unidentified flying objects near Washington’s Mt. Rainier. It’s the first widely reported UFO sighting in the United States, and, thanks to Arnold’s description of what he saw, leads the press to coin the term flying saucer.

[. . .]

Whether Arnold actually saw something or not, the resulting publicity touched off a worldwide spate of UFO sightings. Barely two weeks after Arnold’s flight, the Roswell story broke, and UFO hysteria was on.

Was it the power of suggestion that led to all these sightings, or was 1947 a peak travel year for little green men? You decide.

I vote for the latter. I’m sure they wanted to keep visiting, but events conspired to prevent it. First, their planet was devastated by global warming, then fuel costs became so high that they had to choose between food and medicine or visiting Earth. Finally, a Democrat was elected supreme president of the planet, and conditions improved so dramatically that no one could imagine the point of leaving the planet ever again.

The call of history

June 10, 2008

History always has the last word:

White House aides say Bush, who majored in history at Yale, likes to emphasize historical comparisons because they are easy for the public to understand and illustrate in dramatic fashion how differently future generations may come to view him.

Unfortunately for the president, many historians have already reached a conclusion. In an informal survey of scholars this spring, just two out of 109 historians said Bush would be judged a success; a majority deemed him the “worst president ever.”

“It’s all he has left,” said Millsaps College history professor Robert S. McElvaine, who conducted the survey for the History News Network of George Mason University. “When your approval ratings are down around 20 to 28 percent and the candidate of your own party is trying to hide from being seen with you, history is your only hope.”

We’re far too close to the last eight years to say what history will say about George Bush. It all depends on how the things he set in motion will play out, and we don’t know that yet. Those 109 historians aren’t acting as true historians, judging the past with the benefit of hindsight and perspective. They’re jumping into the journalists’ arena, commenting on the first draft of history.

History rehabilitated Harry Truman’s image, but it hasn’t been very kind to Richard Nixon’s. I suspect Bush’s treatment will fall somewhere in between. He won’t be in the top half of presidents and probably not even in the top two-thirds, but the worst ever? Don’t think so.

A harsh mistress

June 9, 2008

Now we are thinking about a return to the moon, unless, of course, President Obama or President McCain thinks we ought to use that money for universal pre-K or to end global warming. So perhaps you’re thinking about getting up there yourself and homesteading your 40 acres. Well, think again:

A lunar settlement, probably located at one of the lunar poles where scientists believe ice exists in permanently shadowed craters, would be a center of science and commerce. Lunar geologists and astronomers would work cheek to jowl with helium 3 miners and lunar tour guides. There would even be a government of some kind, with lawyers and bureaucrats, to sort out disputes and to pass and supervise laws and regulations.

However, if the lunar settlement is to be more than just an Antarctica style science base, some provision would have to be made about private property rights. And there is the rub.

The Outer Space Treaty, which currently governs national activities in space, is silent about private property rights. The treaty does, however, forbid nations from making sovereign claims on territory on other worlds. National sovereignty is the traditional mechanism for guaranteeing private property.

I know I go overboard sometimes on my libertarian, don’t-give-an-inch property rights rants, so I’m happy to report that here is a hypothetical problem I won’t lose a lot of sleep over. If we’re smart enough to overcome all our earthbound problems now preventing moon colonization, we will have also figured out the property rights issue. An interesting point is highlighted, however, one often slighted by libertarians. While it is true that overreaching government is responsible for the weakening of property rights, without government there can be no property rights at all except the rule of “he who has the most power has the most property.”


June 6, 2008

Sixty-four years ago today:

Despite unfavorable weather forecasts, General Eisenhower made the decision to attack on June 6, 1944. At 0200 that morning one British and two American airborne divisions were dropped behind the beaches in order to secure routes of egress from the beaches for the seaborne forces. After an intensive air and naval bombardment, assault waves of troops began landing at 0630. More than 5,000 ships and 4,000 ship-to-shore craft were employed in the landings.

History’s turning points happen only because there are people willing to make them happen. Fly a flag today in their honor.

Gas attack

May 27, 2008

Oh, good lord, please, not again:

Congress adopted a nationwide 55 mph speed limit law during the oil embargo of the 1970s and threatened to withhold highway funding for any state that didn’t comply. It repealed the law 13 years ago, when oil was cheap and gas plentiful. But with prices going through the roof and everyone worried about global warming, there are increasing calls for Congress to  bring back the double-nickel speed limit.

Advocacy groups like say rolling the speed limit back to 55 will save fuel, reduce pollution and save lives. It seems logical, but not everyone is convinced slower speeds bring any real benefit, and the debate is heating up.

If we’re going to bring back bad ideas, let’s try that Prohibition thing again. And why in the world are we letting women vote and blacks live wherever they want to?

Peace tree

May 27, 2008

Well, that didn’t work out too well:

DARMSTADT, Ind. – As World War I neared its end, a group of German immigrants weary of the war planted a linden tree seedling in southwestern Indiana, declaring it the “peace tree.”

Ninety years later, the tree has grown into a large shade tree that’s tended by Charles and Beth Skeels, who live in an 1880s farmhouse on the property where the tree was planted in 1918.

Beth Skeels said members of her family, the Wortmans — like many Americans — were convinced that the war that raged between 1914 and 1918 and killed millions worldwide was so horrible it would be the last conflict of its kind.

“They thought it was the war to end all wars,” she said.

But at least they left behind a nice shade tree. You take what you can get in this world.

Bridge to the past

May 23, 2008

Happy 150th birthday to one of the true American marvels:

Some 125 years later, the Brooklyn Bridge remains a powerful symbol of engineering might and imagination, and a revered fixture in the landscape of the nation’s largest city.

And it can still attract a crowd, like the one at the bridge’s 125th birthday blowout Thursday night, which featured fireworks, a Navy flyover, a colorful new lighting scheme, a musical tribute to honor the storied span, and even a birthday cake in the shape of the bridge.

“It’s an icon for not only New York, but for America,” says Brooklyn’s

OK, that’s enough sentimentality. Let’s tear the thing down and build one just like it a few feet away — it would do wonders in luring tourists to that pathetic little island. Or maybe it could be leased to a Spanish-Australian consortium looking for a new toll bridge!

“Psst, wanna buy a bridge?” Who doesn’t know that phrase? “Buying the Brooklyn Bridge” has long been synbolic of gullibility. But there is some history there. There actually was a turn-of-the-century con man who “sold” the bridge several times.

10 before George

May 9, 2008

Finally, after all the frivolous lawsuits we’ve had, here’s an important one:

 A Florida man has sued the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, seeking recognition of 10 men he says served as president before George Washington.

Samuel Klos of Palm Beach argues that the men who headed the government under the Constitution of 1777, or the Articles of Confederation, deserve the same attention as Washington and his successors, the Tampa Tribune reported.

To tell you the truth, sometimes I think we’d have been better off if we’d kept the Articles of Confederation.

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2008

Feliz Cinco de Mayo, that strange American celebration (it’s not that big a deal south of the border) of Mexicans kicking some French butt. Actually, maybe it should be an American holiday

This battle delayed the French conquest. More troops were sent from France, and in 1864, the French installed Maximiliano of Habsburg as emperor. Benito Juarez and his government went into exile in the United States and his Republican Army continued to fight the French.

The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, and at that time General Grant sent General Phil Sheridan to the border to supply the Mexican Army with arms and munitions. Union soldiers could muster out of the army in full uniform and with their weapons if they would go to Mexico and fight. In 1867, the French army left Mexico in defeat and Maximiliano was executed. In their short stay, the French contributed positively to the Mexican culture. They built La Reforma, the grand boulevard in Mexico City, they enhanced the cuisine with pastries and sauces, and they introduced the brass instruments which when blended with the Mexican strings gave us mariachi music.

I wonder what our history in the United States would have been if the Mexican Army had not delayed the French army at the Battle of Puebla on Cinco de Mayo. Perhaps it is a stretch to say that if the French had been allowed to aid and abet the Confederacy, our Civil War would have been prolonged and even have a different outcome. And so we celebrate Cinco de Mayo for the defeat of the French Army, which had an effect on our United States history.

It was five years after the Mexican victory at Puebla that Mexico finally sent France packing. I hope nobody posed in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

Lincoln life

April 30, 2008

Thank goodness Abraham Lincoln just grew up here, so Indiana can stay out of this little Kentucky-North Carolina tiff:

A group in Rutherford County, N.C., opened the Bostic (N.C.) Lincoln Center and is petitioning the federal government to run a DNA test of Lincoln’s father, Thomas, to see if it matches some of the 16th president’s saved genetic material.

Keith Price, president of Bostic Lincoln Center Inc., said Lincoln was born in rural North Carolina, where Price believes Nancy Hanks gave birth to him out of wedlock.

Price is relying on an oral tradition that says Hanks’ family, in the late 1700s, traveled from Virginia to North Carolina, where she worked for Abraham Enloe, who some point to as a possible father. A picture of Enloe’s brother looks “very much like” Abe, Price said. Thomas Lincoln, on the other hand was more like a “fireplug,” Price said.

I suppose next, they’ll want the Lincoln Museum. Well, they’d just better watch it, because we’ll never,  ever . . . oh, wait.