Rosa Parks, Pete Seeger and friends at the Highlander School

December 1, 2014

December 1, 1955, was not an accident of history.  Rosa Parks, often described as “a seamstress,” was college educated, trained as a teacher, and trained in civil rights actions at the Highlander School in New Market, Tennessee.

On this anniversary of Mrs. Parks’s Earth-moving action of civil disobedience, I think back to a photograph taken a couple of years later, at the Highlander School.

It’s a stunning photograph, not for its photographer’s skills, nor the artistic nature of the taking.  It’s a true snapshot.  Five people on a farm in Tennessee, in black and white.  Probably the photographer used a Kodak camera made just for snapshots.

Except, it was 1957.  The farm is the Highlander School.  The five people in the photo include folksinger Pete Seeger, and Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pete Seeger, MLK , and others at Highlander School, 1957

From left, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, one of the founders of the Highlander School, Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. At a workshop at the Highlander School in Tennessee, circa 1957.


Who was the photographer?  Perhaps Myles Horton, the director of the school (and Charis’s husband).

In a sort piece filmed at his home in Beacon, New York, for the Highlander’s 75th Anniversary in 2007, Pete described the time and the occasion.

Don’t  you love the cricket singing along with Pete?


Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Pete Seeger and the Highlander School

January 28, 2014

It’s a stunning photograph, not for its photgrapher’s skills, nor the artistic nature of the taking.  It’s a true snapshot.  Five people on a farm in Kentucky, in black and white.  Probably the photographer used a Kodak camera made just for snapshots.

Except, it was 1957.  The farm is the Highlander School.  The five people in the photo include folksinger Pete Seeger, and Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pete Seeger, MLK , and others at Highlander School, 1957

From left, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, one of the founders of the Highlander School, Rosa Parks, and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. At a workshop at the Highlander School in Kentucky, circa 1957.


Who was the photographer?  Perhaps Myles Horton, the director of the school (and Charis’s husband).

In a sort piece filmed at his home in Beacon, New York, for the Highlander’s 75th Anniversary in 2007, Pete described the time and the occasion.

Don’t  you love the cricket singing along with Pete?


Rep. Allen West: Santayana’s Ghost claims another victim

April 16, 2012

It’s right there in the right ear of this weblog for all to see; George Santayana said,Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Rep. Allen West, from Florida’s newly created 18th Congressional District, is old enough to know better, but doesn’t:

The question was, how many American legislators does Rep. West think might be “card-carrying” communists.  He answered that 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party are communists.

Okay, kids, what’s wrong with Rep. West’s claim?


Santayana's aphorism about those ignorant of history, on a plaque in a German subway

Wikimedia photo by Andy82: Caption: Citation of George Santayana at the U-Bahn (subway) Station Gesundbrunnen (Berlin). Translation: "Who does not know the past is condemned to repeat it". The poster above the citation advertises video surveillance. Translation: "Attention. video surveillance". The sign below the citation shows that the U-Bahn Station is a building of historic importance which stands under preservation order. Denkmal means literally memorial or monument

The only way Rep. West could know if anyone in any Democratic caucus is a communist is if Rep. West runs the membership office for the American Communist Party.

That’s probably true, Raoul.  I hadn’t thought about that — but it certainly calls into question just how Rep. West could know what he claims, doesn’t it?  What else is wrong with the claim?  Yes, Anna:

Wouldn’t a member of a third party caucus with their own party, and not with the Democrats?  I mean, even though he voted for the Democratic leadership, Bernie Sanders always let it be known that he was independent, and not a Democrat.  If there were 80 of them in Congress, wouldn’t they get special breaks on committee assignments as Communists?

Oh, Anna, all that time you spent reading the House Rules has made you the Master of Arcana, hasn’t it?  You’re probably right, though we can’t be sure — a third party with that many seats could almost swing a vote in the House — and so, as in Europe, they’d probably want to caucus together, so they could bargain for power with the other two larger parties, at least.  Good catch.  Not quite what I was looking for.  But it’s one more way that Rep. West looks a little silly, isn’t it?

Santayana on ignorance of history, at Auschwitz - Wikipedia image


Mr. Begay?  Did you have your hand up?

How do you know Rep. West was talking about the House of Representatives?  He could have been talking about the Senate, couldn’t he?

Yes, and you’re getting closer to the the issue I’m thinking of.  If we just take his statement at face value, he could be including the Senate — does that suggest another line of analysis you should be thinking of, Davey?

What do you mean?  I don’t get it.

Did Rep. West limit his analysis to federal legislators?  Did he exclude state legislators?  The questioner just asked about how many “card-carrying” communists there are among legislators in the U.S.  There are 538 Members of Congress (100 senators, plus 435 representatives from the states, plus three delegates from D.C. and Guam and Puerto Rico). Plus, there are another 7,382 people in the state legislatures.  The questioner didn’t limit his question to Congress; did Rep. West limit his answer to Congress?  I doubt it.

Yes, Kwame?

Isn’t this claim dangerously close to that other dude . . . McCartney, or something?  McCarthy!  Joe McCarthy.  Isn’t this almost exactly what Joe McCarthy said?

Very similar — maybe it’s a long standing problem, do you think, Kwame?

No, no.  McCarthy falsely accused people.  Turned out the list he waved in West Virginia kept changing — how many communists there were, who was on the list. He was just grandstanding.  He didn’t really know what he was talking about.

And Rep. West?

Well, don’t we have better information now?

How is our information better today?

You know, with the NSA bugging everybody’s phone and reading everybody’s e-mails.  Don’t you think they’d know who is a communist and who is not?

What do you think?  Do the federal agencies have better tools today?  And if they did, does that make it a crime to yearn for a different political system?  Do communists have rights, like Republicans and Democrats do, to push for change through their preferred political party?  Does Rep. West have access to the NSA’s work?  Billy?

Rep. West knows what happened to Sen. McCarthy, right?  This looks like exactly the same sort of stuff McCarthy did, but surely he wouldn’t make false charges like McCarthy did, would he?

So you think that there are, secretly, 70 or 80 Members of Congress who are communists, working to overthrow the government of the U.S.?

Tell you what:  Let’s look at Sen. McCarthy’s original complaint, as he telegraphed it to President Truman from Nevada; and let’s look at Truman’s response [both courtesy of the Truman Library, “Telegram, Joseph McCarthy to Harry S. Truman, February 11, 1950, with Truman’s draft reply; McCarthy, Joseph; General File; PSF; Truman Papers”].

Six pages from Sen. McCarthy:

Sen. McCarthy to President Truman, telegraph on communists in State Dept, page 1 - Truman Library Image

Sen. McCarthy to President Truman, telegraph on communists in State Dept, page 1 - Truman Library Image

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 2

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 2

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 3

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 3

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 4

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 4

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 5

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 5

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 6

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 6

And here is President Truman’s response, in draft form, before being sent as a telegram in reply:

Truman's response to Sen. McCarthy draft, February 1950 - Truman Library image

Truman's response to Sen. McCarthy draft, February 1950 - Truman Library image

So, knowing what you know about Sen. McCarthy, the Red Scare, the Cold War, and President Truman, what to you think of the accuracy of the claims McCarthy made?  Are the claims of Rep. West any better documented?

Santayana’s Ghost wonders whether you and I remember history correctly.


Red State: You’ll hear the banjoes

November 8, 2010

Somebody linked over to Red State.  What a creepy site.

First, it looks like those old ’50s school films about the creeping “Red Menace,” the way they paint every state Commie Red (no, I know they’re not conscious commies, but let’s call the color what it is).  It’s as if they have no knowledge of history over there, and they’ve never noticed.  It’s pretty clear that they have no desire nor need for white and blue, even to make “red, white and blue.”

Cover of record with "Dueling Banjoes"

If you have it on vinyl, you know what we mean.

Second, they brook no dissent at all.  Their terms of use (no open discussion) show the Red Staters get to decide whether you’re with the Red State Big Brother program — and if for any reason they decide you’re not toeing the party line, you’re vanquished.  No appeals.  “It’s not really an echo chamber, it’s unison singing.”

Third, there is the astonishing sucking sound where brains of skeptics should be.  Pick the stupid side of almost any issue, and it’s represented in spades there.  On the sciency front, for example, Red Staters have no use nor knowledge of Darwin, they think the warming temperatures of the climate are faked, probably by unholy, non-Red Stater weathermen, and they are convinced that the UN and others are using malaria for “population control” — so they favor massive amounts of DDT.

Remember Mr. Urquhart, the Delaware Tea Partier who, by the grace of God, lost the race for the state’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and his claim that “separation of church and state” was Hitler’s idea?  Urquhart appears to drift in the mainstream at Red State.

Try it.  Pick an issue, do a search at Red State to see if they don’t favor the stupid side, and see whether any real facts can get in.  Even the news that shows their positions wrong, say their position against more stimulus, they’ll spin to say it’s the other guy’s fault.

God save us.  It’s a new Red to fear, the new Red Scare.

Wikipedia loses Sen. Arthur V. Watkins – can you help with the rescue?

May 30, 2010

Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins on the cover of Time Magazine, 1954; copyright Time, Inc.

Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins on the cover of Time Magazine, 1954 (copyright Time, Inc.) Can Wikipedia find enough information here to add to Watkins's biography? Are we really to believe a Time cover subject has disappeared from history?

Utah’s Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, a Republican, made the history books in 1954 when he chaired a special committee of the U.S. Senate that investigated actions by Wisconsin’s Sen. Joseph McCarthy with regard to hearings McCarthy conducted investigating communists in the U.S. Army.

This is all the biography at Wikipedia is, now, in May 2010:

Arthur Vivian Watkins (December 18, 1886 – September 1, 1973) was a Republican U.S. Senator from 1947 to 1959. He was influential as a proponent of terminating federal recognition of American Indian tribes.

[edit] References

  • Klingaman., William The Encyclopedia of the McCarthy Era, New York : Facts on File, 1996 ISBN 0816030979. Menominee Termination and Restoration [1]

[edit] External links

What is there is of little use.  It doesn’t even mention the work Watkins is most famous for, the brave action that brought him fame and electoral defeat, the censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.  As a biography, it’s insultingly small, trivial, and misleading.

Here in Texas we have a school board that wishes to promote Joe McCarthy to hero status, to sweep under the rug the actual history of what he did, the inaccurate and vicious claims he made against dozens of people including his own colleagues in the U.S. Senate.  Good, readily available biographies of the people who stopped McCarthy, and good, readily available histories of the time can combat that drive for historical revisionism.

Wikipedia, in its extreme drive to prevent error, is preventing history in this case.  Wikipedia is no help.  For example, compare the article on Watkins with the article on Vermont Sen. Ralph Flanders, the man who introduced the resolution of censure against McCarthy. Flanders’s article is enormous by comparison, and no better documented. Why the snub to Watkins?

It’s odd.  Here I am providing a solid example of the evils of Wikipedia to warm the cockles of the heart of Douglas Groothuis, if he has a heart and cockles.   Facts and truth sometimes take us on strange journeys with strange traveling companions, even offensive companions.  Ultimately, I hope Wikipedia will wake up and choose to reinstate a useful and revealing biography of Watkins, to make Groothuis frostier than usual.

What to do?

Here is what follows, eventually below the fold:  I’ve copied one of the old biographies of Watkins from Wikipedia. Much of the stuff I recognize from various sources.  If there are inaccuracies, they are not intentional, nor are they done to impugn the reputation of any person (unlike the purging of Watkins’ biography, which unfortunately aides the dysfunctional history revisionism of Don McLeroy and the Texas State Soviet of Education).  I have provided some links to on-line sources that verify the claims.

Can you, Dear Reader, provide more and better links, and better accuracy?  Please do, in comments.  Help rescue the history around Sen. Watkins from the dustbin.

Will it spur Wikipedia to get its biographer act together and fix Watkins’s entry?  Who knows.

Here is the Wikipedia bio, complete with editing marks, and interspersed with some of my comments and other sources:

”’Arthur Vivian Watkins”’ (December 18, 1886 – September 1, 1973) was a Republican [[United States Senate|U.S. Senator]] from 1947 to 1959. He was influential as a proponent of terminating [[Federally recognized tribes|federal recognition]] of [[Native Americans in the United States|American Indian]] [[Indian tribe|tribes]] in order to allow them to have the rights of citizens of the United States.

Watkins’s life is available in basic outline form at a number of places on-line.  A good place to start is with the biographical directory of past members available from the U.S. Congress.  These sketches are embarrassingly short, but Watkins’s entry is four times the size of the Wikipedia entry, with about 20 times the information.  There is the Utah History Encyclopedia, with an article by Patricia L. Scott.  Her biography is copied by the Watkins Family History Society.

Watkins was born in [[Midway, Utah]]. He attended [[Brigham Young University]] (BYU) from 1903 to 1906, and [[New York University]] (NYU) from 1909 to 1910. He graduated from [[Columbia University Law School]] in 1912, and returned to Utah. There he was admitted to the bar the same year and commenced practice in [[Vernal, Utah]].

He engaged in newspaper work in 1914 (”The Voice of Sharon”, which eventually became the ”Orem-Geneva Times”, a weekly newspaper in [[Utah County, Utah|Utah County]].) [Sharon is an area in what is now Orem, Utah; the local division of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is called the Sharon Stake, where Watkins was a member. ]In 1914 Watkins was appointed assistant county attorney of [[Salt Lake County, Utah|Salt Lake County]]. He engaged in agricultural pursuits 1919-1925 with a <span style=”white-space:nowrap”>600&nbsp;acre&nbsp;(2.4&nbsp;km²)</span> [[ranch]] near [[Lehi, Utah | Lehi]].

Watkins served as district judge of the Fourth Judicial District of Utah 1928-1933, losing his position in the [[Franklin Delano Roosevelt|Roosevelt]] Democratic landslide in 1932. An unsuccessful candidate for the [[Republican Party (United States)|Republican]] nomination to the Seventy-fifth Congress in 1936, Watkins was elected as a Republican to the [[United States Senate]] in 1946, and reelected in 1952. He served from January 3, 1947, to January 3, 1959. An [[Elder (LDS Church)|elder]] in [[The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]], Watkins was widely respected in Utah. {{Fact|date=August 2007}}

In 1954, Watkins chaired the committee that investigated the actions of Wisconsin Senator [[Joseph McCarthy]] to determine whether his conduct as Senator merited censure. As Chairman, Watkins barred [[television]] cameras from the hearings, and insisted that McCarthy conform to Senate protocol. When McCarthy appeared before the Watkins committee in September 1954 and started to attack Watkins, the latter had McCarthy expelled from the room.

This material comes from an oft-repeated, probably cut-and-pasted story, such as this biography of Watkins at the alumni association of his old high school, the experimental Brigham Young High.  It is confirmed in a thousand places, and one wonders why Wikipedia thought it undocumented, or inaccurate.  See Time’s contemporary report, for example (with a co-starring turn from a young Sen. Sam Ervin, D-North Carolina — the man who would later chair the Senate’s Watergate hearings).

The committee recommended censure of Senator McCarthy. Initially, the committee proposed to censure McCarthy over his attack on General [[Ralph Zwicker]] and various Senators, but Watkins had the charge of censure for the attack on General Zwicker dropped. The censure charges related only to McCarthy’s attacks on other Senators, and excluded from criticism McCarthy’s attacks on those outside of the Senate.

Watkins’s appearance on the cover of Time was the October 4, 1954, edition, reporting McCarthy’s censure.  The story accompanying that cover is here.  The Senate Resolution censuring McCarthy is designated as one of the 100 most important documents in American history by the National Archives and Records Administration — see the document and more history, here.  See more at the Treasures of Congress exhibit’s on-line version.

McCarthy’s anti-communist rhetoric was popular with Utah’s electorate, however. Former [[Governor of Utah|Utah Governor]] [[J. Bracken Lee]] took the opportunity in 1958 to oppose Watkins for the nomination in the senatorial election. Though Watkins won the Republican [[primary election|primary]], Lee ran as an [[independent (politics)|independent]] in the [[general election]]. This caused a split in the Republican vote and allowed Democrat [[Frank E. Moss]] to win the seat. Lee went on to a long career as [[mayor]] of [[Salt Lake City, Utah|Salt Lake City]]. Moss served three terms in the Senate, losing to Republican [[Orrin Hatch]] in 1976.

I’m not sure why Wikipedia’s editors rejected that historical paragraph.  Most of the points can be confirmed on Wikipedia, just following who sat where in the Senate.  Time Magazine covered the election shenanigans of 1958, with an article, “Feud in the desert,” detailing the fight between Watkins and Lee — July 14, 1958.

Watkins served as chair of the [[United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs|Senate Interior Committee Subcommittee on Indian Affairs]]. He advocated [[Indian termination policy|termination]] of [[List of Native American Tribal Entities|Indian Tribal Entities]] in the belief that it was better for tribal members to be integrated into the rest of American life. He believed that they were ill-served by depending on the federal government for too many services.

Watkins called his policy the “freeing of the Indian from wardship status” and equated it with the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves during the Civil War. Watkins was the driving force behind termination. His position as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Indian Affairs gave him tremendous leverage to determine the direction of federal Indian policy. His most important achievement came in 1953 with passage of House Concurrent Resolution No. 108, which stated that termination would be the federal government’s ongoing policy. Passage of the resolution did not in itself terminate any tribes.

That had to be accomplished one tribe at a time by specific legislation. The [[Bureau of Indian Affairs]] (BIA) began to assemble a list of tribes believed to have developed sufficient economic prosperity to sustain themselves after termination. The list was headed by the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. One reason the BIA chose the Menominee was that the tribe had successful forestry and lumbering operations which the BIA believed could support the tribe economically. Congress passed an act in 1954 that officially called for the termination of the Menominee as a federally recognized Indian tribe.

Termination for the Menominee did not happen immediately. Instead, the 1954 act set in motion a process that would lead to termination. The Menominee were not comfortable with the idea, but they had recently won a case against the government for mismanagement of their forestry enterprises, and the $8.5 million award was tied to their proposed termination. Watkins personally visited the Menominee and said they would be terminated whether they liked it or not, and if they wanted to see their $8.5 million, they had to cooperate with the federal government{{Fact|date=February 2009}}. Given this high-handed and coercive threat{{POV assertion|date=June 2009}}, the tribal council reluctantly agreed.

To set an example, Watkins pushed for termination of Utah Indian groups, including the Shivwits, Kanosh, Koorsharem, and Indian Peaks Paiutes. Once a people able to travel over the land with freedom and impunity, they were forced to deal with a new set of unfamiliar laws and beliefs. He terminated them without their knowledge or consent.

After Watkins left the Senate, he served as a member of the U.S. Indian Claims Commission from 1959 to 1967. He retired to Salt Lake City, and in 1973, to Orem.

In 1969 Watkins published a book about his investigation of McCarthy, ”Enough Rope: The Inside Story of the Censure of Senator Joe McCarthy by his Colleagues: The Controversial Hearings that Signaled the End of a Turbulent Career and a Fearsome Era in American Public Life”, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1969).

It’s astounding to me that mentions of Watkins’s book would be struck by Wikipedia, as if it were questionable that Watkins and the book ever existed.  Did the editor who cut that reference doubt sincerely?

Former Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, R-Utah, signing his book "Enough Rope" at Sam Weller's bookstore, Salt Lake City -- 1969?  Utah Historical Society

Caption from the Utah Historical Society: Arthur Watkins (seated, center), a United States Senator from Utah, is shown here at a book signing for his book, "Enough Rope" at Sam Weller's Bookstore."Enough Rope" was a book about Joe McCarthy and the red scare. Rights management Digital Image (c) 2004 Utah State Historical Society. All Rights Reserved. (use here allowed by UHS, for education)

State and local historical groups curate remarkable collections of images, now digitized and available free, online.  The Utah Historical Society offers a wealth of images in their collection.  Among them, we find a 1969 photograph of former-Sen. Watkins at a book signing at Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore, the Salt Lake City monument to bookophilia and still one of the best bookstores in the world.  (Mormons read a lot, but Weller’s is not an official outlet of Mormon ideas; the store is a bastion of learning in a learned culture that pushes the envelope by challenging that culture at many turns; Weller’s bookstore is a nightmare to people who wish to cover up history).  Watkins is the guy seated at the table signing books — the other two men are not identified.  What more proof would one need of the existence of the book?

The book is referenced at the U.S. Congress biographical guideYou can find it at, though you’d have to buy it used or remaindered (hey! Call Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore!)

A project of the [[United States Bureau of Reclamation|U.S. Bureau of Reclamation]], the Arthur V. Watkins Dam north of [[Ogden, Utah]], created Willard Bay off of the [[Great Salt Lake]]

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Christopher J. McCune, “The Weber Basin Project,” Historic Reclamation Projects Book; accessed May 29, 2010.  Scientific Commons lists Watkins’s papers, at Brigham Young University.  That listing can lead you to the Western Waters digital library, which contains an astonishing amount of information, including photos and newspaper clippings.   Watkins’s lifelong work in water and irrigation was the spur to name the BuRec dam after him.  (The Western Waters Digital Project is a good exemplar of the exquisite detail possible in a publicly-available, online archive.)

Watkins died in [[Orem, Utah]].

His son, Arthur R. Watkins, was a professor of German at [[Brigham Young University]] for more than 25 years.

I offered material to Wikipedia’s article on Watkins more than two years ago, when I discovered the article was little more than a repeat of the Congressional biography guide.  At the time I had a couple of inquiries from reporters and others watching elections in Utah, especially the reelection of Orrin Hatch, to the seat Watkins held (from 1946 to today, that seat has been held by just three people, Watkins, Ted Moss, and Hatch).  It was historical curiosity.

Recently in Texas we’ve seen that absence of good history can lead to distortions of history, especially distortions in the history to be taught in public schools.  It would serve the evil ends of the Texas Taliban were Arthur V. Watkins to be “disappeared” from history.  (See this astoundingly biased account from a guy named Wes Vernon; according to Vernon, McCarthy was improperly lynched.)

Let’s not let that happen, at least, not at Wikipedia.


Update: A reader more savvy than I in the ways of Wikipedia has restored most of the old biography.  Now it’s an effort to beef up references.

Wow.  Ask, and it’s done.  Good friends make things much better.

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Dan Valentine – “I miss my Dad”

May 22, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Yesterday I wrote: “Everybody in Texas drives. They’d drive to the bathroom if the stall doors were wide enough.”

I borrowed that line from the script of Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” (1979): “I got a friend who bought a Mercedes just to get to the bathroom.” He lifted it (perhaps, perhaps not) from my dad’s “The Wit & Wisdom of Dan Valentine” (1974). Can’t remember off hand how my dad phrased it. There’s a copy of the book, along with all his columns, in the BYU Achieves. I’m in Ensenada.

I googled “drive to the bathroom” and came up with:

“If we Indians could drive to the bathroom, then we would do that.” (TIME Asia, Bryan Walsh, Hong Kong.

“We are a ‘car’ people and we would like to drive everywhere. We’d drive to the bathroom if we could.” (M. Timothy ‘O Keefe. “Guide to the Caribbean Vacation”.)

“The urban population, they are driving in cars everywhere. If they could drive to the bathroom, they would.” (David Kohn. “Getting to the Heart of the Matter in India.)

I like to think that my dad came up with the line first. But probably not.

The Salt Lake Tribune didn’t pay my dad much, tho’ for many in Utah it was the reason they subscribed to the paper. So he free-lanced to make ends meet. Sold a story here, sold a story there, sold a story to Esquire.

He wrote a pamphlet called “Pioneer Pete’s Utah Scrapbook,” off-beat tales of Utah history, geared to tourists and distributed at truck/tourist stops. It shot off the shelves. So he wrote “Pioneer Pete’s Idaho Scrapbook, Wyoming Scrapbook, Divorcee Scrapbook, Nevada Scrapbook, Hunter’s Scrapbook, Fisherman’s Scrapbook, the list goes on and on.

He published a soft-back collection of his newspaper columns, displayed and distributed in these same truck/tourist stops. One the columns was called “Dear World,” his thoughts and wish for me, watching his first-born traipse off to his first day of school.

“Dear World: My young son starts to school today. It’s going to be sort of strange and new to him for awhile, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently …” It’s been called a “newspaper classic”.

In 1969, Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly/Mame) wrote a musical, starring Angela Lansbury, called “Dear World.”

A few years ago, I met Jerry Herman at the ASCAP Musical Theatre workshop. We had quite a long chat. Wonderful guy! Half-kidding, I told him that he had stolen my dad’s title. He didn’t deny it. He smiled and said, “Nice title.” I picture him in a restaurant, picking up one of my dad’s American Essay books, and getting the germ of an idea for a musical.

When my sister was born, in 1955, my dad wrote a column called “Hello, Little Girl.” He later included it in a book, sold in restaurants. I googled “Hello, Little Girl” earlier this morning. I knew what would come up. Wikipedia: “The title is reference to the Stephen Sondheim song ‘Hello Little Girl’ for the musical ‘Into the Woods.”

I like to think that Sondheim was thumbing through a restaurant table-copy somewhere and the title stayed in the back of his mind.

The first song John Lennon ever wrote was called “Hello Little Girl.”  I like to think – nah, impossible. But, then again …

The book, displayed at truck/tourist stops, sold so well that he wrote and published a series of booklets called the American Essay series, each geared to those on the road, eating at truck/tourist stops along the highway:

“What is a trucker driver?” He’s a big guy. He’s a small guy. He comes in all sizes and shapes. Short, tall, skinny, fat. Laughing, serious.”

“What is a veteran? He’s a man who looks the world in the eye. He’s a big man, he’s a small man, he’s a short man, he’s a tall man.” On and on. Corny stuff. But they sold and sold. So much so that he wrote “What is a father/mother/teacher/secretary/nurse/ minister/rancher/farmer/rancher’s wife/farmer’s wife/truck driver’s wife. He even wrote “What is a mortician,” for morticians to hand out to customers.

He once said, later in life, that he had ruined what little talent he had writing them.

He sold hundreds of thousands of them. “Sentimental classics designed to make the heart sing”.

In 2003, the 75th Annual Academy Awards were hosted by Steve Martin. He began his introduction: “What is a movie star?” Tremendous laughter. Immediate recognition. “A movie star is many things.” More laughter. “They can be tall, short, thin, or skinny.” More laughter, stars falling off their seats, as they say. It’s on YouTube. My dad would have loved it!!!

Most humor is identification, and most everyone in the audience, it seems, had stopped to dine in their travels and read one or two of my dad’s sentimental essays sold at truck/tourist stops throughout the west.

At Carnegie Hall, Andy Kaufman read my dad’s essay “This is a wife” to the audience and brought down the house. “A sigh in the night … A smile across a room of strangers … A tug at a sleeve in the middle of a sad movie.” People were falling off their seats. It’s on YouTube.

As Tony Cliff, Kaufman read “This is a wife” on David Letterman, bringing the house down once again. It’s on YouTube. It’s also reprinted in a book of best written humor ever with Kaufman’s by-line. My dad wouldn’t have been too keen about that.

During the Red Scare, in 1950, my dad hosted a local radio show in Salt Lake. One of his guests was Sen. Joe McCarthy who was traveling the country, spreading the word to one and all who would listen that there were “Commies” in our State Department. Heaven forbid! God save us all! One day the number of “Commies” was 205; another day, 4; next day it would be 81.

It was on my dad’s radio show that McCarthy first came up with the exact number of “actual card-carrying Communists in the State Department.”


My Dad: In other words, Senator, if Secretary of State Dean Acheson would call you at the Hotel Utah tonight in Salt Lake City–”
Sen. McCarthy: That’s right.
My Dad: –you could give him 57 names of actual card-carrying Communists in the State Department of the United States–actual card-carrying Communists?
Sen. McCarthy: Not only can, Dan. but I will.

Flip the calendar pages to 1962 and “The Manchurian Candidate”, starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, based on the Red Scare and Joe McCarthy.

Mrs. Iselin (at meal time): I’m sorry, hon’. Would it really make it easier for you if we settled on just one number?
Sen. John Yerkers Iselin: Yeah. Just one, real, simple number that’d be easy for me to remember.
(Mrs. Iselin watches her husband thump a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup onto the his plate)
Sen. John Yerkers Iselin (addressing the Senate): There are exactly 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Department of defense at this time.

I miss my Dad.

Scaremongering against health legislation is nothing new . . .

March 19, 2010

You’ve read the health care reform bill, and you didn’t find any creeping socialism in it, nor did you find any little Joe Stalins hiding in Section 34, nor anywhere else.

How could people make such bizarre, outlandish claims?

It’s historic, really.

Flyer from 1955, Keep America Committee

Keep America Committee flyer, 1955 - courtesy of Alex Massie

That’s right!  Good mental health is anathema to conservative Republicans!

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