Category Archives: Reads

Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

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A Circle

We once vehemently thought the world was flat. Wrong.

We thought the world revolved around us. Wrong.

We shift as we discover we are wrong. We rewrite the history of our mistakes and move on. Yet, we keep using the same tools to make new mistakes.

As The Who most succinctly wrote in 1971’s We Won’t Get Fooled Again,  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”.

We have our mistakes playing on repeat.

  • Manifest Destiny.
  • Our current United States polarized political climate.
  • Climate change (yes, it is a real, scientific thing.)
  • Cultural disrespect.

We continue to think of ourselves as masters instead of as members. In our psyche, we are the whole part, not part of the whole.

Maybe it’s time to flip our approach. Maybe it’s time to go team first. We all win when we all win. THIS is the way we “Make America Great Again”.

Either way, we need to make a long overdue switch from the flat-world philosophy to a philosophy of the circle.  Social, political, economical, educational, institutional. You name it, we can make it better. And make it better for generations to come. 

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk spoke to Joseph Epes Brown about the peace and fulfillment within the sacred philosophy of the circle.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Every-thing the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

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1763

We know all about the American Revolution, right? Did not we dashing, young American children learn every important date, battle, and character of our nation’s fight for independence from British tyranny?

Huzzah!

We are such bright children. We know about the Boston Tea Party, Washington crossing the Potomac, and Jefferson and the Founding Father’s passionate Declaration of Independence. I bet most of us can recite the first line of Paul Revere’s Ride (which is probably the only thing besides his name we know of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

Though all these things sit prominently in the psyche of the American-educated child, they are not the things at the core of our struggle for independence in 1776. As is common in history, recorded history is in the eyes of the recorder—the information deemed vital usually results in making one group look like heroes while making another, antagonistic group look like pure evil.

My interest in this subject was prompted recently by the intersection of the PBS Hamilton Documentary, the 2016 Presidential Election, and background research of the Wyandot Indian Tribe of Kansas for a book I’m working on. Through all this information, I’ve discovered a fact that should really not be such a surprise, but it still hit me like a bat to the head.

Our Founding Fathers were imperfect human beings. The people who run our modern country are imperfect human beings. There exists both a good side and a dark side to our national heroes. Take Thomas Jefferson for example. Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” in the Declaration of Independence and then went home to the slaves he owned on his Monticello plantation.

Imperfect human beings.

So what the hell happened in 1763?

The American Revolution started.

Well, maybe not officially but that was the year the bellwether event that instigated the colonies to eventually declare their freedom occurred. On October 7, 1763, triggered by the loss of many strategic forts in the Ohio Valley that year to a loosely bound confederation of Indian tribes led by the Odawa leader, Pontiac, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763. After obtaining the land west of the Appalachian Mountains as part of their victory over the French in the French and Indian War, Great Britain attempted to appease and stop further confrontation with the Native tribes of the Ohio Valley, outlawed white settlement in those regions. The white British colonists were furious. King George III, sitting on his throne an ocean away, outlawed their expansion to the prime real estate of the frontier.  

Taxation without representation and freedom from tyranny are just a few examples we were given in history class as directly leading to the Revolution. These, however, seem to take a back seat to the accumulation of wealth emphasis by the colonists. They looked out over all those raw resources available in the new world and wanted them. Things really weren’t much different then than what we see today in America. Economics, especially lassoing as many of this new continent’s economic resources into one’s own possession, played an equal or greater role than the altruistic fight for our freedom from the oppression of King George III.

1776 was just the culmination of 13 years of frustration in the New World. 13 long years of watching the ripe apple just sit there on the western frontier inhabited by the “uncivilized” Native tribes.  

History. It’s much more fascinating when we step behind the curtain and get a look at the mechanisms behind the singular event.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

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Think the 2016 Election is Bad?

Had enough of the 2016 Presidential Election? Do you think this is the craziest, most chaotic presidential election ever? In our lifetime, 2016 is definitely over-the-top insanity with our major-party-mediocrity-candidate choices. Heavy on the hate, venom, and accusations and very light on the issues but when compared to the Election of 1876, 2016 seems fairly mild.

There are similarities. A country in the wake of a tragic event drifting to polar opposites instead of joining forces for a common good. A country inching closer to being unable to sit in the same room and work to solve even the simplest of problems.

Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio for the Republicans. Samuel Tilden of New York for the Democrats. New school Republicans, fresh off their victory in the Civil War and emancipation of black slaves, vs. the old school Democrats base of the South, stinging not only from the loss of the War but from the economic hit sustained by the loss of their “free” labor force. Reconstruction in the South was a grueling process, marred by slowed progress and a lack of will for white Southerners to accept a societal change.

The election was ugly. Media was ugly. The newspapers of the time were not the “impartial” media we are used to in today’s society. The were biased and the facts were handled lightly and often created. Editorials, character attacks, and articles by Republican-leaning papers villainized Tilden. Democratic papers painted a picture of Hayes as the devil himself. Almost all these accusations had zero basis in any kind of fact or truth. It was mud-slinging that makes our ad campaigns seem mild in comparison.

The election day itself was marred by controversy. The Republicans used questionable tactics in winning three Southern states, with allegations of voter fraud being leveled by Democrats. The Democrats used fraud also, mixed with violence and intimidation practices designed to keep many black, former slave males from voting. Both sides cheated, but neither side prevailed.

Yes, you read that right. Neither side won. Or, more accurately, neither side could be declared a winner by electoral vote. Tilden won the popular vote, but Hayes kept even in electoral votes, mainly because of those possibly ill-gained electoral votes from those three Southern states. The nation was stuck.

And nobody could figure out who the next president was.

After many attempts to arrive at a conclusion failed, the powers that be formed a commission of five US Senators, five House of Representatives, and five US Supreme Court Justices to study and decide the issue. They thought the commission was neutral with 7 appointed Republicans, 7 Democrats, and one independent member. After much deliberation and study and recounting, the commissioner voted 8-7 in favor of Rutherford B. Hayes to be the 19th President of the United States.

Case solved, right?

Wrong.

Turns out the independent member of the commission was not so independent. He was a Republican and the 8 Hayes voters were all Republicans and the 7 Tilden voters were all Democrats. Partisanship at its finest.

Finally, in the week before the end of the Ulysses S. Grant’s term and the inauguration tentatively schedule in mere days, a deal was struck at the 11th hour. The Democrats would accept the results of the commission and allow Hayes to be inaugurated as president. In return, the Republicans would basically scrap the idea of Reconstruction in the South. A compromise was agreed upon.

The price of the compromise is controversial. Putting the brakes on the Reconstruction process stymied social progress and opened the door for Jim Crow policies and further entrenched racial segregation in the South. Perhaps the history of the fight for civil rights in America would have had a different face without the stopping of a Reconstruction process. Perhaps things would have turned out pretty much the same. Who knows?

So as bad as Trump/Clinton gets. As bad as two bad choices appear to be in 2016, remind yourself that our country will survive. We will move forward with all our pocks and issues and problems to continue as the best place on Earth to live.

I don’t care who you vote for. Just vote. It does matter. I will always believe that, at a minimum, voting gives one a right to complain afterward.

No voting, no crying…understand?

Remember the Election of 1876 gave us a president named Hayes. Even with the extra “e”, that’s not an all-bad thing.

Happy voting!

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Autumnal Equinox: Beware the Autumn People

Welcome to the Autumnal Equinox. We have turned the corner, left summer behind, and on the horizon looms Winter. In celebration of this fine season, which brings us football, school, the World Series, changing leaves, and Halloween, here is one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. Happy Autumn!

From SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury

“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.

Where do they come from?

The dust.

Where do they go?

The grave.

Does blood stir their veins?

No: the night wind.

What ticks in their head?

The worm.

What speaks from their mouth?

The toad.

What sees from their eye?

The snake.

What hears with their ear?

The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.

Such are the autumn people.

Beware of them.”

 

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Library Love

Note: As public funding becomes tighter and less reliable, I am concerned about the future of our libraries in communities, universities, and school districts. The library is as important to the health of a community as schools, sports facilities, public service departments, etc. Please support your local libraries with your time, your talent, and your treasure.

Don’t you just love libraries? I know, dumb question coming from a sports geek, but don’t you? I am a fan of the library, especially my local library, the Clay Center (KS) Carnegie Library.

I fondly remember my branch library in my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. I remember the book smell, the quiet, and not being able to fathom the number of books there must be in the world if we could have this many books in our little library. I was fascinated by the old-school checkout card machine where the librarian would masterfully align and feed the three cards into a slot and the due date was printed on each card. The card stack exited from another slot and the librarian would insert them into the books. It was magic. I was happy I came from a big family so I could watch the librarian run the cards from the giant stack of Hays family books. The sound of that old machine was music to my ears.

As a kid, I was a husky, could-not-sit-still introvert, slow-developing reader of a boy. Without a tremendous amount of help and patience from the adults in my young academic life, I may never have grown up a reader. I always liked the library, though. I liked to graze the shelves looking at the book spines, book covers, and flipping through the pictures. I am a better reader now, but roaming and searching the book stacks is still a favorite activity.

One of the earliest memories of being completely, totally PO’d in life was when I was about six or seven and my onerous older brother told the librarian I probably lied and didn’t read all of the four or five books (a major accomplishment for me at the time) I’d listed on my summer reading program sheet. I remember the sheet vividly, it had a drawing of a genie riding a magic carpet on the top and blank lines for what seems like 50 books. I will never forget the look the librarian gave me when she thought I had cheated. I was so embarrassed and so mad at the possibility of my first real reading success melting right before my eyes, I crumpled into a ball on the library floor and had to be dragged out wailing and screaming.

Libraries.

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I had the honor in 2013 to be the keynote speaker at our local Friends of the Library annual meeting. It floored me to be invited to speak as a writer. I talked about libraries, the role of libraries in the 21st century, eBooks and the middle-grade book I wrote called, THE YOUNGER DAYS. Through this wonderful opportunity, I attempted to convey how important lending libraries are to a community, regardless of size.

I believe libraries and museums are the two vital community institutions. No other community institution, be it police, fire, or city hall, reflects a community like the library and the local museum. These two cultural institutions define the collective communities we live in; they tell us:

  1. Who we were as a community – our history and past is defined in the collections.
  2. Who we are now – our present values are defined in the current acquisitions and direction.
  3. Where we need to go – our core community values serve as an anchor for future decision-making.

Libraries are a center of gravity in our communities. The early leaders of our country knew the importance of knowledge to the dream of democracy. In a second floor room of Carpenter Hall in Philadelphia, just a floor above the room where the first treasonous talks between the traitors to the crown took place, Benjamin Franklin started one of our first new world lending libraries.

“It (the library) was Ben Franklin’s idea. At the very beginning comes the idea of learning, of books, of ideas.”                                             -historian David McCullough.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s personal philosophy revolved around the importance of knowledge to the self-made man, knowledge gained through books. Through his donations and foundation, just under 1700 libraries were started in the United States. The Carnegie Foundation set the standards and groundwork for community lending libraries for the common man. One of the more interesting innovations of the Carnegie Library was the establishment of the open stacks, where patrons could browse the books themselves. Previously, the patron had to rely on a librarian to retrieve a requested book from the stacks located behind the counter. The true library for the common man was established through Andrew Carnegie’s vision and access to knowledge made more accessible than it had ever been.

Libraries serve a major role in our society, below is an ALA list of recommended minimal functions of a library.

  • Collect Circulate
  • Borrow Catalog
  • Provide access to catalogs Provide reference service
  • Offer reader advice Provide access to technology & the Internet
  • Serve children Serve teenagers and young adults
  • Serve adults Provide exhibit space and offer exhibits
  • Provide reading rooms Provide meeting rooms/convene meetings
  • Serve as a community center Serve as a community symbol

As as we dive into the digital age, providing access to technology & the internet jumps out from this list as one of the most important function of a library. Look at these recent numbers from the Institute of Museum and Library Services:

  • 67% of libraries offer access to e-books.
  • 64% are the only source of free Internet access in their communities
  • 169 million people used one of 16,000 public libraries in the study year; 77 million of them used a library computer
  • 86% of public libraries provide free Wi-Fi

With the rise of the digital world, some tend to think the library is a dinosaur. To the contrary, libraries are as important and will be as important as ever in the 21st Century. Libraries will serve will not only to provide access to physical knowledge, but to digital knowledge, as well. Libraries will increasingly by becoming hubs for access and training in digital media and become a major tool in the fight to reduce society’s digital divide.

In their report, Confronting the Future, the ALA defines four major issues on which a library’s staff, a library’s board, and a library’s patrons must find a balance as they move into the digital age.

  • They must find a balance between how much of a physical and how much of a virtual library they want to be.
  • A balance must be found between serving the individual and the community.
  • Develop a philosophy and implement practices that balance being a collections library and a creations library.
  • Finally, a library must find the best fit within their budget, patron needs, and infrastructure to balance their role as a portal for information and/or a site for archived information.

The intersection of all these decisions will determine the sweet spot of a library’s future directions and priorities.

I love libraries. Big libraries, medium-size libraries, school libraries, university libraries, technical libraries, small-town libraries, or a small birdhouse sized wooden box in someone’s front yard to exchange books, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the information, what matters is the content, what matters is the reader.

Update: I have successfully gone over forty years without breaking down in a sobbing mass of goo on the library carpet, but my wife still has to drag me out of the library on occasion.

References

Levien, Roger E., Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library,  ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, Policy Brief No. 4, June 2011.

http://www.ala.org/offices/sites/ala.org.offices/files/content/oitp/publications/policybriefs/confronting_the_futu.pdf

Miller, Elizabeth R., Exploring the role of the 21st century library in the age of e-books and online content. Knight Blog, February 25, 2012.

http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/2/25/exploring-role-21st-century-library-age-e-books-and-online-content/

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Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce

There I sat.

In Texas Tom’s.

Late at night, almost midnight.

After one of the first Legion Post 199 doubleheaders of the summer.

Sitting there staring at the red tray holding two Buckaroo Basket orders on the white, shiny table in front of me.

Contemplating. Contemplating not only how hungry I was after a night of baseball, but contemplating the very future of this collection of baseball talent Dennis “Harpo” Hurla had put together for the summer’s Fegan’s Cafe team.

If there was ever a time I needed a clutch hit, this was it.

It was my second season playing for Harpo. I was one of only a handful returners, and, once again, the only player on this talent-laden team from Washington High School. The previous year was a conglomeration of talent from a wide variety of area high schools. This year, though, almost all the players were from Bishop Ward, all from one very successful high school programs that spring season and my school’s most hated rival, no less.

I knew many of these kids and played baseball with many of them coming up through Christ the King Catholic School. Still, I wondered how and where I would fit within the hierarchy of this baseball team. I didn’t wanted to be pushed out to the fringes of the team–I wanted to the hub this team turned around.

This may sound arrogant to you, but it’s part of being a confident athlete. My arrogance and ego as an athlete probably failed me in life 99% of the time, but on the sports field, that other 1% was MINE. That 1% was pure magic. I wanted to be dependable to my new teammates in any situation. I wanted them to rely on me.

There I sat in Texas Tom’s—a greasy, local fast food joint in the heart of Bishop Ward territory—ready to mark my place with my new teammates. I remember as a kid, driving by Texas Tom’s, with the cartoon cowboy painted on its sign, on the way to my grandparents house. We’d never stop there to eat. Never. The Ward guys talked about TT’s all the time. They even told the legend of how several big time Cyclone athletes had achieved rare air through their one-sitting consumption of a two Buckaroo Baskets.

In case you never had the pure, artery hardening experience of the Buckaroo Basket at Texas Tom’s, here’s what you got in your half-a-football sized red plastic basket lined with TT’s paper. One cheeseburger dripping in greasy goodness, one fried burrito made with the finest of synthetic protein sources, copious amounts of steaming french fries, a taco, and to top thing off properly, a handful of crisp deep fried onion rings dropped over the top. Oh, let’s not forget the spicy, red taco sauce served on the side packed in sealable white styrofoam cups due to potential negative environmental impact and ability to eat its way out of a normal paper serving cup.

Double Buckaroo Basket was twice of all the above.

So with a half-dozen set of eyes upon me, the outsider, and the clock close to striking midnight, I snarfed down one Buckaroo Basket and then proceeded calmly to the second. The second Buckaroo Basket proved little challenge as it went down with the expert fashion as only a 17-year-old highly active, Bubba athlete can do.

I finished to smiles, congratulations and many pats on the back. I was cool in their eyes. But, to me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the workhorse of this team. I wanted to be the guy they looked to get the big hit, make the big play, and be the rock the team could be built on. I wanted my new teammates to not only let an outsider into their circle, I wanted them to hook their wagons to me. And I wanted to do justice to Dennis Hurla. Harpo gave me, an unknown from Washington High School, the opportunity to play for Fegan’s Cafe and I didn’t want to let him down.

I told the guys to sit back down in their seats. They did. I reached through the trash on the tray in front of me and fished out the two sealed containers of the taco sauce. The taco sauce the Ward guys said nobody EVER eats. I popped the lids off carefully and every chair in the vicinity slid away from me a few yards. Looking into the eyes fixed upon me and the cup of red goo in my hands, I threw back one after the other and shot down the sauce.

Eyes bulged around our little group and their stomachs turned over. But, I held strong. I stood, picked up my tray and deposited the trash into the can. I turned to my paralyzed, gawking teammates.

“Boys, let’s get the hell out of here. We have another game tomorrow night.”

I had forgotten all about that night 33 years ago. For some reason, the memory popped out of my neural network the other day.

Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce.

It quickly became a team battle cry.

How can one forget something like that?

Probably brain damage from too many containers of Texas Tom’s Taco Sauce.

Buckaroo Basket

(Note: We made to the Kansas American Legion state tournament that year for the first time in many years. Once Harpo survived coaching us crazy SOB’s, he went to several regional and national Legion events before becoming head baseball coach at Bishop Ward where he has won more Kansas 4A State Baseball Championships than he has fingers. I am forever grateful of the time spent playing for Dennis. I know we, the first couple groups of kids he ever coached, are better human adults because of the experience.)

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