Monday, March 26, 2018

The First Principle...Again


We've lost our way.  Should we return to the beginning?


We consider it self-evident - and thus not subject to debate - that all people are created equal.  That is to say, All people are equal to each other from the time of their birth until their death: equal morally, legally, and ethically. 

All people, being equal to each other, are endowed by their creator with certain rights.  That is to say, All people are born with particular rights that cannot be taken from them and that they cannot give away.  Having these essential and sure rights is a function of a person's existing in the real world, not a function of any achievement of her or his own or of someone's else's generosity or approval.

Incidentally, just as every individual may be confident of his or her having these rights, so is she or he obliged to recognize every other individual's corresponding rights.  The essential human rights are common to all human individuals.


Among these unalienable rights, which all people have throughout their lives, are -
          (1) the right to life,
          (2) the right to liberty or freedom, and
          (3) the right to what has been called "the pursuit of happiness."

That is to say, All people, from their birth from their mother's womb to their death, cannot be denied the opportunity to live and to continue to live.  They may not lose their right to live in law, in policy, or in practice.

Also, all people cannot have taken from them their right to behave freely, doing what they want, where and when they want, so long as their freely chosen actions do not infringe upon the freedom of anyone else.  Such freedom may not be denied in practice, in policy, or by law.

Also, every person has the unalienable right to strive to provide for herself or himself what is needed to live comfortably: safely, dependably, adequately.  Denying someone this right is illegal, unethical, and immoral.


These three rights are not necessarily the only inherent rights each of us has in equal measure as long as we shall live, but they are the only ones singled out for particular emphasis in our Declaration of Independence.

It only makes sense for every practice we observe, every policy we experience or enforce, every law on the books or under consideration to be assessed first and foremost by how well the practice, policy, or law supports everyone's equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Do our practices, policies, and laws governing education - for instance - provide equal opportunities for achievement to all Americans - to poor and rich, to new (legal) immigrants and descendants of immigrants of generations past (not to mention native Americans), to all those living in the rural South and the urban East, and so on and so forth?  Do they?  If not, why not, and how can we do a better job, without delay?

And what about health care? the judicial system?  Are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, equally, supported by the prevailing laws, policies, and practices in our country today?  Whenever we look for ways to improve what we have now, is that the chief goal of every proposal we consider?

Why don't we hear of these fundamental principles in every political discussion in which we engage?


Monday, February 20, 2017

Liberty and Justice Flagging


"I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice
for all."

"I pledge alternative allegiance to the Flag
of the New-Blighted States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands,
at least one nation
a bit risible,
with Liberty and Justice
for a few."


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Grand DT on Laws and Taxes

Note: The first two conversations in this series are found below.
1. Defining the Good People
2. The Good People and Freedom

So, DT, government is needed, right? to provide police protections, fire and other emergency protections, health care, schools, and so on.  Correct?

So I understand, yes.

Are Good People responsible for providing good government?

No, why?

Well, good government is better than inadequate or unreliable government.  Who is responsible for being sure government that works well is provided?

Those who need it, they are responsible.  This is democracy, Joe.  The people govern themselves.

Shouldn't Good People be contributing the most?

No, why?

They have the most to contribute, DT, don't they?

Joe, don't get me wrong.  Some of the Good People do sometimes choose to participate in government.  They are free to do so, and they do.  Sometimes.

And taxes.  Should the Good People - and other rich people too - shouldn't they pay more taxes than others less well off?

The Good People are free to pay taxes.  Many, perhaps most, do.


Now, DT, Americans like to say we are governed by laws, not men (or women).  Is that true?

Some grass is green...

Still talking about the grass, are we?

When it seems to fit, Joe, why not?

       NOTE: In an earlier conversation, this metaphor was introduced...
     ...DT, shouldn't everyone be free?
    That's like asking if all grass should be green.  Some grass is    
    green. Some grass is more or less green.  And some grass is not
    green at all. Don't get me wrong, Joe, but that's the fact of the
    matter, a fact of life.

But, DT, is everyone equal before the law?  Those you call the Good People, as well as others?  Equal?

Don't get me wrong, Joe, but for Good People laws are not important.

So, for those who are Born Rich, laws are not important.   Right?


While for the rest of us, laws are important...


So, no.  In America everyone is not equal before the law. Is that right too?

Facts are true.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

To the New President

Dear Mr. President

You are rich.  We don't know if you are Super-Rich, but you are rich for sure.  Unlike almost any other political leader, you are not beholden to the Super-Rich as a class.  That gives you an important degree of freedom, if you have the nerve to use it, to serve the good of all Americans, rich and poor and everywhere between.

In a capitalist democracy, economic and political power are basically the same thing.  An extraordinarily skilled political leader can achieve enough political power that enormous wealth seems to come along automatically.  Maybe Bill Clinton is an example of that phenomenon.  More often, on the other hand, those with enormous fortunes invest some of their millions or billions in political campaigns, insuring their long-term political as well as economic dominance.  The Koch brothers may be the most obvious example of this phenomenon in our time.

But you are different from either group.

For America to be Great again, we need our economy to work vigorously, efficiently, and stably.  We need our democracy to work smoothly and fairly too.  The greatest obstacle between our current position and the greatness we can achieve is the vast, and still growing gap between the Super-Rich and all the rest of us.

You, Mr. President, free of obligations to the other Fat Cats and unburdened by the dogmatic platitudes of the Fat Cats' political stooges, you have a unique ability to put America on the path toward ridding ourselves of this huge obstacle.  Start today to lay the groundwork to restore a sufficient degree of equal opportunity to American life.

A very logical place to begin would be to set up a generous but steeply graduated estate tax system, to start immediately.  Nothing promotes and sustains inequality like large, or rather "Yuge" inheritances.  Let's put a stop to that now.

It would work something like this: a Super-Rich person could leave a vast estate of - for example - $250 million with no tax required at the time it is inherited by her spouse or his children (or whoever is named an heir).  But the next $500 thousand above that initial $250 million would be taxed at 10%, the next $500 thousand after that would be taxed at 20%, next at 35%, next at 55%, and so on, until taxes on some gigantic amount would reach 85% or even 90% (for instance).

The concept would be that the untaxed amount would be relatively large, but then the slope of graduation in taxes on estates would be relatively steep.  That would be a good start toward addressing the greatest political and economic problem facing America today.

Neither the economy nor the democracy will work efficiently and stably without at least a relative equality of opportunity among all our citizens.  A capitalist economy operates efficiently only if the wealth it produces ends up being distributed widely enough to produce prosperity among both producers and consumers, owners and workers, sellers and buyers, investors and small business women and men, in short among all of us.  Extreme concentration of wealth at any point on just about any spectrum running through an economy creates instability and declining ability to work, to spend, to invest, or to innovate. 

Mr. President, you are in a unique position where you can say boldly and clearly to the Super-Rich that "Trickle-Down" economics is simply b.s.  The wealth of the nation moving disproportionately to those who are already rich does not significantly benefit anyone but the rich themselves, while all aspects of the rest of our culture declines.  Infrastructure, health care, education: all suffer as more and more of our wealth goes to the top.  And you, rich Mr. President, can lead us back toward the kind of balance our economy requires to help everyone prosper proportionately.

Please take advantage of your freedom.  Lead us back toward the Great America where the opportunity to thrive is spread more or less equally throughout all of society!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Grand DT on Freedom, Government, and Equal Rights


So, DT, let's talk about liberty... or Freedom.

Freedom?  Good.  Everybody likes his freedom.

You said the Good People are free.  Free because they are rich, right?

Good.  They are free, Joe, because they are good. 

What about others?

What would you like to know about the Others?

Are they free too?

Some have some freedom.  Some have none or next to none.


But DT, shouldn't everyone be free?

That's like asking if all grass should be green.  Some grass is green.  Some grass is more or less green.  And some grass is not green at all. Don't get me wrong, Joe, but that's the fact of  the matter, a fact of life.


So what, great DT, is the role of government?

Good people have no need of government, little Joe.  Government is needed to keep the Others in order.

What keeps the Good people in order?

The Good keep order themselves.  At first they know the rules.  Later they make them up.


And what about rights?

You don't mean "as opposed to wrongs," I think.

No, like we all have the same rights, equal rights, like speech and religion and privacy, and so on.  That kind of rights.  What about them?

What's your question, Joe?

Do the Good People, DT, and the Others have the same rights, equally?

No.  Don't get me wrong, Joe.  But remember the green grass.  Remember?


Upgrade Available: U S Constitution



In Philadelphia today, a small group is rewriting the Constitution.  The original of course begins this way:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the General Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The new version will begin thus:

We the Very Rich People of the United States,

in order to create greater division among our fellow Americans
   and form a more perfect Union among ourselves,
to establish control of the Justice system to our Benefit
   and the Subordination of Others,
to promote Unrest among the Others
   and insure our own Domestic Tranquility,
to provide for the Defence of our Property and interests,
to promote the Luxury of the Very Rich,
and to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our heirs,

do ordain, establish, and hide this Upgraded Constitution for the USA.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Ronalan" (reminiscence)



Some men spell their first name "Allen."  I think that's the traditional form.  But there's also "Allan" and even "Allun" or "Alun."  But I've always thought the correct spelling was "Alan."

I thought so because at an early age I came to have, well, I could say a "best friend" whose name was Alan B---.


I'm not sure when I first got to know him.  It may have been at Mrs. Fr------'s Kindergarten across town where my parents sent me at three years old when my sister was five and was thought to need kindergarten to get ready for first grade.  Maybe they got a discount on the second child.

Mrs. Fr------'s was in the district of our elementary school, and lots of the kids there would naturally have gone on to Wo-------- School, where I went. 

Or maybe it was in first or second grade with Miz Ph-- or Miz Dobbins when I first got to know Alan.

Anyway, it was when we were very young that we were close.


He was good at sports.  In our kids' crowd, I was pretty good too.  (Hard to believe now, but true.)  But I don't remember much about playing outdoors at Wo-------- School.   There were two classes in our grade all six years.  I don't know how many children were in each class, but the classes didn't seem huge.  Maybe 20, or 25...

In those days, it must have been the fashion or the convention to use a lot of competitions to keep us kids engaged: like Spelling Bees, the model for most of the contests.  The teacher would put us into two lines and the first ones in line would go to the chalkboard.  The teacher would give the first two students a word to spell.

When we got it wrong, we returned to our desks.  When we got it right, we went around to the end of the line to have another turn later.  There must have been some way of handling the situation when everyone in one line had sat down and there were two or more left standing in the other line.

I think that was how it went anyway.   Something like that.


I don't remember kids at their seats being bored, by the way, or not paying attention.  They were probably supposed to be writing the answers down in their notebooks?  Maybe.  Anyway, there was cheering for "your" line and encouraging "your" team-member at the board.  Must have been noisy...

As I remember it now, about 65 years later, the last two left standing were always Alan and me!  That can't have been true, but I'm sure we were in fact leaders and rivals in some (many, most?) of our elementary classes, and we enjoyed it.  From what I recall, our teachers must have valued our enjoying competitive roles and the excitement about learning spelling, state capitols, basic math, and so on that all this generated.

"Yay, Alan!"
"Yay, Byron!"


I was in a car-pool while at Wo-------- School.  All six years?  Yes, probably, although I did walk home once in a great while in the later grades.  The School was actually quite close to my Dad's office too, and sometimes after school, I would go over to his building and do my homework, or roller-skate on the sidewalk outside, until he had finished up enough to go home for supper.

But from my earliest memory, my mother used to take her turn along with four other mothers of children - all girls - in my grade, carting us five kids to school about 8 a.m. and home again somewhere around 3 p.m. one day per week, each.  The closest to us lived about two blocks away, and the farthest lived about five blocks away.  We didn't drive by Alan's house every day making those pick-ups or drop-offs, but we just about could have.  His house was about five blocks away in the same neighborhood.


Alan's backyard abutted with the backyard of another boy in our grade at Wo--------, who lived next door to two boys who went to private school (their dad was a judge).  Next door to Alan lived a girl in our class whose brother was one year older than us.  About two blocks on the other side of Alan was a boy in our grade who moved into our neighborhood when we were about 9 and who left before we were through at Wo--------.

About two blocks in another direction lived one of the girls in my car-pool, whose brother was a year older or maybe two.

So, maybe it isn't surprising that Alan's backyard was often a gathering place for boys who wanted to play ball.  Sometimes it was just Alan and me playing catch, baseball or football probably depending on the season.  He had a basketball backboard on the facing above his family's garage door too, so we played there too from time to time.  But mostly - as I remember it now - it was in the backyard where we played most.  When another of the neighborhood boys showed up, we just widened the field a little.  It seemed seldom that four or more didn't show up, though, on a good day.


Among memories of dozens of unplanned, pick-up football games in the neighborhood that way is one unique memory of a long afternoon one day when someone had planned for a troop of us - maybe this was in Boy Scout years - to spend an afternoon playing football in an athletic field across town at a Presbyterian Seminary.  We had a great time.  And it started as our games often did, with two of the guys being named to chose up teams so long as Alan was on one and "Byron" was on the other.

The teams were bigger than the usual two or three, maybe five.  Anyway, we were evenly balanced and the game looked like it would end in a tie.  But something happened, and one side won at the end.  I don't even remember who it was, probably Alan's team.

But the reason I remember this whole day was that when the whole bunch of us was trooping along together back to the parking lot where our parents were going to pick us up, one of the kids for some reason said out loud: "Well, yes that was the best game ever!  But what I saw was that the player of the day was... Byron!  He was the best of all of us today."

This was a strange thing to say because Alan had already begun to show signs of the athlete he was later going to become, and he usually was by far superior to any of us - faster, stronger, more agile...
But I did have a career day! Gosh, how hard I tried.  I wondered if Alan felt bad about this kid - maybe it was Lester - having spoken up that way.  But he didn't seem to.


By fourth grade, the convention was "block assignments."  On Monday, the teacher would assign a big block of work in our English and Math books for the whole week.  The idea was to give each kid the freedom to go at her or his own pace.  During the week, then, every now and again the teacher would say, "Now get out your Math books, and work on your assignment for the next 20 minutes."  Then, the teacher could move around the room, giving individual attention especially to anyone who was having trouble mastering the material.

Pretty soon, four or five of us - including, yes, Alan and me - started competing as to who could get all the work done first.  It was really great, for instance, on a Tuesday, when Mrs. V----- said, "Take out your English book and start work on your assignment," and one of us called out: "Oh, Miz. V------, I've already finished all the assignment."

Often, Alan and I finished about the same time.  Mrs. V------- started sending us to the library or sometimes to the auditorium.


We didn't do schoolwork together at home.  But for some reason, one time we did start drawing projects at the same time.  Maybe one of our mothers suggested that we draw that day.  Maybe it was raining.

Anyway, we used to comment on each other's pictures and make comments, "Say, you could..." add some item or use some color.  In any case, one time we ended up spending more time than usual on a particular crayon drawing, both of us.  And when we showed it to the mother nearby, she asked who did it and we said both of us.  Then she asked how we would sign it, you know, down in the right corner.

So we went back to wherever we were working and talked it over.  We ended up writing, "Ronalan" - which was short for "ByronAlan."  Then for a brief time, that was our thing: at school and at home, collaborate on a picture and sign it "Ronalan."


By the time we finished elementary school, Alan and I had grown apart.  Why was that?  We had not had a fight or an argument; we liked and respected each other just as much as ever.  Wasn't Alan in the same sixth grade class?  I don't actually remember him there.  I'm not even sure he went with the group of us who trooped together once a week to the ballroom dancing school three or four blocks away, in a big empty room over a drug store.  The Boy Scout experience was over for all of us by the end of sixth grade, but after Alan recruited me into Troop 3, we didn't do much Scouting together either.  We were not assigned to the same platoon, as I recall...

...But none of that would have killed the almost daily pick-up games in the backyard that had occupied us so for, well, it seems from this perspective, for years.  The fact is, we were just bigger.  We rode bicycles all over the place, and a backyard - even a big one like Alan's - just was not big enough for us anymore.

And when we got into junior high, there we were in organized sports... or organized other stuff.  Alan was into sports big time, and I wasn't.  I was in the band, but we didn't practice after school very often.  I can't remember what I was into after school.  I do remember feeling more lonely in 7th and 8th grades than in any other part of my life.  That seems to be a common experience, doesn't it?

I don't think I had any classes with Alan in junior or senior high.  He was a star player in football and basketball.  My high school was well-known in the state, often in the play-offs.  In our junior year Alan and the other guys played in the state basketball championships, and in the senior year, they ("we") won!

I was into the high school paper and the drama club.  We had chosen different paths.


So Ronalan was no more after we were about ten.  I don't know if I would have thought back about it now if Alan hadn't spoken to my wife at our fiftieth class reunion a few years ago.

It was only my second reunion, the previous one being the thirtieth.  S----- hadn't come with me then.  So, she was meeting lots and lots of folks for the first time.  I was talking to someone else at the final dinner, after a couple of hours of cocktails and socializing, and I noticed S----- was engaged in conversation with an healthy-looking, athletic but intelligent-seeming... Oh! it was Alan.

Still chatting with the other someone, who was a close friend all through high school, I was inching over toward S----- and that other half of Ronalan.  I overheard him say the most extraordinary thing:
"'Byron' was important to me.  Changed my life."  Now, it was clear the long cocktail hour was having an effect.  "I used him as a model..."

The next morning, this was not one of the conversations S--- remembered.  I hadn't been able to move over fast enough to join in either.  Later, I waved at Alan across the room but he was with other folks.  So I don't know really what he could have meant.  I mean, Alan was the big man on our campus.  He was everybody's hero.  He carried his glory modestly but it followed him...

Now, he'd gone on to Med School and moved to the big city in the east of our state, where he was a  physician all these years.  Had he noticed how I put classwork first, or exercised good self-discipline, as he went through that rigorous program?  The thing is, he was the role model, not me.

Well, I don't know what good influence I could actually have had.  But I am pleased that, at least at that one moment at reunion, my elementary school chum remembered me in a good light.

It embarrasses me a little to tell this story today, but it was a brief but big role reversal.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Good People



So, DT, who are the good people?

The Good People are those who are Born Rich.

Born rich?


What if a person wins the lottery or something, and becomes rich?  Is she or he a Good Person?

No. But if he is still rich when he dies, his heir will be a Good Person.

So, you have to be born rich, not just be rich?

Right.  Don't get me wrong. A person who is rich but wasn't born rich is okay, he increases the possibility of more Good People in the world in the future... but he is not really Good.

In what other ways can you become good?

Be Born Rich, that's all.


You mean, DT, I can do nothing but good deeds for 50 years or more, and still not be considered Good?

What do you mean, Joe, by "good deeds"?

Well, just usual things like giving poor people food and shelter, protecting little children from harm, providing care to the sick... Things like that.  50 years of doing that, wouldn't I be good?

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't tell you not to do that, but you asked me who are the Good People.  They are those who are born rich.

Whether they do anything good or not?

Making themselves richer is not bad.  They will leave more heirs richer if they make more wealth for themselves now.  But don't get me wrong, Joe.  Helping poor, sick, children... It's not the same thing, is it?  Are we getting off topic here?


So, DT, the only good people are those who are born rich?  But is that everyone who inherits great wealth?  Or only certain ones?

Everybody, Joe.

No matter my race?  My skin color?  If I'm ugly, overweight?

Born rich.

Religion?  Can a person be any religion, or even an atheist, and still be Good?

Yes, Joe.  Why not?

What about gender?  If you are born rich and are a woman?

Good.  Women too.


Born rich? Good.

Gay? Lesbian?

Transgender too, Joe.  Born rich, Good.


 So, DT, what should the Good People do?

Complete freedom, Joe.  You should respect other Good People, naturally.  Other than that...  Freedom.  After all, this is America!

What if a good person, someone who was born rich, should want to give everything away, live off somewhere secret, like a religious hermit?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for creativity, for fantasy and all that, but why wonder about something crazy?

But among the Good People, would someone be free to do something like give everything away?

Free, yes, of course.  But his heirs, the next generation of Good People? What about them?  They won't be Born Rich.  See?

So, in other words, it would be bad for someone to give away all her or his wealth?  Because then his or her children wouldn't be Good People?

See what I mean, Joe?  Why are we wasting our time on silly hypotheticals like this?  Don't get me wrong, but... why bother?


Tell me this, DT: Can Good People lose their goodness?

How well have you been listening, Joe?  You tell me.

Well, I think that if you have some bad luck or something unexpected happens and you are temporarily not really rich, you are still "Good People" ...But... Am I right? 

Don't get me wrong, Joe: if you lose all your money and all your credit, you can make a few deals and get it all back.  You can do it, and you have a better chance than the others.  Probably.  I think you do.  But, no.  When you get rich again, you're making it possible for your heir to be a Good Person.  ...By the way, that's not just hypothetical or fantasy, Joe.  That's reality.  That's life!


And, DT, what is the proper role of government?

Not everyone is Born Rich.


The others need government. ...Let's talk, Joe.  Let's talk about that some other time.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Which is best? (essay)


The Democratic primary candidates have been dueling with arguments about who is the better type of Progressive ("progressive" now being considered  a positive version of "liberal").  Equally important in this campaign apparently is Who is more likely to be able to get things done, in other words to put Progressive ideals into practice?

Pragmatism, we can conclude, is valued in this campaign.  And also valued are ideals, in this case the liberal ideals of "equality of opportunity," "justice for all," "quality health care - and education - for everyone" and so on.

Senator Sanders has taken the stance as the more passionate about these ideals in and for themselves, while Secretary Clinton has taken the stance as the more pragmatic about putting such ideals into action.

So, in general, Which is better? the pragmatic idealist (Sanders)? or the idealistic pragmatist (Clinton)?

Frankly, so entirely absent from today's America are liberal values - as the Super-Rich rule, and equality and "liberty and justice for all" are withdrawn further and further toward the sidelines - that any combination at all of Progressivism and Pragmatism seems most welcome, whichever side of the equation is the more emphasized.


On the other hand, what do we need to recall as we consider how to approach the elections this year?  And what in particular do we have to have to watch out for?

If idealism is good, what is bad?

The opposite of idealism is cynicism.  A cynic has no public values, seeking instead only his or her personal advantage.  That's bad isn't it?... but if the politician's own advantage lies only (or even just "mostly") in accomplishing the right ideals, then he or she - though cynical - will do the right thing.  Maybe not so bad.


And what is the opposite of Pragmatism?  What most often and most certainly prevents a public official from putting ideals into practice?

The most effective stopper is Dogmatism.

Even the most wholehearted and passionate idealist who insists on "all or nothing," or who does not respect and seek to understand those who do not share her or his ideals, or who will not "give an inch, even to go a mile" will fail to bring our lofty ideals - our right values - into reality.  That is indeed bad. 

So, watch out for the Dogmatist.


Idealists, unfortunately, all too often are indeed Dogmatists.

Even if one's ideals are right and good, one is not a good public figure if "almost good" isn't good enough, or "a little step in the right direction" or "half a loaf" is not better than nothing.  Dogmatists - even if we agree with them - are not good enough to be good leaders... even if we share their values. 

Watch out for both the idealistic dogmatist and the dogmatic idealist.


Which, then, is worse: the pragmatic cynic, or the dogmatic idealist?

Even the proposed leader with good values who is dogmatic, who lacks sufficient imagination to put himself or herself in the place of those with different goals or ideals, even the dogmatic idealist with good values is bad because under that person's leadership we might witness a lot of good fights, but we are unlikely to improve our country.

And even proposed leaders out only for personal gain - in prestige, glory, glamour, or even power - can be good, if they perceive that the way most open to them to achieve their goals is to put our ideals into practice, then that individual may be just fine.

To vote against such a person might be indulging yourself, not just in idealism (yay!) but in dogmatism (boo! double boo!).

Do you see?  "Can you dig it?"


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Dear Dad" (Reminiscence)

Dear Dad

I wanted to tell you what I've been doing lately.  I know you'd be interested. 

First, we in the family have always known that when you were young, you were able to go on a world cruise for college students.  You borrowed the money for the ticket and wrote articles from abroad to 23 different American newspapers, and when you returned, you were able to pay back the loan from the proceeds of these articles.  You didn't talk as much about all this as Mother did.

You met an Austrian man who later carved for you a model of a Viking ship that we kept on our mantle all the years I was growing up at our home in Austin.  The man named Largent Price who came from Dallas to visit you from time to time had been on the cruise too.

When I was about 12, I think it was, you gave me a box full of coins from many of the countries you had visited during the cruise.  I think I was the one who divided the coins into little stacks from each country and then put each group into a separate little box: Bayer Aspirin, rolled gauze, Sucrets... That kind of little boxes.

One piece that seemed like a coin was in fact a chip from the Monte Carlo Casino.  You told us how you and a young woman friend on the cruise had played against each other at the roulette table, one of you betting Red and the other Black or one Odd and the other Even.  You played for hours because one of you would win every time.

We had a few photos in the kitchen closet that Mother would show us from time to time.  Not of you, but of sites you saw on the trip: people riding elephants or looking up at a big statue of Buddha, things like that.  Mother said there were other photos like that too.

Mother often mentioned that during this trip, you were able to interview Mussolini and the King of Siam, who incidentally had been Prince Chulalongkorn in "The King and I" or rather, in the real life version of that story.  Most impressive for a 22 year old, I'd say.


A few years ago, my wife and I went to the university archives to see what materials they had of yours.  Well, they have a lot, of course.  You did teach there for about 50 years after all.  They have a lot of stuff, including notes you made during the cruise and some photos, copies of newspaper articles you wrote about your experiences abroad.  It's interesting to compare the reports you wrote for yourself with the articles published; they differ quite a lot.

Later, I was using - a genealogy research resource - looking for passenger lists that might contain names of family ancestors immigrating to America from Ireland or Germany, when I came across your name on a page from the S. S. Ryndam's passenger list of May 5, 1927.  This was the day when you and the others returned from the eight-months' voyage.

How exciting that was, to find that real world confirmation of the stories I'd heard my whole life about that wonderful educational opportunity you had had way back then.


I hadn't thought about your Ryndam experience then for several more years when I came across a photo I'd posted on your Ancestry page, a photo of the 1926-27 ship, in the Holland-America Line.  I must have found it when I found the passenger list. 
So I looked up the Ryndam itself and made a remarkable discovery!  Your trip around the world - the World University in 1926-27 - was the first ship voyage for college credit ever made.  For generations now, that has become such a routine thing, it was exciting to learn that you had been in on this first historical cruise.  And it's famous.

There are encyclopedia articles on World University, created and organized at NYU by Dr. James E. Lough, a psychology professor.  I was astounded to learn that altogether there were 504 students!  I'd never dreamed it was more than 100, if that many.

They came from 143 colleges from 40 states, and there were a few students from Canada, Cuba, and Hawaii.  The voyage eventually covered 41,000 miles, and students visited 90 cities in 35 countries, including Honolulu, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Colombo (Sri Lanka), Bombay, Haifa, Venice, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Oslo, Paris, and London.


But encyclopedia articles weren't the best things I found.  Lo and behold, there were references too to two books published in 1928 about the First World University.  One of them was a collection of photographs by the Holland-America Line's official photographer, over 200 photographs; and the other was the diary of one of the students.

Well, I found on the international catalog of books, Worldcat, that several libraries have copies of the photographs book in their circulating collections.  Yes, I was able to order it through my local county library via interlibrary loan.

Just consider how thrilled I was to find in this big, scrapbook sized volume, seven - SEVEN - pictures of you, my father, from 1926 and 1927.

Two of them are pictures of you in a large group, the first at a museum in Hawaii -

The second large-group photo is from a university in Hamburg, Germany:

I cannot pick you out of the crowd in the photo with the King and Queen of Siam:

But the other five - I say FIVE - photos of you are of smaller groups.  I have pulled your image out.

The first of these is a photo of the staff of the student newspaper, the Binnacle:

Next is the photo of the 20-25 students on the voyage from Texas:

One of your classes was apparently called just "Discussion."  Here you are from that photo:

And that interaction with Mussolini?  Well, you apparently had the opportunity to talk with him directly, but the picture in the book shows him (third from the left below) with a group:

And of course, there you are on the right side of the page:

I had the book of photographs only two weeks.  There is no narrative, and there is only one individual named, the Captain, J. K. Lieuwen:

There are some photos of students' activities, such as the women's sketching class:

a large, somewhat mysterious event called "The Ducking" involving the ship's swimming pool:

There was a photo of hula dancing:

and, gulp, yes, a student Minstrel Show:

Elephants appear in two of the photos:


There are a number of photos having to do with the voyage itself, including one of the ship, cruising in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan:

First, though, we find a picture of the New York/Hoboken pier as the ship is first setting out:

There are several shots of proceeding through the Panama Canal:

There's a dramatic picture shot from the air of the Ryndam steaming by Hawaii:

and an exotic photo in a Japanese harbor:

Finally, there is also a photo of a "tender" carrying Ryndam passengers from the ship to the pier in Naples:


 Three of my personal favorite photos are: (1) Diamond Head (Hawaii) as students saw it from the ship:

(2) the harbor at Kobe (Japan):

 and (3) a desalinization plant in Aden (Yemen):


Among the many photos of great sites visited by the First World University are:  the giant Buddha - or Diabutsu - of Kawakara, Japan:

a Buddhist priest in Siam (Thailand, we say today):

the Taj Mahal in Agra, India:

There are no pictures of the Suez Canal.  Great sites include Egypt's Sphinx and Great Pyramid:

the Parthenon in Athens:

the Bridge of Sighs in Venice:

The Paris Opera ("l'Opera"):

and London's Westminster Abbey:


Apparently, the Ryndam returned to port in New York harbor at night, passing a final great site - a great sight indeed, I'll bet; right, Dad?


How I wish I could sit next to you, Dad, turning over the pages of the large old photo-book.  How I'd love to hear your reminiscences, your memories and your perspectives.  I can imagine it, at least.

1980, when you died, seems long, long ago.  1927 at this moment may seem closer.  Odd, isn't it?

So long!


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Around the World in 227 Days (Reminiscence)


As I was growing up, it was well known in our household that my dad - many years before, when he was a very young man - had made an educational world tour on board ship.

Not that he talked about it a lot.  He didn't.  Mother reminded us about it from time to time.  Once in great while a man named Largent Parks, who apparently lived in Dallas 200 miles away, would show up at the front door and chat with Dad alone in the living room for a half-hour or so.  We knew that Mr. Parks flew in from Dallas, in his own plane.  Mr. Parks had been on the cruise with my father.

We had a model Viking ship on our mantelpiece carved and put together by an Austrian man whom Dad had met (somewhere, somehow) during his tour.  When I was 12 or so, Dad showed me a box of coins - from France, Siam, and many other countries - which he said were coins he'd ended up with as he had left each of the countries visited by the tour.  Each country's coins were in a different old pill box.
In our family scrapbook, Mother had posted two or three photos of Dad on a camel or in an exotic-looking port.  We knew too that, as Dad went from country to country - years ago - he sometimes sent news reports back to be published in American newspapers.  He had interviewed Mussolini back before anyone in the US had heard of him, for example... and King Chulalongkorn of Siam, son of the king (of The King and I), and others.

But we only heard little snippets like this, from time to time...


After Dad had been gone (that is, dead) for ten years or so, I began to wonder if the University of Texas archives had anything interesting among his papers.  Dad had taught there for almost 50 years.

My wife S----- and I made a visit and found much to be interested in, including a whole box of materials relating to the 1926-27 world tour.  We've had the coins since before Dad's death,

but lots of other things that we'd never seen were there in the UT archives.


At the end of our visit, we asked the archives to make us copies of quite a few of the materials related to the World University tour, including a small number (relative to the sum total of all there) of photos, the unfinished, or at least unedited manuscript on a book-length narrative of the whole 9 months, and materials related to the articles Dad had written that were published in a total of 23 newspapers back in 1926 and '27.  (The family legend was that Dad had borrowed the money to pay for the tour and that he was able to pay back the loan immediately upon his return to Austin with the money these newspapers had paid him.)

There was also a copy of the passenger list.
When I retired in 2008, I reviewed all these materials fairly carefully.  It was great, of course, and especially interesting to compare what had been published by a newspaper to what he had written for the longer narrative.  I could see why he had abandoned the book-length project, since it would have required a lot of work to re-organize it before it was ready for the public.  As I remember it, Dad had tried two or three different modes of organization.  I made quite a few notes, but finally felt it wasn't worth my time now to cobble it together.

The pictures might hold some independent interest, but I haven't dug them out from all the papers we moved with us from New York to Missouri a couple of years ago.


A few days ago, now, I was examining a photo of Dad at about age 4, which I had posted on my family tree some years back.
Next to this family photo on the same page was an old published photo of a cruise ship that I only vaguely recalled having posted, having found it on the Internet back then, when I was putting up visual material.  Sure enough, it was the S. S. Rijndam, ca. 1925.
With some time to kill that day last week, I suppose, I happened to look up the ship again on the Internet.  W[onder]O[f]Wonders], a whole bunch of stuff appeared for the first time, which included information specifically on the world tour on the Rijndam taken by my father in 1926-27.


It turns out that the Rijndam's 1926-27 educational world tour ("The World University") was the very first college credit-bearing shipboard cruise.  500 students from all over the U. S. were involved.  I had thought it was maybe 50 or 60.

The whole experience was organized and sponsored by New York University.  It turns out that at least two books were published relating to the tour, one diary published in 1928 which has been recently republished as a historical facsimile and the other - apparently 200 photos - more recently published by the Holland-America Line, which ran the Rijndam.  The photo book is available by interlibrary loan and the diary can be bought via Amazon.

I have ordered the republished diary and have requested the photo book on interlibrary loan.

In the online notice of the photobook, two samples appear.  One is inconsequential.  The other shows a group of the Rijndam students posing behind Mussolini.

Despite the blur, the young man indicated below on El Duce's left is unmistakably ... my dad!


Monday, January 4, 2016

Corporate Comparative



Consider Corporation X in City A.  It is a publicly-traded, local aviation business, established to serve the sporting and recreational trade.

At first, it was a small, family business with fewer than 20 employees, all from the local area.  When a war in the Middle East began to seem likely, Corporation X re-adapted itself to produce military aircraft, and as war broke out, it grew rapidly, adding several hundred workers and relocating to a new, much larger building it constructed on the outskirts of City A. Some of Corporation X's leading engineers who were needed to make the needed adaptation were hired from larger cities in the region, but most of the workforce remained local, coming from families who had lived in the area for as long as the family who started the business.

To help make these necessary changes, Corporation X sold stock publicly.  A local chapter of a national union was formed, which was apparently considered a normal development.  The leaders of the local chapter were typical of the workers generally.  Contract negotiations usually went smoothly as the business prospered.

When the war ended, military contracts continued, but corporate executives (members of the family of original owners) considered them uncertain enough that they resumed some of the firm's original sporting and recreational manufacturing.  This kind of adaptability allowed the firm to continue to be profitable, though at a lower level.

At this time, just as the family members who had founded Corporation X were reaching retirement age, the world economy took a sudden, dramatic down-turn.  Some stockholders argued that the firm should move away from City A, seeking tax breaks and lower, non-union wages in a different region.  But the local stockholders, led by the remaining family members, decided to stay in City A.  The size of corporate earnings was reduced, thus lowering stock values. Hourly wages and professional salaries were curtailed from the highest to the lowest levels, in order for Corporation X to survive through the hard times.  Corporation X continues to do business, still in City A.


Now, consider Corporation Y in City B. 

Corporation Y was the answer to a prayer widely held in City B.  The small but prosperous city had suffered from continuing hard times for decades.  Small manufacturers had begun to go out of business in times of high inflation and rising labor costs.  The larger corporations had pulled up stakes to move to regions where workers were perhaps less skilled but also less organized and less expensive.

Led by an aggressive young County Executive, City B set out to recruit up-and-coming corporations from other states, even from other countries.  A pleasant lifestyle in an attractive region, welcoming churches and reasonably good schools, and - especially - alluring prospective tax breaks were City B's selling points.

And it worked!  After years of redeveloping a sparsely settled, flat area on the outskirts of town into an industrial park, city and county leaders were able to make a win-win deal with Corporation Y who was looking to expand and whose future business prospects looked good, both in the U. S. and abroad.  A favorable deal was brokered with the relevant union leaders, who considered dependable, lower-paying jobs as better than endemic unemployment.  So Corporation Y built a state-of-the-art, highly computerized new plant in City B's new industrial park.

Within a few months, Corporation Y's management team for City B had arrived and settled in new upper-middle class homes.  A team of accountants, corporate lawyers, personnel officers, and so on, was transferred in, and hourly workers were hired from the local community.  Unemployment went down, retail sales went up, population stabilized somewhat, just as planned.  Tax revenues increased, not dramatically but somewhat.

And then came a sudden economic downturn worldwide.  Things were not looking so good for Corporation B.  Anticipating that its global stockholders would start feeling antsy soon, corporate executives decided immediate action was necessary.  Had they over-expanded when the financial picture looked so rosy?  Well, don't look back; move on!

At 4:20 p.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving, a notice appeared in all the mail-slots of all Corporation Y employees in City B, and a notice from the Public Relations Office also appeared on all local media's emails.

The notice to employees said: "Due to the plunging economy and unrest abroad, Corporation Y has had to decide to close down all operations in City B.  Individuals will receive personal instructions as to when they should stop coming in to work, but by December 31, all will be laid off."

The release to the media said: "From Corporation B headquarters in XXXXX has come word that by December 31, 20XX, the plant in City B will cease to operate.  Unstable economic conditions globally have forced the company to make this unfortunate decision.  Individual employees may expect the formal lay-off notices by the end of next week.  Corporation B's operations in all other locations, please rest assured, are proceeding normally."


Which story seems the more realistic?

Curtailing executive salaries in order to keep the plant running and the workers employed?

Risking a temporary decline of stock prices?

These seem idealistic fantasies, don't they?  Putting at risk the short-term profits of stock-holders and top executives, in order to prolong the life of the company and in order to serve the long-term good of the community?  You're dreaming!

Are Corporations expected to make rational decisions for the long-term, for the good of the many instead of the few?  Do we have the means of holding Corporations responsible for the social effects of their actions?  Don't be crazy! 

If you found this article interesting, you might also be interested in this other one


Monday, December 14, 2015

DNA and Me


In 2000 or so, my Executive Secretary stuck her head in my office.  "Someone on the 'phone says he is Giles Derrick, for you.  Do you know him?"

"No, but I'll take it," I said, bored with whatever I'd been working on.  Using my official's voice, I said: "Hello? This is Byron Derrick."

The voice on the other end of the line said: "Are you the Byron Derrick whose father was Walter George Derrick?"

I am indeed, but I didn't have time to decide whether I wanted to tell some stranger this fact.

"Because if you are, then I think I may be related to you."

I was still quiet.

"And I hope you will take a DNA test so we can tell, for sure!"

So we talked for a while, and Giles managed to convince me that he was doing genealogical research only.  He had a low-cost DNA test sent to me.  I paid $75, I believe, for the test and sure enough, the results showed that Giles and I were distantly related.

My dad had been an orphan, and his father had abandoned his mother in Savannah before Dad had even been born.  Dad didn't know anything at all about his father's parents or ancestors.  Giles Derrick and his other distant cousin Gale Reddick, on the other hand, had lots of information about our ancestors.  Perfect!

As I learned, Johann Darik and his family had arrived in Savannah from Germany on The Three Sisters in 1737.  Johann had three sons with him: Peter, Michael, and Johann II.

According to Giles, Gale, Giles himself, and I were all descended from Johann II's son Jacob, our g-g-g-grandfather.  Giles and Gale were descended from one of Jacob's sons, while I was descended from another.  

This DNA approach to ordinary family history obviously had some real advantages.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Peculiar Bloomers (Reminiscence)


 Lower garden, April 4, 2015


In the spring and summer of 2013, our health was not good enough for my wife S----- and me to spend much time paying attention to what grows well in our new home climate and sun-and-soil conditions.  In 2014, however, I did pay attention.

We have basically four garden areas in our new home: one just outside the front door; another also inside the fence; the largest area outside the fence along the street to the right as you go out the front gate; and the last area, on the lower level in back of the house.

We discovered that deer love to feed on many flowers and shrubs and have easy access to the back of our house, and almost as easy access to all the rest of the big area outside the fence.  We also found that roses, geraniums, petunias, and marigolds can thrive in our beds.  The deer feasted on the petunias and geraniums in 2014 but left the marigolds and roses alone.


The most spectacular marigolds we had in 2014, however, were protected from any possible poaching critters by being inside the fence up close to our house.  For just a few dollars we had planted a couple of marigold plants in a prominent spot out our front window.  The flowers shot up, got as big as chrysanthemums, and were a dazzling gold color... for months.
Gold marigolds, June 2014

We also discovered after a very short time, however, that S----- didn't like the gold color.  She now knows she doesn't want yellow or orange or gold flowers in our beds again. ...But those were the hardiest, biggest, and showiest blooms we had anywhere in 2014.


So, in planning for 2015, I decided we would choose only flowers that were white or red, and that we would plant geraniums all around the beds inside the fence, petunias in the pots stationed at various places in the hardscape in that front area, reserving the outside area for marigolds and any other red and white flower plants I could discover.

But the marigolds could not be that familiar yellow variety we see every year all over the place, or orange, or gold.  I checked via internet research and - sure enough - I found that red marigolds and white marigolds do exist!


When the local stores started selling flowers for local gardens in April 2015, I eagerly searched for red and white marigolds but was not surprised to see only the familiar yellow little guys.  They were cheap and they were everywhere, but they just wouldn't do.  So I turned to online plant shopping.

Finding the whites and reds in botanical research and reference publications had been easy, but it took some doing to find these less common varieties for sale.  Finally, I came across some red marigolds and put them "in my cart."  But before "continuing to check-out," I noticed these were seeds!

Seeds for the yellow standard marigolds were available everywhere too, so I thought I just had to look in a few more sites before finding the flower plants I wanted in the white and the red varieties.  But after more searching, I found myself retracing my steps to the seeds catalog.  That was all I could get.


The yellow (orange, gold) marigolds one buys at Home Depot or Lowe's or elsewhere are about 4 inches tall in 4-inch wide plastic pots.  Each usually has a flower or two with a bud or two ready to open up soon.  The buyer can take them straight home, pop them out of their little containers, and stick them into the ground, adding a little water.  Place them about 4-6 inches apart because they get only a couple of inches wider, and only 2-4 inches taller.  As colorful, little plants (also cheap and plentiful), they are perfect to have just inside the edge of your flower beds running - say, for instance - along both sides of your front walk, or along the edge of the beds going out from the sides of your front steps going both ways.  They do best in sun or partial sun, but they do okay too in shade.

I was thinking, having to wait several days for the seeds to arrive and then having to allow them a week to germinate and - I didn't know, but say - 5 or 6 days more to grow enough for planting, I could have my specially colored marigolds in place by late May.  I had hoped for only a couple of weeks earlier, so... OK!


They sent me the minimum, 500 seeds in each packet.  I planted 10 or 12 of each in little starter trays.  They took several days to germinate, but almost every seed did come up.
                                                    Seedlings before first transplantation, May 17

After the seedlings were 2 inches high or thereabouts, I transferred them into larger pots, kept watering and watching.  They continued to grow and did assume the shape and stem-foliage color recognizable as marigolds, spidery and delicate.
A week after first transplantation, June 4

The new plants had reached 5 inches high or so, and I was wondering about transplanting them into the flower beds outside the fence... But there was no hint of blooms.  In the stores when you see marigold plants of 4 to 6 inches high, they have usually started to bloom.  I knew I had special varieties, so I waited.  And waited.  AND WAITED.


Finally, although there was still no hint of blooms, the hand-planted marigolds had reached 8 inches in height and were 5 or 6 inches or so in circumference.   They looked vigorous and healthy.  I couldn't wait anymore.  It was already July.

I had to decide whether or not to just strew the new marigolds along the border, spaced more or less evenly every 6 inches from one end to the other.  I had already put in a few petunias here and there.  I decided to put three or sometimes four of the new plants about 3 to 4 inches apart, in order to create a little massing of the new special blooms.

I quickly ran out of room along the edge of the bed and also created three or four massings 3 or 4 feet from the edge.  At only 6 to 8 inches high, they might be blocked from view from the street, but there just wasn't enough space.


Funny thing.  The marigold plants just kept growing and growing.  Finally they were getting to be about 3 feet tall!  So much for being hidden behind the little petunias.  Oh, and by the way, there was still no hint of flowers.
The white marigold plant is on the left; the red, on the right.  Photo from July 17.

Finally, some red blooms began to appear on the marigold... well, the marigold BUSH.  Still, there was little sign of bloom on the white bushes, but the reds were not the dainty little 8-inch bed edgers I had anticipated either. They were at last flowers, though... by August.
White marigolds on the left, red (orangey red) on the right.  August 6.

It was still a while before the whites started coming.  They seem to need more direct sun and have never been terrific bloomers, but they did produce a bit.
 The earliest white marigolds, August 13


I've still got lots of seeds.  In April next year, I will plant some of the red and white marigolds directly in the 4-inch plastic pots.  When they get 6 to 8 inches high, if they are robust enough, I will transplant them into that big side garden, but not along the edge.  I'll plant them all about halfway back from the front edge, arranging them with the hope that they will grow together to make the bushes we ended up with this year.  If I fuss with them enough, maybe I can have them all blooming by mid-June.... Oh, well, by mid-July anyway.

I've found some pretty good deer repellent (expensive, though), so I'll put some petunias and even some geraniums along the front edge.  Is that a plan, or what?

 October 23