22 June, 2007

The Strength and Quietness of Grass

A radio speech delivered by Vice-President Henry A. Wallace on June 21, 1940.

The Strength and Quietness of Grass

Uppermost in all our minds these days are tragedies and alarms which we cannot escape. But it is natural that we should think of other things in relation to them; so even when I think about the place of grass in American agriculture I find myself thinking in terms of the world situation and our own future.

I have always had a great affection for grass. It seems to stand for quietness and strength. I believe that the quietness and strength of grass should be, must be, permanently a part of our agriculture if this nation is to have the strength it will need in the future. A countryside shorn and stripped of thick, green grass, it seems to me, is weakened just as Sampson was. An agriculture without grass loses a primary source of strength.

It is only recognizing the truth to say that in the past we have been lured by the Delilah of profits to destroy grass covering recklessly. We plowed up millions of acres of grassland; we overgrazed millions of other acres. We thought too much, and we still think too much, in terms of plows and cultivators. My guess is that even today not one farmer in ten uses good pasture methods. Grass we have. Pastures we have. But our grass is usually on land that we figure is no good for anything else; and after we put the grass in, we neglect it.

Many people blame science for our surplus of farm products. They say that science taught us how to grow two blades of grass where one grew before. I think the trouble is that is exactly what science did not teach us. Instead it taught us how to grow something else where two blades of grass grew before. Now we are beginning to see the weaknesses of an agriculture stripped of grass. More and more we are turning in thought and practice toward an agriculture in which grass will act as the great balance wheel and stabilizer to prevent gluts of other crops—to save soil from destruction—to build up a reserve of nutrients and moisture in the soil, ready for any future emergency, to create a more prosperous livestock industry, and finally to contribute to the health of our people through better nutrition.

19 June, 2007

Why I Favor Conscription

In his new book, “Are We Rome?” (Houghton Mifflin Co., N.Y.C., 2007), Cullen Murphy makes the case that just as Rome was weakened and fell because of a decline in civic virtue, so too is America faced with the same problem. One figure he cites is stark in its implications. Whereas 450 out of 750 graduates (or 60%) of the Princeton class of 1956 went on to serve in the military, last years figure was only eight out of 1,100 — less than one percent! I imagine that even in the Vietnam era more than one percent of Ivy League graduates routinely volunteered for military duty, if only as a matter of “putting their money where their mouth is.” This shocking decline is, I think, portentous.

Let us not pretend that the past was some kind of golden era of civic virtue. In 1956 there was, after all, a draft and we have to ask why those 300 Princeton graduates who didn’t serve evaded this draft. Surely they could not all have had flat feet? Similarly, during the Civil War the wealthy were allowed to buy their way out of military service by supplying a substitute or paying a bounty. And too, again in 1956, when Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson called for truly universal national service he was resoundingly defeated at the polls. But it is well also to keep in mind that when, a few years later, the most famous young man in the country, Elvis Aaron Presley, was called to the colors, he went without hesitation, even at a probable cost to his career of two of his potentially most profitable years. And of course the British famously sustained the first two years of participation in the Great War without resorting to a draft, so numerous were the volunteers.

A particularly interesting case was that of the founders of the America First Committee. Opposing participation in what they saw as a European war that did not concern the United States, the America First Committee was formed by a group of Ivy League students in early 1940. They campaigned hard against intervention, publishing books and leaflets, buying radio time for speeches, organizing rallies. And yet, when war finally came on December 7, 1940, they all volunteered. By the end of that month, every one of the student board members of the Committee was in uniform.

Was there a similar outpouring after the 9/11 outrage? Not among the elites. Sure you often hear stories about how someone felt it was their duty to join up after this assault, but they are nearly always poor mopes from the hinterland, never the sons of bankers or senators. There is a justifiably famous sequence in “Fahrenheit 9/11” where Michael Moore makes light of just this circumstance by asking congressmen on their way to work if their sons are in uniform.

This development is distressing for two reasons. There is, of course, the obvious injustice of a system that allows the burden of sacrifice in time of war to fall unequally upon the classes. But more subtly, there is the change of attitude towards war when the elites don’t have to send their own sons to die. The Vietnam War became impossible to prosecute when those very sons of the elite who were subject to a draft and service came to realize that it was not a war worth fighting. They then opposed the war with all of the passion of interested parties, unlike the college students of today who would just as soon attend a pro-gay marriage rally as an anti-war march.

This is why I favor a draft. Only by putting their own sons in the line of fire can we make the rich see the true cost of war.

05 June, 2007

Red Secrets

When I was but a lad, living in Evanston in the early 1970’s, I met a machinist, “Bud,” who worked out of Mr. Kling’s shop. Kling himself was retired from machining and only kept the shop as a warehouse for a line of adhesives that he had invented that were then widely sold at hardware stores. Bud (and I doubt that was his real name) rented the back of the shop and the equipment, where he took in jobs both machining replacement parts for equipment and an occasional fabricating job for the lamp factory in the alley off Hinman Avenue. While Kling was a tall white-haired fellow in his early sixties, Bud was probably in his forties, stoop-shouldered, with pants that were too big and perpetually dirty tousled hair. He always wore a denim apron that was black with grease.

I met Bud when he was taking a smoke break in the alley behind Kling’s shop. He couldn’t smoke in the shop, on account of all the oily rags, and I would stop to talk to him whenever I saw him. He liked me and, when he saw that I was reading the Communist Manifesto, informed me that he was a comrade, that is, a fellow Marxist. He never told me exactly what, if any connection he had to the C.P.U.S.A., but, over the course of about two years, he did tell me lots of things:

• Rosenberg was guilty, but his wife was not. They put her on the spot first, and made him watch, in an attempt to turn him. “They play hard-ball with us, and so we play hard-ball with them.”

• Not only was J. Edgar Hoover an homosexual, but most F.B.I. agents throughout the 1930’s were too. “Any time you would see a queer in a new car during the Depression, you knew he was a G-Man.”

• In 1933 Hitler’s Stormtroopers raided the Magnus Hirshfeld Institute in Berlin and confiscated their files. Hirshfeld was a “queer sexologist” who supposedly had in his office the “master world list of homosexuals.” Hitler was supposed to have come into possession of this list and used it to black-mail politically important homosexuals around the world. Or, so J. Edgar Hoover believed anyway. It was this belief of Hoover’s that prevented him from moving against American Nazis until after war was declared in 1941.

• Homosexuality is a bourgeois deviation that will disappear of its own accord after the revolution. “Why, there aren’t any queers in the Soviet Union, but Hitler had whole camps full of them!”

• “Most of them big Nazis was queer too.” His proof of this? Only queers like flashy uniforms. The Nazis had the best uniforms, while Soviet uniforms were drab. Ergo ...

• Hizzonor himself ordered that first McCormick place be hit by Greek lightening. "Ask any Chicago fireman if you don’t believe me."

Harry Bridges was a Comrade.

• If you pick up a woman in a bar, always be strictly vanilla with her both sexually and politically. She could easily be a whore hired by the F.B.I. to either get information out of you, or provide evidence that you are a “pervert.”

• It takes time for your teeth to go bad. A man can live for five years in the underground, never see a dentist, and, if he keeps them clean, still have good teeth. If a man’s teeth go bad “in a hurry” then he is probably a drug addict.

• The first time somebody sent a whore (and Bud said the word the old man way: “Hoo-er”) to get dirt on him she had bad teeth. Bud talked to her for a while, figured out that she was an addict, surmised that she had been sent after him, and then offered her $20- to tell him who had put her up to it. She looked real scared, excused herself, and left without finishing her drink.

• The next time they sent a whore after him she was a knock-out. He figured if he didn’t say anything to her once they got to her place, then any recording would be useless. And if they got pictures of him — so what? He had no family, he was self employed, no one could black-mail him with pictures of him with a gorgeous woman. (In fact, he’d like the pictures if any existed.) So they went to her flat and he “gave her the business.” He didn’t say a single word while he was there, but she gave a running commentary of dirty talk the whole time. He left right after finishing and figured he’d gotten away with something nice — until about a month later, when he found out he had a social disease.

• Bela Lugosi was a comrade. That was okay in the radical 1930’s, but by the 1950’s he was blacklisted and the only studios that would hire him were on poverty row.

• The F.B.I. tracked down Alger Hiss’s cast-off Woodstock Typewriter and had the keys changed to match the forged "Pumpkin Papers" before planting it in a pawn shop where Hiss’s lawyers would “find” it. The mechanic that fixed the keys was a Comrade, so the Party knew all about it, but they let Hiss take the fall because he wasn’t a comrade anyway, it makes us look better if people think that we’re everywhere, and it furthers the revolution when we can bait the fascistic elements in society (like Joe McCarthy or Nixon) against the bourgeois elements (like Hiss and the “Brains Trusters”).

• “I got no idea who the fuck killed Kennedy, but I sure wish he’d hurry up and kill Nixon!"

• The best male comrades are idealists in love with all mankind. The best female comrades are romantics in love with another comrade. In fact, the best way to recruit women to the cause was “horizontally.”

• McCarthy was an idiot. Any real comrade wouldn’t weasel around with the fifth amendment, he would just flat-out lie. If they had the goods on him, then he was under orders to recant his communism and implicate as many Trotskyites as he knew personally.

• Edward G. Robinson was cast as the slave overseer in the Ten Commandments because Cecil B. DeMille was a reactionary bastard who hated Robinson’s Trotskyism.

• Virtually any comrade can be denounced by calling him a “rootless cosmopolitan” or accusing him of “petty bourgeois individualism.” Just about everyone does something that could be tarred with these vices.

Around 1974, Mr. Kling needed more space for his adhesive business, so he sold the machine equipment to Bud who moved it to a location in the city. I saw him again just once, in about 1989, when we were on opposite platforms on the Belmont El, where he just had time to yell “Hi’ya comrade!” before hopping on a northbound Ravenswood train.

I didn’t think abut either Bud or Mr. Kling again until I saw the name “Jack Kling of Chicago” in the July/August 2002 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. This Jack Kling, while posing as a respectable business man, was actually the go-between from the K.G.B. to the C.P.U.S.A,. Each year, he and his wife Sue would go on a European vacation where they would be given a suitcase full of money that constituted the Soviet subsidy to the American Communist Party. Sometimes the suitcase would contain more than one million dollars.

That Jack Kling is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, right next to Mother Flynn, about ten yards away from the Haymarket Monument.

01 June, 2007

Can We Re-Educate Bullies?

Recently, the Washoe County School District agreed to a $451,000- settlement to Derek Henkle, now twenty-one, who had been rather egregiously bullied throughout his school career in Reno Nevada. Starting in junior high school, Henkle had been taunted, spat upon, and beaten up. In 1995 students had thrown a lasso around his neck and threatened to drag him down the highway behind a pick-up truck. The next year he was punched six times in the face while two school security guards stood by and did nothing. Plainly, officials were remiss in providing a safe environment for Derek Henkle and, while we may find the settlement rather large, we should keep in mind that a large settlement would send a message to administrators that physical violence should never be tolerated in our schools.

What is distressing about the settlement is that it also calls for new school policies protecting gay and lesbian students including a district-wide program of re-education. You see, Derek Henkle was openly gay and the allegation is that this is why he was subjected to abuse.

Well — I doubt it.

I know a good deal about bullying because I was unrelentingly bullied all through junior high school. I can tell you right now I wasn’t bullied because I was under-weight (though I was puny), nor was I bullied because I wore glasses (though I can’t begin to count the number of times that my glasses became the object of a game of “keep away”), nor was I bullied because I was a loner with intellectual pretensions. I was bullied because I was an easy mark. When I got to high school I toughened up by playing lacrosse, put on some weight, found some friends to hang-out with, and I got contact lenses. (To this day no one has ever picked a fight with me when I was not wearing glasses.) That is: I stopped being an easy mark and the bullying disappeared.

Evidently one principal understood that bullies simply pick out the easiest mark and actually demanded that Henkle hide his sexual orientation. Of course, this is just another instance of blaming the victim. Flaunting his homosexuality didn’t give anyone the right to beat up Derek Henkle, anymore that being an underweight, near-sighted Poindexter gave anyone the right to beat me up, but at least I had the sense to change the things that made me a target. In other words, while all victims are innocent, not all victims can be called disingenuous.

Take another prominent victim of “homophobia,” Matthew Shepard. The fact that Shepard was gay was merely an excuse for Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson to beat him up. Even the most cursory glance at the pathetic existence these losers were living will make it self evident that they would beat up anyone they could for a thrill on a Saturday night. Camille Paglia has pointed out that anyone with a Swiss education (as Matthew Shepard had), certainly knew “rough trade” when he saw it. Similarly, the punks who crucified Shepard were not genuinely offended, they merely feigned ofence in order to justify the beating they gave him, just as they might have made jealous accusations in order to beat up a girl friend or start a bar fight. It is telling that they stole his house keys and wallet with the intention of burglarizing his flat. They were bullies and any target would do: a Mexican laborer who couldn’t speak English to their satisfaction, a stranger in town with a “bad attitude,” a Mormon missionary trying to convert them, a girl who proved to be a “tease,” what used to be called an “uppity nigger.” Isn’t is just as easy to picture McKinney and Henderson dragging James Byrd, Jr. behind a pick-up truck as it is to see them crucifying Matthew Shepherd?

The idea that re-education will solve or even ameliorate this problem is both misguided and counter-productive. Education, the panacea of liberals, has little social effect. Massive programs of sex education have done nothing to stop a tidal waive of teen-age pregnancies. Aids education served only to spread panic among the heterosexual population (who had very little to fear) and served as a disastrous substitute for proven public health measures like quarantine and contact tracing. Insurance rates will illustrate that a sixteen-year-old who passed “drivers education” is still an irresponsible teenager who has no business behind the wheel of a car.

There are two things that do work rather well for controlling social behavior: stigma and punishment.

In my lifetime I have seen what is socially acceptable change and behavior change with it. Because they are now stigmatized such routine anti-social behaviors as littering, smoking indoors, and making racist remarks have all but disappeared. Similarly, due to social opprobrium, rates of drunk driving are down significantly. On the other hand, the disappearance of social stigma has lead to a vast increase in the rates of unwed motherhood, drug use, and divorce. Stigma is a powerful tool and, instead of dismissing bullying as “boys being boys,” teachers and authority figures should do all they can to make such behavior socially unacceptable.

Punishment works well too. Before the “reforms” of the 1960’s, bullies were routinely suspended, expelled, or confined to detention. Nowadays, the policy at my children’s elementary school makes a mockery of any sort of real punishment for bullies. There must be six incidents of bullying before the student is suspended. If the target of the bully fights back, however, then the incident goes on both students records. And (here’s the kicker!), if a student has a “learning disability” then he cannot be suspended for bullying — as if it isn’t the stupid kids doing the bulk of the harassing! Such policies are a cruel joke and need to be tightened into real discipline. It makes no difference why people spat upon Derek Henkle, no bullies have any place in our public schools.