Category Archives: Geopolitics

Lent and the Return

This is now fairly deep into Lent and it is also near the time of the time change when we will all spring forward an hour, and most of us will find our waking a bit cruel for a while.. The Wednesday that is the seventh of March I spent  some time working on a gutter system and I have been otherwise preoccupied with a variety of little things but I am also aware that it is Lent — deeply aware that it is Lent although not as deeply as I might like to be. President Donald J. Trump gave his first address to the Joint Session of Congress on Mardi Gras and did not mention that the next day was Ash Wednesday nor that the Louisiana delegation had to neglect a major regional holiday to be present there and absent from Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday commitments at home. It is not that I recommend such recognition as a Federal Duty but then again I do not recommend scheduling such an event on Mardi Gras. So that is how my Lent really began — although I left off watching the speech at my parents house and went to a friend’s house for a last glass of sherry and a last slice of King Cake before midnight. But there was a dissonance between what I wanted and had on my mind and what the national scene was doing.Now the party of carnival season is truly over and my life is Lenten although not in every ideal sense. Perhaps not very holy but very austere in some ways.

Amid the other duties, noise and goings-on of life I am going over one of my unpublished novels. I wrote it online and printed two copies several years ago. So this set of marginalized, copy editors marks and other small and medium size changes are the first writing done on paper. For me writing novels has always been objectively better than self amputation, maintaining street heroin, or robbing convenience stores. But it probably feels much worse and is less rewarding.

However, it keeps my natural effervescent and exuberant qualities in check.  But the point of all this is that if ever one feels unable to control one’s giddy inner child then writing long novels can be excellent therapy…. However, most readers probably are not afflicted with excessive joy.

Nor is is impossible see that Washington faces real and austere challenges. A recent email from the White House says.

It’s been seven years since Obamacare was passed, and now, more than ever, we are seeing the harmful effects of this disastrous law.

Obamacare has led to higher costs and fewer health insurance options for millions of hard-working Americans. Independent analysis found 41 states faced higher average healthcare deductibles last year, with 17 states facing double-digit rate increases. Nearly one in five Americans have only one insurer offering Obamacare exchange plans.

In just the past year, Obamacare premiums have increased by 25 percent on the typical plan and coverage choices have dropped by 28 percent as insurers have left the market.

Things are only getting worse. This past year, nearly 20 million American citizens opted not to get healthcare insurance, with 6.5 million paying the penalty and millions more asking for a hardship exemption from the penalty.

Now, not nearly everyone will agree with Trump’s tone and take on this issue but I am relieved that he is trying to end the individual mandate. We all have sacrifices to make for America to make it and those sacrifices are Lenten enough in nature to deserve some thought in that regard. I think Catholics often have a variety of struggles as regards Lent. But it is a time to try and take our medicine with or without sugar to make it go down. America could use a little Lent just now.

I went to mass the morning of the first day of this Lent and received my ashes for Ash Wednesday. There was quite the crowd at church at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church.  I am very much aware of all that I am not doing for Lent and all that it might be better for me to do.

In the distant times when elves abounded on Middle Earth….
Actually no that is in no sense descriptive or proper — but a long time ago — I did a lot of penance and then at other times I did a lot during Lent . Then in recent years I have more often than not failed to give up anything for Lent. I have lacked the generosity of spirit necessary to add another sacrifice to the wearisome burdens of my daily life and the lacks I feel so keenly. But I have received the Ashes and kept a decent fast. There was another period in my life when I was often in a blur and sometimes forgot what day it was and violated fasts publicly in a huge way in Catholic towns on a few occasions. My sin there was running around in a chaotic state rather than consciously breaking a fast. But this year I did give up something for Lent — nothing huge and not smoking which anyone who hangs out with me lately would be likely to suggest but I did give up something.

Back in the days when I often prayed for hours alone or in a chapel AND wore a knotted cord that bit my flesh in secret AND gave way more in alms than a normal percentage AND volunteered for lots of ministries that few wanted and some everyone did — Back then I found it easy to add on a Lenten Penance. Lately, as I aim at catching the bottom rung of the safety ladder hanging out of purgatory in the knick of time any sacrifice seems heavy. But I have small ministry in the church and it seems fitting. So as I went for Ashes I decided I would do something. I also have noticed that since Mass was early and I had a priest who is not a real brander and stainer in his approach I once again have fading ash syndrome by the time I get out into the world — that is good and bad. The pros and cons go beyond this little post. But I have Fading Ash Syndrom in both Ash Wednesday pictures here, quite a few years apart. I sometimes envy those with Strong Ash Condition late in the day. But I used to wear a cross a whole lot all the time and it sometimes irked me. Now I am an annual fading ash guy.

A Fading Ash Guy scheduling in his liturgical ministry in a busy week. Life brings us places we did not expect to be posting almost undetectable ash crosses and musing about minor penances. I am not the publican or the pharisee in the famous parable of Jesus. Maybe I am the guy not mentioned in the parable who would like longer phylacteries and a more lawful beard, a little more booze and gold and a little more repentance. Beware of being lukewarm we are warned. Those who know me would say there are parts of my psyche that always run very hot and others very cold. But perhaps the lukewarm has found much of the central region.

While I certainly know that my flesh shall turn to dust it is less clear how much I will repent and believe the Gospel this Lent. But Lent does not depend solely on me. God is God however unworthy or indifferent I may be….

 

 

There is a lot going on in my life and yet not so much as to justify spending a blog only on what is going on in my life. Problems with Mexico, Russia, North Korea and Iran are not figments of our national imagination. We must address real challenges each day as a country — we must sober up from the carnival atmosphere of the election and do some good in the world. That can mean doing some good for ourselves as well. For example,  I think it’s time for everyone to realize that North Korea is able to withstand even the very most brutal diplomatic tongue-lashing. I don’t mean to trivialize the problem but maybe they know we dislike their weapons program by now…. Sobriety and a little fasting from delusion is in order. There is a real fact that our secrets are out in the world and the White House leaks like a sieve and the Academy Awards handed the Best Picture award to the wrong movie first.

I would like to thank the academy, my parents and everyone — but I am not receiving an Oscar. On the other hand, that may not have much to do with getting to give those speeches anymore…
Also not important for determining who is crowned in a huge international pageant. Steve Harvey crowned the wrong woman not long ago. these are little things compared to the open prey our secrets and promises to one another have become but they are not extremely small things. We see a continuity to our national political life. We could use a little Lent.

I have a suggestion for major televised award shows, go ahead and use whatever approach prevented these messes in the 20th century. Maybe don’t just fumble along like idiots on your program’s biggest moment. Just saying….

Then maybe we can run our country with some sobriety as well. I have been remembering two serious older Americans now deceased this week. I have been remembering Justin Jesss Spiehler the grandfather of my nieces and nephew. His obituary from years ago is linked here.  But in the spirit of such memories, I spent a few days this Lent looking for and not finding a report of the decease of Judge Marcus Broussard, known as Buddy Broussard, a jurist and attorney in Abbeville. I hesitate to post his name first although I knew him. He and I were for a few years the only two active, dues-paying members of Mensa in Abbeville. I knew his son as well and he was friends with my maternal grandparents. I look forward to seeing the kind of character I knew in those men come to the fore — they weren’t perfect but they were good solid Americans I admired, are we?

This month I am on schedule for ministry at early morning mass. I hope to keep a holy Lent there in Church but I hope to return from church with a little Lent to bring to my country as well.

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President Trump Sounds the Dawn Reveille

Donald John Trump has been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The Ceremony and the preliminary ceremonies as of this posting were it seemed to me decorous and worthwhile. His speech set a clear tone and although almost seventy Congressional Democrats were not in attendance the crowd seemed sizable enough given the gloomy weather and other factors.  We have a forty-fifth President. If somehow I were a slightly different version of myself living in a slightly different version of America, his speech would promise a time of opportunity for me personally as America sought to deal with China, Mexico and outer space in challenging new ways. Those are three places that have long been very important to me. But I will leave that as my personal note for now. I do not see President Trump as asking for my help or any real chance to be effective emerging here for me. This is a brief post centered on his speech. I think his speech is neither without merit nor without promise. But parts of it do concern me as well.

The new President Trump spoke succinctly enough greeting those present with propriety:

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: Thank you.
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.

 

His acknowledgement of all that is involved in legitimacy and continuity was in contrast to the way that many have received his own ascent to power. I thought that was to his credit. He did strike a populist tone and make clear that the American Forgotten Man, already credited with his electoral victory was at the center of his launching of the new product line that is the Trump administration.   He addressed the people in a kind of idictment of the dignitaries he had just greeted moments before, saying:

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

Whether Trump can continue to connect with important millions across this vast land remains to be seen but he seemed sincere enough in the attempt.

 

 

As President Trump reminded us all our woes and sense of alienation he seemed confident he could make a difference in our experience of life in this country. He laid that out as well:

That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now.
You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

Americans do want someone to listen and Trump surely is chief among those they hope will hear them. The reaction over recent weeks has included the Congressional Boycott, The Arly Protests and the protests outside the electoral college voting. But it has included a wide variety of responses across the political spectrum. Those include, The Hill and many other outlets in the media who have reported that President Donald Trump came into today’s ceremonies with very low approval ratings for a new President of the United States. I will be looking to see how his ratings fare after today’s ceremonies. But merely saying there is discord has not been the totality of the conversation so far.

A lot of clever people from across the country have been weighing in on the Inauguration Day festivities for quite some time and most of all on the man and the office that together make up 45th POTUS, Donald John Trump. One article from South Carolina  reminded readers in advance that there was indeed a good bit at stake in this election.  As the nation prepares to mark a new course and follow it on immigration some have pointed to Melania Trump’s own journey to citizenship. While Trump did secure a sizable minority of votes among American Jews by his staunch support for Israel there have been actions in the Liberal majority of American Jewry that have been reported in the press and online of those lamenting his election. Trump did not emphasize abortion, Israel, or Obamacare in his speech. He focused on certain key parts of his platform. Note the issues mentioned:

 

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.

Trump was concerned about secure borders, trade, crime and economic development.  Those were the first themes he hit upon. While he did not malign China or Mexico they were clearly the most threatened by him as in all past speeches about the overall geopolitcal situation. He promised a new era, of Trumpist protectionism and fine infrastructure:

But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

Beyond that he was hawkish only toward radical Islamic terrorism. He was able to use the term and able to promise to unite the world against these foes. See the next phrases:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
There should be no fear — we are protected, and we will always be protected.
We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.

Next,He laid out the vision of a technologically progressive and economically powerful America that would lead the world to the future. See the rest:

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger.
In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.
The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.
Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.
We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:
You will never be ignored again.
Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
Together, We will make America strong again.
We will make wealthy again.
We will make America proud again.
We will make America safe again.
And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

 

 

So Obama is gone and our civilization appears to be going on. The worst of the fears projected in this space have not been realized. The future is of course uncertain. The truth of the transition and all that will come of it is about to emerge more clearly.

MLK Day, Inauguration Anticipation and Me…

C

There has been a good bit of discussion of Congressman John Lewis’s interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News in which he said that he didn’t believe that Donald Trump is legitimately the President of the United States. Lewis stated that this is because the Russians and other parties conspired to damage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and to elect Mr. Trump.  There has also been a great deal of comment about President-Elect Trump and his Tweets regarding Congressman Lewis. There is plenty of room for discussion about the ways in which each of these men do and do not understand each other and the people who support them and with whom each of them most identify.

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My farewell address On Tuesday, January 10, I’ll go home to Chicago to say my grateful farewell to you. In 1796, as George Washington set the precedent …….poP

However, two events on the calendar make this exchange more poignant and different than it would otherwise be. One reality of the calendar is that Monday, January 16 is Martin Luther King Day. African American groups and associations can readily rally around the ideas expressed by Congressman Lewis, as can others — such as the Democrats already using his words in their fundraising programs.  MLK Day is when I am typing this post. Race is highly relevant to all these discussions, but it is not entirely clear how it is relevant. President Obama of course is of different racial connections than President-Elect Trump. Most Americans have noticed this. But how all this relates to Civil Rights history is less clear. Trump wants to make a new case to racial minorities– especially Blacks in the inner cities. Lewis does not represent a poor inner city district, but Trump may have believed that he did. That’s suggested by a Trump Tweet.

The other big day is on the twentieth of this month. That is the day on which Donald J. Trump is supposed to be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Lewis and at least twelve other members of Congress have said that they will not attend. I have hopes of watching most of the Day’s events on television as usual. Lewis does not seem aware of how messy many elections in our history have been. But more likely he simply believes he must rally certain forces in the country. The Russian hacking is mostly an excuse, I think. A better excuse than many its our history.

The new administration comes in at a time when I find myself uniquely alienated, despite an alienated life. My life is largely spent in ways that I own to which have left me deeply and broadly aware of how entirely devoid of success a life can be and yet remain the life one chose. Both Lewis and Trump are largely successful. Both are committed to the lives and paths which they have lived and blazed. Less alienated Americans will feel the divide between them more intensely. The empathy of millions will, for a while, center around one or the other.

Today is also the birthday of Ernest Gaines the prominent African American writer associated with my alma mater. I have read a good number of his novels and short stories and attended his lectures in the distant past. He also plays some role in shaping how I see this time.

But I am mostly preoccupied with concerns not much discussed nationally. I am going to be watching the next state in our affairs for any shadow of relevant hope. I will not expect much more.

 

 

B

Meryl Streep, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Other Strangers

There are different levels of winning and losing. In the the lifelong, trans-generational and eternal perspectives and in the quarterly earnings report or even shorter term perspectives. I would say that by most standards I consider myself to be very far from either success or influence. The news is mostly about successful and influential people and that is not a bad thing in itself. This post is about some of the influential people who are very far from my daily life.

President Barack Hussein Obama who said his farewells in Chicago recently was just one of several people who has recently grabbed national attention with words about this transition. I listened to and watched this speech and also heard Meryl Streep’s speech on the occasion of winning the Cecil B. De Mille Award at the Golden Globes.  In addition, I have been told about the Trump Tower Press Conference where Donald Trump laid out his plans for distancing himself from the Trump Organization while President of the United States. But I only saw the end of it and some clips and highlights over the last few days. One of the subjects of the press conference was the dirty dossier claiming that Trump was compromised by information collected by Russian intelligence. That report (it appears) was prepared by a former British intelligence officer for  private interests.

Many people have chosen to way in on these varied acts of communication. Much of the Hollywood community has banded together in support of the nearly legendary Ms. Streep — although some, such as Mark Wahlberg have been critical of her effort to politicize the occasion. One person who did reach out to her in support was Robert De Niro. His letter has since been published in the media.  “What you said was great. It needed to be said, and you said it beautifully. I have so much respect for you that you did it while the world was celebrating your achievements.” De Niro’s letter. Although MS. Streep is someone for whom I have the greatest respect as an actress she has been largely confined to her excellence in that field in my mind. I did not include her or very many other actors in my list published in 2011 of the Most Watchable People in the Coming Decade.  Clearly not including her or Donald Trump seems to indicate some limitations to the list. However I did include Robert De Niro in the list the link to his biography is here. What follows is the totality of his biography as it appears in this post about five years ago:

4. Robert De Niro, Jr.  was born August 17, 1943 and is an American actor, director, and producer. His father was a well-respected expressionist painter who was well-educated and whose own father was an Italian-American but whose mother was Irish American. Serious artistic respect runs in the family. This living DeNiro is widely considered one of the greatest actors of his generation and just a day or so before this posting he received the Cecile B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association ans that is a high ranking lifetime achievement ward presented at the Golden Globes. DeNiro’s first major film role was in 1973’s Bang the Drum Slowly. In 1974, he played the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, where he created a legendary niche for himself with an iconic character in a role that won him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He made the first of a number of significant films Martin Scorsese in 1973 when he played in  Mean  Streets.  Later  DeNiro worked with Scorsese  and earned an Academy Award for Best Actor  for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta in the 1980 film, Raging Bull. Other Scorsese films for which he was nominated  but did not win were  Taxi Driver (1976) and  Cape Fear (1991). In addition, he received nominations for his acting in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) and Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (1990). This was one of the many roles he has done which was outside of the urban American tough guy.   Outside of the Oscars he earned four nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy: New York, New York (1977), Midnight Run (1989), Analyze This (1999) and Meet the Parents (2000).  He has made a large number of appearances in film and has succeeded as a director as well as an actor.  However DeNiro makes this list largely because he founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 with Craig Hatkoff and Jane Rosenthal.  This festival is part of Deniro’s identity as a New Yorker and was founded  in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center  and the many faced loss of vitality  and hope in the TriBeCa neighborhood and the rest of  Manhattan. The festival has featured hundreds of films and is making the world more aware of New York’s significant role in world of film. DeNiro  has tied himself into the story with which this series and this list is intimately tied.

De Niro did not make the top ten people on the list although he did make the list. However, two people much discussed in these days did make the top of the list. The truth is that these are strange times but Russia, Hollywood and the Presidency are predictably interesting parts of our lives in this society. Vladimir Putin has been the focus of a great deal of discussion and one wonders if there will still be and effort to nullify the election based on his alleged involvement. I say one wonders, we shall see  what happens next before and after the Inauguration Day events.

One of the strangers I choose to mention in this post who has been in the news a lot lately is Vladimir Putin. Following this sentence, I quote in its entirety here my brief biography of him which appeared in this blog in a post in 2011 to be found here:

 

5. Vladimir Putin ,Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Влади́мир Влади́мирович Пу́тин, born on October 7, 1952 is a vigorous probably more physically fit than I on almost every measure despite being almost eight years my senior at an age where that really matters. Putin served as the post Soviet Russian Federation’s second President and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus and he is a man of broad appeal among several segments of Russian society. He may be that kind of person once referred to as a reappearance of Aratos (a Greek politician of long ago) and because of who he is and his attitudes he will remain Putin while he remains alive. He became acting President as the world celebrated huge numbers of parties and even those disputing the calendric significance on all sort of bases had gotten into the act of a millennial party this happened on my ex-wife’s thirty-third birthday which was December 21, 1999, when president Boris Yeltsin resigned in a surprising move. Putin’s rise to office slipped under this worldwide camouflage in a way that would be worthy of a former intelligence officer. He then began consolidating his power in a way that combined traditional Russian, Soviet, progressive democratic elements into a new decisive style. won the 2000 presidential election and in 2004 he was reelected for a second term lasting until 7 May 2008.He has many hopes he still cannot really do anything to achieve but he keeps chipping away at the obstacles. Putin did not demonize Yeltsin and the recent regime nor set about abolishing its forms and reforms in a systematic and aggressive way. Most of his harshest critics would acknowledge his role in creating or restoring political orderly process and Securing the rule of law. His presidency included gains such as the fact that Russia’s economy avoided a terrible and developing crisis, the increase by over 70% in the GDP , and probably lifting half the Russian poor out of poverty as well as securing the fragile middle class and working class segments of the new Russia by seeing average monthly salaries increase from less than $100 to well over $500. While high oil prices were part of this miracle his management of the oil boom was among the better responses to such mineral driven influxes of wealth in a crisis which the world has seen. He likes healing and building better but could become a figure of destruction fomenting hate — it just depends on too many factors to sort out here. His conduct in office has not always earned the respect of independent evaluators and its faults have been shown forth by domestic political opposition. Mostly he can be criticized his record of both real and perceived restoration of some Soviet abuses which have violated human rights and freedoms; this has included improper conduct toward vocal opponents acts towards the former Soviet Republics both aggressive and of questionable legitimacy. He has shown a talent for balance, both in becoming Prime Minister and waiting to be able to run again and in his UN behavior with former Soviet Republics he seems to play a very hard game of politics rather than the great communist fault of abolishing civilized politics until the need becomes to great to avoid restoring them. He helped save what he could of socialist safety nets, bureaucratic expertise and tradition while securing emerging capitalism, free markets and private property. President Putin passed into law essential reforms such as a flat 13% income tax , a reduced profits tax, was well as credible and juridically workable land and legal codes . Based on his achievements, Putin is a man about whom pop songs have been written and performed. He is still exceptionally vigorous. There is little that can be done to contain his personal networks or his base of popular support within and around Russia.
He is a man with whom a new future could be negotiated for the world should that happen and that has not been true of most Soviet leaders in my view.

 

Another stranger who was also on the list of Watchable people and made the final ten was President Obama. His biography appears just after this sentence, the link here is the same as the one above Putin’s biography.  The tone of both biographies written half a decade ago is  what it is and i do not shy away from either one. The truth is that Obama and Putin are juxtaposed at the middle of this decade as they were at the middle of my list.

4.President Barack Hussein Obama This President of the United States of America will continue to set the tone for much of the American future and its policies for the foreseeable future. We face the future as best we can in a world where the election of Barack Obama has already shown us as profoundly weak in the eyes of so much of the world.Barack Hussein Obama it is to be noted is the descendant of an American mother and has married and had children with an American wife. The mother was white, the wife is black. Obama’s father was an African student and he also had an Indonesian stepfather. In a society where forty-one percent of children are currently born out of wedlock, Schwarzenegger has been Governor of California, Jindal is currently Governor of Louisiana, Granholme was Governor of Michigan until two weeks ago and tens of millions live here without documents Obama has a strong basic appeal to our society which is committed to its own utter destruction at this time. Obama is a man with a very impressive resume and a lot of lessons and experiences that have not come together in the same individual before. Obama does not have any desire to compromise with the vast complicated burdens of American History. He is less aware of them than most Presidents have been and is more committed to policies and procedures that will undermine this country than he would be if he did not have the background he actually does have.

President Obama has been the expression of decades of continuous confusion and staggering forward. What will happen to him and to the country before he leaves the Oval Office behind is not entirely predictable. Nor is it it clear what he or the Presidency will be like after his administration ends. If he leaves office alive after completing one or two full terms then the Presidency of the United States will be part of his impressive curriculum vitae which includes editing Harvard Law Review , traveling the world, authoring two very successful books, serving in the United States Senate and given many famous speeches. If a major constitutional change occurs in the United States of America after his retirement from this office he will be in a powerful position to broker part of this change. However, his own tenure in office has contributed to America’s inevitably worsening troubles unless it does seriously reform.

The Trump saga is trying to start. I will try to cover it here. One person who is not in any loop in or out of the Beltway who was on my list is myself the author of this post. Perhaps, the future will seem me yet more isolated and alienated or perhaps not. But I am like a lot of other Americans to some degree who are watching these events not entirely surprised by anything  — but aware of the large events among influential strangers.

Fathers Day, Poverty, Harsh Reality & Sports

Last night I watched LeBron James lead the determined Cavaliers against the super professional Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. The beloved King James who had seen his jersey burnt in Cleveland when he signed to play in Miami was not quite in the land of ordinary men. He was  crossing over a bit into legend on that moment.  It was Fathers Day and a lot of American Fathers (and other fathers too) are sports fans. It seems likely that for many families in Cleveland this was Fathers Day they are not likely to forget.  Of course for the Curry family and the fans of the Golden State Warriors it was a bitter disappointment. The moment one team and one man and one city flirted with legend was the moment that another story fell short the best regular season in NBA history ended with a hard fought  seven game finals but it did not end with the championship.

Competition is not the only value worth having and really is not the central value of my own life. But it is part of life for all of us and it is part of male identity. This Sunday Americans celebrated Fathers Day. I had an enjoyable time with my father.  I brought him gifts and we enjoyed drinks at the Riverfront restaurant in Abbeville and a beautiful meal that my mother had prepared. During this occasion most of the attention goes to the stories of fathers bringing up children in pretty good situations.  But fathering is done in many parts of the world that are far from ideal. The sense of struggle is almost endless for many people and many of them are fathers too. The Syrian refugees, the destitute in camps, homeless shelters,  and squatting in sites around the world — many of these are fathers as well.  This is one very compelling study about what is happening in the world.  It does not focus on the whole world but on one part of it very specifically, the world of a large group or class of Syrian refugees.  My Dad has spent a lot of time with those who were in trouble. We have lived and he has lived and visited regions where people were involved in the kinds of lingering and sporadic civil wars that were common in the twentieth century, places where mass migrations had strained local resources,  places recently devastated by hurricanes and places under various kinds of social change.

Being with him in some of those times  and places where the trouble and need which attracted us there were prevalent was not always easy. The path of a life in the missions was certainly not one without real challenges. The story of those challenges and the joys that go with them has been a story that has long been a part of my life itself — not just the events of the story but the telling and retelling of that story. Even the journalism I have made a little bit of a living doing from time to time and the fiction that has not yet paid any bills –even that is informed by the really extremely varied story of that life and those years especially spent together often dealing with crises.

Crises shape the community, hardship shapes a community and depression shapes a community.  So does the fear of violence. Americans are subject to a considerable amount of fear of violence and there is not that much agreement about how to deal with it. The cultural hostility to a person achieving any kind of self reliance whatever can be very much manifest in groups of people that inhabit many people and intimidate the family oriented, hardworking and insightful people trying to prevent those neighborhoods from turning to living hells or remaining such. A country like ours that is so dotted with riots and violence and punctuates it life with so many bombings and mass shootings is not necessarily a place that will not be crippled by more emphasis on disarming the citizenry . The Obama administration has often been criticized  here and so have  those around him who want an unarmed lawful citizenry. They are criticized in large part because I believe that they do not know how profound the savagery, disorder and decay is in its effects in destroying the quality of life in this country.  Limiting the arms of besieged American beset with violence, chaos and resistance to public advancement on many sides will certainly increase this sense of a society where it is not safe to try to survive and thrive. Here is a story about these matter in terms of what American guns mean to maintaining a balance of terror. The bad guys will not be disarming much any time soon.

My Dad is a gun owner. He is not a big preacher of the value of an armed citizenry and in many rough places where we lived we could not keep weapons at home. In addition the radical nature of our involvement with those in need  required us to risk a level of vulnerability  — but my dad is, as I have always been, a man who knew and used guns and respected and enjoyed them.

 

But the arts of shooting and killing like many other things have not been the only part of his life that we have shared. Family, ministry and other values and themes of life have really been much more important without undervaluing those things.  There have also been times visiting tourist sites, wealthy friends and relatives, living in neighborhoods near stable work and hanging out on the beach.

 

But I think back on my life as life in which the moments victory in dark places and hard times mattered a lot. Compared to opening a new harbor facility, a new factory or a new large piece of permanent public infrastructure a lot of the victories our family shared were kind of fleeting and heard to define. Life the elated Cleveland fans who must go back to the problems that their city faces tomorrow. But Cleveland is building back in many ways over the last twenty years. Form the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to the improving Browns, to American Splendor and  the story of King James and his knights of the round ball — Cleveland is a gritty place in a gritty state looking for and finding some real meaning and hope.

I never forget the connection between the Saints winning the Super Bowl and the devastation of Katrina and Rita. Things are far from perfect now but the Super Bowl did help to keep people who stayed in the struggle in the struggle. In America a lot of fathers watch sports and find a little hope in their own struggles from the struggles of sports. That happened to us when the Saints won it all.

Whatever come in the coming year that is difficult and challenging I am sure tha watching the game last nigh after getting back from Dad’s will not be my favorite memory. I am not a huge NBA fan really. But I am also sure that it is a Father’s day even that has some meaning. It is a moment in time that many will treasure  as dads and with their dads.

Presidential Politics and the Current American Mindset

So will the US ban all Muslims from entering the country for a time? Will it seek to get along better with North Korea and not so well with the UK? Will it deport tens of millions of aliens to Mexico by relative force across the country? Do those visions fairly represent Donald Trump?

Will it lie, deny, distort and obfuscate as long and as much as can be imagined when challenged on any wrongdoing in the White House? Will it sing the official praises of those who who sell human body part of members of our species deliberately dismembered? Will it find ways to blame working class white men and unidentified big businesses for larger and larger parts of the country’s problems no matter what the evidence may be? Is that a fair vision of a potential Clinton presidency?

This blog post does not attempt to answer any of those questions.  This post does assert that while I am doing other things I am still committed to the political commentary in this blog. It is a little different than the commentary any where else. It is very much my own.  Some of that commentary begins just now.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

It looks like there will be a race for the White House between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There may be surprises or a third significant candidate but it appears that those two will lead the charge for the major parties in this country. This post is a chance to simply link together a few thoughts and references for this blog which began during the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. I still have a few more posts in my series Emerging Views but this post is about the developing presidential election and what all of that will mean for this blog and other aspects of life, culture and politics. While this blog is obviously a particularly small voice in the world of news and information it is not clear that America has the kinds of voices today which Time and Newsweek represented in the 1980s and 1990s. Those were far from perfect times and those two famous weeklies were far from perfect media outlets.  Perceptions of bias and the wrong kinds of selectivity were often stated and were justified.  But these news and culture magazines did seem to capture a sense of where American political energy and interest were in a way which no handful of media outlets do today. Rush Limbaugh, the ABC, NBC,Fox, CBS, Yahoo and Google News programs taken together cover a lot waterfront. I am not sure they bring together a sense of the country as those two magazines and handful of their peers once did. I wonder where and how this great debate and discussion will play out.

To safeguard liberty we must be able to adapt to the changing times.

To safeguard liberty we must be able to adapt to the changing times.

Before there were blogs forming a blogosphere there were letters to the editor in journals and magazines and I had quite a few published. That includes on published in Time. I recently wrote two long letters to Time although they really do not publish much in that way. Here they are reproduced nearly in entirety. The first discusses the state of political discussion in America from a particular point of view.

 

 Nancy Gibbs and Colleagues

Time Editorial Staff
225 Liberty Street
New York, New York 10281-1008
Ms. Gibbs (not to insult those who actually read this),
I am responding in part to the cover of the May 23 issue on Rana Forohaar’s careful rendering of her book into a lead article on capitalism. There is some alarming material in the article in the sense that it raises concerns that pose a threat to all of us. But the tone is perhaps other than alarmist. The cover was sort of evocative of covers that have appeared over times past with a contemporary take and for whatever mix of nostalgic and critical reasons I liked the cover and its kind of conversational approach to saving the U.S. economy. I also saw much of the same use of concepts of gate-keeping, source identification, making comparisons between varied crises and challenges for perspective and all these little traits reminded me of Time over the decades. But this time my reading was influenced by another experience that I will only mention and leave to any reader’s imagination as to how it influenced my reading of Time. The experience involved an interaction with an institution In some ways not at all like Time, yet both have played a role in the great and American intellectual commons which is distinct from a world or civilization based heritage or any regional or sectional intellectual ferment. That institution is one of the officials in the particular sport of television. I published a review in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television in the early nineties and since I have no plethora of academic publications that is yet another reason for me to be more interested in the NIelsen process than most. Thus I found it stimulating.  
Just about the time your issue was hitting stands and libraries I had a chance to participate in the Nielsen ratings. It gave me the opportunity to think a bit more clearly about the ways in which all that we know as mass communication is changing and about how our society is changing. I deal a good bit with issues of social change and and communications and I do it in my blog, Facebook profiles and other places which are possessed of much longer comments on these events than you have time to read from an over the portal source. A look at my Twitter feed and profile would quickly tell you two things: I do have some influential followers although the number is small and I just added Time to those I am following as I started typing this email. It is not that I never viewed your tweets — I just don’t remember to add people and institutions to my list.  My Linked In profile which should be available herealso show some other connections. The relatively long and bizarre path through life depicted there is not a fiction, doubtless there are some errors and some of longstanding.But every thing in it is at least close to the truth or has simply evaded my limited attentions as an editor of the profile.
Time has bigger fish to fry than my little corner of the media world. Your recent issue of May 23 seeks to address Capitalism, feminism with Megan Kelly, mental health with Kristen Bell, Jodie Foster discussing the meaning of her movie and how Sadiq Khan hopes to combat extremism. You do this in a way which is fairly coherent, clever and informative and makes someone like me want to write you a letter even though no letters to the editor appeared in the issue about which I write. But it is clear is it not that there are forces almost of the type found in YA literature which challenge Time’s capacity to marshal an argument, stage a debate and aid in the creation and dissolution of any consensus in these United States. Much of this is blamed on Culture Wars by some who keep up with news from the eighties and nineties. However, this year it is notable that energies channeled into supporting Hillary Clinton, Donald trump and Bernie Sanders all find focus in places near your offices in New York City. They really do not seem to be cultures at war. More like a single culture not able to deal well with the people who make up the culture. I on the other hand am one of the real outsiders compared to New York and D.C., Jackson’s demise as a face on currency in favor of a Broadway promotion of Hamilton will hurt tourism associated with the Battle of New Orleans and I will feel it more than most  — although being too disadvantaged to feel it much.   I did live in New York for a year as a child and in a vague and general way I am part of the numerous constellations of enclaves the best of New York journalism used to seek to stay in touch with but I think finds it more difficult to do these days. I believe Time  is bringing to bear a great number of important questions and people are reading Time and yet I am not sure the influence on a national dialog is very great.  The recent past was not perfect but there was a conversation going on about its imperfections when your mentors were young. But the costs are not trivial, I care about fur trappers, cowboys, loggers, oilmen and stevedores. Most of all farmers and fishermen have made up large parts of my life and I consider myself an ardent environmentalist. Likely any relationship with New York journalism would experience plenty of frictions from that area of tension alone.   
The magazine you lead is really defined in part by a set of relationships with Newsweek, Life, Business Week, National Review, U.S. News and World Report and a handful of journals just as much as it is defined by its relationships with readers, advertisers, interviewed talent and newsmakers. It is easy to see that  Life andNewsweek are relatively defunct, National Review is less than it was under the leadership of the late William F. Buckley and the others are struggling at least as much as Time to find their way forward in the current era and into the future.  
I am fifty-one years old and had a letter to the editor appear in Time in the days when voice mail was means of communication that was in vogue. That was sometime around 1993 and I was more optimistic, less bitter and more hopeful of a positive future for myself and the people, communities and values I care about in an emerging American society. I think the tone was perhaps more strident and angry than the tone of this email but I was less alienated. This year is a special year for many observers of and participants in American culture, with its communication focused at actual vocal human beings in attendance at the excited and seemingly burgeoning rallies for Trump and Sanders and the coverage of those events. This makes this political season a year about a different kind of dialog. But this is not coming out of nowhere,Black Lives Matter, Occupy, pro and anti Confederate Flag rallies, Hispanic identity rallies, anti-immigration rallies, the rallies at the Papal visit and with the Pope near the border all form a compelling national dialog. In addition David Duke’s endorsement of Donald Trump reaffirmed that the pure blogosphere ( in which Duke is a player) can make a difference at least for a moment in the news cycle. My own blog is right here. Or you can drag and paste https://franksummers3ba.com/ into your browser. Isn’t it also time to admit that many of the mass shootings are acompanied by political statements which are fairly serious, reasoned attempts by Muslims, White Supremacists, East Asian Americans, military veterans, African Americans and the victims of bullying. They feel alienated and that there is no real recourse in our major social and political process. The  focus on guns and mental illness to the exclusion of everything else these people are expressing is perhaps a real sign of profound bankruptcy as regards our national conversation. I myself would like radical change and I outline it in my blog.  But how change is achieved matters almost as much as what changes one seeks.

 One of the mysterious casualties of Hurricane Katrina and a host of other troubles was the loss of a daily New Orleans newspaper in the Times Picayune. The Advocate from Baton Rouge seeks to make up the slack, but I do not think this will be without some dire consequences down the road.The decline of newspapers has been discussed all my life. I worked for or with and have been published in a variety of papers that there is only  a small chance anyone in the initial review of this letter will know. Among these newspapers are the Abbeville Meridional (principal voice of Vermilion Parish, Louisiana since the 1850s), Gannett’s Daily AdvertiserThe Vermilion ( student paper for UL now then USL)and Bonnes Nouvelles ( the Vermilion Parish edition of a  chain owned by connected members of the Dardeau family). 

My Facebook friends list has the publishers and journalist of many Catholic and also of many regional outlets. The  list also includes the principal editor of the Queer Times and a number of space related blogs. Yet I cannot help but wonder if I am more alienated from the center you represent than ever before. Would it be to risky for Time to interact with me given perhaps some position or other in my blog?  The question is not purely rhetorical. I admit I would still love to have a byline in Time. I do not pretend that I am the only and best qualified person wanting to publish in your pages. I think your recent issue did a credible job. I enjoyed it although less perfectly than in the past and did not read every word. But I do wonder is Time very committed to a sort of national conversation? Committed in the way so many others are to so many other things? If not, then who is?   

— 

Frank W. Summers, III
Frank “Beau” Summers

The next letter I wrote to Time was related to an article I had read in their pages related to the  South China Sea and the brewing tensions there.  It is less to the point of this post than the first but it is not irrelevant:

 

Timelords (is that the correct form of address?),

 
Fiery Cross Reef is vital to Chinese military interests. There artificial island should be expanded with a more naturalistic artificial coastline. We need a very civilized rival somewhere in the world to justify maintaining our investment in traditional military assets. We need traditional military assets to have a long term future. The Philippines and the United States have a vital interest and real claims in the region are indeed held by several powers as described in the article.
 
The total story is a complex one. But where are the calls for the kinds of dispute resolution which the vast and costly international legal system and the United Nations could possibly actually resolve?
 
There are not yet any real bad guys in this story. It may turn out in the long run that a real belligerence must arise in this region. I wish that were less likely than it is… However, if the United Nations, the various systems of mediation and other institutions are worth anything then many people should be calling for them to be fully used here.
 
I also believe artificial islands must become major priorities for many of the world’s great powers. Learning to address the issues related to such projects ought to be both an American and a global priority.
 
Sincerely,
 
Frank Summers
Foreign Expert
People’s Republic of China
2004 to 2005
Students & in English Corner meeting on Campus SDIBT Yantai.

Students & in English Corner meeting on Campus SDIBT Yantai.

America has a lot on its plate right now. It is not mostly China which challenges us in the world. Our policies from Syria, to Iraq, to Israel, to Afghanistan and on to Europe are at least subject to serious question. This blog has been questioning policies throughout the Obama presidency. It has also been the place to put forward some policy proposals — many of them radical which may be up for discussion or may be ignored but are not being deleted from this site.  It has also made many correct predictions and some dire predictions about the possibilities of the Obama Presidency that may not turn out to be the case. While that was always hoped for by me and others around it nonetheless does undermine the credibility of the blog if things do not get significantly worse than they are before January.  My own life in these years has arguably been more and more ineffective with a few bright spots and counter trends not disproving that general direction. But while I  have problems and many others do as well I am not sure mine are the problems that resonate with the electorate per se. At least they are not likely be determinative of the outcome of the election. Yes I need better opportunity and more money but not in the same way as some other people whose needs better represent more voters.

America has many challenges to face and this blog is full of my thoughts bout meeting those challenges. but so far there is little evidence that this blog will be a major factor in shaping the key discussions of these matters at the heart of our political discussion.  I myself am more than a little weary and the worse for wear.  But I began this blog to express a point of view and influence the American mindset and I will continue to try to do that.

The earliest post on this blog was provided by Word Press but I could have deleted it. I am not sure if I edited it at all it appears here. 

It is reproduced here:

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

My next blog post was a kind of manifesto lifted from a series of Facebook notes just a few months earlier in its release on Facebook. You can read it here if so inclined. The idea of a very personal blog with a political view is quite manifest but not so much presidential politics. In fact specific politics as the term is often  are not much in evidence in that post.

The next post, which appears here, lays out some geopolitical ideas, visions and policies. It takes tongue in cheek a limitless ambition and scope as part of the nature of this blog.  I had nothing much to say about presidential politics in the manifesto.

The first post dealing with presidential politics in this blog links here. It was a reposting from a now long neglected or abandoned user blog I had on Politco.

I reproduce the long introductory segment of it here below. I cannot say that none of my views have changed or evolved but many have not:

I feel a certain amount of sympathy for Barack Obama. I choose to start with that line because I consider myself to be one of the people most opposed to Barack Obama within the spectrum of legitimate politics. However, I don’t think that there is any doubt that we have reached the point where Conservatism can be looked at as something which has merited the term “crisis”. America is in a crisis and I believe that it will prove to be a very grave crisis. However, conservatism is in a far greater crisis. For argument’s sake let us say that the terms right and left, Democrat and Republican describe a real political dynamic which matters in this country. I would argue that on the right in this country we have lots of politicians who use the label“conservative” but actually we have a collection of Libertarians, Tax Avoiders,  Moderate Neo-Fascists , Ultra-Reformed  Protestant Theocrats, and Anglophile Antiquarians who collectively squeeze a weak and demoralized conservative group of Americans who hardly matter at all.  Some of these five never discussed groups would be Conservatives if there really was a Conservative Movement for them to be part of , on the other hand many fundamentally despise Conservatism.I voted for George Bush the first time and almost certainly would have voted for him the second time if I could have made it to Beijing’s American Embassy in time to vote. However, I missed that election. I voted for McCain-Palin in the most recent election. I also voted for Mary Landrieu a Democrat this year. Through my life I have voted for a collection of Democrats, Republicans and Independents.  My sympathy for Barack Obama comes into play in this regard. Like Obama (and a lot of other people)  I have had to make the best choices I could at any given time. By the time I was old enough to vote I had forged a lot of bonds and relationships which included fundamentalists, communists in other countries, resentful Moslems, white supremacists, black radicals and lots of other people who don’t fall into the neat safe categories that President mills like mid century Yale Law normally produce in quantity.  If I were to have made a run at the US Presidency there would be people some folks would like as little as I like Rev. Wright and David Ayres. Despite all that colorful background I have lots of self-respect and more oddly yet, I think of myself as an authentic American Conservative. Arguably, I am one of the only American conservatives who could be optimistic about the Obama example. Because if such an oddly positioned person of such a background as Barack Obama can be President of the United States then maybe I could at least get elected parish assessor, city dog-catcher, county councilman, water-district representative or something else somewhere in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Somehow I don’t think Obama’s election signifies anything nearly that hopeful for someone like me.  I am able to accept that there is not likely to be a government paycheck in my future. That is unless you include the kinds of fellowships and part-time job checks form school boards and universities which I have gotten in the past. I don’t hate liberalism but I know that Liberals are more likely to take a political interest in those with odd and quirky backgrounds than conservatives are. I am able to say that I have won a few elections. I won a seat on Dorm Council in College, I was elected as Outstanding Graduate in my department , college and university for that particular commencement exercise at a different school. Then In China  a few years ago I organized elections among my student for various class and subgroup offices. Then there are a couple of elections where I was elected to post that I can’t discuss here by groups that like their privacy.  None of those races seem very much related to the Presidency or even a governorship however. In most of these races my political philosophy was not a central aspect of what people were electing me for or voting against. Many people hold office for other reasons than political philosophy. People vote for friends, members of their race or class, to keep seniority in a legislature or because they are personally opposed to the candidates opposition. But in  the big leagues there are always some questions of political philosophy that become important. I would argue that Conservatism is usually not on the menu.I think that a coherent expression of American Conservative political philosophy would require at least one very long book. If someone hasn’t read any of the books which have helped to from my opinions then an article or two would not make the great sweep of ideas stand clear. Here I am going to do something very different. I am going to propose ten unthinkable planks in a platform in an aggressive conservative movement. I don’t think that conservative means passive. Some of these would even require constitutional amendments. I believe that these planks would probably unpopular and are largely undemanded but that is because Conservatism is largely dead. I think that passing something along these lines would be essential to setting our country on a good conservative path. I believe struggling for something like this would be essential for rebuilding a conservative movement.

What is the mindset or set of mindsets which will shape American destiny in the coming election cycle?  Where are we headed as country?  This blog will still be involved in tracking these questions and any answers that it can find.

Emerging Views: Chapter Fourteen; A relatively Humble Standard

Standard Oil paid for the projects discussed in this book. This last numbered chapter in this book is about them and Humble Oil who worked closely with Louisiana Story. Hopefully it sets in context other references from across the text.  It is not long enough to do much more.   This chapter is out of sequence on my blog. The thirteenth numbered chapter will have to follow in time. But this is a chapter about the oil industry as well as about funding these pictures.   It is a chapter which is only a hint at the breadth of a topic that goes far beyond the book as a whole in many ways.

The Gulf of Mexico's oil reserves remain vital to our country's future.

The Gulf of Mexico’s oil reserves remain vital to our country’s future.

But despite controversy and complexity the relationships described in this chapter were never all good or all bad. Here a few topics are discussed  within the context of what might have meaning for this text and its readers.  Much more work could be done in a different book.

Here is the pdf form:EmergingViewsChapterFourteenARelativelyHumbleStandard

Here is the text itself such as it currently is:

Chapter Fourteen: A relatively Humble Standard

 

The title of this chapter plays with the meaning of the two capitalized names when one is used as an adjective and the other as a noun. Thus this chapter is about Standard Oil and Humble Oil and how in the years between 1943 and 1953 they created a norm for these projects which was tied into their overall management style and philosophy.  In contrast to their philosophical approach as it has appeared to other writers and to this writer at other times, this was humble standard of operating procedure. To a great degree oil was trying to fit into America’s energy coast (and yes was hoping to transform it — but–) they saw and others saw the operation of the energy sector in the region as one important set of activities among many. They aspired to lead as has been stated before,  but the leadership had a different flavor and texture than other times and places have sometimes been asked to consume. It was easier on the palate.

 

There is evidence of this in their dealings with Flaherty himself. Flaherty had known great triumphs and Nanook is still at least the equal of Louisiana Story by almost every measure. But he had known a variety of pressured manipulated projects where his work was compromised. Murnau had squeezed him out of directing their supposed collaboration, Tabu. The story one sees on screen was largely written by him and some of the locations and casting may be due to him as well as many other aspects of the fim. But great as the film is in its own right it was Murnau’s as a director and it is more accurate to give Flaherty half a dozen other credits on the film and not to list him as director. That was only his greatest and not his only disappointment in terms of feeling taken advantage of by those with whom he worked. Compared to much of his life’s work this was a his widow Frances later asserted — a princely commission. Princes are not often equated with humility but in fact the royalist ideal is of a gentler and more deft touch in rule than is typical of the tyrant or the dictator. Not to overstate the case this is a story about oil companies which behaved themselves. During the time and in the place which this text describes….

 

In Chapter Twelve it was remarked that Dudley Leblanc’s thirty-fourth birthday party was an occasion for him to receive a kind of tribute from people from a variety of industries but not the petroleum industry.  It is also true that we have discussed how the Broussard Brothers became a very successful firm and remains so today but its growth as a major named focus in the oil industry on the Attakapas Prairie has been a fairly slow process. The firm was located mostly in Chalmette at first and then has gradually assumed more prominence in the region. Only in recent years has it bought the prominent and fairly stately office building in a leafy neighborhood where it now holds sway.Chris Crusta Flying Services was operated by Danny Babin of the Gueydan area and by Chris Crusta of Abbeville. Both were pilots with distinguished military careers however, the firm which provided crop dusting services across the Parish  for many years also helped to launch the business career of one of the leading figures in the oilfield in Vermilion Parish and the Prairies.  Revis Sirmon was a French speaking native of the region whose family farmed rice and who married a Cajun girl, name Lorraine Breaux,  many of his closest friends were Cajuns. Yet Revis Sirmon was a distinctly non Cajun person with his own set of folklore and religious experiences shaping his life.  His close relationship with the wealthy rice-milling  Godchaux family was a relationship with a white Creole family. Possibly there both not being Cajun entirely formed a common part of their identity in the intensely Cajun region. Revis Sirmon flew fifty combat missions in Europe in World War II and loved to fly. However, after a few years of of the risks of agricultural aviation and with two small children to worry about leaving orphaned he was ready to spend more time on the ground. He went into the oilfield fluids business called the mud business with the backing of Frank Godchaux III. Revis Sirmon’s memoirs, Eternal Pilot, a book co-written with Joseph Chaillot  do a good job of charting his life in Acadiana and the tensions between Cajun identity and residence in Acadiana. They also provide a useful glimpse of his rise in the local oilfield world and its ties to world commerce and it also is true that the book like so much else describes many people whom I knew well although it also leaves out a great deal and a great number of people whom I know were involved in the events described.    But whatever angle on takes in viewing these things it is different than the take of a book like this one, the scholar has to bring something to the research as it is not the book’s purpose to address any or all of these questions directly.  Revis Sirmon was encouraged by the ethnically prominent Charles Broussard of the Flying J. Ranch to ask Edwin Edwards (who has always identified as Cajun) to appoint him to the Mineral Board, while in that position he raised the royalty payments made to the State for mineral leases. However, as an active commercial oilman he was disqualified from future service after seven fairly distinguished years on the board when new ethics rules defined his operations as a conflict of interest. He resigned rather than before the newly propounded rules would have formally disqualified him. My maternal grandfather was in business with Revis Sirmon in a company called Riptide Investors and in developing a port known as Freshwater City. However, almost all of this oilfield story is outside the scope of this book. Almost all but not quite all. It was in 1953, the very end of this period that the pilot known as the Scatterbrain Kid founded his mud company. This was just one more sign of the growing importance of the oilfield and related industries in the immediate region where Louisiana Story had been filmed.  

 

Humble Oil and Standard Oil lend their names to the chapter and especially the capitalization of the words Humble and Standard in its title. They have since merged but at the time of the focus of this study from 1943 to 1953 they were both relatively autonomous and certainly legally independent corporations and each had a distinct and significant role that they played in the production of these photographic projects and the film Louisiana Story. The two companies had national and global connections and so forth but both came from distinct regions in the United States outside of louisiana where they retained significant rootedness.  It is not easy to minimize the importance of the oil industry and of Standard Oil of New Jersey and Humble Oil in the production of these projects more than has been done here without leaving aside  a very significant part of the story indeed. The truth is that cramming what is left of the essential parts of that story into one chapter is not an entirely satisfying solution either.  But it is the solution which is achievable in this case.

 

GAS RECYCLING PLANT IS ASKED IN ERATH FIELD

Preliminary plans for the erection of a gas recycling plant estimated to cost $2,000,000 in the Erath oil field in Vermilion Parish though the unitization of approximately 3300 acres included in the productive area were discussed at a public hearing held here Monday by Conservation Commissioner Jos. L. McHugh and other members of the committee.

 

The notice which appears here set in perspective the money spent on Louisiana Story and on the larger photography project. Here there are two points and set of line from which to measure. One is to compare the cost of the film to what Flaherty had spent on other films and also to what Hollywood spent on a feature film. The other set of measures is that established by what the oil and gas industry were spending on other expenditures in the region.  That will come back into this chapter and has already appeared in the comments made in Abbeville and Vermilion Parish which appeared in Chapter Eleven of this text. The same little article lends us more insight.


The public hearing was adjourned Tuesday afternoon and will open until the presentation of additional information, it was announced by E. L. Gladney, Jr., attorney for the commission. Other members of the commission attending the hearing were H. N. Bell, director of the minerals division; John J. Huner, state geologist; and Percy Irwin Chief Petroleum Engineer.

 

We see the importance the newspaper attributes to this commission in giving details of various kinds including names. We see that there is an attorney, a director, a geologist and a petroleum engineer. We also  see that the Conservation Commission is a very well established and multifaceted bureaucracy.  Additionally the lack of even one distinctly Cajun name or any of the phrases that might be used if the people involved had close ties to large numbers of readers. Such a thing is not entirely determinative of their identity and connections to the place but it does indicate such a level of connections or the lack thereof. This reminds us that the local readership were informed participants but did not necessarily have a shared identity with the oil industry.

 


The operators owning about 85 percent of the leases located within the productive limits of the Erath field and who are seeking the orders from the commission to unitize the field include the Phillips Petroleum Company, the Texas Company, The Humble Oil and Refining Company and the Tidewater Associated Oil Company.

“We believe that the Erath field constitutes one of the greatest and most valuable reserves of gas-distillate and gas-condensates now known to exist in the entire mid-continent area,” declared Dan DeBaillon, Lafayette, attorney who represented the operators. “We can state frankly, with the firmest of convictions, that waste of a large percentage of these valuable resources is eminent, and inescapable, if this field be either unoperated. Wisely planned development and intelligent operation of this field as a unit, as distinguished from development and operation on a wasteful basis, will result in the recoveries of millions of barrels of distillate and condensate not otherwise recoverable and at the same time, billions of “cubic feet “of gas can be saved by returning the gas to the productive formations. This returned gas, by, helping to maintain the reservoir pressure, will itself greatly increase the ultimate recoveries of distillate and condensate and also will itself, as gas, have a value in dollars and cents estimated in terms of millions of dollars.

 

Here we see that Humble Oil which would interact closely with Standard Oil in pursuing the making of Louisiana Story was accustomed to interaction with other oil companies in unitization hearings, in other interactions with the Conservation Committee and in a variety of other circumstances. While they had a special relationship with Standard Oil the industry itself was to some degree a cohesive community which could pursue its community interests in ways not so disimilar from the way that the Cajuns and the documentarians also formed communitiescapable of pursuing community interests.

 

The article goes on at some length and its detail in some places is at least some real and fairly compelling evidence that the readers of the Meridional had a fairly sophisticated understanding of the oil industry at the start of the SONJ projects. It also shows the Vermilion Parish definitively had relationships with Humble Oil.

 

 

The oil industry was remaking the realities of the life in Acadiana during the years between 1943 and 1953. One of the purposes of this chapter will be to understand through the lense of the work done on Louisiana Story and the rest of the SONJ projects how the oil industry operates and what its culture was  as regard interacting with the people, local culture and the environment of Acadiana. Without going into great detail we will seek to understand as well to what degree the portrayal of the oil interests is a valid one — mostly in the film but also briefly revisiting their portrayal in the photographic projects. There are various levels of distrust for that portrayal which are possible and in this study we will at least be honest about what level of mistrust is at the foundation of our study. This is a book largely about perception and understanding. Here we take a further step back and ask ourselves how we ought to perceive  both the role of the oil company and industry that funded these projects and the wa way that historians, scholars in general and others have perceived those involvements up to now.

 

 

One real factor to remember in the midst of documenting and analyzing these projects and the people and places that they chose to document is that  Standard Oil was footing the bill. The relationship between Humble Oil and Standard oil was a complicated one and a complete understanding of that relationship is beyond the scope of this text. However one of the objectives of this chapter will be to create a basic framework of understanding for that relationship in its most basic configuration without much appreciation for  the nuances and  complexities of the full reality even where those different and varied complexities may have shaped and impacted the experiences of the production and organization of the SONJ photography project and the Flaherty unit that created Louisiana Story.

 

I was honored to sit with Mr. Sirmon for a year (2008) and gather his stories, organize them, and ghost write this book for him (as acknowledged in the Introduction). I will be glad to answer any questions I can about it … Joseph Chaillot ( josephchaillot@gmail.com

 

At this writing there are over 125 years of  ExxonMobil history and one can fairly trace the evolution of the company to many stories including that of Humble Oil as well as that of Mobil. But the main story is surely still that of Standard Oil which has evolved and developed  from a New Jersey based and largely regional distributor and  marketer of kerosene in the U.S. to the iconic symbol of an industry which is only overshadowed by state firms in a few countries and is the  largest publicly traded petroleum and petrochemical joint stock corporation in the world. The company in 1943 and in 1953 was closer to today’s firm than to its origins. The biggest difference is perhaps hidden behind a similarity is that while ESSO and EssoMarine were prominent brands that had the kind of currency still true of the company’s dealings with the larger world today as today they operate in most of the world’s countries and are readily identified familiar brand names: Exxon, Esso and Mobil. There was another name that really mattered in those days and was essential to the life of the firm and which is not so important today.

 

That name was Rockefeller.

 

Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, located in eastern Cameron and western Vermilion Parishes, is owned and maintained by the State of Louisiana. When deeded to the state the refuge encompassed approximately 86,000 acres, but beach erosion has taken a heavy toll, and the most recent surveys indicate only 76,042 acres remaining. This area borders the Gulf of Mexico for 26.5 miles and extends inland toward the Grand Chenier ridge, a stranded beach ridge, six miles from the Gulf.

When the Rockefeller Foundation officially granted the property to the state, they spelled out in the Deed of Donation exactly how the property was to be used. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes periodic inspections of refuge activities and has reversionary rights over the refuge if the state fails to meet its obligations pertaining to the Deed of Donation, as amended.

The major terms of the original agreement stipulated 1) the property must be maintained as a wildlife refuge, 2) boundaries must be posted, 3) enforcement agents must protect the area from trespassers and poachers, 4) no public taking of fish or animals is allowed, 5) refuge staff must study and manage the property for wildlife, and 6) mineral revenues must be used on the refuge first (surplus may go toward education or public health). In 1983 the Deed of Donation was amended with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of the Interior and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The MOA allows for regulated sport fishing and commercial trapping when compatible with the primary purpose of the refuge as a wildlife sanctuary. The MOA also allows surplus revenues to be used for land acquisition for wildlife management purposes. A 1987 MOA between the same two agencies ceased yielding surplus revenues for education or public health.

Planners had the foresight to realize that mineral revenues would cease at some point in time, and steps were taken to ensure that the refuge would be financially capable of operation and maintenance indefinitely. Act 321 of the 1972 legislature created the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge Trust and Protection Fund (Trust Fund). One fourth of funds derived from royalties, rentals, or otherwise from Rockefeller mineral leases were to be deposited in the Trust Fund until a principal of $5 million was reached. Act 342 in 1978 raised the Trust Fund goal to $10 million. Act 807 in 1980 increased the Trust Fund goal to $20 million, and also established the Rockefeller Scholarship Fund for Louisiana wildlife students from 5% of interest from the Trust Fund. Act 63 of 1982 raised the Trust Fund goal to $30 million, and Act 707 of 1989 reduced additions to the Trust Fund from 25% to 5% of mineral revenues. Senate Bill 662 of 1989 established an annual donation of $150,000 to the Fur and Alligator Advisory Council, and Act 832 of 1995 raised the Trust Fund cap to $50 million.

Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is one of the most biologically diverse wildlife areas in the nation. Located at the terminus of the vast Mississippi Flyway, south Louisiana winters about 4 million waterfowl annually. Historically, Rockefeller wintered as many as 400,000-plus waterfowl annually, but severe declines in the continental duck population due to drought and poor habitat quality on the breeding grounds have altered Louisiana’s wintering population. More recent surveys indicate a wintering waterfowl population on Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge reaching 160,000. In addition to ducks, geese, and coots, numerous shorebirds and wading birds either migrate through or overwinter in Louisiana’s coastal marshes. Neotropical migrant passerines also use the shrubs and trees on levees and other “upland” areas of the refuge as a rest stop on their trans-Gulf journeys to and from Central and South America. Although Canada geese no longer migrate to the refuge from breeding areas in the north as they once did, a resident flock of giant Canada geese was established in the early 1960s.

Common resident animals include mottled ducks, nutria, muskrat, rails, raccoon, mink, otter, opossum, white-tailed deer, and alligators. An abundant fisheries population provides recreational opportunities to fishermen seeking shrimp, redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and largemouth bass, among others. No hunting is allowed on the refuge, but some regulated trapping is allowed for furbearers that could potentially damage the marsh if their populations are not controlled.

The refuge is a flat, treeless area with highly organic soils which are capable of producing immense quantities of waterfowl foods in the form of annual emergents and submerged aquatics. Since 1954 Rockefeller Refuge has been a test site for various marsh management strategies, including levees, weirs, and several types of water control structures utilized to enhance marsh health and waterfowl food production.

The style of this text has been a bit less orthodox and strict in adhering to the manner in which some other standards of text have been put together by competent people seeking to establish a norm. Standard Oil was becoming a leading company in offshore exploration and was involved with others in that field and in deep drilling. But there world’s largest refinery in Baton Rouge was leading the way to providing the   petrochemical building blocks that would lead to thousands of consumer goods. An would usher in many of the most unique qualities of the emerging era an era of the very start of a process which would distinguish previous worldwide international commerce from what is called globalization. Standard Oil itself was a mature and venerable institution. In the 2007 film There Will Be Blood American and international viewers were reminded, if they had not already known, that  the oil industry has been around for a while.  This film was loosely based on the 1926 novel OIL! By Upton Sinclair. That novel dealt with many of the issues explored by people involved in these events — and yet it is a profoundly different story. But regional texture, capitalism, a rough and dangerous industry, powerful personalities and socialism are all themes common both to this book and its subjects as well as to Sinclair’s novel and its subjects.  

Standard Oil may not have been the name of the concern but in the Rockefeller dominated era and even today the company that became Exxon was well aware of its heritage going back to the same year the Abbeville  based history of the Vigilante Committees of the Attakapas was written by a French historian living among these people that year was 1859 when the remembered exploring entrepreneurs  

Colonel Edwin Drake and Uncle Billy Smith drilled the first successful oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The colonel’s discovery triggered an oil boom that in many ways resembled the gold rush of a decade earlier. The internal combustion engine was a long way into the future.as the icon of  oil consumption. However it was also in 1859 that Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir created the first commercially successful internal combustion engine.  As the oil industry prepared to lead its way in creating this region’s future few felt it was in any way a fledgling enterprise.

Lionel Leblanc and Robert Flaherty’s  parent’s generation were in some cases unborn, were in diapers or in the case of a few late to procreate were when in 1870 Rockefeller and his associates formed the Standard Oil Company (Ohio), with combined facilities constituting the largest refining capacity of any single firm in the world at that time and seemingly exceeding any comparable entity consisting of consortia or government entities. In America 79 years is a fairly long time compared to most other continents. The idea that they were leading America to a new future does not mean that they were themselves perceived as new. The  name Standard is chosen to signify high, uniform quality and the name Rockefeller .was iconic as a symbol of wealth and prestige. It would be foolish and would distort the story to pretend that Flaherty, Stryker or the Cajuns did not have a healthy respect for all things Standard Oil.

In 1882 the SONJ entity which has its name or initials stamped on so many documents in this project came to be.  It was in that year that it touched another great American icon when

Standard Oil lubricated the invention of the man who also revolutionized the film industry by revolutionizing a system related to film itself. Standard Oil  contributed to Thomas Edison’s first central generating system by providing lubricants from its new chemical divisions.. Besides SONJ  in this year, Standard Oil Trust formed to include the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) and in those years SONJ was referred to usually as the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and shortened to two words rather than four letters –Jersey Standard. .

In 1885 the company became associated with New York City, where documentary film and photography had its main American nest from 1920 to 1953 at the very shortest duration. That year the Standard Oil Trust relocated its corporate headquarters to 26 Broadway, New York City. The nine-story office building became a landmark which would have been known to the majority of the scene and history conscious film and camera people involved in this set of projects long before they worked for Standard Oil.

In 1911, following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, that reshaped a lot of the United States in its view of itself in economic terms Standard Oil was broken up into 34 unrelated companies, including Jersey Standard, the SONJ which funded this photographic venture.  The year also marks the first time Jersey Standard’s sales of kerosene are surpassed by gasoline, conjectures about a photographic bias against horses which seems evident if in fact it exists would be related to the fact that by the 1940s the company depended largely on a  product that in the early days had often been discarded as a waste product.  In 1911 many buggies could carry a kerosene lantern and be good customers. Auto racing became part of the Standard Oil legacy through Mobil products in the decades between 1911 and 1943.

In 1919 the company that actually furnished the drillers for Louisiana Story became a real part of the Standard Oil family and tradition when SONJ or

Jersey Standard acquired a 50 percent interest in Humble Oil & Refining Company of Texas. In that same year Humble Oil , led by its pioneering Chief Geologist Wallace Pratt, developed the full commercial employment of  micropaleontology in oil exploration.This study of microscopic fossils contained in cuttings and core samples from drilling was an aid in finding oil which tied the Oil industry more to local universities in various region and made the science and technology of the industry a bit more compelling. It laid the foundation for the kind of postwar industrial leadership sought in this set of projects.

Just about the time these projects were getting cranked up and closer to the subject of this text in 1942, the world’s first fluid catalytic cracker went into onstream operation at Louisiana Standard’s Baton Rouge refinery. The process, was developed by four SONJ scientists known as the “four horsemen,” and became the worldwide industry standard for producing gasoline. Fortune magazine when it covered the story described it as “the most revolutionary chemical-engineering achievement of the last 50 years.” In the fifties SONJ would found more cultural and educational programs and more automobile related products as centerpieces of its overall vision. Those fascination with shaping culture through the Esso Education Foundation after 1955 and the increased interest in playing a dominant role in serving the needs of automobiles after the development of Uniflo in 1952 doubtless affected these projects, though this text does not provide a close analysis of how that played out.

 

This chapter simply provides a bit of history to serve as a background to other observations made throughout the text. It is very far from exhaustive and does not disclose a great deal of highly compelling close analysis of Standard’s role here. But it is the place to make a few assertions if there is indeed any such place.

 

  1. Standard Oil and its competitors and friends funded education, built things and employed people. But Cajun technology in building, dredging, design and drainage was seldom incorporated except by a few who struggled hard to do so. Lack of respect for the accumulated knowledge of regional conditions had a powerful negative set of impacts on the region from the Cajun point of view.
  2. Standard Oil and the Rockefellers with deeply Baptist Protestant heritage may well be responsible for the lack of Catholicism in Louisiana Story simply because of their enormous general reputation. Likewise, the other desires and needs of that family and coporation likely transmitted themselves across the project with little direct efforts from those at the top of the power structures involved. All evidence for this is general in nature at this point and may exist in specific form or may not.
  3. Cajun inventions continued to proliferate in navigation, crawfish farming seafood processing and elsewhere across the region, horseracing and breeding of the Cajun quarter horse continued to produce ethnic excellence. There is a sense among many that Cajun leadership in this industry and the cultural accommodations that could have produced better relationships never fully materialized.
  4. Both Huey Long and Dudley Leblanc were at different times Public Service Commissioners and as such dealt with the oil and gas industry. The importance of this industry to all sides of the political spectrum over a much larger period than is central to this text can scarcely be disputed. Longism was of course more influential and successful than whatever Leblancism may be said to be. On the other hand, Huey was killed by the husband of one of Dudley Leblanc’s Evangeline girls Yvonne Pavy for suggesting that she had Negro blood. Weis’s family disputes that claim  and he was in many respects one of the finest and most gifted citizens of Louisiana in his time. But it is highly credible that the dictator was killed for insulting the genealogy in question by a man who considered himself and his family superior specimens to Long himself. Dudley Leblanc, diminished over time but died in peace and as a fairly old man. The oil industry although soaked by Huey in many ways was more associated with Huey and the Long Machine than with Dudley Leblanc.
  5. These projects coincided with the last great push of Dudley Leblanc in politics. Had he been closer to the oil industry and less close to four or five other industries it is quite possible that his fortunes would have continued to rise and the period would have been a different one than it was.

In conclusion to this chapter, Standard oil is not at the heart of this text about a project it made possible. But in many ways it chose to take a back seat, to hide behind the scenery and many other metaphors. They influenced many things but determined very few. There chapter is the last numbered chapter before the conclusion and their role is the least thoroughly studied of the communities whose interactions define this text.

   

 

Emerging Views Chapter Three

 

 

Histr2

Palms Hotel & Hospital owned by great-grands, later grandmother &sibs

I am sitting at a public library computer as I type this in a great deal of uncertainty about almost everything.  I am also without internet access at home. It urns out I have on other application for graduate study open and am looking into that possibility but am not overly optimistic given the realities of my recent life experience and such. But this chapter I think has something to say about living in the time one is in although it is not an inspirational text.

The link to the pdf is here. EmergingViewsLouisianaStorytheSONJPhotosandAcadianaFulcrumandCenter

 

Emerging Views:

Chapter Three 1947, Fulcrum and Center

 

Some might critique a few chapters of this text as being mere yearbooks in a text that already uses too many forms of expression in too many ways. That may be a bit unfair to the introduction and the conclusion but it is not so unfair to this chapter. The integrity of  a study like this as a work of history is related in no small way to checking carefully with what was going on in the geographical region and in the ethnic and other communities or groups being studied at a given time. In 1947 both the work on Louisiana Story  under Flaherty and the work of the Standard Oil of New Jersey  Photographic collection as administered directly by Stryker were in full swing.  The oil industry in the region was in full swing and the Cajun ethnic community was still very much alive.

 

Having asserted those general kinds of facts for which there is diverse and overwhelming evidence what else can be said?  In a chapter examining the year itself  what is there to learn?

 

In Louisiana politics at this time there were two of the most well defined factions within a single political party which have ever existed in the United States of America. The Democratic primary was tantamount to election for virtually every office  except the Presidency of the United States where votes cast in Louisiana did not determine the outcome. The Democrats may have referred to their factions as Longist and Anti-Long as they are almost always referred to in historical journalism and documentaries today. But frequently throughout the state and almost always in Acadiana they were known as the Machine and the Home Rule factions respectively. Machine had the advantage that the word was spelled the same and only the pronunciation changed for English and Cajun French. Home Rule was usually said in English even among Cajuns who preferred never to speak English — and such Francophone purists were rare in 1947.  The Home Rule  faction was in the Governor’s Mansion in 1947. Jimmy Davis and Dudley Leblanc were on different edges of that faction. In many way Jimmy Davis exemplified the British Louisiana cultural complex from which Cajuns felt alienated. Dudley was a major leader and living symbol of identity in the ethnic community. It was also true that Jimmy Davis’s very British American  song You are My Sunshine could be given a different interpretation by Cajun politicians. Sunshine was a symbol of Joseph Broussard and the Beausoleil Broussards for most Cajuns and was for a much smaller number a symbol of the last french King who was really admired by almost all of the Acadian elite even if they sought a kind of social independence from him at many levels. That was Louis XIV, the Sun King. A Governor who would sing about sunshine a great deal was easy to like in those days where the culture had felt most isolated in its history over recent decades.  Harry Truman was President and, while there was little reason to believe he thought much about the Cajuns one way or another, some among the Cajuns felt that it was interesting that Missouri which was the second state admitted to the Union from the Louisiana Purchase was the home of the current President. In a place where memories were long there was a sense of attachment to that area and there were still those who had very old business ties all up and down the Mississippi River. Compared for example to New York which had produced both FDR and nourished the documentarians community as such — Missouri seemed close to home.  All of this went with a feeling of cautiously seeking more of an American identity as the really postwar era developed.          

Every one of these ten years from 1943 to 1953 can be seen as having its own qualities derived from world events and the state of American society. Each year also has its own unique set of sources to a certain degree. In 1943 World War II is going on and in 1953 the Korean War is going on. The two wars are very different national experiences but  in 1947 there is more or less as much peace as a great and powerful country ever has. In this time of peace new opportunities came with a new national prosperity. !947 a company with was founded by a family with deep ties to the Attakapas country and a name that was commercial and political magic across Acadiana. Yet they were on the eastern periphery in Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. The Broussard Brothers had one tugboat based in Chalmette, Louisiana. At the time of this writing they have a mile of developed waterfront on the Intracoastal Canal in Vermilion Parish’s Intracoastal City. The Broussard Brothers Company also have  a prominent building in the best neighborhood in Abbeville where such a building can be on its own and a fleet of vessels working the Gulf of Mexico. They would create almost all of that wealth in the oil industry and would remain deeply connected to the region and the community. However, there was no reason for anyone to know that would happen in 1947 and their experience is not all that typical of the connections between the ethnic community and the oil industry.

 

At the time of her arrival in Abbeville in 1946 Helen Van Dongen seemed to feel strongly a desire to make contact with and get to know and rightly understand the Cajuns as individuals and as a community. She seems favorably impressed with the ones working closely with the film. But in my judgement, there is a strong trend to isolation and a giving up on that hope of a connection which is pronounced over time. However, much of that has to do with the stress of work and intensity of her schedule and her sense of responsibility which kept her fully occupied. Much of it could be attributed to those work related factors but not all of this trend could be. She had grown accustomed to the society of the McIlhenny family, the Documentarians and the Standard Oil people. Interacting with the Cajun community was no longer what she sought out most eagerly. Her loneliness and desire for more pleasant interactions no longer drover her toward the Cajuns. She did not go to church, to Cajun dance halls, did not play golf at the all white but very ethnically mixed Abbeville Country club and did not much like the movies in town.  The only movie she describes in detail in the diary she kept was outside of the Parish at a drive in and she does observe the largely Cajun families with small children going out for the evening there — but not so favorably. There is never anything to indicate what might be called bigotry in Van Dongen’s attitude toward the Cajuns that we have any evidence to support. In fact she seems taken enough with Lionel Leblanc at first that one could argue there was a bit of chemistry between the two very different people. But one can easily enough imagine things getting out of hand in the opposite direction. She was single, a bit adventurous, had an eye and an ear for new things. One can imagine her going native and learning the two-step, riding on a float or drinking too much at a Courire de Mardi Gras. One can imagine her  complaining about some partner at a fais do do making unwanted advances  at the family oriented Cajun street dancing events. You could imagine her complaining about the cruelty of pigs screaming their lives out at a boucherie.  Those are not impossible things to picture but it is pretty clear that they did not happen. If some single event presents itself in the record somewhere it does not change the fact that her immersion was very partial indeed. She was surely under no great moral obligation to go native but she seems to have known her involvement was at some level unsatisfactory and by deep into 1947 she no longer worried about the deficiencies in that involvement.  

 

On January 13, 1947 Helen Van Dongen made her first entry of the calendar year in the diary she had been keeping in Abbeville during much of 1946.  the entry is brief and merely states, “Today I became an American Citizen.” In March she records moving the last of her editing process to her cutting room in New York.  But those few months of entries provide a rich insight into the inner workings of the film and its making. They also provide some very limited but valid and honest insights into the Cajuns and their region. But perhaps the most useful effect of the diary is the degree to which they illuminate not how those making the film viewed the Cajuns but to what an almost extraordinary extent they did not view them in any natural or unscripted context whatsoever.  

 

In a work of this kind it seems useful to take stock in the middle of the narrative of how everything was playing out at a point of importance in the action. The film was merely a proposal which Roy Stryker had prepared to make to Robert Flaherty in March of 1944. Since that time a first research trip and a simple screenplay called “The Christmas Tree” had been created,  talent gathered for the film, the locations scouted the numerous contracts made and largely honored without dispute.  The movie had gotten underway in an America still at war that knew victory was coming. But a great deal of fighting remained to be endured and conducted as effectively as possible. Some on the crew had worked on patriotic films, Van Dongen had worked on the Know Your Enemy, Japan  film.  Many Americans  and many Cajuns were fighting the war and many were not yet home  when the planning for the film had been done. But by the time the contracts were signed in 1946 to start filmmaking in earnest the project had assumed fully its essentially post-war character.

 

The film Louisiana Story was one of the most significant projects of her life and Helen Van Dongen’s day to day life is not very well known to us. outside of her somewhat controverted  book published under the title Filming Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Story.  It may be that such a lifestyle could have been glimpsed in interviews when this work was begun but that opportunity was missed. Van Dongen was an attractive woman with presence who had worked with Robert J. Flaherty on The Land.  Her serious relationship with Joris Ivens is mysterious but certainly grew out of a relationship where she worked as the film editor of an older man. It seems likely that some of the tensions which cropped up in her relationship with Frances Flaherty, Robert Flaherty’s wife grew out of the sexual tensions in the relationship. About a quarter of a century her senior Flaherty turned sixty-three in February of 1947. There is little to suggest he was either a prude or sexually exhausted. he may well have been exclusively involved with his wife and a very ethical employer to Helen Van Dongen. However there have always been rumors and innuendo. Partly the achievements of a woman in her profession were likely to be seen with some level of suspicion. Partly she was more or less and unmarried woman cohabiting with a married couple. But far more than that it has to do with Flaherty. In many ways he was an extraordinarily moral man but perhaps also the kind of man who could have lived in something bordering on polygamy in twentieth century America with very little sense of guilt. There is a real sense of extended family about his operation.  Her salary had been the highest of those contracted to work on the film,  She had been engaged in relating to all the different personalities and interest groups involved in the film. She had signed her contract when others had done so and that was in 1946. There was little in the contract that gave a great deal of information about the future of her work. However, it does enable one to make some interesting conjectures. In 1947 she was fully engaged in the work of the film. The challenges were truly significant as she had the artisanal challenge of laying in the soundtrack next to the film. Sync sound would owe some of its development later on in the industry’s life to the work of one of her colleagues on this project Richard Leacock. Leacock’s interest was inspired by the hard and demanding work that he saw Helen Van Dongen doing but that did not make theirs an easy relationship.  Leacock also seems to have learned some French from Van Dongen and her involvement with the Acadians around them. While LEacock seems to have enjoyed being part of the family of his wife and daughter and been reasonably devoted tot them someone  given to such suspicions cannot help but wondering if Leacock was a bit infatuated with Van Dongen. This could fit psychologically with a more open and pronounced fact regarding his thinking which is that  he almost worshipped  Flaherty in many ways. Leacock may well have envied Flaherty the way the Helen with whom he worked closely and who was paid more than  he was treated and related to the older man. It may be that he suspected sexual chemistry between her and the director whether it was there or not.  But all these tensions that may or may not have occurred for any number of reasons were not enough  to derail the steady progress of the film. One thinks too of all that could have been strained at times in the  lives and establishments of the local Cajun people working on and associated with the film. It seems likely that there must have been some missed cues along the way. But whatever tensions there were when the Mr. Hebert who worked for the crew turned his skills as a carpenter to the new industry of filmmaking they were to produce the needed  builds and  products without major incident.  Likewise whatever tensions there were between Evelyn Bienvenu and Lionel Leblanc playing a couple for the first time, between the real owners and residents of the trapper family cottage where the fictional La Tour  family lived between the McIlhenny family and their filming guests — regardless of what challenges this process may have presented the show did go on. Unlike a touring performance it went on being made not being presented.  

 

Lionel Leblanc was living a very different life in 1947 than he usually lived. Like most Cajuns he liked movies and the chance to make one was a source of joy and contentment. He was the McIlhenny family’s assistant manager on Avery Island and a very experienced trapper. He was used to working for a family who were certainly outside of the Cajun community. Nothing in the wilderness to which the oil industry was drawn was unfamiliar to him. He spoke French and English and he was very much aware his Cajun heritage. Representing his culture to the outside world and the outside world to his culture was a familiar task for him. The only unusual thing was making a movie but when that was considered in full and understood clearly it was an enormous change in his way of life. He was aware of the significance of what he was doing in shaping the way Cajuns, Cajun country and the Cajun culture would be perceived across the country for years to come.

 

Arnold Eagle was watching the progress of the film and was busy contributing in many ways to its progress he was receiving an incredible education that he would pass on to others in the profession of photography for many years to come but he was also keeping the connection between Roy Stryker’s larger operation and the activity going on in and around Flaherty’s base in Abbeville. There was a sense in which he as much as anyone else was the real presence of Standard Oil on the site of the filming.

 

The film was a multifaceted project and everyone was aware of the challenges involved in getting the images, editing the film, working the sound, preparing the music, managing the people and balancing the financial books. One could easily feel that the film was all that any of them would ever have to do. Movies had a way of blocking out every other concern. The “movie people” knew that experience was temporary and for them would be repeated in the next film. However,  the others could only reason that this was the case. Whatever perspective they were able to bring from their outside lives they could not help feeling the heady intensity of the filmmaking process. It was also a very special environment centered around the filming headquarters in Abbeville, Louisiana. Abbeville was just big enough to offer the benefits of a town to the crew that were often working in the deep countryside.Van Dongen admits she was unused to cooking for groups of people and when a few times in her time she found she had to cook she seems to claim that almost no foodstuffs were available in Abbeville. That seems on its face to be the most absurd and perhaps the only absurd statement in her Abbeville diary. Even in those days people came to Abbeville to eat and the restaurants acquire almost all the food from sources that other residents had access to. As i myself am  one of the most experienced travelers that I have ever met I know that when things become unpleasant there is a tendency to blame the locale for problems really based on one’s own lack of familiarity with the region.  The food  comments are a sign of this growing alienation in Van Dongen. That alienation becomes a kind of lense of perception through which everything else can be seen. One’s sense of discomfort colors every observation of the region.   

 

Here too there was a blend of forces at work in determining what could and would be the way that Acadiana was perceived. HADACOL was making its way into the national consciousness. It was a powerful economic formula for success and  and offered a great deal of appeal to an era and style of life in rural America that was passing into the mists of history. It offered access to a little alcohol in places where alcohol could not be sold except as medicine. This also had the advantage over whiskey sold in just the same circumstances that it actually was formulated as a healing potion. HADACOL was certainly not mostly an excuse for a means to get drunk. Its taste made it hard to drink a lot of it compared to almost any other way to access medicine. In fact a great deal has been done to show that moderate alcohol consumption has many health benefits and those were among the primary benefits most people got from HADACOL. One was less likely to abuse it than tastier and cheaper beverages and so it was a benefit to the consumer who would receive the benefits of a mild intoxicant judiciously administered. That kind of benefit shown to have an effect on hypertension and heart disease comes closer  to justifying the whole enterprise than was ever admitted by HADACOL’s critics at the time of its mass distribution. Besides the alcohol however the elixir offered the consumer some nutritional supplements  which in fact both mitigate the risks of alcohol and provided benefits to large sections of the population likely to have deficiencies in b vitamins, niacin and iron. Beyond the components of the formula HADACOL increasingly offered intangibles that centered around a sense of belonging and a sense of community. It offered a sense of the glitter and fun of something special for those whose lives were lived in a great deal of hard work, tedium and plain living. None of this  solves the basic problem of any perceived cure all. No matter what problems people had with their health someone encouraged them to take HADACOL. How often that someone was Dudley Leblanc is unclear. But he surely knew that it had a cure all reputation. Most things are not as effectively treated by any cure all as they are by the best specific therapies  that existed in the late 1940s which existed and were expertly geared to each individual malady. If people who could have gotten better therapy only took HADACOL instead then HADACOL did some harm. It is not entirely clear how much that happened. But it probably did happen to some people.

 

Foster in Moral Reconstruction has shown how the South’s cultural history in an earlier period was of transformation into the Bible Belt, Clearly Evangelical Protestant Christianity had never typified the Cajun experience. But Cajuns had been part of the  fabric of Southern experience and were not unknown to any large group in the South. While the  distribution of HADACOL at its peak went far beyond the South, Dixie remained a major region and was an early region for its distribution. It could be argued that many in the evangelical Protestant South were conditioned to seek out things like this elixir specifically from Cajuns and had that tradition in their own communities and families. More convincingly it could be argued that they were accustomed to seek out  those products and services on the edge of their laws and folkways from French Louisiana whether Metis, Creole of  Color, Cajun or white creole communities were providing them. Whatever the reason HADACOL was getting more and more attention each year and that attention it received nationally did not have a large effect on the SONJ projects. There is very little about TABASCO hot sauce or any other major commercial operation outside of the oil industry. What did get reported and recorded were mostly small and traditional operations.     

 

Hadacol was a mixture of vitamins B1 and B2, iron, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, honey, and diluted hydrochloric acid in 12% alcohol. It is unclear exactly what the fullest and most definite explanation for the Food and Drug Administration’s problems with HADACOL.  But there are plenty of reasons for there to have been problems. In many ways HADACOL was for the Cajuns of this era very much what a more obviously political  or paramilitary uprising would be for many other ethnic groups around the postwar world.  

 

America had a long time concern about alcohol and for many dry counties around the rural south HADACOL had  become a means of acquiring alcohol at the local drug store. The alcohol content wasn’t all that high, but the hydrochloric acid meant it was delivered through the body faster than it would be otherwise. However it was certainly a medicine that delivered  a variety supplements and medicinal components that at least arguably had value in treating the sick. Dudley Leblanc used both the money and the fame generated in the production of HADACOL  as part of an overall program which from a Cajun point of view was not so very different than what more violent men have done to lead the forces of a beleaguered  people in rebellion against the changes in the larger world that they found most threatening. Cajun beauty pageants, statues of St. therese of Lisieux in front of Catholic Churches in Acadiana, trips to old Acadie in Nova Scotia and many other manifestations of ethnic identity were expensive and Dudley Leblanc would gain renown in the Cajun community for doing all of those things before his life was over. In those days of the year 1947 the Cajun  community could see where State Senator Leblanc was headed and where he had begun. His life was a continuity and a complex one at that. HADACOL would not peak until after Flaherty film had been released it had not yet become all that it would be but it was the biggest single voice coming from the community at the time. The question of what fraud is and what it is not has a cultural dimension. From its start there was in HADACOL and element of magic, entertainment and community that were as important as the element of medicine. But the Cajun traiteur is for all practical purpose a Christian witch or wizard and although that may be somewhat contradictory or even religiously anathema. Dudley Leblanc was more tied to that rich tradition than he was willing to declare clearly, The magical healer may have its problems and weaknesses but it was not an occupation he invented out of whole cloth. American History knows the HADACOL of the very early fifties as the last great American medicine show. the ethnic community to which he belonged knew him as something tied to something even older.

 

The record of his life has a great deal in it and he is far more than the record shows. It is important to remember that Forest Davis Huey Long’s contemporary biographer called him the most dangerous man in America. Dudley Leblanc had been Long’s most effective and serious political opponent back in  the 1930s. The machine guns, armored cars, concealed carry squads, political operatives and blackmail masters were easy for many others to forget and Long had his good qualities and his achievements. However, the Cajuns generally did not forget. They trusted Dudley Leblanc to broker the deal between the things they liked about the Share Our Wealth Plan and other aspects of Longism and also protect competing values and sensibilities.

 

So Dudley Leblanc needed a focus for his accumulation of wealth and his outreach to people outside of his Cajun community. HADACOL was the vehicle that people could tolerate and sometimes endorse. The mixture really made a lot of people feel better because they were in distress and when they took it the elixir distributed alcohol quickly to the pain centers of the brain and nervous system, And although it wasn’t a cure for the many diseases it was advertised for it is worth considering those claims with some definite care. there are a few sides at least to the story. Alcohol can ease high blood pressure in moderate doses,  honey can soothe some manifestations of ulcers, iron can help to effectively treat  anemia, it seems that with a vigorous placebo effect added in there were surely many people who did in fact experience some curative effects. But even if that were true to a greater extent than we can prove HADACOL was advertised to address many other health concerns.

 

HADACOL was  booming in 1947 and people could see it would be everywhere, on radio, on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, and at the local pharmacy. There was generally a great deal of fear of its use as an alcoholic beverage and a great deal was made of the relatively tiny percentage of the concoction that was sold in liquor stores and bars. In an appeal to justice it was said by those seeking to disgrace Leblanc’s empire that people paid $3.50 for a 24-ounce bottle much as an addict will buy a substance upon which they have developed a dependency — spending their last dollars when  they had no food in the pantry. HADACOL in Acadiana funded Dudley Leblanc’s French language radio show as it largest and sometimes exclusive sponsor. It was clear to many investigating the HADACOL that was starting to The hope for a better tomorrow trumped common sense in those days, just as it does now. LeBlanc pushed Hadacol on his radio show, which he broadcast in French. He published a medical pamphlet extolling the wonder of his elixir. He gave away swag featuring the name Hadacol on it, including water pistols and a comic book for children with stories drawn from glowing testimonies. LeBlanc wrote a jingle called “The Hadacol Boogie” which was recorded by several artists including Jerry Lee Lewis. He gave out Hadacol tokens, good for 25 cents off a bottle. LeBlanc had to expand his factory, then build more factories. Hadacol use spread from Louisiana across the nation. Millions of bottles were sold every year.

 

The Food and Drug Administration objected, not to Hadacol itself, but to LeBlanc’s use of suggestion and the placebo effect as tools within the caring mutual community. It is not impossible to believe that in the HADACOL community Leblanc really believed that people might have access to others  who could better assist their needs for a cure for cancer, epilepsy, asthma, and other diseases when HADACOL itself clearly did not cure them. WHen claims were questioned   he made it clear that he wanted to avoid trouble and direct confrontation with the Federal government. When pressed he always pulled those claims singled out for challenge as false, but the damage was being done with each wave of attacks by all sorts of groups sponsored by the FDA and others. Once an attack had been addressed in those days there were still forward bounding growth. It had not yet gotten to the point that the critics imposed an unbearable obstacle to him in doing business in those days.

 

Among the significant activities going on at that time was that organizing activity undertaken by Robert Leblanc within the Louisiana National Guard.He organized company H in Abbeville to continue the military service when he had begun when he served in the United States Army and really with the Office of Strategic Services in Europe and then transferred to the China-Burma theater in World War Two.  This was the origin of the Second Battalion of the 256th Infantry Brigade which exists and is headquartered in Abbeville at the time of this writing.. This battalion has very distinctive Cajun and even Prairie Cajun identity. Of course there are no ethnically exclusive battalions. However, the Cajuns despite service in all sorts of units have a strong affinity for the militia and its most organized form in the United States — the National Guard. Fred Leblanc was Attorney General and Edward Hebert was a Congressman who in the future would become Louisiana’s longest serving Congressional Representative. Neither of these two politicians were  particularly publicly known as deeply attached to the Acadiana region of the state. Charlene Richard who is venerated as a saint but has not been  formally canonized was born that year. Bobby Charles Guidry who would become a famous musician in his late teens was a young boy in Abbeville and Whitney Adam Leblanc whom we will revisit in the last chapter was a young adolescent in neighboring Iberia Parish going to school and helping out on his family’s farm. There was no great scandal in the fact that the Cajun experience was far broader than was captured by the SONJ projects but it is nonetheless a fact that work they did would represent a great deal of the ethnic community’s experience to a good portion of the American population at one time or another.  Lionel Leblanc was a man Helen Van Dongen described as good looking, competent man who made an excellent living and spoke precise excellent English.  She at least was concerned about the possibility that he was being exploited and asked to play a kind of naive and backward trapper who not only was not typical but perhaps did not exist at all.  

 

The SONJ project would capture many aspects of Cajun life and culture in these years. Much of their Cajun documentary work would be of the Bayou Cajun environment in the East of the State that went back to Olivier Theriot and La Fourche des Chetimaches would not be of the  but besides Louisiana Story they had other work being done in the Prairie Cajun region of the Terre des Attakapas that had Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil as its direct founding Patriarch. These photographers traveled through Vermilion Parish and visited Flaherty and others more often than not when they were doing work on the Cajuns and it is hard to determine all the lines of  communication that existed between these people. But Dudley Leblanc had many connections across Vermilion Parish and he was well aware of most things related to Cajun identity that were happening he probably had at least a part of his mind’s  eye focussed on this  Standard Oil effort to document the current Cajun experience. He left behind a great many personal papers, diaries and logs which have not been properly archived and even a relative harassing the family over the years has not produced an exhaustive inventory. Some have done much more than I have in looking through and copying his papers but I am fairly sure significant papers have been lost. Nonetheless, the Standard Oil documentary projects were not his priority — that is certain. My grandfather Frank Summers who knew Dudley Leblanc and considered him a closer relative by circumstance than he would be on a genealogic chart seemed to believe that he and Robert Flaherty met briefly once or perhaps twice and in that time did talk about their common interests. But again the absence speaks louder than the presence. Dudley Leblanc could have provided introductions, speedboats, parties, old photographs and much more but those things did not happen. However, it is a disservice to two extraordinary men to believe that they did not have an influence on one another. These were both extraordinary conversationalists and if in fact they spoke for a few minutes then it is likely both took away some real influence and information from the other. Flaherty did not lack for a base of support, funding and prestige with which to make an impression on the local people.

 

Standard Oil was very committed to this great project. The real value of their commitment is not so easy to calculate. Hundred of thousands of dollars were disbursed directly to the people working on  and running these projects directly. But the commitment was larger than that. SONJ subsidiaries also provided access and support in kind and any devotion of oil industry assets and time on any kind of large scale has a very high measurable dollar value. but those accounts were not presented to the people in the projects at all in many cases. Doubtless the accounts were better kept somewhere than I have found them.  But clearly in 2016 dollars this total outlay runs into the millions of dollars.  

 

1947 in postwar Acadiana was a region very much typified by uncertainty and also a certainty that change would occur and was occurring. The Standard Oil projects captured priceless images of this region at that moment. They brought out real truth and real beauty and pointed out real problems. They showed the viewers that Standard Oil could bring prosperity to a backward region and that was not entirely untrue. They made it possible to criticize what they did not do by doing something that certainly had real value in preserving information and images.

 

The reader can form an impression of his or her own of what exactly these projects amount to in the broad range of sources with which to view twentieth century America. Whatever the projects may be determined to be they were in full operation in 1947.   

 

Strength, Security and the Future

Is the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea largely a show of strength? Who is showing strength to whom? Does Syria matter intensely and greatly in all this are is that just another small piece of a world wide puzzle which is likely never to be completely assembled? Our security in the United States and the security of many others around the world depends on many questions besides these. There are so many reasons to be concerned that I will not discuss in this blog. I just spent much of the week dealing with a death of the grandfather of two of my nieces and a nephew. Another former colleague and friend in a limited sense is in the hospital having lost most of her physical functions in a sudden injury. I never lack for reminders of how fragile human strength is in the individual.  It is far from everlasting in nations and states.

This is the author of this blog. I am standing beside the stone boat in the Summer Palace in Beijing.

This is the author of this blog. I am standing beside the stone boat in the Summer Palace in Beijing.

I am more aware than usual of the limits of my own strength. My father is lying abed with a painful foot and ankle  now and my only living grandfather (or grandparent for that matter) is bedridden and has been for years.  But this post is not about my own struggles with my health or those of my ancestors. This post is more about the strength of the United States of America in 2014. Strength is a fairly broad term to use to describe a set of qualities in a man, community, corporation, athlete or country. The quality of strength desired and measured differs from on type of strong being which is measured to another.

My immediate  family vacationing on False River before my cousin Severin W. Summers III was killed in Afghanistan. That was the site of the last long conversation we had about war, honor and family and peace.

My immediate family vacationing on False River before my cousin Severin W. Summers III was killed in Afghanistan. That was the site of the last long conversation we had about war, honor and family and peace.

It also differs in a variety of ways that depend mostly on who is doing the measuring. What is the truth about American strength right now? What is the truth about other problems we might face? What is the truth about whatever my own views of a way forward might be? These are questions I might try to raise in this blog that relate to more specific questions about our role in Ukraine and Crimea for example.

What can be done to help the Ukrainians who seek to move forward the process of transforming their society into an ever more positive and prosperous regime without creating impossible conditions for Russia? Can America admit that there is questionable legitimacy in the rump parliament and revolution government? Can the US admit Russia cannot place Crimea in such uncertain hands and most Crimeans may well want a Russian Crimea?

Yes secession of Crimea for a real independent Ukraine perhaps more federal than this one could be the answer. They will have to work with Russia on the issue of natural gas pipelines to Europe.  But America needs to protect its borders and solvency as well as to maintain its military heritage. I am not sure how much we can do in Ukraine. We must do something but  be honest with Ukraine that the more they want ties with us the less that can be done for Crimea. Truthfully this applies to the EU and it is the EU more than the USA that Ukraine is now courting.

I have in this blog many proposals to change America. But war with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula is not in any plan I have. I believe there is a role for America. But it is a dangerous game and nobody will come out looking like a superhero. The more Western we make Ukraine the more Russian Crimea must be because at some point we have to stop pretending international law is something we always observe and obey. Because some fairness is necessary.

The seal of the Confederacy ties the Lost Cause to the Revolution and the past long before that war.

The seal of the Confederacy ties the Lost Cause to the Revolution and the past long before that war.

This is not an easy time but it is a good time to promise oneself and commit oneself to the cause of a strong secure America with a future. To some degree we all face the facts of living in an age where strength in nuclear warheads deters less than some thought it would. Yet we also face the fact that our country must survive each challenge along the way — even as we seek to reach heights of excellence.

Strength requires wisdom to manage. I myself have both strength and weaknesses and each have caused me their own sets of problems. America has many problems past this one. But this is a serious issue. We are trying to really impose our views on the borders of Russia in a very open and confrontational style. I hope that all of this is being handled well.

Crimea and the Moment

I certainly think many people are doing the right thing to act early in trying to define the limits of Russian authority over Ukraine as being something that cannot be total. Little is ever gained by mere capitulation or hoping problems will go away.  Many commentators  make some good points about the Syrian crisis and by analogy and inference about other places in the world where Russia can play a role different than almost any other country. I commented on a post by prominent Labor party figure Clive Lord Soley as regards some of those comments he shaped and passed on in The Lords of the Blog. Russia is a striking alternative to the West both because of its view of itself as an alternative to Europe and the USA and also as a society which nonetheless has a history of Christianity, a large white population, huge shared literary and artistic conventions  with the West. There are also not only ties to nearby regimes but the recent memory of leading world Communism with only China coming anywhere close to being a competitor.

I am inclined to want very much to help Western Ukraine to a secure future and see their sense of the need to act. But I would not try to dislodge Russia from the Crimea. I am perhaps more of this view than many in Europe given the relatively recent past Britain joined the Turks in fighting the Crimean War against Russia as I recall. That surely shapes one’s point of view. The Germans followed a man committed to building a new order on a destroyed Russian state more recently still. Hitler mapped that out in Mein Kampf. Whether Napoleon, Hitler or the Turks Crimea is a key to beating down Russia. The time may come when I will wish we had beaten down Russia starting with the Crimea but that is not how I feel just now. Russia plays a key role in geopolitics. No ready substitutes are available and Russia is one of several great super societies.

If the US enter armed conflict with Russia I will mostly try to support my country and remember Russia’s many iniquities while behind the scenes perhaps expressing some other points of view. However, I do not think seizing the Crimea is the right reason to be drawn into conflict with Russia I do not even think it seems all that assertive to everyone. Most people feel the need to defend Ukrainian self determination, in some way — I do as well, and perhaps more than most. Many informed people feel the need to try to support the cultural rights and decent aspirations of Western Ukrainians in the next generation– I do probably pass the average person in desire to do that as well. But if Russia really and truly has no right to hold the Crimea in a friendly position then the world is unrecognizably bizarre.

I am aware that much of human history and current geopolitics seems different from different points of view. But to say Russia must commit suicide is to declare the end of this era in a very real way. In my personal life I have not hidden in the shadows but I do believe there is so much that needs resolving and doing besides war. This blog of mine is full of other priorities which I support and uphold. My life is full of distractions. I suffer from threats to life in my own health and have a friend in the hospital with a cerebral hemorrhage and the grandfather of two of my nieces and one nephew has just died of heart disease today.  My own schedule and the tourist economy of the region are  disrupted by unseasonable ice storms.

Bleak in Acadiana

Bleak in Acadiana

 

trees wrapped in ice in the afternoon in March near Acadiana's coast

trees wrapped in ice in the afternoon in March near Acadiana’s coast

I want to support those who would broker a better deal for Western Ukraine above all. However I also have a full set of distractions to keep me from Russia’s periphery. That is the nature of spheres of influence.

Our ritual foods of Mardi Gras are on my mind more than Borscht

Our ritual foods of Mardi Gras are on my mind more than Borscht

The world has many problems and Crimea is more important to Russia than it is to anyone else except possibly Ukraine. Really losing Crimea mean Russia must fight a major war sooner than later. We may squeeze them out peacefully and humiliate them and in the end it may lead to a post Russian civilization but somewhere before they check out they will fight a big war. A Russian dominated Crimea is essential to peace. I do not believe in peace at any cost. I do not think Russia and the US are pals. I do not believe I am a coward. But Russia has to control or be the largest and accepted foreign influence in Crimea for their to be peace, of that there is no doubt in my mind. So as I sit here trying to manage many other concerns and even to survive myself in the less than perfect health I enjoy I hope for peace in the Crimea.

Of course I live in intolerable situations and perhaps Russia can as well. But it would be intolerable for them to lose Crimea. What will they do if they concede this loss?

It is Mardi Gras. Tomorrow Lent begins and today is the day to celebrate the end of Carnival season

We have no way of knowing whether or not when asked about Russian troops in Ukraine Putin told Western diplomats “Crimea river”, Cry me a river” or none of the above. The Germans took the Crimea from Russia, so did the joint forces of the British, Turkish and French. Could the US do so? Certainly it is possible. with the support of the European Union and others but there is no doubt that those campaigns were fought over a very long time and at a high level of intensity. It is also arguable whether other powers had really achieved a peaceful status in which Russia was not in the end the dominant world power in the Crimea. I hope there will be a good resolution here.