Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The difference between “Preparing” and “Hoarding” comes down to a matter of timing. If we acquire and store goods and commodities during times of availability and comparative “plenty”, we are exercising prudence and good sense; it is something we have been advised and counseled to do throughout our lives, and grows out of long experience. That activity is part and parcel of “preparing”. If however, we postpone that practice until a time of scarcity and widespread economic distress, we may well invite the label of “hoarding”, in addition to paying a higher price for almost everything.

THINKING INSIDE THE BOX Gardening In Small Spaces

Increasingly, I find myself speaking to groups made up of apartment or condominium dwellers, both young and starting out in life, and older and in the process of minimizing the size and complexity of their living environment. Many perceive their particular lifestyle as being incompatible with the idea of being more self-sufficient and alien to the desire to enjoy the fulfillment of a meaningful home garden. I hasten to disabuse them of this illusion, warning them that I could easily take up three or four hours of their valuable time doing so; after a lifetime of gardening in four states, in mountains and deserts and in all kinds of climate, I am passionate about planting, nurturing and harvesting my own crops. Even though I presently have several acres available for growing things, I still prefer to garden in raised beds and moveable containers. The reasons are many.
I don’t enjoy hours and hours of weeding & cultivating. I prefer not to bend over any more than necessary. I wish to use as little water and fertilizer as possible. I always aim to produce an early harvest, outsmart early frosts at the other end of the season, and be able to actually move growing plants from one place to another. It is also nice to be able to go away on extended journeys without coming home to an army of weeds that have taken over, or to find myself tired of the whole “keeping-up” battle through the long hot days of summer.
My basic garden “space” is a four foot by four foot square, with multiples extending to 4’ X 8’, allowing me to be able reach into the heart of the bed from each side. This enables me to practice “square-foot gardening”, rather than dealing with long rows with wasted space for walking, irrigating and re-cultivating, all of which takes time, space, and encourages weed-production.
In each square foot of space I can produce either 16 small items such as carrots, baby beets, or onions, or 4 larger plants such as lettuce, Swiss chard or parsley. Of course each tomato, pepper or cauliflower plant will require its own square foot of private territory. Keep in mind though, that square-foot gardening invites “succession planting”, so that as each mature plant is harvested, something else takes its place; another reason why advance garden-planning is important. Fast-growing veggies such as radishes and even baby carrots can be sewn amongst and between longer maturing crops, where space is available even briefly. Even tall crops like corn can be grown efficiently in this manner, with up to 24 stalks sharing a single four-foot square bed. (Pollination actually loves this kind of “block” arrangement.)
And then there is another concept for getting the most out of limited space, and that is where my “vertical” garden comes into play. I prefer to plant pole beans rather than the space-consuming bush varieties. You can either “companion-sew” them at the end of a bed where the shade they provide might help other nearby plants, or take advantage of a sun-warmed wall or building side where they don’t compete with other growth. Other vegetables such as cucumbers, squash and even melons can be trained to grow vertically, making use of space not otherwise in productive use. (Save those cast-off pantyhose to act as “suspenders” for heavy fruit when tied to the growing mesh.)
Rather than use space for a small potato patch, I plant mine in several large – bushel-size – clay pots, adding soil around the growing vines as they reach for the sky. In a good year, I can expect 30 or more mature tubers from each planter, merely by reaching down and pulling them by hand from soil that never gets hard and dry and never needs weeding.. In fact “container-gardening” is a refinement of the whole idea of gardening in small spaces. My last ripe tomato of the 2010 season was harvested in a sunny indoor pantry on January 1st, and a half dozen good-size ‘maters are already on this year’s plants at February’s end before they even go outdoors. I have a friend who grows a huge crop of Italian figs high on Salt Lake City’s east bench year after year by growing the trees in large movable containers on wheels, permitting her to roll them indoors each fall.
As gasoline prices rise, and trips to the store become ever more costly, perhaps it is time to start thinking – and growing - “inside the box”.

NOTE: The book “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew” has been a perennial favorite since its first publication in 1981.

In only fifteen square feet of raised-bed space, 24 spinach plants keep company with 12 heads of lettuce, 24 baby beets and a year-old parsley survivor. This bed is constructed for waist-high convenience and has seen use both outdoors and in this spring greenhouse.

A “square-foot” approach to gardening makes sense even when room to grow is not the only reason. In this “experimental” trial garden, competing varieties of lettuce plants from around the world are on stage to have their merits compared and monitored by Al’s friend, Shep Ogden in southern Vermont.

A pair of early tomato plants get to spend some time “getting acquainted” with the outdoor raised bed which will be their home in the near future – a process known as “hardening-out”.

Members of the super-hardy brassica family, these young cabbage plants get a head start on the season in a winter-like setting they love.
All Photos by Al Cooper


Three days ago, an item on the Associated Press news wire caught my attention: In Morgantown, West Virginia, Frank Buckles had passed away quietly, at the age of 110. He was America’s last surviving veteran of World War I, and therein lies a story whose aftermath is still shaping world history today.
It all started with another news item which by rights, ought to have caused little more than a raised European eyebrow or two; on June 28, 1914, the heir-apparent to the Hapsburg throne in Austria-Hungary, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, were assassinated by an 18-year-old student radical while visiting Sarajevo, Serbia. Thirty days later, Austria declared war on Serbia, and a series of mutual defense treaties began to come into play. First, Germany declared war on Russia, then within another few days, Belgium and France. On August 4th, Great Britain declared themselves at war with Germany, and the dominoes came tumbling down. Within weeks, twenty-seven nation-states had declared war, and what became known as “The Great War” (eventually World War I) was underway.
Protected by two oceans and a calculated sense of political and social isolationism, America watched as what had started with a single terrorist act exploded into vicious warfare across three continents, even as a generation of neighboring Canadians were dying by the thousands on far-flung battlefields. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, an academic and political “Progressive” dealt mostly in peace-loving platitudes and promises to keep his country out of the fray, while finding it more and more difficult to remain “neutral”, especially as German U-boats threatened American shipping.
Finally, on April 6, 1917 – after nearly four years of unprecedented bloodshed – the United States joined with the Allied Nations by declaring war on the “Central Powers”. Under the command of U.S. Army General John J.”Blackjack” Pershing, an American Expeditionary Force was assembled and sent off to the battlefields of France, where the conflict had settled into bogged-down trench warfare, where thousands died every day, fighting for a few meters of useless shell-churned soil.
During the 3rd battle of Ypres in the summer of 1917, within a five-mile square of Flanders fields, casualties surged to 850,000, with the Allies suffering 140,000 dead! The word Passchendaele and the red poppies which grew there have become symbolic of the human tragedy played out there. (Two inches of ground changed hands for every soldier’s death; ground which would be lost again in following weeks!)
In time, U.S. intervention helped to turn the tide of war, saving Paris from occupation and bringing to bear an immense economic capacity the Central Powers could never match. Five million American volunteers –“ Doughboys” -- would serve and a high price in lost and damaged lives would be paid. In a larger sense, the world would never be the same: the concept of “total war” had been born, and of the nearly 18 million dead, 6.8 million were civilians. Across Europe, two generations of men and boys were gone, leaving behind one million widows and three million orphans. The “Great War” represented a true watershed in the devaluation of human life, and would serve to define the way wars of the future would be fought.
While artillery, the machinegun, and poison gas brought about the greatest number of battle casualties, there arose a new kind of wound no one knew how to treat. For want of a better term, it was known as “shell shock” and was too often written off as war-weariness, or even cowardice; no one had thought up the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” yet, and millions of America’s “doughboys” came home to face years or even a lifetime of emotional suffering.
The “Great War” – the “war to end all wars”- not only failed to live up to that lofty expectation, but actually set in motion events and circumstances which would make the wars to follow almost inevitable. While the United States would be thrust into a position of leadership, England would cease to be the world’s greatest empire; national borders would be redrawn, new nation-states with mixed populations invented from left-over bits and pieces, revolutions spawned and arbitrary peace conditions imposed which would insure lasting enmities and crushed economies. The Versailles Treaty would produce fertile ground for the birth of Nazism and the rise to power of Adolph Hitler; and the stage would be set for the expansion of Communist influence around the shrinking globe. Japan, a member of the Allied Powers would feel “short-changed” in a division of the spoils at war’s end, and would nurture a history-changing direction in foreign policy.
All of this crosses my mind as I revisit the memories of growing up with a father who returned from that war with wounds that followed him through life, and I silently render a special heart-felt salute to Frank Buckles, the last American “Doughboy”.

NOTE: Frank Buckles enlisted in 1917 at the age of 16 serving in England and France. Later in life as a civilian, he was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines during the early days of WW II and spent three-and-a-half years as a POW. He devoted his late years to memorializing WW I “Doughboys”.

German and Allied “walking wounded” make their way to an aid station during the Battle of the Somme, July 19, 1916. Nearly ten million had already died by the time the U.S. entered WW I in April, 1917.
Imperial War Museum Collection

U.S. Marines and French Army soldiers gather on May 30th, 2010 to mark the 92nd anniversary of the battle of Belleau Wood which took place near the cemetery in the photo in 1918. It was in this battle that the U.S. Marine Corps established itself as a legendary fighting force, and it was here that Auburn Forest Cooper, 20th Co., 5th Marine Regiment - father of the writer – was seriously wounded.
U.S. Marine Corps. Photo

Sunday, March 6, 2011

UNCLE TOM & DRED SCOTT The Slide Towards War

The name of Josiah Hensley may not be well known in today’s school classrooms, but for a Connecticut-born teacher living in Brunswick, Maine in 1850, the narrative he composed inspired her to write a novel destined to become what some scholars still call the most important piece of American literature ever published.
The budding author was named Harriet Beecher Stowe, the educated wife of a professor at Bowdoin College, and she called her novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. A passionate abolitionist, Stowe had been captivated by the revelations depicting life on a Maryland plantation as related by a former slave, Josiah Hensley, who had escaped to Canada. For a largely-na├»ve northern public, the book struck an immediate chord and within a few months, 300,000 copies were being shared by American readers, to say nothing of the dramatic stage plays and traveling road shows based on its pages.
As much as any other single event, the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” further fueled the abolition movement in the North while infuriating the slave-holding South. Divisions in the nation’s governing bodies became even more strained, and the road toward separation and Civil War more clearly marked.
If there was a “final blow” to any possibility of resolution, it came in the form of the U.S. Supreme Court’s activism in the most controversial decision in all of the high court’s history; and here we run into two more important names: Roger Tanay (pronounced Tau’nee), and Dred Scott.
Roger Taney was born to a slave-holding Maryland family, rising to make a name for himself both as a successful lawyer and politician. Breaking with the Federalists over the War of 1812, he became a prominent Democrat and a vocal advocate for slavery and for states’ rights. He endeared himself to Andrew Jackson, for whom he carried the torch even in the face of extreme opposition. He served the Jackson administration as U.S. Attorney General, and briefly, as Secretary of War. When first nominated for a Supreme Court Justiceship, he failed to win support from Congress, but when Chief Justice John Marshal died, he gained approval to replace him after much wrangling in Congress where he was not exactly revered.
Dred Scott was a black slave who long served a military master, Major John Emerson, who took Scott with him from slave-holding Missouri to stations in Illinois and then to the Wisconsin Territory, both “free” entities, over a period of many years of Federal service. Scott had even been permitted to marry. Upon their return to the South, and the death of the Major, Dred Scott was encouraged by friends to petition for his freedom, on the grounds that he had now lived for many years in “free territory”. Emerson’s widow refused, and the petition went to the courts, finally finding its way to the highest court of the land in 1857 as DRED SCOTT v SANDFORD. (The widow’s business and legal affairs were managed by her brother, John F.A. Sandford.)
Under heavy pressure from ardently pro-slavery U.S. President James Buchanan, Judge Taney wrote the court’s final opinion which was so controversial – even among the Associate Justices – that one of the dissenters retired from the high court in utter disgust. Taney said in essence that since the founding of the Republic, Negroes had never been, and never would be citizens, and therefore Dred Scott had no standing to even have his case heard. Period!
But Taney did not stop there. The Taney court went on to say that Congress did not have the power to outlaw slavery in the new territories, or anywhere else for that matter, thereby overturning the Missouri Compromise and every other Act defining the long-standing boundaries between slave and “free” states. Not only did the decision sustain the notion that slaves were the private property of their owners, but that anyone attempting to interfere with that right would be subject to penalty under the law. By extension, black residents of the northern states who had been free voting citizens since the earliest days of nationhood had been redefined as aliens of a lower order, and states in which slavery had long been outlawed now found themselves challenged by federal doctrine.
The 1860 census found that of 8 million residents of the eleven southern states which were about to leave the Union, 4 million – fully one half – were black slaves, and in states such as South Carolina and Mississippi, the slave population actually outnumbered free whites.
After Uncle Tom and Dred Scott, only the formal secession of the Confederate states and the cannons facing Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor remained to ignite the fuse which would bring a long bloody war to America.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, a teacher at the Hartford Female Academy, crafted her sentimental novel about life on a Maryland slave plantation to focus public awareness
on the horrors of slave life. Her book became the second most read book of the 19th century, next only to the Bible.

Roger Taney (1777 – 1864), shown in an 1848 daguerreotype by famed Civil War era photographer Mathew Brady, became the fifth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court,
where he presided over the history-making Dred Scott decision. He was described unkindly by critics as a “supple, cringing tool of Jacksonian power”.

“UNBROKEN” Surviving A War That Has No End

In her landmark best-seller, ”Unbroken * * * A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption”, Laura Hillenbrand (SEABISCUIT) takes on a subject few have plumbed to the depths achieved in this 2010 masterpiece. I have read it once cover to cover, and now again for the purpose of underlining, in-depth study and note-taking. Except for those who are super-young or emotionally fragile, I wish that all Americans would read it.
The story of American POWs is a many-told tale, and generally speaking, one that most of us have been exposed to. Mostly though, those stories revolve around the European Theater of operations in WWII, and then often with tongue-in-cheek as in the likes of “Hogan’s Heroes” or as dramatized in Hollywood’s version of “The Great Escape”. Only in “Bridge On the River Kwai”, and a handful of made-for-television specials have we focused on the suffering endured by those who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of our WWII Pacific enemies. It is something of an eye opener to realize that among POWs of the Germans and Italians, 5% were killed or died as prisoners. In Japanese prison camps on the other hand, 30% - three out of every ten – did not come home. What’s just as important is that for most of those who did, the trauma resulting from the brutality they had suffered haunted them for the remainder of their deeply damaged lives.
In researching her book SEABISCUIT, Ms. Hillenbrand kept running into sports headlines about a famous Olympic one-mile runner from Torrance, California by the name of Louis Zamperini, the first American to come close to clocking the “four-minute mile”. That led her to the story of his wartime experience, and the beginning of a writing project which would occupy the focus of her working hours for the next seven years. (And therein lies another story, quite as remarkable as the book which would follow.)
The arrival of war in the Pacific brought an end to Zamperini’s 1940 Olympic bid, and instead found him training as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps in a B-24 Liberator, a four-engine bomber often referred to as the “flying coffin”. By late Fall of 1942, Louie and the rest of the nine-man crew of a “Liberator” named “Superman” were flying regular combat missions out of Midway Island over the countless miles of open ocean in the Central Pacific campaign, at a time when the Empire of Japan had conquered and occupied virtually every piece of real estate from China to Hawaii, with Australia and New Zealand in their crosshairs, and America’s west coast soon to be within striking distance.
On May 27, 1943, the crew of “Superman” were awakened early with orders to join the search for a lost B-25 bomber. With their own plane so severely damaged in an air battle that it had been junked for spare parts, they were forced to take off in a bad luck Liberator known as the “Green Hornet”, whose engines were barely capable of getting the lame B-24 airborne. This was destined to be a bad luck day for the nine close friends and two passengers. Following the failure of first one, and then a second engine, the “Green Hornet” crashed into the sea, swiftly taking all but three of its crew to the bottom. (The high-winged B-24 was notorious for its inability to survive such an event.)
For the next forty-seven days, under constant attack from sharks, and living only on a few fish and seabirds and an occasional rain shower, Louis Zamperini and his pilot friend established an unprecedented record of survival as their tiny raft drifted westward for 2000 miles, sadly burying their waist gunner in the sea along the way. But the worst of their story still awaited them; ahead lay two years of imprisonment and enforced slave-labor at the hands of an enemy whose code of warfare looked upon surrender as the ultimate loss of face. For reasons which will never be completely explained, Louis Zamperini became the special target of daily dehumanizing brutality on the part of a Japanese NCO named Matsuhiro Watanabe – nicknamed “The Bird” by the POWs who quickly learned to despise and fear his psychotic behavior.
Already a skeleton weighing less than 70 pounds by the end of his ordeal at sea, the former American athlete then endured two years of daily beatings, torture and physical and mental trauma, in two of the most terrible of Japan’s 91 POW camps, where disease, malaria, beri beri, dysentery and starvation took their own unimaginable toll, even without the sadistic cruelty of guards like “The Bird”.
“Unbroken” is not just a chronicle of one man’s survival of war’s worst terrors, but of the long road to recovery and redemption which ultimately took him back – fifty years later - to the land of his suffering, and to the personal forgiveness of the very men who had robbed him of freedom and dignity.
Today, Louis Zamperini is 93, and has replaced his runner’s shoes with a skate board.

NOTE: In addition to seven years of meticulous research work, Laura Hillenbrand conducted 75 interviews with Louis Zamperini for the book, and yet has never met with him face to face; Suffering from a disease known as “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”, she lives her life as a highly productive, best-selling author within the confinement of a 1500-square-foot home, and counts a trip to an adjoining room as a great victory.

First Lieutenant Louis Zamperini, USAAF examines one of 594 shell holes perforating the skin of “Superman” after a day of deadly combat in the skies over a tiny Pacific island named Nauru, in April of 1943. The B-24 its crew had come to love never flew again after that engagement.
USAF Photo

A faded archival photo of a Japanese soldier named Matsuhiro Watanabe (“The Bird”) reminds us of a time and a place when 140,000 Allied servicemen suffered behind barbed wire far from home in Japanese POW camps. An imperial order to kill all POWs on August 25th, 1945 was only interrupted by the atomic bombing of Japan. Avoiding capture and trial as a “war criminal”, Watanabe never apologized for his activities, and when invited to meet with Zamperini, he chose not to. He died in 2003.