Sunday, July 31, 2016


            As I write this column I am listening for the sound of tires crunching on driveway gravel. Somewhere not far away a FEDEX delivery truck is heading my way with a three-pound parcel I await with great anticipation. Inside is yet another “adventure” in learning and discovery to enrich my world; this time a brand new release from Great Courses featuring a 24-lecture view of the world-wide dimensions of a 14th century event titled “The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague” presented by Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Perdue University. It will be a sight and sound learning experience with CD recordings and a written overview and complete printed course transcript.
            Nearly two decades ago, a friend in New England who shared my longtime interest in exercising the mind and was herself a prominent neurosurgeon and expert on the human brain told me of her discovery of The Teaching Company, a Virginia-based company producing an extensive line of advanced learning programs featuring the world’s best teaching scholars. I was immediately intrigued, and with a course on “The Story of Human Language” became an enthusiastic student, for once studying subjects I chose for myself based on reasons other than mere scholarship alone.
            The advantage of being able to listen and learn while involved in extensive road travel, followed up by reading and reviewing at a more convenient time at home was an immediate payoff. Since the 1960s, I had been a follower of the “SQ3R” (study – question - read- recite and review) approach to advanced learning and now found it to be a perfect companion for my recorded courses. Just as important I found myself repeating a study course at later dates in order to refresh details or merely to revisit a subject of renewed interest or relevance.
            Over the years I have enrolled in, completed and profited from dozens of these “triple threat” learning vehicles, and now as an octogenarian find that I am as addicted to the acquisition of knowledge and expanded levels of understanding as I was half-a-lifetime ago. Thanks to the broad library of subjects available in this format, I frequently sign up for a particular course for no better reason than curiosity and the “fun” of it; a recent edition of “Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals” featuring Professor Elizabeth Murray is an example. It has been years since I was myself a Criminal Investigator for the U.S. Air Force and I have no current professional need for such study, but my life-long interest in the changing field of forensics made of this excellent overview a sheer delight.
            If I have a favorite course lecturer it is Gary W. Gallagher of the University of Virginia whose “The American Civil War” and “Robert E. Lee and His High Command” are landmark accomplishments in any format. When I had some email questions, his interest in the form of a personal response was enthusiastic and immediate. Another favorite is Professor Thomas Childers from the University of Pennsylvania with his outstanding World War II: A Military and Social History and whose 1995 book Wings of Morning was already on my book shelf.
            As I increasingly observe - and deplore - the apparent paucity of a basic understanding and appreciation of our own founding history on the part of “millennial” citizens, I wish that the Great Courses’ program A History of Freedom by Professor J. Rufus Fears of The University of Oklahoma could be a required course for all high school students. (Another might be Founding a ‘Republic of Virtue’ taught by Oxford Professor Daniel N. Robinson.)
            In addition to my writing, I have – for almost twenty years – been hosting a weekly radio talk-show whose roving subject matter knows few bounds, and whose audience represents a similarly disparate cross section of citizens. If there is one unheralded resource which has fed my appetite for fresh material, it is The Great Courses; formerly The Teaching Company, in Chantilly, Virginia.
            Wait: the doorbell just rang! FEDEX is here and I have to go.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


            I do not ordinarily write editorials although, hopefully, my regular columns communicate clearly my love of country, respect for history, appreciation of language and the art of communication and an abiding belief that strong homes and families are the backbone of happy lives and strong communities. Much of my life has seen a close personal association with public service at several levels and I am particularly proud to have served my country in uniform in war and in peace. I believe that long after one’s career is no more than the ticking of an engraved gold watch in a bureau drawer, our real accomplishments will be measured over years and generations of time by the solid lives of love and integrity lived by those whom we bring into and train for productive citizenship in the world we leave behind.
            In recent years – and especially in recent weeks – my heart has been made heavy by what I can’t help but view as a growing decline in the very spiritual character of our national consciousness. My mind goes back to a particular moment in my young life when I looked up at the portrait of George Washington and the flag which hung nearby in Miss Ryerson’s first grade classroom in Coytesville, New Jersey and said to myself: How come, out of all the other places in this world, I got to be born here in this country; in America? My young heart swelled in pride within me, and I was filled with an unspeakable sense of belonging to something great and glorious. That realization would become a tessera in my lifelong suit of protective armor.
            Pete Carney was the Irish cop assigned to our small town and a neighbor with whose kids I grew up and shared a pup tent on campouts. He was tall and proud in his dark blue uniform, and I always felt safe when he helped me through highway traffic on my way across route 9W. He really became my hero the day he burst through a glass window to pull the Call kids from their burning home. When I became a military cop years later, I knew I wanted to be like Pete. At a much later date while doing under-cover work while liaising as a military partner to hard-shelled Seattle Vice Squad “professionals”, I was fortunate to come under the mentorship of USAF Master Sergeant Walter Korwevo, an older and dedicated veteran cop who would knock on any door and put himself (and me) in all kinds of danger to carry out his duty. To have experienced myself what it was like to be shot didn’t exactly make it easy to serve with him at first. He was one of the bravest guys I ever knew.
            Like any law enforcement officer I have ever known, the kind of dedication and bravery the nation witnessed last week in Dallas, Texas is anything but uncommon. We see it exemplified week after week and year after year all over our country. In fact it is so common, so expected, that our otherwise vigilant media seldom find it worthy of their touted attention. Much more attractive and headline-worthy is the one-in-ten-thousand instance of a story which seems to extol the possible innocence of some dope-infused miscreant who got himself “abused” by those trying to protect the public from such as he; cases in which unproven grievances get more attention than gratitude for the men and women who don their uniforms every day to make our ever-more-dangerous streets safe for citizens.
            My question is mostly this: Why do we tolerate, even encourage the kind of behavior which is justified because of some notion of 1st amendment consideration when what we are really seeing is the very erosion of constitutional order and the approach of virtual anarchy.
            As for me and my family, we applaud the responders in Dallas (and in other places around the country) and the citizens and community leaders who support them. I wish we could multiply Chief David Brown a hundred fold and distribute him among other U.S. cities.

Monday, July 18, 2016


            At one time when our family was still young and all together, I had Sunday responsibilities which required my attendance with a congregation many miles away from our residence in Vermont’s beautiful and remote “Northeast Kingdom”. Our home was situated a matter of 500 yards from Canada with the international boundary actually dividing our public library in half (marked by a white painted line!) The congregation I mention had ecclesiastical boundaries which drew members from Vermont, New Hampshire and a corner of Maine and everything about my duties posed unique challenges, including a 100+ mile round trip on sometimes-unplowed country roads in winter.
            In addition to the hundreds of miles of old stone walls, rolling green pastureland and century-old barns, part of the journey’s charm lay in the occasional roadside garden-stands, usually unattended but with a cigar-box “cash register” and a latent belief in human honesty. Sometimes we stopped to investigate or more often to give our four restless kids a chance to vent their boredom. On one such autumn occasion I became fascinated with a Ball pint jar of colorful preserves hand-labeled as Old Fashion Corn Relish. Always on the lookout for something which excited my love for anything home-made and evocative of the tradition of farm-and-home gardening and self-reliance, we drove away from that nameless and unremarked farm-stand on that long-ago random and unrecorded Sunday with a discovery which would eventually touch and bring delight to (to date) three generations and more of our expanding family.
            After that first family dinner of roast beef mashed potatoes and gravy with that jar of relish at the table’s center, we knew we had found something special. Always thinking of myself as a “kitchen scientist” at heart, I immediately began the process of reverse-engineering, carefully sorting through the obvious ingredients: tender fresh corn, onions, red pepper, green pepper, vinegar and sugar (probably both white and brown,) an unknown combination and amount of spices and . . . a touch of magic.
            The experiment continued over a period of several years of autumn harvests and kitchen trials, Shirley and I altering ingredient quantities, new spice combinations and cooking technology, my elderly mother sitting at the kitchen table and keeping meticulous notes. Each year we turned out jars of excellent and satisfying relishes; but never a match for the el primo status we were seeking. Something elemental was missing.
            Another such story has its roots in a long-ago family vacation spent at the seaside cottage of old family friends who summered each year at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We were “breaking in” our new family car, a long black 1937 8-cylinder Oldsmobile. I was 4 years old and was often left in the care of the family maid, a young African-American woman named Dolly whom I followed hand-in-hand wherever she went. Water melons were in great abundance at that time and place and I was curious to note that Dolly carefully set aside the accumulating rinds in a large tin basin. I later watched as she trimmed off the outer green skin turning the soft still pink under-flesh into small cubes which – brined -- emerged from  slow cooking in sweet vinegar as a tantalizing, candy-like table pickle. Water Melon Rind Pickles have been a favorite ever since. Three decades later in a Vermont kitchen, inspiration led me to add a cup of those glowing yellow pickles, now minced small, to our ongoing corn relish experiment. VOILA!  After that impromptu “wedding” our final miracle relish was complete.

            I believe that all of life is made up of stories. Tiny stories, perhaps; but stories just the same. Beside me here as I write is a 79-year-old much-faded photo of a small white boy beside a young black girl as proof.                                                              

Thursday, July 14, 2016


            Wednesday nights were best. I would carefully disassemble my Dad’s .22 caliber Remington field rifle, remove the violin from its carrying case and replace it with the carbine. A short distance walk to the meeting place where our scout master would be waiting and our car-full of eager boys would be on our way to an adult gathering place known as The Swiss Hall, at whose upstairs bar old men with blonde walrus mustaches and a schnauzer dog drank German beer, but in whose basement a superb rifle range waited. We would each be handed two boxes of .22 long rifle ammo., donated by the NRA and the scored competition would begin.
            It was 1943, and our country was at war; every one of us at the age of ten or twelve was serious about getting ourselves prepared. At school we ran an outdoor obstacle course set up by military advisors, performed close-order drill with make-believe 1903 Springfields and climbed rope ladders tied to the roof girders of the gym. Every school day began with the Lord’s Prayer and a flag pledge. (We had two boys who for religious reasons were excused from the latter, but after a while they changed their own minds and joined in.) Most middle and high school classes in my schools devoted some time to reviewing the latest media coverage of war news and encouraged students to share family letters from the front. Weekly assembly programs often featured combat veterans home from the war, recovering from wounds, ferrying planes, giving advanced training, etc. They were invariably treated like the “heroes” they were.
            A majority of teen age American boys knew how to tune a carburetor, adjust or replace spark plugs, repair a flat tire, diagnose a wide range of automotive problems and drive anything from a soapbox derby entry to a flatbed farm truck. (I had driven a Sherman tank on a test track at a nearby university as a young student!)  Our enemies – despite a militaristic cultural background – were deficient in ways they had not bargained on. When Italy militarized as an Axis partner, it was forced to settle for a horse cavalry as its youth had almost no mechanical skills. My own most prized Christmas gift of the WWII period was a simulated airplane cockpit with a full instrument display, hand throttle, stick and rudder pedals. All I needed was two kitchen chairs to go flying.
            Even more important we were constantly reminded by the people and ethos which surrounded us that we were on “God’s side” and it was okay to hate and mock the evil enemy, and our goal was to defeat them “unconditionally”. We vied for prizes in art class by drawing posters which pictured people like Hitler, Tojo, Hirohito, Mussolini, Himmler and Goering as warthogs and worse; the nastiest and most disgusting image got first prize. We were constantly reminded in artistic detail that Loose lips Sink Ships, the Marines need a Few Good Men and the Enemy Laughs while You Loaf! Beneath a picture of an evil looking and rictus-faced Hitler, a poster urged Destroy This Mad Brute!
            The use of pejorative descriptive terms such as Kraut, Jap, Nip and Meatball were daily fare in the media and in public usage (of course the same license applied in the way we referred to ourselves and each other when it came to ethnic identity anyway – PC had not arrived on our shores yet.) The music which aired on radio and wherever people met also reflected a similar indifference to linguistic niceties when it came to our national enemies, with titles such as “I want that Monster (Hitler) Dead!”and “Right up the Fuehrer’s &#%!” and more. Every movie show began with war films and the National Anthem.
            Our national enemies were pictured with slanted eyes, thick eyeglasses, monocles and with blood dripping from fang-toothed jaws, and described as too stupid to build ships that didn’t roll over when launched.
            And as for a public “outcry” over something as mild as “water-boarding”: I can almost hear the coast-to-coast, border-to-border laughter from here!