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Friday, August 19, 2011


I find it beyond ironic that the state of Georgia named a bridge after Eugene Talmadge, two in fact, the  1950's version and its 1990's replacement. He was a three time Governor who boasted of reading Mien Kampf seven times. (Hate Jews, start war - was there something he missed on the first six readings?) But the most relevant aspect of Eugene Talmadge's stewardship over his state, and the element that reminds me of current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's career, was the assessment made by Eugene's own son and political heir, Herman Talmadge. Said Herman of his father, “A third of the voters would have followed him through h-ll, and a third wanted him to go to h-ll...”.  It was an honest and ugly description of how Eugene Talmadge earned the sobriquet, “The Wild Man From Sugar Creek”.
“I never admit I'm wrong - even if I am - and I'll never apologize. If I've made a mistake, I'll ignore it and in time it'll work itself out.”
Eugene Talmadge
In 1940 Democrat Franklin Roosevelt carried Georgia with an unheard of 85% of the vote. But that same year anti-Roosevelt Democrat Eugene Talmadge was elected Governor for a third two year term with only 40% of the popular vote. The deciding factor in state wide elections was the convoluted 1917 Georgia “county unit” system. The lest populated 55 counties in Georgia got 110 votes for the office of Governor, while Atlanta itself got only six votes.
“I can win in any county that hasn't got streetcars.”
Eugene Talmadge
As governor, Talmadge had a seat on the University of Georgia board of regents, and was determined to gain control over their budget, the largest single spending source in the state. It seemed a safe issue, as in 1940, 83% of Georgia citizens had not even graduated high school. The means to achieve his goal dropped into Talmadge's lap a few weeks after returning to the Governor's mansion, when a fired teacher wrote a letter of complaint to Talmadge about the dean of the College of Education, 46 year old Dr. Walter Dewey Cocking. He was, she charged, in favor of integration.
"A good strong man has got no business sitting around a jail...What we need is a whipping post in a man's own town in the case of smaller crimes, such as gaming or wife beating."
Eugene Talmadge
Cocking (above) had been brought in three years earlier by University of Georgia President Harmon Caldwell to reform the teachers' college. Cocking was a smart administrator and a well qualified academic, but he had the swagger of a bureaucrat on a mission. Worse he was a Yankee, a native of Iowa. He had served at southern colleges in Texas, Missouri and Tennessee -  where he had even been the director of public education. But he was still a Yankee, which is why Talmadge chose him as the starting point for his assault.
The only way to have honest government is to keep it poor.”
Eugene Talmadge
The end of May was commencement in Georgia – time for renewal of contracts for not yet tenured professors. On the morning of Friday, May 30, 1941, the University Board of Regents, most of whom had been appointed by Talmadge, with Talmadge present, were presented with the charges against Cocking from the fired teacher. It was Cocking's intention, claimed the teacher, to open an integrated school in Athens, Georgia, and to have white and black graduate students study together. There was a short heated debate, and the vote was eight to four to let Cocking go. Then the board went off to dedicate a new building.
“Sure I Stole it! But I stole it for you!”
Eugene Talmadge
After the dedication, the board was informed that, while University President Caldwell recognized the right of the board to not renew Cocking's contract, nevertheless, unless Cocking were given a full hearing before being fire, Caldwell would resign. The board tabled the motion, and on further consideration voted to rehire Cocking by 8 to four. Talmadge immediately called for another vote June 16, this time at the state capital.
“The next President will be a man who knows what it is to work in the sun 14 hours a day. That man will be able to walk a two by four plank, too.”
Eugene Talmadge 1940 (remarks for which Talmadge later apologized to polio victim Roosevelt)
Forty-one senior professors signed a letter supporting Cocking, but it did not good. Two board members who had voted in favor of rehiring Cocking were pressured to resign. They were replaced with Talmidge toadies. And the Monday, June 16, 1941 meeting was described by Time magazine (7/28/'41) under the headline, “Lynching in Georgia” ;”Not since the Tennessee monkey trial had there been such clownish witch-hunting as went on in Georgia last week. Cigar-chewing, red-suspendered Gene Talmadge ran amok through Georgia colleges, chasing furriners (i.e. non-Georgians) and Negro-befrienders...The Governor, himself a regent, was there, munching his lunch and prompting his fellow board members. Regent James S. Peters....cried...”Negroes will ride in the same railroad cars, sit in the same schools, go to the same lavatories as white men." "They won't do it," shouted Talmadge....Said Talmadge to Peters: "Hit the chair and holler." Peters hit, hollered....Hearing over, the board voted 10-to-5 to fire not only Dean Cocking but "Furriner" (Mississippi-born) Marvin S. Pittman, president of Georgia State Teachers College and Georgia-born J. Curtis Dixon, vice chancellor of the State University system.”
"You got three friends in this here world - and I want you to know it. You got Sears Roebuck Company, and I want you to know it. You got God almighty - and I want you to know it. And you got Eugene Herman Talmadge of Sugar Hill, Georgia - and I want you to know it.”
Eugene Talmadge stump speech
Developments now came fast and furious. Governor Talmadge ordered an investigation of “foreign Professors” in at the University. This inspired Jack Tarver at the Macon Telegraph to write, “We's gotta shoot these furriners, Who ain't got Georgy blood. We got to shoot old Gran'ma fust, I hates to do it, kin'er, She's been a good ole Gran'ma, BUT She 'uz born in Caroliner” The Governor ordered a sweep through the libraries of all colleges and high schools, searching for any anti-American texts. Of the 30,000 books at the Universtity of Georgia, one was found to fit the description - “Calling America”. This proved to be not a book, but a single article in the February 1939 issue of “Survey Graphic Magazine”. At the same time the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools opened an investigation of “political interference” at the University of Georgia. The General Education Board rejected Georgia's application for $74,000 in funding for the coming year. And the Association announced that they were withdrawing the accreditation from all Georgia colleges. A degree from a Georgia university was no longer recognized beyond the state borders.
“We credit our own schools down here.”
Eugene Talmadge
Life magazine described Georgia under Talmadge as a “...hillbilly dictaorship...more humiliating than dangerous to the rest of the nation.....(Talmidge) has ignored the merit system, muzzled freedom of speech for Georgia's 23,000 teachers and 8,000 state employees...” Time reported on October 27 that “Students gaily gathered on the campus of the University of Georgia last week (above)...shouting 'To H-ll with Gene,' hanged and burned Governor Eugene Talmadge in effigy not once but twice. Women students at Lucy Cobb dormitory had a third private hanging of their own.” Son, Herman Talmadge remembered, “I tried to dissuade him and so did my mother, but once that my father made up his mind, he was the most stubborn independent minded man that I ever knew in my life.”
“I'm just as mean as hell.”
Eugene Talmadge
Public demonstrations drove Talmadge to ask a reporter, “Do they (the electorate) think I am a dam--d fool?” The newsman replied, “ Well, Governor, some think you're a dam--d fool...A lot of others think you're just as mean as hell.” It turned out that although the majority of Georgians had never been to college, they all dreamed of sending their children. And what Talmage had done had threaten that dream. His 1942 re-election campaign was based on  tried and true meathods; “White supremacy. State rights, local self-government and old time religion”. Talmadge sent out a mailer which asked, “Do You Want Your Child to Go to School With Negroes?” But even America's entry into World War Two did not convince the electorate to forgive Talmadge. The Democratic primary of 1942 saw Talmadge and his rural constituency swept from office by a slim margin. Wrote Time magazine, “Thus ended the reign of the most high-handed, low browed local dictator.”
"I now call on all Georgians regardless of political affiliation, to help us in our endeavor, so that Georgia may no longer be the laughing stock of the nation”
Ellis Gibbs Arnall. Georgia Governor, 1944-45
Like a bad penny, Talmadge came back, in 1946, and ran again for governor. And, with the help of the Klu Klux Klan, he won. But it appears that God had finally had enough of him. He called Eugene Talmage to his final reward on December 21, 1946, before he could take the oath for a fourth term . He was 62 years old. And any bridge named after him is truly a bridge to nowhere.
“Talmadge has a Phi Beta Kappa key, can you believe that? What did he use all that precious knowledge for? To accomplish what?”
Young Martin Luther King Jr. to his father.
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Thursday, August 18, 2011


I believe the horror officially commenced on September 6, 2006, and it began in the midst of a deceptive calm. Groundskeepers at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Eau Claire, Wisconsin had noted for some time that vandals were stealing the small American flags left to honor veterans’ graves. The assumption was, of course, that the offenders were hippies or communists or just local punks, perhaps the spoiled offspring of wealthy but inattentive parents or the troubled youthful offenders of single parent families. 
But on this late summer afternoon as Mr. Dave Ender mowed the grass between the tombstones he spotted a flash of red, white and blue amongst the limbs of a nearby tree. He investigated and discovered a large and intricate “drey”, or squirrel’s nest, constructed from the tattered and masticated shards of dozens of miniature American flags. The vandals had been identified. But Mr. Ender’s only reaction was one of admiration. “The little rascals”, he thought, “They’re just amazing.” Yes, rascals indeed; and not merely amazing, but horrible, too.
Less than a year later, in August of 2007 visitors to the Manchester Crematorium, on Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton, England, were frustrated to discover their floral memorials to departed relatives were being ripped from their pots and devoured, leaving behind the scattered crumbs of chrysanthemums and carnations scattered about. The staff assumed the rodents were after the sweet nectary of these plants, as they would ignore roses or other non-nectar flowers. So they began to treat those flowers with pepper spray to discourage the rodent-al assaults. And it worked, for awhile.
But the following year, no concentration of pepper spray was enough to discourage the bucktoothed little omnivours. The “Super Squirrels” of Chorlton have become “pepper spray resistant” and there was no stopping them now. Botanist John Steadman, at the nearby Fletcher Moss Gardens, claims to have never heard of squirrels eating flowers before but says the local rodents have been known to eat entire sugar packets from lunch bags. Squirrels on a sugar rush; and they have even been video taped having consumed fermented pumpkins in America. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ikH9ZRcF2Q&mode=related&search)  If anyone cares to take notice, it seems to me that the wake up call for doomsday has been given. It’s time to roll out of bed and meet your maker. And I think he’s angry. And he may be a squirrel…a great big, grey one, with sharp bitey teeth and maybe a bazooka.
Humans are singularly ignorant of the 300 plus species of squirrels in this world. Webster’s dictionary gives a horribly generalized definition. Squirrels are either “any of various arboreal rodents of the genus Sciurus and related genera of the family Sciuridae, having a long flexible bushy tail…” or “…any of various other rodents of the family Sciuridae,…”. It is a definition that makes a mocker of the adage, “know your enemy”. The word itself comes down to us through French (1327) from the Latin (Vulgar) “Sciurus”, which comes from the Greek “slirouros”, meaning “beast that sits in the shadow of its own tail”. The verb “to squirrel” meaning to save something for later use was not recorded until 1939. Oddly, that same year saw the first use of the word as a second person perfect adjective, when Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “Hitler seems a little squirrelly to me.” The problem is that the small rodents are ubiquitous and as such we assume we know them. It is a level of hubris that may well spell our doom.
Recently, on the playground of a Florida preschool, a small child and a Highway Patrol officer were assaulted by an average everyday squirrel, a creature most humans would take no notice of. According to Maritza Diaz, director of the Children’s Academy Daycare Centre, in Orange, the little grey assailant settled on three year old Kevin Santiago, perhaps because he looked helpless. The boy was innocently sitting on the swings when “The squirrel attacked him and didn’t want to get off…” Kevin was bitten 9 times, despite attempts by the staff to rescue the boy by “…throwing things at it to try and get it off,…” Thank goodness no one on the staff was caring a gun or little Kevin might have had his head blown off. As it was the boy was saved when the Florida Highway Patrol office who was attending a nearby accident scene heard his screaming and came running. When he arrived the squirrel immediately leapt on the cop. After biting the officer several times (and one other adult victim) the rampaging squirrel made his escape. Kevin was admitted to a local hospital for treatment. The adults were treated and released. And the incident was immediately forgotten; but not by the squirrels.
In San Jose, California, on May 9th a single squirrel turned an entire First Grade classroom into a nightmare on Elm Street - except it didn’t happen on Elm Street. Just after 8:30 am, as students and adults at the Evergreen Elementary School were preparing to leave on a field trip, the small grey Ninja assassin slipped into the room via an open door and ran up the leg of one of the mothers. According to Will Ector, a school district spokesman, the first victim was “…trying to get it off and another parent was trying to assist…one was nipped on the fingertip and scratched on the arm and the other was bitten on the arm.” The errant rodent nibbler then “did a loop around the (blood soaked) classroom and ran out the door”, where he encountered his third victim, an innocent 11 year old girl, whom he immediately bit on the arm. He then made good his twitchy nosed escape.
The school went into immediate lock down which evidently prevented any further assaults. The victims were given medical attention and treated with antibiotics, but not given rabies shots because, as the Santa Clara County Vector Control District Manager explained, “Generally speaking, squirrels are not the type of animal that can survive an attack by a rabid animal. They are prey animals…” It was the kind of comforting speech often given by movie experts to explain why Godzilla or the zombies or the Killer Squirrels are not going come back, usually just before they return and eat the expert.
Nearby Cuesta Park has become a hotbed of insurgent squirrel activity, with six attacks in the last few months. In the spring 4 year old Andrew Packard was on a picnic with his mother when she handed him a muffin. Instantly a squirrel assaulted Andrew. In the boy’s own bone chilling statement, “'My mommy said the squirrel sneaked down behind me and he was hugging me, but when he kissed me it was really a scratch.”.
His Mother, Jennifer Packard, told the San Jose Mercury News, “'It was such a horror. To hear your child screaming the way you've never heard before - it was just bone chilling. As a little kid, …you just wonder if he'll always have fear.” The boy, now with red scratch marks all over his body, is probably too terrified to enter any park with trees. And local wildlife rehabilitator Norma Campbell offered no comfort when she warned against any futile attempts to cull the local squirrel populations. “For everyone you take out, two more will come in”. But is there really nothing we can do to defend ourselves?
Apparently no: according to the newspaper “The Derrick”, last November ,30 year old Postal-woman Barb Dougherty was on her route in Oil City, Pennsylvania, when, stepping off a porch, a squirrel went postal on her. In dramatic testimony she explained, he “…jumped me.” Thinking quickly, Barb “…pulled him off.” She was treated for scratches and released. The squirrel was tested for rabies. A postal service spokesman said, “In the 230 years of postal history, I’ve never personally heard of another squirrel biting.” My guess is, he’s just not listening very closely and he’s not nearly as old as he implies.
In Winter Park, Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports, 3 year old Carson Cox was bitten several times by a squirrel assailant on the calf while playing soccer in the park, a few moments before 19 year old Dylan Osborn was attacked and bitten on the leg, and John Hindman was scratched and bitten on both arms, in what apparently was a rodent spree assault.
And the Sevier County Courthouse in Arkansas was damaged by what the Texarkana Gazette called a “kamikaze rodent” that short circuited a transformer, causing an explosion and a loud bang. County Judge Dick Tillman downplayed the significance of this assault on a government building, pointing out the power never went off and the lights merely flickered. In a droll attempt at distracting humor, Tillman added, “The dispatcher said the computers have been acting funny with the monitors flickering. (But) I don’t think it’s going to cause a problem unless the flickering makes the dispatcher dizzy and she has a seizure, falls out and hits her forehead on the desk.”
Less drolly, the Chief of the Billard Volunteer Fire Department, in East Texas, admitted it was a suicidal squirrel attack that caused a 30 acre brush fire that damaged 11 cars, a motorcycle and a house. He said the squirrel walked out along a power line and then jumped to a transformer. This caused an explosion which killed the squirrel and blew his smoldering corpse to the dry brush on the ground. The chief admitted, “I’ve fought several fires in the past that were started by squirrels.” So perhaps word of the secret war is slowly getting out.
Squirrels have successfully shut down the NASDAQ stock exchange at least twice and caused numerous outages at prestigious institutions like the University of Alabama. On average about 25% of all power failures nationwide (about one in four) are inspired by suicidal squirrels. And yet we still refuse to recognize these rodents are at war with us, preferring to avoiding admitting their intelligence, instead refereeing to them, in the words of one expert, as “clever and persistent”, as if we were unaware that may be an even more dangerous combination than just smart. In fact squirrels are such an ignored threat to our infrastructure that if Osama bin Ladin had been a squirrel, he would probably still be out there.
In another terrorist incident with shadows of 9/11, a recent Americans Airlines flight from Dallas to Tokyo was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Honolulu, after the flight crew heard what they described as a “skittering noise” from above the cockpit. Wisely the crew decided to investigate. The passengers were put in local hotels for the night while mechanics tracked down the Texas squirrel bound for the Far East. He was found and killed, his murder justified as rabies testing. But could there have been another reason the authorities wanted no living witnesses to the great squirrel airline conspiracy?
It is clear that this is already an undeclared international war going on. In the German village of Passau a woman in her home was assaulted by a rambunctious rodent. In terror she ran outside and down the street, eventually literally shaking off her attacker, who next assaulted a builder, and when he proved too robust the attack-squirrel attacked a 72 year old pensioner. But this time the little bastard had picked the wrong little old man. Grandpa managed to beat the killer squirrel to death with his crutch.
In Jyvaskyla, Finland an allegedly cute squirrel is displaying an amazing level of brand loyalty. He enters a chocolate shop twice a day to steal a treat called a “Kinder Surprise”. Still in the store he carefully opens the foil package, eats the chocolate, and then runs away with the plastic “surprise”. Exactly what he does with all of these surprises has not been reported, but I would advise the owner that squirrels can live anywhere from ten to twelve years. That could mean something like six thousand “Kinder Surprises” the owner will need to supply just to keep one squirrel happy over his lifetime. Why would any owner suffer such an expense?
Perhaps the answer and the ultimate core of the attack squirrel conspiracy was revealed when Finnish baritone Esa Ruuttunen (above), perhaps best known for his powerful performance as Telramund, was viciously assaulted while on his way to rehearsals of the new Finnish opera “Kaarmeen hetki (Hour of the Serpent) at the Helsinki Opera House. He suffered a concussion and a broken nose amongst other injuries when yet another suicidal squirrel literally leapt into the spinning spokes of his bicycle. It was clearly a case of an excessively outspoken squirrel.
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Sunday, August 14, 2011

GENIUS - The Beginning

I want to try an experiment, telling the story of the most amazing military campaign in American history, U.S. Grant’s attack, isolation, and capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. I will try and tell it in sequence. And I will begin with the observations of an amateur military genius. Abraham Lincoln tried to explain the importance of  Vicksburg to those celebrating the capture of Memphis, Tennessee on June 6, 1862. He told them, “…Vicksburg is the key. Here is the Red River, which will supply the Confederacy with cattle and corn to feed their armies. There are the Arkansas and White Rivers which can supply cattle and hogs by the thousand. From Vicksburg these supplies can be distributed by rail all over the Confederacy….Let us get Vicksburg and all that country is ours. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pockets…."
I have never found a more cogent and accurate description of the strategic situation in the winter of 1862, than that.
New Orleans had been captured by the U.S. Navy on May 1, 1862. That closed the Mississippi river at its mouth. And with the battles of Island Number Ten, and the river fleet Battle of Memphis (above), on June 6, 1862, the river was in Union hands from its headwaters down to the Tennessee/Mississippi state border. Only a narrow waist between Fort Hudson,  just above New Oreleans, and on the north Vicksburg, Mississippi, remained in  Confederate hands. Like a button and eye they were binding the Confederacy together. And they were vital, because along the whole torturous course between these two high ground,  from the river banks to breadth of up to forty miles, the approach to the river as half swamp, part river and part solid ground..
More importantly, only at Vicksburg (above) was the ground on the east and west sides of the river solid enough so that a railroad line could touch the Mississippi itself - there was no bridge, but railroad cars could be ferried arcross. So, after the debacles at Memphis and New Orleans, the Confederacy decided to turned Vicksburg into “The Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” On paper it looked simple- the city lay just south of a thuge "S" bend in the river. This meant that any warships coming down from the north would have to slow to make that hairpin turn. Accepted military thinking and some experience said they would be sitting ducks to heavy artillery atop the bluffs at Vicksburg.  The town’s northern land shoulder -Haines Bluff - was protected by the 200 mile wide and 50 mile thick swamp of the Yazoo river delta to its north. That forced any assault from the north far inland, down the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad toward the state capital of Jackson.
Union Forces under General Steven Halleck (above) followed that line and managed to occupy Corinth, Mississippi on June 1st, 1862. But  every time he ventured south from that base, Rebel cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest slipped around “Old Brains”, captured his supplies and burned his bridges. And Halleck was forced to slink back again to Tennesee. At the same time the Union Navy in New Orleans ran war ships up the Mississippi River past the guns at Fort Hudson and tried to shell Vicksburg into a quick submission. But the Confederates refused to fall for that trick as they had done at Memphis.  By the end of the summer of 1862 Halleck had been transferred, and the task of capturing Vicksburg fell to Lt. General U.S. Grant, almost by default. 
General Grant (above) really had three enemies to defeat. His most dangerous opponent was the War Department in Washington, which meddled away the Union strengths. And then there was the river, which even today - after almost two centuries of vast public works -  remains a twisting, tortuous and argumentative stream. It was worse so in 1863.  Grant’s most easily defeated opponent was Lt. General John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian who had chosen to fight for the South. He was a skilled officer who had been given limited means (40,000 men scattered between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi) to defend an objective of unlimited importance. And Grant understood intuitively that all that mattered was to occupy the Vicksburg bluffs and permanently cut the rail line that touched the Mississippi. And it didn’t matter how he did it. So he started by trying everything he could think of.
The US Navy had begun a canal (above) that might eventually cut off the river bend just above Vicksburg by joining the Walnut and Roundaway Bayous,  before reconnecting with the river below Vicksburg at the tiny hamlet of New Carthage. But when a dam at the northern end of the dig collapsed, flooding out the Union camps, the canal was abandoned.
Next Grant tried less digging. There was a circuitous maze of bayous that logically seemed to eventually connect an abandoned Mississippi bend, Lake Providence, 50 miles north of Vicksburg, to the Red River just before it rejoined the Big Muddy above the high ground at Fort Hudson south of Vicksburg. But some how, no matter how close they came, the bayous always seemed to end just before reaching the Red River. Another route up the Tallahatchie was blocked by a Rebel fort. And an attempt to follow Steele Bayou to Black Bayou to Deer Creek to Rolling Fork Bayou to the Sunflower River to outflank Haines Bluff on the Yazoo cutoff north of Vicksburg,  also failed. And an attempt to dig another bypass of the big bend just north of Vicksburg, the Duckport Canal, also failed.
Still all those labors had kept Pemberton constantly shifting troops nervously back and forth, like a poker player constantly checking his cards. Grant took notice of that. And that is why, on April 17, 1863, Grant sent Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson and 1,700 troopers of the 6th and 7th Illinois and the 2nd Iowa cavalry regiments (above) on a raid deep into Mississippi, to do as much damage to the Central Mississippi Railroad as possible, even cut it if he could. It was just a raid, and was not intended to come close to Vicksburg. But it helped to achieve the impossible. What seemed impossible at the time was that from the moment Grierson rode out of La Grange, Tennessee, Vicksburg had just five weeks left as a major Rebel supply base. April was going to set the scene for Grant's campaign.
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