The Confederacy Was About White Supremacy And Treason

By and large, on this blog, I have made an effort to strike a more or less reasonable tone when I disagree with something. An exception has been with respect to matters related to the Confederacy. I allow myself some intemperance on that subject. So, it’s somewhat gratifying to see the late storm of disapproval where the Confederate Battle Flag is concerned – a storm triggered by a white supremacist who murdered nine black people at church in Charleston.

It seems that a moderate tone on the subject has allowed people to remain in denial about what the Confederate heritage is about. It’s a heritage of treason, citizens of the United States taking up arms against the U.S. and killing its soldiers. They took up arms because they claimed a right to secede so that they could preserve their states’ rights to enslave other people. It’s heritage, but it’s not a proud heritage.

Tony Horwitz, who wrote a great book on the subject of present day Southern attachment to the “Lost Cause” mythology, Confederates in the Attic, has a piece at TPM on the latest controversy entitled “How the South Lost the War but Won the Narrative.”
He concludes:

I’m not very optimistic that the debate over South Carolina’s flag will bring a deeper reckoning. Furling the statehouse flag may bring temporary relief to South Carolinians, but what we truly need to bury is the gauzy fiction that the antebellum South was in any way benign, or that slavery and white supremacy weren’t the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Only then, perhaps, will we be able to say that the murdered in Charleston didn’t die in vain, and that the Lost Cause, at last, is well and truly lost.


A little over a year ago, my family conceived a plan to enjoy the fruits of American imperialism. We began to save and otherwise make arrangements for a trip to the Hawaiian islands that began on June 2 and ended on June 15.

High School graduation at the "Snake Pit"

High School graduation at the “Snake Pit”

The first order of business, however, was a brief detour for my niece’s graduation at a high school in the Dallas, Texas area which took place at the University of North Texas “Snake Pit” – a very cool facility. The proceedings were very Texas. Members of a cub scout troop or, probably, boy scout troop were called upon to “present colors.” The jarring contrast between the pretense of military solemnity and gravitas on one hand and the reality of a couple of kids carrying a flag – in light of my stereotyped notions about Texas – almost gave me the giggles. Then there were the frequent nods to the importance of Christianity – at least two official prayers plus a couple of students bearing witness to the power of Christ aiding them in getting their high school diplomas. If I were a non-Christian student, I would have felt very much like a second class citizen at this public school. Certainly there were more references to God in that ceremony than there were to education. (Perhaps aware of my less than Texan religious patriotism, my bag didn’t make it onto our plane from Chicago to Dallas, despite being checked at the same time as my wife’s bag which did make it. When it arrived at our hotel in Dallas late that night, it had an “Inspected by TSA” tag.)

But, that was Texas. On to Hawaii!

Harper and Kanani waiting happily for their Budget Rental Car in Kailua-Kona.

Harper and Kanani waiting happily for their Budget Rental Car in Kailua-Kona.

The flight is a long one. After a brief jump from Dallas to Phoenix, the flight over the Pacific took 5-6 hours from Phoenix. We flew into Kailua-Kona on the west side of the Big Island on June 2. I had been warned not to judge Hawaii by the Kona airport. It’s on a lava field and is a bit like landing on the moon. That, at least, did not catch me by surprise. What did strike me a bit was the small, open-air nature of the airport. I’d never seen an outdoor baggage claim before. No worries – the weather was nice. The weather is just about *always* pleasant in Kailua-Kona. The big mountains (Mauna Lea and Mauna Kea) to the east squeeze out most of the moisture from the prevailing winds coming out of the east over the Pacific. From the airport, a shuttle driver took us to get our rental car. The shuttle driver was a nice guy who was, no doubt, hamming up his Hawaiian schtick for the tourists to whom he was catering. His patter about Hawaii wasn’t a sham, necessarily, but he knew his clientele. The folks at Budget, where we got our rental, who weren’t working for a tip, were much more leisurely about moving the line. But, no worries, we’re in Hawaii with a long vacation ahead of us. Pictured is Harper who brought her American Girl doll, Kanani. Kanani did not fit in Harper’s already full backpack, so Harper had to expend a great deal of effort carrying the doll separately through all of the airports and whatnot. But, according to Harper, Kanani was Hawaiian, so she needed to go to Hawaii! Fair enough.

We vacationed with some friends of ours from West Lafayette, a family of six. The ten of us:



So, we rented a house that could accommodate the 10 of us. And we found a great one. (“We” — who am I kidding? My role in the planning was minimal. I had more of a role in the financial support end of things. The wives in the two families did the heavy lifting.)

Harper, Cole, and Madda  on the lanai.

Harper, Cole, and Madda on the lanai.

The house was nice, comfortable, and well-furnished generally, but the in my mind, the best part was the lanai. It faced the Pacific and had a great view. It had a comfortable set of couches with a coffee table on one end and a big dinner table that sat our whole crew on the other. The temperature was pleasant at all hours out there. I was occasionally struck by the difference in temperature between the court yard with the pool versus the lanai. The former could be hot and a little stifling while the latter never was. The breeze, which is pretty dependable, really makes a difference.

The families at dinner

The families at dinner

The dinner table was no small selling point. Having a table that accommodates 10 people is good. Having one that lets you see the sun set over the Pacific every night is terrific! And, not for nothing, eating at “home” was a bonus. We weren’t trying to be stingy and do enjoy eating out, but the logistics and expense of feeding 10 people at Hawaiian restaurants can get a little daunting. So, about half the nights, we stocked up on groceries (I became partial to the KTA), and I put my mastery of poolside grills to work.

Other things that became staples of our visit:

Fresh fruit – My friend Jason, in particular, was diligent in making sure we had a never ending supply of pineapple, mango, and papaya cut up and ready to go. He got a good bit of that fruit from the local farmer’s market.

Hawaiian Radio – Both families, without discussing the matter, defaulted to radio stations featuring Hawaiian music. In particular, I liked Native FM, and have apparently become a fan of the Mauna Kea protest song genre. (See, e.g., Sudden Rush “We are (Mauna Kea)” and “Rise Up” by Ryan Hiraoka featuring Keala Kawaauhau). There was also a pretty great Hawaiian-style remake of David Lindley’s “She Took Off My Romeos” by Ho’aikane.

Local microbrews – While we were on the Kona side of the island, the Kona Brewing Company supplied our beer. (Of note to my fellow Hoosiers – I was able to buy cold beer at a gas station on Sunday. Paradise!) I became partial to the Fire Rock Pale Ale. While the beer was good, I have to say that our dinner at the Kona Brewing Co. was probably the most disappointing meal on the island. The server was impatient, and the menu had a TGI Chotchkies feel to it.

Dad and Cole at the Farmer's Market

Dad and Cole at the Farmer’s Market

One of the few itinerary items I imposed on the group was to go see the Captain Cook monument on the north shore of Kealakekua Bay where Cook first encountered the Hawaiians and was later killed by them. The original plan was to hike there. The monument is not accessible by road, and the hike involves getting to the bottom of (then climbing back up) a 1,500 foot cliff that descends to the bay. Given that our group included some younger kids, we abandoned that plan and, instead, signed up for a kayak/snorkeling tour. This was a great decision. We ended up arranging kayaking through the Aloha Kayak Co. on short notice, mainly because they were set up for on-line booking. The owner and central office are a little disorganized and sketchy, but the guide and experience were outstanding. When we showed up, the guy who was there seemed a little unsure of himself. The owner showed up a little later. He wasn’t unsure of himself but was one of these hyperactive, keyed up, over confident, ADHD and/or meth-addled types. Prior to the tour, he gave us a history lesson about Cook and Hawaii that was, in a few instances, historically accurate. But, mainly the lesson took every opportunity to use scraps of history and pseudo-history in ways that minimized or demonized Cook. (For example, the kayak company owner had the Spanish regularly visiting Hawaii for centuries prior to Cook’s arrival as part of the Spanish route between the Philippines and Central America – there is, at best, speculation that the Spanish may have stumbled across the islands at some point.)

Once we got underway, however, and met our tour guide, John, the expedition was outstanding. Kealekekua Bay is simply one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We probably saw a dozen spinner dolphins up close and personal as we kayaked the mile or so across the bay. We stopped and looked briefly at the Cook memorial, but the monument itself is pretty obviously a disfavored place among the locals — at least those we encountered. The kids and I had fun joking about how we were also going to Great Britain, since the chained off parts of the memorial were apparently deeded to Great Britain in 1877. The main feature became the snorkeling. It was my first time snorkeling, and it was incredible. My daughter, Harper, was the first one in, popped her head in the water for about five seconds, then popped up, proclaiming, “This is awesome!” The rest of us hurried to get in there with her. And it was, in fact, awesome. The amount and variety of the sea life under there was pretty incredible. Before that, I had heard friends rave about snorkeling but didn’t really understand the point of the gear. Just stick your face in the water. Now I get it. The ability to see and float – aided by being flat on your face – is magnified to a great extent with the gear, and in places like that Bay, there is a tremendous amount to see.

Approving Jason approves of Tacos 2 Day

Approving Jason approves of Tacos 2 Day

Getting out of the landing spot near the monument and into the Bay was tricky due to the weather conditions. The tide made it necessary to time the waves a little bit in order to clear the rocks safely. It seemed a little dicey to us, but chatting with our guide, John, it sounds like the weather conditions had changed enough to where we were glad to be ignorant about the difficulties John had to consider when getting us out of there. We left our phones behind on the advice of the tour company to avoid damaging them in the water. So, I don’t really have any pictures of that expedition. However, pictured to the left is Tacos 2 Day which was absolutely the best thing for our crew, ravenous after a day on the water.

Tacos 2 Day is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and is basically a grill under a roof with some card tables for those who want to dine there. I’m told it is operated as a fundraiser for a local church. In any event, Jason and I went and fetched piles of tacos (chicken, asada, and chorizo) which the family annihilated in short order. They were good, and the family was hungry. Thumbs up! Another good, no frills dining option we enjoyed was Ultimate Burger.  Some members of our group wanted very good burgers or decent burgers. No dice. Ultimate Burger is *not* messing around. Those grass fed, ultimate burgers were pricey but delicious.

Jason and I did make one expedition without the family and kids. We drove down to South Point (Ka Lae) and then hiked over to Papakolea Beach which is one of four beaches on the planet with green sand.

At the Southern Edge of the U.S.

At the Southern Edge of the U.S.

The drive from Kailua-Kona to South Point is interesting. You drive from the relatively affluent city through a couple of less prosperous towns that amount to suburbs, then into the country, then to what feels like the edge of the earth. Turning off Highway 11 just after making a turn at its southwestern corner, and driving down the one-lane South Point Road starts to feel like one of those dreams where you are running in place. Something about the perspective of the wide open territory descending to the coast makes it look like you are constantly almost there. But, finally, you get to the end of the road and it feels very isolated. Set up at the cliffs above the ocean just off the edge of the road are some four wheel drive vehicles, trucks and whatnot, anchoring tarp-shelters used by locals fishing off the edge. We were there early on a Saturday morning – whether this was a weekend thing or a day-to-day occupation, I couldn’t say. We snapped our pictures and tried not to disturb them.

On the road to Papakolea

On the road to Papakolea

Back up the road just a little bit, there is a fork that takes you east about a quarter mile to the parking lot and trail head for Papakolea Beach. Because we got there so early, the parking lot did not have any activity. There were more trucks parked next to tarp-awnings at one side of the lot and then a big open space for more parking, but because there were no cars, it wasn’t entirely clear if there were “rules” about where you should park. I just picked a likely spot and parked the car. When we got back, the lot had started to fill in and the trucks turned out to be those of impromptu vendors who set up to sell drinks and four wheel rides to tourists such as myself. The “trail” wasn’t so much a trail as a sprawling network of ruts formed as vehicles cut into the extremely soft ground then had to work out new routes to the beach as the old ones became impossible to navigate.

Papakolea Beach

Papakolea Beach

The hike to the beach was a relatively easy 2.5 – 3 miles through and on these ruts. However, as it turned out, we were lucky because the wind was relatively light. When we returned, the wind (on the south edge of the island, keep in mind) was it’s normal strength out of the east, which would have made the hike somewhat more challenging. At the end, the beach is set in a sort of crescent cut out of the surrounding cliff face. It involved a bit of a scramble down the west wall of the beach, but only because we had not seen that, on the north east side of the beach, a ladder has been hooked into the cliff face running down to an easier descent. On the way down, there was a particular 4 foot drop that seemed like it was going to be tricky to get back up. I’m afraid that the color does not show up very well in the picture to the left, but the sand really is green. It’s sort of an olive color and comes from the olivine in the soil. There are apparently three other green sand beaches – one in Guam, one in the Galapagos, and one in Norway. When we got there, there were two other pairs of travelers. One was a fast-moving younger couple who overtook us at the cliffs, were not much for chit-chat, and practically flew down to the beach. I was, for some reason, gratified when they were thwarted by the cliffs going back the way we came and only discovered the ladder route after we had navigated it. The other was a friendly older couple who navigated the cliffs more slowly but seemed to be having a blast when they got there.  After about 20 minutes on the beach, we started our return trip, and there was quite a bit of traffic heading the other way. We fielded a lot of questions about “how much longer” and “is it worth the hike?” (Answers: “not too much further” and “yes it’s worth it.”) There was another group where what looked to be a son asked if what looked to be his father would be able to get to the beach. We gave equivocal answers on that because the cliff takes a bit of doing  and, frankly, the real answer was that you never know what an individual can do and, from outward appearances,  the son would have more trouble than the father. But it would have been impolitic to volunteer that observation, so we didn’t.


Follow the black a’a trail.

Our guys-only morning trip to the south side aside, most of the trip was family time. One of the excursions we made with the whole crew was a trip to Keawaiki Beach with its black sand and a lonely palm tree that (if you’re looking for it) you can spot from Highway 19, a few miles north of the Kona Airport. The hike did not begin auspiciously. There is a spot to pull off the highway with a rutted edge that you have to hit at the correct angle to avoid bottoming out your car. Our friends’ three year old got out of the van and managed to fall and cut himself on a shattered beer bottle within the first 90 seconds. Being cut on a beer bottle is remarkable mostly because there is a vastly better opportunity to cut yourself on the a’a rock that covered most of the hike. (A’a is a type of rock formed from lava flow that turns into porous and extremely jagged individual chunks of rock.) The trail starts as a lava road and then takes a turn into a path over the a’a once at the point where some private property owners threw up a barbed wire fence. (This is probably property belonging to the family of former legislator and champion golfer, Francis Brown.) I was somewhat surprised to find that my kids had never, apparently, encountered barbed wire in person before. (Seems like my childhood featured a good bit of barbed wire while I was running around farms or woods). They had it mixed up with electric fences. I am pleased to say that the kids held up very well in the heat of midday as we trudged over the shadeless lava rock. (All things told, this hike was probably about 4 miles round trip.) When we got to the beach, we threw our gear under the Lone Palm Tree and the kids got a bunch of black sand in their swim suits as they played in the surf – periodically scaring us to death as we probably worried overly much about the undertow and rocks on this wild coast.

The Great Trek

The Great Trek

From there, we hiked north along the crest of the black sand dune and eventually cut back east on a trail to the Golden Ponds of Ke-awa-iki. I’m afraid I neglected to take my own picture of the Golden Ponds, so you can see another person’s pictures here and here. The ponds are fresh water and are a little amazing inasmuch as they are an oasis of life in the middle of the lifeless a’a. The gold color comes from gold color algae that grows on the rocks underwater. After refreshing ourselves there for a little while, we finished the loop heading back to the cars. I regret that we didn’t get a chance to hike a section of the King’s Trail that crossed our path. It is an amazing looking trail cut through the rock heading north and south for what looked to be  miles. The original trail was built between 1836 and 1855 and went around most of the island.

Hang loose boogie boarders

Hang loose boogie boarders

Several of our days were spent just hanging out at the beach. My favorite was Hapuna Beach where the boogie boarding for an amateur such as myself was fantastic. Surfing is beyond me, but from this coastline boogie boarding, I got a sense of the fun involved with waiting for just the right wave, then timing it so you get a great ride. A couple of times, I misjudged it and went into the washing machine under the water. One of those involved getting thrown to the sand at an angle which – had it been an inch or two shallower – would have put my neck in a challenging position.

During the beach visits, our families burned through the sunscreen at a furious rate because it was pretty obvious what the tropical sun was going to do to the skin of pale northerners such as ourselves if we were not diligent. There were a couple of burn spots here and there, but by and large, we did a pretty good job of avoiding that misery. In addition to Hapuna, we went to a beach at Manini’owali in Kua Bay. This was a sandy, friendly beach we found on our first full day after an abortive attempt at a rocky death trap which is apparently not far from a good beach we simply could not reach without a four wheel drive vehicle with good clearance. Another day was spent at Kahaluu Beach Park in Kailua-Kona. The snorkeling wasn’t as good as Kealakakua Bay but there was an awful lot to see, and it was right in town with snorkel gear to rent from a truck on-site. I forget the name of the rental organization, but it seemed to be an educational outfit of some sort using the rentals to raise money for their efforts – so the people were friendly and the prices were reasonable.

Another fun outing we had was to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park just down the road from Kaleakakua Bay. The Hawaiian kapu system could be pretty harsh. You could be put to death for eating the wrong thing. But the system had a safety valve, the puuhonua. If you could reach one of these sanctuaries, your sins would be forgiven. The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau was attached to royal grounds on a cove offering yet another spectacular view of the sunset. As it turns out, the Big Island is full of these spectacular views.

Amy in her luau gear

Amy in her luau gear

Before leaving Kona, we attended a luau. It is clearly tourist-bait – ours was at the Sheraton –  but fun and well done nonetheless. It was the Haleo Luau put on by Island Breeze Productions. The M.C., going by the name of Auntie Tutu was fantastic. The warmth and charisma she was able to project was remarkable. More so when you consider that she has to do it repeatedly for audience after audience. But maybe that’s just the mai tais talking. They handed those out before dinner while you had the opportunity to play some island games, get some stamp “tattoos” from the performers, and get some rudimentary instruction in hula. The food was good, featuring some  traditional foods like poi, lomi lomi, and ahi poke. The poke was good, but I’m afraid I over did it and the texture of the stuff got to me after awhile. After the dinner, the show started – featuring dancers and music along with narration by Auntie Tutu about Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history. The highlight of the show was a fire dance featuring a big Hawaiian guy named Tomassi. (My buddy says, “not with all the steroids in Tippecanoe County could I look like that.”) By the end of the routine, he’s twirling a pair of batons with flaming ends. I think Purdue should ditch the Golden Girls and try to recruit him.

Masson Family is ready for the luau.


Hilo says hello

Hilo says hello

After a week in Kailua Kona, we moved east across the island to Hilo. Despite greeting us with rainbows, I’m afraid to say that Hilo didn’t really compare as a tourist’s paradise. Hilo has rain and more of a working class vibe than a tourist destination. Also contributing was that the selection of rental places suitable for a party of 10 is limited. The place we got seemed to offer what we wanted, but not mentioned in the rental information was the fact that the downstairs with a lot of beds where we anticipated putting all the kids did not have inside access to the two bedroom upstairs where we anticipated putting the adults. Instead, it was more of a separate apartment. Some of the kids were pretty young and so the idea of going outside at night, navigating the stairs and coming back inside if they needed mom or dad was pretty intimidating. As it happened, both adult couples featured one “troubled” sleeper and one person who traditionally fell asleep fast and under any circumstance. So, the good sleepers among the adults took turns shacking up with the room full of kids. It worked out, but that contributed to a feeling that Hilo was less comfortable than Kona.

Gramma's Kitchen in Honokaa.

Gramma’s Kitchen in Honokaa.

However, on the way to Kona, I had some great meals. I have, perhaps, had individual meals that were better than lunch and dinner that day, but I’ve never had back-to-back meals that compared. Lunch was in the little town of Honoka’a on the northern coast of the Big Island. The down town features historical information about the plantations that formed the backbone of its economy, its status as a destination for soldiers and sailors stationed on the island, and the devastating tsunami of 1946. I had not known that one of the waves of immigrant workers recruited to work the sugar fields had come from Portugal. Gramma’s Kitchen was opened on the site of the Paradise Restaurant on the “Long Soup Corner” by people with Portuguese roots. We did not particularly take advantage of any Portuguese offerings, but I had the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had. Corned beef hash is one of those meals that can run the spectrum in terms of quality. When this one came out, it looked like it might be over done and dry. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. I don’t know what they did, but every bite was outstanding. This was topped off with generous amounts of egg, hash browns, toast, and Kona coffee. Amy and Jason had enormous, cake-like servings of french toast. Everybody was terribly happy with this meal.

In between meals, we went zip lining at Umaumau Falls.  The people here did a good job with the zip lining. Even those members of our crew with a fear of heights got through it with a minimum of anxiety. The views are terrific, and the staff was very friendly. My only critique is that they hit you up for a tip at the end. I don’t mind compensating people for good service, and our guides certainly did good work. But this was already kind of pricey. When you go to a restaurant, you know it’s expected and it’s fine. Not having been zip-lining before, I was caught off guard. Having already paid $200 per head, I figured the financial end of things was concluded and that if they needed more to pay their staff, they wouldn’t be shy about baking that into the price. But, overall that’s a small concern. By the end, I was hanging upside down with my arms, having a blast.

The last meal of the day was suggested by a web development client of Amy’s who lives on the Big Island and met up with us. It was in Hilo at the Hawaiian Style Cafe. Having just read about the Long Soup Corner’s tradition of serving saimin – a dish I hadn’t heard of – I went with the saimin on the menu.

Inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, saimin was improved during Hawaii’s plantation era. It is a soup dish of soft wheat egg noodles served in hot dashi garnished with green onions. Kamaboko, char siu, sliced Spam, linguiça, and nori may be added, among other additions.

I have very little idea what variation the Hawaiian Style Cafe served up. All I know is that it was delicious. At that meal, I was also introduced to the Mahana Brewing Company with its Volcano Red Ale. Having switched sides of the island, I also switched from Kona to Mahana for my beers.

The first full day in Kona was basically a rest day. In the morning, we went down to the small beach across the street and played in the water. The beach was small and there were a lot of rocks, so we weren’t terribly active. But, by this time, the kids were exhausted and, while they were having fun, the emotional outbursts were coming a little more often; so we thought a little rest was in order.

Don`t do what Donny Don`t does.

Don`t do what Donny Don`t does.

The second full day in Kona we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which was a primary reason (along with the zip lining) for making the transition from Kona to Hilo. Back when they were little, they developed mixed feelings about Hawaii – volcanoes = bad; beaches = good. At the time, they asked if they could go to “beach Hawaii” and not go to “volcano Hawaii.” I’m happy to say that their attitude had changed and they both wanted to go to volcano Hawaii. Once again, the place is remarkable. Just the idea of seeing land that is younger than I am is a little disorienting. The park abounds with messages about just how dangerous the area is. In fact, we’re all probably idiots for even going to the park. The graphics featuring the horrific consequences of ignoring the park warnings on the sign to the left was my favorite.

Sam and Frodo just before dropping off the ring.

Sam and Frodo just before dropping off the ring.

I used to have this vague, likely cartoon-inspired idea that the caldera of a volcano was the hole that was formed when the volcano blew its lava out. But, what really happens is that the volcano erupts somewhere along its flanks and the caldera is more like a sink hole that drops down to fill the space evacuated by the contents of the eruption. We did not get to see any flowing lava on our trip (missed it by a week or so), but the summit caldera at Kiluea is still pretty impressive.


End of the road, end of the trip.

End of the road, end of the trip.

The last thing we saw at Hawaii Volcanoes NP was the sea arch. It is just kind of a cool formation where the ocean has worn away an arch into a lava outcropping. One day that arch is going to collapse, and I expect it will be spectacular to see. A sign in that area explained how the geological hot spot that formed the Hawaiian islands was off the coast about 25 miles, forming land that`s still about 3,000 feet below sea level. The graphic did a good job of showing how the Hawaiian archipelago was formed as the Pacific plate slid over the hot spot.

Cole finally finds a hat.

Cole finally finds a hat.

And then, it was time to go home.  The Hilo airport is slightly more sophisticated looking than the Kona airport, but the check in process was a little scattered. With a mix of Hawaiian Air, U.S. Air, and American Air flights ahead of us, it seemed pretty doubtful that our bags would make it to Chicago at the same time we did. There were a number of relatively minor missteps that started to wear on us as the journey went on. Google Maps took us to an industrial park behind the airport instead of to the rental return which, as it turned out, was just across the street from the terminal. Hawaiian Air inexplicably had us booked on a flight two hours later than the flight we had reserved. After consulting with the person on the counter and deciding that our nine year old did not, in fact, want to sit next to a stranger on the plane, we split the difference and took the one an hour later. Fortunately, our layover in Honolulu was originally three hours, so an hour didn’t make much of a difference. However, because we were switching airlines, we had to check in again to get seats, and had trouble finding a place to check in until a person finally showed up at the terminal gate desk. The Honolulu airport was an eye opener for a non-international traveler such as myself. You just get a sense that it’s a hub for getting to anywhere around the Pacific, and the world seems much smaller and more accessible when you’re there. Also, Cole finally found a Hawaii hat. Also, I found out that sushi out of an airport refrigerator can be surprisingly tasty.

Settling in for a long flight.

Settling in for a long flight.

Once out of Honolulu, the airtime got long and the check came due for those time zones we had picked up on the way out. We left Honolulu at 2 p.m. local and got to Phoenix at about 11 p.m. local. We left Phoenix at about midnight and got to Chicago at about 5:30 a.m. After waiting around uselessly at the baggage carousel and filing our lost luggage claim, we caught the shuttle to our car. The four wheel ruts on the way to Papakolea Beach apparently having nothing on the road between O`Hare and the Marriott. That was an insanely rough ride and made Harper car sick. We`re no strangers to her car sickness, but the lack of sleep was making everyone a lot chippier. Difficulties finding the parking documents and getting the gate to work to let us out of the parking lot did not help anything. But, finally, we made it out of Chicago and got back to Indiana at 10:30 local. From door-to-door, it took about 20 hours of travel time and 26 hours of clock time. I ended up sleeping for 11 hours, the airline delivered the bags to our house last night, and hopefully I`ll be rested and ready to return to work in the morning.

The Continuing Legacy of Richard Mourdock

Advance Indiana has a post about a lawsuit filed by Richard Mourdock’s former chief deputy, apparently based on a sketchy employment contract into which Mourdock attempted to lock his successor. The lawsuit is the subject of an AP story in the South Bend Tribune.

The former deputy, Jim Holden, is suing current state Treasurer Kelly Mitchell in Marion County Superior Court, alleging that Mitchell fired him upon taking office.

Holden says that in the final months of Mourdock’s term, Mourdock gave Holden a three-year, $300,000 contract as counsel for the Indiana Board for Depositories, which the treasurer’s office oversees.

That contract was to take effect on Mourdock’s last day in office and cover most of the next treasurer’s term, with an automatic extension if Holden was called up to active duty with the National Guard, WIBC-FM reported.

According to Advance Indiana, Holden is advancing claims based on breach of contract and, also, under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA is a law designed to protect individuals from adverse employment actions based on their military status and to secure re-employment for individuals who have left their employment to serve in the active military for up to five years. The goals of USERRA are laudable but can be onerous for employers depending on the situation.

Sesquicentennial of Surrender

As many of you know, upon the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, numerous citizens in the Southern States decided to commit treason in defense of slavery rather than abide by the democratic process. The citizens purported to have the Southern States secede – but large numbers of individuals in the Southern States (notably black people) were not consulted about whether those Southern states should remain part of the United States.

In any event, despite their boastful assertions about the relative martial prowess as between northerners and southerners, the Southern rebels were to learn that war wasn’t a game but is, rather, a contest of raw power, and they had less of it. Lincoln kept the country together, Sherman made the traitors howl, and Grant ground them down. Lots of Americans died in the process. But, in the end, Hamilton won.

On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

Dressed in an immaculate uniform, Lee waited for Grant to arrive. Grant, whose headache had ended when he received Lee’s note, arrived at the courthouse in a mud-spattered uniform—a government-issue sack coat with trousers tucked into muddy boots, no sidearms, and with only his tarnished shoulder straps showing his rank.

Grant’s terms were generous. Lee’s men would not be prosecuted for treason. The southern soldiers kept their horses and the officers kept their sidearms.

I write harshly about the Southerners on this blog – to some degree because they were horribly wrong. But, a great deal of history features all nature of atrocity and, yet, I’m able to write about it without venom. What gets me going on this subject is the present day revisionism where apologists try to say that what the Southerners were doing wasn’t treason and/or that their actions were not about slavery. The latter is especially galling in light of the fact that the articles of secession written at the time were very explicit about slavery being the driving impulse. The U.S. still suffers from pathologies created by the South’s “peculiar institution.” And slapping a bandage over a festering wound is not going to do any long term good.

Today, people who love the U.S. and who recognize slavery as abominable — from both North and South — should be thankful that the North won and the South lost.

R.I.P. Jason Perkins

I got the news that Jason Perkins, a friend of mine, died unexpectedly. We had not been all that close recently, but I spent a good bit of the summer of 1988 tooling around Wayne County in his black Ford EXP. He was warm-hearted, rye, and funny. And a little bit unpredictable. I was an inveterate rule follower and probably needed a little unpredictability about then. Man, that was a good summer.

I think I met him when he was an assistant of some sort for the teacher of a science class I was in. I don’t think he’d been around town for very long at that point. We were both sarcastic and liked to laugh, and I think that formed the basis of our friendship. He was a grade ahead of me, went off to the Army, and we didn’t really re-connect. I think his life got a little chaotic after that. He landed in Lafayette for a period of time and then left shortly before I arrived. Most recently he was doing some kind of IT work up in Chicago but had been spending more time down here, I believe. We met up for an hour or two maybe a year ago and had been keeping in touch at a fairly low level over social media.

A few memories, in no particular order:

  • Having worked at McDonalds for a period of time, he liked to blast the music in his car when we went through a drive through.
  • He introduced me to “the Destroyer” series of books.
  • He had a neighbor who apparently liked to do carpentry in the middle of the night.
  • He dubbed my Volkswagen Dasher “the Wounded Moth” in honor of the sick, dying sound the horn made.
  • I’m not sure I’ve ever been so mad as when he pulled the emergency brake on the Dasher as we were driving down US 40 between Centerville and Richmond. The tires locked up, and he apologized, saying he thought it would just slow the car down.
  • I probably met and talked to more girls hanging out with him for 6 months than I had in 3 years prior. He had a gift for gab.
  • He had apparently written some modem software on the Commodore 64 at age 15 or 16.
  • We both had an affinity for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” He liked the Pet Shop Boys — I didn’t.

    While we didn’t ultimately have a lot to do with each other as adults, he was a big part of a brief, but significant, part of my teen years. He was only a year older to me. So, this is yet another reminder to not take my future for granted.

    He leaves behind, along with other family, three sons and a daughter. I wish them well.

  • Wealth and Work

    Dan Carlin’s Common Sense podcast from January 31, 2015, used the most recent State of the Union and subsequent political maneuvering as a launching point to discussing the nature of work and similar themes. Carlin notes that he hates the term “income inequality” because it frames the issue of wealth disparity in ways that are potentially unhelpful, but struggles for a better term.

    His stuff is always worth a listen. This particular podcast reminded me of some prior posts I had done, particularly this one entitled “Technology and the Future of Work.” One question we have to ask ourselves is whether what we designate as the free market, if unregulated, will function in a sustainable way. And, if not, what sorts of regulations are necessary to create that sustainability. Obviously, I think regulation of some sort is necessary. After all, the very concept of property (as distinguished from “stuff you happen to possess at the moment” and the manner of its enforcement is itself regulation of sorts. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

    We also have to come to grips with our goals for an economy. Maximum productivity sounds like a good goal until you think of the distribution. Lets say the unregulated free market produces $100 worth of value but $98 goes to one guy and the remaining $2 is divided up so that the remaining 99 people get about $0.02 apiece. Then lets say that regulations put a serious drag on productivity, cutting it in half so that the regulated economy produces only $50 in value. But, let say that the distribution is much closer to equal – maybe the one guy gets $10 while the other 99 get more like $0.40 apiece. Which economic system is better?

    One of the things Carlin mentioned was a billionaire commenting that the masses simply needed to reduce their expectations. Maybe the economy has changed such that the average job simply isn’t going to make you able to afford a suburban home and an iphone. This plays somewhat on an idea I’ve had for awhile – that it would be useful for the State to provide a model budget for its citizens based on various income levels. My initial impulse for this was that a lot of citizens are bad with money, and there are often complaints that poor people have enough to live on, but they’re making poor spending choices (e.g. cable, cell phones, tattoos, cigarettes). Perhaps a model budget would help — one for poverty level, one for median income, and maybe model budgets for other income levels. On the other hand, it would be a little uncomfortable if that model budget for median income revealed that the middle class simply could not afford the things we normally associated with “middle class.”

    A certain amount of income inequality is very sustainable and, in fact, desirable. If there is that pot of gold available if you just work a little harder, that is quite an incentive. But, at a certain point, the folks on the bottom just aren’t going to give a damn about the productivity of the system and the underlying government structure that supports it. Carlin mentioned the people in Greece and their recent lurch to the left in the wake of austerity measures. How much of a reduction are the people at the top of the heap willing to take in exchange for a sustainable system? Maybe the guy getting $98 in the unregulated market is willing to go to $10 if his alternative is the peasants snapping, wrecking the system, and just murdering him for his stuff (think French & Russian Revolutions).

    If we don’t rely solely on the free market to make the determination, how do we decide who gets what and under what circumstances? Well, that’s politics.

    R.I.P. Terry Record

    Joshua Claybourn has posted on Facebook that Terry Record has passed away at the age of 34. I thought it appropriate to mention that here since I had a number of posts about Record back in 2007 – 2009. Record was a deputy prosecutor under Carl Brizzi in Marion County when he was involved in a drunk driving accident that killed Jimmy Cash. He eventually plead guilty to a Class C felony and spent a year in jail.

    Writes Josh of Record’s post-accident efforts:

    I will remember his courageous path toward redemption and a renewed faith, particularly through the Catholic tradition. He worked hard to cross the bridge of forgiveness toward a new hope.

    I’m hoping for peace for Mr. Record’s friends and family and, of course, hope that Mr. Cash’s friends and family have found peace as well. Sounds like a difficult stretch for these everyone involved with these individuals.

    Calamity and Wealth – My Thoughts on Robert Putnam’s America

    Emily Badger, writing for the Washington Post, has an article entitled “The terrible loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America.” Putnam’s ideas – as presented – aren’t terribly shocking: children of upper class parents have a lot of advantages that children of lower class parents do not, and these trends are becoming more pronounced and locked in over the years. From the article, it sounds as if he starts the trend line from the 1950s and focuses primarily on the condition of white Americans in that era.

    Half an hour into his Swarthmore lecture, Putnam winds into the voice of what an associate calls an “Old Testament prophet with charts.” He starts throwing graphs on the screen behind him that reflect national trends mirrored in Port Clinton: rising income inequality, growing class segregation, the breakdown of the working-class family.

    They all look ominously similar. Each graph shows two lines diverging over the last several decades in the experiences of American kids at the top and bottom: in the share born to single mothers, in the chances that they’ll eat family dinners, in the time parents spend reading to them, in the money families invest in their clubs and lessons.

    . . .

    The poor children in “Our Kids” are missing so much more than material wealth. They have few mentors. They’re half as likely as wealthy kids to trust their neighbors. The schools they attend offer fewer sports, and they’re less likely to participate in after-school activities. Even their parents have smaller social networks. Their lives reflect the misfortune of the working-class adults around them, who have lost job prospects and financial stability.

    More than 60 percent of children whose mothers never made it past high school will now spend at least some of their life by age 7 in a single-parent household. In the 1970s, there was virtually no difference in how much time educated and less-educated parents spent on activities like reading to infants and toddlers, which we now know matter tremendously for their brain development. Today, well-off children get 45 minutes more than poor kids every day of what Putnam calls “? ‘Goodnight Moon’ time.”

    This sort of work is complemented by the work of Thomas Piketty, the French economist who has shown that, in developed countries, the rate of capital return exceeds the rate of economic growth and, consequently, we see a concentration of wealth among those who own the capital.

    In simplistic terms, you don’t acquire wealth through merit so much as you acquire wealth by being in close proximity to it. Putnam wants to change the dynamic through a “won’t anyone please think of the children” appeal to strengthen our social fabric. Which isn’t awful. It’s certainly easier to sympathize with kids who are more or less innocent than with adults who have made a series of poor life choices — even if their circumstances, economic and familial, put a thumb on the scale, tipping the balance in favor of those bad choices. Americans can also always be counted upon to be nostalgic for the ideal of the 1950s when everyone (by which I mean white men) was a member of the Rotary or Masons or Moose or other civic minded organization, and kids grew up in a community with a strong sense of itself. (Putnam’s point of origin – at least rhetorically – seems to be Port Clinton, Ohio circa 1959 which is the place and time of his high school graduation.)

    But, historically, what was the actual condition of the working class in, say, the 1890s or the 1910s? Were the kids of laborers in the Gilded Age looking at brighter prospects than the kids of today? I think not. If my assumption is correct, it’s worth looking at what got us from the Gilded Age to the 1950s — which was a better time for working families, even if it wasn’t quite the Leave It to Beaver ideal. Maybe I’m just in a cynical frame of mind, but my sense is that if we find one period of time with particularly concentrated wealth followed by another time of economic prosperity that reaches the middle class, in between we will find a period of calamity.

    The prosperity of 1950s middle-class America was built in no small part by the draining of wealth from the upper classes, both domestically and abroad, during the World Wars. Notice how we don’t see so much in the way of landed gentry in England as we once did? Government had no choice but to extract wealth where it could be found in order to fight off the existential threat of war. High taxes on the wealthy and relatively generous benefits for the returning soldiers meant the wealth did not return all at once to the places from whence it came. So, that’s my hypothesis. I’d be interested to see examples of societies that transitioned from concentrated wealth in the upper classes to a more egalitarian sort of prosperity without some intervening awfulness. (An aside – but I also have a notion that societies with concentrated wealth trend toward more extraction of wealth from others (e.g. empire, slave owners) while societies with a more equal spread trend toward more of an organic growth of wealth model (e.g. businesses rising to meet demand — of which there is more if more people have money in their pocket.)

    The beneficiaries of concentrated wealth are few in number but the rest of the population are often pitted against one another, fighting over the remainder. (Bringing to mind the Jay Gould quote I’ve probably worn out by now, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”)

    From the Putnam article where he suggests solutions such as more investment in early childhood education, criminal justice reform so more low-income men can find work, religious groups taking up mentoring, and public schools ending “pay to play” fees for after school sports:

    Many of these things will require money, though, and that is where the fight brews. In Port Clinton, his team interviewed one mother from the wealthy community that has grown up on the town’s lakefront, as neighborhoods just inland have collapsed into poverty. She is wary of the idea of special education funding for poor kids in town.

    “If my kids are going to be successful,” she says, “I don’t think they should have to pay other people who are sitting around doing nothing for their success.”

    So, are there viable, less than unpleasant solutions? From my perspective – that of a middle class white male coming from middle class, very educated parents – I don’t know. From my perspective, I earned a lot of what I have. My kids will prosper based on the work and sound choices I’ve made. In the short term, what’s the upside to me and my family for making sacrifices. Now, I can abstract myself from my own personal situation and, at a macro level, see some reasons. But personally, not really.

    I studied hard as a kid. I saw a lot of kids goofing off. I even got mocked by fellow students for using big words. I’m not, therefore, naturally inclined toward sympathy for those who didn’t value education. I waited to have kids and picked a compatible spouse to marry after I was done being a kid. I’m not, therefore, naturally inclined toward sympathy for those who have the opportunity to delay being a parent or pick a compatible spouse, fail to take advantage of that opportunity, and suffer economic consequences. I work hard – I’m often the first in and last out of work, I stress over my business even when I’m not at work. I don’t smoke. I exercise. I don’t (often. anymore.) drink to excess. In short, there is some justification for the internal narrative where I worked hard and played by the rules, and I can attribute my relative prosperity to that. Not knowing nearly as much about others, I can attribute their lack of prosperity to them not working hard and playing by the rules. (The narrative about the more prosperous is a little telling — could they have worked that much harder and played by the rules that much more? Of course not. They don’t deserve *their* wealth, go ahead and take it from them if you must. Just leave me alone.)

    Fortunately, I’m introspective enough to realize that narration from my perspective is limited at best, but often enough, just plain unreliable. I had opportunities not given to others. My parents valued education, so of course I did. I goofed off quite a bit. More than a little luck is involved in choosing a good spouse (particularly for those who came from unstable families). A lot of the reason I work so hard and stress about my business is because I *have* a business, and if I generate profit, I get to keep it. But relying on that level of introspection and at least a bit of short-term selflessness to create egalitarian social change seems a little too hopeful by half.

    So, I think we’re going to continue seeing this concentration of wealth play out until it either causes or is the victim of the sort of calamity that leads to a shuffling of the cards. And, if you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe you can escape the calamity relatively unscathed and enjoy the benefits of a prosperous middle class and an economically secure lower class.

    With Malice Toward None: Sesquicentennial of the Second Inaugural

    Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

    At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

    On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war–seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

    One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

    Wow. As powerful now, I think, as it must have been then.

    A Corporation is a shield except when it’s not

    Initial disclaimer: two different courts, a different legal scenario, and I think the Indiana Court of Appeals probably got it right here. In Meridian North Investments v. Sondhi, decided today, Meridian North was the landlord and Sondhi-Biggs Orthodonics was the tenant. Dr. Sondhi, owner of Sondhi-Biggs, signed the lease on behalf of Sondhi-Biggs. Later, he slipped on some ice and fell, allegedly because Meridian North was negligent in maintaining the premises. The lease contained exculpatory clauses where the tenant said it wouldn’t hold the landlord liable for negligently maintaining the premises. The Court of Appeals said that those clauses didn’t bind Dr. Sondhi because Sondhi-Biggs, and not Dr. Sondhi, was the signatory on the lease. As an agent, he waived liability asserted by Sondhi-Biggs but not himself.

    And, yet, under Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Sondhi-Biggs could assert rights and exemptions from general regulations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (and perhaps Indiana’s pending state version) based on Dr. Sondhi’s religious beliefs.

    I suppose I’m just taking another opportunity to vent about the inconsistency in how and when we recognize the corporate form. It’s a government created legal fiction designed to limit personal responsibility. It has it’s uses, but that form should be recognized or not consistently.