Unconventional Wisdom

The following appeared on the Genealogy Blog, owned by Leland Meitzler

(http://www.genealogyblog.com/) .   I do genealogy from time to time and got to know Leland as a friend.   I also have met the wonderful author Wendell Berry and read just about anything he writes.  Recently I saw a poem of Wendell’s that fit a genealogy page really well, so I wrote about it for the Genealogy Blog but have permission to use it here.

One of the dot com book companies sent me a small book of poems by my favorite author, Wendell Berry.* In one short poem Wendell described a Thomas Fiske method of doing genealogy that I thought was particularly useful. He wrote about his gratitude for his children and grandchildren and then said:

At our dinners together, the dead
Enter and pass among us
In living love and in memory.


And so the young are taught.


I showed the poem to my wife Evie, and tears came to her eyes as she thought of her pretty daughter Julie, who was killed by a drunk driver on the eve of her wedding some twenty years ago. We have often talked about Julie with the grandchildren around the dinner table.

In the author’s artful description, not only is ancestry passed on but also it is used to teach the young. I cannot write how many times my family meals were conducted this way, in which “the dead enter(ed) and pass(ed) among us” as someone told a story about a person from the past.

It is a good thing the dead don’t eat much, because many of these meals were conducted during the Great Depression or during WWII when food was scarce. But no matter how hungry I was, I always remembered the stories my parents or grandparents told. Now that my children are getting older they remind me that I told them stories as well.

I am forced to wonder how much damage I did by telling the “racier” stories about my two older brothers and me rather than the stories in which we helped someone or showed some kindness.

But that is water under the bridge. Having a long memory, I became the family genealogist and put my parents’ stories to good use. I hope my grandchildren will save those tales for their kids. All things considered, I managed to make the stories into learning experiences in which I passed on part of the American culture. Maybe the dead paused long enough to approve.

Of course they heard stories “in living love” because they were family and when I tell stories, family members always wear white hats – maybe hats with footprints on them or with holes through the crowns because we had our share of screwballs. But always they had white hats because they were the good guys.

I kind of forgot the other kind of stories.

*Berry, Wendell, Leavings. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2011, p.41

Turning in My Quill Pen and Ink

It takes a lot of perseverance to write a book.   I should know because I have finished ten of the things.  It would have been easy, so easy to lay a half-written book aside and promise myself I would get back to it some day.  And then wait for that day to come.  It never comes, you know.  I had to be motivated.

Most of the books I wrote were non-fiction.  They contained stories that I knew had to be told.  Just had to be told before I kicked the bucket.  No one else could have told those stories.  I may have made some of those stories into fiction for various reasons (there are always reasons for not publishing a story including “it might offend someone”).

Making them into fiction is just a slight extra demand on the author.  Some of us are mere reporters and do not know how to do anything but list events and the people who caused them.  There is very little challenge in just reporting.

Anyway, at almost the end of my trail, I think I’ll quit writing books.  Even though there’s some modest glory in being America’s least-read writer, I don’t care.  I only know that on my bookshelf is a collection of nine, soon to be ten, books.  And lots of articles as well.  I wrote them.

As I said, the stories had to be told.  Not telling them created pressure.  Now the pressure is off.

The books are like paintings.   You can look at them and like them or not like them.  It doesn’t matter.  They are there, ten books that weren’t anywhere fifteen years ago.  They contain ideas and remembrances and historical details for any and all to see.  What’s more, the books are edifying and nearly every word is spelled correctly.

There was a time when I was just starting out in the literary world at age seven. In those days my goal was to read a complete book.  It was hard to read them all the way through and I knew I would be proud of myself if I could concentrate long enough just to read every page.  Eventually I reached that goal and that began my life-long love of books.

How many times did I wander into my college’s book store and smell the wonderful aroma of paper and paste and whatever it is that makes a new book smell so good?   My romance over the years never flagged.

Sometime during my college experience, though, I began to look at books differently.  There was a time when, if I didn’t understand a book, I would put it down and think I was too dumb.  After my MBA degree, the truth hit me:  if I could not understand a book, I would lay it aside and say to myself, “That author can’t write.”  But I still loved books.  They had to be well written, however.

During my first fifty years never did I dream I would be able to write a book.  I did not even want to write one because I realized I was not of the writer class, I was of the reader class.  Most of us are that way.  But then I turned over several rocks in my family history foundation and there they were—the stories that had to be told.

Now I have done my duty.  I have told the stories of murder and war and struggle during WWII followed by the Space Race and the Cold War.  It is someone else’s turn.  I will not listen to any more stories, much less tell them.  Now I am content to read very well written books, preferably new ones that have crisp clean pages.

Don’t offer me something on the Internet.  I hate computer screens.  I just want to turn pages and look at black words on white pages, words that can bring back memories or cause me to dream great dreams.  I think I have earned that privilege.

It may take a lot of perseverance not to write another book, but I believe I will win out.

I think the literary world will survive.  After all, I still have my blog to work on, and the Genealogy blog as well, and maybe an engineering magazine or two.

Wanted Publicity, dead or alive

Recently IE Magazine came out with its latest issue.  It is dedicated to Industrial Engineers mostly in America and I am a life member of the organization.  So the editors gladly gave me part of a page to tell about what I, a retired industrialist have been doing.  Here is how it came out:


Page 12 of IE Magazine

Sometimes the agony of writing is partly made up for by either extra publicity or extra large checks.  So far I have not had much experience with the checks.

Beating Ploughshares into Swords

It’s over. My ninth book is on the market and I can turn to more important things, such as my tenth book. And Ham radio. And maybe, politics.

My ninth book, Ploughshares into Swords, is about WWII—how civilians and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) helped win the war. A friend of mine was also a friend of several Caltech physicists during and after the war. She supplied part of the information I used. One of her special friends was physicist Carl Anderson, who discovered anti-matter.

My friend and I were talking about scientific achievements that she knew about almost first hand. She observed that I understood what had been accomplished and that perhaps I could have kept up with these Nobel scientists had I been in their fields. I knew this wasn’t true, but I certainly wasn’t going to say so. Anyway, as I was writing about the physicists and discovered what they did as kids, I realized I had done many of the same things. But I also had become a licensed Amateur Radio (Ham) operator at an early age.

So as I wrote, I thought about being a Ham again and wondered if it were too late. I had not been licensed since 1954. In January of 2008 I took all the tests and passed them. Now Ham radio is cutting into my writing time.

Writing Ploughshares was work, but it was also fun, remembering the past and the hardships and comparing people’s attitudes then with attitudes today. I concluded that we are among a lot of dainty whiners in America.

Choosing the title from the Bible, where it talked about beating swords into ploughshares because it was a time for peace, I found of course WWII was a time for doing the opposite—taking scrap metal and forging it into guns, tanks and ammunition.

Writing Ploughshares was a trail of discovery as I learned new things about the atomic bomb, about the way that Caltech became a rocket factory and how Caltech built the China lake facility. No, I am not talking about Jet Propulsion Laboratory, either. I am talking about dry powder rockets fired from airplanes. There was enough fuel for those rockets stored around the area to blow Pasadena, CA off the map.

It is not my practice to write about the commonplace. I have no capacity or patience for it. So I wrote about secret or little-known facts that only friends of physicists at the time could know. In the process, I came to admire Caltech and its growth from rags to riches. I came to admire the practical physicists and administrators who shared a common vision and caused that growth. Now Caltech is synonymous with rocket science, cosmology and many other exotic fields. In a way I saw it happen.

While writing about world politics leading up to WWII, I had the opportunity to revisit the foreign and domestic policies of President Franklin Roosevelt. As writer with a background in economics, I found myself critiquing the seven lean years of the Roosevelt administration when he compounded the economic misery of the United States. In these days, I am seeing a new edition of the Roosevelt plan unfolding, so when I get back to writing on this web site I am very likely to comment on repeating mistakes of the past. But right now, I have to sell a few books and finish my tenth book.

“What is my tenth book about?” you ask. Well, during the Space Race with the USSR, the US had a space medicine scientist in Russia at its secret Baikonur launch site, courtesy of Premier Khrushchev (& Brezhnev). It is a deep, dark secret in both countries, but with reluctant help from NSA, CIA, NASA, and the Department of State, I am slowly putting the story together. Many “experts” have written that this did not happen, so my tenth book will be controversial. But I knew the NASA scientist who spent almost ten years going back and forth from the US to the USSR, making friends with Soviet cosmonauts and Soviet scientists, and helping them stay alive in micro-gravity conditions.

There is a great deal to write about, and the Agony of Writing continues despite adventures in a very vibrant hobby called Ham Radio.

Before I forget, Ploughshares is a paperback, 6 X 9 inches, with about 324 pages including an index.  Amazon and most dot com book stores sell it eagerly.

Tom, AA6Tf

Barack’s Chickens Coming Home to Roost

In my forthcoming book, Ploughshares into Swords, I tell how a Colonel in the US Army visited Belgium at the end of WWII. At an inn an old Belgian man wanted permission to kiss the colonel because the American Army had save Belgium not once but twice from the German horde. “American chickens had come home to roost.”

Before it was all over and the Cold War was over, Belgium had been saved from the Soviets. American chickens had indeed “come home to roost,” as far as Belgians were concerned. We had saved the Belgians three times.

It is an old homeletical trick to move from the particular to the general. That is, an invasion of Iraq suddenly becomes symbolic of all American actions. A girl baby sitter shakes a baby to death and “American Women are Killing our Youngsters.” This is the gimmick employed by the Right Reverend Jeremiah Wright (RJW) at his Chicago church. For twenty years Barack Obama never heard this hateful message. RJW preached hatred and did it ignorantly. Yet Barack said Wright was the best the black church had to offer. Many black ministers would disagree.

According the RJW, Iraq, an action Wright did not agree with, became symbolic for all America’s actions. Obama somehow did not get the connection. Or he lied about it.

A minister I knew once preached that the American dollar was declining and that was God’s curse on America. I caught him after the sermon and respectfully said, “Frank, it is good for the American dollar to lose its value, because that makes our goods cheaper allowing more Americans go to work.” He was suddenly aware that he had misspoken. His face turned red but he never corrected his statement. He was too much in love with his own argument.

Did America save Europe three times? Of course. Is Japan better off than it was in the 1940’s? Yes, the people are richer and they seem to have grown five inches in stature as well (according to military records).

Barack Obama is dense or dishonest. His defenders will say, in effect, “Everybody does it.” And the matter will be settled. Few defend RJW, though. He appears to be a hating, “America last” minister, preaching to the worst in people. Not the worst of people, but the worst in people, who are easily led. One can easily extend Wright’s thinking to citizens who are going to vote to support a man, Wright’s nominee.