Monday, November 14, 2016

A Cheer And A Half For Meritocracy

The system is rigged in favor of anyone who excels at getting her or himself educated to the graduate degree level and then working hard for decades. See, e.g., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, almost all of the infamous 1%.
The quote above is from one of the several high school classmates that I have reconnected with on Facebook in the last few years.  For purposes of this discussion, I am going to call him CM, although he may want to step forward. Other classmates may figure out who he is, but he did give me permission to use the quote.

Quotes like that are pretty common from him.  He is upset about the Occupy mentality that demeans the 1%.  He also finds the notion of white privilege silly.

Maroon And Blue

As I mentioned we were high school classmates.  Xavier High School in New York City.  Jesuit and military.  A few blocks north of Greenwich Village.  1966-1970.  Interesting times. I've got a series going of Xavier if you want to know more about it, so some of what I say here might seem a bit sketchy because I don't give you enough background.

High points of the school. Considered academically elite among metro New York Catholics, but it was probably not like Deerfield Academy elite.  We commuted to school in uniforms every day.  Three different uniforms. One looked like we were ready to march on Richmond, one like we were in the Army, kind of, and one that looked like we were mailmen or NYC police cadets.

All Deprivation Is Relative

My mother went to some sacrifice to send me to Xavier thinking the male influence would be good for me.  My father had died when I was in eighth grade and we were technically living in poverty, although she at least owned the wall our back was up against. The only really persistent feature of our relative deprivation was that I did not learn to drive until I was 24.

CM's straits were much more dire than that, as he will sometimes mention in his facebook rants.  One of these days I'd like to learn is how Xavier attendance was managed for him given his difficult circumstances. And he did not just get through.  He was a top student and a cadet officer.

Me And My Classmate

He and I were not close.  I forget how we overlapped other than running into one another on the subway here and there.  We were in different homerooms.  Science honors for him and classical honors for me.  Might have had modern language or AP English together.

I remember a couple of interactions and the fallout from one that I don't remember.   The latter was something that he said to me that I made the mistake of mentioning to my mother.  I did not carry a grudge about it but she sure did.  "Wasn't he the kid that said ____________", but I don't remember.

There is one interaction that I particularly remember though from when we were Sophomores just happening to be on the subway, I think.  Besides being divided academically in homerooms, the school was also a Regiment, with each of us having rank and a position of some sort.

As a freshman you were a private and a member of something like the third squad of the second platoon of Company B of the First Batallion. Beginning in sophomore year you could get promoted getting as high as sergeant first class, even though there were not any positions to go around to justify that rank, since the most a junior could be is a squad leader.

All the higher ranks and positions from platoon sergeant to the Colonel went to seniors in one fell swoop at the beginning of senior year.  One of the flaws in the system is that a freshman's first interaction with a senior who was not condescending to him or maybe yelling at him, was with a private standing next to him in the ranks at weekly drill.  The freshman was a private because all freshmen were privates.  The senior was a private after maybe ten or so promotion opportunities had not yielded a single stripe.  To accomplish that without getting thrown out of the school required that you walk a fine line.  Private Senior would be mocking the pretentious of his higher ranking classmates and serving as an allround bad example for Private Freshman.


I imbibed some of that and also a general disrespect for authority to arrive at the conclusion that it was kind of silly to worry about becoming a cadet officer.  CM took the opposite tack in our discussion, indicating that it was quite important.  Hey.  There was a competition and he was going to compete.

As I related in the series.  I never did become a cadet officer, even though I thought it likely that I would.  It bothered me for a few hours mainly because I had lusted after the Sam Browne from which hung a saber on occasions of high ceremony.  And the gold trim that replaced the never used chin strap on the hat.  That was cool.  My consolation was that being First Sergeant of the Regimental Supply Corps was a glorious job much more satisfying than one of the battalion S-4 slots that might have come my way.  Being commander of the Supply Corps - the regimental S-4 - one of the Colonel's 12 apostles, but still a grungy Supply Corps type might have been better, but Paul Fulller probably executed that office better than I would have.

CM, on the other hand, became a cadet officer.  He was, however, much more chagrined than I was at being a second lieutenant making him like everyone in my primary reference group a marvel of military mediocrity.  In the past final rank had been much more attuned to academic standing, but the growing anti-military feelings had, I think, influenced Major Smullin to double down on military merit.   There was also probably some politics going on.  There were stories that having parents who donated to the school or heritage helped in the rank sweepstakes, but I never found any proof of that.  Regardess, neither CM nor I had any of that, nor were we athletes, which helped.  What we had going for us was being top students

Regardless, CM really seemed to feel he was treated unfairly, as was I.

And From There

But moving on into the competition of life.  Relative to my background, I did pretty well.  Partner in a large regional CPA firm.  In the bottom tier of the compensation scheme and sometimes on the edge, but still it is not so bad.

CM on the other hand, as far as I can reasonably infer, has greatly exceeded that.  Some multiple of my not so shabby low six digit compensation and likely corresponding net worth.

He attributes that success to hard work and making good decisions.  He believes that he earned it all.  And he really resents attacks on the 1% by Bernie bros and Occupy types and thinks white privilege is bullshit, because he started with zilch and earned it all.  (I may be exaggerating his position a bit)

What Exactly Did You Build?

This is not an uncommon observation among successful people.  There are some features of life that support the observation.  Within each field of endeavor, you might get involved in, there tends to be a certain amount of rough justice.  Figuring out what it takes to get ahead and focusing and executing greatly enhances your chances.

When you think about people who did not do as well as you, you will be able to discern the reasons.  If you have enough humility, you will also be able to discern why others did better.  Often it is true merit.  And sometimes it is because they are bigger pricks than you are. The latter circumstance causes me to withhold total endorsement to our meritocracy.

The other thing is that if you firmly believe that your fate is in your own hands, you will probably be more successful.  One of the Jesuit mottos we learned was "Work as if everything depended on you.  Pray as if everything depended on God."

What I think people like CM can sometimes lose track of is  the truth behind Elizabeth Warren's infamous "You didn't build that" statement.

Last night I saw John Frank's play - The Institute - Coming of Age during the Vietnam War

The play was based on his experience at Xavier, which corresponded closely with that of CM and me.  One of the main characters is excited about being the first generation of his family to go to college.  There is a point at which he feels intimidated by his classmates coming from much more prosperous circumstances.  A teacher points out ot him that they are all dressed the same. We all commuted by bus and subway and wore the same uniform.  Visible differences were based on personal effort and achievement.

Some kids were extra good at shoe shining and brass polishing.  Top students wore honor cords and would advance in rank.  Various activities and achievements would result in  "fruit salad".  The latter has really gotten out of hand among contemporary students, but that is neither here nor there.

So if you wanted to play Elizabeth Warren  to CM, you might say that the very ethos that led to his success was at least strongly reinforced by the school and he didn't build that.  Whatever the circumstances that allowed him to attend the school despite his dire straits, are also probably something that he didn't build.

In my view, there are two large groups in out elite.  The graduate school attending non-fuckups  from modest circumstances and people with an entrepreneurial flair who have access to capital.  Essentially Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  And of course many in the graduate school group are not from modest circumstances.

What distinguishes someone like CM from the rest of the elite is that they are working without a net.   George Bush Jr. and Donald Trump had multiple second chances. Others get only one shot.  And I think that in the time that CM and I grew up things were not quite as hard for first-generation college graduates.  You could get through without acquiring a crushing debt load and if, like me, you had a false start you could recover more easily.

This, in part, accounts for my being a little more sympathetic to those left behind than CM seems to be.  I also think that you will be happier if you cultivate gratitude for all the undeserved gifts the universe has presented you.  But maybe that is just me.

Peter J Reilly CPA hopes to be first tax blogger to give up his day job.  The dream keeps receding but nerver dies.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Live Blogging Election Night

We went to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester to watch the results.  First discussion was what station to watch.  I was for Fox since I thought we might learn more. Not a lot of enthusiasm for that, but we switched there during MSNBC commercial. Bill O'Reilly on now, but consensus is not Fox.  Now we are on MSNBC,

Seven of us at 8:25. commercial.

One of the guys looking at his phone says 311 electoral votes for Hillary.

Lots of commercial.

Trump just took Alabama.

It is Hillary 75 to Trump 72.  Florida is too close to call.

GOP will remain in control of the House.

We can't get the closed captions turned off.  I hate TV remotes.

Bob Baty messaged me to keep an eye on the Conecuh county Commissioner race.  You have to be a Hovindologist to get that one.

Florida close.

Red America is getting redder.  Blue America is getting blue.

Still struggling with closed captions "Television is becoming exponentially  more complicated"

Trump ahead 14 million to 12 million - "Oh my God"

"Are people insane ?"

Michigan going for Trump

Closed captions finally gone at 8:50

Commercials muted.

"It should be a landslide for Clinton"

"I think Clinton is going to win, but this is nauseating to watch"

"If somebody like Jeb Bush was running I'd be worried, but Trump is horrifying"

Florida in the balance. Trump has lead.  Miami versus Panhandle.  Could be Hovinidcators moving to Alabama might be hurting Trump.


Texas and Kansas Louisiana Nebraska to Trump Dakotas Wyoming

Clinton New York

Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, New Hampshire, Virginia - Too close

Trump 137 Clinton 104 at 9:03

McCain reelected

We bailed out of the church around 10:00.

I'm in the basement office now.

10:30 and Clinton has Virginia

The funny thing is that the coverage makes it sound like something is happened, but really it is just counting. It's like Candyland where the game is determined after you shuffle.

Right now they are blaming the Comey letter.

Now it is white voters without college degrees.

Shutting down at 11:12.

The sun will come up tomorrow.

Peter J Reilly CPA is not very good at live blogging.

Future Generations Endorses Hillary Clinton

One of the reliefs of post-election will be the end of campaign appeals in my inbox.  It is my own fault, as I sign up for everything in the hope of getting material for my blog.  I think they are all written by the same person and they are all done in a very annoying manner.  There is this incredible urgency for me to send it $5, $10 whatever.

I think it is like the way the baskets would come around multiple times at Mass, so that Monsignor O'Brien would get at leat thirty cents from each parishioner.  And there is the presumed intimacy
Peter --
It's Election Day!! Millions of Americans are casting their ballots today and participating in our democracy.
I want to thank you for having my back during this campaign. This team gave me the strength to keep fighting.
This is the final step of the long journey we’ve been on together, but now it's in your hands. Make history by heading to the polls today. 
Thank you -- let's go!
If I ever meet Hillary Clinton, I will address her as Madame Secretary or, God willing, Madame President, so I really think that when she asks me for money she should call me Mr. Reilly, but I'm old fashioned that way.

The most troubling ad I got though was from Eric Trump.

Our last ad we showed you did so well that we decided to release a new one -- and go even bigger with a last-minute $4 MILLION final ad-buy.
It’s an UNPRECEDENTED two-minute ad that presents voters with the true stakes of this historic election.
I found the ad very disturbing.

There is an element behind it that I have sympathy with.  Back in the day, I think there was a better deal for ordinary people who were ready to show up for work and do what needed to be done.  I suspect historically it was transient thing. I had a factory job in college where with the lowest pay grade and a lot of overtime I made a years tuition in a summer.

Thinking that some asshole who focused on luxury housing and casinos wants to bring back those days, or could if he wanted to, is pretty delusional, but I can't knock the guys who think that.

The thing that really concerned me was whether that piece was really effective propaganda on the Leni Riefenstahl scale.

I always refer questions like that to my filmmaker friend Jonathan Schwartz of Interlock Media.  I was comforted by his response.

The Trump ad is meant to be an enduring anthem for conspiracy theorists, legitimized by the man who almost won the presidency. The use of compositing and special effects is average, mid level film technique and not spectacular. The important thing here is the message, and its pure and simple...there is a reason you are struggling, and that is because it is someone else's fault and they did it to you and must be eliminated.
So the message is disturbing, but apparently not delivered that well which makes it less disturbing.

The final Clinton two minute ad is much more comforting.  Kind of boring actually.

So the choice is kind of like you are in the fourth grade.  Do you want to join the class bully's gang and go beat up the kids from the other school?  Or do you want to listen to the teacher?

Or put another way.  Do we want to be ruled by the girls who went to college and got more knowledge or the boys who went to Jupiter and got more stupider?

Tell your inner ten year old to calm down, and vote like a grown up.  If you do that you are allowed to skip watching the polls and stay up late watching war movies tonight.

Peter J Reilly CPA made donations to just about every presidential candidate and all he got out of it was a lot of annoying email.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Not Every Women's Rights Narrative Starts At Seneca Falls

.....memory is made, not found and what we remember matters. - Lisa Tetrault
This post is something of a personal reaction to The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement by Lisa Tetrault, so I should start with the most important thing before I go into the wandering digressions.  It is a really good book and you should read it.

Some People Don't Get It

The most negative review on Amazon (a three star) highlights by omission what is really good about the book.
This book does reveal some nuggets of difficult to find information and the author is obviously extremely knowledgable and gifted but the book contains too much run-of-the-mill, feminist cheerleading and the revealing information in the book is revealed in a way that makes it seem as though it was included almost as an afterthought.
The book is overly verbose and should have been half its length but the author has a bad tendency to lapse into moments of drawn out flattery of the movement which we've already heard a thousand times. Even though the suffrage movement obviously deserves some cheerleading this book pours on the cheese a bit too much to warrant a higher rating.
The key words in the title are Memory and Myth.  Lisa Tetrault's work is about how and why we make narratives about the past using a reasonably familiar (in some circles) narrative,illustrating its incompleteness and more importantly how and why that particular narrative was constructed.


I could see this work becoming not only a standard text in women's studies or the history of social reform, but also in historiography , which the infallible source tells us is "the study of the methodology of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension in any body of work on a particular subject".

Tetrault quotes historian Lori Ginzberg:
Every event in history is a beginning, a middle and an end, it just depends on where you pick up the thread and what story you choose to tell.
Sam Gamgee made the same point:
We've got - you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on.  Don't the great tales never end?
'No, they never end as tales, said,  Frodo. 'But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended
Frodo of course. recognized the essence of historiography in this clip.

 Nothing like referring to the world's greatest bromance in a reaction to a great work on women's history.  Back to the book.

The Myth

The "myth" under discussion in this work is illustrated in the National Women's History Museum's Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920).
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. This prompts them to hold a Women's Convention in the US.
Seneca Falls, New York is the location for the first Women's Rights Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes "The Declaration of Sentiments" creating the agenda of women's activism for decades to come.
Due credit is given to conventions in Worcester in 1850 and 1851, which I have a particular attachment to, but beginning in 1853, the partnership between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B, Anthony starts to dominate, with Susan B. Anthony taking the limelight.  To take a biblical analogy, Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be John the Baptist making Susan B. Anthony, well, you know.

Tetrault's work is about how that story became THE story. And it is not just about how Susan B Anthony became the main actor in the story, but also about how suffrage becomes the big story about women's right, white women's suffrage actually, since the 19th amendment did not help black women vote in the South, where black men had been systematically disenfranchised.

Like The Late Unpleasantness 

Tetrault connects the story of the creation of the women's rights narrative to that of the construction of the narratives that help us remember slavery and the war with many names (Civil War, War Between the States, War of Northern Aggression - personally I prefer The Late Unpleasantness)

The fierce debate - over competing definitions of freedom - took place in the arena of memory.  It was not the only arena, but it was a critical one.  Because freedom had no inherent self-evident meaning, Americans debated its definition by attempting to define the past. Why had the Civil War been fought? Answers to that question, which varied widely, defined different paths forward.  Had it been fought, as freedpeople and abolitionists argued for emancipation? If so that required a postwar political response that validated the needs of freedpeople and invested freedom with significant weight?  Or had it been fought, as white supremacists argued, for valor, honor, and states' rights? If so, that required a postwar political response that elevated the rights of white Confederates over the rights of freedpeople, whose needs were largely erased by such a memory.
More Than A Counter-Narrative

I'm now going to be seguing from reviewing the book to my rambling personal reaction, but to sum up I will react to one of the five star reviews.
The publication of "The Myth of Seneca Falls" is a big event for those of us who like to live in the suffrage world. Professor Tetrault has come up with the first really effective counter-narrative to Eleanor Flexner's classic "Century of Struggle".
I really don't view Tetrault's work as a "counter-narrative".  It is much more than that.  It is a narrative of the making of the received narrative that suggests many other narratives that might be constructed and from there I will move to my personal reaction.

Searching For Margaret Fuller

I discovered Professor Tetrault's work from a hunt that someone had sent me on.  The question as I might frame it now, having read Myth of Seneca Falls, was why Margaret Fuller, who, Margaret Fuller scholars consider with substantial support, a women's rights pioneer of the highest order, whose Woman in the Nineteenth Century was published in 1845 whose Conversations, arguably the 1840 version of second wave consciousness raising groups, included Elizabeth Cady Stanton does not appear in the Timeline.

It really would not be that hard.  Between 1840 and 1848, you put in 1845 publication of Woman in the 19th Century.  Fuller was in Italy covering and taking a hand in a revolution in 1848 when Seneca Falls took place.  She had been invited to preside over the first national women's rights conference in Worcester in the fall of 1850.  Sadly her only participation  was in spirit during a moment of silence as she lost her life in the wreck of the Elizabeth, a 530 ton sailing vessel, that grounded off Fire Island on July 19,1850.

Professor Tetrault, answers the question even though her work does not even mention Margaret Fuller.  In the received narrative the story really starts in Seneca Falls and focuses on Susan B. Anthony who is first mentioned on the timeline in 1853, but along with Stanton dominates it through the post-Civil War period. The received narrative was largely the creation of Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Not only are they center stage, but there is also a singular focus on suffrage.

Many Narratives

Probably, the most important thing we can learn about history is that there are many valid narratives that can be crafted from the raw material of the past.  We can ask different questions of different sources and derive different stories.  I think that many people when they encounter this reality find it rather disturbing.  I know I certainly did when I asked my father how it was that Robert E Lee, chief bad guy in the Civil War, was accounted a national hero appearing on postage stamps.  The budding neoabolitionist never got a good answer from his old man.

Professor Tetrault is an historian and they tend to be a bit allergic to counterfactuals, but as a graduate school dropout who loves Harry Turtledove, SM Stirling and Eric Flint, I'm different.  Thanks to her book I am now in the grip of a profound counterfactual.  What would have happened if the Elizabeth had docked safely in New York and Margaret Fuller had presided over the first national women' rights conference in Worcester?

My favorite biography of Margaret Fuller is the one by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and in it he saw her mainly as a woman of action ready to unleash. It is just possible that she might have been able to galvanize a different reform movement than the one that fragmented over votes for African Americans versus votes for women in 1866.  In her work she addressed issues of gender, but also of race and class.  She was rare among New England Unitarian reformers in having kind words for Irish refugees, then the most despised white people in America.

Higginson's assessment deserves to be taken seriously, because he, himself, had strong activist credentials - the Anthony Burns rescue, John Brown, command of a regiment of liberated slaves (First South Carolina Volunteers - later 33rd United States Colored Troops).

But maybe it was too soon to have a holistic reform movement and maybe it could have turned out worse - like when Spock and Kirk had to stop McCoy from saving the life of the 1930's peace activist in The City on the Edge of Forever.

I'm sorry I don't have the talent to write "The Elizabeth Must Sink", but I can always hope that a talented alternate history writer might pick it up.


Peter J Reilly CPA hoped to be an historian, but public accounting has been good to him.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Most Important Thing To Remember This Election

I just saw the movie Sully and I really liked it.  In those based on a true story films I always like to check what is, at least officially the real story and Sully comes off pretty well.  There is a central plot element that is off in there not really being an attempt by the National Transportation Safety Board to railroad the hero pilot, but even that had something behind it.  Maybe I should explain the movie thing a bit, not that it is the main point.

"Sully" played by Tom Hanks is Chesley " Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 which took off from LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009.  Very briefly after takeoff the plane hit a flock of Canada geese.  Both engines went out.  Air traffic control gave Captain Sullenberger the choice of turning back to LaGuardia or going to Teteboro. Sullenberger chose the Hudson River and managed to put it down roughly midway between 48th Street and the Port Imperial ferry landing in Weehawken, NJ.

All of the 155 passengers and crew survived.

Spolier Alert - As part of the investigation fully briefed pilots were able to land simulators at the airport by executing an immediate turn.  Allowing 35 seconds of reaction time, however, had them crashing which would have been really bad not only for the people in the plane but also for people on the ground.  In the movie Sully points this out Perry Mason style at a public hearing.  In real life NTSB figured it out. What the hell.  It's a movie they had to have bad guys, I guess.  Many other elements such as Sully having nightmares and checking the aisle twice to make sure everybody had gotten off, before being the last one to leave are supported in the record so to speak.  End Spoiler Alert

Tom Hanks was really good and I have now formed a new ambition inspired by Sully and Bridge of Spies.  Do something that will require Tom Hanks playing me in the movie.  That is an upgrade from having my obituary in the New York Times.

What I like most about the movie though was the little vignettes that kind of make New Yorkers a co-star in the picture - ferry captains, scuba cops, etc. which is bringing me to the point but as it happens there is another Tom Hanks film (He is the narrator and it is only about 11 minutes so why don't your watch it.) that makes the point I am coming to even better.

For those of you who as the late Bruce Carlin would put it can't follow simple fucking instructions,  the short documentary is about the response of people in boats to the 9/11 disaster as they evacuated lower Manhattan in an effort that Tom Hanks compares, perhaps a bit grandiosely to Dunkirk.

The best quote is from Robin Jones - Engineer of the tugboat Mary Gellatly
When American people need to come together and pull together they will do it.
Here is what is important about this when it comes to the election.  The negative energy towards the two main candidates is about the highest I have ever seen.  (For people who think it has never been worse.  Well. You are wrong.  The election in 1860 was a lot worse) There is a poll indicating that 7 percent of voters have ended friendships over the election.  Basically quite a few people think not that the other candidate is a poor choice, but more that they are really evil.  Here is the thing that it is very important to remember all the time, particularly if you are quite attached to one of the candidates being the spawn of Satan.  Let's call him or her The Evil One.

If there is some really horrendous disaster where you live, there will be a courageous generous response from people across the country.  First responders will be doing what they do all the time to general lack of appreciation, but other will also step up.  If you survive the initial disaster, there will be food, water, medical assistance, whatever arriving in short order.  And what you need to remember, all the time, is that at least 30% (probably more) of the people who will be there saving your ass will be voting for "The Evil One".

Peter J Reilly CPA rarely tries to be this uplifting in his blog posts, but it happens.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Xavier Stories - A Roundup

In anticipation of the finale of the series on my high school I have decided to organize the Xavier High School material up till this point.  Not all of it is part of the series but it must all fit together.  My hope is that my son William will actually become THE great American novelist.  In that event  study of my work will become a sub-discipline of William Reilly studies and I want to make things convenient for future scholars.  So here is the Xavier corpus up till now.

How I Accidentally Impersonated A Veteran - This is a story about a period in my mid-twenties and a very inspiring fellow that I met.  The Xavier piece is that the arcane knowledge I picked up in high school made me seem like an actual veteran.

Memorial Day Reading - Donald Cook - Xavier Graduate With Greatest Military Distinction - Pretty self-explanatory.  An odd side note is that cadet rank is a not necessarily a sign of future military merit.

Review Of "Ways And Means For Managing Up" By F Willam Smullen - "Bill" Smullen was the Senior Army Instructor at Xavier during our junior and senior year.  Then Major Smullen, if not the best teacher at Xavier, no small feat, was definitely a contender.

How Real Is Junior ROTC? View Of A Son Of Xavier Who Kept Marching On To Cold War Victory - Guest post from Scott O'Connell.  Scott had an Army career in both tanks and counter-intelligence. I found his comments on our cadet experience surprising.

The Series - 1970 - The Xavier Class Lamented By Antonin Scalia

Part I - Becoming Part Of The Regiment - It is 1966 when I start marching and opposition to the Vietnam War is not yet in the mainstream.

Part II - Time For Sergeants - I focus on the members of the Military Science Department other than the SAI, who actually were above average teachers including a story about somebody literally shooting himself in the foot.

Part III - The Final Revenge Of Corporal Burns  - My eternal disappointment at never having a Sam Browne and saber.

Part IV - No Diamonds On Our Shoulders - My reference group proves themselves marvels of military mediocrity.

Part V - We Didn't Start The Fire -  A brief piece by classmate David Posteraro showing how anti-war sentiment was beginning to leak into the school.

Interlude - Being Gay In The Sixties In Antonin Scalia's High School -  A longer piece by Dave Posteraro with a fairly self explanatory title.

Part VI - Left Face - 1968 - Need I say more?

 Part VII - The Epilogue Class (1971) Gathers - John Frank, whose upcoming play The Institute has me quite excited relates about his 45th reunion, which was a year after mine.  Go figure.

Interlude - Sons Of Xavier Keep Dancing - Pure personal memoir.

Daniel Berrigan And Those In The Silent Generation That Did Not Shut Up -  Tangential to the Xavier stuff, but somehow related.

Science Fiction Author Reflects On His Xavier Days - My classmate John Sundman who was disappointed with himself for graduating as a corporal having set his sights on private weighs in.

The Xavier Regiment Back To The Future - A bit of peek at John Frank's upcoming play and an update on the Regiment today.

Eight Is Enough?

I think the series needs one more piece and for that I would like to have more classmates who can tell me about PAX.  Other guest posts would also be greatly welcome,   It would give you an opportunity to reach scores of people

Peter J Reilly CPA has not developed a consistent tag line for his posts.  This failure of branding might account for low readership.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Xavier Regiment - Back To The Future

In the last couple of years I have been sporadically haunted by memories of my somewhat peculiar high school days.  Xavier High School at 30 West 16th Street in Manhattan, one of New York City's then five Jesuit High School, besides dividing its students into four years each comprising seven or eight homerooms was also organized as a Regiment as participation in Junior ROTC was a requirement for all students.

Interesting Times

 The school is just a few blocks north of Greenwich Village and I attended it 1966-1970, which were interesting times.

On the faculty were soldiers, some just back from Vietnam, and Jesuit priests and scholastics, whose friends were under observation by the FBI for anti-war activities. There were also lay teachers, probably the majority - career high school teachers and young guys who would move on to something else.

The Passing Of A Supreme Court Justice

But that was then and this is now.  More recent events further sparked my memory.  There was the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia Class of 1953 who addressed the Regiment (now an optional activity) in 2011 and, among other things, lamented Xavier's departure from being thoroughly military.

A Reunion

There was my 45th reunion, which made quite an impression on me as we all broke into cheers and a rousing rendition of the school song as our cadet colonel was introduced, acknowledged by all attending to have been the best colonel in the history of the school.

The Boy Who Would Be Colonel Or Not

And then there was my get together with Jerry Snee Class of 1971 and founder of Squidget Inc who related to me his obsession with becoming the colonel of his class and being quite chagrined when he was named Executive Officer of the Regiment, the second highest rank attainable.

Burn Draft Records ! - No Church Parade For You

And during this project there was the passing of Father Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit who was on the run from the FBI while we donned our uniforms everyday,  As I and many other from my class went to New England to start college, Father Berrigan went there to start his prison term in Danbury, Ct.  Father Berrigan's funeral was live streamed from the church attached to Xavier.  I think a church parade and attendance by the Regiment in uniform would have been perfect.  With a magnet and a coil of wire the spinning of Father Berrigan in his grave could have powered Manhattan for weeks.

Not Quite Done

The finale of my memoir series has been stalled due to my having other things to do and because I am still trying to pry a little more information out of classmates. I'm still hoping to get a little more on the mysterious organization called PAX (Positive Action for Xavier) which arose among some of my classmates in 1969 or 1970, but I thought to keep interest alive I could report two contemporary matters that tie into Xavier's past.

Let's Put On A Show

The first is a play, written and directed by John Frank Class of 1971 called the "The Institute - Coming of Age During the Vietnam War"which will be done by the 2nd Act Players of Evanston IL  from October 21 - November 13.

Sorry, I just couldn't choose between the videos. So I had to show you both.  The poster for the play, designed by John's daughter is a real beauty and I have it framed and hung in the office.

The background photo is of something that will never be seen again.  It is the winter review of the 1970-1971 year, the last year that the Regiment and the school were the same.  In the subsequent year, according to Father Lux, who as Mr. Lux was my Freshman homeroom teacher, participation in the regiment dropped to about 30% of the student body when it became optional.  The picture is great as it shows most but not all of the Regiment and I just love the detail

Note the kid standing by his lonesome just a bit from the left edge.  That has to be the Sergeant Major of the Second Battalion.  The duos as you go right are Company Commanders with their guidon bearers.  The white covered hats in the middle are the X-Squad, Band and color guard,  The thing that most intrigues me are the kids in the back standing by the wall.  My guess is that they are with the Regimental Supply Corps, my people.  Our job was to show up early and stay late to load and unload a truck on loan from the Army with band instruments and drill rifles. They always had a hard time figuring out what to do with us during the event.

Sadly, I won't be able to a timely review of the play, as my schedule dictates that I will be going to the last performance.  John has let me see the script though and I am really looking forward.  The story is told through a group at their 45th reunion doing flashbacks, with the same actors moving back and forth from old guys to teenagers. It is a work of fiction allowing for the contrast between the school's heritage and the sixties protest culture to be more sharply and dramatically portrayed than happened in real life.  That is as far as I will go not wanting to create any spoilers.

They Keep Marching

The other piece of the story is that I have done a little work on is the Regiment as it is now.  I was able to talk to Master Sergeant Clifford Stein who has been part of the Xavier High School Military Science Department for about ten years.

In order to be a JROTC instructor you have to be certified and hired by a school within two years of your retirement from active military duty.  MSG Stein started his certification at the same time he put in his retirement application - about a year before actual retirement - knowing that that was what he wanted to do.  He had another post-Army job offer in human resources but turned it down and has no regrets.  He doesn't understand why all retired military folks don't want to be JROTC instructors.

The JROTC instructors are actually employees of the school subsidized by US Army Cadet Command.  Back in the day, the MS faculty was a mix of retired and active duty soldiers.

A Shift In Emphasis

There has also been a shift in emphasis in the overall tenor of the program.
Title 10 of the U.S. Code declares that "the purpose of Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps is to instill in students in United States secondary educational institutions the value of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment." 
The study of ethics, citizenship, communications, leadership, life skills and other subjects designed to prepare young men and woman to take their place in adult society, evolved as the core of the program. More recently, an improved student centered curriculum focusing on character building and civic responsibility is being presented in every JROTC classroom.
Essentially, JROTC has been demilitarized. MSG Stein is teaching things like leadership and personal finance.  When I told him about my blocks of instruction in Weapons, Squad Tactics, Platoon Tactics and Counterinsurgency, he said that that sort of thing is forbidden as is explicit recruiting.

I remember Major Smullin, probably in the Psychology of Leadership block, giving us the sales pitch for Senior ROTC.  The context was entirely difference since as young American males we had, as one of our teachers put it, a military obligation. So Major Smullin could contrast the prospect of being an enlisted man or going through OCS with senior ROTC.  And thanks to our certificates of completion, he would be signing for us we would be able to grow our hair long for our freshman year at college, since we got to forgo the first year of real ROTC having covered all that at Xavier.

Anyway, MSG Stein told me that the school is required to have 10% participation and that it has 40%.  More than half the freshmen give it a shot and most of them soldier on so to speak.  He said that some of the football player will try to convince kids it is uncool, but many see the benefits of leadership training.

At 400 or so, the program is light for even a battalion, but it is allowed to maintain designation as a Regiment out of tradition.

There is one thing that I had to ask him about which is a little amusing.  Take a look at the ribbon rack on the kid on the right in the picture below

I checked the yearbook and noted that I had had four ribbons and then looked at others and noted that I was pretty average.  Our colonel Charlie Brown had seven.

MSG Stein kind of laughed and said that he thought that it has gotten of hand.  In his 20 plus years in the real Army he earned 12 ribbons.  He said that they have some sort of camp that fifty of the kids go to each year and that it is possible to pick up five ribbons there.  He'd like to get it more under control, but has not had much luck.

More Officers

The other thing that he told me that I find beyond hilarious is that all seniors in the program are cadet officers.  Since there are not enough officer slots to go around, there is one platoon that is made up entirely of cadet officers.

This does solve a problem which I noted in one of my earlier posts.  As a Freshman at Xavier, if you had no previous connection to the school, the first seniors you encountered would either be giving you orders, maybe yelling at you or condescending to you.  Likely the first senior you encountered more or less as a fellow student would be a fellow private standing next to you in the ranks.  He would be mocking the pretentiousness of his classmates who were nominally in charge.

You are a private because all freshmen are privates.  He is a private after maybe ten or so promotion opportunities that yielded not even a single stripe.  To manage that without getting thrown out of the school required that you walk a fine line.  My friend, John Sundman, tried to manage to match his brother's achievement by graduating as a private, but somehow screwed up a couple of times and finished as a corporal.  At any rate, the seniors who interacted most closely with freshmen in a military context were those that would be the worst influence.  I really liked those guys and have a sneaking admiration for my seventeen classmates who were in the privates club.

The program is optional now so anybody who is really anti-military will drop it presumably.  Still in any group striving for excellence there have to be those who are less than excellent.  Now rather than those being the seniors put in close contact with freshmen, they are isolated in the second lieutenants platoon.  I think there might be something lost there.  Most distressing of all must be to be the platoon leader of that platoon.  All your platoon leader buddies have freshmen holding them in awe and you've got the guys who came up through the ranks with you although maybe not so much on the coming up.

Of course, maybe Xavier today does not have cynical wise-asses salted among the ranks,  Given that the school is still in New York, though, I suspect there still might be a couple.

We're With You

Anyway in a not entirely rational manner, it some how feels good that much of the school "keeps marching" into the new millennium with colors continuing to fly and guidons as high as ever, if not higher.  That's from the school song of course, which at least the reunion goers among us will break into at the drop of hat.

One thing you will note besides the fact that for the most part we don't sing very well is that the line that gets really emphasized is not about marching and victory it is "We're with you".  I'll leave it at that for now as I wait for just a bit more information from my classmates.

And I would love to hear from those who are more in touch with the school as it is now.

Peter J Reilly CPA attributes the low marks his partners gave him in executive presence with his failure to absorb lessons in bearing and appearance that he was offered at Xavier High School.  His problems with authority were developed by Franciscan nuns and cannot be attributed to Jesuits or the Army.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Learn Kindergarten Math And Stop Calling Them All Third Parties

We really have to stop saying "third party". I understand the logic of the term, but it is still wrong.  To say we have a two party system is probably a fair statement, since there are few office holders that are not either Republicans or Democrats, but when it comes to candidates, there are more.

Sunday night, I am going to see Jill Stein in Northampton. Maybe you heard of her.  She is the Green Party candidate.  My cousin thinks she hot.  I'm mad at her because she is still covering up her tax returns.

Then there is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.  Both he and Stein are on the ballot in enough states to win.  But that's not all.

There is Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party, Chris Keniston of the Veterans Party, Zoltan Istvan of the Transhumanist Party, Clifton Roberts of the Human Party and my son's favorite Gloria Estala La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.  There are also independent candidates, but since they are not claiming a party, they are not part of this discussion.

A run down of the candidates, that oddly does not include La Riva, is titled "Third Party Presidential Candidates".

For now let's just stick with the Greens and Libertarians as alternatives to the two parties of the two party system. And lets go with our kindergarten math.  Let's start with the Democrats since they are the oldest.  That's one.  There there are the Republicans.  That's two.  I'm going with the Green Party next, because I like them better and my cousin thinks Jill Stein is hot.  That's three,  Then there are the Libertarians.  That's ??? Well by the logic of media discourse that is also three.  Where as you and I both know, having graduated from Kindergarten, that four is next.

This bothers me because it distorts our thinking and  plays into both the thinking that the two party system is inevitable and increases the isolation of those who think that there should be more than two parties.

Referring to both the Green Party and the Libertarian Party as "third parties" more of less says "We have two parties. Let's really stretch our imagination.  Maybe there could be something else.  Let's think.  Isn't there a number that comes after two?  I remember something about that from school.  Oh yeah.  Three.  So let's call any party that is not one of the two, number three, but since voting is like going to the bathroom, we really know that there can only be number one or number two."

In other words, the term "third party" ratifies the concept of the two party system.

Ironically, my other objection to the term "third party" is that it makes the two party system look worse than it really is.  That's because if you or I look at what is wrong with the two parties and come up with all the common sense things that should be changed, we think that we have come up with "THE ALTERNATIVE".  We're going to be like the Sphere who went into Flatland to explain that there is a third dimension.

When Kent Hovind and Rudy Davis get together though, they are going to come up with something they will come up with a dystopian nightmare that, were it implemented, would have us really pining for the good old Republicans and Democrats.  Just listen to Rudy talk about all the people that will be beheaded once his party takes power.  Rudy sounds a little like the Soup Nazi substituting "Death penalty" for "No soup"

The term "third party" allows each alternative party to engage in the fantasy that it is "THE ALTERNATIVE" to the two party system.  They can have difficulty realizing that there are many alternatives and that many, if not most, would, even in their view, be a lot worse.

The only defense I can think of for the way we use the term "third party" is that when you round it off, all those parties are statistically tied.  When you look at the polls in the current race, though, that is not accurate.  In all the polls, the total for Johnson and Stein is much higher than the spread between Trump and Clinton AND the spread between Johnson and Stein is much higher than the spread between Trump And Clinton.  The Quinnipiac poll is the most extreme with 13% for Johnson and 4% for Stein.  The Economist has it at 5% to 3% in favor of Johnson.  That's not a tie.

I don't know why this bugs me so much, but a habitual inaccuracy that is embedded in our political discourse cannot be a good theme.

Peter J Reilly CPA has a serious tax blog to run.

Friday, September 16, 2016

More On The National Anthem Controversy

I just did a piece inspired by reaction to Colin Kaepernick declining to stand for the National Anthem.  Although Kaepernick's stand or (unstand) is based on current issues, it has been followed on with concerns that the Anthem is inherently racist because of a reference in the third verse that might refer to men who escaped from slavery to fight for the British - the Colonial Marines.

I am really grateful to Steward Henderson for giving me a guest post on the subject.  Steward is a seasonal park historian at the Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park.  Steward does historic reenacting as a member of the 23rd Regiment United States Colored Troops. We met at the Chancellorsville Sesquicentennial  and again at the Grand Review in Washington.

Personally, I have never heard the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner sung by anyone.  I have always stood up and or saluted the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner - as well as My Country Tis of Thee and America the Beautiful.  In the organizations that I represent, I will always honor the American flag and say that this country is the greatest country on this earth.  However, I say that it is each person's right under the Constitution and the First Amendment to protest the National Anthem and the American Flag.

When I grew up in the 1950's and 60's, African Americans were overtly discriminated against and treated very unfairly in this country - in the North and the South.  The atmosphere in this country was much better in the 70's, up until about 2010.  I think that since then, with the growth of smart phones and more public cameras you have seen the treatment of some minorities deteriorate or their treatment has come into spotlight.  More minorities are aware of their rights and are more offended when they are not afforded the same protections as white Americans.  I must also say, many whites in this country are very cordial and friendly with minorities, therefore many people do not perceive that there is still a problem in the country.   In the near future this country will be more minority than white, therefore there needs to be a serious conversation about race and ethnicity. A conversation that has been partially debated over the course of this country's lifetime.

For the past 40 plus years, my circle of friends has been well integrated and I have enjoyed various successes and opportunities in my lifetime.  As a banker for over thirty-five years, I have a tremendous respect for the police, Secret Service, FBI, and security agencies.  During  my time spent in the Washington Navy Yard Chief's Club with my uncle, Master Chief ret. Alexander Steven Campbell and soldiers from all branches of the military, I gained a tremendous respect for the soldiers in our military branches.  Since I have moved to the Fredericksburg area, I have participated in programs with the law enforcement agencies here and respect them.  So, I have been treated well, but I know of others who have not been treated as I have been.  Therefore, I cannot tell them that they should act and think as I do.

I would try to put myself in their shoes or at least converse with them to find out what obstacles they have faced and how can their obstacles be overcome.  In some cases, their obstacles could be of their own making or it could have had obstacles put before them.  However, a dialogue to really address the problems of this country would be the best way to address the issues.  If the athletes and others protest the National Anthem, it does not mean that they are not good citizens or they do not love this country.  It means that they want this country to live up to what it stands for, not just for certain people but for everyone.  In this time of terrorism and the terrible rift between the right and the left of the political spectrum, we all need to be united Americans!  Regardless of party, race, or ethnicity, we are all Americans and should be prepared to do what is best for the country and not for the few.  If we do not come together as Americans, then this country can fall just as many previous empires have fallen in the past.

As you know I spend most of my time now discussing the Civil War, at work or as a living historian.  I talk and write about the Civil War; many people  - even in this day and time with all of the information available - still refuse to believe that slavery was a major cause of the Civil War.  We still have  harsh conversations about whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed or if Confederate monuments should be maintained in public spaces.  We hardly discuss Reconstruction and all of the atrocities associated within that time period after the Civil War.  Some of the same things that were problems then are still problems now, because we, as Americans, never really discussed the problems and how to really solve them.   We as Americans have to be honest with ourselves, instead of being politically correct, we must say what we honestly feel.  Maybe then, can get to the heart of our problems and solve them.

Think of how much better this country would be, if all of us truly worked for what is best for the United States of America!  


I also got an opinion from another reenactor.  I met Michael Schaffner (second from left below) at the Harrisburg Grand Review Sesquicentennial.  My absolutely final Sesquicentennial event.  In 1865, although not 2015, black soldiers were excluded from the Grand Review in Washington, so Harrisburg had one.  Michael has portrayed different units over the years, but his role in the 54th Mass has made him quite passionate about the contribution of black soldiers to Union victory in the Late Unpleasantness.

First, I support the QB's decision not to stand because I think it's everyone's right as an American to [be an a$$hole, make a statement -- whatever you want to call it] and he's actually using his celebrity for a public rather than personal end.

Second, I don't feel the outrage over the "hireling and slave" passage, because I think it's just as likely that Key was referring to the British soldiers as the Africa American marines -- if anything he probably would just as soon pretend the latter didn't exist.  The British soldiers might not be literally mercenaries, but even in England they were more likely to be viewed as rum-sodden flogging magnets than as heroes.  Even Wellington referred to his men, at least in part, as "the very scum of the earth..."

That said, you don't have to get to the third verse to find the song offensive.  During the Chesapeake campaigns of 1813-14 some 30% of the population of Maryland were enslaved, with nearly another 10% free African Americans.  The portion was much higher in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.  Kent Island was in essence the first "contraband camp" where, under the protection of the Royal Navy, refugees from slavery could seek freedom.  It was from this population that the RN formed two battalions of black marines, who proved highly effective.
During the campaign, the British won nearly every fight, including the stand-up battles at Bladensburg and North Point, succeeded in burning the Capitol, and otherwise wreaked havoc.  They were rebuffed at Baltimore, but left fairly intact, and took away a number of newly freed black people to new lives in the West Indies.

Given all that, the very idea of the fight being between tyranny and "the land of the free and the home of the brave" is cringe-worthy in itself.  We were, by any objective measure, neither particularly free nor brave -- certainly not more than those two battalions of Royal Marines.

Peter J Reilly sometimes think that the real July 4th is the one in 1863 and that we should all start singing the fifth verse that was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

When our land is illumined with Liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

The National Anthem - Stand Up - Sit Down - A Case For Both

I guess you can start this story with Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers refusing to stand for the National Anthem.  It is important to note that the concerns he publicly expressed are current ones

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

In some progressive anti-racist circles though there is another step being taken.  That is putting forth the argument that our national anthem is explicitly racist.  This article by Jon Schwarz catches the spirit of the argument Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery.  I picked this up in part from my cousin who was upset about her son learning the national anthem at school and explained to him how racist it is.  This was on Facebook of course.  I weighed in that I thought it was rather subtle, but my cousin is pretty firm about it.

Why The Anthem Is Racist

Here is the argument.  It concerns the third verse of the anthem, which you have probably memorized, but I'll give it to you anyway. (Emphasis added)

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That is kind of a classier version of an excerpt from the other song about the War of 1812 that we all know so well.

 Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico
Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico
Essentially I always thought what the third verse said was that those damn redcoats tried to fuck with us and we beat their ass.  Isn't that what you thought?

By the way, I have this memory that I have not been able to substantiate that General Eisenhower banned the third verse during the war, as it was kind of disrespectful to our allies.

The Colonial Marines

It's the word "slave" that is the problem which brings us to the Colonial Marines.  The Colonial Marines were escaped slaves recruited by the British.  It is actually a pretty fascinating story.  At any rate, the idea is that that is who Francis Scott Key was talking about when he wrote "slave".

As Jon Schwarz wrote:
The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, “The Star-Spangled Banner” glorifies America’s “triumph” over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters.
For whatever it is worth, the Snopes analysis of this claim is a kind of maybe.
In fairness, it has also been argued that Key may have intended the phrase as a reference to the British Navy's practice of impressment (kidnapping sailors and forcing them to fight in defense of the crown), or as a semi-metaphorical slap at the British invading force as a whole (which included a large number of mercenaries), though the latter line of thinking suggests an even stronger alternative theory — namely, that the word "hirelings" refers literally to mercenaries, and "slaves" refers literally to slaves. It doesn't appear that Francis Scott Key ever specified what he did mean by the phrase, nor does its context point to a single, definitive interpretation.
Also saying the Colonial Marines were fighting for freedom in an abstract sense is not really accurate.  Whatever their personal goals, they were fighting on behalf of the British Empire.  Even thought slavery was illegal in England in 1814, it was still legal in British colonies and would not be banned for another three decades.  This is quite different from the situation of black soldiers in the Union Army fifty years later.  The presidential order that authorized their enlistment also included emancipation.

It's Complicated

My own view is that it would be a very big mistake for progressives to take on the National Anthem with the same vigor that was applied to the Confederate flag.  Unfortunately in order to explain why I have to lay out my grand theory of American history which I will try to do as briefly as possible.

There is a word that I use in doing this that sometimes aggravates people and that is "narrative". The things we say about the past are of necessity narratives.  Commonly though you will find people shocked to learn that one narrative that they learned can be opposed by another narrative.  They then divide historical discourse into two categories - "the story they want your to believe" and "the truth".

It happens that any of the narratives will have a story about how they came to be. We call those stories historiography.

Another memory that I can't track down is somebody talking about the American history that his father or grandfather had to learn to become a citizen. That was the real deal.  Not this revisionist crap that the professors use to make our kids hate America.

So here is my theory for whatever it is worth.  If you read Democracy in America, which was written by a French visitor in the eighteen thirties, you will find a well formed American culture that is quite recognizable - no St. Patrick's Day Parade, pizza or bagels maybe, but recognizable nonetheless.

Even the Americans of European descent were no longer European and that culture was the result of a complex, to use a neutral term, encounter among at least four distinct groups of English settlers, a melange of Dutch and German in the middle colonies, people taken in captivity from Africa and the indigenous people.  I'm not going to try to unscramble that egg.

They All Came To Look For America

What came next was the greatest movement of people in history.  Over 100 million people from Europe going to the Americas.  Many to the United States.  In less than a century.

The common narrative of American history that supports American exceptionalism and what a great nation America is conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal is something of a cake that is baked for them -the 19th and early 20th century immigrants - with ingredients from all the various groups that created the core culture - going pretty light on the African and indigenous elements.

Each of the immigrant groups pretty well accepted the cake viewing themselves as kind of the icing and the cherry on top. In the special American history book that we had in parochial grammar school, we learned a different version of history pre-1776 in which the Spanish and the French were the good guys, but post 1776 Catholicism and Americanism were in virtual lockstep.  Two Catholics signed the Declaration of Independence and Catholics were disproportionately killed in America's wars.

Things like convent burning, the San Patricios and the 1863 draft riots were kind of neglected.

The Late Unpleasantness

The most challenging part of the common narrative was the war with a whole bunch of names - Civil War, War of the Rebellion, War Between The States, War of Northern Aggression. My own preference is Late Unpleasantness, but that is neither here nor there.

In the common narrative, the first hundred years are about the making and preserving of a nation.  The notion of national self-determination rather than rule by a transnational empire and government of the people, by the people and for the people was actually pretty sketchy in the nineteenth century,  And in my mind that is what the National Anthem is reflecting.  Regardless, we achieve independence in 1783, come up with a working Constitution in 1789, survive a major Civil War incidentally abolishing slavery in the process, realize that this racial equality thing needs more time to work on it, save world democracy three times in the twentieth century and finally get around to working on the whole race thing in the sixties and isn't it great that is finally taken care of.  The thing is that though you may be freaking out either about the content of that narrative or because I call it a narrative, you can both support that narrative and find ways in which it is incomplete or maybe wrongheaded, but now I will give you the best historiography lesson I ever heard.

People Shouldn't Own Other People

It was in Dublin, Ireland at one of the two Unitarian churches in the Republic. It felt a little homey as they use the gray hymnals that we use in the United States.  This was around 2005 in the biggest family vacation we ever took - a week in Ireland. They had a guest minister, who was an expat American.  He lived in Spain.

The theme of the service was what is it that we are doing today that people will look back in a hundred years with a major WTF? To kick it off the minister talked about his great grandfather who had been an officer in the Confederate Army.  He then told us that while running through the house with a Confederate flag as he was engaged in a spirited game of Yanks and Rebs, which is what they played instead of Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians, he was confronted by the family's black maid who said something to the effect of "What are you doing with that redneck rag?  People shouldn't own other people. That's just wrong."

So here is the thing. Those of us whose origin is the"wretched refuse yearning to be free" can love the common narrative which kind of goes "Government of the people, etc.. Got that.  Oh shit. That should mean all the people not just the white ones.  Well we got that eventually", but we are the icing on that cake.  The various groups that made the cake for us have their own cakes and the African American one is not one in which we can say it was just fine to put off dealing with all that race and slavery stuff until later.

Of course there are different ways of dealing with that. One is to hold up the symbols of liberty and say this is great, it  needs to be completed.  There is a great speech that Thomas Wentworth Higginson relates in Army Life in A Black Regiment, that I won't reproduce here, because I think the dialect would be distracting in which one of his men pretty much claims the American flag, which he says the masters used to love, but they rejected when it began to stand for freedom.  After the war, blacks more or less appropriated the Fourth of July celebrations in the South.

The other approach which also has deep roots is to more or less say "This is bullshit",  Frederick Douglas reflects that tradition in his  "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" speech.

 I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

If you prefer the pithy thought you can go with Samuel Johnson,
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
The bottom line is that most of us standing up with our hands on hearts and singing the first verse of the National Anthem have a pretty good narrative to support that even if it is incomplete AND  Colin Kaepernick also has a narrative that supports his decision to stay seated and it really has nothing to do with the third verse which nobody knows anyway and it is pretty clear that the Colonial Marines in that context were being hated for their red coats not their black skins.

Peter J Reilly CPA hoped to be an historian, but public accounting has been good to him. A guest post on this topic will follow soon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Science Fiction Author Reflects On His Xavier Days

My readership on this blog, which may well be numbered in the scores, is probably waiting with bated breath for the finale of my memoir of the decline of the military at Xavier High School.  One of the reasons for the delay is that I keep hoping for more input from my classmates to round things out.  So I was delighted to get this piece from John Sundman.  First I would like to introduce John just a bit.

John Sundman is the author of some really great science fiction.  Some of it like Cheap Complex Devices and The Pains is unconventional in form, so I recommend that you start with his most recent work Biodigital: A Novel of Technopotheosis to get into the story that he is telling about the interface of computer science and biology.  The others are great to read but hard to characterize while Biodigital in form might be viewed as a thriller.

John is the first Xavier classmate that I connected with through Facebook.  I think he and I were relatively early adopters, at least for geezers.  The one story I remember most distinctly about John is from our theology class in senior year.  It was 1970 and we probably had cutting edge teachers for that subject, given that Xavier was considered a pilot school by the Jesuits.  So the "class" had more of the air of an encounter group of sorts.  One of the exercises we did was to take on the supposed persona of somebody else in the class later in life and be interviewed, without disclosing who it was that you were.  John was me and the life he described was a more free spirited one that I actually lived, but somehow it caught my inner life better.

One other point to put this in context.  In the Xavier regiment all cadets had rank.  Someone in my class who got good grades and stayed out of trouble would gain five stripes (sergeant first class) by the end of junior year.  At the beginning of senior year all the positions in the regiment above squad leader were assigned to seniors along with an appropriate rank, possibly with room for one promotion.

The rank distribution of the seniors class was a bell curve with the mean being master sergeant.  At the right tail were the colonel and his twelve apostles (the regiment's executive officer and regimental staff and battalion commanders and xos).  In some ways more interesting was the left tail - the privates club of about seventeen kids who walked the fine line of not getting thrown out of Xavier without qualifying for promotion even once.

I have noted that my reference group of eight other kids who shared either my academic schedule of Greek honors, AP Latin and AP English junior year or a passion for Jean Shepherd were altogether remarkable for our military mediocrity.  We all had either lots of stripes or two or three pips.  No diamonds for our shoulders.

I also alluded to the remarkable story of Jerry Snee of the Class of 1971 who at one of the first assemblies he attended formed the ambition of being the regiment's colonel when he was a senior.  He was very disappointed when he became the Regiment's Executive Officer, a lieutenant colonel, the second highest ranking cadet in the regiment. John was the opposite of Jerry.  He was determined to match his brother's feat of graduating as a private. He didn't quite make it.  Through some lapse of attention, he inadvertently was promoted twice and graduated as a cadet corporal.  Well that is enough intro, Here's John

Some time in the spring of 1970 I was in the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City with my father. We very often rode together from our home in New Jersey into the city, where he worked in midtown and I attended high school on 16th Street.

I was nearing the end of my four years at Xavier High School, an all-boy Jesuit/ROTC institution of long pedigree. I believe Xavier may have been the only such place in the world, a Jesuit military school. (So yes, I commuted to and from school in a military-style uniform). And although I had friends there and enjoyed some of my classes, like many a teenager I hated high school, and I particularly hated Xavier. So I was grousing about something as my father and I prepared to take leave of each other for the day, and he said, "Some day you'll thank me for sending you to Xavier." And I replied, "Don't hold your breath."

A lot of what I didn't like about my high school was circumstantial. For example, the commute. In order to get to school on time I had to get up around six AM, eat and get dressed frantically, then by car, bus, train, or some combination of them get into Manhattan -- usually a ride of 45 minutes to an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic -- and then take the subway (downtown on the A train to West 4th, then back uptown on D train to 16th). And if I was late, I would be assigned to detention -- called "jug" -- which I later learned meant "Justice Under God" -- which consisted of marching around doing close-order drill for an hour. The school had a "zero tolerance" policy for tardiness. Whether the bus broke down or snow blocked a train, it didn't matter. You were late, period. Too bad. On the way home from school, after getting off the bus I could choose between walking, hitchhiking or calling Mom for a ride for those final two miles. And if I hitchhiked, which I often did, I could often count on getting jeered at by passing motorists -- local high school kids -- for my ridiculous uniform.

Another circumstantial aspect of attending Xavier was that I became increasingly disconnected from the people in my home town. North Caldwell, New Jersey, was rapidly suburbanizing, but it was still a small place, a quasi-rural place, and I had gone to public school through 8th grade. All the kids I had grown up with attended the local high school, while I went into Manhattan. Our experiences diverged. My social circle got smaller and smaller. One time I was hitch hiking and a car stopped, a nifty convertible. Behind the wheel was a very attractive girl that I guessed to be a year or two older than me. I got in and told her where I was headed. She looked at me with an expression that was part pity and part bemusement -- she was quite good looking, I repeat -- and she sighed and said, "I know where you live. I live across the street." She had moved there two years earlier and I had never even met her.

Another thing was that I had not yet warmed up to the idea of the City. For the first 13 years of my life I had lived on a small farm, with cows and sheep and chickens and a dozen fruit trees and half an acre of vegetables, and even though we no longer lived on the farm I was as much a country boy as it was possible to be in that part of New Jersey at the time. The stifling city did nothing for me. It was oppressive. I didn't like it.

All of these aspects of my high school experience had little to do with Xavier itself; they were side effects of where the school was located and how I got there each day. My real displeasure, the real source of my disagreeable reply to my father, was of course the experience at Xavier itself.

First of all, there was all the military rigmarole. Uniforms were mandatory, as was weekly after-school drill at the 23-Street armory, where we practiced right face, left face, about face, forward march, to the rear, march; column right, march; left flank, march; double about to the left column, march, and so forth. There were weekly inspections performed by upper-classmen, and if your hair was too long or your shoes were not sufficiently shined, you were assigned jug. As you might expect, this dynamic of students policing students led to a certain amount of bullying. The kids with an authoritarian bent were naturally attracted to the whole thing, while the others, which was most of us, just tried to ignore it and survive. It was mostly an annoyance, not a pathological "Lord of the Flies" situation. But it was inescapable. And you have to remember, this was the late 1960's, the time of Hendrix, Beatles, Airplane, the Vietnam war, and hippies. To walk the city streets in short hair and military school uniform was to be completely out of sync with the times.

But for all that, my father was right, and one day, when I was in my 40's or 50's, I did thank him for sending me there.

In the first place, he sent me (and my older brother Mike) to Xavier because he wanted the best for us. It cost him (and my mother) a lot of money and a lot of bother. Certainly his life would have been a lot easier if we had just walked to the public high school, which was virtually in our back yard. So merely by his demonstration of what he was willing to do to further our education, he showed me a lot about the nature of responsibility.

My father wanted us to get a "Jesuit education" because he believed that that was the gold standard. He himself had attended St. Peter's College in Jersey City, another Jesuit institution. He was a WW2-era veteran and went to college on the GI bill, taking a lot of evening classes after long days as a truck driver. He liked the seriousness that Jesuits brought to the task of "forming" young men and he believed in the moral/religious instruction they gave on top of the merely academic courses.

And he was justified in that faith. At Xavier the teachers -- the "misters" (Jesuits-in-training not yet ordained), the "fathers" (ordained Jesuit priests), and the lay teachers, men and women, were competent, thoughtful, and demanding. To say that they were serious is not to say they were humorless; they were generally well-rounded people with fine senses of humor. It's worth pointing out that the ROTC function was kind of bolted on to the curriculum; it didn't appear on transcripts, and many of the Jesuits were anti-war and skeptical of the military -- though most of them tried to keep their opinions hidden from us students.

I took more classes and harder classes than my public school friends did; I did more homework, studied harder. Just as the school had a "no excuses" policy for arriving late, it had a no-excuses policy for studies. Because of Xavier I can still diagram any English sentence and parse the meaning of latinate words. I can spot specious arguments and logical fallacies. And I'm still kind of shocked that those kinds of school are not taught to all students in our schools.

I left Catholicism behind as soon as I walked out the door at 30 West 16th Street for the last time, and of course I had never bought into any of the military stuff at all. So in some ways I guess I left Xavier and never looked back.

Or, at least, for a few decades I thought I had left it behind.

But now with the passage of over four decades, I see that on balance the education I got at Xavier was more than worth all the hassle I had to endure to get it.

And I now see that in learning to get to school on time despite obstacles I found alternative routes and became comfortable, at age 14, navigating the subways of New York. Over the course of four years I learned to be comfortable in dozens of areas throughout that vast city. I learned to make friends with people whose childhood experiences were entirely different from my own. I learned that authority can and must be questioned. Oddly enough, I think the absence of girls in my day-to-day high school experience prepared me for the feminist education I was to receive in college.

In fact, as I now see things, the hassle itself was a big part of the education. Some things are hard, and if you're going to find a meaningful place for yourself in the world you have to learn to stop crybabying about that and just do what needs to be done, preferably in good cheer. I hope I've learned that lesson. Or in any event, I'm still working on it.

Not to be obnoxious, but John is mistaken about Xavier being the only military Jesuit high school.  A Jesuit high school with the odd name of Jesuit High School in New Orleans had Marine Corps ROTC.  Another interesting note is that our class had another science fiction writer - Brad Ferguson.  Oddly enough, Brad also graduated as a cadet corporal.  Go figure.

Peter J Reilly CPA is attempting to become the Tom Sawyer of blogging, by getting lots of guest posts.  Why don't you contribute?