Damn Yankee Buttons

An excerpt from my next book, Damn Yankee Buttons:

Stuff is subject to entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy says the universe will gradually wind down and everything will go from order to disorder.

Burning coal, changes it to heat, light, gases and ash. Those components can’t be put back together—-that is entropy. To slow down the accelerated entropy, humans will have to realize that nothing is forever, that all stuff is finite. Mountain top removal strip mining, fracking for natural gas, and Black Friday, make it seem unlikely that humans are up to the task.


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Jim Haught


“Jim Haught” <haught@wvgazette.com>: Sep 01 01:02PM -0400 August 28, 2017 Gazette-Mail editor emeritus named UnitedCoR writer in residence Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Gazette-Mail’s editor emeritus has been named writer in residence for a national organization, the United Coalition of Reason, based in Washington, D.C.  James A. Haught won’t be in residence in Washington, though. He will remain with the Gazette-Mail and contribute to the group online. UnitedCoR is an umbrella operation serving 5,000 local skeptic and free-thought groups across America and is now extending its reach overseas.

In a similar writing role, Haught has been a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, based in Amherst, New York, for three decades.   During his 66 years at the Gazette-Mail, he has written 11 books, 120 magazine essays and 50 columns syndicated nationally. A library at West Virginia University is compiling his writings in an archive. More information about the coalition is available at unitedcor.org.

Religious Horrors (Part 1 of 3)   James A. Haught Writer-in-Residence-United Coalition of Reason   Many people think religion causes believers to be compassionate and brotherly. But the record of history-from human sacrifice to Crusades, to Inquisitions, to witch-hunts, to jihads, to pogroms against Jews, to Catholic-Protestant Reformation wars, to slaughter of Anabaptists, to slaughter of Baha’is, to Muslim suicide bombers, etc.-tells an uglier story.

Did you know that a Catholic-Protestant cannon battle occurred in Philadelphia in 1844? A Catholic bishop complained about Protestant worship in public schools, so Protestant mobs stormed Catholic neighborhoods, burning homes and churches. Martial law was declared. Federal troops with cannons arrived to keep peace. Protestants took cannons from sailing ships at the wharf and loaded them with bolts and nails. Ensuing barrages killed two dozen.   Did you know that one of history’s worst wars, the Taiping Rebellion, erupted in the 1850s because a Chinese man read Christian pamphlets and had a vision that he was a second divine son after Jesus? In the vision, God told him to “destroy demons,” so he roused a million follower-warriors to seize territory from the emperor. Taipings conquered a huge part of China before they were defeated by defense armies-including one led by British adventurer “Chinese” Gordon. The death toll is estimated around 20 million.   Poor Gordon faced religious horror twice. Later, he led defense forces against a Muslim holy war in the Nile valley, and was killed when the fanatics overran Khartoum.   Did you know that Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s killed 90,000? It happened because the government tried to halt church control over society. Bishops retaliated by stopping worship services-which sent ardent Catholics and a few priests, into armed rebellion. Slaughter was horrendous. U.S. diplomats finally negotiated a cease-fire. In 2000, the Vatican conferred sainthood on 23 Cristero figures, and later beatified 13 more.   Currently, a Netflix series, “Lovebird,” tells of a past Turkish doctor who was sentenced to death by Muslim holy men because he saved his father’s life with a forbidden blood transfusion.

On and on it goes. The record of holy cruelties and atrocities is too vast to count. Here are a few:   SACRIFICE   Ancient Greeks sacrificed thousands of animals-and occasional people-to a fanciful array of invisible gods who supposedly lived atop Mount Olympus. Legend says that King Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to induce the goddess Artemis to provide wind so his fleet could sail to the Trojan War.   In the 1500s, Aztec priests sacrificed an estimated 20,000 victims per year to many gods, including an invisible feathered serpent.       In the 1800s, India’s Thugs strangled about 20,000 victims yearly for the many-armed goddess Kali, before British rulers found 3,689 stranglers and hanged many of them. Supposedly, Thugs believed that Brahma the creator was making lives faster than Shiva the destroyer could end them, so they killed on behalf of Shiva’s consort Kali.   Pre-Inca priests of Peru burned as many as 200 children in great ceremonies to appease bizarre gods. Druids of Gaul allegedly put victims into human-shaped wicker constructions and burned them. In Borneo, builders of pile houses drove the first pile though a maiden’s body to placate the earth goddess. In Tibet, Bon shamans performed ritual killing. In Africa, Ashanti priests sacrificed about 100 yearly to bring a good yam harvest. In 1838 a Pawnee Indian girl was cut into pieces to fertilize newly sown crops.   CRUSADES   Many people think the Crusades were romantic quests by shining knights wearing crimson crosses, but they actually were a nightmare of slaughter, rape, looting and magic tales.   After Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095 to wrest the Holy Land from infidels-declaring Deus vult (God wills it)-volunteer armies arose like mobs around Europe. Some in the Rhine Valley followed a goose they thought had been enchanted by God to guide them.       Other groups decided they should first kill “the infidels among us,” so they stormed Jewish ghettos and slaughtered inhabitants, giving some a chance to save themselves by converting to Christianity at swordpoint.       As the peasant armies traveled through the Balkans, they pillaged farms and towns for food, provoking battles with local peoples. In one clash, an army led by Peter the Hermit killed 4,000 Christian residents of Zemun, Yugoslavia, and then burned nearby Christian Belgrade.   As crusaders reached the eastern end of the Mediterranean, they decapitated hundreds of Muslims and carried the heads as trophies. During the siege of Antioch, 200 Muslim heads were catapulted over the walls into the city. Muslim defenders inside decapitated the city’s Christians and catapulted their heads outward.   When Jerusalem fell, almost every resident was slaughtered. Chronicler Raymond of Aguilers wrote proudly: “The horses waded in blood up to their knees, nay, up to the bridle. It was a just and wonderful judgment of God.”   However, Muslims regrouped and eventually drove out crusaders. So a Second Crusade was launched, then a Third, and several more. During the Third Crusade, in 1191, Richard the Lion-Hearted ordered 3,000 captives at Acre to be cut open to retrieve swallowed gems. St. Bernard of Clairvaux declared: “The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ Himself is glorified.”       In the Fourth Crusade, cross-wearing soldiers became sidetracked and sacked Christian Constantinople. Other crusades fizzled.   The seventh and final crusade was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when a papal fleet defeated a Muslim fleet. A crusader named Miguel de Cervantes suffered a maimed arm. He later wrote “Don Quixote.”   Incidentally, the Seventh Crusade was ordered by Pope Pius V, who espoused slaughter. As Grand Inquisitor, he sent troops to kill 2,000 deviant Waldensians, followers of preacher Peter Waldo, in southern Italy. After becoming pope, he sent troops to fight Huguenot Protestants in France, telling commanders to kill all prisoners. And he revived the Inquisition to torture and burn Christian “heretics.” After his death, Pius V was canonized a saint.

Check back in the next UnitedCoR newsletter for a continuation of Jim’s article “Religious Horrors” when we’ll visit the darker side of religion on the European Continent.

Interview with James A. Haught: UnitedCoR’s new Writer-in-Residence   Susan Education Officer and National Coordinator-United Coalition of Reason   James A. Haught was born on Feb. 20, 1932, in a small West Virginia farm town that had no electricity or paved streets. He graduated from a rural high school with 13 students in the senior class. He came to Charleston, worked as a delivery boy, then became a teen-age apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail in 1951. Developing a yen to be a reporter, he volunteered to work without pay in the Daily Mail newsroom on his days off to learn the trade. This arrangement continued several months, until The Charleston Gazette offered a full-time news job in 1953. He has been at the Gazette ever since-except for a few months in 1959 when he was press aide to Sen. Robert Byrd.   During his six decades in newspaper life, he has been police reporter, religion columnist, feature writer and night city editor; then he was investigative reporter for 13 years, and his work led to several corruption convictions. In 1983 he was named associate editor, and in 1992 he became editor. In 2015, as The Gazette combined with the Daily Mail, he assumed the title of editor emeritus, but still works full-time. He writes nearly 400 Gazette editorials a year, plus personal columns and news articles.     (Jim Haught with former acquaintances)   Haught has won two dozen national newswriting awards, and is author of 11 books and 120 magazine essays. About 50 of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. He has four children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.   For years, Jim has enjoyed hiking with Kanawha Trail Club, participating in a philosophy group, and taking grandchildren swimming off his old sailboat. He is a longtime member of Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation.   Haught continues working full-time at 85.   UnitedCoR: Please tell us a little more about the role of religion in your life. What experiences and thoughts brought you to the place where you are today?

Jim Haught (JH): When I was a little kid, I went to Sunday school and tried to pray. But when I became a teen, religion seemed like silly fairy tales, old nonsense. I remember wondering how Noah got to the Arctic to get two polar bears.and to Australia to get two kangaroos.and to Antarctica to get two penguins.and to America to get two bison, etc.

UnitedCoR: You’ve been covering religion in the media for many years. Looking back on your career, what are some of the trends that you’ve noticed?   JH: In my long newspaper career, one of my assignments was to attend a different church each Sunday and write a Monday report. I felt like an impostor, because it all seemed absurd to me. In 1974, our community suffered a fundamentalist uprising against “godless textbooks” that caused shootings, bombing of schools, beatings of school board members, and criminal trials-all of these drew national attention. The Charleston Daily Mail editor won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials about the nightmare. Mostly, I think news reporters see religion as fluky, a carnival. Generally, religion news is a bore unless it’s another prosecution of a priest for child-molesting, or an evangelist caught in a swindle. Every month, Freethought Today prints a long list of “black-collar crimes” citing such news.

UnitedCoR: What were some of the largest stories you covered? What role did religious belief play in how those stories were either portrayed or received?   JH: I discovered a serpent-handler sect in the mountains, and printed photos of believers waving rattlesnakes.all believing they were following Christ’s command in the Great Commission that believers shall “take up serpents.” Actually, I rather liked the snake-handlers, because they’re simple and sincere. Some of them die from rattler bites, or have paralyzed arms. I also covered an Episcopal heresy trial of Bishop James Pike at Wheeling (but it was quietly sidetracked to avoid a laughable replay of the Scopes Monkey Trial). Pike ignored fellow bishops and hung out with us news-hounds: he was under attack because he doubted the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, etc. Time magazine’s headline about it was “Pike’s Pique.” I once visited Jim & Tammy Bakker’s Pentecostal park in the Carolinas and wrote a series about million-dollar evangelists. Some of Bakker’s leaders spoke in “the unknown tongue,” and one even sang in it. My series led to a Penthouse article titled “The God Biz.”     (Jim’s friends always joked that he’s been reporting for a long time.)   UnitedCoR: From a media perspective, what advice and tips could you give to local non-theistic groups when it comes to how their outreach and programs are covered by the press? What are some ways that they can ensure a positive reception and public image?

JH: I think skeptic groups should send announcements of their projects to news media, so the public will see freethinkers as a legitimate social movement. The more items are printed about skeptic events, the more it will seem to be a regular part of America. If a school board tries to impose school prayer or ban evolution, or if religious displays are put on government property (right now, there’s a push to put “In God We Trust” on government buildings), skeptics should fight, or file lawsuits, but do so without sneering insults. We should present a friendly image.

UnitedCoR: You’ve mentioned Unitarian Universalism in one of your essays. What changes have you seen within the UUA that has made it more friendly and cooperative towards non-theists?

JH: When I joined UU in the 1950s, our congregation consisted almost entirely of chemists, professors, social workers and other educated people who were highly irreligious. (I felt like I was the only member without a Ph.D.) Later, the national UUA turned more “churchy” and began using god-talk. I protested and wrote a couple of magazine essays against this trend. I wound up in a debate with UUA President William Sinkford at our Charleston congregation. I proposed that the denomination adopt a statement saying: “The UUA takes no position on the existence, or nonexistence, of God. Members are free to reach their own conclusions about this profound question.” Actually, that statement expresses the UU reality, but leaders were afraid to put it into writing.


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An Excerpt from Damn Yankee Buttons, a book I am working on:

….my experience calls into question some of the fairly blatant generalizations you made back in 1994. Shortly into your observations about humans in the Appalachian Mountains, you grab hold of one that attracts attention–incest. I have to admit that my maternal grandmother and grandfather were fifth and seventh cousins, double cousins several times removed. I never heard of first cousin marriage in my family or in any other family. I haven’t even heard of second or third cousins getting married. I don’t think you meant it the way it sounds, but listen to what was in print, “. . . the children of brothers marrying sisters, is not unusual.” Of course you were referring to first cousins marrying—sons of one brother marrying daughters of another brother. But even that is something I never heard of happening among any of my kin or friends.

Near the end of Chapter 22, you nail us with this beauty: “Many with physical defects and little education remained in the same hollow and reproduced.” Lord, what a generalization and what an amazing misrepresentation of my ancestors. Where is the data to back up such a damning statement? Such stereotypical statements encourage the same view of Appalachian people portrayed in the book and movie, Deliverance.

I recall a Lincoln County back-to-the-lander saying to me that he thought the problems in West Virginia were because of inbreeding. He also allowed as how our accent and pronunciations were due to ignorance, and he didn’t want his daughter talking like she was from Lincoln County, which was where she was born and was being raised. I guess he forgot that he was talking about my gene pool, or maybe he figured I wasn’t like those other hillbillies.

In front of me another newcomer to West Virginia chastised his daughter for saying “you all.” I turned to her, a native-born West Virginian, and said, “That is the way we talk, isn’t it?” And even a dear friend, a so-called back-to-the-lander who stood up for me in battles with the board of education, has made similar remarks to me. I think the dilution of my accent by a West Virginia University education in Morgantown and living five years out of state caused some newcomers to forget I am a native.

I hope you would never say that African-Americans sure have a great sense of rhythm. But you said, patronizingly, I thought, that “Appalachian people still have a native fondness for music and dancing.” My how those darkies sure can dance and sing. Some of us do and some don’t, just like anyone anywhere else. No one in my family ever exhibited any more than ordinary fondness for dancing or music. My grandmother did play, by ear, the church piano and Uncle Kin picked out hymns on his guitar on winter evenings by the coal fire burning in the grate.

And when you say, “The best Appalachian ballads came from the most backward areas.” Lord have mercy! What do you mean by backward? And why did that word pop into your mind? And imagine what people outside the Appalachians will read into that.

I was absolutely flabbergasted by this one: “Mountaineers still get excited over good, cold water, in large part because of its crucial contribution to good moonshine.” Where in God’s name did you get an idea like that? Now, I have to admit that my grandfather and great uncle Kin—that is how he spelled his name—did make moonshine, and grandma claimed they were drunk for thirty years. But most people did not make moonshine—and they valued good water for the drinking, cooking, fishing and bathing.

And, right in the next paragraph, I learn that our ancestors had “. . . a general disregard for the law.” What evidence does a scientist such as you have to support such a conclusion? Less than a half page later, you give credence to the myth that our ancestors were a bunch of feuding hillbillies whose “. . . behavior contributed to wars between families.” Maybe you were thinking of the crime families in New York and New Jersey. The sensationalized Hatfield and McCoy feud is the only “family war” I ever heard of in West Virginia.

How could you call our ancestors “Haughtily independent?” How do you know they were haughty? Why did that word pop into your mind to describe us? And why, after saying that our ancestors valued being liked and accepted over striving for material gain, was your only conclusion that “This made them supersensitive to slights and criticisms?” There must be a thousand good things that could be said in favor of being spiritual. What evidence is there for saying our ancestors were any more sensitive to slights and criticisms than any other group of ancestors—or for saying they didn’t prefer material objects over acceptance? And how do you know that “… the average mountaineer was lean, inquisitive and shrewd?” Once again, that sounds patronizing to me. My mother was inquisitive but certainly not lean or shrewd. Aunt Julia and great aunt Ora were not lean.


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Taming of Democracy

An excerpt from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on.

A book by Terry Bouton beckoned me to take a look inside– below the title Taming Democracy in small print  it claimed that the American Revolution had a troubled ending.

According to Bouton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there was a counter-revolution after the revolutionary war. When the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution, America went from a democracy, the expected fruit of the revolution, to control by what Robert Morris approvingly called “moneyed people.” Bouton writes that the second revolution replaced the more democratic Articles of Confederation with a constitution that concentrated the government in the hands of the rich.

Robert Morris, the wealthy banker who financed the Revolutionary War, organized the constitutional convention to replace the Articles of Confederation. The Articles gave too much power to the states and were too democratic for Morris and his protégé, Alexander Hamilton. Morris, Hamilton and others of the elite founders devised our present constitution with a strong central government whose laws take precedence over legislation passed by the states. In an unsuccessful attempt to ensure that the elite would maintain control, Hamilton even wanted the president and senators appointed for life.

The constitution we got from the elite founders gives the President and the Supreme Court vetoes over the feared democratic impulses of the House of Representatives and created a Senate to put brakes on those same impulses. Senators were to be appointed by state legislatures, which guaranteed a Senate composed of “moneyed people”

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Coach LeRose

Coach LeRose

The Charleston Gazette



To appear in Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on:

Sammy LeRose was a young 37. He was our new football coach. He was quick in his step, confident, successful and he was kind. In 1953, my senior year, Coach LeRose came to St. Albans High School from Gauley Bridge High. We were hopeful. He helped us fulfill our hope. We had a winning season for the first time in five years.

The next year, his team lost only one game. In his third season, most of the starters from the year before had graduated. He welcomed a bunch of very small inexperienced players to the 1955 season. His Kennedy Award winning quarterback weighed 130 pounds, and at least one tackle weighed only 140 pounds! They won every game they played and the state championship. Although St. Albans didn’t even have a track, Coach LeRose’s track teams won four state titles.

So what was his method, his philosophy? How did he succeed so fast at a school that had quit winning? Players at other schools were astounded. They couldn’t believe what they had heard. Some even came to see for themselves.

Unlike any other team, we practiced in shorts in the afternoon of those hot and horrible August two-a-day workouts! Our morale soared. We worked on timing and went over real game scenarios without the pain.

Coach LeRose told us that he would wait each day for one-half hour, after we got dressed and on the field, before coming out to start practice. He said, “You linemen, get out there and kick the ball, pass the ball, enjoy that half-hour.”

He convinced us that every play could go for a touchdown, and that cheating was wrong and a waste of time. He never taught us any dirty tricks or rule benders. Sammy LeRose taught us to think for ourselves. He sent every play in from the bench, but we were to make changes if we saw a weakness in the other team that he didn’t see. His bag of trick plays added to our and our fans’ joyful experience.

Coach LeRose played as many players as he possible could. Little, fast guys were put in on the kickoffs, and their enthusiasm seemed to get them downfield before the ball. Word got around that if you hustled, Coach LeRose would let you play. On the first day of his first season, there were only 45 of us. The third season, that championship season, he dressed 125 players! What a sight as they completely encircled the field and the other team as they trotted out for pre-game workouts.

I never heard Coach LeRose raise his voice in anger, nor did I ever hear him curse. He was gentle and compassionate. He taught us to never express disgust with our mistakes, no temper tantrums, no helmet throwing, no kicking the ground, no cursing. Everything was positive about Sam LeRose. He never jumped on anyone for a mistake. He very patiently, and with his kind smile, helped us correct our miscues. He lifted us up and never did we feel humiliated.

Next to my parents, Sammy LeRose was without a doubt the most influential person in my life. For a period of just twelve weeks when I was turning seventeen, this man gave me self-confidence and allowed me to succeed. He may have saved my life. Rest in peace, good man, rest in peace.

          Sam LeRose coached the St. Albans High School football team from 1953 to 1956 and from 1962 to 1973. Every season was a winning season. His record was 124-35-3. He coached a state champion football team and four state champion track teams. Coach LeRose died November 3, 2003. My junior year under the previous coach I played thirty seconds in one game. My senior year weighing 150 pounds I played left tackle, nose guard or linebacker and made the all-conference team.

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Names for sale

An excerpt from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on.

I despair at the commercialism that causes ball parks and bowl games to be named for whatever company puts up the money.  Poor Watt Powell.[1] It’s getting as bad as public radio and television having “corporate sponsors”—-some a little short of criminal in their own operations and/or tearing the environment limb from limb.

In the spirit of incorporating everything once holy in America, I offer the following possibilities:  Counties and towns in West Virginia could seek “corporate sponsors” and endure such name changes as, Amazon.com Cabell County, Toyota Putnam County, Arch Coal Logan County, and Wampler Moorefield. Mudsuck and Big Ugly will have a hard time finding a buyer. West Virginia could become The National Coal Association West Virginia. This could catch on.

Actually the corporate naming is just a continuation of the tradition of naming towns and counties after robber barons.  In the old days companies were often dominated by one aggressive and greedy capitalist. Thus towns got named Davis, Elkins, Huntington and Itmann (for I. T. Mann) and streets for Camden and Ruffner. Towns like Junior were named for robber baron children. In the past we didn’t charge for the free advertising.

However, we must be careful–the legislature might try to continue the tradition of giving away the store. In keeping with the super tax credits and the decision to pay NASCAR for giving them free advertisement on license plates, the legislature will probably offer to pay the National Coal Association for the privilege of connecting their name to West Virginia.  After all “West Virginia is Coal” you know.
[1] The name of an old baseball park named for a man who organized the first baseball teams in the Kanawha Valley.


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Excerpts from Sam’s Branch Essays, a book I am working on:

Progressland all looks alike. It is four lane highways that have destroyed small business in small-town America. There are trashy stretches of fast food joints and filling stations on all sides of every little town. The little main streets are boarded up and wasting away. People in the country are locking their houses now that the four-lanes bring criminals right to their doors—- A man drove on Interstate Highway 64 from Virginia almost all the way across West Virginia, took a random exit and drove into a random driveway, knocked on the door and shot the woman who answered the knock.

A campus guard at Emory and Henry University in western Virginia told me she was armed because Interstate 81 runs right past the campus. And an author and doctor in Johnstown, Tennessee writes that interstate highways are a conduit that brings AIDS from the metropolitan areas to more rural communities by way of truck drivers and local truck stop male and female prostitutes. The interstate highways are also conduits for invasive exotic plant species and plant diseases.


More on Progressland and development: When coming into West Virginia from Ohio on Interstate 77 cross the lovely Ohio River into Wild Wonderful West Virginia, do you see beautiful tree-filled mountains? Nope, you see giant billboards covering what are probably beautiful mountains. Of course they are notifications that can’t wait. Instead of looking at those pesky mountains, McDonalds and their ilk let you know immediately where you can find quaint Appalachian hamburgers. It is the same on the Virginia border coming into West Virginia from the south. McDonalds gets you on both ends. Who needs mountains when you can come to West Virginia for hamburgers? The song will have to be changed from “Those Beautiful West Virginia Hills” to “Those beautiful West Virginia hamburgers”, and don’t forget the cappuccino. Pretty soon all our mountains will be either strip-mined or covered with billboards or both.











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