Back to Back

An excerpt from an essay I may include in a book of my op-eds:

Ugly politicians—I used to see pictures of all those ugly, sour-looking men standing on Lenin’s tomb in Moscow and would then turn to the local paper and see the same guys shaking hands with Rockefeller in Hamlin. If it wasn’t for the language difference you could switch their guys for ours and no one would know the difference. I concluded that the Soviet Union was just a bunch of Lincoln Counties back to back.

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Morgantown to San Francisco

Excerpt from a letter by a good friend in San Francisco, after I had returned to West Virginia. It will be in my Morgantown to San Francisco memoir.

…. Constantly changing here—-that’s why I came here, why I stay and why I’ll leave when I do. Sometimes it’s incredible. In February, we went to see Bob Dylan. Eleven of us—-we rented a jitney bus, ate one and ½ ounce of grass in brownies, ½ tab of LSD and got dropped off at the door. —-25,000 people dressed like it was a Thursday afternoon assembly in high school…. Dylan in a three-piece black suit, white shirt, no tie—-the times they are a-changing. Dylan screaming all the lyrics ANGRY, VINDICTIVE, MOCKING like he just wrote the words…He’s doing a superstar thing right in front of everybody. The crowd is totally cued on how to behave by reading about every other night on the tour. Like a Rolling Stone is the last song and everybody knows it and knows they can surge forward. 10,000 crowd the stage. When he gets to the chorus he shrieks HOW DOES IT FEEL? 10,000 packed near the stage reach forward hands up. Everybody shrieks, the crowd goes berserk. More people yelling, running toward the stage, anticipating the next chorus…when you ain’t got nothing to lose (but a three-piece suit) you got nothing to lose (people running toward the stage) you’re invisible, you got no secrets to conceal (crowd surges forward hands up toward HIM, he’s yelling HOW DOES IT FEEL?

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Act of Conscience

An excerpt from a work in progress memoir about my San Francisco years 1968-71

Act of Conscience

I met Randy Kehler at a Committee of Returned Volunteers meeting. He was active with the War Resisters League. We went to San Francisco State College during the student strike. Chicano and African-American students had done some research and documented what they could already see. The minority enrollment at San Francisco State College had been going down steadily for the past several years. It was becoming an all-white, middle class college.

At one time there were more than two thousand students and supporters in a marching picket line surrounding the small campus. After a while, Randy and I went into the College of Business to take a leak. That was exactly the wrong building. Riot police headquarters was in the College of Business, of course it was. Four tactical squad members followed us into the restroom. The first two cops jammed Randy and me against the wall and demanded identification while the other two searched the stalls and wastebaskets.

I fumbled for my driver’s license and it fell to the floor.   “You dropped your card.” The cop had a nasty curl to his lips. He didn’t move back. I slid down and picked up the card with about six inches between me and the cop. One slight wrong move and I figure I was going to get hurt. Randy had some granola in a bag. The cops looked inside the bag and then dumped it in the trash can. Outside, students and supporters clapped their hands and some chanted as they walked in the picket line that surrounded the small campus. One chant was, “It is time to off the pigs.” Which meant, murder the police. Finally, the mounted cops responded. They crashed down on heads with four-foot long saber-shaped clubs.


From the 2008 fortieth anniversary of the student strike.

1968 student-led strike was the longest campus strike in United States history. The five-month event defined the University’s core values of equity and social justice, laid the groundwork for establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies, and inspired the establishment of ethnic studies classes and programs at other universities throughout the country.

The Black Student Union and a coalition of other student groups known as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) led the strike, which began Nov. 6, 1968 and ended March 20, 1969. Clashes between the strikers and San Francisco Police tactical squads made national news. Students, faculty and community activists demanded equal access to public higher education, more senior faculty of color and a new curriculum that would embrace the history and culture of all people including ethnic minorities.

As a result, the College of Ethnic Studies was instituted in 1969 and hundreds of other higher education institutions across the country followed SF State’s lead. According to a 1981 report issued by the Education Resource Information Center, 439 colleges in the country offered a total of 8,805 ethnic studies courses by 1978. “For the United States to adequately prepare citizens for responsible participation in a complex culturally pluralistic society and a multicultural world, ethnic studies should be represented in general education,” the report concluded.

“The idea of changing universities to be more inclusive and using academia to improve society remains relevant,” College of Ethnic Studies Dean Kenneth Monteiro said. “Even today in a globally focused world, many institutions of higher education have not expanded their curricula to include the histories, philosophies, sciences and arts of a greater range of the world’s intellectual traditions.”

….Many SF State strike alumni rose to prominence in the fields of social justice, law, public health, education and public service. They include actor and activist Danny Glover, who was a member of the Black Student Union, and Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay, who worked on the strike as a member of the Philippine American College Endeavor (PACE) and was a TWLF spokesperson. Alumnus and statesman Willie Brown, then a young lawyer and legislator, worked to free striking students who were jailed, as did, former U.S. Congressman, Oakland Mayor and alumnus Ron Dellums.

Of the strikers who chose public education as a career, several returned to SF State and are currently on the faculty including Associate Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies and Professor of Asian American Studies Laureen Chew, Professor of Asian American Studies Danilo Begonia, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Dan Gonzales, Professor of Raza Studies Roberto Rivera.

Wikipedia and War Resisters League on Randy Kehler:

 In 1969, during the Vietnam War, Kehler returned his draft card to the Selective Service System. He refused to seek exemption as a conscientious objector, because he felt that was simply a form of cooperation with the US government’s actions in Vietnam. After being called for induction and refusing to submit, he was charged with a federal crime. Found guilty at trial, Kehler served twenty-two months of a two-year sentence.

     Daniel Ellsberg’s exposure to Kehler in August 1969…was a pivotal event in Ellsberg’s decision to copy and release the Pentagon Papers (It was Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers which led to Richard Nixon to create a group of in-house spies, who undertook the ill-fated Water Gate break-in, which led to Nixon’s resignation)

The refusal of Randy, and his wife Betsy Corner, since 1977, to pay taxes for military expenditures resulted in the 1989 Federal seizure, and eventual legal forfeiture, of their house in Colrain, Massachusetts. This was documented in the film An Act of Conscience (1997).

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Random Quotes

Theodore Roosevelt—“the Tom Sawyer of the political world of the twentieth century,” Clemens called him—had impetuously decided to abolish the motto “In God We Trust,” because coins “carried the name of God into improper places.” …It was a beautiful motto, Clemens said. “It is simple, direct, gracefully phrased; it sounds well—In God We Trust. I don’t believe it would sound any better if it were true.”….What the country trusted in was not God but “the Republican party and the dollar—mainly the dollar.” And as for the United States being a Christian country….Clemens said…“so is hell.” From Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain by Justin Kaplan

“The Russian Church…prohibited conjugal relations during Lent; …a counterpoise  to the tendency of the people to indulge excessively in almost the only pleasure left to them.”  From The Reformation by Will Durant

TV preacher on sending him your money—“It’s the circumcision of your financial life. It’s like cutting away the excess skin”  Blip from TV as I was channel surfing(God was leading me).

From Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan: “…the carrion stench of old people.”

“Like any mistress, the West excites and fascinates us, but our relationship with it is episodic and superficial.”  (Concerning  Greece)

From Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux: “…it is human nature to worship what we fear.    ….There is a point at which hysteria is indistinguishable from belief. ….                Christian missionaries have been peregrinating and proselytizing in Africa for upward of 1,400 years…

From The Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux– “The phlegmy, fruity laugh of the chain smoker.”

From Jude The Obscure: by Thomas Hardy,  “The wind dipped to earth and scooped straws and hay stems from the ground.”

From The Reformation: Will Durant  “…men prefer the assurance of dogma to the diffidence of reason.”…. “Our instincts were formed during a thousand centuries of insecurity and the chase; their once necessary vigor exceeds present social need; they must be checked a hundred times a day, consciously or not, to make society and civilization possible. Families and states, from ages before history, have enlisted the aid of religion to moderate the barbarous impulses of men.” Piers the Plowman by William Langland would “…weary any reader who lays upon authors the moral obligation to be clear.”….“…flays rascals impartially.” John Gower “…achieved dullness in three languages.”     “…three things are merciless when they get out of hand: water, fire, and the mob.” Of Chaucer, Durant writes, “…and living like a hermit in all but poverty, chastity, and obedience…” and “…a passion that runs to 8,386 lines becomes prose almost as rapidly as desire consummated.”  Durant wrote of Chaucer that,  “He was not a very learned man, for he liked to display his learning…”  “He mentions  some problems of philosophy and theology, but shrugs his shoulders at them helplessly. Perhaps he felt, like any man of the world, that a prudent philosopher will not wear his metaphysics on his sleeve.” Durant says Chaucer, “…is disturbed by evils apparently irreconcilable with an omnipotent benevolence…” In that regard, here is my rough translation of a line or two of Chaucer spoken through Arcite, one of the travelers in The Canterbury Tales—And what is mankind to you than sheep that huddle in the fold. For slain is man same as another beast and is arrested and dwells in prison, and has sickness and great adversity,…and when a beast is dead he has no pain, but man in his death must weep and plea to escape hell’s torment.

Sandra Day O’Conner—“Everyone is going to grow up to be a citizen, Democracy is not a spectator sport.”



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Byrd and Mountain Top Removal

An excerpt from Damn Yankee Buttons, a book of essays and short stories I am working on.

Near the end of his life, after a political career of supporting the coal industry, Byrd expressed misgivings about mountain top removal strip mining.

Byrd had denounced Judge Charles Haden, for his 1999 ruling against mountain top removal valley fills. But in May of 2009 Byrd said that “…. The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.”

In November, 2009, Byrd said that “The practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington. It is not a widespread method of mining, with its use confined to only three states. Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens.

“In recent years, West Virginia has seen record high coal production and record low coal employment …The increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals.

“West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with EPA and our adversaries in the Congress.

“Some have even suggested that coal state representatives in Washington should block any advancement of national health care reform legislation until the coal industry’s demands are met by the EPA. I believe that the notion of holding the health care of over 300 million Americans hostage in exchange for a handful of coal permits is beyond foolish; it is morally indefensible.  It is a non-starter, and puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible light.

“To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.”

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Four Letter Words

An excerpt from Damn Yankee Buttons, a book of essays and short stories that I am working on:

Montaigne wrote that “The genital activities of mankind are so natural . . . what have they done to make us never dare to mention them without embarrassment and to exclude them from serious orderly conversation? We are not afraid to utter the words kill, thieve, or betray; but those others we only dare to mutter through our teeth.”

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Home Place Under Siege

An excerpt from my work in progress, Damned Yankee Buttons: Essays and Short Stories

Our home place is now under siege by a blight on the land. Bull Creek is empty of people, hardwood trees, ginseng, yellow root, and most all other native plant and animal species. The mountains above it have been strip mined. The rocks and dirt that used to be the mountain top have buried Bull Creek, along with my memories of Uncle Kin’s cabin and huckleberry picking.

Ashford ridge, running from Ashford to Bull Creek, is scalped by mountain top removal strip mining. Behind our home place and just over the mountain on Fork Creek, mountain top removal strip mining is closing in on us.

It is probably too much hope to expect that the mountain across the river that our cousins sold to a coal company, will not be destroyed like Ashford Ridge and Bull Creek.

When Truman and I are gone, I hope the heirs love the home place like we do and resist the coal companies when they come with offers of money, in exchange for Grandma’s farm.

I hope they follow the example of our progenitor Isaac Barker, when he told that man, named Skinner, who was buying up mineral rights on Coal River: You are Skinner by name and skinner by trade but you will not skin old Isaac Barker. Isaac spoke truth to power and refused to sell his mineral rights.

Coal River, what a portentous name. Sounds like it might eventually be burned, and take the whole world with it. Coal is a nasty substance, full of cancer causing compounds that once released by the magic of fire, distributes poisons throughout the earth. Coal blocks out the sun. It pours out carbon dioxide that holds in infrared radiation, a fancy name for heat. Smoke from black gold, burning in West Virginia, has sterilized lakes in New York and Canada. I tried to fish in one of those lakes in Ontario until I realized there were no fish or other wildlife in the water.

When coal’s original connections are altered, it lets go of the sunshine that created it millions of years ago. Plastic and steel and asphalt are made by rearranging the connections conjured up by giant ferns. The root of all evil keeps the process going, in spite of the suicidal side effects. Coal left alone isn’t nasty, but the love of money is a nasty, perverse, and abusive love.

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