Echoes of 1942

Somewhere in my house is an envelope containing my grandfather’s World War II certificate for a Class C gas-rationing sticker. I last saw it a quarter of a century ago, before my father tucked it away again, probably in one of the trunks in the upstairs closets. Gasoline was one of the first commodities rationed by the Office of Price Administration after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They called it “mileage” rationing, and gasoline was not the item they were saving. What we were lacking was rubber, since the Japanese had taken early control of the rubber plantations of Southeast Asia. Metal soon became scarce, …

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Beware a of a Trump Coup!

These mass protests against systemic racism are driving Donald Trump plumb crazy! Of course, that’s a pretty short drive for him. He would be hilarious if his buffoonery was not so dangerous and destructive. For example, he had peaceful protesters gassed, clubbed, and shoved out of the public square across from the White House so he could walk out and pose stone-faced with a Bible, as some sort of political stunt. Especially dangerous, though, is the craven willingness of our top military officials to play along with his infantile attempts to appear manly. When Trump strutted out to do his little Bible photo-op, guess who …

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What does “Small Government” buy us?

Amazingly, America has become a nation of socialists, asking in dismay: “Where’s the government?” These are not born-again Bernie Sanders activists, but everyday people of all political stripes (including previously apolitical multitudes) who’re now clamoring for big government intervention in their lives. Nothing like a spreading coronavirus pandemic to bring home the need that all of us have—both as individuals and as a society—for an adequately-funded, fully-functioning, competent government capable of serving all. Instead, in our moment of critical national need, Trump’s government was a rickety medicine show run by a small-minded flimflammer peddling laissez-fairyland snake oil. “We have it totally under control,” Trump pompously …

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The Four Horsemen of This Apocalypse

Recently, while taking a virtual tour of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, I came across an image of Albrecht Durer’s 1498 woodcut, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” This woodcut was one of 15 that Durer produced for a book illustrating the Bible’s “Revelation to John,” and the image powerfully represents scripture’s Four Horsemen: conquest, war and violence, famine, and death. Earlier artists tended to represent each horseman separately, but Durer chose to present them together, galloping fiercely across a visual field. Durer created the image more than 500 years ago, yet it continues to startle, displaying the horsemen’s combined energies and inspiring thought …

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Calling Toody and Muldoon

Thirty-odd years ago I got a phone call out of the blue from Mike Cavanaugh, a retired Philadelphia policeman. I didn’t know him, but he had a four-year contract to write a book about the Civil War battle of the “Crater,” and the contract was barely 90 days away from the deadline. He had done all the research, but had written only half a page, and wanted to know if I would be interested in co-authoring the book with him. At the time I was writing the biography of the Union general who lost that battle, so it seemed like an easy transition, and a …

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What’s the charitable thing to do about inequality?

Our society has coined expressions like “philanthropist” to encourage and hail people’s charitable spirit. Look on the flip side of that shiny coin of generosity, however, and you’ll find that its base substance is societal selfishness. After all, the need for charity only exists because we’re tolerating intentional injustices and widespread inequality created by power elites. A society as supremely wealthy as ours ought not be relegating needy families and essential components of the common good to the whims of a few rich philanthropists. Yes, corporate and individual donations can help at the margins, but they don’t fix anything. Thus, food banks, health clinics, etc. …

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