Monday, May 21, 2018

A Grisly Incident

Born in Virginia in 1752, George Rogers Clark spent his early boyhood on a farm just a few miles from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. At the age of 20, he moved to Kentucky where he garnered a reputation as a military leader. He began his career as an Indian fighter and later in life gained the friendship and respect of the Native Americans who had been his former enemies. He is considered a hero of the American Revolution, where the greatest of his accomplishments was to capture the British-held forts of Kaskaskia, Cahokia Ka-ho-kee-ah, and Vincennes.

After his military service ended, Clark received 150,000 acres of land for his contribution to the war, but he struggled to maintain it. Unsuccessful at this, he lost most of the land and opened a small gristmill in Clarksville, Indiana, which provided a moderate income. In 1805, he was named to the board of directors of the Indiana Canal Company, whose mission was to build a canal around the nearby Falls of the Ohio River. His good fortune at obtaining this position didn't last long. Two of the other directors, including Vice President Aaron Burr, illegally plotted to seize Louisiana from Spain in order to open the Mississippi River to Americans. In the process, $2.5 million of the company's money ($65 million in today's dollars) turned up missing. Clark was not involved. Burr and the other director, Davis Floyd, were arrested for treason and the Indiana Canal Company folded.

A grisly incident in 1809 turned Clark into an invalid for the remainder of his life. Age 57 at the time, he suffered a stroke and fell into an open fireplace. He was unable to move and his leg burned so badly it required removal. When his doctor performed the amputation, the only "anesthetic" Clark received was music from a fife and drum corps playing in the background.

Clark lived with the crippling effects of the stroke and amputation until his death in 1818. Like his famous brother William (of Lewis and Clark fame), George Rogers Clark was a Freemason. Although his original Lodge is unknown, Abraham Lodge #8, Louisville, conducted his Masonic funeral.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"We Are One EMP Away From Losing Civilization."

Last week's episode of the Whence Came You podcast (https://bit.ly/2IhxBAr) is well worth a listen. Scott Hambrick, a member of Owasso Lodge 545 in Oklahoma, was Robert Johnson's guest on the show. Brother Hambrick is a founder of the Intellectual Linear Progression program, "an online community developing classically educated men and women using the great books of western civilization." (https://bit.ly/2GafSsU). With a decided preference for hard copy books, Scott notes, "One of the reasons I started this project is because I'm desperately afraid we're one EMP (electromagnetic pulse) away from losing civilization." Robert picked right up on that and they both agreed that is not an issue to be underestimated.

The discussion brought to mind some of the resistance offered when I was an officer in the Missouri Lodge of Research. We worked for a few years to establish the Masonic Library in Columbia. One of the arguments against going to that expense was, "We don't need books anymore. Everything is electronic these days. Books are old-fashioned and unnecessary in this 'modern' age."

I love technology. It was my profession. I want the latest gadget. I want every document I write to be in electronic format. Cloud storage is the way to go. With little reservation, however, I have a message for the world: Don't abandon paper.

In fact, along with that, don't abandon any of the "old time" analog archiving techniques. I mean it. Everything today should be digital... but not exclusively. Why? There are lots of reasons not to turn every document or historical item into a string of ones and zeros, but there are a couple of really good ones.

First, you've got to have the technology to use the technology. I have a boatload of old "floppy disks" around the house; not just the "modern" 3½ inch ones, not just the older 5¼ inch floppies, but the ancient 8 inchers. Try to find a way to read those bad boys today. They're obsolete. They don't even make good Frisbees.

Think that's going back a bit far? You think your CDs are safe? Studies have shown the average life of a CD is about 25 years. Uh-oh! You'd better run and check that Dire Straits CD you bought back in '85. Actually, the professional CDs have a life up to 100 years, but the ones you made... not so much. Besides, who knows if 100 years from now there will be a machine that can read a CD? A thousand years?

The solution? A good old fashioned record player. Really. As you read this, the little Voyager spacecraft has oozed out of our solar system into interstellar space. Know what's on board in case it encounters any extraterrestrials? Not a CD, not floppies, not tape, not an SD card, but a record and record player with pictorial instructions on how to use it. ET probably won't have CDs, but he'll be able to operate that simple gadget.

"Yes," you may agree, "but that's a really special case. There are no ETs around here." Well... probably not. But guess what: the official sound recording media our very own Library of Congress uses is 78 RPM records! Space age vinyl 78 RPM records to be sure but, still, Thomas Edison would be proud of us. And, naturally, original documents and books are its official hard copy storage media.

That brings us to the other big reason – the aforementioned EMP. Even if we do have the technology to read all this material, a single coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun or, God forbid, a nuclear war could wipe it all out in a single instant. Granted, if we ever have a disaster of that magnitude, our biggest problem wouldn't be whether or not we had last year's copies of the Short Talk Bulletin. Still, if we could survive such a disaster, in the long run it would be nice to have our historical documents. Hence, paper, vinyl and analog copies would be mighty handy. That's why the Library of Congress is making sure we keep them around. We all should — with both our personal and public treasures.

Oh, and by the way, such an EMP episode already happened. Known as the Carrington Event, a major CME hit the earth in September 1859. The only reason it didn't fry every iPad on earth is there weren't many of them around back then. More recently, a small CME in 1989 brought Hydro-Quebec's electricity transmission system to its knees. It can and will happen. Guaranteed.

In 2013, the Masonic Library in Columbia became a reality. It was a vision of Harry Truman that finally came into fruition. Much of its material is online, with more documents being added daily. At the same time though, the library doesn't put everything exclusively into electronic format.

Let's be optimistic and assume there won't be a nuclear war. Doesn't matter: the next coronal mass ejection is right around the corner.

So let's keep pumping out the paper copies. Luddites of the world unite!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

My Two Bank Robberies

When Carolyn and I were newlyweds we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Macomb County, Michigan. She worked for a doctor and I was a methods analyst – an industrial engineer of sorts – for the National Bank of Detroit. We only had one car, so on those occasions when the bank observed a holiday that "normal people" didn't get, she drove the car to work and I was stuck at home in the apartment.

On one of those occasions I decided to go shopping at a grocery store located across 16-Mile Road from our apartment. I set out on foot for what would be my quarter-mile trek and came to a ditch on the south side of 16-mile. There I spied several small bags scattered in the grass. Upon inspection I saw they were bank bags, each ripped open. The bags had various bank names stamped on them, including the bank where I worked, NBD. Inside each were wads of checks, all of different stock. I do not recall if the checks were canceled. It seemed to me there had been a robbery and upon ripping the bags open and discovering nothing but checks, the robbers had thrown them out on the side of the road. Rather than going on to the store, I picked them up and took them back to our apartment.

The next morning, bank holiday over, I took the bags to work and immediately gave them to the bank authorities. Good deed done, I got down to work.

Later in the day I received a call saying some bank bigshot, probably a vice president (NBD handed out vice-presidencies like Bed, Bath and Beyond hands out 20% discount coupons) wanted to see me. "Wow," I thought, "they want to reward me for my good deed. They probably want to do a story on me in the corporate newspaper – complete with picture, of course.


So Steve the junior-executive hero trotted on down to the administrative offices ready to tell my story and accept whatever certificate of achievement they might have for me.

I entered the room to find a couple of guys in suits along with three bank security guards. They wanted to know all about my adventure. Where did you find the bags? Are you sure they were ripped when you found them? What were you doing crossing 16-mile, a busy four-lane thoroughfare, on foot – a dangerous proposition at best? And on… and on.

Holy cow! I was a suspect! The grilling went on, it seemed, endlessly as I tried to convince these goons I had nothing to do with the robbery and thought I was doing the right thing by bringing the bags in. I finally convinced them or maybe they just got tired of giving me the third-degree. They let me go and I went back to my cube farm, a bit shaken. There was no certificate of recognition, no story in the company newsletter and no picture of me shaking hands with the bank president.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Epilogue: Nothing more ever came of that incident. I never heard exactly what happened that led to the bags being on the side of the road; no newspaper story, no word from the bank, no nothing. Unrelated to that, however, I had yet another encounter with iniquity at NBD a few months later.

Someone robbed a savings and loan institution across the street from NBD. The police issued a sketch of the suspected robber. I was, at the time, working on a project in the bank's Safekeeping department. As I walked in for a meeting there I was greeted by the staff with, "Steve… It's you!" They said I was a dead-ringer for the guy in the police artist's sketch. They had it posted on their bulletin board and I went over to take a look. Sure enough, it was me. The likeness was so close I now regret not taking it down and keeping it. Of course, that might have aroused suspicion and I definitely wouldn't have wanted that, given my past experience with the bank's "rubber-hose squad."

Monday, April 30, 2018

Jackson and Truman - A Unique Thing

Jackson County, Missouri is named for Andrew Jackson, who served as the seventh President of the United States, from 1829–37. The Jackson County Courthouse sits on the town square in Independence, Missouri, the famous home of Harry Truman, the thirty-third President, serving from 1945–53. When Truman was a county judge from 1922–24 and again from 1926–34, he had an office in the iconic building.

Statues of the two men flank the courthouse. On the west side, Jackson's statue shows him astride his horse in full military regalia as he might have appeared as a major-general in the Battle of New Orleans.

On the east side of the courthouse, Truman's statue depicts him, cane in hand, taking his morning constitutional, as was his custom in Independence in the days after his presidency.

In addition to being president, Andrew Jackson was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee from 1822–24; and President Truman was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri from 1940–41.

Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman are the only two men who have served both as President of the United States and Grand Master of their respective Masonic Grand Lodges. The grounds of the Jackson county courthouse are the only existing memorial to both those men together. It wasn't planned that way, and I'm sure the tourists and maybe most Brothers who see the statues are unaware of the fact that together, their placement inadvertently makes the courthouse grounds a memorial to a very unique thing: the only two men who share the titles of both President of the US and Grand Master.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Silencing

In the 1962 Indiana Senatorial campaign, young Democratic upstart Birch Bayh went up against the venerable Republican incumbent Homer E. Capehart, in a relatively conservative state where young Bayh's chances were not seen as very good. The two candidates, Masonic Brothers, went after each other in a brutal campaign that was too close to predict right down to the bitter end.

Toward the end of the race, Bayh's campaign staff came up with new words to a little ditty from a 1960 Broadway show starring Lucille Ball, Wildcat. The song was Hey, Look Me Over.

It's a song so catchy, you can almost hear the tune as you read the lyrics:

Hey look me over, lend me an ear,
Fresh out of clover, mortgaged up to here...

Bayh's staff modified the lyrics to tout his campaign and for the last few weeks of the race, inundated Hoosier voters with it. Or, as Time Magazine put it, "In the last two weeks of the campaign, Hoosiers heard little else on radio and television stations." After Bayh's song blitz, he had practically every Hoosier, Republican and Democrat humming the tune or singing:

Hey, look him over, he's your kind of guy,
His first name is Birch, his last name is Bayh,
Candidate for Senator for the Hoosier state,
For Indiana he'll do more than anyone has done before,
Indiana's own Birch Bayh...

And so on. According to one Hoosier who was there to hear it, "You simply could not get the song out of your head, and could not turn on a radio or TV without hearing it."

There were a lot of factors that led to Birch Bayh winning by the slimmest of margins in 1962... Bayh's charisma, President Kennedy's support, Capehart coming across like a fuddy duddy and more, but analysts give that song most of the credit. Bayh himself is convinced it put him over the top. Time Magazine reported, "After the Indiana populace heard [the song] for the 22,356th time in the autumn of 1962, Birch Bayh went to Washington."

Brother Birch Bayh went on to a stellar career in the US Senate and was briefly, in 1976, considered a front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

When the 1968 Senatorial campaign rolled around, Bayh ran for re-election and Hoosiers braced their ears to hear that successful campaign song over and over. But Bayh's campaign jingle, which had proven so successful, was never heard again.

Why? With the song still in copyright the Republicans, badly burned by it six years earlier, bought the rights to the tune and quietly put it on the shelf. Despite having his theme song silenced Brother Bayh won the election and eventually served 18 years in the US Senate.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Adah

"Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." The messages and teachings of the Bible are wonderful and bring peace to our hearts when we read some like that one from First Corinthians; but the Bible offers a broad spectrum of life's lessons, some of which are unpleasant and even excruciating to read.

We find such a lesson in the book of Judges' account of Jephthah. It's a narrative the Eastern Star has taken as part of its teachings in its effort to honor the women of the Bible. While the Biblical account does not name Jephthah's daughter, the Eastern Star calls her Adah.

We read in the Biblical account Jephthah the Gileadite is the son of a harlot. As such, his Brothers and half-brothers want nothing to do with him and throw him out. Jephthah, known as a fierce fighter, lives in exile until the Ammonites attack Gilead. The town elders approach Jephthah, asking him to lead the fight. He agrees — only if afterward they will make him their leader.

Agreement reached, Jephthah makes a vow to God,

"If I may win the fight,” he says, “I will sacrifice whatever first comes out of my house upon my return." He, of course expected this to be one of the animals on his property.

Jephthah leads the Gileadites to victory; and upon his return a woman walks out of his house to greet him. To his horror, it is his own daughter; she is the first to come out of his house and, by his vow to God, he must sacrifice her. Jephthah rends his garments. Jephthah tells her what he has done.

His daughter says he has given his word to the Lord, and must do as he promised, since the Lord has helped him avenge his enemies the Ammonites. Resigned to this, his daughter asks him to let her go into the hills for two months and weep with her friends, since she will never be able to marry. Jephthah grants her request.

Judges chapter 11 verses 39 and 40 tell us, "After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. She never married, and remained a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite."

Certain commentaries, most notably that of 18th century minister and writer Matthew Henry, suggest Jephthah's daughter may merely have been banished or never allowed to marry, rather than suffer death at the hands of her father. That is certainly not what the Bible implies and such speculation may, in fact, mitigate the impact of the lesson, one of the most powerful and profound accounts in the Bible… as well as the Masonic fraternity.

Reminiscent of Abraham and Issac, which had a much more palatable ending, what possible lesson can come out of this horrifying account?

On reflection, there are several. First and foremost, a vow to God is sacred and must not be taken lightly or without serious thought.

One can also argue the story teaches lessons of fidelity and loyalty to God, the innocence of a young girl and perhaps most of all, courage: courage on the part of Jephthah to follow through with his vow and his daughter's courage in accepting it.

In MY Day, We Did It This Way...

In a recent Midnight Freemasons article I mentioned the fact that the reading of the minutes may be one of the less exciting parts of a Masonic meeting. Personally, I live for it... to be over with.

One of the bodies I belong to, in my opinion, does it right. At that meeting we always have a dinner beforehand and the Secretary sets out copies of the minutes and any other pertinent material such as financial statements on each table. During the time before the meeting each member has a chance to read through the handouts. Then, during the meeting, without a reading, we vote on approval.

It doesn't always go this way. In my own Blue Lodge — God bless 'em — we still have the ever-present dronin... uh, I mean reading of the minutes at each meeting. To add to the frenzy of excitement this creates we also read every single word of every petition. I remember one night in particular when we had multiple petitions. By the end of the evening I almost had the entire document commited to memory, and would have... had I not fallen asleep.

When I became Senior Warden I sat in the West close enough to the Junior Deacon that we could converse during the meeting. Together we felt we could solve the problems of the world, so solving the problems of the Lodge was a piece of cake.

Every single meeting when the reading of the minutes came up Allen (not his real name, of course) would turn around to me and say, "When I get up there in the East, we're not going to do this." He encouraged me to do it before he got there but I told him I just wanted to get through my year unscathed and would leave it up to him to make the radical change.

Years passed. I went through the East — only scathed a little bit but I survived. Then I moved to that most coveted of all Masonic positions, Past Master, and waited for Allen to take the helm; and take it he did — full of the vigor of his still youthful age and the expectation of the exciting year he had planned.

I was nearly giddy as I went to his first meeting knowing he was about to shake the Masonic world. I sat in great anticipation as Allen opened the meeting. Then, in an instant, my hopes for a better world came crashing down as he turned and said, "Brother Secretary, you will read the minutes..."

I nearly had an out-of-body experience as we droned through the meeting and Allen embraced the usual pomp and circumstance — more pomp than circumstance — of all the meetings and Masters that had come before him.

After the meeting I rushed up to him and asked why he had fallen into the routine he seemed to abhor back in his Junior Deacon days.

His answer sounded a little familiar, "I just want to get through my year unscathed."

Change is difficult, my Brothers, and the penalty for attempting it may be a good sound scathing, which many times starts with the words, "In my day, we did it this way..."