Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Confederacy's Place in History

      (I've been trying  to craft a post that would cut through, with a rational statement, the controversy related to display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere.  So many conflicting opinions, interpretations of Civil War history, and downright nonsensical statements have appeared that sorting things out proved to be a daunting task.  Yesterday, a fellow blogger did the job for me. "Morning Fog," a site whose proprietor had a career with the U.S. State Department, displayed just what I was feeling, but struggling to put into words. His post follows.)

In recent days, and for many years before, governments, politicians, and others in the U.S. South have sought to justify the continued widespread public display, sale, and reverence for the flag of the Confederacy as a matter of history.  "It's our history," they may say, or perhaps they say they are honoring the valor of those who fought for what they believed in.

I'm very much against any efforts to deny, or to whitewash, U.S. history.  The Civil War (or if you prefer, the War Between the States), is part of what we are as Americans, imbued in our psyches, even for our most recent immigrants, because its effects and its many remaining manifestations are still a part of our everyday lives.  So historians will continue to attempt to analyze and explain it, and museums will continue to offer glimpses of it.

But symbols aren't history, when raised to the top of flagpoles around the country, or splashed across automobile bumpers.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are rallying points that serve only to keep sick
Not something to honor.
ideas alive.  In this country, we teach school children to honor and even "pledge allegiance" to the flag - a kind of a dumb idea in my opinion (a FLAG? Really?), but if we blow away the smokescreen, we have to understand that the "Stars and Bars" is also a claim of allegiance.

Allegiance to what, though?  Is it history, even if Americans generally have very little regard for history?  Is it pride in relatives who served loyally for a cause, although there are lots of people in this country today who are descended from the Tories of the Revolutionary War period, who weren't evil and believed in their cause, yet I'm not aware of any state in the union today that flies the Union Jack  Causes are embraced only when someone wishes they weren't lost.

And what is that cause?  Some would have us believe that it has to do with legal issues (the right to secede), or even economic ones (concerns about destroying the economic base of the South).  And it did, in part, at that time.  That's history.  But it also had to do with a principle, or as Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Stephens put it shortly after several states officially seceded, the new CSA government's cornerstone:

...rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. 

A devil's advocate might suggest that allowing the symbols of Confederate principles to be widely on display would give relatively harmless vent to regressive thinking that might otherwise go underground and turn to violence.    That has not proved to be the case.  It's time to recognize claims on "history" for what they are:  a sham.

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Time to Toss the Symbols of Hatred

While we mourn our brothers and sisters who were murdered in Charleston, we also need to stand up and declare it is time for bigots who continue to inspire racial violence with outdated symbols to discard their battle flags.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Buying a Bargain Burger

Can you get a first-class burger (with fries) in a nicely maintained restaurant with good service for a third off the menu price? Yes you can. But you need the right qualifications and a proper alignment of incentives to pull it off.

A nearby Applebee's is our dining spot of choice when we want to enjoy a reasonably priced meal in a pleasant place. Our food selection normally is something a little more elegant than one of the seven
How America gets fat (but yuummm)
varieties of hamburgers on the menu. But recently everything aligned so amazingly well, I just had to go for one.

I chose the "American Standard," otherwise less grandly known as a cheeseburger, priced on the menu at $9.99. However, our dine out date happened to be a Monday, and while we were planning it along came an Applebee's ad proclaiming every Monday evening "$5.99 Burger Night."

I asked the waitress if that included the burger I wanted. "Oh yes," she said. "It's all of them."

Every Monday at Applebee's has been "Veteran's Day" for some time. All vets, and I am one, get a 30 percent discount on all food items all day long. I assumed two simultaneous big discounts weren't going to apply, but asked anyway just for fun. "Yes," she said, "you get the Vet discount too." So my $9.99 burger magically became a $4.19 item before it even was plopped on the grill.

But that's not all. I paid the bill with a gift card purchased at a 20 percent discount using a credit card that gave me a 1 percent cash back bonus. So my $9.99 goodie cost me a net $3.31. With a deal like that, I might have to become a Monday night fixture at Applebee's. Of course, after a month or two on a burger regime I might not fit through the door.

Really, I'm not quite as cheap as all this sounds. I did tip that helpful server on the regular $9.99 amount plus drink and tax.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Ford in Your Past?

To the delight of many Michiganders, Ford Motor Company sold a quarter-million vehicles in May. It was another in what has become a long string of positive performances since the U.S. economy started to emerge from the depths of the "Great Recession."

Ford's revival has been a do-it-yourself affair. The company declined to accept government financial assistance to weather the economic storm, while rivals General Motors and Chrysler dipped deeply into the federal till to stay in business. Ford management anticipated the crisis and, unlike the others, got its house in order before banking disasters struck.

Perhaps it's fitting that Ford led the way. It often did so in the history of American automotive companies. Henry Ford, a farm boy with little formal education, had a remarkable ability to introduce or develop novel ideas in building a manufacturing empire. His first product was the Model T, and his factories ultimately produced more than 15 million of them. The video celebrating the Model T has, I think, some fascinating scenes of the vehicles being produced and driven.

Ford did not invent mass production, but he was the first to develop the idea in a big way. He made large capital investments to build giant factories that housed assembly lines. Some believe he created the first workable private auto, but Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz renown did that two decades before the first Model T Ford rolled off the line in 1909. Likewise, Ford did not invent mass media advertising, but he was one of the first to use it effectively.

Ford Motor Company produced print ads in color when color printing was a rarity. "There's a Ford in your Future" became perhaps the best-known advertising slogan in the 1940's, and various versions of the phrase popped up on the American scene for many years after the company adopted new tag lines.

Henry Ford gained some of his fame by paying assembly line workers $5 per day, an unheard of sum in the early 1900's. His motivation probably was not entirely altruistic.  Skilled workers flocked to Detroit for good paychecks, and Ford managers could take their pick from many candidates for every job that became available.

Whether or not there's a Ford in your future, there probably was one in your past. American families (and many in other countries) either owned a Ford at one time or another, or owned other mass-produced vehicles whose development mirrored the Ford example. The video claim that the Model T was the "great-great-grandparent of most every car on the road" has some truth to it. Sometimes the connection is close in unlikely places. On a trip to Europe, a German family member loaned us their car for a lengthy road trip--it was a Ford SUV!

My family didn't own a car during most of my years at home. Dad bought a 1927 Model T in 1945. It was one of the stranger of the many "T" models--a convertible pickup truck. Dad used it to carry materials to a lake lot about five miles from our home where he was helping build a cottage for an uncle. The tough old truck did the job well for about a year.

Dad (age 53), me (age 9), and our Model T (age 18).

One statement in the video probably is over-exuberant hype. There is no way our Model T ever was started with a "half-turn" of the crank. Dad was a strong guy, and he did a whole lot of cranking to get that four-banger engine going on many occasions when I was responsible for adjusting "the spark" at just the right time.

The last Model T's were produced in 1928; I bought one of the first successors, a 1929 Model A, in 1952 for $50. I drove it for about a year and sold it for $55. Wouldn't it be grand if today's cars held their value like that?