Three Flying Tigers come home (or were here all along!)
“All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of word hurled among the masses.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf)
I met many memorable people while researching the history of the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers of Burma and China. My favorite, though, was Don Lopez, assistant director of the National Air & Space Museum and my mentor during the year I spent in Washington, translating Japanese accounts of the air war in Southeast Asia, 1941-1942. Don was the son of a welder in Brooklyn, He became hooked on flying, joined the U.S. Army at the age of eighteen, and was sent to China soon after the AVG was disbanded. He flew 101 combat missions, survived a mid-air collision with a Nakajima Hayabusa fighter of the Japanese Army Air Force, and was credited with destroying five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. Postwar, he served as a USAF test pilot and later went to work as an aeronautical specialist for the Smithsonian Institution. He helped create the Air & Space Museum, and served as its assistant director until he died at the age of 84.
Don had a son who continues his name, and I was delighted to see in the Wall Street Journal today that Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the author of The Lotus Sutra: A Biography, just out from Princeton University Press. Only in America! The Lopez family has gone in three generations from blue-collar worker to fighter ace to scholar. And if my mentor was any example, they have all been men to enjoy, to appreciate, and to learn from.
My granddaughters are visiting from Alaska, so on Monday I went with them to the state capitol to watch the Electoral College in action. A band of ageing hippies with saucepans greeted up at the capitol steps with the chant: "We reject! The President-elect!" Inside, and up two flights, was the Executive Council chamber with its handsome brown leather chairs and portraits of New Hampshire notables dating back to 1686. (They were all men, a situation that would be corrected in a few hours' time. Misogyny had no chance on December 19, when all four Electors and the governor were women.) The room is a big one, but it was crowded with spectators, including schoolchildren sitting on the floor and the customary grubby assortment of journalists.
It was all very moving. The secretary of state, a bald gentleman of seventy or so, told us how the new states (only ten of which actually voted!) had to devise its own system to choose Electors, since the Constitution hadn't specified. Then the four ladies and the governor made pretty speeches, all but one choosing to talk about herself and the wonders of woman-power. The exception was my favorite politician, Dudley Webster Dudley. She took the opportunity to do a bit of business, urging New Hampshire to join the National Popular Vote compact, which would have us assign (shamefully, IMHO) our four votes to the candidate receiving the most votes nationwide. (I wonder how that would have gone down with the ageing hippies with their saucepans and their chant, had the national vote gone the other way, had the compact been in force, and had our Electors voted for Mr Trump though we had chosen Mrs Clinton?)
Then each of the ladies voted, with a pen, on a piece of paper, with a golden seal, and the package stuck together with red sealing wax! It was wonderful. I wonder if our four votes have reached Washington yet, or have they been delayed by the Christmas mail?
After an intermission, Dudley's portrait was unveiled by her granddaughter. It isn't a terribly good likeness of the lovely Executive Councilor of 1976, though she did fare a bit better than Winston Churchill in like circumstances. (He apparently arranged to have his portrait burned.) There was no explanation of how space will be made to hang the painting, since there is already a portrait for each vertical space on the walls. I was told that the oldest painting would come down, to make room for the newest, but this absolutely must not be done, any more than a people should vote to deprive themselves of their vote. The gentleman in question is Joseph Dudley, her great-great-something or other, the president (later governor) of Massachusetts Bay Colony, which at the time included New Hampshire. A better solution, I think, would be to have the two Dudleys share the same vertical space, with the woman of course on top.
REFREEZING OF MELTED SNOW AND SLUSH IS EXPECTED TO PRODUCE PATCHY BLACK ICE ON UNTREATED ROADS AND WALKWAYS THROUGH EARLY THIS MORNING. EARLY MORNING COMMUTERS SHOULD EXERCISE CAUTION ESPECIALLY ON SECONDARY ROADS. PEOPLE SHOULD ALSO BE CAREFUL WHEN JUST STEPPING OUTSIDE EARLY IN THE MORNING AS STEPS AND DRIVEWAYS MAY HAVE BECOME ICY OVERNIGHT.
Forty years ago, Aristotle Onassis wanted to build an oil refinery in my backyard, and of course we all banded together to stop him. One of our refrains (a popular one at the time) was that the world was running out of oil, so what was the point of building a refinery that by the year 2000 would have nothing to refine? Didn't happen that way! Each decade, the experts had to reset the day of Peak Oil, when production would begin to decline, pushing doomsday further into the future.
And this morning the Wall Street Journal is fretting anew, but this time about Peak Oil Demand. It's not a shortage of oil that's the new fear, but customers for all that oil. One Eastern European oil company sees demand flattening about 2030 and falling thereafter. The giants -- Exxon, BP, Saudi Arabia -- likewise anticipate a time when they will have to make their profit instead from petrochemicals, natural gas, and even (are you ready?) solar power!
We eat a lot of chicken and turkey breasts in this house, and I have often wondered: who eats the legs? This morning, the Wall Street Journal provides the answer. American chicken legs go to Africa, where they are favored because they are cheaper than breast meat. In 2014, our exports of frozen poultry to Ghana, Angola, and Congo came to more than half a billion dollars, which is not chicken feed.
There used to be a fond joke about who shall pay for a needed improvement--a bridge to Nowhere, let's say. How will we raise the money? "Well," says the little girl, "why doesn't the government do it?" Because government money, in her view, is free.
Now governments have reached the same conclusion: they can let business pay! So billion-dollar settlements are simply announced--by the president of the United States, by federal agencies, by attorney generals, and of course by governmental agencies in other countries who know a good thing when they see it. The latest victim of these pile-ons has been Volkswagen, the naughty German company that tweaked its engines so that they'd behave differently when being tested for emissions. Aha! A pinata that rained money upon politicians everywhere, without the bother of a judge and jury!
Alas, there is no free money. To recoup its finances, Volkswagen has announced a restructuring plan that, among other things, will result in the lay-off of thirty thousand VW workers around the world. Perhaps some of them can find jobs at the Environmental Protection Agency.