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BOOK REVIEW: Caper Crime Novels Come to Life with Steve Brewer’s ‘Whipsaw’, ‘Monkey Man’

Posted by kinchendavid on January 24, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV   One of my favorite sub-genres of crime novels is a caper mystery, where quirky characters populate a particular city and are constantly getting into and out of mishaps. One of the best practitioners of caper novels in the spirit of Donald E. Westlake, Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard is Steve Brewer.

Brewer’s “Whipsaw” (Intrigue Press, Madison, Wis., 256 pages, $24.00) is set in the dot-com world of San Francisco, always a good venue for oddball characters, and his “Monkey Man” (Intrigue Press, 232 pages, $24.00) centers around murder and mayhem involving employees at the Albuquerque, N.M. zoo.

Two reviews in one column…first off is “Whipsaw.”

The title refers to a computer game geared to girls (I always though this was a guy thing, but a large percentage of gamers are female, Brewer points out) involving a Lara Croft-type character, strong and beautiful, wielding a bull whip like a female Lash La Rue.

Somebody has stolen the code for the game and is threatening to put the game on the Internet unless computer magnate David La Costa comes up with $3 million in cash. La Costa’s minions contact Matt Donahue, the former security chief of La Costa’s company, DelaTek, to deliver the money and retrieve the code.

The thieves have insisted that Donahue deliver the money in exchange for the code. (One question: What’s to stop the thieves from making CD copies of the code and keeping them?)

Ex-Marine Donahue has major issues with La Costa. For starters, Donahue’s wife Carol left him for the former geek, now living the lavish lifestyle in Hillsborough, a Beverly Hills-style suburb in San Mateo County south of The City — as everybody in the Bay Area calls San Francisco.

Donahue, to protect his investment in stock that he received as a buyout when he left DelaTek, reluctantly agrees to act as bagman. Naturally, things go horribly wrong with the plan and a cycle of deaths makes it evident that the “Whipsaw” title has taken on its meaning of subjecting someone – in this case, Matt — to two opposing forces.

Donahue teams up with the beautiful (naturally) Kate Allison at DelaTek in an effort to determine who in the company is involved in the extortion plan. It’s dead certain that it’s an inside job – with the accent on “dead.”

One of the conventions of caper novels is that a reader can follow the travels of the characters in the novel with a city map in a good caper novel. This is certainly true of “Whipsaw,” where Donahue lives in a nice – and very pricey — apartment in a Victorian building in upscale Pacific Heights and DelaTek is in the city’s dot-com district not far from what everybody in the compact (800,000 people crammed into 46.7 square miles) city still calls Candlestick Park.

I’ve been to San Francisco numerous times and I recognized many landmarks in “Whipsaw.” This is a standalone, but Matt Donahue is too attractive a character not to reappear in a future Brewer novel. Let’s hope so!

* * *

“Monkey Man” is another in the continuing saga of Bubba Mabry, a private investigator in Albuquerque, N.M. Bubba’s wife and the family’s principal source of income is Felicia Quattlebaum, ace reporter with the Albuquerque Gazette, a tough, finely drawn character who – with the oversized glasses and the long straight hair — resembles a lot of female reporters I’ve worked with in my adventures and misadventures on five daily newspapers, including the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times.

Slip and fall lawyer Marvin Pigeon is always after Bubba to do what most private eyes do in the real world, work as investigators for lawyer. But Bubba wants excitement….

Things go horribly wrong for Bubba when Albuquerque Zoo employee Jeff Simmons meets the private eye at a coffee shop to discuss weird goings on at the zoo. Seems that a lot of animals are dying or otherwise disappearing at the facility and Jeff wants Bubba to look into the matter. Before they’ve finished their coffees, Simmons is shot dead by a person in a gorilla suit.

Ignoring warnings from Lt. Steve Romero, his detective friend on the Albuquerque Police Department, Bubba gets involved big time in the ongoing police investigation of the Simmons murder. As anyone who has read even a small amount of detective fiction knows, it’s a major no-no for a private peeper to get involved in an open case. Bubba being Bubba, this rule is disregarded from the beginning after he’s hired by Jeff’s fiancée Loretta Gonzales, a lovely young fellow zoo employee whose father, Armando Gonzales is the fiercely protective and wealthy head of a food processing company.

Bubba begins to investigate what made a man – or maybe it was a woman? – shoot him Jeff Simmons in broad daylight. Was it the disappearing animals? Or was it something else? As in “Whipsaw,” the reader can follow Bubba’s travels around New Mexico’s largest city with a road map. As a map freak, I like this attention to detail.

Before he moved to Redding, CA. in the northern part of the state, Brewer and his family lived in Albuquerque, so he knows the town as only a former resident and former reporter can.

Film note: The first Bubba Mabry novel, “Lonely Street”, published in 1994, has been turned into a movie helmed by Peter Ettinger (“The Phoenix”) — starring Jay Mohr as Bubba. Other cast members include: Robert Patrick, Lindsay Price as Felicia, and Joe Mantegna, one of my – and David Mamet’s – favorite actors. Check out Steve Brewer’s web site: http://www.stevebrewerbooks.com, for more details. For more on the movie, scheduled for release this year, click on: http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-does-bubba-say.html

Observant readers of this web site will also recognize Brewer’s byline from the weekly humor column he writes for Scripps Howard News Service which we run every Friday.

“Monkey Man” and “Whipsaw” are excellent “entertainments”, as author Graham Greene called his crime novels. I look forward to more from Brewer.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.intriguepress.com

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BOOK REVIEW: Veteran Foreign Correspondent Stanley Meisler Writes Fair, Balanced Biography of Kofi Annan – ‘A Man of Peace in a World of War’

Posted by kinchendavid on January 21, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV – Although it’s obvious from Stanley Meisler’s biography “Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War” (John Wiley & Sons, photos, notes, index, 384 pages, $30.00) that the author admires much about the former UN Secretary General, it’s also evident that this is not an authorized biography.

Full Disclosure: Stanley Meisler was a foreign correspondent at the Los Angeles Times from 1967 to 1997, serving in Nairobi, Mexico City, Madrid, Toronto and Paris and ending his career at the newspaper covering the UN. I worked as a reporter at the L.A. Times from 1976 to 1990 and our paths didn’t cross. I admired Stan’s work and read his dispatches carefully during what I consider to be a golden age at the newspaper. I instinctively knew that a Meisler story was fair and accurate, written in a graceful, forceful style. We’ve kept in touch by email and when I heard he was writing a biography of Annan, I asked him to have the publisher send me a review copy.

Born in 1938 in the British colony of Gold Coast, which became Ghana in 1957, Annan was the son of upper middle class parents – his father was a manager in charge of cocoa buying for the African subsidiary of Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. Kofi Atta Annan attended a prep school modeled on the ones in England, went on to study at a Gold Coast technical university and received a Ford Foundation scholarship to attend Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn in 1959, graduating in 1961. He earned a master’s degree from M.I.T. in 1972 while he was rising through the ranks of United Nations bureaucracy.

It’s important to note that Annan, as the author repeatedly stresses, is a product of the UN; he’s not only the first black African to be secretary-general, he’s the first S-G to rise through the ranks to the highest position of the world body. It’s also important to note, as does Meisler, that Annan has harshly criticized the backwardness of most African nations, including his own Ghana. Annan points to the “Tigers” of Asia – many of them former colonies – and how they’ve succeeded as resource-rich African nations have been looted by tyrants and monsters. His willingness to criticize Africa and insist that it stop blaming colonialism for all the continent’s problems has increased Annan’s stature in my eyes.

Meisler does something I wish more biographers would do: He provides a time line or chronology, so we can trace major events in the life of Annan. This is particularly important from about 1993 on, when Kofi Annan was named (February 1993) undersecretary-general in charge of peacekeeping operations by his predecessor as S-G, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt.

Speaking of the oddly named Coptic Christian from Egypt, Meisler provides a detailed account of the efforts by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright (later named Clinton’s secretary of state and derisively called Madeleine Halfbright by her detractors) to deny the Egyptian a second five-year term as secretary-general – at the same time working more or less secretly to have Annan named secretary-general.

The UN’s secretary-general is appointed by the UN’s General Assembly for a five-year, renewable term, subject to the unanimous approval of the Security Council. On instructions from President Clinton, Albright vetoed the second term for Boutros-Ghali, with the Security Council voting 14-1 to give him a second term. The veto stirred up cries of U.S. unilateralism, but the Security Council gave the nod to Annan and the Clinton strategy worked.

It’s important to note that U.S. unilateralism toward the UN didn’t begin with Bush the Younger; Bill Clinton obviously thought the U.S. educated Annan would be more favorable to the U.S. in the world body. Of course, the disdain for Annan and the UN ramped up exponentially during the Bush Administration, culminating with the appointment of John R. Bolton – a very undiplomatic critic of the UN, as Meisler takes pains to point out – as U.S. Ambassador to the UN in a recess appointment in 2005. Bolton resigned from the post at the end of 2006.

The book’s subtitle is, if anything, an understatement; since Annan’s appointment as peacekeeping chief in 1993, the world has seen war after war, genocide after genocide, ethnic cleansing after ethnic cleansing in places as varied as Somalia, Rwanda, the Congo, Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor and – most recently and still continuing – the Darfur region of Somalia, where Arab Muslims are raping and murdering African Muslims in what the current President Bush has called a genocide. Of course the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endures, with no end in sight.

Man’s so-called “inhumanity to man” is, in my opinion, a misnomer, since it seems that the normal condition of humanity is for its members to rape, starve and kill each other at increasing rates. By all accounts, Kofi Annan, whatever his faults as an administrator – and Meisler points out many – is an honorable, decent man caught up on the seemingly unending cycle of human violent behavior that marked his two terms of office that began at the beginning of 1997 and ended Dec. 31, 2006.

Meisler comments on Page 241 that “Kofi Annan does not have a combative, stubborn or fiercely independent personality. But he has a deep sense of moral integrity, of duty to the United Nations and its charter, and of the need for patience and discussion before action. These qualities would often put him at odds with the Bush White House throughout the Iraq crisis and war.”

The author doesn’t indulge in psychological speculations of what led to the end of Annan’s first marriage to Titi Alakija of Nigeria with a separation in 1980 and a divorce three years later. They married in 1965 – a marriage that produced a non-controversial daughter and a very controversial son, Kojo Annan.

Meisler deals frankly and comprehensively with the involvement of international playboy Kojo in the Iraq oil for food scandal, investigated by Paul Volcker’s committee, which found no fault with the secretary-general, Meisler says. Like many parents, Kofi Annan is fiercely protective of his son and refused to break off contact with him, despite the world of woe Kojo brought upon his dad.

In 1981, Kofi Annan met divorced Swedish lawyer and artist Nane Lagergren, who was working in Geneva with Annan at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. They married in 1984, following Annan’s 1983 divorce from Titi. If I were doing a movie version of Kofi Annan’s life, I would center it on these personal events in the life of Annan. Who knows? Maybe there is a movie in the works! I’d like to see Greta Scacchi as Nane and Don Cheadle (wonderful in “Hotel Rwanda” and “Crash”) as Annan. It was obviously love at first sight for the two.

Stanley Meisler has produced a masterful, if at times overly sympathetic, look at a complex, thoughtful and thoroughly human Kofi Annan. The book is a major achievement by one of my favorite reporters and writers, who has already produced a warts-and-all history of the world body entitled “United Nations: The First 50 Years” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995, paperback edition, 1997).

For more on Meisler’s writing, which includes contributions to the L.A. Times and Smithsonian magazine, visit his web site: http://www.stanleymeisler.com

Publisher’s web site: http://www.wiley.com.

By the way, Wiley is celebrating its bicentennial this year; it was founded in 1807. Congratulations to a distinguished American publisher!

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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Del. Thompson, Where Are You? Having Lunch with Judge Crater?

Posted by kinchendavid on January 19, 2007

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Ron Thompson

Hinton, WV  – The Ron Thompson watch continues in Charleston, as well as in the 27th House of Delegates District of Raleigh and Summers Counties. As a person who voted for the Phantom of the Capitol (cue to overture of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera”), I want to know where the Beckley resident is.

Along with virtually every journalist in the state, I’ve tried contacting Thompson and got no response. Fellow delegates Linda Sumner, Mel Kessler and Virginia Mahan say they haven’t seen the missing delegate. He didn’t show up to take his oath of office. His personal belongings are packed up and reside in the office he shares with Kessler.

For those who haven’t been following this story, Thompson, a member of the House of Delegates since 1994, hasn’t been seen in the Capitol since last March. He missed the interims and special sessions and didn’t show up during the campaign that culminated in his placing third in the voting and being re-elected. He wasn’t at last fall’s candidate forum in Hinton, which I covered.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne – no relation to the missing delegate – has promised a “course of action” to deal with his AWOL fellow Democrat, according to Mannix Porterfield, writing in the Thursday, Jan. 18, 2007 Register-Herald. Porterfield’s stories about Thompson would – if collected – make a fair sized book.

Joseph F. Crater

I suggested to several people that he’s the West Virginia equivalent of Judge Crater – and got blank looks from non-trivia fans. For more about New York Supreme Court Judge Joseph F. Crater, who disappeared on Aug. 6, 1930, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judge_Crater

Judge Crater’s disappearance, when he was last seen leaving a restaurant and entering a taxi on his way to a Broadway show, became part of Americana. Comedians for years used the line “Judge Crater, call your office” and got plenty of laughs. Not so much anymore, because later disappearances took precedence.

Born in 1889 and appointed to the bench by Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Crater was presumed dead in 1939, allowing his widow to collect on his insurance policy. His disappearance, similar to that of Jimmy Hoffa later in the 20th Century, may have been a mob hit. There was, as readers of the Wikipedia entry will quickly discover, a mysterious trip to Atlantic City, N.J. with a showgirl about a month before the judge vanished. Maybe his wife found out about the showgirl and called for a hit on her wayward hubby.

Thompson’s absent status has prompted a threat of a lawsuit from the Affliliated Construction Trades Foundation in an effort to keep Thompson from collecting his annual $15,000 salary for not taking the oath.

Foundation Director Steve White is concerned about the lack of representation in the five-member 27th District, where the candidate who placed sixth — Kevin Maynus — is interested in Thompson’s seat should the missing delegate not claim it. Maynus, a Democratic candidate, says he has contacted party officials in both Raleigh and Summers counties to let them know he wants the seat if Thompson vacates it, according to Porterfield.

There have been sightings of Thompson, brief though they may be. One source, who requested total anonymity, told me Thompson’s appearance has changed radically. I’m guessing that he looks like the Jack Bauer character when he was first seen on the 6th season premiere of the TV show “24,” with a long scraggly beard. Maybe we could add a rodeo clown red fright wig.

I hesitate to make light of Thompson’s lack of visibility, but he did run for re-election and – as I said above — I did vote for him, so I have a stake in his re-appearance.

Ron Thompson, call your office! Or, better yet, call me: I’m in the book.

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COMMENTARY: What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Have to Say About the War in Iraq

Posted by kinchendavid on January 17, 2007

By Nick Patler

Staunton, VA  – The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was supposed to stick with civil rights and perhaps other domestic problems. These were the issues he was qualified to speak about — at least that is what many thought, including the national press, white politicians and even some black leaders after he began to ruffle feathers with his fiery eloquence opposing the Vietnam War.

Indeed, some critics were so disturbed by King’s anti-war criticism that they launched scurrilous attacks against his credibility and tried to publicly humiliate him. He was ridiculed and assailed, often ferociously, by the mainstream press; cursed by President Lyndon Johnson; criticized by politicians and scolded by friends and colleagues, including many fellow civil rights activists.

The most celebrated black leader in the world, who a few years earlier had led the nonviolent struggle to end Southern segregation in America and who had been awarded the distinguished Nobel Peace Prize, found himself with few friends in the lonely wilderness of anti-war activism.

But King proved to be as resilient here as he had been in that Birmingham jail, where his courage and determination to free his people from Jim Crow was forged with fiery conviction. Withdrawing temporarily amidst verbal attacks, he re-emerged bolder and more confident to speak out against the Vietnam War. This time, however, the civil rights leader turned anti-war activist (the lesser-known King) began to passionately inspire a consensus. A little more than a year later in 1968, as the tide of opposition to the war mounted, he was assassinated.

If King were alive today, what would he say about the war in Iraq? I believe he would say the same things he had said about the tragic war in Vietnam.

He would certainly have had the courage to oppose the status quo, even if it meant standing alone, drawing strength from his deep faith, the righteousness of his cause and compassion to uplift others. And the famous preacher may have very well used the same religious tone and language to condemn the war in Iraq as he did the war in Vietnam. For example, in one of his last sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King emphasized with moral fervor that God “didn’t call America to do what she is doing today … God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war.”

The embattled leader would have strongly condemned the surging violence in Iraq and would have been vehement in publicly opposing President Bush’s plan to increase troops by 20,000. He would have undoubtedly expressed genuine sorrow at the loss of so many precious American and Iraqi lives, as he did for the Vietnamese and Americans, and work diligently and creatively for an end to the war.

The introspective King would have re-examined more deeply the unspoken reasons why we really are in Iraq and would probably have drawn similar conclusions as he did for U.S. interests in Vietnam. Here he would have emphasized that America’s true interests in Iraq and the Middle East are to maintain power and prestige, along with access to resources, at the expense of all else. And King would have been quick to point out, as he did in regard to Vietnam, that these actions, which are carried out by means of destructive violence and coercion, were inconsistent with democracy and humanitarianism.

Finally, the controversial leader, I believe, would have doggedly created awareness that the war in Iraq (and U.S. weapons industry) “steals” resources, energies and brainpower that could be used instead to solve the critical problems of those suffering from poverty, hunger, disease, and violence — the theme of his most well-known anti-war speech, “A Time to Break Silence,” which he delivered at New York’s famed Riverside Church exactly a year before his death.

Whether it was Vietnam, poverty, racial injustice, or economic inequality, King’s motivation to address all of these issues and others in his lifetime essentially reflected his burning desire to “love and serve humanity.” I have no doubt that if he were alive and able, he would be doing the same today, regardless of the mountains that might be standing in his way.

* * *

Nick Patler is the author of “Jim Crow and the Wilson Administration: Protesting Federal Segregation in the Early Twentieth Century.” Readers may e-mail him at nickpatler@hotmail.com This article originally appeared in the Staunton (VA) News Leader, and is reprinted by permission of the News Leader.

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BOOK REVIEW: Grisham’s ‘The Innocent Man’ Attacks American Prosecutorial System – As Readable as Any of His 18 Novels – and It’s All True

Posted by kinchendavid on January 12, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV – Are we as a nation “stuck on stupid” – to use the phrase popularized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 — or am I just getting even more paranoid than usual? John Grisham’s magnificent “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town” (Doubleday, 368 pages, photos, $28.95) is his first venture into true crime and it’s a winner.

It’s also a best seller, as well it should be, because this book is nothing less than an indictment of the American adversarial, prosecutorial system – something we’re seeing in Durham, N.C. with D.A. Mike Nifong, just as much as in Grisham’s Ada, Oklahoma with D.A. Bill Peterson. Call it D.A.s Gone Wild.

As far as I’m concerned, Grisham can write true crime from here on: This book reads like one of his novels and serves to educate the reader about the dirty big secret that is the American criminal justice system. As a reporter who has covered trials, including murder trials, first off let me say I’m glad I live in West Virginia, which abolished the death penalty more than 40 years ago.

Still, even West Virginia is saddled with all the outdated paraphernalia of the justice system we inherited from the British – including grand juries, which the Brits wisely abolished in 1933. There’s an old saying that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a clever D.A. wants it and it’s certainly true in phenomenally corrupt Pontotoc County, of which Ada (population 16,000) is the county seat.

Maybe “The Innocent Man” should really be called “The Innocent Men,” since it involves the prosecution of both Ron Williamson, the first player chosen from the state of Oklahoma in the 1971 Major League baseball draft, and his friend Dennis Fritz. To give him full credit, Grisham – who had dreams of major league glory as a youth — devotes plenty of coverage to Fritz, exonerated on April 15, 1999 along with Williamson for the 1982 rape and murder of Ada resident Debra Sue Carter.

Grisham and Williamson are almost contemporaries – born in 1955 and 1953, respectively — and the author has acknowledged that while Williamson had the talent to become a major leaguer, Grisham didn’t. So he went on to become a lawyer and phenomenally best selling writer of 18 novels, arguably — along with fellow lawyer/writer Scott Turow of Chicago — one of the best in the business.

Throughout “The Innocent Man” Grisham writes with scorn and loathing of the prosecution team, headed by D.A. Bill Peterson, who – amazingly – still has the job of prosecuting alleged criminals in the 35,000 population Pontotoc County in southeastern Oklahoma.

Grisham tells us that Peterson has never acknowledged his errors of judgment and his bias toward the two innocent men, Williamson and Fritz, or his failure to go after Glen Gore, the man who from the start was the most logical suspect in the case and who was finally prosecuted — by a special prosecutor, not Peterson — and sentenced to life without parole for the crime just last year.

About that bit of praise for West Virginia and its abolition of the death penalty: It’s a surprise to people from my twin home states – Michigan, where I was born and Illinois, where I grew to adulthood – that so often derided West Virginia has advanced closer toward civilization as Europeans see it than Michigan and Illinois, both of which have death penalties. I’ve worked on newspapers in Indiana (death penalty), Wisconsin (no death penalty) and California (death penalty), so the whole red state-blue state concept is out of whack as far as putting people to death.

Williamson’s dreams of reaching “The Show” – the major leagues – ended six years after he was drafted by the Oakland A’s, done in by injuries and the riotous style of living that brought him to the attention of Peterson in the first place. The 3 Ds I call them – Drinking, Drugs and Dames – combined with signs of the mental illness that probably afflicted Williamson from his youth but wasn’t detected until later for a child growing up in a fundamentalist Christian environment that dismissed psychiatry.

Williamson, whose idol was fellow Oklahoman Mickey Mantle, kept on boozing and womanizing and he moved into his mother’s house, where he was living when 21-year-old cocktail waitress Debra Carter was raped and murdered on Dec. 7, 1982. Williamson and his college-educated friend, a former teacher named Dennis Fritz, were suspects from the beginning, for reasons unknown to everyone but Peterson and the local cops.

Williamson and Fritz were indicted in 1987 and quickly convicted of capital murder, with Williamson ending up on death row at the state prison in McAlester, not far from Ada, and Fritz receiving a life sentence. Williamson’s main court-appointed attorney was a blind older lawyer named Barney Ward, who was paid a total of $3,600 for his valiant but futile attempt to defend “The Innocent Man.”

There was no physical evidence, Grisham writes and the two were convicted on the basis of “junk science” – including hair analysis that was so flawed as to be criminal itself – and the testimony of jailhouse snitches, a tactic indulged in to the fullest in Ada.

Eventually, DNA evidence – or the lack of a DNA connection to the crime and the two men – resulted in their exoneration. Much credit is due the good guys and gals, Grisham writes: people like Innocence Project lawyer Barry Scheck (www.innocenceproject.org), Oklahomans Mark Barrett, his main appeal lawyer, Judge Frank Seay, Jim Payne, Judge Tom Landrith, Janet Chesley, Bill Luker and Kim Marks of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.

Grisham found out about the case through a New York Times obituary of 51-year-old Ron Williamson in 2004 (Fritz is alive and living as far from Ada, OK as he can get). Grisham, who lives in Virginia and Mississippi, was turned on to a now-out-of-print book by Robert Mayer called “The Dreams of Ada: A True Story of Murder, Obsession, and a Small Town” by residents of the town and other Oklahomans. It deals with many of the same people covered in “The Innocent Man” and Grisham credits Mayer’s “astounding book” with helping him getting a handle on the intricacies of what passes for criminal justice in Pontotoc County.

If you still believe – as I have long since stopped believing – that our justice system is the best in the world, read “The Innocent Man.” You’ll stop believing, too.

* * *

Publisher’s web site: http://www.doubleday.com

Author’s web site: jgrisham.com

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COMMENTARY: U.S. Religious Trends in the 21st Century: From Catholic to Orthodox, from (Nominal) Christian to Islam

Posted by kinchendavid on January 8, 2007

By Sean Scallon

 Arkansaw, WI   — Demographics is destiny and that’s true not just in politics but business, education, sports, entertainment, culture and religion.

 

 

Especially religion.

 

 

That’s because numbers and numbers of adherents determine whether or not your faith is taken seriously or is just another kooky cult.

 

 

There are two demographic trends that may occur in the 21st Century inside the U.S. that could alter several faiths in the process. Those trends are from Catholic to Orthodox and from (nominal) Christian to Islam.

 

 

 

We start with the Catholic Church. It’s no secret the U.S. Catholic Church is in a deep crisis. The numerous sexual molestation scandals and the class action lawsuits that have followed are draining diocesan treasuries dry. Many such dioceses are selling off buildings like closed churches and schools and other real estate properties they own.

 

 

On top of that, the shortage of priests and nuns in the U.S. mean more such closures are on the way. And because of that shortage, the Church’s institutions, its colleges, hospitals and other charitable foundations, will become completely secularized within the next 20 years. The whole infrastructure of the Church within the U.S. could be almost gone by within that time period.

 

 

The U.S. Catholic Church will survive, however. It has faced worse challenges in its history and has always survived. But to survive means to adapt and adapting means change and the U.S. Catholic Church will be transformed by this process. The transformation will come demographically as what once was a European-ethnic church will become a predominantly Hispanic and Third World immigrant church.

 

 

 

This is also a process that’s going on world wide as well. Philip Jenkins, the Penn State University theology professor and writer for Chronicles, has documented this coming transformation of the Christian world thanks to demographics in numerous articles and books. Numbers mean power and such power within the Church will come from its Third World adherents.

 

 

There’s no doubt next pope will be probably be from the Third World, perhaps Latin or South America first (with a bishop of European immigrant descent) followed by an African pope after that. We’ve already seen the Third World‘s power within the Anglican community already. Several Episcopal churches in the U.S. have left their local dioceses in schisms to align themselves with Anglican dioceses in Third World locations because their bishops are more traditional than their Western counterparts, who are ordaining women and homosexual bishops.

 

 

 

What is fueling the change in the U.S. Catholic Church is immigration. More Hispanic immigrants and other Catholic immigrants from the Third World are filling the pews and in many cases what were once empty pews, especially in big cities. Now as immigration spreads from big cities and the coasts to small towns in the Midwest and South, such change will take place in churches in these locations as well. It’s the Catholic Church that will absorb most of the new immigrants. Although a good chunk of Hispanic immigrants are Pentecostals, they tend to form their own churches separately. Hispanic Catholics are moving into existing communities and existing churches.

 

 

 

All this leaves the European ethnic in a quandary. The term “Catholic” means universal and as such it should not matter what race or ethnic group anyone who calls themselves Catholic is. All are welcomed. Yet such churches were the anchors of previous ethnic communities. Such change can be quite jarring, especially when you add it onto change within the neighborhood, change in the business community and change within the schools thanks to unlimited immigration. It doesn’t take long for one Hispanic mass to become all masses at some point.

 

 

 

Because of this change, some European ethnic Catholics wish that the bishops would either take a stand against immigration or least not be noisy promoters of it like Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahoney. Unfortunately they are whistling past the graveyard. Not even the most conservative of bishops, like Omaha‘s Roman Bruskewitz, are going to oppose unlimited immigration nor will any be recalled by Rome for such support like Mahoney.

 

 

The Catholic Church in the U.S. is an immigrant church. Always has been. Always will be. To its bishops and administrators, seeing one immigrant group coming into the church and overtaking another is simply the natural wave of history. It would be unthinkable of them to turn oppose immigration, especially when such immigrants and their money are going to be ones to keep the Church afloat during its time of transformation.

 

 

Opponents of unlimited immigration must understand that is how the church thinks and operates and it perfectly fits with its history. It not a “Popish” plot to undermine the United States. This writer (and Catholic) nearly deleted VDARE.com from his list of favorite websites last year because some of its writers began waving the bloody shirt of “rum, Romanism and rebellion” until Peter Brimelow thankfully set them straight and also pointed out Protestantism’s many contributions to our nation’s immigration problems.

 

 

 

But again the quandary for European ethnic Catholic remains. His numbers have been reduced by intermarriage, by the destruction of ethnic neighborhoods by urban renewal and the interstate highway system, by suburban sprawl, by the church’s own problems and divisions within it and by his or her own laziness and sloth. If you don’t show up for mass or to volunteer or be a part of the community, you will lose power and influence to those who do. Whoever said that life is all about showing up was dead on in this regard. So what to do? Join the Orthodox Church.

 

 

 

The Orthodox Church has a number of appeals to the European ethnic Catholic. It is a church that is ethnically conscious and fuses the idea of the church to that of the nation and the culture. That’s why there are Greek Orthodox churches, Russian Orthodox Churches, Romanian Orthodox churches and so forth. (Only the Polish Catholic Church and Uniate churches loyal to Rome are that way amongst Catholics).

 

 

It is a decentralized church, which means its doctrines and practices of worship are not subject to the whims of a whole Vatican Council. It’s a church that has avoided a lot of the doctrinal disputes that has divided the Catholic churches because it stays true to its traditions and doctrines which it traces back to the original Christian church. Its mass has gone unchanged for many centuries and one doesn’t have to worry about whether the new priest is going to allows guitars and drums during the worship service, disallows bells or kneeling or whatever fashion of mass is in vogue from the seminary.

 

 

 It’s a church whose priests are married which means the problems the Catholic Church has had with homosexual priests (the ones that don’t take their vows of celibacy seriously anyway) aren’t a problem with the Orthodox. It is the Orthodox that is going to be more suspicious of mass immigration (especially immigration from Islamic nations) than other religions.

 

 

 

Of course, if you are an Irish, Italian, French or German Catholic, you just can’t pop into Serbian Orthodox Church and say “I’m a new convert!” unless you marry a Serb. It just doesn’t work that way. To solve that problem, the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) exists.

 

 

Formed in the early 1970s by the Russian Patriarchy and separate from it, the OCA is an Americanized version of the of the Russian Church with its services in English and with pews and so forth (the Orthodox church whose fall festival I annually attend in Clayton, Wisconsin, Holy Trinity, is part of the OCA.) Many of the churches are old Russian ones like Holy Trinity, but the OCA also incorporates other ethnic groups like Albanian and Romanian Orthodox that never had separate ethnic bishoprics like the Greeks or Serbs do. The OCA could very easily incorporate ethnic European Catholic refugees in their own churches. Right now the OCA has over 100 churches and a million members, slow but steady growth that I think could easily accelerate in the 21st Century. Conservative writer Rod Dreher of Crunchy Cons fame has already made the switch from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy and I think others will to.

 

 

 

The other trend that will take place will be those from nominal Christian backgrounds converting to Islam. Such conversions have taken place among African Americans for long time and famous ones like Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. The Nation of Islam, an organization of Black Muslims, has dominated the Islamic discourse within U.S for many years. However, the NOI’s racist rhetoric against whites has kept Islam’s numbers in the U.S. down from what they could potentially be.

 

 

 

This will change too in the 21st Century. Growth in Islam will come from Third World immigration of course. But it will also come from white converts as well and they will come from two sources of thought.

 

 

 

Islam always has had an ideological appeal to those on the far left and right. To a cultural Marxist, Islam is the God that hasn’t failed (unlike Communism), at least not yet. Its diverse, multicultural following and the fact that it is the religion of the Third Word i.e. it was founded there and expanded there outside of Europe and the West, makes it a perfect vehicle for cultural upheaval and egalitarianism.

 

 

Marxism derided religion which limited its appeal while Islam is a religion and has mass appeal. And within an adversarial culture, converting to Islam becomes the perfect vehicle to shock one’s parents and friends and peers. Indeed, Jean-Paul Sartre himself became more and more fascinated with Islam as the communist left declined in his later years. This has more of chance of happening with the nominal baptized or secular Christian than anyone else. Think of John Walker Lindh, the Marin County, California teenager who got fed up with empty secularist lifestyle of parents and neighbors and converted to Islam and joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, and you’ll understand the type.

 

Since 9-11 and since George W. Bush give Islam his stamp of approval by calling it a “religion of peace,” there’s been a growing study of Islam within in the media and with others who are curious to know more about it. Such study, no doubt, will increase the size of the pool of converts for Islam within the U.S.

 

 

 

On the other side, Nazis have always appreciated Islam’s marshal spirit and ascetic, non-bourgeois lifestyle along with its ability to submit the will of the mass towards one deity or person. They found it far superior to Christian piety which they found to be nothing more than religion for wimps, not the supermen they were supposed to be.

 

 

Those who are not inclined towards Nazism still find these same qualities admirable, along with Islam’s male-dominated patriarchy. Women and men do not pray together. If you are a fellow who is unchurched right at the moment because you think the modern church in the U.S. is too female dominated and has no place for you, then Islam may be your scene. Think of guy who used to attend Promise Keeper rallies in football stadiums and spent his time crying on the shoulder of another guy while being told what an awful person he was.

 

 

 When he realized the whole thing was nothing more than a religious version of 1990s male bonding without the tom-tom drums, campfires and war paint and when he realized his wife and her friends were laughing their heads off at him down at the solon, then you’ll know the kind of person I’m talking about. In fact the crisis of the maleless church has become such a concern that, according to religious news reports, that certain pastors have gotten to the point of parking Harley-Davidson motorcycles out front of the entryways of their churches and putting on football uniforms and using football metaphors to attract males back into the pews again. But Islam’s call may be more enticing than that just more passing Christian fads.

 

 

Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy have never played major roles within the cultural, political or economic milieus of the United States largely because their numbers have never been large enough to do so, let alone attract any attention. But in this century, that could change as numbers and demography head in both faiths’ direction.

 

 

Sean Scallon is a writer and freelance journalist living in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. His weblog is Beating the Powers that Be at www.beatingthepowersthatbe.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

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COMMENTARY: Fire in Their Bellies: Do Caribbean Leaders Have It?

Posted by kinchendavid on January 6, 2007

By Sir Ronald Sanders

The heads of government of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries will meet shortly to decide how they could take their nations forward economically in a highly competitive global environment.

Amongst the matters they will consider is the governance of CARICOM and a specific proposal that they should establish a Commission which would oversee certain agreed matters such as the external trade relations of the grouping and the development of the Caribbean Single Market (CSM) which was established last year.

The proposal for such a Commission was made 15 years ago by the West Indian Commission, but it was never implemented.

Recently, a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga, predicted that CARICOM is ‘likely to face a slide, not a climb, in the future” because of the absence from regional decision-making at a governmental level of certain leaders. Specifically, he named two former Prime Ministers, P J Patterson of Jamaica and Kenny Anthony of St Lucia.

He claimed that apart from Owen Arthur of Barbados (who, he said, has indicated that he will be retiring soon) and Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent, “the present group of leaders are supporters but have far less fire in their bellies to carry on a campaign (for greater regional economic integration) with passion”.

Mr Seaga also posited the view that the establishment of a CARICOM Commission would not work, and that anyone who believes that it would “does not understand the psyche of Caribbean leaders nor, indeed, the people”.

Implicit in Mr Seaga’s presentation is that neither the majority of the present crop of CARICOM leaders, nor the majority of the people, want a more economically integrated region, and, certainly, they do not want a CARICOM Commission making decisions for their countries.

Of course, on the matter of the Commission, Mr Seaga’s presentation overlooks the specific recommendation of every proposal that any Commission must take instructions from, and be answerable to, CARICOM Heads of Government. Further, the Commission will have delegated authority and accountability only for such matters as national governments assign to it particularly because those matters are better handled with the collective strength of regional governments than by a weaker national government on its own.

As to the issue of whether leaders have “less fire in their bellies” for the regional integration project generally and a CARICOM Commission in particular, time will tell and the forthcoming meeting of Heads of Government will be a good indicator. If the establishment of the Commission is again delayed despite three reports that strongly recommend it, then CARICOM leaders would have proved Mr Seaga to be right.

And, there would be wider implications for the region.

Many businesses in the member states of CARICOM are eager to widen their markets beyond their national boundaries and into the wider Caribbean community. They are anxious that governments should provide the environment by which they can do so; they want the barriers to trade lifted in both goods and services.

Financial institutions – insurance companies and banks – based in Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica are already engaging in pan-Caribbean transactions providing capital to governments and businesses – Jamaica, Barbados, Belize and several of the Leeward and Windward islands have been beneficiaries of such financing. The financial institutions could do more if the cross-border controls and restrictions are lifted.

Governments might well wake up one morning to find that, to a certain extent, both market and production integration have taken place around them. But, in this scenario there will be more losers in the business community than there might be if the process of liberalization is orderly and regulated.

Already, there should have been deeper and more meaningful involvement of the region’s private sector and its trade unions in both the development of the Caribbean Single Market and in the trade and investment negotiations with the European Union (EU) and at the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, theoretically sound may be the studies of the region’s technical experts, there is a practicality to doing business whose requirements are best addressed by business people themselves.

Both at the national and regional levels, the private sector ought to be integral parties to negotiations. Some businesses in the Leeward and Windward Islands, the members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), are worried about being displaced in their own domestic markets by firms from the larger CARICOM countries.

In this connection, there is a crying need for the private sector throughout the region to map out their own strategy for sharing the Single Market through mergers, alliances or cooperation. There is urgency for a bargain between them which allows for equity in how the market is shared. Whatever formula results from a bargain will hurt some businesses, but no bargain will harm far more.

Further, the private sector should have a team that plays an advisory and consultative role to the region’s trade and aid negotiators.

The initiative for such activity should be taken by the regional private sector itself. If it fails to do so, it cannot complain if it is dissatisfied with the results of the trade and investment negotiations in which CARICOM governments are now involved. In this regard, the Caribbean Hotels Association (CHA) have shown the way by being forceful in pushing tourism on to the agenda of discussion between the EU and the Caribbean. Others in the services industry should follow.

It is to be hoped that there is still “fire in the bellies” for deeper regional integration not only of the private sector firms that are already forging ahead, but of government leaders, the trade union movement and others in the CARICOM business community.

* * *

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. He is a regular contributor to Huntington News Network. Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com

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COMMENTARY: A $32 Million Football Coach? Outrageous!

Posted by kinchendavid on January 6, 2007

By Rene A. Henry

Seattle, WA  — The University of Alabama just spent $32 million to hire a football coach! A college football coach. Yes, that’s correct. And at a public university supported by the taxpayers of Alabama.

This clearly sends the wrong message not only to the public in Alabama but to all taxpayers throughout the U.S. at a time when state supported colleges and universities are badly in need of and seeking more public funds. If I were a member of the Alabama legislature, I would tell the leadership of this university to either get its act together or look elsewhere for taxpayer support.

To say the president and governing board at the university acted irresponsibly would be an understatement. They must be held accountable for their actions and any repercussions that follow. The beneficiaries are a small minority of the Alabama alumni who love to dress in Crimson and join other fans a dozen times a year to wave ‘Bama pennants and pom poms and yell “Roll Tide” hoping their football team will win the game.

I can’t fault Nick Saban, the new coach, for accepting something like $4 million a year for the next eight years. This tops the $3.5 million a year Oklahoma pays Bob Stoops, $3 million a year Iowa pays Kirk Ferentz and $2 million a year Ohio State pays Jim Tressel. Additionally they all receive other benefits and perks. All are public universities. I do hope these coaches follow the leadership of their Penn State colleague, Joe Paterno, who has generously given much of his salary back for endowments, programs and scholarships.

You can’t logically compare any of these coaches’ salaries to a CEO or president of a Fortune 500 company who is charged with delivering bottom-line profits and dividends for stockholders and employees. CEOs are compensated on their performance. Saban is paid only to win football games and hopefully a national championship. Regardless of his success, he always will be in the shadow of Alabama’s legendary Bear Bryant.

Why not hold college coaches to a performance standard that includes graduation rates of athletes with salary deduction penalties if thugs are recruited who end being arrested and disgrace the institution?

Other college football and basketball coaches are the highest paid public employees in their respective states. Why? Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he plans to look into what he considers to be excessive compensation for corporate executives. Congress now may also look into why college coaches are being paid so many millions and why athletic departments have budgets that exceed $100 million with tax exempt revenues.

Many public colleges and universities who once called themselves “state supported” now, because of decreasing funds, use the term “state assisted.” Some, who receive less than 15 percent public support from their legislature now even say they are just “state located.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of intercollegiate sports, is gutless when it comes to limiting spending on sports. Why does a college football team need to have two or three times more uniformed players than a professional team in the NFL? Or larger coaching staffs? Or coaches being paid more than their professional counterparts? There is no justifiable answer.

The NCAA and its leadership and members forget that intercollegiate sports exist for one reason only – because there is an academic institution. The institution of higher learning does not exist so there can be football, basketball and other sports teams. Some universities have made bad hiring decisions and had to honor multimillion dollar contracts when coaches don’t win and are fired, sometimes having to pay several coaches at the same time.

The NCAA doesn’t even use the millions of dollars of free network television time given it each year to win public support for higher education. Instead many of the commercials are completely self-serving, say nothing, or feature an egomaniacal university president who wants everyone to see him on TV.

In response to overpaid coaches, some presidents, chancellors and athletic directors will offer the excuse that the funds are paid by alumni and friends. If this is the case, let those so-called “philanthropists” endow scholarships to young people who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education and who might just be the next Nobel Prize laureate, breakthrough scientist, or even a governor or president of the U.S.

My experience in national and international sports spans five decades. Ten years of my career were in higher education at four different public universities. I began as a student assistant in sports information at The College of William & Mary and I have always been a strong supporter of intercollegiate sports, but not at the financial levels they are today. By the way, the graduation rate for football players at my alma mater is 100 percent.

There can be no justification whatsoever to pay $32 million to any coach at a nonprofit institution that is supported by taxpayer dollars. Knute Rockne, Amos Alonzo Stagg  and Pop Warner must be holding their heads in shame. It’s time for the American public to rebel, speak out and demand their elected representatives cut off public funding to institutions that favor athletics over academics.

* * *

Rene A. Henry is the author of six books and lives in Seattle. He has commentaries on other subjects and issues posted on his website at http://www.renehenry.com. He is a native of Charleston, WV, a graduate of The College of William & Mary and a “Lifetime Gold Alumnus” of West Virginia University where he was Sports Information Director for two years.

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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: ‘Small Street Journal’ Redesign of Venerable Wall Street Journal Works for Me, Other Critics

Posted by kinchendavid on January 5, 2007

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Hinton, WV – When The Wall Street Journal announced its redesign last year – including a reduction in the web size to match that of most other broadsheet newspapers – it acquired the instant moniker “The Small Street Journal.”

Other smart-aleck phrases describing the remake included: “Now, the complete skinny,” “We reduced. You deride,” and “All the news that’s fi to print,” according to Jonah Bloom, writing in the Jan. 3, 2007 Advertising Age.

Bloom points out that these slogans “… were Slate readers’ slogan suggestions for the new-look Wall Street Journal; you can find them at the end of Jack Shafer’s piece on the topic [here’s a link: http://www.slate.com/id/2154880%5D. “Referring to the Journal’s 3-inch downsizing, Shafer opens by noting that, ‘It’s the rare amputee who describes himself as better off without his two big toes than with them.’ He goes on to decide that the Journal’s redesign is part of a greater Dow Jones ‘retreat.’ In other words, in Shafer’s view, the redesign is about cost cutting.”

Katherine Q. Seelye, writing in The New York Times, said the changes were “primarily driven by economics,” including $18 million worth of savings in newsprint and distribution costs.

All in all, Bloom likes the new look WSJ, which debuted Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007: “… overall, it’s a more comfortable, better-illustrated read, with jumps that are easier to follow. It’s a read that accepts that not all of us have two hours to thumb through the pages. And, most importantly for advertisers, it’s still the Journal, which translates roughly as ‘a-must-read-for-anyone-in-business,’ delivering a couple of million walking wallets every day. Surely that fact, along with this smart redesign, will make the Journal a properly profitable business in ’07. If it doesn’t, then I don’t hold out much hope for any of us in the business of business news.”

Bloom goes on to cite other critics who like the redesign, including Jon Fine, a former colleague at Ad Age, now writing for BusinessWeek; Jonathan Berr at Blogging Stocks and Keith Ferrell at the TechWebblog.

This month marks the 41st anniversary of my entry into the wonderful world of journalism; Since that momentous day in January 1966 when I walked into the lobby of the Hammond (Ind.) Times, I’ve worked for five daily newspapers in four states, including more than 14 years at one of the biggest – the Los Angeles Times – so I have some perspective about the changing face of newspaper design.

I like the policy of fewer jumps – newsroom lingo for continuing a story to another page. Jumps now follow a pattern that makes more sense than in the old design, asserts managing editor Paul E. Steiger, whose tenure at the Los Angeles Times overlapped mine.

The Jan. 2, 2007 issue included a reader’s guide to the new paper – something I hope the paper will include in each issue for a week or so. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to put aside a copy of this reader’s guide for future reference. I’m doing that…just have to remember which of 10,000 drawers it’s in!

When USA Today appeared in 1982, I thought Gannett made the right decision. It was a smart move, emulating TV in all its vivid color in a national newspaper. Along with The Wall Street Journal, USA Today is one of the few major newspapers either holding onto its circulation or gaining. The Wall Street Journal has more than 2 million circulation, while USA Today leads the nation with more than 2.3 million, according to the World Almanac. Both papers must be doing something right at a time when prestigious papers are losing circulation, including but not limited to the Los Angeles Times and the flagship of its owner, the Chicago Tribune.

Design has certainly played a role in the success of what was once derided as “McPaper,” but giving the public outstanding sports coverage, a weather page that’s unexcelled and short takes on the news have played an even more important role, in my opinion. Don’t give the people what they want, “give them more,” stated legendary showman Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel (1882-1936). It’s great advice.

Getting back to The Wall Street Journal: The paper is 6 inches narrower – 24 inches compared to 30 inches — when opened to full double-truck position than the last issue of 2006. The approximate 23-inch length is the same as the old design. If you’re reading the paper on public transportation, on a train or plane, you’re less likely to cause severe eye damage to your seatmates. It’s only a foot wide in the single page position, about an inch wider than a tabloid. I call this format a “broadsheet tabloid” because it combines features of traditional broadsheets with the ease of handling common to tabloids.

Where the previous paper had six columns on a typical page, the new one has five narrower ones on some pages, with six narrower ones on others. As an editor who has designed pages for both broadsheet newspapers and tabloid special sections, I believe the variation in the number of columns shouldn’t confuse most readers. If it does, they’ll get used to it! For more on the changes – which I believe improve an already outstanding newspaper, the paper I turn to for news and comment because I trust it –

click on:
http://www.dowjones.com/Pressroom/PressReleases/Other/US/2006/1204_US_TheWallStreetJournal_1565.htm.

As a long-time fan of The Wall Street Journal, I applaud the changes. Of course the narrower web will save Dow Jones & Co. money on newsprint, but the big step forward is user convenience. It’s a far more usable newspaper than the wide-web version. That’s what counts in a world where the print edition competes with online news sites. And yes, the period is still there in the nameplate, just as it was in the first issue of the paper in 1889. Some things should never change!

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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Manufacturing an Endangered Species in U.S.; We’re Going to Pay in Long Run

Posted by kinchendavid on January 3, 2007

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Hinton, WV  – I celebrated the new year by buying a new back saw – the kind of hand saw designed for use in a miter box. I use it for general woodworking and for my hobby of crafting wooden pens on my lathe. It’s a lot safer – and more precise – than using power tools.

Purchased at Hinton Hardware, the 14-inch saw was – to my surprise – made in the U.S.A. “with domestic and imported components.” I’m guessing that the steel business end of the saw was imported, with maybe the hardwood handle made in this country!

A week or so ago, New York Times reporter Louis Uchitelle wrote about the decline and disappearance of manufacturing in the U.S. All of my power tools – lathe, drill press, band saw, etc., etc. – are imported. When I was a high school shop rat back in the 1950s in Illinois – I was such an avid one that I ended up with a college major in English and a 40-semester-hour minor in industrial arts – everything was proudly stamped “Made in the U.S.A.”

Uchitelle writes: “American manufacturers no longer make subway cars. They are imported now, and the skills required to make them are disappearing in the United States. Similarly, imports are an ever-bigger source of refrigerators, household furnishings, auto and aircraft parts, machine tools and a host of everyday consumer products much in demand in America, but increasingly not made here.”

He adds: “Import penetration, as it is called, worried economists and policymakers when it first became noticeable 20 years ago. Many considered factory production a crucial component of the nation’s wealth and power. As imports gained ground, however, that view changed; the experts shifted the emphasis from production to design and innovation. Let others produce what Americans think up.”

The New Jersey city of Trenton was so proud of its manufacturing base that in 1935 it erected a sign on the bridge over the Delaware River connecting the city with Morrisville, PA (pictured): “TRENTON MAKES … THE WORLD TAKES” reads the sign — which Amtrak travelers to New York City can see if they’re looking carefully. (I bet some of those Amtrak passenger cars are made in Canada or elsewhere).

After quoting economists about the importance of design over actually producing the necessary widgets, Uchitelle asks the billion-dollar question: “…over the long run, can invention and design be separated from production?”

He goes on to say that that question is rarely asked these days. Instead, he notes, “the debate instead centers on the loss of well-paying factory jobs and on the swelling trade deficit in manufactured goods. When the linkage does come up, the answer is surprisingly affirmative: Yes, invention and production are intertwined.”

Of course they are! I was surprised to learn the other day that the local high school no longer has industrial arts classes. I learned this from the former-shop-teacher- owner of Hinton Hardware, itself an endangered breed in this era of big box home centers. We’re blessed with experts at this store: The owner sells hardware items, but he also knows enough to suggest solutions to me. Kids grow up today not knowing the joys of creating objects from raw materials. It’s one of the things that keeps me mentally healthy and young for my chronological age, or so people tell me.

Uchitelle, whose book “The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences” I reviewed favorably in May 2006 — here’s a link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/060521-kinchen-review.html — quotes two experts on manufacturing, Stephen S. Cohen and Franklin J. Vargo, who respectfully disagree with those who say it doesn’t matter if we don’t make things any more: “’Most innovation does not come from some disembodied laboratory,’” said … Cohen, co-director of the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy at the University of California, Berkeley. “’In order to innovate in what you make, you have to be pretty good at making it — and we are losing that ability.’”

Cohen, Uchitelle says, was a co-author of a1987 book “Manufacturing Matters” that was an early warning about our disappearing manufacturing base. This is something that means a lot to me, since I grew up in two once mighty manufacturing states: Michigan (until the age of 10) and Illinois.

Uchitelle: “… even the National Association of Manufacturers, which is supportive of members like Whirlpool [based in Benton Harbor, MI, about 40 miles from where I lived] and General Electric who shift production abroad, agrees that sooner or later innovation and production must go hand in hand.

“Franklin J. Vargo, the association’s vice president for international economic affairs, sounds even more concerned than Mr. Cohen. ‘If manufacturing production declines in the United States at some point we will go below critical mass and then the center of innovation will shift outside the country and that will really begin a decline in our living standards.’”

We’ve already seen this decline as the relatively high paying manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas – or south of the border – replaced by service jobs that pay a fraction of what manufacturing jobs contribute to the domestic economy.

Economists and other defenders of outsourcing don’t think it matters if we still make widgets on our home territory, but Uchitelle says that people like “Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the United States Business and Industry Council, argues that in this country, import penetration is rising faster in core industries like machine-tool building than it is in other countries. And these are the industries that are, or should be, centers of innovation and invention.”

Tonelson’s efforts to document the disappearing jobs are part of his job, Uchitelle reports: “His organization represents small manufacturers who keep production at home much more than a General Electric or a Whirlpool. They suffer from import penetration more than the multinationals. The Business and Industry Council even favors tariffs as a protective measure — a red flag for many mainstream Democrats and Republicans, who shun any suggestion that they might be protectionist.”

Exploring individual industries, Tonelson finds that the U.S. is importing more than 50 percent “and in some cases close to 90 percent – of the machine tools used in this country, the aircraft engines and engine parts, the parts that go into cars and trucks, the industrial valves, the printed circuits, the optical instruments and lenses, the telephone switching apparatus, the machines that mold plastics, the broadcasting equipment used for radio, television and wireless transmissions. The list goes on.”

The clincher, in my opinion: Tonelson argues that “It is hard to imagine how an international economy can remain successful if it jettisons its most technologically advanced components.”

Exactly! Without domestic manufacturing, we up the proverbial creek without a paddle – because the paddle is probably imported.

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