The culture shock of alien tribes

The transition to the Donald Trump administration is an exercise in culture shock. Trump himself is a shock to the system, of course, and it’s reasonable to expect the losing party to bitterly oppose anyone he appoints. Where the culture shock comes in is that Trump’s appointees include members of two unfamiliar tribes: military officers and business executives.

That’s scary to some folks. I’ve met people who have never worked for a competitive enterprise and believe all businessmen are greedy tyrants who exploit their workers. That’s what their politicians and college professors have told them (because the politicians and professors have never worked in the private sector, either).

Military officers are equally unfamiliar because most Americans have had no contact with the Armed Forces. Academics and politicians steeped in Vietnam War protest nostalgia would have us believe that generals will either take us to war or take over the government.

I have experience in both alien tribes. I spent 25 years in the Navy and reserves, and 30-plus years working for and with business corporations.

Business executives aren’t greedy, just competitive. Most new businesses fail. The ones that survive compete for customers, stay ahead of technology and market trends, and turn a profit in order to attract investors and raise capital. Successful companies are good at disrupting themselves to stay ahead of the competition. I saw constant change in my corporate career with reorganizations, new products, executive shakeups and more.

While I encountered a few dysfunctional managers, they generally did not last long. Successful businesses hold people accountable by rewarding good performance and weeding out the miscreants. I saw several senior executives summarily fired for misbehavior such as sexual harassment (unlike civil service executives who can appeal a dismissal for years). CEOs are accountable for everything, and are routinely kicked out if they don’t perform. Imagine a government agency running this way!

We may be seeing a new generation of dollar-a-year men, like the industrial titans Franklin Delano Roosevelt recruited to mobilize World War II wartime production. I am more comfortable with self-made billionaires running the government than with career politicians who have become multimillionaires by holding public office.

Military officers don’t love war. When I led boarding parties and stood bridge watches in the Navy, I understood that a mistake on my part could get my shipmates killed and thought about that every day. Multiply that responsibility a thousandfold and you get people like Generals Mattis, Kelly and Flynn. The military take on national security issues will be to deter war as much as possible, fight only when necessary (to win, not to send a message) and bring the troops home alive.

Military folks are rewarded for being decisive, flexible and pragmatic, from the sailor who swaps coffee for radio parts to the commander who upsets the bureaucrats but wins the battle. Commanders are accountable for results and are quickly relieved when they screw up. It will be refreshing to watch “Mad Dog” Mattis shake up the Pentagon.

I am impressed that today’s military officers increasingly function as diplomats, starting with junior officers who negotiate with village elders in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also have the best-educated military in history: The Navy sent every one of my active-duty counterparts to civilian universities for masters’ degrees, and senior officers get additional graduate-level education at institutions like the Naval War College.

Military officers often take over the government in banana republics by default because they’re usually the best-organized people in a failed state. By contrast, the U.S. military has a long tradition of political neutrality and regulations that prohibit political activity by active-duty personnel. Unlike other government employees, military people do not have unions that make political contributions and campaign for candidates. If any organization is going to impose its will on the government, the teachers’ union is in a better position to do so than the Marine Corps.

So we are getting cabinet officers regulating the economy who have actually worked successfully in the economy, and national security officials who prefer deterrence to warfare. Talk about culture shock!

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Election observations

At the risk of contributing to the post-election drama, here are a few observations.

If you insult me I am not going to vote for you. Calling Donald Trump a racist is not unreasonable, given the incendiary things he has said. But when you call everyone who supports him a racist they may take it personally.

That may be one of the reasons why the “basket of deplorables” became an electoral majority. Same thing happened in Britain when Brexit supporters were dismissed as xenophobes and rubes. Yet we’re still hearing from some progressives that widespread racism is the only reason for Trump’s victory. Seems like an odd way to win back the millions of Obama voters who went for Trump this time.

The Clinton campaign focused on scaring people about Donald Trump and struck fear into the hearts of half the country. So the massive outpouring of fear, grief and panic over the Trump victory is no surprise. When I was a Boy Scout, we used to tell scary stories around the campfire and some of the kids had nightmares.

Angry mobs are less effective in the U.S. than in France. Union mobs in Wisconsin failed to stop the re-election of Gov. Scott Walker. Twice. The Occupy movement fizzled. Protests at Trump rallies (which we now know were connected to the Clinton campaign) apparently backfired. See a pattern here?

A campaign of relentless public shaming drove Trump supporters underground. 40% of my state voted for Trump but I saw very few Trump yard signs and bumper stickers. I sure didn’t display one. We’ve learned that many Trump supporters refused to answer polls, including exit polls. If this is the norm for future campaigns, the political prognostication industry is toast.

Nobody will ever again trust the mainstream news media, but we already knew that.

Issues still matter. Polls have consistently shown that the majority of voters are concerned about the economy and think the country is on the wrong track. Exit polls said the same thing. In the final weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump talked about the issues and Hillary Clinton talked about Donald Trump. How much trouble could we have saved if both candidates had talked about issues from the beginning?

It’s official: Celebrities are irrelevant. An unprecedented number of stars busted their sequined tails for Hillary and nobody listened. Because of their distress over racism and xenophobia, many entertainers plan to emigrate to Canada — which has a smaller minority population and tougher immigration laws. Why not Mexico? The weather’s better. Half the country bids them good riddance and hopes Trump will deport Justin Bieber.

After listening to nearly a week of post-election analysis, I miss the elegant clarity of Chicago’s legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley. When asked to comment on each election victory, his only response was that his opponent didn’t get enough votes.

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They’re really smart. So why can’t they govern?

One of the more interesting aspects of the presidential campaign is watching the expertise of the campaign organizations. The Democrats, anyway. President Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012 made innovative  use of data analysis, audience targeting and social media. Both parties now use detailed information about individual voters to craft campaign messages and deploy armies of volunteers.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has raised electoral science to an even higher level of sophistication. Whether or not you agree with the politics, you have to admire the organizational mastery at work. The Clinton campaign has mobilized some of the nation’s smartest technocrats and managers into a model of what every organization aspires to be: efficient, thorough, motivated and responsive. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Democrats are the best in the world at running an election campaign.

Running the country, not so much. If the campaign organization is Seal Team Six, the people in charge of the government are the Keystone Kops.

President Obama’s campaign employed some of the top information technology experts in the country. But the Obama administration was unable to get the Obamacare website operational without spectacular cost overruns and system failures. And security breaches such as the hacking of federal personnel files have become increasingly common.

It’s not just technology. We’re seeing a steady drumbeat of government failures. Veterans die while waiting for care at Veterans Administration hospitals. The Environmental Protection Agency pollutes a river. Engines on the Navy’s brand-new littoral combat ships keep breaking down. Victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 are still waiting for disaster relief. Delays in tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service have become routine.

And it’s not just the Democrats. Republicans are equally inept, though their preference for smaller government may result in a little less damage. Both parties share the blame for the VA’s long-standing problems and the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to modernize the 40-year-old air traffic control system.

When inspirational campaign promises are routinely sabotaged by bumbling bureaucrats, it’s no surprise that fewer than half of Americans trust the government’s ability to solve problems.

So here’s the mystery: Why do politicians hire talented people to get themselves elected and then turn the government over to stumblebums? What happens to those brilliant campaign technocrats between elections? Why aren’t they running the Obamacare website or organizing patient care at the VA?

This is more than idle curiosity. We elect politicians to run our government, and most of us will tolerate moderate levels of waste and corruption so long as things get done. That’s the deal: If the streets are clean and the garbage is picked up, I’m willing to overlook my city councilman’s sticky fingers and loose morals.

But when government is incompetent, the politicians aren’t keeping their end of the bargain. At some point voters will decide that the deal’s off and vote for the other party.

So I’m amazed that politicians don’t appoint their best and brightest campaign operatives to run government agencies. Delivering value to the voters (what a concept!) will keep their party in power. If those talented campaign experts can persuade us to elect someone like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, imagine what they could accomplish if they were doing honest work!

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Family stories: Mac and Mamoo

Note to readers: This exploration of my family history is primarily for my kids and kinfolk. I’m posting it in my blog because I’m too cheap to set up a separate website. If you are not among my relatives you probably won’t be interested in this stuff, and that’s fine with me.

The house was within earshot of the railroad, and whenever we heard a train my grandfather would pull out his pocket watch and note whether it was on time. An old habit after working for the Illinois Central for 50 years.

My grandparents

My grandparents

Virgil Allan McClure went by “Mac” and I never heard anyone use his first name. He spent most of his career as railroad’s telegraph operator in Corinth, Mississippi. My grandfather had lied about his age when he went to work for the Illinois Central and never corrected the employee record. He was pleased with himself when he retired at age 64 instead of 65. Put one over on them.

His job as a telegraph operator was a step into the middle class for a farm kid from Kentucky. Mac taught Sunday school at the Baptist church and was a big wheel in the Masons. He served on the draft board and the housing authority.

mamoo-steve

Mamoo with her first great-grandson

My grandmother, Ethel Holderman McClure, was always known to me as Mamoo. She was tiny, gentle and always smiling. She, too, was active in church and Masonic activities. On a visit to Corinth many years later, a woman at the local history museum remembered her: “She inducted me into Eastern Star. Little bitty thing.”

Mac was taciturn and Mamoo was quiet, especially in her later years when she was hard of hearing but too vain to wear a hearing aid.

My grandfather was notoriously frugal, a trait my father inherited. He once decided to make some extra money raising and selling chickens, and bought at least 100 day-old baby chicks. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea and the chicken market collapsed. Since selling the chickens would be a losing proposition, my grandfather decided the family would eat them. Mamoo tried every known chicken recipe for breakfast, lunch and dinner for months, and my father disliked chicken until his dying day.

1967: four generations

1967: four generations

Mac and Mamoo visited us in Chicago occasionally because they rode the Illinois Central for free. On one visit my folks took us to Chinatown and introduced my grandparents to Chinese food. My grandfather loved the food and, best of all, it was cheap! On every visit thereafter, Mac took us all to Chinatown for dinner.

Mac was a creature of habit and went to bed every night on the stroke of 9 p.m. Guests who overstayed their welcome got the hint when he would stand up, announce that he was going to bed and leave the room.

In all the years I knew him my grandfather had only two cars, a 1940’s-vintage Ford and a 1953 Chevrolet. Whoever bought the Chevy after he passed away in 1973 probably got a good deal: Since Mac only drove to church and around town, the car was in mint condition with less than 20,000 miles. On one visit, my teenaged brother borrowed the car and quickly came back to report that the Chevy had no brakes. My grandfather had never noticed because he drove at a sedate 15 mph and coasted to a stop.

I credit my grandfather with some of the robust genes that allow me to stay active. After my grandmother died in 1968, Mac lived on his own until he passed away at the age of 89. In his later years he used a cane but occasionally walked off without it. We once found the cane hanging from a tree in the backyard.

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Family Stories: Corinth

Note to readers: This exploration of my family history is primarily for my kids and kinfolk. I’m posting it in my blog because I’m too cheap to set up a separate website. If you are not among my relatives you probably won’t be interested in this stuff, and that’s fine with me.

The house is still there, at 1421 Bunch Street in Corinth, Mississippi. (I found it on Google Street View.) One story, painted white, modest yet gracious with a wide front porch, set back from the street on a slight rise with a concrete-block retaining bunch-stwall along the sidewalk. The big oak trees my grandfather planted are gone and the house shows its century of age, but it’s pretty much as I remember it.

I’m not sure if my grandfather actually built the house, but I was told he finished the interior walls with beaverboard. It was a step up from the farmhouse in Kentucky he left when he was in his teens.

My grandfather (left) at work

My grandfather (left) at work

Virgil Allan McClure spent a long career as a telegraph operator for the Illinois Central Railroad. He married my grandmother, Ethel Holderman, in 1910 in Covington, Tennessee, and my father, Marvin Allan, was born there in 1911. The family moved to Corinth by 1913.

Corinth, in the northeast corner of Mississippi, is a railroad crossroads that attracted a Civil War battle in 1862 and my grandfather half a century later. My father dug minie balls out of the old fortifications as a kid, and was one of the Boy Scouts who helped elderly Confederate veterans during the annual parade. Outside the county courthouse, generations of old men sat on a park bench next to the Confederate monument and whittled pieces of wood (not to make anything, just whittle to pass the time). The town’s population was more than 5,000 when my grandparents moved there and is around 15,000 today.

Whittling by the courthouse

Whittling by the courthouse

Tornadoes used to be a problem there. Some of the neighbors had dug storm shelters in their yards. My father claimed a tornado once tore off roofs in the neighborhood and turned a nearby house sideways on its foundation.

According to my father, every so often a visitor to Corinth would stop by the post office and ask if they’d received any letters from Paul lately. People got the joke because practically everyone attended church. My grandparents attended the Baptist church, largest church in town. My grandfather was a big shot in the Masons and my grandmother was a leader in the Masonic Eastern Star.

My father went by Allan and never used his first name. The family had a Negro housekeeper (as most middle-class families probably did) and as a toddler my father thought the dark-skinned woman was his mother. He was a big kid, recruited for the high school football team when he was in eighth grade. He had a younger brother, Jimmy (after whom I am named), who died of appendicitis in his teens.

My father graduated from Corinth High School in 1930, where he was senior class president and participated in the typewriting club, theater and the Masonic DeMolay organization. After high school he knocked around, because his graduation would have coincided with the beginning of the Depression. He told stories about running moonshine in a Model T Ford to a friend who was attending the University of Mississippi in Oxford. And an improbable story about meeting a young William Faulkner in an Oxford drugstore, getting drunk on moonshine and shooting rifles in the backyard.

He got involved in labor organizing, probably through working in the textile plants that were industrializing the South. He told of attending a camp for union organizers that he later realized was run by Communists. My father probably was involved in a series of textile workers’ strikes in Alabama in 1934 and said he landed in jail briefly for union agitation.

At some point he got interested in music and singing. And in the late 1930s my father went to Chicago on a scholarship to study opera.

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Family stories: The Gasperik Grandparents

Note to readers: This exploration of my family history is primarily for my kids and kinfolk. I’m posting it in my blog because I’m too cheap to set up a separate website. If you are not among my relatives you probably won’t be interested in this stuff, and that’s fine with me.

My grandfather spent a night in jail once.

grandpa1903-1

Grandpa in 1903

Joseph Gasperik was a butcher, sausage maker and businessman on Chicago’s South Side. He also had a quick temper and got into business disputes. One business disagreement wound up in court, and when the judge ruled against him Grandpa lost his temper and called the judge a “grafter” among other things. The judge promptly clapped him in jail for contempt of court.

My grandmother initially wanted to bail him out. But another relative said: “Leave him in jail to teach him a lesson.” My grandmother quickly agreed. Whether the experience made Grandpa a kinder, gentler person is debatable.

I just heard another story that my grandfather took his sister-in-law, Mary Nemeth, to court and accused her of going after him with a knife. The judge dismissed the case when he noted that my grandfather was very large and Great-Aunt Mary was less than five feet tall. No one ever suggested that she had not threatened him with a knife (and he probably had it coming).

One of his principal rivals in the Burnside neighborhood was a better-connected businessman named DeHaan. Years later, when I was a freshman at Northwestern University, one of the guys in my dorm was named DeHaan and turned out to be a scion of the same family. We got along just fine.

Grandpa was loyal to the old country and blamed President Woodrow Wilson for the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Whenever he was reminded of this, he would pound his fist on the table, shout “Voodrow Veelson” and curse in a couple of languages.

He was a man of property and would-be tycoon. In his old age, when my parents would drive him around the city, Grandpa would point out a substantial commercial building and say: “I could have bought that property in 1925.” When asked why he didn’t buy it, he would say that it was too expensive, or didn’t think it was a good investment. When he passed away the only property he owned was a few acres of vacant land in the suburb of New Lenox, which is developed today but was practically off the grid in the 1950s.

In his old age Grandpa would drop by our apartment on the West Side, often bringing us some sort of toy (which he had found in some alley, my mother said). He lived alone in the old neighborhood, in an eccentric basement apartment with a ladder through a trap door to his bedroom.

grandma1960s-1

Grandma in the 1960s

My grandfather’s funeral in 1954 was at the Hungarian funeral home in Burnside. It featured dirge-like Hungarian hymns in a minor key. There also were professional mourners, women who would show up and cry whether or not they knew the deceased. Those Burnside Hungarians did grief up right.

My grandmother, Julia Nemeth Gasperik Kristof, grew up in Hungary but her parents settled on a farm just outside Chicago near 127th St. and Cicero Ave. Today the Tri-State Tollway occupies most of that site. My mother used to talk about spending time at her grandmother’s farm.

I did not know my grandmother well because she lived with my uncle and aunt in California when I was growing up and I did not see her often. She and my mother apparently got along better when they were in different time zones. Whenever they were together they mostly argued. My grandmother was hard of hearing, and often turned her hearing aid off because she enjoyed talking more than listening.

She wore her long, auburn hair in braids on top of her head. “Our family doesn’t get grey hair,” I was told. When someone asked if she had her own teeth, Grandma assured them she did. “Of course they’re mine,” she remarked later. “I paid for them.”

My grandmother was the source of much of the culinary heritage that my mother passed along. According to my mother, the only way to make strudel properly was to get three generations of women stretching dough paper-thin across a large dining table. When Grandma came to visit my mother made a special effort to capture the family recipes that had never been written down. She would watch my grandmother preparing something, and would grab her hand to measure the pinch, dab or smidgen of each ingredient.

Grandma came back to Chicago to live with my folks a year or two before she passed away in 1973. By that time the old funeral home in Burnside was closed and the professional mourners were long gone. We held a quiet funeral in Oak Park… not very Hungarian.

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Why classified information is a big deal

It’s been amusing to watch the news coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email woes and apparent lack of understanding of government rules for handling classified information. Especially when politicians and media pundits say it’s not a big deal.

Classified information was a big deal when I was in the Navy, especially when I was assigned to a joint-forces nuclear weapons headquarters in Albuquerque at the height of the Cold War. I needed to show a special pass to get into the building where I worked even though all the guards knew me. Everyone, including the janitor, had a top-secret security clearance.

topsecretVirtually every piece of paper in the office (even the typewriter ribbons) went into a safe at the end of the day whether it was marked classified or not. Safe combinations were memorized and could not be written down. Every safe had a signup sheet that had to be signed by the person who locked it at quitting time and countersigned by a second person who verified that it was locked. A signup sheet at the door certified and verified that every desk and wastebasket in the room had been checked for classified material. One of my chores was to perform a final security check on the admiral’s office after the boss had left for the day, including opening every drawer of the admiral’s desk.

Everybody was security-conscious because there were consequences. Every night the security force checked the safes and signup sheets, and periodic surprise inspections combed the offices for violations. A serious violation (such as leaving documents out or jotting down a safe combination on a desk calendar) meant losing your security clearance at a minimum, and a quick transfer to, say, the supply depot in Guam.

We knew what to safeguard because we had clear guidance on what information was classified. That’s why Hillary Clinton’s claim that that a document was classified only if it bore specific markings misses the point. Even as a green junior officer I had the tools needed to perform security reviews as part of my job. With enough confidence to walk into my boss’ office once and tell him: “We can’t say this, colonel, it’s classified.” Apparently nobody at the State Department said that to the Secretary of State.

Even with a security clearance, access to information was further limited by a need to know. I did not know specifically what my friends in other departments were doing, and we were careful not to talk shop when we were out on the town. When people asked us what the Navy was doing in Albuquerque we couldn’t tell them, so we made up stories about a subterranean channel under the Rio Grande and a secret submarine base.

Classified information was equally serious aboard ship. Radio codebooks were kept in a safe in weighted bags – to be thrown overboard if the ship faced imminent capture. When one of my roommates needed to read one of the secret intelligence publications in my custody he had to sign for it. Ships’ schedules were technically classified even though the bar hostesses outside our base in Japan seemed to know more than we did.

Classified information is still a big deal for the federal government. Most of the time, anyway. Last year a Naval Reservist was sentenced to probation and a fine for putting classified information on a personal electronic device. And General David Petraeus was convicted for sharing classified notebooks with his biographer/mistress (even though she was a military officer with a security clearance).

So while Hillary Clinton’s disregard of security requirements is no big deal for Democrats, I suspect folks who have actually worked with classified information (unlike media folks and pundits) take the issue a little more seriously.

However, I don’t think a Clinton presidency will put state secrets at risk. Her painstaking effort to hide the Clinton Foundation’s influence on the State Department makes Richard Nixon look like a rank amateur. So Hillary Clinton has the potential to to be the most security-conscious president in history. And there’s a bonus: Her eventual presidential library will be really small – without a shred of evidence.

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Family stories: Burnside

Note to readers: This exploration of my family history is primarily for my kids and kinfolk. I’m posting it in my blog because I’m too cheap to set up a separate website. If you are not among my relatives you probably won’t be interested in this stuff, and that’s fine with me.

In the 1890s the newest immigrants to arrive in Chicago – Hungarians, Italians, Ukrainians and Poles — settled on the Southeast Side because that’s where the factories were. Thousands were employed at the Illinois Central Railroad repair shops, the Pullman Car Works and others. The neighborhood where they lived was called Burnside because a nearby railroad station was named for a Civil War general.

l-r: Uncle Frank Nemeth, Elmer Novak and my grandmother

l-r: Uncle Frank Nemeth, Elmer Novak and my grandmother

They made good money and worked up an appetite, those factory guys, and some of their groceries came from my grandfather. Joseph (Jozsef) Hajdu Gasperik trained in Hungary as a butcher and sausage maker, and arrived in Chicago around the turn of the century.

His shop was at 9349-51 S. Cottage Grove Avenue. He arrived in the U.S. in 1903 and married my grandmother, Julia Nemeth, in 1904. The family lived over the store. My mother, Vilma, youngest of three children, was born in 1916.

The Gasperiks in 1910 with sons Frank and Joe

The Gasperiks in 1910 with sons Frank and Joe

The family prospered: My grandfather owned rental property and an automobile. They spoke Hungarian at home, and my mother did not learn English until she started school. Although most Hungarians were Catholic, the Gasperiks attended a Hungarian Reformed church. (My mother told me she was christened Wilhelmina because the minister did not believe Vilma was a proper Hungarian name.)

The Hungarian community in Chicago stayed fairly small: not for lack of immigrants, but because Hungarians assimilated quickly and were more inclined to intermarry with other ethnic groups than did the Italians, Poles and Lithuanians. So the Hungarian community in Burnside that thrived in my mother’s childhood is largely a memory today.

And they had a car around 1910.

And they had a car around 1910.

My mother’s oldest brother, Joe, was 13 years older. She was closest to her brother Frank, who was seven years older but died when he was 18. There were relatives nearby, Gasperik and Nemeth cousins whose families had migrated to Chicago.

And there was drama: My grandparents divorced at some point and my grandmother remarried in 1935. Her second husband, John Kristof, died three years later. The store on Cottage Grove Avenue was a casualty of the Depression, and brother Joe married and moved to California. My mother graduated from Fenger High School.

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The old stories

Note to readers: This exploration of my family history is primarily for my kids and kinfolk. I’m posting it in my blog because I’m too cheap to set up a separate website. If you are not among my relatives you probably won’t be interested in this stuff, and that’s fine with me.

My daughter the semi-famous author is researching her mother’s family history. It’s a rich heritage: My wife’s paternal grandfather was a science-fiction writer in the 1940s, and there are boxes of letters, journals and newspaper clippings spanning several generations. It’s fascinating stuff and I hope she makes a book out of it.

My side of the family didn’t leave much of a paper trail. My paternal grandfather only made it through the third grade, and my mother’s folks spoke English in bits and pieces. So my family history is a series of passed-down stories that undoubtedly evolved in the telling.

As the story goes, my father’s ancestors originated in Scotland as part of Clan McLeod. (I have a necktie in the McLeod tartan.) The British moved a bunch of Scots to Ireland beginning in 1610, in the hope that Scots Calvinists would counterbalance the troublesome Irish Catholics. But the Scots were just as unmanageable as the Irish and some made their way to America in the 1700s. There are lots of McClures, and some consider themselves Irish because their ancestors stayed in Ireland for another century or so.

English gentry had already settled the American coast, so the arriving Scots-Irish headed for the hills and pushed the frontier through western Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and so on. Jim Webb’s book Born Fighting traces this Celtic diaspora and his account matches the stories I’ve heard. Including the debatable one that my ancestors came over the mountains with Daniel Boone.

I’ve begun doing some research on Ancestry.com that supports this overall narrative. So far I’ve found a Thomas McClure who was born in Ireland and died in Kentucky, Samuel McClure who served in the War of 1812, Mathew McClure and my great-grandfather, Winfrey McClure.

My grandfather, Virgil Allan McClure, was born in Kentucky in 1884 and grew up on a farm in Sherburne. There’s a photo of my grandfather, his parents and five siblings, in their Sunday best outside a white farmhouse. He spent his career as a telegraph operator for the Illinois Central Railroad and married my grandmother, Ethel Holderman, in Covington, TN, in 1910. My grandmother was born in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, on the Ohio River (where there actually is a cave but I’m certain Grandmother never lived in it). They moved to Corinth, Mississippi a few years later.

Meanwhile, my mother’s parents emigrated from Hungary around 1900 in the second wave of Hungarian immigrants. The first significant immigration from Hungary followed an unsuccessful revolution against the Austrian Empire in 1848-49. My grandparents were in a larger group of Hungarians who were economic migrants between 1890 and World War I.

My grandfather, Joseph Gasperik, hailed from Budapest and was born in 1874. My grandmother, Julia Nemeth, was born in 1885 in Oroshaza. Unlike the laborers and peasants who made up most of the Hungarians who came to the U.S. during that period, Grandfather was a middle-class tradesman. He was a butcher and sausage maker (and won a prize for it in Europe). I have a photo of the shop he opened on the South Side of Chicago (meat market, cigars, fancy groceries, the sign says) with several people posed in front with white aprons.

My parents met when my father came to Chicago in the 1930s on a scholarship to study opera. But that’s another story.

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Watching the media hissy-fit

Media-watchers and pundits have been debating liberal bias in the news media for decades. Now the debate is over. The national media are in full empire-strikes-back, hissy-fit mode in an increasingly hysterical campaign to not merely cover Donald Trump, but destroy his candidacy completely. They’re getting lots of help from Trump himself, of course, and the result may be mutual self-immolation.

Cue the hand-wringing. Is this the end of objective journalism? Maybe. So what?

The idea that journalists ought to report events with fairness, balance and accuracy did not occur to American newspapers until late in the 19th Century. Early American papers were political weapons, short on facts and long on opinion. Politicians used pen names to attack their rivals anonymously, though most readers figured out that “Phocion” was Alexander Hamilton exposing Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with a slave.

It got worse. In the 1828 campaign, Andrew Jackson was accused of murder and cannibalism. His wife was accused of bigamy and died soon afterward. Donald and Melania are getting off easy by comparison. So when today’s media echo-chamber the Democratic meme that Trump is temperamentally unfit and dangerous, it’s worth noting that America has seen worse.  And survived.

I pay attention to this stuff because I graduated from journalism school, worked briefly as a reporter and spent much of my public relations career fencing with the media. When I started out in the 1960s, the journalism profession had been working for more than half a century to establish credibility and erase the stain of Yellow Journalism.

So I was schooled in rigorous objectivity: Cover both sides, check facts, get the quotes right. Chicago’s legendary City New Bureau made it a slogan: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. But fairness and balance are not easy to achieve because covering the news requires a cascade of subjective decisions. If you go into journalism with a sense of moral mission, you may unconsciously slant a story. I did that myself a time or two.

Objective journalism still thrives at the local level, but has been eroding in the national media since Walter Cronkite decided the Vietnam War in 1968. News outlets are covering more complex issues with fewer resources, have substituted analysis and commentary for reporting, and are more easily manipulated by institutional media wranglers.

We’ve long accepted that the TV networks and national newspapers such as the New York Times are biased in favor of the Democrats (which has been a bonanza for Fox News). We saw a dramatic increase in this perception during the 2008 presidential campaign, when 70% of voters believed the news media wanted Barack Obama to win. Still, media bias has been expressed largely in commentary and editorial decisions to slant coverage while maintaining the appearance of objectivity. Until now.

What’s changed is that the “mainstream” national media now are weaponized as a component of the Democratic presidential campaign, with opinion fully integrated into news coverage. I find this disappointing – hard to forget all those journalism classes – but see no threat to American democracy. If anything, ripping off the cloak of objectivity will help voters better evaluate what they’re seeing and hearing.

In April, before the anti-Trump media jihad began, only six percent of Americans said they had a lot of confidence in the news media: roughly the same disrepute as Congress. Most folks no longer rely on traditional news outlets to stay informed, but use social media instead. That means many voters won’t notice the media attacks on Trump, and those who do are unlikely to believe them.

Most important, the proliferation of Internet news outlets and independent investigative reporters means the news media no longer are information gatekeepers. If the NBC Nightly News refuses to cover the Clinton Foundation scandal, we’ll get the story from the Daily Caller, the Drudge Report and perhaps Wikileaks. Fox News will get even higher ratings.

As I said, we’ve seen this before. Media mudslinging did not stop Andrew Jackson from winning the presidency in 1828 and is not likely to make much difference this year. So there’s no way the New York Times can defeat Donald Trump. He’ll have to do that himself.

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