You provide a valuable service, and I wanted to express my gratitude for getting to be part of it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

You Can't Unring the Bell says Roger Carlton

Roger Carlton
This wonderful phrase was first used in a 1912 Oregon Supreme Court case State v. Rader. Mr. Rader was accused and convicted of arson when he burned two of his neighbor's haystacks. At trial, the prosecution's theory was that Rader committed the crime in retaliation for the victim of the arson reporting that Rader had cut off the tail of one of the victim's cows. This testimony was allowed by the Judge which meant that the Judge did not instruct the jury to ignore the unrelated testimony. We call that a reversible error. On appeal the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that it was not an easy task to unring the bell of the inadmissible testimony. This meant that the jury was unduly influenced. So, Rader's haystacks and cow's tail removal went un-avenged. 

What does this 108 year- old case have to do with our life today? Simple. We all say things that we regret, sometimes for the rest of our lives. Politicians from the White House to the guardhouse say awful things that they may or may not regret. With today's electronic communication, racially insensitive remarks, incendiary rhetoric, self-serving blather, disrespecting women and just plain gross distortions of the truth, can be blasted out to tens of millions of eyes and ears causing great damage to government's credibility.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says Congress shall not abridge freedom of speech or the press. The Founders never dreamed of Facebook and Twitter. The press to them was a newspaper with a few reporters. It took weeks for news to travel from remote areas. Yet that press was granted the right to operate nearly without restraint. Today we can abridge free speech if it is hateful or dangerous. You can't yell "fire" in a theater just because you feel like it. The term "Clear and Present Danger" means that the gravity, evil and improbability of a statement allows free speech to be abridged to avoid danger. Neo-Nazi's marching in uniform denying the Holocaust in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood may not meet the test unless it can be proven that there is a resultant danger. Simply being repulsed is not enough.

Twitter and Facebook and virtually all responsible media are grappling with this conundrum. We don't want to limit free speech but these giant profit machines should not be the purveyors of lies and deceit to millions. To appear responsible, Twitter warns us that the content of a politician's smoke and mirrors should be verified by the reader. How many of the Tweet-junkies make the time or have the time to research the truth. Truth seekers would be the exception to the rule. So just like the nauseating and depressing drug warnings that us old folks have to endure during the evening news, Twitter's response is not very satisfying. Given all those warnings, a cautious person would never take the stuff. 

Facebook has copped out completely. When a post said "When the looting starts, the shooting starts," Facebook should have recognized that such statements incite violence. They did not, even in light of numerous employees' disgust over the posts. That is why this columnist does not Facebook or Tweet. I follow Danny Trejo's line in his cult movie "Machete." He says "Machete don't Tweet."

One last word on unringing the bell. No matter how apologetic the response, no matter how many mea culpas are expressed, no matter how sincere the promise for better behavior may be, the bell cannot be unrung. For example, when a local elected official posts a well-written commentary on supporting the police that was written by an anonymous person,  good judgement would have asked, "who is anonymous?" Is the writer a union shop steward, someone who lost a loved one who was protecting the citizens or someone who doesn't want to be de-funded? Judging from the response to the first post, which ranged from hateful threats to great praise, a little research would have been in order before that bell was rung. Anonymous stuff may be worthy of publication, but it may not. Sometimes, when there is smoke, there is fire. Sometimes just a smoke machine.

One thing is certain. During the next five months, political methane gas will explosively multiply. Let's think about what we hear or see and reject anyone who espouses hate or incites violence. Frankly, I don't care what one candidate thinks about another. Don't insult my intelligence and ask me to vote for you because your opponent is a bad person. Ask me to vote for you because you are restrained enough not to need to unring the bell.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Little Humor in the midst of Chaos

Roger Carlton, columnist for the Graham Star newspaper in Robbinsville, NC

My name is Rolla Teepee. My life began in Brazil where melaleuca trees grow in abundance in an area formerly known as the Amazon Rain Forest. Pulpwood made from the trees is abundant because my parents grow nearly 100 feet in seven years. This is far faster than the growth rate of evergreen and hardwood trees used for other types of paper products. To the best of my knowledge the tariff wars with Brazil have not yet reached my parents emigration level.

My parents emigrated from Brazil and entered the United States legally. They were rather expensive with their costs being nearly $500 per ton. The machines that convert the pulp from a swirling mess to such TP brands as Cottonelle and Charmin cost $300 million each. The metamorphosis process from pulp to TP is owned by a few companies like Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble. 

One of these mega companies created my family of 24 mega rolls in a mega pack. We were very happy to be sent to a shelf in a mega store called Walmart. We might have gone to another mega mega store called Costco or a mega mega mega fulfilment house called Amazon but that didn't happen. These stores use a fancy technique to move my family from the $300 million machine to the store shelf. That technique is called supply chain management in general and just-in-time manufacturing specifically. This means that large space-using products with single-ply margins need to be delivered quickly and frequently and not waste warehouse or shelf space.

In normal times supply chain and just-in-time management work very well. When hurricanes form near Africa and breathless weathercasters warn of imminent doom along the entire east coast of the United States, people have TP panic and rush out to buy a year's supply. When a pandemic happens and people are using TP at home rather than work or restaurants, the TP pipeline clogs up and nothing can clear the blockage. The only event that will clear the constipated system is the end of the panic.

My family mega package was put on the shelf after the panic began with its 700 percent increase in TP sales. Our shelf life was less than three seconds. In fact, some end users fought over us and the flimsy plastic walls of our home were nearly ripped apart. Thank goodness we made it to a home and joined three other mega package families. So, we had a TP village and our panic caused shortage seemed wiped away. 

But all good things have an end. Slowly but surely 23 members of my family were plucked from the package where we lived and skewered on a roller. This process is called ICE which stands for Intestinal Chafing Experience. How cruel. Maybe someday, someone will tell the rest of this story when space limitations allow. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020


Today is the day set aside to honor our fathers. My father is buried in the family cemetery on our farm in south Georgia, just where he wanted his body placed, overlooking green pastures and shimmering little lakes.

Near him is my sister's husband, Stan, who was a great father-figure to me.
In fact, he was more like a father than my Daddy, in many ways. I was six or seven years old when my sister brought Stan home to meet her family. Tall and handsome in his Air Force uniform, he became a much-loved son to my parents and a brother to the rest of us. He was the kind of man a little girl needs for a father, and unlike my daddy, Stan was warm and affectionate. I talked to him and he listened. He actually seemed interested in me and what I had to say. Naturally I loved him. The day my sister, June, married Stan and made him a permanent part of our big clan was one of the most important days of my life. The two of them were my biggest supporters as I grew up, graduated from high school and went away to college.

Stan's letters cheered me up and encouraged me those early years at Georgia State College for Women. I was always welcome to visit them on weekends in Atlanta. I loved every minute I spent at their house. Stan died in 1975 and rests forever on the farm in south Georgia far from his birth place in South Dakota. 

In that cemetery on the hill, is the grave of my brother, Ray, who was a father-figure for all brothers and sisters. At an early age, he took on responsibility for family needs, and all his life he put the welfare of his brothers and sisters and his parents first. His generosity and his leadership knew no boundaries. Most of his kind deeds will never be known because he wanted it that way.
Ray Council

Ray and I started at the new Albany High School at the same time, but I was a freshman and he began his first year as a teacher. One of the perks of having your brother teach at your school is getting to ride to school with him instead of catching the bus.

I was always one to keep the rules. The thought of getting in trouble with school authorities and then having to face my parents was about the worst thing I could imagine. So I don't know how I came to skip school with my friend, Jeannine. We walked to her house because her parents were gone and we had no fear of being caught. I don't remember what we did that day, but I knew we had to be back at the school before the bus came and before Ray left for home.

We did a good job of fooling everyone, we thought. However, Ray asked me where I had gone. His friends, my teachers, told him they missed me in class. Ray knew I had ridden with him to school. I was terrified that I would be in trouble with Mother and Daddy and with my teachers as well. But my big brother did not turn me in. He gave me a stern lecture, and I never skipped school again.

Ray was a strong presence in my life. His advice on financial matters was as good as a college degree. He taught me how to balance a bank statement and how to keep books. He gave me responsibility for helping with the family business. I knew I could go to him anytime with my questions or problems.

He served in the U.S. Navy in WWII and graduated from the University of Georgia. He was a man of his word and it was said that a handshake with Ray was as good as a signed contract. At a young age, he had to take up the slack when my father's health failed. Ray's leadership in our family kept us all on an even keel. His work ethic was deeply entrenched and he could never be lazy.
In his last three years of life, after being diagnosed with cancer, he came to visit me often. We had the best discussions and long talks. I  cherished those times with Ray. He enjoyed coming up to the mountains and attending the music festivals here. One of his hobbies was music, singing and collecting good albums of all genres. He loved opera and he really enjoyed country music.

He never had a child of his own, but he was like a father to most of his siblings who respected him and looked to him for leadership. He had a step-child and was a good father to her.

On this father's day, I salute Stan and Ray, the father-figures in my life. Those fine men who helped make me who I am today. I still miss them and live each day as they taught me.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Summer of our Discontent

Another thought-provoking article by Roger Carlton, columnist for the Graham Star newspaper in Robbinsville, NC.

The great American author John Steinbeck wrote novels that captured the angst and suffering of disadvantaged people. The Grapes of Wrath was about the extreme poverty of farmers leaving the Dust Bowl and being held in camps at the California border. Of Mice and Men was about migrant workers and some very tough decisions regarding guilt of a murder by a mentally challenged person. His last novel written nearly 50 years ago, The Winter of Our Discontent, was about a wealthy family that lost their fortune and had to adjust to a much less privileged life style. Do these themes seem relevant today? You bet.

As a nation and a people, we are entering the summer of our discontent. Women are tired of gender abuse. The #MeToo movement has formed as a result. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein and many other big players have toppled from their seats of power and prominence. Abused women have found the courage to speak out. African Americans can no longer tolerate police brutality and form organizations like Black Lives Matter or take action with peaceful protests or destructive acts. A rapidly diminishing 40 percent of conservative voters are tiring of the chaos caused by incendiary tweets and lack of leadership in crises like the COVID 19 pandemic. So, the question seems to be who, if anyone, is entering this summer as a content person?

There is a big word in our wonderfully complex English language. "Iconoclast" means someone who believes in the importance of destroying icons, images or monuments usually for political or religious reasons. There are nearly 1700 monuments and other symbols of the Confederacy that remain in place today. These symbols are slowly tumbling down by negotiation or by force. It is easy to understand how a Confederate flag symbolizes the horrors of enslavement and racism to many. It is also easy to understand how the southern iconic statuary symbolizes a heritage that is valued by many. This dichotomy should be the stuff of dialogue and compromise. Unfortunately, it has become too late for reasonable resolution.

There are other icons that have fallen into disrepute and need to be erased. The KKK's burning crosses, the Nazi Swastika, the alt-right's WP hand signal that stands for white power come to mind. On the other hand, the goal of erasing hateful symbols or monuments to people who sanctioned or committed hateful acts can go too far. Both Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Should we destroy their monuments in our national capitol? The Pharoahs enslaved the Israelites. Should we destroy the pyramids? 

This columnist has great admiration for people willing to risk their careers to make a statement. Colin Kaepernick got down on his knee and sacrificed his football career as a result. 1968 Olympic runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised a black gloved fist during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. They were banned from the rest of the games. Both went on to professional football careers. A sympathetic Australian runner stood with them on the award platform as a symbolic protest to the mistreatment of the aborigines in his home country. That ended his career. Closer to home, NASCAR racer Ray Ciccarelli will retire over the decision to ban the Confederate flag from NASCAR tracks. The key to my admiration is sincerity and not political expediency.

Where is the salve to end the pain of this summer of our discontent?  Where is the leadership to make the necessary changes to end police excessive use of force? Who will calm the rage we see in our streets?  Will we destroy all the statues and symbols that remind us of our good or bad past? One of my friends wisely stated a few days ago----when you attempt to destroy history you run the risk of repeating it.