Friday, November 29, 2019

Donating to the USO

The USO is the only military service charity that I donate to. Soon after I joined the Texas State Guard, I began getting solicitations from military and veteran charities. I ignored them all, as they are typically shot through with fraud, corruption, and self-serving executives and marketing staffs. When I was assigned to work as an operations analyst in the Texas Military Department, I asked my National Guard buddies about charities. They all endorsed the USO. 

The United Service Organizations, Inc. (USO) dates from 1941. It was founded as a civilian effort in preparation for America's entry into the world war of that time. Its history is famous. 

In our time, among its many services to those who serve, the USO maintains safe spaces in civilian airports where military personnel in transit can billet while they wait for connections. Sometimes, that can take days. Orders change. Orders lag. You wait. You text; you email; and you wait. And the USO is there for you and your buddies  in a lot of places around the world. 

I just sent $50 to Wikipedia for the first time in seven years. And as a professional writer, I depend on Wikipedia. I am much more generous far more frequently in answer to the solicitations from the USO. I do not respond to all of their requests. Some needs seem less immediate than others. Ask your own serving Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines what they think.


Do You Know Your Military?
A Critic Meets the Military
President Trump and the Military
Thoughts on "Soldier's Heart"

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Donating to Wikipedia

As a professional writer, I depend on Wikipedia as a first source for framing information. This week, I sent them $50. I last gave $20 in 2012. So, it has been a while. I have been working steadily this year, and I got a check for a freelance article just as they were posting their pleas. Giving was easy. 

When I was a substitute teacher in Albuquerque in 2002-2003, the school board advisors warned us not to accept Wikipedia or other citations to online references. Even in 2014, one of my co-workers in the Texas Military Department warned me against Wikipedia because "anyone can write it." In reply, I told him about my experierence with the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In 1995, the American Numismatic Association granted me their George Heath Literary Award for an article I wrote on the origins of coinage. Inspired by Carl Sagan's Cosmos episode "Backbone of the Night" I was collecting ancient Greek coins from the towns and times of philosphers. I wrote an article about the origins of coinage and sent it to The Classical Numismatic Review. It was rejected. I called the editor (something I would not normally do) and asked how I could fix it for him. Kerry Wetterstrom (later the editor of The Celator), asked me about my research. I told him of the books from the MSU Library. He replied that they were out of date. He sent me a list of books and articles to read. I re-wrote the article for him and he published it. He also suggested expanding it and sending it to the American Numismatic Association of which I was a new member. They rejected it because it contradicted all the standard references on the editor's shelf. Kerry recommended that I ask that they submit it to their museum curator, Robert Hoge. He endorsed it. 

The problem is that the Encyclopedia Britannica for many decades carried an article on Money written by Charles Seltman. Seltman's own theory was that coins were invented by Greek merchants who sought to avoid re-weighing bullion bits. Everyone looked to the EB as the authority. Collectors today still repeat the old say-so. But it just ain't true. Even in Seltman's time, there were several competing theories on the origins of coinage. He ignored them all. Just for one example, German archaeologist Ernst Curtius pointed to the Temple of Juno Moneta and the fact that temples receive votive offerings. The "Temple Theory" was supported ten years after Curtius's death when the oldest coins yet discovered were found at the excavation of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Writing 20 years after that, Seltman was more than remiss in not mentioning it. 

In 1999-2000, I was the international editor for Coin World newspaper. I was assigned an article about banknotes featuring naval battles. I found the $100 gold note from 1875 with the Battle of Lake Erie as a vignette. I then researched the battle from the EB and the Grolier American Encyclopedia. Whether it was just rum go, a sticky wicket, and a bit of bad luck or hearty crews of plucky Yankees depends on who you ask. 

Later, I researched the Spanish Armada, again from the EB, but also from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. The story is pretty much the same, the facts being what they are, but the nuances are colored very differently. 

In summary, whatever deficiencies Wikipedia suffers are in the fabric of all research and reporting. Wikipedia does not carry advertising. They survive solely on contributions. I am not endorsing that as a business model for everyone, but it works for them. Their annual report, balance sheet, and statement is audited by KPMG. You can read it on their website here

Knowlege Maps
Visualizing Complex Data
Why Evidence is Not Enough
Contradictions in the Patentability of Numbers

Monday, November 11, 2019

Armistice Day

“On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in France suffered more than thirty-five hundred casualties, although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end that day and known with absolute certainty as of 5 o’clock that morning that it would end at 11 a.m.” (Army Times 10 November 2017 here.) 

“In particular, the Americans took heavy casualties on the last day of the war. This was because their commander, General John Pershing, believed that the Germans had to be severely defeated at a military level to effectively ‘teach them a lesson’. Pershing saw the terms of the Armistice as being soft on the Germans. Therefore, he supported those commanders who wanted to be pro-active in attacking German positions – even though he knew that an Armistice had been signed. In particular, the Americans suffered heavy casualties attempting to cross the River Meuse on the night of the 10th/11th with the US Marines taking over 1,100 casualties alone. However, if they had waited until 11.00, they could have crossed the river unhindered and with no casualties. The 89th US Division was ordered to attack and take the town of Stenay on the morning of November 11th. Stenay was the last town captured on the Western Front but at a cost of 300 casualties.”

“The Germans finally yielded and signed the armistice at 5:10 on the morning of the eleventh, backed up officially to 5 a.m. and to take effect within Foch’s deadline: the eleventh month, eleventh day, eleventh hour of 1918. Pershing’s postwar claim that he had had no official knowledge of the impending armistice before being informed by Foch’s headquarters at 6 a.m. was disingenuous. The moment when the fighting would cease had been clear from the time Foch handed Erzberger the deadline, information to which Pershing was privy. On the evening of November 10 and through that night, news of the impending end was repeatedly affirmed from radio transmissions received at Pershing’s AEF headquarters in Chaumont.”
[Editor’s note: This piece was first published by MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History] – Army Times 10 November 2017 here. 

And they called it the war to end all wars.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

In Support of Paid Political Advertising

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey suffers from an anti-capitalist mentality. I know that sounds odd, considering, but smart as he is, he evidently lacks an understanding of economics as human action.

Instead of paying for political advertising, which is obvious, political campaigns will only pay people like me to write “personal opinions.” As a Meier-Briggs ENTJ, I can argue any side with aplomb and verve. Some issues have moral meaning for me and I would take or reject work on that basis, but one of the definitions of a “hack” is a writer who works for pay without regard for personal or professional standards; and we never have lacked them. Also never in short supply were writers using pen names. Twenty years ago, long before Mitt Romney was Pierre Delecto,  people on message boards used fake names to agree with their own opinions. 

Our federal republic owes its existence at least in part if not largely to three men who wrote under one name: Hamilton, Madison, and Jay appearing in the newspapers as “Publius.” 

I do not have a Twitter account. However, I am on Facebook, but only because of commitments requested by employers. Not so much a cyberphobe as a user of other online platforms, I have this blog, of course. My first BBS username goes back to 1984. A few years later, I served as the business news and issues manager of the Political Forum BBS sponsored by East Lansing state representative and state senator William A. Sederburg (Wikipedia here). (You can find an InfoWorld article from November 19, 1984, page 38, archived on Google Books. Start here and use the Search box.)

At that time, I was on several other networks and started posting GRID News. It was my gateway to the news room in the Michigan Capitol Building. Some of that is archived under the Computer Underground Digest. 

I forget which cyberpunk science fiction book it was in, probably one of William Gibson’s, but a European character sighs that Americans believe that history started after they were born. The other day at work, one of the scientists was complaining to an engineer that newspapers are biased; factual reporting is a thing of the past. I pointed out that newspapers were always opinionated. I explained that Joseph Pulitzer in St. Louis and William Randolph Hearst in San Francisco and New York made their fortunes from any kind of fake news story to sell papers. I said that after Pulitzer died, his estate bequeathed a large grant to the Columbia School of Journalism which began giving out awards for honest reporting. 

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1950s and 60s, we accepted the morning Plain Dealer as a Republican newspaper and the evening Cleveland Press as a Democrat newspaper. We always took the PD, but subscribed to the Press if we liked the paper boy. Cleveland was not unique. You can find many newspapers called Democrat and Republican but even those called Tribune, Globe, World, Telegraph, and Guardian were (and are) partisan.