He’s Got Issues

Another bit from the 1989 treasure trove.

Back at the time, I was doing all of the major graphics work for the downtown Powell’s Books and for the corporate offices. Not that that was anything particularly fancy. The famous “City of Books” poster pre-dated my beginning there in 1987, and my skills were never in the artistic realm. I just knew how to use Adobe Illustrator and Aldus PageMaker, both applications which were then pretty new.

Powell's City of Books postcard. ©1984 Stephen T. Leflar
Powell’s “City of Books” postcard from the late 1980s. Artwork copyright 1984 by Stephen T. Leflar.

I’d somehow managed to convince Powell’s to spend something like $10K on a Mac II, a LaserPrinter and some software, and set up my own little niche in the company doing a newsletter for employees, shelf signs, working on the first color-coded map of the store, whacking out advertising for readings, and whatever other special projects came my way.

One of those special projects was Powell’s participation in the ACLU’s Banned Book Week. As one of the primary sponsors, the company took on the production of the poster in 1989. Oregonian editorial artist Jack Ohman did a cartoon for the big graphic draw, and I incorporated that into a flag-inspired design listing the events.

An Uncensored Celebration: 1989 poster for Portland's Banned Book Week and 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights

The 1989 celebration was particularly significant, because September 25th marked the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Bill of Rights. Anyway, a day or so before the first events, a letter showed up at Powell’s Travel Store, which was in Pioneer Courthouse Square where KGW now has a studio. Somehow the letter ended up in my hands, which seems odd in retrospect because I wasn’t the liason with the ACLU or anything important, I was just the guy who did the layout of the poster. It appeared to be a photocopy; one of the pages has material on the left side that seems to have gotten cut off in the copy process. The same page has a faint line near the bottom and is jaggedly torn across. The postmark on the envelope is 23 September. It’s not obvious which of the pages was supposed to be read first.

Crazy letter about Banned Books Week

Crazy letter about Banned Books Week

Considering that one of the books that was being discussed for the repeated attempts to ban it was Catcher in the Rye — which is filled with proto-man issues — I think Mr. G. Really may have missed the boat.

First Mac Contact

A significant event that went right over my head this summer was the twentieth anniversary of the day I bought my first Mac. I’ve been clearing some old boxes of stuff out of the office (a pair of 5.25″ diskette drives for a TRS-80 Model I computer now grace my bookshelves) and there’s been a treasure trove of goodies, including long-forgotten projects (more of those later), correspondence, industrial espionage, and financial documents, including this receipt from August 1989. It was the start of my final year at Reed, I had to write my thesis, and while I had access to Macs at the college I was also working full-time at Powell’s Books. While I’d put together the proposal for Powell’s to buy a Mac II and, indeed, that was available to me at work, I knew that if I was going to get the deed done I’d need to be able to utilize every possible moment even if I didn’t actually do so. So off I went to the Reed College Bookstore to buy my Mac Plus (at the student discount price) and a 30MB external hard drive on the computer loan program offered through the college. I got Microsoft Word, MacPaint, and Hypercard bundled along with the computer.

Darrel Plant's 1989 Reed College Computer Equipment Purchase Agreement

I’ve lost track of the number of Macs — much less the number of computers — I’ve owned in the past two decades. In addition to the Plus, there’s been a IIvx, a Powerbook 100, a Powerbook 180, a Quadra 610, a 7100, a Powerbook 1400, a couple of teardrop iMacs, a blue G3, a Mini, a mirror door G4, an aluminum MacBook, and probably some others I’m forgetting.

This Is Not the Elephant You’re Looking For

SUV in Enid hits elephant that escaped from circus / BILL HEFTON/AP Photo
Credit: BILL HEFTON/AP Photo

A couple of things struck me in this article about a vehicle/animal collision in Oklahoma:

“Didn’t have time to hit the brakes. The elephant blended in with the road,” driver Bill Carpenter said Thursday. “At the very last second I said ‘elephant!'”

Elephant? “Blended in with the road”? Really? How old was this guy?

Carpenter, 68, said he swerved his SUV at the last second and ended up sideswiping the 29-year-old female elephant on U.S. 81 in Enid, about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City.

So not that old. But apparently, this was one elephant that really had a talent for camouflage:

Enid veterinarian Dr. Dwight Olson said the elephant was hiding in some bushes just off the highway when he arrived shortly after the accident. Handlers from the circus were able to calm it down, and Olson cleaned the leg wound and gave it some pain killer.

Dr. Olson said the elephant escaped major injury.

The unnamed elephant’s powers to cloud the mind extended even beyond its immediate surroundings:

A booking agent for the circus, Rachael Bellman, said she was unaware the incident, and a telephone message left with circus officials wasn’t immediately returned.

Your client’s elephant escapes, and gets hit by an SUV? Yeah, I wouldn’t admit to knowing anything about it either.

The Interests of High Finance

We’ve opened up night schools to educate the adult illiterate. We have paved the highways. … We have built a new capitol. We have taken the insane out of the jail cells and placed them in modern institutions. We have eliminated barbarism. … And now, the corporate element of this state … who profited by, who ransacked this state … are being told what they can do, what they can’t do, what they will pay, what they can’t keep from paying for the welfare of the people of Louisiana and we expect to have this state ruled by the people and not by the lords and the interests of high finance.

Swollen Fortunes

It was almost exactly seventeen years ago that the first issue of Plant’s Review of Books appeared, just before the 1992 presidential election. Apart from publishing and editing the review, my major contribution to that issue was one of a pair of articles on political biographies I titled “Back By Populist Demand”. One was the then-new Truman by David McCullough. My review was of T. Harry Williams’s 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Huey Long (which had been my father’s until I kifed it from his shelf), which has moved down a few positions over the years but is still the fifteenth item in a Google search of “huey long”.

Long, of course, was the Senator (and former Governor) from Louisiana who came to power in the state before the Depression but who made his name as a populist anti-corporate crusader. Needless to say, he was also labeled an American fascist (and/or communist), a demagogue, and the most dangerous threat to democracy in the United States before he was assassinated in the capitol building in Baton Rouge in September 1935. Regular readers know I post his Share Our Wealth economic plan as a tribute on the anniversary of his death; Florida Representative Alan Grayson invoked him on Bill Maher’s show last month: “You gotta put some jam on the bottom shelf where the little man can reach it”. My review was written during the recession that cost George H.W. Bush his chance at a second term; I ended with these words: “Populist campaigns are a barometer of how difficult the times are, and if you think things are bad now, wait until you hear a politician comparing himself (or herself) to Huey Long.”

This segment of Williams’s biography (pp. 561-563) is from the spring of 1932, when Long proposed a Share Our Wealth resolution and clashed with Sen. Joseph Taylor Robinson of Arkansas — leader of the Democrats in the Senate from 1923 to 1937, vice presidential candidate in 1928, and majority leader from 1933 on. The debate sounds so familiar, despite being more than 75 years old.

The Democrats had a majority in the House and with the progressives controlled the Senate, he [Long] said, and this might be their last chance to do something to redistribute wealth, for the Republicans could well win in the November election. “All we can do is to get what we have now,” he cried. But the Democratic leadership, dominated by the same big banking interests that ruled the Republicans, was afraid to offend the rich. … He threatened that if the Democrats nominated a presidential candidate advocating the ideas of Robinson, he would vote for a Farmer-Labor candidate or a Republican candidate, if either of them stood for cutting down swollen fortunes “as God Almighty demanded and ordained.” Then came his clincher, his formal repudiation of Robinson’s leadership: “I send to the desk, Mr. President, my resignation from every committee…that has been given to me by the Democratic leadershup since I have been here.”

He [Long] exhibited to his colleagues a cartoon in color on the front page [of the Chicago Tribune] depicting Robinson carrying an American flag and Huey Long, “new Senate radical,” carrying a red flag. Affecting a tone of injured indignation, he complained that the cartoon did not do justice to his friend, the great minority leader. For one thing, it did not show any stars on the flag he was bearing.

But, Huey announced dramatically, he would supply the stars himself, forty-three of them, stars that should be in a flag carried by Joe Robinson. He then produced the legal directory of Little Rock, Robinson’s home town, and read off the names of the clients of Robinson’s law firm, forty-three corporations—oil, utility, and chain-store companies—some of them among the largest corporations in the South and the country. If he accepted the leadership of Robinson, he cried, he would be following the lead of a corporation attorney. “It may, Mr. President, be communism for me not to accept that as being a proper sphere and location for my activities,” he said sarcastically. He had never bowed to the will of the corporations, he shouted, and he was not going to bow to these interests in the Senate of the United States. If the leadership wanted to discipline him, let them try it. “The only way they can read me out of the Democratic party is to beat me down in the state of Louisiana,” he roared, “and that has been tried one or two times and can be tried again whenever they see fit.”

Abruptly dropping Robinson as though disdaining to give him any more attention, he charged that the Democratic and Republican parties were both controlled by two big New York bankers. Bernard M. Baruch was running the Democrats, even though he was “the twin-bed mate of Hooverism,” and Eugene Meyer, recently appointed to head the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, was running the Republicans. Thus Hooverism controlled the Senate, “spouting through the two foghorns, Baruch on the one hand and Meyer on the other, Robinson on the left and somebody else on the right.” Why, he said, the Republicans and Democrats reminded him of the patent medicines he had known in his salesman days: there was no more difference between them than between “high popalorum” and “low popahirum.”

At one stage in his remarks Huey was forced to take his seat when a senator complained that he was violating the rule not to reflect on another member: he was implying that Robinson’s corporate connection had influenced his votes. Allowed to continue but cautioned to observe the rule, he jumped up and said impudently: “I want now to disclaim that I have the slightest motive of saying, or that in my heart I believe, that any man could to the slightest degree be influenced in any vote which he casts in this body by the fact that association might mean hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars in the way of lucrative fees.” The Senate could not restrain an appreciative laugh.

Robinson had not been present when Huey began his speech. He came in later and sat by his desk, his face red with anger. But he made no attempt to reply. Significantly, no Democratic senator rose to defend him. The Democratic liberals were delighted with Huey’s attack. None of them had known of Robinson’s corporate clients because none of them had taken the trouble to dig up the facts. The Democratic conservatives, in an election year, hesitated to range themselves on the side of a man who had been exposed as a corporation attorney. The only senator who tried to defend Robinson was a Republican, David A. Reed of Pennsylvania, one of the most conservative members of the body.

Huey’s votes on other amendments to the revenue bill should have interested those commentators who had pegged him as a radical. Senators from various states offered amendments raising the tariff duties on various products coming into the country from abroad—oil and lumber, which were Louisiana products, and coal and copper. Huey voted for every increase and spoke at length in support of a pro-tariff policy. When other Democrats protested that high tariffs were contrary to Democratic tradition, he read from the record to demonstrate that the protesters had in the past voted to increase the duties on products produced in their own states. Walter George of Georgia cried angrily that the senator from Louisiana was “utterly lacking in the sensibilities which usually characterized the intercourse between men in this body.” Another senator, Millard Tydings of Maryland, said that Long had no concept of how courtesy was defined.