Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Henri Huet – A Guest Post

On Memorial Day I happened to call my eldest brother, Mike.  ("Eldest" sounds better than "oldest", doesn't it?) In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he was dedicating his Memorial Day to the memory of a photographer he met in Vietnam, Henri Huet. The more he talked, the more interested I became, and I eventually told Mike I would write a Sempringham post about Huet.

Then the Republicans nominated a megalomaniac as their candidate for President, and ambition went out the window.

Happily, Mike picked up the torch and wrote the post for me, in the form of an email to our siblings. He has given me permission to edit it slightly to make it more like a blog post, and to publish it here:
It's interesting: you can find many of Henri Huet's photographs in Wikipedia but little of his life. He was born in Vietnam of a French father and a Vietnamese mother. He was sent off to school in France at about the age of five. He studied art while in France and one observer wrote his photos were composed like paintings rather than photos. I can't comment one way or another on that but I do know that he was called "the best photojournalist of the Vietnamese war" by the Saigon AP bureau chief.
Henri Huet
I met him on only one or two occasions at the press club in Danang, Vietnam. One of his bureau chiefs wrote that it was enjoyable working with Huet because he always had a smile on his face. I observed that smile, and even then I thought it was not a smile of a happy man but of one who had seen so much that he felt it was better to smile.
The Marines of the Third Battalion, who were stationed in and around Danang then, thought highly of him. He had been in Vietnam during "The First War". He was in the French Navy, where he learned the basics of photography. He stayed in Vietnam after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Henri had a wife in France and a mistress in Vietnam.
Medic Thomas Cole, wounded himself, assists a wounded soldier from the First Cavalry Division.
The Marines thought highly of him for several reasons. First, because he was the "old man"; he had seen this war back when it was a French war and now it was an American war. He had seen much carnage and death. Second, because he really immersed himself in the life and ways of  the Marines in "I Corps", unlike many photojournalists who were there to "cover the war". It was these people that I saw angrily pushed away by the Marines who didn't want "a goddamn camera" pushed into their faces while they were recovering the bodies of their buddies. I remember distinctly a group of college kiddies from some school in Ohio who came out to report on how horrible the war was. I was seriously afraid that we would have to get those kids out of there before the Marines slit their throats. You don't preach antiwar stuff to Marines who have just finished a firefight. Third, Henri could speak French, English, and Vietnamese, which made him useful. And interestingly, most of all the Marines considered Henri a good luck charm, since he always seemed to come back from even the worst battles with whatever group he went out with. I realize that I met Henri only once or twice but he made an impression on me that lasts until this day.

Infantrymen in a bomb crater search for snipers firing at them.
I don't know if any of you are familiar with his photographs. They made the front page of Life Magazine in the 60's. You might want to look some of them up, they are in Wikipedia. One I had never seen before was in the book that a brother sent me about photojournalists in Vietnam. You see a soldier dragging a wooden ammunition box up the bank of a river and in the background you see a 40 mm machine gun. I thought, "Gee it was pretty clever of them to set that machine-gun up on a sliver of soil in the middle of the Mekong River." And then you look more closely and you see that the machine-gun is being held up by one great big hand! Some soldier was crossing the river and didn't want to get the machine-gun wet so he was holding it up high over his head and that means the river water was over his head, he was walking on the bottom carrying an M60 machine gun (not one of those dinky AK47's)! This is an incredible photo.
Huet also captured this photo, similar to the one Mike describes above.
Henri's luck ran out in the early 70s – not with a bunch of Marines in a firefight but in a helicopter carrying several photojournalists and a Vietnamese general. The crash site was finally found after the second (i.e American) Vietnam War had been settled. They found small pieces of bone along with the helicopter wreckage. At that point there was no way of determining whose bones had been found and there was a big brouhaha about where to bury them. They were finally interred at the Newsmuseum in Washington, DC, in a small ceremony with about 100 attendees.
Huet took this photo of a chaplain administering last rites for photojournalist Dickey Chapelle as she died from a booby trap explosion.
Every Memorial Day I think about Henri and wonder if there are any people left in France who remember him and his accomplishments. Soon we will probably all be gone and people will have to look them up in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


J. Alex Halderman, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan, explains why, though he does not believe the voting system in Wisconsin was hacked, it makes perfect sense to do a manual recount of the votes there.

For the record, I hope no evidence of hacking or otherwise miscounting is found. I hope they find that the votes were counted correctly. The Trump people just wouldn't be able to handle it otherwise.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Good-bye Public Schools?

Betsy Prince DeVos prepares for her confirmation hearing.
Here's a 2011 article about Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy Prince DeVos, and her husband, Dick DeVos. They have been campaigning for years to end public education in America.
The decades-long campaign to end public education is propelled by the super-wealthy, right-wing DeVos family. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe), and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, the multi-tiered home products business.


The conservative policy institutes founded beginning in the 1970s get hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy families and foundations to develop and promote free market fundamentalism. More specifically, their goals include privatizing social security, reducing government regulations, thwarting environmental policy, dismantling unions -- and eliminating public schools.

Whatever they may say about giving poor students a leg up, their real priority is nothing short of the total dismantling of our public educational institutions, and they've admitted as much. Cato Institute founder Ed Crane and other conservative think tank leaders have signed the Public Proclamation to Separate School and State, which reads in part that signing on, "Announces to the world your commitment to end involvement by local, state, and federal government from education."
 Only they're not calling it public education:
Dick DeVos also explained to his Heritage Foundation audience that they should no longer use the term public schools, but instead start calling them “government schools.” He noted that the role of wealthy conservatives would have to be obscured. “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” said DeVos, and pointed to the need to “cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.”
The whole article is worth reading.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn – Oh, Jeez!

Be sure to read Nicholas Kristof's take on Trump's new team, including our next National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn. It's called Trump Embarrasses Himself and Our Country.

A few clips:
Flynn had a brilliant military career and did an outstanding job in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five years ago, he was widely admired as the best intelligence officer of his generation.
Then President Obama nominated Flynn to become director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he began to unravel. He turned out to be a catastrophic manager. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, explained in hacked emails why Flynn was fired: “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management.” Powell added that ever since, Flynn has been “right-wing nutty.”


Indeed, for an intelligence officer, Flynn seems to have trouble distinguishing truth from falsehood. Earlier this month, he tweeted an obviously fake story claiming that the police had found emails linking Hillary Clinton to sex crimes with children. When he was in government, subordinates had a special name for his delusions: “Flynn facts.”
Another problem is Flynn’s ties to foreign governments. He took money from Russia to attend an event in Moscow, sitting near President Vladimir Putin. He also appears to have taken money from Turkish interests and, without publicly disclosing the money, wrote an op-ed shilling for Turkey.
For his chief of staff, Flynn chose his son, who is a looney on social media, calling President Obama a communist and fascist, tweeting racially insensitive comments and sharing absurd conspiracy theories. [My emphasis]
Scared yet?

Hat Tip to Kevin Drum, who pointed us to Kristoff's column.

The Hamilton Fracas

Since Sempringham readers are, to a person, well-read, informed people, there's no need here to do more than summarize the incident this post will refer to. Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton in New York City. When he entered the theater he was met by boos from the audience. At the conclusion of the play the actor playing Aaron Burr (hmmm) – with the support of the cast and the play's author – read a seemingly respectful statement to him, singling him out in the audience, affirming their hope that he will value diversity.

Whereupon Donald Trump tweeted that the cast should apologize. Whereupon Mike Pence stated he was not offended.

Here at Sempringham we were at first supportive of the Hamilton casts' action. Let's face it: no Trump/Pence fans here. But we were persuaded otherwise by the Chicago Sun-Times' drama critic, Hedy Weiss. In her column this morning, Ms. Weiss writes:
[W]hile I oppose almost everything this new administration stands for (aside from infrastructure repair) and admittedly cast my vote for the electoral loser in the race, I think both the New York audience protests and the emotional, carefully worded speech from the stage aimed at Vice President-elect Mike Pence were mistakes. How or why he went to see “Hamilton” in the first place remains a mystery. But perhaps, had he been allowed to just absorb the message of the musical, he might have been changed, if only in the most minute and imperceptible ways. Now, like a bull reacting to a red cape, any possibility of the show itself for serving as an agent of positive change or a subtle awakening in Pence has been lost forever. A missed opportunity, and a pity.


I think it is for Hamlet, not Hamilton, to have the last words on the whole matter: “The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
Find Hedy Weiss's whole column here.

Addendum, November 23: Be sure to read Uncle Ted's comment, below.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

This for You, and That for Me

On November 17, 1884, European nations met to divide up Africa. It was called the Berlin Conference. Here's how it turned out:

Germany lost its colonies in the Treaty of Versailles; it was one of the things that made them so angry they started World War II.

Friday, November 18, 2016

I'm a Stranger in a Strange Land

Here in Chicago we loved the World Series, but the coverage by Fox Sports came in for a lot of criticism. Mostly it was Joe Buck. He always seemed say something that sounded wise (in a baseball way), but proved to be twaddle. But that's okay – part of the fun is yelling "You MORON!" at the TV.

There was another aspect of Fox's coverage that bothered me more than that:

What were Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez doing on their panel of "analysts"? Both these guys have disgraced themselves in the sport – Rose with gambling on his own games and lying about it, and Rodriguez by taking performance enhancing drugs and lying about it – and their reward is a gig as  Fox "analysts"? [By the way, although they both were awful, I point out with some delight that before the first game Rose predicted the Cubs' designated hitter, Kyle Schwarber, would "strike out, strike out, and strike out"; Schwarber batted .412 for the Series and got a double in the first game.]

And while we're on the subject:

Kanye West interrupts an award presentation at the Emmys to say, in effect, that the awardee didn't deserve it, and he's allowed back in the door the next year?

Ryan Lochte embarrasses his country by being a lout in Brazil, and his reward is an appearance on Dancing with the Stars?

I don't get it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What's Next?

Your neighbors will gladly murder you, given the nod by authority, then blame you for bringing your own death upon yourself. They’ll then move into your empty house, live there guilt-free, and years later, should anybody be so impolite as to raise the subject of your death, deny it ever occurred.
That, in brief, is the lesson of the Holocaust....
So writes Neil Steinberg in today's Chicago Sun-Times.

But there's another lesson of the Holocaust, just as important, and that is that the power of denial is strong: denial that such a thing could ever happen here.

Now we have a president-elect who once kept a book of Hitler's speeches, called My New Order, as bedside reading; whose chief policy advisor will be a white nationalist; whose national security advisor will be an unbalanced retired general who sucks up to Putin; and now, whose pick for attorney general used to walk around calling black attorneys "boy". A president-elect who openly mocks the disabled, who encourages his audiences to beat up protesters, who threatens to put his political adversary in jail, and who threatens to get even with newspapers that told "lies" about him.

It's never been easier to hyperventilate about the possibility of extremely ugly things happening in America, and I'm really struggling not to be a Henny Penny. But I have to admit that, when I posted the item below about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, I started worrying that someday it would get me in some serious trouble. I've never had that feeling before, and it's unsettling, to say the least.

Steinberg concludes his article with this:
The Holocaust was in part a failure of imagination. Jews just couldn’t imagine it. Which has to trouble anyone insisting it can’t happen now. Because that’s exactly what they thought then.
If you can’t see how this could turn really bad, really quick, let me ask you this: When Donald Trump fails to provide the boon he promised, when his protectionist trade policies crater the economy, who is he going to blame? Himself? Donald Trump does not blame himself.
Who will he blame? When he’s in Pennsylvania, talking to coal miners whose industry he did not revive; when he’s in Youngstown talking to factory workers whose jobs never returned, who will he blame? Who?
You know the answer.
I think he wants us to say "the Jews", but the answer could be "you".

Soul-Crushing Despair

From The New Yorker:

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn: Threat or Menace?

Okay, so it looks like Trump is going the Dangerous Goofball route when it comes to choosing his close advisors. The latest addition: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), who was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 because the national defense is too important to be run by goofballs.

Kevin Drum thinks he's "the most gullible guy in the Army."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Jared Kushner

Kevin Drum says It's Time to Pay More Attention to Jared Kushner.

Kushner's father's history of jury tampering sounds like something out of The Godfather.

Getting a Feel for the Transition

From Frank Bruni in the New York Times:
[Obama is] a patriot, always has been, which is what’s so rich here. Trump bangs on about putting America first, when he really puts himself before all else. That shriveled, unhinged hood ornament of his, Rudy Giuliani, is on the record questioning Obama’s love for America. 
But Obama loves this country enough to summon the same grace for his successor that other presidents did for theirs, though his is a nasty, juvenile breed apart.
And he loves this country enough to try to calm it when it most needs calming, even if that means a willed optimism about Trump that’s oh so difficult to share.
From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world.
One week after Mr. Trump scored an upset victory that took him by surprise, his team was improvising the most basic traditions of assuming power. That included working without official State Department briefing materials in his first conversations with foreign leaders.
Two officials who had been handling national security for the transition, former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist who consults with corporations and foreign governments, were fired. Both were part of what officials described as a purge orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser.
The dismissals followed the abrupt firing on Friday of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was replaced as chief of the transition by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Mr. Kushner, a transition official said, was systematically dismissing people like Mr. Rogers who had ties with Mr. Christie. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie had sent Mr. Kushner’s father to jail.
From Republican Eliot A. Cohen in the Washington Post:
Trump was not a normal candidate, the transition is not a normal transition, and this will probably not be a normal administration. The president-elect is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualification seems to be unquestioning loyalty. He gets credit for becoming a statesman when he says something any newly elected president might say (“I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future”) — and then reverts to tweeting against demonstrators and the New York Times. By all accounts, his ignorance, and that of his entourage, about the executive branch is fathomless. It’s not even clear that he accepts that he should live in the White House rather than in his gilt-smeared penthouse in New York.
In the best of times, government service carries with it the danger of compromising your principles. Here, though, we may be in for something much worse. The canary in the coal mine was not merely the selection of Stephen K. Bannon for the job previously filled by John Podesta and Karl Rove, that of counselor to the president and chief strategist. Rather, the warning signs came from the Republican leaders excusing and normalizing this sinister character — and those who then justified the normalizers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


In two of their last three presidential election victories, Republicans failed to win the popular vote but prevailed by winning a majority of the Electoral College vote. So of course social media is full of outrage from Hillary supporters. There's at least one on-line petition where you can demand a change to the Constitution.

Good luck.

Eliminating the Electoral College is the Squirrel! of this post-election period. Republicans are in the majority in 32 state legislatures. Republican governors hold office in 33 states. The Republicans would like nothing more than to have Democrats go chasing after trying to get the Constitution changed.

David Brooks, who's kind of a conservative guy, thinks Donald Trump will be a 1-year president – that he will either resign or be impeached in his first year. That may be wishful thinking, but maybe you'll agree there's a pretty good chance everything will be FUBAR by the midterm election in 2018.

Whadaya think? Pretty good chance? We're certainly off to a good start, and Trump hasn't even taken office yet.

Well, in 2018 EVERY seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs. Although Democrats hold 23 of the 33 Senate seats up that year (and are theoretically more vulnerable), this year's election shows pretty clearly that expectations can be wrong.

Thirty-six states will be holding gubernatorial elections.

Fifty states will be electing legislators.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) needs to make sure every Republican seat is contested, even if the chances of winning seem slim right now, and it needs to guarantee campaign assistance and resources. If they can get over the post-election blood-letting quickly, and show they finally understand what needs to be done, they should be able to make a good case for us to send some money their way.

In the four years leading up to Obama's 2008 victory, Howard Dean served as DNC chair. His 50-state strategy laid a lot of the groundwork for that historic win. Anybody at the DNC who doesn't think we need a 50-state strategy after this election is a Republican agent. [I'm lookin' at YOU, Terry McAuliffe!]

Howard Dean is willing to serve again. We should grab him.

Quotes Worth Quoting

From David Brooks' eulogy for Gwen Ifill:
These days it is normal to bash Washington, to want to “drain the swamp” and to attack the mainstream media. The populists are in and the establishment is out.
But I confess, when I looked at the front of The Times website on Monday and saw a photo of Stephen K. Bannon, on leave from Breitbart as chairman and rising in power, and then underneath it a photo of Gwen, who is passing from this world, I wanted to throw up. This is not progress and this is not good news.
 From Gail Collins, in a conversation with Arthur C. Brooks:
Reader email has informed me it’s way harder to leave the country than one might think. We Americans aren’t in all that much demand.