Notes from a quiet street  2017-I

(Miscellaneous musings of more than 140 characters, usually, but not enough words to be fully blogicious.)

We found ourselves wandering through an otherwise unoccupied mind one recent day when ice or the threat of ice was limiting more fruitful occupations or ambitions.

An observation after two years of retirement:  If you put on slippers instead of shoes when you get dressed in the morning, the chances are above average that you will not step outside your house more than three times during the day and you will stay outside no more than two minutes each time.  One of the trips will be to get the morning paper. Another will be to get the mail.

We are reminded of the closing lines of the movie “Patton,” a quote from the general read by George C. Scott:  “For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

NASCAR sent us a note the other day that now is the time to load up on 2017 driver merchandise—everything from baby clothes to pull-along coolers with your favorite driver’s colors and numbers.  We thought it would be interesting to look at Carl Edwards’ stuff, which went from merchandise to memorabilia pretty fast.  Hats and t-shirts are about ten to twenty dollars off.  Jackets are forty dollars off.  And so it went with other items that became examples of the truth of Patton’s remark that “all glory is fleeting.”  Superstar today, clearance table tomorrow.  Such is life.

We were headed to Nevada, in southwest Missouri, a few weeks ago to deliver a couple of copies of our Capitol art book to Cavender’s Book Store when we came upon a large crowd of black birds somewhere near Preston clearing the road of remnants of an unfortunate creature, bite by bite.  As we neared them, the birds all took frantic flight—except for one, a much bigger bird that seemed to just spread its wings and gracefully elevate. As he lifted off, I spotted the large fan of white tail feathers and then a white head.  I swear he looked back over his shoulder, perhaps to see if my car did any damage to his snack. It’s kind of a gruesome story, I suppose.  But I’ll remember the Eagle I saw a few days before Christmas long after I’ve forgotten the rest of the long trip on a chilly, rainy, December day or even Christmas itself.

Our state has a new chemistry set in an old box.  About one-fourth of the members of the Missouri House are brand new.  The governor, as we have noted several times, is fresh to the world of political office-holding.  Five of our six top state officeholders are new to those offices.  The chemistry in our Capitol is entirely different.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the elements mix.

More than a dozen years ago, someone suggested the Missourinet start using Twitter.  The example of Twitter that was given to us was a series of twits, tweets, toots—whatever they are (perhaps depending on the sender)—from a former colleague who was telling the world he was at an airport, then that he was waiting to board his plane, then that he was in his seat, then that he was waiting to take off.  We all thought Twitter was silly and superficial, an attitude borne out a few weeks later when another friend send a message that she was on her way home from work but had to stop at a store to get a sump pump.  Your observer started calling Twitter, “The Theatre of the Inane.”



We are reminded by all the discussion about punitive tariffs on American-company vehicles made in and imported from other countries of a talk we had a long time ago with Kenneth Rothman, a two-term Speaker of the House who was Missouri’s first Jewish statewide elected official, Lieutenant Governor, 1981-1985.  He bought a little farm near Jefferson City during those years and wanted to get a little American-made pickup truck to use out there.  But he learned Ford’s compact pickup was made by Mazda; Chevrolet’s little truck was made by Isuzu, and Dodge’s compact truck was made by Mitsubishi.  He finally found an American-made small pickup truck that was manufactured in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania.  A Volkswagen.

We have friends who flee to Arizona and Florida during these months. We pity them for the loss of their sense of adventure.

121 characters.  Including spaces.


Broken column, broken men

Something in the half-awake moments early in the day seems to generate the kind of ideas that do not emerge in the hours of full wakefulness. Perhaps it is a mix of unformed dreams with leftover thoughts.   So it was this morning.

The days lately have been dominated by putting together the source list for the next Capitol book, going back through boxes of records to retrieve the ideas of others that have been synthesized into the narrative of the history of Missouri’s Capitol so they can be given proper credit.  Throughout that process, a broken granite column has been summoning the author to rediscover it. 

In 1915, while workers were turning lines on paper into a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that would become the Capitol, the huge granite columns from an east coast quarry were arriving on flatcars on the railroad tracks below the bluff where the capitol was being built.  A derrick would hoist each column to the top where they could be moved inside the eventual chamber of the House of Representatives and erected.  Little construction could be done on that part of the building until those columns were in place. 

One day, the derrick broke, dropping a column back down onto the flatcar, which truly became a flat car.  The column broke apart. Nobody was hurt. We do not know what happened to all of the pieces—some might have been shoved into the nearby river.  But at least one large piece wound up on top of the bluff where it was rolled to the side out of the way.  A new column was quickly ordered and supplied.

For years and years that column was partly visible, partially buried in the sloping side of the bluff.  The story was told that it was one of the columns from the capitol that burned in 1911.  So one day about thirty-five years ago or so, the eventual author, joined by a friend, UPI Bureau Chief Stevenson Forsythe, and Jefferson City Senator Jim Strong searched it out.  Clearly, it was not a column from the old building.   It remained as polished and as shiny as the day it broke, as polished and as shiny as the columns in the Missouri House.  

Now, as the third version of the manuscript—or maybe the fifth; we have made so many changes it’s hard to say how many versions there have been—is going through the latest honing and sourcing, the broken column is calling.  “Find me,” it said in those hazy half-awake-half-sleep moments.    

As far as we know, it is still there.  But now it is covered by more than three decades of leaf debris, roots, vines, dirt, and other debris.   And memory of the location has dimmed.    

And in that half-light of awareness this morning a new thought came, a purpose for that broken column, a reason to find it.    

Many memorials have been added to the capitol campus since the three of us scrambled part way down that slope that day.  Perhaps it’s time for a new one that honors the seven men who died building the capitol and the hundreds of others whose hands and sweat transformed lines on paper into the three-dimensional symbol of all that is good and not-so-good about state government.

  S. C. Hyde         

 Ira H. Green       

 Samuel Ritchie    

 Tony Templeton          

 H. Robert Deighton    

  Henry T. Smith                      

 August Baker       

 Two of these seven were killed in at the quarry in Carthage where the stone was being prepared for the building.   A broken column engraved with the names of seven broken men who did not live to see the magnificence that the hands of other men completed for them would not be inappropriate as we mark the building’s centennial events.  

If that column is still there, I’m going to find it.   


It’s easy to overlook Clarence

The state lawyer for poor people accused of crimes has made the annual pilgrimage to the Capitol to go reiterate his plea for the money needed to give poor Missourians anything approaching the defense wealthier people accused of crimes can afford.

This time it was Michael Barrett sacrificing his forehead against the masonry, hoping our elected legislators would increase financing for this part of the criminal justice system by $25 million.  Governor Nixon has recommended a $1.5 million increase in funding but has not proposed adding any more lawyers.  Barrett uses the word “crisis,” a word used by his predecessors year after year.  Although legislators have nodded sympathetically each year as they already are doing this year, the crisis remains.

The idea that poor people had the same rights as wealthier people to be defended is more than 225 years old.  It’s part of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution as a general statement that everybody is entitled to a legal defense in court.   But the idea that poor people deserved equal protection might have its origin in an 1853 Indiana Supreme Court case that held publicly-financed criminal defense was one of the “principles of a civilized society.”   The Indiana Supreme Court opinion said, “It is not to be thought of in a civilized community for a moment that any citizen put in jeopardy of life or liberty should be debarred of counsel because he is too poor to employ such aid.  No court could be expected to respect itself to sit and hear such a trial.  The defense of the poor in such cases is a duty which will at once be conceded as essential to the accused, to the court and to the public.”

That was a recognition by one state.   But it was eleven decades before that principle of a civilized society was recognized as a national right.   This is the man from Missouri who is the face of that right.


This fellow who might easily be dismissed as a person of little consequence if we passed him on the street is Hannibal native Clarence Earl Gideon.  His father died when he was three.  His mother remarried but Clarence lived an aimless and sometimes troubling life that led him to drop out of school after the eighth grade and run away from home to live as a drifter at the age of 14.  He returned about a year later and lived with his mother’s brother until she learned he was back in town and had him jailed. He escaped one day later, broke into a store and stole some clothes. His mother asked a judge to send him to the Boonville Reformatory.  He later recalled, “Of all the prisons I have been in that was the worst. I still have a scar on my body form the whippings I received.”  He was paroled after a year, got a job in a shoe factory, and got married.  But he lost his job and was arrested on several charges not long after that.  A judge appointed a lawyer to represent him but he was sent to prison for ten years for burglary, larceny, and robbery. He was 18. He got out in 1932, after serving three of those years.  He went back to the penitentiary for stealing, larceny and escape and did prison time at Leavenworth for stealing government property and more time in a Texas prison for theft.

Gideon married four women during those troubled years, the last time a woman named Ruth in 1955, when he was 45 years old.  They lived in Texas where he worked from time to time as a tugboat deckhand and as a bartender until tuberculosis put him in bed for three years.  He and Ruth moved to Florida where child welfare authorities eventually took away their six children (three that Ruth brought to the marriage and the three they had together).  Gideon got a low-paying job as an electrician and started gambling to get extra money.

About three weeks before Gideon’s 51st birthday, he was accused of stealing money and beer from a pool room in Panama City.  In the space of two weeks, a judge refused to appoint a lawyer to represent him because Florida law allowed court-appointed lawyers only in capital cases. He was convicted of breaking and entering and was given the maximum sentence, five years.

Gideon, remembering that years earlier a Missouri judge had appointed a lawyer to represent him, began reading law books in prison and decided the Florida judge had violated his Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The Florida Supreme Court refused to do anything.  So he went straight to the United States Supreme Court with a five-page handwritten petition in which he wrote, “It makes no difference how old I am or what color I am or what church I belong to if any. The question is I did not get a fair trial. The question is very simple. I requested the court to appoint me an attorney and the court refused.” The Supreme Court decided to hear his case and assigned future Justice Abe Fortas to represent Gideon.  The state of Florida argued that the issue was a state matter, not a federal one and that upholding Gideon’s position would result in thousands of convictions being thrown out.  Fortas argued that the average person untrained in the law had no hope of winning when arguing against a trained attorney.

The court’s opinion issued fifty-three years ago this month ordering a new trial for Gideon was unanimous. One line in the opinion bluntly stated, “Lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.”

While Gideon was preparing for his second trial, two-thousand Florida prisoners were released.

His attorney, W. Fred Turner, destroyed the prosecution’s case in the second trial and the jury acquitted Gideon after only one hour of deliberation.

Attorney General Robert Kennedy observed, “If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in prison with a pencil and paper to write a letter to the Supreme Court; and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look at the merits in that one crude petition among all the bundles of mail it must receive every day, the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter; the court did look into his case; he was re-tried with the help of competent defense counsel; found not guilty and released from prison after two years of punishment for a crime he did not commit. And the whole course of legal history has been changed.”

Gideon married a fifth time and died of cancer in Fort Lauderdale early in 1972, still a pauper.  His family returned his body to Hannibal and buried him in a grave that remained unmarked until the American Civil Liberties union placed a stone in 1984.  The stone contains a quote from Justice Fortas, “Each era finds an improvement in law for the benefit of mankind.”

A little more than one-hundred miles from Clarence Earl Gideon’s grave, almost half a century after his death and more than a half-century after the U. S. Supreme Court said poor people have the right to adequate representation in the criminal cases, Michael Barrett is pleading for the state to give his office the resources it needs to let today’s Clarence Gideons have that right.  And in a year when millions of dollars will be spent to influence public policy or to influence those who write public policy, the office that symbolizes a basic right all of us have is begging for nickels and dimes from a legislature that year in, year out, gives it a few pennies and nods sympathetically

The Nineteenth Century is alive and sometimes well

–and it’s living in Missouri’s counties.

The legacy of Martin Van Buren is an overlooked part of Missouri history.  As far as we know he was never in Missouri.  He is remembered, if he is remembered at all, as a founder of the modern Democratic Party, and as the man responsible for the 1837 national depression.  He was so unpopular that he was voted out of the presidency in 1840 and spurned for his party’s nomination later.

But Van Buren County was named for him.  Not sure where Van Buren County is?  We call it Cass County today, named for Lewis Cass, who was Van Buren’s opponent for the Presidency in 1848.  Cass didn’t win the presidency either.

Kinderhook County was named for the town in which Van Buren was born.  You don’t know where Kinderhook County is?   It has been known as Camden County since 1843.

Johnson County is named for Richard M. Johnson, who was Van Buren’s vice president.

Butler County is named for Kentucky Congressman William O. Butler, who was Lewis Cass’s vice-presidential candidate.

How about Ashley County, named for St. Louis explorer, fur trade entrepreneur, and former Lieutenant Governor William H. Ashley?   Or Decatur County, named for naval hero Stephen Decatur?  Highland County?  Lilliard County, named for one of the members of the first legislature?  Or Seneca County?

Ashley County became Texas County in 1841.  Decatur has been Ozark since 1845.  Highland became Sullivan that same year.  Seneca County became McDonald County in 1847.  And Lillliard became Lafayette in 1825, the year Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution, visited St. Louis.

We have a peculiar situation with St. Louis, which broke away from St. Louis County in 1876, creating a strange creature that is a city not within a county but having some county offices (sheriff, for example, in addition to the city police department).

Other than the St. Louis/St. Louis County divorce in 1876, Missouri has not gained any new counties since Carter and Christian Counties were created in 1859.

Maybe it’s time for a shakeup.   Our county structures don’t make a lot of sense in a lot of places.   Twenty six places in particular.   Missouri has that many counties with fewer than ten-thousand people.  And Worth County, up along the Iowa border, has dwindled to fewer than 2,200.  In fact, the northern tier of counties in Missouri are so sparsely populated that the entire area is represented by only two state senators.  A few years ago we wrote a blog for the Missourinet about “The Senator from Everywhere,” Brad Lager, who listed his senatorial district as the counties of Andrew, Atchison, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry,  Grundy, Harrison, Holt, Mercer,  Nodaway, Putnam, Sullivan,  Worth and Part of Clay County.  Fourteen entire counties and part of a fifteenth.  Dan Hegeman has those counties now that Lager has been forced out by term limits.

The other half of north Missouri is represented by Senator Brian Munzlinger. His district is  Adair, Chariton, Clark,  Knox, Lewis, Linn, Macon,  Marion, Pike, Schuyler, Scotland,  Shelby, Ralls and Randolph Counties.

Two Senators represent about one-fourth of all of the counties in Missouri.

A longtime friend from college days sent me a proposal for new counties a few years ago.  Wayne Vinyard and his wife Jan ran the Longview Gardens nursery in Jackson County for many years before they retired.  Now that he doesn’t have to water the plants and fight off bugs and other pests, Wayne has had time to ruminate on the state’s nineteenth-century county structure.  He has decided to try to make more sense out of our county government system by drawing more practical boundaries for the twenty-first century.

 vineyard map

His plan creates fifty-four counties plus the city of St. Louis.  St. Louis County would be the only county to shrink.

Wayne has suggested a new name for one of the newly-formed counties.  He thinks “Arcadia” would be a nice name for an area in southeast Missouri.  But that suggestion leads to another issue.

Do we have to continue having counties named for Revolutionary War soldiers who never lived here, colleagues and opponents of Martin Van Buren, a Whig politician from England who was never in this country as far as we know, or other obscure figures?

Some of our counties’ names are….are……Well, consider these:

Christian County is named for William Christian, a Revolutionary War soldier who signed the Fincastle Resolution (???) and brokered a peace treaty between the Overmountain Men and the Overhill Cherokees (more???s). Never lived in Missouri.

Carter County is named after an early settler whose first name is, ummm, unusual.  But should someone named Zimri have a county bearing their last name?

Here’s a doozy for you:  Camden County honors someone named Pratt.   No kidding.  Charles Pratt died nine years before Missouri became American territory.  He was a Whig politician, lawyer, and judge in England.  He was the Earl of Camden.  Given some of the deep political thinkers of our present day, we’re not sure he would be county-naming fodder now.  He was, you see, an early proponent of civil liberties.  Before they were unionized.

And Andrew County?   Ohhhhhhh, my.  This one is in dispute.  One source says it was named for Andrew Jackson.  Another says it was named for Andrew Jackson Davis, a prominent St. Louis lawyer.  But we’ve turned up a third alternative that is so bizarre that it cannot possibly be true. But this is Missouri.  The third candidate is Andrew Jackson Davis, who was known as “The Poughkeepsie Seer.” He became a devotee of “animal magnetism,” which we today call hypnotism, and was an advocate of “magnetic healing.”

It is easy to dismiss a county being named for a New York spiritualist.  But then again, consider that the original name of Fulton was Volney, for Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney, a French abolitionist, philosopher and orientalist who once wrote, “All the Egyptians have bloated faces, puffed-up eyes, flat noses, thick lips—in a word, the true face of the mulatto.”

We have wandered far afield but this is such an entertaining diversion.

Back to our topic.

From time to time there have been discussions about whether it makes any sense to have seven counties with fewer than five-thousand people (twenty-six with fewer than ten thousand).  Worth County in 1900 had 9,382 of Missouri’s 3,106,665 people or .003% of the state’s population.  Now it has .0004 of Missouri’s 5,988,927 people (2010 census figures).  Mercer County is the second-least populated county in Missouri with 3,785.  In 1900, it had 14,706.

So the question becomes whether it makes any economic, or any other kind of, sense to have counties this small or the eleven others with fewer than seven-thousand people trying to maintain county courthouses and the officials who work in them?

And haven’t we had some other heroes from Missouri since 1859 who deserve to have counties named after them instead of counties named for people who’ve never been here?  Pershing, Bradley, Lindbergh, Danforth, Symington, Virginia Minor, Betty Grable, Yogi Berra?  Visit the Hall of Famous Missourians at the Capitol someday.  You won’t find anybody there named Van Buren, Zimri, or the Earl of Camden.   And try not to think of naming a Missouri County after Bob Barker or Rush Limbaugh or Jack Buck—although renaming St. Louis County “Musial County” might be appropriate.  History shows county names are not particularly sacred. We do have a precedent for re-naming our counties.

Regardless of how much sense the Vinyard map makes, we all know that any effort to make it or something like it a reality will ignite enormous protests from the 114 kingdoms that call themselves counties.  Border-to-border turf warfare will erupt.  After all, Wayne proposes turning about sixty county courthouses into—what?  Condos?   Museums? Antique malls?  Vacant lots in the hearts of communities?   Imagine the havoc that could be created by sixty county clerks, sheriffs, assessors, collectors, nurses, and 180 county commission members who would be forced to consider processing pigs or turkeys instead of drawing a government paycheck.   Imagine going into a big-box store and being greeted by your former presiding commissioner.  It’s not a vision very many county officials would tolerate.

Perhaps our legislators in 2016, when they’re not creating new state symbols at the behest of fourth-graders, will consider modernizing Missouri’s county government system and recognizing that a county named for, say, Reinhold Niebuhr makes more sense than one named for Martin Van Buren’s vice-president.

Niebuhr?  (Rine-hold Knee-bur) He might have been this nation’s foremost twentieth-century theologian and ethicist.  He was from Wright City.  Some of his musings are particularly appropriate in today’s political climate.

“Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold.”

Or: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

But the one that is best known is his Serenity Prayer.  There are various versions of it but the lines from it that are most familiar are:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Maybe my friend Wayne’s map represents something that cannot be changed.  But maybe it’s time for the courage to change some things that can be changed.   Or should be.

And whether it’s county boundaries or social boundaries, let us all pray that those who return to the Capitol in a couple of weeks gain the wisdom to know the difference between specious proofs and the general interest.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there could be a map for that?

Unmasking problems

We’re about six weeks past Halloween and you might think all of the Halloween stuff in stores has been put away.  But it’s surprisingly easy to still find masks.   And masks are in some demand in Jefferson City because tomorrow night (Saturday, December 12), several hundred people are going to don masks and invade the Capitol.

I’m going to be one of them, which has meant Nancy has either had to find out where there are still masks for sale or she’s going to have to make one.   She had some ideas about where to find some to consider.


One store had some basic Lone Ranger-type masks (although if the Lone Ranger showed up in the gold one or the red one, he’d probably surely be lone).  They cost twenty-five cents each so we bought four.  Now we have to wonder whether it’s worthwhile to take a dollar’s worth of cheap masks back or just keep them around for grandchildren to play with.  Grandchildren are going to win. Unless—-

Another store had two bizarre creations, one looking like some kind of a feathered iguana mask and another that is a mass of feathers that a performer might wear in some weird Las Vegas stage show.   They cost enough that returning them for a refund is practical.

A third store had the mask that seemed appropriate. We’re not going to show it to you because then people at the Caring for Missouri event tomorrow night will know who the person is in that mask.   One good thing about it is that it does not rely on a cheap elastic band that could break at any moment—which is why we bought four of the first set of masks—and it fits over glasses that are necessary because I have to read some stuff.

The event starts at 7 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda.  Tickets start at $100.  Some folks think this is a pretty snooty event.  Others see it as an important way to raise money and to increase visibility for the organizations and their causes.  All other things aside, it’s intended to be a fun event for worthwhile causes.  Let’s talk about the causes.

We’ve talked about the goals of the Missouri Capitol Commission to raise money to preserve and restore Capitol art.  Regular readers of these posts know that’s a favorite issue for your faithful scribe.  But let’s focus on the other two groups involved: The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Missouri Association for Community Action.  Frankly, dealing with art issues pales in comparison to the issues these two groups deal with every day.

Let’s start with MACA, which reminds us that 932,066 Missourians live below the federal poverty line.  A total of 417,151 peopled have incomes less than half the poverty-line level. About one-third of those people are children.  What’s the poverty line?   The federal government says a Missourian who earns less than $11,700 a year is living in poverty.  A family of four with an income of #24,200 is living in poverty.  MACA counters those who dismiss such conditions by suggesting people just go out and get jobs with this statistic: Almost thirty percent of Missouri jobs do not pay enough for the wage earner to live above the poverty line.  Thirty percent.

Almost seventeen percent of Missourians have low food security because of their earning situation. That means they have to reduce the quality, variety, and desirability of the food they eat.  Missouri is one of ten states with a food insecurity level higher than the national average, and has the sixth highest percent of food insecure households.

MACA cites government figures showing almost 7300 people are homeless in Missouri; 652 of them veterans.

When it comes to providing help to those people, MACA doesn’t really care if the Caring For Missouri Capitol Masquerade Ball is seen as a snooty event by some people.

Most of those attending the event will probably be old enough to remember when “domestic violence didn’t even have a name, let alone a legal identity,” as the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence says on its webpage.  The Coalition recalls that rape was legal within marriage and wasn’t even a crime until the mid 90s.  There was no law allowing a judge to order an abusive husband and father to move out of the family living quarters.  Remember when reports that a husband was beating his wife were considered “family matters?”  The folks at the party were living at a time when there were no rape crisis centers, no shelters for battered women.

. There were no shelters for battered women in Missouri, no rape crisis centers, no hotlines, no task forces, no Coalition.  Missouri had no domestic violence shelters until 1976, no legal protections for domestic violence victims until 1979.  That was about the time the Coalition was created. Since then the number of domestic and sexual violence programs has increased tenfold.

The coalition, like MACA, is a presence in the Capitol during legislative sessions working for more protections for the poor and the abused.   In four decades of watching representatives of organizations like these, this observer saw nothing snooty about their work.  There was little celebration when an effort was successful because there is always another issue for the poor and the abused of Missouri.

Tomorrow night’s event will involve some food and music and a silent and not-silent (they hope) auctions of all kinds of things that we mentioned in an earlier entry here.  Some folks will be wearing formal attire. Others will be in business attire.  They’ll be dressed much better than most of the people this event is designed to help can afford to dress..

Tickets will be available at the door.  There are places where you still can buy a mask.

Got a quarter?   I’ll sell you one of mine.

Class dismissed

Your observer of the passing scene has had a year to ponder the things he witnessed in all those hours observing the Missouri Legislature from his perch in the House Press Gallery or from his seat at the press table on the Senate floor.  And he has come to the conclusion after the year away from the tumult and the shouting that one of the most regrettable trends he watched was the decline—and seeming death—of a quality we call “class.”

The thought hit home several days ago when legislative leaders decided to hold hearings to examine Missouri programs that help refugees, a decision reached after the histrionics accompanying their demands that the Governor keep Syrians from coming to our state. Governor Nixon threw a bucket of ice water on those demands, leading to the examination of what the state does with immigrants.

A legislature that still operated with at least a certain amount of “class’ would have decided to hold the hearings BEFORE trying to whip up public emotions on the subject, of course.  From what we have heard and read, the hearings would not have justified the earlier reactions.  But in an era where dignity takes a back seat to demonization, we seem to be left with those whose philosophy is heavily laced with the adage, “When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”  Herman Wouk used the adage in The Caine Mutiny and said it was an ancient saying.   It’s all too current today.

In announcing the hearings, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard put out a statement saying, “Because of our governor’s lack of leadership and this administration’s failed federal foreign policies, we will try to find ways to protect the safety and well-being of the citizens of the Show-Me State.”

Sheesh!   Everything seems to be couched in language these days that tries to throw a kidney punch at somebody, doesn’t it?  Parents recognize the trend.

“It’s all his fault1”

“Is not”

“Is too!”

“Is not!”

Normally about this time, the adult in the room says “Stop it!” and threatens to send people to their rooms until they can behave in a civil manner.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a noticeable lack of adults when it comes to modern politics.  “Class” is one of the casualties of the presence of term limits and absence of high ethical standards.

We dislike wallowing in nostalgia because nostalgia often recalls an unrealistic picture.  But there WERE days when people in government could do things without being so dang-nabbed disagreeable.  Of course, that was back in the days before term limits when legislators had time to grow up.  And when there were adults in the room who could help them do it.

Maybe it will dawn on some people someday that Lord of the Flies is not a political textbook.

You, too, can own a piece of Capitol art, or Who is that Masked Man/Woman?

(We have been asked to clarify a couple of things in our original version of this post. You’ll find the changes if you read through this post again. And you should.  Read through it again.

Your honorable scribe has not decided what mask he will wear although he is considering what a T-Red head would look like on top of a tuxedo)

Thousands of people each year are stunned when they walk into the House Lounge at the Capitol and find themselves surrounded by Thomas Hart Benton’s “Social History of Missouri” mural.  It’s hard to determine how much it’s worth because of its size and its location.  The state of Missouri paid Benton $16,000 to paint it in 1936. Some of the lithographs of some of the images sell for thousands of dollars today.  Through the years, this frequent visitor to that room has heard estimates of the value of the mural as being more than the cost of building the capitol (which was about $4 million) to multiples of that.

Do we ever have a deal for you!!!

You can own a copy of the Benton mural for a fraction of its value.  In fact, I know some folks who would be glad to sell you one for, oh, say, one-tenth of the value of the original.  And don’t worry. You won’t have to build a 25×50-foot addition to your house.

A panoramic five-foot long photo of the mural is one of several reproductions of Capitol art that will be auctioned at the Capitol Masquerade Ball on December 12.  It will be in the rotunda, starting at 7 p.m.  The proceeds will benefit three organizations: The Missouri State Capitol Commission, the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and Missouri Association for Community Action.

All you need is a mask and a ticket.


General ticket donations are $100.  If you want to be a Very Important Person—and you are, you know, admit it—you can get a VIP ticket for $250.  Those who buy the VIP tickets will have get a commemorative gift and you can hang out with other VIPs in the VIP lounge.

Just let the organizers know you’re going to be there and reserve your ticket at

You might get to rub elbows with a whole bunch of important folks.  The top state office-holders and both of our U. S. Senators are honorary co-hosts.  The organizers can’t promise all of them will be there, but it will be worth the price of your ticket to find out who is.  And besides, you’ll have a chance to rub elbows with a lot of other good folks and you’ll be supporting three fine organizations.

Mike Michelson will be there to tickle the ivories.  The Norm Ruebling Band will play music anybody can dance to.  There will be a Redlight Photobooth to commemorate your presence in any way you’d like.  There will be beverages and Hors d’oeuvres.

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And organizers will sell things.  There will be a silent auction.   AND there will be what the sponsoring groups hope will be a really, really NOISY auction.

And this is where you can get some really great things for your home or your office.

Just imagine that five-foot long Benton Mural hanging in the lobby of your office or behind your desk or above your bed or—well, just imagine.

There are also a couple of other prints of parts of the mural.  They’ll also be auctioning off photos of the portraits of Mark Twain and Susan Elizabeth Blow that most people see only if they get into the Governor’s office.   Mark, of course, is Missouri’s most famous writer.  Susan is the founder of the kindergarten in America.

Are you a Civil War person?  How about reproductions of the N. C. Wyeth murals depicting the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the Battle of Westport?  (This is one of the changes. The Wyeth prints won’t be sold at this event. They’re being saved for a later event so if you had your heart and your checkbook prepared to buy them, save both for a later event. We don’t know if masks will be involved).

And a print of another of the monumental murals in the Capitol also will be auctioned:  Charles Hoffbauer’s “The Glory of Missouri in War” mural from the House of Representatives.

All of these can be yours if you (a) buy a ticket and (b) outbid somebody else who also wants these unique decorations for home or office.  Folks, you won’t have a chance to buy these images anywhere else. Nowhere.

The pictures are photographs by Lloyd Grotjan, the Jefferson City photographer who did the outstanding photographs for The Art of the Missouri Capitol: History in Canvas, Bronze, and Stone took for the book.   The five-foot long Benton mural panoramic view originally was intended to be a fold-out in the book but we had to leave it out because, well, a five-foot long book wouldn’t fit on many coffee tables.

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There needs to be a noble purpose for this fund-raiser.  Support for MACA and MCADSV is vital in helping them fight domestic and sexual violence and helping the 930,000 Missourians living below the poverty line.   Support for the Capitol Commission will continue its efforts to assess and restore the art of the Capitol, most of which has gone years without care.

Last year the commission held a wine-tasting event that included a great discussion of how wine tastes differently in different glasses (and tasters got to take home a set of glasses).  The money raised from that event has financed assessments on 55 paintings.  The Office of Administration is moving forward with restoration/repair of the art that’s been assessed.  The commission wants to continue that important work.

Just a few days ago commission chairman Dana Miller hired ICA Art Conservation to assess the condition of the Benton mural.  ICA is a nonprofit group that specializes in conservation and repair of the works of Midwest artists.  It has been highly recommended to the commission by the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

So get in the closet and dig out the kids’ Halloween masks, or get busy with some cloth and feathers and make something outrageous,

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or go out and buy something.   Most folks probably will be in business attire but the sponsors sure won’t mind if you want to show up fully-costumed.  (Actually, the sponsors hope you’ll NOT wear business attire because this is a high-class event.  Dana would like to see people in formal attire although she says business attire is acceptable.  But formal attire is preferable. Even if you wear a T-Rex head for your mask.)

You should be that Masked Man.  Or Masked Woman.

What were they thinking?

The answer is: They weren’t.  And it leaves thousands of people wondering if there is any limit to stupidity.  Or ignorance.  Or bad manners.  Or lack of consideration.  Or…….

Sometimes you just can’t find the words.


We’ve been contacted by a number of people during the last few days asking if we’ve seen this picture.  Yes, we have, several times now. Your faithful scribe does not do Facebook or Linked In and twitters, twits, tweets—whatever the heck it is—only for limited professional reasons because I have better things to do with my time.  I do not disparage those who do spend considerable time each day being involved with a large network of people they do and don’t know. Call me a curmudgeon.  I wear the hat proudly.

Anyway, yes, I’ve seen it.  Somebody asked for my reaction.  It was instant.

This is inexcusable behavior by someone I otherwise would have assumed to have a certain level of intelligence and common sense.  These people are displaying behavior that one might expect from an ignorant third-grader and are endangering one of the greatest works of one of America’s foremost 20th century artists and showing disrespect for the greatest work of art in our Capitol.  They might also be placing themselves in some legal jeopardy, depending on whether there is any damage to public property.  There are tables in the House Lounge where they could have done their writing. Thoughtlessness is not in itself a punishable offense.  But these two people should at the very least publicly apologize for their unthinking behavior. 


Dave Marner, the Owensville newspaper publisher who took the picture, called me during the weekend and we talked at some length about this incident.  His photograph has gone viral and has generated worldwide scorn.  We know who the woman is: Valinda Freed of Randolph County, the vice chairwoman of the Missouri Republican Party, who was in the House Lounge for a rally urging the legislature to overturn Governor Nixon’s Right to Work bill veto.  As another friend of mine has written, “I don’t know the jackass joining in alongside her.”

Another friend who has worked in and around the capitol for a long, long time, sent me a note that said, “It also made me think of the definition of a word you don’t hear much anymore, “philistine”

The incident and the photographic record of it have stirred up a fecal hurricane.  Ms. Freed, after a couple of days in the eye of the hurricane, issued an apology to the Kansas City Star.  “I offer my sincere apologies for my completely unplanned and thoughtless act.  The Thomas Hart Benton mural, and all the magnificent artwork in the Capitol are state and national treasures,” she wrote.  She didn’t elaborate and as far as we know hasn’t done any interviews.

The “jackass” next to her in the picture hasn’t revealed himself or issued any statement regretting his action.  In addition to being a “philistine,” he does not appear to be much of a gentleman because he continues to let Ms. Freed take the fall.

It is also worth noting that this incident is not nearly so sad as the ongoing neglect of the other “state and national treasures” in our capitol.  No other state capitol can match the quantity and the quality of art that we find in Missouri’s Capitol.  Decades of deterioration of the structure and its art are far more egregious than what Ms. Freed and her friend have done. The state is spending forty-million dollars to fix a major foundation leakage problem under the main stairway on the south front of the building, a project so big that it might have an impact on the staging of the inauguration of new state officials in January, 2017.  Those who love the Capitol hope governors-to be and legislatures yet to come will find as much enthusiasm about investing in the capitol as they seem to find in granting favors to interests of economic capital.

It is also fair to note that they were not writing on the painting. They were leaning against it, putting their hands on it, writing on business cards or something.  Their “thoughtless act” did have a positive element to it.

It triggered an outrage on behalf of art and culture.  We are living in a political time when there appears to be little room for appreciation of the arts and the values they bring to society.  The loud insistence from many that their definition of “family values” be the rigid foundation of society seems to leave little room for the liberal freedoms that the arts should communicate.

We do not think, as we view Ms. Freed’s actions, that they are symbolic of that attitude.  We do not believe that she intended her thoughtless action to be a commentary on the arts, certainly not Thomas Hart Benton’s use of the arts to celebrate the efforts of independent citizens to build a diverse, serious, sometimes corrupt but always dynamic state.

While her apology strikes some as inadequate, this viewer wonders what more she could say.  Clearly the photograph has been a gigantic embarrassment to her and for some time to come she will be known to some folks as “that woman who….”   So let’s let her statement stand.  She need not immolate herself on the town square to express her remorse. We do, however, wish that her friend showed at least some class and also apologized instead of letting her get the full load from the hurricane.

Those in Missouri as well as outside the state who have generated that hurricane would do well to retain their indignation and use it to evaluate people, parties, and causes to whom art and culture are on the periphery—at best—of their vision

We’ve heard this before. And before that

Right to Work is a big issue in this year’s veto session that starts today at the Capitol. The legislature passed it last May and the governor vetoed it.  The arguments on both sides last May were soooo familiar.  And sooooo old.

How old?

We’ve been digging into the papers of Governor Herbert Hadley as we wrap up the first, rough, draft of a new book about the history of the Capitol.  We came across one from W. A. Layman (at least that’s what we think his signature says) who was a Vice President and General Management for Wagner Electric in St. Louis when the Board of Public Buildings announced in July, 1911 that the new Capitol would be built with union labor.  Within hours, the Citizens Industrial Association, in St. Louis, organized a letter-writing campaign against the announcement.  Many of the letters from St. Louis businesses—and a few from Kansas City—are in the Hadley papers at the State Historical Society in Columbia.

Here’s part of Layman’s letter:

“To apply the Closed Shop principle…is not only fundamentally wrong in principle, in our opinion, but it will be seriously harmful to all substantial business interests in the State and will have particularly the tendency to place all manufacturing institutions of the State at a great disadvantage in the competitive markets of the country as a whole.

“You are aware that certain leading cities of the country are to-day employing the “Open Shop” principle in all industrial and building operations and the result is not only a condition of social peace and harmony in the industrial life of the community, but in great industrial prosperity for the employer and the employee alike.”  

The phrase “paycheck protection” was about a century away from creation when he wrote his letter on July 6, 1911.  That’s the current buzz phrase to describe what for several decades has been called Right to Work.  But the arguments haven’t changed, have they?  Mandatory union membership hurts business and places manufacturers (and the State) in a competitive disadvantage.  Open Shop leads to economic prosperity and several other entities are flourishing because they’ve adopted the practice.

The Capitol was built with union labor.  It seems to have turned out okay.  That’s not to say it couldn’t have been built as well with an open shop.  It’s just that some of the stuff that goes on inside it never goes away.  And nobody seems to have found any fresh and creative arguments. It gets so tiresome but the issue will always be with us as long as there is labor and there is management and each seeks a politically-protected status.   But, gosh, folks, wouldn’t you think that after more than a century of these same arguments, somebody would be able to provide some conclusive evidence that one side or the other REALLY does create some kind of economic nirvana?

Morale of the story:  No issue is too old to flog. Especially if it plays to the advantage of one party or another and helps undermine the losing side.

Unlimited puffing was resorted to

We recently came across a write-up about early Missouri called, “Affairs of Government, etc.,” and enjoyed it so much that we wanted to pass it along because of the breezy way it was written, which was unusual for the time, and because some of the things it said seem familiar to those of us who watch affairs of government, etc.

Besides, how can a person avoid finding literary treasures in a book called, A History of the Pioneer Families of Missouri, With Numerous Sketches, Anecdotes, adventures, etc., Relating to Early Days in Missouri. Also the Lives of Daniel Boone and the celebrated Indian Chief Black Hawk With Numerous Biographies and Histories of Primitive Institutions.

You can take a breath now.

The book was written by William S. Bryan and Robert Rose and published in 1876.  The author’s acknowledge, “We do not expect the reader to believe all the remarkable yarns related under ‘Anecdotes and Adventures.’  Some of them were given to us merely as caricatures of early times, and they can easily be distinguished from the real adventures.’”

Here is their Affairs of Government, Etc.

“The pioneers of Missouri…were not a lawless or vicious class of people, but, nevertheless, some sort of a government was required to restrain the reckless characters that lived in the country.  When the territory came into possession of the United States, one of the most intelligent and influential men in each community was appointed Justice of the Peace, before whom all transgressions were tried and all legal disputes adjusted.  Very few of these men knew anything about law, and some of their decisions and legal documents would be regarded as curiosities in these modern times.  But if they knew but little law, they understood the meaning of justice, and their decisions did not often miss the mark.

“As there were no jails to confine offenders in, breaches of the peace, thefts, and other light misdemeanors were punished by fines, or if flagrant in character, by whipping.  The fined were generally paid with furs and peltry, which were sold for the benefit of the government; but where whipping was the penalty, it was administered in a summary manner, and the offender was permitted to go about his business as though nothing uniusual had occurred.  On one occasion a man who had stolen a hog was taken before Daniel Bone for examination.  His trial and the infliction of the punishment occupied half an hour, and while returning home he was met by an acquaintance, who inquired how he had come out. ‘Eh gad! Whipped and cleared,’ was his laconic reply.   In those days when men fell out of and fought, they never thought of taking their cases into court, but the one who got whipped yielded with as good a grace as he could command, to the superior strength or dexterity of his, and after taking a drink and shaking hands in token of friendship, let the matter drop until he got an opportunity to pay off his score with interest.

But few murders were committed, and generally the murderer made his escape, and was never heard of again; for it he remained in the community he was almost certain to be killed by the friends of the man he had murdered, even if he escaped immediate lynching.

“We give below a literal copy of the first indictment found in St. Charles county, by the first American grand jury that sat under the United States government, in the territory of Louisiana.  It was signed by twelve men, all of whom, except the foreman, had to make their marks being unable to write.  It will be seen from the wording of the instrument that considerable effort was made to give it a legal and solemn sound, in order, no doubt, that it might make a deep impression on the minds of all concerned. It reads as follows:

That one James Davis, late of the District of St. Charles, in the Territory of Louisiana, Laborer, not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil, on the 13th day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and four (1804), at a place called Femme Osage, in the said District of St. Charles, with force and arms, in and upon William Hays, in the peace of God and the United States, there and then being Feloniously, willfully, and with his malice aforethought, did make an assault, andthat the said James Davis, with a certain rifle gun, four feet long, and of the value of five dollars, then and there loaded and charged with gunpowder one leaden bullet, with said rifle gun the said James Davis, then and there in his hands had and held, fired and killed William Hays.’

“Davis gave bond in the sum of $3,000 for his appearance at court, and Daniel Boone went his security.  He stood his trial and was cleared.

“As the country settled up and the population increased, the number of civil suits grew larger, and people began to feel the need of educated attorneys.  At first, a few pettifoggers, possessing a little learning and vast pretensions, were imported from other localities, and they came expecting to have everything their own way, and to astonish the natives by their profundity. But they soon found themselves eclipsed by the practical, common-sense backwoodsmen, and very naturally settled down to their proper places.  There were others, however, who possessed fine talents and a liberal amount of learning, and these were respected by the people, and soone gained a large influence.  Among the first prominent attorneys was Edward Hempsted, an unlettered man, but one who possessed strong sense and a fine talent for special pleading.  He had a sharp, fierce, and barking manner of speaking, which had a great effect upon jurors, and generally awed them into acquiescence with his own views.  His style became very popular, and was widely imitated by young attorneys.  At the head of the profession stood Col. Thomas H. Benton, whose fame afterward extended over the whole country, and who represented Missouri for thirty years in the U. S. Senate.  One who knew him in the early days of his practice here, thus described him: ‘He is acute, labored, florid, rather sophomorical, but a man of strong sense.  There flashes ‘strange fire’ from the eyes and all that he does ‘smells of the lamp.’

“Edward Bates also became prominent at an early day, and he was probably the most learned of any of the lawyers of that time.  He was a classical scholar, and exhibited the fruits of his attainments in his arrangement and choice of language.  His manners were gentlemanly and pleasing, and his language concise and to the point; but these were often thrown away upon the jury in a region where noise and flourish were sometimes mistaken for sense and reason.

“Unlimited puffing was resorted to then as now, and with like success.  The man who could make the finest show and induce the greatest number of people to talk about him, in the right way, generally won fame and distinction, and became the leader of his portion of the country.  But these things gradually passed away as the country became more enlightened, and men were esteemed for their real worth and integrity rather than for shallow display and great pretensions, unsupported by genuine merit.”

Unlimited puffery, noise and flourish that is mistaken for sense and reason, and the need to find candidates or elected officials whose shallow displays and great pretensions are unsupported by genuine merit remain part of our political fabric today.

Are we any closer to finding or demanding leaders who are esteemed for their real worth and integrity than those pioneer families were almost fourteen decades ago?