Newspaper column: Learn from the mistakes of the past, not erase them

Wheeler Peak (right) and Jeff Davis Peak (left)

This paroxysm of efforts to eradicate all monuments and place names that memorialize historic leaders of the Confederacy serves as merely a distraction from real problems, wasting time and money that could be devoted to worthy endeavors.

The latest target of this futile campaign appears to be the name of Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park.

According to the park’s website, the monicker was first attached to what is now Wheeler Peak, the tallest point in the park and the second tallest in Nevada. It was given that name by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1855 while Jefferson Davis served as secretary of the War Department, a half dozen years before the Civil War began.

After the Civil War, during which Davis served as president of the Confederacy, an Army mapping expedition headed by Lt. George Montague Wheeler, named the peak for Wheeler and the Jeff Davis tag was shifted to a shorter nearby peak.

In May the Reno newspaper reported that, even though statues of Confederate leaders were being torn down in New Orleans, there was no clamor to erase the Davis name from the 12,771-foot peak. The penultimate paragraph of the account stated, “By today’s standards Jeff Davis is an unlikely choice that appears out of step with contemporary naming practices. But modern standards don’t undo prior names which means, for the foreseeable future, the name of a Confederate president will maintain a place of honor in Nevada.”

Actually, such a mountain top name change took place a couple of years ago. After bearing the name of President William McKinley for 98 years, the tallest peak in North America in Alaska was renamed to its original native American name Denali, which means “the great one” in Athabascan. The White House said the name change “recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.”

Earlier this month, the Las Vegas newspaper reported that there are now a couple of bids to remove the Davis name. It said two applications have been filed with the state and national naming boards to eradicate the Davis name and replace it with some other name.

The paper reported that one application called for renaming the peak for Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan or one of the Shoshone names for the peak. Another called for naming the peak for Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who fought for the Union.

This month’s meeting agenda for the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names lists an action item in which a peak in White Pine County could be named Smalls Peak. There is no mention as to what it is currently called, if anything.

According to Dennis Cassinelli in a recent newspaper column, political correctness has been whitewashing Nevada geographical names for years. Colorful names like Chicken Shit Springs and Squaw Tit Butte have disappeared from maps simply at the whim of squeamish government mapmakers.

Now squeamishness is being extended to those who fought for the Confederacy.

Yes, Davis was a slave owner who sought to continue what was euphemistically called “our peculiar institution” in the South.

But in the waning years of his life Davis was an advocate for reunifying the nation, saying in a speech in 1888: “I feel no regret that I stand before you this afternoon a man without a country, for my ambition lies buried in the grave of the Confederacy. There has been consigned not only my ambition, but the dogmas upon which that Government was based. The faces I see before me are those of young men; had I not known this I would not have appeared before you. Men in whose hands the destinies of the South land lie, for love of her I break my silence, to let it bury its dead, its hopes and aspirations; before you lies the future — a future full of golden promise; a future of expanding national glory, before which all of the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to make your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished — a reunited country.”

What’s in a name? History is not changed, just forgotten, perhaps along with the lessons that should’ve been learned? We could use more unifying and less dividing.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

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SANE — Stop Acronym Nurturing Everywhere

I may have grown up in the Age of Aquarius, but I’m growing old in the Age of the Acronym. — Pointer Institute writing coach Roy Peter Clark

Is their someone in Congress whose sole job is to create backronyms for legislation? You know a supposedly “clever” acronym derived from the intent of a bill.

Today’s contorted example is delivered via the morning paper’s editorial rightly chiding the author of a congressional bill intended to curb so-called hate speech on college campuses.

A Maryland congressman has introduced a bill called Creating Accountability Measures Protecting University Students Historically Abused, Threatened and Exposed to Crimes Act — CAMPUS HATE Crimes Act.

The editorial explains that the bill would require colleges to clearly define “what is acceptable speech and what is not acceptable speech” on campuses. It would provide grants carry out this First Amendment shredding deed and deny federal aid to those schools that fail to comply with law.

While the proposal deserves derision for its appalling intent, it should be hooted out of the halls of Congress for the retched act of acronym abuse — a practice that in recent years has become epidemic.

One current example being bandied about is the DREAM Act, which short for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.

A classic example of pandering by mislabeling is the USA PATRIOT Act — Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, which unpatriotically trampled the Fourth Amendment.

Then there is the DISCLOSE Act that would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that held corporations and unions have speech rights. That stands for Disclosure of Information on Spending on Campaigns Leads to Open and Secure Elections Act.

Nevada and other states also have laws on the books with appropriate acronyms, such as the Anti-SLAPP Act — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, which tries to curb lawsuits meant to shut up opponents through costly litigation.

The Washington Post a couple of years ago created a compendium of twisted acronyms for legislation, almost one for every day of the year.

Examples:

SWEET Act – Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act

FOCUS Act – Fighting Occupied Cell Use So Everyone Drives More Safely Act

FAIR TOW Act – Fair Action for Interstate Recovery Vehicles on Truck Operating Weights Act

SMOKE Act – Stop Selling and Marketing to Our Kids E-Cigarettes Act

TALENT Act – To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation’s Teachers Act

IRRIGATE Act – Irrigation Rehabilitation and Renovation for Indian Tribal Governments and Their Economies Act

PREPARE Act – Preparedness and Risk Management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience and Effectiveness Act

GROW AMERICA Act – Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act

REINS Act – Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act

DRONES Act – Designating Requirements On Notification of Executive-ordered Strikes Act

ROADS SAFE Act – Research of Alcohol Detection Systems for Stopping Alcohol-Related Fatalities Everywhere Act

BRIDGE Act – Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment Act

BALTIMORE Act – Building and Lifting Trust In order to Multiply Opportunities and Racial Equality Act — from a another Maryland congressman, of course.

SOFTWARE Act – Sensible Oversight for Technology which Advances Regulatory Efficiency Act

GIRLS STEM Act – Getting Involved in Researching, Learning, and Studying of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Act

SPEAK FREE Act – Securing Participation, Engagement, and Knowledge Freedom by Reducing Egregious Efforts Act — sound like the opposite of the aforementioned bill.

EGO Act – Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting Act

Perhaps someone should introduce the END ACRONYM Act — End Needless Derivative Appellations for Contorted Regulations Offering Name-Yielding Memes Act.

 

Another effort being made to remove certain names

Jeff Davis Peak (National Park Service pix via Reno newspaper)

How many even knew there was a Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park? Let’s see a show of hands. That’s what I thought.

According to the park’s website, the monicker was first attached to what is now Wheeler Peak, the tallest point in the park and the second tallest in Nevada. It was given that name by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1855 while Jefferson Davis served as secretary of the War Department.

After the Civil War, in which Davis served as president of the Confederacy, an Army mapping expedition headed by Lt. George Montague Wheeler, named the peak for Wheeler and the Jeff Davis tag was shifted to shorter nearby peak.

In May the Reno newspaper reported that, even though statues of Confederate leaders were being torn down in New Orleans, there was no clamor to erase the Davis name from the 12,771-foot peak. The penultimate paragraph of the account stated, “By today’s standards Jeff Davis is an unlikely choice that appears out of step with contemporary naming practices. But modern standards don’t undo prior names which means, for the foreseeable future, the name of a Confederate president will maintain a place of honor in Nevada.”

Actually, such a mountain top name change took place a couple of years ago. After bearing the name of President William McKinley for 98 years, the tallest peak in North America in Alaska was renamed to it original native name Denali.

Today, the Las Vegas newspaper reports on the front page in a story that first appeared online four days ago that there are now a couple of bids to remove the Davis name. The newspaper said two applications have been filed with the state and national naming boards to eradicate the Davis name and replace it with some other name, perhaps one of its Indian names.

The paper reports that one name change application calls for renaming the peak for Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan. Another calls for naming the peak for Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who fought for the Union.

Apparently the Utes dubbed Wheeler Peak as Pe-up and Shoshones called it Too-bur-rit. Unclear what if anything Jeff Davis Peak was called.

The September meeting agenda for the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names lists an action item in which a peak in White Pine County would be named Smalls Peak. There is no mention as whether what it is currently called, if anything.

According to Dennis Cassinelli in a piece in the Elko Daily Free Press, political correctness has been whitewashing Nevada geographical names for years. Colorful names like Chicken Shit Springs and Squaw Tit Butte have disappeared from maps simply at the whim of squeamish government mapmakers.

What’s in a name? A peak by any other name is just as tall. History has not changed. Just forgotten, along with the lessons that should’ve been learned?

 

 

 

 

 

Dueling columnists could be entertaining, except …

Epithets at 10 paces. Turn and fire.

First, in the pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Wayne Allyn Root took issue with MGM’s CEO Jim Murren telling his employees that the firm would match any donations they decided to make to certain groups that he apparently identified as civil rights organizations. In a letter to employees Murren noted recent violence in Charlottesville and Barcelona and stated, “In the midst of this uncertainty, I want to affirm a clear-eyed, concrete view of the company in which you have chosen to invest your career, because on the question of human rights, MGM Resorts takes and unequivocal position: The protection of human dignity, demonstrated in the form of tolerance and respect for all people, is the core of our identity. We strive to create workplaces and entertainment spaces that are welcoming, open and respectful to all kinds of people, regardless of disability, age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious preference, gender identity or sexual orientation.” (His bold face and italics.)

He listed the groups for which the company would match donations as Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, ADL, Council on American Islamic Relations and others.

Root took issue with the doling out of shareholder funds to liberal groups in general but especially with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known for tossing out hate group labels like trinkets at a Mardi Gras parade, and the Council on American Islamic Relation, which has been pegged as the clean-faced front for Hamas.

Root blasted, “Jim Murren has gone too far. And he’s put MGM’s board, shareholders and employees in a terrible position because of his extreme, radical, reckless decisions” — without bothering to append the usual disclaimer about the newspaper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, being both a business competitor with MGM and frequent political opponent of Murren.

Today, the putative editor of the insert inside the Review-Journal filled that gap with a diatribe. Brian Greenspun said of Root’s Thursday missive:

That day, he went after one of Sheldon’s biggest, most forward-thinking and most responsible competitors in the gaming industry. It is exactly what the gaming industry feared might happen when the news — as secret as the Adelson family tried to keep it — broke that one of the GOP’s wealthiest donors had purchased one of the two largest newspapers in Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun is the other “largest” newspaper in Nevada.

I don’t know if Sheldon knows what Root writes from one day to the next, but he should be very careful about what his minions publish in and under his name. Root and publisher Craig Moon certainly know what would please Sheldon.

Not only are Adelson and Murren competitors on the Strip but also in Macau and perhaps in Japan in the future.

Adelson is a huge Republican donor, while Murren was a card-carrying Republican for Reid and a Hillary Clinton supporter.

A couple of years ago Adelson tore into MGM and Caesars for driving down the price of rooms on the Strip and costing his Sands corporation money. Adelson personally attacked Murren for supporting a convention center expansion, which competes with Adelson’s convention center, over a new football stadium.

But perhaps the funniest thing in Greenspun’s screed was this line:

Which reminds me of one of the first lessons in newspaper publishing I learned from my father, Hank Greenspun, many decades ago — publishers have profound responsibilities to the public interest and it must always be placed before personal interest.

Hank Greenspan was notorious for pulling his newspaper like a dueling pistol to attack business competitors and political foes and to support his friends. He was virulently critical of an FBI agent who conducted a sting on certain politicians and he conducted a campaign to discredit a competitor in the cable television business.

Greenspan concludes his spiel, “Come on, Review-Journal, publish your paper in the community interest. You and your owners should be better than this.”

A little dueling between newspaper columnists could be entertaining — if they both weren’t such clowns.

Prosecution continues to stretch out lengthy Bunkerville cases

Protesters outside courthouse in Las Vegas (R-J pix)

Speedy trial?

The prosecutors broke the 17 defendants in the Bunkerville standoff into three groups. Six would be tried in April and the others — including 71-year-old rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons — would be tried shortly thereafter.

But in April the jurors convicted only two of the six of any charges. Jurors told defense lawyers after the trial they never came close to convicting four defendants, voting 10-2 in favor of acquitting two and splitting on the others.

The government decided to retry those four and rejected Cliven Bundy’s bid to move up his trial, saying he would have to wait in jail until after the retrial. That retrial ended this week with two of the four being acquitted and the remaining two acquitted of all but a handful of lesser charges. All have been freed.

But the prosecutor has decided to retry for a third time the two for whom some charges remain unresolved, even though defense attorneys were told jurors at one point voted 11-1 for acquittal on all charges. The retrial of Scott Drexler and Eric Parker is scheduled for Sept. 25.

Meanwhile, 11 defendants remain in jail awaiting trial, even though two juries have largely voted against conviction of their co-defendants. This was even though in the latest trial the defense was handcuffed by the judge prohibiting any defense based on First and Second Amendment rights or excessive force by federal agents.

The 11 have been jailed for year and half. The further delays in their trials are due entirely to the prosecution being unable to convince jurors of guilt. So trials that could have started in May or June are again delayed?

The standoff occurred after heavily armed Bureau of Land Management agents attempted to confiscate Bundy’s cattle after he had refused for 20 years to pay grazing fees. Faced with armed protesters the agents eventually released the cattle. The 17 Bunkerville defendants were charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers.

Is it time to consider freeing the remaining defendants on bond?

How much is this prosecutorial intransigence costing taxpayers?

 

 

 

 

What now in Bunkerville standoff case?

Jury scorecard (R-J pix)

After having the defense stripped of the ability to argue about constitutional rights or to even mention possible excess force on the part of federal agents, the jurors in the Bunkerville standoff retrial still voted 11-1 Tuesday to acquit on all counts, defense attorneys told the morning newspaper after questioning those jurors.

Two defendants acquitted on all charges were freed immediately after a year and half in jail, but prosecutors are to decide today about whether to retry for a third time two men for which a single juror held out for conviction on a couple of lesser charges.

In April, the first of three scheduled trials for the 17 Bunkerville defendants — charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers — ended in a mistrial. The jury found only two of six people on trial guilty of some charges but deadlocked on the others. One of those has been sentenced to 68 years in prison.

What is the difference between walking free and 68 years in prison? The man sentenced to prison made the mistake of saying, “I was hell bent on killing federal agents that had turned their back on we the people,” to an undercover FBI agent who posed as a documentary filmmaker in order to interview him. What you say can and will be used against you.

The standoff occurred after heavily armed Bureau of Land Management agents attempted to confiscate Bundy’s cattle after he had refused for 20 years to pay grazing fees. Faced with armed protesters the agents eventually released the cattle.

Two more trials are pending, with Cliven Bundy and his four sons scheduled to be the last.

The judge in this retrial decided to bar the jurors from hearing certain so-called state of mind arguments — arguments that the defendants felt justified to show up and protest because of “perceived government misconduct” due to excessive use of force by law enforcement and that they were simply exercising their First and Second Amendment rights. She did not want them to engage in jury nullification.

The judge said the reasons the defendants went to Bunkerville were not relevant to the charges, but she allowed prosecutors to introduce testimony about the four men’s associations with militia groups.

What now?

What will it profit a man if the whole sun disappears?

All of the hubbub over the impending and, apparently potentially cataclysmic, solar eclipse is, frankly, beginning to wear a tad bit thin.

So, it is the moon and not a cloud that will briefly obscure a portion of the sun at midmorning. What possible use can that knowledge be? But it seems we mere mortals are such dolts that the newspapers, broadcasters and assorted social media must repeatedly warn us in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with exclamation points that glancing up to see what is going on could result in permanent blindness and addlepated apoplexy. We are assured the eclipse will not cripple the power grid which incorporates a modest percent of solar power. The only difference between an eclipse and a cloud is that the cloud is less predictable.

The solar eclipse viewing glasses are sold out. The passage to and hotels along the path of totality are booked. There is no way in which to put the knowledge to profitable use.

Knowledge can be a valuable thing. Mark Twain liked to put his knowledge to good use, even if it meant stretching his grasp of that knowledge and the fortuity of the proximity of certain events to convenient circumstances beyond credulity. Stretching serves to underscore the reality and make it memorable.

How else to explain how a gentleman, if we may stretch the definition of the term to cover the rascally Hank Morgan, from 1879 who inexplicably finds himself stranded in the year 528 A.D. in the middle of June could possibly possess the astronomical charts and prodigious power of recall to precisely conclude that a total eclipse of the sun would occur minutes after noon two days hence?

As in some of the most improbable cliffhangers ever concocted, Twain’s protagonist in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” pulls it off. Somehow Morgan managed to get himself in trouble with local authorities and was about to dearly pay the consequences.

Here are the pertinent passages:

As the soldiers assisted me across the court the stillness was so profound that if I had been blindfold I should have supposed I was in a solitude instead of walled in by four thousand people. There was not a movement perceptible in those masses of humanity; they were as rigid as stone images, and as pale; and dread sat upon every countenance.  This hush continued while I was being chained to the stake; it still continued while the fagots were carefully and tediously piled about my ankles, my knees, my thighs, my body.  Then there was a pause, and a deeper hush, if possible, and a man knelt down at my feet with a blazing torch; the multitude strained forward, gazing, and parting slightly from their seats without knowing it; the monk raised his hands above my head, and his eyes toward the blue sky, and began some words in Latin; in this attitude he droned on and on, a little while, and then stopped. I waited two or three moments; then looked up; he was standing there petrified.  With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky.  I followed their eyes, as sure as guns, there was my eclipse beginning!  The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man!  The rim of black spread slowly into the sun’s disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless.  I knew that this gaze would be turned upon me, next.  When it was, I was ready.  I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck, with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun.  It was a noble effect.  You could see the shudder sweep the mass like a wave. Two shouts rang out, one close upon the heels of the other:

“Apply the torch!”

“I forbid it!”

The one was from Merlin, the other from the king.  Merlin started from his place — to apply the torch himself, I judged.  I said:

“Stay where you are.  If any man moves — even the king — before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume him with lightnings!”

The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just expecting they would.  Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I was on pins and needles during that little while.  Then he sat down, and I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now. The king said:

“Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous matter, lest disaster follow.  It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but —”

“Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie?  It was a lie.”

That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere, and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply. He said:

“Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!”

My fortune was made.  I would have taken him up in a minute, but I couldn’t stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question.  So I asked time to consider.  The king said:

“How long — ah, how long, good sir?  Be merciful; look, it groweth darker, moment by moment.  Prithee how long?”

“Not long.  Half an hour — maybe an hour.”

There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn’t shorten up any, for I couldn’t remember how long a total eclipse lasts. [Someone who remembered the time and date of a sixth century solar eclipse does not know how long one lasts?]  I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think.  Something was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very unsettling. If this wasn’t the one I was after, how was I to tell whether this was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream?  Dear me, if I could only prove it was the latter!  Here was a glad new hope.  If the boy was right about the date, and this was surely the 20th, it wasn’t the sixth century.  I reached for the monk’s sleeve, in considerable excitement, and asked him what day of the month it was.

Hang him, he said it was the twenty-first !  It made me turn cold to hear him.  I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st.  So, that feather-headed boy had botched things again!  The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen that for myself, in the beginning, by the dial that was near by.  Yes, I was in King Arthur’s court, and I might as well make the most out of it I could.

The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and more distressed.  I now said:

“I have reflected, Sir King.  For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.  These are the terms, to wit:  You shall remain king over all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state.  If I can’t live on that, I sha’n’t ask anybody to give me a lift.  Is it satisfactory?”

There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst of it the king’s voice rose, saying:

“Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king’s right hand, is clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest step of the throne!  Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee.”

But I said:

“That a common man should be shamed before the world, is nothing; but it were dishonor to the king if any that saw his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his shame.  If I might ask that my clothes be brought again —”

“They are not meet,” the king broke in.  “Fetch raiment of another sort; clothe him like a prince!”

My idea worked.

Twain already used that plot twist. What is left? How to make a buck off this thing? By selling newspapers? Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Flinging blogs into the ether doesn’t quite have the same return on investment. Though perhaps these days the margins are considerably narrower.