In Vermont, a solution goes in search of a problem

south burlington scoreboard

In a nation of perpetually aggrieved there is diminishing room for reason.

Consider the “controversy” taking place in South Burlington, Vt.

For more than 50 years the South Burlington High School has used the “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before.

However, now there is a movement to do away with the moniker because “rebel” is said to be associated with the racist policies of the Confederacy, a former teacher at the school told the Burlington Free Press.

“It was unintentional, I’m sure, but it’s still connected to that,” said Bob Walsh, who taught at the school for 18 years. “I think it’s time for us to recognize the fact that this symbol is inappropriate and it’s time to change.”

Walsh’s comments came during an August school board meeting. He was the only member of the public to speak against the school’s nickname.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, board chairwoman, said when she grew up in the area and participated in events against South Burlington High, she never recalled any reference to the Rebels being affiliated with the Confederacy.

Julie Beatty, another school board member and a South Burlington High alum, said she never associated the “Rebels” nickname with the Confederacy during her time as a student, and said she doesn’t think students today associate it with the Confederate States of America.

The board decided to gather more public opinion before making a decision. Young said the topic will be open for public comment at the next board meeting, which will be held tomorrow.

What Walsh and others who advocate a break with the name “Rebels” seem to overlook is that not only did South Burlington split from Burlington, but Vermont itself was established by many individuals who were considered “rebels.”

Vermont was founded by Ethan Allen, Thomas Chittenden and others who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York,” according to historian Christian Fritz.

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

And, of course, rebellion was the dominant theme in the founding of the United States of America, with the Founding Fathers undoubtedly being seen as “rebels” by Great Britain.

(Top: Scoreboard at South Burlington (Vt.) High School, with nickname “Rebels” evident.)

Mussolini’s bid to recreate empire had fateful results for Italy


Of the three most infamous dictators from World War II, Benito Mussolini definitely takes a backseat to his more merciless fellow despots, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Mussolini, in fact, comes across like a bit of a buffoon, given his fateful decision to side with the Nazis, his nation’s performance during the conflict and his ultimate fate (captured trying to escape to Switzerland, executed by firing squad and then hung upside down in a town square where his body was pelted with stones by his fellow Italians).

Il Duce dreamed of recreating a Roman empire reminiscent of the great Caesars, to the point of enacting ancient laws totally out of step with the 20th century.

He went so far as to revive the Code of Diocletian, writes Rebecca West in her masterful 1941 work Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which recounts her travels through Yugoslavia in the late 1930s.

“(Mussolini) retrieved, whether from the half-comprehended talk of a clever comrade or by skimming a volume in the threepenny box outside the bookshop, the Code of Diocletian; and being either unaware or careless that Diocletian had perished of despair in his palace at Split, because he had failed to check the descent of ruin on the Roman earth, he enforced that Code on his country,” West writes. “This was a comical venture.”

She adds that Diocletian had “some excuse for seeking to stabilize by edict the institutions of an empire that had lasted for over a thousand years,” but it was idiotic for Mussolini “to attempt to fix the forms of a country that had been unified for less than a century and was deeply involved in a world economic system which was no older than the industrial revolution.”

Ultimately, Mussolini’s reign would be an even greater failure than Diocletian’s (284-305 AD).

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Local schools: If it’s inconvenient, then it’s not worth doing


Summer reading lists have been around for eons, it would seem. Until this year, that is, at least in my neck of the woods.

When my girls, who are going into the 10th, ninth, ninth and seventh grades, finished school last May they told me they didn’t have any required summer reading. Seeing how each of them independently told me the same story, and there was no information about summer reading on their respective schools’ websites, I was forced to accept this as truth.

However, as each had been given reading lists since at least the third grade previously, I found the change perplexing.

I told them, though, that they would be reading at least one book that I would pick out for them. My girls have varying levels of interest in reading: One is an avid bookworm and is never without something to peruse; another is a social butterfly and, while an excellent writer, would rather do just about anything than sit down and read.

The four start school tomorrow and over the summer between them managed to read 18 books. This, however, is not broken down evenly. One of my twins read nine books, including The Scarlet Letter, which I picked out for her. The youngest read six books, including Little Women, which was my choice. The oldest read two books – All Things Bright and Beautiful and Animal Farm – the first of which I chose because of her love of animals, and the second she chose because she thought it was about a farm (I didn’t disabuse her of that notion when she showed it to me initally). My other twin managed to get through one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I chose for her.

Obviously I would have preferred for the latter two to have spent more time reading and less time playing on their cell phones, but they only live with me part of the time so I’m glad they accomplished what they did.

What I found rather discouraging was the reason their schools didn’t assign reading lists, which I learned only this past weekend.

My three older girls were told at the end of last year that students weren’t being assigned summer reading “because kids won’t do it.” This was verified by another student who attends a different area school.

As an aside, my children are fortunate enough to attend classes in one of the best public school districts in South Carolina.

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Stupidity: A never-changing constant throughout history

southern 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotive

Among history’s reassuring staples is man’s ability to act like an idiot.

We’re not talking about odious acts or abhorrent misconduct – though there has been that aplenty over the millenia. I’m referring to the garden-variety foolishness that seems rampant today thanks to the Internet and social media. We may be better able to track today’s idiocy than in the past, but it’s unlikely the spirit behind such inanity is different from that of yesteryear.

Consider a story that appeared in the Spartanburg (SC) Herald in the late summer of 1939.

Under the headline “’Borrowed’ Locomotive Wrecks and Two Union Men Land in Jail Cells,” the paper detailed an incident in which a couple of (figurative) clowns went for a joyride on a 284,000-pound steam engine, with the locomotive ending up in a ravine in Union, SC.

The unnamed pair – it doesn’t mention just how liquored up they might have been – were walking across the Upstate South Carolina town at night looking for something to do when they noticed a Southern Railway locomotive sitting on a track at the rear of a water works plant.

One of the two decided he wanted to blow the train’s horn.

The duo climbed into the engine’s cab and pulled a lever, but instead of sounding the horn, the train, which likely had been left idling so that it would be ready to go the following morning, began moving backward.

The pair, unable to stop the locomotive, jumped from engine, which continued moving backward, picking up speed. It eventually travelled 600 yards to the end of the spur, near the old Union Mills warehouse.

It then left the tracks and plunged into an earthen embankment.

It took approximately 24 hours for railroad workers to get the engine up and back on the tracks.

The two men were confined to the hoosegow – one in the county jail, the other in the city jail – while Union police officers conferred with railway police to determine what charges to lodge against the duo.

They were eventually fined an undisclosed amount.

What may have helped lessen the severity of their penalty was that the incident took place on Aug. 31, 1939, and made the papers the following day. Attention was likely drawn away from the two knuckleheads shortly thereafter by events in Europe, as Nazi Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, officially initiating World War II.

(Top: A Southern Railway 2-8-2 locomotive, likely similar to what a pair of lugnuts inadvertently drove off the rails in the late summer of 1939 in Union, SC.)

Social media: It’s not just for the tech savvy anymore


The below may or may not have appeared in a British newspaper as a letter to the editor. I came across it on a local webpage,, that included a screenshot of the newspaper clipping from one Peter White of Derbyshire titled “My own social media,” which does give it a bit more credence.

Whatever the case, it’s good for a laugh:

SIR: I haven’t got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and am trying to make friends outside of Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles.

Every day, I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter and of me gardening and on holiday, spending time by the pool. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I ‘like’ them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me… whether it interests them or not.

And it works. I have already four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist.

Peter Brook, Holbrook, Derbyshire


The analogy was a bad one, not unlike a illogical comparison


The above seems plausible enough. I was once in high school and undoubtedly penned a number of bad analogies, though I also recall having considerable difficulty differentiating analogies, metaphors and similes from one another.

While most of my analogies were sports-related – “the sound his head made as it bounced off the pavement was a sharp thwack, resembling the tone of a Nolan Ryan fastball being fouled off by Reggie Jackson” – and many were substandard, they probably weren’t as cringe-worthy as the above.

But, of course, the Internet being the Internet, it turns out that the above analogies weren’t written by high school students but by readers of the Washington Post.

In July 1995 the Post ran a contest asking for outrageously bad analogies, according to the blog Socratic Mama. Readers were asked to write the most hideous prose they could imagine. The above is a selection of those submissions.

It wasn’t long before a sample of these were being gleefully passed around the web, attributed to high school students.

I suppose because nearly all of us were high school students at one time, and most of us have struggled with analogies – at least in practice if not theory – the idea that teens could come up with the above seems utterly plausible.

After all, high school students struggle with analogies in much the same way that a thirsty, yet dignified souse struggles not to break into a trot when he hears a beer truck has overturned just up the road.

To see the Post’s collection of reader-inspired bad analogies, click here.

How the tyranny of the petty minded can infect a society


Like most US states, South Carolina has elected some bad governors over the years. Pitchfork Ben Tillman, an avowed racist and demagogue who did a great deal to divide the state in the late 19th century, is currently getting some much-needed scrutiny, but one of his protegés, Cole Blease, never fails to amaze when his career is analyzed.

Blease was a self-proclaimed pro-lynching, anti-black education politician who was cut from the same cloth as Tillman. He was elected to the state’s highest office in 1910 through his ability “to play on race, religion and class prejudices,” appealing especially to South Carolina’s farmers and mill workers, according to Ernest Lander’s work, “A History of South Carolina 1865-1960.”

Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Ben Tillman, a noxious combination if there ever was one. Blease, for example, is said to have once buried the severed finger of a lynched black man in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden in Columbia.

He was not only doggedly political, but arrogant about it, as well.

In early February 1911, less than a month after taking office, Blease stated publicly that he wouldn’t appoint anyone but friends to public office if he could help it.

The matter came to a head after a judge elected in Richland County, where Columbia is located, did not qualify in time to take office immediately, and a short-term intermediary was needed.

The Richland County Bar Association endorsed Duncan J. Ray as a special judge, and Ira B. Jones, chief justice the SC Supreme Court, wrote the governor recommending and requesting the appointment of Ray, adding that this was “the course prescribed by the law, as the statute governing special judges says they shall be appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of Supreme Court,” according to an article in the Feb. 9, 1911, edition of the Bamberg Herald.

“However, the governor had already taken the bit in his teeth and appointed F.J. Caldwell, of Newberry, to preside, and when the Chief Justice wrote him recommending Mr. Ray, he replied that he would not appoint anybody but his friends to public office,” the paper added.

Blease made no apologies for injecting politics directly into the judiciary system.

“My friends,” he said, “are to receive some consideration from this administration. I do not expect to appoint my enemies to office upon the recommendation of anybody unless it be that I cannot find a friend who is competent and worthy of the position.”

The (Columbia) State newspaper, begun in 1891 as a response to Tillman and his politics, took Blease to task. Continue reading