Archive for the ‘courage’ Tag

Vulnerable Doesn’t Equal Victim   9 comments

August 5,2019

What is your writing Kryptonite?

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I LOVE this topic because it bumps up against a theme in my work in progress “What If … Wasn’t.” More about that in a few paragraphs.

On the surface, kryptonite is easy. It’s what makes Superman weak. But of course, there’s several different kinds of krytonite. All of them affect him in a negative way, but red kryptonite makes him feel strong as it also overwhelms his morality. Interestingly, green kryptonite is the anecdote – judiciously applied, of course. You don’t want to kill the superhero while attempting to save him.

“It’s your krytonite,” Ben observed.

Peter sipped coffee, frowning.

“Not unless it’s red kryptonite. I feel so strong and capable when I drink. I can fly and take on that dude from the Phantom Zone.”

“Colonel Zod.”

“Yeah. It’s a powerful feeling.” Peter smiled at the memories, and then shivered. “And then the consequences hit.” He looked haunted.

“Are the consequences your green kryptonite?”

“That’s where your metaphor breaks down, Ben. Green kryptonite only affects Superman. It doesn’t kill humans. Mine does.”

Peter’s self-hatred oozed from every word.

“I don’t have a future as a comic book writer, but — Peter, it seems to me you’ve learned to leave the red kryptonite alone. Five years sober! That’s odds defying, from what I’ve read. So why can’t you forgive yourself?”

Peter sighed, looking for answers in the bottom of his coffee mug.

“Maybe that’s my green kryptonite – shame. As long as I take a dose of it everyday, I leave the red alone.”

“Maybe, but I’d recommend you reduce the dose below lethal levels.” Peter rubbed the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable with the suggestion. “Isn’t there a happy medium between red kryptonite ego-maniac and green kryptonite self-hatred?”

Peter shrugged, then shook his head in self-mockery.

“If it exists, I wouldn’t recognize it if it bit me on the ass.”

The last of Ben’s anger at Peter dissolved like ice in the hot sun, scorched by Peter’s brutal self-assessment.

“Do you trust your friends enough to recognize it for you?”

“Do you trust me enough to be my friend again?”

For the first time, Peter made eye contact with Ben. Telling the truth was hard for him because it made him vulnerable and right this moment, Ben had never seen Peter more vulnerable. Shame wasn’t his only green kryptonite.

From “What If … Wasn’t.”

Krytonites exist all around us and I think we humans have a lot of individual kryptonites — that which makes us weak and those may be far less dangerous than that which makes us feel strong, but will also kill us. I could spend several novels exploring the various kryptonites that affect a whole range of characters.

So the question is, “What is my writing kryptonite?” and clearly I’ve recently given some thought to the kryptonite subject … but not so much as it relates to writing.

When I googled the topic of writer’s kryptonite, the first five articles said “distractions connected to the Internet” (e.i., research that becomes online shopping, social media, etc.) And I admit, I do get distracted that way sometimes. I start to do research and I answer a comment on Facebook and I get back to writing hours or days later and look what time I’ve wasted.

The sixth article mentioned worry about what people will think of your writing or the story you share. Yeah, that’s there too, but I’m a writer who hopes to be a bit subversive, so I recognize the desire to live in the good estimation of others as a green kryptonite and I’ve learned to recognize its effect and either move away from or overcome it in order to be a published author.

Too much creativity has been a kryptonite for me in 2019. Yeah … TOO MUCH creativity. I’ve started about six books, including choosing to develop “What If … Wasn’t” into a series, in the last eight months, interfering with my ability to write my primary project “Gathering In” (Book 5 of Transformation Project. (The manuscript just went to the beta readers yesterday. I’m only a month behind. It’ll be fine.) Creativity surge-tides are definitely a red kryptonite because I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of creative genesis. I’ve just had to force myself to concentrate where my focus needs to be. Book 6 (tentatively “Winter’s Reckoning”) may have a different schedule to accommodate my new projects. Sometimes kryptonite shows us where we need to adjust our course a little.

Transformation Project and “What If … Wasn’t” are teaching me that my true kryptonite is vulnerability. When we bare ourselves in our books, we risk ending up covered in goose flesh and embarrassment, which might be why too many people use fake vulnerability to garner attention as a victim rather than a purveyor of truths that should be revealed. Victimhood acts like fig leaves, leaving our vulnerability inadequately covered by the flimsiness of sympathy. Truth should always provide some nice leather garments to strengthen us in our weakness, so we can move beyond the pain and hopefully bring the reader to the point of empathy, which is so superior to sympathy.

The end of “Gathering In” is all about grieving and the next book will build on that by exploring the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. “What If … Wasn’t” is all about the consequences of bad decisions. At every creative turn, I am called to be vulnerable through my characters while I don’t naturally want to be vulnerable because I long ago decided that my life is not about being a victim. Yes, I’ve experienced pain. If I’m honest, I’ve experienced a lot of tragedy in my life. No, I am not a victim. I’m a survivor and survivors don’t ask for tea and sympathy. Overcoming tragedy has made us strong and we have developed scar tissue that makes us seem invulnerable. And yet, good novelists expose our vulnerability through our characters. We open up the scar tissue to reveal our innermost frailty and, if we have truly learned the lessons of adversity, we can show where strength comes from.

Whether in writing fiction or interacting with the people around us, when we are vulnerable, we give someone else a piece of our self, not knowing how it will be received or reciprocated. We’re opening a vein to another, hoping for appreciation or empathy in return as we reveal the tragic beauty of a beating heart — hoping our readers won’t run screaming in the other direction.

Some people will run screaming, by the way. The world is filled with shallow people who only want to interact with shallow ideas. How dare I ruin their apocalyptic fiction with feelings. My vulnerability through my characters risks them feeling vulnerable and entertaining thoughts they’d rather not have. But I’m banking that some people will thrill to the vulnerability of an “invulnerable” character like Shane, because it makes him human and if they stick around, they might get to see a phoenix rise —

IF I don’t kill him, because nobody is guaranteed to live through my apocalypse – well, except JT Delaney who has opened every book with thoughts on what went wrong and is clearly writing from the future. Who is this person? It’s a mystery. I’ll give you a free e-copy of “Gathering In” (when it publishes) if you can guess. Email me at if you want in on this guessing game.

And Peter of “What If … Wasn’t” — vulnerability is the only way he can move beyond the consequences of his past to reconnect to other human beings again. He doesn’t have strength to rely on. He’s vulnerable because he’s broken, but what he’s done means he can’t claim to be a victim. He’s not allowed to feel sorry for himself. He has to be a survivor because no one will ever forgive him if he claims to be a victim. Writing him in his vulnerable state is scary painful, but it also makes me feel wholly alive — invigorated by a kind of truthfulness that you just can’t convey without bleeding a little of your soul onto the page.

When we’re vulnerable with others, we create an imbalance in the relationship. We admit we struggle in some way, knowing that truthfulness might engender ridicule, fear or dislike of us or our characters. That imbalance, however, leads to connection and connection – that’s where novelists should live. We become more compassionate human beings when we share stories of pain and struggle. Not all people can be the creator of such stories, but if the writer shares with the reader, the reader reaps the benefits of our honesty.

But I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to get naked before my audience. I don’t want to shine a bright spotlight on the beauty and sorrow of my humanity. Like everyone else, I prefer to be invulnerable — the superhero of my own life — and many of my characters wish the same. I have to force vulnerability on them for the sake of the story, as other writers have forced it on their protagonists.

Consider these scenarios:

  • Without the potential for contact with kryptonite and the dilemma of juggling two identities, is there any conflict or tension to Superman’s story?
  • Without the looming possibility of Holden Caulfield’s suicide, would we care about his whiny school-trip diary?
  • Without Romeo’s often-blind passion, wouldn’t we just wince at his and Juliet’s inevitable teenage romantic train wreck?

Our characters must be compelled by a need or desire they are desperate to fulfill. That desperation, the willingness to risk everything, is vulnerability. Readers delight in character kryptonite. Journeying alongside a vulnerable character as they find their way toward peace and healing allows us to experience uncertainty and risk without having to abide it in real life. Writers really are doing the human race a solid by giving our readers the opportunity to experience vulnerability without the personal tragedy.

And, yet, being vulnerable is my real-life kryptonite, which means I must willingly expose myself to that which makes me feel weak in order to be a stronger writer.

Blinking Lights Hero Helps Save Liberty—Again! | Lawrence W. Reed   Leave a comment

Image result for image of Zofia RomaszewskaEarlier this week after days of mass protests in Poland, President Andrzej Duda vetoed two bills that would have severely compromised the independence of the country’s judiciary, particularly that of the Supreme Court. Duda’s own party had put the measures forth, making his surprising, courageous move all the sweeter for lovers of liberty in Poland. One of them who played a key role in it all is a remarkable woman I first met in 1986 named Sofia Romaszewski (Zofia Romaszewska in Polish).

Source: Blinking Lights Hero Helps Save Liberty—Again! | Lawrence W. Reed

“We asked them to blink their lights and when we then went to the window, all of Warsaw was blinking.”

All of Warsaw Was Blinking

For more than three decades I have shared with audiences around the world a story I first learned from Sofia and her late husband Zbigniew when I secretly spent an evening with them in communist Poland. The two had only recently been released from prison for having run an underground radio during martial law. Its message was anti-communist and pro-freedom. When I asked them in November 1986 how they knew if people were listening and supportive when they were broadcasting, Sofia said, “We asked them to blink their lights and when we then went to the window, all of Warsaw was blinking.”

You can read more about the famous “blinking lights” story here.

Sofia is now 76. Her husband Zbigniew became a member of the Polish parliament when the communists were swept from power in 1989 and served until his death in February 2014. Three friends and I visited them in a free Poland in 2003 and I’ll never forget the kindness they showed us at their summer cottage in the Tatra Mountains near Zakopane, seventeen years after my initial interview of them.

Eternal Vigilance

Sofia was a hero 35 years ago, and she’s a hero again today.

Referring to Sofia by name, the July 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal reported, “The laws, she said, would return Poland to an era when courts took orders from the ruling party, as they did under Communism.” She knows what she’s talking about, from personal experience. Sofia was a hero 35 years ago, and she’s a hero again today. You can see photos and video of her this week with President Duda herehere, and here.

One of several organizations in Poland that FEE collaborates with is a student group called KoLiber, and its president is a good friend, Mikolaj Pisarski. KoLiber was among the first pro-market private groups in the country to issue a statement in defense of the rule of law during the recent controversy that Sofia helped to resolve. By e-mail, Mikolaj offered this comment:

“As Aristotle famously stated in his Politics, “it is more proper that law should govern than anyone of the citizens.” Ironically the party revering “The Law” in its very name wanted to completely ignore this wise advice. The current set of bills “reforming” Common Courts, the National Council of the Judiciary of Poland and the Supreme Court would have effectively centralized all power within hands of the Minister of Justice (who in Polish case is also Prosecutor General).

He would have gained power not only to halt already running terms of office of appointed judges but also would be able to arbitrary nominate judges on all levels of the judiciary system: from Presidents of Common Courts all the way to Supreme Court judges. These proposed laws represented a serious threat to the Rule of Law.

We at KoLiber urged Parliament to reject the bills and then when they passed, we asked the President to veto them. Luckily the President, himself a lawyer and a former member of Law & Justice, mustered the courage to veto two out of the three bills, opening a path towards much needed systemic and thought-through reform of the Polish judiciary. We applaud the President’s vetoes and Zofia Romaszewska for her important role in making them happen!”

Thank you, Sofia, for your life commitment to speaking truth to power! Your courage, your heroism, remains a beacon for us all.

For other articles by Reed on Poland and Polish heroes, see:

Posted August 17, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Liberty, Uncategorized

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Courage of the Musher   Leave a comment

Banner CourageI took a couple of weeks off from the Courage posts because I was finishing a book, but I’m back.

Remember what I said about not really believing in heroes. I think people do heroic things amid their mundane or abusive lives. I don’t believe anyone is really a hero. But some people do some really heroic things for a short period of time.

Image result for image of seppalaThis is a shared post. I thought I was going to focus on Leonhard Seppala for this article, but then when I started my research, I remembered that there were a lot of heroes in the 1925 serum run to Nome, sometimes called the Great Race of Mercy. Seppala was indeed heroic, but he wasn’t the only one, and not all of the heroes were human.

Forget what you think you know about the Iditarod. Anchorage had nothing to do with it and the dog Balto wasn’t the star.

Nome lies approximately 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, out on the tip of the Seward Peninsula (the “nose” of Alaska). In 1925, it had shrunk from its gold-rush era population of about 20,000, but it was still the largest town in the northern half of Alaska. There were 455 Alaska Native residents and 975 settlers of European descent. From November to July, the port on the Bering Sea was icebound, inaccessible to steamships. The only link to the rest of the world during the winter was the Iditarod Trail, which ran 938 miles (1,510 km) from the port of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula in the south, across several mountain ranges and the vast Alaska Interior before reaching Nome. Dog sleds did the hauling of mail and needed supplies. Airplanes were still a decade away. Mail from the Lower 48 was transported 420 miles by train from Seward, which is icefree, to Nenana on the Tanana River, then transported 674 miles from Nenana to Nome by dog sled. It normally took 25 days.

Nome had 80,000 units of diphtheria antitoxin, but it had expired and the order to replace it had not arrived before the port closed. The last steamship of the year departed in December. The first case of diphtheria showed up only a few days later. It was originally misdiagnosed as tonsillitis, but by January 20, they knew it was diphtheria. Dr. Curtis Welch hesitated to use the expired antitoxin, but people were dying, so he injected a seven year old girl with the late stages of the disease with 6,000 units of antitoxin. It didn’t work.

Image result for image of seppalaWelch called the mayor and the town council into emergency session and announced he needed at least one million units to stave off an epidemic. The town entered quarantine while Welch radioed all the major towns in Alaska, pleading for assistance.

There were about 10,000 people living in the greater Nome area and the mortality rate was expected to be close to 100% without the antitoxin. A previous Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918 had wiped out 50% of the Native population of Nome. Natives lacked resistance to the disease.


Mark Summers of the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields proposed a dogsled relay. Summer’s employee Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian, had previously make the usually 30-day run from Nulato to Nome in four days, but given the winter conditions, it was thought it would take nine days. The doctor calculated the antitoxin would last only six days under the brutal trail conditions. The mayor proposed flying the antitoxin by aircraft. The previous year, Carl Eielson had flown a DeHavilland DH4 from Fairbanks to McGrath in the winter, but it was considered highly dangerous and there were no pilots available to fly the available aircraft from Fairbanks. And, thus the relay began.

Image result for map of the route of the nome serum run

I don’t know if I can explain Alaska winter to you. In January  there are only a few hours of daylight a day and the sun gets about a thumb’s thickness above the horizon. The cold — wow, the cold. Step into a walkin freezer and stand there for 20 minutes. You get an inkling of how cold it is. Imagine facing that for days on end, standing on the runners of a dogsled facing into a high wind with blowing snow.

The US Public Health Service located 1.1 million units of serum in West Coast hospitals, shipped it to Seattle and put it on a steamship. It too a week to reach Seward. Meanwhile, the Anchorage Railroad Hospital discovered 300,000 forgotten units. They wrapped them in quilts, stowed them in a metallic cylinder and train bound for Nenana. It wasn’t sufficient to beat the epidemic, but 300,000 units would hold it at bay until the large shipment arrived.



The temperatures across the Interior were at 20-year lows due to a high pressure system from the Arctic. Fairbanks thermometers read −50 °F (−46 °C). A second system was burying the Panhandle (what we now call Southeast) with 25 mph (40 km/h) winds sweeping snow into 10-foot (3.05 m) drifts. Travel by sea was hazardous, and across the Interior most forms of transportation shut down.

While the first batch of serum was traveling to Nenana, Governor Bone gave final authorization to the dog relay, but ordered Edward Wetzler, the U.S. Post Office inspector, to arrange a relay of the best drivers and dogs across the Interior. The teams would travel day and night until they handed off the package to Seppala at Nulato.


The mail route from Nenana to Nome spanned 674 miles (1,085 km) in total. It crossed the barren Alaska Interior, following the Tanana River for 137 miles (220 km) to the village Tanana at the  confluence with the Yukon River, and then followed the Yukon for 230 miles (370 km) to Kaltag. The route then passed west 90 miles (140 km) over the Kaltag Portage to Unalakleet on Norton Sound. The final part of the route (and the only part that the modern race uses) continued for 208 miles (335 km) northwest around the southern shore of the Seward Peninsula with no protection from gales and blizzards, including a 42 miles (68 km) stretch across the shifting ice of the Bering Sea.

Wetzler contacted Tom Parson, an agent of the Northern Commercial Company, which contracted to deliver mail between Fairbanks and Unalakleet. Telephone and telegrams called the drivers back to their assigned roadhouses. Mail carriers held a revered position in the territory. They were typically the best dog mushers in Alaska. The majority of relay drivers across the Interior were native Athabaskans. In other words, these were men who knew that if the diphtheria spread, their families were the most at risk.

“Wild Bill” Shannon was the first musher to take the 20 pounds package at the train station in Nenana on January 27 at 9:00 PM AKST. Despite a temperature of −50 °F (−46 °C), Shannon left immediately with his team of 11 inexperienced dogs, led by Blackie. The temperature began to drop, and the team was forced onto the colder ice of the river because the trail had been destroyed by horses. Despite jogging alongside the sled to keep warm, Shannon developed hypothermia. He reached Minto at 3 AM, with parts of his face black from frostbiteThe temperature was −62 °F (−52 °C). After warming the serum by the fire and resting for four hours, Shannon dropped three dogs and left with the remaining eight. The three dropped dogs died and a fourth died later.

Half-Athabaskan Edgar Kalland arrived in Minto the night before, and was sent back to Tolovana, traveling 70 mi (110 km) the day before the relay. Shannon and his team arrived in bad shape at 11 AM, and handed over the serum. After warming the serum in the roadhouse, Kalland headed into the forest. The temperature had risen to −56 °F (−49 °C). According to the owner of the Manley Hot Springs roadhouse, they had to pour water over Kallands’ hands to get them off the sled’s handlebar when he arrived at 4 PM.


As deaths mounted and various schemes for flying the antitoxin into Nome were considered and rejected, Governor Bone decided to speed up the relay and authorized additional drivers for Seppala’s leg of the relay, so they could travel without rest. Seppala was still scheduled to cover the most dangerous leg, the shortcut across Norton , but because of the primative communications network of the day, they couldn’t get word to Seppala. They had to hope the drive from the north would catch Seppala on the trail. Summers arranged for drivers along the last leg, including Seppala’s colleague Gunnar Kaasen.

From Manley Hot Springs, the serum passed through largely anonymous Athabascan hands before George Nollner delivered it to Charlie Evans at Bishop Mountain on January 30 at 3 AM. The temperature had warmed slightly, but at −62 °F (−52 °C) was dropping again. Evans relied on his lead dogs when he passed through ice fog where the Koyukuk River had broken through in overflow, but failed to protect the bellies of his two short-haired mixed breed lead dogs with rabbit skins. Both dogs collapsed with frostbite. Evans threw the dogs in the sled and took the harness himself. He arrived in Kaltag at 10 AM  with two dead dogs. Tommy Patsy departed within half an hour.

The serum then crossed the Kaltag Portage in the hands of Jack Nicolai and Victor Anagick, who handed it to Myles Gonangnan on the shores at Unalakleet on January 31 at 5 AM. Gonangnan saw a storm brewing, and decided not to take the shortcut across the dangerous ice of the Sound. He departed at 5:30 AM in a white-out (that’s a blizzard with almost zero visibility. Conditions cleared as he reached the shore, and the gale-force winds drove the wind chill to −70 °F (−57 °C). At 3 PM he arrived at Shaktoolik. Seppala was not there, but Henry Ivanoff was waiting just in case.

By this time, 27 people were sick with diphtheria and Dr. Welch hoped to see the serum by February.

To reach the handoff point for his leg of the relay, Leonhard Seppala, his lead dog Togo and the rest of the team traveled 91 miles from Nome on January 27 to Shaktoolik by January 31. They took the shortcut directly across Norton Sound. When they left Nome it was a balmy −20 °F (−29 °C), but in Shaktoolik the temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C), and gale force winds caused a wind chill of −85 °F (−65 °C). Togo, a middle-aged dog of 12, ran 350 miles. He would never run again.

Henry Ivanoff’s team ran into a reindeer and got tangled up just outside Shaktoolik. Seppala still believed he had more than 100 miles (160 km) to go and was racing to get off the Norton Sound before the storm hit. He was passing the team when Ivanoff shouted, “The serum! The serum! I have it here!”

With the news of the worsening epidemic, Seppala decided to brave the storm and once again set out across the exposed open ice of the Norton Sound when he reached Ungalik, after dark. The temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C) with a wind chill of -85. Seppala had to rely on his lead dog to find the way because the dark and the wind-blown snow cut his own visibility to zero. Togo led the team in a straight line through the dark, and they arrived at the roadhouse in Isaac’s Point on the other side at 8 PM. In one day, they had traveled 84 mi (135 km), averaging 8 mph (13 km/h). The team rested, and departed at 2 AM into the full power of the storm.

During the night the temperature dropped to −40 °F (−40 °C), and the wind increased to storm force (at least 65 mph (105 km/h). To gain time, the team ran across the ice parallel to the shoreline. Seppala knew he was risking the storm breaking up the ice and sending them all to the bottom of the Sound, but he also knew time was of the essence. They returned to shore to cross Little McKinley Mountain, climbing 5,000 feet (1,500 m). After descending to the next roadhouse in Golovin, Seppala passed the serum to Charlie Olsen on February 1 at 3 PM.

On February 1, the number of cases in Nome rose to 28. The serum en route was sufficient to treat 30 people. With the powerful blizzard raging and winds of 80 mph (130 km/h), Welch ordered a stop to the relay until the storm passed, reasoning that a delay was better than the risk of losing it all. Messages were left at Solomon and Point Safety before the lines went dead.

Safety is called safety because it is the last “safe” point before a grueling crossing of the Norton Sound. Charlie Olsen was blown off the trail, and suffered severe frostbite in his hands while putting blankets on his dogs. The wind chill was −70 °F (−57 °C). He arrived at Bluff on February 1 at 7 PM in poor shape. Gunnar Kaasen, who became famous as the owner of Balto (supposedly his lead dog), waited until 10 PM for the storm to break, but it only got worse and the drifts would soon block the trail so he departed into a headwind.

Kaasen traveled through the night, through drifts, and river overflow over the 600-foot (183 m) Topkok Mountain. Balto led the team through visibility so poor that Kaasen could not always see the wheel dogs, those harnessed closest to the sled. He was two miles (3 km) past Solomon before he realized it, and kept going. The winds after Solomon were so severe that his sled flipped over and he almost lost the cylinder containing the serum when it fell off and became buried in the snow. He acquired frostbite when he had to use his bare hands to feel for the cylinder.

Kaasen reached Point Safety ahead of schedule on February 2, at 3 AM. Ed Rohn believed that Kaasen and the relay was halted at Solomon, so he was sleeping. The weather was improving. Kaasen’s dogs were moving well and he reasoned it would take time to prepare Rohn’s team, so he pressed on the remaining 25 miles (40 km) to Nome, reaching Front Street at 5:30 AM. Not a single ampule was broken, and the antitoxin was thawed and ready by noon.

Together, the teams covered the 674 miles (1,085 km) in 127 and a half hours, which was considered a world record, incredibly done in extreme subzero temperatures in blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds. Men were severely tested and a number of dogs died during the trip.

But the crisis and the relay wasn’t over. Diphtheria showed up in Solomon and it was decided to bring the antitoxin ordered from the Lower 48 by the same route. Many of the same dog drivers and dog teams participated in this second relay.

Seppala, Kasaan and Shannon received lavish attention for their part in the run while the media ignored the Athabaskan and Alaska Native mushers who covered two-thirds of the relay distance. Edgar Kalland dismissed it with typical Native understatement. “It was just an everyday occurrence as far as we were concerned.”


An Author’s Courage   3 comments

Banner CourageI posted something about Ray Bradbury yesterday because I was working on this post on his courage.What do I find courageous about him? Well, allow me to quote the author’s own words, found at the end of my copy of Fahrenheit 451. Here in the “Coda” Ray Bradbury gave some final thoughts on the implied message of the book, but more, he talks broadly about media manipulation.

About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I “do them over”?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped.

Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story “The Fog Horn” in a high school reader.

In my story, I had described a lighthouse as having, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a “God-Light.” Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in “the Presence.”

The editors had deleted “God-Light” and “in the Presence.”

How did I react to all of the above?

By “firing” the whole lot.

By sending rejection slips to each and every one.

By ticketing the assembly of idiots to the far reaches of hell.

The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book [emphasis added]. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blancmange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described howthe books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever [emphasis added].

I sent a play, Leviathan 99, off to a university theater a month ago. My play is based on the “Moby Dick” mythology, dedicated to Melville, and concerns a rocket crew and a blind space captain who venture forth to encounter a Great White Comet and destroy the destroyer. My drama premieres as an opera in Paris this autumn. But, for now, the university wrote back that they hardly dared to do my play–it had no women in it! And the ERA ladies on campus would descend with ball-bats if the drama department even tried!

Grinding my bicuspids into powder, I suggested that would mean, from now on, no more productions of Boys in the Band (no women), or The Women (no men). Or, counting heads, male and female, a good lot of Shakespeare that would never be seen again, especially if you count lines and find that all the good stuff went to the males!

For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan, or dolphin, nuclear-head or water-conservationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics. The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws. But the tip of the nose of my book or stories or poems is where their rights end and my territorial imperatives begin, run and rule. If Mormons do not like my plays, let them write their own. If the Irish hate my Dublin stories, let them rent type-writers. If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mush milk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture. If the Chicano intellectuals wish to re-cut my “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” so it shapes “Zoot,” may the belt unravel and the pants fall.

For, let’s face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer–he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings variety and forbids the appetite to fall.

In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset, I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.

–Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. “Coda.” 1979.

Ray Bradbury’s point is quite clear. We should not censor the words, opinions or perceptions of others. We are all entitled, or should be entitled, to voice our interpretation of a matter without being persecuted. I can respect and admire an appropriate rebuttal or disagreement. Minority or not, we should not think ourselves so disadvantaged or disgraced by the words of another that we think it our right to get offended at the opinion of another. It’s foolish to hear an insult when the speaker or writer did not intend an insult.

Although Ray Bradbury limited his argument to printed press, I expand that thought to all communication. In today’s world we are required to tread carefully and lightly with our words. We cannot walk about giving our opinion freely–especially about matters of race, gender or sexual orientation–without anticipating an assault from of an enraged group of offended individuals. “Don’t talk about religion, politics or any topic where my feelings might be hurt.” Seriously? Are we that delicate? Surely we can control our tempers and appreciate an opinion or expressed point of view even if we don’t agree?

I am not advocating the abuse or disenfranchisement of any group of people or of any right. I am not defending prejudice in any of its many forms. I decry censorship and prejudice. Discrimination is not necessarily prejudice or inherently bad, and yet some form of prejudice often comes to mind when we talk about discriminating, notably racial discrimination. Discrimination can be defined as simply discerning between two things. ‘Discriminating against’ is different from ‘discriminating,’ ‘discriminating between’ or ‘discriminating among’.

There is very often a time and a place and an audience for certain words and topics. Let us use discretion and wisdom in when and where. We should not, however, be afraid to voice our opinions even when they are unpopular. We should not have to expect to receive a barrage of angry and sometimes foul words from any opposing party. We can expect challenge to our views and we should respond passionately, with respect for those who disagree.

Some may think that my convictions are unique to the color of my skin or my favorite sports team, my religious background or my sex, my preferred political candidate or some other affiliation. Though they discriminate on these grounds, which is no crime, I echo the those same convictions of those who identify with different races, religions, genders, political parties and philosophies in general.

Do not censor me in my opinions. Do not censor my freedom of expression. What is it that you fear so much that you find it necessary to try and hush or alter every word and opinion that is not in accordance with your own?

Alas, I expect the successful of censorship on behalf of the easily-insulted will continue under the guise of “for our own good”.. I encourage a different approach. Stand up for your beliefs in a civil and dignified matter. Do not proclaim tolerance while working to institutionalize intolerance against those with whom you disagree.

I welcome thought provoking comments.

Courage of the Music Minister   Leave a comment

“I repent of ever having recorded one single song and ever having performed one concert if my music, and more importantly —  my life — has not provoked you into godly jealousy, or to sell out more completely to Jesus!”

Keith Green


straightonI became a Christian (spring 1977) as the Christian Contemporary music genre was in its infancy. There was one Christian radio station in Fairbanks and they played really old country-twang gospel. Some of my friends had tapes they had brought from the Lower 48, but there was a lot of low-production quality and praise band tapes.

Keith Green was my first Christian musician because he gave away one tape for every tape he sold and that caused the Christian bookstore here in Fairbanks to carry his music. Green was much more of a minister than he was a musician and that made all the difference.

The following is taken from the Last Days Ministry website with some editing by me.

Born in New York near Brooklyn, Keith came from a musical family. His mom had been a singer with the Big Bands, his dad a schoolteacher. Before he was two his mom said Keith had perfect pitch as he sang his baby songs. A year later his family moved to CA and settled into the newly developed orchards of the San Fernando Valley, just a short drive to Hollywood, which would play a significant role in Keith’s future.

Keith’s parents made sure he learned how to play guitar and piano at a young age. He liked piano best, but got bored playing the long classical pieces.  So instead of learning to read sheet music, he’d memorize each piece, then pretend to be site reading when his teacher was there. But his grandfather, who started Jaguar Records, the first rock and roll label, taught Keith how to play chords on the piano… and it was the end of classical music for him. From that moment on Keith began writing and singing his own songs. He was only 6 years old at the time.

When he was 11 Keith signed a recording contract with Decca Records, singing his own songs. Although his pictures were in the teen magazines and his single had some minor success, the industry didn’t know how to market with such a young artist. Keith was very disappointed and at 14, felt like a total failure, a ‘has been’ which was very difficult for someone who had  been groomed all his life to be a pop star.

Keith was 15 the first time he ran away from home. He started a journal that very day and for years as he looked for musical adventure and spiritual truth, then recorded his journey. Keith had a Jewish background, but he grew up reading the New Testament because his father was Christian Science. He called it “a confusing combination” that left  him deeply unsatisfied. His journey led him to drugs, Eastern mysticism, and free love.

When Keith was 19 he met a fellow seeker/musician named Melody. They became inseparable and got married a year later — now he had a partner as his spiritual quest continued. Frustrated by not finding answers and nearly giving up hope, Keith was 21 when he found the truth he had been looking for.

KGPhotos-4Keith had grown up reading about Jesus in the Bible, but was confused when he figured out he was Jewish, a fact his family had hidden from him. But now what once confused him made sense as Keith proudly told the world, “I’m a Jewish Christian.” A few days later, Melody joined him in this belief and they immediately opened their home to anyone with a need. Anyone who wanted to kick drugs or get off the street was welcome.  Of course, they always heard plenty about Jesus at what fondly became known as “The Greenhouse.”

Not only did Keith’s life take a radical turn, but by then he was a highly skilled  musician and songwriter, a staff writer for CBS (which funded the ministry for some time). All of his songs changed with his salvation. His quest for stardom ended and his songs reflected the absolute thrill of finding Jesus and seeing his own life radically changed. Keith’s spiritual intensity not only took him beyond most people’s comfort zones, but it constantly drove him even beyond his own places of content.

Somewhat reluctantly, Keith was thrust into a “John the Baptist” type ministry — calling believers to wake up, repent, and live a life that looked like what they said they believed. Keith felt he would have met Jesus sooner if not for Christians who led double lives. He made audiences squirm by saying, “If you praise and worship Jesus with your mouth, and your life does not praise and worship him, there’s something wrong!”

I remember squirming listening to some of his tapes, driven to mature in Christ in ways that were not wholly comfortable.

The radical commitment Keith preached was also the kind of faith he wanted  his own life to display. About Jesus Keith said, “Loving Him is to be our cause. He can take care of a lot of other causes without us, but He can’t make us love Him with all our heart. That’s the work we must do.  Anything else is an imitation.”

Keith’s songs were often birthed during his own spiritual struggles. When he pointed his finger at hypocrisy, he knew he had four fingers pointing back at himself.  He penned honest and vulnerable lyrics—but left room for God to convict the rest of us too. He knew the journey to heaven often twists through rocky valleys, and saw no value in portraying his journey as otherwise.

With Keith’s honesty, he would have chafed against a glossed-over reading of his own life. After all, Keith was in the spotlight as he grew in Jesus. So when he made mistakes, he would talk about them to portray his life honestly.  He believed we miss something essential when we overlook the frailty and humanity of others as well as ourselves. He knew he was far from perfect, but he passionately hungered and thirsted after righteousness.

Keith was constantly praying, asking the Holy Spirit to,  “Please change my heart, and convict me of my sin.” And when he was convicted, he took action.  If he needed to repent, he repented.  If he needed to phone someone to ask forgiveness, he made the call.

Keith’s views on many subjects were often controversial -– especially when it came to charging for his ministry. With his albums at the top of industry charts.  Keith decided to give his albums away for whatever people could afford, even for free. Keith’s heart was to make sure those who could not afford to buy his music could get it.  Since Keith and Melody felt their songs were musical ministry messages and they did not want anyone left out due to lack of funds.  At last count at least 15 years ago over 200,000 albums were sent into prisons and to the poor, without charge.

The same issue arose with Keith’s concerts, which he felt were nights of ministry. After a few years of trying different ways of funding his concerts there was just one idea that gave him peace. He decided his concerts would be free so anyone who wanted could come. The ministry would rent a hall or stadium and Keith took one offering for LDM to help cover the expenses. He and Melody did not receive any of the offerings because they were able to support themselves with their music royalties.

Doing free concerts along with Keith’s new album policy were moves that sent shock waves through the Christian music industry, causing some record labels, bookstores, or other artists to question his motives. Some thought he wanted to undercut the system and make others look bad. But that wasn’t his heart at all and in the end it was understood he was just following his convictions.

The Lord had taken Keith from concerts of 20 or less — to stadiums of 12,000 people.  At his concerts Keith always gave an altar call and led thousands upon thousands to the Lord, and just as many firmly recommitted their lives fully to serve the Lord.

Keith began to appear on many television and radio programs. He talked about his walk with God and played a song or two. But his heart was to please the Lord. His childhood dream of becoming a super star had been cleansed from his heart years before with something better – being a servant of God.

 Keith said, ”I only want to build God’s Kingdom and see it increase, not my own. If someone writes a great poem no one praises the pencil they used, they praise the one who created the poem.  Well, I’m just a pencil in the hands of the Lord.  Don’t praise me, praise Him!”

For Keith, meeting Jesus was one thing. Becoming more like Him was another. He struggled with the same things we all do – developing self discipline, deadlines, bad attitudes, selfishness, and ministry issues screaming for attention. He was also trying to disciple the 70 new believers who had come to be part of LDM, which by now had moved to East Texas. Besides all this, Keith still had music to write, articles to finish, and a growing family and wife to take care of.

After striving for years to measure up to God’s holiness, at times even questioning his own salvation, Keith came into a deeper understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross — both to forgive his sins, and to clothe him in His righteousness. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of his chest.

It wasn’t that Keith became less concerned with purity and holiness.But now he was more motivated by love and less by fear in His pursuit of Jesus.He learned so much more about God’s grace and the importance of pausing simply to behold His glory and enjoy His presence. That is perhaps, what Keith loved most.

In 1982 Keith and Melody took a trip to Europe, including Greece and the UK, and their hearts were stirred.. especially when they visited the ministry in the Red Light district of Amsterdam where the open drug use and the lack of thriving churches was so evidence.  Kith asked every leader what we could do, they all said, “Please tell people we need them to come help us.”

So Keith decided that at his 1982 Fall Tour he would challenge the Christians in America to get out of their comfort zones, and into the world to reach the hurting. In the last few months of his life, with his heart turned back to winning souls, LDM booked large arenas for the Fall Tour, Melody wrote some missions songs, and YWAM founder Loren Cunningham was going to come to talk about the needs in the world, and give an missions altar call.

Keith’s heart had fully turned back to those who probably wouldn’t show up at a concert or a church. Keith wanted to go back out into the streets and into the prisons the way he and Melody did as new believers. He wanted to go to the mission fields of the nations, and into secular clubs to reach people with his music.

It was not to be.

On July 28, 1982, a small plane crash took Keith home to be with Jesus. The crash also took the lives of his three-year-old son, Josiah, and his two year old daughter, Bethany. Melody was home with their one year old, Rebekah, and six-weeks pregnant with their fourth child, Rachel. Keith was only 28 years old.

Although Keith is now with Jesus, his life and ministry are still making a huge impact around the world. His songs and passionate delivery are still changing lives. His writings are translated into many languages. Keith once said, “When I die I just want to be remembered as a Christian.” It’s safe to say he reached his goal, and perhaps, a bit more.

Keith Green was simply a man of conviction. When his convictions led him to an eternally worthy object in the person of Jesus he sold all that he had—ambitions, possessions, and dreams—to possess His love. In so doing he became a man of devotion. He also became a man remembered, and still missed, by millions around the world.

 “The only music minister to whom the Lord will say, ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant,’ is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying… And to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only Worthy One has to be a minister’s most important goal!”

While we were berry-picking this last week, Brad started singing “I Only Want to See Your There,” which Keith Green wrote for his parents, but Brad and I could apply to many of our family members. We often sing in the berry patch to let the bears know we’re there, but why Brad would choose a song that he hadn’t heard in several years, but I think it was a God thing. I needed a “hero” to write about and I was stuck until I heard the song.

I need to say these things ’cause
I love you so
And I’m sorry you get angry when I say that
You just don’t know

That there’s a heaven waiting
For you and me
I know it seems every time we talk
I’m only tryin’ to just make you see

And it’s only that I care
I really only want
Just to see you there

Please try and overlook my
My human side
I know I’m such a bad example
And you know I’m so full of pride

But Jesus isn’t like that
No He’s perfect all the way
I guess that’s why we need Him
Cause by ourselves, there’s just no way

And it’s only that I care
I really, really only want to see you there
Just to see you there

Close the doors
They’re just not comin’
We sent the invitations out long, long, long, long time ago
We’re still gonna have a wedding feast
Big enough to beat them all
The greatest people in the world just wouldn’t come
So now we’ll just have to invite the small

And it’s only that I care
I really, really only want
Just to see you there

Isn’t that Jesus?
Isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s son?
Well, did He grow up right here?
He played with our children

What! He must be kidding
Thinks He’s a prophet
Well, prophets don’t grow up from little boys
Do they? From little boys?
Do they?

Written by Keith Gordon Green • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
It takes a lot of courage to launch out into ministry, especially in a field where your colleagues are making huge amounts of money singing “Jesus” songs. I’m not saying that Christians are wrong to make money — even a lot of money — but that Keith Green was brave to choose not to do that and to instead use his music as a springboard for ministry.

Anti War Hero   2 comments

When you hear the term war hero you usually picture battlefield bravery — charging enemy lines in the face of incoming fire, risking one’s life to save the lives of friends, enduring painful injuries without complaint — but I’m not that enamored with those who go to war, so I sought a war hero who stuck his neck out to oppose the very war in which he fought.

If we more readily associated heroism in war with the courageous resistance to our government’s aggression, the world’s nations might shed far less innocent blood.

Siegfried Sassoon was both a war hero and anti-war hero.

Sassoon was the son of an English Catholic mother and a Jewish father from Baghdad. From an early age, he showed both literary and artistic talent. His last name means “joy” in Hebrew. His mother named him “Siegfried” because of her love of Richard Wagner’s operas. Otherwise, Siegfried’s only connection to Germany was his service to Britain in the tragically misnamed “war to end all wars”, the one that laughably made the world “safe for democracy.”

Most of us have very little understanding of World War I. We take history courses that fail to explain why there was so much unimaginable slaughter and devastation. Truthfully, few adventures in history were more absurd in origin, outrageous in duration and counterproductive in their outcomes as World War I.

When the world stumbled into war, Sassoon was a 27-year-old carefree novelist and avid cricket player. Not waiting to be drafted, he patriotically joined the British Army and was already in service with the Sussex Imperial Yeomanry on August 4 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. He was commissioned with the Royal Welch Fusiliers as a second lieutenant in May 1915. November of 1915 Sassoon’s brother was killed in the Gallipoli disaster, and, days later, Siegfried himself was sent to the front lines in France.

Almost immediately, he inspired the deepest confidence of the men serving under him. On bombing patrols and night raids, he demonstrated stunning efficiency as a company commander. He single-handedly stormed an enemy trench and scattered 60 German soldiers. Nicknamed Mad Jack by his men for his near-suicidal courage, he was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry…. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination all of the killed and wounded were brought in.”

One of every eight British men who served on the western front in World War I died in the trenches or in the ghastly death zones that separated them. Casualties, which included the wounded and the killed, totaled a staggering 56%.

The reality of machine gun warfare in the endless gridlock of trench warfare makes it impossible for us to truly grasp it, but Sassoon, having witnessed it first hand, made an attempt to describe it in vivid poetry.

A supreme irony of the Great War’s carnage was the emergence of magnificent British war poetry, of which Sassoon was one of the best. These were warriors who had come face-to-face with their own mortality, had their innocence obliterated, seen life squandered, witnessed the death of close friends, the failure of modernity, and the nightmarish inferno of combat. The more he experienced the agonies of those around him, the more he questioned the purpose and sanity of the enterprise. Agog at the astonishing rate of servicemen taking their own lives, Sassoon wrote “Suicide in the Trenches,” one of his many poems focusing on the conflict:

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.


Three years into the war, Sassoon had had enough. “In war-time,” he wrote, “the word patriotism means suppression of truth.” After a period of convalescence from war wounds, he declined to return to duty and threw his Military Cross medal into the river Mersey. His conscience compelled him to write this letter to his commanding officer in July 1917:

I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defense and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

“I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realize.  — Siegfried Sassoon

Before the month was out, Sassoon’s letter became a sensation across Britain. A sympathetic member of the House of Commons read it aloud and The London Times printed it the next day.

The country’s military and political hierarchy debated how to respond. Sassoon might have been court-martialed and executed, but his reputation both in print and on the battlefield pushed the authorities to decide he was mentally ill, deranged “shell shock”. They sent him for treatment to Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh, Scotland.

At Craiglockhart, W.H.R. Rivers, the psychiatrist and officer attending to Sassoon, was quickly convinced that this principled young man was in full possession of his faculties. While hospitalized, Sassoon befriended Wilfred Owen, another war poet also remanded to Craiglockhart for “shell shock”. Upon his return to the battlefield a few months later, Owen would be killed on the eve of the war’s end.

Unable to prove that anything was physically or mentally wrong with Sassoon, the British military underwent a change of heart. They released him from Craiglockhart and even promoted him to lieutenant. In July 1918, in spite of all that he had endured, Sassoon volunteered to return to the Western front. He hadn’t changed his mind about the war; he simply couldn’t stand the thought of not being of assistance to the men in the trenches.

Within days of returning to battle, Sassoon was wounded in the head by a fellow British soldier who mistook him for the enemy. He recovered, but it was that “friendly fire” that took him permanently off the front. The war itself finally ground to bloody halt four months later with a death toll of more than 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians.

Siegfried Sassoon lived another half century, earning his living as a poet, editor, novelist, and public lecturer. He married and fathered a son. His politics tended toward the left, but that’s not, fortunately, what he’s best remembered for. When war with Hitler came in 1939, he lamented but supported it, believing it a necessity brought on by the folly of the previous war.

It’s not uncommon for great issues to elicit an alteration of perspective from even the best man or woman. In time, he expressed some doubt about his stance in 1917 but his deeds and words during the Great War would forever define his legacy. I personally prefer to see him in those years as courageous and principled when under fire, no matter what form the fire took.


Inventive Heroes   Leave a comment

The decade of 1920s taught us many lessons in economics—perhaps foremost among them is that cutting tax rates encouraged entrepreneurs to invest in a variety of revolutionary products, from radios to refrigerators. When entrepreneurs are turned loose and their property rights are protected, what they eventually produce can’t be predicted.

Kimberly-Clark developed the material in Kleenex tissues during World War I. Cotton was in short supply, so they substituted a product they called cellucotton. Made from wood pulp, it was first used in wadded form as a surgical dressing. Later in the war, in its modern tissue form, it was used as a filter in gas masks.

After the war Kimberly-Clark had large supplies of cellucotton on hand and the company searched for years for new uses for their product. Finally, in 1924 the cellucotton became Kleenex tissues. The marketing staff at Kimberly-Clark believed the tissues had a niche market for removing cold cream and other cosmetics. Endorsements from Hollywood stars such as Helen Hayes and Gertrude Lawrence promoted Kleenex as soft and efficient for cleaning their faces. The marketers at Kimberly-Clark read their mail and noted customers kept bringing up “blowing your nose” as an as-yet-unadvertised use. That led the company to do test-marketing and the discovery that more customers preferred Kleenex tissues to handkerchiefs. From there, company boasted that tissues were healthier because they were disposable. “Don’t put a cold in your pocket” was the theme of the next wave of advertising. In 1929 Kimberly-Clark introduced the pop-up box. Sales grew further and were even strong during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The zipper, like Kleenex tissues, had a variety of uses in its early years, even though the US patent office was perplexed by the product and couldn’t figure out how to classify it. The “slide fastener” was first used on shoes. In 1914 one of its promoters, Gideon Sundback, finally produced a zipper that would work consistently work, which he promptly named “hookless no. 2”. During World War I several thousand were sold for use on money belts for sailors. Sundback also sold some to the Navy for a “flying suit” it was developing. Garment manufacturers and tailors still preferred buttons and shunned the zipper.

Finally, in 1923 B. F. Goodrich took a chance and bought 150,000 “hookless slide fasteners” for its rubber galoshes. The company called their galoshes “Zipper Boots,” and the name stuck. Only after that success did the textile industry explore the larger market for zippers on clothing.

The market for air conditioning seems obvious now, but it was not so at the beginning of the 1920s. Willis Carrier, its inventor, worked on air conditioning as a sideline at his job with the Buffalo Forge Co. in New York. Carrier was assigned to help a publisher in Brooklyn figure out how to stabilize the humidity in the printing room. Pages of newsprint expanded and contracted when the humidity rose and fell, and ink dried at different rates when the humidity changed.

When Carrier developed a system of air flows to dehumidify the print room, he also incidently cooled the room. He had solved the newspaper issue, but was fascinated with the broader implications of producing “air conditioning” to cool and clean the air in stuffy buildings. His employers did not share his vision, so Carrier left to start his own company in 1914. His air-conditioning units were huge, cumbersome, and expensive, but he sold enough to acquire the capital to keep improving the product.

Carrier’s big breakthrough came in the expanding movie industry. Most theaters closed down in the summer because the heat and stuffiness made patrons focus more on waving fans than watching the screen. In 1925 the Rivoli Theatre owners in Manhattan decided to install air conditioning to attract moviegoers in the summer. The patrons were enthusiastic; many were more excited over what was happening in the air than in the movie. By 1930 Carrier was supplying air conditioning to over 300 theaters in America. Factories soon followed, and finally, after World War II, Carrier was able to make home air conditioning units affordable and popular.

Scotch tape was developed in connection with car painting. By the 1920s Henry Ford’s all-black Model-Ts were out of fashion. Improved lacquers and automatic spray guns allowed automakers to give customers more appealing two-tone cars. Scotch tape, two inches wide, was invented by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) to give the clear sharp edge where the two paint tones met. Before long, 3M was selling dozens of different types of Scotch tape for a variety of sealing purposes.

These inventions had no obvious mass use or market when they were developed. Entrepreneurs had to invest energy and talent to figure out how best to sell their products, and ultimately consumers decided that Kleenex tissues were best marketed as disposable handkerchiefs, zippers as clothes fasteners, Scotch tape for household sealing, and air conditioning for home cooling. The common uses for these products seem obvious now, but that was not so in 1920. Trial and error, unexpected consumer interest, and sometimes desperation were part of developing these now popular, and seemingly indispensable, products. No planning board could ever have invented these products, much less figured out how to market them. Even their inventors were often mystified by the direction of consumer interest in them.


Entrepreneurship is a strange and unpredictable process. We need it, and our lives have been improved by it. We must have strong property rights to sustain it. Often times we don’t stop to think of the courage it took for someone to invent the items we use every day — the risks they took for their own financial security, the money and time invested in the invention and development of the product. Without entrepreneurs, we would still be doing dishes and laundry by hand, sweeping our floors with brooms, and A million other tasks of drudgery. We should celebrate the courage of the men and women who gave us our modern world.

Stay Tuned for Thoughtful Thursday   Leave a comment

Banner Courage

Posted July 20, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in #openbook, Uncategorized

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Courage of the Entrepreneur   Leave a comment

Brad and I heard about Enersa on a Netflix special called Poverty, Inc, which I highly recommend everyone watch.

The movie contends that poverty will not be solved by the poverty industry (you know, World Vision, UNESCO, Oxfam), but by entrepreneurs like Enersa.

ENERSA is a Haitian upstart created in 2007 after two years of research and development. They are Haiti’s only manufacturer and designer of solar panels and appliances.

They train unemployed young men from shantytowns to be qualified solar power technicians. They started in one of the partner’s garage and now occupy a 10,000 sq. foot facility where they have become an industry leader in the field of renewable energy designed for people living in the rural areas of third world countries.

They intend to serve millions of people that cannot be reached by the traditional market because existing products were not designed for their needs.

Starting in Haiti, the company nearly went out of business in 2010 when NGOs flooded the country with free solar panels in response to a need. Having survived that not so-helpful attempt at aid, they are now branching out into Senegal (West Africa) in partnership with  KAYER, a Senegalese company specialized in installation of solar system. The collaboration between two Third World enterprises in a high-tech field is marvelous to see.

It shows what is possible with minimal assistance and an entrepreneurial vibe. Not only are they providing light in parts of the world where electricity is hard to get, they are providing jobs for men who would otherwise not be working. The trickle-down effect here goes to these men’s families and communities. As they spend their income, the free exchange of goods lifts those around them out of poverty.

To me, that’s courage, especially when you consider that this is Haiti, whose people have been given every reason in the world to lie down and accept handouts. Keep stepping out in bravery, gentlemen.

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