Mike Strong Full-text Book Reviews at HPPR
(High Plains Public Radio) in Garden City, KS

Moving Pictures

Published April 22, 2022 at 3:00 AM CDT

Peter Pettus, Public Domain, Via Wikimedia Commons /
It was the Hotel Albert in Selma, Alabama, at which Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted to register, an act which tested author and activist John Lewis' commitment to nonviolence.


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The graphic history book is "March" by John Lewis, in a three-book package, as a trilogy.

In his trilogy, "March," John Lewis tells his own story and view of the civil rights movement. "March" uses the day of Barack Obama's inauguration as a device to move us along with a constant set of flashbacks to give us the main story, along with an understanding of the discipline of nonviolence.

The closest John Lewis came to breaking his nonviolent discipline was at the Hotel Albert, (Vol 3, pg. 147) January 2, 1965, "where Dr. King was attempting to become the first African-American to ever sign in as a guest" – after days and days of uneventful protest a white man behind King, who is at the hotel desk to sign in, reaches across, from the back, to sucker-punch King. ["WHAP"] (pg. 151)

Writes Lewis, "I don't know what came over me. I didn't hit him. Though I may have thought about it for a split second. It was the closest I've EVER come to laying down my nonviolence. I found out that day, even I have limits." (pg. 153)

This book was drawn by a white artist, Nate Powell in concert with Lewis's white writer, Andrew Ardyn. It was Ardyn, who learned that Lewis had been influenced by a comic book on Dr. King and pitched the idea of "March."

"The Fellowship of Reconciliation (F.O.R.) had published a 16-page comic book titled, "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." The FOR was one of the older civil rights movements, started in 1914 in Europe, and coming the USA in 1916.

In 1942, CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, was formed as an offshoot. In 1960, with John Lewis as one of the founding members, SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed. SNCC disbanded itself in 1976, having shifted its mission and method several times to more confrontational methods.

When the second "wave" of Freedom Riders added more numbers, the non-violent discipline began breaking down as the newer recruits would push back. They had to be talked to. The non-violent tactic didn't necessarily change minds but had the effect of dissipating the fury directed at them when there was nothing coming back at the mob. Though this didn't always work, and eventually the mob's tactics got worse, leading to a shift in SNCC's focus to black nationalism.

Stokely Carmichael was one of those later Freedom Riders who reacted sharply to being assaulted and confronted the attackers. He was pulled aside and eventually told to leave the Freedom Riders. Lewis makes a point of naming Carmichael and stating that he was out of place.

A comic book is essentially a movie, developed as storyboard, only. Every frame in a comic is a small masterpiece of expression and illustration. Each telling its own story in a larger story line. I've often been puzzled at the idea of a "mere illustrator" versus a "real artist." Time and again, I've found the gripping, trenchant images of a "mere illustrator" are so much better at capturing the essence of character and story.

Also, like a movie, the graphic book approach mandates a different approach to language. Such as the "big 'N' word" or other sidestep, rather than what is meant.

At the Edmund Pettus bridge, one of three times in the book, we have intense illustrations of a police riot charging into marchers with text in dialog balloons and directly over the image:

WHUMP, KRAK, "get them niggers," KRAK, "stay down," FOOMP, SPLATT, KOF, KOF, "Teargas!" HSSSSSSSS, THUNK, "I thought I saw DEATH" "get up" "keep moving" "Deputy, get those goddamn niggers" WHAP, THUNK, KOF, "and get those goddamn WHITE niggers!"

And on and on, though not as much as I remembered, which I realized, when I turned pages looking for that example.

Now, substitute "Big N" and listen, in an excerpted and rearranged form.

WHAP, THUMP, "get them darn big Ns" KRAK "Deputy, get those doggone WHITE big Ns."

Now, it sounds ludicrous and kills the impact. Try to imagine that dialog in a movie. It would sound more like a Saturday Night Live send up. Notice, I also substituted "darn" and "doggone" which further weakens the ability to show the ugliness.

You can also see this in some of Mark Twain's writing, although at that time there were no comic books, so it all shows up in standard prose, which today seems out of place. Still, Twain had the same illustrative purpose, along with his good friend and fellow traveler on the talk circuit, former slave Frederick Douglass, who wrote some of the most elegant English ever, English usage and vocabulary which still takes my breath away.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book CUB.


(F.O.R.) had published a 16-page comic book titled, "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." https://digitalcollections.detroitpubliclibrary.org/islandora/object/islandora%3A226912

SNCC: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_Nonviolent_Coordinating_Committee


Interview with Leonard Reed on the Champ:
Pranksters and ..."Is You Passing?"

Published April 20, 2022 at 3:00 AM CDT

Unknown Author, Public Domain, Via Wikimedia Commons
Leonard Reed was instrumental in getting Joe Louis into the PGA and for enjoying many games of golf as well as enduring many pranks inaugurated by "The Champ."


Mike Strong with an interview of Leonard Reed, about a time when it was illegal for blacks and whites to be in the same taxi. Reed's friend, black heavyweight champ Joe Louis used this fact to play a joke on Reed in New Orleans. This oral history is told by Leonard Reed and recorded in person by Nicole English and me in 1999.


[Barbara] You have to tell them the story about Joe Louis and the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

[Leonard] Oh, we have, this is 19 uh, I guess '49, 1948, 49, we'd just come back from Europe, and I had booked Joe into, uh New Orleans in Louisiana, doing an exhibition.

[listener in room] Joe Louis?

[Leonard] Joe Louis. Meanwhile he (Joe Louis) said, "See if you can't get us on the golf course." They didn't allow no colored people playing on the golf course, so I called ...

and sure enough, the golf-course said, "Oh, the Champ? Oh Yes, bring him down. By all means." He said, "I'll have one of the teachers and myself." This is one of the vice presidents. So anxious to talk to Joe Louis, you know.

[Leonard] So, we went down by Eastern Airlines. And we got off at 9:30 a.m. Now we're supposed to tee off at 11 o'clock. That's a time we'd set up because we'd get there at 9:30 a.m. So we jump into the limousine, sat there 15 minutes, 10, 15 minutes. Seems like an hour. So, Joe says, "What the hell they doin'? Let's get out of here. I want to get to the golf course. Hit some balls, you know." So, we see these four guys standing up

with the chevrons on, and all that. He said I was to go up and ask them. I said, "Excuse me gentlemen ..."

[Other person] He said, "Excuse me, are you the gentleman who is with Mr. Louis?"

[Leonard] I said, "Yes I am. Mr. Louis is down there. You know, he's the Champ."

[Other person] He said, "Well, we're trying to figure out what to tell him."

[Leonard] I said, "What do you mean, what to tell him?"

[Other person] "Well, we can't ride any colored people on the bus"

[Leonard] I said, "No PROBLEM. I'm going to tell him."

[Leonard] I said, "Joe, they don't want no niggers [sic] on the bus. Get off."

[Joe Louis] So, he (Joe Louis) said, "Well, why in the hell didn't they say that."

[Leonard] So we go to get in the yellow cab. Joe pushes me in the yellow cab. The cab driver says, "I can't take the champ." I said, "Why?" He said, "We can't ride colored and white together but there is a cab on the other side that will take you if you go over there with him."

[Leonard] And Joes says, "White Boy, lead the way over to the other cab." So, we get to the (other) cab. Joe goes to get in the cab. This black guy turns around and says, "I can't take you with the champ." So (Joe) says, "White boy" -- that's what he said, "White boy, go get the other cab."

[Leonard] So, I said to the cab driver who is apologizing to me all the way down while driving him to the motel. They didn't have a hotel for black people in New Orleans then.

So, I walked in as always; I walked to the desk. I signed, "Joe Louis and Leonard Reed"

She looked at me. She said, "Are you Mr. Reed?" I said, "Yes, mam."

[Desk Clerk] "Well, you see that sign? You can't stay here."

[Leonard] So, by this time it's 10 o'clock, you know. Now past 10. We've got to get to the golf course. So, she said, "Don't worry about it. I'll find somewhere." The guy said, "Who's going to take us?" So, Joe said, "Who's going to take us?"

She said, "My husband is going to take you down there."

[Leonard] Her husband said, "Sir, would you ride in the back and let the champ ride up in the front?" I just thought maybe he wanted to sit Joe in the front. But I'm in back. So, Joe says, "WHITE BOY, finally got you in the back of the bus, didn't we?"

[Leonard] So, we go on to the golf course. And we meet very nice guys. And we play 9 holes. Just a 9-hole exhibition. So, he said, "Leonard, where you staying?" I said, "I don't have a place to stay. He (golf buddy) says, "Well don't worry about it, I'll call the Roosevelt Hotel." So, he called the Roosevelt Hotel and made arrangements for me.

[Leonard] Joe said, "I'll pick you up at 7 o'clock" for an exhibition (fight). He's only going to fight 2 rounds. So, I went in there (hotel room), showered. About 6 o'clock, 7 o'clock,

knock on the door [knock][knock] Yes? "Bell Boy" I said, "Yeah?" I didn't send for no bellboy. So, I said, "Can I help you?" He said, "Mr. Reed, are you colored?" I said, "What the hell makes you think I'm COLORED?!!"

[Leonard] I got very indignant; you know? I'm in New Orleans, Louisiana

(the bellboy) said, "Well, there's a lady down there, a colored lady in the lobby with two kids. She says that she's your wife. Your kids are there, and they are COLORED, Mr. Reed. If you are passin' Mr. Reed, I think that you had better come out of here now..."

I'll help you out here."

[Leonard] So, he takes me out the work elevator, freight elevator, takes me around, and I got a bag in my hand, and clothes and I'm coming down the alley and Joe Louis settin' over there with the guy that drove us. He's laughing his ass off. He had paid the woman $50 dollars and set it up with the clerk, with the hotel and everybody. Joe said, "I'm gonna have some fun out of him!" But I was scared. Don't think that I wasn't! Boy, they was laughing like hell.

He (Joe Louis) was a real jokester.


New Orleans: Can't Ride Together

Published April 18, 2022 at 3:00 AM CDT

This is Mike Strong in Hays, KS for HPPR.
The book I'm reviewing is March, a graphic history by John Lewis that's a three-book trilogy.

As John Lewis relates the story of the Freedom Riders, he talks about the effort to send in 10 more riders from Nashville to Birmingham, after one of the buses is attacked and burned. On May 20th, 1961, the bus with the replacement riders pulls into the Montgomery station and they exit to be met with a mob that attacks them.

The replacement riders run to a cab and pile in (March: Book 2,, page 75), yelling, "Driver, GO!!" The driver, panicked, says, "I can't! It would violate state and city law. Blacks and whites can't ride in the same car." Then the crowd gets to the cab and starts pulling out all the occupants, including the driver.

At this point, federal agent John Seigenthaler tries to intervene and gets clubbed. Finally, the assault stops when Alabama's Public Safety Director Floyd Mann fires his gun in the air and backs down the crowd. But it could have ended with their deaths.

When I read "Blacks and whites can't ride in the same car," I immediately thought of a video interview that Nicole English and I shot in 1999 with Leonard Reed. Leonard was telling us stories about a trip he and heavyweight fighter Joe Louis did for an exhibition golf match in 1948 or '49 in New Orleans.

Those were times of real fear. Even so, that fear inspired some classic practical jokes; although, in the moment, Leonard admits that he had real fear, until he realized that Joe was pulling one on him. And as Leonard Reed said of Joe, "He was a real jokester." I found some of that video footage from 1999 and I will let Reed tell you three of the stories himself.

Leonard Reed spent his life between worlds, living and working in the Black entertainment industry, starting at a time when vaudeville was our most prolific venue.

Leonard was a mix of white, Black and Choctaw, but he looked white. As a boy of 13 years old, he was already in deep police trouble when Lincoln High School principal Hugh Oliver Cook l (1921-44) took him in after two or three previous foster homes rejected him. He was a problem kid. Cook was a top national educator and Leonard credits Cook with turning him around, making sure he was educated.

Leonard was a co-creator, with his partner Willie Bryant, of the tap-dance routine "Shim Sham" (after the nightclub's name and designed as a closer in which the audience could join with little training, similar to a line dance). They originally called it "Goofus" after the music title.

Reed became a producer in the world of Black entertainment, spending a great deal of career time in Harlem. He produced at the Cotton Club and was with the Apollo when it was still a vaudeville space called Hurtig & Seamon's Burlesque. Leonard travelled the world entertaining, and he produced and worked with heavyweight champion Joe Louis for years.

In 1951, Leonard helped in breaking the PGA's color barrier when the PGA unwittingly allowed him in as a member based on his appearance—you know, able to "pass," Then Joe Louis applied, and the PGA refused to allow him in because Joe was "colored." Leonard told them they had already allowed "colored" folk in because he (Leonard) was "colored." They were shocked. Joe got in, and Leonard and Joe toured for years together.

Listen Wednesday April 20th to hear selections from an interview Nicole English and I did of Kansas City resident Leonard Reed. White, Black and Choctaw, Leonard looked white. He and Black heavyweight champ Joe Louis worked golf tournaments and shows such as Ed Sullivan when it was illegal for Blacks and whites to travel in the same cab. Joe used this to play a joke on Leonard in New Orleans in 1948 or '49.

This is Mike Strong in Hays, KS for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.


My very old-style page started in 1999 with later additions: https://www.kcdance.com/BarbLen/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaEy5_lT7gk – My video published by someone else. A bit rougher in story and language and longer at 10:50 with the stories in the link set above and a couple more stories.

Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Reed

They traveled and exhibited together, playing golf and gags. Here is a link (6:41) to YouTube showing Leonard and Joe on the Ed Sullivan show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgiKMHk43Do

Apollo Theater and Hurtig & Seamon https://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/1299.pdf https://blackthen.com/apollo-theater-history-behind-harlems-entertainment-mecca/


CRT: School and Comfort Lies – An Old Battle Continues

Published April 15, 2022 at 3:00 AM CDT

Unknown Engraver (From Work By Lyon Gardiner Tyler), Public Domain, Via Wikimedia Commons
Virginia Cavaliers were royalist supporters in the Royal Colony of Virginia. An anonymous pamphlet published in London in 1649 gives a glowing account of Virginia, describing it as a land where "there is nothing wanting," a land of 15,000 English and 300 negro slaves, 20,000 cattle, many kinds of wild animals. Those who responded to the invitation to resettle were the ancestors of George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, and of many others of the First Families of Virginia.


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The graphic history book is "March" by John Lewis, in a three-book package, as a trilogy.

The inspiration to create John Lewis' "March" as a graphic book trilogy was a 1957 comic book about Martin Luther King. That same year, 1957, the state of Virginia published a work they had commissioned in 1950, a history of Virginia, a textbook to be used in the Virginia schools. Among its topics is slavery in Virginia.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The graphic history book is "March" by John Lewis, in a three-book package, as a trilogy. The inspiration to create John Lewis' "March" as a graphic book trilogy was a 1957 comic book about Martin Luther King. That same year, 1957, the state of Virginia published a work they had commissioned in 1950, a history of Virginia, a textbook to be used in the Virginia schools. Among its topics is slavery in Virginia.

The history book, titled "Cavalier Commonwealth," teaches that slavery wasn't so bad. Heck, it was even beneficial to the enslaved. Seven years in preparation and we have a calculated erasure of knowledge and history, the betrayal of knowing how we got to here.

So, a few unvarnished quotes:

"Of course, the slave was not free to change employers, (but) … his condition had its advantages." … "he enjoyed long holidays, especially at Christmas. He did not work so hard as the average free laborer since he did not have to worry about losing his job. In fact, the slave enjoyed what we might call comprehensive social security. Generally speaking, his food was plentiful, his clothing adequate, his cabin warm, his health protected, his leisure carefree."

Wow. I might want to sign up. For that matter, a statement like that makes me wonder why those plantation owners didn't sign up so that they too could get all that "comprehensive social security." Could be like reverse mortgages, only reverse slaveholders.

This is the kind of history CRT attackers would have us teach. Another quote:

"… the relationship between the two races was governed by much kindness and mutual trust. Both understood that bondage as they knew it was not totally evil; both realized that enslavement in a civilized world had been better in many respects for the Negro than the barbarities he might have suffered in Africa;"

Wow, "enslavement" and "civilized" in the same phrase.

Again, quoting:

"… it was easy for Virginians who found profits in Negro slavery to regard themselves as benefactors of a backward race. Indeed, in some respects they obviously were (benefactors)."

There is a lot more. So much more than we have space here. This 1957 Virginia history book, designed to erase, perfume, and gloss over the ugly history of race in this country, was in use into the late 1970's. Roughly 20 years.

You might hope this was the last of such textbooks. But in 2016 a World Geography textbook from McGraw Hill stated that the Atlantic slave trade brought "millions of workers," (note: workers rather than slaves) to the southern US. Then the text wraps those slaves into the mix of "immigrants and their descendants" who formed the US.

Well, at least the 2016 book caught a lot of flak.

*Side Note: Enslaved Africans found themselves transported to the entire western hemisphere, not just what became the US.

One of the most recent assaults on accurate history is the attack on an academic niche subject, CRT, Critical Race Theory – (I still remember CRT as Cathode Ray Tube). I did a few searches for the subject and came up mostly empty. I searched courses at KU. Also, FHSU for "Fort Hays State University CRT program" and got "Missing: crt "

At KU, it is in none of the core courses. I did find an invitation to a two-part lecture last year for advanced law students to attend. CRT isn't a course and apparently not a large topic. Not that the lack of existing courses in CRT matters. The attackers claim any mention of diversity and equality is the same thing as CRT. That moving-the-bar response means that CRT, as such, is not a real concern, but only a stalking horse, a symbol in a scatter-gun fight for wide-spectrum political dominance.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.


Organized Threat to Public Education "The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door" (book 17 Nov 2020)https://bookshop.org/books/a-wolf-at-the-schoolhouse-door-the-dismantling-of-public-education-and-the-future-of-school/9781620974940

Parental Rights: Christian Fringe to organized effort – 12 Jan 2022 https://www.salon.com/2022/01/12/parental-rights-started-on-the-christian-fringe--now-its-the-gops-winning-issue/

Obsession with parents' rights – Dec 9, 2021 https://newrepublic.com/article/164648/gop-obsession-parents-rights

The Manhattan Institute's model legislation – a major coordinator of Astro turf "A Model for Transparency in School Curriculum" (HTML and PDF links) https://www.manhattan-institute.org/transparency-school-training-curriculum


Commentary attacking public schools, saying Asians want Charters https://nypost.com/2022/03/19/asian-parents-want-more-charter-schools-available-to-their-kids/


Neither Wolf Nor Dog a.k.a. According To Nerburn – with Dan

By MIKE STRONG • APR 16, 2021

Bobby Adams
Bobby Adams

Original HPPR site URL: https://www.hppr.org/post/neither-wolf-nor-dog-aka-according-nerburn-dan

I’m Mike Strong from Hays for HPPR, Radio Reader’s Book Club.  The book is “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn. On occasion I think of this book as “The Excellent Adventures of Dan and George - with Nerburn.” Kent Nerburn, the author, tells his own “swimmer out of the swimming pool” story as he is educated by Dan and George in Native representations.

Dan, in particular is instructing, Nerburn, a writer who is not of Dan’s nation, how to think about and see Native America.

As I got the sense of the book, I decided to check it for an old topic I had first heard in a 1997 broadcast. An American Indian lawyer speaking at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., told the journalists that Indians get a bit tired of being asked what name to call Indians.

The lawyer described the name “Native American,” as neither accurate nor acceptable, calling it a word created by white liberals rather than by Indians themselves. In other words, someone other than a Native had decided how to represent Natives.

But, in “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” Dan tells Nerburn, “I guess I don’t mind because we have taken the name and made it our own. We still have our own names in our own languages. Usually that name means ‘first people,’ but no one would ever call us that. So, we let people call us ‘Indians.’”

Regardless of origin, Dan declares “Native American” to be “no more real than ‘Indians,’ because … The word “America” came from some Italian who came over here after Columbus.” He’s talking about Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer and merchant.

In Kent Nerburn’s book, Dan repeatedly presses “Nerburn” to just chill. It is a humorous theme in “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” often roll on the floor laughingly funny. I didn’t mention yet just how laugh out loud funny this book often is. Usually while urging Nerburn to do more than hit all the “write" notes, but to feel the notes, to get a sense of how a people feel when their land is taken, and worse their stories and their identities.

Dan isn’t writing a book, so, he takes up with Nerburn - as a channel to send the story he wants to tell.

Name choices do not themselves create the story, but name choices do go to representation and who gets to tell the story. From that National Press Club Luncheon in 1997 through today, I’ve occasionally checked in with “IndianCountry.com” (now Indianz.com) both for articles indicating topics of importance to tribes and tribal policies as well as to check their language usage.

It is a place I can go to see the Nations tell their own story.

The site’s usage of “Native” or of the name of the nation such as “Choctaw Nation” or “the Ogallala,” remained the same until about a year and a half ago when suddenly the articles had a lot of uses of “Native American.” Something had changed, maybe an editor? Then about three months later they were back to the previous style book and remain so today.

The indiancountry.com URL has long been taken over as a test page for a Linux web server (Debian’s Apache server). They are now Indianz.com and their front-page title bar says “Indianz.Com - Native American news, information & entertainment.” They also have a podcast, with transcript, called “Native America Calling.”

Mostly, Dan is talking both to Nerburn, and through Nerburn, to us, because Dan believes that “we” (in quotes) won’t believe unless it is written by one of “us” (in quotes).

I’ll quote Dan, “See, we have always had history like white people history, too. You just wouldn’t believe us. … … But if some white person who didn’t even know what he was seeing wrote it down, then that was good enough to be history.”

Mike Strong, from Hays, for HPPR Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn



Very little of what we know about the nations is accurate. Very few portrayals are accurate. Who tells your story, what is said and who is listening could be said of a great many cultural stories. Most of our beliefs are formed by popular entertainment, such as cowboy and Indian movies. Almost always Indians are portrayed by whites, often by Italians, as Nerburn notes.

For that matter cowboys are almost always all white in entertainment but in real life they were roughly 25% black, 40% Mexican and some Indians. And they didn’t run around doing quick draw duels at high noon. Gun fights were the same ugly, no-rules conflicts we see in the news today.

And a large part of the central and western US was once a large part of Mexico. This includes (depending on the time period) either all of Kansas and the plains or a tiny part of Kansas, the far southwest corner.

Then there is the curiosity of why, out of all the countries in the western hemisphere, North American, Central America and South America, why is the United States “America.” Why are USA-uns called Americans and the citizens of the other countries in the Americas not also called Americans. Isn’t it redundant to call a US citizen of Mexican heritage a “Mexican-American?” Or do we add a hyphen to get the more labored and arguable “Mexican-American-American?”

This is another irony. Accounts of Vespucci’s voyages somewhere between 1497 and 1504, which are now thought to be forgeries by someone else, though how much, remains disputed, were the basis for a German map maker in 1507, naming the area “America,” something Vespucci had no control over. That 1507 map showed only what is now South America though “America” would later be assigned to the entire western hemisphere.

Bobby Adams   Bobby Adams
Bobby Adams (1969 or 1970) - credit: Mike Strong

Languages have whims of their own. I grew up with “Negro” as the respectful term for African Americans. But, in 1969, when my Air Force friend and co-worker as a geodetic computer, Bobby Adams, asked me to start using “Black,” I readily made the change.

Bobby was my introduction to Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) and to that change in noun preferences. I thought of Bobby as one of the smartest people I knew and as a sort of political guru for me and occasional model for my photography.

Had I known any Spanish I would have realized the irony that the pronunciation “NEE-grow” was the badly pronounced Spanish word for black, properly pronounced “NAY-grrow.” (lightly trilled "r")

Here too, a difference in linguistic happenstance. In English we would ask for “coffee black” - even though coffee color is a light brown. But you would not order “cah-fay NAY-grow” in Mexico City, you would order “café solo.” A difference in observation or concept, one on color and the other on ingredients.


Secret War

MIKE STRONG • MAR 12, 2021


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Reader’s Book Club  The book is “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman.

In 1979, three years after a failed previous escape and three years before Lia was born to the Lees, her family was part of a group of some 400 Hmong who escaped westward to Thailand, as their Vietnamese captors pursued them, setting fires and land mines. From there they emigrated to the US. Some 150,00 Hmong overall escaped the Vietnamese occupiers and the Pathet Lao.


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Reader’s Book Club  The book is “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman.

In 1979, three years after a failed previous escape and three years before Lia was born to the Lees, her family was part of a group of some 400 Hmong who escaped westward to Thailand, as their Vietnamese captors pursued them, setting fires and land mines. From there they emigrated to the US. Some 150,00 Hmong overall escaped the Vietnamese occupiers and the Pathet Lao.

The Lees were caught in the aftermath of a civil war in Laos which was also a big powers proxy war. A war in which they had not taken part but for which they shared retribution simply because they were Hmong. The Lees were in the western section of Laos, west of the Mekong River, next to Thailand.

Laos is between Thailand on the west and Vietnam on the east with Cambodia to the south. It is shaped a bit like a palm tree with a large, rounded area at the north and a slanted trunk extending to the south.

The Hmong, with a long history of independence and scrappiness, fought with the Royal Lao government in the Laotian civil war from 1959 to 1975, against the Communist Pathet Lao. This was part of a proxy war, a hot war in the cold war, waged to the east of the Mekong River.

The Hmong were recruited and used by the CIA and special forces troops, to fight the Vietnamese. This was a secret war, secret to citizens of the US. And secret officially, in diplomatic agreements. But never secret to those in the fight.

In proxy wars the major powers provide hand-me-down major weapons such as repurposed piston engine training airplanes upgraded for combat and the latest close-in weapons such as assault rifles, mines, etcetera. Major powers deploy the top-line weapons themselves.

Both US and North Vietnamese forces officially didn’t exist in Laos, because of diplomatic agreements. When members of my squadron, who I would work with later when I enlisted, were assigned to survey for an upgrade of the TACAN beacon and CIA station in the far east of the country on a ridge called Phou Pha Thi in November 1967, they officially resigned from the Air Force, took on civilian IDs listing them as employees of Lockheed, did their work, then rejoined the Air Force as if nothing had happened. Officially nothing did. Officially they were never in Laos.

That location, LS-85, supposedly secret (again, only to the citizens back home), was upgraded with bombing control radar on the ridge because it was a straight shot of less than 120 miles from there to Haiphong. It was also very exposed. LS-85 on Phou Pha Thi was overrun March 10th, 1968 by North Vietnamese regulars in a major push from North Vietnam across Laos to the west.

The entire war was waged in almost total secrecy from the people in the US.

Security note: making this a top-secret operation (even the name, “Skyspot” was top-secret) protected no one. They were hardly hidden in the area and only the folks back home were in the dark. The usual claim is that classifying an operation (or anything else) saves lives who would be exposed. In this case, lives were lost because it was kept from view.

When the communist forces won in 1975, Hmong rebels kept fighting, this time fighting the new communist government comprised of the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao. This time the rebels received support from China as part of the conflict between China and Vietnam.

Keep track of that!  There remains low-level conflict in Laos.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.


Ref: Book: “One Day Too Long”  The title refers to the stupidity of letting the operation go on too long when they realized they were exposed and known to the North Vietnamese. https://www.historynet.com/book-review-one-day-too-long-top-secret-site-85-and-the-bombing-of-north-vietnam-by-timothy-n-castle-vn.htm

Air Force honors 12 airmen who died defending top-secret outpost in Laos during Vietnam War March 2018 https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/03/14/air-force-honors-12-airmen-who-died-defending-top-secret-outpost-in-laos-during-vietnam-war/



MIKE STRONG • MAR 10, 2021

The Hmong believe that until a baby has been fully part of a “soul-calling” ceremony, he or she is not fully part of the human race. Some western religions believe that infants must be baptized and named to be ready for Heaven.


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman

For me, the “nut” of Anne Fadiman’s story of Lia Lee, a child she met only after Lia was in a persistent vegetative state, the “nut” is the community of which Lia is a part, though she is not conscious of any of them.

In “The Afterword,” Anne Fadiman writes, “Before we met, I would have considered Lia — someone who cannot speak, laugh, think, work, or, in my lexicon, “contribute” — deserving of kindness but of little value, a partial person if a person at all. She taught me otherwise. How can I say she is not valuable when she means so much to the people around her? How can I say she has nothing to contribute when she altered the course of my family life, my life as a writer, and my whole way of thinking …”

Lia did not have to end up vegetative. How do we square that? She slipped between two cultures with conflicting realities, each looking to do their best for Lia. The Hmong refugees were horrified at the doctors’ penchant for taking blood and for autopsies. Were they eating brains and body parts of the Hmong patients? Are Hmong people put in cans as food?

The doctors were horrified at the Hmong refugees who wouldn’t or couldn’t follow medication prescriptions and who brought in shamans, txiv neeb to cast out and do battle with evil spirits.

In 1986, after numerous seizures in her four years of life, Lia slipped into a coma from which she would not recover. Most people who wind up in a persistent vegetative state die within six months and the rest within three to five years. Anne Fadiman writes that Lia’s family cared for her more than five times longer than the longest expected times.

Lia lived to the age of 30. She died August 31, 2012, in Sacramento, California, 26 years later, weighing 47 pounds at 4 feet 7 inches tall.

Our world is populated with narratives by which we live our lives.

Fadiman tells us the newer generation of Hmong, raised in the US, are not locked into an animist version of disease and cures, animal sacrifices and shamans. That is a relief to know, because I admit to a certain horror reading the fanciful explanations of illness and the practices to cure the sick. These practices can seem strange to us, but no stranger than ours, when we take the time to examine them with the same eye.

For example:

Shortly after birth, the Hmong officially give the baby a name during a “soul-calling” ceremony, a hu plig. Until the ‘soul-calling’ the baby is not fully part of the human race. If the baby dies before the hu plig it is not given “customary funeral rites.”

For the Hmong, babies’ souls may leave for numerous reasons, such as being “drawn by bright colors, sweet sounds, or fragrant smells.” In Lia’s case, when she was about three months old, Yer, her sister, slammed the door of their apartment. Lia’s reaction (eyes rolled up, arms suddenly over her head, fainting) convinced the Lees that Lia’s soul fled Lia’s body, frightened of the noise of the door.

To compare, In Christianity, shortly after birth, the baby is baptized and officially named. If the baby dies before baptism its soul doesn’t get to go to heaven, no matter that it can’t possibly be guilty of anything yet. Its soul must wait in “limbo” until the second coming. Well, at least it avoided hell, or purgatory.

Catholicism adds its own ownership claim. In Catholic school, I was taught that if it wasn’t a Catholic baptism, with just the right Catholic words, the baptism didn’t happen. That baby’s soul was in danger and needed a true Catholic baptism. The language apparently didn’t matter, something I don’t remember ever wondering about.

Translations can be tricky. And pronunciations. And Accents. So, will the real superstition please stand up?

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.


Poisonwood Bible and Its Targets

MIKE STRONG • FEB 10, 2021

Photo: Patrice Lumumba. Radio Reader Mike Strong recalls: “I remember watching “Black Panther” when it came out (2018) then going home to Google the writers, wondering whether they might be white (they’re not), partly because of the warm and fuzzy CIA guy in the movie, played by the genial Martin Freeman. When his character was introduced, I recall immediately thinking one name, “Patrice Lumumba.’”


This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR’s Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver.

The jobs of spies are justified by the stories they tell, even when the stories lie. They work best when your “customer” wants to hear them.” The oldest two-punch sales routine goes:
     1 – You have a problem.
     2 – We have the solution.

Kingsolver’s book starts in the Congo in 1959. It is not about spies nor about the maneuvers of great states, though her characters’ lives are changed forever by spies, even though neither spies nor characters will ever know the other. So, a skimpy bit of spy background from me regarding the events which led her to this book. We need to start at the end of World War II.

General Reinhard Gehlen had been Hitler’s chief of intelligence for the Eastern Front and Soviet Union. Before and at the end of the war, he sold his organization to the US, as anti-communist rather than Nazi. Gehlen possessed large stores of microfilmed intelligence on the Soviets, which he had hidden before the surrender, exactly what OSS station chief Allen Dulles wanted. When the CIA was created in 1947, in slithered the Gehlen Org, thousands of ex and not-so-ex Nazis, ready and prepared to fight communism. Allen Dulles slithered right in with them.

The stock in trade for intelligence agencies were stories of threats from other nations, in particular the Soviet Union and communism. Communism had been a target of state propaganda since before 1918. After World War II, the American fear of a Soviet invasion of West Germany provided an opening on several occasions for Gehlen to boost himself by falsely warning the US of impending Soviet attacks.

Much of the cold war can be laid at their feet. Threat stories kept them in business. CIA covert operations carried out dozens of coups that most of us never hear about, such as the 1953 overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, and, in the Congo, Mobutu ousting Prime Minister Lumumba, who the CIA saw as a communist threat.  William Blum’s “Killing Hope” 2003 revision has 56 chapters of US/CIA interventions from 1945 on.

I remember watching “Black Panther” when it came out (2018) then going home to Google the writers, wondering whether they might be white (they’re not), partly because of the warm and fuzzy CIA guy in the movie, played by the genial Martin Freeman. When his character was introduced, I recall immediately thinking one name, “Patrice Lumumba.”

That is the type of expository plot detail Barbara Kingsolver purposely avoids in order to connect us with individuals caught underneath the clash of state powers. The essential population that we never see in detail. It is into this historical context that Kingsolver drops her characters. She herself, had been dropped into the same geography, as a second grader, a couple years after “Poisonwood Bible” starts, when her parents - her father a physician - traveled to Congo as public health workers.

The CIA-fomented upheaval is the raison d'etre for “Poisonwood Bible.” A story she had meant to tell for more than 20 years collecting notes and material, before finally writing the book. Kingsolver wanted to bring us into the sensory experiences of everyday characters in a living landscape, in turmoil, never fully clear to the people in the middle of events.

So, she gives us a five-woman cast, a sort of “Little Women” for the Congo with war and uncertain dangers, writing each chapter to cover a slice of time with separate sections for each character to give her separate impressions of each other within the events in Rashomon-like first-person accounts.

They are the mother and her four young daughters. One daughter will die in Africa. Two will stay. No voice is given to the two main male characters, the evangelist father, Nathan, and the African, Anatole, who will marry one of the daughters. Nor are any Africans given a first-person voice. To whom she would give that voice to evolved as she found and absorbed contemporaneous magazines.

Kingsolver states, “On those slick, faded pages I began to find the heart of my story, which didn't begin in the middle of Zaire at all. The story I'm entitled to tell, the one I needed to tell, was an American one, what we've carried into the world, what we believed, and what we might still learn.” (emphasis mine)

Kingsolver invokes sights, sounds, smells, fears, apprehensions, sensory calls to bring us into the personal world of those whom history and news media mostly forget -- the people. She felt, she tells us, that she would be more effective using atmospheric immersion, in a novel.  She writes, “in the early eighties I read Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World by Jonathan Kwitney.” It is about US economic policy wreaking havoc and creating animosity in the world, much of which she had been unaware of when she and her parents were in Congo.  “I wanted to tell it my way,” she noted, “in a story, readers could connect with emotionally through characters and plot, symbols and allegory.”

Barbara Kingsolver’s plot side steps the engulfing events and politicians. She places our verbal senses into ordinary lives caught in the middle of vaguely understood geopolitics.

Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR’s Radio Reader’s Book Club


What's a Border to Do?

MIKE STRONG • MAR 30, 2020



“Border Radio” is a riot of a book, covering not only great memories of a time when radio seemingly had more color, more sheer flavor than now, but also an appreciation of the grand irony in real life, no joke writers needed. The border across into Mexico was not just an escape for bandits in western movies. The border was also more than an escape from troubles in the US with a chance to continue or expand whatever had drawn the ire of authorities north of the border. The border was a way to reach across the line of division to work together as combined communities.

Along the way we are given accounts of paired border communities which think of themselves as an entity, divided only by a river and the politics of a line on the map. It is the people who don’t live in those paired communities who tend to believe in large differences, even hostile possibilities

The paired communities themselves come together for mutual financial, social and civic goals. We can ask the purpose of any boundary. Certainly, there is always the need to determine services such as water, sewers, roads and so forth, as well as who pays and how - along with the distribution of services. Those are practical concerns.

We have borders between nations, states, counties, city and country. As a thought exercise, for any group of 1,000 people, tourists, settlers, refugees, workers, retirees, what is the real difference between crossing a national border or a state border? New Yorkers populate much of Florida as retirees or move to Arizona to live. As US citizens no one questions their legitimacy.

1,000 immigrants from other countries, as in the past, are not just workers looking to take jobs, they are new shop keepers, farmers, and yes, workers as well as 1,000 new consumers. New contributors, whose legitimacy is questioned. Are they so different from any of “our” ancestors?

In a similar way, small towns contribute greatly to large cities. New York City’s population, 37% of NYC, is foreign born and more than half of all children are born to immigrant mothers. All of us know people from our own lives who’ve moved to New York City and many who’ve come from there or moved back. All of which implies that only a minority of NYC residents are born and bred there.

The rest of us in the middle of the country are like a river constantly bringing fresh soil to alluvial farmland.  The cities return that gift with crops of creativity, culture and just plain aliveness we all share. Without “flyover country” from which to draw, NYC and other cities would dry up. It isn’t really the city, but the people who are the draw. People come from everywhere. People on borders are constantly crossing back and forth.

It might be nice to have a map of some of the cities the book talks about. A few illustrations make it obvious we are talking about areas which straddle the border between the US and Mexico. If it were not for the border, they would certainly be single cities. Within the US are there are many such city pairs on opposite sides of state borders, forming overall bi-state metropolitan areas. Border radio came to cities for bi-national reasons.

Del Rio is on the US side and Ciudad Acuña is on the Mexican side in the eastern course of the Rio Grande just after the river takes its final large turn south, headed for the gulf. This is the site of the first major border station, XER, started by Dr. Brinkley, forever known as the goat-gland doctor.

Eagle Pass is on the US side while Piedras Negras in on the Mexican side. They are located a mere 56 miles south of, and downriver of, Del Rio / Ciudad Acuña. When this bi-national small metro area knew XER was being built to their north, they got together to make sure they were not left behind.

Laredo, Texas in the US and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas in Mexico are another pair, downriver again of Eagle Pass / Piedras Negras by maybe a hundred miles. This is where Norman Baker landed, selling cancer cures and his own story of being a hounded populist standing up for the “little people.”

Despite the borders between them, these city pairs often work together as cooperating units, bridging the gap between countries.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR’s Radio Reader’s Book Club

Reference Links:

Del Rio, Texas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Del_Rio,_Texas
Ciudad Acuña, Cuahuila: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciudad_Acu%C3%B1a

Eagle Pass, Texas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_Pass,_Texas
Piedras Negras, Cuahuila: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piedras_Negras,_Coahuila

Laredo, Texas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laredo,_Texas
Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuevo_Laredo



Lessons from Journalism Class

MIKE STRONG • MAR 23, 2020

In 1967, top secret Operation Combat Skyspot controlled bombing of North Vietnam and other aerial ordinance drops in SEA. Today it can be found on Wikipedia.


As entertaining and enjoyable as I found Gene Fowler’s “Border Radio” my senses perked up at two different tones of voice on two different stories. One story seemed to have only a single source and the other numerous source documents. One made me suspicious that facts were invented and the other made me suspicious that facts were mangled.

Lesson 1 - Single Source  In the tale of Al Scharff, the lack of multiple sources can provide a lesson for a journalism class. The claim of German U-boat warfare in the Pacific during World War I, causes me to ask an immediate question for which I found no verification. There were Germans in the Pacific during the second world war, as part of Monsun Gruppe, in the same seas as the Japanese, their allies for that war. But not in the first world war. Nor does it make a lot of sense. And along with that is the source author’s abundance of clearly wonderful fictional sea adventure stories. I wondered whether Al Scharff took the opportunity to embellish his role to an eagerly credulous Garland Roark.

This tale also takes us into the sordid gunboat diplomacy of the United States toward Mexico. It is important to remind us that the USA has not always been a good neighbor, and has kept its own population in the dark, though often willingly

A side note: At the same time, I am reminded that the US has been, and remains, in many places where we are not, supposedly. In November 1967, one year before I entered the Air Force, people in the geodetic survey squadron to which I would be assigned in May 1969, were in Laos in total contravention of diplomatic agreements. The people I would later work with went into a far north east corner of Laos, jutting into North Vietnam, to establish geodetic positions (latitude, longitude, elevation and azimuth to various points from those positions and maybe gravity measurements) as the mathematical gunsights for the most accurate radar controlled bombing of North Vietnam, and other aerial ordinance drops in SEA, for Operation Combat Skyspot. Even the name was secret, though now you can find it on Wikipedia. On the 10th of March 1968, that Skyspot station, LS-85, was wiped out by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), killing most of the staffers who occupied jobs for which I would be in training a year later. Think of LS-85 as a kind of “Guns of Navarone” with the USA in the role of the Germans and the NVA and collaborators in the Hmong, as the heroes of that movie.

Lesson 2 – So Many Sources. The obverse of that journalism lesson about sources is in the many, many sources for stories of Dr. Brinkley and his goat glands which would appear to copy each other. The lesson should be to attempt to find source zero, and maybe source #1 and #2. It is all too common to find regurgitated material about a subject, especially an entertaining one. One of my peeves about much of online journalism is the amount of copying with an attempt to sound original. In the process, details often get smashed or turned around. Especially as the process of referencing goes down the line.

Some of the vagueness in the goat-gland accounts by the time it gets into Gene Fowler’s “Border Radio” probably comes from slight variations in the source stories, as each source writer attempts to sound original, causing a slight loss of original details. You can almost feel Fowler doing a little sidestep and splitting the difference to retain the color while not being flat out certain which details are solid.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR’s Radio Reader’s Book Club

Some References:

New York City (look at demographics): 

Germans in Mexico and US Gunboats in Veracruz reference links:
German saboteur: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lothar_Witzke
Zimmerman Telegram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmermann_Telegram
CBP page on Scharff: https://www.cbp.gov/about/history/did-you-know/contrabandista
WWII Germans in South Seas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsun_Gruppe
Garland Roark: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garland_Roark

Operation Combat Skyspot reference links:
LS-85  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lima_Site_85
1st Geodetic Survey Squadron   http://www.geodeticsurvey.mysite.com/



Germans and Border Radio in WWI

MIKE STRONG • MAR 16, 2020

According to Mike Strong and his research if German subs were in the Pacific in WWI, it would have to have been in the Sea of Cortez which seems unlikely


For the most part Border Radio can be read for sheer entertainment. But one wee bit struck me as odd. I had to run it down and that left me with a few questions about the author’s sources. 

My search to verify the wee bit was, like Border Radio itself, populated with colorful characters, improbable events and hidden or largely forgotten histories.

Despite using a plethora of sources for the goat-gland story, author Gene Fowler seems to have used a single source for a puzzling story about an FBI Mexican border incursion during World War I. Fowler writes that a German radio transmitter was blown up and the two operators killed by “commandos” sent by the FBI. As described the “commandos” seem pretty rag-tag. In any case, they immediately fled back across the border after the deed.

The transmitter was, he writes, responsible for sending information about US ship movements to German submarines operating in the Pacific Ocean. Fowler gives the location of the transmitter in the far Northwest of Mexico but east of the Gulf of Cortez and probably 200 miles from the Pacific.

The person leading the operation against the radio transmitter was one Al Scharff, later with the Border Patrol. How Al Scharff came to be a part of the FBI is unexplained.  Further, the FBI started in 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI or just BI) and wasn’t named FBI until 1935.

The only source for this section of “Border Radio” is a book about Al Scharff titled “The Coin of Contraband” (1964) by Garland Roark. I am guessing that Scharff was Roark’s primary source.

What caught me first was the claim of German subs in the Pacific (not Atlantic) during WWI, then the lack of a specific date, not even a year, and that the transmitter location would overlook, at best, the Sea of Cortez (not the Pacific). If this were WWII then we might be talking about the little remembered Monsun Gruppe in the Indian Ocean and later in parts of the Pacific, patrolling the same waters as Japanese subs. Hard as I tried, I could not find any U-boat operations in the Pacific in WWI.

Germany did have people operating out of Mexico City, such as saboteurs Lothar Witzke and Kurt Jahnke. Witzke was connected to the March 1917 munitions explosion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco. Witzke much later indicated he had also been responsible for the July 30,1916 Black Tom Explosion in New York Harbor. Sentenced to death in 1918, Witzke was pardoned after the war, getting the Iron Cross when he returned to Germany. After WWII, Witzke was a member of the German parliament from 1949 to 1952.

But aside from the sabotage in San Francisco, there was no indication of German war operations in the Pacific and certainly nothing which would indicate the Germans were keeping count of shipping information. That would have required constant observation at major west-coast ports. Sabotage would have risked that kind of operation and couldn’t have made much of a dent anyway.

Mexico had a festering revolution going during this period. At the same time Germany was hoping to motivate Mexico to take actions to tie down US troops from being sent to Europe. Mexico had enough on its hands and was officially neutral at the time. Mexico and the USA were in dispute as it was. The US sent forces to invade and occupy Veracruz, at the far southeast of Mexico. Because of that, despite her neutrality, Mexico offered Germans refuge as needed.

As for the book about Al Scharff, the only copies I could find on the web were used; a hardback at Amazon for $60 and a paperback on eBay for $8 plus $3.50 for shipping and handling. The Amazon offering showed a staid cover with the blurb on front of, “The true story of United States Customs Investigator Al Scharff.”

The eBay offering carried a racier blurb on the front, “The incredible true story of the rogue and seducer who became a fantastic crime buster.” The eBay offering also had a racy cover illustration showing a rakish man, we assume Al Scharff himself, in a passionate embrace with a beautiful woman, filling the cover, and to each side of the embracing pair a smaller pair of vignettes showing our same handsome hero in swashbuckling poses.

Who could resist?

The author of the book about Scharff was Garland Roark (1904-1985), a prolific author of South Seas adventure books, Western adventure books and a few others. Garland Roark’s titles included Wake of the Red Witch, The Witch of Manga  Reva, Fair Wind To Java, Star in the Rigging, The Outlawed Banner, The Wake of the Running Gale, Angels in Exile, Rainbow in the Royals and Slant of the Wild Wind, among others. Several were translated. Two were made into movies.

You may remember the “Wake of the Red Witch” as a 1949 movie with John Wayne and Gail Russell. “Fair Wind to Java” was a 1953 movie with Fred MacMurray and Vera Ralston.

Almost all of Roark’s adventure books had lurid covers with some heroic, handsome, rugged (of course), male hero, and, usually, in the close company of a very suggestive, tempting, alluring, exotic, beautiful - woman.

The FBI website has no information about Al Scharff. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) does have a page on Scharff, but starts its account in 1931, and no mention of prior FBI association but it does mention other past items.  Quoting from the CBP page:

“Al Scharff was an unlikely choice for a Customs agent. He had been a so-called contrabandista along the U.S. southern border, with roots as a smuggler, cattle rustler, and peddler of counterfeit pesos.”

Had the FBI sent Scharff across the border at that time it would have either been covert, as claimed in the book, or been at odds with any official actions, both diplomatic and gunboat. Not that that has ever stopped covert actions. (personal knowledge, search for LS-85 and Laos – not me but people I worked with in my squadron). But, as with the rest of the book, a good story. I have my doubts about that story, but, as with the book overall, don’t let that stop you from having fun with “Border Radio.” The stories are just too good.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

German saboteur: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lothar_Witzke
Zimmerman Telegram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmermann_Telegram
CBP page on Scharff: https://www.cbp.gov/about/history/did-you-know/contrabandista
WWII Germans in South Seas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsun_Gruppe
Garland Roark: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garland_Roark

Reference: Quote from the CBP page:

“It took Alvin "Al" Freidheim Scharff (1892-1968), San Antonio’s Customs agent-in-charge, to actually make the notion of using seized airplanes to create an unofficial air brigade a reality.

“Al Scharff was an unlikely choice for a Customs agent. He had been a so-called contrabandista along the U.S. southern border, with roots as a smuggler, cattle rustler, and peddler of counterfeit pesos. Yet the reformed Scharff worked his way through the ranks. From 1919 to 1961, Scharff served with the Customs Service as inspector, mounted inspector, special agent, special agent-in-charge, and supervising special agent-in-charge.”


MIKE STRONG • MAR 13, 2020

Gospel and hill billy music drew listeners to evangelists on border radio stations


The only tent show I can remember going to what was the Barnum & Bailey circus when it came to Norfolk (say: NOR – fork), Nebraska.

For years, my mother remembered another tent show when I was a toddler and she saved me from being saved after she attended a revival meeting, inside a large tent, taking me with her, having no babysitter.

At some point, they asked for sinners to approach and be saved. I apparently decided to join in, heading down the aisle, fast as my tiny legs could go, to be “saved.” They were apparently glad to get me until my red-faced mother caught up to me.

You wonder what I had done at age one or two that I needed saving. But that is how it works. You get told you have a fault or problem and they claim they have the cure. No matter who you are. Come on down!

In “Border Radio” the radio revivalists in their electronic tents are described in ironic detail. Every bit as good as Burt Lancaster’s rich portrayal of Elmer Gantry. If they were not true, you could almost think the stories were a send up. But the facts write their own parody.

A moonshiner from Wilkes County, North Carolina, George W. Cooper had 27 arrests for bootlegging, four prison sentences and four years on a chain gang. His partner in crime at the time of his conversion was named Hog Head Bolen.

As Cooper listened to radio preachers, he saw himself in a new gig, God’s word. He reverend’ up, but only after three of his old gambling buddies forced him into a prayer meeting.

Quoting Cooper, “When some hear me say, ‘You old beer-guzzling, liquor-soaked, wine-sipping, woman-chasing, bleary-eyed, peanut-brained, red-nosed, whitewashed, galvanized, petrified, dried-in-the-kiln, hypocritical deacon,’ they remark, ‘Oh, George, you shouldn’t talk about the church that way.’ Well, brother, if that’s your church, it’s in bad shape. The Billy goat needs dehorning!”

George Cooper, duly minted reverend, had a flair for flavor.

When a drinking buddy was dying, he asked Cooper to pray for him. “Lord,” began Cooper, “we’re here tonight with poor Ernest Spoon, our brother. Lord, Ernest is badly in need of help. Ernest is mighty drunk, Lord, and …”

“Wait,” Ernest said, “Don’t tell him I’m drunk, George. Tell him I’m just sick.”

Years later, on my first radio job, I learned the competing station in town earned good money from religious programs.  Religious programs were their own sponsor, so to speak, and paid well. There was a lot of money in religion. Still is. Just look at the size of the megachurches on television today.

In the 1930’s the firebrand preaching of Father Charles Coughlin’s populist politics, using his religious program to attack civil issues caused CBS to let his contract expire in 1932 and NBC to have an unwritten policy forbidding preachers to buy airtime. They could be given airtime on the networks but could not ask for donations. That left an opportunity for radio elsewhere.

The border stations could see money in their largely rural audiences who enjoyed hillbilly and gospel music. Mexican law forbade broadcasting “public occasions of a religious character.” But the la frontera stations found that legal bribes in the form of special fees and applications, for English broadcasts, would let them put preachers on the air from the border if they were in English.

Before long fundamentalist preachers headed south to get away from government and network rules. South of the Rio Grande they could broadcast in English back to the places they escaped from and ask for money.

The Reverend Harold Smith was already broadcasting to a large audience over KNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee. There the radio stations forced him off the air in concert with the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America who wanted to ban Smith for being a non-denominational fundamentalist preacher. Smith called the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America “the best friend the devil has in America today.”

So, Smith built his own radio station, WBIK. But right away he found an FCC examiner at his door who claimed that Smith owned 1/3 of border station XERF in Mexico. Owning a station in Mexico meant that he was not allowed to own a station in the US. The charge was false, but the aim was to put Smith out of business, especially because he wasn’t preaching an approved fundamentalism.

“I never owned any part of XERF,” said Smith. But losing WBIK sent him south as well. Smith bought time on XERF for $540,000 for  his “Radio Bible Hour” which ran for 50+ years and 61,000 sermons. Smith was straight forward, no nonsense and strict. “Nowhere,” Smith preached, “in the word of God can you find that God is kidding with you or joking with you…” Money rolled in.

Money is still rolling in for the whole industry, on television. Megachurches.



MIKE STRONG • MAR 11, 2020

Dr. Brinkley in surgery at Milford, Kansas


“Border Radio” starts with Dr. John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley pretty much gave birth to border radio. He is very much a Kansas character, starting his world-renowned clinic and his first radio station in Milford, Kansas.

In 1917, long before Viagra was even a twinkle in some researcher’s test tube and advertiser’s joy, Dr. J. R. Brinkley let the world know about his goat-gland proposition in which he placed slivers of Billy goat gonads into human scrotums. For that restorative operation he was known by some as “the Kansas Ponce de Leon” and by others as a “loquacious purveyor of goat giblets.”

What kind of doctor was he? Johns Hopkins told him he would be a better mail carrier. He started but dropped out of Bennett Eclectic Medical School in Chicago (botanical remedies). Finally, he married a physician’s daughter and, from somewhere, picked up a certificate as an “electromedic doctor.” That got him in trouble, so he spent a full month at the Eclectic Medical University in Kansas City getting a degree (for at least $500, the going price for a degree from EMU in Kansas City).

From that he obtained a license to practice medicine in Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas and Connecticut. That got him a job as plant surgeon in Kansas City for Swift and Company, which produced meat, including goat meats, which he was told were the healthiest animals they slaughtered.

Next, he struck off on his own to Milford, Kansas, a location central to the US. Milford is north of Junction City on I-70 and straight west of Manhattan, or simply Northwest of Fort Riley.

There, so goes the story, in late fall of 1917, in response to a farmer’s impotence, Dr. Brinkley stated that implanting healthy goat glands would solve the problem. The farmer replied, “Well, why don’t you put them in?” And so, it began.

Wouldn’t you know? That farmer gave birth to a boy, they named Billy “in honor,” said the proud papa, “of the assistance we had received from our four-footed friend.”

It wasn’t long before the word got out. There were testimonials and even honorary degrees, including one from the University of Pavia in Italy. Pilgrims came to Kansas to get the operation, to be revitalized. Brinkley built a new hospital in Milford and refined the science to the best goats, Toggenberg goats, kept in livestock pens next to the hospital.

In 1923, after visiting a radio station in Los Angeles, Dr. John Romulus Brinkley returned to Milford, Kansas to start his own radio station, KFKB at 1050 on the dial. (KFKB stood for either: “Kansas First, Kansas Best” or for “Kansas Folks Know Best”) Three times a day he gave medical lectures on his goat-gland research along with a full line of programming. More than 3,000 letters a day poured into tiny Milford. By 1929 the Radio Times voted KFKB as the most popular radio station in America.

Trouble started when he was allowed to boost the station to 5,000 watts while at the same time a rival station in Kansas City, owned by the Kansas City Star, was denied a power boost. The Kansas City Star ran an expose series on Dr. Brinkley. The Kansas State Medical board revoked his license to practice. The FRC took away his license to broadcast but KFKB kept broadcasting anyway, under appeal of the order.

Hoping to get an advantage, Brinkley decided to run for governor as a write in. He should have won too. Brinkley received the most votes, but election officials voided 50,000 ballots for not having “J. R. Brinkley” written just so. More ballots, it was claimed, were simply thrown away. He sold KFKB and headed for Mexico in 1931, looking to construct a station on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

Mexico was eager to develop radio and Brinkley had experience from KFKB. This time his station would be 75,000 watts, fifteen times more powerful than KFKB. He had sold KFKB for $90,000 and hired a construction firm for $30,000 for a new broadcasting building. The tubes for the transmitter were custom made at a cost of $36,000. The antenna was strung across 300-foot-high towers and XER started broadcasting, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas.

With that much power Dr. Brinkley could reach out not only to his old audience but to the entire world.  This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.


Home on the Radio




This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR.  The book is Border Radio”,by Gene Fowler.

“Well, uhh let’s see here. This is a letter from Mary Jedlicka,” Joe Siedlik said, as he opened the envelope under the microphone, then unfolded the paper with a hand printed message. “Mary wants to wish happy birthday to her great-grand-dad. He’s 91 on Tuesday. And can I play a polka by Happy Louie for him? He is a regular listener. – Well, thank you Mary.”

I’m already reaching for the set of Happy Louie LP’s, scanning the song names on the covers. Joe Siedlik turns to me and says, “Mike, play the “When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver Oberek Polka.” And while I am waiting for you to get that song cued up you might like to grab a kolache from Gloor’s bakery. Fresh goods every day delivered to all the grocery stores in Columbus. And to Glur’s Tavern early in the morning. Glur’s is a registered historical landmark south of the tracks. Okay, Mike has “When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver Oberek Polka” cued up and ready to play. Take it away, Mike.”

I was 19, on my first radio station gig, KTTT in Columbus, Nebraska, my hometown. I was hired primarily for news, also working occasional DJ, ad production and engineer for the Big Joe Polka Show. Joe was Polish, his wife Bohemian and they called their kids Po-Hunks. The community had overlapping ethnicities, Polish, Czech, Bohemian, Swedish, German, Croatian with polkas, schottisches, obereks, mazurkas and other rhythms.

Me? I couldn’t tell the difference. They all sounded the same to me. At 19, I was listening to rock ‘n roll played by slick announcers in Omaha developing the smooth and excited “radio delivery” we have today.

At 19 I couldn’t imagine how the homespun quality of Joe’s program could have a huge, loyal and adoring fan base. But he did. People wrote in letters by the bag full. Joe was gold. Absolute, delicious gold. It just took me a few years to realize how priceless.

Joe, himself came out of a period when radio was fresh. In the 1930’s movie musicals, especially cowboy musicals were everywhere. And on the border Brinkley’s station XER was celebrating in Del Rio and Villa Acuna as nearby Eagle Pass and Piedra Negras, only 56 miles downriver worried that tourism and industry would pass them by.

Piedras Negras (meaning Black Rock, named for its coal mines) was losing out to oil. Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras wanted their own border station to blast out news of their agriculture, irrigation, fishing, hunting and land to develop into citrus farms. The engineer who had built XER, Will Branch, was on the project. The new station was to be named XEPN (after Eagle Pass - Piedras Negras).

This was to be tied into overall area economic development. Hotel studios were established. The Yolanda Hotel had a $3,000 grand piano and room for a 13-piece orchestra. There were investors all the way up to Kansas.

They would have a snappy jazz orchestra, comedians, singers, opera singers, fiddlers and even cowboy yodelers.

Nolan Rinehart started broadcasting on a 250-watt station in Brady, Texas. As Cowboy Slim Rinehart he would become the number one singing wrangler on XEPN. The story goes that when Rinehart auditioned, the musical director, Don Howard, thought Cowboy Slim was the worst singer ever. But XEPN pitchman Major Kord thought Rinehart was the greatest cowboy singer. He predicted money. “That’s how a cowboy would actually sound,” Kord said.

That first week on XEPN veteran musicians made fun of him. But the next week Cowboy Slim pulled in more mail than all of them together. Rinehart and singing cowgirl Patsy Montana then teamed up. Her recording of “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” was the first major hit by a female country artist. Patsy Montana came from Chicago where she had listened to border radio.

Like the veteran musicians, Patsy didn’t think that much of Rinehart at first. She didn’t think he was very good at harmony. So, when they went on tour to the East Coast, she was surprised to realize how popular he was. His style connected with the people. They listened to him, bought his records, sent him letters and purchased his $1 guitar course.

Cowboy Slim Rinehart was gold. Delicious gold. Those were days.

Now let’s have a “That's My Girl Oberek Polka” by Happy Louie.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.


What Difference?

MIKE STRONG • FEB 21, 2020



I’m Mike Strong from Hays for HTTP, Radio Reader’s Book Club. The book is “Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism” by Bob Edwards 

From the late 1940’s newspapers were still the prime news medium, with radio news second. Television was just beginning. Only a few houses had a television, usually black and white. Color was just around the corner. I remember going to other people’s houses, or my grandparents, to view television. 

The first Edward R. Murrow I remember was the “low Murrow” of “See it Now,” a live program that was more entertainment and which visited the rich and famous in their homes.  

It wasn’t until CBS Reports and the documentary “Harvest of Shame,” shown on Thanksgiving 1960, about migrant workers, that I saw the serious and elegant news coverage for which Murrow was famed. 

Despite critical success with “Harvest …” – the documentary won awards and became a model for making documentaries - Murrow was in deep disagreement with CBS. The corporation and especially the show’s sponsors were not happy with Murrow’s let-the-chips fall journalism. They were ready to part company. 

Two months later, in January 1961, Murrow became director of the United States Information Agency at the invitation of President John F. Kennedy. As director Murrow requested the BBC to not show “Harvest of Shame.” Now, in a near reversal of roles, he pleaded that showing this seamy side of the country would damage the European view of the U.S.  

BBC broadcast “Harvest of Shame” anyway. They had bought the rights fair and square. It was all very ironic. Even the results. For all the prestige the, “Harvest of Shame” did not appear to change much at all. The organizing of Cesar Chavez and others was far more direct. 

One of the first items I wanted to check in Bob Edward’s book on Edward R. Murrow was whether Edwards would list other journalists who also went after McCarthy at the same time. Journalism has its legends and its stories. Often Murrow gets the sole credit for bringing down McCarthy. Edwards paints the larger and more complex picture in which Murrow and CBS are a significant, but hardly a total part. 

News reports alone will not remove an abuse of power. Facts won’t do it, but factions probably will. 

McCarthy was widely reviled but someone needed to bell the cat. Muckraker Drew Pearson (who gets only a name mention in Bob Edwards’ book and is barely mentioned in the PBS “McCarthy” documentary) started out after McCarthy in mid-February 1950 with a series of columns. There was irony here because Pearson was getting “leaks” about other politicians from McCarthy, as a source, via Jack Anderson, Pearson’s associate, and later Pearson’s successor. 

The New Yorker’s Richard Rovere criticized McCarthy. The New York Post in 1951 ran a 17-part series on McCarthy under the label “Smear, Inc.” “See it Now” with Murrow began going after McCarthy in 1951. By December 1954 enough baggage was clinging to McCarthy that it was time to shove him out the door.  

Whether there was really a collaboration with signals from the Eisenhower White House to Murrow, the old story repeated in Edwards book and in the PBS documentary, “McCarthy,” or whether it was just time, is an unanswered question.  

McCarthy lasted long enough to cause a great deal of damage and while McCarthy himself would be gone, the red baiting would continue for several years. 

“Leaks” are not well understood. They are often official dish or trial balloons or just a back-alley way of getting at rivals or all the “off the record,” “backgrounder,” and “from a high official” or “high official said,” attributions. 

In the mid-1970s, as an area reporter for The Geneva Times I was covering a county assembly meeting for a vacationing reporter when the republican county attorney got on the podium to point me out to the assemblage, to excoriate me and my reporting. 

The next Tuesday I got a phone call from his secretary asking me to come by. They had something for me. I assumed it was some sort of complaint. Instead, John’s secretary handed me a large, sealed manila envelope. It was filled with documents aimed at discrediting a political rival, a Democratic judge. 

Openly tearing into me at the county assembly meeting, gave himself cover to avoid being suspected of being the source for the information he handed me a couple of days later. I headed for my editor and we perused the material. It was Chris’s beat, so we handed it to Chris for his story material, when he returned from vacation.  

So now you know about “leaks.” 

Hi, I’m Mike Strong from Hays for HTTP, Radio Reader’s Book Club.

A Run To The Finish


This photo of Pat McDaniel, a female barrell racer in Texas is reminiscent of the dreams not available to Jile's character


I’m Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR: The book is Stormy Weather, by Paulette Jiles

One of the pleasures of author Paulette Jiles’ historical fiction is threefold. One, I get to immerse myself in another time and place - two, her well-researched details, which dress the story and  three, Jiles’ ability to weave characters you don’t wish to leave when the book finishes. 

Paulette Jiles, was born in the middle of the Missouri Ozarks, earned a degree in Romance languages at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, moved to Canada working for the Canadian Broadcasting Agency (learned the Ojibwe language), married a Texan, moved to Texas, traveled, eventually divorced and moved to 36 acres of what she calls her “ranchito,” 80 miles west of San Antonio. 

On her “ranchito,” she has, she says, “necessary work … including feeding and care of two horses and a donkey, fence work, hauling feed and hay, and cleaning stock tanks.” (from the bio on her blog site) The work sounds a lot like her protagonist, tomboyish Jeanine Stoddard, who we follow from age 6, in 1924, to age 21 in late 1938.

Jeanine is her father’s favorite. We are introduced to the pair when Jeanine is six. Jeanine’s father, Jack, takes her with him as he drinks and gambles. She is too young to recognize either his drunkenness or that he was gambling away the last of the family money. Even so, at the toughest moments for this family, they are never truly bleak times. The family always finds something to keep going. 

In Stormy Weather, Jiles’ research fills out the story with details, about early radio, oil booms, horse racing, the crash of 1929, the mohair industry and the dust bowl. When she finally allows her characters a phone line and an electric connection, I couldn’t help but remember visiting my Uncle Bud and Aunt Lil’s farm as a young boy.  

The party line phone on the kitchen wall with a side crank is a firm memory, as is Aunt Lil’s caramel colored wood-burning stove. Bud brought the first tractor to the farm to replace the mules his father had always used. For years, when we visited, Bud showed off his new equipment as soon as we got there. I also remember Aunt Lil bemoaning the difficulty of adjusting to an electric range. This was in the early 1950’s, much later than the dates in our story. 

And about Jile’s research on horse racing, I was pleased to note that she described the horses pulling ahead at the end of the race - not as going faster, but as slowing less than the horses falling behind. Most movies and books give the wrong impression. In the early 1980’s I programmed a handicapping application with a database of racing information, for a gambler I knew. Deceleration data at distances for each horse played an important factor in the calculations. 

The book itself is a bit like a horse race. The first few strides are quick, out of the gate, defining the characters. They form up around the back stretch, then, about two-thirds through the book, all the elements of “Stormy Weather” come together for a run to the finish. 

I’m Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR, Radio Readers’ Book Club:


Cognitive Revolution


Is the real cognitive revolution occurring at a cellular rate?


When I started with Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, I expected to jog along with a fun and clever assessment of human history and its near future as a cyborg-like merger of human and computer.

But I had trouble early on.

Dr. Harari repeatedly throws out a flurry of proclamations, often sweeping claims as arguments, then follows them with his intended conclusion, sometimes sweeping, head scratching and not always adding up. Then there are terms about which he seems to have a slightly skewed understanding.

I collided with his usage of “Cognitive Revolution” almost from the start. According to Harari, the "Cognitive Revolution" occurred 70,000 years ago causing the homo sapiens mind to shift, turning the species from “an insignificant African ape” into modern humans as “ruler of the world.” I looked for supportive context or attribution in the text, but it wasn’t there. Nor was there any footnote for the claim.

I knew the term from a different context entirely. I Googled to be sure. "Cognitive Revolution" was the name of a 1950's multidisciplinary movement (now cognitive science) studying the mind and its workings. Noam Chomsky was one of the pioneers of the field.

I could find no reference about Harari’s usage until I added “Harari” or “Homo Deus” to the search terms. Then I got hits on “Homo Deus” and "Sapiens" (his previous book, where “The Cognitive Revolution” is the title of the very first section of “Sapiens”). This is where Harari sets out his theory of sapiens cognition as a basis for the next brain change.

In Homo Deus Harari states, “this … revolution resulted from a few small changes in the Sapiens DNA and a slight rewiring of the Sapiens brains. … another rewiring of our brain will suffice to launch a second cognitive revolution.” Using, he continues, “… genetic engineering, nanotechnology and brain-computer interfaces.”

I looked for further source information on Harari’s claim. The best I came up with was an arguable theory about a population bottleneck some 70,000 to 60,000 years ago caused by an extinction when a volcano in Indonesia, Toba, erupted 74,000 years ago.

The theory, now mostly refuted, was that Toba’s eruption lowered temperatures around the world wiping out many species, dropping the human population drastically.

Recent studies looking at sediment cores around the world for 100 years before and 200 years after Toba erupted, showed no signs of species die offs. Any effect was mild enough that it did not show up in the sediment layers.

Depending on the source, Homo Sapiens is believed to have emerged about 300,000 years ago (or even 400,000 years ago) and was in Europe at least by 200,000 years ago. A skull found in Greece was just dated to 210,000 years ago. Throw in speculation about “big chills” at 195,000 and 150,000 years ago and a possibility that humans dropped to as little as 40 people, or 600 people or a few thousand people or were always not that plentiful or came from a small group which left Africa at some time or other.

In East Asia, human remains in China have been dated to 100,000 years ago. In Japan, there is evidence of watercraft 84,000 years ago, in Honshu. Those early East-Asia dates argue against Harari’s theory.

Harari doesn’t tell us where he got the term. Did he hear it somewhere and misunderstand it, making assumptions? Could he have stumbled on “Cognitive Revolution” on his own? Fact checking at the publisher should have revealed this term in prior use. Nor could I find any reference by Harari referencing the 1950’s movement of that name in either “Sapiens” or “Homo Deus” or elsewhere, including numerous videos.

The same doubt goes for assumptions about brain changes 70,000 years ago. What we have of skulls doesn’t show a change in brain dimensions. Harari uses the brain-change at 70,000 years ago version of pre-history to bolster the viability of humans making the next change in our species.

There is very little we can say with certainty about our origins. That makes doubtful Harari’s prediction that we are about to re-design our own species by attaching computing devices to our brains.

The real Cognitive Revolution:

A nice, brief synopsis of Homo Sapiens:

Revisiting and refuting a theory about an extinction at 74,000 years ago:

Concept of Behavioral Modernity

Dataism - Good, Bad & Ugly

MIKE STRONG • OCT 28, 2019

According to Data Yoda, "dataism" may lead to the Internet of All Things


Data Yoda says, “the greatest sin would be to block the data flow.” And with missionary zeal, we are told the “great web of life” requires that everyone and everything must be connected, want it or not.

Data Yoda tells us we will live only so long as data flows freely. No flow, we die. The greatest good, therefore, is freedom of information. This, Harari says, is Dataism.

Harari writes that dataism began as neutral science but “… is mutating into a religion that claims to determine right and wrong.” Elsewhere he writes, “… the universe consists of data flows,” which he calls the supreme value.

Harari’s deployment of “Dataism” is a direct expansion of a new coinage by David Brooks in the New York Times, February 2013 and a book by New York Times’ tech writer Steve Lohr.

Brooks wrote, “If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I’d say it is Data-ism.” Lohr, Brooks’ colleague at the New York Times, published his book “Data-ism” in 2015.

(Notice the hyphen by both writers between “data” and “ism.” Harari removes the hyphen.)

2017’s “Homo Deus,” moves “Data-ism” as philosophy to “Dataism” as religion. Although it is a little hard to be sure whether Harari is really calling dataism a religion or is using “religion” as a metaphor for a philosophy. His use of metaphor sometimes sounds very literal. And he argues for the missionary zeal of dataists to connect all things possible. We already have IOT (Internet of Things) and Harari extends that to an Internet of All Things (IOAT).

Harari previously argues that Homo Sapiens is not only an algorithm but a more efficient data processing system than previous humans. Now, with dataism, he says, dataism’s “output will be the creation of a new and even more efficient data-processing system, called the Internet-of-All-Things. Once this mission is accomplished, Homo sapiens will vanish.”

Harari posits humans as the seed starting a flow of data which moves outward into the entire universe. “This cosmic data-processing system would be like God,” he says. Humans will merge into the system.

Maybe. As someone who wrote his first computer program in 1966, I have to wonder whether he has ever coded. I’ve watched magic-computer sales pitches for decades. Computers are great tools. But the uses of data remain the same for the owners and rulers of the data companies, to gather more and more data thinking that more means better.

Lohr states that he adopted his New York Times colleague David Brooks’ term “data-ism” because, he writes, “it suggests the breadth of the phenomenon.” Big data, says Lohr, is creating a new level of measurement promising efficiency and innovation in the economy.

Done well that is true, otherwise it is a bit like making more and more lines and intersections in an astrology chart (I used to do them in a long-gone past). Geometric intricacies by themselves tell you nothing. They are just so many lines. Like too much data.

“Data-ism” by Steve Lohr, published 2015

“The Philosophy of Data” by David Brooks, Feb 4, 2013

Technopedia “What is Data-ism” – short definition and attribution


My Friend Al (Go Rhythm)

MIKE STRONG • OCT 25, 2019

An algorithm is a description of a computer program in plain language and enough detail that working programs in real computer languages can be written using the algorithm as a guide. Will algorithms define us in the future?


In “Homo Deus,” Yuval Noah Harari’s last chapter posits humans as algorithms.

First, we need to clarify the word “algorithm,” whose meaning has morphed to mean almost any computer program. An algorithm is a description of a computer program in plain language and enough detail that working programs in real computer languages can be written using the algorithm as a guide. Here is a very simple example from a program fragment using an if/else decision:

The Algorithm:

If the color of the object is red
run the first program
otherwise run the second program.

Below are two examples of actual program code. Notice how the actual language code differs from the algorithm.

The task described in the algorithm, as written in the BASIC language and in VBScript :

(1st line has comment at the end starting with ‘ )

If obj = “red” Then  ‘check for color attribute of red
End If

The task described in the algorithm, as written in JavaScript, PHP or “C” languages:

(1st line has comment at the end starting with // )

if(obj == “red”){    //check for color attribute of red
} else {

Harari talks about computers being far more efficient than humans. That depends on what you count in the process. Computers are brute force devices which seem quick and efficient only because they are running huge numbers of operations fast enough without showing the steps. But biological brains have shortcuts to recall information and get to answers, that computers don’t have.

Harari talks about AI programs (he says algorithms) will be wiser than humans, will know us better than we know ourselves and that we will let algorithms run our lives.

Well, one of the oldest computer aphorisms is “Garbage In, Garbage Out” (“GIGO”). An AI “learns” by finding and cataloging apparent relationships in the training data which is thrown at it. A computer program neither knows nor cares whether it is getting good data in or “garbage in,” only that it is looking for matches within the data fed to it. It cannot “decide” to look outside the provided data.

Facebook routines which feed news to you “learn” your “preferences.” Those “preferences” are an assumption by their programmers that what you click on or search for represents what you prefer to see. Each click means Facebook will look for similar items to deliver. It becomes a self-referencing feedback loop. As the number of clicks increases, the range of materials narrows.

Job offerings are now largely automated. I submitted my resume to various job sites listing programmer, reporter, photographer and videographer. I shoot mostly dance and taught for five years a course at the UMKC conservatory’s dance division, to dancers, for 3D animation of their choreography so that added college instructor to the list, with my partner, Nicole English. And I was in the Air Force from 1968-1972 as a geodetic computer and geodetic surveyor. Those are the items I fed numerous job sites.

Any human, including the newest of hires, would recommend the jobs listed. But the job sites I submitted resumes to used AI bots, not people, to parse and digest my resumés.

Right away several sites declared me a professor of ballet. I called the dance division at UMKC and told them I was ready to take up my responsibilities. I must be a professor of ballet, I said, because my friend, Al (as in Al Go Rhythm), had proclaimed me a professor there. We all laughed, but it is telling about the limits of AI and is a warning about the effectiveness of turning our lives over to algorithms.

Over the last several years I’ve seen some pretty wild job recommendations for me, frequently, from dental hygienist to truck mechanic to over-the-road driver, to nurse, to apartment handyman, to CAREGiver (sic), cook and, the other week, cardiothoracic surgeon at Hays Med in Hays, Kansas.

It would seem there is just no end to my talents. (Thanks, Al.)

For me, almost all the listings are waste, but that waste is largely out of sight of the heads of companies listing jobs. They see it as cheaper and easier than using humans, an irony for web sites whose stated purpose is connecting people and jobs.


Worship at the Church of Silicon Valley

MIKE STRONG • OCT 21, 2019

Big Bang Data Exhibit at CCCB


In “Homo Deus” (Latin for “man, the god”), Professor Yuval Noah Harari tells us a new religion is coming out of California’s Silicon Valley. It is called “Dataism.”

The most important precept is connecting with everything, producing the promise of a new universe in which we merge totally, disappearing into the flow, of data.

For me, Harari’s beliefs in the new tech sound more akin to the early, idealistic days of the personal computer when we thought the new technology would produce a new human era

In the 1970s and 1980s I bought the idea that personal computers free of computer centers and mainframes, instead of terminals attached to mainframes, meant democratic freedoms. The stranglehold of “big iron” would be broken, forever.

We could not have been more wrong.

We forgot that our small “freedom machines” were also products of large corporations. Those corporations simply saw a new market, not freedoms. At first these personal machines used modems to dial other machines.

Once the World Wide Web program spread access to the internet via “hyperlinks” to anyone the world, the web began to grow. Cell phones emerged and were connected to mainframes, unnoticed, for the most part. When cell phones turned “smart” they became the new terminals, no longer hardwired to the mainframe and no longer in the same building, but terminals all the same. Big iron was back. “Big Iron” was in our pockets.

Cell phones became personal electronic devices and entertainment centers as the networks began to support more bandwidth. From there the same corporations which previously sold us 8mm movies, then VHS tapes and then DVDs now started killing those products in favor of streaming the same content. That way they had total ownership and control. DVDs that you could play again and again for no extra cost are almost defunct.

With streaming, the providers can charge you at each play. Even our own notes and journals become the possession of some “cloud” (say “server” somewhere distant) such as “Drive” or “One Note.” Our applications, our home security and total home monitoring (Alexa, Siri, etcetera) are sold to us a convenient helper, like a butler or maid while they are also personal spies, barely felt.

Even cars, trucks and tractors operate with proprietary software which may be deemed illegal to repair. Light bulbs, refrigerators and many hardware items are connected via the IOT (internet of things), regardless of functional need. In connecting they expose us, repeatedly, to hackers. Mostly because the makers of the products want to spy on us and sell or use the information they glean. Software programs are increasingly subscription only. The programs check “home base” each time they are run, or they won’t work. Any or all of it could disappear in an arbitrary moment or a missed payment.

Like tenant farmers after the civil war, where the means of earning a living were taken over and controlled by “the store,” we are becoming sharecroppers in our own lives. Were I to rename the book for this section I might call it “Homo Servus” instead of “Home Deus.” Servus is Latin for slave.

We’ve been led into this using the twin drugs of convenience and connection, like the drugs of “Brave New World.” And now it is proposed we will upgrade by directly connecting computers to our brains.

As long as the tethers and the surveillance are unseen and unfelt, “we” love it.

Bio Blurb

Mike Strong Radio Reader Book Leader


Yuval Harari's "Homo Deus" provides plenty of thought regarding the ways in which we will navigate uncharted waters in the future and Mike Strong is looking forward to leading the discussion.
MIKE STRONG by Mike Strong


Mike Strong is a photographer, videographer, software programmer, tech writer, and Web programmer. He is a former astronomic and geodetic surveyor/computer (Air Force 1968-1972), former massage therapist at the Kansas City Club, former baker and of course former bartender and waiter (proudly so!), as well as a newspaper and radio reporter (Nebraska and upstate New York before and after the Air Force - KTTT, WMBO/WRLX, WGVA, Geneva Times) later finishing his BS in Journalism from the University of Kansas.

Mike Strong is known in the Kansas City dance communities for his dance photography and videography, as well as for his online publication on the Kansas City dance scene, www.KCDance.com.  Since 1994 when he took up ballroom his photography (and video) has increasingly focused on dance and for some years has been almost entirely dance or dance related. He feels that his own dancing (such as it is, especially tap) feeds directly into his camera, informing each photo and each video with knowledge of when and what to shoot, and just as importantly, maintaining his interest across the years. In short, subject knowledge. He follows all forms of dance, and hopes to educate the public on the importance of dance, the arts and their significance integrated within our daily lives while also seeing dance as an open laboratory of learning-theory.

https://www.kcdance.com                (Dance in the Kansas City area)

https://www.mikestrongphoto.com    (Photo galleries)


It Takes Education to Recognize Abuse

MIKE STRONG • SEP 24, 2019

Two different people may see the same events in a different light. Understanding experiences from an individual perspectives occurs in a memoir, but siblings and parents may not recall things similarly.


I’m Mike Strong - in Hays with reflections on Tara Westover’s “Educated”

The seeming arc of Tara Westover’s book is the struggle to go from a childhood without formal school to a prestigious academic position with a PhD. But “Educated” is really about finding herself.

As she describes her life, she was brought up in a home which avoided as much government as possible, including schools, vaccinations and doctors. They were often in survivalist mode, stocking up supplies for various end-times, none of which happened. It could be harsh without good reason and sometimes abusive. Despite that she remained. Later she kept returning.

If I were fact-checking, the amount of detailed dialog across a span of years needs corroboration. In this case Westover wrote daily in a personal journal. It is her set of journals which forms the backbone for the dialog.

Like a reporter’s notes, her journals make the book possible and act as verification. On her last visit to the family house she packed up the box of old journals under her bed and left with them. When she modifies any entries, she states that she does so not by getting rid of the first entry, but by adding a second duplicate entry with the changes.

I tend to trust written notes, especially handwritten notes, something I learned as a reporter in upstate New York for a daily newspaper in the 1970’s. Writing notes by hand forced my brain to consolidate what was being said in order to write it down in time.

Writing by hand also aided memory and started a mental draft of the story before I sat down later at the typewriter. With handwritten notes, I had the story half written in my head before I got home. And they gave me a record as support when challenged. I brought in my notes to my editors at least a couple of times. With notes they could stand behind me.

Then, we need to look at the varied eyewitness memories.

I have video of filmed exercises from two constitutional law classes taught by Dr. Will Adams. The exercises (1957 and 1971) were designed to show flaws in eyewitness testimony.

In one exercise the driver of the get-away car was arrested, as an accomplice. He claimed he was innocent and that as he drove past a bank being robbed, he braked to avoid a woman walking in front of his car, at which point the robber, because his own car was blocked, jumped into the driver’s car, forcing him to drive away.

At the trial, every witness, including the real police officers overseeing the exercise were adamant there was no such woman. Then the film showing the getaway was projected.

The driver was telling the truth. The film clearly showed a woman walking across the car’s path, causing him to brake and providing an opportunity for the robber.

Presented with the evidence on film the witnesses had to concede but still didn’t remember the woman. This is not uncommon. Memories are not like files from a hard drive. Memories are reconstructions in the moment.

One more reflection: The behaviors Tara Westover describes are abusive. In the very early 1980’s I volunteered on two Kansas City help lines. From the first, I learned that people needed to be educated to recognize abusive behavior, including victims. 

I was amazed so many people believed they deserved ill treatment. And I was amazed so many returned to their abusers, often after their abuser suddenly seemed conciliatory. That switched behavior is typical and is not about niceness or consideration. It is a means of control and deception.

Almost four decades later we still need education to recognize both abuse and abusers. It is worth spending time with Dr. Westover’s memories. She gives us a lot to think about.

This is Mike Strong - in Hays - for HPPR’s Radio Readers Book Club, reflecting on “Educated,” by Dr. Tara Westover.

Where the Dead Sit Talking - Shadows

MIKE STRONG • SEP 17, 2019



I suppose you could call Where the Dead Sit Talking a coming-to-terms book. Our protagonist and narrator, Sequoyah, is in his mid-40s, looking back to his mid-teens. Sequoyah is remembering a death of a 17-year old girl he knew in 1989, when he was 15.

The book is a fictional dark memoire of a time in the narrator’s life when almost everything around him was bent. His single, alcoholic, boyfriend-hopping mother winds up in prison and he is sent to foster care where he meets Rosemary Blackwell, another child in the foster home, and he meets autistic George who is writing a book.

The story of Rosemary is woven through the narrative. We are told at the beginning that she killed herself though we don’t get to the circumstances of her death until almost the very end of the book.

Rosemary Blackwell is Cherokee, like Sequoyah, and like the author, Brandon Hobson.

In a way Hobson himself is coming to terms with his heritage and himself.

The foster father is a bookie and has thousands of dollars in cash hidden on the property. There is Jack who offers him a ride, as do many others, as he says, “… his interest in me was not unlike the men who would ask me for rides when I would walk along Highway 30 back in Cherokee County.” He barely escapes from Jack after the ride goes to Jack’s house with an assortment of boys and a girl lying or sitting around.

There is the matter of names. We never know whether Sequoyah has a last name. His foster family have first and last names as does Rosemary Blackwell. But few others. We never learn the name of his mother or his father or his great grandfather who inspires his world of spirits. We know the first names of his social worker, his mother’s last boyfriend and the boyfriend’s son.

He is fascinated by the mercurial, sometimes distant and sometimes intimate Rosemary. Both share a fluidness about sexual identity (he seems androgynous) although it is Rosemary who has acted on it and Sequoyah who shies away at his opportunities. He stays just on the outside, never feeling he belongs.

Sequoyah himself carries burn scars on his face from an accident when his mother splattered him with hot cooking oil. They are a visible metaphor for deep emotional scars, also marking him as different and not belonging. He , Rosemary and George are all throwaway youngsters. Lost in a system when their own parents cannot care for them.

They survive, each in their own ways. We can see the risky and self-harming behavior of Rosemary, the avoidance of Sequoyah and the retreat of George. Each of them is acting to avoid destruction using the wrong methods, especially Rosemary.

This book is peopled with shadows, people from his teens whose impressions remain with him now. But not mystical shadows or spiritual shadows or ceremonies, just the gritty memories of a troubled time. The young Sequoyah is dodging and ducking from the life around him and nearly 30 years later he lets us know right off that he remains unhappy.

Sequoyah tells us, “People kill themselves or they get killed. The rest of us live on, burdened by what is inescapable.”

The Existence of Wide-Ranging News

MIKE STRONG • AUG 28, 2019



I had almost forgotten how good it feels to slip into a narrative which folds around you and won’t let go until the very end.

In “News of the World” Paulette Jiles’ protagonist, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a former printer who lost his press in the civil war and is now a traveling lecturer, who reads news of the world out of newspapers from cities around the country. He lives off the money his audiences pay to hear him.

Because he now travels, he is asked to transport a 10-year old girl to her relatives on his way from Wichita Falls in north Texas south to the San Antonio area. She has just been recovered after having been taken two years previously by Indians after they killed her parents. That journey and its unexpected conclusion is our narrative.

Paulette Giles’ main historical source is "The Captured" by Scott Zesch. Zesch was drawn to the stories of whites captured by indigenous tribes because of a great, great uncle of his, Adolph Korn. “The Captured” is almost a guide to “News of the World.” Both books emphasize how, regardless of violence involved in their kidnappings, people taken by the Indian raiders never left the lives they were abducted into. The captives preferred their native lives, becoming “white Indians,” as they were called.

One piece of exposition left wide open by Paulette Jiles is how the news of the world got to those newspapers that Captain Kidd carries and reads from.

In Jiles’ book the existence of wide-ranging news is a given. It wasn’t so in every country. The history of news distribution in the United States belongs to the Post Office, specifically the Postal Act of 1792, akin, for its time, to net neutrality today. The Postal Act of 1792 had four factors which were central to the role it would play in the new nation. All postal routes were created and set by congress. There was no minimum required revenue to setup and run a post office. The privacy of the mail was protected - no government surveillance

Newspaper exchange between printers was free.

When the constitution was created there was almost no sense of a nation. The states were what the average citizen related to. The Post Office became almost the only visible connection with the federal government. By 1831 postal employees made up 74-percent of all federal employees and by 1841 the figure was 79-percent.

In England and Europe at the same time new post offices had to have a return in revenue. France required $200(USD) a year. In the US, congress members appointed postmasters everywhere, a use of pork barrel politics.

Most pertinent to Captain Kidd’s lectures was the Postal Act’s free exchange for newspapers between printers. Printers shared and re-published information, from the largest cities to the most remote frontier outposts - very much the way bloggers re-publish information today.

When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the US in 1831 for the French government, later publishing “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville was impressed that the most back-country citizens knew more about European affairs than most citizens in his own country who were not in a capital city.

Jiles’ protagonist, Captain Kidd, was born in 1798 and first went to war in 1812. Later at nearly 50 the author places him in the Mexican War where his skills as a printer are enlisted (literally) to print dispatches. Within that time, by the 1830’s, newspapers were receiving around 4,500 exchange papers a year, more than a dozen papers a day on average (4500/365).

That was pre-telegraph. By 1866 a telegraph cable had been laid across the Atlantic to Europe. And that is where, in 1870, Jiles sets the stage for her character’s journey in “News of the World.”

References / links

“News of the World,” by Paulette Giles

“The Captured : A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier,” by Scott Zesch

“Spreading The News, The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse,” by Richard R. John

I was also reminded of “The Postman,”a post-apocalyptic book by David Brin (and later movie with Kevin Costner). (Blurb quote: “He was a survivor—a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war.”) The postman becomes the savior he was seeking.