Category Archives: American Dream

East to the Dawn — A Review

Usually I don’t read biographies. I made an exception for Susan Butler’s East to the Dawn – the Life of Amelia Earhart because of, well, Amelia Earhart.

Amelia has always been a favorite of mine. I remember reading her chapter in a book by Robert S. Owen, They Flew to Fame, when I was nine or ten years old. It was the chapter just after Lindbergh’s which, in retrospect, seems fitting.

I confess I found the story of Amelia’s early life a little slow. That’s not Ms. Butler’s fault; a person’s life moves at its own pace, and even Amelia’s was no exception. There were still interesting things to be found in the first half of the book; I knew Amelia had been a social worker, but I had no idea at ten what a “social worker” was (except for the reference in a song from “West Side Story”) or the fact that in the mid-20s it was considered a cutting-edge career for women. I also didn’t know about the misfortunes of Amelia’s early family life, which I won’t go in to — read the book yourself.

I’m also not quite sure at what point I became enthralled with the book. It was probably when Ms. Butler pointed out that once Amelia made a success of herself as a social worker at the Denison House she could have had a brilliant career in that field, possibly living to a respected and accomplished old age. I simply hadn’t thought of that, and that point, the idea that an historical figure actually had choices, is not something that one sees brought out in biographies very often, because they are nearly always about people who are famous for doing something we already know about. For that reason choices made often seem the only ones possible; set in stone, or predestined, if you will. Ms. Butler avoids that, and her work is all the better for it.

From that point on the biography, already well done, became in my opinion inspired, and I began to consider what Ms. Butler had to put in to the writing.

I asked myself what caused the author to undertake the task of this book? Writing a fresh biography of a figure like Amelia Earhart, famous and well-known in her own time, the subject of many other biographies, is surely a daunting undertaking. Ms. Butler seems to have approached the task with a will. The level of effort employed is to be appreciated only by looking at the extensive notes and bibliography.

That level of effort involved many interviews with people still living who knew Amelia; a search through previously unpublished contemporary records, such as diaries, journals and letters, the mere ferreting out of which in itself had to be a monumental task; searching through records official and unofficial. Merely compiling the data alone is a task involving years of focus, discipline and purpose.

One might say such an effort has elements of obsession, but I see obsession as a negative quality, and there is nothing of the negative in the quality of Ms. Butler’s work. It is rather a work of love, undertaken in the spirit of a duty one sometimes finds oneself selected to bear, the duty of bringing witness to greatness.

No one can write words that put us inside the skin of another, and if they could that still might not be the greatest artistry. The great writer, in whatever form, through words creates a platform of the imagination which strikes in the mind and soul of the reader sparks of sympathy, empathy and compassion, a light in that darkness surrounding our souls that permits us a glimpse, a trembling glimpse across an awful void, to where the soul of another may be discerned.

So it is with this biography.

Quite aside from anything else, as an aviation enthusiast I found Ms. Butler’s anecdotes of the aviation community of the 1920s and 1930s to be fascinating and informative. Her account of Amelia’s last flight, particularly the last legs from Java and New Guinea to remote Howland Island, was poignant, the last line of that chapter heart-wrenching for anyone who has ever flown.

Need I add that I thoroughly recommend this work?

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Job Creation

I remember thinking that when Ronald Reagan first proposed the idea of “trickle down economics” aka “supply side economics” back in the early ‘80s that it sounded like a good idea.  The rich invest in new businesses which create jobs which means a good deal all around, right?

Since then we’ve seen a lot of rhetoric about economics, and precious little of it seems supported by anything other than propaganda.  So I’d like to add a few anecdotes from my own life on this subject.  Now, any statistician will tell you that a sample of one is inherently biased.  So perhaps those of you reading this would like to consider your own experiences and weigh in on the subject.

The first full-time job I had after college was an extension of a part-time job I had during my last year in school.  I worked for several years as night manager of a fast food restaurant.  The interesting thing about this is that my boss, the guy that signed my paycheck, wasn’t rich.  At least he wasn’t borne rich.  He’d come over from Cuba at 15, in 1960, with the shirt on his back.  He worked 60 hours a week for $60 washing dishes when he landed in New York City, became a waiter, saved his money, then he and his wife bought the restaurant franchise where I worked.  Jesse, the last I heard of him, owned two restaurants and a half-interest in a jewelry store.  I always thought of Jesse as a great American and a true success story.  In the time I knew him, he kept a payroll of three full time and anywhere from six to twelve part-time employees going, mostly college students.

The second full-time job I had was working in a small flying school as a dispatcher.  Look, no one who hasn’t been in that business will appreciate it when I say that Norman, the owner, who probably didn’t make a hell of a lot out the school, kept it going for at least ten years that I know of.  Any business in aviation is chancy; look how many major airlines have failed in the last twenty years.  Business in general aviation is almost like asking to fail.  Somehow, though, Norman kept going.  While I worked for Norman I saw dozens of instructor pilots come and go, student pilots get their ratings and hire on as instructors, then leave for charter jobs.  Pilots, most of whom don’t know much about anything other than flying, were always criticizing Norman for the way he ran the business.  I don’t recall ever seeing any of them bring in a single new student pilot, which, somehow, is what Norman managed to do fairly regularly.  Even in the lean times Norman kept the school going and paid his employees regularly.  I have a lot of respect for Norman.  I hope he managed to sell out for something decent and live comfortably.  He sure as hell earned every penny the hard way.

I worked for a firm of lawyers for about six years.  Most law firms are relatively small businesses, a couple of partners, some associates, maybe a paralegal or two, a secretary, perhaps a receptionist if it’s a well-to-do firm.  This too was a family-owned business, and I worked for the family.  No one invested in us.  If people needed the service we provided, they came through the door, and we helped them when we could, and they paid us accordingly.

Most recently I’ve worked for an engineering firm.  I won’t say much about that except this: it’s a small business, family owned, and except recently, with the down-turn of the economy, the only investment that business has had is in the hard work and devotion of its owners, people for whom I have the utmost respect.

So out of a career spanning nearly forty years and I truthfully don’t know how many jobs, almost all of them have been for small businesses that usually were family owned.  One thing I’m sure of: the only investment made in those businesses was by the owners and operators.  I don’t want to get into any discussion of whether they did it themselves; that’s true up to a point, certainly.

My point is this: my experience, this sample of one, is that jobs come more from entrepreneurs and small businesses, people with a dream, if you will, than large businesses.  Does this refute trickle-down economics?  That isn’t my intent.  I think one should consider, however, that the American Dream isn’t about the little guy going to work for the big guy which is the essence of “trickle-down economics” however you look at it.  I’ve worked for people who lived the American Dream, and I sure as hell know the difference.

How about you?

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