Once Upon a Town

The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen

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Recommended by my sister, when we got to talking about books last summer when we visited her in Iowa. She really liked it, and who could blame her, it's a feelgood story of small-town Midwest virtue with notes of bittersweetness of how things change over time.

Between December 1941 and April 1946, the citizens of North Platte, Nebraska provided an unparalleled example of diligence, voluntary cooperation, and unselfish patriotism. Back then, North Platte was a quick stop for troop trains heading both east and west, many times per day, every day. The North Platters took on what turned out to be a near-impossible task: during the stop, the soldiers would be provided with chicken, eggs, sandwiches, cigarettes, cake, popcorn balls, candy,… basically, whatever the citizens could provide.

If anything, the author of this history, Bob Greene, understates how difficult this was. North Platte wasn't a particularly prosperous town. During the war, a lot of basic foodstuffs were under strict rationing. They did have the advantage of being right in the middle of a lot of farming communities. But that poised problems of its own: gasoline was also rationed. How you gonna get those chickens to North Platte without gassing up the truck?

Well, they figured it out pretty well, by all accounts presented here. It is largely an oral history. Bob Greene found numerous folks, both soldiers and civilians, to tell their tales. (The book was published in 2002: roughly speaking, the folks in their twenties during the war were in their eighties then.)

Greene tours the town, with (as I said) bittersweet observations of how things changed. Passenger trains stopped coming through North Platte in the 70s, and the depot that housed the Canteen was torn down by Union Pacific not long after. (The town is still home to a thriving freight railroad business: the Union Pacific Bailey Yard is "the largest railroad classification yard in the world.")

Green has an ear for telling interesting and illustrative stories. The Hotel Pawnee (then: Hotel Yancy) was built in 1929 by North Platte native (and one-term Nebraska Governor) Morell Keith Neville. It was meant to be a luxury destination; instead the Great Depression happened. When Greene visits, it's been repurposed into an "Assisted Living Facility", but it seems to be a depressing, smelly old-people warehouse. (These days it's supposed to be in the process of a fantabulous restoration, but the newest stories I can find about that are a couple years old.)

But here's the thing. While doing my usual few minutes of superficial research on Wikipedia (footnotes elided):

On July 13, 1929, a black man shot and killed a white police officer. The black man reportedly took his own life, being trapped by a mob. This led to the formation of white mobs combing the city, and ordering black residents to leave North Platte. Fearing mob violence, most of North Platte's black residents fled.

Um. This was only a dozen years before the war, and the North Platte Canteen. And Greene doesn't mention this at all. And, geez, he pretty much had to know about it.

I can kind of understand why. It would complicate his narrative, and he'd have to wonder how many good citizens of North Platte participated in both the Canteen, and the perhaps-a-lynch mob.

Last Modified 2024-02-14 4:49 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


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  • It keeps showing up in unexpected places. The NR editors discuss Barbarism in the Senate.

    On Wednesday, a majority of the U.S. Senate — all 50 GOP senators plus West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin — shot down a barbaric abortion bill that would enshrine in federal law a virtually unlimited right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in all 50 states. The deceptively named Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) would also wipe away nearly all state laws discouraging and regulating abortion — including many laws that have been permitted under Roe v. Wade.

    Democratic leaders openly admit they held their second failed vote on the same radical abortion bill in the span of ten weeks because they want to campaign this fall on support for Roe. But they desperately want to avoid any discussion of what their bill actually does.

    When Democrats in Washington speak of “codifying Roe,” what they mean in plain English is protecting a right to kill a baby through all nine months for virtually any reason. The WHPA creates an absolute right to abortion through the first five to six months of pregnancy, and it mandates legal abortion after viability until birth whenever a lone health-care provider — a term not limited to doctors — determines that the continuation of the pregnancy “would pose a risk” to the patient’s life or “health.” The WHPA’s chief sponsor in the Senate has acknowledged the legislation “doesn’t distinguish” between physical and mental health, and the text of the bill instructs the courts to “liberally construe” the provisions of the act. Courts would therefore look to the definition of “health” found in Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton: “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age. . . . All these factors may relate to health.”

    Our state's senators, Jeanne and Maggie, voted (apparently enthusiastically) for the bill.

    The editors go on to note that " … pro-life candidates and activists should expect no help from the mainstream media in explaining what Democrats really mean when they speak of codifying Roe." Confirming evidence for that arrived early this morn with a story in my local paper headlined "People speak up at Bans Off Our Bodies rally at Prescott Park". The Bodies were pictured and quoted extensively, no dissenting opinions recorded.

    As I've mentioned previously: my newspaper subscription expires at the end of the month. I'm not renewing.

  • In her defense, her degree was in speech pathology and audiology. Allison Schrager grades a neighboring state's senator's proposal pretty harshly: Elizabeth Warren’s Price-Gouging Bill Flunks Basic Economics.

    Senate Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren, just released a bill that would make price-gouging unlawful. The proposal gives further life to price controls, one of the worst policy failures from the last period of high inflation, decades ago.

    According to the bill, “It shall be unlawful for a person to sell or offer for sale a good or service at an unconscionably excessive price during an exceptional market shock, regardless of the person’s position in a supply chain or distribution network.” What is an “unconscionably excessive” price? Presumably Warren knows it when she sees it. The punishment would be the lesser of a $25,000 fine or 5 percent of revenues.

    This bill flunks basic economics. Firms raise prices for two reasons: they face higher costs and must pass them on to the consumer, or they are seeing increased demand. Right now, both things are happening, though it’s often hard to separate the two. Costs are higher because of higher energy prices and problems with supply chains. Demand is hot because Americans have savings from the pandemic and the government, with respect to both fiscal and monetary policy, was too expansionary.

    Allison Schrager has a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia. If she says you're flunking basic econ, you probably are.

  • It seems to be "Dump on Lousy New England Lady Senators Day" here at Pun Salad. More on Liz Warren's bad bill from Liz Wolfe: Elizabeth Warren Introduces Price-Gouging Bill That Fails To Define What Qualifies as Price Gouging.

    "The prices Americans are paying for groceries and other essentials are at all-time highs. One of the reasons?" asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) on Wednesday via Twitter. "Giant corporations are price gouging & reaping record profits. We need to put a stop to corporate gouging that drives up prices for families."

    It couldn't be that runaway inflation—which has reached astonishing 40-year highs in recent weeks—is, according to Federal Reserve of San Francisco economists, partly attributable to President Joe Biden's mid-pandemic economic stimulus plans, which pumped money into the bank accounts of Americans with seemingly little thought given to what could result. In Warren's view of the world, it's corporate, not government, malfeasance that's leading to pocketbook pain for everyday Americans.

    Warren holds that such problems must be solved by the federal government in the form of a new bill that would limit the prices companies can charge consumers during times of "exceptional market shock." That includes times of war, public health emergency, or natural disaster—which would have encompassed all of the last two years, barring firms from raising their prices to adapt to difficult and fast-changing economic circumstances.

    Warren's bill, introduced with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D–Wis.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D–Ill.), would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and penalize companies with "unconscionably excessive price increases," which is disturbingly defined nowhere in the legislation.

    Elizabeth Warren is just slightly older than me, and you'd think she'd have enough functional memory cells to remember the disastrous price controls of the 1970s.

  • Will censorship cure disinformation? Well, I bet you know the answer, but you might like to see the argument anyway. Here 'tis, from Jacob Mchangama and Nadine Strossen: Censorship won’t cure disinformation. Mchangama first:

    What do the Catholic Church, England under Henry VIII, The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and the European Union have in common?

    Certainly not much in terms of ideology, ethics, or philosophy. However, for all their fundamental differences each of these states and institutions have prohibited various forms of false information.

    For centuries, the Catholic Church was preoccupied with stamping out heresy, which has its roots in the Greek word, “haíresis,” meaning “choice.” In the Middle Ages, heresy was defined as “an opinion chosen by human perception contrary to holy Scripture, publicly avowed and obstinately defended,” and could ultimately be punished by death. As late as 1832, Pope Gregory XVI warned that removing the restraints that keep men “on the narrow path of truth” was “a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other” and, therefore, the “evil” of “immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for novelty” had to be countered at all costs.

    And Ms. Strossen:

    Multiple studies have concluded that the most fruitful anti-disinformation tool is accurate information that can check its spread and influence: targeted responses to specific disinformation, as well as preemptive general educational approaches, and enhancing critical media skills. Psychological research shows that even more effective than debunking disinformation after its dissemination is “prebunking”: inoculating people against disinformation before they are exposed to it.

    In contrast with censorship, these “counterspeech”/“more speech” strategies not only are more compatible with free speech and democracy; they are also more effective in promoting truth.

    People who want to "protect" the public from disinformation view citizens as easily-gulled idiots.

    Well, some are. Sure.

    But that attitude, when given censorship powers, rapidly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: it produces more and more people who can't think critically because they don't get the practice.

  • Paul: That’s specious reasoning, Joe. Joe: Thank you, Paul. Bernard Lane takes on The White House’s Specious Gender Manifesto.

    On March 31st, Joe Biden’s White House issued a lengthy “fact sheet” claiming that science has spoken in favour of puberty-blocking drugs—lifelong synthetic hormones for young people who identify as transgender or non-binary and seek medicalised gender change. What used to be called “sex-reassignment” is now the more seductive “gender-affirming care.” We also have the leader of the free world boldly “confirming the positive impact of gender-affirming care on youth mental health.”

    “Confirming” is the new asserting, and the Biden-Harris administration is also “confirming that providing gender-affirming care is neither child maltreatment nor malpractice.” It’s a small step from confirming to enforcing, and so the federal Justice Department has written to state attorneys-general warning them that if they deny minors the benefits of gender-affirming medical science, they will fall afoul of constitutional and statutory guarantees of equality, not to mention funding rules tied to grants from Washington. The first state under federal fire is Alabama, where a new law would impose up to 10 years’ prison time on clinicians taking anyone under 19 on a medicalised gender journey. The White House is even taking the fight offshore, pledging to uphold trans health rights with its foreign policy and overseas aid programs.

    Amusing Amazon: it won't sell you When Harry Became Sally, by Ryan T. Anderson. But it will sell you Summary of When Harry Became Sally. (A 62 page summary of the original 272 page book.)

    (This item's headline adapted from a classic source.)

Last Modified 2024-01-22 9:18 AM EDT