John D. Rockefeller: A Character Study

A two-part write-around of the world’s only billionaire.

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He was a silent boy — a silent young man. With years the habit of silence became the habit of concealment. It was not long after the Standard Oil Company was founded, before it was said in Cleveland that its offices were the most difficult in the town to enter, Mr. Rockefeller the most difficult man to see. If a stranger got in to see any one he was anxious. "Who is that man?" he asked an associate nervously one day, calling him away when the latter was chatting with a stranger. "An old friend, Mr. Rockefeller." "What does he want here? Be careful. Don't let him find out anything." "But he is my friend, Mr. Rockefeller. He does not want to know anything. He has come to see me." "You never can tell. Be very careful, very careful." This caution gradually developed into a Chinese wall of seclusion. This suspicion extended, not only to all outsiders but most insiders. Nobody in the Standard Oil Company was allowed to know any more than was necessary for him to know to do his business. Men who have been officers in the Standard Oil Company say that they have been told, when asking for information about the condition of the business, "You'd better not know. If you know nothing you can tell nothing."

Insider Baseball

On the 1988 presidential election and the boys on the bus.

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“American reporters ‘like’ covering a presidential campaign (it gets them out on the road, it has balloons, it has music, it is viewed as a big story, one that leads to the respect of one’s peers, to the Sunday shows, to lecture fees and often to Washington), which is one reason why there has developed among those who do it so arresting an enthusiasm for overlooking the contradictions inherent in reporting that which occurs only in order to be reported.”

Letter from Birmingham Jail

On the moral responsibility to break unjust laws.

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“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”

The Toughest Coach There Ever Was

“Robert Victor Sullivan, whom you’ve surely never heard of, was the toughest coach of them all. He was so tough he had to have two tough nicknames, Bull and Cyclone, and his name was usually recorded this way: coach Bob “Bull” “Cyclone” Sullivan or coach Bob (Bull) (Cyclone) Sullivan. Also, at times he was known as Big Bob or Shotgun. He was the most unique of men, and yet he remains utterly representative of a time that has vanished, from the gridiron and from these United States.”