I’ve partnered to write a book with an old friend who just happens to be blind. It’s called Unwashed Philosophy, The Users Guide for Our Imperfect Union. His name is David Poff and he lives a hermit’s existence in New Hampshire. Some years younger than me, we still go back years, and having spent hours in collaboration with this book, I know he has more follow-ups in him should he stay in good health, for his mastery of the subject is deep and wide and his writing superb.
Me? I’m closer to the end of the line, I’ll be in my late-70s at the end of this year, and certain parts of me are fading faster than I’d wanted. I also have a few good books in me, most of which are already written, and I’d like to be able to have as many as possibly in the hopper before the last candle goes out.
My problem is, no one every heard of my real name except for a few retired editors at “National Review” and a couple of Ukrainian gang members who may or may not care where I live any longer, so, if I want to build a stash for my sons, I’ll have to stay with “Vassar Bushmills”.
Hence this short biography.
Dave and I have known each other since 2008 when I began writing at RedState.com as a guest writer using the name Vassar Bushmills. It was given to me in 1998, but I never used it until 2004.
RedState was a big star in the blogosphere in 2008, and Dave was one of its principal “behind-the-curtain” technical specialists. He had a good business building websites. Since we were closer in age, 10-12 years, Baby Boomers, than the RedState staff, 25-30 years, the same ages as my sons, we had more in common, including being of Appalachian stock, which ordinarily is not a plus on one’s resume.
I came to RedState at age 63, after a short stint at TownHall, finding the RedState readers more receptive for my 1000-1500 word epistles, littered with vignettes from 40 years of experience. A lawyer by training, military (5 years), private law practice (3 years) corporate manufacturing (10 years), then international small business consulting in Asia, eastern Europe and the Russias, (20 years), so at age 63, I thought those experiences might make my perspectives a little unique.
I lucked out by being in the Soviet Union when it fell in January 1992, one of the very few unaffiliated non-government Americans there in that historic time, and was even befriended by a member of the Russian Central Committee, from the closed-city of Gorkiy. I knew a lot about factories and production and he made sure I saw them. In my corporate life I had gotten to know Chinese manufacturing processes, and my first consultancy, three years before I went to the USSR, was trying to show small manufacturing companies in southeast Asia how to compete with China’s low labor costs, namely how they cooked their books. When the Berlin Wall fell I turned toward the Soviet Empire.
I got my background knowledge of the USSR, besides a minor at university, from reading “National Review” which featured veterans like Whittaker Chambers, who introduced my generation to the world of communism in America before, during and after World War II. Chambers was a principal in the outing of Alger Hiss, whose innocence is still protested inside a wing of the Democrat Party today, and stills showcases much of its psychopathy.
Knowing these things I did not go to the USSR unarmed, like a tourist.
By comparison, one of RS’s young editors, also a lawyer, when we sometimes met at a private RS email account, eaten up with a story of mine about a midnight meeting on a levee in Ukraine with a local mafia don in ’92, countered with his own gotcha-moment, “Oh yeah, well I once tried 8 different single-malt scotches.” No, really. (You don’t want to know who he works for now.)
At RS it was only Dave Poff who had a comparable boatload of life’s stories, and who also knew America before Bill Clinton. He knew a thing or two because he’d seen a thing or two.
In February, 2011 RedState’s management shut out 3 or 4 guest writers, all of my generation. I was a little unsettled at the English school-boy bad manners, to lock us out without so much as a “by your leave”, but understood the corporate reason, having been in the manufacturing industry in the 80’s and an adult back into the 60s, when Rock n’ Roll decided to push “Bubble Gum” music, which was aimed at pre-teens whose big brothers and sisters had been Elvis and Jerry Lee fans, sending many Boomers over to Hard Rock and others to Don McLean and Neil Diamond.
Simple marketing and branding. I assumed RedState’s parent company had just decided to go all-in for Bubble Gum.
So, a few of us patched together enough money to form UnifiedPatriots.com at an organizing meeting in Delaware, where I finally met Dave Poff face-to-face. . And everyone there called me Vassar. What came out of that meeting was also VassarBushmills.com. both launched March 2011
So about this name, Vassar Bushmills, it has its own genesis having nothing to do with the internet. It was given to me by an old cuss I met in the Moscow McDonald’s in January ’92. We worked with off and on in the old USSR and the Balkans until he moved onto the high pastures in 2006. He was the man who directed me toward working with the small “biznez” sector of the Soviet Empire, to whom I am forever indebted. “Leave government connections out of it” he said. “Keep your eyes open and you’ll see why.”
While I did a lot of good with his approach, it wasn’t very profitable since I had a running conflict of interests between my loyalty to the small businesses who needed American partners and my American clients who bankrolled me. In the end I had to “fire” most of them as they wanted to reduce these small businessmen to mere employees. Sadly, the Russian, et al, image of American business was drawn mostly from bootleg American television. Only, by 1992-93, American business school theology had gone almost full-blown Gordon Gekko. The moral ethics were no more. Everyone was trying to fleece the system at their same time the oligarchs were battling it out as to which mob would run the various private sectors.
So everything I did there, from 1994-2008, was on a shoe-string budget, and all under my real name, which became a little dicey in the Russias as I found out one of my hosts in Ukraine in ’91-’92, a Russian by birth, was mobbed up, and he warned me never to come back, or else.
It was that old Moscow friend I’d met at the Moscow McDonalds who gave me the name Vassar (after the Nashville fiddler) and Bushmills (after the Irish whiskey) while I named him Moses, to keep his real name secret from his friends in government from the JFK days. (I’ve told his story in bits and pieces over the years.) Moses wanted me “to write a book” about his experiences with ordinary Russians, only for the benefit of ordinary Americans, not the political class. I argued against it since it would be a book aimed at “people who don’t read.” (I didn’t know that Donald Trump would find a better way to reach out to them.) Then the Kosovo War, then 9/11 happened and America’s eyes turned to the Middle East. With the Iraq War Moses wanted to revive that book idea, only about bringing democracy to the Iraq, and through them to the whole region. To him, it was just common sense. So I flew out to Arizona to meet with him, and then a long drive to the Staked Plains of New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle, where he spent two days of just rambling on from a promontory overlooking the mesas while I took notes and recorded.
I then published a long 5500 essay at a pro-Iraq War website under this new name, which has long since disappeared, and later a book which I may have the only copy extant, The Prospects for Democracy and the Arab House.
So, in closing, from 1964-thru-2004 I went through life under my real name, through university and then law school, graduating in August of ’68, and commissioned a second lieutenant in Infantry via ROTC. In February, 1972 I shipped out to Japan, an Army captain and trial lawyer. I stayed 5 years, got to know some famous generals in the history books, and became a hated criminal defense lawyer as I never lost a case I took the jury. I wrote of several of my military adventures at a Veterans site which was also set up by Dave Poff, and have since begun reposting them at VassarBushmills.com after the site was closed over a year ago with the passing of our principal site editor, a God-fearing black grandmother named PumabyDesign (real name Denise Shepard), from Brooklyn, who died of pancreatic cancer. At VeteransTales we also tried to establish a teaching program, using vets to give in-class lectures to young students about “being American” and American exceptionalism, things they are now being denied in the classroom. No one has more credibility to 12-16 year old’s than a veteran.
Leaving the Army in 1976, I stayed on in Arizona to watch over my dad, who was one of the earliest heart by-pass patients. I had a small private practice in northern Arizona, but grew very weary of the schmoozing, sold the house and moved to Kentucky, awaiting a new federal job through my old Army boss who was them Judge Advocate in Germany. Only Jimmy Carter froze federal hiring, so, stranded, I took employment with the area’s largest employer, a mass manufacturer, only not as an attorney, but as corporate manager. I stayed on 10 years, learned the trade, and got to watch the Gordon Gekko-effect at both mid-management and the corporate level, especially the condescending manner young, smug MBA’s spoke with “factory people”. It was also there that I gained knowledge about the Chinese manufacturing system. They offered to buy our company in the mid-80s, only the top management, all from the WWII era, said No… then followed by an “At least allow us to become your manufacturing sector”. Again, No. But by the end of the Reagan era, and all those WWII vets retiring, and the new Gekkos moving in, I decided to move on. (My wife decided to stay put, which from the financial perspective, was wise, since that was my best paycheck since.)
I opened up a small practice in northern Kentucky, went to the Russias for four months, ’91-’92, watched history unfold, corresponded with William Buckley at National Review, thinking I’d seen things there people who worked the political-bureaucracy side of the street would miss, met Moses, and thanks to Newt Gingrich and his House, even got to teach American Government and Business Law to inner city black mothers having to leave their AFDC-safety nets….practicing my own version of apologetics.
In 2000 I moved to Virginia for easier air access to Europe, still having not yet used my Vassar Bushmills business card. In 2004 I remarried, opened a kind of Balkan museum, then just as quickly closed it because my youngest son came down with leukemia, and it would be two years driving 300 miles to swap out sitting chores with his mother, until docs have him a green light to get back to regular living. I returned to regular business in 2006.
It was then I tried Townhall and RedState. I’ve published over 1000 essays in those 10 years, and by subject matter, at least 4 or 5 good books among them, not to mention two books I published at Amazon, Famous Common People I Have Known, and an analysis about Donald Trump, the Common Man and the American Theology of Liberty, written before the 2016 election, which Amazon suddenly removed from their offerings. Both need to be expanded and updated.
And of course, in keeping with the themes mentioned in David Poff’s book, (above), to which I contributed a couple of chapters, I have for many years wanted to write a “Devil’s History of the United States”, a la Mark Twain, which I’ve had in skeleton format for several years.
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The point of this epistle is to let you know my time is running out. I’ll be in my late 70s come December. Like David Poff, who misfortune overtook with a stroke, but by sheer perspicacity has maintained his business of building and managing websites, and has proven an extraordinarily good analyst and writer…
…It was my bad fortune to have to keep my real name buried. Any legacy to my sons will be under the name Vassar Bushmills, if I can just get them into print.
So here I am with a story to tell, and not much time to tell it, but I can only use this name because no one other than the graduating class of my high school in eastern Kentucky ever heard of me with the other name.