I am no admirer of Dr. John Latschar, the present superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park. There are plenty of reasons why, but I won’t bore you with the details again. Suffice it to say that there are two unforgivable sins in my world: lying to me and wasting my time. This guy has done both.

The following press release was issued by the Gettysburg Foundation several days ago:

Gettysburg, Pa. (November 7, 2008)-Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar will be leaving his post on March 1, 2009 to become the new president of the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, it was announced today by the Gettysburg Foundation and the National Park Service.

“John’s vision and leadership are an important part of the successful public-private partnership between the Gettysburg Foundation and the National Park Service,” said Robert Kinsley, Chair of the Gettysburg Foundation. “John’s experience and dedication exemplifies the type of leader we are looking for as we continue to work with the National Park Service to preserve Gettysburg for future generations.” Latschar was selected after a unanimous vote by the Board of Directors for the Foundation.

“Obviously, Bob is leaving some huge shoes to fill,” said Latschar. “No one else could have taken the Gettysburg Foundation from a concept to the opening of our new museum and visitor center in eight short years. I’m excited about the opportunity to continue to work towards the preservation and care of Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS from a new perspective. My goal will be to ensure that we continue our momentum, and to move the organization forward into a new era of philanthropy for the benefit of this and future generations,” said Latschar.

Working as a partner with the National Park Service, the Gettysburg Foundation has raised $103 million to build a new park Museum and Visitor Center which has ensured the preservation of the Gettysburg’s museum collections and the Cyclorama painting. The facility’s 24,000 square feet of museum exhibits have improved visitor understanding of the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg within the context of the causes and consequences of the American Civil War. A final keystone to the project will occur this winter when the park and the Gettysburg Foundation demolish two outdated visitor facilities located upon the center of the Union Army’s battle line of July 1863.

“John’s background and perspectives as an army officer, a combat veteran, a Ph.D. historian, and park superintendent contributed to his success in addressing preservation challenges at both Gettysburg NMP and the Eisenhower Site in innovative ways,” said Dennis Reidenbach, Regional Director for the National Park Service Northeast Region. “The projects and partnerships he created have dramatically improved the park’s ability to meet its mission now and for the future.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with the dedicated park staff, our partners, and the community to create the new museum and implement battlefield rehabilitation to restore Gettysburg’s historic integrity and enhance visitor understanding of the battle. I’m also proud of our combined efforts with Main Street Gettysburg and others to develop the Wills House, a National Park Service museum opening February 2009 in downtown Gettysburg about the aftermath of battle and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,” said Latschar. “As President of the Gettysburg Foundation, we will continue to work with all our Gettysburg-area partners on the implementation of the Borough of Gettysburg Interpretive Plan.

Latschar has been superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park since 1994. He is a 31-year veteran of the National Park Service. Prior to his appointment at Gettysburg, he served as the first Superintendent of Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa., and in various capacities at the NPS Denver Service Center. He has been recognized by the National Park Service for his leadership numerous times, including being named Superintendent of the Year for the Northeast Region of the NPS in 1991 and in 2001, Superintendent of the Year for Natural Resource Stewardship in 2003 and for Cultural Resource Stewardship in 2000.

The Gettysburg Foundation is in the midst of a $125 million Campaign to Preserve Gettysburg, which includes the construction–now complete–of the new Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park. The Foundation’s broad preservation mission began in 1989 and includes land preservation, battlefield rehabilitation, artifact preservation and monument and cannon-carriage preservation. The Foundation has more than 30,000 members and supporters nationwide and internationally.

Current Foundation President Robert C. Wilburn will step down March 1. Wilburn came to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2000, after being President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

“Gettysburg is one of the most important places in American history,” said Wilburn. “It has been an honor to work to preserve this hallowed ground and to excite and inspire the millions of visitors who come here each year. With John’s leadership, Gettysburg’s future will be preserved.”

The Gettysburg Foundation is a private, non-profit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg.

While Latschar is to be commended for his tree-cutting program at Gettysburg and for restoring the battlefield to its 1863 appearance, this sort of feathering of his nest is precisely the sort of unethical, conflict of interest that I expected him to pursue. He used his position as park superintendent to create and foster the Foundation, and now, he’s going to profit handsomely from it. No surprises there.

I will address the conflicts of interest and the ethical issues in a second post tomorrow. For now, I’m simply too disgusted to deal with it today.

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a full-blown rant about something. This one’s been building all day. However, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Civil War, so be warned when you read it.

An annual event that I dread like the plague happens this Saturday. Like the coming of spring and the fall of the first snow, it happens every year, and every year, I cringe and want to hide.

Saturday is the first Ohio State football game. OSU football is a bizarre and terminal disease for which there is no cure. It afflicts otherwise normal people and turns them into blathering, drooling idiots singing along to “Hang on Sloopy.” This is a city of more than 1.5 million people. It’s a state capital. It’s home to a number of Fortune 100 corporations. We’re in the middle of one of the most important presidential elections of this country’s history. And what’s the lead story on the news?

The Buckeyes play Youngstown State on Saturday. Never mind that YSU is a Division IAA school and that OSU is going to whup them by 50 points. If they only beat them by 48 points, half of the faithful will be complaining that they didn’t score enough points and the other half will be calling for Jim Tressel to be fired. And it only gets worse as the season goes on. As I’ve said here previously, the week of the Michigan game is the height of the lunacy. It reaches a point where I can’t bear to turn on the TV. There could be a catastrophe in another part of the world where tens of thousands of people die, and the Buckeyes’ practice session that day will still be the lead story on the news. It’s insane.

Somebody dropped something off at the title agency down the hall today, and as he was leaving, he called out, “Go Bucks!” He didn’t look happy when nobody responded. My favorite, though, is the “O-H”/”I-O” cheer. Somebody says “O-H” and you’re supposed to respond with “I-O”. It strikes me as kinda like a salute followed by a return salute, and if you don’t do it, you get dirty looks. I categorically refuse to play that game, and I don’t respond. I get some really strange looks, like there’s really something drastically wrong with me, but I (a) despise this ridiculous nonsense and (b) enjoy tweaking them a little bit by refusing to comply like a mindless drone.

One of the guys I used to practice law with actually had the basement of his house finished a couple of years ago to resemble Ohio Stadium. The place is completely scarlet and gray and is filled everywhere with OSU crap.

My favorites are the ones who buy gray cars–often VW New Beetles–and then spend large sums of money to make them look like OSU football helmets. Mind you, these are grown adults acting like children. It’s pathetic.

What is it about this nonsense that makes otherwise intelligent, thoughtful people act like a herd of idiot lemmings and go over the cliff? I just don’t get it. I never will.

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As some of you may know, I was supposed to be a presenter at the annual conference of the Little Big Horn Associates (“LBHA”) this weekend. As I announced here, I changed my mind and elected not to participate.

It’s high time that I explain why.

It seems that the LBHA has a policy that it will not pay members to participate in its conferences in any fashion. That means no compensation, no travel expenses, nothing. Never mind that this is an organization with an endowment that surpasses six figures. The policy is that if you’re a member, they pay NOTHING at all. In short, the idea seems to be that they expect you to give your time and expertise for nothing. At least where I sit, it doesn’t work that way.

That explains why, when I was asked to participate in their 2006 conference, which was held in Richmond, they made a membership in the organization part of the package: so they wouldn’t have to pay me anything. Of course, nobody explained that to me then. Rather, I thought it was standard operating procedure. I found out this spring that this idiotic and myopic policy in fact exists, and that they actually see nothing wrong with it.

For me to attend their conference, I would have had to have given up two days in the office, totaling a couple of thousand dollars of lost billable time and about $400 in gasoline costs to get to and from Hagerstown. And I was supposed to do all of this for free.

Here’s my policy: I am the one who chooses when I work for free when it comes to conferences and events like this. As just one example, I never charge battlefield preservation organizations or Civil War Roundtables for my time, typically only asking to have my travel expenses covered. For anything else, I expect to be paid for my time. I’m not saying I have to to be paid what I might otherwise bill if I were in the office, but it needs to be something to make it worth my while to come. Let’s remember that I live six hours away from Gettysburg and six hours away from Antietam, meaning that I pretty much lose two days just coming and going. And in this day and age of $4 per gallon gas, it ain’t cheap to come and go, either.

This organization, which is beset with political woes that I won’t even begin to describe, evidently doesn’t believe that it’s worth paying presenters to appear unless they’re not members and have a high profile. Unfortunately, I renewed my membership this spring before I knew about this idiotic policy of theirs, meaning that under the policy, there was no chance of my getting paid. Had I known, I would not have renewed, and then I might have been able to force them to pay me. They likewise categorically refuse to reimburse travel expenses for members, either.

Then there’s Ted Alexander. They wanted Ted to participate–which would have required either time off from the Park Service or his giving up a day off–and they weren’t going to pay him anything either, even though he’s not a member. When we heard that they were going to pay Jeff Wert to come speak (Jeff is not a member; obviously, there is no consistency in the enforcement of their stupid policy), we both a blew a gasket, and that’s when I decided to back out.

There’s another issue to address. The current chairman of the board is a man named Bill Blake. Bill also was the one to put together this conference this weekend, so he’s the one I dealt with in discussing the event. Bill categorically refused to give Ted or me any guidance, instead insisting that we develop our own programs. We were supposed to talk about something related to Custer’s activities in the area, but got no guidance at all. There are lots of retreat from Gettysburg things in and around Hagerstown to discuss, but none of them have anything at all to do with the subject of the conference. Ted and I found the lack of any guidance incredibly frustrating.

The subject of the conference this year is Antietam. Frankly, we can’t understand why. Custer was a staff officer who spent the day at the Pry House with McClellan. There’s nothing of interest there, but yet that’s the subject of the conference. Instead of asking Ted to lead the tour–he is the park historian there, after all–they hired a tour company with some guide we’ve never even heard of leading the tour. Ted was, quite rightfully, very offended by that, and I don’t blame him a bit. It’s worth noting that they’re paying for that, too.

The combination of all of these factors is why I elected to remove myself from the lineup for the conference. And, as long as this idiotic policy remains in place, I won’t be participating in any more of their programs, either.

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10 Jul 2008, by

I Hate Spam

Earlier today, a representative of some photographic studio in New York that I have never heard of previously, looking to hawk their photos of Abraham Lincoln, spammed this blog by leaving a totally unwanted and totally unsolicited spam comment on the last post that had less than nothing to do with the topic. I deleted it immediately and I have permanently blacklisted the IP address. I have likewise deleted the subscription and banned the e-mail address and IP address from subscribing.

HEAR ME LOUD AND CLEAR: Maria Downing and your photographic studio (and anyone else who thinks that this blog exists as your commercial billboard), this blog does NOT exist for you to spam my readers or me. It will not be tolerated, and it will be deleted as soon as I learn of its existence. This is not negotiable, nor is there any right of appeal. If you spam this blog, you’re gone. Permanently. End of story.

I trust that I have made myself abundantly clear.

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30 Jun 2008, by

A Rant

I’m going to rant about something unrelated to the Civil War now, so if things not related to the Civil War are of no interest to you, please skip this post. This one’s been brewing all month, and it’s time to get it out of my system. I recognize that some might be offended by what I’m about to say, and I regret that. I likewise recognize that some might consider me to be insensitive for what I am about to say. However, it’s how I feel, and I am not going to apologize for it.

Having driven more than 2400 miles this month, I’ve seen a lot of highways (many of them more than once). There are few things that I find more irritating than makeshift roadside memorials. For one thing, they’re terribly distracting. You can’t help but look at them, even if you don’t want to, as they stand out. That makes them unsafe. My eyes are supposed to be on the road, not on your makeshift memorial with the fake flowers and the deceased person’s favorite Big Johnson t-shirt attached to it. I don’t want to have to look at it. Neither do the rest of us.

For another, while I’m sure that erecting them makes the person who did so feel better, and I am sorry for their loss, I do NOT want to know about it, and I’m sure most other people don’t, either. I realize that misery loves company, but please don’t invite me to your pity party. Please don’t subject the rest of us to your misery. We didn’t know the person, which means that we don’t care. Truly, we don’t. That’s cold, but it’s the truth.

Finally, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it’s illegal to put this crap up in the right of way alongside the road. If the presence of these makeshift memorials means that weeds can’t be mowed, thereby making it even more unsafe than it otherwise would be, then I’m all for tearing the damn things down, even if that means hurting someone’s feelings. I also have no interest in having tax dollars go toward the upkeep of these things. There is absolutely no reason why even so much as a single penny of tax dollars should go toward the upkeep of something illegal and which has no business being there under any circumstances.

There. I feel better now. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming….

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