Archive for the January 2009 Category

TRANSLATING DAVID BROOKS

David Brooks is a scholar in his mid fifties who writes a twice-weekly column for The New York Times.  Brooks is also a frequent guest on television shows.  It is clear that Brooks has a background of being a teacher, a lecturer and a scholar.

A year or 18 months ago, Mr. Brooks was an avid Republican who apologized for the excesses of the Bush administration.  In recent columns and appearances as a guest on TV shows, Mr. Brooks has shown that he no longer waves the flag when George Bush stands to speak.  For that, I compliment him.  This shows a capacity for growth.

However, in his op-ed contributions to The New York Times, David Brooks goes out of his way to use two words that tend to baffle me.  Those words are “dork” and “wonk.”  I gather that a person who is a dork or who is given to “wonkishness” is some sort of an intellectual.  Brooks himself is an intellectual who needs not to use obscure terms to describe other intellectuals.

I make no claim whatsoever to being an intellectual of any sort.  But I am disturbed and displeased when an intellectual such as Brooks uses a term that only he understands and implies that the rest of us don’t comprehend what is going on.  As Brooks has now adopted a more egalitarian view of life as opposed to being a Republican partisan, I have come to like him a good bit more.  But he would do us all, including himself, a favor if he were to forget words such as dork and wonk in his future writings and comments on television.  In the final analysis there really is no adequate substitute for plain English.

There is one more thought in addition to my comments on David Brooks having to do with the word “surreal.”  Commentators, particularly females, use that term to describe an other-worldly feeling.  But the more they dip their head in the surreal cesspool, they will find that I am retreating to another station where people speak plain English.

As we enter the brave new world of 2009, Americans and their new President are presented with challenges of an unparalleled sort.  Those of us who try to speak English plainly may hope that in the new year we will not be confronted with wonk or dork or surreal.  But that is just a hope and I am reasonably certain that before 2009 is done, we will have to deal with wonk and dork and surreal once again.

 

E. E. CARR

January 5, 2009

Essay 358

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Kevin’s commentary: You know, ‘wonk’ might be a pretty ambiguous insult but I think ‘dork’ and ‘surreal’ both certainly have their place in conversations today. Sometimes I don’t know where Pop develops the ire towards certain bits of diction that he feels so passionately about.

“BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THE MONEY ISN’T”

Mr. William Sutton was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1901.  There were five children in the Sutton family.  As soon as Mr. Sutton completed the eighth grade, he quit school and that was the last of his academic career.  We find that the records show that William Sutton departed this vale of tears in 1979 in Spring Hill, Florida.  If you were to conclude that Mr. Sutton had worked 45 or 50 years with the local gas company that earned him a pension, you would be mistaken.  If you also assumed that he moved to Florida as many New Yorkers do at retirement age, you would also be mistaken.  The fact is that when Mr. Sutton should have been in high school, he took up bank robbery as his profession.  The chances are that you will recognize Mr. Sutton when he is called by his proper newspaper name of “Willy ‘the Actor’ Sutton.”

Pursuing his trade as a bank robber, Willy Sutton tried to dress the part.  Sometimes he would appear as a policeman or as a mail carrier to complete his bank robbery.  At other times, it would be as a delivery person.  But one way or another, it is clear that Willy Sutton pursued his trade as a bank robber with some enthusiasm.  Mr. Sutton was not successful in avoiding arrests and spent a significant amount of time in prisons in Pennsylvania and in New York.  While in those prisons, he concocted schemes to escape.  In one escape, he used two nine-foot ladders to scale the prison walls.  The authorities in Pennsylvania and in New York concluded that Willy Sutton was committed to a life of crime and was incapable of rehabilitation.  In the end, he was sentenced to a life term plus another term of 30 years.  There is no record in that case that the judge offered Willy Sutton time off for good behavior, but another judge concluded that his sentence was too harsh, and permitted Mr. Sutton to go free.

While you may not believe that bank robbery and escape from prison is an honorable trade, Willy Sutton will live forever in American newspaper history because of a succinct answer that he gave to a reporter.  When he was asked, “Why do you always rob banks?” his answer went right to the point.  He said, “Because that’s where the money is.”  I wish that captains of industry in this country could apply logic as forcefully to their trades as Sutton did to his.

Willy Sutton made his remark shortly after he became a known bank robber.  It has stood as the gold standard ever since that time.  In the past few months, it appears that Willy Sutton’s dictum has been turned on its head.  Citizens go to the bank when they need a loan to buy a car.  The same is true when they need a mortgage.  However, these days the banks are turning away applicants for loans in great numbers.  Even citizens with sterling credit ratings are being turned away.  This is a mystifying situation in that banks make their profits by lending money to other banks and to individuals.  However, for the last four months banks have been very parsimonious with their loans.

From all I can hear in news reports, it appears that the banks’ conduct is based upon the thought that they will never be repaid.  Secondly there is also the belief voiced recently that financial institutions have not yet disclosed all of their toxic loans.  Last fall there was a $700 billion bailout for the banks, which is now largely dissipated.  The Obama administration is now talking about a stimulus package, something on the order of $800 billion.  May I say that these are Amos and Andy numbers.  I simply cannot comprehend them.

The government has given the banks cash by the carload, yet they will not make loans.  Until the loans are made, American commerce will not begin to flow again.  And until the loans are made, the depression that we entered some months ago will only deepen.  Banks have been given plenty of cash but they have neglected to lend it, which was its original purpose.  And until now, the administration has not forced these banks to do any such thing.  So the banks are sitting on the money that we have given them, and automobile dealers, for example, are going out of business because they need those loans to finance the purchase of automobiles that they can sell.  Something is terribly wrong when banks refuse to perform the function for which they were created.  I suppose that in the end it may well be that nationalization of the banks might be required to help this country back on its feet.

Perhaps there will be a day when your automatic teller machine will tell you that there is no cash to dispense.  Could we possibly reach the point that when I approach the teller at the bank that I patronize, I will be told that they admire the handwriting on the check but that they have no money to give me?  In the meantime, my bank as well as all the others is happy to accept your deposits, which I suppose are locked up in a safe never to be disposed as loans.

Smarter men than I ever hope to be have wrestled with this problem but have obviously produced no conclusions at this point in January of 2009.  If the banks have fouled up their work so badly in the past several years, it may be that only nationalization can put this country on the road to recovery.  If nationalizing the banks is the only solution, then let us have at it without the dithering of the Congress who have shown that they are basically incapable of helping with the problem.

But in the end, Willy Sutton’s dictum, that he robbed banks because that’s where the money is, has passed the test of time.  However, now it is obvious that it would be pointless to rob a bank because that is where the money isn’t.

Among his myriad problems, poor old Barack Obama is now afflicted with the dysfunction of the American banking system.  I have no expertise in financial matters but if I were asked my opinion on the subject of banking in the United States, I would have one thought.  It would be to buy a large mattress, one big enough to house currencies of all denominations.  In this post-Christmas season, mattress manufacturers are anxious to unload their stock in anticipation of the new models.  This would be a glorious time to buy a super king-size model that might carry us through the oncoming depression.  What we need now is another logician like Willy Sutton, who will tell us how to get by during the next few years.  But one thing is certain.  The last thing that a man ought to do is to take up bank robbery.  I am here to tell you that it is a dry hole.  The rewards are minimal and in the bargain you may find yourself in jail.

 

E. E. CARR

January 21, 2009

Essay 362

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Kevin’s commentary: There should be some sort of uber-rich batman type figure, breaks into banks, and steals everyone’s debt away from them.

But like, their personal debt, not the debt of the US treasury that they own in bits and pieces. Money is friggen weird.

Anyway I’m not familiar with this particular bank robber or how much cash sits in bank these days, but I sure as hell AM familiar with Nicolas Cage. I thought of him here because he starred in a 1993 film called “Amos and Andrew” which was a crime/comedy movie. I was briefly baffled as to why Pop was referencing it, but it turns out Amos ‘n’ Andy was a popular (get it? POPular) show in the 1920s-50s. Who knew?

A LITTLE BIT OF THISA AND A LITTLE BIT OF THATA

About the only advantage in being raised during the Herbert Hoover Depression of 1929 was that the radio carried intelligent music.  The lyrics had a story line and there were harmony and melody to the music.  There were dozens of bands that toured the country at a time when almost every major hotel offered a ballroom.  Those bands would appear in the ballroom as well as at smaller locales that were dedicated to dancing and good music.  Off hand, I can remember Shep Fields, the Dorsey Brothers named Jimmy and Tommy, and Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians.  Then there was Eddy Howard, who almost whispered the lyrics to the vocals he sang.  There was also “Music in the Morgan Manner”, directed by Russ Morgan, who achieved a “waa – waa” effect by placing tin derbies over the ends of the trumpets and trombones.  Then there was the orchestra of Artie Shaw with his clarinet and the magical memories of Glenn Miller.

There were dozens or more of dance bands who played pleasing music as distinguished from the screamers of today who seem to be captivated by their drummers.  Finally there were the musical offerings of Ben Bernie, a man who had a pre-eminent broadcasting record from the late 1920s through the 1950s.  Old timers may recall that Ben Bernie was a genial sort of man who, when he was pleased by his orchestra’s performance, would exclaim, “Yowsa! Yowsa! Yowsa!”  While Ben Bernie was at the top of the heap, he engaged in a running battle of words with Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist.  But Bernie also had another expression.  When he was mixing his songs among waltzes and foxtrots and swing music, he would say, “Here is a little bit of thisa and a little bit of thata.”

As you can see, I have lifted Ben Bernie’s expression for the title of this essay, which at heart is nothing more than the ponderings of an aged essayist.  The ponderings and the “thisa and thata” line have very little to do with each other.  They are individual thoughts that more or less stand on their own.

 

One of those individual thoughts has to do with politicians who refer to our current economic distress as only a “recession.”  Given our loss of jobs, the number of home foreclosures, the state of the stock market, and the low level of confidence among American consumers, it would seem to me that this is no “recession.”  It is a full-fledged depression and is entitled to be named the George W. Bush Depression of 2008.  The hope here is that Barack Obama may make a dent in the Bush depression by the end of his first term.  But, boys and girls, when a man has lost his job and is in danger of losing his home as well, this is not a mere recession.  It is a full-fledged depression.

When I speak or write about the previous Depression, I am also forced to recall that, shortly before that Depression began, I learned a song at school as I entered the first grade.  The lyrics of the song were:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
We’re all in our places
With sunshiny faces
Good morning Miss Brantley,
Good morning to you.

Miss Brantley was the first-grade teacher who on the first day of school rescued me after I had wandered into the girls’ room to care for my physical needs.  She was a proper woman whom I might imagine dancing a waltz now and then but never dancing to a jitterbug tune.  In a previous essay, I used the lyrics to the Miss Brantley song, but in these troubled times, those lyrics continue to inspire me.  Hence, they are included in the “Thisa and Thata” section of Ezra’s essays.

 

Now a further bit of non-related pondering or thisa and thata.  Politicians always refer to their own state and to other states as “the great state of blank.”  May I suggest that not all states are really great states?  Take Missouri, the home state of Howard Davis and your old essayist.  It is distinguished only by the thought that it borders on eight other states in the Midwest.  It also contains the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers.  Those are merely the accidents of geography; it has nothing to do with whether it should be considered a great state.

Its capital is Jefferson City, which I can tell you should be avoided at all costs.  Missouri has its share of yokels who believe that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 does not apply to them.  At the same time, it is the home of great intellectualism as represented by Washington University in St. Louis.  A state that contains such contrasting styles of thought does not automatically become a “great state.”  Yet there are nitwits who would refer to all of our states as “great,” including such ruptured ducks as Alaska, Alabama and Mississippi.

 

Now on to a new pondering.  In the old Bell System, which upon reflection seemed to work wonderfully well, there was universal telephone service, a great laboratory called The Bell Labs, as well as a manufacturing arm known as Western Electric.  But the Telecommunications Act of 1984 cast the Bell System asunder, and we have been paying a price for it ever since.

One of the competitors of Western Electric was the German manufacturer Siemens.  There was always some wonder about how Siemens could win contracts in places such as Nigeria and the Far East when Western Electric had presented what was considered to be a superior bid.  In the last week, we find that for all those years there were line items in the balance sheets of Siemens reserved for bribery.  The bribes ran into millions of dollars.  Siemens has now been brought to account and, as a result, they have paid to the Securities and Exchange Commission of this country as well as to their own authorities a total of more than $2.5 billion.

It is now much too late to tell anybody at Western Electric why they lost those bids because Western now belongs to Alcatel, a French company.  In the final analysis, we have taken a very successful corporation called the AT&T Company and scattered it to the winds through the legislative process.  That process was motivated by greed in that other entrepreneurs wanted to share in the system that went all the way back to Alexander Graham Bell.  I suppose this says that if our competitors do not do us in, we will take care of that function ourselves.  As a matter of interest, a person could buy a share of stock in the Alcatel-Lucent organization today for $1.51 per share.  Some success story!

 

A final thought of pondering here.  It is now January and the weather in New Jersey has turned decidedly colder.  The GIs of World War II might well have said that the weather was “colder than a whore’s heart.”  Alternatively, there were those who might say that the weather was “colder than a witch’s tit.”  Finally there were other GIs who might say on a freezing day that the weather was “cold enough to freeze the testicles off of a brass monkey.”  I of course am a seminarian who harbored no such horrid thoughts.  As a matter of fact, I did not even understand what my fellow GI’s were referring to.  Which goes to prove that those of us from the seminary are clearly pure as the driven snow, whatever that means.

Well, these are my ponderings for the moment and those random thoughts must be blamed on the ghost of Ben Bernie.  He was a wonderful musician who led a delightful orchestra.  If he could look down or up from his celestial parking place and read this essay, I simply hope that he would say, “Yowsa! Yowsa! Yowsa!”

 

E. E. CARR

January 9, 2009

Essay 361

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Kevin’s commentary:

1) There is nothing great about Texas.

2) Obama ballooned the debt even further, but whatever.

3) According to my father, HIS father often used to say that something was “as useless as tits on a boar hog” which leads me to conclude that

3a) language used to be more colorful than it is now

3b) tit-based expressions were particularly popular.

 

 

IN MEMORIAM ROSEMARY ROCHE DADY 1928 – 2008

Robert Browning, the English poet, once wrote these lines:

          Grow old along with me

The best is yet to be,

The last of life for which the first was made.

 

Poets are dreamers.  They are not pragmatists.  The last of life for aged people involves loss of hearing, reduced visual acuity, arthritis, and other ailments that rob the body of its stamina and its once supple nature.  The last of life is not a matter of champagne and caviar at every turn.  In many cases, there are debilitating illnesses and many disappointments.  One of the biggest tragedies of the last of life has to do with the departure of treasured friends.

Rosemary Dady was one of those treasured friends.  Sometime during the 1970s, her husband Ed and I began to work together in an AT&T assignment.  My recollection is that there was a small dinner party in New York City to which employees could invite their wives.  It was on that occasion that I met Ed Dady’s wife, Rosemary.  After dinner, my recollection also tells me that we were on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. As we strolled down Fifth Avenue, I mentioned to Rosemary Dady that in 1930, a judge in the New York court system named Joseph Force Crater lived on Fifth Avenue and had disappeared on a Friday evening, August 1, 1930.  He was, at that time, 41 years of age.  Rosemary, who was a native New Yorker, said that she knew something about that case and then proceeded to recite many of the details.  It was at that point that I knew that I had found a soul mate.

As time went forward, there were a number of books and articles written about Judge Crater, which always attracted my attention.  When I came to work in New York on a temporary basis in 1950 and then later when I was located in New York permanently in 1955, I often wondered how a judge who lived on Fifth Avenue could disappear without a trace.  We do know that on his final appearance in this life, he enjoyed a steak dinner with red wine, in a midtown restaurant.  Apparently, at the final supper, Judge Crater dined alone.  Curiously, Judge Crater, who was sworn to uphold the law, imbibed the wine while prohibition was still in effect.  Rosemary and I gave Judge Crater high marks for ignoring the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As time passed by, Ed Dady retired and then suffered a stroke that left him in a wheelchair.  Through the tender care of his wife Rosemary, Ed slowly began to recover, and the last time I saw him he was walking, aided by a cane but nonetheless walking.  Rosemary was always at Ed’s side.  However, in 1996 Ed died and Rosemary was then alone.

While Rosemary was alone, I sent her, from time to time, copies of my essays and also tried to bring her up to date on the latest – if I may use that term – developments in the Judge Crater case.  There was a very interesting book that was published about that case, which I read and then promptly sent to Rosemary.

But now comes one of those grave disappointments that are associated with a long life, or as the poet Browning said, “the last of life for which the first was made.”  Yesterday the mail brought a note from Patricia Dady Burns to tell me that her mother Rosemary had died.

Rather than to tell you about the note, I will reproduce its contents here.

 image rosemary

When Pat Dady Burns wrote in her note that I had the love of both of her parents, I did the manly thing.  I cried.  I found later that Rosemary had a Master’s Degree from Hofstra University in English literature.  It seems to me that Rosemary’s love of language has been passed on intact to Pat, her daughter.

Now, as I dictate this essay, I am struck by the thought that while Judge Crater is gone, he has been replaced by Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme swindler.  We find that Madoff has been confined, if that is the proper word, to his Park Avenue penthouse apartment in New York and yesterday mailed batches of jewelry to his relatives.  Among the jewelry items were 13 watches.  It would do my heart good to ask Rosemary what in the world a man would do with 13 watches.  I am confident that Rosemary would have an appropriate answer.

Long lives are desired by all of us but they have their drawbacks.  In this case, the drawback is a note informing me of the death of Rosemary Dady.  I had hoped never to have heard those words, but that seems to be the case.  Rosemary was a wonderful woman with a hearty laugh.  She will be missed, not only by her family but by all of the friends who knew her.  The lines from Robert Browning’s poem are comforting to read but in this case I would have hoped that the “last of life” could have been extended until the Honorable Judge Crater could be located.

 

E. E. CARR

January 14, 2009

Essay 360

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Kevin’s commentary: I am saddened by Pop’s loss. I do not look forward to the time in my life when I start to lose friends in this way. On a brighter note though, I like how much joy Pop has brought to others through his essays. It encourages me even more to continue publishing them and give them a wider readership. RIP Rosemary.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

American government at the federal level is capable of great generosity as witnessed by the Marshall Plan, with which we rebuilt Europe after World War II.  At the state level the governments are capable of idiotic lunacy.  Witness the drives against all forms of homosexuality.  Witness the promotion of tobacco planting.  And finally observe that our state governments as well as the federal government are under the sway of the National Rifle Association.  Our gun laws cause the rest of the world to shake its head at their lunacy.  This essay is basically a commentary on one aspect of the laws that govern the ownership of firearms by the general public.

The second article in the United States Constitution provides that firearms must be available for the use of “well-regulated militias” of the government.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) has bullied the Congress and the various legislatures into holding that everyone is entitled to be armed on all occasions because of this Constitutional provision.  NRA spokesmen have contended, within my hearing, that if a citizen wants to use an AK-47, he is entitled to do so.  I take great exception to that thought.

As a vegetarian, I feel no urge to consume the meat of geese, ducks, rabbits, squirrels and other creatures that are murdered in the name of sport.  Our most famous hunters are Cheney, the Vice President, and Antonin Scalia, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, who go hunting together but never discuss any of the cases that are before the Supreme Court.  In considering the use of firearms, other names come to mind.  There were Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan.  They are the men who murdered John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and the President’s brother Robert Kennedy.

At the current time, we have found that the authorities in the city of Washington DC wish to ban firearms from those who don’t need them for their work.  The NRA has fought valiantly and has taken the position that everyone is entitled to a firearm of any kind as a means of protecting himself in the nation’s capitol.  The Supreme Court may well rule that the citizens of Washington DC are indeed entitled to carry AK-47s or other firearms for their protection.  Please keep in mind that such a provision in the law would take place in the city in which the President of the United States resides.

In the state of Virginia, which obviously adjoins Washington DC, we find that in the past two or three years, a case of tragic proportions occurred. In that incident, there was an unstable person attending the Virginia Military Institute who legally bought a firearm and used it to kill something like 30 other people at that school.  No one has attempted to put the dealer who sold that firearm to that unstable person out of business.  As far as we know, he is still selling handguns and other firearms to citizens who may or may not be competent.

At this point, a disturbing thought comes to mind which constitutes the elephant in the room.  In less than two weeks, the American government hopes to install a new President who claims African parentage.  The fact that Mr. Obama will be our first President of Afro-American citizenship may arouse some citizens to say that he has no right to occupy such a high office.  There may be others who would calculate that one way or another, the Bible, which speaks of slavery, would bar such a person from the Presidency of the United States.  And then there are nuts such as James Earl Ray, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Sirhan Sirhan who may well think that their place in history would be guaranteed by the assassination of a new President.

Only Mark Shields, the syndicated columnist, has openly commented on the thought that Mr. Obama is a tempting target for mentally unbalanced people such as the three mentioned earlier.  But the fact remains that as a black man, Mr. Obama presents another reason for attracting the attention of would-be assassins.  For my part, I hope that Obama lives forever completely unharmed.  But I know that there are those in this society with its lack of gun laws who would see reason to do him harm.

As long as the laws governing guns are in their current state, it is clear that persons who would do harm to the President may buy firearms.  And as long as the President is required to make public appearances, he may well attract that sort of person.  I am not much given to worry, but given the situation, I hope to see that the elephant in the room will be led peacefully away.  This country has had its share of murders of common people.  I hope that there is never an occasion in the future when we must mourn a prominent figure such as the President, the Senator from New York Robert Kennedy, or the preacher, Dr. King.  We have had enough killing.  And if the gun laws were tightened to strangle the National Rifle Association, I would support that effort with great vigor.

 

E. E. CARR

January 6, 2009

Essay 359

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Kevin’s commentary: I agree with the premise of this essay moreso than the conclusion. The idea that it’s fucking bonkers to arm a civilian population with assault rifles or even pistols is sound. School shootings would be exponentially decreased (does this make sense? isn’t an exponential decrease wouldn’t be a logarithm of some sort? these are important questions) if parents didn’t own handguns and rifles for them to pick up.

Presidential assassination though is a different beast. Sure, a gun ban would presumably keep John Smith from picking up a gun and offing Obama on a whim, but 1) it wouldn’t, really, because everybody who has a gun basically has one already, so banning the sale of new ones wouldn’t actually decrease the amount of guns in circulation for some time and 2) you’re sure as hell not going to get away with easily taking all the civilian guns mentioned in point 1 without causing a lot of problems. But even if it did, that’s not really important because Joe Schmoe is not really the threat. Security around the president is so good that a yokel with a shotgun isn’t going to be able to get close enough to take him out. Maybe a hunting rifle could do it but it seems to me that someone who really really wants to get the job done is going to have to go to extreme measures to get uniquely powerful ordinance which is always going to be illegal for obvious reasons. If he or she is committed to his or her plan, securing this ordinance is going to happen regardless of state policy re: gun control.

On that note, I’d like to say hello to the NSA, who surely is following Ezra’s Essays because within 24 hours this blog will have been indexed by Google and it talks about presidential assassinations. Hilariously though the house republicans are currently holding our government hostage so I bet most of the NSA has been furloughed and hasn’t been able to spy effectively on the American populace for the last few weeks. The poor dears.

For clarity I’m posting this on October 16th. The ‘date published’ is just something that I do in order to track how far behind I am in my publishing schedules.