Archive for the February Category


There are some observers who might regard the heading of this essay as a provocative statement.  However, to Pope watchers such as myself, the statement is justified by a sharp drop in the Pope’s voltage which may be due to a short circuit.  Two particular statements have led me to conclude that this octogenarian Pope has reached his dotage.

The Vatican publishes a daily newspaper which is called L’Osservatore Romano.  Last August the Pope summoned a reporter from that newspaper to his summer residence, which is called Castel Gandolfo.  When the Pope is ready to make a statement, there is no give and take as would be the case when an American President, for example, is interviewed.  The Pope simply reads his statement from his paper and then the paper is given to the reporter, who is responsible for reproducing it in type.  There are no follow-up questions, nor are other questions permitted.  In the statement last summer, the Pope said that he wanted to take his Church back to the second century in the current era.

Why he selected the second century is a great mystery which the Vatican newspaper did not explore.  If he had mentioned the first century, he could have met Jesus himself.  He could also have met Peter, upon whose rock his Church is founded.  He could also have met Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the rest of the Jewish disciples.  In the first century he may also have met Judas and perhaps even Satan.  But why the Pope picked the second century as opposed to the first century is a matter of great puzzlement.

Then last week, there was a development involving the Archdiocese of New York City.  You may recall that seven or eight years ago there was a priestly scandal in Boston involving altar boys.  That case was settled by the Boston Diocese paying enormous sums to the litigants that brought the diocese to the brink of bankruptcy.  One of the priests involved in that affair was named Edward Egan.  One way or another, he was transferred to the Archdiocese in New York City where his performance over the years has been quite colorless.

But now Egan is retiring and is being replaced by the Archbishop of Milwaukee, who is named Timothy Michael Dolan.  On one hand, Archbishop Dolan shows signs of promise in that he went to the curb in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and ordered a hot dog from the vendor there.  The vendor instructed the Archbishop in how to eat the hot dog because he saw that Archbishop Dolan was not accomplished in such culinary delights as the vendor’s hot dog.  The fact that Dolan made friends with a hot dog vendor in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral tells me that he has lots of promise.

On the other hand, it appears that Dolan’s appointment was used by the Pope to tighten the right-wing bonds that govern the conduct of the faithful in the New York City diocese.  For example, the headline in the New York Times said that under Dolan there would be strict adherence to the rule against all forms of birth control.  Secondly, Dolan is obliged to observe that there will be no abortions during his term in office.  Even if a young virgin is raped by a lunatic from the insane asylum with a venereal disease, Dolan is obliged to tell that young woman that she must carry the fetus to term.  Divorce is prohibited.  Beyond that, the Pope told Dolan to be vigilant against divorce, same-sex marriages, and especially any cracks in the wall on priestly celibacy.  The facts are that Dolan would not have gotten the New York City job unless he agreed to the Pope’s ultra-right-wing agenda.  Whether Dolan agrees with all these restrictions is of no consequence because he has agreed to carry out the Pope’s agenda.

There was a great puzzlement about the Pope wanting to return to the second century in the current era which was never answered.  In the case of the right-wing restrictions, it is obvious that events on the ground make the Pope’s views fairly obsolete.  Consider the ban on all birth control devices.  In this case, the Church specifies that every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the transmission of life.

Aside from the strain that this would put on population increases, there are individual considerations that must be observed.  Let us say that there is a young 28-year-old married couple who reside in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City.  When the husband suggests sexual intercourse, the wife may readily agree provided that the husband bear some things in mind.  In the second bedroom, there is a crib with a six-month-old child in it who shares that lodging with his brother, who is now 19 months of age.  The wife may point out that the transmission of life doctrine might cause them to have another pregnancy, resulting in their having to look for a larger apartment.  She may also show the amorous husband their checkbook which details the payments for pre-natal care as well as for the hospital delivery.  Beyond that, she may remind the husband that the public schools in New York City are more than inept in some cases, which means that whatever children occur in this marriage must be privately schooled.  The cost for private schooling now runs more than $20,000 per year.  At the grade school and high school levels, the cost may well approach $25,000 per year or even more.

A Catholic university such as Boston College is now flirting with the $50,000 a year cost for tuition, board, and lodging.  Even Hofstra, a local college which is not Catholic, is now charging a bit more than $50,000 a year to educate its pupils.

By this time the husband gets the message that it is “not tonight, dear.”

There are many other drawbacks in the line that poor old Dolan will be charged with enforcing.  When a man and a woman in a marriage dislike each other intensely, are they to be expected to live together until the end of their lives because the Church refuses to recognize divorce?

There are other interesting aspects to the Pope’s line that Dolan will be involved in enforcing.  I have been led to believe that those who embrace religious thought say that we are all created in God’s image.  For purposes of argument, I am willing to accept that premise.  That is all well and good as long as we are talking about heterosexual couples.  Whether we like it or not, there are people who love others of the same sex.  I cannot find it in my heart to say to a homosexual couple that their love is not as great as the love that exists between a heterosexual couple.  Are we to contend that when God made homosexual men and women, there was a terrible mistake committed?  May I say that when the Church discriminates against homosexual men and women, it is being ungenerous and not in keeping with Christian ethics?  Gay people have as much need for love as do any of the rest of us.

In the Pope’s directive to Archbishop Dolan, we also find an admonition against any crack in the wall of priestly celibacy.  This rule strikes me as being particularly insane.  Why is the Catholic clergy shut off from intimate contact with more than half of the earth’s population?  Married clergy in the Catholic faith are not unknown.  It could well have existed in the second century of the current era.  Beyond that, there are scholars who offer convincing proof that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.  I cannot understand why the Church, at its highest levels, forbids marriage and restricts women who serve the hierarchy to cooking the meals, making the beds, and emptying wastebaskets.  I am firmly convinced that if the current Pope were married, his wife would tell him that the ban on all birth control devices was totally silly.  But he is not married, and he associates himself primarily with other celibates.  From the Church’s standpoint, this is a recipe for disaster.

Bristol Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of the Governor of Alaska, recently produced a love child.  Miss Palin has enunciated a doctrine that ought to be of considerable use to the Pope in his endeavors.  Bristol Palin has said, “Abstinence is not realistic.”  This Bristol Palin shows great promise as a philosopher.  I would urge Dolan and the Pope to put her to work on such things as the ban on birth control and priestly celibacy.  Also, I would argue that the Pope’s insistence on taking his Church back to the second century may indicate that his dotage is upon us.  When it is followed by the rigid restrictions that he has asked Archbishop Dolan to perform in New York City, it becomes clear that, as the British say, he may have “gone around the bend.”

I have taken this opportunity to offer my thoughts on the German Pope because the Pope insists that his is the universal Church.  If it is universal, that means that it covers me regardless of my untoward views of religion in general.  But if I am covered by the universal Church idea, it would be too much to expect that an Irish essayist would have nothing to say.  Beyond that, my last essay had very kind words for three Catholics.  They were John XXIII, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Mother Angelica, who formerly headed a group of nuns in Alabama.  So you see my remarks are not anti-Catholic at all.

The Pope and I are veterans of the Second World War.  As the war drew to a close, the Pope was drafted to serve his nation.  His nation, of course, was Germany.  During his period of service, the Pope, whose maiden name is Joseph Ratzinger, joined the National Socialist Party, which is commonly called the Nazi Party.  If we were ever to meet, say in a Munich beer hall, it would lift my spirit of puzzlement to hear the Pope’s explanation for taking his Church back to the second century.  I would also be greatly interested in why he insists that Bishop Dolan impose restrictions on Catholics that come from that era.  And I would like for the Pope to tell me that joining the Nazi Party was a foolish mistake which he made prior to his seventeenth birthday.

I would find it incumbent upon me to tell the Pope that he had lost his virginity by interfering in the American presidential elections of 2000 and 2004.  When the current Pope headed the Office of the Inquisition as a Cardinal, he was visited by George W. Bush.  Later on when he became the Pope, in the election of 2004, George W. Bush visited him again.  As a consequence, the Pope instructed American bishops that any candidate who did not grow livid in his denunciation of abortion could be denied the sacrament of communion.  For example, one wire service in the U.S. reported that a woman who had voted for John Kerry, went immediately to the confessional booth to be relieved of her great sin.  The bishops of Newark, St. Louis, Scranton and Denver were quick to announce that John Kerry would be denied the sacrament in their diocese.

Was there a quid-pro-quo in this arrangement?  We will never know, but when Bush assumed the presidency, he banned stem cell research and the over-the-counter morning-after pill.  The juxtaposition of the two events is very interesting.

The number of World War II veterans is growing slimmer by the day.  So I invite my readers, Catholic, Protestant, heathen, Jew or otherwise, to be prepared for the outcome of my meeting with the Pope.  It may be historic, but in the final analysis, who knows?

February 28, 2009
Essay 371~~~

Kevin’s commentary: How very odd. I don’t really get the 2nd century thing at all. Though I guess that’s round about when the bible started actually being put together, unless I’m mistaken. So maybe he wanted to get in on that? Who knows. In any event I can say with confidence that the current Pope is way, way better than ol’ Ratty.

It’s also funny that Palin and the love child are mentioned here because they are back in the news again four years later; the father is suing for half custody. Sarah called him a deadbeat.

Finally, especially considering the essay mentions the war, I’d like to wish Pop a happy veteran’s day. I’m publishing this of course on 11/11/13 even though the date that you may see on the top of this post is somewhat behind schedule.



When the United States began to sink into the quagmire that engulfs our banking industry, the stock market, and our fortunes, most politicians contended that we were only in a recession.  Those of you who have been reading Ezra’s essays for a few years will be aware that for more than a year I have called this a full-fledged depression.

History has a way of repeating itself.  In the 1920s, we had Warren Gamaliel Harding, Calvin Coolidge (called the Silent One), and the eminent Herbert Hoover.  It was a time when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and unions that were intended to improve the lot of the poor were barred.  The result was the depression of 1929.

To a large measure, the Bush years were a replica of the 1920s.  We owe our misfortune at this moment to people like Senator Phil Gramm who railed against every oversight of the banking and financial community.  When Bush declared war on Afghanistan and also reduced taxes, he induced Alan Greenspan, the head economist, to announce that this was good for business.  The combination of the war in Afghanistan, the reduction in taxes, and the lack of oversight of our banking and financial industries produced a downtown in our fortunes.  The politicians pronounced this a “recession.”  Now that the government is in the hands of the Democrats, there is a much more realistic view.

It is clear that we are in the grasp of a full-fledged depression that may last for as long as five years.  We got here by the profligacy of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney who announced that “deficits don’t matter.”  May I say to Mr. Cheney that “the hell they don’t!”  So that one candle at the end of this long tunnel has to do with our description of the current situation as a depression rather than as a temporary recession.  At least some of us have the terminology correct.

A second reason for hope is that our religious institutions have not taken notice of our financial mess.  They are going about the business of worshipping the gods without any concern for the financial mess that we now find ourselves in.  At least we are not being subjected to the religious thought that if we prayed hard enough, the financial mess would be lifted from us.  I do not hear any call from the Catholics that novenas would fix the financial situation.  There are no calls from the Protestants to the effect that there should be a gigantic pray-in as a means of persuading Jesus, the Holy Ghost, Allah, or some other creature to lift us to financial prosperity.

And so as the stock market heads south, this old essayist wishes to say that there is a faint light coming from a candle at the end of this long dark tunnel.  We are now told by many economists, including Paul Krugman,  that this is a depression, which is what it was all along.  Furthermore, in a day or two Barack Obama will unveil a budget that actually includes such stuff as the cost of the war in Iraq.  Under the Bushies, the budget was published exclusive of the cost of what we were wasting in Iraq.  Now we will have financial truths in terms of what we call our situation and in our budgeting process.  And at least so far, the preachers have refrained from calling for Jesus to lift us out of the depths of our despair.  Jesus, the Holy Ghost, Allah, or other celestial figures had nothing to do with our current financial mess.  It had to do with Senator Phil Gramm, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of those clowns who believed that deficits don’t matter.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that we are dealing with our affairs now in a logical, pragmatic way.  Unfortunately the last eight years have been totally wasted.  I hope to live long enough to see this country returned to a degree of prosperity.  But that may not happen until I become a full-fledged angel.  But in the meantime, I am greatly pleased by the fact that we are injecting realism into our financial situation.



February 23, 2009

Essay 370


Kevin’s commentary: The deficit this year is supposed to be much smaller than in has been in the past years.–finance.html

However this is to say nothing of the national debt, which continues to accumulate. Also, being the smallest since 2008 still means it’s the 5th biggest of all time. So there’s that.


There is an oxymoronic quality to this essay which I hope will meet with your favor.  The oxymoron has to do with a writer whose belief is in non-belief, who then publishes an essay in praise of preachers.  But that is what I intend to do in this essay about preachers.

For more than 66 years, I have paid attention to preachers who provided intelligent thoughts.  It may well have started when, in my 18th year, I became an avid listener to the Mormon Hour Broadcast on Sunday morning radio.  There was a speaker there named Richard Evans, who delivered a five-minute sermonette that was not sectarian in nature.  At the time, I was paid $17 per week by Ed Williams, the owner of a filling station, but I devoted part of my wages to buying the works of this Mormon fellow, Richard Evans.  From that time forward, I have continued my interest in preachers who tended to make sense.  From my point of view, a goodly proportion of preachers preach nonsense.  This essay is dedicated to those who speak in logical terms that can be accepted by thinking listeners.


John Shelby Spong was the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  Bishop Spong has authored perhaps 35 books on religious matters.  His writings are believable because he does not contend that the Bible is the unmistakable inspired transcript of God’s remarks.  Bishop Spong points out that the Bible was written over a period of 300 to 400 years and that in some cases it became a political instrument, as in the case of the King James Version.  There are those who have said that Bishop Spong is not really a Christian because he does not accept all of the biases and superstitions of that faith.  But for my money, Bishop Spong is an intelligent speaker and preacher, which is why he is included in this essay.

There is a schism in the Episcopal Church having to do with the Bishop in New Hampshire named Robinson who has been living for many years in a homosexual arrangement with his lover.  Bishop Spong argues that Bishop Robinson’s conduct has no bearing on whether Episcopalians will be admitted to heaven.  I agree with Bishop Spong, but in passing I must state that my lowly social status never qualified me for membership in the Episcopal Church.

Next among intelligent preachers we come to a pair of Presbyterians.  The first is Benjamin Franklin Hall, who was the pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri when I became aware of him.  Dr. Hall became famous in the St. Louis area because he delivered cogent sermons and he finished the business at hand by the stroke of noon on Sundays.  In the winter of 1941, I invited a young woman to attend a service at Dr. Hall’s church.  That was what we call a “two-fer” in baseball parlance because it impressed her as well as her mother.  Before long, this young woman became a singer in the choir at the Central Presbyterian Church.

As time went on, I joined the American Army and in August of 1945, I was given a short furlough prior to my leaving for Greenwood, Mississippi to prepare for the invasion of Japan.  Fortunately the war ended before my departure and it was many years before I was able to see the beauty of Japan.  Upon this furlough, before we knew that peace would be declared in the war with Japan, it was determined by my prospective wife, her mother and, most forcibly, my sister that we were to be married by Dr. Hall on August 16.  Dr. Hall was attending a conference in Holland prior to this great occasion when he received an urgent message from his church.  It seems that one of the choir sopranos had concluded that she was pregnant by Dr. Hall and she wanted the world to know about it.  Unfortunately, Dr. Hall panicked and resigned the pastorship that he had worked so hard to achieve.  As a result, our wedding was conducted by Herman Schusler who could most aptly be described as a lost ball in tall grass.

As it turns out, the choir soprano misinterpreted the feelings in her womb.  There was no child there at all.  But the cat was out of the bag and Dr. Hall had resigned with his reputation in tatters.  He returned to his native North Carolina where he began to sell books to the school boards there.  Legend has it that he became a champion book seller and probably earned much more than the Presbyterians would ever pay him.  But the moral is clear and consistent.  Never trust a soprano on affairs of the heart.


The second Presbyterian is Peter Marshall.  Dr. Marshall had the pastorship at the Presbyterian Church on New York Avenue in Washington DC.  In the 1940s, the Republicans invited him to become a Chaplain of the United States Senate whose duty it was to recite a prayer before each session.

I became aware of Dr. Marshall and followed his remarks as closely as I could, given the distance between Washington and St. Louis.  But, fortunately, his remarks were published in several books, all of which I bought.  In one prayer to the United States Senate, Dr. Marshall used these words: “Save us from the sin of worrying lest stomach ulcers be our badge of lack of faith.”  Dr. Marshall uttered those words more than 50 years ago, but they aptly describe the situation we find ourselves in today, facing a downturn in the American economy that rivals the Hoover depression of 1929.

Peter Marshall was an intelligent man whom I suspect Bishop Spong would have liked.  Time Magazine did a piece on Dr. Marshall in 1949, which is attached to this essay.  I hope you will take time to read it because the writers at Time Magazine produce prose that is clearly superior to my own.


Thus far, we have introduced my readers to a Mormon, an Episcopalian and two Presbyterians.  Now, it is time for the Catholics.  When it comes to intelligent expressions, few people spoke more lucidly than Pope John  XXIII.  It was John the twenty third who dragged the Catholic Church from pre-historic times into the late 19th or early 20th century.  Among other reforms, Pope John authorized the Masses to be said in local languages rather than in Latin.  Pope John XXIII was an exceedingly bright man who could laugh at himself and whom I hope is well on his way to sainthood.

There was a second Catholic named Monsignor Fulton Sheen.  At the end of his career, I believe that the Pope promoted Monsignor Sheen to a bishop.  Some of you with long memories will recall that Bishop Sheen always wore a floor-length cape and that his midriff was covered by a black satin cummerbund.  I liked Bishop Sheen’s comments because they were delivered with a bit of a flair and showmanship.  He did not persuade me to abandon my efforts at birth control, but Sheen had the Irish ability to laugh at himself.  For all of his showmanship, Bishop Sheen was an intelligent man who represented the best that the Catholics could offer.


In more recent times, I found that there was a program originating in Birmingham, Alabama on the The Eternal Word Television Network   (EWTN).  The glue that held the ETWN broadcast together was a woman in her sixties or seventies called Mother Angelica who headed an order of nuns.  She never thundered at her audiences that unless they paid attention to her, they were all heading for Hell.  She said simply, “Here is the right thing to do.  I hope that you do it.”

It seemed to me that Mother Angelica must have had as much as five hours of face time on the ETWN broadcasts.  Between her sermons, she also sold religious articles such as bookmarks and other paraphernalia that were associated with the Catholic Church.  But most importantly, while I did not become convinced of her theology, she was able to laugh at herself.  Although she was in her seventies, Mother Angelica was a giggler.  I was not about to adopt her theology, but from time to time I found her fascinating.


The unfortunate part is that five or six years ago, Mother Angelica had a stroke which left her totally speechless.  She is now confined to a nursing home where performers from EWTN regularly visit her room to console her.  For a woman who was gifted when it came to communication with others, the stroke must have come as a very cruel blow.  But, again, she was an intelligent person because she could make fun of herself.


Well, there you have a Mormon, an Episcopalian, two Presbyterians, and three Catholics.  Their speeches did not inspire me to take up their theology.  For example, the Presbyterians used to believe that the instant a child was conceived, it became the subject of predestination.  Before the lovers could depart from the bed or the back seat of a car, the child that they had conceived was headed to Heaven or to Hell and nothing could be done about it.  That was the essence of predestination which Presbyterians adopted.  I thought a great deal of Peter Marshall and Benjamin Franklin Hall, and I never heard them preach on this subject.  But that’s what always lurks in the back of my mind.


On the other side of the coin, there are preachers that are instant turnoffs.  Consider Jerry Falwell from Lynchburg, Virginia and Pat Robertson, who is given to announcements straight from God.  Robertson announced after Hurricane Katrina that it was God’s answer to women appearing with their breasts exposed during the Mardi Gras parade that year.  Perhaps the most sinister is James Dobson, who has a radio program from Colorado, and bragged during the Bush administration that Karl Rove had him on his speed-dial telephone.

Taking one thing with another, it would appear fair to a person such as myself that preaching in this country comes from only a handful of intelligent men.  What disturbs me most is that a good many preachers do not respect the dividing line between church and state.  That is eminently true of the Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson trio.  They are sinister men whom Barack Obama ought to ignore.

In this essay, I have not quoted any remarks by people who subscribe to the Jewish faith.  I have neglected to do so because I am not as familiar with that faith as I should be.  That faith has existed for more than 5,000 years and its wisdom is completely undeniable.  I am a non-believer in religious affairs.  On the other hand, if I were ever to become a believer, I trust at the moment that the Jewish faith might be an appropriate place to go.  In the meantime, I am being schooled by two excellent teachers.  They are Mrs. Frances Licht and Mrs. Eva Baker.

When I am ready for my Bar Mitzvah, I will let all of you know so that you can come and celebrate with me.



February 23, 2009

Essay 369


Kevin’s commentary: I actually went to church with my girlfriend the other day because she was going to a new one for the first time, and the preacher there had some really reasonable things to say. She was also a women, so I would contend that the “handful of intelligent men” statement isn’t entirely accurate. Of course this sermon was immediately followed by the kinda cultish chanty baptism of a 3 year old — boo — but the sermon itself was well done.

The Pope mentioned in this essay and the current Pope are also pretty great, as far as Popes go. The current one is even okay with atheists, which is neat.


I have no way of telling you whether eternal life really exists.  I cannot tell you about this condition because I have not yet died.  However, when the time comes for me to answer the roll call up yonder, there will be certain things that I will miss greatly.  Naturally I will miss my wife as well as my children, grandchildren and friends.  But also I will miss the sound of music.

For someone as unschooled as I am in the field of musicology, I am very fortunate in that I take great pleasure from all kinds of music.  I enjoy symphonies as well as grand opera.  I take great pleasure from folk music of every country.  A good barbershop quartet causes me to rise to my feet and cheer them on.  Perhaps the greatest music has been written to celebrate religious events.  At this point I must say that my enthusiasm for music does not embrace rock ‘n roll or hip hop music.  That music is basically just noise.  It is repetitious and pointless.  Without harmony and melody and a story line, music means nothing to its listeners.  That is the case with respect to hip hop and rock ‘n roll music.

I became involved in grand opera because I was anointed to escort my older sister home after performing in the chorus of the Grand Opera Association of St. Louis.  Attending the opera required me to put on a shirt and tie and a coat, of which I had one.  Verna Carr  was 15 years older than I was and I believe she sang in that chorus for two or three years when she was in her early 20s.  So I must have been 10 to 12 years of age.  One way or another, the music of grand opera entranced me and now in my 87th year, I am still enchanted by the music of grand opera.  I am not much entranced by German opera or the Russian ballet.  But Italian and French operas are an exquisite treat for my ears.

There is a special place in my heart reserved for black choirs.  When those choirs sing a spiritual, I am moved to recall those familiar words.  And of course Irish folk music, often bawdy at times, always arouses me.  It is hard to believe but the Clancy Brothers, for example, have lost three of their quartet.  Only Liam is left and you will be amazed to know that Liam is now in his early 70s.  What happened to the Clancy Brothers who only yesterday in my imagination sang, “Isn’t It Grand, Boys, to Be Bloody Well Dead?”


Today, my great and good friend Howard W. Pappert called me from Venice, Florida to tell me that he had seen an old friend of ours perform.  Apparently there was a symphonic performance at the Sarasota Concert Hall at which the lead violinist was a man that we had seen in Budapest in the late 1970s.  He led an orchestra, Howard told me, of several other violinists and cellists who played their music entirely without having the music spread before them.  They played from memory.  I suppose that after performing for 30 or 40 years, having the music spread in front of you is unnecessary.  Good old Howard thought enough of that performance that he called me to tell me about it.  I am simply sorry that I was not there to witness it myself.

When my time is finished, I will take my leave of this earth as gracefully as possible.  When that great event occurs, I hope that there is appropriate music being performed.  One suggestion would be to have a performance by Samuel Ramey, the lyric bass who has a range that is unrivalled.  Another might be to have that occasion marked by a performance of the opera Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano. The aria “Patria Mia” has always aroused me.  Perhaps if it is played as I am carried away, it may arouse me to keep on keeping on.  But no matter how you cut it, good music has always been a source of great enjoyment to this old codger.



February 18, 2009

Essay 368


Kevin’s commentary: I think this is the first essay that I’ve encountered that makes mention of Mr. Pappert. I hope to see more of him as I dig into older essays.

Patria Mia is indeed rather pretty.

Now that the bottom of the essay is covered, I think it’s worth moving up to the top. I think it is a gross over-generalization to say that all hip hop and rock music lacks plot or melody. I hope Pop understands this and is just exercising his right to be a curmudgeonly old man.

As a counterexample in hip hop or rap, I’d point to Aesop Rock’s “No Regrets,” which trades a very clear story for just about everything else. I suppose Pop’s objection would be on the melody front. “Same love” by Macklemore, though not my favorite artist, meets both criteria. On the rock front pretty much most classic rock fits the bill. Billy Joel and Bob Dylan for instance are both “rock” and are both story-heavy as a general rule.




It is the standard belief of preachers that confessions are beneficial to the soul.  My religious beliefs or lack thereof bar me from knowledge about the soul.  However, yesterday, February 17, brought three confessions that must have benefited every soul known to man or cattle.  The first was a confession by Alex Rodriguez, the $30 million ball player.  The second was a confession by Bristol Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of the Governor of Alaska, who dawdled her one-month-old child on her lap as she made her confession.  The third admission came from your old essayist who was moved to speak in spite of his lack of ecclesiastical training and study.  Now on to the confessions…

Alex Rodriguez is the highest-paid baseball player in the history of man.  His pay is $30 million per year and he has other outside income from a series of buildings that he rents to apartment dwellers.  We are told that Rodriguez is very quick to evict those who fall behind in their rental payments.  Rodriguez contends that he is a pal of Warren Buffet and that he moves in the higher financial circles of this financially strapped country.

Yesterday was the first day of training for the baseball clubs.  Instead of going about their training exercises yesterday, the New York Yankees found themselves listening to a press conference by Mr. Rodriguez at which he made his startling confession.  Rodriguez conceded that he had used banned substances some four or five years ago while he played for the Texas Rangers.  He confessed that an unnamed cousin bought the unnamed drugs in the Dominican Republic, brought them to this country and used them to inject Mr. Rodriguez’s behind for a period of years.  Mr. Rodriguez contends that since he joined the New York Yankees four or five years ago, he has been as clean as a hound’s tooth.  At the press conference, follow-up questions were not permitted.  Hard-bitten sports reporters laughed at the explanation of the unnamed cousin who gave shots to Mr. Rodriguez’s buttocks.

On several occasions during the so-called press conference, Mr. Rodriguez said that he was “here to take his medicine.”  No one is clear on what Rodriguez meant by the remark about taking his medicine but, as you can see, this $30 million ballplayer called a press conference to confess.  If confessions are good for the soul, Mr. Rodriguez’s soul must be bursting out of his chest or head or wherever the soul is located.


The second confession has to do with Bristol Palin, who is the 18-year-old daughter of the Governor of Alaska.  I am not one to spill secrets but it is reasonably clear that Bristol Palin had a child out of wedlock.  Her lover was a fellow student at the Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska.  Under ordinary circumstances, this gentleman, Levi Johnston, would be told by his elders that the proper thing to do was to be a man and to marry that girl as quickly as possible.  But Levi was having none of this marrying business.  In his final year of high school, Levi dropped out and announced to the world that he was going to the North Slope to become an apprentice electrician.  He worked at that trade for a month or two, until it was discovered that a high school diploma is needed to become an apprentice electrician.  So Levi was fired and I suppose that he is now hanging around the night clubs and concert halls of the great city of Wasilla, Alaska.

But this story is not about Levi Johnston.  It is about the confession of Bristol Palin.  You may recall that a few years back, when O. J. Simpson was being tried, one of the major commentators on that trial was a woman named Greta Van Susteren.   Greta had a legal degree but she turned to reporting the news about O. J. Simpson.  From that point on, Madame Van Susteren went to work for the Fox Broadcasting Company.  Apparently, she had made arrangements to interview Bristol Palin with the interview being scheduled for Tuesday, that fateful day of confessions.  During the interview, Bristol dawdled her one-month-old son on her lap.  My memory is that the boy’s name is Trig.  On the other hand, I am not sure about that name because he has an uncle named Track or something of that sort.

But dawdling the boy on her lap is a peripheral exercise.  The main event was that Bristol Palin said, “Abstinence is unrealistic.”  You may judge Bristol harshly but she practiced what she preached.  And she did it without the use of contraceptives.  It is quite clear that Bristol Palin says that abstinence is unrealistic.  I couldn’t agree more.  But her doctrine comes apart in the second phase, where contraceptives are supposed to be used.  We can’t go on populating the earth with love babies because abstinence is unrealistic.  But at least Bristol Palin has had her own hour of adulation by the Fox News people.

So much for Bristol Palin.  It is hoped that she and Levi will make wedding plans for some time in 2009 which will rival the wedding of Jenna Bush, the daughter of the late and lamented George W. Bush.


Now we turn to my own confession, which had to be dragged out of me by my sense of innate fairness.  For many years, when I was a young swain, whatever “swain” means, I attempted to date several women around the St. Louis area.  In every case, I tried to persuade those young females that abstinence was totally and thoroughly unrealistic.  Why such a truth, so evident to me, was unpersuasive to those comely females in the St. Louis area is something that I will never understand.  It remained for Bristol Palin to enunciate those words that abstinence is thoroughly and totally unrealistic.  Unfortunately, I was generally unable to persuade the women of the St. Louis area of the truth of that statement.


For the better part of 70 years, my soul has been burdened by the thought that I should make this confession.  In doing so, I find that my soul has been excited and enriched by my confession.  Beyond that, I sincerely hope that the souls of Alex Rodriguez and Bristol Palin are similarly benefited.  I am not trained in ecclesiastical procedures but now that this burden has been lifted from my soul, I would hope to meet some of those beautiful women who turned me down so many years ago.  With my confession, there may be a case to be made for second thoughts.  We will all have to be patient and see how things turn out.



February 18, 2009

Essay 367


Kevin’s commentary:

“Swain” is one of those words that I didn’t know I knew. There are a lot of these. If someone gave me ten years and had me write down every word that came to mind, that one wouldn’t make it. I’m not sure there’s a point to this train of thought beyond ‘language is hard.’

For those curious, A-Rod’s drugs came from Florida. Human Growth Hormone is a nasty thing.

Finally, I feel it would be remiss to mention some ladies who Pop had run-ins with who would certainly agree with Bristol’s confession. They hung out in a ball room, and you can read their story here.


Giving titles to the essays that are produced at this desk is not an automatic function.  I suspect that most people would believe that after the essay is written, it would be titled.  My mind works in a perverse way.  I ordinarily title the piece and then go on to write it.  I suspect that many people would hold that the essay must be written before it is titled.  But doing it backwards seems to have worked for me over a period that goes back to the days when I was Vice President and President of Local Union 6350 of the Communications Workers of America.  In any case, the title for this essay is a fairly crafted one for the essay that is proposed here.

In this essay, I propose to marry a spiritual with our current economic situation.  In an effort to provide clarity to this situation, I should mention that until recent years, a “spiritual” was really called a “Negro spiritual.”  That art form, which was really a musical art form, arose from the involuntary servitude that white men and women visited upon the black race.  Those slaves hoped and prayed that sooner or later, their slavery would be lifted and that they would then enjoy life, even if it was the eternal life that preachers tell us occurs in heaven after death.

I am a great fan of spiritual music because it provides harmony and melody.  And nobody provides better spiritual music than a black choir.

For three or four weeks, I have been hounded by a spiritual called “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”  That spiritual has hounded me so much that I am sitting here on a Sunday morning trying to write an essay that will please my spiritual hounder.  In the essay that follows, the improbable marriage takes place between the spiritual and the current economic situation that assails all of us in this country as well as worldwide.

One of the knocks on spiritual music is that there is repetition in its verses.  But remember these songs were sung by unlettered singers and they used repetition as a means of making their message unmistakably clear.  In the “Motherless Child” spiritual, the lyrics go as follows:

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
A long way from home, a long way from home.”

When that song is sung, the phrase “a long way from home” is extended.  There is a second verse, which goes as follows:

“Sometimes I feel like I am almost gone,
Sometimes I feel like I am almost gone,
Sometimes I feel like I am almost gone,
A long way from home, a long way from home.”

Every spiritual known to me contains repetitive lines.  That is the nature of the music.  Spirituals are not like a Puccini aria or even a Broadway show tune.  They are an unusual art form which happens to have a religious connection.  While I have no involvement with religious connections, I have from my childhood a love of spiritual music.

Now we proceed to the improbable marriage.  It seems to me that when a man has lost his job, as is the case these days, his masculinity is seriously threatened.  I assume that when a female loses a job, the injury to her inner self is no less harmful.  Losing a job means that there may be no point in getting up in the morning, because there are no trains or buses to catch to go to the place of employment for a job that does not exist anymore.

When a couple see that their house is the subject of foreclosure, I suspect that they might well say, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”  Their total life savings are probably tied up in that house, and in a short while it will belong to someone else, perhaps a hustler who preys on people who have lost their homes.

And then there is the issue of health insurance.  Losing a job is only the beginning of the grimness here.  When a job is lost, inevitably the health insurance goes with it.  I am flabbergasted at the cost of health insurance.  It is an extravagant expense but a necessary one.  When a man or a woman loses a job, and the health insurance goes away, he or she must pray that the children do not need hospitalization and a doctor’s care.  Again I must say that in this instance, the person who has lost his job and health insurance must feel like a motherless child.

A political note must be introduced at this point with respect to the cost of health care.  A few years back when J. Dennis Hastert was the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington, there was a vote to include drugs along with Medicare premiums.  Dennis Hastert was under the control of Tom DeLay.  The vote in the House was extremely close and was held open for more than three hours while DeLay twisted arms in an effort to prevent the United States government from bargaining with the pharmaceutical manufacturers to get lower prices.  In the end, DeLay gave a Representative $100,000 for his son’s campaign for another House seat and the vote was passed.  One of the reasons why the cost of health insurance and drugs is so astronomical is because, by law, the United States government is forbidden to bargain with the pharmaceutical manufacturers.  This, my friends, is preposterous in the extreme.  But it has been brought to you by Tom DeLay, J. Dennis Hastert, and the Republican administration who guided the fortunes of this country for the last eight years.

As you can see, it is my belief that when a person loses a job and faces the formidable task of finding a new one, while wondering how he will feed and educate his family, he must feel like a motherless child.  I am sure that people in that circumstance will conclude that they are a “long way from home.”

Needless to say, I hope that this depression is lifted in my lifetime, which is now not measured in decades but in much shorter periods of time.  It seems to me that Barack Obama is running the only game in town if we are to escape the clutches of this depression.  I wish him well in every respect.

Now as for the improbable marriage, I hope that it is reasonably clear that there are a lot of unfortunate people who are entitled to feel that they are like motherless children.  As a survivor of the 1929 Hoover depression, I deplore and hate what has happened to this country.  But Obama is attempting to build a strong structure, not like the house of cards that has collapsed on us all.  Again, I hope it is understood that feeling like a motherless child is clearly applicable to those of us who are paying the penalty for events that were beyond our control.  And so the marriage between the spiritual “Motherless Child” and the current depression may not be so improbable after all.

I have now put the motherless child nagging behind me and I am moving on to another beautiful spiritual called “You Better Get a Home Ina That Rock, Don’t You See?”  I devoted a part of an essay to that song but it is so good that on this Sunday morning I am going to my chair singing, “You Better Get a Home ina That Rock.”  Spirituals are great music.



February 15, 2009

Essay 365

POSTSCRIPT:  The wonderful woman who transcribes my essays went to the trouble to look up the full lyrics to getting a home in that rock.  Her name is Eva Baker and I believe she subscribes to the Jewish faith.  Perhaps if Mrs. Baker continues to be exposed to my thoughts about spirituals, she may be tempted to take up the faith of the Southern Baptists.  Realistically, that is a long way off and I know in my heart that it will never happen.  Nonetheless, here (see next page) are the lyrics to the spiritual that I am humming this morning.


The Weavers
Pete Seeger

I’ve got a home in that rock, don’t you see, don’t you see,
I’ve got a home in that rock, don’t you see, don’t you see,
Between the earth and sky, I thought I heard my Savior cry,
Better get a home in that rock, don’t you see.

Rich man Dives, he lives so well, don’t you see, (twice)
Rich man Dives, he lives so well, when he dies he has a home in hell,
He had no home in that rock, don’t you see.

Poor man Lazarus, poor as I, don’t you see, (twice)
Poor man Lazarus, poor as I, when he died he had a home on high,
He had a home in that rock, don’t you see.

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, don’t you see, (twice)
God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time,
You better get a home in that rock, don’t you see.

Better get a home in that rock, don’t you see, don’t you see,(twice)
Between the earth and sky, I thought I heard my Savior cry,
Better get a home in that rock, don’t you see.


Kevin’s commentary: Once again 2:30 am finds me listening to old spirituals that I would never have otherwise stumbled across. Give this version of “Sometimes I feel…” a listen. I think I liked it better than “Home in that Rock,” honestly, but then again there are bound to be differences across versions.

When I worked as a managing editor in my college newspaper, one of my duties was to come up with pity headlines to make people want to click on articles. I was awful at them. If only I had read this essay sooner, perhaps I could have asked Pop to help me come up with them.


There are dilettantes who dine on snails, caviar and champagne who will contend that eating a scallion is beneath their stature in life.  They will contend that it is nothing other than a peasant food.  Your old essayist holds a contrary view.  In his estimation, the enjoyment of any meal except breakfast is increased by at least 75% to 100% by the consumption of scallions.  A meal served without scallions is similar to one served without pepper or salt.  Scallions may well be a peasant accompaniment to any meal, but is there anyone who says that eating peasant food is deplorable?

My love affair with scallions goes back to the beginning of my life in the mid 1920s.  When the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm closed down, my father built a house on Francis Place in Richmond Heights, Missouri.  The back yard had plenty of room in which to plant a garden.  My mother was an avid gardener who planted all kinds of vegetables which were then canned.  The produce from that garden did much to sustain us during the dark days of the Hoover depression in 1929.

All my life I have enjoyed tending to a garden of the sort that my mother first raised in the mid 1920s.  After World War II, I was transferred to Kansas City, and established a small residence in a town called Prairie Village, Kansas.  After the storm windows were fashioned to fit the windows, my next job was to plant a garden.  That garden was followed by other gardens in Chicago, which was my next station.  When I came to New York, I rented a small farm of five acres, known as the Rickenbacher Property.  Again, I planted a garden.  When I was sent to Washington to work there as a lobbyist, my residence was in Bethesda, Maryland and my neighbors were in awe of the fact that the soil there could produce a bountiful harvest of produce.  When I returned to New York some 40 years ago to live in Short Hills, New Jersey, there was a garden in the ample rear of this property that was most fertile.  I planted gardens in that spot for many years, until the trees began to shade the garden and I could no longer see.  So you see, gardening has been in my blood for all these years.

In every garden that I was associated with, the first items planted were scallions and radishes.  Scallions are related to onions but they are a distinct crop of their own.  One of the virtues of scallions is that the deer will not eat them.  That is a major plus.  Scallions are not difficult to raise at all.  They require a little bit of sunshine, some water and a smidgen of fertilizer.  The effort that goes into raising scallions is amply rewarded by the pleasure in their consumption.

For many years, it was difficult to find scallions in the winter months in our local markets in New Jersey.  However, in recent years, it appears that scallion growers have begun to produce that wonderful vegetable all year long.  At the moment, the Chicka/Carr family is able to buy perhaps six bunches of scallions on Tuesday followed by four bunches of scallions on Friday, which is our next shopping day.  The fact that I can no longer see does not bar me from tending to the scallions.  My wife places two large plates in front of me.  On the right side are the untreated scallions.  The left side is for the finished product.  To my right, on the floor, there is a waste basket in which the roots and the tops are discarded.  Preparing the scallions for the table is a labor of love.  I enjoy doing that work because I know that, come the next meal, the scallions will enhance it greatly.  The cost/benefit allowance is much in favor of the scallions because of their low cost.  In my own case, I would eat scallions regardless of the cost/benefit relationship.

I am told that scallions are very beneficial to the health of their consumers.  I am told that scallions provide us with benefits ranging from vitamin A through vitamin S.  People who eat scallions have  twinkly eyes, and curly hair.  Now who could debate about a vegetable that provides all of these wonderful benefits including the twinkly eyes etc.  They may be a food for peasants, but if that is the case, I say only that we should have more peasant food.

I have been writing essays at this desk for 11 years now, and I regret the fact that I have failed to pay tribute to scallions before this date.  As we go forward, I hope that this failing will not occur again.  Nonetheless, I am pleased by my ability to heap lavish praise on a lowly vegetable called scallions.  They deserve every accolade that the dictionary can define.  And as for the dilettantes, they can go on eating their snails and caviar, but they do so at the expense of missing the consumption of scallions.

There is one other thought that occurs to me in these troubled times.  As our economy is in fritters, the caviar eaters will become fewer and fewer.  But those of us who love and revere scallions can go on chomping away until full employment reoccurs.  Any food that provides all these benefits is entitled to praise of the most lavish sort.



February 15, 2009

Essay 366


Kevin’s commentary: I think I remember reading another essay on this particular subject published in 2011. So it’s safe to say that Ezra’s love for scallions has not diminished in the slightest. For my part, I’m happy to eat them when I run into them but make no particular effort to seek them out.

I remember eating vegetables from Pop’s garden when I was a kid. I always wondered why that stopped being a thing that existed, but now I know it was due to the trees blocking sunshine. The question that I’m sure is now on everyone’s mind is simple: why not just trim the trees?


As I dictate this essay on February 11, 2009, there is a grave national crisis surrounding the American people.  From my view, it is a crisis of the same proportions as World War II and the great Hoover depression of 1929.  There are a good number of brains at work on the crisis for which I am eternally grateful.  On the other hand, there are legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives who continually reflect mental dwarfism at a time of great peril.

The mental dwarfism is not confined to the Republican Party, which has more than its share of it.  The mental dwarfism laps over into the highest reaches of the Obama administration.  Tim Geitner was the head man of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York when he saw this country being plunged into financial peril.  Geitner did very little to stop that plunge but nonetheless was picked as the Treasury Secretary by Barack Obama.  A full measure of Geitner’s mental dwarfism was apparent yesterday when he attempted to explain to all the brokers and bankers how they would be treated in an effort to bail us out.  The fact of the matter is that Geitner completely struck out.  After a few paragraphs of Geitner’s speech, the stock market began a plunge of nearly 400 points.  The market reacted because Geitner’s proposals had no substance.  He was saying to the bankers and brokers that “most oranges are round.”  The fact that he is a Democrat does not excuse him from my allegation of mental dwarfism.

In my lifetime as a union executive and as a representative of the AT&T Company, I suspect that I have made somewhere around 400 speeches.  Nearly all of them were delivered largely without notes because that is the way the attention of your audience is grabbed and hung onto.  Never, ever did I read a speech because the audience would say, “If you give me that stupid speech, I can read it for myself.”  The point here is that Geitner read his speech, which was thoroughly unconvincing as witnessed by the market plunge of nearly 400 points.

Geitner is the fellow who failed to pay some of his taxes in spite of his high position as a Treasury secretary, and the contrast between Geitner and Barack Obama, when it comes to explaining things, is obviously apparent.  If I may be presumptuous, it would be to say that Barack Obama would do well to relieve Geitner of his responsibility and look for a better Secretary, particularly one who can explain things without reading a speech and putting his audience not only to sleep but to a sleep that invites financial nightmares.

Now, there’s a second category here of mental dwarfism in our Senate and House of Representatives.  Barack Obama has proposed a series of steps to try to get us out of the hole that George Bush and Dick Cheney have put us into.  Let me be clear again and again.  This is not Barack Obama’s mess.  It is the mess left by the George Bush administration, during which Bush started a war in Iraq and engaged in profligate spending that knew no end.

But the Republicans have responded with dwarfism at every turn.  If you listen to their response to what Mr. Obama has proposed, it is that they are whimpering and saying, “But he could have given us more tax cuts” and “I just don’t understand how all of this is going to work exactly.”  The point is that nobody understands just how the bailout will work, but the proposal of the Republicans seems essentially to do nothing.

If anyone can make sense out of the comments of Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Senator from Texas; Lindsay Graham, the Senator from South Carolina; Jon Cornyn, the Senator from Texas; James Inhofe and Tom Coburn from Oklahoma; Bob Corker from Tennessee; and John Ensign from Nevada, America would love to hear it.  Ever since Barack Obama’s plan was offered, there have been great blatherings from these eight Senators that amount to nothing more than whining with a thought that maybe there should be more tax cuts and that’s about it.  The fact is that John McCain has not bothered to cover himself with glory during this period either.  He has demonstrated the erratic behavior that took place during the final phases of the Bush administration when he came to Washington to attend a meeting on economic matters and said not a word.  McCain finished nearly last in his class at the Naval Academy, and I will tell you now that it is clear why that happened.  The man is not a very bright person.  He is dull, dull, dull and is gifted with mental dwarfism.

The members of our House of Representatives literally exude dwarfism on the Republican and the Democratic side.  There is Johnny Isaacson from Georgia who introduced a measure into the bailout package which he then promptly voted against.  There is another Representative from Texas, a Republican, who has told us that the Republican Party should become insurgent and should copy the methods of the Taliban.  Is there a better definition of mental dwarfism than this?

The basic problem, at heart, is that the Republican legislators as well as imbeciles such as Rush Limbaugh are determined to destroy the Obama administration with the thought that eventually they will return to power.  May I say this from the bottom of my heart?  Anyone who puts a party ahead of country deserves to be called nothing less than a traitor.  Mental dwarfism is no excuse for the desire to undermine the Obama administration as it attempts to untangle America’s great national crisis.

Barack Obama has gone to great lengths to reach across the aisle and bring Republicans with him.  Three members of his Cabinet are now Republicans.  He has extended every effort to include them in the package that he has put together in an effort to bail us out of this tremendous crisis.  And yet what we have here are votes completely against Obama, as in the case of the House of Representatives, and in the Senate, only three Republicans have crossed over to vote with Obama.  If I may say so, it is high time that Obama knocked some people flat on their behinds.

Changing subjects, one final thought about mental dwarfism might have to do with Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankee infielder.  Rodriguez is being paid $30 million per year under his current contract which lasts for ten years.  Most baseball observers will agree that Rodriguez is perhaps the most gifted baseball player on the current major league rosters.  Yet a few years back, when he was 27 or thereabouts, Rodriguez says that he committed a foolish act which came about because he was naïve.  The fact of the matter is that after years of declining to take responsibility for taking a banned substance, Rodriguez was forced to concede the truth of the allegations against him after a reporter for Sports Illustrated wrote a story recently.

At age 27, I was in full control of my faculties and hardly would have committed a “naïve act,” as Rodriguez says, by taking a banned substance.  Now, he asks for our forgiveness while he collects $30 million per year to play the game of baseball.  I do not have a vote on the Committee for the Baseball Hall of Fame but if I did, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and the others who took banned substances would not ever get my vote.

As you can see, this essay has been dictated while your old essayist is in an angry mood.  Your essayist is in the 87th year of his lifetime, and has seen plenty of issues that cry out for intelligent response.  I know that this is a democracy and there must be room made for some legislators who are dimwits.  If I may say so, we have more than our share of dimwits in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.  I can tell you at this stage that I do not know how we are going to recover.  But I do know that Barack Obama has gathered the best brains of the American democracy and has put them to work on it.  If it fails, we will all be the poorer.  If it succeeds, we will be richer.  But at this stage of the game, there is no room for mental dwarfism, nor is there room for putting party ahead of country.

Putting party ahead of country is nothing less than a case of treason.



February 11, 2009

Essay 364


Kevin’s commentary: Oh God, the more things change the more they stay the same. This essay is being published on 10/20/13, right after the Tea Party Republicans finished holding our government hostage for two weeks.  They spew crazy bullshit and make erratic demands and basically just throw hissy fits on the floor of the House. It is no way to run a Government and shows that our elected representatives have not progressed a damn in four years.

The only thing different here — and I think this would surprise Pop from 2009 — is that Obama held strong. He grew some balls and said that he wouldn’t negotiate with hostage takers and the Republicans finally caved, winning nothing.

I’d sure like to hear Pop’s reflections on this essay, and maybe he could even pen a new essay looking at the shutdown specifically.


This humble and modest little essay has to do with language.  Specifically it has to do with the language spoken by enlisted men, always called GIs, in the American Army in the era of World War II.  This is the language spoken among enlisted men, and it has very little to do with the lofty tones used by officers, particularly those of general rank.  This essay might very well be unintelligible to clowns such as General Patton or Bernard Law Montgomery of the British Army.  It is concrete language spoken by young men such as myself who served in the Second World War in an effort to defeat the forces of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.

The language spoken by GIs was often salty.  It was not intended for Sunday School superintendents.  Nor was it intended for my first grade teacher, Miss Brantley.  GI speak was often obscene because it had to do with such subjects as the needless death of comrades.

The American Army in the Second World War was made up of draftees who had a large measure of intelligence.  You may recall that in my basic training, I made a suggestion to the corporal in charge about how he might accomplish his close-order drill.  The corporal told me, “Soldier, you don’t get paid to think.  You get paid to do what you are told.”  Those of us who served as soldiers in that war often were brighter than the men who commanded us.  We resented the fact that we were mere statistics who could be sent to our deaths simply to impress general officers with the scale of the ferocity of battle that they oversaw.

Before going further, I should tell you that the term “GI” flowed from an Army directive concerning “general issue.”  Bedsheets, blankets, food, headlights, etc. were considered “general issue” to the United States Army.  Somehow or other, because the enlisted men were at the bottom of the pecking order, that description was used to describe those of us who occupied those positions.

The fact is that GI speak had no grammar of its own.  It was never studied in the great universities of the world.  But it contained unmistakably clear directions as to the intent of the user.

I told you in the beginning that GI speak was often salty and obscene.  But as a speaker of GI speak myself, I conclude that it was direct and left no room for doubt among listeners.

A healthy part of GI speak had to do with words being f****d up.  In popular parlance what is called “fouled up”.  The GI speak that I refer to here has very little to do with being fouled up.  It basically has to do with being f****d up, and I have cleaned that up.  I hope that you will understand it.  It was the belief among GIs that many of the directives given to us were “f****d up.”  And so one of the major elements of GI speak has to do with the words f****d up.

Originally the world knew the word SNAFU, which means “situation normal, all f****d up.”  I daresay that SNAFU was known throughout the English speaking world as well as many of the other major languages associated with World War II.  As the Second World War drew to a conclusion, a new word came into GI speak, FUBAR.  Translated, FUBAR means “f****d up beyond all recognition.”  I hate to tell you this, but many of the efforts in World War II looked great for publicity purposes but in fact were f****d up beyond all recognition.

And now I turn to less well-known words that concern the f****d up locution.  The first is SESFU.  It means “situation unchanged, still f****d up.”  I did not know about SESFU until it was called to my attention by a book that is being read to me, which I will get into in a minute.

The next word in the GI speak is SAFU.  It means “self-adjusting f*** up.” Now we proceed to TARFU.  Translated, this means that “things are really f****d up.”

The next word is FAMTU. It means “f****d up more than usual.”  Then there is JANFU, which means “joint Army Navy f**** up.”

In the Second World War there were many exercises where we were associated with the British.  There were always debates about the American tendency to fly into the face of the storm as opposed to the Brits’ usual penchant to wait and see how things would develop.  This is not meant in any way as a criticism of the Brits, because they were often much more right than we were.  But now we come to the word JAAFU.  It means “joint Anglo American f**** up.”

Here is a tougher one.  This one is called a FUAFUP, which means “f****d up and f****d up proper.”

This concludes my recitation of GI speak, which was used during the Second World War to describe various military operations.  I am indebted to Rick Atkinson who has written what he proposed to be a trilogy of books.  The first book was called “An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943.”  That book was written in 2002 and because of my involvement, I bought copies and gave them to my daughters.

The second book of the trilogy was called “The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944.”  That book was written in 2007.  And I am now reading it – or hearing it – because it has been converted into compact discs.  The third book in the trilogy has of course not been written but it will cover the latter stages of the war in Italy.

I do not wish to brag in any sense whatsoever about my involvement in these adventures.  The fact is that I was born in 1922 and in the early part of 1942 I enlisted in the American Army.  If there is anything about which I continue to be proud, it is that when my country was in danger, at least I enlisted rather than waiting to be drafted.  That may mean very little to lots of people but in my mind it was the only rational choice for me.  My mother and father, who had several brothers in the First World War, hesitated to see me enlist in the Army but they agreed it was my duty to do so.

I hope that none of my readers are offended by any of the language contained in this modest little essay.  This essay was an attempt to tell the rest of the world how GIs thought during that great conflict and the language they used to express it.  If it was salty and obscene, then so be it.  World War II was not a Sunday School picnic.  It involved death and dumbness in large proportions.

Before leaving this essay, I would like to say a few words about Omar Bradley, a general in the United States Army.  The fact that he came from my native state of Missouri has nothing to do with it.  General Bradley did not swagger, as George Patton did, nor was he effeminate, as Bernard Law Montgomery was.  General Bradley knew that in the final analysis it was the GIs who did the heavy lifting and often did the dying.

He was a remarkable man who had the devotion of every enlisted man.  Very few Generals could ever make that claim.

Well, there you have my thoughts about GI speak.  No one contends that our speech from World War II was elegant.  It was direct and to the point.  And, finally, if you are interested, you may wish to buy a copy of Rick Atkinson’s book, “The Day of Battle: The War in Italy and Sicily, 1943-1944.”

Looking back, I was not necessarily privileged to be through the battles in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy.  I was simply standing there when there was a need for my services and so I saw the whole panorama before me.  But in every case I remembered the lesson I learned in basic training, which was that “Soldier, you don’t get paid to think.  You get paid to do what you are told.”



February 6, 2009

Essay 363


Kevin’s commentary: A related essay can be found here. And here is what it means to have the GIs.

I think this is the first instance of product placement in an Ezra’s Essay that I can recall. I am not opposed.

Many of these terms were unfamiliar to me. In fact I can only really say that I recognized SNAFU and FUBAR. For reasons that I cannot properly articulate, JANFU and JAAFU bring me particular joy. Perhaps it is because both the Carr and Shepherd families are experts in assigning blame and those expressions do just that.