Archive for the May 2009 Category


Memorial Day will be celebrated two days hence.  On that day, the President of the United States will lay a wreath on The Tomb of the Unknowns.  In Millburn, New Jersey the American Legion post will gather a few of its members, dressed in overseas caps, who will march from their headquarters on Main Street up to the railroad station.  Some will be carrying rifles.  When they reach the railroad station, the commander will give a snappy salute, and the men will turn around and march back to their headquarters on Main Street.  I suppose what all of this goes to show is that there are many ways to reflect our thoughts about those who have contributed or died in the service of this country.

Originally the holiday was called “Decoration Day.”  On that day, the graves of veterans would receive flowers and men and women alike would wear red poppies in their lapels.  But Decoration Day or Memorial Day is a solemn occasion for old-timers such as myself who can remember when war robbed us of our youth.

In any case, Memorial Day is a sobering occasion that has left this old essayist in a retrospective frame of mind.  I suppose perhaps the best way to start this retrospective about Memorial Day might be to go to the Old Scripture.  A callow youth under the age of 50 might be encouraged by a reading of the Book of Psalms.  One is Psalm 90, verse 10, which might provide youngsters with the thought that they have a long time to live.  Here is the quotation from the Bible:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their pride [but] labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

-King James Version

A close reading of this Scripture will tell people that life will extend over threescore plus ten years or seventy years.  The psalmist also concludes that in exceptional cases of great strength mankind, can live for fourscore or eighty years.

For those of us who have lived our fourscore years with some significant change to boot, the approach of Memorial Day leaves all of us octogenarians in a reflective frame of mind.

The verse cited from Psalm 90 says that the time will come when we will “fly away.”  I assume that this is a euphemism for when life ceases to exist.  But it is a very nice touch to use that phrase in place of the dreaded word of death.

I assume that every person of advanced age will have given thought to the time when life ceases to exist.  In my own case, I do not dwell on that subject.  I know that it will happen sooner or later.  Even the giant maple tree in our front yard has a life span, and when it is finished I suppose that it too will “fly away.”  Those of us who have been to war know a bit about dying.  For me, it has never been a circumstance to celebrate.  If my understanding is correct, the Catholics have a saint who is in charge of peaceful dying.  About all that can be asked is that when the end comes, it be done in peace so the saint will have done his job.  I don’t look forward to the “flying away,” as the Scripture says.  On the other hand, I know that it will happen, and I hope that it will be peaceful.  What disturbs me is the fact that the final day of life is often preceded by very grave illnesses and agony.  Those grave illnesses tend to torment me.

Two of my neighbors, Irving Licht and Jim Lyons, as well as my brother died of Parkinson’s Disease.  This disease takes a very heavy toll on the victim as well as on those around him.  In most cases, victims of Parkinson’s Disease are confined to their beds for much of the last two or three years of their lives.  Being unable to walk, they are forced to use catheters, and bedsores are a plague to them.

I cite Parkinson’s because it is close to home.  But we should not forget the agony that accompanies the end of life from sources such as cancer.  And then there are those that in their final days, suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s.  These meet the definition of being slow and obscene as described by the Australian songwriter, Eric Bogle.

So you see, my retrospective mood tells me that when death arrives, it will be greatly appreciated if it is not accompanied by a long illness.  And that thought leads me to think of Eric Bogle, a songwriter who was born in Scotland but now, since the late 1970s, is an Australian citizen.

Bogle wrote a pair of strong anti-war songs called “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and an earlier one called “The Green Fields of France.”  In the latter case, the song is also known as “Willie McBride.”

On a summer day some years ago, Bogle visited a cemetery that held the remains of British soldiers killed in World War I.  Feeling tired, he sat down by the graveside of Private Willie McBride.  According to the headstone, Willie McBride was killed at the age of 19 in the year of 1916.  As Bogle sat there carrying on his imaginary conversation with Willie McBride, he coined a phrase that is memorialized in his song.  In the imaginary conversation with Private McBride, Bogle asks, “Did you die quick? And did you die clean? Or was it slow and obscene?”

May I suggest that all of us would prefer to “fly away” in a manner that is both quick and clean.  But that may not be possible in every case.  In those cases in which the death is slow and obscene, we should all hope for the likes of Frances Licht, Dorothy Lyons, and Mildred Carr.  They nursed their husbands through their long ordeals and my retrospective thoughts embrace them as well as the soldiers and sailors who died in the defense of the United States.

When this long and sobering weekend passes, perhaps I will undertake to write an essay that might cause a giggle or two.  In the meantime, however, I would ask that none of you should “fly away” as the psalmist suggests.  We need every reader we can get.



May 23, 2009

Essay 387


Kevin’s commentary: This essay reminds me a little of 2012’s “Bad News for the Ultra Pious,” which is an essay commemorating the continued defiance of the psalmist. I had no idea, incidentally, that my family history included Parkinson’s sufferers. It sounds like a horrible, horrible disease.

Looking down the list of essays, I am gladdened that there’s a cheery one coming up, but it looks to be a few away still. Unless it’s “Grim News Abounds,” which will be published in two essays from now. But my money is on “Ode to Commode.” Stay tuned!


People with prodigious long-term memories may recognize the title of this piece as being a telephone number.  That is indeed the case.  It was a four party line associated with the town of Clayton, Missouri.

In 1934 or 1935, my father was again employed after a layoff of six years, which was a function of the Hoover Depression.  His new job was as a maintenance worker for a private subdivision, which involved cutting the grass and shoveling snow as well as trimming trees.  When he succeeded his boss after a year or so, he found that the job paid $25 a week with no sick leave or vacation.  If you came to work every day from Monday through Saturday, you would collect your $25 at the end of the week.  If you were sick a day or two, that amount would be docked from your wages.  But bear in mind that these were the Depression years, and my father considered himself lucky to have a job, and we were now able to afford a telephone.

At that time, during the Depression, there was no such thing as a dial tone on your telephone.  It was a case of being a manual operation from beginning to end.  Once our phone was installed, we celebrated that we were now a part of the upper crust as many people had no phone service whatsoever.  Every small community had its own telephone center where telephone operators provided service 24 hours per day.

The Carr phone service was a party affair.  There were three other parties who were listed as having a Clayton 714 number.  We were given the suffix J and we knew to answer the phone when it rang once.  Other parties on our line were signaled to answer their phones when the phone rang twice or three times or four times.  My best recollection is that J was one suffix, while R was another one.  I have forgotten the last two suffixes.  But give me a break.  This was more than seventy years ago.

When the earpiece was lifted from the telephone, a light would flash in the central office and the operator would say, “Number please?”  Operators and customers became friendly and often exchanged a bit of gossip now and then.  If Mrs. X was expecting a baby, for example, I suspect that news was quickly spread to other operators as well as to party line subscribers.  There were certain advantages in having a party line because if there was an emergency, the operator would break into the line and say that there was an emergency that needed to be taken care of now.  On the other hand, there were obvious disadvantages in that if your party line subscribers were given to long-winded chats, it might be a while before the service became available again.

If my memory serves me correctly, there was a charge of five cents for each call.  Nickels in those days did not come easily, and the phone was used therefore when there was a need for it.  But for the Carr family, having a phone of any kind was a luxury and was greatly appreciated by all concerned.

Because of the charge associated with each call, our grocer, John Gualdoni, used his light pickup truck to solicit orders every morning.  In those days, five gallons of gasoline could be bought with a single dollar bill.

Living immediately next door to us was a blond bombshell of a woman who was married to the coldest fish ever seen outside of a fish counter.  The husband was a sheet metal worker who installed furnaces and hired me from time to time when I was about 12 years old to accompany him and hand him pieces of metal.  In a whole afternoon, the blond bombshell’s husband might say only four or five words to me.  But at the end of the day, he would reward me with a fifty-cent piece.  For me, that was a pretty good wage and I had no complaints at all.

My elder brothers and sister had occasions to attend parties with the blond bombshell who was married to the cold fish.  From what I could gather, the blond bombshell lived up to her billing in every respect.  Unfortunately, I regret to tell you, I never saw the blond bombshell in action because I was too young.

The fact that telephone calls cost a nickel a piece and that gasoline was so cheap, made it convenient for John Gualdoni to take his orders from customers in person in our neighborhood in the morning and deliver the groceries in the afternoon.  The young fellow who took the orders was named Bob and the gossips in the neighborhood quickly noticed that Bob spent an inordinate amount of time taking the order from the blond bombshell.  Mind you, this is gossip, and if he made out with her, given her cold fish husband, I would say to Bob, “More power to you.”

At that time, the telephone service was provided by the Bell System which was another name for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.  If the telephone service malfunctioned, the Bell System would assume responsibility and be there almost instantly.  The Bell System, founded by Alexander Graham Bell, was in the business of providing telephone service.  If it malfunctioned, they were there to fix it.

In 1941, AT&T was looking for a draftsman to work in its St. Louis office.  Robert C. Mann was the records engineer in that office, and fortunately he was acquainted with Don Zoerb, who taught drafting at the ClaytonHigh School.  One way or another, Mr. Zoerb recommended me and I was hired by Mr. Mann.  From day one in that employment, I found out that the Bell System was obsessed by service.  That was fine by me because it gave me an opportunity to work a bit of overtime now and then.

When my Bell System career ended, I had worked for AT&T for 43 years.  The company had sent me from St. Louis to Kansas City, then to Chicago, then to New York, then to Washington DC, back to New York, and then to New Jersey.  I owned homes in Kansas City; New Providence, New Jersey; Bethesda, Maryland; and then in my current residence of Short Hills.  In that long history of using Bell System service, if a malfunction were reported to the operator, a repairman would appear, probably within the hour.  As I say, the Bell System was given to an obsession with service.

I retired in 1984 and that same year the Telecommunications Act was placed into effect.  Basically, it provided for the dissolution of the Bell System service and its parts were scattered to the winds.  And if I may say so, the spirit of being obsessed with service went with it.

I have lived in this house for nearly forty years.  In the last several years, interruptions to our telephone service have occurred with alarming frequency.  First, for example, there was a road crew digging up the highway and it interrupted service.  Then there was a case when a tree trunk hit our junction box and that interrupted service.  Now, however, over the long weekend preceding Memorial Day, we found that our service disappeared on Sunday, and upon inquiry we were told at first that it would be restored on Wednesday.  From the time of the report, this would be a four-day span.  Twenty-four hours later, we were making a bit of progress in that we would only be out of service for three days.  I suspect that we should be thankful for this great improvement.

Following the Telecommunications Act of 1984, a large conglomerate, based mainly from the former New York Telephone Company, took over our phone service.  It is called the Verizon Corporation.  The people who run the repair service for the Verizon Corporation that affects our exchange appear to be “unobsessed” with service.  Curiously, at the same time that our service is interrupted, they are promoting a service called FIOS.  If we were ever to subscribe to the FIOS service, we could put our television as well as our telephone and computer service in the hands of the Verizon Corporation.  Given the rapid deterioration in the service provided by Verizon, we are extremely reluctant to do that.  More than that, we are not going to do it.

And so, as I dictate these lines on the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, May 25, we are bereft of telephone service.  Fortunately, there are cell phones today.  In a way, it is a lot like returning to the 1920s, before our party line was available.

And so our only consolation is that the neighbors who have this exchange are out of service as well.  That is not too much of a consolation but that is all that there is.  Perhaps my spirits will improve tomorrow or the next day when the repairman again shows up to restore our telephone service.

But in the meantime, I tend to think of the days when we could pick up the telephone and the voice at the other end would say, “Number please.”  That is a comforting thought but I suspect that it is all of the comfort I am going to get from the Verizon Corporation until service is restored tomorrow or maybe Wednesday.  Conglomerates like Verizon don’t waste their love on individual subscribers.  So I suspect that, given the circumstances, individual subscribers such as ourselves will simply have to do the best we can.



May 25, 2009

Essay 386


Kevin’s commentary: You know, I always thought that the reason AT&T and other service providers had crappy service was because they had (local) monopolies and thus no incentive to do particularly well. But it sounds like the monopoly reason can’t really explain it, if they were good at what they did when they had a nation-wide monopoly. Maybe there really is something to the whole corporate culture argument, after all. Or maybe they just have more responsibilities now and consumers have higher expectations — hard to tell.


There are two or three thoughts that must be established before we proceed into this essay.  The first has to do with vows that Catholic priests embrace, saying that they will live a life of poverty, obedience, and chastity. 

Secondly, your old essayist has never claimed to lead a life based on these three concepts.  Poverty is to be avoided at all costs.  Obedience to any religious authority has never troubled my aged brain.  And, finally, if chastity equates to male celibacy, I find that to be a foreign thought.

Thirdly, if the Book of Genesis is to be believed, it counsels us to go forth and multiply.  (See Genesis 1:28)  I am told that there are six verses in Genesis that advise us to go forth and multiply.  So you see, in my case I am only doing my priestly duties.

And, finally, if you have not guessed it thus far, I am not a practicing Catholic.  My belief is firmly rooted in the doctrine of unbelief.


With those forethoughts out of the way, let us proceed to the main event.  There is a priest in southern Florida named Alberto Cutié.  As you know, southern Florida abounds in seaside beaches.  As it turns out, Father Cutié has a girlfriend to whom he shows affection.  Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy has come into possession of a photograph where Father Cutié is holding his girlfriend on a beach, which suggests that they are in love.  There is no copulation involved here, which I will avoid because Ezra’s Essays are devoted to high-flown concepts.

Because Father Cutié was shown holding his girlfriend, all kinds of inferences have been drawn.  The most serious one is that Father Cutié has violated his vows of chastity and/or celibacy.

I have no idea what Father Cutié and his girlfriend did or did not do, but from this photograph there is no reason to infer that he has committed a grave sin.  Father Cutié has declined to comment as to whether this display of affection led to more serious involvement.

The good Father from southern Florida freely admits that he is in love with the woman who appeared in the photograph.  In effect, Father Cutié asks, “What is wrong with a man being in love with a woman?”  From what we are told, this priest is a virile young man whose age is in the thirties.  I suspect that he is at the height of his sexual prowess, and he seems to feel a need to demonstrate that function by romancing a young woman.

As far as I can determine, the main beef about Father Cutié has to do with inferences.  There are no eye witness accounts and the good Father and his girlfriend are saying nothing.  But a good many of the Church folks are upset by the inferences that have been drawn from this photograph of Father Cutié and his girlfriend.

Now comes an op ed piece in The Washington Post, published May 15.  The author of the op ed editorial is Father Kevin O’Brien, who is a professor at Georgetown University and also performs the services of a chaplain there.  Obviously, Georgetown is a Catholic university.  The title of his piece is “The Gift of Celibacy.”  Presumably, the gift given to priests comes from a heavenly figure.  If this is so, I would ask those heavenly figures not to give me such a favor in the future.  Father O’Brien, presumably a good Irishman, has said that he took the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity when he was 29 years of age.  The implication is that he enjoyed sexual pleasures before taking up the priesthood.  That is only an inference, and we all know what inferences can do to us.

Having been raised during the Depression, I suspect that I know all there is to know about the issue of poverty.  When it comes to obedience, I was always obedient to my teachers and in many respects, to my parents.  But when I reached my mid-teen years and discovered the joys of sex, I completely ruled out celibacy.

There is something here that Father O’Brien did not state.  For the first 1100 years that the Christian faith was in existence, the Popes in Rome or in other locations were married men.  Apparently the Popes collected gifts with considerable value.  Upon the deaths of these Popes, their wealth was transferred to their children rather than to the Church.  It is now clear that for the last 900 years of the Catholic faith, the Church has demanded chastity from its popes.  Apparently the Church concluded that if its leader, the Pope, was supposed to be celibate, all the other male members of the clergy should also be celibate.  And so for the last 900 years, its new rule has been covered by a euphemism which is called “the gift of celibacy.”  Once again, if this is a gift, I would hope that in my case, the Superior Being would avoid further generosity in terms of gifts.

And then there is the Biblical injunction found in Genesis that advises all of us to be fruitful and to multiply.  Obviously Church authorities would want this fruitfulness to take place in a married state.  This draws no objection from anyone, but it seems to fly in the face of priestly celibacy.

In the final analysis, this old essayist is a bystander in this dispute.  It has always been my intention to give and to receive love openly.  I gather that Father Cutié is well beloved by his parishioners.  And on the other hand, Father O’Brien of Georgetown is stating a belief held by the Church for 900 years.  Neither Father Cutié nor Father O’Brien has consulted me about their respective positions.  But being a free agent on matters of the heart, it would be my counsel that Father Cutié should do what his heart tells him to do.  If that is to marry this woman, so be it.  I also hope that in time, sooner rather than later, the Church will permit married priests.

But as I said at the outset of this essay, I am not a practicing Catholic.  Furthermore I am not an “un-practicing” Catholic.  So the movers and shakers at the Vatican will probably dismiss my thoughts on this matter of love.  I hope that Father Cutié, one way or another, keeps his parish and also his girlfriend.  And if Father O’Brien wishes to call the “gift of celibacy” something to be desired, he is welcome to his views.  But in the end, my heart will always be with Father Cutié.  On the other hand, if Father O’Brien were introduced to the romance of the Florida beaches, he might fall in love as well.  It is a long shot but that is what horse racing and love are all about.



May 16, 2009

Essay 385


Kevin’s commentary: Dumb dumb dumb.  People are going to be people, and if you stop them from doing that, a lot of them are going to turn to the alter boys and do all sorts of other weird shit.

That said, the “Pope’s gifts go to the Pope’s kids” rule would be pretty insane so I guess it’s good that they’ve gotten rid of that. Maybe we just have celibate popes? Or we hand down Popely gifts from Pope to Pope?


Tom Harkin is the junior senator from the state of Iowa.  Harkin is a well-regarded fellow and has had presidential ambitions.  Unfortunately those ambitions never got past the primary vote in the state of Iowa.  But be that as it may, Harkin has an idea worth considering.

The idea has to do with naming a replacement for David Souter, the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  In the past week or so, David Souter announced that in June, when the Supreme Court sessions end, he will retire and will return to the tranquility of his native state of New Hampshire.

Souter is an interesting fellow, having been named to the Supreme Court by George H. W. Bush in 1990.  He was supposed to be a right-wing Republican on all issues, but in the final analysis his votes on the Supreme Court have fallen basically on the liberal side.  And so he is cursed by people such as Rush Limbaugh, the Republican head man, as being biased.  Souter has told his associates that he detests Washington D.C.  At age 70, he proposes to spend his golden years in his home state.   For whatever it is worth, Souter is a bachelor.

I worked in Washington for the better part of four years and found it to be a delightful experience.  There were parties galore and interesting people everywhere one looked.  But Justice Souter has made it clear that he detests the city of Washington, D.C. and wants to return to the hills and valleys of the great state of New Hampshire.  And so at the end of June, when the Supreme Court term ends, Mr. Souter plans to retire.

Now enter Tom Harkin.  Senator Harkin has an interesting proposal that deserves the attention of all of us.  In naming the person to succeed Justice Souter, Harkin has suggested to the President that he name someone with “real life experience.”  Harkin wants a person who has been knocked down a time or two and who has dusted himself off and gotten up and gone back to work.  The chances that Souter’s replacement will be a fellow with real life experience is remote indeed but the suggestion has been made and I take it very seriously.

Harkin has told the President that he should look beyond naming a lawyer to the Supreme Court.  Specifically, he says that the President should avoid naming a lawyer who received his training in an Ivy League school such as Yale or Harvard.  Instead, he says that Souter’s replacement should be a person who has experienced “real life” in this country.  I know that the chances of our naming such a person are surely remote.  Nonetheless, I believe that this suggestion should be taken seriously because if for no other reason, I would consider myself a prime candidate.

Look at it this way.  I was seven years old when the Hoover Depression started in 1929.  During all of my school years, I attended school under Depression circumstances.  Toward the end of that time, when I was 15, I started work in a Mobil gas filling station.  Later I became an attendant at a Sinclair station followed by a stint in the same kind of work at a Standard Oil Company of Indiana location.  What follows is that I know everything there is to know about the oil business.

When the Depression morphed into the Second World War, I enlisted in the American Army in the early summer of 1942.  The Army found me so valuable that it did not discharge me until November of 1945.  It could be argued that this experience as an enlisted man in World War II qualifies me as a military expert.  If no one else advances that argument, I will do so myself.

In 1941, as an overlap operation with the filling station business, I took a job with the AT&T Company.  I stayed with that company for 43 years, which I believe qualifies me to say that I know everything there is to know about the communications business.  In 1984, I retired and started the golden years.

After nearly 25 years of retirement, I suggest that maybe I am an expert on retirement living.  So if the President is looking for someone with real life experience over a prolonged period of time, I don’t see how he can overlook my qualifications.


If I were named to the Supreme Court, I might lead a movement to get rid of those black robes.  Those robes convey a sense of gloom and need to be discarded.

Then I would upbraid Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia for the decisions that they have made over the last several years.  For example, they denied back pay to a woman named Mrs. Ledbetter who had worked alongside of her male companions but was paid less.  She did not realize that she was paid less than male workers and of course the company kept that matter a secret.  When she finally filed a complaint, she apparently missed the six-month deadline for bringing this matter to the attention of the authorities by a few days.  Scalia and Thomas concluded that being three days late would result in the dismissal of her complaint altogether.  It would be my intention to denounce Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia publicly.

In my view, Senator Tom Harkin’s suggestion about real life experience ought to extend much beyond naming a Supreme Court candidate.  For example, there will come a time when it will be necessary to name a new Pope.  Using the real life experience criterion  would seem to me to be a satisfactory requirement for the successor to the current Pope.  As a man who has had 86 years of real life experience, I would modestly offer myself as a candidate for the head job in the Vatican.  I know that there will be some people who will look askance at naming a non-believer to be the head of a major faith, but I believe that in time they will come to accept and to cheer my leadership of St. Peter’s flock.

By the same token, there is the matter of leading the Southern Baptists in this country.  Their head man is called the Public Policy Chief, and that office is currently held by Richard Land.  Under the Bush administration, Mr. Land had a tie to Karl Rove, the chief Presidential counselor.  I assume that this tie has now been broken.  In any case, if I were to be the head man of the Baptists, I would urge that their drinking alcoholic beverages should no longer be concealed.  Southern Baptists lean heavily on Jack Daniels whiskey, which many of us consider much too strong.  If I were the head man of the Baptists, I would serve cocktails at our gatherings and would introduce them to the virtues of wine and Scotch whiskey.  I know that the Baptists consider wine an effeminate affectation but in time they may grow to love it.

And then there is the matter of our national sport, called baseball.  The current Commissioner of Major League Baseball is Bud Selig, who is an obscure character but is paid, I believe, something on the order of $17 million per year. Paying Bud Selig $17 million is a gross miscarriage of financial responsibility.

If my real life experience resulted in my being Commissioner of Baseball, my first act would be to get rid of the designated hitter rule.  That is an abomination and should never have happened.  Then there is the matter that major league ball players cannot seek free agency until after they have six full years of service in the major leagues.  It seems to me that this flies into the restraint of trade laws in this country and should be abandoned forthwith.

Then I would agree to take the job at a salary of only $10 million per year, thus saving major league baseball a total of $7 million.  I know that it is a sacrifice to get along on $10 million per year, but I will give it a try.

Finally, the Obama administration has yet to name, as far as I know, the Surgeon General of the United States.  I am here to suggest that my real life experience makes me a leading candidate for that job.

Look at it this way.  There have been five or six scalp surgeries, which is the price that bald-headed men have to pay.  To deal with my failing eyesight, in 20 years there have been all kinds of experiments and procedures that of course did not in the end succeed.  There have been two open-heart surgeries, which followed a splicing together of my major intestines.  Then there have been my extended procedures with the urology department in the medical group which we use.  Finally, there have been ingrown toenails that have required a skilled podiatrist to take care of.  I tell you all of this not to seek your pity for all of my travails.  I simply tell you this because my real life experience of head to toe surgeries clearly qualifies me to be the Surgeon General of the United States.

I know that all of you will agree that my qualifications in terms of real life experience have resulted in being over-qualified for some of the jobs that I would be named to.  But given my age, I have hopes that Senator Harkin’s suggestion will take effect quickly.  And of all of the jobs which I am over-qualified to fill, I suspect that filling David Souter’s job on the Supreme Court would suit me best.  In the first place, my lack of legal training is of no moment because in Washington D.C., lawyers abound.  Getting help on legal matters would be of no importance whatsoever.  On top of that, the Supreme Court sits only from October through June, with the months of July, August, and September being vacation time.  In addition, the Supreme Court does not meet every day and follows a leisurely schedule, taking only 80 cases per year.  This leisurely schedule would provide me with ample opportunities to write some of Ezra’s Essays.  And, finally, I find that there are elevators in the Supreme Court garage that will take the jurists to their work locations as opposed to having to climb those 50 or 60 steps into their building at the front door.

So all that remains is for Mr. Obama to sign the papers naming me to succeed David Souter.  And when he does that, I will sing Tom Harkin’s praise endlessly.



May 18, 2009

Essay 384

Kevin’s commentary: I looked into Harkin a little bit more. Basically what he wanted to say was that he wants judges that won’t strike all his laws down; that is, someone who would “look at the laws Congress has passed and give Congress a little bit more room in terms of legislation.”  He is afraid that someone who has spent too much time in a “law library” over the last few decades is probably going to be less likely to overlook things that are, you know, unconstitutional. Durn.

Of course he had to couch all of this in more pleasing language because he is a politician, so he chose something as vague as having “real life” experience. I was unaware that courts and law schools existed in a fake reality.



Since the Bushies have departed the political scene in Washington, we find that many of them are emerging from their burrows and holes in the ground to tell us that following the events of September 11, 2001, we were all scared spitless.  I have a clear recollection of my thoughts after the destruction of the World Trade Center and I may assure you that being scared spitless was nowhere among them.  My daughter who resides with her family on the island of Manhattan gave no indication that she was ever scared spitless. I live on a grand estate 18 rail miles directly west of the World Trade Center.  A small navigational error might have brought those two airplanes into my back yard.  My reactions to the events of September 11 were consternation over the suffering of the nearly 3000 people who lost their lives in that incident.  But I do not recall any Americans saying that they were scared spitless.

Yet we have Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing crowd telling us that we were all scared spitless and therefore torture of prisoners with Moslem names was justified.  Later developments suggest that there was a desperate attempt on the part of the Bushies to blame Sadam Hussein for the attack.  Even George Bush now denies that claim.

In recent weeks, we have had a crescendo of claims that aim at justifying the torture of our Moslem prisoners.  Dick Armey, the former Congressman from Texas, has tried to lead the charge.  Over the most recent weekend at the start of May, we find that Condoleezza Rice has joined in with a statement that makes no sense whatsoever.  Apparently Stanford University has agreed to take her back as a professor of something or other.  Condoleezza has been hip-deep in the events of 9/11 and her excuses for the failure of the Bush administration to act when Osama bin Laden issued a warning to us, are extremely lame.  Her testimony before the 9/11 Commission run by Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton was not to be believed.  And she was our National Security Advisor at the time!

There is a reason for our being attacked, and it goes to the big guy syndrome.  Throughout history, there have been attacks on the dominant powers.  You may recall that over the years when the British Empire was in power, it fought off insurgencies from the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish, the Indians, the Kenyans, and the West Africans.  The British Empire has passed into history and now, since 1941, it is our turn to be the big guy in the world’s operations.  On top of being the big guy, we are to the Moslems, complete infidels.  And so the attack on the World Trade Center had a religious component as well as being an attempt to bring the big guy down a notch or two.

When Yogi Berra was a catcher on a semi-pro club in St. Louis, he said that they always played much harder against a team that could afford uniforms.  I can recall that when our public school played John Burroughs, a private school, we tried to knock them off their perch.  The big guy syndrome has been with us since the beginning of time and will remain with us, perhaps until eternity.

So you see, any rational person will not agree with Condoleezza and Dick Armey and the rest when they tell you that we were all scared spitless.  That wasn’t the case in the attack on the World Trade Center and it redounds to the discredit of people like Madame Rice and Dick Armey to make that claim.

The evidence that we have at hand suggests that if the Bushies had been alert, they could have prevented the attack on the WorldTradeCenter.  But be that as it may, there is no rational reason to say that, even if we were scared spitless, this was a reason for torture to take place.  It is not.

Now, with respect to the big guy syndrome, you may have noticed that there is no attack on Uruguay, Bolivia, Finland or other small countries.  On the other hand, nearly everybody wants to beat the New York Yankees.  I suspect that this country is the big guy to the rest of the world, and I am delighted to have it remain so.



May 4, 2009

Essay 383


Kevin’s commentary: It is certainly nice to live in a superpower. But that comes hand in hand with being a symbol of the “West” and everything that is wrong with it, which in turn makes the country a target. Despite this, what seems to be forgotten is that we are so disgustingly far ahead of everyone else militarily we could stand to cut back on spending quite a bit. That is, the U.S. alone accounts for 40% of total world military expenditures. Even IF we ignored pre-existing bases and equipment, and IF each dollar spent by China (the country with the 2nd highest military expenditures) was as efficient as each dollar spent by America — which it isn’t, not by a mile — we could still fight four Chinas at once, year to year.

So yeah, we’re not about to be attacked anytime soon, and if we’d ease off on the ‘world cop’ role just a little bit we’d probably be just fine. In the meantime we can stop pretending that we’re all terrified. We’re fine.


Logic has taken one brutal beating recently from Condoleezza Rice and from our former Vice President, Mr. Cheney.  For example, this past week, which was the last week in April, Madame Rice, addressing a group of Stanford University Students, was asked about waterboarding.  She provided an answer that was convoluted as well as full of holes.  In essence, it was sort of a syllogism.  Madame Rice said that the President (George W. Bush) had authorized the use of “advanced interrogation techniques.”  That was her major premise in this syllogism.  The minor premise was that these techniques had been carried out by members of the CIA and other agencies of the American government.  The conclusion to this syllogism was that because “these techniques” were authorized by the President they were in accord with American law and custom.  I strongly descent from this conclusion.

I dislike having a dispute with a gentle lady like Madame Rice but I must point out that the so-called “advanced interrogation techniques” include waterboarding.  Waterboarding has been universally described as torture by many governments including our own.  People have been executed for carrying out this piece of torture.   Yet it seems that Madame Rice says that if the President authorized it, it is therefore proper and legal.  I gag at this thought.


The second thought has to do with Dick Cheney.  You may recall that he was the Vice President of the United States who predicted that the war in Iraq would be of very short duration.  He also predicted that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators.  Midway through the war, Cheney announced that the people who objected to our presence were in the “final throes of their insurgency.”  And, finally, Mr. Cheney is the man who said that “deficits don’t matter.”  May I say that Mr. Cheney is a consummate fool?

Now it appears that as soon as Mr. Obama was sworn in to the Presidency, Mr. Cheney, in concert with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two television commentators, have set out to destroy the legitimacy of his election.  In Mr. Cheney’s case, he has continued to defend the idea that Obama is exposing this country to great risks.

If you take Cheney’s contention and reduce it to a syllogism, it might run sort of on this order.  His major premise is that this country was protected during the eight years of Bush’s Presidency by the fact that we had advanced interrogation techniques in place.  His minor premise is that Barack Obama is doing away with those techniques, which most of us consider torture.  His conclusion, therefore, is that the United States is courting a great danger simply by having Mr. Obama as its President.

During the eight years when Mr. Cheney was in power, he was greatly in favor of the so-called advanced interrogation techniques.  For example, after we had captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was waterboarded 183 times during the month of March, 2003.  Two of Mohammed’s partners were waterboarded similarly during that period.  In the case of Mr. Mohammed, it appears that he was waterboarded on the order of three times per day during the entire month of March.  And this is called “advanced interrogation techniques.”   I know a little about military service and I will tell you that this is nothing other than torture.

To buttress his case, Mr. Cheney has trotted out his wife Lynn, who promptly got into a fight with Nora O’Donnell of MSNBC who cut the interview short.  Dick Armey then came to the defense of Cheney.  You may recall that Armey was a member of the House of Representatives from Texas and eventually rose to its leadership.  He is known mainly for his idea that oversight of our financial institutions should have been abandoned.  He has no military expertise whatsoever, certainly nothing on the interrogation of prisoners.

It seems to an independent observer such as myself that in the case of Ms. Rice and Mr. Cheney, logic has taken one brutal beating in their defense of “advanced interrogation techniques.”  Both of them have to know that every independent observer will conclude that such techniques involve nothing less than torture.  But what they seem to be saying is that if the President of the United States says that we don’t engage in torture, as Bush did say, then the people who carry it out have no responsibility whatsoever.  Again, I gag.  And I apologize for the assault on logic and decency when it comes to the remarks of Madame Rice and Mr. Cheney.

Now, as to the title of this piece, Cheney has been around Washington for a long time, first as a Representative in the House from the state of Wyoming.  He has been chief of staff to one of the Republican presidents as well as Defense Secretary to another and finally, of course, he served for eight years as the Vice President of this country.  In all of those jobs, Cheney exhibited no sense of humor whatsoever.  His only attempt was to say about an opponent’s thought that “you can put lipstick on a pig, but in the final analysis it is still a pig.”  I don’t find a lot of humor in that statement but it seems to convulse Mr. Cheney.

My final thought is that perhaps if Cheney and Rice were to become commentators on the Fox Television Network, they could abuse logic endlessly.  And it would have the endorsement of perhaps 20 to 25% of the American electorate.  Perhaps they could tell more stories about lipstick for pigs, which might be enjoyed by their audience.



May 2, 2009

Essay 382


Kevin’s commentary: The lipstick is the label “advanced interrogation technique.” The pig is torture.

If I recall correctly, this was also a favorite saying of Palin. There’s some Republican strategist out there who is positively convinced that it’s brilliant.


You may recall that in the late summer of 2008, the American stock market as well as the American banking system took a terrible nose dive.  From that time forward, there have been legions of analyses by learned scholars who hoped to tell you what was wrong.  As always, there were political arguments.  The Republicans, who set a record with their profligate spending during the Bush administration, announced that they were in favor of fiscal responsibility at long last.  The Democrats, under President Obama, seem to have concluded that the only way we could deal with this downturn was to spend our way out of it.

I am not much of an economist but I tend to side with Paul Krugman, who is a professor at Princeton and who writes a column twice a week for the New York Times.  Krugman says that we are not spending enough to turn the tide against the depression.  But on the other hand, we are now spending on behalf of the government in terms of not billions of dollars but trillions of them.

Learned scholars appear on television to explain what went wrong and how to fix it.  There is no unanimity on what went wrong, nor is there unanimity on how to fix it.  But there is one case where unanimity exists.

That case exists in their frequent references to how bleak things were in the Depression of 1929.  Somehow those learned scholars, none of whom were born until well after the Depression of 1929, are not inhibited from finding flaws in our financial arrangements of the 1930s.  I was somewhat unaware of this but apparently there was a grand downturn in our financial situation shortly after the Second World War in 1945 and early 1946.  I was trying to recover from life in the American Army at that time and I thought things were just dandy.  But according to the scholars, we were in a great mess that was not as serious as the Depression but one that compared to the difficulties that we find ourselves in today.

I do not make a habit of reading economic textbooks, so I am unable to compete with the learned scholars.  But on the other hand, it must be observed that I was wide awake during the Depression that started in 1929 and in the economic downturn after World War II.  When the scholars recite the flaws that led us into the Great Depression or the downturn after the Second World War, they seem to be reciting ancient history.  For a young man in his 30s or 40s or 50s or even his 60s, that is understandable.  They were not alive at the time and the events of 1929 and of 1945 and 1946 are ancient history to them.  On the other hand, an old geezer such as myself tends to regard those events as current ones.  When the commentators pontificate, I am tempted to scream at the television set, “Hey man, I was there!”  In the final analysis, this is not a matter of economic wisdom but rather a function of birth dates.

I have no real objection to commentators who recite this litany of events as though it were ancient history.  To them, I suppose it is all of that.  For me and my brethren of the same age, the events of the Depression and of World War II are never to be forgotten.  It seems like yesterday.

None of the 400 essays that I have written or dictated since 1998 have to do with the Depression and none have to do with combat experience during the Second World War.  The humiliations and degradations that took place during the Depression were so great that I have been unable to compose an essay about them.  Secondly, war has no glory for me.  It is a ghastly experience.  But all of this is of no moment to the economic commentators that appear on television endlessly.  They can go on claiming that the events of 1929 and the Second World War were ancient history and I can go on screaming at the television set, “Hey man, I was there!”  This seems to be a fairly even tradeoff.


PS: Upon reflection, my memory tells me that I did write one essay about combat in World War II.  It had to do with the events on December 8, 1943, when German gunners, both aloft and on the ground, shot down the plane in which I was the aerial engineer and gunner.

I wrote that essay because of the date of the incident.  Ten years later, in 1953, the elder Carr daughter was taken from a foster home into our family on that date.  The second daughter was born on that date in 1956.  I intended to tell my daughters about what happened on December 8th in years past, which accounts for my having written the essay.  I would be forced to say that one transgression of the rule in 86 years is not too bad of a performance.  But as my parents would say, “Don’t let it happen again!”



May 2, 2009

Essay 381


Kevin’s commentary: I hope on the one hand that there will be future transgressions of that rule, but I don’t want Pop to have to dredge up painful memories to do so. Honestly my reasons are selfish; I have, through the course of around 300 essays so far, become familiar with much of Pop’s life but there are two and a half holes in what I know. I say two and a half because I can contextually assemble bits and pieces, but for the most part his things that he won’t write about represent things that I just don’t know.

This is, of course, his prerogative and probably for the best. But I still wonder. In the final analysis, though, I’d bet that the benefit of writing isn’t worth the cost of doing so.

Oh, and I’m a fan of Krugman too. Right on.