Archive for the October 2009 Category


My eighth-grade teacher was a plump woman who would have been greatly pleased if someone had mistakenly identified her as an English poet. She wore shoes that went out of style after the First World War and she loved to read from her book of poems by English poets. Beyond that, Miss Maxwell loved the grammar of the English language. As a result of her teaching or failure to teach, I developed a loathing for the various parts of English grammar. If one could read and speak well, it seemed to me that identifying adverbs and pronouns was a secondary consideration. And so it is that at this date it is Miss Chicka, my wife, who from time to time has to tell me whether the word I am using is a verb or a noun. I am fairly well fixed on adjectives but the grammar of the rest of the Anglo-Saxon language is a matter that I still have to master.

A case in point involves television and radio announcers who in reporting on the current controversy on the health situation say that “I have referenced that earlier.” I don’t know whether referenced has become a verb but in any case it strikes me as being an awkward construction. What ever happened to saying that I referred to that previously? It may be that referencing in that construction is perfectly agreeable but it still falls hard on these ears. Rather than the “referenced” construction, my vote still goes to “I referred to that earlier.” As a matter of fact, there is no entry for referenced in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that I keep behind my desk.

I much prefer a report that originated with Miss Chicka that in a collision between a truck and a car, the smaller car had to be “flat-bedded out of here.” That tells me the condition of the car and images go through my head of it being flat on the back of a trailer truck. Even Miss Maxwell could not improve upon that construction.

A third construction has to do with the word “gay.” The Irish, who speak the English language eloquently, often refer to events as both “grand and gay.” Those words are often found in Irish songs. They may say that the wedding was “grand and gay,” or that the cocktail hour that followed the meeting of the Dublin City Council was “grand and gay.”

But some time in the last 20 years, “gay” has come to identify male homosexuals. When the Irish sing that they have had a “grand and gay” time, they are not referring to male homosexuals.

Leaving gay people aside, now let me turn to a subject with which I am much more familiar. In 1925 the New York Yankees had a first baseman named Wally Pipp. For one reason or another, Wally Pipp decided that he needed a day off. The manager of the Yankees at that time was Miller Huggins, and he called on a substitute first baseman to fill in for Mr. Pipp. That first baseman was Lou Gehrig, who established a record for games played for the New York Yankees that stood until the 1990s.

As a matter of interest, Lou Gehrig started 2,130 consecutive games for the New York Yankees. Wally Pipp was subsequently traded to the Cincinnati Reds where he was identified as an important contributor to their offence for three years. In the end, I suppose that all is well if it ends well.

Miss Chicka, who is a quick study in the art of baseball terminology, reminded me that this was a noun turned into a verb. To say that somebody is “Wally Pipped” is to say that he never got his job back. I think that is an excellent construction in the language of the Anglo-Saxons and should be enshrined along with flatbedded as examples of elegant speech.

The final entry in this update on the language of the Anglo-Saxons has to do with the word “feckless.” For many years I have read and written about someone making a “feckless” gesture. Now feckless means having no worth or no value. Being a curious sort of person, I wondered where “feckless” came from. Obviously, there had to be word named “feck.” As it turns out, there is such a word and it is spelled “fek.” It means exactly what we thought it would mean in that it has to do with worth or value. According to what I am told, the word “fek” is an ancient Scottish word which I must assume is of Scottish-Gaelic origin. It is a curious thing that the word “fek” or “feck” has not survived to this day but we do have the English language expression “feckless.” It seems to me that this is a reverse “Wally Pipped” occasion. Feckless has survived but the original word “fek” is no longer in use. That is pretty much what happened when Lou Gehrig took over the first base duties for the New York Yankees.

I had not intended for this small essay to be a tour de force in the language spoken by the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon race. These are a few simple thoughts that occurred to your old essayist and he finds that they must be recorded or they will be forgotten. In the future when these random thoughts about the language that we speak occur to me, I will try to record them so that history will know that my efforts as an essayist were not feckless.

October 26, 2009
Essay 416
Kevin’s commentary: One of my favorite language essays, primarily for this discussion near the end. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to look up what a “fek” was but it of course makes sense that there should be such a thing. I also feel like my baseball education has been lacking; I’d never encountered the “Wally Pipped” expression before.


Around the middle of October, the Roman Catholic Pope in the Vatican made a very surprising announcement. On that occasion he invited the Church of England, which had been separated for 478 years from the Catholic Church, to rejoin his flock. As an inducement, the Pope said that married preachers could remain married and, after a period of retraining, they would be welcome in the Catholic Church. Another inducement had to do with hymnals. Apparently the Anglican hymnals will be accepted on a restricted basis in the new Catholic Church after the Anglicans rejoin.

You may recall that the Anglicans left the Roman Church after a dispute involving King Henry VIII. It seems Henry had a collection of wives, some of whom he wanted to divorce; others he executed. The Roman Catholic Pope would not agree to a divorce for Henry VIII from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. That set the stage for Henry establishing his own church for England. Not only that, but he specified that the reigning monarch would be its head. In effect, the Anglicans could have their own pope. As a matter of interest, he was the reigning monarch at the time, so he in effect became the new pope of the Anglican church.

And so for the better part of 500 years, the Anglicans have gone their own way, separate from the mother Church. Apparently the Pope is intent upon collecting the low-hanging fruit. There is an ongoing dispute in the Anglican Church. The dispute involves naming females as bishops and the existence of a gay bishop in New Hampshire of this country. The calculation seems to be that a sufficient number of Anglicans will be turned off by female bishops and the gay bishop and will move toward the Catholic Church, abandoning the Anglican Church.

I am not a Catholic or an Anglican. However, the Pope’s move to welcome back the Anglicans on a limited basis seemed to me to have material for possible comment in these essays. For a week now, I have been pondering whether to treat this lightly or as a matter of great substance. I confess that after a week of pondering my thoughts are still askew. But the problem was solved on Sunday, October 25 when Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist with The New York Times, published her column. Bear in mind that Ms. Dowd is a practicing Catholic who, I presume, is still in the good graces of the Church. I have always admired Ms. Dowd’s prose and in the instant case, I decided that I could do no better so I would use Maureen Dowd’s column. Without further ado, here is what she wrote on Sunday, October 25.

October 25, 2009
The Nuns’ Story
Once, in the first grade, I was late for class. I started crying in the schoolyard, terrified to go in and face the formidable Sister Hiltruda. Father Montgomery, who looked like a handsome young priest out of a 1930s movie, found me cowering and took my hand, leading me into the classroom.
Sister Hiltruda looked ready to pop, but she couldn’t say a word to me, then or ever. There was no more unassailable patriarchy than the Catholic Church. Nuns were second-class citizens then and — 40 years after feminism utterly changed America — they still are. The matter of women as priests is closed, a forbidden topic.
In 2004, the cardinal who would become Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners, resisting any adversarial roles with men and cultivating “feminine values” like “listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting.”
Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative pope, who was christened “God’s Rottweiler” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.
The Vatican is now conducting two inquisitions into the “quality of life” of American nuns, a dwindling group with an average age of about 70, hoping to herd them back into their old-fashioned habits and convents and curb any speck of modernity or independence.
Nuns who took Vatican II as a mandate for reimagining their mission “started to look uppity to an awful lot of bishops and priests and, of course, the Vatican,” said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns.”
The church enabled rampant pedophilia, but nuns who live in apartments and do social work with ailing gays? Sacrilegious! The pope can wear Serengeti sunglasses and expensive red loafers, but shorter hems for nuns? Disgraceful!
“It’s a tragedy because nuns are the jewels of the system,” said Bob Bennett, the Washington lawyer who led the church’s lay inquiry into the pedophilia scandal. “I was of the view that if they had been listened to more, some of this stuff wouldn’t have happened.”
As the Vatican is trying to wall off the “brides of Christ,” Cask of Amontillado style, it is welcoming extreme-right Anglicans into the Catholic Church — the ones who are disgruntled about female priests and openly gay bishops. Il Papa is even willing to bend Rome’s most doggedly held dogma, against married priests — as long as they’re clutching the Anglicans’ Book of Common Prayer.
“Most of the Anglicans who want to move over to the Catholic Church under this deal are people who have scorned women as priests and have scorned gay people,” Briggs said. “The Vatican doesn’t care that these people are motivated by disdain.”
The nuns are pushing back a bit, but it’s hard, since the church has decreed that women can’t be adversarial to men. A nun writing in Commonweal as “Sister X” protests, “American women religious are being bullied.”
She recalls that Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who heads one of the investigations, moved a meeting at the University of Notre Dame off campus to protest a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.” “It is the rare bishop,” Sister X writes, “who has any real understanding of the lives women actually lead.”
The church can be flexible, except with women. Laurie Goodstein, the Times’s religion writer, reported this month on an Illinois woman who had a son with a Franciscan priest. The church agreed to child support but was stingy with money for college and for doctors, once the son got terminal cancer. The priest had never been disciplined and was a pastor in Wisconsin — until he hit the front page. Even then, “Father” Willenborg was suspended only because the woman said that he had pressed her to have an abortion and that he had also had a sexual relationship with a teenager. (Maybe the church shouldn’t be so obdurate on condoms.)
When then-Cardinal Ratzinger was “The Enforcer” in Rome, he investigated and disciplined two American nuns. One, Jeannine Gramick, then of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, founded a ministry to reconcile gays with the church, which regards homosexual desires as “disordered.” The other, Mary Agnes Mansour of the Sisters of Mercy, headed the Michigan Department of Social Services, which, among other things, paid for abortions for poor women.
Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic congresswoman from Toledo and one of Bishop Blair’s flock, got a resolution passed commending nuns for their humble service and sacrifice. “The Vatican’s in another country,” she said. “Maybe people do things differently there. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will intervene.”

As far as I can tell, there is no move to lift Miss Dowd’s membership in the Catholic Church. She is a much better writer than I could ever hope to be, and so I will let her column speak for itself. When I can write as well as Maureen Dowd, which may take another 478 years, I will let you know.

October 26, 2009
Essay 415
Kevin’s commentary: Welcome to 2014! Feels very weird to say it. I wonder when Pop was a young man, what he thought would be the latest year he’d get to see would be. Connor and I were talking about it today — I think I’d be very happy to make it to 2080.

By the end of 2014 I should be near the end of this project. In total there are seven hundred and something essays, and I post at the rate at about five to six per week. Especially if I pick up the pace a little bit then we are looking at a tentative end time of around April 2015. I’m pretty sure that’s a safe bet.

More topically, the Catholic church is full of assholes, our new Pope is a million times better than ol’ Ratty (though he does have his own flaws,) and you can read more of Pop’s views on nuns here.


This is a short story with a happy ending. I spend very little time worrying about football and certainly less time worrying about Texas football. But in this case, I was indeed devoted to the outcome.

It seems that earlier in the 2009 football season the quarterback of the University of Texas football team gave a sports interview. During that interview, he made at least one or more references to being retarded. Apparently he ascribed that condition to the other team that the University of Texas club would be playing soon. That word “retard” constitutes a fighting word for a good number of people who have an association with a person who has a mental disability.

In the instant case, the word was heard by the President of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, who became rightfully incensed. If my understanding is correct, the President of the Down Syndrome Association wrote a letter to the coach of the Texas University football team calling attention to the use of the word “retard.”

At this point, I must remind my readers that I have a thirteen-year-old grandson who has been afflicted from his birth with Down Syndrome. His parents treat it openly as a disability, which I know all about. I am disabled because I am bald-headed and can’t dance worth a lick.

In any case, the coach’s wife at the University of Texas read the letter and got in touch with the author, the President of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas. One way or another, they came to the conclusion that it would be appropriate for officials from the Down Syndrome Association to address the entire football team at a subsequence practice. This was a major opportunity and my daughter and other officers with the Down Syndrome Society were not going to miss it.

So on the appointed day, the UT football team put on their pads and helmets and gathered for a bit of a talking-to. It turns out that the spokesman for the Down Syndrome Association happened to be my daughter, who will soon become the President of that association. Quite fortunately, her remarks to the football team were preserved and so I am able to tell you exactly what she had to say.

Here are the remarks delivered by my daughter:

“The words ‘retard’ and ‘retarded’ get used a lot these days. They’re in the movies and on TV, and even some really wonderful people use them, and those people probably don’t mean to be hurtful. But when you’re on the receiving end of these words, when you’re a person with an intellectual disability or you love a person with an intellectual disability, it’s a very different experience. These words cut like a knife and they go right to a person’s worth. So please don’t use those words, and if you can, please be an ambassador for us and tell other people not to use those words. Because everyone, regardless of ability or disability, deserves to be treated with respect.”

Following the remarks of Suzanne Shepherd, my daughter, the main event occurred. The Texas football team was addressed by John Eamonn Shepherd, who is my grandson. His remarks were also preserved, and I am now able to repeat them to you. Jack said:

“When you use the word ‘retard,’ it’s not nice. It really hurts me. Please don’t use that word.”

According to the local newspaper, Jack’s remarks were more voluminous than the above sentences. But I will stick with my daughter’s account of exactly what happened when Jack spoke to the behemoths of the football team because they make the point elegantly.

Every father likes to see his child do well, even if this one is more than 50 years old. When she spoke of the word retard having an effect on a person’s feeling of worth, I thought that was a major achievement in the English language. As I told you at the beginning of this little essay, this is a happy story. The Texas football team heard my daughter out as well as her son. When their speeches were concluded, there were hugs all around. My guess is that no one on the Texas football team who heard those two speeches will ever refer to another person as retarded. In and of itself, that is a major accomplishment.

During my daughter’s remarks, she observed a black player who was staring at her intently. As far as I know, they exchanged no verbal communications. The message was clear. That black player and probably his family have endured several occasions when their worth was questioned.

As I said at the outset, I am not much of a football fan, but I hope that that player and the entire Texas football team profited by the visit of my daughter and her son. I might also point out that he is my grandson. It is not often that I can write an essay that ends on a happy note. But that is the case here today and I hope that you are as pleased with the outcome as I am.

October 26, 2009
Essay 417
Kevin’s commentary: An easy favorite. I was proud then and I’m proud now. Mom’s president of DSACT now for I believe the 3rd year, incidentally.

Happy New Year’s Eve!


During a recent prolonged hospital stay, I found that the hospital bedroom was largely unheated. It seems to me that, in an effort to save some money, hospitals are now abiding by the New York apartment heating rule. Under that rule, landlords are not obliged to furnish heat until October 1st. In any case, my stay lasted 13 days, during which time I took every device at my command to avoid a cold. My stay involved prostate surgery but with the cold temperature in the room I was fearful of pneumonia.

Fortunately, I was armed with the Vicks inhaler which carried me through the thirteen-day period. The inhaler cleared my head and did much to improve my outlook on life. Perhaps there was an aphrodisiac in that inhaler and, if so, I salute the Vicks Corporation for its inclusion.

When I was a child in prehistoric times, there was no such thing as sulpha or penicillin or any of the miracle drugs that we have today. During cold weather, when a cold was approaching, the only solution was to use the salve, Vicks, on one’s chest. On several occasions my mother prescribed that a helping of Vicks on her finger should also be swallowed. The fact that I am 87 years of age may attest to her acumen in medical matters. But I give the major credit to the Vicks Corporation.

The people who produce Vicks have long been taken over by corporate conglomerates. In this case, it is Proctor and Gamble. When I made a call to their headquarters, I was directed toward a fellow named Steve who was an engaging fellow, and I must say that he learned as much about Vicks as I did.

It seems that in the 1890s, somewhere in North Carolina, there was a druggist who produced a product named Vicks. It became renowned for its ability to hold colds and flu in check. By the time that I had reached the childhood age of six or seven, my mother knew all about Vicks and its efficiency in dealing with symptoms of flu and colds. So she became a partisan in medical matters that favored the Vicks concoction. So today, when I use my Vicks inhaler to ward off a cold, the work done by that unknown chemist in North Carolina who produced Vicks is still paying some dividends.

Today there are several Vicks products. They include Sinex for your sinuses as well as Nyquil and Dayquil for colds, I believe. There is also Vicks Vapor Rub and Baby Rub and Vicks Vapor Cream. Then we have Vicks Formula 44 for flu symptoms and Vicks Custom Care for flu and colds. I have probably told you more than you want to know about Vicks but, based on my experience of more than 80 years, the concoctions turned out by that chemist in North Carolina are efficacious and make one feel a good bit better. It would also help if the hospital got around to turning on the heat before October 1st or October 15th. But that is beside the point here. The fact is that while my prostate took its time in healing, a Vicks inhaler was hard at work. That pleased me no end.

When someone or some product does me a favor, it has been my custom for more than 60 years to acknowledge that fact. I know that this is a belated tribute to the Vicks Corporation or to the Vicks Company but, before time runs out, I wanted to tell the world that the products made by the Vicks people are worthwhile. They were good in the 1920s when I first learned of them, just as they are good now in the 21st century. Any product that can last that long has got to be meritorious beyond belief.

And so it is that I salute the makers of Vicks, even though they are now controlled by Proctor and Gamble which has achieved giant status in the field of medical remedies. P&G also makes cat food, among other things. Be that as it may, in this season of swine flu and other kinds of flu, you can depend on one of the Vicks products that I have named earlier. In my humble estimation, the products produced by Vicks are without parallel.

October 14, 2009
Essay 414
Kevin’s commentary: Oh man, Nyquil is my favorite thing when I have a cold. For some reason my system is extra susceptible to it and it does a fine fine job of clearing cold systems AND putting me soundly to sleep for about seven hours. I was always terrible at sleeping while sick before I realized I could basically just knock myself out via Nyquil. That was certainly a discovery that changed my life for the better, so I’ll join Pop in his salute of Vicks here.


According to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5770. In the calendars that non-Jewish folks use, the year is identified as 2009 in the current era. Whether the year is 5770 or 2009 makes very little difference in writing this preposterous essay. It is preposterous because three countries use antiquated systems for weights and measurements. The rest of the world uses enlightened weights and measurements but not the United States, Burma, or Liberia. While the United States ought to be embarrassed to find itself in the company of failed states such as Liberia, whose president, Charlie Taylor, stole everything in sight, and the junta government in Burma, also known as Myanmar, we show no evidence of changing our ways..

There are three examples that are required to make my case for the preposterousness of this essay. When Americans, for example, go to the grocery store, they often buy articles that are priced by the pound. My belief is that a pound consists of 16 ounces but who in the world determined what an ounce is? The enlightened world uses grams and kilograms for measuring the weights of products that they buy. But not the United States, Burma, or Liberia. All that can be said here is that an ounce is a small weight but it is very difficult to describe or recognize when someone says, “I will give you an ounce of a drug” or “I will give you an ounce of fish.”

The second example here has to do with measuring temperature. Only in Burma, Liberia, and the United States do we use the Fahrenheit system. The rest of the civilized world uses the Celsius system. Under the Fahrenheit system, water freezes at 32°. That in and of itself is preposterous. Under the Celsius system, water freezes when the temperature reaches 0°. That makes sense. To the rest of the world, when the temperature falls below 0°, they have sense enough to stay inside. But not in the Fahrenheit system at all. We continue to engage in outdoor activities regardless of the sub-zero temperatures, as in the case of professional football, and now the World Series playoffs.

The final example has to do with measurements. Some time in antiquity, the world was introduced to inches, feet, and miles. According to my best recollections, a mile is 5,260 feet. It may be 5,280 feet. But that is of little consequence here. Reduced to basics, the underlying question remains about how long an inch is. Generally speaking, I know all about inches because I have my thumb and my forefinger which I hold up at about an inch apart. The rest of the world uses meters and kilometers. I would argue that it is time for Burma, Liberia, and the United States to join the rest of the civilized world using the metric system.

The President of the United States has more on his plate than he deserves, but if he were ever to move to bring the metric system or the Celsius system to this country, it is my educated guess that the right wing would go nuts. I can guarantee you that anyone who sponsors a move to bring us out of the 14th century in terms of weights and measurements would be called, at best, a socialist or a communist and probably a fascist as well. I would suggest that my friends on the right wing have never thought about the disadvantages this places the United States in when it engages in international relations. When one refers to mileages between cities in this country, for example, he can see his European counterparts calculating how far that is in kilometers. When someone describes how much he paid for a pound of butter in this country, he can see his European counterparts trying to figure out what that would weigh in grams or kilograms.

Because we use an antiquated system of weights and measurements, think back to the 15th century, we pay a certain price in dealing with our foreign competitors. But be that as it may, I will assure you, all of the readers of these essays, that a move to bring us even into the 19th century on weights and measurements will be fiercely opposed by the right wing of the Republican Party. In personal terms, I feel very confident in dealing with meters and grams. My comfort does not make me a socialist or a communist or a fascist. But that is exactly what I would be called if I were a part of the effort to bring sense and enlightenment to our current system of weights and measurements.

On the other hand, if someone wishes to call me all these names, that would be fine with me, provided that we get a system of weights and measurements that comports with the situation in the 21st century.

October 11, 2009
Essay 412
Kevin’s commentary: I saw an incredible video about the imperial system of measurements that should be required viewing/listening for anyone who agrees with the sentiment expressed in this essay:

It’s only 3 minutes long and it makes me happy. It answers some of Pop’s questions, like where the inch came from!


I ordinarily do not give advice to sitting United States Presidents because I know it will probably never reach them and if it does it will probably be ignored. But if my thoughts have any currency at the moment, I would like them to be transmitted to Barack Obama.

Point one is that he should forget totally and without question any idea of bipartisanship for any piece of legislation that originated in Democratic ranks. There will be no bipartisanship on the health bill. If he thinks Olympia Snowe equates to bipartisanship, Mr. Obama has a loose wire. The thought here is that the Republicans are never ever going to agree to bipartisanship, which is their prerogative, and they will be labeled as the party of no.

Secondly, the Republicans believe that the only way they can return to power is by the failure of the Obama administration. Rush Limbaugh made it clear that he wants the Obama administration to fail. When the Republicans cast nay votes on such things as health insurance, you may rest assured that they wish for the Obama administration to fail, after which they can return to power. Any student of bargaining will tell you that.

Point three is that Obama needs to develop a mean streak. Senators ignore his council with impunity.

George Bush was the worst President in the history of the United States. But he did have a mean streak and Senators did what they were told. For example, John Warner, the old-time chairman of several Senate committees, and Dick Lugar, also an old-timer from Indiana, introduced on separate occasions two pieces of legislation. When they heard from the White House, they were forced to vote against their own bills. Were they humiliated? Of course, but Obama needs to develop a mean streak. When people ignore his council, it cannot be done without consequence.

Well, these are my thoughts for today on trying to improve the Obama administration. I expect that they will never reach the White House and, if they do, they will probably continue to be ignored. But be that as it may, it is good to get them off my chest. Obama should not ignore my 17 years of labor relations experience as well as my negotiations with foreign entities and my experience as a lobbyist. Perhaps he will ignore my thoughts to his own peril but there is very little I can do about that. If the President wishes to indulge in fantasies of bipartisanship, there is not much that I can do to help him. But he is from Chicago and perhaps sooner or later he will realize that Olympia Snowe by herself does not represent bipartisanship.

Matt Fritz, my old friend and mentor from St. Louis, would have had a thought about the apparent negotiations going on in Washington regarding the health bill. Matt would have said, “On with the rat killing.” For better or worse, that thought sums up my view of the so-called negotiations in Washington. I live in hope that tomorrow will bring better news. Let us see what happens.

October 12, 2009
Essay 413
Kevin’s commentary: It occurs to me that if ol’ Barack had actually read this, maybe he would have seen the government shutdown coming.