Archive for the November 2009 Category


The people who take opinion polls will tell you that the quality of their findings is a function of the questions that are asked. If you ask the wrong question, you will get a misleading answer. This essay has to do with asking the right questions.

In this general vicinity of suburban New York towns, if someone were to ask, “Do you know Anthony Vincendese?” the respondents would answer with blank stares. On the other hand, if those same respondents were asked, “Do you know Lefty?” the answer would be quick, friendly, and perhaps voluminous. People would say that they have not seen him in his hardware store for some months and that they were concerned about that absence. In short, there is a genuine affection for Lefty, who ran Berkeley Hardware for many years.

I came to know Lefty in the spring of 1955 after my employer decided that I should move from Chicago and take a job in New York. I lacked sufficient funds to afford a house and so I was required to rent. One of the answers to my advertisement seeking a rental property was from a fellow in New Providence, New Jersey, who seemed to own a small five-acre farm called The Rickenbacher Place. Apparently he was going to attend a seminary and he wished to rent his property while he was gone. I had grown up on a farm in Missouri during the early part of my life. The property to be rented was within my price range and I thought it might be a pleasant experience to see what farm life would be like now that I had reached the advanced age of 32 or thereabouts. The prospective seminarian was not very good with tools which showed in certain elements of disrepair of the Richenbacher farm. Our next door neighbor, Jesse, became a good friend and told us of a fellow in the neighboring town of Berkeley Heights who had a hardware store.

The fact is that when the Navy released Lefty in 1945 or 1946, he had savings of something on the order of $700. Lefty was not a college man and, for one reason or another, he elected to invest it in a hardware store.

The thing that distinguished Berkeley Hardware, which is what Lefty called his place, was the personal attention given to each shopper. If you had a problem, Lefty would set out to learn what corrective action should be taken to fix the problem. The job consumed him and he worked at least six days a week.

Judging from his birthday in 1927, I concluded that Lefty had either graduated high school at a very early age or that he had dropped out. In any case, he became a crew man on a ship of LSTs which has to do with “landing ship tanks.” During his time in service with the United States Navy, Lefty was involved in the landings at Omaha Beach and in southern France. His tour of duty with the Navy was not a walk in the park.

When Lefty started his hardware store, he provided employment to other members of his family. Jean, a very lovely woman, was a cashier as was Anne, who was vindictive to the core. Lefty also employed Angela, a woman of few words who seemed to spend her time studying books presumably about the hardware business. I knew Lefty for the better part of 50 years and I never figured out what Angela was doing with her time. But in the end, she produced a son, for whom Lefty provided the financial means to get through medical school.

Then in staffing the store Lefty made a fatal mistake. He employed his younger brother, called Chuck, to in effect work with him and to be sort of a partner. I knew the Vincendese brothers reasonably well and I will tell you that Chuck never pulled his own weight. He would take extensive vacations during the winter and he seemed to spend the rest of his time conversing on the telephone to make what he considered “a big deal.” Those big deals never came off. In the end, Chuck more or less stabbed his benefactor, Lefty, in the back.

This is not the happiest of tales but it is not the saddest one either. In the final analysis, there seems to be a moral to this story. We will get to that point in due time.

In the course of time, other things have taken place. I moved from the farm to a house in New Providence and then to a job in Washington for four years, followed by a return to New York. Upon returning to New York, one of my first trips was to Lefty’s place to buy birdseed for the feeder we had outside our kitchen window.

Over this period of time, Jean, Lefty’s sister, was her lovely self and was warm and accommodating. Anne seemed to glorify in nastiness and Angela had very little to say while she studied books about the hardware business. Chuck came and went, and I never asked Chuck for a solution to anything. As far as I can tell, no one else did either. The focal point of the whole effort of the hardware business in Berkeley Heights had to do with Lefty. He was the dynamo who provided the spark for the place and who was available to answer questions and provide solutions at all times of the day.

But in the end, the hiring of his siblings did old Lefty in. Lefty had survived the landings on Omaha Beach and in southern France and the long work day at Berkeley Hardware. But then as Lefty’s age marched toward 80, there was a blockage in his heart and a stent had to be inserted. Curiously, the cardiologist who supplied the stents and installed them was Lefty’s nephew, Angela’s son. Then after a time Lefty came down with Crohn’s disease. I gather that Crohn’s is a debilitating disease with considerable pain.

Lefty took some time off to have his medical problems attended to, which apparently convinced his siblings, mostly Chuck, that he was not fit to run the store anymore. It is true that instead of patrolling the aisles in the store, he took a seat at the entrance where people could tell him of their hardware problems. One way or another, Chuck seemed to sense this as his opportunity to wrest control from Lefty. So a meeting of the five siblings took place and Chuck, Angela, and the vindictive Anne voted in favor of Chuck to run the store from that point forward. Jean and Lefty were in the minority. In the end, Lefty received a relatively small sum of money and he was no longer associated with the store that he had founded.

I know that I have taken you through the travails of the Vincendese family but there is a point which I will call Lefty’s lament. During the period when Lefty was trying to live with Crohn’s disease, one day Judy, my wife, asked him how he was feeling. This was shortly after Lefty’s 80th birthday. Lefty replied, “I will never feel well again.” It seems to me that Lefty’s lament captured a thought that has haunted me. As the veterans of World War II near their 90th birthday, it would be surprising to hear them say that they feel great. More than likely, they would probably say, “I am hanging in there,” or, if they were struck by a moment of candor, they might echo Lefty’s thought and say, “I won’t feel good again for the rest of my life.”

I hate to leave you with the final sentences in this essay being ones of gloom. On the other hand, as men age and contract all of the ailments that age brings, their outlook on life and their health simply have to be affected. Look at what Lefty said. He was asking for no sympathy whatsoever. He was providing an honest answer to the question that had been asked. In this respect, he is very much like the opening sentences of this essay where I spoke of needing to ask the proper question. For the veterans of the Second World War, it would be unlikely for them to be turning handsprings in answer to questions about their health. Good old Lefty had a response that I suspect will be understood by those of us who are closing in on our 90th birthday and at least two of my friends who have already passed this marker. To that extent, perhaps we are all indebted to Lefty for putting his answer into a single sentence.

Now as to the name that Lefty called himself. As a youngster, Lefty was a left-handed baseball player. In those days, which I remember well, left-handers were encountered only occasionally. It would be normal for someone in an opposing club to mention that one of his opponents was a left-handed pitcher, for example.

Now, having settled the origin of Lefty’s name, I will tell you that we had dinner with Lefty a short while back and that his outlook on life is very positive. He knows of his problems and he is intent upon living with them. For me, it was a lucky day back in 1955 when Jesse, my neighbor, sent me to a hardware store in a neighboring town. More than 50 years of friendship have evolved, for which I am very grateful.

November 25, 2009
Essay 421
Kevin’s commentary: I feel pretty bad for what happened to ol’ Lefty. He seemed like a genuinely good guy who got screwed by people close to him. I guess the secondary moral of this story is to always incorporate, issue stock, and retain a controlling founder’s share. Maybe it’s “never hire your family.” Who knows. At the end of the day I’m just impressed that anyone could found anything with $700, even if they were deflated all the way back to that time.


These are transient thoughts; there is no continuity between one thought and the other. Now one of these transient thoughts has to do with baseball. For many years, Sunday afternoon professional baseball was banned. So you can imagine the thoughts that would go through a believer’s mind as he encountered a team nicknamed the Angels.

As a matter of fact, this year, the team that was defeated by the New York Yankees before they became the top team in the American League was called The Los Angeles Angels. But no one seems to have noticed.

A few years back, certainly within my lifetime, Sunday baseball was banned because of the serious damage to our souls. I can imagine that in those days when Sunday baseball was barred, a team nicknamed The Angels would have drawn condemnation from pulpits throughout this nation. Now we have The Angels playing baseball and we have The Devils playing hockey on a major league level. I can assure you that the end of the world is near and that Hell is our next stop.


A long time ago, I had a friend who worked for AT&T in St. Louis who went by the name of George Knickerbocker. George is the person who insisted that the word “miscellaneous” should be pronounced as “miss-kell-aneous.” He was serious about this stuff and at the end of the baseball season when the World Series was involved, George had an appellation for that series as well. He referred to that as the “world serious.” They don’t make them like George Knickerbocker was and, for all of his mispronunciations, I hope that he is still around.


Now we turn to the Afghans. In the run-off for the Afghan elections, one of the contestants was called Abdullah Abdullah. I have been missing a bet here that I could have run for office using the name of Ezra Ezra. How I could have missed a bet like that I will never know.


These days, I have depended heavily on the advice of preachers and other do-gooders. They have counseled me to quit thinking about girls, shacking up and one night stands. Now that my mind is free of those thoughts, I suggest that in the future, there will be more transient and random thoughts. As they occur to me, I will attempt to write them down so that they are not lost to the memory of man and may be shared with those who are hungry for random and transient thoughts.

November 2, 2009
Essay 419
Kevin’s commentary: I wonder if George has any relation to Bruce Knickerbocker, my Chinese teacher for several years.


There are devices on the market that will turn the written word into the spoken word. Because I have lost the ability to read, I have one of those devices. On Sundays Miss Chicka makes it a point for me to read the op ed pieces in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Last Sunday I noted that the op ed pieces all were dated November 8th. The thought struck me that this was a familiar date but I could not remember why.

After a search of my mind, what is left of it, it developed that in 1945 the United States Army gave me an honorable discharge on that day. I had left my home at 5 AM in anticipation of this great event, with the thought that the ceremony would be completed by about 12 noon or 1 PM. But that is not the way the United States Army saw it. During the meetings with the persons who were supposed to give me my discharge paper, I was harangued about rejoining the Army. When I made it clear that I had no intention of doing that, they then shifted to my joining the Ready Reserve or the National Guard. Again I told them that my answer was no. As a matter of fact, I do not now even belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars or to the American Legion. I had had enough of war and was ready to go home.

Throughout these diatribes, there were references to whether I was a patriot or not. I told the people at the discharge center that they could read my papers and see that I enlisted and that I served honorably. Finally, about 7 or 8 PM, the “ruptured duck” was sewed on my uniform and I was turned loose. The “ruptured duck” is what the soldiers called the symbol sewn above the left chest pocket on the uniform which designates that man as a former soldier. So finally, after a much prolonged session, I was free to go and for the last 64 years, I have been simply a former serviceman.

All of this came into focus now that we are engaged in a prolonged debate about how many troops we should send to Afghanistan. The general in charge of the war in Afghanistan is named McCrystal. He apparently is asking for an additional 40,000 troops to join his forces there. As it now stands, we have 68,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and this would bring us to more than 100,000.

There are other generals who are contending that McCrystal’s demands are reasonable and that we should proceed forthwith to put the 40,000 men on airplanes and send them to Afghanistan. As an old soldier with no particular expertise in fighting guerillas, I must offer the following observation. I have been a student of world affairs for the better part of 80 years. During that time, I have never heard of a general saying that he had too many troops or that only one or two more would be helpful. Generals always talk in terms of large numbers, which I suppose will help them when they go to write their memoirs of the battles they have fought.

But 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan might be more than we can afford. The President has spent four or five weeks considering the proposition here and has been accused of dithering by former Vice President Cheney. The “dithering” charge is of no consequence to me but I simply hope that in the end he makes the proper decision.

If my numbers are correct, that will give us 108,000 people in Afghanistan plus the 125 or 130,000 left in Iraq. Again, this is a tremendous strain not only on the military but also upon our economic system.

Very unfortunately, McCrystal and other generals have been making remarks to the press that are framed to box the President in. If I may say so, those generals ought to be relieved of their responsibility and sent packing immediately. The more that I consider the cost in lives and treasure from the United States government, the less enthusiastic I am about investing one more life or one more dollar in Afghanistan.

The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan is a tribal society. They have never responded to a central government in their capital of Kabul. Even less would the Afghans be expected to respond to their government if they concluded that it was elected by fraud. There are all sorts of reasons to believe that fraud was committed in the recent elections in Afghanistan and that their government is corrupt. According to The New York Times, the President’s brother is hip deep in the drug trade. President Karzai has promised to reform but this is probably the tenth time that he has made that promise.

The generals of the United States Army have had their say and now I believe that it is high time we turn to other voices who may know a good bit more about the situation than the generals do. One of those voices is John Burns, the bureau chief of The New York Times in London. For several years during the height of the hostilities in Iraq, John Burns was the bureau chief in Baghdad. If there is any one man who knows the Arab mind, I would suggest that it is probably John Burns. I would suggest that the President interview John Burns and consider what he has to say. Burns has said that until a government takes over in Afghanistan that is free of fraud and corruption, there is no hope. We are a long way from having an honest administration to head the Afghan people.

Another person that I would suggest the President interview would be Richard Engel of the National Broadcasting Corporation. Engel has spent many years in the Middle East and should know a good bit more than the generals do. Obviously I do not want the President to base his decision with respect to Afghanistan solely on the advice of his generals. Generals can be wrong. When their forecasts turn out to be erroneous, the price paid by our troops is horrendous.

As you can see, I was never a hawk on the war in Afghanistan. If the President were to interview me, I believe I would tell him that Afghanistan is not worth the blood and treasure that it would require to restore stability to that part of the world. An independent observer said recently that he believed it would take perhaps 650 to 700,000 troops to stabilize Afghanistan. Based on our experience in Iraq, I believe that this observer has something there.

Well, as you can see, I have been at liberty to offer opinions on military matters for 64 years. Unfortunately, our Commander-in-Chief has never asked me for my opinions. But that will not prevent me from reaching conclusions that are not always accepted by the general staff of the United States Army. But if I am ever asked about my opinions on Afghanistan, I will tell Mr. Obama to please arrange interviews with John Burns and Richard Engel. I believe that he will find it very rewarding and he can put the charge of dithering to rest. It seems to me that the sooner we wind this war down, the better it will be for this country.

November 18, 2009
Essay 420

Postscript: This essay was composed several weeks in advance of the President’s speech this past week. In that speech, the President attempted to explain the prospects for the war in Afghanistan. I must say that as much as I care for Mr. Obama, his speech has not caused me to change my mind about investing one more life or one more dollar in that tribal society.


Kevin’s commentary: There are times when the United States is needed as the world’s policeman. There are times when it is not needed but fills that role anyway. Afghanistan falls into the latter category. It’s time to leave. I believe the current plan is for the complete removal of all U.S. troops by the end of this year, 2014. Here’s hoping.


On Friday night, the players for the World Series crown were moving from Yankee Stadium to the ball park in Philadelphia. There was not much to listen to on the radio, and so a recording of a work by Franz Schubert was played. I have nothing against serious music but in this case, Herr Schubert’s composition went on for so long that I tried to think of other things. There were movements of all kinds, but in my own mind, I wondered whether it would ever end. Finally, we arrived at the finale and I was spared from further exposure to the works of Franz Schubert. By that time, I had the rough outlines of the following essay that I wanted to dictate.

This essay asks more questions than it answers. I do not know what causes biases or prejudices and I would like to be informed as to why they exist. But exist they do, and that causes them to pique my curiosity, which results in more questions than it answers.

I have been amazed by the continuing prejudices against women. For all of my life I have asked what in the world women did to deserve this kind of treatment. No answer is forthcoming. So I will proceed to list a few of the prejudices against females.


A good part of the world has adopted the Muslim faith. Muslims do not pretend to even suggest they accord equal rights to males and females. Females are relegated to second place or fourth place and they are severely punished if they step out of line. Consider that in Saudi Arabia the Wahhabi sect says that women can’t drive automobiles and cannot be seen outside the house unless they are in the company of a male family member. I am not an expert on the Muslim faith, but my recollection tells me that there are no women in the Muslim clergy. Do they believe that Allah had no mother? As to the rest of the Muslim world, women are often forced to wear chadors which cover them from head to toe so they are not a temptation to men. I do not have a scientific study on horniness, but I would assume that the average Muslim man is about as horny as the average Christian man. But that is a subject for another day.

In the Christian faith, the Anglicans and the Episcopalians are having a monstrous fit over the ordination of women bishops. Some have left the Church of England and have taken up loyalty to a bishop in Nigeria who promises to observe orthodoxy until the end. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has a real major issue on his hands between the ordination of women and the appointment of a homosexual bishop in New Hampshire. As most people know, I have no allegiance to any faith of any kind. But if I had such faith, it would seem to me that a blessing from a female or from a gay person would be as efficacious as a blessing from a heterosexual male.

The Jewish faith seems to have no trouble on this score. I understand that there are numbers of female rabbis. This of course is not good enough for the Roman Catholic folk, who will not ordain a priest of the female gender. I suppose the Pope would flinch if he were ever introduced to a gay member of his clergy.

This strikes me as silly stuff. At the end of life, if I were to receive the blessings of a female priest or a homosexual priest, I would be unaware of these proceedings. I know that there is a contention that Jesus surrounded himself with disciples, all of whom were male. On the other hand, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is given such a prominent place that in the Catholic faith they believe that in 1958 she was physically transported from this earth to heaven.

On top of that, there is much to be interested in in the relationship of Mary Magdalene to Jesus. Scholars have been studying this controversial issue. I am simply struck by the thought that in religious circles, it would seem to me that generosity and understanding of the female condition would be in ample supply. But no, the bar remains and even in the matter of religion, women seem to come in in second place. My question is: Why is this so? The ayatollahs and the popes and the imams and the ordinary preachers all had mothers. A good many of them had sisters and some of them even had daughters. How can a preacher or a pope say that his son is entitled to consideration that is still barred to his daughter? This makes no sense at all to me.

Finally, it is a source of amazement to me how some Christians can worship a Jewish deity on Sunday and resume their dislike and prejudice against Jews on Monday. This makes no sense to me but I am not the one to seek counsel from. I am just a neutral observer with no ax to grind.


So much for asking questions of a religious nature. Let us go on to teaching. As I was growing up, the vast majority of the teachers were female. As far as I could tell, they provided an excellent education. But until about 1942 or 1943, any female, particularly if she worked for the Clayton, Missouri public school system, who married would find that her contract was cancelled. My seventh grade teacher, Miss Dawes, could teach as well when she was single as when she was married. But once she married, she was dropped from her teaching position. I ascribe this to another form of prejudice against women.


Now let us to move to a consideration of prejudices against southpaws. I have no idea about how many such people exist in this world, but I can tell you that when a baseball club owner finds somebody who throws from the left-handed side of the plate at 96 miles an hour, he becomes very interested. So in baseball, left handers are highly prized. But you wouldn’t know that from driving an automobile. Automobiles are arranged so that the important controls are on the right side of the driver. We drive on the right side of the road and passing on the right is usually strictly forbidden. Until about 1950, when automatic transmissions came into wider use, it should be noted that there were three pedals on the floor. One had to do with the clutch, which permitted the driver to shift from one gear to another. But the other two, which I would argue were more important, were the brake and the accelerator. Today in our clutchless cars, only the brake and accelerator remain and they are located to the drivers right. And so we have a case of right-handedness as well as right-footedness.

Our treasured friend Frances Licht, who is left handed, also points out that scissors are right handed. Miss Chicka also says that the mouses that control computer monitors are also right handed.

Before leaving this business about right-handedness, I think it is important to note that men’s clothing is arranged for right-handers. Consider, for example, the fly on men’s trousers. I suppose the zipper could be raised and lowered by a left-handed man but he would be awkward in doing so. There is a prejudice against left-handed men because men’s clothing is arranged for easy entry from the right side. And so I ask why there should not be trousers that are made for left-handed people. I know that this is not as serious as the absence of the female gender from the ranks of the religious orders, but again, this is a question that needs an answer.


Finally we turn to a matter in which I have a decided interest. That has to do with the prejudice in favor of sightedness. There are dozens of examples where sightedness is accommodated but for those with less than 20/20 vision there is a shut-out. For example, when the directions on the side of a prescription bottle are written, the non-sighted person doesn’t have a clue as to whether he is taking an aspirin or a pill that would do him great harm. Unfortunately at this stage the prejudice is so heavily in favor of sightedness that those who are non-sighted have to do the best we can. There are dozens of examples, or perhaps even hundreds. Consider directions. The sighted person may be told to go two blocks in an easterly fashion and then two blocks in a southerly fashion. This means nothing to the non-sighted person.

I realize that in my lifetime or in several lifetimes such as mine, the prejudice for sightedness will continue to exist. I do not know any way around it except for parallel instructions that are spoken. But that day is a long way off. Suffice it to say that the prejudice for sightedness is going to be around perhaps for the next hundred years or so. But in doing this essay, it was a prejudice that I could not overlook. I suppose that when I could see, I was as prejudiced as the next person might be. But that is no longer the case.


Before wrapping up this essay on prejudices, I am reminded that in my youth in the Clayton, Missouri public school system, there existed the Palmer method of handwriting. In that system of handwriting, the slant was toward the right-handed side and it all came from doing the circles before the handwriting started and push ups and downs on paper. I never saw the value in making continuous circles lean to the right or in doing paper push-ups that also leaned to the right. But I was assured that this would make me a better citizen. As it turns out, there were left-handers who couldn’t make the circles or the push-ups and whose natural inclination was to bend the tops of the letters to the left. The handwriting teachers concluded that this was a horrid situation. For a number of years they either tried to change left-handers into right-handers, or they had the left-handers assume a position in handwriting that was thoroughly illogical. But it got the letters leaning to the right, and that was where they should be, according to the handwriting teachers. I imagine that there were a few left-handed children who emerged from these handwriting sessions with scrambled brains. I feel for them, even to this day.


There is also a bias or prejudice against electing Jews and non-believers to the office of President of the United States. I have no idea why a person’s religious beliefs would influence his competency in the president’s office. But as of this writing, which comes 233 years after the American government was formed, there have been no Jews or non-believers elected to the presidency. Perhaps the day will come when a Jew can succeed to the presidency of the United States. But the day when a non-believer can reach that office is further off.

One prejudice that seems to have been overcome recently is the bias against left-handers in that Clinton and Obama are both southpaws. (Those are the only two that I am sure of.) So taking a long view, things are looking up.

Well, I told you at the outset that this essay would ask a lot more questions than it would answer. I suppose that if you are a male heterosexual who does not attend church services and who is right-handed, you are in pretty good shape. Those conditions apply in my case and all I have to work on is trying to fix the prejudice against non-sightedness.

November 2, 2009
Essay 418
Kevin’s commentary: This essay is a heck of a mixed bag. Some of these things are pretty clearly not like the others. For instance, discrimination against women impacts fully one-half of the world’s population. Discrimination against left-handers hits about 10% of people. Visually impaired people account for about 4%. My thought here is that is that if a system works for 90+% of the population, it is logical to have the country cater primarily to serving that system. Of course there should be services in place to help that system accommodate its outliers, whether that means manufacturing a tenth of scissors to operate the other way, or use the Chinese system of modifying sidewalks to aid navigation for the sightless. Whether that accommodation is being executed competently is certainly a question worth asking, but it doesn’t really compare to institutionalized discrimination against women or people of color.

That said my opinions are colored by the fact that “a male heterosexual who does not attend church services and who is right-handed” is a fitting way to describe me, so my commentary on discrimination is going to be a little bit colored by the fact that I take the majority perspective on most things, and might feel differently were I to be in the part that was not constantly catered to.