Archive for the February 2008 Category


This afternoon the temperature is hanging below the freezing mark. Somewhere between six and eight inches of snow are on the ground. The forecasters assure us that the snow will be followed by a freezing rain. Perhaps all of this proves that when I elected to stay in the great state of New Jersey, I was out of my mind.

The title of this essay might lead one to believe that it had to do with integration of the races. That is, of course, not the case. The recollections have nothing to do with each other. They are individual recollections that may reflect a time when life was a little harder but perhaps a lot simpler.

On a cold snowy day such as this one, a person fortunate enough to own an automobile in the 1930s would have several things on his mind. To start with, he might wonder whether the radiator would freeze. In the 1930s, a person of lesser means would have used an antifreeze based on denatured alcohol, which often tended to boil away as the engine heated. Every service station was equipped with a hydrometer to measure the antifreeze component in the radiator. If the contents of the radiator of the automobile were to freeze, it would be a catastrophe that would require a new core to the radiator. A poor man could not afford this extravagance.

On the other hand, owners of automobiles with greater financial resources could purchase a product called Zerex, which was alleged to be a permanent antifreeze, even though it lasted only for one full season. People who were affluent enough to have Zerex in their radiators were also likely to buy an upscale gasoline with ethyl in it. Most people drove their cars on a gasoline called “regular” and ethyl had to be asked for. In the current situation with the Arabs having a strangle hold on our oil supplies, we are fortunate to be able to get any gasoline at all.

Now, on a cold wintry day such as this one with snow on the ground, it is incumbent upon every owner of an automobile to make certain that he owns a pair of skid chains. Prior to 1950, every car was driven by a set of drive wheels on the rear, not the front, of the car. Putting skid chains on the rear wheels of the car was a messy job at best, because of the dripping snow. And it was a dangerous job also. The back side of the car must be jacked up with the skid chain placed so that it covered the entire surface of the tire with the link on the inside being most difficult. This work was accomplished by an attendant lying flat on his back, trying to attach a latch that he could not always see. Stories abound about the cars falling off the jacks and crushing the arms or the chests of the attendants who were trying to affix the skid chains.

Skid chains seem to have lost their allure and we rarely hear of them these days. Similarly, skid chains were succeeded by tires equipped with studs. In theory, the studs were to grip the road and made skid chains unnecessary. In point of fact, however, the studded tires tended to tear up the roads and often did not provide much more protection from skids than the old-fashioned chains would.

At the time we are speaking about, for all intents and purposes there were no heaters in the automobiles. In the early 1930s, there were so-called manifold heaters which were nothing more than a metal device clamped over the exhaust manifold which was then poked in to a hole in the passenger compartment. They not only failed to heat the inside of the car but they provided fumes as well. So much for manifold heaters.

The first heaters were called “Southwinds,” which were gasoline heaters. The Southwind heaters provided a lot of warmth but they also were the cause of fires in the passenger compartment of the car. They did not last very long.

Because of the lack of heaters in automobile interiors, lap robes were often found in the automobile seats. For reasons unknown to me, lap robes made of the hide of a horse were greatly favored. The robes were simply spread over the lap. Unhappily, the driver of the car could not use lap robes at all. He had plenty of other things to occupy his arms and legs and mind.

Signaling a turn was an important function in the era we are now discussing. In those days there were no direction signals, of course. A turn signal was accomplished by rolling down the driver’s side window and thrusting the left arm out beyond the automobile. In Missouri, for example, if the left arm were raised as it stuck out the window, it signaled a right turn. If the left arm tended to point toward the ground, it signaled a left turn. If the arm stuck straight out, it signaled caution to the drivers behind and to the drivers approaching the car. The signals were not uniform throughout the United States, which accounts for the fact that there were many accidents caused by confusion over the arm signals. As a general rule, passengers in the rest of the car were anxious for the driver to roll up the window to avoid icy blasts of snow and rain such as are occurring this afternoon.

In those days, the automobile owners were required to drain and replace the crank case oil every thousand miles. Ordinary automobiles used an oil called “30 S.A.E.” If my recollection is correct, the SAE stood for Standard American Engineers. On a day such as today, I might recommend to a driver that he use number 20 S.A.E., which was thinner than the number 30 S.A.E., to replace the oil drained from his crank case. It made starting a little easier. But if the engine of the car needed a ring job, its consumption of oil would increase.

Advances in technology have made the care and mothering of automobiles much less burdensome. Taking one thing with another, this old filling station attendant misses the old days not at all.

When I started this essay, I thought that it would be about segregated recollections. Now, having disposed of automobile recollections, there are two or three other matters that need to be recalled. In the 1930s, it is my recollection that every home was equipped with a hall tree that usually stood at or near the front door. Men in those days always wore hats and upon entering a household, polite men were instructed to hang their hats on a hall tree. There were also hooks for hanging an overcoat.

When I entered Clayton High School in January of 1936, the instructor or teacher in the shop department was a man called Sam Hall. Mr. Hall was a lovely person and no one fooled with him. He was perhaps six feet tall with a burly build. Somehow or other, he could instruct kids planning a board while at the same time teaching other children or other youngsters to run a lathe. I greatly admired Sam Hall, and as you might guess. My first project under his guidance was the construction of a hall tree.

To construct something like a hall tree, Mr. Sam Hall had a mantra that we all learned to repeat. It was: “Plane a board smooth and true, and mark it one. Plane an edge smooth and true, and mark it two.” I must confess that seventy some years have erased my memory as to what happened to marking it three and four and so forth. But by the time school had ended in June of 1936, my hall tree was completed and I carried it for the three miles to my home. My mother said it was the finest hall tree she had ever seen.

There is one other recollection from the 1930s that is unpleasant. In nearly every office, many of the desks came equipped with a spittoon. In those days, men chewed tobacco and sooner or later required a place to dispose of the contents in their mouths. I have never been adept at toe dancing, but as I walked around the St. Louis offices of AT&T, I had to be extremely careful not to kick a spittoon, which would result in my trouser leg becoming wet. Spittoons are gone now and, if I may say so, good riddance.

Now to move on to things of a more pleasant nature. As a youngster, my mother often offered her children tapioca pudding because it was a cheap dessert during the American Depression. I discovered on my last trip to Overlook Hospital that they occasionally serve tapioca pudding. All things being equal, I very much enjoy eating tapioca pudding. And so today, some seventy years after the Depression, Miss Chicka, my wife, makes tapioca pudding for me. To my delight, she has developed a taste for this desert, and it is one of the few pleasant memories that has survived since the 1930s.

When the ground becomes a little warm in the spring, those lucky enough to have bulbs of rhubarb will find green shoots rising from the ground. Those of you who have not tasted rhubarb are in for a treat. I have a great fondness for that fruit or vegetable or whatever it is, and we try to buy enough in the springtime to be frozen to last all winter. Unfortunately, the menus at such fancy places as the Four Seasons in New York offer no rhubarb at all. What a shame!

A final thought or two about recollections from the 1930s or thereabouts. There were those of us who, as winter approached, were required to wear long underwear. As time went on, the arms in the underwear lost their elasticity and tended to peak out from under one’s shirt. This was the source of great embarrassment to children such as myself who were required to wear the long underwear. Rich kids attending the same school could afford fancy sweaters but that was not the case for this old geezer. I do not have fond memories about long underwear and bring it up only as a segregated thought that goes with today’s essay.

Before wrapping up these disparate thoughts in today’s essay, a thought or two about female names comes to mind. It seems to me that very few parents are naming their female children with names such as Gertrude. Mildred is another name that is not much used these days. In the 1930s, there were female children named Shirley which, of course, had to do with Shirley Temple. From the decades prior to the 1930s, we have names like Olive and Verna Mae. On the male side of the ledger, not many parents are naming their children Harry or Willard. These are fine names and I regret to see their non-use.

Finally, in the St. Louis area, in the 1930s, there was a company that manufactured Skelly Gasoline. I have searched my memory and have been able to conclude that it was sold at only one station, run by an elderly gentleman named Stack. By this time, I suppose Skelly has gone the way of Gertrude, Mildred, and the other names of yore.

This essay was named segregated thoughts but perhaps it should have been named disparate thoughts. But no matter how you look at it, in the end it is nothing more than the recollections of an old-timer on a cold snowy February day.

I leave you now with the thought that before long the baseball season will take place. I know that in winter there is the agony of ice and snow but I take pleasure in the belief that sooner or later the baseball season will bring joy to us all. It is only a matter of time before an umpire will yell “Batter up!” and/or “Play Ball” and joy will be with us all.

February 27, 2008
Essay 296
Kevin’s commentary: Either I’m not getting something or a “manifold heater” is pretty much just a way to give oneself carbon monoxide poisoning. Relatedly, I’ve never, ever heard of “lap robes.” I just feel like even now, when signaling a turn can be done by moving one’s finger by about an inch, people signal turns about a third of the time. I can only imagine how infrequently people would actually signal turns when doing so required that you roll down the whole window and freeze everyone in the car. Ugh.

Speaking of old names, there was a very loud girl in the room a few doors down from me during my Junior year of college. Her name was Esther. Wolfram Alpha tells me that this name peaked in popularity around 1897. She was obnoxious as hell but that was still a 19-year-old named Esther, so maybe Gertrude and Mildred have hope still.

More thoughts on skid chains:
More on Mr. Hall and hall trees:


The term “southpaw” is basically a baseball expression. It refers to players who use their left hand to throw. Traditionally, baseball diamonds have been laid out with home plate in the southwest corner of the infield. This is to prevent the batter from having to look into the afternoon sun while he is at the plate. When the pitcher stands on the mound in the middle of the diamond, his left arm is pointed in a southerly direction and we are told that it is from this set of facts that the term “southpaw” is derived.

It seems to me that for much of my life, southpaws have been the subject of discrimination. Any person who has ever used a pair of scissors in the left hand can tell you that it is a formidable task to cut a piece of cloth or paper with the left hand. This has been a traditional discrimination. For example, when I reported to the first grade, our teacher, Miss Brantley, taught us handwriting using the Palmer method. The Palmer method was designed for right-handed people and it demanded that the slant of the handwriting must all lean at the top toward the right. It is hard to imagine it today but in that era, around 1928 to 1930, there were teachers who attempted to convert left-handers into writing with their right hand.

The Palmer method consisted, as a warm-up, of making large “o”s that looked like a wire fence being unrolled. Obviously the “o”s at the top were pointed toward the right side of the paper. The next exercise in the Palmer school consisted of starting the pen at the line and going up for an inch or an inch and a half and then bringing the pen back down to the line and repeating that over and over with the ensuing marks all leaning toward the right at the top. This exercise would look like a picket fence being pushed over at a 20 degree angle.

Left-handers received little comfort from the teachers because they regarded left-handedness as some sort of a sinful condition. The lefties had to place their arms and wrists in a very uncomfortable position in an effort to make the strokes lean toward the right at the top so that the teachers would get off their backs.

When we were introduced to ink and pens, those with long memories may recall that there was an inkwell at the top right-hand corner of each desk. For right-handers, it was no big feat simply to put the pen up and dip it into the inkwell. For left-handers there was the matter of getting the pen dipped into the inkwell without brushing the newly written words.

Clearly, the world in those days and in these days was made for right-handers. Left-handers can apply and take the tests but in the final analysis they must bend to the wishes of those who are right-handed.

Now if I may borrow a quote from the famed senator, Larry Craig of Idaho, I will say that “I am right-handed; I have always been right-handed.” What bothers me is the discrimination that has been visited upon those of us who throw from the southpaw stance.

Another example of the thoughtlessness that has occurred over the years has to do with automobiles. Before there were automatic transmissions, the gears needed to be changed by hand from first to second and then into high gear. There was also a reverse gear as well. The gear shift in those days was located in the middle of the front compartment, to the right of the driver directly over the transmission. This meant of course that drivers who are left-handed would have to shift the gears with their other hand. And that is only the beginning. The most important elements of driving a car have to do with the accelerator and the brakes. They have always been located on the right side of the driver rather than the left side. In the old days, drivers needed to depress the clutch before the gears were changed, so there was a modicum of equality in driving a car between right-handedness and left-handedness. But with the coming of automatic transmission, there is nothing remaining for the left foot to do except in some of the older models to turn on the bright lights.

Even in Great Britain and Ireland, where cars are driven on the left-hand side of the road, the accelerator and the brakes are located for use by the right foot, not the left foot.

So there are two examples of how the world has conspired to penalize left-handedness. My liberal inclinations have always been to like left-handers. One of my grandchildren is a left-hander and it seems not to matter at all in terms of our relationship.

And now we get to a point where parental discretion might be advised for the rest of this essay. If parents are unavailable, it might be well for the readers to throw themselves into the arms of cops, firemen, or sanitation workers. I have asked Mrs. Eva Baker, who transcribes my dictation, to look out the window to prevent her embarrassment for the following paragraphs.

Men’s undershorts are the subject for which parental discretion is advised. From time immemorial, men’s undershorts have been constructed so that the fly will have the left part of the undergarment slightly overlapping the right side of the shorts. I am perfectly aware that when the two edges of cloth are brought together to form the fly, it is possible for the right piece of cloth to overlap the left piece of cloth but that is not the case. It has always been that the left piece of cloth overlapped the right piece of cloth to form the fly, thus making it easier for the right-handers to engage the vital organ of the male anatomy.

During World War II, elastic became difficult to find and so there were little ribbons on each side that could be tied to make the shorts smaller or larger around the waist. In this case there was no discrimination because the bows appeared on both sides of the shorts.

But no matter how you cut it, it has always been somewhat easier for the right-handed person to reach into the undershorts as distinguished from the left-handed person.

When World War II came to an end and elastic became available again, men’s shorts moved from the boxer variety into the briefs. The briefs of course did not extend down the legs but were intended, so the manufacturer explained, to offer support for the male anatomy. As you can see, I am a student of men’s underclothing as it relates to their shorts. It may come as a surprise to some seminarians but as a general proposition, from time to time men feel the need to relieve themselves. My extensive research over the past 75 years discloses that uniformly and exclusively the opening on the fly favor the right hander. Left-handed men have to do the best they can and in an emergent situation this can be disastrous.

Not to belabor this subject, but if a vertical line were to be drawn down the front of men’s underclothing, the opening would always be on the right-hand side. But now a new day has dawned. Recognizing the age-old problem of discrimination against left-handers in this delicate situation, the Munsingwear Corporation has developed a product which departs from the vertical line to the horizontal line. Munsingwear advertises this as a “kangaroo pocket.” My readers will be amazed to discover that the opening in men’s shorts can be accomplished by having a horizontal opening or fly as distinguished from the vertical opening. At long last, right-handers and left-handers have an even chance of getting to their equipment to perform acts that are vital to the continuation of life. As I said earlier, I am a right-handed person but I have a great feeling for those who profess to be left-handers. As an act of solidarity with the southpaws, four pairs of the new men’s briefs are on order and have been delivered to me. I intend to test them for a few weeks and you may look forward to an essay in the mode of, say, Consumer Reports. A preliminary report would suggest that they are quite satisfactory, particularly from the standpoint of the user being in solidarity with the southpaws.

After all these years, it does my heart, my epiglottis, and my gall bladder good to know that we have finally made an effort to even up for the long discrimination against southpaws.

Now before leaving the subject of men’s underclothing, I think it would be remiss of me not to mention the heroic efforts of the United States Army having to do with underclothing. Near the end of 1944, the Army began to distribute undershirts and shorts that were dyed in the color of olive drab. Olive drab is a sort of green concoction that is thoroughly unattractive. But in this case, it has prevented us from having to speak German.

You see, the American Army announced that when soldiers in the field washed their clothing, which formerly was white, and hung them on clotheslines or on bushes to dry, it attracted German pilots and German field artillery officers equipped with binoculars. If you listened to what the Pentagon was saying, as soon as you hung your shorts and shirts on a bush, you could expect a thousand-pound bomb or heavy artillery. But, again according to the Pentagon, it was this olive drab underclothing that was responsible for our victory in World War II. When I was discharged, I had several pairs of olive drab undershorts and pants, which were offered to my mother for cleaning purposes. She threw them away instantly.

And so there you have it. Finally there is some equality and some forethought being given to those of us who bat from the left side. If the shorts with the horizontal openings are a success, perhaps we can go on to get rid of the Electoral College that mars our election process. Ah, but one miracle at a time.

February 12, 2008
Essay 291
Kevin’s commentary: Nothing screams “freedom” like an olive drab garment. The whole “this way you don’t get bombed” argument seems pretty compelling, however. Now that unmanned combat drones are an everyday thing in the states and abroad, maybe I should go pick up some olive boxers.

The kangaroo pouch idea seems pretty silly to me. But I guess if it works, it works. For the grandchild in question’s part, my little brother the southpaw solves the fly problem by simply pulling his pants down approximately to his knees instead of using the fly to his pants or underwear. It’s much simpler, and works for righties and lefties alike.


In the latter half of the 1960s, AT&T decided that I could serve the corporation best by working in its Washington Office. At that time the company maintained a relatively small office in Washington headed by a full vice president who was assisted by two assistant vice presidents. There were about five department heads such as myself reporting to these principal characters. The idea was for AT&T to ingratiate itself and to provide help to the agencies of government with the hope that the outcome of the laws and their interpretation would be favorable to the phone company. Your old essayist spent nearly four years being a lobbyist in AT&T’s Washington office. It was a fascinating job and one that has provided me with many memories.

One of the memories that returned to me last week, the second week in February, was the CPAC meeting which stands, of course, for Conservative Political Action Conference. When I worked in Washington, CPAC was purely a political organization. Over the years it is clear that the conservative movement has been penetrated by religious representatives. Today the CPAC meetings have the air of a revival. The meeting last week was no exception.

When John McCain spoke to the conservative meeting, he was received with great tepidness. There were no actual boos, but it is clear that John McCain is not the favorite of the conservative movement as it is constituted these days.

When George Bush appeared before the meeting last week, he was accorded a polite welcome but it soon became clear that Bush was not regarded as a true conservative.

When Mike Huckabee spoke to the meeting, they welcomed him with great hosannas and welcome. Huckabee fed them raw meat. He quoted the Bible in mind numbing detail and often referred to the ancient beliefs of the Neanderthal wing of the conservative group. Clearly the winner in the addresses to the CPAC convention was Mike Huckabee.

I listened to the proceedings and it seemed to be fairly clear that the conservatives would like to return to the glory days of Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, and Herbert Hoover. In that spirit, I soon discovered that this old essayist was persuaded by conservative thoughts and proceeded to make the following pledges and assurances:

At the outset, I have agreed, as a matter of conservative principle, never personally to have an abortion.

Furthermore, I pledge never to engage in a same-sex marriage.

There is a bar here in Millburn, New Jersey named Martini’s, which offers “speed dating.” The idea seems to be that prospective lovers may spend a few minutes with other prospective lovers before making up their minds about what they will do with the rest of the evening. I believe that Martini’s is a den of iniquity. It will lead to conditions that cause abortions, and if there are two speed-dating partners of the same sex, it might lead to their marriage. Accordingly, starting this snowy evening, I will picket Martini’s to stamp out this obvious evil.

Furthermore, I pledge never to become engaged in polygamy. As my ancient friend Joe Darling would say, “I’ve got enough to take care of at home.” Be that as it may, I intend to take cognizance of conservative principles and to avoid polygamy at all costs.

Further, I pledge never to become an Islamo-Fascist terrorist. If I were to walk around this town saying that I am a genuine Islamo-Fascist terrorist, I suspect that onlookers would say that “that man is just plainly nuts.” Therefore, I pledge to keep my Moslem faith a secret even during the period of Ramadan.

Everyone knows that the future of medicine lies in stem cell research. I pledge that if I contract a fatal disease, I will not be treated by a drug or a surgical procedure that has anything to do with stem cell research. Simply stated, I prefer to die rather than to reap the benefits of stem cell research.

For the rest of my life, I will refrain from burning an American flag or trampling it underfoot.

I pledge never to patronize a drug store that sells contraceptive devices, particularly the most evil of these devices, the “morning after” pill.

And I pledge also to go to church every morning until eternity.

I pledge to work to bring back the 18th Amendment which prohibits the manufacture and sale of every alcoholic beverage.

As Mike Huckabee has said, he opposes the Darwinian theory of evolution, as I will in the future. Furthermore, I believe that, as the prophet Joshua so aptly stated, the sun rotates around the earth. Galileo had it all backwards.

Finally, I pledge that I will not covet my neighbor’s donkey. American politics has enough donkeys without politicians creating more.

There you have my complete platform of pledges. I believe that I have covered every base in the conservative aurora of promises. The fact of the matter is that the conservatives have convinced me that I should abandon my liberal views. I sincerely hope that my pledges will impress those delegates to the CPAC convention who seem to treasure the memories of Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover. And if Governor Huckabee becomes the eventual nominee of the Republican Party, I will be right there in the front row taking up a collection with my wicker basket and singing the ancient hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.” And if Governor Huckabee, who says he believes in miracles, really wants one, it might be that the Grand Old Party will be rescued by Michael Bloomberg. If the Christian religion was established by a Jewish fellow, why shouldn’t the Republican Party be rescued by Mike Bloomberg? That would be a genuine miracle recognized by every observer of any stripe.

February 12, 2008
Essay 293
Kevin’s commentary: What happens if you marry the neighbor’s donkey? Is it allowed to get an abortion? If it’s a gay polygamist donkey, what then?


There is an unparalleled opportunity for young entrepreneurs with a flare for journalistic talent. It has to do with writing obituaries for the living which will be used only after those folks cash in their chips and seek to become angels. As things now stand, obituaries are only written after the demise of the person who is to be celebrated. When a person shows up at a funeral parlor with his obituary being unwritten, the funeral director will garner a few bare-boned facts and feed them to the local newspapers. As soon as the few facts are recorded and out of the way, the rest of the obituary is nothing more than an advertisement for the funeral parlor.

As a general proposition, today’s obituaries are based upon the colorless facts gathered by the funeral director. One might say that “The deceased has lived in this town for more than 40 years,” while another might report in the obituary that “The departed loved one worked for the Sanitation Department for 44 years.” These are what I call ready-made obituaries.

There is a distinct contrast between ready-made obituaries and obituaries made to order. In the tailor-made obituaries, the person who will eventually become deceased has a large hand in shaping what is said in the obit. For example, if one buys a ready-made suit at Sears and Roebuck, he might count on taking it to a tailor on several occasions in order to make it fit. On the other hand, a tailor-made suit fashioned by let us say “Façonnable” will fit so properly that the wearer is not permitted to leave the premises until every detail is attended to. The golden business opportunity referred to in this essay has to do with interviewing the subjects for proposed obituaries and submitting them to those subjects prior to need.

Now in this essay it is my intention to record the facts as they are found and to contrast them with the tailor-made obituaries that our young entrepreneurial talent may produce. When I was transferred to New York working for AT&T, I found that there was a middle-aged mousy clerk who performed clerical tasks that seemed to go unnoticed. This fellow was slight of build and wore a small mustache. His name was George K. and there was nothing to suggest that he was anything more than an aging clerk. Upon asking about George, I was told, “Do you mean General George K.?” I had no idea that George with his diffident mannerisms and lack of assertiveness could even be a soldier in the Salvation Army. But as it turned out, George had been a member of the National Guard before World War II and had attended every meeting for years. As a result, he was moved up the ranks and when World War II broke out, he entered military service as a Major or a Lieutenant Colonel. One way or another, the Army continued the promotion process initiated by the National Guard and by the end of the war, George K. was a Brigadier General. Every ounce of George’s persona shouted out that he was a clerk. Yet in the American Army, he enjoyed all of the perquisites of his generalship.

I have no idea whether George K. is alive and well or whether he has departed this vale of tears. If George is gone, I suspect that his funeral director will have said that he worked for AT&T for 45 years and then there will be a recitation about his wife, if any, and/or his children. This of course will be followed by the advertisement for the funeral parlor.

Now if George K. had had an opportunity to contribute to his own obituary, he might well have dressed it up a bit. The bits that I have in mind for George might say something on this order:

Brigadier General George K. died on Monday, June 17. General K. was a confidant of General George Marshall and Franklin Roosevelt. General K. excelled at close-order drill. He came to the attention of his superiors by his heroism at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia and then was asked to plan the invasion of Italy. Following the successful invasion in accordance with General K.’s directions, General K. was then given the job of planning and directing the landings on Normandy. When the American troops entered Paris, they were led by General K. who was sipping champagne as well as leading the brass bands as they paraded down the Champs Elysées. Upon General K’s retirement from the American Army, President Harry Truman presented him with a bushel basket full of decorations. At the time of his death, General K. was in his study poring over maps that would lead us to victory in Iraq with the radical Islamic Fascist forces being banished.

Obviously there is a high degree of braggadocio in General K.’s obituary. But I can guarantee you that if the General had an opportunity to write his obit, the above submission would be reasonably close to the mark.

I hope I have demonstrated to you that there is a golden opportunity for young people with journalistic talent. There is a need that is currently being unfulfilled. All things considered, George K. was a mousy man who, courtesy of the National Guard, rose to be a Brigadier General in the American Army in World War II. My brothers in arms in that conflict are grateful in the extreme that George was on our side rather than on the side of the German Army. If George wanted to dress up his obituary, it would be fine with me provided that he paid the imaginative writer a fashionable fee.

Now let us move to Henry T. Killingsworth, who for many years was the boss of some 20,000 people working in the Long Lines Department of the AT&T Corporation. Simply put, Killingsworth was loathed by every employee in that department. He denied people raises as well as promotions. Killingsworth was a worthless martinet.

Two examples of Killingsworth’s conduct are in order here, even though they have been previously celebrated in my essays. Larry Pierce had the responsibility for the lobby at 32 Sixth Avenue in New York City, the Headquarter’s building. Larry was also a commander of the American Legion and each year on Memorial Day he and some of his fellow members of the Legion would sell poppies to wear in one’s lapel.

Larry also permitted an aged nun to sit and beg at the head of the subway steps which were located in the lobby. The nun said nothing. Perhaps her silence was due to the restrictions imposed upon her by her religious order or perhaps she was hard of hearing and perhaps she spoke no English. The nun simply sat there on a folded seat with a basket on her lap to accept donations. She bothered no one.

Killingsworth forced Larry Pierce to come to him each year for permission to sell his poppies. Not long before Killingsworth was deposed as the head of the Long Lines Department, Larry appeared to ask Killingsworth for his permission to sell the poppies. Larry reported a memorable exchange with Killingsworth. When asked for permission, Killingsworth said, “Hell no, and while you are at it, get rid of that God-damned nun in the lobby.” Larry interpreted this to mean that the boss rejected his plea.

Killingsworth also had the thought that if he wrote a letter at Christmas time to all employees, everyone would feel much more kindly toward the company. In one Christmas letter, Killingsworth told employees that next year, we must “take the slack out of those trace chains” and work a little harder. The “slack in those trace chains” referred to mules plowing a field of cotton in Killingsworth’s native Georgia. When the verbiage in that letter comparing the employees to mules was explained to employees, many of whom were New York City apartment dwellers, Killingsworth was loathed even more.

Killingsworth went to his eternal reward a few years back, and no one known to me bothered to attend his funeral. But if Killingsworth had had the foresight to compose his own obituary with the assistance of a writer of tailor-made obits, here is perhaps what he might have written.

Henry T. Killingsworth died on his south Georgia plantation. The African Americans who plowed his fields, who kept his house, and who served his meals were deep in mourning. Mr. Killingsworth was a lovable creature who had New York at his knees when he worked there. There are dozens of incidents where Mr. Killingsworth’s generosity was shown to his employees with AT&T. His concern was so great that he asked his employees not to wear poppies in their lapels on Memorial Day because he believed that if they burped while dining in the cafeteria, the poppies might fall into their soup and result in a strangling. There was another occasion where Mr. Killingsworth banished an intruder from the lobby of his building on the grounds that potentially she could trip people rushing to catch the subway.

Mr. Killingsworth was widely loved throughout New York City. He also tolerated performances at the Metropolitan Opera Company, which he said he endured even though the singers spoke in a language other than English.
Mr. Killingsworth died before he could realize his fondest hope of returning slavery to the residents living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. He will be long remembered. Old Mose, the plantation caretaker, said it best when he said that all of us black folks loved the ground that that man walked on.

So you see there is a significant difference between the facts and the obituary that Killingsworth might have wished to see in the Atlanta newspapers.

Now there is one other example that needs to be cited here because it involves your old essayist. In the fall of 2005, I had made an appointment with the hygienist at the dentist’s office to clean my teeth. Shortly before that appointment was to be kept, I wound up as a patient in the Will’s Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. My wife canceled the appointment because she knew nothing about our future plans at that moment, and did not reinstate it. Sue, the office manager in the dentist’s office, must read obituaries avidly. Before I could reinstate my appointment with the hygienist, the obituary pages of the Star-Ledger of New Jersey reported the death of a gentleman named E. E. Carr. A copy of his obituary is attached.

That Mr. Carr was 81 years of age and was a Sergeant in World War II, during which he became a prisoner of war. As it turns out, all of those facts apply to me as well as to the other Mr. Carr. Judging by the names that he had given his children, it appears that Mr. Carr was also an Irishman, as I am.

Upon reading that obituary together with the cancellation, Sue, the office manager, bought a sympathy card which was signed by all the members of the dentist’s staff. It was sent to my alleged widow. Nonetheless, when the facts were set in place, I kept a new appointment and had Debbie work on my teeth. I asked her whether she had ever worked on a dead man before. Debbie replied that working on dead men was pretty much the same as working on live men.

Now if I had an opportunity to write my own obituary, I might lend a bit of elegance to it. It might go something on this order:

Mr. E. E. Carr cashed in his chips on December 17. The chip-cashing occurred in a bawdy house in Millburn, New Jersey. His body was found by several mistresses in a palatial suite on the 20th floor, surrounded by empty champagne bottles and dishes that had held caviar and foie gras. Evidence of rampant lovemaking was everywhere. When the undertaker arrived, he discovered that $1,000 bills were sticking out of every pocket of Mr. Carr’s jacket and pants. A waiter reported that Mr. Carr had tipped him $5,000 for providing his final meal, as it turned out. Mr. Carr also said to some of his guests of the female gender that he shouldn’t drink all that champagne but in the final analysis, he said that this was the way to go. He will be terribly missed by his dozens of loving mistresses and preachers of all sects.

His estate is estimated to be worth nearly a billion dollars, which will be used to establish upscale bawdy houses in all of the major cities in New Jersey and in his native Missouri.

Readers with sharp eyes will conclude that there are no twenty-story bawdy houses in Millburn, New Jersey and under township rules, only five establishments have a license to dispense alcoholic beverages. But those are details that are swept away by the majestic reporting of the death of this old soldier.

I have given you three examples involving General K., Henry Killingsworth, and this old essayist which should give you some idea of how obituaries might be dressed up a bit. These are hard times in the employment market and I believe that once my proposition is known, I will be swamped by enterprising journalists. But more than anything else, the souped-up obituaries fill a basic human need. I wish I had thought about this many years ago so that I would not have had to work for that miserable low-life SOB Killingsworth for all those years.

February 9, 2008
Essay 289

The Star-Ledger Archive
COPYRIGHT © The Star-Ledger 2005
Date: 2005/11/30 Wednesday Page: 038 Section: NEWS Edition: FINAL Size: 140 words
Edward E. Carr of Vernon Twp., WWII Army sergeant, POW, 81
A service for Edward E. Carr, 81, of Vernon Township will be at 10 a.m. Friday in the Ferguson-Vernon Funeral Home, 241 Route 94, Vernon.
Mr. Carr, who died Saturday at home, worked for the Hudson County News in North Bergen for more than 30 years before retiring in 1978.
An Army veteran of World War II, he was a sergeant and taken prisoner of war. He was a past commander of the Carl Lambertson Jr. Disabled American Veterans in Bricktown, where he was a former deputy chief of staff and a member of the Old Guard.
Born in Secaucus, he lived in Bergenfield and Bricktown before moving to Vernon Township six years ago.
Surviving are sons, Kevin, Brian, Dana, Scott and Patrick; a brother, Walter; sisters, Patricia Lobato and Sandra Spina, and seven grandchildren.

Kevin’s commentary: But… but who wrote the obituary, and why? Someone just decided that Pop died one day? And also, how come I have never met all these various aunts and uncles that I allegedly have? The entire affair is baffling, but the clear conclusion is that Pop should absolutely continue writing these obituaries for people. They’re certainly a cheery way to pass the time. I’d like to see what he could come up with for mine!


Harry Landis of Marion County, Missouri, died last week. Mr. Landis’s death was unremarkable except for the fact that he was one of the two surviving soldiers from the First World War. Mr. Landis was 108 years old and now the only survivor is a gentleman named Fred Buckles of West Virginia. Mr. Buckles was also born in the state of Missouri. You may recall that Woodrow Wilson, our President at the time, billed the First World War as the War to End All Wars. I believe old Woodrow was mistaken when he said that this was the end of wars.

The foregoing paragraph is written in the sparse style of the English language favored by Missourians. Missourians do not favor having fruit salad spread over their cheese sandwiches. Now if I had been fortunate enough to attend an eastern prep school followed by an Ivy League education, perhaps I could have gotten a job writing for Time Magazine. That magazine spreads fruit salad all over its entrées. The opening lines of the events of last week would probably read very much like this:

Death, as it must to all men, came last week to Harry Landis of Marion County, Missouri. Mr. Landis, 108 years old, was a doughboy in the American Expeditionary Force in the First World War. His death leaves Fred Buckles of West Virginia as the sole surviving member of our armed forces during the great conflict that took place in 1917 and in 1918.

Given a choice, I believe I like the sparse comments of the Missouri dialect of the English language. But at this point, reflections tend to take over. On one hand, Mr. Landis was only 23 years older than I am this afternoon. Those years could go by in a blink or two. Furthermore, I reflect on the fact that the soldiers of the Second World War are dying at a rate in excess of 1,000 per day. One day in the not-too-distant future, there will only be a few of us left. Mr. Landis’s death has caused me and other World War II soldiers to reflect on the fact that life does not go on into eternity. But I face that fact with a great deal of tranquility.

Perhaps that tranquility flows from the fact that death was a familiar circumstance all of my life. Between 1920 and 1924, my parents had lost three of their eight children. My eleven-and-a-half-year-old brother died from appendicitis and pneumonia. These were fatal ailments in 1924 but today they can be treated uniformly with great success. His name was Laurence and my mother had pinned her hopes of producing a Baptist preacher on him. The circumstances suggest that my sisters, Ruth and Martha, were stillborn. In those days, stillborn children were unmentioned in polite family conversations.

My three siblings were buried in a plot in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Kirkwood, Missouri. About every third week, my parents and I would go to that plot to plant flowers and cut grass to make things look better. As I helped plant the flowers, I kept thinking of how much enjoyment we would have shared had Laurence, Ruth, and Martha lived.

The Oak Hill Cemetery is separated from the busy boulevard called Big Bend. It was a tranquil place. I must say that, in retrospect, I enjoyed the visits to the gravesites of my siblings.

So I started life with a tranquil view of graveyards which, of course, are now called cemeteries. In my first overseas assignment, I was assigned on detached duty to fly cover for the British Eighth Army. There was an occasion when a Scottish soldier from the British Eighth had to be buried. Uniformly, the Brits do an excellent job of burying their dead. There was no brass band to play “The Last Post.” Instead, it was played on a battered trumpet by a young soldier. Because the service was for a Scottish soldier, the second tune, played by a young soldier with bagpipes, was “The Flowers of the Forest.” It is especially touching for those of us of Celtic ancestry, as are the Scots and the Irish.

Even today, I keep wondering about whether that soldier left a wife or a girl friend behind. I often think of what he could have accomplished had he stayed alive. At that ceremony, when tears formed in my eyes, a British sergeant held my arm and said, “Yank, at times like this we must all stay strong.” His accent was Scottish and he was doing the best he could to stay as strong as he had advised me to do. And so Mr. Landis’s death last week caused me to reflect on that moment.

Many years later, perhaps in 1980, my friend Ronald Carr and I were in Port Moresby, Papua, New Guinea. I had asked our host, John Solomon, to take us to an Australian cemetery. John was anxious to perform that service.

During World War II, his uncle, also named John Solomon, had attempted on two occasions to join the Australian Army. On both occasions, he was turned down. Clearly, he was rejected because he was a Jew. On the third attempt, John Solomon presented himself to the Australian Army as John Sullivan and was accepted. During 1944, John Sullivan, né Solomon, was killed in combat in Papua, New Guinea. His body was buried in this lovely graveyard under a white cross, which of course identified him as a Christian. For the better part of 40 years his family had tried to persuade the authorities that the man they had buried as John Sullivan was actually John Solomon. Two or three days before our arrival at the cemetery, the Australian authorities had accepted the plea of the Solomon family and had replaced the cross with the star of David. It was a pleasure for us to visit the refuse bin of the graveyard to see that the cross with the name John Sullivan was being discarded.

Again, Port Moresby is an out-of-the-way place but the Australians maintained that cemetery with meticulous care. Once again, the death of Private Landis caused this old soldier to reflect on funerals and graveyards.

About a half mile from the house in which I am now sitting is a small cemetery where approximately 20 soldiers from the American Revolution are buried. The headstones. which really are pieces of slate, have begun to flake. In the 39 years that I have lived in this house, I have seen that small cemetery and wondered about how those men could have prospered had they lived. I sometimes asked myself whether they even knew that the American forces had forced the British to retreat and that the United States, a new country, was born. The graves of those men are tended to by volunteers. I always feel indebted to those men for what they did to assure American freedom. They rest in a tranquil place at the intersection of Parsonage Hill Road and White Oak Ridge Road. I suspect that every old soldier who sees that tiny cemetery will depart with a series of reflections.

During the final years of my employment with AT&T in New York City, I found myself working at 195 Broadway, 140 West Street, and 5 World Trade Center. In the great bustling hustle of New York City, there is an island of calm. At lower Broadway and Vesey Street in lower Manhattan Island, there is a graveyard surrounding a church, which is known as St. Paul’s Chapel. It is an Episcopal church. The chapel and the cemetery occupy a full block on lower Broadway. If one knows where to look, inside that cemetery are wrought iron benches that provide a lovely spot for tranquility. When I worked at the three locations mentioned earlier, it was a very short walk to the St. Paul’s Chapel cemetery, where I could kill the better part of a lunch hour. I suppose that the last burial in that cemetery took place more than a hundred years ago. Sometimes I wondered if those people could miraculously come back in the 1970s when I sat in that cemetery, what they would think of the World Trade Center. And now that Harry Landis has passed on, if I were again in New York, I might repair to that graveyard and think about his career with the American Expeditionary Force in 1918.

As we close this essay on reflections and tranquility, two or three other thoughts appear appropriate. They are disparate thoughts. Gregorio Russo, an immigrant from a town south of Naples in Italy, was absent from his job for more than a week during which he attended the funeral of his father-in-law. Gregorio’s only comment, when he returned to work, was that his father-in-law had “gone out like a champ.” For all of us of the Second World War who may soon follow the fortunes of Harry Landis, it is hoped that the “greatest generation” will indeed go out like champs.

And as for Woodrow Wilson’s naïve belief that this was the war to end all wars, perhaps Eric Bogle, the Australian folk writer and singer, had an appropriate line. Bogle wrote that “countless white crosses in mute witness stand to man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.” And as for the war to end all wars, Bogle goes on to say that “It has happened again, again, again, and again.” I suspect that reading about the reflections of an old soldier is not necessarily inspiring stuff. On the other hand, the passing of Harry Landis is an event that should be marked by more than a shrug of the shoulders. It is the closing of an era and as such it might provide Time Magazine an occasion to construct some flowery prose that will not necessarily make the citizens of Marian County, Missouri very happy.

February 24, 2008
Essay 294
Kevin’s commentary: Okay first off, 23 years is not ‘a blink or two.’ It is, in fact, the length of time that I’ve been alive!

Buckles, it turns out, passed away in 2011, leaving no more WW1 vets around. Thankfully we’ve still got a handful of WWII vets kicking around!

The thing that probably stood out most to me in this essay was the potential source of the phrase “stay strong” — it has been an extremely familiar set of words to me, as it has ended a great many of Pop’s communications to me over the years. My gmail inbox alone records a dozen of such conversations. In the letters over the years there have been a great many more. I wonder if this phrase was originally Pop’s, or if the brit introduced it to him. If Pop sees this I would very much like to know.

The Shepherd family also has had a stillborn child. His name was Galen Carr Shepherd and he was my older brother’s twin. Pop’s recollections of visiting his of visiting his siblings’ graves reminds me quite a lot of my own experiences.


This Saturday morning, February 9, my breakfast was largely ruined by listening to a speech by Governor Huckabee which was delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a group of ideologues. Huckabee explained that when he went to college, he did not major in mathematics but rather in miracles. In this case, the miracle business had to do with whether or not he could overtake John McCain in the remaining primaries in the Republican nomination process. I suppose that if McCain expired between now and the Republican convention, Huckabee would consider it some form of miracle.

Huckabee is a former Southern Baptist preacher. As many of you know, I spent my younger years listening to Southern Baptist preachers who were glib of tongue. Nearly all of them are adept at setting up straw houses and then destroying them, which they proclaimed as a miracle.

Huckabee had very little to say about the current recession or depression that is afflicting the American economy. I suppose that he is relying upon some celestial miracle to finally balance our books. But as a survivor of the Great American Depression of the 1930s, I can assure the Right Honorable Huckabee that no matter how hard he pounds his pulpit the recession/depression is not going to go away until we quit squandering our financial resources in Iraq.

By this time, nearly everyone has had a crack at trying to solve the recession/depression problem. Next week Bush will sign a piece of legislation that will give a few dollars to the American taxpayer. The federal reserve system has cut interest rates on a number of occasions and our Treasury Secretary assures us that everything will be great. Unfortunately, the Treasury Secretary was nowhere to be seen as we worked our way into this financial problem and he is now presiding over an empty treasury.

I did not major in mathematics. It was a miracle that I mastered long division. So with that background in mind, may I make a suggestion to solve our financial difficulties? We are pouring truckloads of American money into the effort in Iraq. To make things look a little better, Bush has suggested that we should balance our books by cutting benefits to Veterans, to the aged, to the sick, and to children. That is not the way to do things. The way to start setting our financial affairs right is by stopping the American venture in Iraq.

When that war is stopped, there will be financial resources to repair the bridge that fell down in Minneapolis. There will be enough money left over to repair Walnut Street in downtown Philadelphia, which is now a disgrace. When we quit squandering our money in the misadventure in Iraq, there will be enough to shore up Medicare and Social Security.

If I were to drive four Macerates and maintain a stable of mistresses with a champagne party every night, I would be broke instantly. The same principle applies to the United States. We can get from here to there as long as we live within our means. When Vice President Cheney tells you that deficits don’t matter, he should be impeached and imprisoned.

I have no influence on Republican affairs and Governor Huckabee would not listen to me even if I told him that I came from a neighboring state to his native Arkansas. But may I assure you and all of the readers of these essays, that until we stop squandering our resources in misadventures such as Iraq, there will be no miracles that will accrue to the American people.

Huckabee is a glib Southern Baptist preacher. He promises that somehow our financial troubles and other problems will disappear through a miracle of one kind or another. For all of his likeability, Huckabee is a dangerous man. If we were to give the presidency to a man who depends upon celestial miracles, I suspect that he would preside over our descent into the likes of Iran and other countries governed by religious figures. On top of all that, Huckabee ruined my breakfast and I will never forgive him for that.

February 9, 2008
Essay 292
Kevin’s commentary: The gift of being-in-the-future is always fun for posts like these. I guess he wasn’t so good at miracles after all.

On a quasi related note, the notion of a preacher being president is terrifying. Let’s never let that happen, okay everybody?


Those of you who follow Republican politics will be aware that John McCain is the presumptive front-runner in the quest for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. McCain has such a commanding lead in the delegate count that it is only a matter of days until he is declared the Republican nominee. While McCain is trying to wrap up the nomination, there is a gnat buzzing around him named Mike Huckabee. Huckabee has no chance to be the nominee of the Republican Party but he seems to enjoy the spotlight and, all things being equal, Huckabee is an entertaining speaker.

McCain’s biography is well-known to all people on both sides of the political fence. During the war involving the Vietnamese, his airplane was shot down and he was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese. He spent five and a half years in the custody of the North Vietnamese at the infamous Hanoi Hilton Hotel, which was actually not a hotel but a mean and cruel prison.

Following his release, McCain became active politically in Republican circles and eventually wound up as one of the two senators from Arizona. In the year 2000, McCain had the temerity to challenge George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. At the outset, McCain was accused by the Bush supporters of having lost his ability to think rationally, brought about by his long imprisonment by the North Vietnamese. That of course was a lie. McCain won the New Hampshire primary, soundly trouncing George W. Bush. When the contest reached South Carolina, Karl Rove, Bush’s confidante, played the race card. He accused John McCain of fathering a black child out of wedlock. The fact of the matter is that McCain and his wife adopted a daughter from Bangladesh. Bangladeshis are often dark. But the race-baiting accusation in South Carolina was enough to turn the contest into a favorable outcome for George W. Bush. In recent weeks there are some Republicans who have accused McCain of having sold out to his North Vietnamese captors, presumably seeking better treatment at the cost of his fellow American prisoners. There is not one iota of evidence to this effect.

It would seem to me as an independent observer that John McCain has suffered quite enough. He has been shot down, which is trauma enough by itself. He has suffered long imprisonment by the North Vietnamese and in his political career, he has been bludgeoned by lies sponsored by members of his own party. But McCain trudges on.

Now, as this essay is being composed, McCain appears to be in a commanding position for the Republican nomination. There is one quality about McCain that is instructive to liberal democrats such as myself. For the eighty years that I have been following politics, a high percentage of the Republican advocates have practiced outright hatred. They hated Franklin Roosevelt. They transferred that hatred to Harry S. Truman. As time went on they hated Jimmy Carter and finally they not only hated Bill Clinton but, by the process of osmosis, they have now begun to hate his wife as well.

Say what you will about John McCain, but to the best of my knowledge, John McCain has never been a hater. He has done some silly stuff such as seeking the endorsement of Jerry Falwell a year or so ago, but those things come with the territory when a person runs for the presidency. Aside from not being a hater, McCain seems able to laugh at himself. When he was asked about an event that took place during the Vietnamese war, McCain replied that he did not attend that event because he was “tied up.” The man laughs at himself and I applaud him for that quality. But mostly I applaud him for not being a hater.

Now we come to the endorsement problem. This morning John McCain took time off from campaigning in Wisconsin to travel to Houston, Texas to receive the endorsement of George H.W. Bush. In my estimation, endorsements are much like bumper stickers and lawn signs. I have never known a voter to say that he is going to vote for a candidate because he has such a nice bumper sticker. The same logic goes as well to lawn signs. But this morning John McCain got the endorsement of George W. Bush’s father and then turned around and flew back to his campaign in Wisconsin.

Now here is where the fairness to John McCain must appeal to every independent observer. It seems to me that receiving the endorsements of the Bush family is a lot like seeking the endorsements of Typhoid Mary. I suspect that, sooner or later, his eminence, George W. Bush, will bestow his blessings on poor old John McCain. That, my friend, is nothing less than cruelty to animals. Once George W. Bush has blessed John McCain, may we expect the endorsement of the black sheep of the Bush family, Neil, who followed his brother’s example? For years, Neil has flirted with the limits of the law in an attempt to become wealthy. Before life is done, good old Neil may need a criminal lawyer.

But once the Bush family has endorsed McCain, can you imagine his not being endorsed by the likes of Harriet Miers and/or the estimable Alberto Gonzales? Then, without encouragement from McCain, he may be endorsed by the likes of Scooter Libby. And then there is one endorsement that everyone is seeking, that being from the the former FEMA director, Mike Brown. You will recall that wonderful line, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job!” John McCain will soon be 72 years of age. Campaigning for the presidency is hard work. But should McCain also be asked to carry on the legacy of the Bush family while he dodges all of these potholes? I have never contributed a dime to John McCain’s treasury but it seems to me that fair play is at stake here. At this juncture, McCain should pray that he not receive the endorsements of Jack Abramoff or of Barbara Bush, Karl Rove and Roger Clemens. Fair play is fair play and McCain should not enter this contest with a one-hundred-pound anvil anchored to his shoulder.

A final thought. Typhoid Mary was really an Irish immigrant named Mary Mallon. Mary was a cook in domestic residences and started the typhoid epidemic in 1907. If you care to look on the internet, you may find her history of some interest.

February 25, 2008
Essay 295
Kevin’s commentary: I did find her history of some interest! I felt sorry for her at first, because she was locked up for so long, but on further reading she seemed kinda terrible for refusing to cooperate with people who were trying to protect public health. Pride is a nasty thing. Typhoid is nastier.

Spending any amount of time in the public eye is also pretty rough, from all appearances. For presidential candidates this phenomenon is further exacerbated.


The enduring anomalies that are referred to in the title of this brief have to do with religion and politics. Both of those subjects have fascinated me since I was a lad of six years. Now that I am entering my 86th year, it might be said that I am older but no wiser or alternatively that I am too soon old and too late wise. But this is the season for politics and I am struck by two puzzling anomalies. Let us deal first with the political end of this question. As of this writing on February 8, it appears that John McCain, the war hero, has virtually sewed up the Republican nomination for the presidency. A female commentator this morning, based here in the East, said that he only had to worry about “that hick” from Arkansas. She should have remembered that Arkansas has produced some memorable scholars such as William Fulbright and we should not overlook Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar, who went on to serve two terms as President of this country.

It would appear to me, a non-Republican, that the party of the elephant is in great shape. Their nominee is virtually in place some nine months before the November election. He proclaims loudly and effusively that he is a conservative. All signs point to the thought that the party has nine months to come together, to heal the fractures, and to go on to support the conservative candidate for the presidency. The anomaly is that John McCain, the so-called conservative candidate, is now being attacked from several quarters because there are those who contend that he is not conservative enough. This phenomenon is matched only in the Democratic Party, where there are black people who contend that Barack Obama is not black enough. But this essay is about the Republican Party and we will get to the Democrats sooner or later, before I quit writing essays.

John McCain endured five and a half years of torture by the North Vietnamese in their prison system after he was shot down during the war with Vietnam. It would seem that a war hero running for the presidency might be a shoo-in but that certainly is not the case. First there is Laura Ingraham, a right-wing radio commentator, who contends that McCain is not conservative enough for her and her listeners. Then we have Ann Coulter, who purports to be an author of some sort, but when she appears in interviews, her vitriol is unending. Madame Coulter is the most unlovable creature that I can imagine. Yet there was a gossip columnist who reported that she and her boyfriend had recently broken up. I am at a total loss to understand why any man would find her the least bit attractive.

From the male side of the attacks on John McCain, there is Rush Limbaugh. Rush appears three hours per day on a syndicated radio program, and while I am not a listener, I gather that he has more hatred for people who do not agree with him than any sane person could imagine. Limbaugh is beyond the farthest reaches of the lunatic right.

Finally there is James Dobson, a minister of the Nazarene Church. I happen to know a little about that church because as a child, my parents demanded that I attend their services. The Nazarene’s believe that every word in the Bible, whichever version you choose, is literally and absolutely true. Speaking for myself, I must observe that Christians who become allied with the Nazarene sect are bordering on becoming nutty as a fruitcake.

So there we have four people – Ingraham, Coulter, Limbaugh, and Dobson – all attacking John McCain on the ground that he is not conservative enough.

I am not a defender of John McCain and have no intention whatsoever of ever voting for him. But the anomaly is that until now, the Democratic candidates have said virtually nothing against John McCain. The attack has come almost exclusively from the right-wing nuts who have arrogated the right to speak for the entire Republican Party.

John McCain appeared before the convention of the CPAC organization this week. I assume CPAC stands for Conservative Political Action Conference. His speech was laced with apologies. As far as I am concerned, McCain has nothing to apologize for. None of his attackers have ever faced the threats in life that McCain has faced. Yet here he is apologizing to the CPAC convention. Another anomaly.

Finally, if the attacks coming from the Republican Party are not enough, I find today that McCain is being endorsed in a fashion by none other than George W. Bush. It seems to me that any candidate in 2008 would regard Bush’s endorsement as nothing less than an anathema. Can anyone imagine an independent voter saying that he would support McCain because George Bush recommended him? I can imagine that Howard Dean, the Democratic National Chairman, is giggling with great glee. It is not enough that McCain has suggested that we should stay in Iraq for 100 years but now he has the endorsement of the President who is presiding over the recession, or the depression, that has dampened the American economy.

Well, for an old-timer who has been around the block a time or two, it presents an anomaly. It is a case of too soon old, too late smart or a matter of growing older but no smarter.

Now that we have dealt with the political aspects of my anomaly, perhaps it is time to turn to the religious aspects of that question. My experience with religious organizations is that uniformly they contend that their religion is a force for peace. As far as this old observer is able to understand, there are no religions that endorse war as a fundamental principle. Most all contend that they are peaceful in nature.

Before accepting that premise, I must remember the Crusades that were aimed at turning the Moslems into Christians and the Inquisition in which the Jews were burned at the stake for their failure to accept the message of Jesus Christ. In sum and substance, I hear what the religionists have to say about their peaceful intentions, but my ¬-skepticism has yet to be satisfied.

If we take the current war in Iraq as an example, polls for the past two years have indicated that nearly 70% of American citizens wish for that war to be concluded and for the troops to be brought home. Yet the war goes on. The war is unsupported by the Christian nations of Western Europe and by the Hindus of India or the Buddhists who reside in oriental countries. When you scrape away all of the hash about radical Islamic fascist insurgents and fighting them over there to save fighting them here, it seems to me that the war is supported primarily by those citizens who reside in what we call the Bible Belt.

The anomaly here is that the more religious, particularly of the Protestant faith, the more there is support for the war. How can a religion that preaches peace support a war that is now into its seventh year with thousands dead and with our treasury being depleted at an alarming rate? This is nothing more than the Crusades and the Inquisition all over again. The Crusades and Inquisition made no sense then and now, 700 years later. The war in Iraq makes no sense either. Yet we have some of our politicians contending that only they stand in the way of a caliphate being carried out by those horrible radical Islamic Fascists.

In 1942, I joined the American Army as a volunteer because it was the right thing to do. In the year 2008, joining the American Army to stamp out the imaginary caliphate is clearly the wrong thing to do and will get those volunteers killed in the bargain.

Well as you can see, this old essayist is still wrestling with the anomalies both political and religious. I leave you now to sing a verse or two of “Onward, Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War.” That is a rousing hymn but it does nothing to resolve the anomalies that are boiling in my soul. Perhaps it would be better for Christians, Moslems, Jews, and heathens to sing “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.” At least it would make me feel better to hear that old spiritual.

February 8, 2008
Essay 291
Kevin’s commentary: There are many things upon which Pop and I agree. The abject worthlessness of Ann Coulter is perhaps the strongest of those. Despite never meeting her, I hate that woman in a way that – were it not for her – I would not even know that I was capable of hating.

I had forgotten about the 100 year Iraq thing. That was pretty dumb to say. It’s no 47%er comment though. If I were to advise the next Republican candidate, my rules for personal conduct would be simple:
1) You are always being recorded
2) Given rule 1, always always always think before you speak.

Ain’t gonna study war no more is here:

Lastly I would note that I think that being a war hero and running the country well have very little to do with one another. At best it can show a sense of discipline or whatnot, and can indicate the quality of a person’s character which is important but not as important (at least to me) as policy decisions.