Archive for the April 2008 Category


It is possible but unlikely that there are men and women around the world whose memory is so long that they can remember a time when the existence of zippers was completely unknown. Zippers today appear in a multiplicity of places. They are on our clothes as well as on some of our plastic bags that we put into the refrigerator. They are on our luggage, and there are some foods and medicines that come in what are now called “Ziplock®” bags. Indeed at this point zippers have become ubiquitous throughout Western society.

Needless to say, this was not always the case. Baby boomers and those citizens who are now approaching their sixties will deny that this was ever a zipperless society. To those whose memories are a bit shorter than mine, I suspect that they believe that zippers are timeless devices and were delivered by some celestial beings as part of our heritage. But that is not the case. My memory is that before the 1940s, zippers were unknown to Western civilization. If they existed during World War II, they would have been denied to the general public on the grounds that metal was used to construct zippers. If my experience is any criterion that might be relied upon, it is clear to me that zippers were unknown until near the end of the Second World War. During the roaring twenties and during the great American Depression of the 1930s, America and the rest of the world depended upon buttons. Buttons are not glamorous but in point of fact they get the job done. In clothing, they held things together and prevented public nudity which is a virtue in itself. Even fan dancers relied on buttons. Some sixty years later, during the 1990s, when editorials reminded Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, that he should “keep his zipper shut” would have proved incomprehensible to those of us who endured the tribulations of the twenties and thirties. In passing, it should be observed that in the cases of certain Governors of the great states of New York and New Jersey (Spitzer and McGreevey), perhaps the same advice should be applied.

During the period before the Second World War, buttons appeared everywhere on men’s clothing. There were buttons of course on shirts just as there were buttons also on men’s trousers. The most important part of men’s trousers is the fly. My recollection is that there must have been three or four buttons on men’s flies in addition to the top button which gathered the left and right parts of the pants together. It goes without saying that buttons had a time span before they would come off. At an early age I learned to replace the buttons on my clothing using a large needle and a thick thread called “Coats’s Number 9 Thread” which would guarantee that the buttons would stay around for a while.

In those bygone days, there were men who wore suspenders which were attached to buttons inside or outside the waistband of the trousers. In the front of the pants I believe there were four buttons, two on each side, for the use of suspenders, with one or two buttons at the back side of the trousers. When a man lost a button on his suspenders, it was a very mild embarrassment. Losing a button on the fly of men’s trousers or even two was a major embarrassment. Buttons would come off from ordinary wear and tear and certainly they would come off when the clothes were laundered or cleaned. Before appearing in public, every man would make certain that his buttons were in the proper state of mind. So you can appreciate that my skill with Coats’s number 9 thread and a thimble was well appreciated by the young gentlemen who wore my clothes and walked in my shoes.

As I have said, buttons were ubiquitous. Ed Dady, who served in the United States Navy during World War II, reported that on one of his early uniforms there were 13 buttons on the trousers. You may recall that in the beginning there were 13 states that constituted the United States of America. Whether those 13 buttons commemorated the original states or whether the difficulty in tending to so many buttons was intended to preserve the chastity of American sailors is not for this essay to contemplate. Sailor man Dady was a good man with the needle, as a needlepoint plaque that hangs on my wall will attest. Perhaps Ed Dady and Ed Carr should have stuck to their sewing instead of going to work for the Bell system. In my own case, after I joined the United States Army, which was a zipperless society until sometime after I left the service, I found that military laundries do not repair the buttons that are torn loose during the washing process. And so, in view of this situation, I kept a supply of buttons, Coats’s number 9 thread, a thimble, and a big needle on hand to repair the wounds inflicted on my clothes by the Army’s laundries.

At the end of 1944, I was very fortunate in being chosen as the Crew Chief to bring back the oldest C-47 (DC-3) in Europe to its maker in San Bernardino, California. This happened in Naples, Italy. The plane was flown from Naples southward into the large American-British base at Accra in what is now called Ghana. When I presented my travel orders to the Quartermaster there, they issued me a piece of luggage called the B-4 bag. This was a marvelous piece of luggage with zippers fore and aft as well as inside and outside. I retained this B-4 bag even after the war because it could carry suits and uniforms for days on end without mussing them.

At that point, I had been told that I would no longer be needed in the combat zone and that I could return to my original Air Transport Command unit in Accra, Ghana. On my return trip to Accra, I managed to squeeze eight bottles of Budweiser into the side pockets of the aforementioned bag, which made me very popular with my friends in Accra.

My research for this little essay included an inquiry into women’s dresses, about which I know very little. I consulted with a gentle lady, Hana Fischer Davis, who originally comes from Holomóc (phonetically Olomotz), Czechoslovakia. Hana reports that in the pre-war period that we have under discussion here, women’s dresses had no zippers. They relied entirely upon buttons. I tried to be as polite as possible when I inquired about dresses that had buttons down the back. Hana led me to believe that sometimes those buttons could be buttoned before the dress was donned but on other occasions, if it was impossible to reach the buttons, a friend – preferably a female friend – could do the honors.

Now before this essay is completed, it is important for your old essayist to state that he believes that zippers are a great boon to civilization throughout the world. I am fond of zippers but my fondness for zippers does not bar me from having a great liking for the existence of buttons. From time to time, zippers get off the track, which causes enormous consternation. But buttons are always there, and they present no great impediment when they fall off.

There is one further thought here having to do with the zippers on men’s trousers. When men’s trousers incorporated zippers, they included also on the waistband a button. The zipper could be pulled up and the button could be buttoned and the belt could be fastened and everything would be right with the world. In recent years, however, the top button has been replaced at the waistband by hooking devices. In many cases during the manufacturing process, the hooking device becomes squashed, making it nearly impossible to fasten the waistband. I suppose that trouser manufacturers are intent upon saving every fraction of a cent from eliminating buttons in favor of the hooking devices. But it appears that those devices will be with us and I suspect that we will have to live with them.

Now as I have said, I have no debate with the existence of zippers. On the other hand, I wish to point out that buttons have their merits as well. I suppose that if Bill Clinton were told to keep his buttons buttoned, it would not have the panache of the headline which told the former President about keeping his zipper locked up. But that is of small moment. I have a fondness for buttons and Coats’s number 9 thread. A man who thinks highly of buttons and Coats’s number 9 thread can’t be all wrong. I rejoice in the fact that in this essay I have come to the defense of buttons. That seems to me a holy and patriotic endeavor.

Finally, there is one other thought to be offered in defense of buttons. As far as I know, every man’s suit coat has four buttons on each sleeve, slightly above where the sleeve comes to an end. Curiously, there are no button holes to go with these buttons. Therefore, scholars such as myself must conclude that these buttons are sewn on the sleeve for the purpose of decoration and the enjoyment of the owner of the coat. These sleeve buttons, as useless as they are, may attest to the defense of buttons as a general proposition. If that is the case, then they are welcome to this space in the essay that is being presented to you on this occasion.

April 23, 2008
Essay 310
Kevin’s commentary: A little time on Google reveals that allegedly, men’s sleeves were fitted with buttons to prevent people from wiping their noses with them. In a more extreme take on a similar idea, another article alleged that Fredrick the Great of Prussia insisted upon the buttons to keep his soldiers looking prim on the battlefield, and preventing them from wiping gore and sweat off their faces with their sleeves. Apparently nobody in these scenarios would think to simply use the other side of the sleeve. Who knows.

In other news, sewing a button back onto a coat is about the only thing I can do with a needle and thread. When I was younger, I learned a stitch called the “whip stitch” which is a very basic way of fastening two things together, and which is used for precisely nothing because it looks terrible. But I bet I could still do that.


All things considered, my mother spoke less than perfect English. Her rural background often seeped through in her manner of speaking. While she may have made grammatical mistakes and mispronunciations, the burden of her message was always clear. If she were alive today, there is some doubt that she would read my essays. But perhaps she might. My essays would interfere with her reading the St. Louis Post Dispatch, a great newspaper in the decades before 1960, and her reading of her Bible. She was fond of reading the Bible and when she had a passage that she liked, she would underline it, using a fountain pen. Upon her death, her Bible had very few passages that had escaped the underlining of Lillie’s fountain pen. But if she were to read my essays, Lillie would say, “Boy, you have already given them a large dose of them random thoughts of yours. Now, are you going to give them another dose?” Sort of sheepishly, I would be obliged to respond to her question by saying that “Yes, I am.”


My first random thought has to do with a report that our Secretary of Defense, a Mr. Gates, is having trouble with the United States Air Force in carrying out his orders. As Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates is the superior of the Army Chief of Staff, the Naval command structure, the Marine Corps Commandant, the Coast Guard hierarchy, and the Air Force’s command structures, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is supposed to have unified the services. He is the boss of all of these people.

Today is April 25, 2008. This morning the powerful Mr. Gates lamented that he could not get the United States Air Force to do what needed to be done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Gates said this morning that there are many targets of opportunity in those two countries that needed to be bombed. He called them “targets of opportunity.” Mr. Gates seems quite certain that our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are being hampered by the Air Force’s intransigence. Perhaps those targets of opportunity have a big “T” on their roofs so that our precision bombers may have a better opportunity to hit them.

History will record that at one point in the life of Sergeant Ezra Carr, he had a hand in dropping bombs on enemy targets. Whether they were legitimate “targets of opportunity” was rarely discussed. In those days, that term was unknown to me. The point was to fly over the target, to drop the bombs, and then to fly away as quickly as possible. Warfare has made many advances since I had a hand in the armed forces.

These days there are drones that are unmanned that can fly over targets of opportunity, take television pictures of those targets and drop bombs on them. This would seem like great stuff to me in that there are no pilots and crewmen to lose. If a drone is shot down, all we have lost is a drone, not a pilot or crewmembers. But Mr. Gates has a lament that won’t go away.

According to the Secretary of Defense, who is none other than this Mr. Gates, the Air Force requires that full-fledged pilots must operate the drones. It takes about 18 months to turn out a full-fledged pilot in the Air Force. According to the Secretary of Defense, other services such as the Marine Corps, the Army, and the Navy use less-qualified people to operate the drones. This arrangement means that flyers can go fly their missions while less-qualified people can operate the drones.

I am at a loss to understand why it takes a fully-qualified pilot to operate a drone, as the Air Force requires. If a drone, for example, flies over an outdoor meeting being addressed by Osama Bin Laden using a lectern together with a slide projector, with an audience of say perhaps 1,500 Al Qaeda members, this would seem to be a legitimate target of opportunity. Obviously the drones carry bombs under their wings or in their bellies. It seems to me that a Private First Class could push the button in the Headquarters drone machine operation that would release the bombs, just as well as a Rhodes Scholar who holds a fully-qualified pilot’s license in the United States Air Force. But the Air Force adamantly refuses to operate the drone machines unless a fully qualified pilot is sitting at the drone machine control center. This refusal means that targets of opportunity go unbombed and Osama can complete his lecture to the terrorists unharmed.

As an old flyer of airplanes with bombs on them, I must wonder what in the world this dispute is about. But the Air Force demands that only fully-qualified pilots sit behind the drone machine while the other services say that it can be done with lower level employees. My guess is that a janitor could release the bombs just as well as a fully-qualified pilot in the United States Air Force. But that is not the way the Air Force sees it.

Mr. Gates is the former president of Texas A&M University. That school must have converted Mr. Gates into a gentleman with a desire to offend no one. If I were the boss of Mr. Gates, I would tell him to quit lamenting this intransigence to the media and to go down to the Air Force headquarters and to kick ass until his leg throbs. Ah, but you see, I am not much of a gentleman, particularly a college-educated gentleman. If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps in Iran are to be decided by such petty jealousies as this, we will still be at war when my great great grandchildren are born.

Speaking of targets of opportunity, shortly after our invasion of Afghanistan when we were hot in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, the estimable former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said that there were more targets of opportunity in Iraq than in Afghanistan. And so we turned our attention to a diversionary target. Now more than five years later, it seems that we are still pursuing what the generals call “targets of opportunity.”


So much for targets. Let us now turn to a term in warfare that only recently became settled in my mind. For the past year or two, the people at the Pentagon, particularly Rumsfeld and now Mr. Gates, have referred to the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war as “asymmetric engagements.” I had never really understood this new term, but I thought I was simply out of date because I had left the military services more than 65 years ago.

I know what symmetry is but “asymmetric” is a new term in that it means that there is no symmetry to the proposition at hand. Recently I learned from some chance encounters with people who report from the Pentagon that “asymmetric warfare” involves insurgencies. There are no soldiers with uniforms on firing bullets at each other, but rather people in the streets wearing t-shirts who lob grenades at our troops. That, my friends, is asymmetric warfare. I may not be the smartest person in the world, but even as an old soldier, it took me a year or more to determine that asymmetric warfare meant an operation against an insurgent force in the streets. I will have to get a lot smarter than that or my application to become a Fulbright Scholar will go down the drain.


To turn to another completely random thought, it baffles me beyond belief that our presidential candidates require spiritual advisors. In the beginning, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago made some remarks that are being used to abuse Barack Obama. I have heard Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s remarks in full context, and it seems to me that they are very much in keeping with the traditions of Afro-American preaching. The point is that if you attend an Episcopal church in a fashionable neighborhood in New York City, you will be addressed by a person with a string of degrees who will read his sermon and then sit down. The same may be said for other churches, such as the Presbyterians’ or the Congregationalists’. In those churches, there is no give and take between the preacher and the congregation.

On the other hand, there is a black Baptist preacher who is quite typical who preaches here in Summit, New Jersey. Upon beginning to speak, this preacher says that he wishes to have a dialogue with his congregation as opposed to a monologue. And so it is that this congregation shouts encouragement to the preacher. They say “amen” or “halleluiah” and when the preacher really gets after Satan, they might say, “Go get him!” But that is a different style of preaching than what staid church goers may be accustomed to. What Jeremiah Wright in Chicago was preaching was the traditional black style of spreading the gospel. But be that as it may, Reverend Wright was Barak Obama’s preacher, not his spiritual advisor. In this case, however, Obama has not been spared from being flayed fore and aft for the remarks of his preacher.


Now we turn to one of the candidates, named John McCain, who has at least two spiritual advisors. One of them is named Reverend Hagee, who calls the Catholic Church “a great whore.” I am not sure why Hagee uses this terminology, but he seems to have repeated it on more than one occasion. Hagee is the same figure who said that New Orleans was destroyed by Jesus because they were permitting homosexual parades in the Mardi Gras procession and perhaps they might even approve of homosexual marriages. I suspect that John McCain is kind of slow on the uptake in that he has not only not repudiated what Hagee has had to say, but he has accepted an endorsement from the Reverend Hagee.

And then there is the Reverend Rod Parsley. Reverend Parsley runs a mega-church in Ohio where, among other things, he has waged a battle against the “false religion of Islam.” Reverend Parsley says that this false religion must be destroyed, which I assume would take several millions of American soldiers to do. He also has expressed his violent opposition to gay rights as well as his opposition to the idea that this government should have a separation between church and state. I would say that Reverend Parsley is simply a man who is afflicted by “bonkerdom”. Put simply, he is nuts. But he has not only become a spiritual advisor to Mr. McCain but has also endorsed him as well.

To the best of my knowledge, Senator Clinton has not publicly named her spiritual advisor, if she has one. If she has no spiritual advisor, that may be a reason to vote for her.


Well, there you have my random thoughts on a Thursday afternoon in April, 2008. I suspect that before life is done, some more random thoughts may intrude upon my brain and, in accordance with the military code of justice, they will be reported in some of these essays. I hope that the dosage that my mother would have alluded to is within your limits to choke down. But in the final analysis, perhaps it is meritorious that at an advanced age such as mine any thoughts at all will invade my mind. For that, I am grateful. Thank you.

Shortly after the story appeared on the wires about the refusal of the Air Force to fly the missions involving the drones, there was a story from Albuquerque, New Mexico, about Amanda Montoya. One morning, Miss Montoya was watching a pornographic movie in the apartment that was rented by a good friend, who happened to be male. One way or another, Miss Montoya concluded that the actor in the pornographic film was, in fact, the boyfriend who was watching the movie with her. She did what any red-blooded American girl would do. She went to the kitchen and got a long-handled steel knife and stabbed her boyfriend in the face. The boyfriend, who was clad only in his underwear shorts, began to run and left the apartment and was running down the street with Miss Montoya in full pursuit. The cops came and not only charged her with attempted assault but she had also left her eight-month-old child in the apartment while she chased her boyfriend down the street. So she was charged with child abuse.

It seems to me that if the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates, had a bit more of the spirit that moved Miss Montoya, the Air Force would be a lot more willing to carry out his orders. But in the final analysis, Mr. Gates is a gentleman who watches few pornographic movies. Perhaps if he were to watch porno movies, it might give him the courage to make certain that the Air Force followed his instructions. But in the end, friends and foes alike are entitled to believe that military discipline in our armed services is not what it used to be.

April 24, 2008
Essay 311
Kevin’s commentary: Well, this completes the Random Thoughts trilogy of early 2008. It must have felt pretty good to empty his brain of all these thoughts bouncing around there. Unfortunately publishing this essay will probably serve to bring them back, though they are admittedly less pressing now.

Speaking of Asymmetric Engagements, I think drone strikes probably qualify there too. Sure, it’s not symmetric for a marine corps to be fighting a band of dudes who know the town and use guerrilla tactics. But it’s also not symmetric when one side is gambling with lives and the other is gambling with equipment. I’m all for controlled drone strikes but we have to be very very careful when and where we use them because they’re rapidly becoming one of the most hated symbols of the US abroad. Part of this problem, I thought, stemmed from inexperienced people controlling the drones and hitting the wrong targets. Turns out they’re all pilots — makes me glad that the janitor isn’t behind that joystick after all.


Perhaps I should stay out of my water closet because random thoughts often occur to me there. As the lawyers would say, in the instant case these thoughts include such diverse characters as George Steinbrenner and the Roman Catholic Pope who visited here recently. These are not monumentally important thoughts, but they will not go away until I deal with them. Let’s start with George Steinbrenner. For the last twenty or twenty-five years, George Steinbrenner has owned the New York Yankees baseball club. He acquired the funds to buy the Yankees from the family ship-building business in Cleveland. For all but the last two years, Steinbrenner has been a 500-horsepower boor. He abuses people and often fires them. One of his managers, Billy Martin, was fired and rehired at least four times.

Steinbrenner has two sons who until recently indicated no interest in the affairs of the New York Yankees. One son was involved in the Steinbrenner racing stables while the other said he had no interest in sports and pursued a career in business. Two years ago age and an undisclosed ailment afflicted George Steinbrenner and he has basically turned over the Yankee organization to his son, named Hank. In this case, the acorn did not fall far from the tree. Hank Steinbrenner is on his way to becoming a full-fledged boor, rivaling his father.

There are competent baseball people running the affairs of the Yankees. One of them is the General Manager, another is the Field Manager, and a third one is the Pitching Coach. From his lofty position as President of the Yankees, Hank Steinbrenner wishes to ignore the advice of competent baseball people and proceed with his intuition or gut feeling about a player. Press reports say that there is a relief pitcher named Joba Chamberlain who can throw the ball at a hundred miles an hour. Relief pitchers who can throw the ball in excess of 95 miles an hour exist, but they pitch only one or at most two innings on most days in the major league baseball games. But President Hank has concluded that Chamberlain, the relief pitcher, should be turned into a starting pitcher, presumably with the thought that he can throw his fast ball at 100 miles an hour throughout the nine-inning game. No person who knows anything about baseball will believe that a pitcher can throw in excess of 95 miles an hour for more than one or two innings per game. But Hank Steinbrenner has decreed that Chamberlain should be a starting pitcher. He has met resistance from his General Manager, his Field Manager, and the Pitching Coach. If Hank Steinbrenner is cut from the same mold as his father George, the solution will be to fire all of them. But at the moment things are at a standoff in the Yankee organization and we will have to wait to see whether Mr. Chamberlain does become a 100-mile-an-hour starting pitcher. My belief, for whatever it is worth, is that if he becomes a starting pitcher and throws his baseball at nearly 100 miles an hour, his arm will burn out and he will soon be unemployed by the New York Yankees. But that is the way it goes when you have a headstrong boor running a baseball club.

Now let us turn to a random thought having to do with the recent visit of the Roman Catholic Pope to this country. Upon his arrival in Washington, the Pope went to the rose garden of the White House where he was to be welcomed by the current president, George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush read his little speech, which emphasized his support for the “sanctity of life.” The phrase “sanctity of life” is a code word for opposing abortion. I suspect that the Pope agreed with the welcoming remarks so far.

But then an oxymoronic thought has to intrude. While George Bush was Governor of the great state of Texas, he presided over the execution of dozens or hundreds of prisoners. According to the testimony of the inestimable Alberto Gonzales, who was his personal attorney in Texas, he conferred with Bush for five to ten minutes before the execution orders were signed. If the Pope were paying attention at this point, he would have realized that executions violate his principles on the sanctity of life. Simply put, the Pope does not support the death sentence.

One case stands out in particular. For perhaps ten years, there was a woman named Karla Faye Tucker who was confined in the unit reserved for condemned prisoners in the Texas “correctional” system. While there, she became a Christian and preached to the other prisoners about salvation. It is clear that Miss Tucker provided comfort to those who were condemned until the executioner plied his trade. This penitentiary at Huntsville is called a correctional institution. I suspect that execution provides the “ultimate correction” to their conduct.

If there ever was a case that demanded compassion, it was the case of Karla Faye Tucker. But when Alberto Gonzales presented the case to Bush after her appeals had run out, Bush signed the order for her to be killed, which was done. While she was a Protestant, I am quite certain that the Pope would not have applauded her execution.

Beyond his record in Texas, there is a war going on in Iraq, where more than 4,000 of our soldiers have been slain. This is to say nothing about the perhaps 200,000 to 600,000 Iraqis who have lost their lives and four million who have been displaced. “Sanctity of life” does not appear to be an issue in Iraq as far as Bush is concerned.

The Pope has made it clear that he opposes armed conflict in nearly every case. Specifically, this Pope has condemned the war in Iraq. Yet, he was a guest and the matters of executing prisoners in Texas and the war in Iraq never arose to any public discussion. The Pope may have discussed these matters with Bush in private but there is no record of him having done so. Nevertheless the pope was our guest and he needed to be treated with decency. When Bush brought up the sanctity of life in his welcome, it was pandering of the first sort. But as an outside observer, I suppose it must be stated, “What the hell can you expect from George Bush?” At least he did not try to justify the invasion of Iraq to the Pope. Perhaps we should be grateful for such small favors.

There is a random thought that has troubled my brain for many years. It has to do with why the United States is not on the metric system. When I traveled abroad for so many years, people would refer to one town being so many kilometers from another town. When they would go to the grocery store, they would buy items having to do with grams and kilograms. We declared our independence from Great Britain in 1776 but we still use their ancient method of measurements. We still measure distances in miles rather than in meters, and our rulers have inches and feet and yards. To the rest of the world, this is incomprehensible.

Fareed Zacharia, the prominent editor and author, told us this past week that only the United States, Burma, and Liberia still avoid the use of the metric system. Can’t we do a little bit better than to find ourselves in the company of Burma and Liberia?

It does not take a Rhodes Scholar to understand the metric system. Quite to the contrary, it makes complete sense. What is difficult to comprehend is our system of measuring distances in inches, yards, and miles and our buying items that are weighed in pounds. Even the Brits have now begun to use the metric system, but we are almost alone in our desire to cling to the system that was given to us by King George III of Great Britain. And we still measure temperature using the Fahrenheit scale rather than the Centigrade scale. How backward can we be?

It is my belief that if a politician suggested support of the metric system, the American electorate would declare him to be a communist. The facts in this matter are that the metric system is a clearly superior system and that we declared our independence from Great Britain in 1776. I think it is high time that we caught up with other nations such as France, Italy, Japan, China, and the Congo Republic. And if anyone wishes to call me a communist for suggesting this change, that is quite all right, because during the Joe McCarthy era in the late 1940s, when I was the president of the local telephone union in St. Louis, there were “patriots” who suggested that I wore a red scarf when I went to bed at night.

Turning now to a random thought about baseball, it should be noted that in former years catchers were often given the nickname of “Gabby.” For example, there was Gabby Street, who once caught a baseball thrown off the top of the Washington Monument. But he failed on his first 14 tries. Gabby Street went on to manage the St. Louis Cardinals and won a world series in 1931 with that club. Later he was paired with Harry Caray in the announcing booth.

Another well-known character was Gabby Hartnett who caught for nearly 20 years with the Chicago Cubs and became their manager later on. In baseball terms, Gabby Hartnett was known as a “hard out.” In other words, it was very difficult to retire him.

The reason that catchers were sometimes called “Gabby” is that in previous years it was often up to the catcher to set the tone of the game. The catcher would urge his infielders to greater efforts and he would cajole the umpires to get a favorable ball and strike count. In many cases, managers would say, “Let’s have a little chatter out there,” meaning that the catcher should encourage his pitcher as well as his infielders.

Now there is one other aspect to this matter of gabbiness. When a young hitter appeared a bit apprehensive, the catcher would often find time to whisper in the batter’s ears that “This pitcher is a mean son of a bitch, and he might throw at your head.” Often intimidation of this sort would work, when you would find the batter backing up a little in the batter’s box. I suppose that in former years teams won by better fielding, better hitting and, in some cases, better intimidation.

It might be noted that I played a little bit of baseball in the semi-pro ranks and in the United States Army. But I never achieved proficiency in gabbiness. But I enjoyed playing baseball and it still fascinates me to this day. Listening to play-by-play games on the radio keeps me awake at night as I say to myself that I will listen to only one more inning. That is a fallacy because I wind up listening to the whole game. But baseball has changed and I doubt that there is much need for gabbiness. And if a catcher whispered to the batter that the pitcher was mean and might throw at his head, he might not be understood because of the influx of Latin and even Korean and Chinese players. But catching in a baseball game is an exercise in strategy as well as in athletic ability. My regret is that I did not have very much athletic ability. But the game still entrances me.

My final random thought in this particular essay has to do with an incident described earlier in Ezra’s Essays. But the thought continues to return to me and it seemed worth mentioning.

As many of you will remember, I was involved in dealing with foreign telephone companies around the world during the latter stages of my career with the Bell system. There was an occasion when I met with the Algerian telephone authorities in Algiers. All things considered, being received by an Arab country is not an occasion for small chitchat as would be the case when meeting with the English or the Irish.

In this case, when my partner and I sat down to talk to the Algerians, who numbered about five or six people, we noticed that they seemed to be waiting for an important person to enter the room. Shortly, a gentleman entered the room and was introduced around and from all appearances seemed either to be a high-ranking official from the Foreign Ministrey or to be the Foreign Minister himself.

Our meeting in Algiers took place a few days after the Iranians released our captives, who had been held in Teheran for 444 days. During their captivity, Jimmy Carter, our President, had sent a military force into Iran in the hope of rescuing the prisoners but the military force was turned back due to engine trouble and poor intelligence. As it finally turned out, the American prisoners were released through the good efforts of the Algerian diplomats. Emphasis was placed upon the thought that the Algerians and the Iranians were Muslims and the Algerians, in a mark of compassion, had secured the release of the American prisoners.

When the meeting started, the important visitor said that he could only remain a few minutes and I took that occasion to thank him on behalf of the American people for what the Algerians had done to release our prisoners. Without hesitation, this high-ranking Algerian official said to me, “It was our duty.” Other Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia had apparently been unsuccessful in getting the release of the American prisoners. But one way or another, the Algerians turned the trick. The Algerians did not dismiss my efforts to thank them. They replied simply, “It was our duty.” For nearly 30 years those four words have rattled around in my brain and it seemed appropriate to close this essay with that thought in mind.

These are my random thoughts for today, which were in many cases produced as I shaved and took care of other duties in what the English call the water closet. If my sieve-like brain produces some more random thoughts, I will try to record them before they go down the drain.

April 22, 2008
Essay 309
Kevin’s commentary: This is a follow-up essay to the other recent random thoughts piece. I guess this was just a very haphazard time for ol’ Pop — too much to think about.

With regard to Bush, he clearly thinks that the right to life stops the moment that a child comes into the world. I never really understood that either, but that’s his position. He even put mentally handicapped people to death, which is a special kind of despicable.


A good many years ago, Will Rogers, the noted American humorist, said of himself, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Judging by the time it has taken to nominate the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, it appears that Will Rogers probably had it right.

At this point, we are down to only two contenders for the nomination. Recently, one of the contenders said that her opponent’s speeches were “just words.” To people whose only currency is words, that statement cuts like a knife. Newspaper writers and readers are involved in the debate as to whether the stories they write and read are “just words.” The same may be said for authors of books. And of course, ancient essayists are not pleased by Mrs. Clinton’s dismissal of those who are wordsmiths. Wordsmiths such as myself are not angry with the New York Senator; they simply wish for this marathonic debate to come to a close. Before this issue is put to rest, those of us who write words and read them might offer a rejoinder to Mrs. Clinton’s remarks.

There are words of love and words of hate. There are words of hope and words of despair. There are words of happiness and words of tragedy. And there are some words that can inspire a nation. So at this point, this old essayist would like to offer a rejoinder to the remark that our expressions are meaningless and they amount to nothing more than “just words.”

In 1939, war was declared in Europe and by 1941, Adolf Hitler and the forces of his army had conquered much of Europe and had neutralized many of the other countries as well. Only the English Channel separated England from France and the rest of the continent that was controlled by Hitler. It was up to Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England, to inspire and to rally his nation. In one of his first addresses, Winston Churchill said, “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, sweat, and tears.” That phrase defined the seriousness of the problem and I would submit that they are not “just words.”

Remember that Great Britain stood alone from 1939 until December 7, 1941 when the United States entered the conflict. It was in this period of loneliness that Churchill said, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills and we will fight on the sea. We shall never surrender.” Those words from Winston Churchill inspired his country and its allies to continue the struggle. They were more than “just words.”

After the United States entered the war, Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation. I heard that broadcast. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” May I suggest that his statement was more than “just words”?

Some 25 years after the Roosevelt broadcast, one of his successors said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That of course was John Fitzgerald Kennedy and many found his words to be inspirational, not “just words.”

Then there are words of yearning and devotion. During the English occupation of Ireland, which lasted more than 900 years, finding employment by young Irishmen was often difficult. Many of them enlisted in the British army to find some kind of employment. A good many of them found themselves in the hottest battles of the British Army and many were maimed. One such soldier was named Johnny. When he returned from Ceylon and the battles there, his mother said to him, “Johnny, we hardly knew ye.” “Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, ye’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.” But after that regrettable assessment of Johnny, I suspect that the Irish mother would say, “Johnny, ye’ve been too long away.” So you see even a mother uses words. And Irish women construct those sentiments in the English language that may seem quaint to some, but charming and graceful to the rest of us. Johnny’s mother missed him and the words she used were words of yearning. So when a political candidate dismisses words in general, there are others who believe that words have meaning and often they are in communion with our deepest thoughts.

And then there are words that tend to cloak violent acts in more acceptable terms. Again for this example we turn to the Irish. There is a poem and song about a town near Lake Killarney called Aghadoe. The hero in that story is an outlaw pursued by the Redcoats of the British Army. In the end, the Irish outlaw was tracked to his hiding place and was shot to death. To those who believe that words are just words, the headlines would read, “Irish patriot shot to death.” But that is not the style of Irish poetry. Irish poets would phrase it much more gently by saying that “The bullets found his heart.” So you see that even in acts of violence, words can be found to soften the blow and to make it more poetic.

And then there are words of lament. Again we turn to an anonymous Irish poet, who wrote of the death of one of Ireland’s great leaders, Owen Roe O’Neill. The poem says:

“Sheep without a shepherd
When the snow blots out the sky,
Why did you have to leave us, Owen?
Why did you have to die?”

The Celts place their own construction on the English language as do we Americans. But in the end our language consists of words that no politician should dismiss.

The last two examples that I have to offer in defense of words and wordsmiths involve two disparate individuals who made their living by using words. One was a nun and the other was an atheist.

The nun was an elderly woman of the Catholic faith who appeared regularly on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Her name is Mother Angelica and she was entertaining to watch. Among other things, part of her attraction was that Mother Angelica tended to laugh at herself when she made a mistake. She preached the gospel as well as selling all kinds of religious jewelry and trinkets that are offered by that network. My recollection is that it was difficult to turn on EWTN without encountering Mother Angelica.

However, six or eight years ago Mother Angelica was struck down by a stroke, and she is now incapable of uttering a single intelligible word. She is spending the rest of her life in a home and is basically mute. She watches television and is interested in events of the day, but those who visit her cannot really report that they have had a conversation with her, but they say that she still has a great sense of humor. It is a matter of a monologue versus a dialogue when speaking to Mother Angelica. A stroke has robbed her of her ability to speak words. I suspect that Mother Angelica would be happy if she could speak some words, even if they were directed at a political candidate. When people are denied the use of words, it is a cruel arrangement.

Then there was Henry L. Mencken, the prolific author and editor. Over his lifetime, Mencken authored more than a hundred books that appeared in hardcover, was the editor of The Baltimore Sunpapers, and founded and directed the magazine American Mercury as well as another magazine, The Smart Set. Mencken’s life was built on words which some found hilarious and others found spiteful. But in the end, Mencken had an active brain that produced millions of words that meant something. Not long before his 70th birthday, Mencken suffered a stroke which denied him the right to put words on paper. In effect Mencken, like Mother Angelica, was robbed of his ability to use words. Apparently he could converse with people who visited him but he was unable to put those words on paper. There is no doubt that if Mencken were alive today, he would take great delight in following the American election primaries. I suspect that Mencken would take great umbrage at the thought that a political rivals’ expressions were “just words.” He would have understood that words convey meaning and promises. But Mencken is gone now and we are left with a candidate who dismisses her opponent’s speeches as “just words.”

I suspect that when you put the magnifying glass on what politicians have to say, it may be true that their statements are “just words.” Those of us who are ancient wordsmiths would hope that their words have meaning. Perhaps when the election is over, if it is ever over, we will find out about the relationship between words and their meaning.

Mother Angelica is of course a practicing Catholic while Henry Mencken was, at heart, an atheist, but words were their business and we are poorer because of the strokes that sentenced them to silence. But they were broadminded people who would find their inclusion in this essay to be a matter of great amusement.

Aside from his statement about the Democratic Party, Will Rogers also said, “I never met a man I did not like.” If Churchill, Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the others mentioned earlier in this essay do not inspire you, I hope you draw inspiration from the remarks of one of America’s favorite humorists, Will Rogers. I believe that Will Rogers might have said that if you pay attention you might learn something, which is a lot better than just dismissing another person’s thoughts as “just words.”

April 21, 2008
Essay 308
Kevin’s commentary: Wow, Pop really took this one to heart. I haven’t seen him present this impassioned of a defense of any particular thing in quite a while. That said, without looking back at the exact context of Clinton’s remarks (for I am a lazy, lazy man), it’s possible that her assault was not on the words themselves but was rather an attack on his ability to deliver his promises.

I think Hillary was faced with an opponent who was an excellent wordsmith but who had limited real world experience. Again without research, I recall that at the time, Obama had pretty much just been a community organizer and junior senator. Though he was effective in both of these roles, his 2008 campaign promised a whole bunch of things. So yes, she was indicting the quality of the speech or the power of his words, but she was not doing so because anything is inherently wrong or weak about the words themselves, rather that she lacked confidence in their author and his ability to realize the world that the words painted.

Which of course has so far turned out to be largely, but not totally, a fair accusation.

You can read more on Mother Angelica on two essays devoted largely to her: PURGATORY and A PAIR OF SABBATH THOUGHTS. Since I am not familiar with Ms. Angelica’s programming she is primarily useful to me as an example of what could have, but did not, happen to Pop. I’m more familiar with H. L. Mencken — the loss of his writing talents was a shame. Thankfully Pop’s remained and he was able to produce several hundred essays in spite of his stroke.


Those of you who have long memories may recall that there were a series of essays three or four years ago that were entitled “Random Thoughts While Shaving.” Now similar random thoughts continue to occupy my alleged mind. I had hoped that they would be transient in nature, but unless I record them, they will stay in my mind when I actually wish for them to become, as the Army says, “permanent party” elsewhere.

None of these thoughts have anything to do with any of the other thoughts that are recorded here. They are independent thoughts and stand on their own two feet. And so I offer you some random thoughts that have been occupying my brain for perhaps the last six months or a year.

This afternoon, April 15, the Roman Catholic Pope has arrived in the United States. I gather that he is going to offer a mass at the new Washington National Baseball Stadium in the capital of this great country, to be followed by another mass at Yankee Stadium in New York. This shows that the Pope is conversant with American affairs in that his mass in Washington will be delivered in a National League stadium while the one in New York will be delivered in an American League stadium. There is great rivalry between the National and American Leagues, so it becomes clear that His Holiness wishes to offend no one, even Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball. It is doubtful that his mass at Yankee Stadium will allude to the designated hitter rule, which is the main bone of contention between the two leagues.

Perhaps the Pope is conversant with Walter Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers of all time who played in Washington for the Senators, and with Joe DiMaggio, the great center fielder for the New York Yankees. I intend to ask my wife to read the full transcript of the Pope’s remarks to see if the Pope notices that the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees have produced less than stellar records so far in the 2008 campaigns. But the Pope is from Bavaria, where soccer is the major interest, and he may think that Joe DiMaggio was only a former Mayor of New York.

The Pope has arrived at the same time that the Dalai Lama is conducting a series of conferences in the Pacific Northwest on compassion. Bishop Tutu of the Anglican Church is attending the sessions led by the Dalai Lama and may offer a South African thought or two. The best I can tell is that the Pope has taken no notice of the conferences led by the Dalai Lama. It seems to me, as an objective observer, that the Pope is missing an opportunity to meet with one of his brethren in the preaching business. I am fully aware that the Dalai Lama is not a practicing Catholic. Neither is Bishop Tutu. But I believe that the Pope is missing a glorious opportunity to get together to trade war stories. There is even the possibility that if the Pope plays his cards right, he may convert the Dalai Lama and Protestant Bishop Tutu to the Roman Catholic faith. I doubt that this will happen, but to an objective observer such as myself, it would seem worth a try.

Yesterday I spoke with my old and treasured friend, Howard Davis, who lives in Yorkville in New York. Howard Davis comes from a clan of preachers where the family business is spreading the gospel. Mr. Davis reports that from one of his windows he can see a Roman Catholic church called St. Joseph’s. If Howard Davis’s reports are accurate, the Pope will visit that church. A good many years ago that church was located in the heart of a German community. But as time has gone on, the Germans have moved away, intermarried with Protestants, and left Yorkville to millionaires such as Mr. Davis. At St. Joseph’s, the Pope may deliver his homily in his native German language. If that is the case, I suspect not many people in the congregation will understand what he has to say.

But there is a footnote to the Pope’s visit to St. Joseph’s Church in Yorkville. Mr. Davis reports that the block in front of that church has been repaved. If His Holiness is driven to St. Joseph’s in his Popemobile, he may be moved to tell the people in New York that the streets here are smoother than the Via Veneto in Rome. And to think that the street was paved at the behest of Mayor Bloomberg, a practicing Jew. I am here to tell you that ecumenism is in the air everywhere.

Now that we have delivered our thoughts on religion to start this sermon, let us move to another subject or two. Both have to do with times that are long since past.

Some of you who may recall American football as played in the 1930s or 1940s, will remember a maneuver called the drop kick. In those days, the football was much more round rather than the slim version that we find today. When it became apparent that professional football had a big future, efforts were taken to make it easier to pass the ball, which would result in higher scoring to please the fans. To accomplish this end, the football was reduced from a sort of oval shape to a long slender shape so that quarterbacks with small hands could get their fingers around it and throw spirals. This made for easier passing, which the owners sensed that the patrons wanted to see. But when the football was elongated to make it easier to pass, it became much more difficult to drop kick the ball.

For those of you who remember the early football games, drop kicks were accomplished by a single kicker standing in the backfield who dropped the ball on the ground and kicked it immediately after it bounced. If the ball went through the two goal posts, it was a field goal worth three points. At that time the goal posts were on the goal line, not ten yards back as they are today.

I have a personal interest in this in that as a child growing up with few companions around where I lived, I became fairly proficient in drop kicking. But the slimmer elongated ball made drop kicking an obsolete art. When dropped from the hand, the new balls would bounce erratically. So to place kick the football now requires two men to accomplish. One is to hold the ball while the other kicks it. This means that only nine men hold off the opposing team, whereas in the former days the drop kicker, who kicked alone, had ten men to guard against those who wished to block his kick.

As luck would have it, I have fairly large hands, which could produce a spiral when passing even with the older ball. But the fans must be served so we now have the elongated ball which makes drop kicking a lost art. I lament the passing of this great art. But I know that drop kicking will never return while I am alive, and so regrets and laments are in order.

While we are addressing things of the past, there is the matter of watch pockets which used to be placed in men’s trousers. As I was growing up, nearly every man carried a round watch which was placed either in the pocket of his vest or in the watch pocket in his trousers. The trouser watch pocket was located just below the belt line and men would pull their watches out using a fob. You may recall that in those days there was a ring around the mechanism that wound the watch. The fob was attached to that ring.

A fob exists for the sole purpose of withdrawing the watch from the pocket of the vest or the trousers. It has no other use. Some are very fancy and others are very plain, but in both cases, the fob hangs outside the pocket and exists for the purpose of pulling the watch from the pocket.

Generally speaking, my recollection is that the foreman on any job requiring manual labor would carry the watch in his watch pocket. The foreman would take out his watch and when it reached say eight o’clock he would tell the men to go to work and when it reached noon, he would tell them to knock off for lunch. At 4:30 or 5:00 PM, the foreman would pull the watch out of his watch pocket and announce that it was “quitting time.” In those days men who performed manual labor did not wear wrist watches. It would be incongruous for a man performing some sort of manual labor to have a wrist watch. He would rely almost entirely on his foreman to tell him when to go to work and when to quit.

As I was growing up, my father carried a watch which he had acquired during his work on the Illinois Central Railroad. There were many makes of watches but this one was called an “Illinois” Railroad watch. The watch was produced by a company entirely separate from the railroad. The watch had a sweep second hand which I thought was a mechanical marvel. My father also believed that any man who wore a wrist watch was less than a full-fledged man. In those days, gayness connoted happiness. My father never heard of the word gay being attached to a man with homosexual tendencies. He might have heard of the term queer being used in those circumstances but my father generally believed that a man wearing a wrist watch was something less than a real man.
He also believed that cigars were the only proper smoke and that anybody who “sucked cigarettes” was peculiar. With the prevalence of lung cancer now afflicting the smoking public, perhaps my old man had it right all along.

But with the coming of wrist watches, watch pockets on men’s trousers have tended to disappear. None of my trousers has a watch pocket. However I do have a pair of blue jeans which has a small pocket inside of the larger front pocket. That particular pocket is of no great use, and if a man had a watch with a fob on it, he would find it totally useless.

For many years during my working career I did not use a watch at all. I used watches only when I traveled or when I had a speech to make. But nonetheless, I regret that trouser makers no longer provide a watch pocket.

When I passed my 40th year with the Bell system, the Long Lines Department of AT&T presented me with a watch. I chose a round watch, somewhat similar to my father’s, in anticipation of that anniversary. But the truth is that men’s vests have largely gone out of style. And the further fact is that there are no watch pockets in men’s trousers. I have one suit with a vest but as time has gone on, I find that there is no place to wear it. So the watch with its fob and gold chain lie in my top dresser drawer, with no one to appreciate their talents.

I regret that there are no more watch pockets in men’s trousers, just as I regret the thought that drop kicking is a lost art. If I had the opportunity to address the Pope, I suspect that he would agree that my lamentations are well placed. But in the end it may be that His Holiness will tell me to simply get used to it.

Finally, we come to a random thought that if it talks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. Your old essayist has been around so long that he understands what an economic depression is. When people refer to our fortunes in this downward economy and call it a recession, it is nothing more than a euphemism. Our current situation has all of the dimensions of a full-fledged depression.

As in the 1930s, banks are failing and people are being laid off from their work. This morning one of the largest banks in this country, Wachovia, has announced such large losses that it may well go under. Last month, 80,000 jobs were lost, while in February there were 70,000 jobs lost. To complicate matters, there is the matter of inflation. Anyone who shops for groceries will tell you that their bill is somewhere between 30 and 40% greater than it was a year ago. There was a time when we made jokes about $4-a-gallon gasoline. Today the price of crude oil is at $117 per barrel. It may be that in the future, if someone is able to buy $4-a-gallon gasoline, it will be considered a bargain. If the price continues to rise, before long American consumers will be paying at least $5 per gallon.

Then we have the housing crisis with property being foreclosed and people being pushed out of their houses. This was a hallmark of the great American Depression that lasted from 1929 until 1942. We have an administration in Washington that does not seem to care much about people losing their houses. Their attitudes were summed up in the beginning by saying that if you signed mortgage papers for more than you could pay, it was your tough luck. The fact is that no one was overseeing the lenders and that they had eyes on rapacious profits.

Now we have one other aspect that did not exist in the 1930s. That is the disastrous war in Iraq. We are squirting away $12 billion per month, with no end in sight. Respectable elements in the financial community expect that we will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 trillion before this war is concluded, if it ever is concluded. Our expenditures on the war in Iraq have led directly to the failures in the American economy. The dollar is at record lows, which enables foreign investors to buy our manufacturing base. And this country, which used to produce so many miracles, cannot produce an automobile that will compete with the Japanese or the Koreans.

In the meantime we are told by this administration and by the prospective Republican nominee for president, Mr. McCain, that the answer is in lowering tax rates. By lowering tax rates, we are obliged to borrow money to support the Iraq war from, of all people, the Chinese. This is bad news from beginning to end.

I do not have a limitless number of days to hang around in this life of mine. I regret that the current situation has happened so late in my lifetime. But no amount of cheerleading can fix this situation. The people who got us into this situation ought to be run out of town and/or jailed.

In the final analysis, these are lamentable facts. To call this a “mere recession” is nothing more than a euphemism. As one who has lived through the long depression of the 1930s, may I assure you that it has all of the dimensions or, in the language of Donald Rumsfeld, the metrics of a full-fledged depression. When you next buy gasoline or groceries, you may tell the attendant that this is a mere recession and that prices will return to normal in a few days. That might provide everyone with an uproarious laugh.

Well, there you have four completely random thoughts. None relates to the others, as I have promised. But it is good to have them dictated and soon to know that they are in print. That will let the random thoughts know that I have taken them seriously and that they have been fully recognized.

I will retire now and listen to radio and television accounts of the Pope’s visit. I have great hopes that he will mention my name in one of his homilies at the baseball stadiums or perhaps even at St. Joseph’s Church in New York. But the Pope and I are both veterans of the Second World War and are advancing in age. I will know that if he overlooks my name in his preaching, it is just an old-age oversight. As we would say in American basketball, “no harm, no foul.”

April 15, 2008
Essay 306
Kevin’s commentary: I had no idea that footballs used to be round. What I do know, though, and what Pop may be pleased to discover, is that “drop kick” is still absolutely a term used in sports. It simply is used in MMA fighting or fake wrestling instead. To preform a drop kick now is to jump at an opponent, orient oneself sideways, and kick out both legs at them like a kangaroo. Of course when one executes this technique he will generally fall on the ground himself, being that he has no legs to support him at the conclusion of the jump. However if done right this delivers a massive amount of force to the opponent’s core, which is a good thing in MMA fighting.
I’d also like to point out that punting can still be done with one person, and does not require a ball holder, so that’s a plus. I think. I actually don’t completely know, but yeah. I’ve seen people kick a football by themselves before. It works alright.

Lastly, I hope the new Pope will consider coming back to visit — he seems like an all-around better dude than the last one. Too bad he’s eschewed the Popemobile, though. I always did want to see that thing.


As my career with the Bell System neared its end, AT&T decided that it could be served best by my spending the final seven or eight years being involved in Correspondent Relations. The term Correspondent Relations is an anachronism and an antiquated description of my duties. When the various telephone companies around the world began to become involved in transoceanic transmission, the first elements of that effort took the form of written communications. Later, the Correspondent Relations advanced to telegraph and finally were succeeded by international telephones. But the quaint and antiquated term Correspondent Relations remained. It meant merely that every government had a telephone company that was involved in international relations including, of course, the United States.

My job had to do with promoting good relations with our foreign correspondents, which involved my visiting them in their headquarters cities. My records and recollections suggest that in a period of a typical year, I spent a cumulative three and a half or four months outside of this country, visiting our correspondents.

The visiting and the negotiations with the foreign correspondents took place after 1977 and before I retired in the fall of 1984. For much of that time, the President of the United States was Ronald Reagan. Mr. Reagan was the official cheerleader for the American government. On many occasions, Mr. Reagan would proclaim that this country was the finest and the most beautiful creation by the celestial beings who look over such affairs. The reports of Reagan’s cheerleading found their way into foreign newspapers as well as into The International Herald Tribune, which was widely read, even by non-English speaking people. When Reagan would cheerlead while I was abroad, I found it necessary to cringe with every exaggeration. Simply put, I am an American who has paid his taxes, done his duty with the armed forces, and tried to be a good representative of the United States. When Reagan and similar politicians proclaimed that this country was the most beautiful creation that God ever made, particularly when I was abroad, I recoiled with embarrassment. The fact of the matter is that this country is full of blemishes and we are not necessarily the greatest nation to have ever seen the light of day.

In the current presidential contest in 2008, the politicians are at it again. Specifically, John McCain claims to be a direct descendant of Ronald Reagan politically. Today this country has more blemishes on it than when I traveled abroad about 30 years ago, so I am sure that if I were to travel abroad today, I would be forced to make explanations of the remarks of our politicians.

Parenthetically, I might remind myself that there is very little likelihood that I will travel abroad these days because of the weakness of the American dollar. The hotel rooms that I used to rent for perhaps $100 to $150 per day are now in the $500 range. The meals that I used to put on my expense voucher would now be so expensive that I would blush with embarrassment. So I suppose I will stay at home, conserve what is left of my deflated American dollars, and laugh at the politicians’ excesses.

When our politicians contend that the creators of the universe have blessed us excessively, there are those abroad who will say, “How come you do not have universal health care?” In nearly every civilized country in the western world, universal health care is available. It may take a long time for that universal health care to treat patients with serious ailments or illnesses, but it is superior to the situation here in the United States where there is no such thing as universal health care. Our neighbors in Canada have universal health care. Unfortunately it stops at Canada’s southern borders. In this country with the downturn in the economy, many patients are forced to forego treatment. Until a universal health system applies in the United States, it would be difficult for us to proclaim that this country is a paragon of virtue.

Then there is the matter of education. As time has gone on, it is clear that everyone needs a college degree. But getting that degree is a costly proposition. Tuition and board at a good many private institutions now comes with a tab of $50,000 per year. Even the state schools have raised their tuition so much that people who are in a precarious financial situation find higher education unaffordable. Contrast that situation, for example, with Denmark and the Czech Republic, where the student may pursue studies up to the doctoral level basically without charge. When it comes to providing affordable college level studies, this country has very little to brag about.

Then there is the electoral situation. As some of my friends have politely pointed out to me, this is not much of a democracy in that the winner of the popular vote may be thwarted by the imposition of the Electoral College. In the year 2000, Al Gore received 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush, but the electoral system, which we call the Electoral College, made Bush the winner. Before Bush was named the winner, he had crucial help from a Republican member of the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia.

My polite friends abroad say that they do not understand the workings of the Electoral College. Neither do I. The facts are that, in the beginning, the slave-holding states held out before the American Constitution was adopted so that they could overcome the popular vote which would deny them the right to hold slaves. My recollection is that our Declaration of freedom was announced in 1776, but that the American Constitution did not occur until 12 or 13 years later. The delay had to do with the slave-holding states refusing to join the union unless they had a device such as the Electoral College.

In recent years, we have an Amendment to the Constitution that bars holding the presidency for more than two terms. This amendment was passed by a Republican Congress intent upon punishing the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt. So if we had a man who was capable of leading a country such as ours out of a morass of difficulties, and if he had served two terms as president, he must retire to the side lines after his second term and hope for the best.

There are other blemishes on our record. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was so fiercely opposed that the slave-holding states entered a civil war against those who wished to free the slaves. In the mid-1960s, Lyndon Johnson signed an act that was intended to provide voting rights for all of our citizens, regardless of color. Prior to that time, the states that constituted the old Confederacy were usually considered solidly Democratic. When Lyndon Johnson signed that act, he commented that this was the end of the Democratic Party in the old Confederacy. As you will notice, the states of Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and other states below the Mason-Dixon line are now solidly red or in other words solidly Republican.

What brought all of this debate so forcefully to mind that I felt a need to comment upon it was John McCain’s tendency to proclaim this country as being the greatest in God’s creation. I am fully aware that when a politician calls attention to our blemishes he will have a short career in politics. McCain is not alone. I am reasonably certain that the two Democratic contenders for the presidency will cheerlead as well. My point is very simple. We have a great country here and I am proud to be an American citizen. But there are other countries that have a right to claim greatness for themselves.

I have said earlier in this essay that most of my friends abroad were very polite when they pointed out the shortcomings in this country’s political system. There is one exception having to do with my great and good friends in Australia, such as Randy Paine and John Hampton. Those two men were Australian soldiers during the Second World War and our conversations were punctuated by soldierly talk. Soldierly talk is not always polite, but it makes a point, surely and efficiently. On one occasion, after an evening of great dining punctuated by a few drinks of whiskey, Randy and John offered the opinion that the United States is a great country but that, in some aspects, it is all fouled up. Sunday school superintendents read these essays so I found it necessary to clean up the remarks by Randy and John and say that from to time we were all fouled up. They used soldierly talk and told me on occasion that we were all f—-d up. Those two men were articulate gentlemen and when it came to such things as the Electoral College, I had to agree that we were fouled up.

Well, those are my thoughts today about cheerleading for this country. I am an American and I intend to live here if for no other reason than that our political system provides us with superior entertainment. But I sincerely wish that our politicians would suppress their desire to claim that we are the greatest. Ira Gershwin, may have said it best. One of the songs from the memorable Broadway play, Porgy and Bess, was called “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” a composition by his brother George, to which he supplied the lyrics. So when you hear a politician proclaim that we are the greatest of all time, please hum a few bars from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and say that “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

April 16, 2008
Essay 307
Kevin’s commentary: So I thought I’d publish this one with the Olympics starting up, since the title made me think it would be nationalist and cheery. Of course I was mistaken, which is probably for the best because that would have made for a boring essay. This one was much better.

Also I’m publishing this one a little late — it’s actually going up the night of the 7th. I didn’t get one posted yesterday because I was in transit to New Jersey of all places. I got to hang out at Pop’s residence all day and hear a couple stories that I hadn’t caught before.

Anyway, more on topic I think the US actually represents itself pretty well abroad. I’ve actually read a little bit about it and aside from the fact that we’re loud and fat we tend to be pretty polite and we’re good tippers. That is to say, generally Americans are well-liked abroad even if the country itself fucks up sometimes. I also thought the comments on healthcare were pretty funny considering what Obamacare is trying to do — maybe we can pull ourselves back to respectability one policy at a time.


This is not a political essay but rather it is a call for neurological help or even psychiatric help for Mr. McCain’s brain. Mr. McCain’s brain needs at least a mammogram before he sets off to encounter the Democratic presidential contender in an effort not to make a fool of himself. There is a bit of a story behind Mr. McCain’s thought processes and it starts in the year 2000 during the Republican primary season in an effort to gain the nomination that year.

The two main contenders for the Republican nomination for president in that year were George W. Bush and Senator John McCain. This was an unfair competition in that Karl Rove was assisting Bush, which made it a matter of one-and-a-half brains on the Bush side versus McCain’s one lonely brain on his behalf. In the New Hampshire primary, which occurs very early in the nominating process, the Rove/Bush team started the rumor that five years of captivity by the North Vietnamese had loosened the bolts in John McCain’s brain. According to his opponents,
Mr. McCain could not be trusted with the presidency because his thinking apparatus had been compromised or destroyed during his captivity. The voters in New Hampshire saw it otherwise. They voted for McCain and gave him an 18-point margin over George W. Bush.

The South Carolina primary followed the New Hampshire primary and the Rove/Bush team decided that it was time to play the big casino. They hit the jackpot when they started the rumor among the press corps that John McCain had fathered a black daughter out of wedlock. As most of you know, Mr. McCain had adopted a Bangladeshi child who had a dark complexion. John McCain was not guilty in any sense of a dalliance outside of his marriage. But in South Carolina, the race card worked, and McCain was defeated by George Bush. From that time on, Bush went on to become the nominee for the Republican party in the year 2000.

For many years the relationship between McCain and Bush was considerably cool and strained. In 2004, McCain campaigned for Bush and was even photographed embracing the Duke of Crawford. The relationship between Bush and McCain, even today, appears to be cool and strained. Nonetheless, in 2008, after the delegate count had reached the required number, Bush invited McCain to the White House and endorsed him. My belief is that John McCain will not often call on George Bush to attend his rallies. But McCain wants to succeed Bush and will do all he can to achieve that end.

When it became apparent that McCain would be the presidential nominee in 2008, there were prognostications by commentators all over television who would contend that Mr. McCain’s presidency would be a matter of “Bush lite.” But McCain’s performance since his endorsement by Bush seems to demonstrate that he has no intention of being “Bush lite.” In effect McCain intends to be “Bush heavy,” which would in effect provide nothing less than a third term for George W. Bush.

Of all things, McCain has pinned his presidential quest on continuing the misbegotten war in Iraq. The American public wants to end that war, not continue it. McCain seems to think that this is a sacred endeavor worthy of sacrificing American and Iraqi lives. So far, more than 4,000 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq, and there is the matter as well of more than 30,000 of our troops being wounded. The consequences for Iraqis have been disastrous. It is believed that as many as 100,000 have been killed and that four million other Iraqis have been displaced. In the sectarian fighting, they have been moved from their homes and a good many of them have fled the country to Syria and Jordan. Some 40,000 have even moved to Sweden.

Yet John McCain says that for a long time in Iraq, we were staring into “the abyss of failure” but now we have a hope of success to bless our war there. Mind you, in his speeches and in his questioning of General Petraeous, McCain used the word “success” as distinguished from victory. For a presidential contender to base his campaign on the war in Iraq might lead you to conclude that he needs much more than neurological help; he may need a brain transplant.

The war is now costing this country at least $12 billion per month and it is estimated that, before it is done, the United States will have to foot the bill for something in excess of $3 trillion dollars. Aside from the loss of lives, this is fiscal madness. Our misadventure in Iraq is coming close to destroying the American economy. The US dollar is now down there flirting with the value of a Guatemalan peso or an escudo. Because the Arabs control a good part of the oil supply that feeds the United States economy, they feel free to charge exorbitant prices. At the end of April, oil is selling for $117 a barrel. This ripples throughout the economy and together with the valuelessness of the American dollar, produces food prices, among other things, that are perhaps 25 to 35% greater than at this time last year. This reflects the cost of getting the food from the producer to the consumer. The price of diesel fuel that is used by American truckers is now more than $4.25 per gallon. Yet Mr. McCain says that we must pay any price to achieve “success” in Iraq.

The facts are that the American Army and Marine Corps are deeply troubled by the frequent assignments in that war-torn land. Many are on their fourth or fifth tour of duty there and as any soldier will tell you, he can’t go on dodging the bullets forever. Yet Mr. McCain would send those soldiers back for a sixth or seventh or eighth tour of duty because of the “success” that he sees at the end of the tunnel.

We have known for several years that graft and dishonesty are endemic in the political process in Iraq. There was an inspector of Iraqi descent who was interviewed on 60 Minutes recently. He has fled the country because of fear of his life. It now develops that al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, has issued a decree that prevents inspectors from examining the conduct of all of his ministers as well as of himself. In other words, graft and embezzlement will take place and if an inspector of any kind tries to call attention to it, his life will most likely be in danger. Yet this is what John McCain has tied his campaign to.

The American economy is in shambles. The American Army and Marine Corps are in pretty much the same shape. It will cost trillions of dollars to replace the equipment that has been destroyed and worn out in Iraq. Yet Mr. McCain says that we should stay a hundred years or more. In explaining the remark about the one hundred years or more duration of this conflict, Mr. McCain has said that we should stay a hundred years if no one is shooting at us. That is all well and good, but if we have established such peaceful relations where no one is shooting at our soldiers, may I ask, why in the world should we stay there one day, let alone 100 years?

The list of the failures of the Bush Administration government is nearly endless. But Mr. McCain suggests that we can go on poking our fingers in the eyes of our neighbors while spending enormous sums of money that have to be borrowed from, of all places, China. For John McCain to base a presidential campaign on asking the American people to support a disastrous war endlessly is a nutty proposition. Three quarters of the American people want the war ended and the troops brought home now.

Eight years ago when Karl Rove and George Bush contended that John McCain’s captivity had shaken his brain loose from its moorings, they may well have been prescient. In the year 2008 it might well be that a mere mammogram will not tell us what is wrong with McCain’s brain. Perhaps he could use ultrasound treatment or, if that fails, he might present himself at a hospital for wheel alignments. As an old aerial engineer, I would prescribe a complete overhaul of his engine with particular attention being paid toward the rings and pistons for abnormal wear.

Finally, we now learn that McCain finished fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. Perhaps at this late date, we are now finding out what the teachers at the Naval Academy knew many years ago. My own analysis is that if he continues to support the Iraqi war so vigorously, he does not have the smarts to be president of this country or any other country that comes to mind.

April 16, 2008
Essay 304
Kevin’s commentary: I’m forced to ask — why a mammogram? Is this a big “McCain is a boob” joke? Also, the “fight in Iraq until the end of time” platform is perhaps the craziest I’d ever heard. There was simply no rhyme or reason. Everyone else could see that it was time to leave.


I am well aware that there are those in the medical profession who will tell you that your old essayist has no expertise on the subject of conception. There was a time many years ago when I was involved in that process as a part of an experiment by the medicos at Washington University in St. Louis. But that was more than 55 years ago. For all of that great span of years, a thought has lurked in my brain which tells me that more conceptions occur on the Sabbaths than on other days of the week. There is no research to support my contention nor do we have any statistics of any sort that would tend to prove my case. I am simply asserting, with malice toward no one, that love-making takes place on the weekends, which often leads to conceptions. My faith in this proposition is absolute and unshakeable. I take solace in the thought that while I have no research or statistics to back my conclusion, no one else has any research or statistics pointing to the contrary. With that thought in mind, I will now proceed to advance my case.

There are those of us who will argue that the Sabbaths are the dullest days of the week. That is particularly true of the Christian Sabbath which occurs on Sunday. My memory tells me that only the Moslem Sabbaths on Friday are duller than the Christian Sabbaths on Sunday.

I am going to stick with the Christian Sabbath because I know a little bit more about it as distinguished from the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday or the Moslem Sabbath on Friday. On Sunday mornings, people in the western world arise a little later than usual and some may attend church services. Others may eat a leisurely breakfast, followed by perusal of the Sunday newspapers. The Sunday newspapers appear to be a formidable impediment to leisurely activities because of their size. But those newspapers can be dispatched fairly rapidly because they contain so much advertising as opposed to textual concerns. Once the Sunday newspapers are read and discussed, perhaps over a second cup of coffee at the breakfast table, the question arises, “What are we going to do for the rest of the day?”

Before the advent of $3.50 per gallon gasoline, riding around in an automobile was a favorite pastime for many people. But that pastime is uneconomical these days. Christian church services take place before noon on the Sabbath, which leaves the church goers asking, “What shall we do for the rest of the day?” Even the Christian clergy must search for the answer to that question.

During the baseball and football seasons, which start about April 1 and last through January of the following year, there are always baseball and football games to occupy the attention of men and women. But when the Super Bowl football game is played on the first Sunday of February, there is a vacuum that exists until April 1, when the baseball season begins to take over. If one is not a sports fan, the question about what we are going to do this Sunday afternoon will still exist. On the other hand, if one is an avid sports fan, he will be occupied until the great vacancy that occurs after the Super Bowl game is played.

If one were to check the statistics on births, he might well notice a spike in November and December which is of course nine months later than February and March. The younger Carr daughter was born on December 8th, which lends validity to my thesis.

My contention is that Sunday being as dull as it has always been, married people and those who are close friends will send the kids out to play and may well engage in amorous activities that lead to that spike in the birth rate. The Russians are having great difficulties with their birth rate, which is depleting the work force and the marriageable males and females in what used to be called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The Russians used to be atheists, but as far as I can tell, there are plenty of Christians and Moslems in the Soviet world. What needs to be done is obvious. It is to introduce the Carr concept of conceptions. Life in the Soviet Union is dull enough but if the activities of Russian citizens produce more births, it should be considered a patriotic duty. Ah, but the Soviet Union is an extreme example of dullness and even Sundays in the Christian world are not as dull as they are in Moscow. The only saving grace in Moscow is to attend the famous Moscow Circus that pleases everyone from children to people of my age.

Well, so you see, I have no expertise in conceptions but I have always been of the belief that a high percentage of conceptions take place on the Sabbaths. Again I take great comfort in the thought that there is no research and there are no statistics that will prove me wrong, because none exist. Until research is produced that alters my contention that dullness leads to love-making which leads to conceptions, I will cling to my belief, as the Irish say, “until my dying day.”

April 16, 2008
Essay 305
Kevin’s commentary: Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww