Archive for the September 2008 Category


I hope that my readers will not think less of me when I offer a few words of praise of sanity in the American relationship with those who practice the Muslim faith. During the month of September, pious adherents of that faith are celebrating the month-long holiday of Ramadan. Ramadan requires that the faithful consume no water or food from sunrise until sunset. Additionally, they are barred from having sexual intercourse during those daylight hours. It goes without saying that a debaucherer such as myself could never succeed as a pious believer in the faith of Islam. But Ramadan will be finished by September 30 and then we will have to resume figuring out how we will live with those who aspire to a life in Paradise.

In recent years, the U. S. relationship with Islamic countries has become frayed largely as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But more to the point is the thought expressed by some politicians that Americans have much to fear from those who believe in the Muslim faith.

Fear has been a centerpiece in the elections of 2000, 2004, 2006, and now in 2008. The central theme in this essay is the thought that those who practice the Muslim faith have one hell of a lot more to fear from the aggressions of the Americans than we have to fear from a Muslim takeover in this country.

If we start at the beginning, we will find that the prophet Mohammed was born in 571. One way or another he preached a faith that converted many to his line of reasoning. Today we find that there is belief in his philosophy among the Arab nations as well as many other nations and groups. It seems clear to an objective observer such as myself that when the Americans invaded Iraq, the Muslims considered it an attack on their faith. For years now, we have maintained a presence of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq and there is a promise by the Republican contender for the presidency that we will be there for dozens of more years.

In the meantime we are reminded endlessly by George Bush, Richard Cheney, and John McCain that we should all fear the “radical Islamic extremists” who are going to defeat our armies and do away with the American civilization. For a time Mr. Bush added the word Fascist at the end of the radical Islamic extremist charge, until he belatedly found out that the Fascist movement was established by none other than Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, who was a practicing Catholic. So now we are warned, mostly by John McCain, of the radical Islamic extremist challenge that threatens to bring America to its knees.

May I suggest that there are many other reasons for the Americans to be brought to their knees, such as the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush administration. Then there are the housing crisis, the failures in the banking industry, the stock market slide, and the thought that Mr. Bush’s successor, Mr. McCain, seems to be more interested in lipstick and pigs than he is in governing.

For many years, we enjoyed a peaceful existence with those who subscribe to the Muslim faith. During World War II, there were pictures of Franklin Roosevelt entertaining King Saud of Saudi Arabia on a battleship. During that era, oil cost between $5 and $10 per barrel. When I flew in combat in North Africa, I carried a letter from the American government, written in Arabic and English, which was designed to persuade local Arabs to take downed American flyers back to American hands rather than to turn them over to the Germans. I have never known of a report that suggests that downed American flyers were ever turned over to the Germans by local Arabs; they were usually returned to American hands. Our relations with the Muslims were friendly, even through the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency. The Clinton presidency had the same warm relations with the Islamic nations.

But now in the era of the radical Islamic extremist movement enunciated by Bush and McCain, we have oil in excess of $100 a barrel and we have made enemies throughout the Muslim world. A few of the Muslims are beheading our prisoners instead of returning them to friendly hands.

I suspect that I am as patriotic as any other American. It is quite true that I enjoyed the days when I could walk on the streets of Muslim cities without fear of being kidnapped or killed. That is probably no longer true. All of this has flowed from the thought that we have declared war on the Muslims by contending that a good number of them are radical Islamic extremists. The simple fact is that we can not go around the Muslim world and stick our fingers in their eyes and expect them to respect or love us. It has been my lot in life to enjoy the hospitality of Muslims living in Rabat in the west to Bahrain in the east. I have no intention of ever making a pilgrimage to Mecca. But I believe that fairness indicates that Muslims deserve our respect. If we attempt to recreate the Crusades of 1000 years ago, the Muslims will resist and will no longer be friendly to us. Perhaps when George Bush goes away, sanity may return once again in our relations with the Islamic nations. If John McCain succeeds George Bush, all bets are off. There will be prolonged warfare for the foreseeable future.

Again I hold that, as an objective observer and as an American as well, the Muslims have one hell of a lot more to fear from our aggression than we have to fear from their domination of the affairs of the great state of Texas for example. The sooner we leave Iraq, it is clear that our relations with the Muslims will improve. Our occupation there is self-defeating.

I hope that I have injected some sanity into this debate about radical Islamic extremism. As long as the current administration holds power, it is doubtful that sanity will prevail. But the celebration of Ramadan is supposed to redeem our souls. Perhaps with redemption we may also enjoy a degree of saner relations with the Muslims in the future.

September 9, 2008
Essay 337
Kevin’s commentary: People get riled up easily, and it’s much easier to generalize and hate than it is to learn and understand. This essay sends some mixed messages, though. I feel like not being categorically awful to people of a different faith isn’t important because of oil prices or because it makes us feel safe but rather solely because it’s the right thing to do.

Thank heaven McCain didn’t make it to the oval office.


-ROBERT BROWNING (7 May 1812 – 12 December 1889)

Those of you who have had the misfortune to hear me address several retirement banquets will know that the title of this essay is a lift from a poem by the English poet, Robert Browning. The first line is “Come grow old along with me / The last of life for which the first was made.” That quotation from Browning’s work has always seemed appropriate for those who are entering retirement and the so-called golden years. Poets are not much concerned with the realities of life, which is quite likely true in this quotation from Robert Browning. If we were to parse Browning’s words and measure them against two or three facts, they might take on a different outlook altogether.

Browning says, “…the last of life for which the first was made.” Those of us who have endured the earlier Depression of 1929 and the Second World War are clearly in “the last of life.” It doesn’t take a physician to recognize that the last of life is the period when ailments and illnesses plague all of us. I suspect that most people want to live as long as possible. That is understandable. But the unfortunate fact is that the longer we live, the more likely we are to be felled by an ailment or illness that we cannot handle at that time of life. But I am glad that Browning’s work lives on. It is good poetry and there is always the hope that those terrible illnesses will somehow elude us. That is the hope, not the reality.

When Ms. Chicka and I decided to be married, we asked the Mayor of Millburn, New Jersey to perform the ceremony. The Mayor was Frank Long. I wrote out the script for him to read from during the marriage ceremony, and one way or another Frank became confused and he failed to do Browning’s poem aptly. For that mistake, Frank Long, the former Mayor of Millburn, owes Robert Browning an apology.

Now if oldsters did not have the ailments that go with the last of life, there is now the plague of September 15, 2008. You will recall that on that day the gloomy news from Wall Street reached our ears. No less than the US Treasury Secretary and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernake, concluded that the entire financial structure of the United States was in grave danger. Fortunes were lost overnight and/or severely damaged. Whatever financial security that those in the last of life may have enjoyed was gravely threatened. Banks were threatened and a good many of them went out of business, as did some ancient investment houses. Several thousand people have lost and are losing their jobs in the financial industry.

In my own case, agony accompanied me nearly every step of the way last week. It is not that I have that much to lose, because I don’t have that sort of fortune salted away. But like most other people, I would like to keep what little I have while the last years take place.

The financial crisis of recent weeks has tended to drown out consideration of the war in Iraq that is going on endlessly. The United States is spending between $10 and $12 billion per month to prosecute that war. The plain fact is that regardless of whatever else happens in the Middle East, we simply cannot afford to underwrite this expensive misadventure that has been going on for nearly six years.

And so in the last of life, a good many of us are worrying about our financial condition, the war in Iraq, and the health of our nation and of ourselves. The health of ourselves in the last of life is something that we can do little about. But the financial crisis and the war in Iraq were avoidable and those who led us into such messes ought to be severely punished. But we all know that nothing will happen.

The gloom that pervades so many millions of Americans today as I dictate this essay on September 21 may tend to lift if we perceive that intelligent people are at work to provide a remedy. If I knew that Barney Frank, a Representative from Boston, Chris Dodd, the sane senator from Connecticut, and Robert Reuben, the former Treasury Secretary, were part of the process, I would be cheered and comforted. I put no stock in the power of prayer but if I could say a prayer that would keep George Bush and his neo-con cohorts out of the process, I would be on my knees in an instant.

When Robert Browning wrote his work about the last of life, the world was a lot simpler. In that era, life expectancy was somewhere around 50 years. But if Browning were alive today, I would be obliged to tell him that in the intervening years, life has not gotten any simpler.

This is a gloomy assessment of where we stand in the first week of this financial crisis. But if we give it enough time and if the right people go to work on it, I suspect that there may eventually be an ending that is
acceptable to the American people. Those of us who remember the 1929 Depression and World War II will be waiting. It may give us a reason to keep on hanging on for the day when we can again sing, “Happy days are here again.” On the other hand, if things do not go well, we may all be singing the Depression tune, “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

September 25, 2008
Essay 339
Kevin’s commentary: Well, six (!) years later and we’re starting to pull out of it. The wars are mostly over, and hopefully the U.S. doesn’t decide that it’s time to dive into the Ukraine…

I’ll admit that I don’t think I fully grasp the titular saying, in this one. Specifically the bit about “for which the first was made.” I’m reading the rest of the poem now though, and it seems like a relatively religious one. So maybe we’re talking about some type of divine making?


In July of 1951, I accepted a transfer from St. Louis to Kansas City.  I knew that Kansas City had hot weather in July and other summer months, but St. Louis was no bargain either.  One of my colleagues told me that in Kansas City during the summer, it gets “hotter than the hubs of Hell.”  Another colleague told me that in Kansas City, it “gets hotter than a ‘by-god.’”  I had already been to Kansas City on a few occasions and I knew about the weather there during the summer, but this was a promotion and I knew that the new job went with the territory.  If it was hotter than the hubs of Hell, so be it.

Now, more than 55 years later, I am still learning about what goes with the territory as it relates to my radio listening and political speeches.  Last Thursday night, I made a terrible mistake in that I listened to John McCain’s speech accepting the Republican nomination for President instead of continuing to listen to a baseball play-by-play of the New York Mets.  It was a blunder of the first order.  On one hand, McCain urged me to go fight somebody on 30 some odd occasions and then he took something like eight minutes or thereabouts to talk about being shot down and serving as a prisoner of war.  In that section of his speech where he urged us all to go fight somebody, he left me slightly confused.  Presumably the object of McCain’s unhappiness had to do with the way things are in Washington.  This came at the close of McCain’s remarks and was delivered by his yelling at the audience.  People who write speeches call the conclusion of such a speech the “peroration.”  I gather that McCain was angry with lobbyists.  I thought to myself that I could return to my former offices on K Street in Washington and look up a lobbyist and sock him in the jaw.  But McCain has so many lobbyists on his payroll that it might be one of his lobbyists that I socked.  So I sit here today urgently prepared to fight somebody in accordance with McCain’s wishes but I don’t know who my opponent might be.

Shortly before McCain reached his peroration, he spent perhaps seven or eight minutes talking about being shot down and being a prisoner of war.  That part of McCain’s speech seemed to me to cross the line.  For a man to cite the unpleasantness of being a prisoner of war to ask for your votes offends those of us who have also been shot down and who have served time as a POW.  Beyond all that, it is an oxymoronic thought that because a man is shot down, he deserves your vote to be President of the United States.  Those two things simply don’t compute.

The question before the house is whether McCain has the competence to carry out the office of the presidency of the United States, not whether he was shot down or served a term as a POW.  The fact that he was shot down is irrelevant as it pertains to the American presidency.

If you look at McCain’s career, you will find that his grandfather and his father were both admirals in the United States Navy.  When it became time for this John McCain to attend a college, he was given a free ride at the United States Naval Academy.  When such a person graduates from the academy, he is obliged to serve a term in the active forces of the United States Navy.  It simply goes with the territory.

Then John McCain learned to fly a fighter plane and he should have known what the price would be if he were shot down.  On his 23rd mission, McCain was indeed shot down and taken as a prisoner of war.  That is entirely usual because it goes with the territory.  We were at war with the Vietnamese and they had McCain fall right into their laps.  McCain had to know that when you bomb people and machine gun them, they will be angry with you.  When they shoot your plane down, they will take you prisoner.  It simply goes with the territory.

Al Goebel, a former colleague of mine, had a pungent thought on this sort of subject.  Goebel was a pompous fellow who had flown B-29 aircraft with the 20th Air Force in the Pacific.  On one occasion, Goebel had remarked that when you put on that uniform, it wasn’t just for parades or to impress the girls.  It meant that from time to time people were going to shoot at you and that they might kill you or take you prisoner.  It simply went with the territory.  On this occasion, Al Goebel was entirely right.  But I will tell you that during the 30 years that I knew him, there were few other things that we agreed on.

Four days after the McCain speech, I am still baffled as to why this man would lower himself to recite his experiences as a POW in the thought that it would translate into votes.  I will stipulate that McCain is a brave man and that he endured unspeakable torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese.  What I will not stipulate is that his experience in that respect qualifies him to be President of the United States.  Again, it just doesn’t go with the territory.

Some of you may remember Bob Dole, who was the long-time Republican senator from Kansas.  Near the end of the Second World War, Dole was injured by German gunfire and was forced to spend more than two years in Army hospitals attempting to recuperate.  This happened in the Po Valley of northern Italy.  The fact that Dole was a hero was never concealed from the American public but when Dole ran for president, he did not cite his suffering as a means of asking people to vote for him.  Dole is a retrogressive thinker and I have no use for his brand of politics.  During his presidential campaign, there were others who told his story but Dole never tried to milk tears from the electorate’s eyes because of pity for him.  Dole was in the infantry and took a terrible injury but he knew that this was a distinct possibility.  It simply went with the territory.  But apparently McCain does not share that view.

In the same Po Valley in northern Italy, the senior senator from Hawaii, Daniel K. Inouye, was injured and lost his left arm all the way up to the armpit.  On top of Inouye’s injury, he also suffered the discrimination against the Japanese during World War II.  There was an occasion when he went into a barber shop with only one arm and the barber refused to cut his hair.  The barber said, “We don’t cut no Jap hair here.”  Inouye served with a Japanese battalion that was assigned the toughest missions in Italy.  Now Inouye knew that he could be injured and that he would suffer discrimination when he returned home.  He also knew that it went with the territory.  Apparently, however, John McCain has really not learned that lesson.

I suppose I should know better than to hear a political speech when there is a ball game on the radio.  The fact that I have been interested in political matters in this country for 80 years or so is no real excuse.  I should have known that to listen to the blatherings of any politician would anger me but I did it anyway.  So I suppose that if you are going to listen to political speeches, there is a price to pay.  As we say, it simply goes with the territory.

And as for Kansas City, the summer out there was hotter than a by-god or also hotter than the hubs of Hell.

The political conventions are now finished, which means that political junkies such as myself may return to more noble pursuits such as listening to baseball broadcasts.  Happiness has to do with baseball, our national sport.  That happiness with baseball goes with the territory and is much to be preferred to listening to political speeches.


September 9, 2008
Essay 336
Kevin’s commentary: I’ve never heard of something being hotter than a by-god before. I’m struggling to even interpret what a by-god could possibly be. The closest I can get is maybe it was so hot, that the expression “By God, it’s hot!” is an understatement? Who the hell knows.

In other news, maybe Pop is reading McCain’s claims the wrong way. Instead of saying that being a POW doesn’t qualify you to be president, Pop should take the stance that since he was also a POW, you should have written him in on the ballot.


Let us suppose that Mrs. Sanjay Gupta is delivered of sextuplets by a Doctor Gandhi at the world-famous clinic he runs in the city of Peculiar, Missouri. All of the newborns are girls, which beats Mrs. Dionne by at least one baby. As soon as Dr. Gandhi has finished washing the children in the sacred waters of the Ganges River, he announces that, under the American Constitution, neither their Hindu religion nor their sex will ever prevent them from becoming president of this country or achieving any other high office. Dr. Gandhi always carries a copy of the American Constitution in his hospital scrubs. The famed obstetrician is absolutely right because the Constitution states in Article 6 that no religious test shall ever be applied to candidates for high office in this country. But beyond that, the famed obstetrician is misleading Mrs. Gupta and the little girls when he tells them that they can rely upon the American Constitution as they begin to enjoy life in the “show me” state.

The American Constitution was crafted largely by people such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Biographers have noted that Jefferson was not a religious person in any sense of the word and that Benjamin Franklin was basically an atheist. What they intended to accomplish in Article 6 was to distinguish Americans from British subjects who were required to give fealty to the Anglican faith, the official religion of the British Empire of which the reigning monarch is the titular head. But in the ensuing 232 years that this country has been in existence, the fact is that there is indeed a religious test for those who seek the presidency. And there are other tests such as gender and ethnicity. In November 2008, the American electorate will vote for the 44th president of this great country. In all of that time only one Catholic, for example, has ever succeeded to the presidency. In less than three years he was assassinated by a little runt with visions of grandeur. And so it was that for all of these years, with the exception of the short presidency of John Kennedy, the American presidency has gone to males of the Protestant faith. In the case of Mrs. Gupta, her children are the wrong gender as well as of the wrong faith, regardless of what our Constitution says.

The fact of the matter is that we do indeed demand a religious test imposed by the American electorate. It makes no difference whatsoever if the candidate is a genius who professes a non-Protestant faith, or no religion at all; he will be defeated. For example, we have never had a Jewish president. If Albert Einstein were to have run for the presidency, my guess is that he would have been roundly defeated simply because he was a Jew. His competence to run this country is of no consequence. The sole test is religion.

In the 2008 Republican primary, Mitt Romney, whose faith is that of a Mormon, ran for the presidency. The people in the Bible Belt contend that Mormonism is not a branch of Christian faith. They contend that it is a make-believe faith produced by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. And so, regardless of Mitt Romney’s qualifications to be president, he was defeated largely because he is not a male Protestant of acceptable faith.

We honor the bar on tests of religious faith only in the breach. Beyond the religious tests, there is the matter of gender. If a female candidate came along who was qualified on every count, there are members of the American electorate who would say that they could not imagine a female as Commander-in-Chief running our military services. And so the female would be defeated, regardless of her qualifications, simply because of her gender.

In the current contest between Barack Obama and John McCain, we are told that aside from racial tests there is a test for whiteness. In one survey recently concluded, there were 17% of those polled who said that they would not vote for a black candidate regardless of his qualifications. My guess is that that 17% could be as great as 25%. The fact of the matter is that Barack Obama is only half black. He has been thoroughly criticized because he is not black enough. On top of all that, the whispering campaign among Republican circles is that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. At the same instant that they are calling him a Muslim, they are also criticizing him for attending for 20 years a black Christian church run by Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Presumably, Obama has maintained his Muslim faith while he sits in the pews of the church listening to Christian theology. This just doesn’t compute.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is a man who qualifies as fully black and who strikes others as particularly meddlesome. Sharpton has run for president on at least one other occasion but his candidacy never got more than an inch off the ground before it was shot down. Reverend Al is a bright person but his sin in life is not having been born white. And so the American electorate rejects him forthwith.

My memory always goes back to the election of 1928, when Herbert Hoover defeated Al Smith. Al Smith was infinitely more qualified to run the United States than Herbert Hoover, an engineer from California. Under Hoover’s leadership, America descended into its Great Depression of 13 years. But Al Smith was never considered a legitimate contender because he embraced the Catholic faith, and everyone knows that all American Catholics take their orders straight from the Vatican.

To the best of my knowledge, the only candidate who refused to identify his religion was Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey. Bradley contended that his faith, even if it was a lack of faith, was his own business. Bill Bradley was an eminently qualified man who served in the American Senate and who had the good grace to be born in Crystal City, Missouri. But because Bradley failed to identify himself as a Christian, his candidacy went nowhere. As a result, we had the likes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and the two George Bushes. It makes no difference that Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar; he was not acceptable to the electorate for not identifying himself as a Christian.

All of that now brings me to those of us who are affiliated with no church whatsoever. Those of us who profess no affiliation with organized religion are often called infidels. But all of us rely upon the American Constitution which says that there shall be no religious test for any office in this great country. Because I am an American, it is assumed that I am a Christian, which will cause many Muslims to brand us as infidels. Even my mother suggested on more than one occasion that she would hate to be known as the person having an infidel son. But she assured me that she loved me just as much as she loved the rest of the family, some of whom were Bible thumpers. The sum and substance is that there is a Constitutional bar to imposing a religious test for high office.

There is no similar bar for imposing a gender or ethnicity test. But in fact the American electorate has imposed those tests just the same. I hope I live long enough for a female Jew to ascend to the presidency, as well as the candidate, male or female, who takes the Constitutional bar seriously and refuses to discuss religious qualifications with any interviewer. When a politician tells you that there is no bar on matters of religion, I hope you will recall the words of the famous lyricist, Ira Gershwin, who said, “It ain’t necessarily so.” The fact that there is a bar must be well known to every thinking member of the American electorate. And I suspect the daughters of Mrs. Gupta will find out about it soon enough.

PS: The title of this piece is an adaptation of the signs outside employment offices during the days of discrimination against the Irish, when they were told that they need not apply for an opening. It seemed appropriate for this essay, which has to do with no openings for large segments of our population.

September 1, 2008

Kevin’s commentary: a lot of states don’t even pretend to respect the first amendment. Shockingly the states who do so are almost unequivocally Southern, poor, and backwards.  For instance:

North Carolina:

Sec. 8. Disqualifications for office.
The following persons shall be disqualified for office:
First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.


No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.


Article 19 Section 1, titled “Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness,” states: “No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”

Disgusting. As a bonus, Texas puts its no-atheist clause as the 4th thing in our constitution. We just couldn’t wait any longer. So, so aggrevating. How these types of provisions still exist is beyond me. It’s already clear that (open) atheists aren’t getting elected any time soon — why even bother overtly shutting them out?



When the English language was developed from its Saxon roots, the original meaning of “bastard” had to do with the offspring of unmarried parents. The word bastard is sometimes considered an epithet and should never be hung on the offspring but should be reserved for the unthinking parents who produced that offspring. But in any case, bastard is a lovely noun that has endured for hundreds of years. In this essay I hope to give you a taster’s choice of four different kinds of bastards, which some of you may well recognize.

The taster’s selection has to do with stingy, cheating, mean and smiling bastards. When you have finished this course of tasting, I hope that your vocabulary will now include the rich noun of bastard.

In view of the political climate as we approach another presidential election, I have elected to forgo politicians because the general perception is that all of them are “lying” bastards. In my humble estimation, lying bastards constitute a large percentage of politicians. In deference to the election that will take place in a few weeks, I have elected to ignore the political lying bastards until the election results are in. I haven’t forgotten about politicians as lying bastards, but we will reserve that for another time.

The first tasting has to do with “stingy bastards.” In 1950 and 1951, it was my lot to spend a considerable amount of time in New York away from my St. Louis home. The work had to do with attending meetings of the executive board of the Long Lines Employees Federation union and with bargaining a contract between that organization and AT&T. Our lodgings in New York were always provided by the Piccadilly Hotel on 45th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue. The Piccadilly was in the heart of the theater district and its lobby bustled with scalpers, actors, stagehands, and hangers-on. The stage play “Guys and Dolls” could well have been set in the lobby of the Piccadilly Hotel. It is my recollection that the great stage play “South Pacific” was taking place in the neighborhood, and although it was a great success, my union friends and I were able to buy tickets from scalpers in the lobby of the hotel. I saw “South Pacific” on two occasions in New York and once more when the traveling company came to St. Louis.

The stage play “South Pacific” takes place on an imaginary island in the Pacific called Bali Hai and is set in the Second World War. In the play, elements of the American Navy are stationed on Bali Hai. A featured actor was Ezio Pinza, who had been a bass singing at the Metropolitan Opera. As Pinza aged, there were fewer performances at the Metropolitan Opera so his career tended to wane. When “South Pacific” came along, it was a magic moment because the leading male role seemed to have been invented for a person such as Mr. Pinza. His opposite number was Mary Martin, a lovely American woman who was widely known from her work in previous stage plays. Casting Pinza with Martin was an inspired choice and the play caused critics to issue rave reviews.

Somewhere down the line was an actress named Juanita Hall, a leather-lunged long-time veteran of American stage plays. In “South Pacific,” Juanita Hall played a role called Bloody Mary, who seemed to run a sort of “escort service” among the native Polynesian women there. Juanita was a very forceful character who had my love and devotion from her first syllable. There were occasions when American Naval personnel were entertained by her girls, and Bloody Mary thought her girls ought to be more amply rewarded. When an American sailor shortchanged one of her Polynesian girls, Bloody Mary would cry out loud that such a sailor was “a stingy bastard.” Those words caused the audience, generally, to cheer wildly.

At the time when “South Pacific” was first shown, profanity in the theater was subdued. But “South Pacific” captured the American idiom perfectly. Sailors who toy with call girls are not given to the speech of Sunday School children. Neither are soldiers. It was suggested that Bloody Mary had learned the term “stingy bastards” from the men who called on her girls. The line that Bloody Mary spoke about “stingy bastards” was delivered in such fashion that even the Archbishop of Canterbury would have laughed and approved. I suspect that the Archbishop may think that some of his parishioners are stingy bastards when it comes to their contributions to his collection plates. But the Archbishop says that he has no comment.

The music was by Richard Rodgers with the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. If there ever was a perfect blending of music and words, it is in the music and lyrics of “South Pacific.” That stage play has now been revived, more than 59 years after its opening, and is playing to a sold-out house in New York. I have been unable to see the revival of “South Pacific” and have only a compact disc of the new cast, but for all these years I have remembered Juanita Hall in her depiction of Bloody Mary. She ran a verbal knife through those who cheated her girls by calling them stingy bastards.

Now we turn to a second tasting, this one having to do with being cheated. The rule at AT&T in St. Louis and throughout the Bell System was that upon the first anniversary of being hired, the new employee would become a “permanent employee,” and would be entitled to a leave of absence if required. Don Meier and I had completed the requisite service but because the company found that we were going to enlist in the Army and, in Don’s case, the Marines, the company said that the rule had been rescinded and that no leave of absence would be granted. This was in the summer of 1942 and Don and I said “to hell with AT&T”; we were going to go. For more than two years, there were no communications of any kind from AT&T as Don fought his war in the Pacific and I attended to duties in North Africa and in Italy. Late in the summer of 1944, Congress passed a law that said that fellows in our situation must be granted leaves of absence and given full employment rights upon our return. With this, floodgates were opened and material of all kinds from AT&T began to appear. Don served with great distinction in the Marine Corps on Iwo Jima. He was killed in the battle there and never was able to take advantage of the right to return to AT&T. In my case, I did return to AT&T in St. Louis in November, 1945 and was given a desk in an office that was run by W.G. Nebe, who was my boss’s boss.

Bill Nebe sat in the back of the room with his desk placed before a large window. Nebe faced the window, and in this position, his back was toward all of the rest of the employees in that office. He had a reputation for orneriness and few people ever approached Mr. Nebe. In return, Mr. Nebe rarely spoke to any of the employees under him.

When I returned to work in November, 1945, there were no welcoming ceremonies of any kind. My old job had disintegrated and I had a desk but no duties to speak of. My immediate supervisor, John Baxter, rarely spoke to me and Mr. Nebe spoke not at all. And so it was that I was startled one day, after having returned for about four months, to raise my eyes and find that Bill Nebe was standing by my side and seemed to want to speak to me. He said something about a “recalculation” of my meager salary which had taken place during my long absence. AT&T had thousands of accountants and actuaries, but four months after my return there had been a “recalculation” of my salary, which was to be increased by the magnificent sum of about $4 per week. Significantly, the “recalculation” included no retroactivity. The returning veterans had the formula for computing these salaries and their conclusions differed greatly from those of the actuaries and accountants at AT&T. In point of fact, it became quite clear that AT&T was cheating the returning veterans.

On the other hand, however, there is one compensation in that for the first time Bill Nebe was required to deliver that message to such lowly serfs as myself. When I saw those figures, I concluded that “you, Mr. Nebe, are a cheating bastard.” I did not say those words to the Honorable Nebe, but rather I then joined the union where I could do something about such larceny.

Well, the tasters have now given you some idea of what stingy and cheating are like, so let us turn to meanness. For many years, the affairs of the 20,000 employees in the Long Lines Division of AT&T were directed by a man named Henry Killingsworth. Killingsworth was a small person in stature who had such proclivities as ordering the begging nun in the headquarters lobby to refrain from her work. In a Christmas letter, he wrote that from now on, “we are going to have to take the slack out of those trace chains.” This was a reference to planting cotton, where the mules that pulled the plow were thought to be working hard when there was no slack in the trace chains. So in essence, Mr. Killingsworth wrote in a Christmas letter that from now on, he expected the Long Lines employees to work as hard as his mules used to work.

Killingsworth has been dead now, I assume, for several years but even at this late date, some 24 years after I retired, I would say that Killingsworth was a mean, vindictive little bastard who did not have a place among honorable men.

So now our tasting has taken us from stingy to cheating to mean. At this point we turn to insurers. Insurers have never been known for their generosity to their customers. Quite the opposite, insurers find unknown clauses in their contracts, often to deny payment to their patrons. The sinking of the Mary Ellen Carter was one such case.

There is an Irish folk song called “The Mary Ellen Carter.” The Mary Ellen Carter was a fishing trawler that had the bad luck to strike a rock outside of its harbor and to sink. Because it was not sunk on the high seas, it appears that the insurers refused to pay a cent on the grounds that striking a rock near the home harbor was not covered. There was an effort to raise the Mary Ellen Carter, which is the subject of that song. One of the lines in that folk song is memorable. The line goes like this:

“For those to whom adversity has dealt the fatal blow,
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go.”

Presumably the smiling bastards are the insurance agents who refused to pay for the loss of the Mary Ellen Carter. Perhaps smiling bastards is a welcome relief from stingy, cheating, and mean bastards.

Well, boys and girls, there you have a small tasting of four kinds of bastards, ranging from stingy to smiling. It excludes those who take the last seat on the subway that you had your eye on as well as those who duck into a parking place just before you get there. They are a special kind of bastard.

Your old essayist would be greatly disappointed if in the future you regarded the word bastard as an epithet. It is a descriptive noun that only requires an adjective to go with it. If we are to keep the English language alive and vital, bastards should be a part of that effort. My final piece of advice is that if you have a chance to see the revival of “South Pacific,” please do me a favor and go see it. Juanita Hall, the lady who played Bloody Mary, is probably retired by this time but if you treat one of her girls with stinginess, you can be prepared to be called a “stingy bastard.” That, my friends, gives vitality to the English language.

September 17, 2008
Essay 337
Kevin’s commentary: Pop also likes to refer to the briefly-mentioned politicians as pissants.

Per usual, Killingsworth continues to sound like an asshole of the highest caliber.

In point of fact, I saw my very first musical last weekend. It was called “Book of Mormon.” I would imagine people today initially reacted to Book of Mormon in the same way that “South Pacific” shocked people with its language (but then pulled it off smoothly). Calling someone a stingy bastard is on stage is pretty intense, but for instance the lyrics “When God fucks you in the butt // Fuck God back right in his cunt” are just about as extreme as could possibly be permissible in the theater.