Archive for the October 2008 Category

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

When the calendar gives a reading of November 1, a sense of hopeless gloom settles over many Americans. In these days, that gloom also includes Cubans, Venezuelans, Canadians, Dominicans, and all of those who pursue the wonderful game of baseball. As a diagnostician of many years’ standing, I can tell you that the hopeless gloom that afflicts so many people of this earth is related to the final put out of the final game of the World Series. Those of us who are baseball junkies know that it will be five full months before another meaningful major league game is played. While baseball enjoys its winter snooze, we are left to endure the violence of the National Football League as well as the National Hockey League. In addition, there is the National Basketball League populated by seven-footers who could play catch well above my head. I get no sense of satisfaction from watching hefty men collide with each other as in football or hockey. Similarly, I take no satisfaction from the roughness that now pervades professional basketball. And so until the crack of the bat is heard again in the following spring, those of us who enjoy baseball games are left in a period of hopeless gloom.

In my case, I became hooked during the World Series of 1926 when I was four years old, when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees. This was a true David and Goliath match up. But the Cardinals prevailed, and did so with the heroics of people such as Jess Haines and Grover Cleveland Alexander. Haines threw his knuckle ball until the blood from his fingers prevented him from gripping the ball properly, at which point he was relieved by Mr. Alexander, who was allegedly recovering from a terrific hangover. Alexander had won the sixth game of the World Series and believed that he was entitled to a day off. But Rogers Hornsby, the Cardinal Manager, summoned him from the bullpen in the seventh inning to pitch to the slugger Tony Lazzeri, whom he struck out, and to hold the Cardinal lead through the eighth and ninth innings.

I still maintain my allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals, who are my home-town team. But in the meantime, I have rooted for the Kansas City Blues, a minor league team when I worked in Kansas City. Following that, I rooted for the Chicago Cubs, the New York Giants, the Washington Senators, and in later years the New York Metropolitans, known as the Mets. The teams that I have rooted for do not always make it to the World Series. Many of them do not even qualify for the playoffs, which is a relatively recent innovation. When one of my teams fails to make it to the World Series, I ordinarily root for the National League team because they play an unadulterated form of baseball. The adulterated form of baseball is played in the American League, where they have the designated hitter. The designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher. That is an abomination which demeans the wonderful game of baseball.

And so it is that for 82 years the period between November 1st and April 1st has been a period of hopeless gloominess. About the only thing that can be said for the way baseball is now constituted is that in the old days, when the final put out of the World Series took place on about October 10th and the new season did not start until April 5th, 6th, or 10th, is that the season of hopeless gloominess lasted a little bit longer. But I am here to assure you that as a child, a young man, and now as an old man, the period between November 1st and April 1st is an unpleasant one.

Baseball today is an international sport and I am having great trouble keeping the Latino names halfway straight. There are Martinezes, Ruizes, and Rodriguezes, as well as a host of other Latin names. For my money, that is good for the game because Latin players are able, in many cases, to practice all year round and are very skilled. I am happy that I am not a baseball announcer because I fear that I would have trouble keeping the Martinez’s separate from the Rodriguez’s.

Another point in the discussion of baseball is that, like so many other sports, it has been consumed by greed. Professional baseball at the major league level has sold out, clearly and obviously, to television interests. The games are played at times that will attract the largest television audience. That means that the games in the playoffs and the World Series are played at night, often in inclement weather up until the first of November. In the current World Series of 2008 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays, three of the games were played in Philadelphia starting at 8:30 PM with the most recent game starting in a howling wind and rain, with the temperature in the 40s. That is no way to play a baseball game. In former years, the games were played in the middle of the afternoon when there was natural sunlight and some degree of warmth from the sun. That of course is no longer the case. Greed has taken over and the games do not start until television is ready for them to proceed. This is a travesty.

And so it is that in the case of your old essayist, 82 years have been consumed in watching and listening to baseball broadcasts and enduring the off-season which is a period of hopeless gloom. It does not take a Rhodes Scholar to know that in the end there comes the eighth and ninth innings. In my own case, I hope to be around when the new season opens in the 2009 campaign, which for a fellow of my years is sort of an extra inning game. But it does not matter to me that, if I hold on, my life will be finished in extra innings. If I can hold on until the twelfth or thirteenth or even the fifteenth inning, that is fine with me. And so it is that the winter is filled with gloom but hope springs eternal and that rock and the hard place will again lead us to a new baseball season.

In the new season to come, I will be glued to my XM radio, a gift from my New York grandchildren, to follow the fortunes of the Mets, the Cardinals and from time to time, the Yankees. It is a delicious irony that as a child before television was invented, I listened to radio broadcasts of baseball games. Now when my life is in extra innings, I have returned again to listen to radio broadcasts. I must say that those who follow the games on television are missing a great deal because the radio broadcasters supply many more details than the TV announcers. In any event, I look forward to another baseball campaign because it is a matter of great joy to me.

E. E. CARR
October 28, 2008
Essay 341

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Kevin’s commentary: Pop’s baseball essays tend to be highly dramatic. They’re full of words like “abomination” and “travesty” and have titles like “SO ENDETH THE LONG NIGHT.” Basically what I mean to say is that they are excellent and you should check out more from the baseball tag.

Now I know Pop’s not really up to a whole lot of essay writing these days, but I do hope he’ll explain to me what makes the designated hitter so awful. Oh, and it makes me wonder — since having a designated hitter allows you to have a better pitcher, do American league teams win the world series more than the National league ones do? Whose rules do they play under, or does the American league have a designated hitter and the National league does not? I suppose the Internet could help me here but it’s late and Pop could probably give me a better answer than Wikipedia.

PROSE AND POETRY IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

During all the years of my long life, the English language has informed and entertained me endlessly. It must be a good language in that it has now become the lingua franca of the world. Perhaps one of the reasons for it becoming spoken so widely is that it is a living language. In this short essay, I will try to give you three new words or neologisms followed by a few pieces of English poetry that I have admired for several years.

Listening to the news broadcasts on television, there was a sad story about the damage done to the city of Houston by Hurricane Ike. Apparently George Bush decided to visit Houston, which he did not do in the case of Hurricane Katrina when it destroyed New Orleans. When the Commander-in-Chief and the Duke of Crawford reached Houston, a commentator said that as Mr. Bush alit from Air Force One he was “disemplaning.” It was not that he simply got off the airplane and walked down the steps; he was “disemplaning.” This leads to the question of whether or not Mr. Bush was ever “emplaned” as he started his journey to Houston. I know that it is alleged that Mr. Bush consumes no alcoholic beverages but there is a possibility that the stewards on Air Force One “decanted” a wine. In an earlier essay, I considered the thought that when wine is poured into the bottle at the winery, nobody calls it “encanting.”

Now along the same line, we have a situation involving the Iraq war. On many occasions the American troops there have invited journalists to spend weeks in their midst. This is called “embedding.” The question that arises in a perverted mind such as mine is whether or not journalists that are not invited are “unbedded” or “disembedded.”

A mind such as mine has always wondered how we got the term “embalm.” Are those who do not undergo that process “unembalmed” or “disimbalmed”?

And then there are two sports terms that broadcasters use that baseball purists such as myself find revolting. The first is “plated a run.” The simple fact is that a runner has scored a run. If the runner “plated a run,” are we to say that a man who singles to right field “tagged a single” in that direction? The rules of baseball are that each base must be touched; should that be called “touching” a single? I doubt it.

Finally there is the vulgar expression that when a batter hits a home run it is called “going yard.” There is absolutely nothing to recommend the use of this term. However sportscasters use it from time to time to spice up their broadcast. Those who avoid the use of “going yard” will have my eternal thanks.

Well, these are some examples as to how the English language has tended to grow. Some are commendable and others are lamentable. But as long as the English language grows, it may avoid the fate of the Swahili language which is now at death’s door.

There are my thoughts about the recent additions to the English language. You may use them as you wish, but if I find any of you saying “going yard” or “plating a run,” I will be concerned about your mental health.

Now we turn to poetry of recent vintage. It has been my contention for some time that the best poetry written in current days has to do with the lyrics of songs.

[Editor’s note: When I was dictating this essay some weeks ago, my tape recorder broke down at this critical juncture. The failure of the tape recorder was followed by the housing crisis, the run on banks, and the general prediction that we were in a tremendous recession. My thoughts on poetry in the English language were dictated but never recorded due to the malfunction of the machine. Unhappily, those thoughts have not returned to me and so I must proceed without them. Now that my tape recorder has been repaired, two or three other thoughts about the English language have entered my brain. The thought that the best poetry is now written by lyricists still obtains.]

For example, there is Phil Coulter’s song about an autistic child. The title of the song is “Scorn Not His Simplicity.” In that song, Coulter urges us to “love him all the more.” Coulter is an Irish song writer and lyricist. I cannot imagine a more tender thought than to say “Love him all the more” for an autistic child.

Leaving the subject of poetry, there are two or three other thoughts that have bothered me for a long time. One of them has to do with the American pronunciation of the word “been.” In England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, that word is pronounced as though it were spelled “bean.” In this country, we pronounce that word as though it were the nickname for a child named Benjamin. What baffles me is that we have no trouble in America pronouncing the word “seen” which should rhyme with the word “been.” I know that I will be accused of being an elitist snob, but my vote strongly goes to those who pronounce the word as it is written and my sentiments are totally with those who say that word is pronounced bean.

On the subject of pronunciation, it seems to me that two television networks on CNN and MSNBC have gone out of their way to hire female announcers who confuse the vowels “e” and “i.” For example, only this morning I heard an announcer on one of those two stations say that “women are one ‘ginder’” and that “candidates from the ‘sinet’ are running for the presidential nomination.” Laura Bush typically confuses the “i” for “e” format, which I suppose comes from her west Texas upbringing. But it grates on my delicate nerves to hear an English word pronounced so thoroughly in error. Today I heard a female announcer say that the “Dimocrat (Democratic) Convinchon was held in Dinver.” How preposterous can you get? Lady announcers, the word is “senate,”
s e n a t e, and your “gender,” g e n d e r, is female and should not cause you to mispronounce a small word such as that. Also, The Democratic Convention was held in a place called Denver, not in the location that you seemed to have invented. Two more mispronunciations are “advincher” for adventure, and “inergy” for energy.

On the subject of mispronunciation, I am appalled at George Bush continually pronouncing the word “nuclear” as nu-cu-lar, just as I am confused by those who pronounce the “can’t” as “caint.” George Bush is dumber than a bagful of doorknobs, so I can excuse him.

Finally, a word about the term “gay.” For reasons unknown to me, Irish poetry and the lyrics of songs are filled with words, always in this combination, “grand and gay.” Those words have no sexual orientation whatsoever. They are intended to reflect an occasion that is filled with joy. Unfortunately, the word “gay” has taken on a sexual connotation, which I deeply regret. I continue to love Irish music and poetry which tout “grand and gay” themes.

So now I come to the conclusion of this essay. None of what I have had to say will rival the writings of Henry Mencken or even William Safire. The English language has always fascinated me, and the thoughts that are contained herein are merely the recent inspirations on that grand and gay language. At my age, it is my hope to keep on being able to speak that language for some time to come. I suppose we are a fortunate people in that English is our native tongue. That may or may not be the case but in any event what we need now are some magic words that will undo the banking crisis, the housing crisis, and the melt-down of stock prices. If anyone can produce such a word or two, even if it is in Esperanto, he will have my gratitude forever.

E. E. CARR
October 20, 2008
Essay 340
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Kevin’s commentary: Bummer about the tape recorder. Thankfully for those who feel cheated, there are quite a bit more language-focused essays available here.

As far as the accent problem is concerned, perhaps these networks have simply made the mistake of Californians. Everyone out here tends to flatten each and every v0wel into the “eh” sound, which is similar to the “i” sound, and almost certainly as infuriating to listen to.

CANDIDATE EZRA’S FIRST DAY AS PRESIDENT OF THE US OF A

The last time I ran for an office of any kind was in January of 1950. In that case, I ran to be the president of Local 6350 of the Communications Workers of America, which was located in my home town of St. Louis. As it turned out, my candidacy was successful but my tour as president of that local lasted only 17 months, in view of the fact that AT&T offered me a management position in Kansas City in July of 1951. So I have some political experience but probably not enough to suit the likes of Sarah Palin, the Governor of the great state of Alaska.

If I were a successful candidate for election to the presidency of the United States of America, there are at least two things that I would do immediately after being sworn in. These actions would not wait for the ceremonial lunch nor could they be put off by walking from the Capitol back to the White House, as Jimmy Carter did when he was elected. These are urgent matters and they demand urgent attention.

As soon as the final words of the oath of office were administered, I would gather the chiefs of the armed services in a room and would instruct them that, from this time forward, they were to carry out the orders of a new President. There would be no more of this business of “We will do whatever the commanders in the field say we ought to do,” as Brother Bush has said for so long. The military leaders would be sat down and would be told what the political leaders intended to do. My first order to the assembled multitude of four-star generals and admirals would be to tell them that this country can no longer afford to fight two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They would be instructed on an urgent basis to get the United States disengaged from those two conflicts. The Iraqis would be told that they were now, largely, on their own and the surplus that they have gained from their oil sales, which resides in US banks, would probably be confiscated. In the case of Afghanistan, General Petraeus has made the proper moves in that he is now willing to negotiate with the leaders of the Taliban. The way out of these two wars is not through further armed conflict but through diplomacy. So the first order would be, “Gentlemen, you have 30 days to present me with a plan to disengage us from both conflicts and to bring the troops home.” The fact of the matter is that the United States can no longer afford to urinate away $10 billion to $12 billion per month in pursuit of these misadventures. The billions that we would save by withdrawing from these two conflicts would be used to put Americans back to work, most likely rebuilding our infrastructure. So order number one to the military chiefs is to get us the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan and to do it post haste.

Before the ceremonial luncheon after the swearing-in ceremony is completed, I would also announce to the world that the prison at Guantanamo would be closed by nightfall and that the prisoners there would be given trials in the court system of the United States. That court system recognizes the writ of habeas corpus and it would probably throw out many of the cases on the grounds that the people who populated Guantanamo were tortured. If that is the case, so be it.

As soon as the closing of Guantanamo could be announced, I would tell the world through the international press, who would be gathered on that inaugural day, that within 60 days or thereabouts the territory of Guantanamo would be returned to the Cuban people. When Ezra becomes President of the United States, the policy would be that there would be no occupation of anyone else’s territory as we have done in Cuba and as we are doing in Iraq.

My expectation is that the announcement of the return of Guantanamo to the Cubans would probably be met with worldwide huzzahs from our friends and from our enemies. Furthermore I would suspect that the list of our enemies would be greatly diminished by the announcement of the closing of the prison at Guantanamo and the return of the territory to the Cubans.

At the ceremonial post inaugural swearing-in, my economic advisors would be gathered and would be asked to get to work on the sad state of the American economy. If it takes a czar to get this job done, candidate Ezra would be more than willing to appoint just such a czar. We have given a collection of banks $25 billion each on the grounds that they would use it to grant credit to each other and to loan applicants. Instead these banks are using that money to acquire other banks and Secretary Paulson and the eminent George Bush are doing nothing about it. If the United States has a $25 billion interest in one of these banks or in several of them, I would expect that the United States would dictate the policy. This is no time for shrinking violets. This is a time for bold action and if heads need to be knocked together, my banking czar should perform that function.

Well, there you have my planned activities for the afternoon of the swearing-in ceremony as President of the United States. Unfortunately, I am not a candidate and will not be elected to that grand office. But my hopes and thoughts are for bold action to get us out of this torpor that we are in, flowing from the housing crisis, the banking crisis, and our very low standing in the view of the rest of the world.

I am fully aware that these days have not been pleasant ones for those of us who have invested our savings in the American stock market. However, there is one great ray of hope. Shortly after the Bush administration took office, the grand Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, told the world that “Deficits don’t matter.” The fact of the matter is that deficits do matter and, if they are unattended to, can result in financial chaos. It is that financial chaos that has consumed this country since August of this year and in reality for the last 12 months. I suspect that when historians write the history of this era, they will conclude that George Bush and Richard Cheney were probably the worst President and Vice President of this country in history.

But no matter how you cut it, we live in exciting times. In my own case, I grew up during the Depression of 1929, and it looks as though my departure will be marked by another depression. If that is the case, so be it, but I hope that we have learned that in fact deficits do matter and that we should pay for things as we go rather than pass them on to our grandchildren.

Well, that is the agenda for the first day in office for candidate Ezra. I hope that when the time for the evening meal arrives the world will think better of us and that the American people will discern a ray of hope in this very dismal situation.

Now, on the other hand, if I had continued to serve as President of Local 6350 in St. Louis, by this time I would have completed 58 years of service and would qualify for a pin to put in my lapel. But service to the union was not in the cards and I am left to fantasize about being the President of the United States. Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama will be sent copies of this essay in the hope that they will follow some of the prescriptions laid out herein.

E. E. CARR
October 29, 2008
Essay 342
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Kevin’s commentary: Why not go all the way? Screw the cabinet, let’s get a czar of education, of defense, etc. While we’re at it, who said we should stop with President? Dictator or bust!

Leaving Guantanamo open despite promises to close it has been one of the biggest disappointments to me of this current presidency. There were still over 150 people there as of December of last year. Most all of these have been deemed enemy combatants and denied due process rights. Not that the prison system in the US proper is that much better, but at the very least you will (eventually) get a trial here.