Archive for the November 2008 Category


In ancient times when one king died or was deposed and there was a period before the new king was crowned, it was called an interregnum. Scholars have told me that this term comes from Latin sources. As I attempt to compose this modest essay today on November 25, the American public wants the interregnum to hurry to an end so that the people who drove us into this monumental ditch will be gone and a new administration with fresh faces will take its place.

As bad as things are at the moment, the burden of this essay is to say that it could be worse. To those whose life savings have gone up in smoke with the stock market, I suppose that there will be a challenge to my thought that maybe things could be worse. But as a survivor of the first Depression of 1929, I try to be philosophical about my lost fortune and will try to tell you that it is possible that things could be worse.

Barack Obama was elected on November 4, 2008. He will have to wait 77 days until he is sworn in on January 20, 2009. Contrast that with the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected early in November and was not sworn into office until March 4, 1933. In that case, there were 116 days that composed the interregnum. During that time, Herbert Hoover, intent upon enforcing the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, pursued moonlighters with fervor until he formally gave up the office. In the case at hand today, Mr. Bush seems anxious to get out of town and before he leaves, he wishes to impress upon all of us that government oversight of the markets and financial dealings is not the answer to all our problems. But it was in fact the absence of government oversight during the past administration that contributed heavily to the problem we find ourselves in at this moment. But soon Bush and his cronies will depart the scene, much later than I would have liked, and will in time be confined to the likes of Herbert Hoover and Millard Fillmore.

So at the outset we are confronted by an interregnum of 77 days instead of 116 days, which will tell you that things could have been worse. On that same theme, can you imagine what this crisis would have amounted to if it had occurred perhaps a year or more ago, when George Bush was in full flower? The Bush team is filled with ideologues who have no concept of how the markets operate. The ideologues are given to simplistic solutions, such as “stay the course” in the Iraq war which has resulted in further casualties.

The ideologues are obsessed with the idea of preventing same-sex marriages as well as the morning after pill. Their obsession with sex and religion does nothing to fix our economic problems. Contrast that with the team that Barack Obama has assembled which is short on ideologues but long on brains and logic. If we are going to fix this problem in our economy, it will come about through brain power, not through obsessions with sex and religion.

So there is one more reason that we should be thankful that the crisis is no worse than it is at the moment. I know that this doesn’t make things all right, but at least it goes to my point that things could have been somewhat worse.

Again as a philosopher, I tell myself that I had no job to lose as those in the financial community did in recent weeks and months. The unemployment rate among white collar workers must be staggering. I cannot help but try to think about where those men and women will turn to find new employment, realizing that thousands of their compatriots are looking for work as well. So I had no job to lose, which I suppose is a benefit in and of itself.

When jobs are lost, generally speaking, health care goes with them. If I had no job to lose, in my case health care is still reasonably well taken care of by Medicare insurance. I know that every increase in Social Security benefits is gobbled up by increases in Medicare premiums but be that as it may, it could have been somewhat worse had I lost medical care and my job as well.

Further on the theme of “things could be worse” is the thought that not having a job to lose means that my mortgage on this house is taken care of. As a matter of fact, I have lived in this house for forty years and the mortgage was retired a good many years ago. So I am not fearful that my loss of a job will lead to foreclosure on this house. That in and of itself is a large relief.

Finally, we come to the thought about educating children, particularly in college. As life has worked out for me, my children are beyond the age of fifty and both have been college educated. So that thought no longer troubles me, which makes it clear that, at least in my case, things could have been worse.

Well, there are four or five thoughts which pursue the burden of this essay, that things could have been worse. I fully realize that offering a philosophical thought that things could be worse does not restore your account at the broker’s office. The same is true in my case as well. But as a survivor of the first Depression, it is the duty of every ancient essayist to point out that there may be other considerations that might make one feel a bit better. But having said that, I am chewing my fingernails down to the white knuckles on my fingers in the hope that Treasury Secretary Paulson will soon get out of town, perhaps, in my hope, immediately. This morning Paulson was attempting to explain how his new stimulus package would work. This man is terribly confused and when he started talking the market was up 130 some points. Shortly after his message was delivered, the market was in minus territory by 60 points. How this man ever became the chairman of Goldman Sachs is a mystery to me, just as it is a mystery why George Bush picked him to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Perhaps the explanation for the Bush action was that he was an old crony who is a rich man. But when Paulson sets out to explain a situation to the financial community and to observers such as myself, his thoughts are thoroughly mangled.

But look at it this way. If we had 116 days to deal with Paulson and Bush during the interregnum, we would still have five days left in November, 31 days in December, 31 days in January, 28 days in February, and four days in March. Boys and girls, as bad as the news is, I am here to tell you that things could have been worse. In the parliamentary system of government, when an election takes place, the newly elected appointee assumes office the following day. I intend to devote whatever is left of my great fortune to promoting the parliamentary means of government as an effort to save the citizens of this great country from the interregnums that have taken place in recent years.

November 25, 2008
Essay 349
Kevin’s commentary: It’s always nice to learn new words. Interregnum is one that I was missing. Now, it’s worth noting that this essay is nominally about how things could be worse, but much of it is spent covering how things could be worse for Pop specifically. I remember having similar thoughts back in 2008, mainly along the lines of “gee, I’m glad I don’t have to look for a job for four years.”

Still, though, even if Pop and I skirted by largely unscathed, 2008 was ultimately not comparable to a 30’s-era depression for many people at all. It was bad, of course, but nowhere near that bad. Unless you were making unfortunate investment decisions, anyway.


Shortly after the results of the most recent presidential election were confirmed at 11 PM, our eldest grandson called me. Connor Shepherd is a 24-year-old grandson who lives and works in San Francisco. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2007, and spent the next year in Japan perfecting his use of the Japanese language. Connor called me to exclaim about the spontaneous celebrations that he had witnessed on television taking place after the election of Barack Obama. Connor asked me, as his grandfather, whether any such thing had taken place during my lifetime. I thought for a moment and then told Connor that the only comparable demonstration that I could remember took place on August 15, 1945. That was the day that the Japanese Empire surrendered to the United States and signified the end of World War II. For me, that was an emotional day, just as the election of Barack Obama was a happy occasion as well as an emotional one.

For the last eight years, the current administration has told the rest of the world that it is going to be our way or the highway. On more than one occasion, George Bush has enunciated the thought that if you are not with us, you must be against us. There was no room in the middle for neutrals. Your country was either on our side or it was our opposition.

Those eight years have been spent in alienating other countries. For friends and foes alike, the American government has stepped on their toes and poked fingers in their eyes. I believe it is fair to say that the Bush-Cheney operation was the epitome of arrogance. I have been watching elections since 1928. In that 80 year span, I believe that this is an occasion when the American electorate told the current administration that they had had enough and wanted the current occupants of the White House to leave as soon as possible.

But more than a simple rejection of George Bush and Richard Cheney, this election celebrated the triumph of intellectualism over the lack of ideas and know-nothingism of the Bush administration. For the first time since Bill Clinton won the presidency, the American electorate welcomed sophisticated education to the Presidency. In and of itself, this is a triumph to be noted and it marks our return to civilized society.

One further fact has to do with the color of Barack Obama’s skin. This is the first time that this signal honor has been bestowed upon a person with African roots. Prior to the election, one poll suggested that at least 17% of the American electorate intended to vote against Obama simply because of his race. Obviously, Obama had a difficult time overcoming this blind prejudice. But he did that in grand style and rolled up a victory that could be described as a landslide.

It seems appropriate to inject a personal note here. For all of my long life, I have been a liberal Democrat. I offer that as an objective assessment of my beliefs. For years I have chafed at and been outraged by the inequalities that people of Afro-American ancestry have endured. The triumph of a black man such as Obama is a sweet moment for all of us who identify ourselves as liberal Democrats.

Following the election of Barack Obama, a column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times contained a prayer that seems appropriate for this occasion. In 1959, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was addressing the Hawaiian legislature. Dr. King quoted this prayer by a preacher who had once been a slave. It goes like this:

“Lord, we ain’t what we want to be.
We ain’t what we ought to be.
We ain’t what we’re gonna be.
But thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

It seems to me that this former slave captured the moment. There is much to say for “Thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

Barack Obama’s victory has led to celebrations throughout the civilized world because they know that we are now going to rejoin them. The fact that this country can nominate a black man for the Presidency is a triumph without equal. For more than 400 years in this country, the people of African descent have been at the bottom of our social order. And as the Bible says, “The last shall now be first.” I am a non-believer in religious affairs, but to that thought I must say “Amen.”

Near the conclusion of my conversation with Connor Shepherd, I told him of the widely publicized photograph of the American sailor kissing a military nurse in the middle of Times Square in New York City when World War II ended. It revived my soul to relive those old moments. But the more I thought about what had happened in this election of Barack Obama, tears came to my eyes and at the conclusion of our discussion, Connor told me twice that he loved me. The tears caused my voice to falter and I was unable to tell Connor that he always enjoyed my love. In a case like this that happens once in a lifetime, it seems to me that crying is the manly thing to do. In my case, I had no choice but to do it.

In the preceding paragraphs, I have tried to tell you about the emotional celebrations that accompanied the surrender of Japan in the Second World War. The nation that used to be our enemy is now our ally. And of interest, our eldest grandson speaks the Japanese language and is peculiarly suited to understand the mindset of the Japanese people. Liberal Democrats are hopeful people. My hope is that before many more months pass, Barack Obama will turn many of our former enemies into allies as we have done in the case of Japan. I believe that he will do that.

Again a small personal note… When the surrender of the Japanese government was announced, I was at my home in St. Louis. At that point, I had completed 28 months of foreign military service and there were orders in my hands to report to a base in Greenwood, Mississippi. There were hundreds of bases like Greenwood that were preparing for the final assault on the Japanese homeland. Objective observers commented that in defending the homeland, the Japanese could inflict as many as one million casualties on American soldiers. I did not look forward to the assault on the Japanese homeland, but as a soldier I knew that I had no choice. But in the final analysis, it all ended well. I am grateful for that outcome, and I am also grateful for the fact my grandson speaks the Japanese language so well. Again, I express my hope that if we have turned Japan into our ally, there is hope for other enemies to become our friends as well. At least Barack Obama will not step on their toes and poke fingers into their eyes.

November 9, 2008
Essay 343
Kevin’s commentary: I was a Freshman in college that year. My whole dorm went out to Grant park to see him win. I feel nostalgic every time I think about it — the energy there was absolutely unreal. I actually remember talking to Connor later this night and he told me about what Pop said here. It’s kinda funny to be finally hearing it from the other side.

These six years have been by no means flawless. We’ve seen a lot of mistakes and a lot of spinelessness but at the end of the day this administration has never come close to being the perpetual trainwreck that characterized 2000-08.

On a personal note, this is for whatever reason one of the first essays in a long time to provide me with a true temporal anchor, probably because my memory of this particular event was so strong. Almost everything that has been published on this site up until this point was written AFTER I started my first year of college. I’m 23 now, but still occasionally have trouble acknowledging that Northwestern is more than a year behind me now — coming rapidly up on two. So I have this dissonance where about four hundred essays materialized between now and the Yesterday when I found myself in Grant park with half of Chicago, feeling absolutely electrified.


Our politicians, economists, and the people who bring us our news tell us that it is quite likely that the world is preparing to enter a second Depression. There are those of us who experienced the first Depression who will tell you that the American economy has been in a depressed stage for quite a while. But be that as it may, if we are going to enter another depressed era, it might be well to remember three drugs or prescriptions that prevailed during the original Depression in 1929.

As many of us were growing up, we were forced to sympathize with our parents who complained about their rheumatism. Rheumatism affects the joints and the muscles, and can reach painful stages. I suspect that the modern term for rheumatism is arthritis. Nonetheless, there was one treatment for rheumatism that was a favorite during the 1930s and 40s. That was Sloan’s Liniment. It was a bottled fluid that when rubbed on the affected joints or muscles would produce a warm sensation. Sloan’s Liniment had a strong odor. When it was used, the odor would last for quite some time. I suspect that if a young woman was courted by a man who used Sloan’s Liniment, she might have refused to go out with him, believing that he was in fact much older than he had claimed. It may be that Sloan’s Liniment was not of much use, but during the previous Depression many Americans including my father swore by it. It had a faint kerosene smell, but if it did the job, who is to complain?

There is a second medicine from the Depression era which was called Ungentine. For many years as I was growing up, it was fashionable for people to expose themselves to the sun’s rays and thus become more or less burned. The object was to achieve a brown color which, if everything went well, would follow the exposure to the sun. In many cases, however, the exposure to the sun merely caused sunburn, which could be quite painful. The initial reason for Ungentine to exist was to treat burns, including sunburns. On the other hand, Ungentine was also used to treat all kinds of burns and scrapes. It was a salve that came in a tube and, as I recall it, no medicine cabinet during the Depression of 1929 could have been without it. I used Ungentine for burns and one thing and another, and, as you can see, I have achieved a great age. I owe it all to Ungentine.

During the Great Depression, there was a laxative called Feenamint. It came in a box like chiclets and was primarily a sort of chewing gum. My recollection is that Feenamint did not last for many years but there are those who would tell you that it did its job quite well.

Well, there you have three over-the-counter products that were popular during the former Depression. There was Sloan’s Liniment, Ungentine, and Feenamint. In those days, the vast majority of Americans could not afford to get a prescription from a physician. And so they were left to rely upon products that were sold over the counter. And so it is that I intend to make my contribution to this period of economic depression by telling you of three products that helped us get through the previous Depression. With the economic woes that are now on the horizon, I suspect that we are going to need more than Sloan’s Liniment, Ungentine, and Feenamint. But nostalgia has its charms and anything that helps us survive the loss of our savings and the loss of jobs can’t be all bad.

November 16, 2008
Essay 347
Kevin’s commentary: Pop must have had medicine on the mind a lot in 2008, because this essay was finished just seven days after IODINE AND MERCUROCHROME. Seems like a company called Lee Pharmaceuticals sold (and continues to sell) the first two. Liniment is out of business for sure, though.  I wonder when Neosporin came into vogue — it certainly seems like the modern equivalent to much of this list.


Growing up during the Great Depression of 1929 preceded the advent of exotic medicines for all kinds of illnesses.  In every household, in the medicine cabinet of a Depression family was a bottle of iodine.  When iodine was administered to a cut anywhere on the body, you had a very stinging sensation.  But that was all we had to treat wounds of almost every kind and so for whatever ailed the human spirit, iodine was the answer.

A little later in the Depression came along a product known as mercurochrome.  When mercurochrome was administered to a cut, for example, there was no stinging sensation.  Like iodine, it was red in color and one could show off the wound, which was clearly marked by the stain of the medicine.  I have no medical credentials whatsoever, but I believe it is fair to say that mercurochrome was mostly a pacifier which pleased the patient but actually did not do much of anything.

Whether iodine, also red, was an effective medicine is open for medics at this point to argue about.  But it is also fair to say that the wound has been treated with iodine and the wounded person suffers the stings and arrows, he feels that the agony he is going through means that the healing process will soon start.

There was an occasion when I was nine or ten years old when the ragweed in the lot next to our house needed to be cut because the weeds were too high.  I had hay fever, which could only be solved by cutting the weeds down.  So I took a scythe out to work on the weeds.  As everyone knows, the blade on a scythe has to be sharpened periodically, which is done with a whetstone carried in the rear pocket.  When the blade becomes dull, the whetstone is taken from the rear pocket and the blade is then stroked from the butt end to the tip on one side, and then from the tip to the butt end on the other side.  During this process, unfortunately, I got a little too close to the blade and, with it being sharp, it nearly cut my finger off.  With the Depression going on, there was only one treatment and that was iodine.  It must have been effective, because my right forefinger shows the scars but the finger is still intact.  Mercurochrome would never have been so effective.

With the American economy again sinking into another depression, perhaps iodine and mercurochrome will make a comeback.  It is quite likely that Medicare will decline to pay for treatment with iodine and mercurochrome because those medicines existed long before the Medicare bill came into use.  I have no idea whether iodine and mercurochrome are still produced.  But with another depression looming, it might be well to keep them in mind.  If nothing else, it will save a trip to the emergency rooms which are now badly overcrowded.

This has been a small nostalgic trip to the days of the 1930s.  It may well be that iodine and mercurochrome were ineffective drugs but for those of us who grew up during the Depression, they were capable of giving peace of mind to those who were wounded.  For a wounded person, peace of mind is a valuable commodity.

November 9, 2008
Essay 345
Kevin’s commentary: I’m going to go ahead and surmise that Mercurochrome will not be making a comeback anytime soon, considering the FDA banned the substance in 1998. Shockingly, mercurochrome contains mercury, an element that people generally don’t like having in their bodies. Durn.

I’d also like the record to reflect that as a remedy to hay fever, “going into the middle of the thing you’re allergic to, and making a big ruckus with a scythe” seems a) miserable and b) like it would release all the pollen in the process anyway. Major points to Pop’s parents for coming up with a good way to get the weeds cut, though!

Or who knows, maybe it was effective? In Austin, it’s the cedar trees that always gave me trouble — maybe I should have just gone and cut down all the trees in a several-block radius.