Archive for the 2004 Category


Sunday evenings were never meant to be enjoyable. People go to bed early after a weekend of eating drinking and other assorted activities. Monday mornings come soon enough.

During the summer months, ESPN has Sunday baseball at 8PM Eastern Time. That is often a life saver in a desert of non-entertainment. As a general rule, the announcers are Joe Morgan, the old Hall of Fame second baseman, and Jon Miller. Morgan is black and is pretty straight forward with his analysis. Jon Miller is a white fellow and has been around the announcing business for a long time.

These two men seem to like each other. Jon Miller is often playful, but that does not deter Joe Morgan from delivering the most trenchant baseball analysis on television or in the newspaper business, as well.

Morgan was a teammate of Pete Rose when the Cincinnati Reds led the National League for several years. He was never involved in any scandal whatsoever. Rose, on the other hand, has courted scandal with his long time gambling addiction. After 15 years, Rose finally admitted gambling on baseball. He claims that he never bet against the Reds. Simply put, this 75 year observer of major league baseball does not believe Rose. When Rose chose to admit he gambled on baseball, a cardinal sin against the game, he elected to include it in a book by a Pennsylvania publisher called Rodale Press, in which he and the publisher hope to make a lot of money.

But Joe Morgan has nothing to do with Rose and his gambling. Joe has made his living by telecasts since he retired from the game. My ball playing grandchildren have been told to listen to Joe Morgan. From him they will learn solid baseball. It is a pity that there are not more teams broadcasting baseball like Joe Morgan and Jon Miller.

But after a time, when two uninspired teams are playing in the games broadcast by the Morgan-Miller team, there is a need to look elsewhere for information and occasional entertainment. And it should be born in mind that the baseball season lasts only from April to October. That leaves an enormous void to fill during the Winter months.

As a general rule, books are the choice here. But from time to time, some of the charlatans on religious TV broadcasts on Sunday evenings need checking out. When you read what the charlatans have to say, it is my belief that you will agree with my assessments that they are frauds and fakers. This is entertainment, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with religion.

Let us start with a preacher who appears on Sunday evenings and maybe two other evenings during the week. There is no record of this fellow ever attending a seminary for formal religious training. His name is Womack. In recent years, he eschews using his regular given names because he calls himself Bishop Shammah Womack. In other words, as a Bishop, Womack started at the top.

His meeting place is in East Orange or a similar Newark suburban location. Womack never seems to refer to his place of worship as a church; he refers to himself. From what can be observed over several years of TV viewing, there is no choir and no prayers seem to be offered. His services consist of him haranguing his listeners about subjects that he knows very little about. Often, he will put an article on the lectern and will read from it. This past week, he read about the nature of man and his emotional side. He claims to understand all this information, but it is very doubtful that he has much of a clue about it.

Womack got his start from his father, Donald Womack, a run of the mill TV evangelist. He established the church Womack inherited when his father died a few years back from a heart attack. In his formative years, the current erstwhile Bishop was a morgue attendant in Newark. He put his foot in the door in a venture with his father into fruits, nuts and vegetables in a market near the church.

Young Womack announced the cure for nearly all diseases. He contended that heart trouble could be cured by eating pears because pears are shaped like the heart. Do you have a brain tumor? No problem. Eat walnut or pecan halves whose shape, according to young Womack, is exactly like the brain. Unfortunately, this inspirational market had a short life as the authorities cited lack of licensing. There is no record of how many cases of heart trouble or brain problems were alleviated by the ministrations of young Bishop Womack.

When his father died, young Womack became the leader of the congregation. Dissatisfaction with his given name, led him to adopt the name of Shammah. Apparently, he adopted a Biblical name of Jesse’s third son. Chronicles and Samuel of the Old Testament list at least four or five different spellings, but scholars agree that they are referring to Shammah, Jesse’s third son.

With his new name, Womack began to wear collars like priests wear. No one knows what they signified, but after a short time, plain old Shammah Womack became Bishop Shammah Womack. All this is done in a small black church in the suburbs of Newark. Bishops usually have other churches to look after. But it appears, the East Orange church, the only church in his diocese, will have to be it.

Bishop Womack has given up priestly collars for now, but he retains this new found given name and the Bishops title he awarded to himself. And he continues to harangue his listeners to get right with God. His saving grace, is that he does not seek contributions from his TV viewers. There would be no reluctance on my part to send him a few dollars for the entertainment he provides. He dresses in stylish clothing so any contribution might be used for extensions to his large wardrobe.

Further out in the suburbs, in Whippany, New Jersey, is the home of the Abundant Life Worship Center. The preacher doesn’t use his name on his telecasts as Bishop Womack does. His name is Joe Arminio and he is the main attraction on his Sunday evening broadcasts. It is not fair to include Pastor Arminio under the heading of charlatans where, my next example of charlatans, Mike Murdock, clearly belongs. It would be a pleasure to have Joe Arminio living next door to me.

Aside from my fascination with his four button suits, Joe Arminio keeps me interested because of his animations. For example, when he reads a scriptural reference to Jesus walking on water, Pastor Arminio wades around the pulpit as though he is walking on water. When he urges his followers to aspire to heaven, he uses an imaginary ladder. He spends a minute or two climbing this imaginary ladder. This past Sunday, he was a helicopter with his arms in motion around his head.

The theology of Pastor Arminio escapes me because my mind is pre-occupied by his animations. But my thought is he is a big hearted, Italian guy and if he lived next door, there would be some compulsion to see if my neighbor needed something.

Now we go to a TV preacher who calls Denton, Texas his base of operations. Denton is a town with 66,000 inhabitants, according to the most recent census figures. It is a town maybe 50 miles north of Fort Worth. No one has ever considered Denton or Fort Worth as media capitals in the United States.

The Reverend Mike Murdock who uses Denton as his home base claims to have published 1500 books and to have written 500 religious songs. Whether all the books and songs were published in Denton is not clear, but with this volume of material, Denton must be accorded some sort of prominence in publishing circles. Those 1500 books seem to include many pamphlets which Murdock calls books.

Murdock’s theme is promoting his “Wisdom Keys.” The books and the songs are all in keeping with his Wisdom Keys. He is willing to send you some of this philosophy providing those of us in the audience send him some cash. Listening to his Sunday night cable TV pitch, it is clear that he wants to hook his viewers with weekly contributions over an extended period of time. My memory tells me that one such proposition was for $20 per week over a 50 week period. The 50 week period was chosen because it had some religious significance. Well 20 bucks a week for 50 weeks is, in the end, one thousand dollars, no matter how you cut it. Clearly, it is better for Murdock to ask for $20 than for $1,000. The people snared in his schemes apparently do not figure these things out.

Now what is offered in exchange for your $1,000 gift is some of Murdock’s Wisdom Keys and the near guarantee that things will improve in your business and in your love life. Every week Murdock prints letters with no surnames or towns that tell how a contractor who had no money suddenly was awarded a million dollar construction contract after he was in the 50 Week Club. All of this great good fortune is ascribed to adopting Murdock’s Wisdom Keys. If money is sent to Murdock, good things will happen to you. Maybe not immediately, but some time soon.

There are so many schemes offered by Murdock that it is difficult to keep track of them. A week or so ago, Murdock announced some new books and pamphlets which discloses – for the first time ever – the 48 secrets of Jesus. Only Murdock knows the secrets of Jesus and he will be willing to tell you about them if you send him $20, plus sign up for a series of future disclosures, all at a cost to the ones who want to know the secrets. As always, his followers are promised great rewards for investing in Murdock’s schemes.

Murdock is a car enthusiast which he has made known to his viewers. The bigger the car, the more he likes it. His cars are all painted black on black. There is no way for the uninitiated to know what black on black amounts to. But Murdock claims that in his garage are three cars with this paint job. One is the largest model from BMW. Another one is a similar model from Mercedes with the third one being something like a Jaguar or a Rolls Royce. You will notice that none are of American manufacture.

Murdock claims that these black on black cars showed up unexpectedly at no cost to him from viewers who were blessed by good fortune after enrolling in one of the Wisdom Key schemes. Without being asked, these viewers bought cars costing in excess of $100,000 and gave them to Murdock due to the excessive blessings they had received from Murdock’s promotions.

It is my belief that if Murdock is telling the truth about the cars and his other good fortunes, he has a racket going that is somewhat better than stealing. Murdock has my admiration for his obvious rip-off schemes. As for his listeners who contribute to his success, one can only shake your head. It has been said that there is always a sucker for every such scheme to get rich. And now we see charlatans like Murdock using it to fleece their listeners all in the name of religion. Wringing hands is about all that can be done about Murdock’s propositions because it is clear that Texas authorities have no intention of intervening. So we wring our hands and cluck our tongues and the rip-offs continue.

Well, there are three thumbnail sketches of some Sunday night preachers. The Muslims go to mosque on Fridays and people of the Jewish faith attend synagogue on Saturdays, so they are unrepresented here. And as far as can be determined, neither faith appears on television broadcasts, so they are not being intentionally overlooked. The three preachers we have considered so far appear to be Protestant Christians. If they belong to a denomination on the protestant side of things, they have failed to make such designation known to this casual viewer.

But having dealt with the Protestant viewpoint, it appears, in the interest of fairness that Catholics be considered. To a large extent, Catholic broadcasters are in one group known as the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The Catholics present a wide set of personalities on EWTN, but not a single word has ever been uttered in the two years of the priestly scandals involving young children. No criticism is ever offered. Cardinal Law of Boston may lose his job, but there is no comment. There are now something like 800 complaints about the clergy in Los Angeles, but not a single word of comment. The Bishops meet to talk about things including charges of priestly misconduct, but EWTN has no comment whatsoever. And in the future, there seems to be no proposal of any analysis or comment. Members of the faith seem to be unguided in their reaction to charges of misconduct.

But EWTN presents some interesting personalities. One is Father Frank Pavone who runs a group he calls Priests for Life. When all the rhetoric is put aside, Pavone is rabid on the subject of abortion. He claims that his Priests for Life is a vast organization; but he seems to be the only priest who appears on his telecasts. Pavone often conducts an interview with a woman who is identified as an employee of Priests for Life. There is no indication of any other employee.

Interviewing this woman employee about her views on abortion is about as illuminating as interviewing a fireman on fires. Of course, he is against fires just as the woman employee is against abortion. On top of all that, she is being interviewed by her boss so it comes as no surprise that she opposes abortion.

Pavone went off the reservation at least once in talking about Purgatory. How Pavone came into this knowledge is beyond my powers of imagination. According to Pavone, apparently a newly dead person was sent to Purgatory. He ran across some people who had died many years before who were also in Purgatory. The newcomer was condemned by an attack from one of the long term residents of Purgatory saying, “You guys did not pray hard enough for me to get out of here.” Again, it is hard to say how Pavone came into this knowledge, but he is a TV priest on EWTN and perhaps that is enough for him to know these sorts of things. At least, he had my attention.

Another EWTN mainstay is Mother Angelica who had something to do with the establishment of the so called network. It is a so called network, because it only embraces one station. It is not like CBS or ESPN.

When Mother Angelica was active, she was all over the EWTN programming selling religious figurines or reciting the rosary with her nuns from Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. Fortunately, her sales pitches and her endless recitations of the rosary were recorded and are played again over and over on EWTN broadcasts. Mother Angelica suffered a debilitating stroke on Christmas Eve two years age, but she appears now with no explanation that this is a broadcast of an old tape. But at Christmas and other religious holidays, Mother Angelica shows up to hawk figurines and crosses and rosaries for sale, all taped of course.

Some months ago, Mother Angelica stopped her rehabilitation and speech therapy sessions saying she is content to live her life in whatever condition the Lord wills for her. She is missed because she lent spark and life to otherwise dull broadcasts.

With Mother Angelica out of commission, her place has been taken by Father Mitch Pacwa. Pacwa is a pleasant sort who is having trouble filling the void in programming left by Mother Angelica’s departure. For many of of his broadcasts, Pacwa uses a large book which must come from the writings of the Pope. Pacwa will read a sentence and then set off to explain it to his viewers. This is a monstrous book. In one broadcast, he only deals with six or eight sentences so it gives him a script for the next 100 years. In the meantime, Mother Angelica has recited the rosary so many times, that this old non-Catholic and nonbeliever can now recite it. “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, etc.” With that, it is time to go to Johnnette.

Johnnette has a last name. It is Benkovic, but she seems to favor her given name. It had been my impression that this approximately 50 year old lay person, who wears the latest fashions, was the consummate, uninvolved virgin, but then one of her interviewers caused her to say that she has a son of 26 years. It had always appeared to me that a man would be below her lofty thoughts. Whether she still has a husband or a lover is not for us to determine. Johnnette is the ultimate when it comes to Catholic decorum.

She runs an effort called “Living Life Abundantly.” Her book and pamphlets are hawked under the Living Life Abundantly label.

When one of her guests used the word “Hell” on two occasions, Johnnette said, “Oh, you mean the place down there,” pointing down to the floor. Her view of decorum would not permit her to utter the word “Hell” in any form. It is a pity that Johnnette never tried to spread her doctrine to Lenny Bruce.

Johnnette takes about four breaks in her hour long broadcast. Those breaks don’t go to waste as Johnnette appears on tape to sell her latest books and pamphlets. When a break occurs, there is applause, but there is no audience. Such fakery does her lofty image no good. When interviewing a guest, she never says tell us about what happened or tell us about your views. Tell us has been banned. In its place is “Share with us” your views or what happened.

On endless broadcasts, Johnnette who regards Evangelical Protestantism as a mortal danger, interviews a like minded person who writes a column or is involved in schools. In any case, there is extended discussion of the mortal danger of New Age Philosophy. No one has told me that Evangelical Protestants are into New Age thought, but Johnnette and one of her female friends think this is absolutely the case.

Johnnette and her cohort claim to know all about the New Age movement and they are here to warn that it is perilous. The philosophers of the New Age, according to these two women, are Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud. Here we are in the year 2004 worried over Jung and Freud who are long since dead and gone. Freud cashed in his chips in 1939. Jung followed in 1968.

Well, there is hope for the world. If you watch EWTN at 10PM on Monday evenings, there will be a chance to buy one or more of Johnnette’s inspirational books and pamphlets. Old Johnnette is issuing books and pamphlets about as fast as our author in Denton, Mike Murdock. Murdock has been divorced once and he owns these classy black cars. It is hoped that he will form a perfect union with the ultimate prissy cat of EWTN who refers to “hell” as that place down there.

There is one more EWTN character whom you ought to meet. He is Doctor Professor Scott Hahn of a Catholic college in Stuebenville, Ohio. Some of Hahn’s religious claims are largely outrageous. He often conducts an exchange with a person who may be on the staff at Stuebenville. In any case, this person is in charge of lobbing soft ball questions to Hahn who seems to have made a study of the Bible and its history his life’s work. On two occasions, Hahn had his wife as the third person at the table.

Not long ago the subject of living in an obedient Catholic marriage came up. With his wife there, he seemed to lecture on the superiority of men in a marriage. According to Hahn, God created MAN who was given dominion over all things on earth. Apparently, according to Hahn, the game began and ended with man.

Later, we don’t know how much later, this gentleman whom we assume was Adam, became lonely. Hahn says God put Adam to sleep on a Monday or Tuesday until he awoke on Sunday morning to find he had a playmate – now get this – a WO-MAN. Hahn says Adam assumed dominion over this WO-MAN just as he had enjoyed dominion over animals.

Hahn explained that God named the female a WO-MAN because she was constructed from a man. Hahn contends and instructs that WO-MAN embraces the name of her creator, man. Man gave her the title. From what Hahn said, the same relationship is destined to appear through out the ages, the WO-MAN takes her name from MAN.

Apparently, God spoke only English when he created Adam’s companion. Woman appears to embrace man as the second syllable only in English. In German it is MANN and FRAU. In French, it is HOMME and FEMME. In Italian, it is UOMO and DONNA. In Spanish, it is HOMBRE and MUJER. In Czech, it is PAN and ZENA. As we must deduce, God spoke only English. It is unknown how Hahn in his doctoral studies could have made such a discovery that God spoke only English.

There was one other case where Hahn got carried away in front of his wife. While his program on this interview segment is called, “First Came Love,” love has very little to do with his teachings. The love part is directed toward God or to the church. On this occasion, somehow or another, the subject of family planning and birth control came up and as usual, Hahn spouted off at length about it. Apparently in the early days of his marriage, Hahn used the Catholic manner of birth control which calls for complete abstinence during a woman’s fertile period. The name for this is “Rhythm.” Some observers have concluded that the Rhythm system works perfectly if one or both partners are sterile. Hahn has a houseful of kids, which may tell you a little bit about the Rhythm system.

With his wife sitting there and with the TV cameras rolling, Hahn says he and his wife have now adopted the practice in their intimate relations, a means that always provides for the transmission of life to occur. It must be assumed that no birth control system is used, not even the Rhythm system. He describes their current intimate sexual life as “thrilling beyond belief” because it is always open completely to the transmission of life. Hahn says his wife joins him in the “thrilling beyond belief” description. He spoke for her even though she was sitting at the table with him. She did not speak.

Well, perhaps we ought to mark that one down to man being given dominion over women, and animals as well. It is suspected that no woman who heard the “thrilling” episode would want to take part of such an adventure with Hahn. And what would Mother Angelica or Johnnette Benkovic say about this dalliance and the broadcast of intimate details being heard on EWTN? All that can be said by this old EWTN viewer is, don’t ever send your kid to Steubenville College to be educated.

At the beginning of this essay, it was said that some charlatans would appear to greet us. In Pat Robertson we have a consummate charlatan and a fraud to boot. Only Jerry Falwell exceeds him. Robertson runs the 700 Club on morning television and was involved in a gold mining scheme in Liberia in partnership with Charles Taylor, the ousted dictator of that rundown country.

Robertson made the news this past week, because he said that he had “heard from the Lord.” Bush will win the 2004 election in a “blowout” because “the Lord blessed Bush.” He went on to say, “It makes no difference what he does, good or bad. God picks him up because he is a man of prayer and God has blessed him.”

This will come as great news to the Democratic hopefuls wading in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire. Think of all the money they will save.

God may bless George Bush, but Robertson is still a charlatan and a fraud. Let us hope we are spared any more messages from God via Pat Robertson. If God has something to say about the 2004 election, he or she ought to communicate with each American voter individually. That, my friends, is the American way.

January 12, 2004


That’s it for the 2004 essays — all of them are now up on the site. Onto 2005!

For the record, this is the 659th essay published on this site so far. Given that the absolute total is somewhere around the 700 mark, it’s really not far to go now. Feels weird to think about the first essay was published here way back in 2012. At the time, I thought that completing the site would take “one to two years,” which in retrospect was a Bush-esque misunderestimation. It will be very strange to get to the end of the line.

On the topic at hand (and I think I’ve expressed this before) I do have to wonder why Pop would steadfastly refuse to consume any fictional media, but would spend hours watching people who he hated talk about subjects that he didn’t believe in. What did he get out of that?


This is a follow-up essay to an earlier piece called “Jobless Nostalgia.” Before we get to the heart of the subject, every reader should know that a new table and a new chair are being used for this monumental work of essay writing.

Earlier this year, Miss Chicka decided that my office chair, which had provided me with superior service for about 20 years, needed to be replaced. You will note that Miss Chicka made this fateful determination.

The new chair is an Aeron, made by Herman Miller and has more handles and adjustments than my Chrysler car. It is a mind boggling exercise to describe what this chair can do – so this ancient writer will not even try. But the new chair has one failing. When it is in the operating mode and is pulled up to my desk, there is not enough room for my upper legs between the chair seat and the desk. Apparently, the designers at Herman Miller designed the multiple position chair to be used with modern desks which have no middle drawer or a very skinny middle drawer. The chair is a work of modern art, but it is basically unusable at my desk.

Trips to the local hospital provided an answer. When hospital patients are served a meal, there is a device called an overbed table. It might be called a block “C”– shaped table. The bottom part of the “C” is shoved under the patient’s bed. The top part of the block “C” is a table which is capable of being raised or lowered or it can be tilted for reading. So we bought one.

The saving grace is that the user of the Aeron chair can use the overbed table without having to worry about whether his upper leg will fit between the seat of the chair and the table. And, the tabletop is adjustable to many heights to accommodate near-sighted writers as well as for those who can write at a great distance from their noses.

All of this is being pointed out as a means of explaining unforeseen and inexplicable errors and other proof reading mistakes in this work.

Now this essay is the result of a suggestion of Miss Chicka. In an earlier essay called, “Jobless Nostalgia,” there were lamentations for jobs and occupations that no longer exist such as elevator operators, draftsmen or telephone operators. The point Miss Chicka was making is that when jobs disappear, the person who assumes responsibility for the task is you and me. Let me give you some examples.

Let’s take a call to a doctor’s office. In former days, doctors had a receptionist or a nurse to answer calls from patients. Ah, but those days are long gone now. A call today is not answered by a human voice. Instead, a recorded announcement commands the patient-caller to perform certain tasks before the personnel in the doctor’s office will take the call.

Typical questions are these:
Do you want an appointment for today? Press 1
Do you want a future appointment? Press 2
Is this an emergency? Press 3
Do you need a prescription? Press 4
Do you need to have your current prescription extended? Press 5
If you do not understand these inquires and wish to speak to a doctor’s
representative, press 6 or wait for an operator.

In days gone by, the receptionist or the nurse would answer the call and make appropriate arrangements. Not so today. Listening to the spiel about “press 1” and “press 2” takes many minutes and from time to time, the patient will say, “To hell with all this garbage” and hang up.

But the overwhelming point is that the patient is doing the work of the receptionist or the nurse. What could have been settled in a one minute call now takes several minutes and in the end, it is necessary often, after all the numbers are pressed, to talk to the doctor’s representative in any case. Is this an advance? Does it promote better doctor-patient understanding? On all accounts, the answer has to be NO!

In recent months, there were occasions to call investment firms to inquire about direct deposit of dividends as opposed to mailing the dividends to me each month. As a general rule, investment firms are quite anxious to have an electronic transfer rather than using the postal system. In my case, there were many hurdles to deal with. When the first “press 1” and “press 2” were accomplished, the call then went to the next stage where there were additional “press 1” and “press 6” buttons to push, before the second hurdle was completed. There was now a third one to deal with. And in the end, it was necessary to deal with a supercilious representative of the investment firm. All this took about 20 minutes to deal with a simple request: send my dividend checks electronically rather than by the U.S. Postal System. But in the end, the burden of doing the investment company’s work fell on me. If this is progress, take me back to the 1940s. And we haven’t considered firms that offer the “press 1” and “press 2” to hear the selections in Spanish or, in Canada, in French or English.

Closely allied to the “press 1” and “press 2” problem, is the telephone system. In its early days, all phones were manual. If you wished to place a call, there was a Central Operator who performed all the necessary functions. These operators knew who was being called and were often full of gossip. They could tell you if you had an incoming call while you were engaged in a separate call. And more than anything else, they provided a human touch to the telephone company. But that was long ago. Today, if you wish to call across the street, there is usually the necessity to dial a “1” followed by a three digit area code followed by a seven digit local code. The requirement to dial “1” followed by the area code is a development that has come about in the last few years. But no matter how you cut it, the customer is doing the work that used to be performed by a telephone company employee. And all of this is a matter of “progress”? Many of us who remember when service was really provided are pretty dubious as to the claim of progress.

When a call is placed to a phone belonging to a company very often the call is referred to a remote voice box, which permits company employees to answer at their leisure. More than anything else, this is primarily a device to keep labor costs as low as possible. Not long ago, calls to a company location were answered by a real employee who could deal with the subject at hand. Not any longer. When a call is transferred to a voice box, the customer-caller is obliged to explain his problem to an electronic device that asks no questions as a human would do. Once again, the customer is doing someone else’s work while the employer enjoys the reduced payroll.

Closely allied is the banking industry. Banks now seem intent upon getting rid of tellers and using ATM’s in their place. Perhaps, modern bankers denigrate the human touch that a teller can offer. It is obvious, that an ATM is not going to ask, “How are you today?” or “Good to see you again.” In any case, bankers want you to do the teller function and the small talk is simply an arcane memory of the past. On-line banking takes it a step further.

When it comes to small talk or advice about one product over another, there is no better example than grocery stores. My memory goes back to the late 1920’s and the depression years of the 1930’s. My mother patronized Gualdoni’s grocery store located just south of “Dead Man’s curve” on North and South Road in Brentwood, Missouri. The sharp bend in the two lane roadway on a steep hill which produced several serious motor vehicle accidents per year, was called “Dead Man’s Curve” for a very good reason.

At Gualdoni’s there was a long counter. Bob and Lou and John Gualdoni stood behind the counter. Behind them was the stock. Corn flakes, for example, were stacked at the top of the other packaged goods. They may have been eight or nine feet above ground level. When a customer ordered corn flakes – Kellogg’s, of course – one of the three clerks would take a long pole with a grappling device on the far end and pick out a package of corn flakes. Bob and Lou were in their 20’s. They often dislodged the corn flakes and would catch it on the way down.

In the meantime, the customer would stand on the other side of the counter with a grocery list. When all the items to be brought were assembled on the counter, the clerks would write down the cost on a brown grocery bag, and would then add up the total. There were no calculators then or even adding machines. Each column was added and the carryover was written at the head of the next column of figures.

While the groceries were being assembled, John or Bob or Lou might say, “We’ve got some strawberries that would be good with those cornflakes.” In a way it was salesmanship, but in another way it was a grocery man being helpful.

Boy, has all that changed. Clerks are hard to find in today’s grocery stores. The customers wanders up and down the aisles and throws things into his grocery cart. There is no small talk, and certainly, no helpful suggestions. If the customer fails to see the special on strawberries, he or she will be forced to eat his cornflakes strawberry-less. In the final analysis, the customer is performing the duties of the clerks who have never been hired by the owners of the grocery chain or store.

But from all appearances, we ain’t seen nothing yet. In the bright new world of tomorrow, the check-out clerks are eliminated. Each item has a bar code. The customer takes the bar coded item to a machine and passes it over a reading device. A total is then produced which the faceless customer pays using his/her credit or debit card. This is similar to the transaction at a self-serve gasoline station where you pump your own gas and pay your own bill. Grocery shopping tomorrow will be an experience almost completely devoid of any human contact. The customer is responsible for the function formerly performed by clerks. While we moan at doing someone else’s work, the grocery owners have retired to the back rooms to count the extra profits from the non-hiring of clerks. Everyone knows that the grocery business is a competitive affair, but a little human contact might make it a more pleasant experience.

This is not a complete list of functions that require customers to perform the work formerly performed by clerks, telephone operators, nurses, receptionists, etc. A complete list might involve more functions than the reader is willing to deal with. In leaving this subject of all of us performing jobs formerly performed by others, if we go back in time, there may be a bright side to this whole proposition. When many of us were youngsters, coal was brought to our homes in the winter months. There was no gas or oil heat. Delivering coal was a filthy job. Shoveling it from the coal bin into the furnace was a job that required old clothes. Taking out the ashes after the coal had burned was an unpleasant job. Gas or oil heat is a more pleasant way to heat our homes and a good bit cleaner as well.

In the summer, before refrigerators were commonplace, ice men came each day except Sunday. A 12 or 15 inch card was placed in a window facing the street. The top of the card had an entry for 25. If the card was turned on one side it read 50. If the card was turned the other way, it read 75. If the card was placed upside down, it read 100. The numbers were the pounds of ice that the ice man was to deliver for use in an ice box.

In St. Louis and its suburbs, the predominate furnisher of coal and ice was the Polar Wave Company. Delivery men who worked for Polar Wave were hardworking fellows. Statistics are unavailable of course, but it must be assumed that men who delivered coal and ice had a short life expectancy. But the point is clear that heating homes and having refrigerators rather than an ice box are more civilized today than they were in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

My informants – some of whom are reliable – tell me that Polar Wave is still in business and is a profitable company. They should be applauded for making the transition to modern times.

There is one other occupation that is included here because of a sense of nostalgia. The job was a sharpener of knives and scissors and other cutting devices. In the 1930’s, there were men who drove small pickup trucks with a large whetstone in the back. The whetstone was mounted on the truck bed and was turned very much the way a bicycle is propelled. When the sharpener had a customer from ringing his bell, he would leave the cab of the truck and climb into the rear of the truck. Seated on a seat, he would then pump to turn the whetstone.

Memory tells me that knife sharpeners were generally Italian immigrants. They were hard working people in an occupation that offered no long term benefits. Today, these men are gone. In their place, we have electric devices that sharpen both sides of a knife whereas the whetstone sharpened only one side at a time. Certainly, the electric sharpeners of today are a great improvement, but for many of us, the ringing of the bell that told us the knife sharpener was on our street brings back a sense of considerable nostalgia. On top of that, when the immigrant sharpeners told you of their home towns in Italy, it provided a geography lesson as well.

This little essay about lost jobs must end with a sense of romance. For nearly 30 years, it has been my pleasure to know two Swedish citizens through their association with Televerket, the Swedish international telecommunications firm. My friends are Ella and Sven Lernevall. Sven and your essayist are about the same age. In order to advance himself, Sven left his hometown of Umeå in Northern Sweden which is located on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. Sven soon found work in Stockholm as a radio telegraph operator deciphering dispatches from other countries. At the time in the 1940’s, people in the United States who wished to send a radio dispatch to Sweden used the services of RCA. Calling by telephone was still several years off.

Now for the romance part of this story. In 1945, Sven met Ella who also was a radio telegraph operator. According to natives of Sweden, it is very difficult to pronounce the name of Umeå, Sven’s hometown. Somewhere along the line in 1945, Dr. Lernevall heard Ella pronunce Umeå properly and elegantly. There is no need for me to tell you that romance followed and Ella and Sven married.

As time went forward, telecommunications advances rendered the radio telegraph operator as an obsolete occupation. Before that happened, Ella and Sven had a happy marriage and Sven was promoted several times in the Swedish Telecommunications Authority.

So there you are. In spite of all of us performing functions that were formerly performed by others, your old essayist brings cheer to a dismal situation by reciting the story of the romance by Ella and Sven Lernevall, natives of Sweden. Not all stories of lost jobs end as uplifting as the Lernevall story, but there is some sort of hope. In the meantime, my efforts will go toward pronouncing Umeå in a fashion that even King Gustav would approve of. In exchange, perhaps, His Majesty might try pronouncing the name of four towns in my home state of Missouri. They are Tallapoosa and Braggadocio in the Boot Heel of Missouri, and in Johnson County, Chilhowee and my favorite, Knob Knoster. If they are pronounced correctly, Sven and Ella would be appointed the Duke and Duchess of Knob Knoster, in the Show Me state, an achievement of unparalleled significance. Even though the pay is at the poverty level and they would be forced to use a 1939 Essex Motor car for ceremonial occasions, most socialites would die for these honors. It is a certainty that Knob Knosterettes will come to love and revere their new Swedish royalty. (A map of Missouri, The Show Me state, is included here.)

June 12, 2004


“Objections to Modernity” has to be one of my favorite labels. I might even like it more than “Favorite,” which I guess is a little ironic.

I love self checkout machines. I live right by a Safeway so I generally only buy a handful of items at a time, so my choice is to either wait ten minutes for a checkout counter to open up or just scan a few items myself and be on my way. Plus, since I’m currently a product manager on point of sale systems, I love seeing how different companies implement self checkout. Spoiler alert: they still do this badly, because 2 of the 6 registers at my safeway are dependably out of order. Never the same two, mind you. This is what happens when you do a shoddy job of client-proofing your machines.

I get what Pop is going for here, that the lack of people in these service jobs makes people more isolated and reduces social interactions, and that’s a valid point. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty strictly a good thing that nobody has to deliver milk and ice every day, and that every human in the world with a cell phone can pretty much call any other human in the world with a cell phone without having to go through yet another human to route the call, which obviously wouldn’t have ever possibly scaled to the globe’s current call volume. Similarly most gains in automation are going to free people up to do work that they find more satisfying to them, in a future where we move away from the idea that everyone needs a 9-to-5 that provides gainful employment. That’s just not a rational endgame here.

And who knows? Maybe once the general population isn’t so heads down at work for 40 hours a week, they can go out and socialize more, or maybe they’ll hang out at grocery stores and recommend good food combinations to passerby for the fun of it. I think you can use retired people as sort of a model here — once you don’t have a full time job, you definitely get out a lot more.



“We’ll Keep a Welcome” is a Welsh song that personifies Jean McFarland Livermore’s life and to some extent, Grinnell College in Iowa which she attended. “We’ll Keep a Welcome” goes back to 1941 when Welsh troops who were heavily involved in fighting in World War II were visited by a Welsh variety show called, “Welsh Rarebit.” The idea of the visits by “Welsh Rarebit” was to keep troops such as the famous Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in touch with events back in their Welsh homeland. The producers of “Welsh Rarebit” were a female composer, Mai Jones, and the male lyricist, Lyn Joshua. Their theme song produced especially for the production was the song, “We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside.”

The lyrics for “We’ll Keep a Welcome” have three verses. Of course, this is a tease, but the first verse reads like this:

“Far away a voice is calling
Bells of memory chime
Come home again, come home again
They call through the oceans of time.”

The other two verses will appear a little later in this tribute to Jean McFarland Livermore. The third verse includes the Welsh word, “Hiraeth,” which ought to appear in all the worlds major languages. This old World War II soldier will explain what “Hiraeth” means as well as the diphthong that goes with it. Not so bad for an itinerant scholar, who did not attend Grinnell College, to explain all about diphthongs. And by the way, one of the attachments is a recipe for Welsh Rarebit.

Now before we get back to Jean McFarland Livermore, there is a fact or two that everyone should know about her husband of 63 years. Harry and this old essayist became great friends shortly before Mother’s Day in 1952, a span of 52 years which were counted out on the fingers of this ink stained wretch. You see, for 52 years, Harry has maliciously derided my ability with arithmetic. To improve my performance, the services of the world renowned Creative Arithmetic Institute have been engaged for perhaps the last 20 years. The CAI, not to be confused with the spooks who operate the similarly named CIA, was founded in the 1920’s by Charles K. Ponzi, the world’s best known swindler and the gentleman who completely looted the entire assets of the Hanover Trust Company in New York City. Ponzi took a graduate degree at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.

The professors at Creative Arithmetic Institute now are former executives at the Enron Corporation. Their efforts at CAI have been interrupted from time to time, by lengthy Federal stays at an advanced school located in Leavenworth, Kansas.

None the less, the faculty at CAI has produced a classic arithmetic doctrine called “TCE,” meaning “That’s Close Enough.” For example, Harry tells me as my 82nd birthday approaches, that my observations about ageing are the complaints of teenagers. He says, “Wait ‘till you get to be my age before you say anything.”

My research done with the help of the faculty at CAI, says that this year is 2004. It is a fact that Harry was born in 1915, AD. The suffix “AD” is cited because in Harry’s case, arguably, his birth could have been marked “BC.” So using the techniques developed by the faculty at CAI, 2004 minus 1915 yields some interesting answers. Using the long hand arithmetic taught at Clayton, Missouri public schools, 2004 was written down with 1915 with a minus sign written directly below it. My expertise does not extend to fractions or decimals, yet the answer to my long hand calculations was 49.73⅝. That answer is crazy as Livermore has been my pal longer than that.

So it was necessary now to turn to mechanical devices. In my desk drawer is a calculator which General Mills sent to me for sending in 310 box tops from Wheaties™. Given the same problem, the little calculator yielded an answer of 94 years for Harry. That seemed fairly close, but this calculator has been known to not carry over the one in subtraction problems. So we then turned to a larger printing calculator with the legend, “With the Compliments of the Enron Corporation” on the calculator’s screen. The print out said the answer to the problem was 103 years. This answer made me and the faculty at CAI much more comfortable. As an aside, the faculty at CAI let me have the printing calculator for $1100, which was obviously quite a steal.

The point is that in this case of a seeming discrepancy between 94 and 103 years, the infallible doctrine of “That’s close enough” applies. If the professors from Enron say its close enough, that not only suits me in this case, but it does a great deal to reestablish my arithmetic credentials so abused by Harry Livermore. In April of this year, the faculty at CAI will nominate me for enshrinement at the World Wide Arithmetic Hall of Fame. The enshrinement takes three days and Mr. Livermore will be asked to escort me at the coronation ceremonies. It is hoped that he will not plead old age and senility when all the festivities take place. And finally, in its Doctoral Program on arithmetic studies at Grinnell College, it is hoped that the Doctrine of “It’s close enough” will be a central theme.

The Arithmetic Hall of Fame does not have elaborate, permanent headquarters such as exist in Canton, Ohio for the professional football Hall or at Cooperstown, New York for the pro-baseball Hall. The Arithmetic Hall is located outside St. Louis near a junkyard on old Highway 66. The Hall uses $8 rooms at a hot sheet motel for its work. The coronation ceremony is held in a Popeye’s Restaurant where the feature is all the hamburgers you can eat. Popeye’s believes that mad cow disease has to do with a cow that is angry. The CAI faculty feels that Harry and his honored guest will feel quite at home in this setting.

Fate has an interesting way of doing things. Harry was a native of Omaha, Nebraska who attended Grinnell College as did Jean, his future wife from Jackson, Michigan. Josiah Bushnell Grinnell (1821 – 1891) an American pioneer, clergyman and abolitionist, came to Iowa because Horace Greeley told him personally to, “Go west, young man, go west.” He founded Grinnell, Iowa (1854) and gave land and buildings (1859) to Iowa College which was later named Grinnell College. Although related to the Congregational Church in the beginning, Grinnell is a non-sectarian school.

Sometime later, Harry wound up before World War II working for AT&T in New York. When war broke out, he served aboard the carrier Ticonderoga which suffered several hits from Japanese kamikaze aircraft. After the hit, the Ticonderoga limped back into port, was repaired, and with its crew, went back out to fight another day. Because of his indispensability, the American Navy kept Harry on duty until 1946. Jean also served with honor in WWII by staying home and rearing three youngsters on her own while Harry was away. Grinnell must have prepared her very well. After leaving the Navy, Harry went back to AT&T in New York until he was transferred to Kansas City in 1951 or thereabouts.

As it turns out, my roots are in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. When Clayton High School graduated me in January, 1940, there were no jobs so it was necessary to continue my work in filling stations. Obviously, pumping gas, fixing flat tires and lubricating car chassis equipped me superbly to deal with the curriculum at Creative Arithmetic Institute and at Grinnell College in Iowa. For example, in the Iowa Collegiate Mathematics Competition at the University of Iowa on April 5, 2003, there were 28 teams of three students who worked on a collection of ten problems. My score was something like 97 or 114 points. The exact score is not important at all. The next higher score was 88 points – so take that – Harry Livermore.

In any case, a great break happened to me in September, 1941, when a drafting job opened up with AT&T in St. Louis. From 1942 until November, 1945, there was an enlistment with the United States Army Air Corps – later it became the Army Air Force. In 28 months overseas, it was possible to see the devastation that war brought to North Africa and Italy. Josiah Grinnell was an ardent abolitionist who incurred severe penalties as he argued to stop slavery. If Reverend Grinnell were around today, he and this old soldier would combine forces to argue to stop wars, starting with the current pre-emptive invasion of Iraq which has cost 530 American lives so far.

After World War II, it was my duty to obey the voice of “We’ll Keep a Welcome” by observing the lines about, “Come home again, come home again.” So it was back to St. Louis. In 1951, AT&T offered me a management job in Kansas City. It was there that Harry’s brother, Monte, became my friend. Before long, another transfer within Kansas City brought me to work for Harry Livermore.

It was near Mother’s Day in 1952 when work for Harry actually began. Harry was the District Traffic Manager for AT&T in Kansas City. Mother’s Day was not an auspicious time to try to learn the intricacies of a new job in the traffic department of any of the Bell System Companies. Every person was hard at work preparing to handle record long distance calling on Mother’s Day, so that there was very little time to show a neophyte what went on.

Harry had an outstanding staff to help him. There was Chief Operator Helen Billow and Assistant Chief Operator Jeannev Bradbury. Veta Mae Irwin was Harry’s Welfare Supervisor. You called on Veta Mae if your boyfriend was two timing you and you felt aggrieved. The Chief Force Clerk was Blondie Hunter who took all kinds of grief because an unexpected evening tour might interfere with an operator’s love life. Harry’s Office Manager was a lovely woman named Leona Miner. Clarence West of the Plant Department was the Union Ayatollah of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas. Clarence was a good guy who enjoyed life and laughed quite a bit.

As things in the Kansas City Traffic Department grew more familiar to me, it became clear that the staff worked so well together because they liked Harry Livermore and they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Harry would always treat them fairly and do so with a generous spirit.

Although my service in Harry’s department was only three or four months, when Harry left for vacation in August, he told me to run things. Specifically, he did not say conduct a holding operation until his vacation was finished. Given Harry’s vote of confidence, my efforts were dedicated to running things. Among other projects, there was a new index board produced for Kansas City Traffic department results. It fell to me to welcome a new Inward and Through Chief Operator as a result of Harry’s earlier arrangement. That would have been Helen Seghers.

Knowing that Harry had confidence in this 30 year old worker with only a short time in Traffic operations, gave me an inordinate amount of confidence. And like everyone else in the AT&T Kansas City Traffic operation, it made me a booster of the boss. In other cases where work has taken me, the boss gave no authority to his helpers and jealously reserved his right to criticize if things were not executed perfectly.

Harry took a much more refreshing outlook. In effect, he said we’re all in this together. Let’s make it work the best we can. Needless to say, everyone in Kansas City Traffic preferred Harry’s way overwhelmingly.

Aside from work, it was my pleasure to see Harry socially for a little bit of drinking and some softball games. In retrospect, it may be clear that we were both Mid-Westerners who spoke non-flowery English. And we were both involved in World War II. If memory serves me correctly, the Aircraft Carrier Ticonderoga that Harry served on lost as many as 300 men in a devastating kamikaze attack. Like me, Harry was not a gung ho promoter of more violence and destruction in another war.

Good things came to an end, however, when AT&T promoted Harry to take over the AT&T Chicago Traffic operation. Everyone was happy to see Harry recognized, but there was a sense of foreboding in the Kansas City Traffic department. The foreboding was eminently justified as Harry’s successor was picked by an unmarried Eastern executive and he turned out to be a young, unmarried protégé who had no managerial experience in Traffic operations or in directing people who reported to him. This young man was given to nit-picking and an overwhelming aversion to making decisions. For example, he absolutely and completely refused to sign off on the force scheduling assignments for operators on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or on New Year’s Eve. Blondie Hunter, the Chief Force clerk was frantic. When she told me what was happening, the force schedules were given my approval which had no backing at all in the AT&T Schedule of Authorizations. But, it got the job done.

This young manager’s management style or lack thereof, soon caused his bosses to relieve him of the manager’s job in Kansas City Traffic. In the meantime, not long after Christmas on a Sunday morning, Harry came to my house in Prairie Village, Kansas to tell me that he wanted me to join him in Chicago. It was not easy to leave the friends that had been made in the Kansas City area, but asking me to go to Chicago to work under Harry was a confidence builder of the first sort. So in late January and February, 1953, we began weekly commutation trips to Chicago.

Now there is something everyone should know about our living arrangements in Chicago. The people at Grinnell College ought to think about the incident which will now be described to see if the College wishes to endorse such action by Mr. Livermore, Junior.

More than a year ago, this old writer and mathematician wrote an essay about the Livermore-Carr living arrangement in Chicago. Now that more than a year has passed, this excerpt from the essay becomes a matter of REVEALED TRUTH. Here is what was written a long time ago:

One way or another, while searching for a permanent place to live, Harry and I took a two room suite at the Webster Hotel on Lincoln Parkway in the Near Northside of Chicago. We got along very well. Harry did not snore much and he discovered that putting peanuts in the refrigerator made a nice hors D’oeuvre. I reserved an opinion on that subject.

Almost everyone smoked in the 1950’s. In our suite at the Webster Hotel, when the last cigarette was smoked, the packages would be crumpled into a small ball and would become a source of athletic entertainment and achievement. Over our door to the hallway, was a screenless transom which could be opened to varying degrees of wideness. With one person in the bedroom and the other man in the hallway, the balled up cigarette package would be pitched through the transom with the door closed. The fellow receiving the throw would not know when it was thrown or whether it would be to his left or right. The object, of course, was to catch the thrown cigarette package ball. While we were on the honor system about catching the ball, as soon as the ball was pitched through the transom, the pitcher would run for the door and open it to see if the catcher really did catch the ball. When our neighbors alighted from the elevator and occasionally saw our game of pitching the ball through the transom, we were helped by the liberal view of the Chicago Police Department on minor crime. They did not send the paddy wagon for us.

There is one other story on which Harry Livermore considered me as a practitioner of shady play. In this case, the balled up cigarette package was again being used. Our living room at the Webster was quite large probably 12 feet across and perhaps 18 feet long. Harry was sitting on a divan at the far end of the room. Across from him was a window that was opened to a height of two or three inches.

Standing at the entrance to the room some 18 to 20 feet away, I told Brother Livermore that it would be possible for me to pitch the ball out that window. Harry immediately took the bet saying no one could do such an impossible feat. Now remember, my offer was to throw that ball out that window. Nothing was said – at least by me – of the window opening being only two or three inches or of my distance from the window.

With the bet firmly in hand, I simply walked over to the window and opened it to seven or eight inches, and while standing next to the window, the cigarette package ball was thrown out on Lincoln Parkway.

As you might imagine, old Harry screamed bloody murder. Foul play was all Harry could say. It has been 50 years since my triumph of cigarette package ball through an open window in the Webster Hotel. When talking to Harry over all those years, he still accuses me of enticing him into a nefarious betting operation. As always, I claim complete innocence, and rightly so.

It has been my pleasure to know Harry for more than 50 years. We have never had a cross word, if you exclude the cigarette ball out the window episode. Harry originally comes from Nebraska where he was born in 1915. That makes him nearly 70 years of age or thereabouts. I hope he lives to see his 100th birthday. If he does achieve that goal, however, I am absolutely sure that he will still be protesting my brilliant move to throw the cigarette package ball out on Chicago’s Lincoln Parkway.

Now that the revealed truth has been disclosed, it is time to go forward.

The AT&T Chicago Traffic operation was immense to a fellow from Kansas City. It became apparent at the outset, that Harry had a difficult job ahead of him as he succeeded an unfortunate and an unpopular martinet. When Harry’s predecessor was the Traffic Manager in St. Louis, it was my pleasure and duty to deal with him harshly as the President of CWA Local 6350 in St. Louis. Straightening out the chaos caused by this fellow gave Harry a Herculean job to do.

But it was apparent that Harry went about that job just as he had done in Kansas City. In one instance, for example, there must have been at least 300 or 400 Service Assistants in Chicago. They were non-management employees who trained new operators and who provided assistance to operators having difficulty with a long distance call or caller. As a matter of fact, long distance calls were all AT&T handled. Local calls were the province of the local companies such as the Illinois Bell Telephone Company. At the time we are speaking of, there were few – if any – long distance calls that could be dialed directly. When a subscriber wished to make a long distance call, he or she dialed 211 and spoke to an AT&T operator who then handled the call.

So there was plenty of work for Service Assistants. Sometimes they sat at the switchboard. On other occasions, they would patrol behind a section of operators. They worked in the large #1 Office on Franklin Street in Chicago’s Loop. There was an office on the southeastern edge of the Loop District and a third office on the South Side about 10 or 12 miles from the Loop. There were operators and Service Assistants on every shift because this was a 24/7 day operation.

When Harry succeeded his unpopular predecessor, he set out to meet personally with every Service Assistant. This took him to meetings all day and into the dinner hour to say nothing about the women who worked the midnight tours. The results were dramatic. Grievances were handled on the spot. Promises made were kept. Morale took off when Harry assumed command.

In Chicago, there were some mature, old time supervisors who were Irish women. If they were on your side, nothing could stop you. If they were not on your side, no force on earth could make the head man succeed. In no time at all, all the Irish women were on Harry’s side. To name a few, there was Welfare Supervisor Ann Hincks. There were Chief Operators Ann Gairns and Kay McCormack. While she was not Irish, Betty Kruchten was part of that group. In Office #17 was Mildred Grant while Office 20’s Chief Operator was Lois Watson. Mrs. Grant and Miss Watson were what ladies magazines called “full figured women.” These women together with Kay McCormack (Office 19) and Ann Gairns (Office 18), made a formidable force. When Mildred Grant married for the second time after her first husband’s death, she let us know that the second husband could stand some improvements which she promised to make. It is a good bet she did that. As a survivor of World War II, it was obvious to me that it was a prudent move to get on the same side with the Irish Mafia. On one occasion, my instincts told me to slyly point out my Irish ancestry. One of those women told me to forget it as they had checked me out long before it was my turn to show up in their operating rooms.

In December, 1953, my wife at that time joined with her husband to adopt a two month old little girl through the offices of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. For months afterward, these women from the operating rooms in Chicago, specifically including the Irish Mafia, brought little dresses for me to take home. They were often delivered with the stern warning that packages were for Maureen, not for me. It was a stroke of genius, it may be supposed, that we gave the little girl the name of Maureen, meaning in Irish terms, little Mary.

When the adoption first happened, it was announced by me of all people, that Maureen’s bow in society would take place at Wrigley Field at nine months of age, when the Chicago Cubs took on my St. Louis Cardinals. They thought it was delusional for me to pick the Cards over the Cubs, but it had no effect whatsoever on those women buying presents for Maureen. They would say, we went shopping last Monday evening and saw this dress that would look stunning on Maureen. They would then order me to take the dress package home without any hesitation enroute. There was absolutely no choice for me but to obey.

On many occasions, Harry and Jean came to see Maureen. On many occasions, Maureen appeared at the Livermore house in LaGrange, Illinois where my memory now places it. To this day, Maureen and her sister, Suzanne, refer to Harry and Jean as Uncle Harry and Aunt Jean. Those kids have not used any other names for the Livermores at all in their lives.

There are one or two more thoughts about the Chicago Traffic operation when Harry was the Division Traffic Manager. But we interrupt this narrative to remind every reader of the importance of remembering the doctrine of “That’s Close Enough.” That doctrine will appear, perhaps twice more, before we are finished with Jean and Harry.

It must have been in the Summer of 1954, when Harry asked us to come by where he was vacationing in Jackson, Michigan. The highlight of the day we spent there was the ability to have a long discussion with Dr. McFarland, Jean’s father. One way or another, that evening was filled with a lively discussion about his practice which intrigued me and with his questions about the Army and our lives in Chicago. There is this much to say about Dr. McFarland. If my physical condition had required me to have an appendectomy or a brain transplant, Dr. McFarland would be have been my choice to perform the operation.

Seeing Dr. McFarland brings up another point. Jean and Harry married at an early age. Apparently, wedding vows were exchanged without notifying the parents. When the two of them visited their parents, Harry told me that the marriage license was laid out on the night table six inches from the new bridegroom’s head in case one of the parents looked in during the night and found not one, but two occupants in the bedroom.

It is suspected that if Dr. McFarland found the newlyweds with their marriage license prominently displayed, he would have collapsed from laughter. Harry’s parents soon became well known to me. It is clear that Harry Senior would have also collapsed from laughter by the sight of the prominently displayed marriage license.

Early in the year 1955, Harry was entertaining Dick Dugan from Long Lines Headquarters in New York. Harry asked a few of us to join him for a few drinks and dinner. Harry saw to it that Dick Dugan always had an ample opportunity to talk to me that evening. What was unknown to me was that Brother Dugan had come to Chicago to see if a fellow with my background would fit in on the labor job in Dick’s department back in New York. It is fairly certain that Harry sang my praises and fairly soon, the promotion was mine. This was one more occasion of Harry helping his subordinates to get ahead. Needless to say, Harry’s help was invaluable and greatly appreciated – again.

Leave taking Chicago was a painful process because my two years there was filled with genuine new friendships. And of course, there was the adoption of old Blondie, nee Maureen. In all the years that Harry has been my friend, both of us always point to Chicago as the place where enjoyment was at its greatest. As Harry says “Chicago is the place where we had the most fun.” Of course, he is right.

Not long after New York became my new place of employment, Harry came east also. We both located in New Jersey with Harry in his former stomping ground of Maplewood and with the Carr’s in a sort of country town called New Providence. The Livermores still had three kids with them. They were all good kids.

During the period starting in the 1960’s, AT&T made several changes in assignments involving Harry and me. As 1970 approached, it was necessary for me to find a new house after an assignment in Washington, D. C. The house was in Short Hills, New Jersey. Pretty soon, Harry downsized his housing requirements and moved so that both of us could ride the Lackawanna Cannonball every day from Short Hills to Hoboken, N. J.

In March, 1956, it became apparent to me that smoking was attempting to take my life. My father who smoked one cigar a week and an occasional pipe-full of tobacco, deplored cigarette smoking. He invariably referred to that practice as “sucking cigarettes.” On top of that description, he thought “sucking cigarettes” showed a distinct lack of manliness. If he were alive today, he would claim that smoking is a habit of gay men.

My old man did not figure at all in my decision to quit smoking. It had to do with my life expectancy. So Harry and your clean habited friend rode the Lackawanna every day to work. We rode in non-smoking cars. However, about 1.5 miles west of the Hoboken terminal, it was necessary to pass through a long tunnel. The darkness of that tunnel told Harry it was time to have a smoke and head for the door so that we could board the Hudson River ferry and drink some Lackawanna Railroad coffee. My non-smoking demeanor gave me much satisfaction as Harry’s smoke wafted over my nostrils.

Over the years, both of us occupied offices at 32 Sixth Avenue in New York and at #5 World Trade Center. When AT&T decided to move to Bedminster, N. J., Harry’s office was a few steps from my own. Whenever a question took me to Harry’s place, he quickly offered me a cup of coffee. Coffee drinking is not one of my failures, but his offer was always accepted because it gave him a chance to join me. It seems to me, that my unscientific research shows that old Navy guys drink a great deal of coffee. That’s fine with me. It sure beats chewing tobacco or snuff.

Well, it seems to this old essayist that you’ve heard enough about the two of us for awhile. Right now, it would give me pleasure to speak about Grinnell College and its benefactor, Josiah Bushnell Grinnell.

Until it was necessary to do some research so that this essay could be written, my view of Grinnell College was one where Jean and Harry Livermore attended college. The town itself became known to me because on a hot, hot August afternoon, curiosity caused me to go to Grinnell, Iowa to see what the town had to offer.

Executives at the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company had asked me to make a series of speeches in its principal cities. So Omaha was the first such presentation. This was followed by speeches in Minneapolis and in the Dakotas. Then came Des Moines. So after the presentation in Des Moines, a rented car was found for the trip to Grinnell. This was the late 1950’s and rented cars had no air-conditioning at all. What they had was an opening in the hood outside the windshield which theoretically directed air to the feet. At that time, there were windows that were cranked up and down by the passengers. No electric windows to roll up or down with the push of a button. In front of the two front windows, there was a triangular shaped window which could be rolled or cranked so far inward that it directed air toward the chests of the front seat passengers.

On this day, the main windows were down and those little triangular pieces were rolled as far as they would go. It was boiling. When dinner time came, there had to be a comment to a Grinnell native sitting outside the local café. My Missouri upbringing taught me that it is of great importance to speak to townspeople. As a matter of fact, the gentleman sitting outside the café in Grinnell spoke first asking if it was hot enough for me. He was told that it was plenty hot. Sensing that he was speaking to someone from out of town, he asked what brought me to Grinnell. This gentleman was told that my home was in Eastern Missouri where the weather got very warm also. The answer to the rest of his question was that it would be nice to see what Grinnell might offer in the way of higher education for my kids.

Now look here. Only a fool would tell this gentleman that New York was my home base at the time. It is quite true that if you go back to the beginning, Clayton, Missouri is my original home so my answer was factually correct. My daughter was perhaps six years old and her sister was three years old. It’s never too early to look at colleges. So truth was my yardstick.

Well, the Grinnell gentleman seemed satisfied with my answers. He reasoned that Missouri is like Iowa, a Mid-Western state. He also agreed that the Mississippi Valley produced hot weather, but probably not as hot as Iowa. So using the doctrine of “That’s Close Enough,” he shook hands with me as a fellow Mid-Westerner. His parting words were, “Hot weather makes the corn grow very nicely.” That was an appropriate comment. It also helps the watermelons.

Now about not mentioning New York to the Grinnell gentleman, that was the better part of valor. For example, when it came time for me to be interviewed by the Chairman of the New York Telephone Company, Cliff Phalen, the thought that one of my meals was taken in Grinnell, Iowa, was unmentioned. The point is, you have to know when to hold ‘em and when it’s time, to fold ‘em. The New York Company gave me the job.

Now about Grinnell College. The clergyman who made the land grant for the school, Joshua Bushnell Grinnell, was an abolitionist which means that he opposed slavery. As a matter of fact, he was pastor of the First Congregational Church in Washington, D. C., in 1851 and in 1852. He preached an anti-slavery sermon which caused such an uproar that he was fired from his pulpit. Washington, of course, is below the Mason-Dixon Line.

So Reverend Grinnell came to Iowa and founded the town and had land set aside for Grinnell College. It had never dawned on me that Grinnell had a founder with such a backbone. Grinnell College has my apologies for my being ignorant of the anti-slavery background of its namesake.

Now a personal note. Lillie Carr, my mother, was a religious woman. At various times, she attended Southern Baptist churches as well as those of the Pentecostal and Nazarene faiths. When it came time at age 13 to escape all this religiosity, my parents were attending a Free Will Baptist Church which banned all musical accompaniments when the congregation or soloists sang hymns. No pianos and certainly, no pipe organs were allowed.

The explanation seemed to be that organs and pianos did not exist when Jesus founded Christianity, so the Free Will Baptists wanted to be on four squares with the Redeemer. It could also be argued that automobiles and buses and street cars did not exist when Jesus went about preaching his sermons. Did that say that getting to the Church of God using only foot power was the only acceptable means of worship?

Even my mother was skeptical about the Free Will Baptists. Lillie Carr sang and hummed Amazing Grace every day of her life. But the Free Willers made it difficult to sing that hymn in their church with no accompaniment whatsoever.

When the American Army decided that the completion of 71 combat missions was no reason to send me home from Italy, they elected to send me to a large British-American base in Africa located a few miles outside Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast. Today, that African country is called Ghana. So Accra was my next military stop.

The port of Takoradi serves as Accra’s and the Gold Coast’s outlet to the sea. Research showed that John Newton (1725 – 1807) who composed my mother’s favorite hymn Amazing Grace, had been a slave trader ship owner before he became an Anglican clergyman. Takoradi was a regular port of call for John Newton when he captained his slave trading sea-going ship.

When the Army gave me a few days of home leave before preparing to move me from Europe and Africa to Japan, my mother and her youngest son, namely me, had a little conversation about my visits to Takoradi. There it was possible to see the wretched conditions the slaves lived in before boarding a ship like John Newton’s to start the trip to Confederate America. It made a lifelong impression on me. It was necessary for me to make three or four trips to Takoradi to take it all in.

Because of Lillie Carr’s fondness for Amazing Grace, it seemed like a good subject to bring up in passing. My mistake was immediately apparent. She waved me off and changed the subject. She had no intention of hearing anything derogatory about Amazing Grace. My put down was accepted with as much grace as could be mustered under the circumstances, but my opposition to slavery was with me for life.

So when it came time to deal with college for our two daughters, Dartmouth and Miami of Ohio were chosen by the two prospective students. If Grinnell College’s anti-slavery background had been known to me, it would have made me an honest man in my conversation with the man sitting outside the café in Grinnell, Iowa who asked what brought me to town.

Now it is time to move on to Jean and the thought of Harry proposing to establish a monument in her memory. When Harry told me about his thought, he explained that he had already been in contact with someone from Grinnell College. He flattered me by suggesting that it would be appreciated by him if this old soldier-essayist would see about producing an essay such as the one you are reading. Obviously, this was simply a request, but it will be treated by me as a commission to write an essay. That commission to write an essay will be pointed out and bragged about in my dealings with other itinerant essayists.

If Harry has made clear to me the description of what Grinnell College plans to do, it seems that buildings will be constructed in a prominent place on the campus. If my understanding is correct, a room in one of the new buildings will be named in honor of Jean McFarland Livermore.

And so that takes us back to the song at the beginning of this essay and to the world famous doctrine of “That’s Close Enough.” McFarland is a Celtic name. My overeducated Ivy League daughter pronounces Celtic as thought the first letter is a “K.” On dozens of occasions, it has been pointed out to her that the world famous basketball club in Boston, is called the Boston Celtics, as though it were spelled “Sell-tics.” But she is a lawyer who may wind up as Rehnquist’s replacement as the head man of the U. S. Supreme Court. So because this is my essay on commission from her Uncle Harry, the word will be “Sell-tics.” That Kel-tics stuff can stay in Texas.

Well, McFarland is a Celtic name as we said. Four groups comprise the Celtic family. There are the Scots and the Irish. Then there are the Welsh. And finally, there are some Celtics in France in Brittany. They use the name “Breton” to identify themselves.

McFarland could be a Scot’s name or an Irish name. But remember, the Celts belong to a family. So it is entirely appropriate to commemorate Jean’s life with a Welsh song, “We’ll Keep a Welcome.” It may be that Jean was not Welsh, but her name is in the Celtic family; therefore, under the doctrine of “That’s Close Enough,” We’ll Keep a Welcome applies to Jean Livermore, nee McFarland. Any objection? Hearing none, let’s move on.

It will be noted that in the final verse, there appears the Welsh word “Hiraeth.” That word should appear in all the world’s major languages. The “ae” letters in the last half of the word are a diphthong. They are pronounced like an English “eye.” So the word is pronounced as


At heart, Hiraeth is a nostalgic longing for home and people and things connected with home. For example, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers are the oldest Welsh infantry regiment. Only Welsh men need apply. The regiment is a family regiment in every sense of the phrase. Brothers, sons, fathers and close friends often from the same town or village serve in the regiment. The sense of belonging to the Welsh Regiment and to Wales are keenly felt. This is Hiraeth. English needs an equivalent word.

The words to Jean’s song, We’ll Keep a Welcome go like this:

Far away a voice is calling
Bells of memory chime
Come home again, come home again
They call through the oceans of time.
We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside
We’ll keep a welcome in the vales
The land you knew will still be singing
When you come home again to Wales.
This land of song will keep a welcome
And with a love that never fails
We’ll kiss away each hour of Hiraeth
When you come home again to Wales.

The Celts are singers. The Irish sing “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.” The Scots sing “Scotland the Brave.” And the Welsh people are famous for their singing choirs in nearly every town, no matter how small. The English, who for centuries have tried to dominate Welsh, Irish and Scots affairs, sing not at all, unless you count Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, who hums as his Royal footman spreads toothpaste on His Majesty’s toothbrush each morning. There must be a lesson in the happiness of the Celts as distinguished from the dourness of the English. Can anyone imagine Queen Elizabeth singing “We’ll Keep a Welcome” at any time? Not likely.

In all her home’s in New Jersey, in Kansas, in Illinois or in the Pocono’s, Jean McFarland Livermore projected a genuine welcome to all her guests. Now that a room at Grinnell College may be named in her honor, the students may go there to study, and to discuss what the future holds for them. Perhaps they may find the McFarland Livermore room a place for quiet contemplation. Or may be it will be used as a place for meeting of friends. Whatever the room is used for, it is hoped that it will always be remembered as the Jean McFarland Livermore room. It is hoped that those leaving Grinnell College, will have fond memories of that memorial. And finally, there is the thought that the leave takers will consider Grinnell College and the McFarland Livermore Room as home. In that case, Hiraeth and We’ll Keep a Welcome will surely apply.

February 8, 2004


Well Pop certainly took his Commission seriously — this essay clocks in at just under 7,000 words.
Lots to learn in this essay, from the background of Amazing Grace to everything there is to know about Grinnell and Livermore. It’s really nice to know that even though this essay was written in 2004, their friendship lasted until the end of their lives. I guess once you make it to 50 years, the last handful is easy.
The doctrine of “That’s close enough” seems like a handy one. It certainly makes things simpler.


The effort to answer the question as to whether my fellow country women, men and children are colossal prudes will inevitably require allusions to what some pious Yankees consider vulgar language. In other cases, our research inevitably leads also to consideration of the display of nude or semi-nude females in night clubs, on the beach, on television, in catalogues from suppliers such as Victoria’s Secret, or in the print media. To all the ardent followers of Billy Graham and his less than bright son Franklin, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the thought that we are even considering asking the question is horrid, horrid news. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it proves that anyone even asking this question about our being prudes demonstrates that the bulk of American citizenship is headed straight for the eternal tortures of hell.

The basic question asked in this essay, is whether lucid and rational people around the globe believe that, in general terms, many Americans are sterling silver, 24 carat gold-plated prudes? Of course, this ancient essay writer has a strong opinion on this question. Rather than to wait for his answer in the denouement of this piece, it is the long standing opinion of this writer that a large proportion of the United States population is afflicted with the symptoms of prudery in colossal proportions. In effect, the answer to my question is, “Hell yes!” and “You can bet your backside (hips, buttocks, etc.)” that prudishness affects a large share of the United States citizenship.

After completing the foregoing sentence, a period of calm, thoughtful, introspective reverence encompassed me. My belief is that this period of calmness was heaven sent. By referring to “backside, hips and buttocks, etc.,” it is absolutely clear that prudishness has started to make an occasional inroad on what is left of my mind. My parents, my siblings, all my acquaintances in the filling station business, at AT&T, in the Communications Workers of America, in the American and the British armies and various other friends will know that, when asked about American prudishness, my proper answer would be, “You bet your ass it exists in prodigious quantities.” Everyone has my abject apologies for even flirting with the far out edges of prudishness. My position is now clear, it is hoped. Circumlocution is always a treacherous business when opinions are sought.

There was one other occasion when in an attempt to be nice to people, there was a disastrous involvement with language that failed to carry my message clearly. In other words, prudishness intervened. On November 8, 1945, the Army of the United States was to provide me with an honorable discharge. The ceremonial procedure was to take place at Scott Field, Illinois, which lies about 30 miles east of St. Louis. The day started with my catching a 5AM streetcar which made a connection to the Scott Field bus in St. Louis. My arrival at Scott was somewhere around 7AM. There was not much to do to effect my discharge but to type the separation papers and to have the gold “ruptured duck” sewn on my uniform blouse. The “duck” was really a walking eagle. It let people know that the wearer was a dischargee from military service.

In my mind, the whole procedure should have been completed no later than noon. That estimate of time was off by at least seven hours. The delay was caused by legions of sergeants who demanded to know why there was no re-enlistment on my part. They said my departure at this critical time seemed to border on treachery or on treason. My position was that the war was well over and it was time for me to go home. There were other legions of sergeants who demanded that enlistment in the Army Reserves or the National Guard would be one way to partially regain my patriotism. My answer was that the shooting had stopped and my intentions were to go home to St. Louis. There were even some sergeants wanting to sign me up for term insurance at rates that seemed exorbitant to me.

By 5PM or 6PM, my patience and my use of politeness were completely worn out. The language of prudishness is usually circumlocution. A hanging is called “peaceful passing.” Electrocution, it is said, lasts only for an instant. It was time now for direct Army language. No more politeness; no more circumlocution. When the head sergeant again showed up, he started the routine about re-enlistment, or the Reserves or the National Guard. When he paused between paragraphs, this young old soldier said simply and forcefully, “Sergeant, F— you.” That got results. By 7PM or thereabouts, my discharge papers were in my hands and the Army of the United States was behind me. Politeness and circumlocution, the essence of prudery, had failed to accomplish much. The straight and forward language of the Army, mastered over several years, had turned the trick.

Now we have the ascendancy of faith, which is greatly encouraged by George Bush. It seems to me as a long time observer of American conduct, that as citizens put their trust in faith, prudishness increases exponentially. Nowhere is this more true than when faith and religion intrude on the legislative process. In substance, there is the claim that there should be no differentiation between the affairs of state and the practice of religion. Because religion takes its orders from God, pious practitioners of faith contend that the role of government is subsumed by religion. The evidence having to do with George Bush would make it clear that even though he is allegedly head of the U.S. Government, a secular enterprise, he largely accepts that view. His idea of governing is indeed faith based and flows from his sacred gut.

Let us take a look at where this attitude has brought us. A good place to start would be on issues that affect women. According to the prudes, who cloak their restrictions in Biblical language, an abortion is a grievous sin against the god they worship. It makes no difference if the woman was impregnated by a rapist or by a male family member, she must carry any fetus to term. In short, the woman has no rights that are recognized by church prelates or by the government, if the pious tone prevails. In the case of grave danger to the health of the woman, she has no voice. If it kills her to give birth, it must be presumed that whatever god is involved, wanted it that way. In short, under this doctrine, women have no rights at all.

Curiously, the Vatican says that abortion is evil, but so is preemptive war and the death penalty, according to Catholic doctrine. Some of the clerics in the church in this country have proclaimed that Catholic moderates, such as John Kerry, must be denied communion as a penalty for his moderate views on Roe v. Wade. One elderly woman who voted for Kerry went immediately to confession to seek forgiveness for her sin accordingly to Bob Braun, a columnist for the Newark Star Ledger.

The rest of the civilized world in Europe, Asia and South America seem to get along without such stern rules condemning women and penitents alike. Are those hundreds of millions of people all wrong with only the pious heroes of America upholding the faith? Or is this one more case of the United States being out of step with the rest of the world? Is this another case of Americans being prudes? The answer from this old libertarian is YES a thousand times over.

Two thoughts occur here. If any religious group deplores abortions, there is no power in this country that will compel a woman to have an abortion. It is a voluntary exercise. And secondly, there are are those of us who hold that women have an inalienable right to control what happens to their own bodies. Why should women be required to submit to laws that suit only American religious prudes? Again, my answer is a shouted, “Hell no!”

That takes us to same sex marriages. It seems to me that homosexuality is a lot like left handedness or nearsightedness. This old writer was afflicted from birth, by the gene that causes glaucoma, a degenerative disease of the eye. Only an unschooled, ignorant illiterate would claim that glaucoma is brought on by eating or drinking to excess or by failure to attend church services regularly. Priests, nuns and preachers alike have encountered glaucoma. Glaucoma happened to my father and to his five children. It simply happened. The Chaney daughter had no say in her lesbianism. Jim McGreevey was born a “gay American.” They did nothing to acquire their homosexuality as those of us with glaucoma did nothing to bring it on. There is no crime against any God or anyone else.

Gays and lesbians usually want to live out their lives in the company of other similarly situated people. To me, this is a normal, human impulse. If their feelings are sufficiently strong, they may seek legal or religious recognition as married people. The prudes in American society and the religious fanatics say that same sex marriages are evil and that they must be barred for all time, even with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Bush says that the sanctity of marriage between only a man and a woman must be preserved. No one is doing away with marriage between a man and a woman. Bush’s marriage would not become harmed if someone, somewhere marries another of the same sex. That voice in his ear, or in his pious gut, should tell him the facts.

More than anything else, the drive against same sex marriages reminds thinking people of the miscegenation laws in effect in this country until recently, that barred marriages between white people and those people of African descent. When opponents of same sex marriages denounce such unions, it must give them some pleasure to know that their defense is rooted in the era of slavery in this country. A pretty proud tradition, it must be observed.

Much of the opposition to same sex marriages comes from the old Confederacy of the American South. They have become solidly Republican since the passage in 1964 of the Civil Rights Act which requires that there be no separate school rooms or restrooms based on race. It is clear that these rednecks would welcome a return to a segregated society with a ban on anything unapproved by the Southern Baptist Church.

Moving closer to home, Ms. Chicka and this liberal geezer enjoy a traditional marriage. When a notice of a marriage appears in the New York Times or some other paper, reporting on the union of Sadie Rachel Cohen and Mary Marie O’Meara, there is absolutely no threat whatsoever of the Cohen-O’Meara wedding affecting our marriage or George Bush’s marriage. Similarly, if Jim McGreevey next marries a male Englishman, there will be no threat to our marriage, but marrying across such deep cultural boundaries would seem to suggest that McGreevey’s sanity ought to be questioned.

Finally, there is no power, either religious or governmental, that would compel same sex marriage. To ban it would serve only to announce once more, that American prudishness has triumphed. Because one collection of American prudes opposes same sex marriages, why must all other Americans be forced to submit to their prudery? And no agency of government is going to force anyone to marry another person of the same sex, so what is the problem?

There is no intention in the Chicka-Carr marriage to seek other same sex matrimonial partners. If other Americans want to exercise that right, it seems to me that their efforts should be cheered, rather than barred.

We turn now to stem cell research. The United States is singularly equipped to undertake the research necessary to overcome diseases that have afflicted the population of the world. The world is looking for us to devote our vast research talents to solving some of the illnesses that have long been imposed on world citizenry. When the rest of the world, or when thinking Americans realize that such work is being hijacked by an obscure religious dispute, they shake their heads in wonderment. What an exercise in absolute prudery.

Once again, some clerics who owe their allegiance to the Vatican are leading the charge oblivious to the teachings of Rome that preemptive wars and executions of prisoners have long been considered sinful before anyone knew of stem cells. Stem cell research is a newcomer. The Vatican’s opposition to unjust wars and executions of prisoners pre-date stem cell work by centuries. Yet here we are with clerics of the Catholic faith and Evangelic Protestant adherents offering opposition to political candidates who do not enthusiastically endorse their primitive and backward looking views. The rest of the world is stunned by our American prudery. We are taking a dive to the bottom when it comes to stem cell research.

Again, there is no law whatsoever that would compel religious believers to become involved with stem cell work. But ardent opposition by religionists should not be used as an excuse to force forward-looking thinkers to submit to a law outlawing stem cell work.

In the 1930’s when many of us grew up, some religionists declined to eat meat on Fridays. Other meat eaters were free to enjoy hamburgers or hot dogs on Friday. There was no law against it. Now in many quarters, laws banning stem cell research are being proposed and politicians who support such work are being actively opposed.

A question arises here. If the people who wish to ban stem cell research for all of us, should see in a few years time, a person who had been cured as a result of stem cell work, do you believe that they would still say it is sinful or evil? Suppose that cured person is your mother or father. Are there any exceptions? Would they deny that return to good health to my mother or father, for example? Again, if your value system says no to stem cell work, that can be accepted provided that the rest of us are free to pursue the benefits of such research. And while this debate goes on, the rest of the world and four out of five Americans believe it is being held up by the colossal prudery of our political and religious organizations.

In a related situation, we find that in this country there are only a few cases where marijuana may be used for medical purposes. It seems to make no difference when patients say the use of marijuana eases their suffering. We ban it because – well there is no rational reason to bar its use. We ban it because we ban it. That is about as good an explanation that you are ever going to get from our government. Prudery has much to do with the ban because everyone knows nice people would never think of smoking mary janes. Except when they are in great pain!

Now let us turn to what the various organs of the U.S. Government have to say about other laws that are rooted in prudery. Suppose we start with drinking liquor. Many states ban the sale of beer, wine, whiskey and related products on Sundays. In my home state of Missouri, sale of liquor used to end at 12:01AM on Sundays. The people who imply circumlocutions will tell you the law existed to permit citizens to prepare properly for church on the Christian day of worship. There has never been a similar law aimed at getting worshippers to synagogues on a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, when midnight came on a Saturday evening in Missouri, most revelers were largely drunk knowing of the midnight curfew, or they repaired to their own homes where a plentiful supply of whiskey was always kept. In the case of wicked St. Louis, where my residence was located, drinkers would cross the toll free bridge over the Mississippi River to East St. Louis to drink until 4AM or later in sleazy saloons. It is suspected that few of those Christians showed up for divine services at 11AM on Sunday because they were attending to hangovers and automobile accidents occurring in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

The bridge over the Mississippi was known to everyone as the “Free Bridge.” After World War II, patriots named it the MacArthur Bridge in honor of our Far East commander, and a crossing fee was imposed for crossing it. Unfortunately, that did not reduce the post-midnight traffic to East St. Louis saloons and clip joints.

The point here is that prudery doesn’t change behavior on the ground. Kansas is officially a dry state. During my residence in Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City, liquor sales to Kansans by merchants in Kansas City, Missouri, went on apace. If delivery was required, the Kansas City liquor stores would gladly provide it.

In point of fact, there is no logical reason why a person cannot have a drink in a dry state or after midnight on a Sunday. Can we consider drinking on a Thursday evening, for example, as more evil than drinking on a Sunday in a so called wet state or drinking on any day of the week in a dry state?

Absolute prudery brought on the decade long period of Prohibition on the manufacture or sale or drinking of liquor in the 1920’s until March, 1933 when Roosevelt came to power. To a large measure, the current rule of banning the sale of liquor products on Sundays is nothing other than an outgrowth of the demise of Prohibition. In effect, those who imposed Prohibition had to take what they could get once Franklin Roosevelt took over the U.S. presidency. It is a shameful exercise when an American begins to try to explain liquor laws in the United States to almost any European. They must wonder if John Calvin is still around.

Closely allied to liquor restrictions, are arbitrary bans on what might be seen of the female form. Victoria’s Secret is a firm that offers underwear for women. In many cases where enlightenment has not dawned, the distribution of Victoria’s Secrets catalogues have been largely frowned on. The establishment of one of their stores in virgin territory is nearly an impossibility. And, of course, there is no reason for it at all. It is simply prudery particularly where evangelical Christians live. Male prudes ogle the female form in the Bible Belt just as normal men do.

When Rudolph Guilani was Mayor of New York City, he spent an inordinate amount of time harassing stores that sold sexual products. As a rule, those stores kept to themselves on side streets. They were not on Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue. But Guilani hounded them endlessly for political reasons. Liquor laws that proscribe certain conduct are largely meaningless, as we saw in the St. Louis case. If one wishes to visit a so called sex store in New York, it must be found on a side street or in a rundown area of an outer borough or a suburb. The point is that people go to sex stores because they find them worthwhile. Prudery will no more stamp out consumption of liquor than it will stamp out interest in sex.

Now we turn to the chairman of the august Federal Communications Commission, Michael Powell. He is, of course, the son of Colin Powell, the Secretary of State. Perhaps if Michael ever settles the flap over the right breast of Janet Jackson exhibited on national television on Super Bowl Sunday, he may be a candidate to succeed his father in running the State Department. Whether the younger Powell got his current position as a matter of nepotism will have to be determined.

The younger Powell has set himself up as a guardian of American morality. Howard Stern is a radio personality whose comments seem to be offered in offbeat, perhaps smutty language. It is my recollection that a few minutes of one of his comments reached my ears. It was the language of junior high school jocks in their dressing room. Some years ago, Mr. Stern was marked off as a juvenile artist who had nothing to say of any interest to me. Yet his employer, Clear Channel Communications was fined $1.75 million because of the comments of Howard Stern. Anyone offended by Stern’s remarks could move the dial or turn the radio set off. But Powell says high school jock talk comes at a rate of $1.75 million. Strong stuff.

In a second issue involving Powell, during the half time show on the 2004 Super Bowl, Janet Jackson and her singing partner, Justin Timberlake, had a scene where Timberlake removed part of Ms. Jackson’s dress exposing, for an instant, part of her right breast. Her body was exposed for less than a second, but the world stood still, according to Chairman Powell of the FCC. It was a day like Pearl Harbor. One pastie covered breast threatened civilized society. The scene was rerun on all the major networks for days, much to Powell’s displeasure.

Watching half-time Super Bowl extravaganzas is an effort that repels me, so my energies go to reading a book or the Sunday papers. As a result, it is impossible for me to tell you about this incident. Nonetheless, exposure of a right breast is not something that would cause me to faint or to seek hospitalization. It could cause a blip in my electrolyte levels. Exposure of the left breast might be something else altogether, so it will be necessary for me to reserve judgment in that instance. In any case, Powell’s FCC fined the broadcaster, CBS, $550,000 for its dabble into television pornography. The irony here is that CBS had no idea that Ms. Jackson’s breast would be exposed.

This is prudery at its finest. The solution is clear. If one of us wishes to avoid the childish comments of Howard Stern, there are hundreds of other choices on the dial. Similarly, it one does not care to see Ms. Jackson’s right breast bared, the viewer may shut his eyes, look away, go to another room, put his hand up in front of his face, or turn off the television set. Ah, but these may be unpatriotic choices. Patriotism demands that Powell’s FCC must guard us from four letter words and from a momentary glimpse of a mammary gland. All of us should continue to permit Powell to save us from sin. It is all done in the name of prudery. To get us to heaven in our own good time, Chairman Powell levied a fine of $550,000 on CBS. If both breasts had been exposed, perhaps Powell, after fainting, would fine CBS a greater amount because they were repeat offenders. Sucn a development might cause me to look up from my book or the Sunday papers.

Speaking of four letter words, there is a performer on the Catholic station, Eternal Word Television Network. Johnnette Benkovic, has a weekly hour-long program devoted to ambitious promotion of the Catholic faith. In recent years, Johnnette seems to have developed an inordinate interest in sexual matters – all done in the interest of promoting the faith.

Ah, but Johnnette, who appears in the latest fashions, is reluctant to utter the word, “Hell.” Usually, she points to the floor and says that sinners go “down there.” Old Johnnette has made no inroads on my beliefs or lack thereof, but it is worthwhile to watch her occasionally for comic relief. So if you see me pointing to the ground and recommending that other people, “go down there,” you will know that Johnnette has verbally seduced me. Johnnette simply represents a high water mark for prudery in television broadcasting. It is absolutely clear that Michael Powell would consider her the gold standard for every broadcast.

Before we fold our tents on the subject of American prudery, it is incumbent upon critics such as my self to comment on the print media and on news that appears on television. A close reading of newspapers and magazines and network news programming, would lead one to believe that none of the individuals being reported on have ever uttered words like, “damn” or “Jesus” or “God damn it.” According to what the newspapers or news magazines or network news reports, no one has ever been tempted to even consider or to utter the “F” word.

As a general proposition, we view Great Britain as a prissy country, yet the news media that finds its way to Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace regularly reflect all those words that are used in the discourse of today’s events. When a British parent is told of his son’s death in Iraq from a roadside bomb, he may be quoted in the British press as saying, “God damn this war.” In similar circumstances, we are asked to believe that an American parent would say nothing or he would be quoted as saying, “How horrible.” The truth is that Americans can express themselves as well as the prissy British, but in an exercise of gross prudery, we are never told of it. An honest reporting of the facts would do no one any harm. If Prince Phillip and his toothsome Queen can handle accurate and truthful reporting, there are many of us non-prudish Yankees who believe Americans can do the same.

Now we arrive at the sub-heading of this essay, that being, about revenge. It is earnestly hoped that all the readers of these essays recognize that they are written at great hazard to my future in any religious organization. My future may have been foreclosed even with the Holy Rollers. In this essay, some vulgar words have been used and there was an allusion to the display of the right breast of a television performer. How could this old essayist live so long without knowing that someone in the deity would seek revenge? In the King James Version of the Bible, there is a section called, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans.” In the 12th chapter, verse 19, it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saieth the Lord.” In the next verse, there is reference to heaping “coals of fire upon his head.” It is to be hoped that coals of fire on my head would be excessive punishment for a few non-standard English words and for reference to the nude female form. But if that is the price this old essayist has to pay, so be it. It must be done to avoid the fervid embrace of prudery. So if agony is the result of my essay writing, let us have agony.

When this essay was started, there was no indication that it would go on so long. But prudery is all around us. It is in the circumlocutions of our language. It pervades religion and government. With the re-election of Bush, the prospects are that it will increase abundantly.

The rest of the world looks to America for leadership in almost every field. To the extent that they find American prudery instead of American wisdom, they will inevitably turn away. This, my friends, is a sad state of affairs.

November 5, 2004


“Prudery” seems almost too charitable here. I would be more likely to use bigotry, sexism, anti-intellectualism, etc. For instance, when I was reading the section on marijuana, it struck me that progress made on that front coincided with this new anti-vaccer movement. Failing to get your kids vaccinated is a particularly malicious kind of willful ignorance, since your child can then infect the elderly or very young with extremely serious diseases which could have been prevented. They undermine herd immunity and prevent crippling illnesses from being eliminated. Like many others in this essay, this behavior boils down to a deep distrust of the modern and a hatred of change.  In this and other areas, there is a growing enthusiasm for trying to retreat into the distant past.

Prudishness has to do with being excessively modest or proper, but as a country we’re going far beyond that lately. In some areas we’ve made great progress, like with gay rights, but we’ve also just elected a man who wants to take the US back to the 1950s as quickly as he can possibly manage. It often seems like a one-step-forward, two-steps-back scenario.

As a final note, kind of a funny timing on this one. The super bowl is in two days, and due to the Janet Jackson incident I believe it now runs on something like a 30 second delay from the live action, so that unintentional nipple slips can be cut out before they offend the masses.


This essay about the death of Tony Nave’s father is dedicated to George Bush and to George Nethercutt, a Representative from Washington State who made it all possible.

Nearly eight months ago, there was printed in several newspapers and on the Internet, a photograph taken by Steve Perez of the Detroit News Photo Department.

It is a picture of six year old Tony Nave leaving the funeral service for his father, Major Kevin Nave of the United States Marines.  Major Nave had been killed, apparently in combat, in Iraq.

This old essayist and World War II soldier, has seen thousands of newspaper photographs going as far back as 1926.  It has been my lot to see war first hand in North Africa and in Italy.  It is never pretty.  Simply put, Steve Lopez’s photograph of young Tony Nave leaving his father’s funeral mass is the most poignant and touching scene that has ever come before me.  It is not only poignant and touching, but it makes this old soldier’s being rage with anger when we consider what the United States forces have been sent to do in Iraq.

When Bush delivered his curious State of the Union speech on January 20th to upstage the Democratic primaries, the death toll in Iraq stood at 505 deaths.  By weeks end, the toll had passed the 513 mark.  It is now, on January 27th, at around 518 dead.  When Bush made his ill fated journey on May 1st to the Carrier Abraham Lincoln flight deck, there were 138 deaths from combat in the invasion of Iraq.  In the nine months since that day, 380 U.S. men and women have been killed in Iraq.

This essayist believes that the Pentagon continually lies to us.  For them to now admit that 518 men and women in the military services have died from gun shot wounds or by bombings or by crashes of their vehicles including helicopters, is quite an admission.  Since Bush declared on May 1 that combat operations had been completed and had his sign hung on the Abraham Lincoln, “Mission Accomplished,” 380 good military people have been killed.  This is a rate of more than 42 per month, which is about where the prescription advanced by that grizzled warrior, Representative George R. Nethercutt, Jr. of Washington’s 5th Congressional District, said it should be.

Last October 14th in remarks to Congress, Nethercutt said that the deaths of two soldiers per day seemed to be within reasonable limits.  To his credit, Nethercutt said he hoped there would be no further deaths in Iraq.  Don’t we all.  This was all uttered in a denunciation of the American press for not putting a positive spin on the war to the liking of the Republicans.  Undisputed is this quotation from his October 14th speech:

“The story of what we’ve done in the post-war period is remarkable.  It is a better and a more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”

Two thoughts.  What “post war period” was Nethercutt talking about?  Killings of American soldiers continue.  Are we to consider all killings of  American’s soldiers after May 1st as just “post war deaths”?  The word “post” suggests that the war is over.  Far from it.

Secondly, was Nethercutt’s cutting reference to “losing a couple of soldiers every day.”  Many of us have been engaged in wars where it was fair to assume that not all of us would still be alive this evening or tomorrow morning.  But Nethercutt says it’s only a matter of “a couple of soldiers every day.”  If he was one of those soldiers picked for death, he might offer a more compassionate message.

Major Kevin Nave was one of those “couple of soldiers every day” that Nethercutt referred to.  Hence, the dedication of this essay.

Attached is Nethercutt’s biography.  It has been read minutely and thoroughly.  It fails to mention his expertise in military matters.  But that is no hindrance to his off-hand comment that losing a “couple of soldiers every day” is acceptable.  Nethercutt was 25 years of age when the Vietnamese war took place.  Obviously, he avoided that war just as the sainted Bush and Cheney also avoided it.

Any reference to Nethercutt’s remarks on October 14th, have also mysteriously disappeared from his website.

Now on to the Steve Perez photograph of Tony Nave.  During my enlistment from 1942 to November, 1945, it would be safe to say that no more than 20% to 25% of my colleagues were married.  That was true because jobs were very hard to find during the Great Depression.  A man needed a job to propose marriage to any girl.

Of the men who had married, only a small handful had children.  Therefore, there were few Tony Nave’s left to mourn the passing of a soldier killed in Europe or in the Pacific.  But in this war, the percentage of military men with children as dependents must be many times the rate in World War II.  We have today a voluntary military force who, before Iraq, lived with their spouses and treated the military as a job.  Those days are gone, courtesy of our pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.

In Bush’s State of the Union speech on January 20th, the last thing he intended to mention was the 505 dead at that time.  That was avoided while he bragged about how tough he was in dealing with other countries around the world.  Bush may think he was tough, but Europeans read him as a blow hard bully.  And a coward to boot.  And so do many of Americans, including this one.

If this old soldier and citizen had a wish that Bush could fulfill, it would be for him to shut up for many minutes while he watched the Tony Nave’s of the world battle their monumental losses.  There is no assurance that Bush, with his limited intellect and with his lack of interest in current events and in history, would be impressed.  But it is worth a try for him to witness all of the heartache he has caused by this un-needed war.  This war is about oil and Bush’s re-election in 2004.  Make no mistake about that.  The excuse that Bush took this country to war to do away with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, has been blown up several times, most recently by David Kay, who just resigned after hunting for WMD’s for several months with no findings at all.

In short it is my desire for Bush to see what he has done to America’s children and their widowed mothers.  If that does not sober him, nothing will penetrate his brain.  Unfortunately, that may be the case.

Now before we leave the photograph of six year old Tony Nave leaving the funeral mass for his father, there absolutely has to be a condemnation of the conduct of the three priests who stood on the steps of the church offering NO SYMPATHY or help to the distraught Tony Nave.

Midwestern speech or Missouri speech contains only a few allegories or other allusions to the grandeur of man and his surroundings.  Missouri speech wastes no words.  It is largely incapable of being misunderstood.  It is direct speech and let the chips fall where they may.

In the speech of Missouri and America’s Mid-West, the three priests who offered no consolation to Tony Nave richly deserve to have their asses kicked repeatedly.  That is the minimum.

My father, who struggled all his life to overcome a second grade education, would have said this about Bush and the three priests:

“They deserve to have their asses kicked so that they come to rest between their shoulder blades.”

Good for my old man.  Is that clear enough?

No one cares whether these were priests or pastors or preachers or imams or rabbis or mullahs or Doctor Professor Reverends.  Their asses should be kicked resoundingly.

In Southern speech which was heard during Army days, the expression was, “Their asses should be kicked from here till breakfast.”  Not bad at all.  And it should happen.

Now while the expressions may vary, all of the thoughts have to do with the absolute failure of these grown men to kneel down or to pick up Tony Nave or to whisper comforting words in his hour of need.  These priests stood there with their hands in a reverent pose and DID NOTHING.  The Detroit diocese of the Catholic Church should send these three men away to join those associated with priestly rape of young Altar Boys.

This picture haunted me from April 5th when if first appeared until January.  On January 9th, the Detroit News was called.  When someone in Jan Lowell’s imaging shop came on the line, he knew immediately which photograph was being referred to.  The News asked for its standard reprint fee of $30 and said it would send the photo in about four weeks.  It arrived in two weeks.

It is hoped that when you look at the Steve Perez photo you will have a reaction much like mine.  In my case, tears are the result.

And finally, it is hoped that my Missouri speech patterns don’t offend you.  Aside from my 3½ year engagement with the United States Army Air Corps – later the U. S. Army Air Force – the first 28 years of my existence were spent primarily in the Show Me State.  One thing or another has taken me away from Missouri since 1951, but the colorful patterns of Midwestern speech have always remained with me.

January 27, 2004

Post Script:

As the essay about Tony Nave was about to be put into final form, two columns from the Newark Star Ledger appeared on January 26th.  Both are the work of two of the Ledger’s longest serving columnists.

John Farmer is a national political correspondent.  He is a veteran of that forgotten conflict, the Korean War.  Lawrence Hall is called a “Star Ledger columnist” in the tag line attached to his pieces.  Lawrence Hall is much more than that.  It has been my pleasure to read his output for several decades.  For whatever it is worth, Lawrence Hall is an African-American who writes magnificent stuff.

These columns, particularly Lawrence Hall’s comment on our being “content to live with the lies,” brings to mind the complete absence of protests about events in Iraq by religious organizations in this country.  A little more than a week ago, we celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Can anyone imagine Doctor King having no comment on the deaths of 518 American service men and women in Iraq?  Can you imagine that he would be silent about the deaths of 17 Spanish and two Polish soldiers lost in that same effort to wipe out weapons of mass destruction which did not exist?

No reasonable person would expect Doctor King to remain silent about our losses and about the killings that the Iraqi people have had to endure.  Martin Luther King would mourn every death.  Curiously, while little was said on commemorating the birth of Martin Luther King, there has been absolutely no discernable voice raised by any religious organization in this country since the Iraq war started.  As Lawrence Hall says, “Sadly, Americans are content to live with the lies.”

No one has ever successfully accused me of being a practitioner of any religious faith.  As an outsider, it is a complete mystery to me why religious figures thump on their Bibles and preach the same timeworn, misleading mish-mash, while the 10,000 pound Iraqi elephant struts unobserved and unmentioned around the church, synagogue or mosque sanctuaries.  Sooner or later, that elephant will have to be dealt with.



Then, as now, it’s important to hold onto the outrage. There’s so much that’s wrong that it’s easy to begin to fatigue, but Pop wrote consistently about the wrongs of the war and its unnecessary deaths for years and years. It clearly got to him on a very personal level, and for good reason. I couldn’t really think of a better way to piss Pop off than for a draft dodger to refer to soldiers’ lives as expendable.


In this Second Series, we deal with why Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf, Iraq, took his coronary troubles to Jewish and Christian cardiologists in London. He went to London, not to Damascus or Cairo or Beirut, for his heart work. For Ali Sistani to agree that infidels (Jews and Christians) be allowed to meddle with his heart is a concession of the first magnitude. On one hand it says that Arab or Persian (Sistani was born in Iran) do not have the required expertise. On the other hand, it says when a life is on the line, religion and sexual orientation make no difference.

The second piece also has to do with some forlorn towns in the news these days in the Darfur region of the Sudan. My visits to these places during World War II convinced me that they were among the least desirable places to live anywhere in the world. It’s hard to believe, but things in those two towns have become worse.

As a saving grace, the Ayatollah piece contains a memorable bit of Donegal doggerel which is often repeated at this house while shaving. The story goes something like this.

Sistani’s Conversion

One of the benefits of my not being involved with any religious organization is that when it is my turn to consult a physician, it makes no difference to me about his religious or sexual preference. The sole exception, it might be supposed, is to have a medico who embraces Christian Science. Other than that exception, it ordinarily makes no difference to me if my visit takes me to a Protestant, a Catholic or a Jewish physician. So far no physician of mine seems to have embraced the Moslem, Buddhist or Hindu faiths, at least to my knowledge. And it may well be that some of the medicos that have treated me are non-believers in any religion. It might be suspected that non-believers would probably not want to advertise that fact for fear of offending red hot believers.

All of this comes from my pondering while my razor does its work, about the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the head man of the Moslem Shia faith in Iraq. Earlier this month, the Grand Ayatollah urgently needed some work on his heart which was unavailable in Iraq or apparently, in all Arab countries. His problem was sufficiently serious that he was sent to London for his cardiology problems. After a month or so in London, Ali Sistani has returned to his headquarters in Najaf, Iraq, where he has issued a call for all Shiites to come to Najaf. Perhaps this means the Grand Ayatollah is in a fighting mood. This must mean that the London cardiologists have done a fine job.

But that is not the main concern here. Muslims have always hated Jews. Now with the occupation of Iraq, Americans who are presumed to be Christians, are as hated as the Jews. The question that goes through my mind is whether in London, Ali Sistani was attended to by a cardiologist who subscribes to the Jewish faith?

Christian Americans often spend some of their training years in places like London. Do you think it is possible for a Jewish cardiologist assisted by an American Christian to have performed the surgery that restored Ali Sistani to full cardio-vascular health? Does anyone believe that the Grand Ayatollah insisted on having the cardio-vascular work performed only by Shiite cardiologists in London? Not a chance. The people who wielded the knives and cutting tools and the sewing kits were Jews assisted by Christian infidels.

So in the end, the Grand Ayatollah was most likely operated on by a Jewish cardiologist who eats only Kosher food. Sistani has no complaint at all. When it was my turn to have a heart by-pass operation, there were Jewish physicians assisted by Irish technicians and nurses in a hospital called Columbia Presbyterian. For a non-believer such as myself, that might be called playing God across the board. To top it off, my nurses in a Presbyterian Hospital were Irish women who intensely disliked the Brits and who were presumably, Catholics.

Most of the Irish nurses at Columbia Presbyterian came from Donegal where it is believed the Carr clan originated. They treated me like a son or brother. One of the nurses offered me an example of Donegal doggerel which is better than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. It says:

Donegal is the place
Where the women eat the praties (potatoes)
Skins and all.

Now wasn’t that free style poem worth waiting for?

If Grand Ayatollah Sistani takes a piece of Donegal doggerel poetry back with him from London, he may live forever. He should have told the nurses that Ali Sistani is an old Donegal name.


When news reports this summer began to expose atrocities in Sudan, they all identified it as a large region of that forlorn country, as big as California. When news reports became more specific, two Sudanese towns in the stories on Darfur caused me to think again about an essay produced here. It claimed that those two towns were the loneliest, most forlorn towns that anyone ever saw. Those towns were El Genina and El Fasher.

Let’s go back a step or two in the history of air transport in World War II. Until mid or late 1944, crossing the North Atlantic from the U.S. to Britain was often a hazardous endeavor. The weather, particularly in winter, was treacherous. Fog, icebergs, cold weather and all that. Even more dangerous were the German submarines called U-Boats. To avoid all those factors, the U.S. Army Air Force used the much longer Southern route. Boy, it was a long, long route for everything that could be carried by air.

The planes were generally C-47’s called DC-3’s in civilian life. They had internal cabin gas tanks. A fleet of C-87’s which had the capacity for longer flights were also used. When the C-87’s were intended for bombing missions they were called B-24’s.

The key points on the Southern route were Miami and the British-American base at Accra. Until the 1960’s, that base was located in a country called the Gold Coast which was a part of British West Africa in the English Empire. Since the late 1960’s, it is called Ghana.

From Miami, the trail led southward to Barinquen, Puerto Rico. Barinquen was the end of civilization for a time on this route. Next came a long over-water hop onto a jungle air strip outside of Georgetown, British Guiana. That country is now called Guyana. The enlisted men’s barracks at Georgetown had snakes and flying birds – inside! It was truly a jungle.

The next stop heading southward was Belem, Brazil. The Brazilians made things more civilized – and there was a town to visit for lucky GI’s. The next stop was the eastern most spot in Brazil called Natal. Most of us had some lovely boots made in Natal or Belem. Brazil suits me well. The people are outgoing and cheerful. They even tried to sell lipstick and other cosmetics to GI’s who had little use for such exotic products.

Heading eastward, the next stop was over the South Atlantic to a British island called Ascension. That tiny island had a semi-mountain with a hole cut through it to accommodate a single air strip. The wind blew constantly which made it important to line up for landings – and sometimes for take offs – in the center of the strip to avoid having the wing tips touching the side of the excavated hill.

By my estimation, Ascension has to be one of the loneliest places anywhere in the world. The soil cannot be cultivated, so at one time, vegetables were grown hydroponically. The vegetables were simply tasteless. There was no town there.

A GI told me that he had spent a tour in the Aleutian Islands. When he asked for a transfer, the Army fixed his clock by sending him to Ascension. Today, as far as can be told, Ascension is unpopulated and barely appears on maps of the South Atlantic region, appearing only in expensive atlases. That was and is, a lonely place.

My travels caused me to spend three nights on separate trips on Ascension. It was good to know that in the morning, we would head westward to Natal or eastward to Accra. The GI’s who were assigned there cursed their fate. We all understood.

Continuing eastward, there is a long over-water hop to Accra. At that base, material, supplies, engines and so forth were separated. Those intended for the European Theater went to Roberts Field in Liberia and then to Dakar, Senegal. In Dakar, where one could drink French wine, there were spies by the hundreds who made no real effort to hide their occupation. From Dakar, heading northward and easterly, there were some bases largely unknown to the outside world. First there was Atar, Mauritania and then Tindouf, Algeria. Then came Colom Bechar, Algeria and finally Oran, Algeria. All these were former French bases. From Oran, the cargo headed for the fighting in the North African and European battles.

Keep in mind Atar and Tindouf for later reference. Remember, Colom Bechon had the finest eating oranges in my memory.

It will be recalled that the U.S. was at war with Germany, Italy and their European allies, as well as with the Japanese Empire. For many years, some strategists argued that the best way to attack Japan was through China. So Accra became the distributing point for materiel heading eastward. First there was Kano and Maiduguri, Nigeria. Then
El Genina, El Fasher and Khartoum, Sudan. Then came Asmara, formerly in Ethiopia, now in Eritrea, Aden, Yemen and Karachi, formerly in India now in Pakistan. From Karachi, there were four or more bases until the supplies crossed the Himalayan mountains and wound up with allied forces in China.

From all this, remember if you will, El Genina and El Fasher.

According to my essay of several years ago, the loneliest places in the world are Ascension Island, Atar and Tindouf and El Genina and El Fasher. While my shaving was underway, it dawned on me that all those bases shared several characteristics. At all five of those lonely places, the wind blew endlessly. If one of us had a cup of coffee on the flight line, the wind would cool it automatically.

In the four African bases, Atar, Tindouf, El Genina and El Fasher, sand and dirt were constant problems. When an airplane was to spend the night there, at any of these bases, each engine had to be shrouded to attempt to protect it from sand and dirt. The mess halls – such as they were – had the same problem with the sand and dirt blowing through the tar-paper covering of the structure. On more than one occasion, sleeping in the airplane was preferable to trying to deal with bed clothes that had sand in them. There was absolutely no town to visit. In my estimation, English speaking foreigners would not have made any Arab shop owners very happy.

On all these bases, there were no rivers nearby. Water was a luxury. It was ladled out by the canteen. The Army loves to call its toilets or bathrooms “latrines,” which has both French and Latin ancestry. The dictionary says latrines are a place to wash. Not so in Atar, Tindouf,
El Genina and El Fasher. This was the case because there was no water for it at all. The latrines – for all their Frenchness – were known to my parents as outhouses. In this case, the sand and dirt made them pretty poor outhouses, at that.

This may destroy a myth about our soldiers being squeaky clean, but it is my duty to tell you that soldiers go for days or weeks without bathing or showering. My journeys took me through these bases on several trips. My bathing took place after we had reached a more civilized place, maybe two or three days later.

A final story about the El Genina and El Fasher. At the time of my enlistment, the Army issued a costume to us called “fatigues.” The Army loves French words, but these were simply work clothes. The fatigues had pants with metal buttons on the fly. The jacket had probably four metal buttons as well. Uniformly, the fatigues were some sort of green in color. Knowing how things are done in the Army, it is probably true that the color was given an undecipherable name. Take my word for it. They were green. And they were work clothes.

The first time my journeys brought me to El Genina, the ground mechanic who greeted us was dressed in what appeared to be off-white fatigues. My astonishment had no bounds. Was this a new issue that we had not seen or was it something that the El Genina ground crew had dreamed up by itself?

The next stop was El Fasher and again, we were greeted by ground mechanics in off-white uniforms. So some questions needed to be asked. An El Fasher mechanic said it was a simple matter. There was an Arab man who appeared to collect clothes for laundry. He took them home to be washed by one of his wives. The soap she used must have been industrial strength. After the washing, the clothes were hung on a line in the African desert sun with the African desert wind blowing on them. Before long, those green fatigues turned a dingy white. That is not an inspiring tale about the fatigues, but it must be said that in El Genina and El Fasher, that’s all the news we have to report.


Clearly, the Arabs in Darfur are chasing and killing the black inhabitants. The Arabs believe that they are a superior race, it must be supposed. My heart goes out to the poor black people of Darfur. From all appearances, there have been no efforts to help them. Kofi Annan and Colin Powell shook their fists at the Sudanese government. The net effect was a big, fat zero. The killing and the displacement go on.

It may also be supposed that this country cares much more for the inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan instead of the black people of
El Genina, El Fasher and Darfur. Perhaps some day those black people will finally get a break. The politicians here are worried right now about same sex marriages and late term abortions. Do you think after those issues are settled, there may be some attention directed to the people of the Darfur region who are dying – right now?

While shaving these days, my thoughts are often on the people of the Sudan who badly need a break.

August 31, 2004


This is actually pretty organized for a shaving thought. I was expecting a good meander through all sorts of topics, but we kept a pretty consistent narrative instead. Man, part of me really wants to visit Ascension and some of these other places, but the other part of me is generally there to remind me that I’ve only ever heard negative things about these places. Seems like the perpetual wind would get pretty frustrating, at the very least.

From my short time in Sao Paulo, however, I could definitely see Pop getting along well in Brazil. The people I met there were all friendly, boisterous and unpretentious.



During this election year, the Bushies say that everything having to do with the economy and jobs are going honky-dory. The Democrats point to three million lost jobs since the Bush Administration took office.

It might be supposed that the count of lost jobs perhaps ought to go up by one in view of the fact that your old essayist has largely been without gainful employment since 1984. And, he has not looked for work for quite a while. Could it be that my situation is part of the so called “jobless recovery”? Or is it shiftlessness? Some say that shiftlessness is a virtue. It would be hard for me to disagree with that line of thinking.

Perhaps it could be said that writing essays is sort of a job. On many occasions, it is certainly not easy work. The pay in dollars is just about zero. When an essay is well received, however, there is greater joy than dollars could provide. There is one other benefit in being a largely unpaid-in-money essayist. You work when you want to. Quitting time is whenever the essayist says it is. And there is no hassle about overtime pay. And, supervision is pretty weak.

So in the end, being part of the “jobless recovery” is not all bad. At least, there is essay work to be done which is more than can be said about some of the jobs we are talking about today. The jobs we are thinking about basically no longer exist. There may be some lone operators who still perform some of the old time functions, but by and large, society has seen fit to discard many of the jobs we should now consider.

This old essayist is struck with a sense of nostalgia about the lost jobs. Nostalgia or no nostalgia, it is fairly clear that the jobs we have in mind are not coming back. But at least we can salute at their demise, because those jobs made our lives more graceful and more comfortable.

Here are some of the jobs that have borne the brunt of the rush to modernize:

Elevator operator
Telephone operator
Filling station attendant
Conductor on buses and street cars
Utility meter reader
Shoe shiners or boot black
Stone mason
Cigar store clerk (endangered)

This is not intended as a complete list by any means. Everyone can probably think of other jobs that have disappeared. It is not a Bureau of Labor Statistics list. It is simply a list that Miss Chicka added to after a faltering start by your ancient essayist.


In 1941, the Long Lines Division of AT&T offered me a job as a draftsman in its Division 5 headquarters in St. Louis. At that point, AT&T rented quarters for its offices in the headquarters building of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at 1010 Pine Street in downtown St. Louis. If my memory is anywhere near correct, the building was 26 floors high. Nearly all Bell System headquarters buildings had 26 floors and were styled in the Gothic fashion. The Vatican of AT&T at 195 Broadway in New York also had 26 floors. No Associated Company headquarters could exceed the Vatican in height.

The building in St. Louis had perhaps 10 or 12 manual elevators. In 1941, all were operated by elevator operators who were responsible to get the riders to the correct floor and to level the elevator with the hallway so that the door could be opened and people could enter and disembark without tripping. My memory is that the doors were manually opened by the elevator operators.

Elevator operators had a round device with a handle on it, about a foot in diameter, to control the ascent and descent functions. As they neared the desired floor, the control was moved to the left to descend and to the right to go up. When the operator was satisfied that the elevator was pretty much even with the hallway floor, the operator would then open the doors. When everyone left the elevator cab, she would manually close the doors. It should be pointed out, that all the elevator operators were female and all wore uniforms.

In those days, jobs were hard to find so the elevator operators cared about their jobs. If they acquired a lot of seniority, they could get in line to become elevator starters. Elevator starters worked in the lobby . They told the operators when it was time to move the elevator. Being a starter paid more than being an operator and had more prestige.

Starters usually stood outside the elevator to direct lobby traffic. Often they would hold one arm on the elevator doors until the elevator was full and ready to move. With several elevators to deal with, the starters became an important function. At department stores, they might even remind potential customers of a sale or of specialty items. The starters aspired to become head starters, but that took a considerable amount of seniority. The head starter controlled assignments for the starters and for operators. He or she occupied a prominent position which reflected years of seniority.

Operators were dressed in uniforms and often, white gloves. Starters and the head starter wore better uniforms. Some of the starter uniforms even had epaulets on the shoulder.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a concerted move in this country to go to automated elevators. The operators and starters were then forced to look for other work. Conversion was a time consuming process with the main work and planning being done by the Otis Corporation who built the elevators. The man running the Long Lines Department of AT&T was a vengeful and a cruel man. Apparently, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area of Long Lines had once crossed Henry Killingsworth, the President of Long Lines. Killingsworth demoted Dick Wheeler, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area, and made him move from Kansas City to New York. He was then given responsibility for conversion of the elevators to automatic in the headquarters building of Long Lines. Dick Wheeler is on my list of all time good guys. Henry Killingsworth is one of my all time villains, ranking somewhere between Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon.

Finally, there was Donna, an elevator operator in St. Louis. For the last three years of my work in St. Louis, the union members made me their local Union President. In that capacity, it was often necessary to meet with the management movers and shakers. Donna extended a warm
greeting to everyone who entered her elevator. Although she worked for Southwestern Bell, a different employer from Long Lines, there were occasions in meetings with management to tell the bosses they were crazy not to hire Donna away from Southwestern Bell. They were told that Donna came from a country town, Bonne Terre, in Missouri’s lead belt and that we believed she needed a break.

Well, the long and short of it is that Cliff Duncan, the Division Plant Superintendent, a good man, said he would give Donna a job working for Long Lines. He did that. She worked hard and mastered the new job. My memory tells me that she also found a husband in the process. Your old essayist retired from match-making after that success.

After a while, Donna’s new boss thanked me for getting him such a hard worker. Perhaps this goes to show that country girls from Bonne Terre (good earth) can make it in the big city. All of us were happy at Donna’s success.


Leaving elevator operators and starters, there should be a word about the people who operated cigar stands in the lobbies near the elevators of large buildings. Such operators could be male or female, but most were male as they were often asked about the relative merits of various cigars.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, cigar smokers did not earn as much as they might be paid today, so sales of boxes of cigars were infrequent. In my experience, older men in their 40’s or thereabouts, might go to lunch and say upon returning to their building, “I believe this would be a good day for a cigar.” So cigars were sold not by the box, but individually.

Cigar stands do not appear much in today’s large buildings. This must reflect a diminished number of smokers. Cigars are sold by stores around town that do a much heavier trade in lottery tickets than in cigars. Cigars have pretty much gone out of style these days. For my money, that is a great development. In my experience, there were three or four occasions when it appeared appropriate to smoke a cigar. Every puff reminded me of how much cigar smoking was revolting to me. It pleased my father, but not his son. Cigars foul the air in an office and make clothing smell bad. If all tobacco products were outlawed, it would be pleasing to those of us who are non-smokers.

A personal thought occurs here. Carl Heidbreder was an AT&T employee in St. Louis who liked cigars. He also liked to have parties on his lawn where great quantities of beer were drunk to go with the cigars being puffed. Carl never invited me to those lawn parties. That suited me well in every dimension. In point of fact, beer comes in only a step or two ahead of cigars in my all-time dislike list.


With that, we move on to telephone operators. The first telephone in the Carr family was a party line. It was Clayton 714-J and of course, the house was in Clayton, Missouri. When the receiver was picked up, a signal would appear on the telephone company switchboard and the operator would come on the line and say, “Number please.” She would then complete the call and occasionally, she would warn you that you had an incoming call or that someone else was trying to use the party line. This was labor intensive in the extreme. At one point, the Bell System claimed that if they did not automate, it would be necessary to hire more women than then existed in the American labor force. And so the telephone system was automated and the “number please” operators had to find other work.

The telephone traffic force was exclusively female until sometime in the 1970’s. What is left of that force is still predominately female with a handful of male operators here and there.

Now of course, other telephones throughout the world can be dialed from the comfort of your home or office. Operators are seldom involved. For several years, there has been no future in being a telephone operator. On balance, that may be a desirable outcome, but it is one more job that has disappeared in our time. As a man who had a lot to do with telephone traffic operations, it is bothersome that this has happened. It might also be added, that women who were involved with telephone operations were the most loyal and active members of my union. In times of trouble, they could always be counted on. That is a very desirable characteristic.


Butchers are like elevator and telephone operators in the march to oblivion. In large part, they have been done in by pre-packaged meats. During the Depression when my mother traded at Gualdoni’s Market, there were two butchers who presided in their blood stained smocks over the meat counter. To a large extent, they were the stars of the grocery business. In a large grocery store today, you might find only one or two butchers. Formerly, they would have as many as four or five butchers, but no more. My memory is that butchers were good guys who liked to joke with customers and other store employees. Even though no meat is consumed at this house, the semi-demise of butchers is a regrettable occurrence.


Filling station attendants are a lot like butchers. In days gone by, every car had the windshield cleaned and the oil and water checked every time gasoline was purchased. Customers were asked if they wanted the pressure in their tires checked and the water levels in their batteries looked at. In the pre-historic days of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, cars needed lubrication and an oil change every 1000 miles. The front wheel bearings had to be worked on at 3000 mile intervals. Cars today do not require such attention. In the meantime, very few if any filling stations attendants now clean the windshields. If my understanding is halfway correct, in all the states except New Jersey, customers pump their own gas. As a former employee of three filling stations, these advances don’t necessarily represent progress, but rather a desire by big oil and the owners of filling stations to make a larger profit. The car owners are in many respects, the fall guys in this proposition. But younger car owners don’t seem to care as they stare through dirty windshields and pump their own gas on rainy or snowy days.


When families had no cars or were fortunate to have even one car, most people rode buses and street cars to work or for recreational purposes. In days gone by, every bus or street car had two transit company employees aboard. One drove the vehicle and he was called the “motor man.” The second employee collected the fares, gave transfers and when everyone was aboard, signaled the motor man that he could proceed to the next stop. He was the “conductor.”

Generally speaking, customers entered the bus or street car at the rear and paid their fare to the conductor. When the riders wanted to get off, there was a button to push which rang a buzzer to tell the motor man to stop. When the conductor had completed his work, he clanged a bell that told the motor man it was time to proceed. Up until the 1960’s and 1970’s, only men were hired for these two jobs.

Perhaps it was World War II or perhaps it was the executives at the transit companies, but from the 1940’s onward, the motor man was increasingly responsible for all the duties formerly performed by the conductors. Obviously, this brought greater profits to the transit companies, because they had no intention to pay the motor man twice as much salary to cover the loss of the conductors.

This is said to represent progress. If so, it means more profits for the transit companies and a less civilized way to get from point one to point two and a greater potential for accidents as the motor man now has so many jobs to do.

If it makes it seem that my thoughts are wed to the old ways of doing things, that is probably quite right. But after all, this essay is about “Jobless Nostalgia.” There was human contact in riding an elevator with an operator, just as there was human contact with telephone operators, transit workers and filling station attendants. There are those of us who miss that human contact.


Now we turn to another attempt by employers to maximize profits. If you look at your electric bill or at your gas bill, you may notice – in fine print – that some readings of your consumption were “ESTIMATED.” The theory is that meters need only be read every third or fourth month and that any short fall may be made up when the meter reader actually does show up. In the meantime, the number of meter readers diminishes and the customer must brace himself or herself for a large bill when the meter is actually read. This has only to do with utility company profits. There is no other reason for this development.

The Halliburton company is in disrepute these days for such things as over-billing the U. S. Government for delivering gasoline. Halliburton also did not help its reputation for honesty by billing the military forces for “estimated meals served.” A company of soldiers eats three meals per day. If the company is 1000 strong, that means Halliburton estimated that the Army ought to be billed for 3000 meals per day. The flaw in this argument of course, is that soldiers don’t stay in one place for every meal. Some are out in the field on combat assignments. Some are in the hospital. Some may die. Some may be on furlough. In tense situations, it is not unusual for soldiers to pass up a meal even after they have returned from combat. The point is that Halliburton, by billing the Army for estimated meals, is clearly cheating the United States Government. But no one seems to care.

Whether it is the utility companies or Halliburton, lots of executives take a short cut to inflate the bottom line.


Let’s leave the world of estimated readings and meals served and move on to another disappearing job. Years ago when shoes were made in this country, they had a sole and a heel that were attached to the upper part of the shoe. When a sole wore out or when the heels were ground down, the shoes were taken to a cobbler who repaired the damage. Cobblers worked in shops with large lathes for trimming and cutting leather. Their hands were smudged with dirt and shoe polish which were the marks of their trade. Cobblers earned their money. They did not have time to watch their investments in the stock markets.

Like so many other manufacturers, shoe companies decided that they could ship the shoe making machinery to Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica or other developing countries where labor rates are perhaps 80 per cent lower than in the U. S. This meant a big boost in their profits. When this was done, there was another development that largely put the cobbler in danger of losing his business. That was the permanent molded sole.

There is a pair of Rockport shoes in my closet. Rockport is a major manufacturer of shoes these days. The shoes were made in Indonesia. Attached to the leather upper, is a VIBRAM sole. It is not meant to be replaced. If the sole should wear out, the shoes will be discarded. They will probably never see a cobbler. The sole is molded into the leather upper so there is no way it can be replaced. When the sole wears out, perhaps my social security check will permit me to buy a new pair of foreign produced shoes. In the meantime, this is another reason why cobblers, like elevator or telephone operators, have a very limited future.


While we are on the subject of shoes, perhaps we should consider another job that has just about disappeared. That would be a bootblack. They are also called shoe shiners. Bootblacks were generally found in barber shops. Even as a young man earning less than $20 per week, it was almost unthinkable to get your hair cut without a shoe shine.

Bootblacks in a barber shop always tried to get to the customer while he was in the barber chair. If the barber finished ahead of the bootblack, which sometimes happened during rush hours, the customer would then be escorted to an elevated stand elsewhere in the shop to finish the work of the bootblack. By and large, bootblacks were not talkative creatures. Often instead of asking the customer if he wanted a shine, the bootblack would wait until the customer was seated in the barber chair and simply touch the shoes while looking at the customer. In most cases, the customers would tell the shoe shiner to proceed.

Many of the barbershops in downtown locations might have as many as two or three bootblacks. As was said earlier, they had an elevated stand where customers could sit. There were two or three big steps upward so that the bootblack could work at waist level on customer shoes. Often, men would go into a barber shop for a shoe shine between haircuts. In big cities, it was possible to visit a bootblack outside of a barber shop. Often these independent bootblacks were found in rail or bus terminals. Shining shoes was their only source of income and they were hardworking.

In these days of disposable shoes, it is pretty clear that having a man’s shoes shined is part of our culture that has been forgotten. Young men of my age group would never call on a young woman for a date with unshined shoes. A man who did that would be banished as uncivilized. The mother of the date would be outraged and would advise her daughter to think about a more civilized sort for her dating.

Bootblacks in barber shops often would greet the customers at the door and hang up their coats and hats. As the customer started to leave the shop, the bootblack would hold the man’s coat and using a curved brush, would brush his hat, called a fedora. At one time the going rate was 25 cents for a shine, which was accompanied by a tip of the same size. If some special service was performed, the tip should reflect that added attention. As you can see, it did not cost much to have a man’s shoes shined so that he was presentable.


It is absolutely clear that this essayist will be told, “You should also have listed this job or that job”. But this poor old essayist has been forced to stand by while the story of disappearing jobs increases daily. Without belaboring things, there are some other jobs gone down the drain or threatening to do so at any moment. Consider money, for a start.

The clerks who used to hand out the so called “weekly insults” are gone now. First, the companies insisted that everyone should be paid monthly or in some cases, paid semi-monthly. They then sent a debit to the employee’s bank and mailed a receipt to the employee. Therefore, goodbye to the clerks who visited every desk every week to pass out checks.

You will notice that the writer avoided the temptation to say “weakly insult” rather than “weekly insult.” And on semi-monthly employees, the writer avoided the trap constructed by our English cousins by refusing to call it the “fort nightly payroll.” Sincere plaudits will be welcomed for sticking to plain English.

One other job having to do with money is bank tellers. Clearly, banks want to do away with them. Fleet Bank now calls them “Service Advisors.” When Fleet merges with Bank of America, 12,500 jobs will be lost. It may be assumed that some of the layoffs will be among the recently named “Service Advisors” and others will see their jobs disappear as bank customers are encouraged and pushed towards more automation. ATM’s (automatic teller machines) and on-line banking will also have an effect on the number of teller positions available.


Stone masons are clearly on the way out. Contractors around here order strips with rocks already embedded in them. It must be assumed that the rocks are genuine fake rocks, but in any case, the strips are glued or fastened on to new structures, and viola, we have a structure with a rock foundation facing as part of the enterprise. In the meantime, goodbye to stone masons who used to cut and place the rocks to form a wall or a foundation on a house.


A secretary used to be a privileged position. It involved taking dictation and error free typing as well as good manners on the telephone and in welcoming visitors to the boss’s office. My informants tell me that personal secretaries are now reserved for big-shot vice-presidents and the like. Lower lever executives type it themselves or dictate their thoughts into a tape recorder rather than to a stenographer. Poor old Katherine Gibbs, the leading school for secretaries, is now teaching how to deal with computers. It may be progress, but there are many of us who doubt it.


In nearly every town in former days, there were restaurants that opened say from 7AM to 6PM. They served coffee and tea and lunch. They may have offered a light dinner. It seems to me that a high proportion of them were run by Greeks. In those restaurants, if a person or persons sat at a table rather than at the counter, a waitress would appear to take your order and then to deliver it, even if it was only coffee. From what any one can gather, those days are almost gone now. If a customer wants a cup of coffee, he goes to the counter (or pours it himself) and once his coffee cup is in his hand, he wonders around the place until he can find a seat at a table. Not very graceful, but the bosses can kiss their waitresses goodbye as they collect their final pay check.


This lament about lost jobs will close with an ode to draftsmen. When AT&T hired me as a draftsman in 1941, there were large sheets of expensive linen paper that were laid on a drafting table and were then filled with India ink lines. It could be a house or it could be plans for a subdivision. After the drawing was finished, it was sent to the printing department where blue prints were made. Getting blue prints of a large drawing might – under forced draft – be accomplished in 30 minutes to an hour, if the blue printer was free of other jobs. On normal days, it was about a three to five hour turn around.

That is changed now. It is all done by computer. If the customer wants a wall moved, it is no big deal. The computer draws a new wall and fits it into the proposed building in minutes. For a draftsman of my era, that would be a least a one or two day delay. The computer can spit its products out almost instantly.

Even though drafting was my occupation, there is no choice but to say the modern method is better. That’s too bad, as draftsmen were among the world’s professionals who worked hard, were highly trained, were afflicted by “weakly insults” from the boss and who told some lousy jokes. One more job down the drain.


As you can see, times are changing and old timers will have to make the best of it. What old timers know and that young, hard-charging juvenile executives don’t know, is that in earlier days, life was somewhat more graceful. And it might well be argued, more enjoyable. What person in his or her right mind would enjoy pumping gas into an automobile during freezing or rainy weather? What person enjoys dialing his telephone and running into a problem, finding himself largely stranded? What person enjoys being stuck in an automatic elevator between floors? The old operators would look pretty great at times of such frustration.

If after you have wrestled with this essay and you feel a sense of nostalgia for yesteryear, then this essayist has achieved his purpose. Not everyone will agree that progress demands that we surrender a graceful and an enjoyable life. For those of us who remember those graceful and enjoyable days, it makes a mighty nice memory.

This essay will close with a story from my grade school days where there was a job that surely ought to have been eliminated. Perhaps it is gone now. If so, that has my heartfelt applause.

The job in question was “elocution teacher.” Elocution was not taught in public schools. To learn that art took an outside teacher paid for by the parents of the elocution student. In the 1930’s, two of my grade school female classmates were taught by separate elocution teachers. Even at 10 or 12 years of age, the two classmates were bitter rivals. Each teacher also considered the other teacher a bitter rival. And the mothers were also enthusiastic rivals, if not bitter rivals. Great theater.

One girl was the daughter of a prominent businessman in Clayton, Missouri, an affluent suburb of St. Louis. The other girl was the daughter of the principal of the only high school in Clayton. Now for your old essayist, it was during the Depression and there was no need for me to enroll in the Boy Scouts, because their dues were something like 50¢ per month. Obviously, there was no money in the budget for scouting or for elocution lessons, which would have been rejected by me anyway. Along with other boys in the Maryland School of the Clayton Public School system, we considered the girls, their mothers and the elocution teachers as gross ass pains.

Nonetheless, every two or three months, because of the prestige of the fathers and because of pressure from the mothers of the girls, we were forced to listen to the latest recitation of the two female students complete with verbal exclamation points and hand waving. As time went on, our teachers in the public schools would declare one girl the winner and then in a subsequent month, the other girl would be called victorious. The losing side, student, mother and elocution teacher, were appropriately outraged with anything less than a resounding victory in every recitation.

The daughter of the prominent business man recited a poem about peach pie complete with arm waving and verbal gymnastics. It was so bad that most the boys told the teachers that in future elocution recitations, include us out. That ended the recitations. If ever a job should have been lost, the first choice among my male and many of our female classmates, should have been teachers of elocution. The thoughts about that lost art had been recessed in my memory for nearly 68 or 69 years. Writing this essay brought back thoughts about how terrible that poem about “Peach Pie” really was.

All is not lost. My recommendation for former elocution teachers is for them to become tattoo artists. People who used to administer tattoos formerly occupied quarters in the sleaziest part of towns. Now, one is sometimes able to get a tattoo in a mall. Perhaps former elocution teachers should concentrate on giving punk singers tattoos of blue birds on the backs of their necks. Punk shouters perform largely naked above the waist which provides a field of dreams for an ambitious tattoo artist. If the former elocution teachers put as much energy and outrage in their new profession, it is my belief that they will go far. And we will be forever saved from having to listen to recitations of elocution students.

This aged essayist laments the jobs that are gone, except for elocution teachers. He salutes them for the happiness and enjoyment that they brought to many lives. In those by gone days, it could be argued that we enjoyed life more, thanks to the practitioners of those lost jobs. When the movers and shakers of American industry decide that retirees such as my self, will be abolished, which they are on the way to do now, perhaps that will be indeed, the end of jobless nostalgia.

April 8, 2004

So this one’s interesting because it touches on automation, which is a subject that I’ve recently taken an interest in. Honestly I think I started caring about it in 2014, when I saw a fifteen-minute video on the subject by CGP Gray. His tone is — as ever — sort of condescending, but he makes a lot of strong points about job creation and replacement. Of course, we’ve always automated to a degree as we’ve modernized, but the scary part of what’s to come is that there’s basically no prospect of creating new jobs to compensate for the ones that we’ll lose. At around the 14 minute mark in the video, Gray looks at the 32 types of jobs that employ the most people; only one of them (computer programmer) is new to the last century. The others, which make up 45% of the current US workforce, are not only all very old, but largely ripe for automation en masse.

It won’t be as simple as a secretary becoming an executive assistant, or finding another job where being organized and good with typing is a benefit. Filling station attendants could be mechanics, draftsmen could learn to use the new technologies of that trade. But automated trucking alone is going to displace millions of people over the next decade or two, and there aren’t going to be a whole lot of other things for truckers do to. The human component just won’t be necessary, much like the bus conductors that Pop mentioned. I rode a bus twice today, and each time I did so by tapping a card against a card reader as I boarded; the driver didn’t have to do anything. The exact amount of the ride was deducted from the balance on the card, and we went on our way. That same card grants me access to every train, subway, bus, and even public ferry in the entire bay area. It’s insanely convenient and practical. So the job of having a dedicated person on each transit vehicle to make change is simply obsolete, and we’re going to see a lot more jobs go that way in the years to come.

I think the trickiest part to adjust to is that we’re going to have to switch up an element of our culture and society that has been taken for granted for years and years; we will have to divorce work from worth. One’s ability to compete in a 21st century economy will have to exist separately from the rights or privileges that are afforded to that person. There just won’t be enough 9-to-5 jobs to employ everyone, starting within the next decade or two. People in that future society who cannot find lucrative work in spaces like technology will need to be taken care of, which means breaking down the stigma of the welfare state, and most likely finding a way to supply a universal basic income to the entire population. There’s just no other choice. Machines and artificial intelligences will mean that output and standards of living will be higher than ever as long as those benefits are getting distributed out.

This is an okay thing. This is an inevitable thing. But we’re really, really not prepared for it. Our politicians love talking about saving manufacturing jobs from going overseas, but computers are going to take away more jobs than companies moving overseas ever could. It’s not even going to be close. But instead we keep the national focus on employment for the sake of employment. China exemplified that more than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

In China, there were incredible amounts of utterly redundant or useless jobs, that clearly existed just to boost employment figures to the benefit of nobody. I remember a mall equipped with motion-detecting escalators, which would start moving as soon as someone stepped on them. But at the start of every escalator in the mall, there was an employee whose job it was to wave her foot over the motion detector to get the escalator started for you. The starting process was nearly instant — it took maybe a second to be moving at full speed. But nevertheless, here were several dozen escalator attendants performing an utterly useless service for the sake of employment. Why not allow them to be automated out, and all the cashiers and waiters in the mall along with them? Then, from all the revenue that the mall brings in, pay that money back out to citizens who can then pursue things that are actually meaningful to them.

When I say “meaningful to them” what I mean is that all the people who are starting escalators, or even driving trucks, would probably choose to be doing other things with their time if that was a comparably lucrative option; if you didn’t have to pick between providing for your family or doing something you like, not a lot of people are going to spend twelve hours a day at a mall, starting automatic escalators up for people. Instead those people could create, or travel, or volunteer, or do something that doesn’t just make them a slave to a wage for the end goal of just “being employed.”

We’re going to have the money to go around. We just have to be willing to distribute it out, and de-stigmatize that practice, which is obviously going to be a huge nightmare. But what other end-states are possible if trends continue like this?


This little story has to do with Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and other world figures and a small, young orange and white tabby cat who is now walking on my writing paper and is trying to catch my pen. It also has much to do with one of my soldier friends from Indiana.

This saga starts a long time ago in 1944 and 1945. At that time, World War II in the Italian Theater was drawing to a close with Rome, Florence and Venice falling into Allied hands. In those days, the Army Air Force, at least in Italy, rarely sent people home when they could be preparing for continuing the war with Japan. So there was no such thing as home leave for my comrades and friends.

And so this old soldier, at age 22, found himself at the large British and American base at Accra which is in a country now called Ghana. The country used to be called in colonial days, the Gold Coast. There wasn’t much gold in the Gold Coast. The main export in former days was the sale of slaves.

The American soldiers who were based in Accra were the sorts you might find at any other overseas bases. Basically, they wanted the war to finish so that all of us could go home. My guess is that between the Air Transport Command men and the 8th Air Depot Maintenance Group, there may have been 3500 to 4000 Americans on the Accra base. If the Army managed to secure one re-enlistment out of that bunch, it would have been a red letter day for the recruiter. The Army was certainly not what soldiers of my generation wanted to do for lifetime employment.

During my time as a line chief and as an aerial engineer at Accra, it turned out that one of my bunk mates in the G17 barracks was a fellow from Indiana named Gartner. Many of the natives of Indiana were natural born story tellers, and Sgt. Gartner was one of the best. His stories were full of exaggerations and were delivered in a countrified speech pattern. Sometimes Gartner had trouble finishing a story because he found the story so amusing that he doubled up with laughter. Gartner was a good guy to be around.

His given name escapes me now, but Gartner had a ranking system for the world’s leaders that is applicable some 60 years later.

Gartner considered the top dog in the Army, Dwight Eisenhower as a STUD DUCK. Franklin Roosevelt and George C. Marshall were also STUD DUCKS. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Joseph Stalin also qualified as STUD DUCKS. Benito Mussolini of Italy never made the grade as a STUD DUCK. The key is that STUD DUCKS could do anything they wanted to do. If Eisenhower and FDR or Charles de Gaulle dallied outside their marriages, no one would say anything about it because STUD DUCKS were never criticized. STUD DUCKS were folk heroes.

No matter how you cut it, my spirits were lifted after a session with an Indiana story teller on the subject of STUD DUCKS. It seemed to me that even Wendell Willkie, an Indiana native, was a decent person, even though he lacked the status of a STUD DUCK.

Last week we were shopping at the Madison, New Jersey Farmers Market. When the last cauliflower had been bought, we saw a table off to the side which had no product for sale but rather, cats and a dog or two. This was the Orphaned Pets table, so we took a look. To make a long story short, Judy, whose birthday came up on Saturday, has long said she would like to get a cat to replace the sainted Shannon who died three years ago.

It turns out that one of the exhibits in a cage at the Orphaned Pets table was a dead ringer for old Shannon, same markings and same demeanor. We debated about taking on a cat at this stage of our lives while we drove several blocks toward home, but soon the issue was settled. We went back to the Orphaned Pets table and said we would like to have the Shannon look alike in our home. So on Saturday, August 7th we met the abandoned pets representative, Claudine Cheung, and took possession of a 9 to 12 month old orange tiger striped cat who needed a break, big time.

Mrs. Cheung, the Orphaned Pets lady, had offered the orange cat a foster home. She had called our new cat Horatio. It seems that when Horatio’s original owner moved away, he neglected to take Horatio with him. Neglected is not the right word. It was a case of abandonment of a fine cat. So you see why old Horatio needed a break.

Judy had spent Friday afternoon at the majestic Millburn Feed Store where all kinds of cat furnishings were purchased. There was a quilted basket to sleep on. Arrangements were made for the new cat to have free run of the basement. It was thought that the new cat would stay in the painted basement for a few days until he had become oriented to his new surroundings. And there were toys.

Because of the Irishness of the situation, it was elected to forget the Horatio business and offer the cat a new name to go with his newly reclaimed life. And so the new guy is called SHAMROCK. His predecessors were Sean and Shannon. So he joins a line of Irish cats.

When he arrived here, he seemed delighted with his basement digs. Any thought that he would curl up in his new quilted basket was laughed at. He did the laughing. When Shamrock was permitted to visit the rest of the house, he identified several chairs on the porch and in the living room as HIS. It must be said that old Shamrock made it clear to us that he intended to take over, which was very much the way his predecessors acted. No subtlety is ever offered. When a cold nose now interrupts your sleep or when someone walks on your writing paper, you may be sure that Shamrock is at work. Shamrock is not a laid back kind of guy. He is the director of the choir and the organist.

You see, all our plans about where he would sleep and where he would spend his time were not ours to decide. Shamrock asserted his authority even though he has been with us for only a few days. When it comes to deciding when he will sleep or what he will eat, or what toys are to be abused or whose furniture belongs to whom, old Shamrock shows unmistaken signs of being the STUD DUCK at this household. Impartial observers would be forced to say that Shamrock is the Supreme Stud Duck because if he belonged to Eisenhower, FDR, Churchill, de Gaulle or Stalin, he would require them to bow to his wishes. Well, so be it.

There are those who say that Churchill and FDR and de Gaulle and the rest of the big shots ought to be taken down a few pegs. You may rest assured that Old Shamrock is just the guy to do it – and live to tell the tale.

August 9, 2004



The business about walking on Pop’s desk as he’s working reminds me a lot of one of my favorite pictures of Pop, featured on the “About Ezra” section of this site. I think pets, cats in particular, have a good knack for knowing what’s important. Nowadays they like to lounge about on people’s laptops, but in lieu of a laptop, a desk full of papers can certainly do the job. It reminds me of this comic.

Read more about Shamrock here.


Saturday, May 29, 2004, was the day the long awaited World War II Memorial was to be dedicated.

The broadcast was carried by most of the major television networks. On one station, we were told that World War II veterans were dying at the rate of 1000 to 1100 per day. Another station said the rate of deaths was more than 1100 per day. A third station said the rate was 1200 per day. So we had our choice on the casualty lists.

If we take the 1100 rate of deaths, arithmetic tells us the annual rate of our guys cashing in their chips comes to 401,500 per year. There are only some 4,000,000 World War II veterans left. And if we assume that the rate of deaths will increase as the WWII population continues to age, it may be that in six or seven years, we will all be angels. We will come back to these numbers in a couple of minutes.

The cameras panned over the enormous crowd. Many of the old soldiers used wheel chairs. Some needed help in walking. Others needed help in dealing with the throngs attending the dedication of the Memorial. About the youngest faces were former Senator Bob Dole and former president George H. W. Bush. Both of these men are now about to reach 80 years.

The rest of the faces in the crowd clearly showed the effects of ageing. Some looked a little better than others, but by and large, it was a gathering of women and men whose best years were behind them. As an old timer myself, this old reprobate felt free to call this a convention of geezers.

Somewhere in the proceedings, the ineradicable thought struck me that this old soldier is indeed a geezer as well. The men that were called geezers by me were my comrades in arms. And this old geezer is older than some of the women and men who showed up at the dedication.

And to top off that revelation, my mind which never had a mathematical sort of inclination, told me that as a soon-to-be 82 year old soldier, those casualty figures of 1100 deaths per day applied also to me. Fortunately, this disclosure came as Miss Chicka and her husband were working on a bottle of Zeni wine from Trento, Italy, so the shock was absorbable.

The speeches were pretty good. Tom Brokaw and Tom Hanks were articulate. For my money, Bob Dole stole the show. Dole was grievously wounded in the Po Valley campaign in Italy. He is still largely unable to use his right arm. At the outset, Dole mentioned that this enormous crowd failed to show up when he was running for the U. S. Presidency. Dole always represented a party that did not appeal to me when he was in politics, but he has always spoken as a simple Kansan who disarms people with his genuine humor. He did it again Saturday.

While the speeches were in the main, interesting, two people of color made a lasting impression on me. You may recall, that during World War II, segregation applied in this country. People of color were for the most part, denied entrance to the military. When the military took them in, it was generally in backbreaking physical labor such as longshoremen at military ports. Only the Tuskegee Airmen evaded this degradation and their numbers were infinitely small. Everyone with whom this old soldier served was white. Blacks need not apply.

We have come a long way since WWII ended – and it has been an uphill struggle all the way. For me, the most moving part of the dedication ceremony on Saturday came because of the offering of two black people. First was Denyce Graves, an opera singer. She sang the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. Madame Graves was in magnificent voice. She moved the audience.

Finally, the benediction was delivered by the black Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. His theme came from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In Chapter 2, verse 4, the Chaplain quoted the famous words, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Believers and non-believers joined in praise of this black preacher who is a credit to his race.

Finally, the point about why the Memorial was delayed for more than 50 years has to be addressed. It would be fair to say that the people who gave me the honor of soldering with them, never asked for anything but to be let out of the military to lead their own lives. We did not ask; we did not demand. We simply went about our jobs and later got married and tried to get ahead for our families. So the Memorial was 50 years too late. That is fine with me. This old soldier served out his enlistment and survived in shape to go to work every day for 43 years. It is probably true for nearly all of us; that was enough. Having a magnificent memorial dedicated to us is mighty fine, but it was never owed to us. We simply did our duty. And so we thank the people of this great country.

Bob Dole has a habit of injecting a spot of humor in his remarks. Sometimes it is cynical, but always in good taste. So this little essay will end with an aside having to do with leaving the U.S. Army.

There may have been 1000 or 1500 of combat airmen sent to a base in Greenwood, Mississippi to prepare for the assault on Japan. But while we were there, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and Japan surrendered. And so a titanic struggle broke out. On one side were the full time officers of the U.S. Army. Members of the Air Force at that juncture were members of the Army. If the full time officers lost thousands of soldiers like myself, there would be no need for majors and colonels and generals to tell us poor grunts what to do.

On the other side were soldiers such as myself and millions of mothers, wives and sweethearts who wanted their Johnny soldier boy to come home now!!

At this point, the Army made a fatal mistake. Each soldier was told how many discharge points he had accumulated. Discharge points represented length of Army service, time overseas, medals won and things like that. In my case, the Army said that this old Sergeant had twice as many points as needed for discharge. Many of the other men at Greenwood were in the same boat with me. We wanted out – NOW! And the women went to Congress to see what was the holdup. They petitioned and badgered Congressmen and Senators endlessly. Hurray for them.

At Greenwood there was a large meeting hall or auditorium. The Army was feeling that heat. So the commanding Colonel of Greenwood had us all attend a gathering in the large auditorium. The Colonel himself addressed the crowd of enlisted men. In my case, the Commanding Colonel was completely unknown to me. Few of us had ever seen him. But on this occasion, he judged that only he could deliver his speech to the grunts. His pitch was for us to stay in the Army as a patriotic duty.

The Colonel started with platitudes about how wonderful all of us grunts were and why the Army COULD NOT do without us. Even though the war was completely over, the Colonel said we were desperately needed. Everyone in the audience knew that the desperation was in the ranks of full time Army officers, such as the Commanding Colonel, not among the enlisted men. We were simply desperate to leave the Army and go back to our peacetime occupations.

The colonel got so wound up in his effort to keep us from leaving the Army, he made some major mispronunciations in his speech. Some where in the audience, a GI stood up and yelled to the Colonel that he should try the mispronounced words “in a prone position.” That brought the house down and the colonel soon departed, presumably to lick his wounds.

Well, that is my story about the old geezers and the casualty rates and the magnificent Memorial . The story about the colonel was what Cajuns call lagniappe, a little something extra.

When the initial crowds calm down a little, this old soldier wants to see the Memorial for himself – assuming that the casualty rate does not catch up to me first.

A day or two before the Memorial was dedicated, there was a conversation with Lefty Vicendese, the major domo of Berkeley Hardware in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.

When AT&T in its great wisdom transferred me from Chicago to Long Lines Headquarters in New York in March, 1955, my finances were pretty dismal because my pay was pretty small. Buying a house in New Jersey was out of the question at that point. So an ad was inserted in the Newark Star Ledger seeking a place to rent. It was answered by a fellow of about 35 years who wished to move to a religious seminary. He owned the 5 acre Rickenbacher farm on South Street in New Providence, a town that was completely unknown to me.

There was an ancient house on the property. The property itself was located immediately adjacent to the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church. The property had outbuildings as well as many fruit trees and untold numbers of berry bushes. Our two year old daughter, Maureen, delighted in gathering the fruit and berries. On weekends, old Blondie hung around with me when grass was to be cut or when work had to be done in the out buildings. She was good company.

All of this started, as we said, in 1955. When hardware supplies were needed, people said that Berkeley Hardware in the next town to the west, could not be beat. And so it was that Lefty and his family became my hardware specialists.

One day in 1957, a priest came to our rented house to talk a little business. It seems Our Lady of Peace had bought the Rickenbacher Farm. We are not followers of the Catholic faith, but that did not prevent the priest from being absolutely decent to us. Obviously, we had to move, but the priest said we could have as much time as we needed. He told us the news as he played with old Blondie, nee Maureen. And so in the Fall of 1957, we moved to a new house, also in New Providence, so that we could be close to Berkeley Hardware. The mortgage on the new house was substantial, but the banker said he did not think an old soldier would run away. So we got the money.

As time went on, Berkeley Hardware prospered and moved around the corner to much larger quarters. In March, 1966, AT&T decided that this country could not do without me as an AT&T lobbyist in Washington, D.C. In the Fall of 1969, AT&T sent me back to New York as my three year stint as a lobbyist was over. Our new residence was in Millburn-Short Hills, which added about five miles each way to get to Lefty’s hardware store. But that made no difference as the Vicendese clan still had all my business.

Somewhere during this time, Berkeley Hardware added a bulletin board of Berkeley Heights World War II veterans, called an Honor Roll, at the main entrance. Five Vicendese people, three women and two men – Lefty and his siblings, are listed. Lefty’s name is shown as Anthony, which was previously unknown to me.

Now as Lefty has grown older and more dignified, it struck me that it would be more appropriate to call him Anthony rather than Lefty. So a week or so ago, Anthony, the former Lefty, demanded to know what my real name might be. Truth is a fixed star, so he was told my real first name is Ezra. All of this happened while Anthony was trying to get two or three customers taken care of at the checkout counter.

Well, it seems Anthony had never met a man named Ezra before. When Anthony spoke of Ezra, it came out as three or four syllables in length. He seemed to like the name Ezra. And so Anthony – Lefty- was asked by his pal Ezra, if he would he like to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Anthony’s reply was short and sweet. He said, almost reverently, “I would love to see it”. Upon reflection, it struck me that Lefty speaks for all of us old geezers who are trying to dodge the big reaper.

But in the meantime, remember that Berkeley Hardware, operated by five survivors of WWII, will fulfill all your hardware needs and supply some friendly back talk as well!

May 31, 2004


It’s a shame he didn’t end up liking the memorial when he want to visit.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 697,806 American veterans from the World War II were still alive as of 2016. After all this time, that still seems like a tremendously high number of people, but I’m sure that number is still falling fast. It’s a bummer to think of all the stories that might have been lost from the vets who didnt, you know, write hundreds of essays about their lives.


This old essayist thought that one set of musings and ponderings while Ms. Chicka drives the car would be sufficient. Obviously, that is not the case. It appears that several other thoughts have occurred while the Chrysler is not in my control. Try these musings, for example.

Is 2004 a rerun of 1928?
During the 1920s, the Republicans furnished three presidents who ranged from mediocre to catastrophic. First there was Warren Gamiliel Harding followed by Calvin Coolidge. In 1928, Herbert Hoover headed the Republican ticket with Al Smith, the New York Governor as his Democratic opponent.

Al Smith, a Catholic candidate carried the torch for the Democrats. At the time, the states of the old Confederacy were referred to as the “Solid South for Democrats.” As it turns out, Al Smith lost the Solid South and the presidency. Much of his failed candidacy flowed from his Catholicism. The success of Hoover in that election led, of course, to the Great Depression starting in 1929.

During the 1920’s under the three Republican presidents, American industry controlled the strings of government. Unions were largely verboten. The captains of industry were triumphant and wiped their feet on their workers.

Under George Bush, much the same thing has happened. Bush has permitted the military-industrial complex to call the shots. Eisenhower would be appalled. In the 1920’s, the Republicans oversaw Prohibition, one of the more disastrous laws ever imposed on the American people. Under Bush the Pious, the message is to do away with all forms of abortion, to give faith a formal role in the secular American Government, and to have a Constitutional amendment barring same sex marriages. The captains of industry and the religious right were united in the 1920’s and under Bush, again they are flexing their righteous muscles.

One more coincidence between the 1920’s and 2004. In 2004, the Republicans defeated John Kerry, a church-going Catholic. Some people who voted for Kerry found it necessary to go to confession.

The question arises, are we headed for another Herbert Hoover type depression where religiosity replaces reality? It may work out that way with deficits at an all time high and the dollar at an all time low, and borrowing at unheard of levels. While we wait to see how things work out on the financial front, don’t forget that Bush has two daughters who may find use for abortion and same sex marriages.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
Without a doubt, Americans have been guilty of cruel torture in these two prisons. The word is torture, not strong discipline. Yet the lawyer who said that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint” gets promoted to be the Attorney General of the United States. The National Security Advisor who should have demanded that prisoners be accorded decent treatment, has now been designated as our next Secretary of State.

My ponderings and musings tell me that sooner or later, there will come a time when Americans soldiers will have to pay for our abuses at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib prisons. Wait till some of our soldiers find themselves in an Arab prison. Will Bush send John Ashcroft to rescue them?

Jerry Falwell’s Prescription for Gays
Early in December, Falwell was being interviewed by Chris Matthews, a mouthy employee of MSNBC. When asked by Matthews about homosexuality, Falwell stridently claimed that gayness is a choice. People are not born gay; they deliberately choose to be gays and lesbians. According to the rural reverend, young men of 13, 14 or 15 begin to look at off color magazines and also begin to smoke and to think about sexual matters. This of course, alters their approach to life and according to Falwell, makes gay people out of normal kids.

Unfortunately, time ran out before Matthews could ask Falwell how lesbians are made. Without a doubt, backwoods Jerry would say something like chewing bubble gum and blowing bubbles would turn good girls into lesbians. Do you suspect that Chaney’s daughter was one of those loose girls?

During the debates, when Bush was asked about homosexuality, he replied, “I just don’t know,” which if you read code correctly, means that people make a choice to become gay. Falwell has Bush’s ear so perhaps it is the official policy of the U.S. Government that gays are made, not born that way. And to think we have four more years to deal with such stupidity.

Could it be that reading Ed Carr’s essays are a precursor to homosexuality? As Bush said, “I just don’t know.”

Election Results
From the viewpoints of many people, the election represents the triumph of ideology over reality, fantasy over truth on the ground, and the triumph of faith over facts. To illustrate the last point, my eyesight no longer permits me to safely drive a car. But certainly, if faith was my guidepost, there is no reason why a NASCAR drivership should be denied me.

Faith permits the American public to say that the war is going formidably well in Iraq. Faith will tell us that prisoners at Abu Ghraib and at Gitmo are enjoying their country club vacations. Faith will tell us that deficits don’t matter. We can spend tons of money in Iraq and there will be no consequences at home. And we can borrow tons of money and never have to repay it.

And finally, there is this thought about faith and the Iraqi elections which some people hope will occur in January. If Iraq votes to have an Islamic government along the lines of Ayatollah Sistani’s Shia organization, how can Bush complain? Left alone, Bush would impose religion much more heavily into the American government. My bet is that the Iraqis may well tell Bush to take his democracy ideas and shove it. An Islamic government may well be in the works. And what can Bush do about it? Not much!

Deaths with no end in Iraq
During the Democratic primary campaign, Howard Dean said that deaths in Iraq would soon reach 400. This was about a year ago. During the summer, the number of American deaths rose first to 800 and then to 1000. The count in early December is close to 1300.

In the meantime, no one has successfully challenged the British publication, the Lancet, that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives.

The question obviously arises: Is this American democracy in action? Are we any safer today than when the killing started with Bush’s pre-emptive invasion? The answer is clearly not. Never.

We are now sending 12,000 soldiers to Iraq to bring our occupying army to 150,000. When are we ever going to learn that every nation fights occupiers? Now the Iraqis have 150,000 American to hate – and that is what they will do.

The sooner we bring them home, the better.

Bush and his handlers often use the absolutely imbecilic idea that by fighting the insurgents in Iraq, saves us from fighting the Iraqi insurgents in Washington, in New York, in Kokomo, or in Gary, Indiana. What a specious argument this is. Until Bush invaded Iraq, against his father’s advice, there were no insurgents in Iraq. The campaigns of the American military have been the greatest recruiting tools the Iraqi insurgents ever had. When the cruelty imposed on Abu Ghraib prison was exposed, Arabs of all kinds flocked to Iraq. When one of our Marines shot an unarmed man lying on the ground, thousands more joined the insurgency.

On no occasion, have the Iraqis ever engaged American armed forces or civilians in the United States. To contend that our soldiers are fighting for a noble cause is a lie of the first order. There is no way that an American today can feel safer than before Bush launched his insane crusade against the Islamic world. Bush is once again engaging in his fantasy world where every encounter is “Mission Accomplished.”

World War II Monument
On a rainy day in early November, we set out to see the monument devoted to veterans of the Second World War. The fact that it was raining did not alter the thought that the WWII monument is somewhat overwhelming.

Everyone knows that the war ended in 1945. And the monument was dedicated in 2004, an interval of 59 years. Lots of people don’t live 59 years. With all this time to plan, the monument struck me as antiseptic. It was a sterile piece of work. It was a full blown symphony where a folk singer with a guitar would have made the point much better. It is a monument, not a memorial.

Three other memorials that are more impressive than the WWII affair spring instantly to mind. The wall with the names of 58,000 American dead from the Vietnam War will grab you. The platoon of soldiers which marks the Korean War where our losses exceeded 50,000 men will say, “Hey, look here.” The Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan will make you weep. But the WWII Monument seems to me to be impersonal. It doesn’t grab me by the neck and say, “400,000 men died here. Think about that.” It is a nice monument, but it is far from impressive in spite of its size.

As a veteran of that war, the designers could have designed a memorial that is more impressive. A flame in front of the wall marking the 400,000 men lost might be all that is needed. It took 59 years to produce this monument. Surely, in 59 years, a better one could emerge to mark the sacrifices of the men from the Great Depression who fought World War II.

Let me make one thing clear as we conclude the story of our visit to the WWII Monument. In all the 59 years before the monument was dedicated in the Summer of 2004, the thought that our war was unmarked by the U.S. Government was never given more than a passing thought. For this old Sergeant, the fact that he was able to make it home largely in one piece after 3½ years was quite enough. In my mind there was no urgent need to build a monument for the ages. But now that it is done, it seems to me that a simpler more poignant memorial would have done a lot better. Politicians designed this monument. Next time, we should use artists and sculptors. It is a monument designed by a committee and it has no heart. It is feared that the same thing is happening at the World Trade Center.

Getting mugged on Sunday evening religious TV broadcasts
It seems to me that as far as TV broadcasting is concerned, Sunday evening is a vast wasteland. Ordinarily, book reading takes place here on the seventh day or perhaps, some people call it the first day of the week. But there is a sad fact that applies to me. All things considered, it seems to me that my failing is to be attracted to scoundrels, particularly in politics and in religion. It is not that they have my support. Not at all. But scoundrels more or less seduce me.

On Sunday evenings at 8PM or 8:30PM on the Black Entertainment Network, a white preacher appears offering his “Wisdom Keys.” He claims to have written something on the order of 1500 books including many on the so-called “Wisdom Keys.” He also claims to have written 500 religious songs. At the beginning of each program, the scoundrel who is called Doctor Mike Murdock, starts with a description of one of his books. He will offer to send you a set for $20. But that is only Murdock’s warm up.

During the last half of his broadcast, Murdock, a man from Fort Worth, Texas, comes close to demanding that listeners “Plant a Seed.” Seed planting works like this. Murdock asks that the listeners send him $58 per week for 58 weeks. The listener who has planted a seed in Murdock’s garden, may now expect a dramatic turn-around in his life. He may get a big raise at work. He may win a lottery. He may find that a long lost relative has left him a fortune. By planting a seed in his own garden, Murdock has been rewarded with automobiles costing more than $100,000. There are occasions when Murdock tells his audience that Jesus has told him he ought to ask for planting of $1,000 seeds instead of $58 seeds.

In three years of seeing this scoundrel operate, he has never said that by planting a seed, the planter gains a leg up in heaven. Murdock says that ecclesiastical awards give way to worldly rewards. Murdock usually reads messages, signed with a first name only and with no home address, claiming that the seed planter has gotten a lucrative job or has stumbled into a fortune. And it must be supposed that the suckers keep on coming in.

It is clear that Murdock is reaping large sums of money from unsuspecting people who believe that a man who loudly proclaims his intimacy with God means good fortune for his audience. And Murdock is not alone. In Oklahoma, Robert Tilton is loudly announcing how his followers who have planted a seed are rolling in new found money. In California, the authorities have moved against a man named Close who has offered the seed idea. Close has a least five homes here and abroad and his own airplane to ferry him away when he tires of one of his homes.

Clearly and absolutely, Murdock and Tilton and Close are scoundrels preying on poor people who have faith in religious figures. In these cases, the Bible is a prop for a fleecing of ignorant people who think they can win the lottery. My attraction to scoundrels like these three comes from the obvious fact that poor people are being swindled – and the authorities seem afraid to lift a finger.

A question to my readers. Maybe Murdock does know something unknown to me. If this old essayist planted a $58 seed, do you think these essays might win a Pulitzer Prize? If you see me in a convertible Bentley, you will know the seed paid off. Until then, it appears that my transportation lot is the street car.

Preacher, Bishop, Doctor Shammah Womack
Another scoundrel who attracts my attention is this fellow Womack. This loudmouth is black who offers televised preachings to his flock at a church near Newark, New Jersey. In former days, seven or eight years ago, Shammah had a name like Harold or Donald. He opened a store adjacent to his father’s church where he claimed, among other things, that organs of the body could be medicated by eating fruits and nuts that resembled that organ. He claimed, for example, that when a walnut is opened, each halve of the shelled walnut resembled the brain. According to young Donald or Harold Womack, eating walnuts would do away with everything from headaches to cancer of the brain. This is not hearsay. My own ears and eyes were witnesses.

When young Womack’s father died seven or eight years ago, he stepped into the role of preacher. Before long, he announced his promotion to Bishop. As a bishop, he wore a clerical collar and a chain across his chest. He then took a new name of Shammah. That name has something to do with the Old Testament. Never one to read much, Preacher-Bishop Womack has recently called himself Doctor. For a young man from the suburbs of Newark, his ascension to higher ranks in the church is electrifying to those of us who watch what he may do next. Is sainthood the next step after Doctor?

Doctor Womack is now a distributor of an oil called Tanzi which is sold through his house of worship. Now here are Bishop Doctor Womack’s exact words: “It makes for good meditation and the production of miracles.”

My attention span is limited so it is unclear to me where Tanzi Oil is to be rubbed on or drunk. It is also unclear what sort of meditation or what sort of miracles may be produced. My shipment of Tanzi Oil should arrive here in a few days. As soon as my walnut halves therapy for my headaches is completed, Tanzi Oil will be tried in an effort to produce a sizeable income from these essays. Everything is owed to Doctor Shammah Womack. Tanzi may be better than Geritol.


Well, my Musings and ponderings have been temporarily exhausted, so for a while, my gaze will be out the windows of the car without much musing. As you can see, my Musings have almost got the better of me taking three volumes to overcome the buildup.

One of the nice facts about musings is they do not necessarily lead to a conclusion. A musing is a musing and not much more. On the other hand, when Jerry Falwell appeared on Chris Matthews Hardball program, he made it clear that reading stuff like mine would cause 13 and 14 year old boys to take up whiskey drinking , cigar smoking, wearing big rings, spitting on sidewalks and homosexuality. It is incumbent upon me to warn you of the consequences of reading such writings as Musings.

Some of the Musing series may wind up in expanded form in future essays. If that happens, my readers are asked to start afresh as though they had never heard of Musings and ponderings.

If my efforts to plant a seed in Mike Murdock’s garden and my use of Tanzi Oil from Doctor Womack are successful, it may be that everlasting life will occur right here in New Jersey. We’ll have to see. The bankers at Chase Bank were unimpressed when they were told of my need for a second mortgage to insure that the religious scoundrels would think well of me. Naysayers are everywhere.

December 10, 2004


“An Islamic government may well be in the works. And what can Bush do about it? Not much!” — oh hi, ISIS! A lot of people saw this coming, but it’s still fun when essays from 04 are this prescient.

The closest thing I could find online to “Tanzi” oil is Tansy Oil. It seems to be of limited use outside of inducing abortions and repelling insects, which is a curious combination.

The seed fund racket is still going strong. John Oliver did a fantastic piece on it, which you can watch here. It continues to be a work of pure exploitation.