Archive for the March 2006 Category


The news from South Dakota this week is that the legislature there has passed a bill, and the governor has signed it, which forbids abortions anywhere in the great state of South Dakota. There are no exceptions for rape or for incest. This is simply a return to the days before Roe v. Wade was known. It is a return to medieval America.

All of this brings to mind the first stanza of a poem/song called “The Waggoneer’s Lad.” As it turns out, at the time this song was written, probably around 1800, wagoneer was spelled with two “g”s. The first stanza of this song/poem, goes like this:

“Hard luck is the fortune of all womenkind,
They’re always controlled, they’re always confined,
Controlled by their parents until they are wives,
And slaves to their husbands the rest of their lives.”

The name of the author of this poem and song has long since disappeared. It has been around so long that people have forgotten who wrote the lyrics and who wrote the music, and so it has become traditional.

In my estimation, humble as it is, the song reflects the treatment of women throughout much of the rest of the world. I have an interest in this in that, like every other man I know, I am the son of a woman. My four sisters were women. My wife and daughters are lovely women. When I worked for AT&T, which had at one time one million employees, about 85 or 90% of those people were women. So in effect, I have an interest in what happens to women.

When the song says they are always controlled and confined by someone else, I think of Saudi Arabia where women are forbidden to drive and to vote. I think of other Arab lands where women are confined to black clothing that is generally referred to as hijab, which conceals their figures and covers their faces. I think also of the female genital mutilation that takes place in much of Africa. I think of places where women are forbidden to vote. And it is clear in many cases that women are regarded as second class citizens.

In China, for example, female babies are often destroyed. As a result, there is now growing up in China a generation of male children who will someday need wives and whose preponderance may cause them to lash out in conquest at other countries in search of wives. That may include the United States, too.

The list of abuses is endless, from those who are denied the vote to those who are told how to reproduce themselves. In many cases, women are not much more than baby-making machines.

It might be remembered that women were only given the vote in this country in 1921. Prior to that time, they were denied the right to cast a ballot. Today, for example, the Southern Baptists will now permit women to be ordained, but they are not ever to be the chief pastor in any of those churches. And this is a democratic country? And this is a Christian country?

I suppose the only reason for this foul arrangement is that men are stronger and can enforce their will. They can enforce their will through physical force as well as through monetary matters. It is an unfair arrangement from the beginning. The current mood in this country is toward the conservative side. That means more restrictive legislation against women. In the orthodox Jewish faith, some people consider women as temptresses. Are we to consider all our women as temptresses? I doubt it.

On matters involving women, it should be noted that I am a liberal in all respects. It is my view that women should have complete control over their bodies without interference from politicians. It is also my view that if two women wish to live together in a lesbian arrangement, that is fine with me. It bothers me not at all and it does not affect my marriage or any aspect of my relationship with other women. As a man, I see no reason to inflict pain and suffering on at least half of the human race.

Well, you see those yokels out there in South Dakota have me aroused. I am angry at anybody who attempts to impose his will on people who are not as strong as they are. And that is exactly what this issue is all about. Fairness in our dealings certainly includes every woman.

I am sorry to tend to agree with the first line of “The Waggoneer’s Lad” which holds that “hard luck is the fortune of all womenkind.” Perhaps the day will come when we will change that and I hope it arrives before I depart to be with the angels.

March 6, 2006
Essay 179

Postscript: When this essay was composed, it was written by an angry author. After a week or more of reflection, the anger has not receded. It has not receded because women continue to be the victims of malicious politicians and the clergy. As unfortunate as it is, those are the facts that women must deal with.


Read Pop’s follow up essay here. I think he’d be pleased that the social tides in this country are tending increasingly liberal these days. He didn’t live to see gay marriage get legalized, but that’s just one of many steps in the right direction that we’ve started to take. We’re nowhere near the finish line yet, but progress is progress.


Nitpickers may say that Groucho should have used “Whom” instead of “Who,” but they are not writing this essay so the quotation stands as it is. The quotation is an apt one because my eyes last summer became AWOL permanently and now my eyes are often sending me imaginary visions of trees, water glasses, and the dashboards of automobiles and aircraft. So you see, my eyes are indeed lying to me just as Groucho said. There will be more on this subject a little later.

This is a realistic assessment of blindness which is usually a negative subject. Blindness does not conjure up visions of cheerfulness but on the contrary it stirs up thoughts that are unpleasant. I had resisted writing this essay for some time because it may sound to some as a cry for pity. I had no intention of ever seeking pity in any of these essays at all. On the other hand, as far back as when I was in Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia last fall, this essay was saying, “Hey, author, write me!” The essays that said “Write me!” finally wore me down and so I have arranged to try to set my thoughts about blindness down here in this essay headed by the Groucho Marx quote.

One of the drawbacks about writing about blindness is that it has an oxymoronic tilt to it. This essay will not go into the scientific reasons for blindness. I am not qualified to do that. On the other hand, I am eminently qualified to speak about the effects of blindness.

Some six months now into blindness, I am amazed that other people can really see. For example, Judy and I frequently weigh ourselves in the morning. It takes me eight or nine minutes to do the weighing process once I negotiate my way into the other bedroom where the scale is located. I was amazed this morning when Judy announced her weight after only perhaps 30 seconds. What I had forgotten is that Judy can see and I cannot.

I try to make my essays as objective as possible, but this essay is a subjective piece of work which involves my own personal blindness. Hence the oxymoronic quality to the work. I will try to make my account as objective as possible while recognizing that subjective thoughts may intrude here and there.

This account will lend itself in some cases to a narrative form of telling, while in other cases it will require single entry sentences. It is being dictated, of course, without notes so it is a free-form essay. I hope you will stay with me as we try to get from here to there on a subject that really inspires no one.

To my knowledge, there are no blind comedians, but we will make this as light-hearted as possible.

As we explore my blindness, it would be helpful perhaps to understand how we got from where we were to where we are now. My blindness is completely a product of glaucoma. It is not a matter of over-eating or over-drinking or staying out late at night; it is a hereditary matter. Glaucoma is an ailment that is incurable. It often results in blindness and it is passed from one generation to another through heredity. My father lost his eyesight in his early sixties. My older brother lost his in his mid-seventies. Two other of my father’s children died at age 60 or thereabouts and did not stay around until blindness descended on them. In my own case, total blindness was held off until my 83rd birthday.

Since 1964, I have been a regular visitor to ophthalmologists’ offices. From them I learned about intra-ocular pressure (IOP), which is measured in a mysterious way. There is an instrument which records mmHg (millimeters of mercury). If the pressure in your eye is under 20 mmHg, ophthalmologists will tell you that your glaucoma is being controlled. Once your intra-ocular pressure passes the 20 mark, it is said that your glaucoma is no longer being controlled. In the 1990s, the intra-ocular pressure in my left eye exceeded 40 of those mmHg’s. All kinds of drops were administered over a period of years and there were laser treatments. At the end, there was a trabeculectomy . All things considered, a trabeculectomy is the end of the line. In effect, it works like this. The eye generates aqueous fluid. If that fluid does not have an opportunity to leave the eye through a network, pressure will build up and if it persists long enough, such as mine, it will destroy the optic nerve and blindness will result. On April 1, 1994, I submitted to a trabeculectomy and there was a hemorrhage that ruled out further eyesight in the left eye.

Now to the extent that there is any levity in this arrangement, the ophthalmologist who recommended the surgeon to me was later convicted of fondling seven women. The doctor’s mistake was that when the prosecutor sent a female officer from his staff to him for an eye examination, the ophthalmologist fondled a cop. In the end, he lost his license and nobody knows what he is doing now. Upon his arrest, he contended that future eye problems could be detected by an examination of the female chest. There is no scientific literature that will provide support in this regard. But I think his doctrine has much merit.

So I operated with only my right eye for eleven years. You will note that my left eye was lost on April 1, 1994, which was April Fool’s Day. As time went on, the pressure in the right eye built. And in the end, it exceeded 40 mmHg. After scores of drops and the laser treatments, the IOP remained in excess of 40 and so there was no choice but to submit to another trabeculectomy, this time on the right eye. By that time, I knew that my sight was on the way out.

There is a three-way bulb next to my bed, with the top being 150 watts. As my sight dimmed, I could look at that bulb, which was illuminated, without any pain. Over a period of a few days, say two weeks, the illumination in that bulb tended to decrease significantly. So I submitted to an operation, to a trabeculectomy, at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and, once again, a hemorrhage occurred and sight was lost in the right eye. There are only two eyes issued to each person. So the second trabeculectomy failed on October 31, 2005, which was Halloween. Now if anybody can make a joke out of this, one eye was lost on April Fool’s Day and the other on Halloween.

That is enough history. The point is that glaucoma will result in more blindness as time goes on. There is a thought that it would yield to stem cell research, but you are aware of the hostility of this current administration to the use of stem cells, so I suppose blindness will be even more prevalent in the future than it is today.

The major factor about blindness is that I have no usable eyesight at all. In cases such as mine, there is no reference point whatsoever. For those of us with complete blindness, it is necessary to touch something, either by hand or with the walking stick. You will notice that blind people tend to stick to walls that they can follow around a room. Crossing the room where there is open space is a heavy challenge. Now, for example, behind our garage is a space that may measure 50 feet one way and 35 feet the other way. If I were turned loose in the middle of that area, I could touch nothing, either with my hand or with the walking stick. I would have absolutely no idea as to whether I was walking north or south or east or west. That driveway has Belgian blocks on three sides of it. If I managed to locate one of the Belgian blocks, I still would not know where I was because there are two other sides which also have the Belgian block border. The most sinking feeling to a blind person, such as myself, is when one reaches out and touches nothing. That is a cause for some sort of panic. In that case, logic will only go so far. In that situation, I would be forced to call for help in an effort to find the garage or some other place where I am supposed to be. This is a function of blind people not having a point of reference.

There is another matter which has to do with what blind people see. I am afraid I will have to give you a mixed answer to that one, because there are times, particularly in the night, when I see nothing but blackness. Absolute blackness. On the other hand, during daylight hours, often a white haze develops before my eyes. The white haze means that I can see nothing, any more than I could in total blackness. But all things considered, I feel a little better having the white haze rather than enduring the total blackness. As I am dictating this essay, there appears to me to be a white sheet about eight or ten inches directly in front of my face. I know there is no white sheet there but that is what I see at the moment. In other cases, what I think I see ranges from blackness to whiteness to grayness.

If I were to offer testimony about my blindness, I would say that during the day about 10 or 11 hours is total blackness and the rest of the time is a matter of grayness blending into whiteness. As most people will tell you, a person can be blinded from too much light as opposed to no light at all. That seems to be the case here.

On four days of each week, I try to exercise on a stationary bicycle and on a treadmill. As a general rule, the dials on those two exercise machines appear to me to be readable. Of course I can not read them at all. When I go to touch them, they are much removed from where I thought they should be. They usually appear to me to be brighter than I would have thought them to be, but in any case while the instrument panels on both machines appear ready to be read, the fact is they are simply illusions. I can close my eyes and the illusions still remain. Perhaps my brain is seeing it, but not my eyes.

So you see my lying eyes, as Groucho would say, mislead me every day when I use the stationary bicycle or the treadmill. But that is not the end of it. When I sit down at the kitchen table for a little while, very often I will see imaginary water glasses parked in front of me and to my side. One day I counted 13 of those imaginary glasses. Now I like decaffeinated iced tea, which is served in a tall glass, with my evening meal. Every other glass on that table is also a tall glass, just like my iced tea glass is. It is necessary for me to say, “Those other glasses are imaginary,” and reach out until I touch something cold which I know would be my drink, not the imaginary ones.

Here lately, trees have become quite a phenomenon. Trees in my imagination grow out of parking lots and the other day, when we sat down in our lawyer’s office at a conference table, two eight- or ten-inch trees grew out of the conference table itself. They were so realistic that I tended to look around them, knowing that I couldn’t see, but that is the normal reaction of anyone trying to see a person on the other side of the table.

Speaking of the dinner table, there are two three-year-old boys – all imaginary – dining next to me. One of them wears glasses, and they are so real that at times I am tempted to reach out and grab and hug them a little bit. Once again, it is a matter of those lying eyes.

Since July of 2004, Judy has done the driving in the Carr-Chicka family. Now that my imagination is at work, my lying eyes tell me that there is an instrument panel which is positioned directly in front of me that would do credit to the biggest bomber that we have in the Air Force fleet. I see dials and gages and switches and all that sort of things that go with an instrument panel. The curious part about this is that if I close my eyes, those images remain, just as they remain for the kids dining next to me, and the glasses on the table. It makes no difference whether my eyes are open or closed; I still see those images.

And so I hope you understand why Groucho Marx’s comment about lying eyes was selected. My eyes lie to me regularly. While I appreciate all of the glasses, the kids, the dials and gages of the aircraft instrument panel, it would be a pleasure for me to make them go away and permit me to stare into just plain grayness or light gray or even whiteness as in the sheet now stretched in front of me.

Now you may remember that I told you that some of my recollections would be offered in a narrative form and others would be offered, as we would say, in single bullets. Here is a bullet before I go on to the next subject. From time to time, in my blindness, I may hold a drink, for example, in my right hand and tend to knock it loose with my left hand because I can’t see where my hands are headed. There is also the fact that blind people have trouble deciding what to do with their hands. There are no newspapers to hold or books to read, so the blind person simply is at a loss about what to do with his hands. In my case, as you can see, once in a while I tend to use my left hand to knock a drink out of my right hand accidentally.

There is one other aspect having to do with conversations. When you, a sighted person, greets or meets a blind person, it would be very helpful to identify yourself or use some other association that would let the blind person know to whom he is speaking. For example you might say, “This is Joe Jones…” or “I am your favorite brother-in-law.”

During the conversation it would also be helpful to let the blind person know where you are located, either by shaking hands or by touching him occasionally. A blind woman, Laurel King, from the New Jersey Commission of the Blind, sat at our kitchen table and from time to time she would reach out and touch me so that I knew where she was, because she also is blind.

Finally, upon taking your leave, it would be most helpful to say that you are leaving rather than let the blind person talk into open space. Otherwise, the blind person may continue talking to no one in particular or to the wind. That is somewhat embarrassing.

In engaging a blind person in conversation, please do not avoid the use of the word “blind” or “blindness.” I know I am blind and the person speaking to me knows it also. Any attempt to avoid the use of those two words makes the conversation stilted and largely meaningless.

One of the best conversations I had early in my blindness occurred after Wayne Johnson, a plumber, was told by Judy that I had become blind. He came up to the living room to have a cup of coffee and, when I stumbled in, he said, “Well, I see you have had a little setback.”

I answered, “Yes, that’s right, but we are going to do our best to get around it.” The conversation then proceeded in its normal fashion with Wayne, who is a good and fine friend. Please don’t speak to blind people in such a fashion as to make conversations artificial and non-gratifying.

One of the best presents that I have received since blindness overtook me occurred when the New Jersey Commission for the Blind visited the house and brought me a cane. The first one had roller bearings on it and was not particularly useful, but the second one was very useful. When I was released from the hospital in Philadelphia, we bought a cane at the Liss Pharmacy in Summit, which turned out to be much too short. The one from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind is the appropriate length for my height. Clearly, I was astounded that a state agency would visit me and present me with canes on two separate occasions at no expense to me. The canes are a very valuable addition to my getting around. I appreciate them greatly.

The next subject to be discussed here is “Don’t Get Cocky,” a title suggested by Eva Baker, the person who turns my mumbles into this tape recorder into typed script. When a young man stands on the center line of a basketball court and announces that he will sink the next shot, touching nothing but net, he is a cocky person. This being winter, I am very much housebound except for occasional trips to shop and to go see various kinds of doctors. When I attempt to go from one room to another, there are times when the effort flows flawlessly. If I become cocky and think that I have that sort of trip locked up, there will soon be a reckoning. The next trip could be a clearcut disaster. This house is a split level building, which has four staircases in it. Two of them are six steps, one of them is a seven-step staircase, and the last one is a nine- or ten-step staircase. It would take a very little misstep for me to fall down one of those staircases. So I try to avoid being cocky, but there are occasions when I think I have mastered a trip from here to there only to find out that it is fraught with danger. The evidence is clear that cockiness can result in a great failure.

There is one other phenomenon that obtains here. Walls move, doors move, and the kitchen counters which used to meet at ninety degree angles now meet at obtuse or acute angles. All of these things are imaginary and very confusing. In the basement, there are five or six steel pillars which support the middle of the house. On the way downstairs, I can locate each one perfectly. But while I am exercising, those pillars move. Furthermore, the stationary bike and the treadmill, which were aligned on a north to south basis, are now canted from northeast to southwest. I know these are illusions, but that is the way it appears to a blind person.

Cockiness also carries over to a chair I use to sit on in my dressing room when I put on my shoes and socks. It is an armchair and on one occasion I located one of the arms and sat down next to it. Unfortunately it was an outside arm and I wound up sitting on the floor. That was an embarrassment and it carried a great danger to my health. So the answer to a blind person is, “Never become overconfident, and certainly never become cocky.”

Now we turn to eating or, as the socialites say, dining. I had not realized how much sight contributed to the enjoyment of food. When one sticks a fork into the okra and finds out that he is really eating mashed potatoes, there is a distinct surprise.

One of the major moves has been to substitute plates with platters having individual bowls. The main dish, say fish, is cut up and placed in one. Another bowl may have okra and another might have string beans. Judy tells me where they are placed, saying at twelve o’clock or six o’clock or three thirty or something like that. Locating a fork or a spoon is not always easy to do. Suddenly there is a tendency to lose items of food somewhere between the bowl and my mouth. It might be hard to believe, but I often miss my mouth by half an inch or so. That means that there is a tendency to pick up the bowl and hold it closer to the mouth. A second tendency has to do with finishing that particular item as quickly as possible. This means that instead of alternating the fish with the okra, the okra is consumed largely at once because I can locate the okra bowl and the fork that goes with it. Dining first on the fish and then the okra and something else is a bit of a luxury.

By all odds, the most important instrument at the dining table is a large spoon, as in a soup spoon. When the fork fails to take food to the mouth, the large soup spoon can be depended upon to do that. We patronize an Italian restaurant here in Millburn where the waiters, knowing of my blindness, cut up my linguine and other pasta so that it can be scooped up with the large spoon. I have no use for a knife any more, so the soup spoon becomes a very important dining instrument.

I know that this has been a fairly solemn report, so a little humor might be in order here. In Philadelphia, during our six trips down there, when we prepared to leave the Wills ophthalmologist, we both went to the restroom to prepare for the two- or two-and-a-half hour trip home on Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s Turnpikes. Judy ordinarily would open the door to the men’s room and shout, “Is anybody in here?” On one occasion, a man answered, “Yes, I am.” He must have been washing his whole body because it took him ten or fifteen minutes to finish. In other cases, when there was no answer, I would enter the men’s room and go about my business as best I could while Judy stood near the towel rack. On one occasion while Judy was standing there and I was attending to my business, a gentleman walked in and took one look at Judy. He said in apologetic tones, “Oh, I am sorry,” and then he turned around and tried to take off. Judy told him that she was in the wrong restroom and he was permitted to take care of his problem. As it turned out, he was a nice gentleman who helped me after Judy departed.

Now, another matter having to do with taking care of things. A few years back, it was recorded that Charles, the Prince of Wales, would go into his bathroom and hold out his toothbrush while a footman spread the toothpaste on the bristles of the toothbrush. It was never clear whether Charles brushed his teeth or whether the footman did it for him. Very soon after my blindness occurred, I discovered that it is virtually impossible to hold a toothbrush in one hand, the cap also there, and spread toothpaste on the bristles and replace the cap on the tube. In what appears to be a childlike arrangement, to avoid all of this turmoil, I now squeeze a little bit from the tube onto the middle finger of my right hand and stick it in my mouth when I am ready to brush my teeth. No more of this business of trying to locate the bristles on the toothbrush. For me it can’t be done. I regret seriously that, being an American and of Irish descent, I have no footman to perform these duties for me, so I must do it myself. I hope that recitation of this event will not distress you too much.

There are two more observations that should be included here. Children who meet me are oblivious to the fact that I am blind. They simply do not give it any consideration at all, but that is not to say that they are rude or anything. They simply do not credit the fact that I can’t see. They play their games and run for the elevators and all that sort of thing, which has a distressful quality to it, but in any event they are not aware of my blindness. On the other hand, there are the reactions of grown people. People, generally speaking, are very considerate of my blindness. They hold doors for me. I suspect that at the Coumadin Care Center I am taken out of turn because I do not spend much time in the waiting room. There is another aspect to it, in that one of the clerks at the reception desk at the Summit Medical Group tells us to please go have a seat in the waiting room while she tears off the medical papers and brings them to us. Then there is a woman named Ruthenia who works for the podiatrist. She doesn’t wait for me to show up in the podiatrist’s office; Ruthenia comes out to the waiting room to collect me and lead me in to the proper place in the podiatrist’s office. It might be observed that Ruthenia has a blind sister. So all in all, I would clearly have to say that grown people are very considerate and polite.

If I have not mentioned it before, I should observe that one of the major assistants to blind people is the cane. It gives you some idea of what lies a few feet ahead. Of course, it is nothing like seeing, but it is better than nothing. I suspect that if a survey were taken among blind people, they would identify the cane as perhaps the most important device they have to help overcome blindness when it comes to mobility.

Now about other matters. One of the boons to the blind is the advent of talking clocks. We have several around this house that tend to keep me up to date as to what time it is. If that were not the case, I would be at sea because I can read no clock at all. There is an interesting aspect about the talking clocks in that the voice that speaks the numbers is clearly Chinese. She pronounces the word “five” as “fi.” She pronounces “fifty” as “fitty.” It is a pleasure to hear her go to work at five minutes to six, when she says, “The time is fi fitty fi.” Well, I can’t be too critical about that because I do not speak any Chinese, including Mandarin or Cantonese.

This has been a long essay and it has not been a particularly inspiring one. It is my attempt to deal with the realities of blindness. Nobody thrives in blindness. Blindness may help you in the use of logic and it may be of assistance when it comes to learning patience. But blindness never ever contributes to tranquility. The blind person is often convinced that the next step may involve disaster. Blind people count steps, so it is not recommended that you speak to them when they are climbing or descending steps. When they are walking on flat ground, you would probably find them to be laconic, because they have their minds on “Where is the street?”, “Where is the Belgian block that announces the street?” and “Where are the steps that must be surmounted?” Blind people have a lot of things to worry about that do not occur in sighted people, hence the lack of tranquility I mentioned earlier.

For all of the drawbacks of blindness, it is my recommendation, as it was during the Second World War, that all of us should keep in mind what we have left, not what we have lost. When I hear of the soldiers from Iraq who have survived bombings and who have permanent brain damage and other disabilities, I find it important to remember what I have left rather than what I have lost. The young men coming back from Iraq are scarred and will be tortured for life by their injuries. The fact that this is an unnecessary war only makes one feel more regretful about the injuries suffered by the soldiers.

Before this essay concludes, I wanted to pay a tribute to my wife, Judy, who has been with me throughout this long ordeal. She has been an exemplar of devotion to me. She has taken over most of the things I used to do, such as retrieving the garbage cans because I have no idea where they might be. She has taken over the checkbook and all of the financial arrangements because I can no longer write a check that the bank will honor. Simply put, I did not know what devotion really meant until blindness surrounded me last fall. Without my wife Judy, I suspect I would be in some sort of county home rather than being here at this house. I did not understand fully how much devotion could be shown by one person to another. If I survive this trial of blindness, it will be exclusively the work of my wife Judy and the team of people who help us out.

Finally, I want my readers to know that this essay is simply an exercise in the realities of blindness. It does not alter in any respect the year-end message that I wrote over the recent holidays. It had always been my intention to take stock of where I stood at the six month mark of my current blindness. I would not want you to read this essay with the thought that reality is overwhelming old Ed Carr. It is not so at all. But it is important that we don’t go about this business of blindness with a Pollyannaish attitude. Reality is reality and it must be recognized. The fact that is important is that courage must be present to overcome the realities.

In previous years during my career in the labor group at AT&T, I was asked to make a number of speeches throughout the country primarily having to do with the threat of the Teamsters moving in on the unions in the Bell System. My advice, usually, was filed under the heading of “Brains and Guts.” It seemed to me that there were plenty of brains in the Bell System to deal with the Teamster threat, but the question had to do with whether there were guts or courage enough to surmount it. My efforts were devoted to promoting the use of courage.

There is one citation from the philosopher Goethe, a German who had much to say about courage. Goethe observed, on one occasion, the following:

“Wealth lost – something lost.”
“Honor lost – much is lost.”
“Courage lost – all is lost.”

I think Goethe clearly had it right. If courage is lost, there is no hope. In this case, I want to assure all of my friends that much courage remains and I do not intend to surrender without a fight. The realities of blindness, as recorded in this essay, are not happy ones. But they can be lived with, and are no reason for surrendering ever.

March 13, 2006
Essay 183

NOTE from Judy: It is now April, and Ed has started taking the garbage out to the street, finding the cans in the morning at the end of the 90 foot driveway, and retrieving the newspaper from the front porch. A sighted person takes it for granted, but it is an accomplishment for a blind person.

Kevin’s commentary: I saw that this one was a 16-pager so I opened up a notepad document so I could write some comments as I went through and read. It’s the first time that I’ve needed to do so. It seems that as I dive deeper into the past, the average essay length skyrockets. This is a good thing, because it means that although I am starting to approach the end of the essays, there is a rather huge amount of content still waiting for me.

There is in fact a blind comedian named Chris McCausland who is pretty good! I watched two of his stand up sessions, and noticed that his stories heavily feature sound imagery, but he makes no explicit mention of his blindness. I dug a little deeper and found this: “Although Chris McCausland is blind, it doesn’t feature in his material. He says that there’s nothing more boring than a fat man doing only fat jokes, so he doesn’t do blind jokes so as to connect with the audience better. In fact it’s usually limited to a simple disclaimer at the beginning of the show so people don’t think he’s drunk.”

I found the black haze / white sheet example to be particularly interesting, because it made me remember what someone told me about those who are born blind. He said “a blind person doesn’t see black, they see nothing. They see exactly as much as you see out your elbow.” But in Pop’s case, it seems like he does indeed “see” black, which is pretty neat! I think this is pretty clearly attributable to the fact that he went blind late in life, and had a working set of eyes for eighty-odd years. Still though, I didn’t have a clue what Pop was actually seeing these days.

The most fascinating of all was the ghost images though, for sure. I had no idea that that sort of thing happened. When he reads this, hopefully he can clarify whether or not this is still happening (eight years later) or if these types of false images faded over time. I’ll be sure to include any response I get.

This is the 3nd essay in a series on blindness.
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This morning, March 6, Tim Russert asked General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, how the war in Iraq was going. To save space, I will condense his answer into the thought that the war is going swimmingly. Everything is on schedule and soon there will be Iraqi boys fighting the insurgents over there to protect American values over here. There will be no need in the future to send American boys to defend American values in Iraq. The Iraqis will take care of that.

It is my belief that the General was terribly wide of the mark. The best estimates that this old soldier can glean is that a civil war in Iraq is in the making. My advice to all my readers is that if you have got a few bucks to bet, bet them on a civil war. I doubt that any respectable bookie will take a bet to the contrary.

When the United States invaded Iraq, we were told that it was to wipe out those big nests of weapons of mass destruction. When that cause did not fly, we changed it to several other reasons, none of which made much sense. Finally we settled on the thought that we were going to bring democracy to the Middle East. The point here is that nobody in the Middle East was ever really asked whether they preferred democracy to some other form of government. In effect, we were going to impose democracy on them whether they like it or not.

Two elections seemed to upset this attempt at democratizing the Middle East. In the first case, we sponsored in Iraq a secular group of candidates who lost convincingly to the religious candidates. The Shiites simply beat our guys by a factor of five to one. Now in Palestine, there was an election a week or so ago overseen by none other than Jimmy Carter, one of our former presidents. In that case, Hamas, which is called a terrorist organization by the current U.S. administration, simply clobbered the opposition. We and Israel do not like Hamas. The fact that they won this election fairly and squarely is beside the point. Now that they have won the election, we and Israel are going to cut off all aid to the new government of the Hamas organization. It appears to me that we like democratic elections, provided they go our way. When they go against us, we are angry and want to overturn them. This is nothing other than a case of short-sighted American consternation.

Next we come to the new drug bill for senior citizens. You may recall that this bill was not written by legislators, but by the pharmaceutical industry and it specifically forbids any bargaining by the government with the industry on the price of drugs. When the pharmaceutical industry had done its work, they turned it over to Tom DeLay, the House enforcer of rules, to see to it that the bill got passed. DeLay held open the vote on this drug bill for three hours to make sure that he twisted enough arms to get it done. In the end, enough arms were twisted so that the bill passed by a margin of one or two votes.

Since that time, the administration has been telling us how wonderful the drug bill is for those of us who are senior citizens. The high point came when your chief executive and Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Bush, undertook to explain to all of us oldsters why the drug bill was actually to our benefit. Here is what he said:

“Because the –all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There’s a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those – changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be –or closer delivered to that has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It’s kind of muddled. Look, there’s a series of things that cause the – like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate –the benefits will rise based upon inflation, supposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those –if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.”

It should be borne in mind that this is not a caricature from Saturday Night Live; it is the official transcript of the remarks. Bush actually said these things and they were recorded by his officials. You may find it hard to believe, but that is the way this man thinks. Perhaps I should say that he does not think before he speaks and the result is obvious.

Finally, we were told by the current administration that basically it was a Christian administration. The President made much of his conversion by Billy Graham and the fact that he was leading a Christian life. If that is so, why then do we have torture in our prisons at Abu Ghraib, at Bagram in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo? There is no doubt whatsoever that we are torturing our prisoners. Kit Bond, the senator from Missouri, calls torture “enhanced interrogation procedures.” “Enhanced” simply means torture. When John McCain, a victim of torture himself in Vietnam, was about to introduce a bill to ban torture of our prisoners, the vice president, Cheney, made several attempts to kill the bill. When it passed, it was signed by the president with the full knowledge that torture would continue. Torture is not a Christian way of doing business. Torture simply guarantees that when our prisoners are taken, they will be tortured also. It is a very short-sighted policy. But in the end, it is interesting to note that an administration that sells itself on Christian values embraces also abject torture among those values.

Well, there you have a few cases that contribute to American consternation. I do not go to bed at night peacefully, knowing that our values will be preserved by Iraqi soldiers. I do not sing the praises of democratic elections in Palestine. And I am going to take Bush’s explanation of the drug bill to my speech teacher in the hope that he might make some sense out of it, and I am going to ask my preacher about torturing prisoners that we hold. I have no hope on any of these counts.

And so you see, we have a terminal case of American consternation. With the current organization in power, I suspect that the consternation will be with us for a long time to come.

March 6, 2006
Essay 180
Kevin’s commentary: Just wow. The only “Bush quotes” that still get commonly thrown around these days are his obvious fuck-ups like “I know how hard it is to put food on your family.” I wish there were more of these transcripts floating around. They are astoundingly poor. Of course, people speak differently than they write, and when your extemporaneous speeches are recorded word-for-word, anyone’s will probably look a little bit silly. But “a little bit silly” is a far cry from “For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table…There’s a series of parts of the formula that are being considered.”

Amazing. Similarly I had forgotten how uncomfortable the 2006 election of Hamas was for politicans. “You guys! This is NOT how you’re supposed to be using all this awesome freedom that you have” was pretty much the prevailing sentiment. Really I think that the U.S. is just nostalgic for 1950s Iran, where the Americans just got to install somebody. That was smooth sailing for everyone involved, right?