Archive for the April 2006 Category


-Three Disparate Thoughts

Growing up during the great American Depression, it was my view that golf was an elitist sport. There were a few driving ranges around, but public golf courses were few and far between. Jobs also were few and far between and money was a problem at every step of the way.

Golf was played mostly at suburban country clubs where the men smoked expensive cigars and drank premium whiskey. About as close as I would ever come to a country club was to get a job as a caddy or someone working in the kitchen. And so it was that I developed no great interest in golf or in golfers. I did not harbor hostility toward golf or golfers, but I simply have had no interest in them over the ensuing years.

While I maintained a disinterest in the subject of golf, I do know of course who Tiger Woods is. He seems to have won many major tournaments and is perhaps the established star in all of golfdom. During the latter part of March, Tiger Woods gave an interview to Ed Bradley of Sixty Minutes on CBS Television in which he stated his philosophy. He said that the idea of playing golf was to win the tournament of course, but winning was only part of the procedure. Woods said that he “liked to kick their butts” even after he won the tournament. He went on to say that if he and Bradley were playing a game of cards, it was Woods’ intention not only to win the game but to “kick Bradley’s butt” as well. I was fairly astounded at this remark because it reflected an attitude that I had not associated with Tiger Woods. And it shows no generosity at all. It seems to be of a sadistic streak worthy only of the vice president, Mr. Cheney. It seems to me that winning is important but that kicking butt is a cause for eventual retribution.

Two thoughts came to mind as I heard Tiger Woods talk about kicking Bradley’s butt.

In perhaps 1935 during a grade school softball game, I was the catcher. When our pitcher threw a fast ball by one of the opposing batters, I held the ball out in front of the batter after he swung and missed and said something to this effect, “Is this what you were looking for?” The umpire was a gentleman named Mr. Payne who was widely beloved in the Clayton, Missouri public school system. Mr. Payne just turned me around and delivered a short lecture to the effect that I should never ever show up an opponent in that fashion. If the batter swung and missed, so be it. That was to the credit of our team. But to show him up by exhibiting the ball was needless and tended to make enemies. In all of my catching career after that time, I never ever showed the ball to a batter who had swung and missed. Mr. Payne made his point quite well.

The second thought that comes to mind has to do with an election in which I ran for the union presidency. In late 1949 in St. Louis, I was the vice president of Local 5 of the Federation of Long Lines Telephone Workers. The president was a man named Gordon “Pete” Sallee. Things were not progressing well in that local, so in the election of late 1949, I ran against Pete Sallee for the presidency and won it. Using Mr. Payne’s example, I went out of my way to make sure that Pete Sallee did not feel as though I were gloating or anything of the sort. Quite to the contrary, it was my intention to make a friend out of Sallee. As time went on, he and I became close friends and, indeed, until his death in 1970, whenever I visited St. Louis, I made it my business to have lunch or dinner with Pete Sallee.

I had no intention, ever, of making Pete Sallee feel as though I were intent upon kicking his butt. It is my belief that Tiger Woods would profit by taking the same view as I took back in 1949. Winning is important but kicking butt is not what sportsmen do. They should be magnanimous to the losers.


Now we turn to civil war, this being Iraq in the case in point. For a year or more, our man in Iraq was Ayad Alawi. He was our appointed Prime Minister of Iraq and he was selected largely because of his being secular. He was not publicly identified as being Sunni or Shia. He was a secularist.

Late in his career, when there was an election to be held in Iraq, Alawi was invited to the White House for a photo op, during which he “conferred” with George Bush. Alawi also addressed a joint session of Congress reading a speech prepared for him by the White House. Apparently Alawi had no chance to read the speech beforehand, as he made several errors when he spoke even though he is a fluent English speaker.

Nonetheless, Alawi ran in the January elections in Iraq as a secularist, and was handed his head by the religious parties. My recollection is that he got no more than 12 to 15% of the vote while the religionists ran off with all the rest. Now that Alawi is no longer in power and has largely been rejected, the current administration is trying to distance itself from him.

A week or two ago, Alawi observed that with all of the deaths taking place in Iraq from bombings, shootings, stabbings, strangulations, and beheadings that indeed a civil war was in progress in that country right now. Our Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Bush, violently disagreed, saying that there was no civil war in Iraq and that things were going swimmingly and that progress was being made on every front.

My guess or belief is that if you have a few bucks to bet on the outcome of the unrest in Iraq, put your money on Alawi and the case for civil war. Bush is simply whistling past the graveyard, knowing that a civil war in Iraq looms. Alawi is in Baghdad and Bush is in Crawford. Again, I tell you if you have a few dollars to wager, go with Alawi.


Now we turn to the virgin element of this essay. It had been my intention to write a humorous essay on the Muslim belief having to do with virgins in Paradise. As you may recall, every martyred Arab is entitled to up to 100 virgins to be put at his disposal once he enters Paradise. My thought in the proposed essay is that so many Iraqis are being killed that there is a terrible strain on the inventory of virgins in Paradise. I also wanted to point out that in the Koran there is no specification that the virgins be young. They are simply to have protected their virginity and that is all that matters. Consequently, the paucity of young virgins is such that middle-aged and elderly women have to be given to the martyrs to make up their quota of 75 to 100 virgins. I had intended to comment on the possibility of civil unrest occurring not only in Iraq, but also in Paradise because the martyrs would be complaining about being assigned virgins who had passed their 60th or 70th or 80th birthdays.

At the time I was contemplating this essay, there appeared to be a modicum of humor attached to it. Now, however, the situation is so dire in Iraq, not only for the Iraqi nation, but for the U.S. as well, that I fear that any attempt at humor in this situation is debatable. Consequently, the story about the elderly virgins has been dismissed and we’ll try again another day. Nonetheless, in spite of all the foregoing doubts, I am still struck by the Muslim belief that there is no homosexuality in Islam. No gays, no lesbians, and no transsexuals. What would happen if indeed, a gay Arab became a martyr and was given 100 female virgins for his use in paradise? What in the world would he do with them? As you see, I do not hold with the view that homosexuality does not occur in the Islamic faith.

Well, there are my thoughts about golf, civil war, and virgins. They are not cataclysmic thoughts but the meanderings of an old guy’s mind on a Sunday afternoon when daylight saving time takes effect. Maybe tomorrow, with the start of the baseball season, my spirits will improve and we will have something decent and humorous to include in the essays that I will send you.

April 4, 2006

Kevin’s commentary: Gay guys tend to get along with women pretty well, as far as I know. Presumably the martyr in question would just get 100 buddies to chat or go shopping with, or whatever the equivalent of that is in heaven.

More on Pop and virgins here, here, and here.

Reading this, it strikes me that I’d be very curious to hear what Pop would have to say about good ol’ ISIS these days. He certainly knew a good deal about the region, and presumably would call them out for being horrible, horrible people but stellar marketers. Seriously, ISIS doesn’t even have to fall back on the hundred virgins thing — they’re attracting tons of people with just the promise of basically indiscriminate violence.

Regarding the thoughts about baseball, I was struck by a bit of a cross-generational epiphanies. I’ve never been much of a sportsman but recently I took up a competitive videogame which pits two teams of five against one another. The circumstances of the game sometimes align such that the team that is ahead can entirely forego completing the objective necessary to win the game, and instead sit in the other team’s base and kill them over and over. The game penalizes anyone who leaves before aforementioned objective is complete, so when this situation arises the losing team is basically just forced to sit there and watch their butts get kicked for upwards of ten extra minutes. It is the most shining example that I can think of about playing not to win, but instead playing for the chief objective of humiliation, with the victory as a side benefit. The people who do this sort of “camping” are widely regarded as tremendous assholes, at least, which is nice — not very many people are with Tiger on this one.


The firm of Beers, Tutwiler, and Hughes is not a new law firm moving in to town nor is it an ad agency. It is an association of women who have worked for the United States government in recent years in an effort to improve our relations with the Arab countries. For reasons that are unknown to most civilized people, this administration believes that women will make the best ambassadors to convince the Arabs that we are indeed friends and allies. The jury is out on that point and will probably return a verdict of not in agreement.

The women named in the title are Charlotte Beers, an ad executive from New York, Margaret Tutwiler who is a slow speaking political operative from Alabama, and Karen Hughes who has been described as the other half of George Bush’s brain. The remaining half is occupied of course by Karl Rove.

In recent years during the current administration, it has been decided that these women could make a difference with our friends and enemies in the Arab camp. Charlotte Beers came to Washington and within six months decided that there was nothing she could do under the administration’s present policies and gave up the job in disgust. She returned to New York to continue her work as an advertiser. Margaret Tutwiler, who has no obvious qualifications, took over the job of running the relationship with the Arab countries and must have confused them with her Alabama accent. In any event she threw in the towel after a few months and the Bush people appointed her as an ambassador to some obscure country. Karen Hughes was named early in 2005 as an Under Secretary of State in Condoleeza’s State Department doing the same job. It should be borne in mind that the Under Secretary of State is the third ranking job in the State Department. There is a Secretary of State, followed by the Deputy Director, followed by the Under Secretaries. So the appointment of Ms. Hughes is an important statement. It carries a singular amount of weight by virtue of its title.

When Madame Hughes was appointed as an Under Secretary of State, it was January or February of 2005. She had a son who attended high school in Austin, Texas and who was looking for a college. Now appointment as an Under Secretary of State did not prevent Ms. Hughes from looking for a college for her son. As a matter of fact, Ms. Hughes did not take up the work as an Under Secretary until some time late in the summer of 2005.

When Ms. Hughes finally appeared on the job, she seemed to believe that only a few speeches would be required to turn around our centuries-old relationships with the Arabs. And so it was that Karen Hughes set out to make speeches in what are regarded as friendly Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan. The burden of her speeches was that “I am a mom and I understand people and I love children.” During her speeches to the Arab women, she advised them to get rid of their burkas, the black robes that cover them from head to foot, and free themselves. Ms. Hughes was flabbergasted to learn that the women seemed to enjoy wearing their burkas and at the end she was handed her head by the Arab women attending the conferences. She made only two speeches, in Cairo and in Amman, Jordan, before she abandoned her effort at speech-making to Arab women. That was some time last fall, 2005.

Since that time we have been without an ambassador in charge of repairing relationships with the Arab nations. This is hard to believe, but it is reported by reputable news organizations that Ms. Hughes was on her way to South America recently. I can advise her that there are very few Arabs in Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. If she is looking for Arab audiences, she ought to search out meetings in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other countries that embrace the Islamic faith.

The point of this exercise is obvious. We have made a colossal mistake by sending women to explain our position vis-à-vis the Arabs. I have nothing against women; on the contrary I have written several essays in praise of women. But Arab men operate under the Islamic belief that they can have the company of four wives and that if they are killed as martyrs of the Islamic faith, they are entitled to as many as 100 virgins when they reach Paradise. Simply put, the Arab men in charge of the governments there do not take women seriously but rather tend to regard them as items of property.

We failed with Charlotte Beers. We failed with Margaret Tutwiler. And obviously we have failed with Karen Hughes. There was a time when your old essayist was a catcher playing softball and hardball for industrial teams in St. Louis and in the United States Army. If an opposing batter hit fast balls out of the park on two or three occasions, I would never call for a fast ball to him again. He was to be fed curve balls or change-ups or drops. If we apply the same metaphor to the United States government, it would be that the batter would have nothing but fast balls served to him. In our case, the United States government has named three women to that job and all three have struck out monumentally. Yet the Chief Executive, Commander-in-Chief, and currently “chief decider” will admit no mistake in his choice of Karen Hughes and will probably name some other female to be our ambassador to the Arab nations. Does it ever appear to the Bushies that the problem is their policies rather than female speeches? This is a disastrous course. It ranks with our unfortunate entry into Iraq.

Fortunately Charlotte Beers, Margaret Tutwiler, and Karen Hughes seem to have disappeared. All things being equal, that is a favorable development both here and in the Arab countries. The fact that their faces are missing is an enormous plus. The fact that they were named to an impossible job is something for the current administration to think about.

Now that the firm of Beers, Tutwiler, and Hughes as been disposed of, we can turn our attention to the mother country, that being Great Britain. Almost exactly one year ago, the Prince of Wales, commonly known as Charlie Windsor, married his companion of some thirty-five years. I commented at the time when Charlie married Camilla Parker-Bowles as to whether this was a forced marriage or a marriage of convenience. In an essay at that time, I suggested pregnancy as a possible cause for their engagement. But sources in Buckingham Palace never confirmed my medical thoughts.

In any case, it used to be that every week or so we would get a communication from Charlie, the Prince of Wales, on some daffy subject. For example, late in 2004 before his marriage, one of his secretaries inquired as to whether or not she could seek a promotion or get a raise. Charlie wrote her a scathing letter which appeared in all of the British publications, alleging that she was attempting to become a news reader on television, for which job she was clearly unqualified. In short, if one of Charlie’s secretaries asked for a promotion, she was courting a letter that reflected Charlie’s great disfavor.

None the less, after all of the daffiness that has marked Charlie’s behavior over the recent years, he and Camilla Parker-Bowles were married, and the announcements and letters and speeches suddenly stopped. For a year we have been without any communication from old Charlie. He came to New York during the winter with his new wife but the New York Times reported that they were received with minimum fanfare.

The thing that bothers this old essayist is that Charlie Windsor has disappeared from the news altogether which makes me concerned. His mother has turned 80 this week and presumably, one of these days, she will pass on and Charlie will inherit the throne of England. When he becomes the monarch of all of the English speaking world, are we to expect nothing but silence from the husband of Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles? The fact of the matter seems to be that the Prince of Wales, Charlie Windsor, has joined Charlotte Beers, Margaret Tutwiler, and Karen Hughes as being among the missing.

A third exhibit of missing people has to be Colin Powell. When Colin Powell was the Secretary of State during the first four years of the Bush administration, he apparently did not support the idea of invading Iraq but he kept his thoughts to himself. This is entirely consistent with how generals are made. Generals do not get paid to think; they get paid to go along with what politicians have decided that they must do. Colin Powell, in all likelihood, could have had an influence on our decision to go into Iraq. He is a military person and enjoyed the stature of Secretary of State. If Powell had resigned in opposition to our invasion of Iraq, he might very well have presented an insurmountable objection to the invasion. All things being equal, we have not heard from Powell for the last twelve months or so. This is a shame and he should now state whether he supports the invasion of an Arab nation that meant us no obvious threat.

Well, there you have a few cases of missing faces. This is what happens when essayists have to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon dreaming of prominent figures who are no longer in the news. Of all of the missing people named herein, the one I miss most is good old Charlie, the Prince of Wales. Old Charlie composed the goofiest messages and speeches ever heard by civilized men. I miss him terribly.

April 27, 2006
Essay 187

Postscript: In recent weeks several retired generals of the United States have suggested that Donald Rumsfeld should resign and thus also become another missing face. It seems to me that their aim was too low. They should have sought the resignation of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Rumsfeld contends that he was never asked about invading Iraq. If Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were to become missing faces, the political scene in this country and in the world would be greatly improved.

Kevin’s commentary: I don’t think that Pop was fair to Dick Cheney earlier in this episode when he said that Bush’s brain was divided just between Hughes and Rove. Clearly it was a case of thirds. As part of my rigorous fact-checking process for this essay I determined that all three of the women mentioned have had no mentions in the news media for quite some time. That is to say, they’ve now been out of the public eye for more than eight years considering the date this essay was written. Not so, obviously, for prince Charlie but I don’t have a very good grasp of just how much attention he used to draw to himself.