Archive for the Letter Category

FROM THE FRIENDLY WHITE HOUSE TO YOUR HOUSE

If you were alive in January of 2001, you may recall that George W. Bush ascended to the Presidency of this country. He got there by virtue of the ugly fact that the Supreme Court was counting the ballots. At the conclusion of the ballot count, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia issued his ruling that George W. Bush was the supreme leader of this sweet-smelling country and was free to proceed to his inauguration. He also stipulated that this ruling would not be a precedent for future rulings. This is preposterous because the Supreme Court issues rulings that are supposed to be precedents for every case that follows. But not in this case which led to George W. Bush assuming the presidency of this country.

Shortly after George W. Bush assumed the Presidency, he discovered much to his horror that there was a surplus in the Treasury of this country. This mortified Mr. Bush. He instructed the Treasury Secretary and the rest of his Cabinet that such a situation was intolerable, and that the surplus in the Treasury was to be pissed away at the earliest opportunity. So the tax rates of this country were immediately reduced with the provision that in ten years’ time they would revert to the levels under the Clinton administration and the Bush tax decrease would go away. That was the proposition. It was to be a temporary tax decrease resulting in less money coming into the Treasury for a period of ten years.

To do his part in disposing of the Treasury surplus, Mr. Bush first declared war in Afghanistan and secondly, he decided that it was time to invade Iraq. So here we were, early in the last decade, with two wars on our hands and all of this was to be accomplished with the decreased revenue from the income tax. As Mr. Bush correctly concluded, at the end of ten years, this matter would have to be settled by his successor, thereby leaving Mr. Bush largely blameless.

In December of 2010, the Bush tax cuts were set to expire. At that point, Mr. Obama was our President. Because of the great depression that had occurred in this country starting in 2008, Mr. Obama did not want to impose any new taxes on the middle class. Accordingly, he proposed that those with incomes of $250,000 or less could keep the Bush tax rates. For those with incomes in excess of $250,000, the tax rates would simply revert to the tax structure that applied under Mr. Bush’s predecessor, Mr. Clinton.

But the Republicans claimed that this was a tax increase on the millionaires and proceeded to fight Mr. Obama. There was even a proposal put forward by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York that the Clinton tax rates would apply only to those with incomes of $1 million or more. That of course was unsatisfactory to the Republicans. As everyone knows, there are a lot more middle- and lower-income people in this country than there are those who have incomes of $1 million or more. But as we are finding out, much to our dismay, Mr. Obama had no wish to take on these wealthy Republicans. The proper term for Mr. Obama was that he caved. In spite of the lost revenue that should have been collected from those in the upper brackets, Mr. Obama let the millionaires keep their lower Bush tax rates and he threw in a sweetener. The estate tax exclusion would change from $2 million to $5 million, which means that wealthy individuals can pass on more of their wealth to their heirs.

The developments on the tax rate structure set my heart aflutter. I thought that Obama had the right instincts when he proposed that people with incomes of $250,000 or less could keep the Bush tax rates and that those with larger incomes would simply revert to the tax rates that applied during the Clinton administration. This would have been a pushover because there are so many more middle- and lower-income people than there are millionaires. But Obama did not wish to take on this fight which could have been so easily won. As I said earlier, Obama caved.

On December 9, 2010, I managed to still my heart flutters and compose a letter to Mr. Obama which was delivered by email. I had chosen email because it is faster than the so-called “snail mail.” I made all of the arguments as to why Obama should have fought this one out, and I concluded with the phrase, “Mr. Obama, in view of your capitulation, it would seem appropriate for you to resign.” I thought that by asking for Obama’s resignation, I would arouse a bit of interest in White House circles. But it didn’t even cause a ripple.

The email was sent on December 9 and I heard nothing for three months. Finally, on March 16, a gap of three months, an email arrived at our house which constituted a reply to my letter. The email from Washington that addressed me as “Dear Friend” rather than “Dear Mr. Carr,” thanked me for writing. There was a statement about why Mr. Obama had chosen this course of action and the kicker was that in the year 2012, Mr. Obama would make a valiant effort to re-establish the tax rates that applied during the Clinton years. That, of course, is unadulterated hogwash. In a Presidential election year, which would be 2012, I will be astounded if Obama ever approaches this subject of restoring the Clinton tax rates. But the main thing that I took away from the beginning and the body of the letter had to do with people in Washington referring to me as “Dear Friend” and saying, “Thank you for writing.”

But now we come to the most interesting part. Instead of including a complimentary close at the end of the letter, the letter was simply signed, “Sincerely, The White House.”

Since my retirement more than a quarter of a century ago, I have been absent from the business world. I was astounded to find that so many changes had taken place during my absence. During my long years in the telephone business, I was careful to address answers to the person who had written to me. That no longer seems to be desirable. In this case the words “Dear Friend” seem to suffice. What if I were a tea party type who hated the Democratic Party and all that it stands for? Do you think those people in Washington would have replied to me calling me a dear friend? But I was most impressed by the fact that at the end of the letter it said, “Sincerely, The White House.”

From this time forward, I intend to imitate what the White House has taught me. My next letter, if there is one, may be addressed to “Dear Friends in the White House.” This will save me from trying to determine which person is currently the President.

Now, when it comes to the complimentary close, it is my intention to sign the letter, “Yours truly, from The Blue-Gray House on Long Hill Drive.” As you can see, those people in Washington have taught me a brilliant lesson about letter-writing. How out-of-date it would be to sign my future correspondence, “Yours truly, Ed Carr.” The proper form, as I now understand it, is to say, “Yours truly, The Blue-Gray House on Long Hill Drive.”

Corresponding with the President, it would be presumptuous of me to refer to him as a “dear friend.” If the administration sends a letter that ends with the complimentary close of “Sincerely, The White House” I am obliged to use that form of address in future correspondence. Any future correspondence from me will be addressed to the White House rather than to an individual. I now know that addressing a letter to an individual is completely out of date. Now if I were to take the “Dear Friends” quote seriously, I might find the form of address that suggested a great friendship. In formal correspondence, I might refer to “Dear White House.” Once the dear friendship had been established and matured, I might forget the “House” part and refer to those in Washington as “White” or, better still, “Dear Whitey.” I suspect that the latter point leaves much to be desired.

But I am enamored with the idea of signing my letters, “Yours truly, The Blue-Gray House on Long Hill Drive.” If those people in Washington can sign their correspondence as “Sincerely, The White House,” I see no reason why I should not adopt that form of complimentary close. As a means of identifying the house from which the letter originated, I could say, “Sincerely, from the Blue Gray House on Long Hill Drive, right next to the house that was advertised on the For Sale sign as ‘I’m gorgeous inside’.” As a further means of identifying the house that originated this letter, for the last year I might also have specified that it came “From the house across the street from the Johnny-on-the-Spot in the front yard.” I offer these geographic references so that there is no mistake about the house that originated the letter.

So you see that a gristled old reprobate like myself can really learn something at this late stage in my life. I had not realized that I was so far out of compliance with basic standards in letter writing. But there are some things that must be taken into account as I become more accustomed to the new rules.

Suppose that love should strike my heart and I were to write a love letter to a young woman of 75 or so. I could not address her as “Dear Friend” nor could I use the complimentary close as dictated by the White House of “Sincerely, The Blue-Gray House on Long Hill Drive.” So you see, there are many things to be worked out but I am confident that they can be overcome. I am deeply grateful for this discovery of the “Dear Friends” and “Sincerely, The White House” lessons that have come to my attention before I cash in all my chips. So boys and girls, always remember you’re never too old to learn a little something.

E. E. CARR
March 19, 2011

~~~

The point is taken, but I’m not sure there’s any better way for them to have signed it. Clearly Barack wasn’t responding himself, and he’s the one you wrote the letter to. They could have signed it “Doug Smith, Mail Room Staff” or even “Form Letter G” but I think “The White House” is a better alternative. By same token, “yours truly, The Blue-Gray House on Long Hill Drive” is a perfectly acceptable closure and should be leveraged frequently, even if that particular house is no longer in play.

Many people often confuse national debt and the budget deficit. Clinton was running surpluses to budget, which of course Bush vigorously reversed. Occasionally people hear about that and think that somehow under Clinton, the USA didn’t owe any other countries any money, which naturally wasn’t the case; I’m positive Pop knew this, but future readers might not, so it seems like it’s worth clarifying.

Also odd: I could SWEAR I’ve already published this one. But all my searches for terms it in don’t turn up any results. Somehow if both WordPress and Google’s searches are failing me, apologies for the double post. More likely I just read it but never published, but man. Feels strange.

A LITTLE MORE FROM THE GRANDPA IN AMERICA

Those of you who read these essays may recall one called “Thanksgiving 2006.” That essay recorded our joy at our ability to help two hardworking immigrants from Costa Rica. The cast of characters on the Costa Rican side included the parents, an eight-year-old boy named Esteban, a six-year-old boy named Fabian, and a five-month-old daughter named Melissa. Following that meeting on Thanksgiving day, their mother informed us that Esteban was praying for me to regain my eyesight. He was praying for his “Grandpa in America.”

When I learned of the prayers for my eyesight to be restored, I wrote each of the boys a small letter and urged them to look for wives, particularly fat ones. As a man who has been around the block two or three times, I told the boys that fat girls like to eat at fancy establishments such as McDonald’s and Burger King. To cover the cost of such lavish entertainment, a small contribution was included in the letters.

The boys’ mother told us that they had read my letters and had prepared responses. When the boys’ mother delivered the responses to us, both boys had sealed the envelopes so that their mother could not see what

was included. While their mother was excluded from reading this correspondence, I will show it to you. Here is what the two boys wrote to me. (The front artwork is shown first, then the writing.)
Esteban, age 8

Fabian, age 6

So you see, these two youngsters understand social graces, even at their tender age. I must confess that I have been concerned about their search for fat wives. Perhaps that will be explained in future correspondence.

These two youngsters are being raised to be gentlemen. Gentlemen deserve to be treated with respect and with everyone’s best wishes. I am not a Russian, but I have been impressed by the practice of Russian choirs to end their performances with a hymn-like song called “Mnogaya Lyeta.” That Russian phrase translates in English to “long life.”

To all the immigrants who have made this country a great one, this old essayist wishes them long life. To the Costa Ricans who are patiently sweating out the snail like pace of our immigration bureau, I also extend the expression of long life to them. And finally to Esteban, Fabian and Melissa, children of would be American citizens, I hope that you enjoy not only great prosperity, but also “Mnogaya Lyeta.” That is the fervent wish of their Grandpa in America.

E. E. CARR
February 5, 2007

~~~

Read part 1 of “AN ADTOPED GRANDPA” here. Pop had a great relationship with these kids, and I like that he was way ahead of the “Immigrants make America great” sentiment that gets chanted at anti-Trump protests lately. Anyway this is adorable and Esteban gets full marks for creativity with his ending salutation, which wraps around his name like a horseshoe.

Interestingly, whatever drove Pop to tell these kids to get fat wives was somehow passed to my mother — see her comment.

LAGNIAPPE FOR READERS

A little lagniappe for all my readers:

If you were to wander into a diner and order a tuna sandwich, you might be surprised if it is served with some pickles on the side. The pickles are something extra which is the essence of lagniappe.

Similarly, if one drives in to a service station to buy some of that $3.75 per gallon gas, and the attendant washes the windshield, as unlikely as that may be, the window washing is a little something extra; hence, it should be considered as lagniappe.

Lagniappe is a Cajun word which has French underpinnings. It means “a little something extra”, which is what these three small essays represent. I hope you like them. For those who are interested in parsing and pronunciation, this Cajun word is pronounced “lan-yappe” with the accent generally on the first syllable. If you wish to put the accent on the second syllable as Parisians may do, that might add some class to your phraseology.
There is no restriction on putting the accent on both syllables which is the pronunciation favored by Protestant preachers.

July 28, 2006

~~~

Parsing the distribution document to figure out which essays, specifically, were included here is difficult.
Finding all the essays that include a specifically identified lagniappe is much easier. Enjoy!

EATING HEELS
ASHCROFT ENDORSES CRISCO, LILLIE CARR AND JACOB’S LADDER
BEN GIVENS’ NEWSPEAK
NUNCE: A NEW NEOLOGISM
OLD GEEZERS DYING IN BIG NUMBERS

A LETTER TO MY READERS AND FRIENDS

Last December when I wrote the essay “Sing No Sad Songs for This Old Geezer,” it was intended primarily to tell my friends about the onset of blindness. Your responses have been overwhelmingly generous and I am deeply touched. I am not that good and not that courageous. The situation now is very much like it was in the melancholy days of World War II during the North African and Italian campaigns. At that time, it was my intention to do my duty, and to get from one day to the next without being killed. That is not necessarily courage; it is a matter of survival.

Your generous responses have led me to produce another few essays. The first two, dated before October 31, when the lights were turned out, were written by hand. On several occasions, I found that the right-hand margin of the paper did not stop my pen from writing. It just went on to the desk. Clearly, at that point I was becoming blind. The later essays, dated in the current year, were dictated rather than written. This is a difficult form for me to master, as I have always written essays in long hand until this time. Dictating without notes is a difficult exercise, but it is slowly being mastered. In the old days, there were essays that wrote themselves. In the new days of dictating, essays don’t write themselves anymore. About the closest I could come to having an essay write itself is the one called “…He Kept It For Hisself.” I hope you enjoy reading the essays.

Speaking of the onset of blindness, my old friend Howard Davis posed a question to me that required very little in terms of preparing an answer. Howard, as you may know, is the poet laureate of Defiance, Missouri, a job that pays something in excess of two million dollars or dinars a year. Howard asked me what was the last thing I saw before they turned the lights out. I am sure Howard envisioned a bed of daffodils or roses growing on a trellis or some romantic thing that would enhance his poetry. In point of fact, however, as much as it may disappoint Colonel Davis, the last thing I saw before the lights went out was the precious commode in the pre-op room in the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. I don’t know how Howard will make a poem out of that situation, but that is not mine to question. It is up to Professor Davis whom I know will make an epic poem which may be an ode to a commode.

I hope you enjoy reading the essays. The newer ones, written by dictating, require a lot of polish. They are not as well written as those written earlier in long hand. But be that as it may, this is the current state of affairs.

Again, I thank you for your very generous comments with respect to “Sing No Sad Songs For This Old Geezer.” As I said earlier, I just am not that good.

E. E. CARR
March 5, 2006

~~~
Below, I’ve linked my best guesses for the essays that he’s referring to. I’m pretty sure about the first two, but the second two come AFTER this note is dated, so I don’t know what the deal is with that. They’re all about blindness, though.

https://ezrasessays.com/?p=2227 A BUCKET OF WARM SPIT 10/10/05
https://ezrasessays.com/?p=2239 REFLECTIONS AS LIVES DRAW TO A CLOSE 10/23/05
https://ezrasessays.com/?p=1611 “WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BELIEVE: ME OR YOUR LYING EYES?” 3/13/06
https://ezrasessays.com/?p=1617 IT’S ONLY THE FIRST INNING 6/23/06

Letter to Kevin 6/15/05

Kevin –

Judy and I were delighted with your response to the letter and the essay about Mencken. I am not surprised by your mother withholding it from you. She may well have referred my letter to the FBI or to the Texas Holy Roller Diocese before she let you read it.

Basically, from the day of her conception, she has been a prominent juvenile delinquent. She jay walks, spits on sidewalks, cadges cigarettes and reads girlie magazines. In one of his regular appearances on Fox TV news, God himself told me to quit praying for her as it was out of his hands. God’s former wife told me that I would be turned into a pillar of salt if my prayers persisted. Tom Delay is the only person who could have any influence on your mother.

In your last sentence you suggest that sending more essays to Texas might be in order. I will be happy to do that. I have been writing essays for about eight years. I believe that 200 or more essays have been written here. Your tap dancing mother has most if not all of them. Judy and I will go through them and send you some.

As you read the essays, remember that unjust wars disgust me. Iraq for example. I am a liberal Democrat whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the British royal family – or for anyone else’s kings, queens, princes, etc. Gay marriage is fine with me. Generally speaking, all the prohibitions of the Catholic Church are regarded here as the acme of stupidity. My writings mock politicians, preachers and do-gooders. I praise countries that sing, such as the Celts. The death penalty is abhorrent to me. I like baseball and consider NASCAR racing as obscene.

Now about your debating skills. Reading Mencken would be a good investment of your time. He was a sharp logician who laughed at the many of the laws that hampered this country. Prohibition of the sale or consumption of beer or whiskey was high on HLM’s lists of foolish laws.

I hope you can find books by Mencken in your library. I believe I have everything that he put between hard covers so we can be a resource for you. There is a new book dealing with the Bible that is excellent reading because it is logical. It is “Sins of Scripture, Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate…”. John Shelby Spong, who was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark wrote it. If you ever get into a debate about such things as homosexual acts, etc. it is the gold standard for setting the Biblical situation straight. The book was published in 2005 by Harpers in San Francisco. The subhead is “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.”

When we get the mailing together, we will talk some more. I am delighted by your interest in Henry Mencken who had a profound influence on my life.

Stay strong,
Pop
e-mailed 6-15-05

~~~

It is with reluctance that I publish my 15-year-old-self’s email that Pop is replying to here. Even though it makes me cringe, I take solace in the fact that Judy is probably the only person reading this, and she’s seen it already. For extra context, apparently my mother had waited three months to hand me one of Pop’s essays that was sent to me specifically.

I am truly, truly sorry that I could not have read your essay about HLM earlier, seeing as it was written on March second. It was mailed May 15. It was given to this particular churchwallop….10 minutes ago. Needless to say, I read both parts of the letter right away.
Addressing the first part: dad says that all I need in order to be the essential twin of Jesse Halloman is a handlebar mustache. I’ll work on that one. About religion: I have decided that there is in fact a God, but He really doesn’t give a damn about us. Nor did he create us. Nor did he do much of anything really; mom calls this the watchmaker approach. I have long since considered the bible a load of crock, and have yet to read it. “Religion is the archenemy of progress” made me think, and i’ve come to accept that it is absolutely right. I’ve heard that more people have been killed in the name of Jesus Christ than by both Stallin and Hitler combined. The essay itself was another work of brilliance, and it got me to wondering if our library has any books by Mencken–he seems to think like a debater, and arguments against a rigid state and or democracy would be a wonderful tool to have in my cases. I thank you for passing the torch, and introducing another generation to this author.
As for the two paragraphs from chain of command, it reminded me strikingly of good old jack shepherd–if you say you’re getting a milkshake, you’re getting one. Then I realized that i had just compared George W. Bush to someone as great as Jack, and was disgusted with myself.
I thank you for your letter and essay.

P.S. try grounding mom…forbid her to leave the house until she has given all mail directed to me, well, to me. I enjoy reading your essays, and hope you send more.

~~~
Upon reflection twelve years later, it strikes me that the “watchmaker” theory here is more of an issue of nomenclature than of theology. Everything is caused by something else (exempting, perhaps, extremely advanced physics on very small scales), so the “watchmaker” approach is tantamount to just saying “there was a big bang, so we’ll just say that “God” is whatever phenomenon that kicked that off.” I think that’s where I was coming from at the time when I “Decided that there is in fact a God” above.
Any deeper probing into the watchmaker theory makes it fall apart just as much as any typical explanation of God, namely that one is forced to wonder what created or came before God, which of course is a dead-end line of thinking. Looking at small-scale physical interactions of particles and extrapolating as far backwards into the big bang as we can with physics is probably a much better bet if you want to eventually find out what happened to cause all this.

It’s cute to see one of my first written essay responses, though. I’ve done over seven hundred now!

A LETTER TO A FRIEND CONCERNING LIFE AFTER BLINDNESS

Word has reached these ears that you have expressed the view that life would not be worth living if blindness ever occurred to you. This letter is not meant to chastise or to criticize that point of view, because the author has had many of those same thoughts in recent years. I fully understand the thought about life not being worthwhile after blindness occurs.

The purpose of this letter is to encourage you to consider the thoughts of a recently blinded man before your idea about life not being worthwhile is set in concrete. It seems to me that there may be some merit in the views of a person who recently became blind and who may offer some thoughts on the subject.

My bona fides are fairly obvious. For eleven years, I did without the sight in my left eye due to an expulsive choroidal hemorrhage during a trabeculectomy which is a process aimed at relieving pressure on the optic nerve. This summer, the pressure apparently expanded in the right eye, and despite all efforts to save it, it was also lost. A trabeculectomy on the right eye was performed at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia in October and unfortunately, it did not restore my sight. So for better or for worse, I am now a completely blind man. I do not see shapes or shadows or anything of the sort, I simply stare into blank space.

The major purpose of this letter to a friend is to tell you that it is still possible to enjoy life even after the devastating onset of blindness. I am trying to say that the onset of blindness does not mean the end of life. It just is not so. There is absolutely no gainsaying the fact that your life after blindness will change fairly dramatically, but that is not a reason to say, “I want to do away with my life because of blindness.” At this early stage in my blindness, the facts seem to say that blindness can be worked around and can be accommodated in spite of the debilitating effect it may have on a person. Clearly, a person afflicted by blindness will need a substantial amount of help. For example, I can no longer write checks. If I wrote a check, the bank would instantly reject it. There is a debate about eating because I am not yet ready, as a blind man, to appear in a public place to consume a meal because my eating habits have been altered by blindness. On the other hand, I have been able to resume many of my activities, starting with getting around the house, going shopping, and things of that nature.

Being blind does not mean the end of everything. Ray Charles, the entertainer who died recently, once contended that his blindness was only 1% of his total experience in living. I rejected that thought in an essay called “Ray Charles is Full of Spit.” Blindness is considerably more than 1% of a person’s living experience. On the other hand, there is no reason to say that 99% of my life is now shot, therefore I will retire to a hole in the ground and pull the dirt in over me and wait until an angel comes to carry me away.

Yes, you will need some help. Balancing your check book is one subject and reading a newspaper is another. Those things have to be worked out over time. But the burden of what I am trying to say is that those things are surmountable. Please understand that blindness cannot be defeated. It certainly can not. But it can be accommodated and lived with. When a thing is accommodated and lived with, there is no drastic reason to end one’s life. In the short time that I have been completely and totally blind, I have learned how to use the white cane and how to get around the house, not totally easily but with a modest degree of proficiency. As each day passes, it seems to me that my repertoire of experiences as a blind man grows slowly and so, in time, I hope to live a life resembling the life I had when I could see. I know that will never happen, but it is something to strive for.

When one considers what has happened to the people, to the soldiers, who have been badly injured and mutilated in Iraq, those of us who are blind have absolutely no reason to moan about it. A news report a week ago portrayed a 21 year old soldier who not only was brain damaged, his eyes were shot, he was blind, he was unable to breathe, and he had to be fed through a hole in his throat.

Good gracious, that is nothing compared to a man like me who even at 83½ years is able to exercise 4 days a week and is capable of doing a lot of things. When I see a report about what we are doing to our soldiers in Iraq, I am angry beyond reason. But it also demonstrates the fact that those fellows have a lot more reason to want to end their lives than those of us who acquired blindness late in life. I hope this gives you a thought or two about ending your life.

As I conclude this letter, I wish to point out that blindness does not flow from any celestial creature. It is not a function of Jesus, Allah, the Holy Ghost, Joseph Ratzinger (the new pope) or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson to order a case of blindness. But most significantly, regardless of the candles that are lit and regardless of the novenas that might be said, all of those creatures who reside somewhere above the clouds cannot cure my blindness or yours either. The thought that blindness could be cured by some appeal to a celestial creature went out of style at least in the first or second century. It is up to you to live with the situation and make the best of it, as opposed to praying and hoping that it would go away. The fact of the matter is, blindness is a permanent condition and must be lived with and taken into account at every turn.

I hope this letter reaches you when you are in a receptive mood and before your views about ending your life are firmly established. If you should decide that life is now not worth living, more than anybody else, I will respect and understand that point of view, because I’ve had those thoughts myself. I hope this finds you well. Blindness is not something to be happy about, but if nothing else, I can tell you from my small experience, it can be lived with and it is not a proper reason to consider ending anyone’s life.

Warmest regards,
E. E. CARR
December 25, 2005

~~~

Pretty heavy subject for a Christmas letter, Pop! Still, this is a sweet and realistic note, which is hopefully exactly the type of honest assessment that the recipient needed to hear at the time. I hope it made an impact.

A REPRISE ON DIGNITY AND TEARS

Those of us who write essays recognize that when an essay demands to be written, it will be done. You may remember a recent essay called, “A Matter of Dignity.” In that essay, it recounted the story about how Matthew Pepe, my old friend who installs driveways and sidewalks, saw the problem of my taking the garbage containers to the street. On previous occasions, I had overshot and wound up in the street. On another occasion I found myself in front of a neighbor’s house. So that I could stay on course, Matthew installed two deflectors against the Belgian blocks which would return a different sound to my ears when tapped by my white cane. It is now a month or so since the two deflectors were installed, and I am happy to report that they are doing their job admirably.

There is another aspect to the story about Matthew Pepe. In the essay, “A Matter of Dignity,” I referred to Matthew’s immediate understanding of my dilemma of getting the garbage containers to the street. His understanding brought tears “to my useless eyes.” When the essay was finished, I composed this small letter to transmit it to Professor Pepe. Here is what my letter said:

After mailing the letter and essay, I more or less forgot about it because I knew that Matthew was hard at work pouring asphalt and concrete before the cold weather set in. Nonetheless, Matthew took the time to write me this poignant reply:

So you see, Matthew said that he had tears in his eyes as he read the essay. I am here to tell the world that no essayist gets better praise than that.

As I hope you can see, the Pepe family and that organization have my highest respect. They are good workman and they are friends. What more could anyone ask?

So this essay wrote itself. I merely arranged the sequence of letters. When an essay demands to write itself, it is best for the essayist to get out of the way. Which is what I am about to do.

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2006

~~~

Daww. Just another thing that made the Thanksgiving season of 2006 even better.

A COLLOQUY WITH TOM FRIEDMAN

Under ordinary circumstances, your old essayist attempts to keep his correspondence separate from the essays that are produced here. In this case, however, Tom Friedman, the New York Times star op-ed writer wrote a piece that should not be condensed or treated in the Reader’s Digest fashion. Friedman’s piece was so wrong and so provocative, that a spirited reply was called for. Again, in the interest of transparency, my readers should see what was said by both sides.

Here, then, is Tom Friedman’s op-ed piece from the June 15th issue of the New York Times:

THE NEW YORK TIMES
June 15, 2005
Let’s Talk About Iraq
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Ever since Iraq’s remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don’t want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up – this is still winnable – but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point – the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power – when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld’s disastrous decision – endorsed by President Bush – to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today – the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals – flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.
Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don’t think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don’t have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
“We have no galvanizing figure right now,” observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. “Sistani’s counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us.”
I still don’t know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don’t. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, “Squandered Victory,” puts it, we need “a bold mobilizing strategy” right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven’t even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
We’ve already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine – “Just enough troops to lose.” Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friedman’s piece had an incendiary quality to it. His call for doubling the troops in Iraq and his ignoring the occupational aspect of our presence there was provoking to this old soldier, so Friedman heard from me.

Mr. Friedman

This e-mail is written much more in puzzlement than in anger. For all these years, I had considered you a writer who dealt in logical realities as distinguished from the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere that marked the machinations of the Bush administration.

The wheels to your credibility came off when you enthusiastically endorsed Bush’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. From that day forward, you have seized every opportunity to endorse the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice thesis that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. The fact that Rumsfeld was fighting this war on the cheap seemed to give you no problem back in 2003.

Now in your column that appeared in the June 15th edition of the Times, you have given your credibility one more enormous kick in the gut. Your opening sentence says Iraq “has been descending deeper and deeper into violence.” Illogically, in your second paragraph you say, “this is no time to give up –this is still winnable…..” Mr. Friedman, for more than two years you have shoveled garbage of this sort on Times’ readers. It is absolutely nothing more than warmed over born again propaganda from the White House. In my eyes, you have become the designated hitter for the sycophants of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, et al.

Near the end of your article, you prescribe, “Double the American boots on the ground…” This is a horrid cliché. You are capable of better writing than slovenly froth like this. But that brings us to the heart of the problem. In round terms, we have 140,000 troops “on the ground” in Iraq. As Christian occupiers, that gives the Iraqis 140,000 reasons to hate us. Now we find the eminent war strategist Tom Friedman prescribing 280,000 reasons to hate us. I am confident that strategists such as yourself will then prescribe 560,000 “boots on the ground.” Where does “boots on the ground” end?

The simple fact is that we invaded Iraq without reason. It was a sovereign nation even though it was disliked by Sharon and Bush. As long as we occupy Iraq as a Christian power, hatred will always be our lot – which we richly deserve.

Look at it this way. If the situation were to be reversed with Iraqi Arabs occupying the United States, every patriot would consider it his duty to injure or to hurt the Moslem occupiers. My puzzlement comes from your blindness to this overwhelming point. Mr. Friedman, your column on closing Gitmo was eminently on point. Why are you so blind as to parrot the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line that this disastrous adventure is “still winnable”?

E. E. Carr

P.S. This letter comes to you from a World War II soldier whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief.

A copy of my reply was sent to Suzanne Carr Shepherd, an Austin, Texas lawyer who contends from time to time, that we are related.
Ms. Shepherd, Esquire, read both pieces and asked, given the indisputable fact that Army recruiting goals have not been met for months, where will the Army find another 140,000 soldiers to put their “boots on the ground” in Iraq? That is a very reasonable question. It would do no good to ask Friedman about additional troops strength because he says he is a journalist, not a general of the Army.

Obviously, it was necessary for someone to step into this yawning void to answer the question from the Texas lawyer. So my reply had to do with costs which are now so great that Bush and the Army have lost count.

Here is my reply to the questions raised in Texas.

The costs of transporting new troops to Iraq are excessive. Then there is the cost of carrying the corpses back to the US and shipping them to home town cemeteries. It would be the ultimate patriotic gesture for new recruits to go to local cemeteries where they can be shot and buried immediately. That saves on the middle men costs and it will give the new recruit a chance to autograph the cross that will be placed over his grave.

Thinking right along with me, the Texas lawyer replied as follows:

Your suggestion makes perfect sense. And as in Vietnam – we can give them back their own country right away, or after 50,000 lost American lives, but either way we give them back their country. Why not do it now? In the meantime, we can shoot the new recruits right here at home until we figure it all out.

At this point, Ms. Judith Chicka, who is related in one way or another to the correspondents, suggested as a means to further cut costs, that new Army recruits be shot before taking the oath as a soldier. This means that the recruit may be denied any bonus and death benefit that might be attached to his or her enlistment. Under Ms. Chicka’s suggestion, the Army could save enough money to underwrite the Social Security program through eternity.

In the final analysis, more U.S. troops will give Iraqis additional reasons to hate us. The sole answer to this problem is to remove our occupying troops. The longer we stay as occupiers, we will harvest the robust hatred not only of the Iraqis but of the entire Islamic world. The Arab world sees us building permanent buildings in Iraq, some of which will be used as prisons. Arabs have every reason to believe that we intend to occupy Iraq in “perpetuity” as a Justice Department said of the prisoners at Gitmo.

This war is a function of ill disguised greed on the part of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. It has absolutely no basis in justice. Wars fought without justice have a way of biting the aggressor. The unrest that has now appeared in the United States is simply a forerunner to our endless quagmire in Iraq. Sooner or later, our troops will have to come home.

Tom Friedman should know that wars without justice are not “winnable.” This is an unjust war that is wasting lives of our soldiers, the lives of Iraqi civilians and the draining of our treasury. There is no light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel.

E. E. CARR
June 25, 2005

~~~

There was never a victory condition outside of a stable Iraq that was friendly to the US. Continued presence of US soldiers in the reason actively worked against both halves of that goal. It’s okay though, because now ISIS controls large swaths of the country — Mission Accomplished, right?

Birthday Post!

July 24, 2003

My dear Spockling Churchwallop:

As you can see, I began to prepare for your birthday back on February 15, 2003. Since that time, you have changed your name and it seems that an English accent has come over you. You are going to be referred to in newspapers as Churchwallop – nee Kevin Shepherd. That “nee” business has to do with high class females who take a second name or a second or third husband.

Now before we get into the currency, I have a map of Africa from a Hammond Atlas and the Foreign Exchange lists published in the New York Times. Now on the map, you will notice that every country in Africa was under domination by a European power. The map is wrong on one point, as Egypt was a British possession. When I arrived in Dakar in French West Africa in February, 1943, this was the layout of countries. Incidentally, Dakar is now in Senegal, a free nation.

The money issued by the various government entities reflected the ownership of the country by European governments. Nearly every country has now won its freedom.

I traveled all over Africa and Italy and into the Indian sub-continent. In all those travels, I never set out to collect money as souvenirs. At the end of a trip, money left over would be put aside with the thought that the money could be used on my next trip to that location. When I finally came home in July of 1945, this is the money left over. And now it is yours.

Now for a little arithmetic lesson. In every case today, except for Britain, the Euro and Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the dollar is worth more than the foreign currency. The British pound used to be worth around $4.50 to $5.00. I ought to know because I got paid in pounds for a long time. Now the pound is down to about $1.70 which is a long way from $5 when Great Britain was riding high.

The Euro is a currency invented only two or three years ago in Europe. Not every European country subscribes to the Euro. As you can see, the English have kept their pound, Sweden has kept its krona and Norway has kept its krone. In the beginning, the governments in Europe wanted to keep the Euro even with the dollar, but as you can see, it has edged 15c or 18c ahead of the dollar.

The SDR (Special Drawing Rights) has to do with governments taking money out of the system. Let’s don’t mess with it here.

Using the “Foreign Exchange” from July 16, 2003 from the New York Times, let’s have a little arithmetic lesson. If I were going to Canada, I would go to the foreign desk of my bank which is the Chase Manhattan Bank, and I would give the bank $100 U. S. currency. For that, the bank should give me $139.53 in Canadian currency. On the other hand, if a Canadian wanted to visit the U. S., he would have to plunk down $139 in Canadian currency to get $100 in U. S. dollars.

Are you with me so far?

Now if I wanted some English currency to go to London, my bank would take my $100 in U. S. money and would bring me 62 pounds and 72 pence.

If it fell to me to go to South Korea, my $100 U. S. dollars would bring me 117,855 South Korean won. So stay away from countries where their currency is less than a penny in American dollars.

If you want to do some more arithmetic, perhaps your Dad can help. Don’t let him say that he has something urgent to do just because he can’t figure out all these numbers.

Spockling, these bills are so old that nearly all of the countries have been replaced so there is no published rate for conversation to dollars. Basically, this is the money I used as a soldier about 60 years ago.

Also, you will find some current dollars for your use in purchasing cigars or ear and nose rings for your birthday. We like big, fat, Italian stogies. Judy and I say “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. Also, Nick the Chipmunk, and the birds at the feeder all wish you a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

I want to thank you for your letter when I was being a patient for the Pacemaker insertion. It was good to get your letter which told me to get well. Now as you can see, I got well just as you said. My identification bracelet from the hospital is enclosed to show you I am finished.

When you have had a chance to look at these bills, perhaps you could write us a letter and tell us how you are going to keep them. Do you plan, for example, to show them at school? Or when you go to Sunday school, do you want to display them? If you get a chance to preach, can you say that this currency comes from wicked countries? That’s what I would say.

Well, Kevin (Mr. Churchwallop), That’s about it for a teenage birthday. Judy and I wish you well because we think you are a nice fellow who can write (very) decent letters. Write to us.

So stay strong always,

*Pop’s signature*

~~~

I got this letter from Pop when I turned thirteen, and I’m posting it on my twenty-sixth birthday. I remember reading this letter the first time and then opening the box it came with, which contained dozens of little bags filled with the pocket change of defunct countries and currencies. Getting that box was eye-opening for me — I knew that Pop had been in the war, but I had no idea that during the war and his AT&T years afterward, Pop had been to more countries than I’d been to cities. “Well-traveled” didn’t even begin to cover it. It made me more interested in his stories, his essays, and all the artifacts that went along with them. I consider myself very lucky to have been the grandkid who he chose to give so much of his these amazing things to, and it’s entirely possible that this site indirectly exists due to the increased curiosity in Pop’s life that this box precipitated.

I have no real explanation for “Spockling Churchwallop,” a name that I chose when signing up for my first hotmail address. I’m glad we all kinda just let that die, and that subsequent letters didn’t carry on the moniker.

Unrelated: Isn’t it cool that this letter is also from 2003, which means it fits right in alongside the other 2003 essays I’ve been doing! So convenient. Thanks very much to you, Judy, for sending it to me again today.

LETTER TO HUTCHINSON NEWS

Mr. Greg Halling, Editor
Hutchinson News
300 West 2nd Avenue
Hutchinson, KS 67501

Mr. Greg Halling:

This letter has been delayed for more than 56 years. It could have been written in September of 1942. And it could also have been written in late January of 1943. It has troubled me for all these years that I have failed to write this note of appreciation to certain citizens of Hutchinson, Kansas. So please excuse my tardiness. I’ll try to do better in the future.

During World War II nearly all troop movements were by train. The train commanders did their best to hide the eventual destination from the troops under their direction. Pullman porters were strongly advised against disclosing where the trains were headed. Conductors and other railroad personnel said nothing.

Those of us in the Pullmans, mostly raw recruits, were left without a clue other than those we could piece together as we traveled. Did the sun rise behind the train or in front of it? Did you see the name of that town on the Railroad station? Was it Springfield, Missouri or Springfield, Illinois? And so the rumors became rampant and usually were wrong.

When we set out in September, 1942, from Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, our train carried recruits and a few newly Federalized National Guard troops, mostly from the general vicinity of St. Louis, eastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois. Our only clue after about a day of travel came from someone who recognized the train station at Kansas City. But neither the conductor nor the Pullman porter would confirm that we were gazing at the Missouri’s western most city. Pretty soon, the train commanders made us put down the shades so our view of Kansas City was a brief one. And we were still in the dark.

Later that night we stopped somewhere west of Kansas City. Perhaps it was 11o’clock or midnight. Some of our fellows were still wandering around the Pullman car in their newly issued army underwear. Nobody wore pajamas, of course. Much to our surprise, some ladies boarded the train and gave us cookies and I believe, apples. I’m sure that all of us thanked the ladies who had come to greet us in the middle of the night. In thanking our surprise visitors, we almost forgot to ask where we were. The answer was of course, Hutchinson, Kansas. On that trip we ended up at Las Vegas, New Mexico but the talk was not where we were headed but rather the hospitality shown us by the people of Hutchinson, Kansas.

We did our basic training in Camp Luna, New Mexico and many of us were sent to Aerial Engineer’s training in Miami. At the conclusion of that program, it was back to the trains for our next assignment. The whole routine applied once again as no one knew where our path was to lead us. Again we were in the dark. After two or three days, we again saw the Kansas City train yards and it was a good bet that we were headed back to Las Vegas, New Mexico. This is now late January, 1943, and we did return to New Mexico.

Some of us remembering the first visit to Hutchinson, were anxious to see if those ladies would show up again. Well they did! Again, I believe it was somewhere around midnight but those Hutchinson Belles showed up again to comfort soldiers on a troop train. We were a little more prepared for them inasmuch as the men wore fatigues over their underwear and all of us thanked them for coming out on such a bleak January night.

Well while we thanked the gracious ladies of Hutchinson, I have long thought that I ought to offer a more formal note of appreciation. As I said, it’s almost 57 years so I’ve thought about it quite a bit.

It seems to me that boarding those troop trains to cheer soldiers was an extraordinary gesture of kindness. It made us proud to be citizens of the United States and soldiers in its army. And I must say that it was in the generous spirit of Midwestern America at its best. So Hutchinson, I salute your ladies who came to the train station late at night in all kinds of weather and I salute all the other people who supported that operation. You must be proud of them.

If any of the train ladies or their children or relatives would care to write to me, I’d be more than pleased to hear from you. And one more thought. Don’t be put off by the New Jersey address. I’ve lived here for more than 40 years because as we said during the Depression, “You go where the work is.” My work brought me here. In point of fact however, I am your neighbor, being born in Missouri and living there until age 28 when I moved to Prairie Village, Kansas for nearly two years. I suppose I have some qualifications as a Midwesterner and even as a Kansan.

So, Hutchinson, Kansas, I salute you for your generous display of compassion. It doesn’t make any difference that it was 56 or 57 years ago. I remember and I salute the wonderful women and men of Hutchinson who came to the troop trains so long ago.

With all best wishes,

E. E. Carr
February 10, 1998

~~~
Daw. This is just really sweet, nothing much more to say.