Archive for the Advice Category


Well boys, the German Pope has stuck both feet in it. Every person who ever lived on a farm where cattle were pastured will recognize the “it” in the previous sentence. George Herbert Walker Bush, our preppy former president, never lived on a farm, but he refers to the “it” as “deep doo doo.”

Old Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, made a pronouncement this week at Regensburg University in Germany in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor. The Emperor said, as quoted by Ratzinger, that the Moslems spread their faith only at the tip of a sword. I am amazed that the German Pope would make such remarks reflecting so poorly on the Moslem faith. Has the Pope forgotten the Crusades when Moslems were also put to the sword? Has the Pope forgotten the Inquisition when Jews in Europe were burned at the stake for their failure to convert to Christianity? Does Herr Ratzinger remember Joan of Arc? Does Herr Ratzinger also remember Galileo?

But in addition to the Pope’s onslaught against the Moslems, we now have the august George W. Bush proclaiming that much of the Moslem faith is given to “Islamic fascism.” Can anyone blame the Moslems for detecting another Crusade sponsored by the Vatican and by the Republican party of the United States? And then, should we wonder why Catholic Churches around the world will become targets of suicide bombers? And what about such a bomber appearing in St. Peter’s Square when the Pope waves from his window periodically?

Ratzinger and Bush have put the entire Catholic Church at risk from those “Islamo-Fascists.” In the meantime, neither has the Pope made a convincing case with respect to his joining the Nazi Party during World War II, nor has Bush explained his copout to the National Guard during the Vietnam War. Perhaps these men were made for each other.

And while we are at it, please do not dismiss the German Pope’s addiction to meddling in political affairs. In 2004, he meddled in American politics by advising that communion could be withheld from John Kerry, a devout Catholic. Kerry’s sin was that he did not oppose abortion in every possible case, such as rape or incest. Consider also that the Pope asked that Turkey be denied membership in the European Union because it is a non-Christian secular country. And consider Ratzinger’s interference this year in an Italian election having to do with birth control devices.

If George Bush had read history, he would find that the Fascist movement was established in the 1920’s by Benito Mussolini as a political party. Its members wore black shirts. I suspect that in Iraq and in the rest of the world, if you see a man with olive skin wearing a black wool shirt in 120 degree temperature, he should be tortured and beheaded on the ground that he is one of those Islamo-Fascists. All of this should be done while singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” With Bush and Ratzinger hard at work, it makes grabbing the third rail extremely tempting.

This week the Guardian of London reports that during his reign over the Catholic Church, the Pope has called Buddhists “Masturbators of the mind.” Remember, this comes from the celibate Vicar of Rome. This non-believer is going to rely on prayer to relieve his astonishment.

The point that must be made here, is that every religion tells its worshipers that it is a religion of love. That assertion has oxymoronic qualities to it. While the adherents to the religion claim that it is a religion of love, the fact is that it is often a matter of hatred and war. Consider also the Moslem hatred for Christians and for the Jews. Consider the mutual hatred in India between the Hindus and the Moslems. Consider the intra-Moslem debate between the Shias and the Sunnis which is now proceeding to a civil war in Iraq. And consider the Christian onslaught as represented by the United States and its allies against the Moslems who reside in Iraq. Are all of these acts exhibits of peace and love?

Likewise, in this country, there seems to be no love lost between the various branches of the Christian faith. They rarely hold inter-denominational congregations preferring to claim that those other religionists who call themselves Christians, can’t possibly get to heaven because they don’t worship exactly as we do.

But all of the dislike and hatred among the religionists pales in comparison with their denunciations of those of us who are non-believers. They call us agnostics which we freely admit. When we are called atheists we plead guilty on all counts. They call us godless which is precisely the case. While all these things are true – and the nonbelievers make no apologies for them – the godless ones generally speaking are good citizens. They pay their taxes, they vote, and they serve their country in wartime, which is not the case with the current Christian President and Vice President of the United States.

Those of us who are nonbelievers contend that our beliefs are based solely on logic. Those who adopt faith appear to have abandoned logic. The dictionary defines faith as a belief in something unsupported by facts. But be that as it may, I would hope that there is a common meeting ground in the principles enunciated by the Bible hundreds of years ago. I am fully aware that for a nonbeliever to cite the Bible as his reason for his conduct may fly into the face of believability. Nonetheless, let me give it a try.

In the book written by Isaiah, which predates the Christian era by several hundred years, we find this passage: “Come, let us reason together.” (Isaiah chapter I, verse 18) If God or Allah or any other celestial creature, such as the so called Intelligent Designer, gave man the power of reason, man would have to reject, for example, the thought that Joshua could stop the sun in its tracks. Furthermore, Galileo, who believed that the earth circled the sun, almost paid with his life when the Inquisition insisted that it was the other way around. He recanted, but as he left the court he said under his breath, “nonetheless it moves,” meaning the earth. Similarly, the man of reason would have grave doubts about the stories of Jonah in the bile juice of the great fish, the parting of the Red Sea, and the legend of loaves and fishes.

If God or Allah or the Intelligent Designer or whatever gave men the ability to reason, it must be comprehended that making religious war, one on the other, is an exercise in self defeat. America seems to get along reasonably well with the Hindus in India and with the Buddhists who occupy a large part of the world. I suspect that if we were to treat the Moslem nations with respect that they too could become our friends. And please do not forget that the Arabs are sitting on our oil supply.

Bill Clinton has made the point that the settlement of the Israeli Palestinian dispute is the key to peaceful relations with the Moslem countries. We ought to take his advice immediately. It is one of the hallmarks of his current thinking. It holds that people who think well of you are more likely to grant you favors rather than if you adopt a hostile attitude toward them. This is elemental. The overwhelming point is that man has the capacity to reason and if he uses that facility, he will enjoy peace and prosperity. If he does not, man will be plagued by war, disease, poverty and general ill feeling. Isaiah was completely correct.

Now let us turn to another Biblical author called Micah. In the Book of Micah, in the sixth chapter, there is a sixth verse which holds, “What does the Lord require of thee; to love mercy, to do justly and to walk humbly with thy God.”

Micah wrote this some 800 years before the Christian era began. If I might try to improve upon Micah, I would say that, “The Lord also requireth of thee to admit error and to grant forgiveness.” I know it is presumptuous of me at this late date to try to improve upon Micah who is described as a minor prophet, but my additions seem worthwhile to me and I have heard no objection from my old friend, Micah.

It appears to me as an elderly citizen and as an old soldier, that if we were to offer the rest of the world mercy and just treatment instead of offering domination and warfare, and if we were also to walk humbly with whatever God there might be, the prospects for the United States would be greatly and enormously enriched. This nonbeliever, atheist, agnostic, godless or what have you, has had Micah firmly imprinted on his mind for several years. I hope that Micah has guided my conduct just as I hope that it guides the conduct of the United States of America.

I am fully aware that writing on the subject of religion is the third rail of American public discourse. And I am aware that I will be denounced by preachers and politicians. But it is those preachers and politicians with their fervent embrace of holy symbols that have largely failed. (See Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Carl Rove, et. al.) Preachers and politicians will almost always decline any enlightened thought. But it seems to me that relying on the words of Isaiah and Micah might be eminently worthwhile.

Here is my thought. Let us reason together which will lead to acts of mercy. Let us reason together which will cause men to do justly one to another. And let us walk humbly while we admit error and grant forgiveness. I am an old man and I do not expect to see all of these things happen in my limited lifetime. But I hope that they come to pass before my children and grandchildren leave the scene.

Now may the congregation stand and sing the first, third and the seventh verse of Hymn number 341, “Blessed Assurance.”

September 16, 2006


Who picks a fight with Buddhists, honestly? And why? I guess the same guy who wanted to deny Turkey EU membership on the grounds of being too secular, despite the EU being an overtly secular organization.
Anyway, I think that the operative concept here — anyone you treat like an enemy will eventually become one, so let’s try to get along — is clearly sound. But like Pop mentioned, there’s no moving forward until we admit that we were wrong and take steps to make amends, and it’s hard to picture that happening. The American political scene tends to demonize anyone who changes his or her mind as a waffler, so apologizing for past mistakes becomes a sign of weakness.

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,
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!


From time to time, my thoughts turn to the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. As a World War II soldier, may you be assured that war is not a pleasant pastime. It is repugnant.

Combat soldiers see bodies blown apart and maimed. The soldier you were pals with yesterday, may be a maimed cripple today. Or, he may be dead. The people in the streets are not innocent civilians; they are the “enemy” as the American Army phrases it. No one seems to count civilian dead or civilian wounded. Somehow, they are overlooked and no one is in charge of counting the casualties.

In recent months, Iraqi opposition to American forces is met with violence. As Lt. Colonel Sassaman announced two to three weeks ago, he claimed to have the formula for success in the field. “With a heavy dose of fear and violence and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.”

Our troops appear to be trigger happy. They are young and many of them are not professional soldiers at all. They are Reservists or National Guard troops who have been sent into combat situations without adequate training or without proper protective gear. So they often shoot first and investigate the situation later. For a young soldier in a foreign land with little or no understanding of the language or customs, it is understandable for them to have an itchy finger on the trigger of their weapons.

Aside from shooting up towns as Colonel Sassamann has done, the American Army has a series of efforts to subdue the Iraqi people. They are given trick names such as “Operation Sledgehammer” to tell the Iraqis that we intend to kill them if they resist. These operations literally take sledgehammers to knock locks off of doors. When they gain entrance in many cases, male members of the family found inside the house are forced to kneel in front of their homes while a bag is tied around the head. All of this takes place while the women and children see the absolute humiliation of the head of the family. This sort of conduct earns the American Army the undying hatred of the Iraqi people. And that hatred absolutely will last for generations.

If anyone doubts the long term existence of such hatred, let them look at the situation of the Irish nation. Ireland was under the dictatorial domination of the English for as much as 900 years. There was a showdown in Dublin in 1916 at the General Post Office. The men who led the revolt, known as the Easter Uprising, were executed by the British. In the case of James Connelly, a leader of the Uprising, who was wounded in the uprising and could no longer stand, the British executed him by gunfire as he sat in a chair. Some say he was executed while lying down. Ireland won its freedom in 1922 only six years after the uprising, but the hatred and distain for the British Crown and its Army persist to this day. This hatred for the occupation has become legendary in Ireland through its songs, so it will live forever. This is the legacy that we are leaving behind in Iraq.

Our military seems to regard the attacks by civilians as a personal affront to their authority. And in the unthinking way of military men who disdain intellect and thinking, the Army responds with force. In point of fact, the Iraqi reaction is to the occupation of their country and to the tactics employed by the Army. It is my belief that if the situations were reversed with an Arab country governing affairs here in the United States, it is most likely that American civilians would act to forcibly eject the occupiers. It is the reaction to the pre-emptive war and the occupation that underlies the violence visited upon American troops.

It is an inescapable fact that the Americans have adopted the practices of the Israeli government in its dealings with the Palestinians. The Israeli Army is bludgeoning the Palestinians and building a wall to separate the two people. To the extent that we make an out and out grant amounting to something like three billion dollars annually to the Israelis, the wall is being built with American funds. And in the end, the Palestinian people have come to hate Ariel Sharon and the Israelis and they have come to hate us. That is some payoff for the efforts of the citizens of Israel.

In this regard, there is a pointed philosophy coming out of the Middle East. It has been ascribed to an Israeli and to a Palestinian and to the Arabs, perhaps to an Iraqi. The thought holds that, “The only way to deal with a mortal enemy is to make a friend out of him”. That thought is worthy of thinking about. Is making a friend out of your enemy better than gunfire and bombs and most of all, hatred? There are no two ways about the superiority of the friend philosophy.

And to think that the thought about friendship came out of the conflicts in Israel and in Iraq. Clearly, it is worth a try, particularly to Ariel Sharon and George Bush. What is being done in Israel and in Iraq and Afghanistan is quite the opposite. It is nothing less than generating hatred. All of us can do better than that.

There is a verse from the Song of Solomon. In verse 18, we are all urged to, “Let us reason together.” Reason has not been given a try in Israel or in the American pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.

There also is another thought that comes from a minor Prophet who lived in the second half of the 8th Century B. C. His name is Micah. He was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hezekiah. In the book of the Bible attributed to Micah, it says, “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (see Micah, Chapter 6, verse 8)

There are a lot of red hot Christians in Washington who now guide the American efforts in Iraq. It might be wondered if those believing Christians have ever given thought to the Song of Solomon or to Micah. Micah’s words come to us after 2800 years. Surely, they are worth our attention. Perhaps the estimable Colonel Sassaman might think about those words, but in all likelihood his orders come from further up the chain of command, perhaps from Washington. Shoot everyone in sight to convince the Iraqis that if they resist the occupation, they will be killed.

One other case of unneeded, undying hatred comes to mind. It has to do with the treatment of the Italian populace by the Germans during the 1939 to 1945 period. Perhaps it would be better to say it was the German military mistreating the Italian rather than the whole German populace.

In the late 1930’s, Italy was run by dictator Benito Mussolini. Germany was under the control of Adolf Hitler. Mussolini pictured himself as a lion and in 1935, invaded Ethiopia. Eventually, the Ethiopians had to accept the invasion of their country after Ethiopian barefoot soldiers inflicted some humiliating defeats on the Italian invaders. Mussolini found a senior partner in Adolf Hitler in Germany. Before long, the two of them claimed the title of the “Axis Powers” to mark their formal alliance. Not long after 1939, it became fairly obvious that entering the “Festung Europa” might be accomplished through Italy. The German term was “Fortress Europe.” It was always a German creation and German troops gave it its muscle.

So Hitler had German troops occupy Italy shortly after 1939. While Mussolini and Hitler were pals, things proceeded without much organized resistance because any uprising against the German troops would quickly be dealt with by the Black Shirts of Mussolinis Facist party.

In 1942 and early 1943, Allied troops engaged the Germans in North Africa. In May 1943, German troops were decisively defeated largely through the efforts of General Omar Bradley of the U. S. Army. At Cape Bon in Tunisia, more than 200,000 German troops surrendered, thus ending the hopes of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps.

Hitler was right. The invasion of Italy came next. Increasingly, the Nazis tightened the screws on the Italians claiming that they were unworthy partners who did not warrant German trust.

The Allies conquered Sicily and advanced up the peninsula to a line from Naples in the West to locations near Foggia in the East. The Germans knew they had had a fight on their hands for some months and more was to come. Among other things, German military authorities began to crack down on any show of lack of enthusiasm by the Italians. The Germans were masters in the Italian households. To the extent that repression increased, the Italians fought back. The parallels with the situation in Italy are strikingly like the situation today in Iraq. It is natural to strike back at the occupier whether it was German in the Italian case or the Americans in Iraq.

The Italians had begun to move to the Allied side when the Sicilian invasion became known. It came to a head when Italy’s diminutive King, Victor Emmanuel ousted his premier, Mussolini, in the Summer of 1943. From there on out, the Germans regarded every Italian civilian as an enemy much the way the American Army troops regard Iraqi civilians in 2003.

Italian resistance grew everywhere, including in Rome, and with the Italian Partisans in Northern Italy. In Rome in March 1944, an event took place that turned the Italian people into long time haters of the German people.

In Rome, which was supposed to be an open city, it was none-the-less swarming with German troops. Of all the German troops, the most feared and hated were the SS troops. The SS included the Gestapo units that were responsible for hunting down and killing Jews. The SS were an elite section of the Nazi Party. There was one unit of the SS training in Rome at that time. They were the 11th Company Bozen SS troops. Each day they would end their training by marching through a residential section of Rome singing a military song called “Hupf, Mein Mädel”. It means, “Skip, my lassie”.

They sang this marching song while climbing a steep, narrow street in Rome called Via Rasella. On each side of Via Raselli are three story apartments in which dwelled middle class civilians. The marching German men were called Defense Corps. In the German language, that is Schultzstaffel which the Nazis shortened to SS.

Every day, the Bozen SS 11th Company marched up the hill on the Via Raselli. On this day, their commander called at the bottom of the hill, “Ein lied,” a song. As always, the SS troops sang, “Hupf, Mein Mädel.” What the Germans did not know was that the Italian Resistance organization had planned a trap for them with large garbage cans filled with explosives. The bombs went off and a total of 33 SS Bozen troops were killed.

When he heard of what had happened to his prized SS troops, the Commander of all German occupying forces in Italy, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, ordered retribution. He decreed that ten Italians must die for each German SS casualty. That meant 330 Italians must die.

The men in Rome who were to carry out the order hoped that there were many prisoners held by the Italians that were under the sentence of death. It turns out, only three such prisoners existed. The Germans then hoped that Jews could be caught for execution in a reprisal for the bombing on Via Rastelli. But due to a very short deadline, only a few Jews turned up. To make up the difference, petty criminals and people who had been informed on were included. When they needed more Italians, some civilians living on Via Rastelli were caught. One man was in bed in his pajamas, but he soon found himself among the condemned.

They were taken two miles south of Rome on the Via Ardeatina to the caves that gave that Via its name. There was a monstrous hill of industrial sand which had been mined by contractors in the past to produce the materials to make concrete. This mining operation had left large connecting caves in the hill. It was there in March 1944, that the German Military authorities executed, not 330 men, but due to a clerical error, 335 men were killed.

Their executioners were inexpert and many of them were repelled by this task of shooting, hand cuffed men. As a result, the bullets of the executions did not always bring instant death. The Nazis piled one corpse on top of the others so many such wounded men died of being crushed and smothering.

When the Pope was told what had happened to his Romans, he had an editorial published in his Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, calling for greater cooperation and more compassion. The Germans were never mentioned. The Pope knew what was happening when people were being arrested, but his official pronouncements were bland and never accused the Germans of another atrocity.

While the Pope had virtually nothing to say about the Ardeantine Massacre, the Italian people were absolutely outraged. Their resistance efforts were multiplied many fold. And whether Kesselring realized it or not, the German occupation of Italy was ending. In May, 1944 the Allies captured Rome and the rout was on. Mussolini and Clara Petacchi, his mistress were caught by the Partisans and hung from poles. The Normandy landings took place in June, 1944 and after some heavy fighting, the Germans started to collapse. Hitler committed suicide and the unconditional surrender of Germany occurred at Rheims on May 7, 1945 in a school house. And so the occupation of Italy by German troops came to an end. But memories and hatreds live on.

In the late 1970’s, my longtime Roman friend Enzo Fratini, took me on a tour of Via Rastelli and a trip to the scene of the Ardeantine Massacre. Enzo as a young man had lived through the occupation. It was clear that more than 30 years after the war, he was in no mood to forgive the Germans.

There is one other thought here. Two men from Imperia in Northwestern Italy came to New Jersey at around age 20 after graduating from a cooking school. My belief is that they were born as early as 1965, which now makes them less then 40 years of age. Several years ago, they elected to gamble and to establish a new Italian restaurant in a building that had been occupied by a hardware store. The gamble has paid off handsomely. We are very pleased to be among their customers from the beginning. Even though the date of their births came long after the war had ended, they remember. They have read an essay or two about my being involved in the operations of the United States Army in Italy in 1943 and 1944.

For years, whenever we eat a meal at their restaurant, we always order dessert. When the waiter delivers the dessert order, there is always a third dessert that comes with “the compliments of the management.” Always an extra dessert. Not long ago, when we were in conversation with the owners, one of them, with no prodding from us, made it clear that he appreciated the effort of the Americans to “liberate” his Italian countrymen. And so young men remember also.

So the message must be clear for all to see. When a country is occupied against its will, longtime hatred will result. There is the Irish disdain for the British Crown. No love is lost between the Ethiopians and the Italians. The same must be said for Italian memories of the German occupation, which ended nearly 59 years ago. And the Chinese, remembering the Rape of Nanking in the late 1930’s, hate the Japanese to this day. And the Palestinians blow themselves up rather than to submit to the humiliations of the Israeli Army. And to the extent American forces terrorize the Iraqis by such devices as the Army’s Sledgehammer operation or by Colonel Sassaman’s thought about violence and fear, nothing other than long term hatred will result. We can do better and we should.

There is a curious turn of events in Iraq. For all these years, we have thought of the U. S. Marines as the tough guys. In Iraq, the Marines in their sector have put away their tanks, in one case, and are patrolling the streets on foot. The Marines are encouraged to learn the names of Iraqi citizens and to shake their hands and to pat their kids on the head. The Marines have the lowest casualty rate of all the American occupiers. The Marines have it right; the Army has it all wrong.


Those are my current thoughts about war and the philosophy of generating hatred. Hatred lasts a long, long time. The American people are being disserved by what is taking place in their names in Iraq. We have quite enough hatred to deal with right now. When George Bush refers to Iran and Syria and Iraq as an “Axis of Evil,” do you ever think that he knows he is using a term first proposed in modern times by Adolf Hitler when he referred to Germany, Italy and Japan as the “Axis Powers”? Remember when he referred to the invasion of Afghanistan as a Crusade? Bush reads no history, so he probably does not know that past.

Hatred is self defeating and self destructive. We have to do better in Iraq and lift the oppressive forces of our occupation. If it continues, we will need to be counting the dead and wounded, Iraqi and American, for a long time just like the Palestinians and the Israelis. We have to do better. One of the ways to do better is to pay attention to the Mideast thought that the only way to deal with a mortal enemy is to make a friend out of him. My views are all in favor of friendship as opposed to humiliation and explosives. And what is wrong with the Song of Solomon’s thought, “Come, let us reason together.” And what about Micah who 2800 years ago urged us “to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.”

December 31, 2003


Aaaaaand now we’ve got ISIS. And when we bomb them sufficiently, we’ll presumably enter into a war with whoever comes after ISIS to fill the vaccuum. I’m not sure how this ends, but it isn’t happily.


My search for a high-paying job with bonuses and stock options is not a magnificent success story. Last year, I thought I had the New York Mets’ manager’s job sewn up, but they gave it to Willie Randolph largely because he is younger and he is a Brooklyn native. When the New York Knickerbockers demoted Herb Williams, I thought I had that job sewn up as well. Instead, the Knicks gave the job to Hubie Brown and gave him a long-term contract at $10 million per season. I would have been a much cheaper investment. When Bush finally got the nerve to fire his Treasury Secretary, I thought that job was going to be mine as well. Instead, it went to the Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Company who said that he took a $38 million cut in annual salary to accept the job. I would have come much cheaper in that job as well.

The incomes of people in top jobs are to my mind clearly astounding. For example, the head man at Home Depot made $40 million last year while his sales fell 12% and the stock price declined almost the same amount. Two executives from the Chase Bank who live here in New Jersey were paid $35 million each. I have an account with Chase Bank but my account seldom reaches anything like $35 million. A few years ago a company was formed here called Celgene, which offered a cancer drug. I initially invested in Celgene and sold it when it showed no promise. Things have turned around at Celgene and its two top executives each were paid nearly $33 million last year. So these are the kinds of jobs I have been searching for.

Two years ago when George Bush was mounting his campaign to invade Iraq, his CIA director, George Tenet, assured him that there were weapons of mass destruction and that invading Iraq was a “slam dunk.” It is fairly clear now that we have had three years since Bush announced “mission accomplished”, that invading Iraq was no slam dunk and that the weapons of mass destruction were certainly no slam dunk either. So Mr. Bush fired Mr. Tenet and gave him the Medal of Honor. With that, the Duke of Crawford summoned a chairman from one of the House committees, named Porter Goss, and ordained him as the new Director of the CIA. When Goss took over, he was told by the President that the Chief Executive was greatly annoyed by the leaks going to the newspapers, which he claimed came from the CIA. He told Goss to fix that. Goss fired a string of experienced executives and in so doing, gutted the agency. Furthermore, Mr. Goss wrote a letter to all of the CIA employees instructing them that their views should conform with administration policies. According to my advisors from the deep forests of the Ozarks, this is bass ackwards. Intelligence comes first, not last. And it should never conform to anybody’s preconceived notions1.

Eighteen months after Mr. Goss was appointed Director of the CIA, the king of the universe fired him as well. There was a meeting at the White House in which the king of the universe and the great decider praised Mr. Goss and showed him the door. At that point, the Duke of Crawford introduced Michael Hayden, a four-star general from the Air Force. It is fairly obvious that General Hayden was the choice of the President all along and he was simply waiting for an opportunity to fire Goss and put Hayden in that job.

General Hayden comes with certain baggage in that he is the author of the snooping program which listens to your telephone calls. Initially it was claimed that only calls from this country to foreign ports would be listened in on when they involved a call between two Al Qaeda representatives. Presumably when Osama Bin Laden wants to talk to one of his representatives in the United States, he places a person-to-person call which makes it much easier for our snoops to locate the call. The New York Times reporter James Risen, discovered General Hayden’s plan to snoop on Americans talking on the telephone. This set off a campaign by the Bush administration to suppress and to deny the rights of the free press that we have enjoyed for the two hundred and eighteen years of our existence. Then the newspaper USA Today disclosed that not only international calls were being monitored but that calls within the United States were also subject to monitoring. The point here is that your freedom to make telephone calls and e-mails is going to be altered by the fact that your government is listening to them and secondly by the thought that when those practices are disclosed, the administration sets out to destroy whatever it can of the discloser.

General Hayden has another problem in that Dana Priest of The Washington Post has disclosed that the CIA is running a series of prisons outside the United States where high-level prisoners are confined and are presumably subject to the laws of the country where they are held, which often permits torture. The administration has responded to the story about the prisons run by the CIA with a determination to cut down The Washington Post. I would suspect that if James Risen or Dana Priest made an illegal bet with a local bookmaker, the administration would know all about it. As a matter of fact, Dana Priest won the Pulitzer Prize this year for her stories on the CIA run prisons.

What the citizens of this country are being asked to do is to give up their right to freely express their views on the telephone in the name of national security. Secondly they are being asked to give up their right to a free press, again on the basis of national security. Many years back, Benjamin Franklin had an apt thought about liberty and security. Franklin said, “Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” The advice from this old geezer about liberty and security tracks totally with Ben Franklin.

To use an ancient expression, I thought I had a lock on the CIA job. After all, I spent more than three years studying the ways of warfare in the Air Force during World War II. Secondly, during the 1960s I was an AT&T lobbyist, again involved with the American government. I suppose those credentials were not as exciting as the four-star general who appeared before the Senate committee for his confirmation. But on the other hand, I would say that my credentials are impressive as well. There aren’t many of us World War II buck sergeants still around and looking for work.

Speaking of AT&T and General Hayden’s snooping program, it is quite clear that AT&T, my old employer, has contributed mightily to the snooping program. On no occasion has AT&T denied responsibility for collecting and handing over its data to the Federal Government. If the United States government can make heads or tails out of all of the phone calls and e-mails in this country, I commend them. There are literally billions of calls. What they are going to do with them is a mystery to those of us who worked in the telecommunications industry.

But now we go one step beyond the snooping with the administration’s desire to wipe out all opposition from the American press. Again, I would assume that every reporter in Washington and any other sensitive location would have their phones wired so that government people can listen to what they have to say in an attempt to locate who their sources may be. When the administration and General Hayden attack the American press, they should bear in mind the words of Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, who said, “It is not a good idea to pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” In this case I hold not only with Ben Franklin but with Mark Twain as well.

While we are on the subject of freedom and the press, what comes to mind is a significant comment by the Reverend Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor. During the First World War, Martin Niemöller was the captain of a submarine, also known as U-boats, which sank all kinds of Allied shipping. Following the war, Niemöller became a pastor. In the 1930s, he broke with Adolph Hitler and was eventually imprisoned by Hitler. According to his biographers, Niemöller was sentenced to be executed two days after Germany surrendered. Of course the execution did not take place and Niemöller was released. There’s a quote by Martin Niemöller that ought to fit here when we are talking about liberty and security. In one of his works, the Reverend Niemöller had this to say:

“First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

It is fairly clear that the Reverend Martin Niemöller was a brave man and almost paid for it with his life. It is also clear that unless someone speaks up, the forces of oppression will destroy us all. It is my recommendation that General Hayden and his boss and the ultimate boss of all the world, Mr. Bush, should read the remarks of Martin Niemöller.

The burden of this essay has been to offer my thoughts to General Hayden who got the CIA job that I had in mind. Now that we have offered my geezer views to General Hayden, I thought it would be worthwhile to offer a thought or two to the Duke of Crawford about his war with Iraq. When Bush’s father was president, he hired a professional named Brent Scowcroft as his National Security Advisor. Scowcroft knew all the generals and he knew all about military options and hardware. He was a military expert and thus was qualified to serve as the National Security Advisor. When the current president assumed his post, he chose an academic from StanfordUniversity – I believe her job was provost – to be his National Security Advisor. Condoleezza Rice is her name and she had absolutely no qualifications as a National Security Advisor. Her four years in that job showed the paucity of her experience. Nonetheless Mr. Bush promoted her to be the Secretary of State, to succeed a fully-qualified man named Colin Powell.

In 1991 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the senior Bush, together with Scowcroft, gathered a coalition consisting largely of Arab countries to have Hussein thrown out of Kuwait. That was accomplished and much of Hussein’s army was destroyed in the battles in Kuwait. There was an argument at the end of the so-called Gulf War in 1991-2 that the coalition forces should have gone all the way into Baghdad. Leaning upon Scowcroft’s advice, the elder Bush declined to go to Baghdad and attempt to subdue the Iraqi nation. It was the elder Bush’s thought that we had gone there to liberate Kuwait, and that had been done. To march into Baghdad would have involved a much different set of circumstances. It would have alienated the Arab world as well as those of us in the West who do not share the Arab viewpoint.

Following the war, Bush and Scowcroft wrote a book in which these sentences are significant. They wrote that they did not advance to Baghdad to force Saddam Hussein from power because to do so would have involved “incalculable human and political costs… Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”2

When the current Duke of Crawford was asked about why he invaded Iraq and conquered Baghdad against his father’s advice, Bush replied that he sought his advice from “a higher father.” Presumably, Bush was referring to God.

It has been my view that people who are in communication with the Almighty are debatable companions. When a man refers to the thought that he gets his information from on high, there is no amount of earthly logic that will move him. George W. Bush has made much of the religious component of his experience and he has contended that it was God who encouraged him to run for the presidency. Please put me down as a doubter. I am reasonably certain that any God of any kind would not permit the slaughter of nearly 2,500 Americans and perhaps 100,000 Iraqis in a war without justification and without end. Such a God would not have permitted George W. to commit the excesses and the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison. Such an overseer of man’s destinies would not have permitted Mr. Bush to keep those prisoners at Quantanomo for as much as four years without ever knowing the charges against them. My advice to the Duke of Crawford is that he should listen to his earthly father a lot more often than to his heavenly father, whoever that might be.

Well, there you have it. It now appears that my search for a high-paying job will be one as a counselor giving advice to high-level authorities. I am not sure how much people who offer advice are paid or even whether they are entitled to bonuses. I suspect that my career as an advisor probably will pay a little less than the $40 million made by the head man at Home Depot. But if I were offered something less than that, say something on the order of $35 million, I would consider that a pretty fair salary for the advice that I have to offer. On top of that, a publication such as the Reader’s Digest could compose a story about how a former buck sergeant finally began to succeed in this world. As everyone knows, buck sergeants are the salt of the earth. My advice to General Hayden and to George W. will probably be rejected. But I suggest that they ignore it at their own peril.

June 6, 2006

1. Wouldn’t it just be more convenient for everyone if reality would just stick to the script sometimes?
2. I really like the choice of the word “barren” here. The idea that “yes, we could do this, but it wouldn’t really accomplish anything aside from spending a lot of money and lives” is one that truly should have been taken to heart earlier.

This essay was a pretty on-point takedown of all the wonderful parts of the PATRIOT act which served to lay the groundwork for all today’s NSA, which endeavors to monitor all human communication. I’ve always wondered, if the NSA is storing all this data somewhere, it’s a shame that I can’t really see what types of stats they have on me. I mean, aside from “conversations about things that could be terrorist activity,” what else are they tracking? At this point, it seems naive to think that they’re going to stop collecting all our data, so now I’d just like to at least see some interesting (that is, unrelated to terrorism) applications of that information. Alas.


The king of Crawford, Texas, George III, has frequently said that he consults with outside experts on monumental decisions, but in the end he says he relies on his “gut feelings.” Reliance on King George’s gut feeling has brought on the disaster in Iraq and the so called war on terror. While King George says that he consults with other people, the fact is that he consults with Cheney and Rumsfeld, and primarily, his guts. His “gut feeling” has led us to the invasion of Iraq, quite simply the biggest blunder in American foreign relations in our history.

In the early 1990’s when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the chief decider’s father gathered a coalition of nations which resulted in the route of Saddam’s army. The rich Middle Eastern nations also picked up the tab for the costs of the war in Kuwait. When the route of Saddam’s army in Kuwait was complete, there was much consternation to the effect that the Allies should have pursued Saddam to Baghdad to overthrow his regime. Shortly after the war, George Herbert Walker Bush, the father of the Chief Decider, and his gifted National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, wrote a book. In that book there are these lines which explain why the Allies did not seek to go to Baghdad and overthrow Saddam:

“We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well… Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”

(emphasis mine)

The turmoil envisioned by the Bush-Scowcroft writings has now come to pass in spades. The United States is a pariah among all nations, Muslim, European and Christian. The former Secretary of State, James Baker, a confidant of the Bush family, reports that in prior years, people often inquired of him as to why George Herbert Walker Bush did not pursue Saddam to Baghdad. Now that events in the Middle East have proven the probity of the Bush-Scowcroft assessment, Baker now reports that no one asks him that question anymore.

The fact is that King George of Crawford conspicuously rejected his father’s advice saying, “I rely upon a higher father.” It must be assumed that the higher father is either God, Jesus or the Holy Ghost. By saying that he relied upon a higher father, it is clear that one of those members of the divinity ordered the invasion of Iraq. Thus, our war in Iraq takes on the trappings of a holy crusade.

So you see, King George of Crawford did not rely upon his father’s advice. He relied a upon his gut feelings when he ascribed it to members of the Christian divinity.

By relying upon his gut feelings instead of the wisdom of his elders, King George of Crawford has brought to fulfillment the prophecy of Henry L. Mencken. In 1925, Henry Mencken was the most noted author of prose in this country, being an editor, a critic, a reporter and the author of some 80 or more books. Henry Mencken’s view of the American presidency went into this statement about its eventual prospects:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

– H. L. Mencken

What we have here is that the American system has produced a president who relies on gut feelings, which is clearly a moronic gesture. King George of Crawford is indeed a moron and a very dangerous one.

I have consulted with learned physicians in the eastern half of the United States. I have even had a clinical discussion with Dr. C. J. Whitman who is a specialist on ileocolectomies. Every single physician I have consulted has stated that in the digestive system, there are no brain cells. Brain cells are in the head. They are for thinking. The lower digestive system serves quite another purpose.

Unanimously, the physicians that I have consulted have said that the king of Crawford’s gut feelings are clearly the result of cramps, digestive problems or more than likely, irregularity. They have prescribed “Black Draught” for quick action or, for gentle relief of gut feelings, there are always Carter’s Little Liver Pills.

So there you have the chief decider relying and not only on his gut feelings but on a higher father than George Herbert Walker Bush. These are the actions of a dangerous moron. The lives of millions are in the balance. There is no room for a dangerous moron to rely upon his gut feelings as he guides this country into more dangerous misadventures.

December 2, 2006
Essay 270
Kevin’s commentary: Seems like Pop didn’t get quite enough off his chest with this essay, since this one came out shortly after. I knew that the older Bush had the opportunity to occupy Iraq but didn’t, but had no idea that the predictions for the outcome of such an event could be so accurate. Though I guess they were a little obvious, knowing what we know about how nations generally react to being occupied.


When it comes to goofiness, there is a tie between Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and the American Congress. For example, in the past week or so, the Senate has passed a resolution announcing that English is our only official language. It is meant of course to bar Spanish, which the Mexican immigrants speak. In a way, it is a sucker punch against immigrants.

I have a proposition as an amendment to the official language edict. It is my proposal that every visitor to the United States must also speak English fluently. For example, the Kuwaiti soccer team, if it ever visits these shores, should also observe our language restrictions. Every member of the soccer team, including the goal keeper, should speak English perfectly.

The resolution in the Senate about English being the only official language ignores the fact that many peaceful countries have more than one official language. Belgium and Switzerland come to mind, as does Canada. These countries are not involved in killing Iraqis at the moment, so I would suggest that perhaps it is the duality of their languages that accounts for their peacefulness.

There are several other amendments which might be offered with respect to the resolution on the English language. Let’s not be half-hearted about this. Let us declare now and forever that the Free Will Baptist faith is our official religion and that the song “Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam” is our official national hymn. Furthermore, it should be included in the amendment that only full-submersion baptism will be accepted as a means of getting to heaven. I suspect that virtually every Southerner in the American Congress would vote for such a resolution.

Speaking of heaven, I asked my sixteen-year-old grandson the other day where heaven was physically located. He instantly replied, “In Denmark.” That struck me as odd because I had thought it was in Bolivia or in the suburbs of Alice Springs, Australia.

The fact of the matter is that in 1776, our freedom was won with the help of the French who graciously permitted us to speak an American brand of English to this day. Without the French at that juncture, we would now probably be the subjects of good old Queen Elizabeth and her goofy son.

There are other amendments that might be offered in addition to the English language resolution. For example, we should designate Ford as the official automobile of this nation. Chevrolet sounds a bit too French.

Rolling Rock should be designated as our official beer, and Jockey should be our official underwear.

Now if there is an objection to any one of these resolutions, I propose the use of military force including the newk-you-lar option to make everyone accept them wholeheartedly. What is good enough for the Iraqis ought to be good for the Americans.

Perhaps this is the silly season in Washington, but the attempts to discriminate against new arrivals in this country are running amok. Most of the proposed laws or restrictions are being offered by wild-eyed representatives in the House, such as Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and are being strongly supported by Southern members as well.

In the final analysis, everybody knows that English is the only perfect language and that the Free Will Baptists have the only perfect religion. It seems to me that establishing these facts in law as well as the other propositions offered herein, would make America more secure and more loved around the world.

This is supposed to be a nation of immigrants, but one would never know it by what is taking place right now in Congress. Now that the English language question has been settled, we must turn our attention to operas performed in the French, Italian and German languages. That would seem to be the logical progression of the resolution passed last week by the Senate. I suspect that Verdi, Giordano, Mozart, Bizet and Wagner would wholeheartedly fall in line with the English only resolution.

May 26, 2006
Essay 193
Kevin’s commentary: I know why the Garden of Eden is in Missouri, but I have no clue at all why I said heaven was in Denmark. Maybe that was Andrew?

Anyway, let’s just cut out the middleman and make intolerance itself the national religion. Save everybody some time. Though honestly we’re doing better recently, as a country.


Donald E. Wass was a fellow that you should not have known. Mr. Wass was humorless in the extreme. He was a low-level supervisor in AT&T’s Engineering Department in St. Louis. His responsibility caused him to have frequent conversations with other engineers in New York. Those conversations were so loud that work in the rest of the office was pretty much arrested until he completed his conversations. In point of fact, Mr. Wass was severely hearing-impaired.

His deficiency in the ability to hear caused him also to send TWX messages to New York on a frequent basis. TWX is similar to today’s facsimile. The TWX operators in St. Louis had a card cut for the return address because of the frequency of messages that Mr. Wass originated. Unfortunately, they made a small mistake in that they spelled his name as “Donalde” and they assumed that “W” was his middle initial and of course his last name became “Ass.” So it read “Donalde W. Ass.” The rest of the engineering office thought that this was a matter of great hilarity, including me. But that was not true in the case of Mr. Wass. He threatened to have the operator caught and fired, which never happened.

In any event, Donald Wass was often summoned to the head office in New York. A clerk would come to his desk and he would tell the clerk that he wished to have a “roomette” on the five o’clock Pennsylvania Railroad (known as the Pennsy) to New York, so the matters could be discussed in person in New York on the following day. As a young man of 19, I could envision Mr. Wass sitting down at the starched table cloth in the dining car on the train and eating a large steak followed by a cigar. Little did I know that before my career was finished, it would be my duty to visit major cities in this country as well as all of the principal capitols in the civilized world. But however you cut it, Mr. Wass was as humorless as a hornet.

All of these thoughts about Don Wass and visiting foreign cities came into focus when, in one of our Saturday night concerts, my wife played a CD from “On the Town,” a Broadway play by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For many years Comden and Green were the prominent producers of lyrics and librettos for Broadway shows. Their use of the English language was inspiring. One of the songs from “On the Town” is “Lonely Town.” Listening to the Comden-Green lyrics to that song, with the music by Leonard Bernstein, is about as good as it gets in a Broadway show. If I may impose, here are the lyrics to “Lonely Town.”

“A town’s a lonely town,
When you pass through
And there is no one waiting there for you,
Then it’s a lonely town.

You wander up and down,
The crowds rush by,
A million faces pass before your eyes,
Still it’s a lonely town.

Unless there’s love,
A love that’s shining like a harbor light,
You’re lost in the night;
Unless there’s love,
The world’s an empty place
And every town’s a lonely town.”

I have traveled enough to know that every town, no matter how big or small, has the potential for being a very lonely town. London was no exception. And so it was that I found myself at Heathrow Airport outside of England’s capitol at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I felt I had no real choice in the matter because when an American is asked or required to attend a meeting in the United Kingdom or on the continent of Europe on a Monday morning, he is obliged to leave home on Saturday evening, and travel overnight to his destination. No matter how much the spouses protest or the children throw tantrums, there is no choice but to get to London or whatever city is involved on Sunday to avoid yawning all the way through the meeting on Monday. One other drawback. Hotel keepers believe that their patrons tend to sleep in on Sunday morning and as a result they do not ask the housemaids to start to work until later in the day. As a result when early arrivals appear at the hotels, they are told that “Your room is not yet ready. Please have a seat in the lobby.” The seat in the lobby will be occupied until 11 or 11:30 or noon time until the housemaids do their work.

And so it was when I alighted from my flight from New York to London, that I was in an inferior mood knowing that I would have two or three hours to kill in the lobby of The Grovener Hotel until the housemaids had vacuumed the rugs and tucked my pillows in properly. As I walked out of Heathrow’s airport terminal, I saw a group of four or five taxi cab drivers waiting for passengers. As I strode to the head of the line, a driver stepped out and said, “Good morning, Yank. How are things in the colonies?” Fortunately I had my wits about me and I replied to him, “Good morning, mate. Things in the colonies are looking up now that we have learned to drive on the right side of the road.” He and the rest of the cab drivers knew that they had a soul mate. The ride to the hotel was inspiring. The driver and I talked of American and English politics, and of our days in the armies of the US and the UK. And suddenly London was no longer a lonely town. I had been welcomed by a new friend. I smiled as I sat on the couch in the Grovener Hotel until my room was ready, somewhere after 11 o’clock that morning. But the point is that London was no longer a lonely town, even on a Sunday morning.

Lonely towns become friendly towns when one finds a good companion. When I began to travel to the Scandinavian countries, I soon met Sven Lernevall in Stockholm, who remains my friend until this day. Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen are not winter vacation destinations. The sun makes an appearance for only a short time each day. But people in the Scandinavian countries are welcoming, and in spite of the weather, somehow Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo are no longer lonely because, as the song says, friends “were waiting there for me.”

Sven Lernevall is well into his 80s now, as I am. But he has not lost an ounce of his sense of humor. Donald Wass could have taken a lesson or two from Sven Lernevall. Recently I inquired of Sven about the proper form of address when one speaks to a stranger in Sweden. It appears that the Swedes use the term “Herr” as do the Germans when they wish to address a stranger. But that is not the end of it. Here is an email message from Sven explaining to me the various forms of address in Sweden.

“Yes, the equivalent of mister is herr. But we seldom use the word herr (or fru, mrs) anymore. When, for instance, they refer to someone in the parliament they do not say herr statsministern (mr prime minister), only statsministern. And they do not say herr Reinfeldt (our prime minister) but Fredrik Reinfeldt. We more or less abolished titles 40-50 years ago. Nowadays we address everyone by the familiar word “du” (you). Formerly we could say Ni to someone, even in singular, if we wanted to show courtesy (like the Germans use Sie or the French use vous). But in Swedish du is only singular i e when you talk to one person, ni is plural i e when you address yourself to several persons. We have not reached that far as you have in English where the word you covers both du and ni.”

“If you understood anything of the linguistic lesson above, just tell me.”

So you can see that Sven has lost none of his sense of humor, which makes him a good companion and which makes Stockholm anything but a lonely town.

In response to Sven’s exercise in the Swedish language, I could only reply that here in New Jersey, when two people are involved, the term “youse” appears often. The bartender would say to a couple, “What would youse two like to drink today?” That is not as good as Sven’s explanation, but it might serve him well the next time he comes to Newark or Camden.

For many years after World War II, I had avoided going to Germany. One way or another, I found myself in Munich with Howard Davis, another former American soldier. Howard was a Vice President of the N.W. Ayer Advertising Company, which had been retained by AT&T for many years. Howard Davis likes a beer now and then. I have no love of beer or any cravings for it. Nonetheless we wandered into a saloon where the tables were placed at about waist level or higher. It was obvious that the tables were supposed to accommodate six to eight standup drinkers of beer. Howard and I were by ourselves until we were joined by a German man dressed in workingman’s clothes. After a swig or two of beer, he looked at me and said in German, “Amerikanischer Soldat? (American soldier?)” I answered in perfect German, “Ja.” He then inquired as to whether I had ever been a POW and I said again, “Ja.” As it turned out he spoke reasonably good English because he had been a prisoner of the British for a large part of the war. After a few more beers the three of us were boon companions and Munich was no longer a lonely town.

Finally there is a town called Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is straight out of a movie set. The streets, as I recall them, were unpaved. Every shopkeeper was friendly and I expected to meet Billy the Kid at every intersection. Alice Springs at that time, in 1980 or thereabouts, had a population of less than 10,000. I am at home with Australians but on this occasion we were warned that we were going to Alice Springs in February, the height of the hot season. Temperatures of more than 100 degrees are quite common in that part of Australia. I was told by the know-nothings in Sydney that I would soon run away from Alice Springs because of the heat and the provincial nature of its offerings. That was not the case. There was a woman who ran a small shop where I wandered in, and by the time I finished my shopping she had sold me a didgeridoo, a great felt hat with the insignia of the Australian Mounted Police, and a necklace of shells strung on a string made by aborigines. I suppose I have trumpeted the virtues of Alice Springs ever since that visit and I regret that I have not been back there since 1982 or 1983. But nonetheless, while there are many lonely towns in this world, I am here to tell you that Alice Springs is not one of them. For those of you who are interested, a didgeridoo is allegedly a musical instrument played by the native Aboriginals.

In the final analysis, it is not hard to become lonely when one is far from home and without companions. Arab cities provide very little warmth for foreigners who are suspected of being Christians. Of all of the Arab capitols that I have visited, only Cairo is really welcoming. All the others are in fact “lonely towns.” But in the rest of the world, the difference is friends. When you are visiting a place, and “there is no one there to meet you,” that is a prescription for a lonely town.

When Don Wass ordered his roomettes on the Pennsy Railroad to go to New York back in 1941, I wondered if I would ever get to Gotham. But in those years, I have lived and worked in New York, and have made many friends there. It is clearly not a lonely town. It seems to me that a large part of avoiding loneliness and lonely towns has to do with your making an effort to call people by their names or shake their hands. I understand loneliness and I understand lonely towns. But with a little bit of luck, that loneliness and the lonely towns can be turned into friendly places. The key is friendship, which is what Sven Lernevall and the London cab driver and the Munich beer drinker and the people of Alice Springs showed to me.

Donald Waas, nee Donalde W. Ass, is now a largely deaf angel. Betty Comden and Adolph Green died within the past three years. We will hear no more of their lyrics or their librettos. What a shame!

November 29, 2007
Essay 272
Kevin’s commentary: An instant favorite. This one really hit home for me. It was striking for me how much different Beijing — a city I love — felt the second time I was there, when I didn’t have a circle of fifty friends with me. I wrote the following blog post soon after arrival:

Pop is damn good at making friends, though, and I’d imagine that in his heyday not many towns wound up being lonely for him. I’ll have to work a little more on that talent.



This essay has spent a longer time than normal in gestation. I had intended to dictate it on Memorial Day, but the news from Iraq was so depressing that I could not bring myself to work on it. Now that the essay has emerged from the womb, let us see what we have.

This essay is about the effects of war and uses World War I as its example. You may recall that Woodrow Wilson, our President during the First World War, called that war “The War to End Wars.” The fact that we have had several wars since that time merely validates the title of this piece. The war to end wars was a naïve idealistic hope of Woodrow Wilson. The current administration claims to be conducting a “global war on terror”. This is a cynical attempt for this administration to remain in power because the American electorate is reluctant to vote against a wartime administration. The fact is that wars and terror have been with us since the beginning of time and they will continue to be with us until the world’s history adjourns, demonstrating the truth in Karr’s maxim.

You may also recall that in 1914, Winston Churchill, who was the British Defence Minister, claimed that the German fortress could be conquered by attacking “its soft underbelly”. That soft underbelly was Turkey, who bloodied the nose of the Allies in the Battle at Suvla Bay near Gallipoli. In the current war in Iraq, the Americans elected to invade that country because it was a “slam dunk” which constituted another soft underbelly. We are now in the fifth year of the current war and it appears that the only people being “slam dunked” are our forces. Again this demonstrates the thought that in 93 years, we have learned nothing.

Let us leave Woodrow, Winnie and the current war on terror and turn now to Eric Bogle. That fellow is an extraordinary writer of songs, lyrics, and poetry. Two songs that he has written about the First World War are now sung throughout the English-speaking world. They are “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and “The Green Fields of France,” which is also known as “Willie McBride.” There are three citations from these two songs which were written about events that took place between 1914 and 1918 that have relevance to events taking place today.

Winston Churchill gave the job of attacking the Turkish forces at Gallipoli to the Australians. When the attack began against the Turks, Bogle says that the Aussies were “rained by bullets and showered with shell, which nearly blew us back to Australia.” As a result, our “blood stained the sand and the water.” Any correlation between the Turks’ resistance in the First World War and the resistance we are encountering in the civil war in Iraq is not coincidental. They are quite related. Again, in 93 years we have learned nothing.

There is another elegant Eric Bogle line before the battle at Suvla Bay finishes. The line holds that:

“Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dying”

What is happening today in the battle against the insurgents in Iraq is multiplied several fold from the battle of Suvla Bay. Our soldiers are losing their arms and their legs, but also of great significance, the roadside bombs have separated them from their senses. So in ninety plus years the killing goes on and the results have become much crueler. Have we learned nothing? Obviously not.

The Australian soldier who speaks in this song was saved and was returned to civilian status. We know this from several lines in the song, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” The soldier laments that he will not do much dancing anymore because it takes two legs to go waltzing with Matilda or anyone else. Our legless soldiers have made the same discovery.

As an old man, the legless soldier sits on his front porch and watches “the parade pass before him.” This is a reference to the annual celebration of ANZAC Day, which memorializes the achievements of the Australian as well as New Zealand soldiers. This is much like our Memorial Day. The old soldier sits on his porch as time goes on and watches his old comrades “old, stiff, and sore”…“still answering the call.” A young person asks, “What are they marching for?” The old soldier says, “I ask myself the same question.”

Finally, the old soldier makes note of the fact that as time goes forward, fewer and fewer soldiers will march in the ANZAC parade. He concludes, nostalgically, that someday “No one will march there at all.”

The poet Phil Coulter says, “The minutes fly and the years go by.” For American soldiers of the First World War, only three are left, and they are well past the century mark. For those of us who were involved in the Second World War, we are now well into our eighties, and a number of us are advancing into our nineties. It is fairly obvious that as time goes on, that soon old soldiers will not be there to answer the call. What has happened to the veterans of the First World War is now happening to those of us who served in the Second World War. And when age creeps up on the veterans of the Iraq War, they will find that it is difficult to answer the call in the future. But the call will be there, which is why the title of this piece is “The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same.”

In the second piece mentioned earlier, that being “Willie McBride,” we find a weary traveler sitting down by the graveside of a British soldier. With the name McBride, the soldier could be of either Scottish or Irish parentage. According to the gravestone, Private Willie McBride died in 1916 at the tender age of 19 years. In his imaginary conversation with Willie McBride, the stranger asks, “Did you really believe that this war would end wars?” And then he goes on to ask Willie, “Do the soldiers who lie here know why they died?”

Of course the answer is no, because soldiers do what they are told and they are not paid to think. If they do what they are told and get killed in the process, so be it.

As the story about Willie McBride comes to an end, there is a poignant line. It goes, “Countless white crosses in mute witness stand to man’s indifference to his fellow man.” I suppose that it was this way in the First World War just as it has recurred so many times and continues with the Iraq War.

In any event, Eric Bogle has written two powerful anti-war songs. With one war succeeding another, I believe it validates the thought that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

In this essay, I hope that I have whetted your appetite for the music of Eric Bogle. He was born in 1944 in Peebles, Scotland. Since 1982, he has been a citizen of Australia. Bogle is an astute commentator on the affairs of men. As he said in “Willie McBride,” the “war to end wars” has not resulted in the demise of wars but the fact is they have happened “again and again, again and again, and again.”

The quotation that I attribute to Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr is an apt one. With respect to our wars, it is obvious that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Unfortunately, that is tragically so. Woodrow Wilson claimed that the First World War was the war to end wars. Today we have an American president who claims that he is in charge of “the global war on terror.” So you see, in 93 years we have learned nothing.

Can anyone deny that the more things change, the more they remain the same?

June 3, 2007
Essay 258
Kevin’s commentary: Well, we certainly do get more efficient ways of killing one another. That counts for something, right?

A nice live version of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” can be heard here. We listened to a lot of Eric Bogle at Pop’s house earlier this week. He’s incredible.

The song about Willie McBride is also very well done. Reminds me, weirdly, of some lullabies that my dad used to sing me. Say what you will about Bogle, Clancy and the like, but they create damn pleasant music especially considering the subject matter. Rap has violence and money, pop has sappy love songs, and this kind of music has war deaths. Guess they’re just popular to write about for this genre.


When anyone has lived as long as I have, it would be foolish to claim that there have not been some mistakes along the way.  The Great Decider may differ with that conclusion, but he is busy trying to extricate the United States from the mess he has created in Iraq.  These are some of my mistakes, which are not necessarily of major league caliber.

The title has to do with a baseball metaphor.  When a pitcher throws a pitch that the catcher has no hope of catching, the official scorer will rule it a wild pitch. On the other hand, if the pitcher throws a pitch that the catcher should have caught and he misses it, the official scorer will consider it a passed ball.  In my existence, there have been more than one or two wild pitches and a similar number of passed balls.  Let me tell you about them.


This incident took place in Moscow.  It happened after Stalin died and there were a succession of strongmen  such as Brezhnev and Khrushchev.  Moscow was always a dismal place for American travelers. In this instance, Howard Pappert and I found ourselves in Moscow at the end of a long two-week trip.

I felt a cold coming on and my supply of Kleenex, which I carry in my pockets, was running low.  Stupidly, I set out one afternoon to locate a new supply of Kleenex.  In point of fact, there was no such thing as Kleenex in that era in Moscow nor all of Russia.

Outside our rooms near the elevator was a stern woman who gave us the keys to our rooms and who demanded them back before we left the hotel. She was a no-nonsense person who, I thought, was part of the Secret Police apparatus.  I showed her my pocket-sized pack of Kleenex and hoped that she could tell me where I could buy another package.  She had no interest whatsoever and in effect told me to get lost.  That is what I did.

It had always been my belief that the largest department store in Moscow would carry such an item.  That large department store was called G.U.M.   When Howard and I found the G.U.M. department store, it turned out to be an enormous warehouse with high ceilings and with clerks whose main function seemed to be to refer you to another clerk. The Russian clerks did not inform the prospective buyer that they had no such item, but rather they referred you to another clerk who was equally unhelpful.  After four or five such interviews, I concluded that the G.U.M. department store had no Kleenex.  If an investigator had been called in, he would have informed me that there was no Kleenex factory in the Soviet Union, as it was called then.  And he would have informed me that the Russians would not import this item.  One such clerk thought that I had lost my sanity when I demonstrated to her that the Kleenex could be blown on and then thrown away into a waste basket. This must have seemed entirely wasteful to this female clerk, who must have regarded American ways as wasteful.

I made do with whatever Kleenex that were left and when Howard and I boarded the Swissair jet for the flight to Warsaw at six o’clock the following morning, we were happy people.  After shots of brandy were offered by our Russian hosts and then by the steward on the Swiss airliner, my on-coming cold seemed to disappear.  So much for Kleenex in the Soviet Union or, as it is now called, Russia.


Now, we turn to my experience with the International hotel industry.  Because American travelers stay in hotels, there is a natural affinity between the telephone industry and the hoteliers.  The custom at the time was for the hoteliers to add enormous surcharges on calls from their establishments  back to the United States.  In many cases, the hotel would add a surcharge of more than 300%, which was all profit for them.  AT&T mounted a campaign called Teleplan, with the thought that if the hotels would quit the imposition of enormous surcharges, AT&T would run advertisements in this country informing travelers of that fact.  This would mean more business for the hotels and it would mean more business for AT&T’s international operations.  The first two agreements  covered all hotels in Israel and in Ireland.

The International Hotel Association held two meetings a year in exotic spots.  One of such meetings was held in Katmandu, Nepal.  Because I was to make a speech at this convention, I asked that our suppliers in this country prepare scarves and neckties with the Teleplan logo on them to be offered to the attendees at the International Hotel Association meeting in Katmandu.  Obviously there was some expense involved because these were intended as keepsake items.  When the neckties and scarves were finished, the manufacturer brought them around to show me what had been done and also to show me the large box into which these items were to be placed to be mailed to me at my Katmandu hotel.  The scarves and neckties were impressive.

I should have known that there was trouble in the air when I was informed that it would be necessary to pay the Nepalese Customs Office a substantial sum of money.  I believe the rake-off came to nearly $100. When the box containing the scarves and neckties did not show up in Katmandu in time for me to use them, I went to the Post Office.  There I found the box that had been shown to me by the manufacturer of the scarves and neckties, and it had been torn apart.  There was not a single item left in the box.  The clerks at the Post Office began to offer me degraded English until I finally arrived at the thought that very few things get through Nepalese customs without being pilfered.  I was out my $100 as well as the scarves and neckties.  Cal Tuggle, who accompanied me on this trip, claims that on the streets of Katmandu, he saw dozens of beggars and bicycle-riding boys with Teleplan scarves around their foreheads and wearing Teleplan ties.  But Cal Tuggle wears glasses and I am sure he was quite mistaken.

In the final analysis, the speech went well but it would have been better had we had scarves and neckties.  And there was a view from our hotel rooms of Mount Everest.  I know Katmandu is a long way to go, but where can anybody else find a view of Mount Everest?  The lesson I learned was to never, never trust the Nepalese custom’s office.


There is a third gaffe on my part which qualifies as either a wild pitch or a passed ball.  On October 31, 2005, following the unsuccessful surgery on my eyes, I intended to retire for the evening.  I was led to the bathroom by a licensed practical nurse so that I could brush my teeth. Being newly blind, I assumed that it would be easy for me to hold my toothbrush in my left hand and spread the toothpaste on the bristles with my right hand as I had always done.  This was a great mistake.  The toothpaste went everywhere except upon the bristles.  There was toothpaste on my hand as well as on the washbasin.  For the next eleven days while I was still in Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, brushing my teeth was a struggle. Finally my wife suggested that as a child, she used to put toothpaste on the index and middle fingers of her right hand and wipe it on the lower teeth in her mouth.  I thought this was a juvenile thing to do but my attempt to brush my teeth had now reached desperate proportions.  So I tried the Miss Chicka method and it seemed to work. Since that time, I have used her method to the exclusion of all others.


All of this brings to mind the example of Charlie Windsor (nee Wettig) who bears the title of Prince of Wales in the English Monarchy.  For years it was alleged that on his trips to the bathroom, Charlie was accompanied by at least one or two footmen.  When he went to brush his teeth, Charlie the prince held out his toothbrush and one of the footmen would spread the paste on its bristles.  Biographers have not settled upon whether Charlie brushed his teeth or whether one of the footmen did the scrubbing.  It is ironic that a footman is expected to brush the teeth of the future King of England.

The Prince of Wales remarried about 18 months ago to his paramour of 35 years, Camilla Parker-Bowles.  The British Official Secrecy Act prevents us from knowing whether Camilla performs the services formerly provided by footmen or whether the footmen are still at work.

Upon my release from the Wills Eye Hospital, I returned home and searched the want ads in the Star-Ledger of New Jersey newspaper. Unfortunately, there were no footmen advertised as being willing to work on a commoner such as myself.  Perhaps this may be another case where illegal immigrants will perform work that Americans refuse to do.  In any case, after 16 months, I still put the toothpaste on the forefinger and middle finger of my right hand and wipe it off on the inside of my lower teeth.  No longer do I worry about spreading the toothpaste over my hand or the washbasin.  Whether this constitutes a wild pitch or a passed ball, I will leave it to the official scorer to make his determination.

Well, there you have three examples of wild pitches and passed balls. All of them involve your old essayist. I intend to keep the wild pitch and passed balls category open for future gaffes.  With the 2008 presidential race warming up already, I am quite certain that within a month or two I will have more gaffes to report.  These will keep the official scorer and the Great Decider busy until the new president takes office.  If the new president has “WP” or “PB” after his/her name, you will know that he or she is one of us.


January 30, 2007
Essay 232
Kevin’s commentary: You know, I don’t recall another essay of a similar name cropping up anywhere between this one in 2007 and the 2014 essays. I will of course take this to mean that Pop has made no mistakes since then. As evidence of this claim, in part of a note to the family recently, Pop wrote that “I hope that I have not offended any of you and I do not think that I have offended any of you. If you think that I have, stand up and I will try to knock you down.” To my knowledge nobody had to go up to New Jersey the next day to be knocked down, which is obviously a good sign.

For better or worse though the part of this essay that stood out to me the most was the news on Kleenex. I grew up in Austin and was prone to getting Cedar Fever in January, a month in which I invariably ran through boxes upon boxes of tissue. To this day you would be hard-pressed to find me without a Kleenex in my left pocket. That said, when I read the news about their nonexistence in the soviet union, I thought of two things.

First, did they use disposable napkins, or were the napkins all cloth? If they were disposable I feel like they make decent enough substitutes for Kleenex, as do paper towels. If cloth napkins were used, that’s pretty damn close to a handkerchief, an item which I have never personally made use of but certainly would do the job. Finally if all of these options failed, certainly there must have been toilet paper available. Did you inquire after the GUM store’s best two-ply?

P.S. Today I uploaded a very unique picture to the essay published yesterday, “MAKING FRIENDS.” I wish today that we could claim to be a friend of “all Arab nations” as we could then.


Making friends has always come easily to me. I find that a handshake and calling the other person by his name tends to open the door to new friendships. Showing an interest in what the other person is doing or where he has lived tends to promote that friendship.

My father did not have that gift at all. My mother was an accomplished friend-maker. My brother Earl, an insurance salesman, made friends by the score. My other elder brother Charlie, who was given to lecturing on religious matters, enjoyed much less success in friend-making. I don’t work at it; it is simply a part of my nature.

If I were to do an analysis of my attempts to make friends, I believe that much of it would flow from being brought up during the destitution that marked the American Depression and from being an enlisted man in the United States Army. With that background, I have long since been accustomed to disappointments and rejections. Making friends, particularly among those who do the heavy lifting in this life, has tended to be one of my responses.

When I speak of heavy lifters, the best example I can give you is of one of our garbage collectors. This neighborhood is located about 300 feet from a wooded water reserve where wild animals such as deer and raccoons tend to live. Garbage put out at street level in a plastic bag will not survive the night. It will be torn apart by the animals seeking something to eat. For this reason, the plastic bags are placed in a garbage can or, in polite language, a garbage receptacle.

In the morning, if the garbage men reach our garbage before I go out to retrieve the can, they take the plastic bag and put it in the back of their truck. On the other hand, there are times when the garbage men are a little late and, when I go to retrieve the can, I take the garbage out and put it at the curb side.

Tending to the garbage in my current condition is one of my major accomplishments. I pride myself on finding my way down the 90-foot driveway, taking the plastic bag out of the container, and then, using my cane to tap the Belgian blocks that line the driveway, returning to the garage. It may not seem much to anyone who retrieves garbage cans, but to me it is one of my triumphs.

You may remember an earlier essay entitled “Thanksgiving 2006.” On the Wednesday morning before the Thanksgiving holiday, I arrived at the garbage can at about the same time as the garbage collector showed up. I reached into the garbage can, pulled the plastic bag out, and handed it to the refuse collector. He thanked me for my efforts. As he turned to walk toward his truck, I said to him, “Hey, come back here. I want to shake your hand and wish you a happy Thanksgiving.”

The refuse collector came to me, took off his glove, and we wished each other to have a happy Thanksgiving. One way or another, I am convinced that the refuse collector genuinely meant it when he said that I should enjoy the coming holiday. I know that I meant it when I expressed those wishes to him. Before this essay is finished, there will be a reprise about that same garbage man.

Before we reach the reprise, I believe it would be fair to site an example of making friends and one of making non-friends, or in plain English, making enemies. First the friend making example. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt met with King Saud of Saudi Arabia on a heavy U.S. cruiser off the shores of that country. The King and the Muslims in the Arab world understood that the American President was not their enemy but intended to deal fairly with them. The result was a low price for oil and the friendship of the nations in the Arab world.

While the President of the United States was meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, there were raging battles in much of North Africa. Basically, it was the United States First Army pitted against the vaunted Afrika Corp of Germany under the leadership of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During those battles, all of us who flew in combat carried a letter addressed to “Every Noble Arab.” A copy of that letter, which I have saved from early 1943, is included. To my knowledge, the Arabs did not turn over downed American airmen to the Germans but rather directed them toward water, food and rescue. I was the beneficiary of such treatment in early August of 1943. The Arabs have a long tradition of hospitality and American airmen were the recipients of those gestures. The United States profited from having the Arabs on our side during battles that would determine the fate of our invasion of Europe.

On the other hand, it grieves me to report that there are examples where making non-friends or perhaps enemies, seems to be in vogue. My former employer of 43 years communicates with all of its pensioners rarely except to ask us to support their efforts in an enactment of legislation. While AT&T is silent on the communications front, it has unilaterally imposed a draconian increase in the drug benefit program amounting, in many cases, to as much as 300%. This is no way to make friends, particularly among retired people who ordinarily would view AT&T in sympathetic terms. Simply put, the new AT&T could have made friends with its pensioners but it has decided to do otherwise.

Well, so you see, what the U.S. Government did under Franklin Roosevelt merits applause, and what AT&T has done, merits stony silence.

Earlier I had promised a reprise of the garbage collector incident, but upon reflection, it has grown by a factor of one. I find that my friendships with people who labor at the bottom of the social structure are very rewarding. The men who work in the produce section, the woman who sweeps the floor at the market, the waiters at restaurants, and the men who sell gasoline for our cars are my friends. They are the people who do the heavy lifting.

There is Rita, for example, a domestic who speaks limited English, who walked by me on her way to work. When she saw me getting the garbage containers lined up to be taken back to the garage, Rita became my friend and insisted that she would take them. Perhaps it is a fact that those garbage cans are friend makers. Rita is certainly one of my new found friends.

Now to complete the story that I had promised in the opening paragraph, we return to the refuse collector whom I met before Thanksgiving and met again today, January 30th, 2007. Every other week it is necessary to take a second garbage container to the street to carry bottles and cans so that they may be re-cycled. This morning when I went to the street, the recycle people had already been there but the garbage had not been picked up. As I maneuvered to get the recycle container in a spot where I

could bring it to the garage, the garbage truck came to a stop at the foot of our driveway. As it turns out, the man who had become my friend before Thanksgiving was on the back step. He came over to me and gave me a warm greeting and said that he would take care of the garbage in the plastic bag. He then replaced the tops on the garbage container as well as the recycle can and said to me, “Where do you put these? In the garage?”

I protested and said something to the effect that this is my job and that you guys have plenty to do trying to complete your run. But there was no point in arguing with this fellow. He grabbed both containers and headed for the garage. I tagged along, using my cane to tap the Belgian blocks. When I arrived at the garage, he had just completed putting the two containers well inside the limits of the garage. Once again we shook hands and held each other’s arms, and wished each other a happy new year.

I know this fellow is not a Phi Beta Kappa candidate and I know that he is not in the hunt to become the next president of the United States. He is a man who does the heavy lifting. I am privileged to call him my friend. And I am ashamed that I do not know his name.

So you see, making new friends is not a difficult task at all. For this nation, it would be helpful if we had more friends rather than enemies who wish us ill. I am sorry that my elder brother Earl was not here to see my encounter with the refuse collector. Old gregarious Earl would have held the refuse man in his arms and would probably have invited him to dinner. During dinner the refuse man would have probably insisted on Earl selling him an insurance policy. Earl, who was blind as I am, was a good man.

In my case, I feel blessed to be able to make friends so easily. Which brings to mind the quotation from William Butler Yeats’s poem, “The Courtyard Revisited,” which is “Count where man’s blessings most begin and end. My blessing is that I have had such friends.” A man or a person who is blessed with good friends such as Rita and the refuse collector, is a lucky man. I consider myself to be among the most fortunate of men.

January 30, 2007
Essay 233
making friends
Kevin’s commentary: You of course won’t remember the essay from Thanksgiving 2006, because it hasn’t been published yet, but that’s okay. I was actually going to link this essay to one called “Matter of Dignity” that I’ve read a few times before but it also turns out that that one is from 2006 as well. Perhaps I’ll publish it next anyway.

In any event I’ve always thought that this was one of the coolest things about Pop. And you have to be careful how you think about it, because otherwise it might seem condescending, but it truly isn’t. Pop isn’t stepping off any sort of pedestal to come down and acknowledge the people who make his life easier, he actively seeks them out to thank them and learn as much as he can about them. There’s something very different there than, say, the pro athlete who high-fives a ball boy at a sports game, though this sort of behavior also seems to elicit a lot of praise.