Archive for the Obama Category

FROM THE FRIENDLY WHITE HOUSE TO YOUR HOUSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. E. CARR
March 19, 2011

~~~

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

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

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

WAR ON TERROR

The news from Washington, particularly the White House, tells us that we are fighting a war on terror. This old under-educated, inarticulate clod is baffled by that description. What war are we talking about? And are the American people genuinely terrorized? The imprecision of the language in the so-called war on terror is immense.

When a man tells me that I am in the middle of a war on terror, I am obliged to ask who is the enemy who is terrorizing me. Three and a half years after the invasion of Iraq and the claims of “Mission Accomplished”, I am still baffled. Who is this monster that threatens to destroy the American government and our way of life?

The people I know and correspond with do not seem to be terrorized of anything. The Bush administration asks no sacrifice from its citizens. On the other hand, it offers them tax cuts in the middle of a war on terror. While this alleged war is going on, Bush takes his vacations and rides his bicycle. This may be the most peculiar war on anything that this old country boy has ever seen or heard about.

The American people could well be terrorized by acts of nature or a number of other influences. For example, the people in California and the West who worry about firestorms being blown by Santa Ana winds, will likely be terrified at the thought of losing their houses and their lives. People who live along the Gulf Coast or in Florida may be terrorized by the advance of a new hurricane. The folks who live in the ghetto may well be terrorized by the armed gangs that rob and kill people. The point I am making is that there are any number of things that might terrorize the American people but the Bush administration does not include them in his so-called terror war.

The imprecision of the language leads me to conclude that the war on terrorism is either a myth or a complete fraud. If, as we are told by the Commander-in-Chief, Iraq is the central front in this war, then I must conclude that the war is irretrievably lost. If we are lucky, we will escape from a stalemate in Iraq after having lost troops at the rate of 75 to 100 per month. If we are losing troops at that rate, how can we say we are winning this terrorism war? Today, can anyone take a peaceful stroll down the capital city streets of Baghdad, which they could do under the hated Saddam?

The mythical proportions about the war on terrorism flows from our political leaders and from some generals who present rosy pictures of progress in the Iraqi war. The fact is clear that we are not making progress; we are clearly losing.

You may recall Mr. Cheney’s remark about the insurgency being “in its final throes.” You might also recall Mr. Cheney’s remark to the effect that we would be welcomed in Iraq as liberators and that people would throw roses at us as our troops marched down Broadway in Baghdad. Cheney appears to be the chief maker of myths in this unfortunate armed conflict. Doesn’t anyone in this administration speak the truth? Any reports of progress are the essence of myth-making.

This leads me to conclude that, on one hand, the war is a myth and is being kept afloat only by those who say give us another 18 months and the Iraqi army will take care of everything. Does anyone believe these pronouncements?

The fact of the matter is that the Iraqi Army will never defend American interests in the Middle East and shouldn’t be asked to do so. Whether we like it or not, it is a myth to believe that the alleged Iraqi Army will successfully prosecute George Bush’s war.

The second myth is that a democracy in Iraq will cause the rest of the Arab world to democratize also. The so-called war on terror is being fought in Alice in Wonderland proportions. Does anyone believe that the Egyptians would overthrow Mubarak or that the Syrians would overthrow Assad simply because Iraq adopted a democratic government? This is myth making of the first order.

Now let us turn to the thought that the war on terror is a fraud. The fact is that the war on terror is a Karl Rovian fraud to give George Bush the powers that we have never before extended to any American president. As long as Karl Rove and Bush can claim that there is a war in progress, the American public will be reluctant to turn out such a president. This is precisely what happened in 2004.

The fact here involves the administration claiming extraordinary powers to spy on people and to listen to their communications. It also involves denying the writ of habeas corpus to the prisoners we hold at Guantánamo Bay. And finally, the fraud permits this president, George Bush, to engage in torture even though he says that it doesn’t exist. To claim that our prisoners at Gitmo and around the world have not been tortured amounts to nothing more than the feces de la toro. The “advanced interrogation methods” that we are proudly using are nothing more and nothing less than torture.

Further, it appears to me that the so-called war on terror is basically a war on Arabs and the Muslim faith. For a while, the mantra of this administration was the “Islamic fascists.” When the administration refers to the people with whom we are engaged in Iraq, they commonly call them “the enemy.” If I were a neutral observer, it would be clear to me that the enemy is the Arabs and the Muslim faith. It would also be clear to me that this is nothing more than a revival of the Crusades.

If we were so interested in stamping out terror, why didn’t we pursue Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and try to catch him? If Osama is the heart of evilness of this world, he should have been dealt with a long time ago. But Osama remains free and there is no indication that he will soon be captured. If the destruction of the World Trade Center was an act of terror, which it was, it would be our duty to pursue and punish the perpetrators. But that we have not done. If the war on terror is going to be successfully prosecuted, Osama will have to be caught. Clearly, Osama is not in Iraq, but that is where we have taken the war.

And while we are dealing with Osama, it seems to me that there are a good many other leaders who terrorize their citizens as well as those of neighboring countries. Try Mugabe in Zimbabwe. What about Castro and Hugo Chavez here in the Western Hemisphere?. And what about the events in the Darfur region of the Sudan? If we are looking for terrorists to bring to justice, there are plenty of them.

It has always been my habit to follow international developments closely. I have followed the so-called war on terror from its inception. In the final analysis, I must conclude that it is a myth of the highest proportions in that we are being told that progress is being made while we can see from our newspapers and television screens that progress is going backwards.

And I must also conclude that the war on terror is a fraud because we are not being told the truth. Its costs are being concealed. Nor do we know what it has done to the equipment of the Army and Marine Corps. We certainly know what it has done to American prestige around the world. Friends, if this is not a fraud, I don’t know one when I see one.

The war on terrorism further detracts from our image abroad. I doubt that any Western European, for example, would cheer our efforts because sophisticated people know that this is a war with mythical and fraudulent proportions.

Mr. Bush is in Hanoi today where he made a statement to the effect that, if we lose this war, it will be because the American people have lost their will. In other words, if we lose this war it will be our fault not the fault of the great and gorgeous George Bush. Are you ready for another “Mission Accomplished” statement? Or do you want to stick with the war being “In its final throes”?

E. E. CARR
November 17, 2006
Essay 218
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: The “War on” rhetoric has become incredibly popular in the last several years. It commonly heralds failure, like in the cases of the War on Terror or the War on Drugs. Turns out it’s hard to wage wars against concepts and objects. Christians like to whine about the “War on Christmas” every winter, even though there isn’t one, and just yesterday I saw a video entitled “War on Boys,” which was a poorly-titled but nonetheless interesting piece about how we educate boys these days.

I guess everything has to be a war these days, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s that print and broadcast media increasingly default to sensationalism to get attention, and calling something a “war” is an easy way to do that while simultaneously granting the reporter immediate access to the framework of “winning” and “losing” since that’s what you do with wars — even (especially?) if those terms make no sense in the context of the particular “war” that we’re talking about. Headlines like “Losing the War on Christmas” are easy to churn out and probably get a ton of clicks. Fill up a video with a few clips of local companies that have stopped using the word “Christmas” in their advertising, splice in a few outraged suburban moms, and you’ve got a story for a slow winter news day.

Of course, the reality is that businesses started to use “holiday” instead of “Christmas” in their marketing as soon as they realized that there are a lot of non-Christians in America, and those people are probably more likely to buy your stuff when you don’t snub them with your terminology before they walk in the door.

OF PISSANTS, POLITICIANS, AND CUPIDITY

The breadth of the title of this essay might lead you to believe that it is a formidable undertaking.  But when taken by its individual parts it is not necessarily so formidable operation.  Let us take the pissant part to start. 

The word pissant is far from a vulgarity.  It identifies a living creature who has been condemned to blindness for all of its life.  The pissant is a gnat-like creature who seeks warmth, either from animals or from the human skin.  In terms of insects that fly, it ranks at the bottom of the aviary creatures.  My belief is that it ranks somewhere between the troublesome gnat and the bedbug.

Pissants exist in droves rather than in singularity.  As far as I can determine, the pissants have no function in this life.  Perhaps the main function is as an adjective used by such people such as my mother to describe a preacher as being a pissant one.  Bear in mind that my mother was a religious person but pissantry was a common part of the rural speech pattern.   My mother used “country speak” for much of her discourse.

At this point, I have told you all I know about pissants and pissantries.

The second part of this title has to do with politicians.  I would not want you to believe that all politicians are pissants.  But when push comes to shove, professional politicians all exhibit overt signs of pissantry to casual observers such as myself.  Nowhere is this tendency toward pissantry more evident than it is in the current negotiation over whether or not there will be a government shutdown.  Simply put, I suspect that professional politicians who regard decency as a fact of life will come to an agreement to avoid a government shutdown.

When the Tea Party people are added to the mix and tend to bind the hands of the Republican Speaker of the House, he has very little alternative but to accommodate them.  I am dictating these lines on Friday, April 8, which is the Ides of March or some other mythical creature but at midnight tonight the government will run out of money and will shut down.

The Tea Party folks are undisciplined and amateurish.  They are new to this game and they are headstrong in the power that has been allotted to them.  But they are a formidable force of the American electorate for one good reason.  Under the American system, we have primaries devoted only to one party or the other.  For example the primary vote involving the Republican Party is reserved for Republicans.  The same is true of the Democratic vote.  There is no crossover vote.  The primaries are held at unconventional times of the year and only the greatly interested tend to vote in them.  From this, the Tea Party people derive their strength.

For example, Dick Lugar, the senior Senator from Indiana, has been a stalwart on defense and foreign relations for many years.  But this year Senator Lugar is facing a challenge from the Tea Party that reflects on his voting patterns.  In the western part of this country, we have Orrin Hatch, who has been a Senator from Utah for as long as I can remember.  But Orrin Hatch is tacking to the right so as not to offend the Tea Party challengers.

Coming back to pissantry, there was an occasion when Dick Lugar proposed a bill that seemed to displease the former administration of George W. Bush.  When it came time to vote, Dick Lugar did not stand by his convictions but rather he voted against his own bill.  That signifies to me a preposterous degree of pissantry.

As you know, the Representatives in the House are forced to seek election every two years.  It now is clear that Speaker of the House John Boehner is tacking to the right to avoid a challenge in the next election of 2012.  This means that Boehner is standing on shaky ground as he negotiates the settlement having to do with not requiring the government to shut down this evening.

At this point it is quite clear that ideology is intruding its ugly head into this process of shutting the government down.  If the Tea Party representatives had their way, they would shut the government down merely to show their displeasure with the democratic process of funding the government.  As an added thought aside from shutting the government down, the Tea Party people would love to reverse every aspect of the social liberalism such as the right of women to control their own bodies.  In effect, they wish to do away with the Roe v. Wade decision and would define females as second class citizens.

The Tea Party and a high proportion of the Republicans want to control women’s bodies by failing to fund Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood has been one of my favorite charities because it has to do with much more than abortions.  It also has to do with women’s health issues, particularly poor women.  If there is no Planned Parenthood, we will have more unplanned babies and hence more abortions.  The stupidity of this rider to the negotiations is atrocious.  But that is where we are, and Obama and Harry Reid are trying to do their best to lead us on an adult level of conversation.  I might add parenthetically that I am afraid that Obama will enjoy another period of ballessness and will admit the rider on the ban on Planned Parenthood. 

In summarizing my views about politicians, after a long period of observation since 1928, I conclude that not all politicians are pissants but as time has gone on, fewer and fewer of them escape this definition.  If I were asked, “Are all politicians pissants?” I would have to say that with rare exceptions, that is the state of the record.

Now we deal with cupidity.  Cupidity as defined by the dictionaries has much to do with the acquisition of wealth.  It is the acquisition of wealth by any means necessary.  The dictionary definition is, “an inordinate desire for wealth: avarice and greed.”  It is now clear that the Republicans, particularly as represented by the Tea Party people, wish to impose their will on the rest of the American electorate.  Obviously I contend that their desire for wealth also extends to the political spectrum.   Are all politicians guilty of cupidity?  Some are and some are not.  When push comes to shove, I would say that more often than not, politicians, particularly when they face a primary challenge, are much more inclined toward cupidity.

In this formidable essay, I have the feeling that we have not been fair to the pissants.  We lump them together with politicians and cupidity which gives the pissants a bad name.  And it follows forthwith that I formally apologize to all respectable pissants who may in the future buzz around my head.  I know that pissants are blind, but then, so am I.  So we are starting from the same place.  If you detect a degree of cynicism about politicians in my writing, you are probably right.  The American political system is screwed up beyond all recognition.  Perhaps if the American political system can be reconciled, which I doubt will ever happen, pissants and Uncle Ezra’s blindness may be addressed at that time.  But don’t hold your breath.

 

E. E. CARR
April 8, 2011
Essay 542

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: Read another of Pop’s essays concerning pissants here.

In any event, I’m not seeing any way around the current system short of appointing Ezra Carr as supreme dictator of these United States, which I feel is a position that he may not take. Perhaps he has learned from the recently-ex-Pope that taking positions of extreme power when you are rather advanced in age is a poor idea. But hopefully he has not.

THE INTERREGNUM

In ancient times when one king died or was deposed and there was a period before the new king was crowned, it was called an interregnum. Scholars have told me that this term comes from Latin sources. As I attempt to compose this modest essay today on November 25, the American public wants the interregnum to hurry to an end so that the people who drove us into this monumental ditch will be gone and a new administration with fresh faces will take its place.

As bad as things are at the moment, the burden of this essay is to say that it could be worse. To those whose life savings have gone up in smoke with the stock market, I suppose that there will be a challenge to my thought that maybe things could be worse. But as a survivor of the first Depression of 1929, I try to be philosophical about my lost fortune and will try to tell you that it is possible that things could be worse.

Barack Obama was elected on November 4, 2008. He will have to wait 77 days until he is sworn in on January 20, 2009. Contrast that with the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was elected early in November and was not sworn into office until March 4, 1933. In that case, there were 116 days that composed the interregnum. During that time, Herbert Hoover, intent upon enforcing the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, pursued moonlighters with fervor until he formally gave up the office. In the case at hand today, Mr. Bush seems anxious to get out of town and before he leaves, he wishes to impress upon all of us that government oversight of the markets and financial dealings is not the answer to all our problems. But it was in fact the absence of government oversight during the past administration that contributed heavily to the problem we find ourselves in at this moment. But soon Bush and his cronies will depart the scene, much later than I would have liked, and will in time be confined to the likes of Herbert Hoover and Millard Fillmore.

So at the outset we are confronted by an interregnum of 77 days instead of 116 days, which will tell you that things could have been worse. On that same theme, can you imagine what this crisis would have amounted to if it had occurred perhaps a year or more ago, when George Bush was in full flower? The Bush team is filled with ideologues who have no concept of how the markets operate. The ideologues are given to simplistic solutions, such as “stay the course” in the Iraq war which has resulted in further casualties.

The ideologues are obsessed with the idea of preventing same-sex marriages as well as the morning after pill. Their obsession with sex and religion does nothing to fix our economic problems. Contrast that with the team that Barack Obama has assembled which is short on ideologues but long on brains and logic. If we are going to fix this problem in our economy, it will come about through brain power, not through obsessions with sex and religion.

So there is one more reason that we should be thankful that the crisis is no worse than it is at the moment. I know that this doesn’t make things all right, but at least it goes to my point that things could have been somewhat worse.

Again as a philosopher, I tell myself that I had no job to lose as those in the financial community did in recent weeks and months. The unemployment rate among white collar workers must be staggering. I cannot help but try to think about where those men and women will turn to find new employment, realizing that thousands of their compatriots are looking for work as well. So I had no job to lose, which I suppose is a benefit in and of itself.

When jobs are lost, generally speaking, health care goes with them. If I had no job to lose, in my case health care is still reasonably well taken care of by Medicare insurance. I know that every increase in Social Security benefits is gobbled up by increases in Medicare premiums but be that as it may, it could have been somewhat worse had I lost medical care and my job as well.

Further on the theme of “things could be worse” is the thought that not having a job to lose means that my mortgage on this house is taken care of. As a matter of fact, I have lived in this house for forty years and the mortgage was retired a good many years ago. So I am not fearful that my loss of a job will lead to foreclosure on this house. That in and of itself is a large relief.

Finally, we come to the thought about educating children, particularly in college. As life has worked out for me, my children are beyond the age of fifty and both have been college educated. So that thought no longer troubles me, which makes it clear that, at least in my case, things could have been worse.

Well, there are four or five thoughts which pursue the burden of this essay, that things could have been worse. I fully realize that offering a philosophical thought that things could be worse does not restore your account at the broker’s office. The same is true in my case as well. But as a survivor of the first Depression, it is the duty of every ancient essayist to point out that there may be other considerations that might make one feel a bit better. But having said that, I am chewing my fingernails down to the white knuckles on my fingers in the hope that Treasury Secretary Paulson will soon get out of town, perhaps, in my hope, immediately. This morning Paulson was attempting to explain how his new stimulus package would work. This man is terribly confused and when he started talking the market was up 130 some points. Shortly after his message was delivered, the market was in minus territory by 60 points. How this man ever became the chairman of Goldman Sachs is a mystery to me, just as it is a mystery why George Bush picked him to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Perhaps the explanation for the Bush action was that he was an old crony who is a rich man. But when Paulson sets out to explain a situation to the financial community and to observers such as myself, his thoughts are thoroughly mangled.

But look at it this way. If we had 116 days to deal with Paulson and Bush during the interregnum, we would still have five days left in November, 31 days in December, 31 days in January, 28 days in February, and four days in March. Boys and girls, as bad as the news is, I am here to tell you that things could have been worse. In the parliamentary system of government, when an election takes place, the newly elected appointee assumes office the following day. I intend to devote whatever is left of my great fortune to promoting the parliamentary means of government as an effort to save the citizens of this great country from the interregnums that have taken place in recent years.

E. E. CARR
November 25, 2008
Essay 349
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: It’s always nice to learn new words. Interregnum is one that I was missing. Now, it’s worth noting that this essay is nominally about how things could be worse, but much of it is spent covering how things could be worse for Pop specifically. I remember having similar thoughts back in 2008, mainly along the lines of “gee, I’m glad I don’t have to look for a job for four years.”

Still, though, even if Pop and I skirted by largely unscathed, 2008 was ultimately not comparable to a 30’s-era depression for many people at all. It was bad, of course, but nowhere near that bad. Unless you were making unfortunate investment decisions, anyway.

11/04/08: AMERICA REJOINS THE CIVILIZED WORLD

Shortly after the results of the most recent presidential election were confirmed at 11 PM, our eldest grandson called me. Connor Shepherd is a 24-year-old grandson who lives and works in San Francisco. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 2007, and spent the next year in Japan perfecting his use of the Japanese language. Connor called me to exclaim about the spontaneous celebrations that he had witnessed on television taking place after the election of Barack Obama. Connor asked me, as his grandfather, whether any such thing had taken place during my lifetime. I thought for a moment and then told Connor that the only comparable demonstration that I could remember took place on August 15, 1945. That was the day that the Japanese Empire surrendered to the United States and signified the end of World War II. For me, that was an emotional day, just as the election of Barack Obama was a happy occasion as well as an emotional one.

For the last eight years, the current administration has told the rest of the world that it is going to be our way or the highway. On more than one occasion, George Bush has enunciated the thought that if you are not with us, you must be against us. There was no room in the middle for neutrals. Your country was either on our side or it was our opposition.

Those eight years have been spent in alienating other countries. For friends and foes alike, the American government has stepped on their toes and poked fingers in their eyes. I believe it is fair to say that the Bush-Cheney operation was the epitome of arrogance. I have been watching elections since 1928. In that 80 year span, I believe that this is an occasion when the American electorate told the current administration that they had had enough and wanted the current occupants of the White House to leave as soon as possible.

But more than a simple rejection of George Bush and Richard Cheney, this election celebrated the triumph of intellectualism over the lack of ideas and know-nothingism of the Bush administration. For the first time since Bill Clinton won the presidency, the American electorate welcomed sophisticated education to the Presidency. In and of itself, this is a triumph to be noted and it marks our return to civilized society.

One further fact has to do with the color of Barack Obama’s skin. This is the first time that this signal honor has been bestowed upon a person with African roots. Prior to the election, one poll suggested that at least 17% of the American electorate intended to vote against Obama simply because of his race. Obviously, Obama had a difficult time overcoming this blind prejudice. But he did that in grand style and rolled up a victory that could be described as a landslide.

It seems appropriate to inject a personal note here. For all of my long life, I have been a liberal Democrat. I offer that as an objective assessment of my beliefs. For years I have chafed at and been outraged by the inequalities that people of Afro-American ancestry have endured. The triumph of a black man such as Obama is a sweet moment for all of us who identify ourselves as liberal Democrats.

Following the election of Barack Obama, a column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times contained a prayer that seems appropriate for this occasion. In 1959, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was addressing the Hawaiian legislature. Dr. King quoted this prayer by a preacher who had once been a slave. It goes like this:

“Lord, we ain’t what we want to be.
We ain’t what we ought to be.
We ain’t what we’re gonna be.
But thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

It seems to me that this former slave captured the moment. There is much to say for “Thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

Barack Obama’s victory has led to celebrations throughout the civilized world because they know that we are now going to rejoin them. The fact that this country can nominate a black man for the Presidency is a triumph without equal. For more than 400 years in this country, the people of African descent have been at the bottom of our social order. And as the Bible says, “The last shall now be first.” I am a non-believer in religious affairs, but to that thought I must say “Amen.”

Near the conclusion of my conversation with Connor Shepherd, I told him of the widely publicized photograph of the American sailor kissing a military nurse in the middle of Times Square in New York City when World War II ended. It revived my soul to relive those old moments. But the more I thought about what had happened in this election of Barack Obama, tears came to my eyes and at the conclusion of our discussion, Connor told me twice that he loved me. The tears caused my voice to falter and I was unable to tell Connor that he always enjoyed my love. In a case like this that happens once in a lifetime, it seems to me that crying is the manly thing to do. In my case, I had no choice but to do it.

In the preceding paragraphs, I have tried to tell you about the emotional celebrations that accompanied the surrender of Japan in the Second World War. The nation that used to be our enemy is now our ally. And of interest, our eldest grandson speaks the Japanese language and is peculiarly suited to understand the mindset of the Japanese people. Liberal Democrats are hopeful people. My hope is that before many more months pass, Barack Obama will turn many of our former enemies into allies as we have done in the case of Japan. I believe that he will do that.

Again a small personal note… When the surrender of the Japanese government was announced, I was at my home in St. Louis. At that point, I had completed 28 months of foreign military service and there were orders in my hands to report to a base in Greenwood, Mississippi. There were hundreds of bases like Greenwood that were preparing for the final assault on the Japanese homeland. Objective observers commented that in defending the homeland, the Japanese could inflict as many as one million casualties on American soldiers. I did not look forward to the assault on the Japanese homeland, but as a soldier I knew that I had no choice. But in the final analysis, it all ended well. I am grateful for that outcome, and I am also grateful for the fact my grandson speaks the Japanese language so well. Again, I express my hope that if we have turned Japan into our ally, there is hope for other enemies to become our friends as well. At least Barack Obama will not step on their toes and poke fingers into their eyes.

E. E. CARR
November 9, 2008
Essay 343
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I was a Freshman in college that year. My whole dorm went out to Grant park to see him win. I feel nostalgic every time I think about it — the energy there was absolutely unreal. I actually remember talking to Connor later this night and he told me about what Pop said here. It’s kinda funny to be finally hearing it from the other side.

These six years have been by no means flawless. We’ve seen a lot of mistakes and a lot of spinelessness but at the end of the day this administration has never come close to being the perpetual trainwreck that characterized 2000-08.

On a personal note, this is for whatever reason one of the first essays in a long time to provide me with a true temporal anchor, probably because my memory of this particular event was so strong. Almost everything that has been published on this site up until this point was written AFTER I started my first year of college. I’m 23 now, but still occasionally have trouble acknowledging that Northwestern is more than a year behind me now — coming rapidly up on two. So I have this dissonance where about four hundred essays materialized between now and the Yesterday when I found myself in Grant park with half of Chicago, feeling absolutely electrified.

IS IT CELEBRITY OR A CASE OF NOTORIETY?

Astonishment at the antics of American politicians does not come easily to this old geezer of ancient vintage. However, the events of the past two days have caused this old gaffer a full-fledged case of complete astonishment.

On July 29, 2008 Barack Obama held a rally in the town of Springfield, Missouri. That city is a pleasant place which has no distinction other than the fact that it is located near the borders of the great states of Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. During the rally, Senator Obama remarked that, among other things, he did not look like the pictures of presidents that are printed on our currency. I took no notice of that announcement because I believe that I have no resemblance to the pictures on the currency of the United States. But John McCain took great umbrage to the remarks of Mr. Obama and McCain and his handlers flew into a bit of a fit.

All of this flowed from the innocent remark that Obama’s face did not resemble the faces of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

Almost immediately, they produced a television commercial with what they called “true celebrities” and dismissed, for example, Obama’s speech to 200,000 Berliners saying that it gave him no right to call himself a celebrity. My recollection is that Obama on no occasion ever made a claim that he was a celebrity. Quite to the contrary, Obama is saying that he is the son of a Kansas farm girl and was raised largely by his grandmother after the father deserted the family at Barack’s age of two. Obama has worked very hard to dispel the idea that he is an elitist. He is much more at home playing basketball with a bunch of ditch diggers and auto mechanics. No claim was ever made in the Springfield meeting that Obama sought celebrity status. Yet McCain and his handlers insisted that by saying that he did not resemble the faces of the people pictured on American currency, Obama was playing the race card. I am astonished that they would make that conclusion as well as by the course they took in their commercial.

My astonishment rose from the fact that they were able to use Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as their measure of true celebrities. Those two self promoters are the stuff of The National Enquirer, a newspaper that is found at the bottom of the stacks of newsstands. One of the reasons that we watch Chris Matthews on MSNBC is that he has long since decided that any mention of those two overindulged “celebrities” would be completely banned from his program. I am told that Britney Spears has even been threatened with confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Being confined to a mental hospital would hardly seem an appropriate qualification for a genuine celebrity.

If John McCain is using Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in his presidential bid, it would be safe to assume that his campaign is in desperate shape.

My astonishment at the alleged reference to the race card brought me face to face with my own case of celebrity, which I now suspect may become an issue of notoriety. On the same day that Senator Obama is alleged to have played the race card, the federal authorities in Washington announced the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who is the oldest Republican in terms of service in the United States Senate.

The indictment alleges that Senator Stevens accepted the rebuilding of his vacation home with all sorts of gadgets to make it more luxurious. It also alleges that he got a very favorable deal on a Land Rover furnished by the contractor. Senator Stevens overlooked reporting the gifts, which is required under penalty of prosecution, when he signed his name to a form having to do with gifts to politicians of senatorial caliber. You may recall that Senator Stevens is an advocate of the “bridge to nowhere,” which was a bridge costing hundreds of millions of dollars that would serve an island in Alaska with a population of only perhaps 50 people. Senator Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, became so angered by the bridge to nowhere that it may never be built. I believe that Senator Coburn is usually an insane man, but in this case I trust that he is on the right track.

But the issue of celebrity with respect to Senator Stevens goes much further and involves your old essay writer. From March of 1966 until September of 1969, the Carr family occupied a residence on Jordan Road in Bethesda, Maryland. In 1968, Senator Stevens was first elected to the American Senate and bought the house immediately next door to my house. For nearly 40 years now, I have let it be known that I owned the house next door to Senator Stevens’ residence, which makes me, in my own estimation, a true full-fledged celebrity. It might also be noted that in the years in question, I was a lobbyist for AT&T who had the great and good fortune to live next door to a United States Senator. In point of fact, I never saw Senator Stevens or his wife or any of the children who resided in the home next to my own. Occasionally two boys, who may or may not have been the sons of Senator Stevens, played a raucous game of basketball in the back yard, but they were never introduced to anyone. There was a sense of foreboding about the Stevens house.

Washington is a town of “out-of-towners” whose desire to make friends in Washington soon becomes obvious. But in the case of Senator Stevens’ house, none of my neighbors had ever visited or associated with the residents of that house. But nonetheless, among my fellow lobbyists I did nothing to discourage the idea that I was close to Senator Stevens in view of our residences on Jordan Road. Now, however, with the indictment of Senator Stevens, I suspect that my celebrity status has begun to slip and that it will be necessary for me to conceal my “non-involvement” with him to avoid a case of notoriety.

But there you have a case of celebrity turning into a case of notoriety. Since the indictment, I no longer introduce myself as the former owner of a house next door to the Stevens residence in Washington. Senator Stevens has demanded a quick trial, which apparently will be held some time in September. If the trial is held in Washington, as opposed to Alaska, I suspect that Senator Stevens will be a full-fledged case of notoriety and my status as a celebrity will go down with the sinking of the Stevens warship. But such are the ways of Washington. Harry Truman said that if you want a good friend in Washington, you should buy a dog. I can tell you from personal experience that Senator Stevens had no dog in Washington, so perhaps he brought this on himself.

If John McCain has the backing of Senator Stevens, as well as the backing of celebrities such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, perhaps he will win the forthcoming election in a runaway.

E. E. CARR
August 5, 2008
Essay 330
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: I am afraid that this website has done nothing to reduce Pop’s notoriety. The site has had 1,334 unique visitors since its inception — not a terribly terribly high number, but still not bad! 139 people have taken the time to visit the About Ezra page, to boot. About seven people come read essays every day — I’m not sure this is sufficient to qualify as a celebrity or not; perhaps I need to do more advertising. I wonder if Ted would endorse this website?

ANOTHER DOSE OF THEM RANDOM THOUGHTS

All things considered, my mother spoke less than perfect English. Her rural background often seeped through in her manner of speaking. While she may have made grammatical mistakes and mispronunciations, the burden of her message was always clear. If she were alive today, there is some doubt that she would read my essays. But perhaps she might. My essays would interfere with her reading the St. Louis Post Dispatch, a great newspaper in the decades before 1960, and her reading of her Bible. She was fond of reading the Bible and when she had a passage that she liked, she would underline it, using a fountain pen. Upon her death, her Bible had very few passages that had escaped the underlining of Lillie’s fountain pen. But if she were to read my essays, Lillie would say, “Boy, you have already given them a large dose of them random thoughts of yours. Now, are you going to give them another dose?” Sort of sheepishly, I would be obliged to respond to her question by saying that “Yes, I am.”

 

My first random thought has to do with a report that our Secretary of Defense, a Mr. Gates, is having trouble with the United States Air Force in carrying out his orders. As Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates is the superior of the Army Chief of Staff, the Naval command structure, the Marine Corps Commandant, the Coast Guard hierarchy, and the Air Force’s command structures, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is supposed to have unified the services. He is the boss of all of these people.

Today is April 25, 2008. This morning the powerful Mr. Gates lamented that he could not get the United States Air Force to do what needed to be done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Gates said this morning that there are many targets of opportunity in those two countries that needed to be bombed. He called them “targets of opportunity.” Mr. Gates seems quite certain that our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are being hampered by the Air Force’s intransigence. Perhaps those targets of opportunity have a big “T” on their roofs so that our precision bombers may have a better opportunity to hit them.

History will record that at one point in the life of Sergeant Ezra Carr, he had a hand in dropping bombs on enemy targets. Whether they were legitimate “targets of opportunity” was rarely discussed. In those days, that term was unknown to me. The point was to fly over the target, to drop the bombs, and then to fly away as quickly as possible. Warfare has made many advances since I had a hand in the armed forces.

These days there are drones that are unmanned that can fly over targets of opportunity, take television pictures of those targets and drop bombs on them. This would seem like great stuff to me in that there are no pilots and crewmen to lose. If a drone is shot down, all we have lost is a drone, not a pilot or crewmembers. But Mr. Gates has a lament that won’t go away.

According to the Secretary of Defense, who is none other than this Mr. Gates, the Air Force requires that full-fledged pilots must operate the drones. It takes about 18 months to turn out a full-fledged pilot in the Air Force. According to the Secretary of Defense, other services such as the Marine Corps, the Army, and the Navy use less-qualified people to operate the drones. This arrangement means that flyers can go fly their missions while less-qualified people can operate the drones.

I am at a loss to understand why it takes a fully-qualified pilot to operate a drone, as the Air Force requires. If a drone, for example, flies over an outdoor meeting being addressed by Osama Bin Laden using a lectern together with a slide projector, with an audience of say perhaps 1,500 Al Qaeda members, this would seem to be a legitimate target of opportunity. Obviously the drones carry bombs under their wings or in their bellies. It seems to me that a Private First Class could push the button in the Headquarters drone machine operation that would release the bombs, just as well as a Rhodes Scholar who holds a fully-qualified pilot’s license in the United States Air Force. But the Air Force adamantly refuses to operate the drone machines unless a fully qualified pilot is sitting at the drone machine control center. This refusal means that targets of opportunity go unbombed and Osama can complete his lecture to the terrorists unharmed.

As an old flyer of airplanes with bombs on them, I must wonder what in the world this dispute is about. But the Air Force demands that only fully-qualified pilots sit behind the drone machine while the other services say that it can be done with lower level employees. My guess is that a janitor could release the bombs just as well as a fully-qualified pilot in the United States Air Force. But that is not the way the Air Force sees it.

Mr. Gates is the former president of Texas A&M University. That school must have converted Mr. Gates into a gentleman with a desire to offend no one. If I were the boss of Mr. Gates, I would tell him to quit lamenting this intransigence to the media and to go down to the Air Force headquarters and to kick ass until his leg throbs. Ah, but you see, I am not much of a gentleman, particularly a college-educated gentleman. If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps in Iran are to be decided by such petty jealousies as this, we will still be at war when my great great grandchildren are born.

Speaking of targets of opportunity, shortly after our invasion of Afghanistan when we were hot in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden, the estimable former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said that there were more targets of opportunity in Iraq than in Afghanistan. And so we turned our attention to a diversionary target. Now more than five years later, it seems that we are still pursuing what the generals call “targets of opportunity.”

 

So much for targets. Let us now turn to a term in warfare that only recently became settled in my mind. For the past year or two, the people at the Pentagon, particularly Rumsfeld and now Mr. Gates, have referred to the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war as “asymmetric engagements.” I had never really understood this new term, but I thought I was simply out of date because I had left the military services more than 65 years ago.

I know what symmetry is but “asymmetric” is a new term in that it means that there is no symmetry to the proposition at hand. Recently I learned from some chance encounters with people who report from the Pentagon that “asymmetric warfare” involves insurgencies. There are no soldiers with uniforms on firing bullets at each other, but rather people in the streets wearing t-shirts who lob grenades at our troops. That, my friends, is asymmetric warfare. I may not be the smartest person in the world, but even as an old soldier, it took me a year or more to determine that asymmetric warfare meant an operation against an insurgent force in the streets. I will have to get a lot smarter than that or my application to become a Fulbright Scholar will go down the drain.

 

To turn to another completely random thought, it baffles me beyond belief that our presidential candidates require spiritual advisors. In the beginning, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago made some remarks that are being used to abuse Barack Obama. I have heard Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s remarks in full context, and it seems to me that they are very much in keeping with the traditions of Afro-American preaching. The point is that if you attend an Episcopal church in a fashionable neighborhood in New York City, you will be addressed by a person with a string of degrees who will read his sermon and then sit down. The same may be said for other churches, such as the Presbyterians’ or the Congregationalists’. In those churches, there is no give and take between the preacher and the congregation.

On the other hand, there is a black Baptist preacher who is quite typical who preaches here in Summit, New Jersey. Upon beginning to speak, this preacher says that he wishes to have a dialogue with his congregation as opposed to a monologue. And so it is that this congregation shouts encouragement to the preacher. They say “amen” or “halleluiah” and when the preacher really gets after Satan, they might say, “Go get him!” But that is a different style of preaching than what staid church goers may be accustomed to. What Jeremiah Wright in Chicago was preaching was the traditional black style of spreading the gospel. But be that as it may, Reverend Wright was Barak Obama’s preacher, not his spiritual advisor. In this case, however, Obama has not been spared from being flayed fore and aft for the remarks of his preacher.

 

Now we turn to one of the candidates, named John McCain, who has at least two spiritual advisors. One of them is named Reverend Hagee, who calls the Catholic Church “a great whore.” I am not sure why Hagee uses this terminology, but he seems to have repeated it on more than one occasion. Hagee is the same figure who said that New Orleans was destroyed by Jesus because they were permitting homosexual parades in the Mardi Gras procession and perhaps they might even approve of homosexual marriages. I suspect that John McCain is kind of slow on the uptake in that he has not only not repudiated what Hagee has had to say, but he has accepted an endorsement from the Reverend Hagee.

And then there is the Reverend Rod Parsley. Reverend Parsley runs a mega-church in Ohio where, among other things, he has waged a battle against the “false religion of Islam.” Reverend Parsley says that this false religion must be destroyed, which I assume would take several millions of American soldiers to do. He also has expressed his violent opposition to gay rights as well as his opposition to the idea that this government should have a separation between church and state. I would say that Reverend Parsley is simply a man who is afflicted by “bonkerdom”. Put simply, he is nuts. But he has not only become a spiritual advisor to Mr. McCain but has also endorsed him as well.

To the best of my knowledge, Senator Clinton has not publicly named her spiritual advisor, if she has one. If she has no spiritual advisor, that may be a reason to vote for her.

 

Well, there you have my random thoughts on a Thursday afternoon in April, 2008. I suspect that before life is done, some more random thoughts may intrude upon my brain and, in accordance with the military code of justice, they will be reported in some of these essays. I hope that the dosage that my mother would have alluded to is within your limits to choke down. But in the final analysis, perhaps it is meritorious that at an advanced age such as mine any thoughts at all will invade my mind. For that, I am grateful. Thank you.

Postscript:
Shortly after the story appeared on the wires about the refusal of the Air Force to fly the missions involving the drones, there was a story from Albuquerque, New Mexico, about Amanda Montoya. One morning, Miss Montoya was watching a pornographic movie in the apartment that was rented by a good friend, who happened to be male. One way or another, Miss Montoya concluded that the actor in the pornographic film was, in fact, the boyfriend who was watching the movie with her. She did what any red-blooded American girl would do. She went to the kitchen and got a long-handled steel knife and stabbed her boyfriend in the face. The boyfriend, who was clad only in his underwear shorts, began to run and left the apartment and was running down the street with Miss Montoya in full pursuit. The cops came and not only charged her with attempted assault but she had also left her eight-month-old child in the apartment while she chased her boyfriend down the street. So she was charged with child abuse.

It seems to me that if the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates, had a bit more of the spirit that moved Miss Montoya, the Air Force would be a lot more willing to carry out his orders. But in the final analysis, Mr. Gates is a gentleman who watches few pornographic movies. Perhaps if he were to watch porno movies, it might give him the courage to make certain that the Air Force followed his instructions. But in the end, friends and foes alike are entitled to believe that military discipline in our armed services is not what it used to be.

E. E. CARR
April 24, 2008
Essay 311
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Well, this completes the Random Thoughts trilogy of early 2008. It must have felt pretty good to empty his brain of all these thoughts bouncing around there. Unfortunately publishing this essay will probably serve to bring them back, though they are admittedly less pressing now.

Speaking of Asymmetric Engagements, I think drone strikes probably qualify there too. Sure, it’s not symmetric for a marine corps to be fighting a band of dudes who know the town and use guerrilla tactics. But it’s also not symmetric when one side is gambling with lives and the other is gambling with equipment. I’m all for controlled drone strikes but we have to be very very careful when and where we use them because they’re rapidly becoming one of the most hated symbols of the US abroad. Part of this problem, I thought, stemmed from inexperienced people controlling the drones and hitting the wrong targets. Turns out they’re all pilots — makes me glad that the janitor isn’t behind that joystick after all.

JUST WORDS

A good many years ago, Will Rogers, the noted American humorist, said of himself, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Judging by the time it has taken to nominate the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, it appears that Will Rogers probably had it right.

At this point, we are down to only two contenders for the nomination. Recently, one of the contenders said that her opponent’s speeches were “just words.” To people whose only currency is words, that statement cuts like a knife. Newspaper writers and readers are involved in the debate as to whether the stories they write and read are “just words.” The same may be said for authors of books. And of course, ancient essayists are not pleased by Mrs. Clinton’s dismissal of those who are wordsmiths. Wordsmiths such as myself are not angry with the New York Senator; they simply wish for this marathonic debate to come to a close. Before this issue is put to rest, those of us who write words and read them might offer a rejoinder to Mrs. Clinton’s remarks.

There are words of love and words of hate. There are words of hope and words of despair. There are words of happiness and words of tragedy. And there are some words that can inspire a nation. So at this point, this old essayist would like to offer a rejoinder to the remark that our expressions are meaningless and they amount to nothing more than “just words.”

In 1939, war was declared in Europe and by 1941, Adolf Hitler and the forces of his army had conquered much of Europe and had neutralized many of the other countries as well. Only the English Channel separated England from France and the rest of the continent that was controlled by Hitler. It was up to Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England, to inspire and to rally his nation. In one of his first addresses, Winston Churchill said, “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, sweat, and tears.” That phrase defined the seriousness of the problem and I would submit that they are not “just words.”

Remember that Great Britain stood alone from 1939 until December 7, 1941 when the United States entered the conflict. It was in this period of loneliness that Churchill said, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills and we will fight on the sea. We shall never surrender.” Those words from Winston Churchill inspired his country and its allies to continue the struggle. They were more than “just words.”

After the United States entered the war, Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation. I heard that broadcast. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” May I suggest that his statement was more than “just words”?

Some 25 years after the Roosevelt broadcast, one of his successors said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That of course was John Fitzgerald Kennedy and many found his words to be inspirational, not “just words.”

Then there are words of yearning and devotion. During the English occupation of Ireland, which lasted more than 900 years, finding employment by young Irishmen was often difficult. Many of them enlisted in the British army to find some kind of employment. A good many of them found themselves in the hottest battles of the British Army and many were maimed. One such soldier was named Johnny. When he returned from Ceylon and the battles there, his mother said to him, “Johnny, we hardly knew ye.” “Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, ye’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.” But after that regrettable assessment of Johnny, I suspect that the Irish mother would say, “Johnny, ye’ve been too long away.” So you see even a mother uses words. And Irish women construct those sentiments in the English language that may seem quaint to some, but charming and graceful to the rest of us. Johnny’s mother missed him and the words she used were words of yearning. So when a political candidate dismisses words in general, there are others who believe that words have meaning and often they are in communion with our deepest thoughts.

And then there are words that tend to cloak violent acts in more acceptable terms. Again for this example we turn to the Irish. There is a poem and song about a town near Lake Killarney called Aghadoe. The hero in that story is an outlaw pursued by the Redcoats of the British Army. In the end, the Irish outlaw was tracked to his hiding place and was shot to death. To those who believe that words are just words, the headlines would read, “Irish patriot shot to death.” But that is not the style of Irish poetry. Irish poets would phrase it much more gently by saying that “The bullets found his heart.” So you see that even in acts of violence, words can be found to soften the blow and to make it more poetic.

And then there are words of lament. Again we turn to an anonymous Irish poet, who wrote of the death of one of Ireland’s great leaders, Owen Roe O’Neill. The poem says:

“Sheep without a shepherd
When the snow blots out the sky,
Why did you have to leave us, Owen?
Why did you have to die?”

The Celts place their own construction on the English language as do we Americans. But in the end our language consists of words that no politician should dismiss.

The last two examples that I have to offer in defense of words and wordsmiths involve two disparate individuals who made their living by using words. One was a nun and the other was an atheist.

The nun was an elderly woman of the Catholic faith who appeared regularly on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Her name is Mother Angelica and she was entertaining to watch. Among other things, part of her attraction was that Mother Angelica tended to laugh at herself when she made a mistake. She preached the gospel as well as selling all kinds of religious jewelry and trinkets that are offered by that network. My recollection is that it was difficult to turn on EWTN without encountering Mother Angelica.

However, six or eight years ago Mother Angelica was struck down by a stroke, and she is now incapable of uttering a single intelligible word. She is spending the rest of her life in a home and is basically mute. She watches television and is interested in events of the day, but those who visit her cannot really report that they have had a conversation with her, but they say that she still has a great sense of humor. It is a matter of a monologue versus a dialogue when speaking to Mother Angelica. A stroke has robbed her of her ability to speak words. I suspect that Mother Angelica would be happy if she could speak some words, even if they were directed at a political candidate. When people are denied the use of words, it is a cruel arrangement.

Then there was Henry L. Mencken, the prolific author and editor. Over his lifetime, Mencken authored more than a hundred books that appeared in hardcover, was the editor of The Baltimore Sunpapers, and founded and directed the magazine American Mercury as well as another magazine, The Smart Set. Mencken’s life was built on words which some found hilarious and others found spiteful. But in the end, Mencken had an active brain that produced millions of words that meant something. Not long before his 70th birthday, Mencken suffered a stroke which denied him the right to put words on paper. In effect Mencken, like Mother Angelica, was robbed of his ability to use words. Apparently he could converse with people who visited him but he was unable to put those words on paper. There is no doubt that if Mencken were alive today, he would take great delight in following the American election primaries. I suspect that Mencken would take great umbrage at the thought that a political rivals’ expressions were “just words.” He would have understood that words convey meaning and promises. But Mencken is gone now and we are left with a candidate who dismisses her opponent’s speeches as “just words.”

I suspect that when you put the magnifying glass on what politicians have to say, it may be true that their statements are “just words.” Those of us who are ancient wordsmiths would hope that their words have meaning. Perhaps when the election is over, if it is ever over, we will find out about the relationship between words and their meaning.

Mother Angelica is of course a practicing Catholic while Henry Mencken was, at heart, an atheist, but words were their business and we are poorer because of the strokes that sentenced them to silence. But they were broadminded people who would find their inclusion in this essay to be a matter of great amusement.

Aside from his statement about the Democratic Party, Will Rogers also said, “I never met a man I did not like.” If Churchill, Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the others mentioned earlier in this essay do not inspire you, I hope you draw inspiration from the remarks of one of America’s favorite humorists, Will Rogers. I believe that Will Rogers might have said that if you pay attention you might learn something, which is a lot better than just dismissing another person’s thoughts as “just words.”

E. E. CARR
April 21, 2008
Essay 308
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Kevin’s commentary: Wow, Pop really took this one to heart. I haven’t seen him present this impassioned of a defense of any particular thing in quite a while. That said, without looking back at the exact context of Clinton’s remarks (for I am a lazy, lazy man), it’s possible that her assault was not on the words themselves but was rather an attack on his ability to deliver his promises.

I think Hillary was faced with an opponent who was an excellent wordsmith but who had limited real world experience. Again without research, I recall that at the time, Obama had pretty much just been a community organizer and junior senator. Though he was effective in both of these roles, his 2008 campaign promised a whole bunch of things. So yes, she was indicting the quality of the speech or the power of his words, but she was not doing so because anything is inherently wrong or weak about the words themselves, rather that she lacked confidence in their author and his ability to realize the world that the words painted.

Which of course has so far turned out to be largely, but not totally, a fair accusation.

You can read more on Mother Angelica on two essays devoted largely to her: PURGATORY and A PAIR OF SABBATH THOUGHTS. Since I am not familiar with Ms. Angelica’s programming she is primarily useful to me as an example of what could have, but did not, happen to Pop. I’m more familiar with H. L. Mencken — the loss of his writing talents was a shame. Thankfully Pop’s remained and he was able to produce several hundred essays in spite of his stroke.

UPON GIVING ADVICE TO THE PRESIDENT

I ordinarily do not give advice to sitting United States Presidents because I know it will probably never reach them and if it does it will probably be ignored. But if my thoughts have any currency at the moment, I would like them to be transmitted to Barack Obama.

Point one is that he should forget totally and without question any idea of bipartisanship for any piece of legislation that originated in Democratic ranks. There will be no bipartisanship on the health bill. If he thinks Olympia Snowe equates to bipartisanship, Mr. Obama has a loose wire. The thought here is that the Republicans are never ever going to agree to bipartisanship, which is their prerogative, and they will be labeled as the party of no.

Secondly, the Republicans believe that the only way they can return to power is by the failure of the Obama administration. Rush Limbaugh made it clear that he wants the Obama administration to fail. When the Republicans cast nay votes on such things as health insurance, you may rest assured that they wish for the Obama administration to fail, after which they can return to power. Any student of bargaining will tell you that.

Point three is that Obama needs to develop a mean streak. Senators ignore his council with impunity.

George Bush was the worst President in the history of the United States. But he did have a mean streak and Senators did what they were told. For example, John Warner, the old-time chairman of several Senate committees, and Dick Lugar, also an old-timer from Indiana, introduced on separate occasions two pieces of legislation. When they heard from the White House, they were forced to vote against their own bills. Were they humiliated? Of course, but Obama needs to develop a mean streak. When people ignore his council, it cannot be done without consequence.

Well, these are my thoughts for today on trying to improve the Obama administration. I expect that they will never reach the White House and, if they do, they will probably continue to be ignored. But be that as it may, it is good to get them off my chest. Obama should not ignore my 17 years of labor relations experience as well as my negotiations with foreign entities and my experience as a lobbyist. Perhaps he will ignore my thoughts to his own peril but there is very little I can do about that. If the President wishes to indulge in fantasies of bipartisanship, there is not much that I can do to help him. But he is from Chicago and perhaps sooner or later he will realize that Olympia Snowe by herself does not represent bipartisanship.

Matt Fritz, my old friend and mentor from St. Louis, would have had a thought about the apparent negotiations going on in Washington regarding the health bill. Matt would have said, “On with the rat killing.” For better or worse, that thought sums up my view of the so-called negotiations in Washington. I live in hope that tomorrow will bring better news. Let us see what happens.

E. E. CARR
October 12, 2009
Essay 413
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: It occurs to me that if ol’ Barack had actually read this, maybe he would have seen the government shutdown coming.

A LITTLE MORE OF THISA AND A LITTLE MORE OF THATA

Ben Bernie was the subject of a previous essay distributed recently.   Bernie was a very popular band leader who led an orchestra from the 1920s through the 1950s.  You may recall that when his orchestra pleased him, he would say, “Yousa, yousa, yousa!”  And when he would introduce a variety of songs, he would call them, “a little bit of thisa and a little bit of thata.”  This essay is another in the genre of “a little bit of thisa and a little bit of thata.”  There is no logical connection between one subject and another.  Each one stands on its own.  So with that thought, let’s try “a little bit of thisa and…thata.”

 

You may recall that Clarence Thomas is one of our nine Supreme Court Justices.  You may also recall that a few years ago in his confirmation hearings, he was confronted by a woman named Anita Hill who accused him of sexual improprieties.  In the end, a Republican Congress approved his nomination to the Supreme Court, where he resides now some dozen years later.

Thomas rarely asks a question or participates during the arguments before the Court, and so it was surprising to find his comments on the subject of education to the winners of a high school essay contest.

One way or another, Clarence Thomas got wound up in his remarks to the high school essayists and advocated a return to the spirit of education he remembered from his childhood.  According to Thomas, he wants to see a crucifix and a flag in every classroom.  My memory is that the crucifix is a fixture of the Roman Catholic Church.  I had no idea that Clarence Thomas had such an education.  After his remarks, I still doubt that point in his biography.

Nonetheless, on two or three occasions in his speech to the students, he made the point about the crucifix and the flag.  As a libertarian, I have no trouble whatsoever with the flag in every classroom.  However, in a public school setting, I doubt that the crucifix has a place.  But worse than that, is the thought that this mentality must affect his decisions on the Supreme Court.

Let us say that a Jew or a non-believing citizen were to appear before the Supreme Court and expect justice to be rendered impartially.  I have got to say that a man with Thomas’s predilections would not render an impartial decision.  Clarence Thomas votes almost totally with Antonin Scalia, another Supreme Court Justice.  Scalia is the thinker in that combination.  Scalia contends that God and religion are an important factor in every decision taken by mankind. Scalia’s views are heavily weighted toward his Roman Catholic faith.  On the subject of same-sex marriages, Scalia has been known to lecture that, if such events took place, citizens would be free to practice bestiality, which of course is the term for copulation with cattle and other beasts.

For those of us who do not hold the Clarence Thomas mindset, this is a frightening proposition.  But that is the state of the record in America’s highest court.  Anyone who expects justice from these two may be sorely disappointed.  And to think, there are two more, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito who share these preposterous views.  So much for Clarence Thomas and his views, for the time being.

 

Now we turn to a subject having to do with the English language, which has always been close to my heart.  I am greatly in favor of neologisms that expand the English language.  At the same time, I am concerned about bastardizations of the language which seem to outnumber the legitimate neologisms by a large margin.  There are two bastardizations that we find used today which come primarily from our government in Washington, DC.  The first is “partnering.”  Under this construction of the language, we are not going to do something in cooperation with another country or entity but rather we are “partnering” with them.  About all I can say is that this term is easily understood but it is not a respectable neologism.

The second word that has come into current use is “referencing.”  If I understand the term correctly, for example, a person would not consult or refer to the dictionary but rather he would “reference” it.  A sports reporter might reference the Mets’ ball game of yesterday rather than reporting on it or referring to it.  And if John Jones were in a partnership with Joe Sweeney, he might reference the partnership as a means of saying that he is partnering with the other fellow.

 

Now we take up the thought of presidential gifts.  The New York Times reported that when Mr. Obama and his wife visited with the Queen of England, he presented her with a gift.  There are those skilled in bureauceaticize who would say that Obama “gifted” Her Majesty.  May I submit “gifted” as another complete bastardization.

All things considered, these are bastardizations that seem to flow from the mouths of bureaucrats in Washington.  They are in a league with the word “tasked” and are almost as bad as “you know.”

 

While I am on the subject of the English language, I wish to commend the new President for his use of that language, with two exceptions.  The first is his tendency to not use periods.  He will state a thought and then will say “and” in an elongated fashion and then set off on the second sentence in the thought.  My advice to Obama is to get rid of the “elongated ands.”  In the speeches that I have followed when he is  speaking extemporaneously, Obama continually uses the word “to” and pronounces it as “ta.”  In this construction, he might say, “I am going ta Trinidad and Tobago after I get finished with going ta Turkey and Baghdad.”  These are small points, I understand, but Obama is a better speaker than that.

And so it is that I have completed this essay on thisa and thata until some more thoughts that would embrace Ben Bernie’s idea pop into my head.  When that something else comes along, I will reserve the thought to say “Yousa, yousa, yousa!”

 

E. E. CARR

April 19, 2009

Essay 376

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: I think Obama took Pop’s commentary too seriously. Obama ends speeches all the time these days with a vocalization of his punctuation, like “Under the Affordable Care Act, if you like your plan, you can keep it. Period.” He does it all the time.

It’s distressing how many people charged with defending the constitution haven’t bothered to read the first amendment.