Archive for the February Category


I realize that talking about religion is often considered a third rail in the public discourse in this country.  The following essay is a dispassionate view of the Muslim belief that martyrs, such as those blowing up dozens of their fellow citizens, both Muslims and Christians, will go directly to Paradise.  I am not an expert on heavenly rewards that accrue to Christians and Muslims, but I assume that the Muslim Paradise is a lovely place.  It is made more so by the promise of the Ayatollahs and the imams that martyrs will be rewarded by an entitlement to varying numbers of virgins.  The number of virgins seems to range from 20 in one case to as many as 100 in another case.

I am not a Muslim, so I do not know how to pick the best deal on entering Paradise.  But several questions occur to me.  For example, where is Paradise located?  Is it adjacent to the Christian heaven?  Is it located high up in the sky and, if so, what are we going to do about the lack of oxygen and cold temperatures that occur at high altitudes?  The next question would have to do with whether my bodily remains will be transported to Paradise.  Otherwise, how can I walk around Paradise and enjoy the company of the many virgins who will accompany me?  Until the Ayatollahs find it in their hearts to answer such innocent questions as these, I believe that I will continue to withhold my membership from their mosques.

Does it strike anyone as peculiar that martyrs are always male figures?  Even the Catholic Church has admitted female nuns to sainthood.  But from what I have read – and I do not read Arabic – it seems that Paradise is reserved for males.  The only females who have ever been mentioned in my presence have been the virgins.  This would suggest that the male domination here on earth would continue when Paradise has been achieved.

Now a particularly vexing question occurs when a prospective martyr is told that he will receive somewhere between 20 and 100 virgins.  The question has to be, “What in the world is he supposed to do with them?”  Is he supposed to hold hands?  Is he supposed to neck with them?  Is he supposed to make love with them?  According to the Koran or whatever the Muslims read those questions are left unaddressed.  If the virgins are supplied for the sole purpose of gazing at them, it would suggest that most martyrs would consider it a bad deal.  So until we know what a martyr is supposed to do with the virgins, I again will withhold my judgment.

Now it has always been assumed that the virgins who welcome the martyrs to Paradise are young.  But clearly that is absolutely not the case.  I have not done extensive research on this subject, but I assume that there are Muslim virgins in their 50s and 60s and some are even on Social Security.  Who gets to assign the virgins to the martyrs?  Does the martyr get to pick them out?  Let us say that a martyr is attracted to skinny women.  If such a virgin were assigned to a martyr who preferred fat virgins, could he reject her?  The same would apply to hefty women who might be bigger than the martyr himself.  So the point here is that in assigning virgins to the martyr, it does not follow that all of them will be young women, or thin women or fat women.

Now let us consider some practical matters about the virgins and martyrs.  If on the average there are 50 virgins supplied to the martyrs, the question is, who is supposed to keep peace among them.  Jealousies inevitably arise between women and their male counterparts as well. But I suppose that before long the martyr will soon become disgusted by the catfights that take place among his assigned virgins.  And what are we going to do with taking turns?  One of the sources of irritation would have to be that if the martyr, for example, showed some preference for one virgin over another.  Supposing he liked to hold hands or even neck with his virgin, this might become a scandal among the other virgins in the harem.

There is one thought that intrudes here.  Are we always to assume that every virgin is a Muslim?  Suppose a Christian or Jewish woman were included in the virgins assigned to the martyr.  Do you believe that if the martyr made love to such a virgin he would be committing a grave sin?  I do not know the answers to such ponderous questions as this, but it seems to me that the arrangement in Paradise is a lot like it is on this earth.  Here women are expected to provide meals and, I suppose, sexual service to the observant Muslims.  But in Paradise it would seem that much the same deal would apply with the exception that most of the residents of Paradise seem to be male martyrs.  Do you suspect that there may be some homosexuality taking place?  I can’t answer that question, but as a non-believer I try not to get mixed up in religious affairs.

Now another question comes into view.  When the martyr straps his suicide belt of explosives around his chest, and when he reaches the prescribed target, he will blow himself to smithereens.  I know a little bit about explosives and I can tell you that anyone in the vicinity of a large  explosive will be lost forever.  There is no better way to describe what happens than to say, being blown to smithereens.  If the martyr cannot enjoy the earthly existence as a man with two legs and two arms etc., and he is blown to smithereens, what is there left in Paradise for the virgins to claim as their own?  Beyond that, if it is contended that it is not the body that assumes residence in Paradise, one must assume that when the explosives go off in the belt worn by the martyr and destroy his body, he must also suffer the loss of his soul or whatever the Muslims call the inner self.

I am not ready for martyrdom either as a Muslim or as a member of any other religion.  Until all of these questions are answered, I would prefer for the imams and Ayatollahs who espouse sermons on Fridays in their mosques to retire until they have answers to my questions.

And what are we going to do about a virgin who tells the heroic martyr, “Not tonight, dear.”  Does that give him license to call on another virgin?  Or should the martyr sulk?  As a libertarian I continue to be troubled by the discrimination toward female martyrs of the Muslim sect.  What is their reward?  Do you think that in all of the Muslim lands, there are male virgins that can be collected in Paradise for distribution to female martyrs?  And, finally, I know that there are contentions that homosexuality does not exist in Muslim countries.  Don’t you believe it!

That brings up the question, “What is the reward for a gay or a lesbian martyr?”  Would the lesbians have some priority in picking virgins?  These are troubling questions for a non-Muslim infidel to master.  There is one other question having to do with celibacy.  If a celibate male ascended to Paradise, he would be assigned 50 to 75 virgins.  Would he be run out of Paradise because he rejected the use of the virgins?

Before this essay finishes, I would like to ask preachers of Muslim thought, “What rational man believes that complete virginity is the ultimate achievement in life?”  I am aware of the celibacy rules that pertain in some religions but I still shake my head at the thought that any rational man would assume that virginity is the sole ultimate achievement of mankind.

I am dictating this on a cold Thursday, which of course is the day before the Muslim Sabbath.  Tomorrow I will not attend religious services at my nearby mosque even if there were a nearby mosque.  That should not be considered a slight to the Muslims because I do not attend services on the Christian Sabbath.  May I assure all of my readers that I have no intention of becoming a martyr even though the prospects are enticing.

But until the imams and Ayatollahs answer my questions, I will withhold my adherence to their beliefs and I will try to stick around this earth to see whether or not Hosni Mubarak finally discerns that the Egyptian people no longer want his services.



February 10, 2011

Essay 533


Kevin’s commentary: you know, I actually took 2 or 3 classes at Northwestern that touched on this, because middle eastern studies fell into the scope of my major. So I can shed some light! The Qur’an talks a couple times about these “companions” that are promised in addition to the spouses you get. Said companions are supposed to have really pretty eyes and be “ideal,” but that’s pretty much all you get. The companions are gender neutral; women can make it to paradise just like men.

Now, once you get into Hadith, that’s when things start to get pretty messed up. Hadith, for the uninformed, are things that we’re pretty sure that the prophet Muhammad probably said something similar to, at some point.

You might think that it would be crazy to count on the godly reliability of literally any fucking thing that any person who knew Muhammad alleges that the guy said — not to a crowd, not in a temple, just a thing that he at one point told someone. But it’s okay! For the last fourteen hundred or so years there’s been a group of people who have wasted their lives attempting to trace the reliability of thousands and thousands of claims about hadith, much of which were recorded centuries after the death of the prophet. What this means is that if you were rich, or your cousin was related to Aisha, you could say shit like “in the market the other day, I asked Muhammad about the afterlife and he promised me that I would get to bone 70 translucent angel virgin chicks” and boom you have scripture. There are 4000 of these accepted hadith and they’re mostly comical.

(Sitenote: As if the scripture was any better… there are these amazing rules for, say, the mild penalties incurred if a man cheats on his wife, but if he cheats on his wife with the wife of the prophet then you’re supposed to die, etcetc. It’s like, if I was a six year old and someone told me that I got to be the boss, these were the types of “rules” I’d make up. Here’s how the rules work, and here’s how they apply to me.  But my point here is that Hadith are even more baseless and absurd than the rest of the religious texts because they’ve obviously been made up by people in the year 700 who needed the ultimate authority on their arguments to rule in their favor.)

So yeah, Hadith. They’re bonkers and conflict a lot because, as I’ve hopefully made clear, they’re even more horseshit than normal religious texts are, mainly because if you have two guys from pure, reliable bloodlines and one of them says “we got promised 50 virgins” and the other one is more creative and he goes “no we get 70 and also they’re angel virgins” then you basically have to roll with it. There’s a whole secondary corps of people who are, even now, wasting their time trying to mediate between this type of conflict. They take it super seriously. Like, still-put-you-to-death-in-2013-based-on-a-thing-that-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-said-that-someone-said-that-someone-said-that-Muhammad’s-brother-in-law’s-buddy’s-previous-dog’s-owner’s-nephew-heard-Muhammad-say serious.


Oh yeah the point of all this is that the Houris are almost entirely described in the Hadith, so you get gems like these, which have been lifted shamelessly from wikipedia:  “Houris will be so beautiful, pure and transparent that the marrow of the bones of their legs will be seen through the bones and the flesh.”

Also that “they will not urinate, relieve nature, spit, or have any nasal secretions. Their combs will be of gold, and their sweat will smell like musk. The aloes-wood will be used in their censers.”

This one’s probably my favorite though: “Houris do not want wives to annoy their husbands, since the houris will also be the wives of the husbands in the afterlife. “Mu’adh bin Jobal (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘A woman does not annoy her husband but his spouse from amongst the maidens with wide eyes intensely white and deeply black will say: Do not annoy him, may Allah ruin you.” He is with you as a passing guest. Very soon, he will part with you and come to us.”

God’s word right there, if I’ve ever seen it.

I wish I could say I were making this up. I could write a whole second rant like this about suicide bombing’s permissibility (not permissible. You’re cool to die a martyr if you get overwhelmed by enemies and you blow yourself up to take some of them with you, but only if your life is 100% forfeit. If you just walk onto a bus of infidels and blow it up, you’re actually NOT in the clear. Who knew?) but it’s bedtime.




Oh PS, “Not tonight, dear” is grounds for divorce


It is a biological fact that as men age, the more girlfriends they acquire.  Last week, I had a long conversation with just such a girlfriend where the attraction between the two of us goes back for more than 30 years. If you read Ezra’s Essays closely, you will find that the girlfriend was a woman named Georgia Coney, whom I met as she was checking me out at the King’s grocery store here in Short Hills.  Talking to Georgia brought up many fond memories and it also brought memories of two blues songs.

Actually it was only one blues song but it was recorded by two different artists.  That led me into an examination of what inspired these two artists.  The string does not stop here.  It goes on to embrace the history of blues music and then it led to some thoughts about the old timers who wrote and sang the blues such as W.C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.

Now to start at the beginning.  Georgia Coney is a special person who is, according to my view of things, a mere youngster.  To old timers such as myself, anything younger than 70 denotes youngsterhood.  But Georgia has always been a special friend.  She speaks in the soft tones from Albany, Georgia where she was born.  Our relationship was entirely platonic, but if there are unmarried men around Georgia’s age, they are missing a bet by not asking her out for dinner.


For several days, the opening lines of the lyrics of the tune “Georgia” have bedeviled me.  Those lines are:


Georgia, Georgia, no peace I find
Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

That’s where this essay had its inception.  Or, if I may be excused for my bluntness, the essay had its conception after my discussion with Georgia.


Shortly after that conversation, with the song “Georgia” on my mind, I began to think of two artists who recorded that song as a thoroughly blues number.  Those of us who were born on the banks of the Mississippi River have a special resonance for the blues.  I view it as a great art form.

Here is an explanation of the blues:

The Blues… it’s 12-bar, bent-note melody is the anthem of a race, bonding itself together with cries of shared self victimization. Bad luck and trouble are always present in the Blues, and always the result of others, pressing upon unfortunate and down trodden poor souls, yearning to be free from life’s’ troubles. Relentless rhythms repeat the chants of sorrow, and the pity of a lost soul many times over. This is the Blues.

While you are pondering the description of exactly what constitutes the blues, it is my duty to tell you that the two artists who recorded “Georgia,” which has had my head humming for several days, are Willie Nelson and Ray Charles.

As it turns out, Ray Charles dropped his last name of Robinson because he did not wish to be confused with the boxer called Sugar Ray Robinson.  So it was just Ray Charles.  Ray Charles was a masterly musician.  He was totally blind from the age of six onwards, yet he learned to play the piano and before his life was done, he had composed a large number of songs and was also an arranger.  I believe it is fair to say that Ray Charles was a significant figure in popular music for the last quarter of the 1900s.

Aside from his musical talent, there is one other aspect having to do with Ray Charles’s procreative talent.  I always become confused on this subject, but it seems to me that Ray Charles was allegedly married 12 times and produced five children.  On the other hand, perhaps he was only married five times but there were 12 children involved.  I am a generous fellow and I would give Ray Charles the benefit of the doubt by saying he was married 12 times but those unions produced five children.  That has to do with his procreative talents.  The fact is that Ray Charles’s recording of the song “Georgia” was done in the blues tempo and was an extraordinary effort.  It is included in the enclosed CD.

The second artist who also recorded “Georgia” was a man named Willie Nelson.  Willie is still alive and has celebrated his 80th birthday.  According to the publicity furnished by the publishers of Willie’s music,  Willie Nelson is “a hard drinker and a hard liver.”  That makes very little difference because of the excellence of Willie’s recording of “Georgia” as a blues number.  (Also on the CD.)  Whether Willie Nelson has a wife is not known to me.  I do know that for many years Willie Nelson had a bus in which he slept as he was driven from one engagement to another.  Annually, Willie Nelson sponsors a rally to support American farmers, which gives him a special place in my memory.

If you take the opportunity to listen to the CD with recordings of “Georgia” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, I believe that you will be entirely rewarded.

The string of thoughts did not stop with listening to those two songs.  It was my good fortune to grow up on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis.  During the 1930s and even after the world war in the 1940s, there were bands and individual performers who played the blues.  They played the music of W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton.  Those were only two of the composers of blues music.  W.C. Handy is best known for his works which include “The Memphis Blues” and “The St. Louis Blues.”  You may recall the opening lines from “The St. Louis Blues.”  They are:

I hate to see that evenin’ sun go down,
Because that gal of mine has done left this town.

Then the song goes on to identify that gal of his as having a heart “like a rock dropped down in the sea.”


But when I search my memory, it seems to me that no respectable blues music has emerged since perhaps 1955.  It could well be that blues music tended to die with the departure of Louis Armstrong.  Those of you with long memories will recall that Louis Armstrong was the happiest person performing on the American stage.  He was a troubadour for the blues.  Certainly, the blues have much to do with unrequited love.  But it also has to do with laughter as much as with unrequited love.

To a large measure, blues music is kin to Negro spirituals.  They both grew from a sense of deprivation born of starvation and poverty.  Of course, the black people who sing the blues and the Negro spirituals are the ones who have suffered the humiliation that this country inflicted upon them for so many years prior to the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1965.

But I fear that at this late date, the music of the blues is not much  written anymore and not performed either.  I am a devoté of spirituals. And similarly I find the music of the blues entrancing.  It is a time that W.C. Handy, Jelly Roll Morton, Ray Charles, and all the others who wrote still wonderful music are gone.  But maybe there will be a revival of blues music.

But even as I dictate these lines, the thought of Georgia, one of my old girl friends, goes through my mind.  Which is as it should be, because as the song says in the second verse of the lyrics, “Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.”



February 21, 2011

Essay 535


Kevin’s commentary: Unfortunately I have no CD for you, but here’s the duo performing Georgia a few years back. Pop also wrote about Willie nelson in this essay entitled “Mitt and Willie” which I would go ahead and deem a winner.

Also I’d like to go on record that Pop uses a version of “checking me out” which is literal and hopefully far removed the colloquial language of today which would imply something else, especially in the context of girlfriends (which is being used in a similarly literal way here as well).


Every nine weeks I visit a podiatrist associated with the Summit Medical Group.  He takes care of ingrown nails and all of the other problems that afflict the feet.  Francesco is a nice fellow in his early forties who laughingly mentioned that if his children remained in parochial schools, he would have to be working ‘til the age of 100.  I believe that Francesco has five children and I can understand that the fees for attending a parochial school might mount up.  But because Francesco and his wife seem to be ardent Catholics, I thought that paying the fees for parochial school was a mark of their spirituality.  But that is not the case.  The children have decided that they should attend public schools because that is where their friends are.  And so it is that I assume that Brother Francesco can work only until the age of 85 or so before he quits rather than hold on until he approaches the century mark.

On my last visit to Francesco we were having a rational discussion of religious preferences.  As he was counting his savings by having his children now attending public schools, he surprised me by asking what religion I observed.  This was a surprise to me because most professionals never touch that subject, but we were talking about it.  In my case, I am quite happy to discuss my religious preferences or non-preferences.

When I told Francesco that I was a non-believer, he pondered the question for an instant and then he said, “You mean you are an atheist?”  Before I had a chance to reply, Francesco said something to the effect, “Oh, I see; you are a non-believer.”  If I had been faster on my feet, I would have told him, “Yes, I am an atheist, an agnostic, and also an infidel.”  This was to be said in the spirit of friendliness.  I like Francesco.  My mother used to jest that I was an infidel, with which I cheerfully agreed; she was right on the mark.

There have been occasions when I have been a patient in the hospital and preachers have come around to offer me “spiritual comfort.”  When I told those preachers that I was a non-believer, they were, like Francesco, taken aback.  And they usually left my room as quickly as possible.

Being a non-believer makes it possible for me to accept those who believe without prejudice.  I do not believe that Jews are Christ-killers, and I also believe that the Holy Rollers are a source of great fun to me.  What ever believers do when they worship is of no concern to me.  I am happy in my atheistic, agnostic, and infidel ways.  But the thing that astounds me is that when the questioner is informed that I am a non-believer, there is a period of great silence and disbelief.

My mother who claimed that she was not only saved but sanctified, has been dead for 50 years now.  If she is in heaven, wherever that is, I am certain that she is lecturing the other angels on how tough her life has been, having an infidel son.  I am perfectly willing to discuss a life of belief with anyone who wants to open the subject.  But there are few takers.  And as for Francesco, I hope that his children remain in the public schools so that he can retire at age 85.  When he does retire, I hope that my ghost will bless him.



February 21, 2011

Essay 536


Kevin’s commentary: …and we’re back! Been down for a while due to travel and work and other silly things but we’re going to continue rolling as normal.

My pacing is to remain at least one essay per “day” so despite the fact that this is actually being published on 4/2, it will go up as 3/15. Incidentally  this is the furthest behind I’ve ever been on essays since the start of the site and I don’t like it one bit. Many more to come shortly as we delve into 2010 within the next few weeks.

In the meantime I am curious how the end of Francesco’s conversation went.



Lillie Carr was my mother, who observed the rules of rural speech and of rural cooking.  She was a good woman who has now been deceased for 50 years.  She was always one of my defenders, and while I was in the Army she kept a blue star in the window of her living room.  But while I have a great affection for my mother, as most sons do, the fact of the matter is that Lillie was far from being the world’s best cook.  For reasons unknown for me, it seems to me that when good cooking was discovered, Ireland was out of the loop.  And the Irish immigrants to this country were similarly afflicted.

On Mondays, Lillie cooked navy beans.  I loved those beans.  I do to this day, which is a long time to love a food.  Beyond that, Lillie could make fairly good cornbread.  I know nothing about baking cornbread.  It seems to me that Lillie may have used some bacon drippings for her cornbread and she would never – ever – have used sugar.  It has now been nearly 70 years since I sat down at Lillie’s table to feast on navy beans and cornbread.  But my memories of the beans and the cornbread exist vividly in my memory today.  However, the truthful fact is that beans and cornbread were about the extent of Lillie’s culinary skills.  Of course she prepared other dishes, mostly fried.  In all honesty I must say that it would be an oxymoron to say that there is such a thing as good Irish cooking, particularly when it has a rural influence.

I left Missouri in 1942 to join the American Army where the cooking on the average was less than spectacular.  Bluntly, the cooking in the American Army was nothing less than atrocious.  But even to this day, as I approach my 90th year within haling distance, I retain very fond memories of Lillie’s cornbread and navy beans.

In 1951, I left St. Louis and left pretty good cornbread behind.  In 1955 I accepted a job in New York where cornbread was largely unknown.  On rare occasions, I have run across a restaurant or a food store that offered cornbread.  Almost invariably, both the restaurants and the food stores offer cornbread with sugar in it.  This is preposterous.  It is a lot like putting Tabasco onto breakfast cereal.  It is a lot like offering foie gras with mayonnaise mixed into it.  Easterners have no business messing with cornbread.  My wife, who comes from western Pennsylvania, cooks superb corn sticks.  They have no sugar in them.  But Easterners insist upon putting sugar into their cornbread.  This makes no sense to me and I suggest that those who eat the sweetened cornbread will be turned off for life.

One of the great mysteries of my long life has to do with why cooks in the eastern part of this country insist upon putting sugar into cornbread.  This particular essay was inspired by a cook in Summit, New Jersey, who produces superb soup.  While my wife was there, she saw some cornbread and bought it.  When she brought it home and we heated it, the cornbread tended to fall apart which is a misdemeanor and then it contained a dose of sugar.  I suppose that one of these days my life will end and I will still not be aware of why Easterners insist upon putting sugar into cornbread.

In the American Army, we mostly used mess kits.  When we passed through the serving lines, such as they were, the soldiers ladling out the food would often pour gravy over the peaches or whatever dessert we had, if there was any.  And we had no cornbread whatsoever, with or without sugar.

There is one exception to the rule about sugar in cornbread in the Eastern United States.  Tom Scandlyn, who is a native of Harriman, Tennessee, makes cornbread, without sugar, as good as Lillie Carr’s.  But Tom Scandlyn is the only such cook in this part of the country.   I wish there were hundreds more.

So you see, 50 years after her death, my mother has been vindicated.  She made a good cornbread and the cornbread did not fall apart when it was picked up.   And her navy beans were sublime.  But her excuse was that she was an Irish cook.  That probably tells you all you need to know about the level of cuisine in my boyhood home.

If any of my readers can tell me the logic behind putting sugar into cornbread, I will listen patiently.  And I will also hope that before life is done there may be a good piece of cornbread without sugar that doesn’t fall apart served in the confines of the eastern United States.



February 2, 2011

Essay 530


Kevin’s commentary: I often wonder how Pop comes up with the subjects for his essays. Perhaps Judy made cornsticks around the time of this one’s authorship. But still, even excluding essays about current events and essays triggered by real-time happenings in his life, there are hundreds more that are prompted by ostensibly nothing at all beyond a desire to write more things. I’ve always found that pretty incredible. I wonder how much time Pop spends each day just sitting down and remembering things from his life to write about.


During the 1930s and 40s, and perhaps a bit longer, there was a magnificent tenor who appeared in several productions of The Metropolitan Opera as well as in concerts.  He also appeared on radio and later on television programs like The Bell Telephone Hour and The Firestone Hour.  I was glad to tell people that I was associated with the Bell System, which sponsored such productions as the Telephone Hour on radio, and later on television.

Melton not only had a starring role at The Metropolitan, but from time to time he sang songs in concert which reflected his Irish background.  On one occasion after lunch during the season of Easter in 1947, I set out to locate a recording of James Melton at the Aeolian Company, the foremost provider of recorded music in St. Louis.  When Gordon Gintz, my lunchtime companion and I reached the clerk at the Aeolian Company, I told him that I wanted a copy of James Melton singing “The Holy City.”  Obviously the Holy City refers to Jerusalem.  Gordon Gintz was not conversant with the music.  On that occasion Gordon said to me, “Why are you always buying Irish music?”  Gordon was a good fellow and, if he confused Dublin with Jerusalem, far be it from me to set him straight.

Well, in any case, the thought crossed my mind a day or two ago about trying to find a recording of James Melton singing a lovely Irish folk classic called “Kathleen Mavourneen.”  Miss Chicka, my wife whose mother was a McJunkin traces her family routes to County Armaugh in Ireland, was enlisted in my search.  Miss Chicka is a computer wizard and she set out to find whether James Melton had ever recorded “Kathleen Mavourneen.”  As it turns out, apparently that is not the case but there were several other recordings by Irish tenors of that Irish classic.  So I was satisfied with the results of her search.  I have long known of the existence of the song, “Kathleen Mavourneen.”  I have not given it much thought, but I assumed that Mavourneen was a surname.

The name sounded Irish but that turned out to be not the case.  When Miss Chicka had ventured into the name of Mavourneen, she found out that it was not a surname at all.  It was from an ancient Gaelic term that meant “my darling.”  So the tenors who sang “Kathleen Mavourneen” are really singing about Kathleen, my darling.  Again according to the adventures of Miss Chicka and her computer, we find out that this song was composed by a gentleman named Frederick Crouch with lyrics by Marion Crawford.  The lyrics seem to present a bit of confusion in that there seem to be two lyricists who claim credit to the words to “Kathleen Mavourneen.”

A further look into the history of “Kathleen Mavourneen” discloses that it was a favorite during the Civil War in this country and was sung particularly by Confederate troops.  I read no social significance into the fact that it was sung by those who were defending slavery.  I assume that it was just a haunting melody back in the 1860s, just as it has haunted me for many of my years as well.

You will recall that when the United States declared its independence from England, the English were forced to find another place for their long-term prisoners.  At that time it developed that Australia was the place where England could imprison its prisoners who were serving long terms.  As it turns out, many of those prisoners simply decided to stay in Australia and, being of Irish stock, they knew of the song “Kathleen Mavourneen.”

And so at this juncture, I believe it is important that you should become acquainted with the words of the first verse and its chorus.


Kathleen mavourneen! the gray dawn is breaking,
The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill,
The lark from her light wing the bright dew is shaking,
Kathleen mavourneen, what slumbering still?
Oh! hast thou forgotten how soon we must sever?
Oh! hast thou forgotten this day we must part,
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Oh! why art thou silent thou voice of my heart?
It may be for years, and it may be forever,
Then why art thou silent Kathleen mavourneen?

You will notice that in the chorus of “Kathleen Mavourneen,” there is a line that holds, “It may be for years and it may be forever” and that line tends to bring us to the end of our adventure with Kathleen Mavourneen.

In Australia the song was popular particularly among the prisoners who had been sent there by the English.  Apparently, at that time, the judges could render an indeterminate sentence with the final sentence coming later on.  The prisoners were anxious to avoid a final Kathleen Mavourneen sentence, because it “May be for years and may be forever.”

At this late date, I can fully appreciate that prisoners were hopeful of avoiding the Kathleen Mavourneen final sentence.  I agree that the song is lovely, but I can also agree with the prisoners who wanted to avoid a final sentence of “for years or forever.”

If I were forced to find another place to live outside of this country, it might well be that Australia would be my landing place.  If that should turn out to be the case, I would certainly want to avoid appearing before a judge who might slaughter me with a Kathleen Mavourneen sentence.

So you see, we started this essay with a song in my head and wound up talking about prison sentences.  I hope that you have enjoyed this adventure with “Kathleen Mavourneen” and it is much to my dismay that I cannot reproduce the artistry of James Melton in singing it.  But if you can go to your record store or if you have the ability to wrest the song from your computer, I hope that you will become acquainted with “Kathleen Mavourneen” meaning Kathleen my darling.

Gordon Gintz has been deceased for several years now and there should be no interference from Gordon.  So just enjoy this ancient Irish tune that has found great favor among the English-speaking countries of this world.  And always remember that “It may be for years or it may be forever,” but Ezra’s Essays will always be with you.


February 13, 2011

Essay 548


Kevin’s commentary:

Someone literally made a youtube video of this song playing from vinyl. You can listen to it here. It’s one of those songs where, at least to me, if you don’t pay close attention you can quickly forget that you’re listening to English lyrics and just hear the voice as another instrument, as it fits very well into the music.

Unrelatedly: Brits enjoy delicious Indian food because they colonized India.

What the hell did they get for colonizing Australia? Is there some sort of tasty cuisine from that country which they now get access to? Vegemite aside, obviously. I’m curious.



I am dictating these lines on the afternoon of February 14, which of course is St. Valentine’s Day.  The object of this essay is to pay tribute to a lovely woman who has been my friend for perhaps 30 years.  This essay has nothing to do with the state of Georgia in this country or the breakaway region in the Caucasus which has caused Russia so much trouble.  Again, this being St. Valentine’s Day, it is fitting that a tribute be paid to my great and good friend Georgia Coney.

I called Georgia on the telephone last week and after our conversation, which was joined by Miss Chicka, I tried to reconstruct how long Georgia and I have been friends. My guess is at least 30 years.  I have dated it to the time when grocery stores did not accept credit cards.  At that time, Georgia was my auxiliary bank.  I shopped twice a week and if I needed some cash I would simply add an amount to the check and Georgia would cheerfully cash it and give me the receipts.  Today, however, I suspect that 95% of the transactions that take place in grocery stores are charged to a credit card.

As you can probably deduce at this point, Georgia was a cashier or a checkout person at one of our large supermarkets called King’s.  When I appeared with groceries to be checked out and Georgia’s line was occupied, the checkout supervisor named Sue Catlett would find a way to occupy my time until Georgia was available to check me out.  During most all of these years, Georgia had a second job.  She worked for King’s during the daylight hours and when evening came, she reported for work at the UPS center where the package sorting took place, and I suppose she stayed on that job until nearly midnight.  As you can see, Georgia was a hard-working person and I suppose that a good part of her wages went toward keeping a roof over her head.  For all of those years that I dealt with Georgia she was always cheerful, and when she had something on her mind, she would often tell me what troubled her.  Georgia was a kind of a second mother to the other checkout persons who were at King’s.  Another of my long-time friends, named Dale Ash, has told me on several occasions that he considered Georgia as his second mother.

When I met Georgia, she was no spring chicken.  But the intervening years have been kind to Georgia, and she remains an attractive woman even after she retired from both of her jobs.  Georgia was a cashier in the daytime and a UPS worker in the evenings.  Not long ago, time caught up with Georgia and she retired from both jobs.  Several of her former co-workers keep up with Georgia and have reported to me how Georgia is getting along.  From time to time, Judy and I call Georgia to make certain that things are all right.

The most recent development is that Georgia has assumed the care of her 96-year-old mother who, unfortunately, has a case of either dementia or early Alzheimer’s Disease.  Georgia told me in our most recent conversation that there are times when her mother speaks rationally.

However, as time has gone on, it appears that the Alzheimer’s or dementia has continued to creep up on her mother.  Georgia has taken care of her mother for several months now.  She relieved her sister of this obligation some time ago.  In any event, now it is time that we turn to the philosophy of Georgia.

The philosophical point that is to be made here has to do with Georgia and her siblings.  Her family lived on a farm near Albany, Georgia and on more than one occasion Georgia has told me, “None of us ever went to bed hungry.”   That was a tall order because there were 11 people involved here.  In point of fact, there were nine children.  Georgia was the fourth child in this order.  In our conversation with Georgia last week, she observed without rancor that her mother could take care of nine children but now those nine children can’t take of their mother.  Mind you, all of this was said without a trace of rancor.  It was simply a fact and Georgia has always been a practical person dealing in facts.

So there you have my tribute this Valentine’s Day to my old friend Georgia Coney.  You may recall that in essays over the years I have recounted the philosophy of an American corporal who told me, “Soldier, you don’t get paid for thinking.  You get paid to do what you are told.”  I believe that it is fair to say that the philosophy of the corporal stands with the unparalleled logic of Georgia when she says, “My mother could care for nine children but now those nine children can’t care for their mother.”  It isn’t every day that you encounter philosophical statements as convincing and as logical as the ones coming from Georgia Coney.



February 14, 2011

Essay 550


Kevin’s commentary:Dang, for a second there I thought I was going to get another essay about Judy of which there seems to be somewhat of a paucity, but no such luck. Georgia sounds like a great person, though. I’ve heard on many occasions that one can determine a lot about someone’s character by how he or she interacts with service people. This is a philosophy to which I would happily subscribe fully (Pop certainly does well by it) except that my father is sometimes a jerk to service people but he is a pretty great guy too. Unless you mess up his food, in which case he’ll call you an idiot to your face. One time he was so mean to a service guy that airport security was called on him, who he informed that since it “wasn’t illegal to be rude,” he was doing nothing wrong.


Oooh well.



Obviously, the title of this essay is taken from an ancient Irish folk song entitled, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.”  I believe the title is appropriate because Barack Obama had a meteoric rise from a community organizer in Chicago all the way to the presidency of the United States.  I am not an active participant in the political process as it relates to politics, but I am an interested observer of the political scene and particularly the events in the Democratic Party.  My roots are in the Midwest, in Missouri, and of course Illinois is our neighboring state.  But be that as it may, I was completely unaware of Barack Obama until he delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in the fall of 2004.  I heard that speech but more than anything else I marked it off as the heated rhetoric of a presidential campaign.  I cannot say that the speech offended me but it did not bowl me over either.

On the other hand, a good many Democrats in high-level positions considered that speech a colossal humdinger.  More than anything else, I suspect that the speech made in 2004 was the rock upon which Barack Obama has built his career.  I have lived in New Jersey since 1955 with a four-year detour to Washington, so it is not surprising that I knew so little of the story about Barack Obama.  But Barack Obama and the Irish folk song, “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye,” have a good bit in common.

This ancient Irish folk song laments the fact that an 18- or 19-year-old son of Ireland has returned home quite crippled.  I believe that most historians will agree that England had its foot on Irish necks for a period of more than 800 years.  When the English were overthrown in 1922, they managed to keep six counties in northern Ireland that they claimed  were part of the English empire.  That claim is preposterous on its face.  But nonetheless during the occupation of Ireland, work was hard to find and youngsters such as Johnny faced bleak job prospects.  As was often the case, people such as Johnny were forced to join the English army.  The folk song records the fact that there was a battle in Ceylon and when Johnny returned to his homeland, he was a cripple.  The song says,

You haven’t an arm, you haven’t a leg,

You’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg.

Johnny, we hardly knew ye.


And so it is that a person in my position who has always been interested in the affairs of the Democratic Party knew nothing about Barack Obama until the famous speech in 2004.  Hence the title of this essay.

Obama parlayed that speech into the Democratic nomination for the junior Senator from Illinois in 2006.  For one reason or another, the Illinois Republicans had no candidate as the election approached.  Finally, a floater named Keyes appeared on the scene as the Republican candidate.  It must be noted that Keyes was a resident of Maryland who seemed to have no intention of moving to Illinois for the election.  As one might guess, Obama won the election and became the junior Senator from the state of Illinois.  Two years later, he became the Democratic candidate for the presidency and was elected.  So I believe it is fair to say that in a period of four years, from 2004 until 2008, Mr. Obama had catapulted himself from a community organizer in Chicago to the presidency of the United States.

Obama has now been our President for two years.  Together with his election, the American electorate produced substantial majorities for the Democratic Party in the House and in the Senate as well.  In the first two years of the Barack Obama administration, he has made spectacular progress.  For example after trying for more than a hundred years, this country now has a national health plan.  The Republicans are attacking it and hoping to defund it, but as long as Obama is the President he can use the veto pen.  When the Republicans endeavor to sidetrack this historic achievement, it will be going nowhere.

Obama has made several other moves that are beneficial to the American electorate.  When he came into office, he inherited the worst depression since 1929.  Obama has established a collection of experts to steer us through the great downturn.  As I write these lines in 2011, it appears that our financial prospects are looking up.  The stock market is now at the 12,000 level and may go higher.  The problem now is jobs.  Obama says that he is working on the jobs front but he is dealing with the solid opposition of the Republican Party.

The purpose of this essay is not to record every hit and miss of the first two years of the Obama administration.  It is to give my general impression, as a person who is sympathetic to the hopes of the Democratic Party, of the performance of Barack Obama in the office of the presidency.

As I have said earlier, I knew very little about the career of the community organizer Barack Obama.  When he burst upon the scene in the 2006 election, I regarded him as an interesting figure who would bear watching.  I had no idea that Obama had his eye on the presidency of the United States.  And I must say that he seemed to have all of the credentials to hold that post.

In the Democratic primaries prior to the 2008 election, Obama was pitted against Hillary Clinton.  There was also a third candidate named John Edwards in that race.  For four years or so, John Edwards had articulated the thought that America was becoming a nation of the super rich and the ultra poor.  I have long since subscribed to this point of view and, as a result, I supported John Edwards with my contributions.  It is well that Barack Obama won that race because in the end, it was disclosed that John Edwards had fathered a child out of wedlock, which resulted in the dissolution of his marriage.  Edwards had a great vision for America, as I saw it, but his extra-marital affairs have come to doom him.

You know the rest.  Obama was elected and the first two years of his presidency were years of great accomplishments.  While he has accomplished much, there is a disturbing facet of Obama that bothers me.  Specifically and precisely, Mr. Obama is not a fighter.


The politicians in this country know that they can defy Mr. Obama at will and there will be no penalty associated with their refusal.  For example, during the first two years of the Obama administration, the Republican Party has locked hands and voted against nearly every proposal that he has put forward.  But rather than attacking this treasonous conduct, Obama said on one occasion, “Perhaps I have not put my arms out far enough.”  I am sure that he would like to extend brotherly love to Republicans as well as Democrats but when a party such as the Republican Party is sticking a gun in your ribs, there is no need to apologize to them.  He should kick them in the ass.

I was infuriated at the outcome of the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts.  In 2010, when the Bush era tax cuts were set to expire, Obama proposed middle class taxes should remain the same and that the taxes on the higher levels should return to those levels that applied before the Bush tax cuts took place.  The Republicans fought viciously to protect the breaks for the wealthy.  This was not a tax increase of any kind.  Obama was proposing that the tax rates should merely go back to the years of the Clinton administration for those making more than $250,000 per year.

The Democrats particularly made an effort to reach some agreement on this point of the tax policy.  Senator Schumer of New York, for example, proposed that the tax rates of those with incomes of a million dollars or more would simply return to the levels that applied during the Clinton years.  The Republicans said, “no way.”  They wanted the tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires to stay in place.

It astounded me that Obama gave in.  There are infinitely more middle class earners than there are those with million dollar incomes.  This was a fight that Obama could have easily won.  More than saying he simply punted, he gave in on a fight that he could have easily won.  Can you imagine anyone saying that millionaires deserved to pay less, all the while holding the middle class tax payers as hostages?  Obama not only gave in on this idea, but additionally he changed the estate taxes so they would now apply to estates of $5 million, whereas previously, the limit was $2 million.  This was an added sop for the wealthy.  And so we see that John Edwards was right.  The rich are getting richer, and the middle class earners are doing all they can to hold on to what they have.

When this happened, I wrote to Mr. Obama and suggested that if this was his idea of equity, he should consider resigning.  Of course, there has been no reply to that letter.

In dozens of other cases, Mr. Obama has demonstrated his desire to avoid a fight at all costs.  Consider for example the many debates about health care.  More than anything else, this accomplishment is a tribute to the wisdom and effectiveness of Nancy Pelosi.  When it came to a debate during the health bill on the public option, Obama through his spokesman made it clear that he was not prepared to fight the insurance companies who have profited since the public option was not adopted.  Simply put, if there is a debate that requires a fight, Obama will avoid the fight or will seek a compromise on the terms of his opponent.

When it comes to physical courage of opposing the intransigence of the Republican Party locking arms and saying “no” to everything, my vote would have to go to Nancy Pelosi.  When it comes to guts and balls and whatever other symbols of courage one may cite, Nancy Pelosi is the clear winner.

I suppose that I am repeating myself, but in a political proposal where there is a fight to be had, Obama is among the missing.  Unfortunately Mr. Obama will not take part in that fight but will probably seek a compromise on the other person’s terms.  The politicians of both the Republican and Democratic Parties know that there is absolutely no penalty whatsoever for opposing whatever Obama wishes to accomplish.  They are clearly not fearful in any respect.

I make this assessment in sorrow rather than in anger.  But I really believe in a President as somebody with the guts and brashness and balls of a person such as Harry Truman.  Truman did not have a degree from Harvard Law School;  he knew right from wrong and he was willing to fight for it.  There was no timidity in Harry Truman.  Nancy Pelosi is of that school of thought.

After two years of the Obama administration, I know now what to expect.  For example, at this very moment we are engaged in a dispute about whether or not democracy should prevail in Egypt.  I believe that it is absolutely clear that Mubarak should be removed from office.  I realize the restraints on American intrusion in this matter, but it seems to me that Mubarak is yesterday.  The people who are demonstrating are tomorrow.  I hope it becomes clearer to the dissidents in Egypt that we are on their side.  Our continued support of the reviled despotism of Mubarak is not where we want to be.

This essay started with the idea: Barack, we hardly knew ye.  I suppose that it would have been best if, four or five years ago, we had known about Tom Buffenbarger.  He is the President of the Machinist Union and Aircraft workers.  Apparently Buffenbarger in his capacity as the President of a major union, has had a good bit to do with Mr. Obama.

During the primaries in 2008 when Obama was pitted against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Tom Buffenbarger issued a statement.  The essence is contained in these lines.  Buffenbarger said, “This guy won’t last a round against the Republican attack machine.  He’s a poet, not a fighter.”  I have nothing against poets and there are times when I wish I could write poetry. But when it is time to fight, poetry becomes secondary.

Who knows?  Maybe poetry is better than fighting.  But I doubt that Nancy Pelosi and dozens of others who stand up for the downtrodden would agree with that proposition.  In the next two years of the Barack Obama administration, we can hope that Mr. Obama acquires some of Nancy Pelosi’s courage and ballsiness.

I am a realist and I know that this is probably a forlorn hope.  That is what I am left with.  On the other hand, I am very grateful that Obama is our President as opposed to, for example, Sarah Palin.  But we all live and learn.  I expect that we will have to come to understand thatMr. Obama is a poet and a timid one at that.

So the answer to the title of this essay now becomes clearer.  What we did not know about Barack Obama is that he is more of a poet than a fighter, which Tom Buffenbarger could have told us two years ago.   I wish it were the other way around.  But hope springs eternal and maybe Nancy Pelosi’s courage may spread to our President.  In that case, I would tend to withdraw my suggestion that Barack should resign.

I never thought that at this late date, I would still be missing Harry Truman, my fellow Missourian.  But he was a flinty character, and I wish that there were more of Harry Truman in Barack Obama.



February 1, 2011

Essay 547(?)



Kevin’s commentary: only a few days ago, Barack was elected to a second term in office. I hope that now that he no longer has to worry about being re-elected, he can be a little more ballsy than he has been previously. Regardless though I think one of the biggest victories here is the supreme court appointments that Obama will presumably get to make. I’m pretty sick of how conservative the court has been for the last uh, since-I’ve-been-alive.

It’s also amazing to me that not even two years after this essay was authored, I find it crazy that people like Palin and Santorum were even taken seriously. I mean, it was just as much of a mystery then but looking back on it I have no idea how it was allowed to get as far as it did. Mittens honestly wasn’t even on the same scale. I mean he was a bit of a greedy douchebag but  Of course he lost horribly also as he well should have but for an uncomfortably long time things were distressingly close.


PS a huge, but late, happy Veteran’s day to Pop!