Archive for the Religion/Atheism Category


In ancient times, religious zealots such as myself would exile themselves to remote desert locations, away from secular and sinful cities, in the hope that a higher power would speak to them in an unmistakable voice of moral clarity. For the past few months, I have followed that ascetic trail blazed by our religious forebearers. I have attempted to avoid the temptations of Summit and Millburn, New Jersey. However, I did succumb, on only two occasions to the evil offerings of New York City where it is widely known that the Devil himself lives. His last known address was in Greenwich Village or on York Avenue at 87th Street. I have paid a heavy price for yielding to temptation by my visits to the Big Apple. And so I now find myself wringing my hands and staring at my shoes. I suppose this is the price of martyrdom.

When I emerged from my desert exile, I enjoyed an enormous belly laugh when that eminent theologian George W. Bush, said that Sharon was “a man of peace.” Jay Leno and David Letterman would pay enormous sums to have a joke writer supply them with lines that say Sharon is a “man of peace.” Always the comic, Bush uttered that line the day before he met the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia which greatly angered and offended his Saudi visitor. But he always does this. Remember his reference to his “crusade” in the Middle East? Well, old comedians never die it appears. When that line is repeated to survivors in Ramallah and in the Jenin Refugee Camp, I’m sure that Palestinians are rolling in the aisles with laughter.

Bush’s “Man of Peace” is matched by an ophthalmologist here in Short Hills. Last year, it is alleged, on solid grounds, that the ophthalmologist fondled the breasts of four women patients. The Essex County Prosecutor sent an undercover policewoman to him to have her eyes examined. She became the fifth woman he fondled. He contends that the fondling takes place in a search for future eye problems, so the five women ought to appreciate his concern for the future health of their eyes.

My belief is that the Short Hills ophthalmologist has as much chance of discovering future eye problems by his fondling as Sharon has of becoming a “Man of Peace.” It seems to me that their future achievements under these circumstances are exactly the same which is nada, nil, zero or something less than nothing. As a matter of interest, I am completely blind in my left eye as a result of the ministrations of this same Short Hills ophthalmologist. And he never looked at my chest for signs of upcoming eye trouble. That is a troubling oversight.

A further thought strikes me about Bush’s “Man of Peace.” Punishing the entire Palestinian people for resisting the occupation and for suicide bombing is a lot like wiping out the Catholic hierarchy because priestly abuse of children was wide spread. Bush may turn his “Man of Peace” loose on the Catholics when he is finished with the Palestinians.

Now while Bush’s faux pas is still current, we have Muslim apologists saying that in the Arabic language, Islam means peace. The Muslim translators should have gotten together with Bush on their definitions of peace. When the Palestinians invaded the Passover Seder meal in Natanya and killed 28 people, remember it was all done in the name of Islam, which means peace.

So you see between Bush and the Muslims, this old geezer is greatly confused. So far no unmistakable voice of moral clarity has spoken to me.

Not to be outdone in this duel of comedic endeavors, the Roman Catholic church had a meeting in Rome chaired by the Pope himself. The purpose of the meeting, which featured cardinals from the United States, was to determine what the Catholic stance should be with respect to priests sexually abusing children.

I am forced to ask you this question. The church has been around for perhaps 2000 years. Children have been attending school and mass at Catholic churches for the same period of time. An ordinary person would have to suspend belief to come to the conclusion that in the year 2002, the Pope would call a meeting to determine how the hierarchy of the Holy Roman Church should deal with priests who prey on children. And that’s only the beginning. There is no unanimity in the hierarchy on whether a priest should be chastised or punished if he is caught with a small boy in the priest’s rectory bed.

Some of the cardinals say if it happened a while ago, the church should forget all about it and wipe the slate clean. Others say if a priest slips his vows and makes only a pass at two or three children, and if he shows signs of redemption, he should be kept on. As my lawyer daughter who offers her theological thoughts under the signature of “The Attorney” says, “If a priest molests a whole choir full, then action probably ought to be taken”. Reading Archbishop Myers’ statement of April 29, 2002, it is far from clear that there is unanimity in the American Catholic view about punishment or chastisement. Myers is the Archbishop of Newark and is charged with drafting the statement to be offered to American bishops when they meet in Dallas in June of this year. Myers is an ultra right-winger who has made few friends here since arriving from Peoria, Illinois.

So you see that the great theologian Bush and Islamic leaders don’t come out at the same place when it comes to Peace. After 2000 years, Roman Catholics apparently don’t know which end is up and the Pope and his Curia are not giving the American branch of the church much help. I am using WD40 on my hands to try to prevent excessive chafing as the Catholic mess causes me to wring my hands even harder.

Late last week (April 26, 2002) Mike Barnicle, a well known columnist for the New York Daily News, appeared on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” program. Both men are Catholics. In a spirited colloquy, both men denounced the statement coming from Rome after the American Cardinals meeting saying that the hierarchy was “covering up.” The cover up had to do with homosexuality according to these two Catholics. The fear is that high level members of the hierarchy of the church will be exposed as homosexuals.

This is a very real fear. Even Monsignor Wilton Gregory, Chairman of the American Bishops Conference, says that Catholic seminaries are filled by gay priests. Gay seminarians go on to become priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes. In several studies published by respected journals, it is estimated that between 35% and 50% of Catholic priests are homosexual. And no one from the hierarchy seeks to deny those figures. Not Egan, not Law, not the Pope and certainly not Archbishop Myers of Newark.

Mary Murphy is a long time television reporter and commentator now working for Channel 11 in New York City. She is greatly respected. Mary is a Catholic who spent part of her honeymoon in Rome to sit in the audience to hear the Pope and to receive his blessing. She is a product of New York City’s parochial schools. In short, she is not a latecomer to the Catholic faith.

Mary Murphy has been following the story of gay priests for a year or so. In two interviews last week (April 26) Murphy had extended discussions with an ordained priest who appeared without hiding his identity. He simply had two frank discussions with Mary Murphy about homosexual priests. His estimates ran higher than the 35% to 50% of priests who are homosexual. This priest says pretty flatly that at least 50% of the priests he knows around New York City are gay.

When asked what contributed to this surprising figure, the priest said homosexual men, who wished to conceal their gayness, joined the priesthood to avoid answering the question about why aren’t you married. The priesthood takes care of that question very neatly.

The gayness of the priesthood has been going on for many years, perhaps for centuries. It is quite likely that homosexual men are now serving as bishops, monsignor’s, cardinals and perhaps as popes. What baffles me completely is the unrelenting assault on gays in the priesthood by high level church authorities. On Sunday, April 28, 2002 the number two man at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, Monsignor Eugene V. Clark, delivered a long homily attacking gays in every direction. His homily was so vigorous that his boss, Cardinal Egan, said that Monsignor Clark spoke only for himself. Clark’s diatribe was roundly denounced as gay bashing.

But Clark was not alone. One of the cardinals spoke from Rome and said that the United States Church should not ordain any more homosexuals and should “root out” the ones it has. So you can see why this old grizzled religious zealot is both confused and amused. If we are going to “root out” 50% of the U. S. priesthood, who will be left to bless new fire houses and pizza parlors?

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee has for years banned gay men and women marching under their own sign which identifies them as gay Irish men and women. How curious that the priests and hierarchy of the church seem to support gayness in their clergy – but certainly not in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Mychal Judge was a bit of a hero who gave his life in the World Trade Center debacle on September 11th. He was a firehouse Chaplain and he was gay. He seemed to be an alright guy by any measurement. Should Mychal Judge have been “rooted out”? I don’t think so.

The Roman Church is horribly out of touch with the real world as it exists in the 21st Century. The bishops, and cardinals, and the pope wearing their funny hats and medieval costumes don’t play well in modern circumstances. In the old days, the priests and the hierarchy could wear their bizarre hats and costumes and speak in Latin which may have awed and impressed peasants in the year 1002. It doesn’t play well today – but the church hierarchy has not tumbled to that obvious fact.

The Protestants, particularly the Fundamentalists, are not about to give the world stage to the Jews, the Muslims and the Catholics. In their unschooled and boisterous manner, several Protestants are demanding their time in the spot light.

In the civilized world, or in the totalitarian world, the absolute worst situation comes about when religion and politics are meshed. That is exactly what Bush is trying to do to please his conservative supporters. Consider the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait where Islam is part and parcel of the ruling parties. Consider Spain, Ireland and Italy where no government can survive without the blessings of the Roman Catholic Church. Consider the government of India and Bangladesh where Hindu acceptance is required. And I suppose no government of Israel would survive without the blessings of the Jewish faith.

This is exactly where Bush is taking the United States Government. He has appointed born again Christians to important posts in his administration. Consider that Assemblies of God Evangelist masquerading as U. S. Attorney General who had a significant announcement recently. In a February, 2002 speech, Ashcroft proclaimed: “We are a nation called to defend freedom – a freedom that is not the grant of any government or document, but is our endowment from God.”

Frank Rich, the New York Times writer, says, “So much, then, for that trifling document that defines our freedoms, a.k.a. the Constitution. By wrapping himself in sanctimony as surely as he wrapped the Justice Department’s statue of Justice in a blue curtain, our Attorney General is trying to superseded civil law on the grounds that he’s exercising the Lord’s Will what ever he does.”

The former Vice President of N. W. Ayer, Howard Davis, who directed AT&T’s advertising efforts, is another native Missourian. Howard and I regard Ashcroft as the ultimate embarrassment to the State of Missouri. But as Ashcroft said on other occasions, God is guiding him. And Bush picked him as U. S. Attorney General and is promoting him as a star of the Administration. This non-believer finds himself in great need of prayer.

An important theological thought intrudes here. For centuries, Christians and particularly evangelical and fundamentalist Christians believe that Jesus was crucified at the behest of Jews. Never mind that Emperor Pontius Pilate was calling the signals from Rome. An article of faith with Christians is that Jews killed Jesus and let’s not deal with conflicting opinions. They did it and the evangelical and fundamentalist Christians find solace in the King James Version of the New Testament.

Now if Ashcroft and Bush believe that Jews killed Jesus, as they have to do, do you think that they understand that Ariel Sharon is a Jew? As a non-believer, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am an interested observer only. But I doubt that dim bulbs like Bush and Ashcroft and their political cronies have made this connection.

Howard Davis and your essayist are greatly embarrassed that Ashcroft hails from Missouri, which is generally believed to be the reincarnation of the Garden of Eden.

Bush has a stalwart in the House from that center of culture, Sugarland, Texas. Tom DeLay, one of the sponsors of Clinton’s impeachment, is the star performer. Here are two paragraphs from Alan Cooperman, a staff writer from the Washington Post. He says:

“House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex) told Evangelical Christians last week (April 20, 2002) that only Christianity offers a reasonable answer to basic questions about the purpose of life. Speaking to about 300 people at the First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas, on April 12, DeLay said that God is using him to promote a ‘biblical world view’ in American politics, and that he pursued Bill Clinton’s impeachment in part because the Democratic President held ‘the wrong world view’.” (italics mine)

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Christianity offers the only viable, reasonable, definitive answer to the question of ‘Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Does life have any meaningful purpose?’ DeLay said, ‘Only Christianity offers a way to understand the physical and moral border. Only Christianity offers a comprehensive world view that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world – only Christianity.”

So let us say you were a law-abiding Jew who lives in DeLay’s district in Texas. Do you think you would find a sympathetic listener in DeLay if you had a problem? Or, do you think he would inform you to drop your Jewishness and turn to Christianity? DeLay is the most important Republican figure in the United States House of Representatives. As I said in the case of Ashcroft, let us pray.

DeLay is joined by the Republican Majority Leader of the House, Dick Armey, who said on April 30, 2002 on the “Hardball” show, that Palestinians should leave the West Bank. He said that other Arab countries should give them some place in their deserts to establish their homeland. His apology later was unconvincing and demeaning. The Texans, Bush, Armey and DeLay, know how to fix all the problems of the Middle East.

Now we have a know-nothing clown from Oklahoma, Senator James Inhofe, a Republican, who took the floor of the Senate to announce that the September 11th attacks were retribution from God because God was not pleased with U. S. policy toward Israel. He said, “One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the U. S. A. is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israeli’s not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorists…” Obviously, this is a slam at Bush the Omnipotent Theologian who is allegedly guiding our Republican Government.

Tom Paine’s Common Sense periodical says, “In other words, on September 11th, God allowed airlines to be piloted into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because United States’s actions were not to His/Her liking. How else to interpret Inhofe’s words about a spiritual door being opened for the attack.”

When it comes to intellectual capacity, I am sure that Inhofe has a good future ahead of him as a rodeo clown who distracts bulls that want to gore thrown rough riders. Inhofe also claims that God (He or She) gave the West Bank to the Jewish people because Inhofe read it in the King James Version of the Bible. He is not a preacher; he is one of 100 Senators sitting at the top of the United States Government structure. So once again, let us pray.

Now we have Billy Graham who seems to have given us his twisted spiritual guidance for many, many years. After recordings of Nixon’s miserable thoughts came to light, the Right Reverend Billy Graham was recorded as saying some pretty prejudicial remarks about Jews. Billy at his advanced age offered sort of an apology. Doesn’t he know that the head man of the Christian faith was a Jew? Billy wasn’t up to a convincing apology so he turned the job over to Franklin Graham, his son and designated successor as the head of Billy Graham Enterprises. Now let us return to Frank Rich of The Times.

“His son and successor, Franklin Graham, soon rescinded his father’s mea culpa by asserting that the taped quotes had been taken out of context and meant to refer to ‘liberalism’, not Jews. The younger Mr. Graham’s disingenuousness is of a piece with Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s pseudo apology for their televised remarks in which they tried to pin the September 11th attacks on the same all-purpose culprits (gays, feminists) whom some Catholic leaders now hope will take the fall for abusive priests and their enabling higher ups.”

This is probably enough to make my point that when politics are mixed with religion, democracy suffers. And it also suffers when religious matters are defended in legal terms rather than in moral terms. Religion has to do with faith; the lawyers have to deal with facts and reality. Let me give you an example of how legal practice clashes with moral concepts in our society of the 21st century.

We have here two young brothers, Robert and Phillip Young, who served as altar boys here in New Jersey. They contend – and nobody has denied their claim – that as “many as 15 priests and numerous church officials” abused them and forced them to engage in sexual acts between 1978 and 1983. At the time, the young brothers underwent this abuse, they were 12 to 17 year old boys. They were given two threats if they told about their treatment. They were told that no one would believe them if they implicated a priest, and they were told that the Church would excommunicate them. This last action carries several severe penalties. For example, an excommunicated member cannot be married by the Church. He may not receive communion. He may not be buried in so called “holy ground” at Catholic cemeteries. There are other penalties as well, but I suppose this is enough to give the reader an idea of the severity of excommunication.

All young children are intimidated by the threats of the clergy. The two young brothers had every reason to fear for their immortal soul. As a result, they failed to report the abuse to the authorities in time for legal punishment to follow. In New Jersey, where the Young brothers lived, the statute of limitation is two years, generally speaking. They were about six years late in filing their suit.

When the case was finally heard, the decision went against the young brothers on the grounds that they had not come in during the statute of limitations. In making this painful decision, which was delivered on
May 3, 2002, a Superior Court Judge had some searing words for the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever motivated the young brothers to file their suit – money or the exposure of a moral and legal wrong – the Church used “legal hard ball” to defend its interests, even though the “scourge of sexual abuse” was involved.

That is pretty strong language from a Superior Court Judge. The Judge went on to say, “Even though the Church was within its legal rights to defend itself, the Church’s position on this matter is at odds with its stance as a moral force in society. From where I sit, legal hardball doesn’t seem quite right.”

I think Superior Court Judge John Himmelbarger said it all. When religious matters are defended in legal terms rather than in moral terms, both the law and religion are demeaned.

Now if you want to read a little more about the Roman Catholic problems with moral issues, please read the Saturday May 4, 2002 Op-Ed piece by Bill Keller in the New York Times. It will be well worth your while.

So much for the transgressions of our religious establishment. Let us go back to the beginning. The United States Government started out as a secular government which wanted to do away with the excesses of King George the III. Well now we have a King George W. who wants to impose his own brand of bizarre Christianity upon the American people. And unbelievably, Jews by the thousands in the United States have cast their lot with him simply because he is backing a complete madman. Ariel Sharon is not called the “Butcher of Beirut” for nothing.

This is serious business. For many years, I have supported Barry Lynn who directs the efforts of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Curiously, Lynn is a preacher, but he runs a superb organization attempting to deal with the likes of Bush, Ashcroft, DeLay, Inhofe and their cronies who insist that this government reflect primitive Christian values. Any attempt to introduce multicultural values is rejected as unchristian. If it doesn’t fit with Tom DeLay’s “Christian World View,” it should be abolished and destroyed.

The main reason for my belief in non-belief has to do with Protestant preachers espousing their arrant nonsense, such as we find with the Texas politicians. As a child, I rejected their theology. As an adult, I simply hold them in contempt. How else would you deal with the likes of Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft and James Inhofe? They are dubious human beings.

(As I said, I have long supported Americans United for Separation of Church and State. If its efforts interest you, they can be reached at 518 “C” Street, N. E., Washington, D. C., 20002-5810.)

I know that religion provides a comfort to believers. I know that some who practice religion look forward to eternal life. And I know that many world figures, particularly politicians, believe that God has had a strong hand in their success.

For many years, I have come to the conclusion that in the field of human affairs, religion is not necessarily a unifying force at all. It is often a divisive force. Consider the Catholic-Protestant split in Ireland. Consider the case of Israel and the Palestinians where war is our current reward. Consider the situation in India where everyone has had a shot at war including the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Christians as well as the Animists. And if you give credence to Osama Bin Laden and some of his Arab followers, there is a Holy War going on against the largely Christian population of the United States. Religion has not unified any of these competing nationalities. On the contrary, it is often a divisive and a destructive force.

If I look in the Bibles of my parents for comfort on this score, I am rewarded by the words of Paul who seems to come out four square for good conduct and for slavery. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart as you would obey Christ.” Another Bible of my parents says, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ”. Both of these citations are from versions of the King James rendition of the New Testament. See Ephesians VI, Verse 5. (underlining mine)

When it comes to religious matters, I find myself convinced that my belief in non-belief is absolutely right for me. If it is alright with Paul, I hold that belief with fear and trembling. It sets me apart from clowns such as DeLay, Armey, Bush, Inhofe and Ashcroft. So let us pray.

May 2, 2002


I feel like the 2000s have been one case study after another in “obvious times that major powers are on the wrong side of history.” We just have seen this again with Trump pulling out of the Paris accord. We saw it plenty of other times with this shit in the early 2000s, with everyone who opposed gay marriage, last year for Trump voters generally, etc. Maybe it’s always like that; certainly pretty much all progress has had to come over the loud objections of the Delays and Inhofes of any era you choose. And it always seems to come from older generations, too — it seems like for every year you’re alive, the probably that you’re just utterly backwards with regard to social issues seems to skyrocket. That never seemed to impact Pop, though. Maybe when I get old enough I’ll remember writing this and stop being a stick in the mud about whatever clear progressive goal my generation is holding up at the time.


I have never been a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In whatever is left in my life, I do not expect to ever become a member of that faith. The leader of that faith calls himself a pope

When it comes to doctrine, I must cite my profound belief in principles. For example, I do not believe that there is any such thing as eternal life. I also do not believe that there is a heaven up there in the sky, nor do I believe that Satan presides over a realm wherein people like myself are condemned to spend eternity in torment. It is my view that when we live out our life span, death will occur and that basically is the end of it all.

Joseph Ratzinger, formerly of Munich, is the head man of the Roman Catholic faith. The views of Herr Ratzinger and myself, both veterans of WWII, cannot be reconciled. I would view Herr Ratzinger with more understanding if he were to provide a cogent and convincing account of why, during World War II, he joined the SS during his tour in Hitler’s German Army. As you may recall, the SS (Schutzstaffel) was in charge of wiping out Jews from the lands that Hitler’s Nazi’s had conquered.

During his years as Pope, Herr Ratzinger has not provided any explanation but has tended to glide over this significant fact as though it never happened.

Now we find that the Vatican has announced a crackdown on American nuns. The crackdown does not apply to Norwegian nuns, Costa Rican nuns, etc., but it is aimed solely at American nuns. It is for this reason that the title of this essay, “How Colossally Dumb Can You Get?” is applicable.

According to an announcement from the Vatican, it has launched a crackdown on American nuns. If my understanding is correct, when nuns enter their vocation, they take an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which accounts for the title of this essay. But now this business of obedience comes into play.

The news says that the Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of the 57,000 American nuns. This group is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The Vatican sources say that the group is not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination in the Catholic faith. The eight-page statement was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the same organization that has survived all of these years since the Inquisition. It was led for 25 years by none other than Joseph Ratzinger, who now styles himself as Pope Benedict XVI. He says that the American nuns are being led astray and must return to Catholic orthodoxy.

May I make this point eminently clear? If the Catholics or any other religious group wishes to have an internal squabble, that is quite all right with me. In all of the years when I have been a non-believer, I have never ever attempted to convert someone to my beliefs or lack thereof. But this squabble is different because it involves nuns.

In the actions of the Vatican, Ratzinger is attacking the most noteworthy practitioners of the Catholic faith, which brings to mind the question, “How colossally dumb can you get?” Ratzinger has pitted the nuns and his idea of Catholic orthodoxy in a battle which he seems to think he will win. My own view is that Ratzinger is thoroughly out of date in that in the long run the nuns will prevail. Justice is on their side.

I am not given to religious disputes on either one side or the other. But in this case, the ham-handed Ratzinger is attempting to destroy the nuns and their good works. I repeat, how dumb can you get? In 1965, there were 185,000 nuns in the United States. Today that number is down to 57,000. Who would enter a vocation in which the likes of Herr Ratzinger is in charge?

I have located the headquarters for the Women’s Religious group and have written them offering my support. If they need a few dollars, I will provide that as well. As far as Herr Ratzinger goes, I must say that the Second World War has not ended. If I were to give Herr Ratzinger any advice at all, it would be to lay off the nuns who are doing a wonderful job. Secondly, he should concentrate on trying to straighten out the pedophile priests in his ranks. And with that, my sermon from the mount is herewith ended.

April 20, 2012


I like that Pop defends the nuns — reminds me of the woman in the lobby of his old AT&T building that Killingsworth threw out. Gotta stand up for the nuns.

Anyway yes, it’s incredibly dumb to target the people who are really at the front lines of your organization, especially when everyone else (aside from the preachers) is basically just management. Sometimes, church leadership should align with the people who are actually spreading your faith, instead of trying to push everything from the top down.


The title to this essay, “Disparate Ponderings,” may well reflect the influence of the New York Times editorial pages upon my brain. The ponderings in question really have to do with remembrances of years past. There are six thoughts in this essay and I hope that some of them will remind old-timers of the days before television and e-mail ever existed.

One of my recent ponderings had to do with female girdles. It seems to me that in years past whenever a female reached the age of puberty, she was obliged to buy herself a girdle. The Sears Roebuck catalogue, published annually each fall, was avidly read by the females as well as the males in our household. I can assure you that Sears had girdles galore. There were long ones and short ones, as well as black ones and flesh-colored ones. What baffled me then in the old days was why a young woman weighing no more than 110 pounds would need a girdle. Yet it seems to me with my faulty memory as a guide that every young woman looked forward to the day when she could order a girdle. In those days, women wore silk stockings with a seam up the back. It is hard to believe but there was a time in this country when there were no panty hose. I suspect that girdles were worn for the sake of keeping the silk stockings anchored so that they did not fall down around the ankles.

But the Second World War seemed to have altered everything. There was a shortage of rubber, and silk stockings were a thing of the past. Your old essayist cannot say that he misses girdles or silk stockings, but it is pleasant to ponder the fact that in the age before television came along there were such things. Sears Roebuck has fallen on hard times and, as an economist, I would suggest that it has much to do with the demise of the practice of women wearing girdles.

Now that we have settled the issue of girdles, another question arises about “Do you remember?” There was a time during the 1930s when athlete’s foot was a matter of serious medical concern. During my years in high school, when the boys would take showers following the gym classes, athlete’s foot was a common occurrence. It is not clear to me what causes athlete’s foot but I can tell you that it existed and that once someone had acquired it, it was difficult to rid oneself of it. During my high school years, I had at least two or three cases of athlete’s foot, which had to be treated with a liquid I remember as Camphophenique. Athlete’s foot was so common that advertisements for its cure appeared in almost every newspaper in a small ad at the foot of the newspaper. The pictures in those ads showed athlete’s foot at its worst, with cracking and peeling of the skin around the toes.

I am not here to proclaim that athlete’s foot was an ailment affecting only youngsters but as I also recall there seemed to be no athlete’s foot in the United States Army, where men traipsed in and out of showers at all hours of the day. This of course assumes that one saw service in a location where there were showers. There were occasions when men did not remove their shoes and socks for a few days at a time, yet my recollection is that no one ever seemed to complain of athlete’s foot. I suspect that athlete’s foot went the way of rheumatism, which has now been replaced by the more upscale term of arthritis.

Now that we have disposed of girdles and athlete’s foot, we must turn our attention to Charles Atlas, a gentleman who promised to turn “98-pound” weaklings into 210-pound behemoths. During the years of the Depression, many magazines were adorned with the advertisements of Charles Atlas. There were half pages and full pages, and each one of them showed a man with bulging muscles who contended that he used to be a 98-pound weakling. I never knew anyone who was taken in by the Charles Atlas advertising, but it was good entertainment during the Depression when there was no television or email.

I suspect that Charles Atlas was a man who sold barbells and other weightlifting equipment. That statement is totally unsupported by fact and it flows only from my memory that some of the people who posed for Charles Atlas advertising seemed to be carrying barbells. How it was that he changed a 98-pound weakling into a 210-pound behemoth never was clear while I was reading those magazines, and it remains unclear to this day. Yet there is a certain nostalgia about recalling Mr. Atlas because his advertisements were so widely printed that almost everyone in this country knew who he was. Perhaps your preacher might not have known who Mr. Atlas was, but I suspect that 95% of his congregation would know a good bit about Charles Atlas. I never heard Mr. Atlas being interviewed on radio and it is clear that no one ever referred to him as Charlie Atlas. And so it is up to us old-timers to remember that
Mr. Charles Atlas ever existed.

Now we turn to another pondering that took place during the Depression years. During those years, there was a great drought that settled all over the Mid West and into the plains states, so that the skies were virtually cloudless. From time to time, I assume wealthy advertisers would hire small aircraft to write their messages in the sky. The messages were brief, but they were quite effective, judging by the number of people who seemed entranced by them as the skywriter went about his work.

Skywriters always flew single-engine airplanes, which were of course propeller driven. They must have carried a tube of white exhaust that, when released, could linger in the sky for several minutes. Naturally, I was entranced by skywriting. It seems to me that letters such as “e,” “f,” and “t” should have been the easiest to write. The more difficult letters would be the letters “s” and “b.” My memory is that it would take perhaps ten to fifteen minutes for a skywriter to write his message in the sky. They only wrote the name of the product, and there was great excitement among the viewers after the first letter or two appeared as to what the message would eventually read.

My last exposure to skywriting came, I believe, in the early 1960s, when my family accompanied me to the New Jersey shore. On a cloudless day, a skywriter would appear and would write a message for the benefit of weekend viewers. There was even a romantic occasion when a skywriter wrote “love U” for the benefit of some love-struck youngsters.

No matter how you cut it, I was a draftsman who had a great interest in the formation of letters, here on the earth as well as in the sky. My regret is that I never had the opportunity to ride aloft while the letters were being written. One of my companions as a child always hoped that the skywriter would misspell a word. To the best of my knowledge, that never happened. All the words were correctly spelled and I regret to this day that skywriting is a function of a long-forgotten era.

Now that we have disposed of my pondering about skywriting, let us turn to a pondering about a wonderful entertainer named Burl Ives. Ives was a singer of folk songs who, like many other singers of folk songs, played a guitar. He was the son of a farming family from Jasper County, Illinois. Jasper County is far removed from the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and other environs. But in the end, Ives eventually made it to New York where, in 1940, he was given his own radio program. His voice was absolutely distinctive. Fortunately, my ponderings have been helped along because I have several recordings which I have made into compact discs which offer such selections as “Blue-Tail Fly” and “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” I am happy to report that folk singing is a vibrant art that has survived the assaults of rock music, hip hop, and other attacks on mankind.

Ives died a few years back at the age of nearly 90. I suspect that a good many of my older readers will recall him fondly. I certainly recall him fondly and my ponderings take me to the point of inquiring, “Where will the future Burl Ives come from?”

There is one other pondering that takes me into the field of religion where I am usually reluctant to go. In this case, however, it is a matter of economic circumstances having overtaken the teachings of a church.

For many years, the Roman Catholic faith has taught the evils of artificial contraception. Simply put, they dislike every form of birth control. The only exception came during recent years when the Vatican reluctantly approved the use of “natural birth control,” which seems to exist only during the time of the infertility of the female. I suspect that there are thousands of unplanned pregnancies that happened with the use of the so-called “natural planning.” My belief is that natural planning worked perfectly if one or both parties were sterile. But be that as it may, it appears that the economic circumstances of the 21st century generally require those who engage in sexual intercourse to use birth control. When one thinks about the cost of raising a child and putting him through college, sometimes at the expense of $50,000 per year, most people will conclude that fewer children are better than many.

Perhaps these economic circumstances came along a little late because your old essayist is the seventh child of an eight child family. But I was born in 1922 and today things are much different. There is a medical group that we patronize that has many nurses who have graduated from Catholic schools. As a general principle, it seems to me that those nurses are producing only one or two children per couple. One nurse had her second child not long ago and proclaimed that “This is it!” These are healthy young women who, I suspect, are not going to live the rest of their married life in celibacy. And so it is that the Popes over the years who have denounced the evil effects of birth control now find their parishioners practicing that art. With the cost of raising a child, particularly for those who plan to send their children to college, I can only say that this is a logical improvement.

Well, there you have six cases of disparate ponderings. Perhaps it can be argued that my ponderings reflect a wandering mind. Naturally, I would not agree with that conclusion but I would argue on the other hand that my ponderings recall an era when life was simpler and perhaps more rewarding. Any man who contends that my pondering about girdles for example is evidence of a disturbed mind will most likely never recall the use of girdles. Whatever my ponderings reveal about my inner soul is probably irrelevant. At my age I am very happy that I have enough cerebral power left to think about things such as girdles, athlete’s foot, Charles Atlas, skywriting, Burl Ives, and birth control. I would argue that men who have those kinds of ponderings ought to be celebrated with caviar, foie gras, and the clinking of champagne glasses.

August 16, 2008


These type of essays do a number on my search history. In one tab I have a whole set of pretty horrible images of Trench Foot (they definitely had that in war, even if athlete’s foot wasn’t a thing), and in the next there are all these hokey old ads for a bodybuilder man. Incidentally the Charles Atlas company, insofar as it still exists, seems to have not updated their advertising since the campaign that made them so famous. It’s a pretty incredible throwback to go to his site.

Girdles and skywriting are both common, too. Skywriting is pretty typical at big events like airshows, and girdles go by “Spanx” now but it’s the same deal. Another fun set of search terms, by the way, is “Spanx” followed by “Burl Ives.” I like to think that somewhere out there is a VERY confused advertising robot who very much would like to figure out what I’m trying to buy, but can’t at all piece together what these terms have to do with one another.


When George W. Bush, our current President, ran for the White House in the year 2000, he announced that his campaign was in conformance with the will of God. No one knows how Bush came into this knowledge, but apparently Bush prevailed and became our 43rd President.

I do not wish to court disaster by a derogatory statement about religion but I would say that George Bush’s election in the year 2000 had much more to do with the predilections of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia than with some deity. Non-religious observers such as myself are left to conclude that George Bush and the eminent Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr. Scalia, were both motivated by God and acted in his or her best wishes.

Not long after Mr. Bush assumed the Presidency, he launched the war to invade Iraq. If you remember, that war is still going on and there have been countless casualties and it has contributed heavily to the demise of the American economy. When Bush was told that the former National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, and Bush’s own father, George H. W. Bush, thought it was folly to try to occupy Baghdad, Bush replied that his father could say whatever he wanted but in a matter such as this, George W. relied on a “higher father.” Because men have only one father, objective observers must be left to conclude that in this case Bush was referring again to God.

Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq shows no sign of coming to a conclusion in the immediate future. The only conclusion that some of us can draw is that apparently God makes mistakes also. I would prefer to believe that this was Mr. Bush’s mistake and that God had very little to do with that war or any other turmoil.

Now we have Sarah Palin, who is the Governor of Alaska and was the recent Vice Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. In an interview with Matt Lauer of NBC News, Governor Palin had a unique request of God. She apparently believes that there are doors of opportunity to higher office and has implored God to not let her pass up some such door. She has said that if God identifies a viable objective, she will “plow” through such doors. An objective observer such as myself is given to wonderment at what Governor Palin has in mind. Was such a door of opportunity provided when Ms. Palin went on her shopping spree at the expensive stores in the lower 48? I have no idea but clearly the Governor of Alaska must be dressed appropriately when she knocks on these doors that God controls.

In the recent campaign for the Presidential nomination, none of the Democrats said that they were being guided by the divine hand of God, nor did Senator McCain. For that, they are to be commended and it is my guess that it is quite likely that the doors that Governor Palin forgot to open will remain locked tight when she pursues the Presidential nomination in 2012.

But no matter how you cut it, it seems that the Republicans have a lock on God’s thoughts and earthlings such as myself are left to wonder whether the Democrats are infidels. Your old essayist hardly believes that such is the case. And he hopes also that whatever gods there are will respond favorably to Mr. Obama as he takes over this badly tattered economy as its steward for the next four years. I don’t presume to know what is on God’s mind but I fervently hope that his or her thoughts and actions are favorable.

November 16, 2008


God was pretty cool with Obama from ’08-’12, I guess. We’ll see how he feels about Trump. As far as I can tell, Trump isn’t even particularly about paying lip service to the godly crowd. The closest that he’s gotten (relying purely on my memory), is a common soundbite about how his two favorite books are the bible, and ‘The Art of the Deal.’ I’m sure that Trump feels that god should consider Himself lucky that the bible made it into such a prestigious list.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2006


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


As a general rule, Gentiles who profess a religious faith tend to claim that they are Christians of one sort or another. While Christianity requests that it adherents subscribe to various rules, a good many rules are ignored or are deliberately violated. A case in point is the Catholic teaching that use of birth control is a major sin. If that is so, why do so many Catholic couples call it quits after having two or three children? Are these couples leading celibate lives for the bulk of their marriages? Probably not.

There is also a Christian rule found in the third commandment of the Ten Commandments barring the use of God’s name in vain. As in the case of birth control, this dictum is often ignored or violated. This immutable fact underlies the use of the expression, “Oh, Good Jesus.” This is simply an expression. It is not a cry for Jesus to scoop them up and comfort them. This expression occurs when a statement is made that violates all the accepted principles of credulity. For example, when someone tells you that poor people who do not have enough to eat are ecstatic with their circumstances, the common reaction is generally, “Oh Good Jesus.” The same expression applies when the grand dragon of the Republican Party tells us that the war in Iraq is being fought to make American homes and citizens more secure. Precisely the opposite is the case.

This essay is largely about the abuses of the Bushies in the New Orleans disaster which makes it eminently appropriate for Jews, Buddists, Pagans, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and Zoroastrians to join in the chorus of “Oh, good Jesus.”

The actions of the Bush people about the calamity that was visited upon New Orleans are instructive. Barbara Bush must have enjoyed a terrible fit of anger when she conceived her oldest son, George W. The virgin birth that followed was sanctified 55 years later by the law firm of Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas when they anointed him the President of these United States. When Barbara Bush visited the evacuees from New Orleans in their current home in Houston, she said the following:

“This is working out very well for them. Almost everyone I’ve talked to says they’re going to move to Houston. What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this – this (she cackles slightly) is working out very well for them.”

Marie Antoinette is alive and well in Barbara Bush.

She was speaking about people who had lost everything back home in New Orleans. Barbara says they were underprivileged anyway, so obviously, things are working out well. They are broke, with no job prospects, often separated from their families and 350 miles away. So for Barbara Bush, who more or less said “Let them eat cake,” it must be said:

Oh good Jesus! Barbara, are you nuts?

Her prosperous son, George W. announced in a photo op cabinet meeting that HE, PERSONALLY, was going to find out “what went right and what went wrong.” This, of course, is nothing more than a whitewash. The New York Times says, “We can’t imagine a worse idea.” To that eminent investigative sleuth, we say:

George, good Jesus. Shades of John Ashcroft in the Valerie Plame outing. The MAN himself is going to investigate his own Administration and his own mistakes? Give me a break!

In April or May, when George W. paid a condolence call on Cindy Sheehan and others who had lost their sons in Iraq, he stepped in the room and said, according to Ms. Sheehan, “And who are we honoring today?”

The President of the United States with a support staff numbering in the thousands, cared so little that he ignored, out of laziness, the work done for him prior to his meeting with the bereaved parents. Simply put, he cared not at all. “So who are we honoring here today?”

George, Oh good Jesus is insufficient in this case.

While we are on the deplorable subject of Bush, he is quoted everywhere as saying, “Who knew that waves would top the levees?” The reason those waves topped the levees is that the Bush Administration stopped the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and used the money for tax cuts and for Iraq. Any more questions?

This brings to mind Bush’s girlfriend, Condoleezza who said that prior to September 11, 2001, “NO ONE ever thought of planes flying into buildings.” Madame Secretary was absent from school on the day when Kamikazi crashes in WWII were discussed. That happened in 1943, 1944 and 1945. The World Trade Center happened in 2001. Madame Rice was uninformed for 55 years.

To Bush and his paramour, we say, Oh good Jesus in spades!

More on George W. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives met with Bush in the presence of others. She asked him, in view of everything that went wrong in New Orleans by FEMA, why didn’t Bush fire Michael Brown, head of FEMA. She said that Bush replied, “Why would I do that?” According to Minority Leader Pelosi, Bush said he was unaware of things going wrong in New Orleans. Figure that one out. It must be supposed that the debacle in New Orleans was only a Democratic plot.

On Thursday, the 8th, the Bush Administration starting with Scott McClelland, tried to peddle the line that there had been no colloquy between Pelosi and Bush. Plainly and flatly, the White House was calling Pelosi a liar even though there were several other witnesses.

For this we say, “Oh, sweet smelling good Jesus.” Does anyone see the hand of Karl Rove in this mess?

Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said, “It makes no sense to spend the money to rebuild New Orleans.” Perhaps in Hastert’s view, Bourbon and Canal Streets and all the surrounding New Orleans territory would become a parking lot. This came after he promoted the pork heavy highway bill that donated $200 million to Hastert’s district in Illinois, for his “Prairie Parkway.” That same bill appropriated something on the order of $1 billion to build a bridge in Alaska to connect an outlying island to the mainland. The bridge exceeds the cost of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and connects the 50 residents of the island with the rest of Alaska so that cars do not have to take the ferry. But to rebuild New Orleans? No way. That is good money chasing bad dreams. For you, Dennis Hastert, we say:
Oh good Jesus! Hastert has no shame at all.

When the inept Michael Chertoff who supposedly runs the Department of Homeland Security and his completely incompetent helper, Michael Brown of FEMA said, after two of three days of national television pictures of the squalor in the New Orleans Superdome, “We just found out today about people in the Superdome.” They must watch no television news programs. To them, we say:

Michael and Michael, Oh good Jesus to both of you lying fools.

The Associated Press had a dispatch picked up all over the world. It said that Brown of FEMA had waited – in spite of warnings – until after Katrina had struck the coast. Hours after the disaster, Brown asked Chertoff to dispatch FEMA employees to the region and said that they should arrive “In the next two days.” He wrote that “they should convey a positive image” about the government response. Two days to get there with the thoughts that they were no more than shills for the government’s image. To you, Chertoff and to you Brown –

Oh double good Jesus.

At the photo op cabinet meeting, our Commander in Chief is quoted in the New York Times as “sneering” when he said, “One of the things that some people want us to do here is to play a blame game.” This is the fellow who blamed the lowly enlisted personnel at Abu Ghraib for the nightmare there – and no court-martials or anything else for officers or for Rumsfeld. Only Brigadier General Janet Karpinski, a woman, was censured. This is the fellow, along with Karl Rove, who is contriving blame for Mrs. Blanco, the female Governor of Louisiana – who is a Democrat – to accept responsibility for the Federal government’s failure. For the criminal actions of George Bush, we can only say –

Oh good Jesus! This Administration makes no mistakes.

Even in the early days of the Katrina disaster, there are dozens of other examples where the Bush people failed to take action. George himself took two days to cut off his five week vacation. Then he donned his Air Force #1 jacket to fly over the misery. From 20,000 feet, there is not much that anyone can do.

Tom Friedman, who writes op-ed pieces for the New York Times berated the Administration in scathing terms on September 7, 2005. His two closing thought was:

“If Mr. Bush goes back to his politics as usual, he’ll be thwarted at every turn…Katrina will have destroyed a city and a president.”

If Katrina delivers us from the inept George Bush by destroying his presidency, even this old non-believer will say, “Thank you, Jesus” in place of “Oh good Jesus.”

Final thoughts at this time some ten days after Katrina hit. A poll among Republicans disclosed that 74% of the Republicans polled approve of Bush’s handling of the emergency. This must mean that 74% of the Republican base has no understanding of the poverty that was the lot of New Orleans residents. It must mean that compassion for black people

is something we talk about occasionally – but we do nothing about it. It must mean that the New Orleans disaster makes interesting commentary
during our Republican polo games played at our country club. In a nutshell, it means that Barbara Bush’s attitude of “Let them eat cake” prevails from the boy-king down to the precinct leader in Louisiana. To all of them, every American should say:

Oh, good Jesus! And the Republicans claim to love God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost!

September 8, 2005


Waiting until after a massive hurricane makes landfall to dispatch aid is inexcusable. Sure, if the hurricane is a week away, don’t dispatch FEMA. But if it’s a day away, or twelve hours away, you can be faily certain that it will land, and fully certain that people will need help. The idea that 74% of Republicans thought that that as “good enough” is horrifying.


For two or three years, it has been my intention to write an essay on poetry. If there is a human who knows less about the mechanics of poetry, it would be my pleasure to meet that person. Knowing almost nothing about how a poem is constructed does not bar me from commenting on the finished product any more than citizens are barred from comment and criticism of politicians who know nothing about how a good government should work.

If and when my pen takes paper to record my thoughts about poetry, it will be my contention that the best poetry today is written by lyricists who write poems that are meant to be sung.

Going a step further, it would be my contention that the best poet-songwriter these days is Eric Bogle, a native of Scotland who moved to Australia nearly 35 years ago. Bogle is a prolific author who sings the songs that he has composed including his lyrics.

In all likelihood, Bogle’s best known works are two anti-war songs having to do with the First World War. There is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” a description of the sad adventures of an Australian soldier who was involved in the Battle of Suvla Bay in the Gallipoli region of Turkey. The second is formally called “No Man’s Land.” It is also known as “Willie McBride” and “The Green Fields of France.” That last title is a misnomer because the inspiration for the song came from a British military cemetery in Belgium. That is a small point of no consequence. The burden of the song is a strong indictment of war.

“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a long song-poem which describes the enlistment of an Aussie soldier, the battle, his wounding, and, in later years, his thoughts as his old comrades parade on ANZAC (Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) Day in April. These four lines from “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” have stuck with me for years. The people of governments that promote war should be equally haunted. The lines are:

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

-Eric Bogle

The Aussie soldier lost both legs when he said, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.” I suspect that thought has crossed the minds of many ill people for whom medical science offers no cure or even temporary relief from pain. In some cases, dying would be a release from constant pain. Only the state of Oregon recognizes this miserable situation, but the Bush Administration seems determined to wipe this right off the books and make assisted suicide a major crime. How stupid. We spare household pets the pain of suffering, but such a release is denied to humans. Again, how stupid.

Bogle’s second well known song is his visit to the graveside of Private William McBride, presumably a Scottish soldier killed in the First World War. The first verse sets the stage.

“Well how do you do, Private Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside,
And rest for a while ΄neath the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day and I’m nearly done.

I see by your gravestone you were only 19,
When you joined the great fallen in 1915.
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean,
Or young Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.”

Further on there are these lines:

“But here in this graveyard
It’s still no-man’s land,
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand,
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
To a whole generation which we butchered and damned.
For young Willie McBride it’s all happened again and

The chorus is the refrain:

“I hope you died well and I hope you died clean,
Or Willie McBride was it slow and obscene.”

Bogle offers two prescient thoughts here as they relate to lives drawing to a close. The first is the idea that “never knew there were worse things than dying.” The second is the “hope you died well and I hope you died clean or was it slow and obscene.”

From my own point of view, the thought that human suffering comes about because of a god or a saint prescribing it is rejected out of hand. The supernatural forces that reside somewhere above the clouds is a figment of an overactive imagination. Simply put, as we grow older, our bodies seem unlikely to fight off diseases and ailments that were of no consequence early on. This must be a matter of natural progression from birth to death. But natural progression moves often in cruel ways. Part of the cruelty is that fatal diseases haunt older people. It is not a matter of an ailment taking us away as Bogle says, dying quickly and cleanly, but a matter of imposing a burden for such a time that people will conclude that we didn’t know there were worse things than dying.

A few examples might make the point. For more than 50 years, the Vincendese family has owned and operated Berkeley Hardware in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. The man primarily responsible for its success is Angelo Vincendese, better known as “Lefty.” For the half century that Lefty has been my friend, he has been a dynamo. As he has approached 80 years, he has slowed down and needs some days off. Krones disease has caught up with Lefty. When Judy asked Lefty last week how he was feeling, Lefty gave her a pragmatic answer. He said, “I will never feel well again.” The last thing Lefty would ask for is your sympathy or pity. Lefty’s suffering is such that he must think Krone’s is worse than dying.

There are two of our neighbors who lost their husbands to Parkinson’s Disease. It wasn’t quick and it was not clean. Those brave women tended to their husband’s medical condition for more than three years. As life draws to a close, nature picks on the vulnerable in a cruel and vicious manner.

Two other examples come to mind. One was an atheist, the other a nun. In 1948, when Henry Mencken was a successful and a powerful figure in the publishing business, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Mencken was the bane of preachers and politicians and those who promise you some sort of eternal ecstasy provided you died first. In the years following the stroke, Mencken was unable to write. His mental processes were so afflicted that he could not compose a story or an essay, much less a book. And this was the man whose prose was the gold standard in American literary circles. He lingered for six years before death finally released him. During that time, he must have thought that perhaps his crippled condition made death an attractive alternate.

On the other side of the coin is Mother Angelica, a Catholic nun who was the driving force behind the Eternal Word Television Network. Mother Angelica was the chatterbox of EWTN. There were times when she lectured on her personal guardian angel. She gave him a name and called on him to help her out of tight spots. Why she had a male guardian angel is beyond me, but she called him “Stoney” as in a stone wall. In all seriousness, she told her TV viewers that they could also have a guardian angel – if they really believed. Mother Angelica’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

Mother Angelica must have spent an enormous amount of time before the TV cameras. She was the sales person for selling religious knick-knacks and trinkets such as a plastic heart of Jesus. She was a very busy woman. Three or four years ago, she disappeared from EWTN’s studios. After a long delay, the network announced, without saying so, that she had suffered a stroke that robbed her of the ability to speak.

She may be nearing 80 years, but in the end, she is denied the opportunity to broadcast as Mencken was denied the opportunity to write again. The atheist and the nun. Nature moves in cruel ways. Mother Angelica lives in a Catholic facility and is waiting for God to call her home. In the meantime, she must curse her inability to speak. Remember, some ailments are worse than dying.

There is one other example involving the televised broadcasts of a Presbyterian Church in Summit, New Jersey. We watch the broadcasts until the choir has sung. One of the points in the service at this church is a few minutes devoted to “Joys and Concerns.” An assistant preacher asks for congregants to stand and announce a joy or a concern. On the joy side, someone may announce the arrival of a baby. Ah, but on the concern side, people will ask for prayers for a terminally ill cousin. On some occasions, prayers are asked for a person who must undergo an operation.

The concerns outweigh the joys regularly. Those who ask for prayers may want to avoid the inevitable. No one in this Bible believing church has ever asked that prayers be said for someone to have a speedy, dignified death as in Bogle’s “No Man’s Land”. No one!

Now to close the circle, age and glaucoma have caught up with my eyesight. If all goes well, there will be a delicate operation to drill a hole in my one eye that will permit the aqueous fluid to drain. I have not requested prayers of any kind because of my fear that the prayers would go to the god or saint who ordered me to become afflicted with glaucoma in the first place. Glaucoma is an insidious inherited disease. In my case, it was inherited from my father. Gods, saints, prophets and ascetic worshippers had nothing to do with it.

As difficult as it seems, there may be a bright side to my diminished eye sight. It is clear that when it is necessary to go from one place to another, poles, doors and walls intrude and are hit. There was an occasion when a step was missed resulting in a fall. But think what has been learned that will benefit religious organizations for centuries.

Joseph Ratzinger, the German soldier who became the current Pope, has launched a vigorous drive to root out homosexuals from Catholic seminaries in the United States. Curiously, Ratzinger, who headed the Vatican office of the Inquisition before his elevation, has not moved to separate priests who may be gay. The fury is directed at his seminaries but nothing has been said about the graduates of those seminaries who may be gay. It may have to do with the shortage of priests or it may be a matter that God and the German Pope can come to an agreement on later. In the meantime, no word at all about pedophiles. Is the Pope confused between being gay and being a pedophile?

For all those religious organizations that require male celibacy, one of the products of my limited eyesight may provide a heaven-sent answer.

You may recall an essay from this corner about Saddam Hussien’s jockey shorts. As a result of that essay, I now wear Saddam’s style of jockey shorts. When a man or a seminarian or a religious cleric wears jockey shorts, they must be worn properly to adorn the front of the male body. With my lack of sight, I have discovered that it is disastrous to put the shorts on backwards. But if the German Pope is serious about his new crusade against American seminaries, he can order all seminarians to wear their jockey shorts backward.

There is one more thought to offer in the drive to stamp out gayness in American seminaries. That is to put the shorts on turned inside out. It has the same effect as wearing the shorts backward.

Clearly, the Ed Carr innovations for the use of jockey shorts will be a godsend to those who wish to stamp out gayness in American seminaries. In all modesty, I expect to be decorated for my profound contribution to celibacy in seminaries. Perhaps a robe or a ring would be appropriate.

Well so much for male underclothing. Dealing with the ailments that overtake us at a vulnerable time is not an inspiring subject. It is simply a matter of pragmatism. It happens and nothing is gained by pretending that it is not the case. The sad fact is that Lefty, the hardware store owner, may never feel well again and it happened as he approached 80 years. If the situation becomes so serious, there is always refuge in Eric Bogle’s words, “Never knew there were worse things than dying.”

A final thought. Males seem to contract ailments that last a long time. The wives who take care of them are brave and seem more than willing to make the sacrifice to care for their men. From all of the men, a rousing salute is indeed in order, as well as – “Waltzing Matilda, you’ll come awaltzing Matilda with me.”

October 23, 2005


Real cheery one there, Pop. But I guess that’s kind of the point — there’s a class of things out there which can’t be made nice by trying to have a positive outlook, or by praying about them, or by really anything. There are some indignities that have to be borne slowly or painfully. I think that the ‘worse than death’ part may still be an exaggeration in many of the cases he described above, however. For sure there’s something cruel about a career writer being rendered unable to write, but that doesn’t mean that death would have been the preferable result to Mencken’s stroke. I get that if you’re in some sort of true prolonged agony, there are circumstances where death potentially seems more appealing than life, but there’s to me a pretty wide gap between that and just being majorly inconvenienced.


Those of you who have read these essays may recall my long term high regard for the intellectual achievements of H.L. Mencken, reporter, editor and commentator of the Baltimore Sunpapers as well as the editor and publisher of the Smart Set and the American Mercury magazines. Mencken was also the author of some 80 books including the monumental three volume work on the “American Language.”

When it came to biblical miracles and the state of the American electorate, Mencken was ordinarily acerbic. Fifty years have now passed since Mencken’s death. As an observer of the passing American political scene, the reasons for being acerbic have now increased exponentially.

The American electorate is terminally uninformed – by its own choice. Readership in newspapers and news magazines has fallen dramatically. At the same time, there is a gigantic increase in watching tasteless television shows. Gossip and “reality” shows are everywhere. At a time of great national debate about such things as the ill-gotten war in Iraq, or stem cell research, much of the American electorate was absorbed in the Michael Jackson trial or in trash TV shows such as “Desperate Housewives.” The Fox TV network is nothing more than an outlet for the propaganda of the Bush Administration.

Two observations of Mencken made in the 1920’s continue to have relevance today. In the first, Mencken wrote, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

The second Mencken quote was made in 1920 and had to do with the American presidency. In it, Mencken writes, “As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a down right moron.”

There are a good number of observers, American and foreign, who have long since concluded that that day arrived in 2001 with the inauguration of George W. Bush.

It is my long held contention that the decline in the perception of the American electorate is due largely, or exclusively, to the effects of religion. There are those in the conservative movement such as Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, who contend that there is no such thing as the separation between church and state in this country. George Bush has given U.S. government grants of more than one billion dollars to religious organizations in his so-called “Faith Based Initiative.” Bush and the conservatives have moved this country from a democracy toward a Fascist Republican theocracy. Under Bush, there is an ever increasing limitation of our civil liberties.

To the extent that Americans embrace evangelic concepts, there will be grave disenchantment among intellectuals here and abroad where secular concepts are well established. The plain fact is that as the American electorate embraces religious concepts, it is committed to accepting ideology over reality. The fantasies of Bush and Tony Blair impose religious belief over reason, faith over facts. The conservatives live in an Alice-in-Wonderland faithfulness. For example, they believe that Bush wants to get to the bottom of the Karl Rove “outing” blunder.

The dictionary defines faith as “Firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” American GI’s used to say that faith applies when the facts or the brains run out. Not a very convincing prospect for running democracies such as the U.K. or the U.S.

My basic premise is that to the extent that the American electorate believes in Biblical myths, fantasies and impossible miracles, that same electorate will be willing to accept the lies, half truths, distortions and the inverse logic of the Bush administration.

If, for example, you believe that the Bible is the word of God, it is likely that you will, indeed, believe that Joshua stopped the sun and the moon in their tracks. (Joshua X:12 and 13) If any religionist accepts that thought, it will be easy for such a person to believe the war in Iraq is going swimmingly and that the insurgency is “in its final throes,” according to Chaney.

If, in accepting the word of God as reported by the Bible, you actually believe that Jonah spent three days among the gastric juices in the belly of “a great fish,” it should give you no trouble in believing that the war in Iraq is being fought to “lay the groundwork for democracy.” (See Bush at the G-8 meeting in Scotland earlier this month.)

If you believe in demons and witchcraft which can only be thwarted by fervent prayer and making contributions to the church coffers, you should have no trouble at all in believing that Terri Schiavo was afflicted by demons placed there by her husband.

If you believe as a matter of conscience that the recent tsunami was not the work of God but of Satan, then you are a prospect for fighting to do away with the “morning after” pill and all contraception in the name of holy abstinence.

If you believe that it is a fact that Jesus could cure dropsy and leprosy, then you must be willing to accept the ban, by Bush, on stem cell research. More than 70% of Americans believe the ban is ill conceived.

If you believe that Jesus could control a violent storm by yelling at it, then you must believe that there is no such thing as global warming. Small note: On July 24, 2005 the temperature in Chicago, the Windy City, was 103 degrees. On that same evening, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago Cubs in an evening game. The temperature was 96 degrees. Global warming, the subject of the Kyoto Treaty, is a fact regardless of what Bush thinks.

If you believe as a matter of fact that Jesus could walk on water, then you are a candidate to believe that Karl Rove and “Scooter” Libby did nothing to “out” Valerie Plame. It was simply a matter of divine providence.

Blindness is a matter of special interest to me. If you believe that blindness yields to divine power, then can we be told why there are so many seeing eye dogs and white canes? Are all blind people unremitting sinners?

If you believe that impotence and a case of high fever can be taken care of by appeals to preachers and saints, as stated in the Bible, then why do we have Medicare and thousands of specialists and hospitals? And what about Cialis and Viagra? Do they have divine approval?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is usually referred to as the Mormon Church, believes that Joseph Smith uncovered a secret tablet buried in the outskirts of Palmyra, New York. Mormons believe that Smith was given a special pair of spectacles so he could read the sacred tablet, which became the Mormon Bible. Now if you believe that preposterous myth, then you should have no trouble in believing that God, himself or herself, asked or directed George Bush to be the United States president. Bush would not have accepted the direction from anyone else.

A report in the July 30, 2005 issue of the Newark Star-Ledger says that a plaster statue of Jesus, in Newark, winked at some viewers. Others said the statue closed its eyes and other said it wept. All this from a plaster Jesus rescued from a trash heap last year. Now it you believe that the statue winks, closes its eyes and sheds tears, then you should have no trouble believing that Bush is indeed, a uniter not a divider.

Finally, if you accept the thought that Jesus fed a multitude with a fish or two, please call him to deal with Bush when in a matter of two or three years, our budget surplus has turned into an enormous deficit. Our financial future is in the hands of Chinese bankers. As Chaney said, “Deficits don’t matter.” Our children and grandchildren will find out about that preposterous thought.

There are hundreds of examples which demonstrate that as belief in myths, fantasies and impossible miracles imprison the American electorate, they will tend to accept the lies of the Bush administration and as they did in 2004, they will vote against their own self interests.

Bush is a divisive influence. His interests are in the wealthy and in big corporations, certainly not in people trying to make it from one paycheck or one welfare check to the next one.

It pains me greatly as a patriot and as an old soldier to see what Bush has done to this country, which is becoming a fascist state through the imposition of laws restricting civil liberties.

Bush and Blair loudly proclaim their devotion to God, which primarily accounts for ignorant rubes voting to violate their own interests. Bush has always maintained that the “enemies” of the U.S. are motivated by jealousy of our freedom. Blair has now followed with a series of statements calling the London bombings are the product of a “vile philosophy.” Bush are Blair have terminal cases of ineptitude. As long as the U.S. and the U.K. occupy an Arab land, there will be continued insurgency and more bombings on our home territory. They are deceiving themselves with talk of jealousy of our freedom or a “vile philosophy.” We are brutal occupiers, which earns us every hard knock that the Arabs can launch on us.

Now for a geography lesson. The Red Sea covers 170,000 square miles. Its width is 225 miles and its trough is 7000 feet. It connects the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez in the north with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea in the south. There is a local preacher who often refers to the parting of the waters of the Red Sea so some children of God could walk across. If you accept that as a fact of history, you will have no trouble with Bush claiming he has found the WMD’s, as he claimed in Poland, or with his desire to “get to the bottom” of the Karl Rove scandal. Again the American electorate, particularly in the South, is a willing victim of belief in miracles that have never happened. But they believe.

Before leaving the subject of miracles and the American electorate, it may be well to consider the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary’s alleged “bodily assumption” into a place called Heaven.

In the Catholic Church, Mary holds the rank of the “Perpetual Virgin.” Specifically, it means that having borne Jesus, she is still somehow a Virgin who is untouched by Original Sin.

Now if the Perpetual Virgin is accepted by large segments of the American electorate, how does it square with the Gospel of Mark? In Chapter 6, Verse 2, he speaks of the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings.

Verse 3 then says: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and of Juda and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.”

The Bible says Mary produced at least seven children. How does that square with her “Perpetual Virginity”?

In Galatians, Chapter 1, Verse 19, we find: “But other of the apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord’s brother.”

In the Missouri Ozarks where tall tales come from, selling Mary as a normal virgin, much less as a perpetual virgin, would take salesmanship to its outer limits. And yet people who believe this myth are full fledged members of the American electorate. Mencken, where are you now?

Speaking of the Missouri Ozarks brings up some uplifting further points about Mary’s virginity or lack thereof. My recent reading has taken me to John Shelby Spong, the retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark. Spong is a learned man who has written 24 books. His latest is “Sins of Scripture” published earlier this year. With respect to Mary’s alleged virginity, Spong has this to say about apologists who supported the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity:

“The holy womb which bore the Christ child, could not have been contaminated later by other babies…
Suddenly, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, mentioned in Galatians (1:19) and Mark (6.3) had to be reconfigured: They became half siblings, cousins or perhaps Joseph’s children from a prior marriage and thus no kin at all of Jesus.

“Later they saw in the Johannine story of the resurrection an account in which Jesus came into the room even though the windows were shut and the door locked, another indication of the ability of Jesus to pass through the birth canal without destroying the virginal hymen. Tales actually began to circulate about Jesus being born out of Mary’s ear.”

So you see, Bishop Spong, a holy man, has written an account of Mary’s virginity that even the tellers of stories in the Ozarks could not top. And the Mary supporters are often Republican stalwarts.

Now to take the legend of the virginity of Mary one step further, we find that on December 8, 1854, the Vatican declared her to be immaculately conceived without original sin. On November 1, 1950, the Vatican announced that the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven. Some 1950 years after Mary expired, the Vatican proclaimed that her body left earth and was received in heaven. Bishop Spong has this to say about bodily ascension:

“Of course stories of bodily ascensions are mythological. One does not get to heaven by rising off the ground and heading into the sky. One might end up in orbit instead. That would present an interesting portrait: Jesus circling the earth in eternal orbit. Failing that, one might rise into the infinity of space. It would be a long journey. Of the ascension of Jesus could occur at the speed of light, approximately 186,000 miles per second, it would still take Jesus more than 100 thousand years just to escape our single galaxy to say nothing of the other two hundred billion or so galaxies in the visible universe.”

So it must be assumed that Bishop Spong must doubt Mary’s alleged ascension to a place of eternal ecstasy far above the clouds. The point here is simple. People who accept the Mary myth as a fact must believe that Bush, who claims he is a man of God, has the best interests of Christians and Moslems and Hindus and Buddhists and non-believers at heart at all times. That is some stretch.

In this essay, we started out by referring to Henry Mencken about the sad state of American democracy. We ended with the writing of Bishop John Shelby Spong, one of the most influential Protestant churchmen in the United States. Mencken and Spong are both realists, which accounts for their attraction to everyone with a modicum of intellect.

This essay would not be complete without a reference to the Evangelist Pat Robertson. When we speak of the deficiencies of the American electorate and the influence of religion on its thoughts, Pat Robertson is one of the preachers we have in mind.

In 1992 in a fund raising effort, the apostle Pat Roberson wrote these lines:

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

We know that the American electorate is motivated largely by religious concerns no matter if those concerns are based on myths, fantasies and impossible miracles. To the extent that the views of Pat Robertson and his kind are reflected in the American electorate, rational people will be repulsed and the march toward a Fascist theocracy will continue. As for Henry Mencken and for most objective observers of the American electorate, acerbic is still the operative word.

This essay has been written with the hope that sanity will eventually replace the myths, fantasies and miracles that now prevail. It may be a forlorn hope, but it’s all we have at this juncture.

July 27, 2005


It should be noted that all of these essays have that Copyright line in there, which I don’t tend to include. I’m not sure he ever actually got such a copyright registered, but it’s always on there. I wonder if I’ve been in violation by failing to include it.
Essays like this also remind me to be thankful that Tom DeLay is no longer a thing that I have to think about. Take what you can get, you know?

OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE | Meditations: Chapter 17, Verses Amu to Emu

For good reasons, New Orleans remains in the news. Its prominence in the news may go on for years. Two events account for our attention to New Orleans these days. The first is the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The second is a presumably powerful prayer released by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who claims that he is responsible for the insurgency in Iraq.

So that there is no mistake of any kind, the author of this essay is no Methodist Bishop. He is unaffiliated with any religion and accepts the discipline of no faith. Accordingly, his views on religious matters are offered as distinctly objective observations. The questions that are asked herein are intended to fill in the holes of a non-believer’s intellect. And so we start with Abu Musan al-Zarqawi.

This past week, al-Zarqawi announced that Hurricane Katrina came about as the result of prayers directed by himself and other Muslim faithful to Allah, who presumably resides in Paradise. While Paradise seems to be located somewhere in outer space, it would seem to occupy a different location from the Heaven that Christians aspire to. For example, Roman Catholics insist that their church is the only true church. Joseph Ratzinger, the Bishop of Rome and the current Pope, probably would take enormous objection to having an Islamic Paradise located anywhere near the Heaven that is presided over by the Christian Trinity. It is possible that outer space may become cluttered with Paradises and Heavens when the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Seventh Day Adventists and other faiths construct their final resting place.

Al-Zarqawi insists that his praying to Allah brought Katrina to New Orleans. He may have been inspired by a group of militant branch of the Jewish faith who invoked an ancient prayer to have Itzak Rabin assassinated. Currently, the Jewish radicals are praying for the assassination of Ariel Sharon because of his removal of Jews from Gaza. As you can see, the air waves are filled with prayers including those importuning the various Gods to kill their enemies.

As an objective observer and as a former AT&T employee, it would seem to me that there is a high likelihood that such prayers may well arrive at the wrong destination. Consider the Bishop of Rome, a celibate old man, mistakenly asking Allah to reserve 50 young virgins for his arrival. Even AT&T in its heyday could not fully guarantee that every call would always reach the desired party. So the Bishop of Rome has to expect a wrong number now and then.

So your author finds himself in a state of total confusion. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are located in what most people would consider a Christian country. Even the underclass consisting mostly of black people is similar to the days of slavery described in the Christian Bible. The question that must be answered is where was the Christian Trinity when Katrina set out to destroy the homes, the lives and the jobs for so many Christians? Did the Trinity agree that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast would be destroyed? Or was it a case of not caring about the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama one way or another?

Could it possibly be that al-Zarqawi and that miserable SOB Satan were in a position to answer the prayers of the Muslims? If that is the case, it would appear that Allah and/or Satan is more powerful than the Trinity. That would seem to be the case when logic is applied.

A similar case happened last January when 2,000,000 people lost their lives in the tsunami in South East Asia. Most of those people were Muslims, if they had any religion at all. Did the Christian Trinity take a pass on that non-Christian tragedy or was it, as in Katrina, overpowered? It would be good to have a reasoned discussion on these events.

These are age old questions. It seems to me that if death is unavoidable, which it is, there is no better place for it to happen than in New Orleans, hence the title of this piece. It seems to me that New Orleanians often share a philosophy that enhances my life. Dying is part of living. In my view, life ends after a time and thoughts of endless ecstasy in a Heaven or a Paradise are no more than figments of a lively imagination by preachers.

In New Orleans, when a person dies and is to be buried, often in above ground cemeteries, there is ordinarily a parade to the cemetery led by a brass band. The procession to the cemetery is accompanied by slow steps to hymns played by the band. When the burial is accomplished, the work of the band really only starts. On the way to the cemetery, the band plays such old time hymns as, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There.” These are religious pieces, of course. Ah, but on the way back to town, the band will probably play, “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque” and certainly, “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble,” neither of which would be played by a proper Yankee church organist.

W. C. Handy wrote the words to “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble.” Louis Armstrong added some lyrics. The two versions are similar in most respects. It may be instructive to quote a verse or two. The first is from Louis Armstrong, the second is from W. C. Handy.

“He slipped into a cat house and made love to the stable
Madam caught him cold….said I’ll pay you when I’m able
Six months passed…and she stood all she could stand
She said buddy when I’m through with you
Old groundhog gonna be shaking yo’ hand.”

by Louis Armstrong

“He rambled into an Irish wake one St. Patrick’s night,
They asked him what he’d like to drink, they meant to treat him rightly
But like the old Kilkenny cats, their backs began to arch,
When he called for orange phosphate, on the seventeenth of March.”

by W. C. Handy

The chorus is:

“And didn’t he ramble…he rambled
Rambled all around – in and out of town
Oh didn’t he ramble – he rambled
You know he rambled – till the butcher cut him down.”

The words may not make perfect sense, but for goodness sakes, this is a New Orleans jazz song written for a brass band. If al-Zarqawi came to New Orleans and died, it would be my guess that a brass band would play “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque” and “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble” with an Islamic lilt. As W. C. Handy wrote, “They meant to treat him rightly.”

When all is said and done, this old soldier-essayist does not believe
al-Zarqawi’s prayers to Allah caused the catastrophe in New Orleans. No way. Nor did his prayers cause Hurricane Rita.

The same thought applies when Christians of the U.S. importune Jesus and the Holy Ghost to grant us success in the occupation of Iraq and the torture of prisoners there and at Gitmo.

Prayers exist to please the one who prays. As far as anyone can find out, prayers seem to change nothing. Maybe that is enough and maybe it is not.

A case in point is Rose, my sister-in-law. She and my eldest brother, Charles Halley were married about when the Hoover Depression hit. Charley was dogmatic about most things in life. Rose assumed his dogmatic attitude was intelligence, so she accepted Charley’s views on everything. When Charley went off the deep end on Christianity, Rose followed him.

Some time around the age of 60, Charley died. Some time later a fatal illness overtook Rose. It was clear that she would never leave the hospital alive. It was my duty to help good old Rose. When a Person-to-Person call was placed from my office or residence, the person who answered was told by the local operator that “New York is calling Rose Carr.” Word got around that Rose had a well wisher in New York who called her St. Louis hospital. It may have given her some pleasure and prestige in her final days.

In my last call, Rose, a fervent believer in prayer, notified me that she had succeeded in “getting three churches” to pray for her. The prayers in those three churches may have pleased the ones who prayed, but Rose died a day or so after our last conversation. The prayers seemed to be unanswered.

So the message is clear for al-Zarqawi in Iraq or for some evangelical Nazarenes in St. Louis. Prayers may make the ones praying feel better, but they have no effect at changing the course of events in our lives. But if people feel better by praying, please let them do it.

September 17, 2005

Prayer for health is a little tricky. It turns out that not only is there no correlation between prayer and better results, if you tell someone that people are praying for him, he’s likely to do worse than he would do normally.

But in addition to doing nothing for the victim (in a best-case scenario), I think prayer also has an adverse impact on the person praying. I don’t like it for the same reason that I don’t like other token, meaningless gestures of support — it makes you feel like you’ve done your part even though you haven’t. If there’s a really important cause out there, people who post a token supportive Tweet and people who send out a prayer are making the same mistake; they’re tricking their own minds into thinking that they’ve Made a Difference. In reality this creates a sort of compassion fatigue, wherein these same people are less likely to actually go to a protest, write to a congressperson, etc; they feel like they’ve already contributed toward this goal, so they don’t need to take additional measures of support. That’s bad.

So I guess the takeaways here are that if you’re going to pray for someone, by no means tell them that you’re doing so, and if you’re going to pray for something, remember that God helps those who help themselves. As soon as you’re done praying, go try to make an actual change.

QUESTIONS IN SEARCH OF ANSWERS | Meditations: Chapter 13, Verses Pre-Genesis to Mid-Malachi

From time to time, questions come along that make me wonder if anyone else has similar questions and whether any solutions really exist. The questions are so persistent that they must be acknowledged even though there may be no answers at all. Try some of these.

Verse 1: Poor Health, Men’s Division
The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court has been afflicted with cancer. To see him try to walk is a disheartening experience. His cancer treatments kept him home bound for much of the 2004-2005 Supreme Court term. In recent weeks, he has required hospitalization for fever. The Chief Justice, William Rehnquist is now past 80 years of age.

He claims that he is keeping up with his work while at home by reading briefs and the minutes of court proceedings. In spite of his myriad of difficulties, he seems intent upon remaining as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

If he retired, it is likely he would receive a substantial pension along with health care. But he elects to shuffle along with his cap pulled down tightly on his head and tries to go to work. If Rehnquist worked for me, there would be a small personnel conference, at which time he would be told that between his ailments and his age, he should attend his own going away party as promptly as possible.

The business of the U.S. is too important that it not be left to aged invalids. This old essayist has never enjoyed the spiritual comfort that some derive from Catholicism. None-the-less, for several years it struck me that the Polish Pope, John Paul II should have retired for the same reasons that apply to Rehnquist. He was well past 80 years and had suffered from Parkinson’s disease. His mobility was seriously compromised. His voice was often inaudible. Yet he went through the motions of being Pope of the Roman Catholic Church until death claimed him.

Is this a matter of male vanity? In my own family, my father was basically blind from age 65 onward. Yet he found a used car salesman who sold him a big Buick that would barely fit in the garage. And the used car salesman had to drive the Buick home as my father could not see.

Women have face lifts. Some men have vanity in such proportions that it tends to blind and to kill them. This is one question that needs an answer.

Verse 2: Senator Frist’s Pre-Born Again Conversion
Bill Frist is a heart surgeon from Tennessee who is now the majority leader in the U.S. Senate. For a time now, he has been running hard to convince Right Wing Conservatives that he is a Bible believing Southern Baptist who would make a good president. In many respects, his campaign has come at the expense of his legislative duties.

For unknown reasons, Frist and other politicians have adopted the positions of the Catholic Church. For example, no Protestant church that is known to me, has decreed that life begins at conception. For all the years that preachers have tortured me with their prolix sermons, no Protestant preacher has ever preached on conception being the original key to life. They may think so, but Protestants have never made a point of it being a matter of infallibility.

Even the far out sects such as the Nazarenes, the Pentecostals, the Southern Baptists and the Free Will Baptists have preached that their adherents must be born again. That is a matter of infallibility.

Yet Frist, a Baptist, who will apparently do anything or say anything or adopt any religious precept, has announced that life begins at conception. How does that square with being born again? It isn’t a matter of being conceived again; Protestants believe in being born again.

That raises substantial questions. In dozens of cases such as enlisting in the U.S. Army, one of the major questions has been “Date of Birth” and “Place of Birth.” Now if we are going to take Frist and the other politicians seriously, we are going to have to change countless forms and applications.

How could a person state the date when she or he had been conceived? Hard to say. Can anyone imagine the embarrassment when the proper amount of time had not elapsed between the DOC and the DOB? Why bring up skeletons from the basement?

Now what are we going to do about where the conception took place? When a live baby appears, hospital personnel fill out a birth certificate saying that the birth took place in this hospital in a specific city and county. So we know where the DOB took place. But what are we going to do about the DOC’s? Are we all to be Paris Hiltons whose parents contend that she was conceived there within a few meters of the Eiffel Tower? What are we to do with people who travel a lot, such as traveling salespersons? They would have no idea as to whether the DOC took place in Chicago, Des Moines or Crawford, Texas.

Obviously, Protestant Frist has not thought through his adoption of the Roman position on conception. But if this is the wave of the future, all of us must prepare ourselves with some rational answers. There are questions here that need to be answered as long as politicians embrace the precepts of the Roman church. Perhaps the Roman Church might blaze new trails by holding that as a condition of entering heaven, everyone must be conceived again. That will keep this Roman Church a full stride ahead of Martin Luther’s Protestants.

Verse 3: The Dullest Speakers Wear Eagles and Stars
For more than 63 years, that is the summer of 1942, it has been my sad duty to attempt to figure out what Colonels, Generals and Admirals are attempting to say. When it comes to sheer absolute dullness, high level military people compete with preachers and politicians in the World Series of uninspiring discourse.

There is a reason for this, of course. Early in my career as an Army private, a situation arose where it seemed appropriate to offer a solution. The sergeant informed me in thunderous tones that “You, Private Carr, don’t get paid to think.” For quite a while, it became my practice to think, but not to announce the results of my cerebral activity. Like Galileo Galilei who muttered to church authorities that regardless of what they thought, it was the earth that turned. And so this Private also muttered about less consequential things.

Simply put, the military services put a premium on acceptance of authority even if that authority is completely wrong. Men, and now some women, rise in the ranks by keeping their mouths shut. There is no such thing as a maverick general or an admiral who demonstrates a better way. The mantra is to get along by going along. Even on a disastrous course.

An example may be helpful. General Shinseki was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which is the top U.S. military job. When the Iraq invasion took place, General Shinseki offered the thought that to occupy and pacify Iraq, something like 400,000 to 500,000 troops would be needed.

That viewpoint flew in the face of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who had persuaded his boss that Iraq could be conquered on the cheap. The Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, was caustic in criticizing General Shinsiki. In a matter of months, Shinseki was, in effect, fired. Remember, you don’t get paid for thinking. That seems to apply to Privates as well as to Four Star Generals.

In point of fact, ever since the disastrous Iraq invasion has taken place, there have been calls for more troops to make our occupation succeed. But no General in the field wishes to have the Shinseki treatment visited upon him, so we struggle with a grossly undersized force.

The military doctrine of not being paid to think shows up when our military brass tries to explain things. To prevent criticism from Congress, the press or other military officers, they invariably read from a script which makes for utter dullness. When they agree to answer questions, they lapse into military jargon using initials for names and say virtually nothing.

Even the sainted Colin Powell had trouble speaking effectively. His major speech to the United Nations Security Council shortly before our Commander in Chief launched his ill fated invasion of Iraq, was shortly shown to be false. This was the speech where he guaranteed the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

The blunt fact is that the U.S. military abhors innovation as much as they protest to the contrary. This is a get along by going along outfit. To make an interesting statement or an interesting speech requires thought and the willingness to advocate something other than saying something absolutely without controversy.

The question that must be posed to our readers is how must dullness be considered a virtue in military matters? It appears that dullness in our military will be with us as long as the generals and admirals insist that soldiers and sailors don’t get paid for thinking.

Verse 4: Monuments
In the civilized world, there must be several million monuments. Maybe many more. Of all these edifices, only one involves me. That is the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C. which honors the military men and women who took part in that war.

Unfortunately, that is indeed an enormous monument which pleases politicians, but it doesn’t say much for the soldiers and sailors who were involved in World War II.

This overwhelming monument was built with no input from any old soldier known to me. It was built largely because there were memorials for the Korean War and the War in Vietnam. Bob Dole, the Senator from Kansas, was the moving force to build the monument which is why some of us say it was built to please politicians.

Aside from being antiseptic, it is overblown. It is a loud military brass band backing the National Symphony with a chorus of 10,000 voices. It would be better to have a single guitar player or a cello to memorialize that war.

The Korean War memorial is a stark reminder of what soldiers encounter in dealing with an enemy. It is a magnificent memorial.

The wall with the 58,000 names of the dead from the Vietnam War carries a moving message. More than anything else, it is an antiwar statement and it is a magnificent memorial to the fallen.

It seems to me that the World War II monument would have profited from simplicity. There is a wall in that monument that honors the 400,000 military people lost in that war. That might just be enough of an understatement to make an impression. But in addition to that wall, there are 50 or 52 tall stone obelisks for each state. But understatement has never been a characteristic of American politicians.

So the question that remains is whether it is worth seeing. Absolutely – provided you see it together with the Korean and Vietnamese memorials. The key here is that World War II is marked by a monument. The other two are marked by memorials. Memorials are better.

Verse 5: Envelopes and Screw Top Bottles
Companies that send me bills often include an envelope that requires me to be certain that the addressees name shows through the plastic window. This is a hassle that no one needs. Is there anything wrong with sending a return envelope that does not require such dexterity?

Now about screw top containers that require that the lid be forced down before it may be unscrewed. Allegedly, this is a device to protect our children. In this house, there are no children. When a bottle of 100 tablets is purchased, for example, for each of those one hundred attempts to extract one pill, the cap must be pushed down with which it becomes cross threaded. People become heathens for less provocation than the push down caps.

There has to be a better way of dealing with envelopes and bottles. Your suggestions will be welcome. And while we are at it, the fastening devices at the top of cereal boxes are often deplorable. There are those of us who believe the alleged most advanced country in the world ought to be able to design cereal boxes that shut without a degree in industrial engineering.

These are a few of the questions that give me pause. Perhaps future Meditations will provide some answers. But in all likelihood, as age creeps up on me, there will only be more unanswered questions and fewer answers.

August 13, 2005


I wonder — I think Pop’s blindness set in in 2005 sometime, but this essay doesn’t reference it in the fifth section. You’d think that would be the reason why everything else mentioned was particularly inconvenient, but maybe that’s implied.

Meanwhile I think the bit about male vanity towards the top of the essay was pretty spot-on. Pride can definitely drive people to make some pretty obvious mistakes. The best thing Joseph Ratzinger ever did was to recognize when it was time to retire from the papacy.