Archive for the September Category


Last Saturday, August 28, Glenn Beck, the Fox broadcaster, held his much-heralded event in Washington on the Mall. He says that choosing the 47th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King was an accident on his part. He claims that he did not know that on August 28, 1963 Dr. King delivered his famous speech in exactly the same location he had chosen for his rally last week. If you will excuse me, I will suggest that Glen Beck is a consummate liar. He had to know because the people who gave him the authority to hold his rally obviously would have told him that this was the anniversary of the King speech.

But be that as it may, Beck advertised his event as a religious one rather than a political one. The theme of the meeting was to “turn back to God.” Clearly and unequivocally he thought that turning back to God tells us that we had looked the other way or turned our back on God, which of course is the source of all the troubles that we have been experiencing. I suppose that when we turned our back on God, we invaded Iraq for example. On the other hand, George Bush was the President of the United States who made that decision to invade Iraq. He claims to be a very religious man who received counsel directly from God that he should run for the Presidency. As in the case of Beck, I consider Bush a hypocrite and a full-fledged liar.

To help reinforce the theme of the meeting, turning back to God, Brother Beck invited the former governor of the great state of Alaska to be his keynote speaker. Apparently she was eager for the challenge and for forty minutes or thereabouts she lathered the crowd with her version of turning back to God. For whatever it is worth, I consider Mrs. Palin to be a hypocrite as well as one who is unschooled in the ways of the world. She considers that people who have attended schools such as Harvard or Yale and the Ivy Leagues as somehow undesirable. It could be said that the title of undesirable might also apply to Mrs. Palin.

But the theme of the conference from Glen Beck and Mrs. Palin was turning back to God. As I said, this is a declarative statement that leaves no room for nuance or invitation. It suggests that our troubles flow from turning away from God.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on religious matters, so I will offer a few observations. When the audience is told that we must turn back to God, it seems to me that several supporters of God will be greatly offended. For example, there are those who consider themselves red hot Christians who will deny, with a great stamping of feet, that they ever turned their backs on God. I am personally acquainted with some of those religious enthusiasts who would be greatly offended to be told that now they must turn back to God. Some of my acquaintances border on zealots and they would deny that there is any reason to turn back to God because they never abandoned him in the first place. So the theme of the conference involving those two, Mrs. Palin and Glen Beck, becomes very confusing because of this contretemps of turning back to God.

Secondly, in those who subscribe to the faith of the Jews, it would seem preposterous for an Alaskan Christian and a Mormon such as Beck, to say to the Jews that they must turn back to God. The Jews have been at this religious business for a whole lot longer than the Christians and the Mormons have. I believe that it is utterly silly to tell them that they should now turn back to God. My guess is that few Jews went to the rally last Saturday.

The third point would have to do with the growing number of Muslims in this country. If I understand their rituals, they prescribe prayer on five separate occasions on each day. And then Friday, their holy day, they are exhorted by their imams so it seems to me that they are a very religious people.

And finally, there are the non-believers, of which I am one. Based on the council of Sarah Palin and the Fox News broadcaster Glen Beck, who turned back to God, I would contend that all of us are unconvinced by a speech given by Sarah Palin, and the meeting of Glen Beck. The speech and the meeting by Glen Beck would in no way convince me to abandon my beliefs which Beck and Palin would consider the beliefs of infidels. If those two consider those of us who are non-believers to be infidels, I want to be among their number.

If Beck and Palin conclude that their turn back to God meeting in Washington has resulted in an outpouring of religious belief, I would suggest that there seems to be no revival spirit among the people I have seen recently. America has not been converted into a nation of zealots as a result of Beck’s rally in Washington. Those who are not addicts of the Fox Broadcasting Company will still regard Beck as an untrustworthy performer. And as for Mrs. Palin, there is a very interesting and long article in Vanity Fair this month. Among other things, the article contends that Mrs. Palin is un-God-like in her conduct in Alaska. The article says that when Mrs. Palin has a dispute with her husband, they throw canned vegetables at each other and make liberal use of the “f” word connected to “you.” It could be that Mrs. Palin would be well advised to turn to God herself.

It is also of interest that Kathleen Parker, a Republican writer for the Washington Post, has concluded that returning to God is the twelfth step in the rehabilitation of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. It appears from Ms. Parker’s article that Glen Beck has had his problems with alcohol.

Well, there you have my views on the grandiose meeting in Washington sponsored by Glen Beck with the featured speaker being Mrs. Palin. A week later, nobody seems to have remembered what that meeting was called for. But my own view is that when people such as those two tell us that we must all turn back to God, they are nothing more than charlatans and deserve to continue to be ignored.

And in the meantime, I can’t imagine that devout Christians, devout Jews, or devout Muslims are going to be thrilled by Sarah Palin and Glen Beck telling them that it is time to turn back to God.



September 6, 2010

Essay 494


Kevin’s commentary:

I’m sure more people would have found this offensive if there was anyone left who actually gave a damn about the opinions of either of these two. Even most republicans have by this point recognized that he is a screaming nutjob manchild and she’s simply a moron.


I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject of being cuckolded.  While my expertise is negligible or almost non-existent, I must say that when an example of cuckoldedness takes place and is confirmed by one of the participants, I am obliged to pay attention.  The incident in question took place in two cities, starting in 1950, which is now 60 years ago, and I assume that all of the participants either are dead or are senile, which makes it appropriate for me to comment.

This is a telephone story.  In 1950, the long-distance arm of AT&T elected to establish three area offices.  They were in White Plains, New York; in Cincinnati; and, finally, in Kansas City, Missouri.  At that moment, I was offered a job which was my first managerial job with AT&T.  The job was in Kansas City.  It had to do with buying furniture and moving it so that when the new participants in the area office showed up, they would have a place to work.

Before the move to Kansas City, I had worked in St. Louis.  The division attorney for AT&T in St. Louis was a personable fellow whom we shall call Harry.  While Harry held an important managerial job and I was the president of the union, we became quite friendly.  There was one case when Harry told me that “You guys are going to win this one.”  It involved a suit by the union against AT&T.

When the reorganization was completed, Harry had been moved to the Commercial Department and had jurisdiction over district offices in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Dallas.

The area manager of the Commercial Department was a gentleman whom we will call Edwin.  Edwin came from New York and was much impressed with himself.  He had spent a good bit of time complaining that services that were available in New York were not available in Kansas City.  I totally agreed with that thought but expressed nothing.  He was an immaculate dresser with his initials stitched on his French cuffs.  Edwin was a big shot and he intended to play that role.  While Edwin had very little interest in the district offices in St. Louis and Dallas, he was much consumed by offices he intended to establish in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  This meant that Edwin would spend a good bit of time on the road away from his office in Kansas City.

When Edwin arrived on the scene in Kansas City, he called a meeting of his division managers which of course included my friend Harry.  There was a dinner that evening.  For reasons unknown to me, Edwin brought his wife to that dinner.  When Edwin’s wife found my friend Harry, love began to bloom.  Many years later, Harry told me that on that occasion she had made arrangements to call him in St. Louis whenever Edwin left town.  Edwin was consumed with the vision of establishing district offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco;  therefore, opportunity for him to be out of town was frequent.

Apparently, when Edwin took off for the West Coast, his wife in Kansas City had called my friend Harry in St. Louis and had made it clear to him that he would be welcome if he made a trip to Kansas City.

This may be a bizarre story to some.  It was told to me by my friend Harry whom I trusted implicitly.  Harry was married to a full-fledged dud of a wife and, at that point, all of the kindling was ready to be set afire.

I was not aware of the fact that Edwin’s wife had a lover in St. Louis.  More than that, I had no idea whatsoever that the lover was none other than my friend Harry, the Division Commercial Manager.  Edwin held that job in Kansas City for the better part of four years and whenever he left town, his wife would call my friend Harry in St. Louis. On those occasions, my friend Harry would go to Kansas City and sleep in Edwin’s bed.  Because Edwin was Harry’s boss, the fact of the matter is that Harry was sleeping in his boss’s bed with Edwin’s wife.

I suspect that the preachers and other do-gooders might not approve of this arrangement.  When Harry told me this tale some years later, I had no trouble believing it.  Edwin was a pompous bastard and Harry, as I said, was married to a dud of a wife.  If the truth were to be told, it would be that Edwin invited his wife to a dinner at the beginning where Harry would be present.  So you see, in this version of events the problem was caused by none other than Edwin himself.  I believe that I take a more realistic view of what happened here.  Harry was not a skirt chaser.  He was a respectable married man who had made a bad mistake in the selection of a wife many years ago.  In the end, Edwin’s wife and Harry had a genuine affection for each other and, to their credit, they expressed that affection.  Looking back on that situation that happened 60 years ago, we can only say that Edwin’s wife and Harry should have been married many years ago but that is not how life worked out.  But I must say that if anybody deserved to be cuckolded, it was the pompous bastard Edwin.

A few years after the events that I have described, I was moved to New York City.  Shortly, I found in one of the commercial offices, there was good old Edwin, still playing the pompous bastard.  Edwin had a secretary with flaming red hair.  The clothing that she wore had S E X written all over it.  Edwin seemed to take great pleasure in having people remark upon the sexiness of his secretary.  In point of fact, his secretary used her sexiness to attract a husband and was soon pregnant.  But Edwin’s ego was satisfied by people commenting upon the sexiness of his secretary.

Time passed and I was away for a good many years, working for the New York company and in Washington. I finally returned to New York.  At that point, I found that there was a woman working in the offices in my organization who had a familiar name.  A woman I knew and trusted explained to me that the frumpy clerk in my new organization in New York was none other than Edwin’s old secretary.  Grayness had taken hold of her hair and the sexy clothes were replaced by plain old work clothes.  I had a bit of trouble digesting the fact that the former secretary was now a worker in one of my offices.

Somewhere along the line I learned that Edwin had died.  I also assumed that by this time my friend Harry from St. Louis had departed this earth.  And as far as I know, Edwin never discovered that he was cuckolded by his Division Commercial Manager in St. Louis.

This story came to me this morning while I was exercising.  It seemed to me that my friend Harry sleeping in his boss’s bed with his boss’s wife was a come-uppance that was richly deserved.  On top of that, I suspect that Edwin’s wife and Harry were quite fond of each other.  I suppose that this only proves the age-old adage that love will find a way.  If that way leads to the boss’s bedroom, so be it.  More than anything, this sad story is not a morality tale.  It simply demonstrates that pompous bastards like Edwin should not be so sure of themselves.  And as for Edwin’s wife, this old codger simply says, “How to go!  How to go!”



September 20, 2010

Essay 496


Kevin’s commentary: An easy favorite. I like the idea that simply by waiting for insane amounts of time, you can basically tell any story you want. Though I suppose Pop could have written it much earlier and just not distributed it to the people involved or their friends. The issue there would be that — as the secretary tangent establishes — we live in a pretty small world, so there’s a chance it could have come back around. In today’s time, it is almost guaranteed to; the internet is a megaphone to the whole world and everyone likes to search for their names on Google.





SEPTEMBER 26, 2010



I do not pretend to be a historian of the relationship between the Church and the affairs of man.  But in my lifetime there have been three or four occasions when the proclivity of the clergy for sexual matters has been pronounced and must be commented upon.  To start, my first marriage took place in a very fashionable Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri. The pastor was a highly regarded preacher named Dr. Benjamin Franklin Hall.  A day or two before the wedding was to take place, Dr. Hall was accused by a soprano in his choir of having impregnated her.  Promptly, Dr. Hall tendered his resignation and took off to become a bookseller in North Carolina.  As it turned out, the soprano was not pregnant at all.  By this time, however, the cat was out of the bag and it was reasonably clear that Dr. Hall had been diddling the soprano in the choir.

All of the problems of Dr. Hall did not bother me at all.  As a non-believer, I thought that the matter at hand was humorous.  Dr. Hall’s assistant was a fellow named Herman Schusler, whom I suppose was graduated last in his theological studies class.  In Dr. Hall’s absence, the Reverend Schusler performed the marriage ceremony on a hot and sticky St. Louis evening in August.

Looking down the line, we have the matter of Ted Haggard from Colorado, who was violent in his denunciation of gay people.  Haggard led marches around Denver and Colorado Springs in an effort to establish that he did not like gay people and wanted them, more or less, to be banished from the face of the earth.  Haggard also led a mega-church with what he claimed were 25,000 members.

As events unfolded, it developed that Haggard had gone on a vacation with a male prostitute.  It is clear that the Reverend Ted Haggard was as phony as a three-dollar bill.  When his romance with the prostitute was finished, he told his congregation – or what was left of them – that he was going to take time to meditate and try to cure himself of his homosexuality.

After a period of several months, when Haggard was motivated by meditation and prayer, he emerged to announce that he was no longer afflicted by the evils of homosexuality and he demanded that he be reinstated as the head of the mega-church.  By that time, the members of the mega-church had disappeared into the woodwork and it developed that Haggard was alone in proclaiming his rehabilitation.  For all intents and purposes, Haggard is a man without a flock to lead these days.

About the same time that we learned of the trials and tribulations of Reverend Haggard, there were scandals that afflicted the Catholic Church.  The Pope contended that the problem rested firmly on the seminaries in this country.  At that point, the scandals seemed to have been confined to the United States.  The Pope was daydreaming about the size of the scandal but in the end, perhaps a billion dollars or more has been paid to men who had reported that as boys, they had been violated by members of the priesthood.  Later developments disclosed that there were predators not only in the United States but also all over Europe.  The Pope’s remedy seems to now take the form of apologies.  He has apologized to the faithful of the United States.  He has also apologized to the faithful in Ireland.  Not long ago, the Pope gathered several thousand people who were studying for the priesthood at Saint Peter’s Square and apologized to them.  To top off matters, early this year he appeared in England and apologized again.  All told, I suspect that the Roman Catholic Church is now poorer by at least two billion dollars as a result of the lawsuits that have been filed against it.  And no one really knows whether the predatory priests have been eliminated from the clergy.

Finally, that brings us to the case of the Bishop Eddie Long of Atlanta, Georgia.  How Bishop Long became a bishop is open to question.  I suspect that he appointed himself, because there is no record that he started as a preacher and worked himself up the chain of command in whatever church he belongs to.  Bishop Long is a Baptist.  But be that as it may, Bishop Long has preached a gospel that God wants everyone to be wealthy.  This scheme seems to have convinced as many as 25,000 Atlantans.  They want to join his church and become wealthy materially as well as spiritually.  And I must say that Bishop Long does not sport threadbare suits.  He seems to enjoy his own wealth as well as the adulation that goes with the provider of great wealth for others.

The name of Bishop Eddie Long’s mega-church is the “New Birth Baptist Church.”  It was the scene of the funeral for the widow of Martin Luther King.  At that point, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and others came to his church to honor Coretta Scott King.

Apparently for the past several years, things at the New Birth mega-church have gone on swimmingly.  As in the case of Ted Haggard, Bishop Long has led marches to denounce gay people.  Regularly from the pulpit he decries the fact that gay people exist in this world.  But his life as Bishop and a leader to lead everyone to great wealth came to a sudden stop two or three weeks ago.

At that point, a total of four young men in their twenties claimed to authorities that Bishop Long was guilty of several indecent acts.  I do not know all of the details which are alleged to have been performed by Bishop Eddie Long.  In essence the charges are on this order.  Individually he has been accused by the young men of hugging and kissing them, and fondling them.  Secondly he is accused of engaging in masturbation with them.  Finally, he is also accused of performing oral sex.  At this point, it is completely unclear to me whether Bishop Long received the alleged treatment or whether he gave it to the four young men as well.  That is a relatively small point.  The point is that Bishop Long has been accused by four men, acting individually, of acts that are not within the scope of Christian compassion.

The last of the four accusers came forward on Tuesday of last week.  Bishop Long had a period of at least four or five days to say that the four young men were liars and that he had not engaged in these acts ever.  But that is not what Bishop Long elected to do.  Instead of denouncing the charges against him, Bishop Long said that he would answer them in his sermon on Sunday, September 26.

News reports tell us that the church was overflowing long before Bishop Long ever entered the premises.  Obviously the people of Atlanta wanted to hear their pastor denounce the charges or explain them.  I suspect that a good many of his supporters were dismayed by his sermon that morning.

After strutting around the altar, Bishop Long got to the heart of his sermon.  His basic premise was, “I am not a perfect man.”  If I were a member of the New Birth mega-church, I would say to the Reverend Bishop Eddie Long, “What the hell does that mean?”  None of us is perfect.  No one in his congregation would ever claim to be perfect.  But the Bishop Eddie Long more or less confined his sermon to the thought that “I am not a perfect man.”

I am quite aware that there are church-goers who would discount whatever I might wish to say on the grounds that I am a nonbeliever.  But I must say that if I were sitting in the jury box if the Bishop goes to trial, I would conclude that the remark about not being perfect was an admission of guilt.  At least in this case, as distinguished from Dr. Benjamin Franklin Hall, there was no issue of pregnancy.  My guess is that members of his congregation may well conclude with the same thought that I had with respect to his guilt.

In the final analysis, it seems to me that when church leaders become involved in sexual matters, they disgrace themselves by their ignorance. Church leaders are bound by age-old taboos and superstitions which have long since gone out of date.  Obviously I am not in favor of a person in a position of authority such as Bishop Long has occupied, forcing his sexual will on young men.

That is forbidden territory as far as I am concerned.  But the point of this essay is that there is a proclivity on the part of churches of many kinds to become involved in sexual matters.  When the men of faith dip their toes into the depths of sexual preferences and practices, they almost always wind up regretting it.  And as for Bishop Eddie Long in Atlanta, he should look up the Reverend Ted Haggard in Colorado.  They may both be deposed pastors shortly.  Perhaps Bishop Long would recite to Ted Haggard, “I am not a perfect man.”  I suspect that the Reverend Ted Haggard might well at this point say the same thing.  It might also be that Reverend Haggard and Bishop Long may also get into an argument about who is more imperfect than the other.  And finally, when Haggard says that he is cured of homosexuality and when Long says that he is not a perfect man, I repeat my question, “What the hell does that mean?”




September 30, 2010

Essay 498


Every time I read about one of these, I think of George Rekers (the co-founder of the family research council),  his “Rent Boy,” and their European vacation.

If you’re obsessed with gay people and want to talk about them all the time, that’s probably a sign of something.  Just don’t turn your weird repressed shit into lil-boy-diddling and everything is fine. Sheesh. You think they’d have figured it out by now.


This does not purport to be a definitive essay on the English language.  It is simply an interim report on the current usage of the language as well as one reference to a word that has ancient connections.

These days I am obliged to hold onto a sighted person leading me about.  This is not an efficient arrangement but I must say that it gets the job done.  What is there to say beyond that?  Leading me here and there, it seems to me that when there is a turn to the right or the left, people will say, “A right hand turn” or “A left hand turn” coming up.  May I suggest that in that construction, the use of the word “hand” is superfluous.  I have no objection to being told about the right hand or the left hand but the use of the word hand is not really necessary.

The same goes for “falling down.”  My internist has warned me of the perils of “falling down.”  The internist is a very likable fellow and I am not inclined to ask him whether I could “fall up.”  The word “down” seems a bit superfluous.

Now there is a version of the English language that is often employed by those who have Irish roots.  The word is “me.”  In this construction, some Irishmen say, “I got me a wife” or “I got me a job.”  Everybody knows that the proper construction of the language is “I got I a job.”  Miss Maxwell, my eighth grade teacher, would never have condoned such a horrendous mistake.  If I understand the English language, “me” is superfluous.  But I certainly do not object to its being used.

On the subject of Irishmen, I have been struck by the number of Irish people who pronounce the word “ask” as “ax”.  Why this is so is beyond my comprehension.  When such a person proposes to his girl, for example, do you think that he “axed” her to marry him?

In a previous essay, I mentioned the new construction and the phrase “ramped up.”  I am at a loss to tell you what “ramped” means.  Now I find that not only when there is an increase in the ramps, there is also a decrease which is expressed in the phrase “ramped down”.   And so we have both “ramped up” and “ramped down.”  But mark me as still baffled by what “ramped” means.

There is an ancient English word pronounced “talk-ed.”  In modern language, we don’t worry about the “ed” part of it.  The same might be said for “walk-ed.”  We simply say talked and walked and leave these pronunciations to folk singers such as my friend Burl Ives.

This morning, I heard a financial news broadcast where the term, “seize up” was used.  When an engine seizes, it stops running.  I would suggest that the “up” in that reference is also superfluous.

Before we get to the main subject of this essay, there are three or four other matters of interest.  When it is necessary for a physician to perform an operation, it is now called “a procedure.”  A procedure and an operation hurt equally, so I do not believe the substitute, “a procedure,” is all that helpful.

Then there are religious matters where the “Holy Spirit” has replaced the term of “Holy Ghost”.  From my standpoint, I have always regarded the Holy Ghost as the most spirited member of the Christian deities.

Then in recent days, I find that the political term of “liberal” has morphed into “progressive”.  I suspect that Republicans dislike progressive as much as they dislike liberal.

Now we arrive at the main meat of this essay which is the word “cattywampus.”  My father, the original Ezra, was a religious man.  To the best of my memory I cannot ever remember him cursing, except for using the word “bloody.”  That is not really a curse word.  It is used often in Irish and English speech.

In addition to “bloody,” my father would also refer to something as being “cattywampus.”  Some current dictionaries do not list that word.  Among the people of my parents’ generation, cattywampus was an ordinary term, frequently used.  It is still in use in the southern part of this country and my wife tells me that even in western Pennsylvania that word was well known.  It means askew or awry.  But in the case of my father, he would also use it to describe a nut that was replaced on a lug if it became cross-threaded.

In my father’s parlance, if wood were cut at an angle, it would be called a cattywampous cut.  That means exactly what it says, that the piece of wood to be cut was cut across at an angle.  Apparently that usage was fairly common.

My friend Tom Scanlon also said that cattywampus meant that things were not going very well.  His roots are in Tennessee so it looks like the word is known from at least Tennessee through Pennsylvania and Missouri.

Well, that is my English lesson for today.  Miss Maxwell, the one with the high-buttoned shoes, would be pleased to know that one of her students today is carrying on the tradition of speaking English in an understandable fashion.

As I have reported earlier in more than one essay, my father and I had never exchanged a sharp word with each other.  On the other hand, he and I were basically strangers.  He has been gone now more than 52 years and I find myself recalling things that he did and things that he said.  Cattywampus is a word that he used fairly often.  When the nuts became cross-threaded, and there was a board to be cut at an angle, he would revive that ancient word of cattywampus.  I realize that it is not a word that is employed often by graduates of Harvard or Yale law school.  But, again, it gets the job done.  And, more than anything else, it tends to remind me of Ezreee, as he called himself.  My father was a good man and I should have paid much more attention to him while he was alive.

But in the end Miss Maxwell, who told us about the fairies and the knights, would be pleased to know that I am still working the mine for the correct usage of the English language that she so treasured.



September 20, 2010

Essay 497


Kevin’s commentary: An essay that reads a bit like a shotgun blast. At its core, though, it is somewhat revealing: I now know that use of the word “cattywampus” is perhaps the only thing that my father’s side of the family shares with my mother’s side. Of course my mother herself hates that word, but I’ve inherited it anyway.


A scholar casually reading the title to this essay may conclude that it is not in accordance with the King’s English or at least the King James version of the English language.  But if you will bear with me, I will try to explain to the doubters why I contend that we are shooting ourselves not in one foot but in both feets.

Those of you who have been students of Ezra’s Essays may recall an essay or maybe two that I did about my eighth grade teacher.  Her name was Miss Maxwell, who was distinguished mostly by the fact that she wore shoes buttoned up to the ankle or beyond.  Miss Maxwell, who was quite plump, was also slightly daft when it came to the grammar of the English language and when it came to English poetry.

I was in her class at Maryland from January of 1935 until I graduated from the eighth grade in January of 1936.  During that time, Miss Maxwell loved to have us diagramming sentences, figuring out which piece of grammar modified that piece of grammar etc.  But mostly Miss Maxwell kept several books of English poetry that she loved to read to us.  The books were full of knights, shining armor, fairies and fair maidens.  I have long since concluded that if the knights were paying attention to their business of trying to get ahead in life, there would not be so many fair maidens populating the efforts of English poets.  But the point that is paramount here is that I had a respectable or a good education in the English language.

I soon forgot what Miss Maxwell tried to teach us about English grammar.  So long as I can speak the language and write it acceptably, I will not worry about syntax or grammar modifications of any sort.  So the title to this essay, which may sound strange to the casual reader, indeed is perfectly correct and if you will wait until I reach the latter stages of this monumental essay, I will furnish you with the evidence to make it seem appropriate.

At this moment and for several months before, there have been vigorous scrambles for governorships throughout this country.  As an aside, I might just say that it seems to me that any politician running for governor ought to have his head examined.  It is a no-win job.  Politicians view the governorships as a stepping stone to the presidency or perhaps to a lucrative perch at some university.  I believe that it is a job in which people get burned out and, in the end, are discarded like old cigarette butts.

The problem with the governorships has to do with nearly every state facing monumental shortfalls in revenue.  In this great and glorious state of New Jersey, I suspect that the revenue requirements are short by billions of dollars to produce a balanced budget.

The governorship of New Jersey has fallen into the hands of Chris Christie who is doing what other governors have tried to do, which is to balance the budget.  In the main, Governor Christie, like other governors, has pounced on the teachers.  He seems to feel that if some teachers are fired and their ranks are thinned, superior education will result.  In any case, it is clear not only in this state but in many other states, that to balance the budget will require the sacrifices of many teaching positions.

I know that these are tough times with revenue predictions falling short everywhere one looks.  In some cases governors are reducing the ranks of firemen and policemen, but in the main the teachers have taken the bulk of the hit in vain efforts to balance the budgets.  Perhaps the fact that the teachers have reasonably strong unions accounts for the hostility that we find in the offices of the governors.  Governors see the teachers and their unions as prohibiting the budget balancing act and so it is that throughout this country, we have decreed that some teachers have to be laid off or fired.  That is eminently true in New Jersey.  That is without good reason.

Now in my humble estimation, the firing and laying off of teachers could not be more disastrous.  The school years are the times when young minds are formed.  If inadequate teaching becomes the norm of the day in this year and future years, the children may well form a hostility to education in general.  Forming a hostility to education may well be a contributing factor to the lawlessness we find in many, if not all, of our big cities.  Those of you who read the newspapers or listen to the news will conclude that in the President’s own town of Chicago, the teenagers are shooting each other at record rates.  Unfortunately Chicago is not alone.  The same may be said for Miami and for Los Angeles and for hundreds of other cities.

When the attempts are made to balance the budgets on the backs of teachers, the resulting increase in class size makes it extremely difficult to learn.  Once the student is no longer interested in learning, it is quite likely that the result will be truancy.  I would argue that truancy leads to participation in gangs.  And in these days, under the guidance of the National Rifle Association, truants and members of gangs have easy access to guns.  It does not take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that when a youngster with no education and not much hope of getting one is armed, he may well shoot somebody.  Apparently, that is what is happening in Chicago and elsewhere.

One of my solutions to this problem is to increase taxes.  I realize that the fat cats who populate the Republican Party not only want to avoid tax increases but wish to cut taxes further.  The only thing I can say is that human experience will tell you that you can’t get something for nothing.  If we don’t invest in the education of our children, in my opinion disastrous results will occur.  I suspect the tense of that sentence is out of order in view of the fact that those disastrous consequences have already started to occur.  But here we are.  The new governors are proposing no new taxes but rather trying to balance their budgets on the backs of teachers.  I cannot imagine a more disastrous solution to the problem of balanced budgets.  Increased teenage crime rates are the inevitable result of such failures, which basically are a function of not having the guts to raise taxes.  And while we are at the matter of teachers, there is the fact that we have run up a tremendous debt of borrowed money having to do with the financing of our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In all of those cases, we have put the bill on the tab, both state and federal, and sooner or later it must be paid.

Now with respect to my personal situation, my two daughters graduated from Millburn High School in New Jersey so long ago that I cannot remember when those ceremonies took place.  But in the meantime, I have been paying my real estate taxes which support an excellent school system, which in turn increases the value of my house.  It would be difficult to make that case in every instance but I would argue that if we do not give the teachers an adequate means of doing their jobs, disaster awaits us.

Now I again invoke the spirit of Miss Maxwell and her high-button shoes.  The title to this essay may be a bit unconventional to readers of the English language.  But I am convinced that if we are trying to balance the state budgets on the backs of teachers, the results will be so horrendous that we will be shooting ourselves not in one foot but in both feets.  That may not be what Miss Maxwell taught me in 1935, but it is accurate in describing what will take place in the year 2010 if we attempt to balance our budgets on the backs of the teachers.



September 8, 2010

Essay 493


Kevin’s commentary: publishing this essay to help lend some context to the next essay that’s going up. The main issue that Republicans just aren’t getting recently is that — as Bill O’Reilly noted on election night — people want things. They want “stuff” like healthcare and good education. And while it’s still baffling to that party that people like things which seem like no-brainers in developed countries, the GOP is even further from understanding that the things that people want need to be financed somehow. Taxes are pretty much the only way to do this unless you cut some of the things that you are nominally trying to raise money to afford.


On very rare occasions an incident will happen that demands to be written about.  In this case, I am led to believe that if this essay is not written promptly, an indescribable act will be committed on my front porch.

The incident in question took place on Friday morning before the start of the Labor Day weekend this year.  It involves the grand and glorious city of Newark, New Jersey.  According to census figures, the population of Newark is now listed at 279,000.  Curiously, when I moved here in 1955, there were 400,000 people who claimed to reside in Newark.  My observation has been that the crowds in Newark are as large as they used to be and there seem to be fewer parking places than ever.  There is a new arena in Newark where the hockey club, the New Jersey Devils, plays.  Taking one thing with another, it seems to me that Newark is still a surviving city, even in these hard times.  If the population figures that I have quoted are true, they suggest that over the years Newark has lost at least 120,000 residents.  Simply put, I don’t believe that such a loss is possible.  I am suggesting that perhaps the missing residents have avoided the census taker and perhaps are working off the books, assuming that they have jobs at all.

Over the years, Newark has had a succession of very dubious mayors.  The last one before the current one was a fellow named Sharpe James who has just now completed a federal prison sentence.  He took foreclosed properties and arranged with his girlfriend to give her the properties at bargain basement rates, which she then resold to more affluent people who wanted to own a piece of Newark property.  Sharpe James was also an influential state senator.  The question is whether he is collecting a pension from the state as well as from the city of Newark for his services.  In all likelihood, my guess is that, given the situation in New Jersey, he may well have both pensions.  There has to be something questionable during Sharpe James’s time in office, because he owned a fancy European car as well as a yacht.  Ne’er do wells have suggested that Mr. James’s yacht should race against Tony Hayward’s yacht of BP fame, for a grand prize of ten million dollars.  But I guess at this point, that Sharpe James is trying to put his life back together, so the yacht-racing will have to wait for another day.

A few years back a fellow named Cory Booker came upon the scene.  He lamented the fact that Newark had sunk so low and he decided to do something about that sorrowful state of affairs.  He quit his job on Wall Street and came back and became a politician in Newark.  For the record, I should state that I am favorably disposed toward Cory Booker because I believe that he is not only honest, but is doing the best he can to make Newark a livable community.

Mr. Booker appears to be a single man who, upon becoming the mayor, decided that he needed a place to live.  He bought a home in Newark in a respectable neighborhood, certainly not an extravagant one.  The home in Newark is not a McMansion, but it does have a small front porch.

Mr. Booker goes there to greet his visitors and this is the place where his morning newspapers are usually placed.

America has fallen upon hard times in recent years, which has resulted in the fact that the federal government has no means to bail out the state governments and finally the state governments have no means of assisting the cities in the states.  This is not to say that the situation afflicting Newark is unique.  I suggest that it is the norm for most of America’s cities.

When Mayor Booker took a look at Newark’s finances, he had no choice but to restrict expenditures, including those for workers who were on the city’s payroll.  The cops, the firemen, the teachers, and the sanitation workers are feeling the sting of the budget and they have been and are now facing layoffs and firings.  I am certain that Mayor Booker understands their anguish, but the state of the financial record leaves him no choice but to proceed with his downsizing of the payroll.   He hopes that later on they may be recalled.  But at this point, layoffs are the order of the day in the grand and glorious city of Newark.

Apparently Mayor Booker is an early riser so that he can get to the mayor’s office to begin his valiant effort to try to save Newark.  In the darkness of the early morning of September 11th, Mr. Booker came to his front door to recover The New York Times and The Star-Ledger of New Jersey which are usually placed there by a newspaper carrier.  At this stage, it is still warm in New Jersey so outside the front door is a screen door.  When Mayor Booker tried to open the screen door, in the darkness he hit upon an impediment that prevented him from opening the screen door.

When the lights were turned on, it developed that the impediment was a deposit of human excrement on his front porch.  An examination by the police department, or what is left of it, did not turn up evidence of a struggle of any kind.  So it is assumed that without a struggle the person who wished to protest events in Newark must have made a direct deposit of human excrement without assistance.  I assume that the cop that might be guarding the Booker residence was absent because he had been laid off.  Similarly, when the Mayor called the Department of Public Works to cleanse his front porch, there was a long delay because those workers had also been laid off.

By my own calculations, I have had a career of something on the order of 47 years.  During that time, I ran across at least two or three AT&T vice presidents who angered me, and therefore for whom I had no great respect.  Unfortunately, this was before the incident in Newark happened before Labor Day.  If I had known about this form of protest, I may well have been tempted to use it as a means of registering my strong disapproval of their conduct.  Ah, but the fact is that I did not know about this form of protest.  When I first came to New York in 1955, the Vice President of Personnel was an obese man who disliked Catholics and who was prejudiced against me because I had come from a labor union.  If that fat fellow would have found a similar deposit on his porch, it would have been nothing more than simple justice and a joy to my heart.  One thing to be said about this essayist is that his memory is long, he remembers prejudices and he is rarely in a forgiving mood.

Well, that is the story about Cory Booker and the Labor Day incident.  I have been led to believe that, unless I write this essay promptly and with great care, I may find a similar direct deposit on my front porch as I search for the newspapers.  All I can say is that I hope the god of essay writers is pleased with my account of Mayor Booker’s Labor Day problems.  And Mayor Booker has my utmost sympathy.


September 10, 2010

Essay 511


Kevin’s commentary — Today’s commentary will be outsourced to my older brother, who is often wittier than I.

Here, first, is an email to Connor from Pop:

On Sat, Sep 11, 2010 at 10:36 AM, Judith Chicka wrote:

Professor Shepherd,

I am aware that you had distinguished careers in both the English and the Japanese languages.  Therefore I wish to submit a question to you.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, had an unfortunate incident which I have memorialized in an essay that is not back from the Jewish transcriber but has been promised for Sunday, on the gentile Sabbath.

The Mayor of Newark tried to open his screen door on the front porch and found that it was impeded by a pile of human excrement.  Or a big shit, to translate it to the vernacular.  Newark is having the problem of balancing its budget and several layoffs were the result in the employment situation for the City of Newark employees.

An investigation cannot find any reason that the excrement occurred elsewhere and so I am forced to conclude that it was a matter of a direct deposit by one of the laid-off workers.  What I would like from your fertile brain would be the past tense of shit.  If we use “to sit” as an example, we find that the conjugation goes along these lines:  He sits, and the past tense would be, he sat.  Do you think that it would be appropriate, when I correct the essay, to contend that someone shat on the Mayors front porch?  I think this is an elegant use of the English language, but before the essay is distributed, I would like your views on this monumental question for superb usage of the English language.

Do you have a thought on the use of “shat” for the past tense of “shit”?  And could you translate this into the language of the Japanese?



Connor’s reply, which almost deserves a blog post of its own:

Hi Pop,

I feel qualified to address this question.  Thank you for directing it to me.

First of all, a brief survey of current colloquial usage: members of my demographic cohort tend to use “shat” almost exclusively, favoring it over the inelegant and plosive “shitted.”  The only other candidate would be to use “shit” as its own past tense, ala “quit,” but this is not popular, I think, because generally when one speaks of an event involving shitting, one prefers to encode as much information as possible, including the temporal.  An extra question along the lines of “has the shit already been shit, or is this shit yet to be shit” can be the difference between identifying and fending off a would-be shitter and having one’s front porch all covered in shit.

In fact, I would venture to guess that Mayor Booker learned this lesson last weekend.

In order that the conversation be further enriched, I’d like to also point out the critical difference between “shit” and “the shit,” the latter used by young people to denote something of outstanding quality.  Inclusion of the definite article delineates between “that album is utter shit” and “that album is, utterly, the shit,” which are diametrically opposing statements regarding the quality of the work.

I would suppose that Mr. Booker considers himself to be in a shit situation, whereas I feel that shitting on the mayor’s porch is basically the shit.