Archive for the December Category


As most of you know, I worked for the AT&T Company for a long time.  During the last seven or eight years, my duties were with what was then called the Overseas Department.  Basically this had to do with telecommunications outside of the United States.  It was an assignment that brought a great personal satisfaction.  It involved a lot of traveling.  I always found that the traveling tended to satisfy my curious mind and was really rewarding.

Early in my time in the Overseas Department, I ran across an erudite fellow who had spent his school years in Italy.  His full name was Guy D’Urso.  Not long after I arrived in the Overseas Department, I had a new secretary.  She always referred to Guy as Mr. Dee-ur-so.  The name was pronounced simply as Durso, but this exotic woman, who was very nice, apparently could not put her arms around the name D’Urso.  So he became Mr. Dee-ur-so.

Once I found out that Guy D’Urso had spent the early part of his life in Italy, my curiosity was intrigued.  As many of you know from reading Ezra’s Essays, I spent a good part of the war years of World War II in Italy.  Subsequently my travels often took me to Italy.

Guy grew up in what was called the heel of Italy.  Italy is shaped like a long high heeled boot with the heel being where D’Urso grew up around Bari and Taranto.

As I settled in to my new duties in the Overseas Department, I found that Guy D’ was an engaging fellow.  When I talked about Italy, Guy knew exactly what was being spoken of.  Beyond that, Guy was a well-traveled fellow who had an engaging sense of humor.  So it was that I often found myself wandering over into the engineering department to spend a few minutes with Guy D’Urso.

Now comes a long interruption in the relationship between Guy D’Urso and myself.  When AT&T elected to move its offices to Bedminster, New Jersey, both Guy and I moved where AT&T had sent us.  After a time, specifically in 1984, my long career came to an end and I retired.  One way or another, I found out that Guy D’Urso had eventually taken up residence in Toms River, New Jersey.  By this time, the date on the calendar would read 2012.

As most of you are aware, Hurricane Sandy came ashore in the vicinity of Toms River.  The devastation there was more than merely significant.  Homes were destroyed and futures were lost.  In spite of the fact that retirement in 1984 was in my past, I kept thinking of the number of my friends, including Guy D’Urso, who had settled in Toms River, New Jersey.  And so, after a time, I called Guy D’Urso’s number, which rang repeatedly.  Obviously, there was no one there to answer.  After a couple of weeks I tried the number once more and found myself talking to Guy’s wife.  In a short time, Guy himself was on the phone.  We more or less renewed acquaintances, very much as we had done when we were both working for AT&T.

Now there is one development that took place sometime in the early 1980s.  Guy D’Urso found himself working for a colleague of mine named Bob Newman.  When Newman retired, somewhere around 1980 or 1981, there was of course a going-away party for him.  I was happy to attend that farewell party.  Also attending was a fellow named Earl Schooley,   who had been a vice president of AT&T.  Bob Newman had worked for Earl Schooley and I had known Schooley when both of us worked in St. Louis.  Earl Schooley was a free soul who loved to kid about everything.  During the Newman party festivities, during which I also spoke, there were numerous references to Missouri and particularly to my home town of Clayton, Missouri.  Although Schooley was a native of a town called Bonne Terre, Missouri one way or another he took it upon himself to declare himself also a resident of Clayton, Missouri.

Now as it developed, Guy D’Urso while attending his school duties in Italy had written an essay.  The essay won a prize at a regional competition.

As you may recall, Benito Mussolini was the dictator of Italy for a good number of years.  During those years Mussolini had decided to invade Ethiopia.  In time, he had more or less conquered that country. As it turns out the prize for winning the competition among Guy’s peers was a one week trip to the capital of Ethiopia, called Addis Ababa.  This of course became a subject of conversation in the presentations at the Bob Newman retirement party.  When my time on the speakers’ platform drew to a close, I was to introduce Guy D’Urso, who was the main emcee of that proceeding.  I asked Guy, as I left the speakers’ platform, “If the first prize was a week in Addis Ababa, what was the second prize?”

At that point I walked off the podium and Guy D’Urso was introduced.  Without hesitation, Mr. D’Urso said that the second prize was two weeks in Clayton, Missouri, the home town of both Earl Schooley and myself.  The laughter was uproarious.

Over the years I had forgotten that incident but when Guy mentioned it in our conversation about the hurricane, it all came back to me.  A lot of water has gone over the dam since 1976, when I first met Guy D’Urso.  I am happy to announce that my wife, Miss Chicka, and myself were happy to make contact again with Mr. D’Urso.

For my own part, whenever I had the time I used to wander around the offices of AT&T, frequently dropping in to converse with Guy D’Urso.  He is a brilliant fellow and he has the ability to leave you with a warm feeling and smiles all around.  Men like that are few and far between.  Guy is now 83.  When we had our recent discussions, Guy and I traded war stories about the aging process.  But in both cases, it was done with great good humor and with our saying something along the lines of “What the hell are you going to do about it?”

As always, I emerged from that conversation smiling.  If a man has the ability to make you smile through a conversation, he is a person to be treasured.  And Guy D’Urso is that sort of a person.



December 7, 2012

Essay 721


Kevin’s commentary: Let’s hope that Mr Dee-ur-so can find his way to this site eventually, or at least that he got a copy of this particular essay. It’s always amazing to me how Pop manages to get in touch with so many of his old friends, especially without the use of any web-based networking services like Facebook. Maybe it just seems to me like Pop has reconnected with a lot of his friends when in reality it’s very few, percentage wise, but he just met and befriended a hell of a lot of people over his 90 years. This seems rather more likely.


The dual titles to this essay span a period in time of more than 2500 years.  Cherish the children is a maxim from Confucius.  Unfathomable was enunciated this week in Newtown, Connecticut by Don Lemon, the indefatigable announcer for CNN on weekends.  As you may have guessed, the title has to do with the recent massacre that took place in Newtown and resulted in the death of 26 victims, or if you count the mother of the shooter, 27 victims, and if you count the shooter himself, 28 victims.

The shootings took place exactly one week ago today.  This morning television broadcasters showed a program at 9:30 at the firehouse near the Newtown school.  As each name was read, the fire bell was rung with a very solemn tone.

I cannot imagine what the parents of the 20 slain first-grade students are going through.  I am a parent myself of two daughters whose life has reached the midpoint, which is to say that 50 is viewed in the rear-view mirror of their lives.  I can only imagine the agony if one of my daughters had been killed in a senseless act such as the recent Newtown massacre.

I am certain that a good many memories would come to my mind as I reviewed their lives.  One memory has to do with my older daughter.  There was a time when she was eight years old.  That was in the third grade at the New Providence, New Jersey public schools.  I was off from work that day and around 3 PM I sauntered out into the front yard so that I could see Maureen, alias Blondie, returning from her work at the school.  At about that time, Clara Dinunzio came home.  She and her husband Nick were good friends.  And so it was that while I was waiting, I wandered across the street to talk to Clara Dinunzio.   A short time later, I looked up the street and saw Blondie marching toward us.  During her school years, Blondie was a clothes horse.  She always tried to present herself in the most favorable light, which I greatly approved.  As Blondie marched down the street, her school books under her arm, she met up with Clara Dinunzio and myself.

Clara and Blondie entered into a discussion of which the conclusion was, “The third grade is very hard.”  That of course was an expression from Blondie.  When the two of us had concluded our discussion with Clara Dinunzio,  I held Maureen’s school books in one arm and she held my hand while we crossed the street, looking both ways.  You may say that all of this was inconsequential.  But to a father such as myself, the sight of Maureen walking down the street to meet Clara Dinunzio and me still is a vivid memory.

Now as to the other daughter, named Suzanne, alias Spooky Suze, there came a time when their mother and I and the two daughters decided to take a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.  Both girls were delighted with the costumes that the waitresses in Williamsburg wore.  At this point, I believe that Spooky Suze was about six or seven years old.  As we were looking around Williamsburg, I noticed that Suzanne was missing for a time.  When she returned, my younger daughter presented me with a small bell.  It was her very first purchase, I believe, with her own money and I was overwhelmed to receive that little bell.  That bell, almost fifty years later, stands on a bookcase where I keep my books.  It is a place of honor.

The third memory that comes to mind has a bad connotation to it.  It occurred on the evening after John Kennedy was assassinated.  On that date, both of my girls were still in the lower grades of grade school.  At the time, I was working for the New York Telephone Company and I was eating in a deli on Broadway in New York City just south of the headquarters of AT&T at 195 Broadway.  When I left the deli, I noticed that the people on the street were in animated conversation.  It turned out that the news had just come from Dallas that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  That was on November 22, 1963.

As I recall it, AT&T and the New York Telephone Company declared the following two days as days of mourning.  The railroad schedules had a degree of confusion in them because everyone wished to go home at the same time that day.  When I reached my home in New Providence, NJ the four of us had dinner.  I sat in the living room and told the girls about the terrible news.  They were seated one on each knee.  They took the news about the assassination of John Kennedy with great solemnity because they knew that their father was in a very solemn mood.

Now if my daughters had been the victims of a shooting such as that in Newtown, CT, these are the sorts of memories that would com flooding back.  To lose a child in such a senseless manner would be more, I believe, than I could bear.  Here we are exactly one week after the shooting with the burials having taken place much of this week.  If it were possible, I would love to put my arms around each of the parents.  I would probably find myself speechless.  What can you say that would comfort a parent who has lost a small child in such a senseless manner?

I find no comfort whatsoever to rely on spiritual matters.  I do not believe that there are spirits looking out there in the atmosphere who have a bearing on the actions of men.  The central question would seem to be if the killings of these small children take place under the auspices of a just and loving God.  The answer from this quarter is a resounding no.  There is no God.  Any attempt by theologians or church goers to say that sooner or later God, whoever he is, will explain it all to us and make it appear reasonable.  There is no such thing.  It was a demented character who had access to guns who committed these murders.  Any attempt to explain this act using a resort to spirituality is totally senseless.

These are my musings exactly one week after the Newtown massacre that occurred.  I would give anything to have avoided this day.  If my daughters had been involved in such a situation, I would have been remiss in my duties if I had not offered myself to the assassin in the hope that he would stop shooting after he had slain me.  But life goes on.  The only hope that those of us who deplore guns have is that some sensible legislation results from the massacre.  But I doubt that will happen.  The gun loving Republicans in both chambers, the Senate and the House, will not give Mr. Obama any hint of accomplishment.  For those of us on the other side, we hope to keep the Newtown massacre fresh in our memories so that some meaningful legislation could come from it.  I am gloomy about such an accomplishment but I always have some kind of hope.

The Carr daughters have produced a total of five grandchildren.  The daughters and their husbands and the children are in good health.  I am not sure whether the Carr daughters remember the incidents that are the theme of this essay.  But I am certain that the daughters and their husbands will continue to cherish the children and that the massacre in Newtown will continue to present us with an unfathomable mystery.  At this point, we can only hope for the best.



December 21, 2012

Essay 724


Kevin’s commentary:

I’ll have to remind mom to read this one asap. I think it’s very sweet that you’ve held onto the bell all those years.

Otherwise, I think I have already made my points in other commentaries with regard to atheism and needing to value this life more when there is no consideration of the afterlife.

It’s important in the gun control debate to try to understand what the other side is hearing. Watchers of Fox news have no idea what the administration is actually saying… it’s easy to just call them insane but the truth is that they have no idea what’s happening, so their elected representatives are in office to defend their ignorant fears that the government will come steal all their guns. It is upsetting.



Anyone who wishes to extol the virtues of medicine as practiced by the United States Army is clearly out of his mind.  This encompasses active military service as well as the Veterans Administration.

My experience of a little bit more than three years in the American Army would seem to suggest very vociferously that anyone who appears at “sick call” has to prove overwhelmingly that he is not malingering.  There was a case for example when I had worked all night and I was five minutes late appearing at the sick call window.  The two registrants of the sick call told me that I must go away.  It made no difference whether I was sick or not.  The fact of the matter is that I could not reach sick call on time because of transportation difficulties and my inability to walk.  When the two fellows at sick call told me that I was too late, I started toward the door with the intention of walking to the hospital, but then I collapsed.  With that, the two people who had turned me down promptly produced a jeep to take me to the hospital.

It is the basic premise of anyone who is conducting a sick call that anyone who presents himself must be malingering.  This is quite backwards.  I would never have gone anywhere near the sick call apparatus unless I needed it.

Being admitted to the Army hospital was an experience in itself.  When the physician, who was usually a captain, made his morning rounds, we were expected to stand at the foot of our bed waiting for him to question us.  The fact of the matter is that some of us were too sick to stand.  There was no such thing as intensive care, at least for those of us who were enlisted men.  We were put into large wards.  Most of us wished to avoid as much contact with the medical establishment as possible.

The reason for my collapse at the sick call mentioned earlier had to do with a raging case of malaria.  Upon reaching the hospital, the only treatment in those days was to take large quantities of quinine.  Quinine makes one terribly unsteady.  It destroys any sense of balance.  Since leaving the Army, I have told every physician never to give me quinine.

But in the Army, no accommodation is made for a soldier who has lost his sense of balance.  In trying to get to the latrine, as it is called, it is not unreasonable to find one or two soldiers who have fallen short of their goal of reaching the urinal.

All things considered, I have a very low opinion of medicine as it is practiced in the American Army.  My experience with medicine as practiced in the American Army is that there is a lingering fear on the part of the administrators that they are dealing with malingerers.  There may be a malingerer here or there but as a general rule soldiers get sick from time to time and they try to avoid submitting themselves to the medical practices of the American Army.  The fact is that no one enjoys going to sick call.  It is to be avoided as much as possible.  But the Army takes the opposite view that most of the people who present themselves at sick call are malingerers.

It has been alleged by some independent observers that the Veterans Administration has a much improved system of handling sickness among discharged soldiers.  My experience with a Veterans Administration hospital will tell you that that is not true in any fashion.  The practice of medicine, in my case, was suboptimal.

Shortly after my discharge from the Army, I encountered a case of pneumonia.  I thought that the proper thing to do was to take my case of pneumonia to the Veterans Administration.  That was a bad move.  I am here to call you that the practice of medicine in the Veterans Administration is no better than it is in the military services.

The burden of this essay is that if you get sick, do yourself a favor and do not ever approach the military authorities in search of a cure.  It could very well be that advances in medical practice are now reflected by improved practices in the hospitals and in the Veterans Administration.  However, I would give you this one piece of advice.  If you get sick, find a competent physician to treat your problems.  Never turn over your problem to the military authorities.  Unhappily, those are the facts.  And it should just start with staying away as far as possible from the sick call as practiced by the American Army.



December 30, 2012

Essay 729


Kevin’s commentary: this is upsetting. For a country that claims to love its military and where everyone “supports the troops” it more often than not seems like we sure as hell don’t. Ugh.


This is being dictated on Christmas of the year 2012.  It is near noontime and the house where we have lived for a long time is quiet now.  The children who carry the Carr surname and their husbands and children are involved in festivities in Florida and in Texas.  So in these peaceful surroundings I thought I would dictate a few lines having to do with my Christmas ponderings.

The year of 2012 was marked by two catastrophic events.  I suspect that there are other catastrophic events but the damage of Hurricane Sandy and of the catastrophe at Newtown, Connecticut are foremost in my thoughts on this Christmas day.  In terms of chronology the hurricane happened before the events at Newtown.  As the storm approached coming from the Caribbean, we were told that at some point or other the storm would make a left turn into the mainland of the United States.  As it turns out, the forecasters were absolutely right.  The storm turned left abreast of New Jersey.  The full fury of the storm could be felt not only in New Jersey but in Manhattan, Statin Island, Brooklyn and the towns on Long Island.  It was a vicious storm.

A month or thereabouts later we became aware of the catastrophe at Newtown, Connecticut.  There were 20 first-graders killed in cold blood.  In addition there were six teachers and staff members of the school who were also killed.  And then there was the mother of the shooter and the shooter himself, which makes a total of 28 people who are not here to celebrate the Christmas of 2012.

And so the events involving the hurricane and the shootings in Connecticut are on my mind as we celebrate this holiday.

If we are to take the teachings of Richard Cheney, the former Vice President, there is a God who knows everything about everything that goes on in worldly affairs.  Not long ago, Mr. Cheney sent a Christmas card saying that God knew of every sparrow that falls apparently to its death.  Preachers tell us that God, whoever he or she is, is omnipotent and that “He always was and always will be.”

If God is so powerful, my Christmas ponderings suggest that he could have averted the hurricane that engulfed New York and New Jersey and secondly that he could have averted the murder of the 20 schoolchildren, their teachers, and the shooter’s mother as well.

If he were omnipotent a few years back, he might have avoided the tragedies of World War II including the Holocaust, the domination of Adolph Hitler as well as the Rape of Nanking.

All of the readers of Ezra’s Essays are quite familiar with the fact that I am a non-believer in religious affairs.  As I sit here on this Christmas morning, certain ponderings come to mind.  In the first place, did these disasters, Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook killings, have such significance that God would be concerned with them?  I find it hard to believe that God would be unconcerned about the hurricane and the killings.  But apparently it is possible that a God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost or the Perpetual Virgin did not think of these events as being of proper significance so that they should pay attention to them.

There is a second scenario here.  Is it possible that a God or another such celestial character was in favor of such catastrophes as the hurricane and the killings?  That is the second of the three scenarios that present themselves on the actions of God.

The third of these is the possibility that a God or any such celestial characters are simply unable to guide events differently.  In other words, presented with the killings in Connecticut, God may be aware of the fate of those school children but can do nothing about it, so he lets it happen.

My view of it is that there is no God.  It is also my belief that the idea of God flows from man’s creative nature.  A review of all of the world’s cultures would disclose that there may be a dozen or more Gods whom religious authorities would claim have jurisdiction over such events as the hurricane and the killings in Connecticut.

I am fully aware that on this Christmas morning I should be of good cheer.  And I am of good cheer but I cannot overlook the sufferings of those thrown out of their homes by the advent of the hurricane nor am I willing to look the other way when there were 20 first-graders slain in Connecticut.  My thoughts are with those people who are suffering at this moment.

And so as afternoon approaches, my mood will be lightened by listening to my audible books.  The fact of the matter is that my thoughts will always remember this Christmas as the year of the hurricane and the slaying of those innocent children in Connecticut as well as their teachers and staff members.  For me, that is the way it is.  There is no appeal to a God or the Holy Ghost or anyone else to relieve my thoughts about the sufferings of other human beings.

So, having recorded my ponderings on this Christmas day of 2012, I can only wish you, all of my readers, a merry Christmas and hope that in time things will get better and that we should all enjoy happier times.  With that, I say, “We shall see!”



December 25, 2012

Essay 726


Kevin’s commentary: And here I was thinking that I was going to read a cheery story before I drifted off to bed. So I picked one written on Christmas, of all times. And here we are.

For someone who does not believe in God, Pop seems to spend a whole lot of time thinking about Him. Granted this is pretty inevitable especially in the wake of the tragedies discussed, but I am not sure it is productive to rehash the same “omniscient + omnipotent + good” paradox that has and will continue to be a paradox so long as the idea of God exists and so long as bad things continue to happen.

More important, I think, is to discuss how being an atheist does not cheapen or diminish our ability to relate to these catastrophes as much of the buzz around them would have us believe. We cannot join in the prayers or take comfort in the fact that all those children will be up in heaven soon. We simply have to accept the fact that they are gone and that there is honestly no good reason for it.

But I think this means that for atheists these tragedies, instead of being less difficult to parse, may even be more so precisely because there is no afterlife to look forward to, no secret benefit to be received. There is only loss, and for that I think people sometimes forget that even those who refuse to believe in a future life may, as a consequence, hold the current one even more dear.

My thoughts go out to those families and I hope we can see cheerier essays from Pop in 2013.


It is my hope that all of you grammarians who read these essays will be aware of the fact that I really said “falling” not “falling down.”  I have observed over this long life that things do not fall up.  The fact is that they fall in a downward fashion.  And so this lecture will have to do with my record of falling.  Under ordinary circumstances, I do not like to make my adventures the topic of these essays.  But in this case, I think it is of the common good particularly as men and women age that I should embark on a course on falling.  I have had a bit of experience in this area.

I have written more than 720 essays at this desk and I have never used the term “lecture.”  It is widely known that I have no academic credentials to present a lecture except for one instance.  On a tour of northern Israel, my great and good friend Ariyeh Ron and I stopped at the commissary at the University of Haifa, Israel to enjoy some orange juice.  While there, Ariyeh introduced me to an administrator of the university.  He showed us through many of the departments of the school.  At the conclusion the administrator announced to us that henceforth we could introduce ourselves as “having been through the University of Haifa.”  So it is on that basis that I presume to lecture you about the art/science of falling.

There is a famous physician who works for the Summit Medical Group here in New Jersey who has delivered perhaps two lectures to me on the highly desirable subject of avoiding falls.  I like Dr. Alterman who delivered the warnings, but I did not find much help in trying to avoid falling.  But in any case I like Dr. Lloyd Alterman and I expect that when I fall he will console me.

As all of us age, it means we get weaker in the legs and our eyesight is not as strong as it used to be.  Over the past seven years since I have been blind, I have calculated that I have fallen on perhaps 14 occasions.  For better or worse, that makes it two per year.

The falls are distributed among a number of reasons.  For example, I used to take out the garbage to the street on two days.  This meant that I had to retrieve the garbage can on another two days.  When the driveway was constructed, there were gradations in the pavement to bar the entry of rainwater into the garage.  In the early days I could see the gradations in the asphalt and I was aware that I was going uphill or downhill.  When I was no longer able to see changes in the level of the asphalt, I have tripped.

There was an occasion a year or so ago when my feet got tangled up in my own kitchen, which resulted in a fall.  In this case, the fall was toward the refrigerator.  Fortunately the refrigerator door was closed, so I hit my head on the exterior portions of the refrigerator.  I made a small dent in the surface of the refrigerator which was a conversation piece for six months or so.

Finally, to make this lecture short, the third item has to do with missing the seats of chairs.  For all of those of you who say, “How can you miss the seat of a chair?” I will guarantee you that it is quite easy.  At the moment, in my latest fall, I am nursing a leg which has been giving me trouble as a result of falling, having missed the seat of a chair.

So there you have tripping, getting your feet mixed up as in the kitchen of my house here, and thirdly the missing of seats to sit on.  If I can impart some piece of wisdom to you about falling, it is that having your body in a relaxed condition is better than having rigidity throughout your body.  And as you begin to fall, it seems in my case to take a bit of time for the fall to be completed.  When the fall starts, it is obvious that the arms should reach out to catch something to break the fall. If there is nothing to grab onto, the arms should be next to the body.   Finally, it has been my habit to say, “Oh, God damn it!”  I am quite certain that my expression of annoyance at the fall has prevented me from having much more serious consequences.

Until about a year or 18 months ago, I always took the garbage to the street.  The neighbors and the garbage collectors knew that I had no eyesight at all.  They have been uniformly generous in assisting me in any way they can.  There is one garbage collector named Louie who grabbed my two cans and took them back to the rear entrance to the garage.  He is a wonderful fellow.  That did not prevent the township of Millburn from contracting out the collection of garbage.  These new people are doing the best they can, I assume, but I still prefer Louie and his cohorts of Millburn collecting our garbage.

So that is my lecture on the art/science of falling.  In my own case, I am blind.  I would not recommend that to anyone as a means of realizing the full benefits of the lecture that I have finished.  I suppose that more than anything else, falling must come with the territory as we age.  Our limbs get less strong and eyesight does not improve with age.  Philosophically we are left to say that in old age, falls come with the territory.

I realize that this philosophy probably is at variance with the title of this essay having to do with the art and the science of falling.  That is quite all right if you always remember to say, as you lie there on your back after the fall, “Oh, God damn it!”  That expression always lessens the severity of the fall and in most cases it makes the fallen person feel better.

So at this time, I have delivered nearly all I know about the art/science of falling.  If one wishes to avoid falling in every circumstance, it would require sort of a coddled existence.  It used to be when I was a child that falling was part of playing.  But – and this will come as no surprise to most of my readers – I am no longer a child.  So on this Sunday morning as I nurse my left leg back into good health, it is Dr. Lloyd Alterman’s view that we should all avoid falling.  What a wonderful world it would be if that were the case.




December 30, 2012

Essay 728


Kevin’s commentary: See, this essay makes me feel a little bit silly. Most of my recent experiences with falling have come as a direct consequence of strapping slippery oblong pieces of fiberglass to my feet and attempting to slide down a mountain. Moreover I have done so with the guiding philosophy of “if you’re not falling, you’re not doing it right” which guides most skiers. This basic idea, that if one is not falling regularly then he is not being adventurous enough, would seem to suggest that Pop leads a very bold life.

On the other hand, even in skiing I subscribe to the idea that cursing wildly as one is falling generally softens the blow. As I read Pop’s words of wisdom on this subject I was forced to think of my mother, who throughout my childhood would think of situations where X phrase was necessary for Y result to happen. For instance, if one drove through a tunnel, and one did not say “ibbledy bibbledy yib yib yib” then the tunnel would go on forever. Similarly, if one is falling and refrains from saying “oh God dammit” then one sustains more damage from the fall.

Runs in the family, I guess.



When I was born in 1922, there was one radio station offering broadcasts of music and news.  That was station KDKA in Pittsburgh.  You may recall that at that time there was no such thing as television.  That remained in the never-never land of things to be yearned for.

When I was about 12 or 13 years of age, my older brother from time to time employed me as a babysitter to look over my infant nephew.  My brother permitted me and a friend that I had invited over to listen to his radio.  There was limited static to interfere with the reception on my brother’s radio.  The reason my friend Gene Craig came with me was to listen as we pursued far away stations.  As we put it, “Who could pull in stations as far away as Chicago?”  – a distance of 300 miles.  When we returned to school, we would brag about having listened to such things as the Glen Miller or the Jan Garber orchestras or Eddy Howard, all broadcasting directly from Chicago.

At that time and all through the years until 1950, the only way to stop listening to a broadcast was to turn the set off.  Youngsters may express disbelief that in the early days of radio there was no such thing as a mute button.  In point of fact, I will guarantee you that the only way a program could be interrupted was by changing stations or by turning the set off.  In about 1950, television started its ascendancy.  As time went forward, the only way to interrupt a broadcast was to change channels or to turn off the set.  Then about 15 years ago the manufacturers of televisions and radios produced the mute button.  May I assure you that the mute button is one of the great achievements of mankind?

Certainly this is true with the advent of cable stations other than the broadcasters of CBS, NBC, and ABC.  There is a proliferation of cable stations.   Some of these cable stations sell ads that run back to back so much so that I wonder which is the program and which are the ads.

It used to be in the early days of broadcasting that news consumed only 15 minutes which was uninterrupted by advertisers.  Those days are long gone now.  In these days of cable stations, there are many stations and interruptions that will tell you how you can become rich or how you can avoid taxation and there is one having to do with your love life.  One commercial would have you believe that 20 seconds after a man takes a certain medication he will be ready to accommodate any female.  The only way to handle this mélange of interruptions is through the mute button.  How we lived without the mute button is a great mystery to me.  As we go forward, I wish to sing a song of praise to the mute button.  It saves me from countless hours of listening to commercials.

I suppose that I am a yesteryear person who appreciates the beauty of broadcasting largely free of commercial interruptions.  The broadcasts that I heard over my brother’s radio from a ballroom in Chicago some 300 miles distant were wonderful things to hear.  The big bands broadcast from at least two ballrooms in Chicago.  There was the Aragon and the Trionon, and they had no commercial interruptions.  This of course was in the days of the big bands.  But today the intrusion of commercials is so great that we must have a mute button to turn them off.  The wonderful thing is that the mute button will stop the transmission of commercials but it does not turn the set off.

So for that reason I propose a toast on this Christmas day to the mute button.  I do not know how we have lived without it.  Now that we have it, I propose that we keep the mute button as one of our national treasures.



December 25, 2012

Essay 727


Kevin’s commentary: The closest that I can relate to this was my 2011 discovery of a browser extension called Adblock. However, while the mute button is pretty much pure good, there is a rather bad side to Adblock. You see it does not simply mute ads, it removes them from one’s web experience altogether. Youtube, web streams, and even Pandora radio just deliver pure content uninterrupted by ads. So, like the early days of Pop’s listening, listeners with Adblock may listen at length without having to keep a finger on the mute button.

The problem is that unlike the mute button, which simply blocks ads from bothering you, when adblock keeps you from seeing them at all… the advertisers know it. So all these services on the web that are offered for free (and are supported by ad revenue) don’t actually make any money from users who have Adblock. So by using it on the media you use most, you deprive your favorite sources of content from their revenue; so it is that the application’s usefulness and maliciousness scale together. Fortunately, even without Adblock most things still come equipped with the good old standard mute button.



During the period of the 1920s, there was a resurgence of thought pioneered basically by Southerners.  It resulted in the banning of the sale and use of beer.  The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol and came to be known as the Prohibition Act.  Prohibition was widely flouted.  It resulted in people making their own home brew, just as it promoted the making of bootleg whiskey.  This encouraged so-called rum runners who brought whiskey into this country in violation of the law.  The law took effect in about 1920 and it lasted until 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt became our President.

At this late date, I will concede and admit that at the tender age of 10 or 12 years I also broke the prohibition law.  And I was very happy to do it.  Here are the circumstances that led to the breaking of the prohibition law.  My mother had a sister named Nora.  Nora ran a rooming house in downtown St. Louis, very near to the Mississippi River.  Nora and her sister, my mother, were polar opposites in their outlook on life.  Nora was a happy go-lucky person, whom I suspect had been married at least once or twice and who had probably conducted some affairs.  But no matter how you cut it, I liked Nora as an aunt.

Perhaps three or four times a year, we were invited to have “dinner” at Nora’s home.  You will recall that in my parents’ lexicon, there was breakfast, there was dinner at around noon time, and the final meal of the day was called supper.  On the occasions that we were invited to have our dinner at Nora’s home in the rooming house, I prepared myself for the worst gustatory experience of my life.  The reason for the apprehension about dining with Nora had to do with her delight in serving ducks and geese.  She often kept the prospective meal in her back yard and I grew very fond of them and regarded them as pets.  She would only keep one or two ducks or geese in her back yard.  They seemed to be affectionate pets.  I could not get over the thought that we were dining on a goose that I had petted very recently.  On top of this, I do not like any fowl at all.  My mother raised chickens.  I deplored the thought that some of them would be slaughtered when Nora came to our house.  The fact of the matter is that I have never enjoyed the eating of fowls.  Birds and geese, robins and ducks are to be enjoyed with the eyes; they are not to be, in my estimation, the subject of eating.

Nonetheless, after church services we dined with my Aunt Nora on perhaps three or four occasions per year.  As I told you a little earlier, Nora was a free-wheeling sort.  In her basement¸ she always kept the  fermentation of her next batch of beer.  From time to time, I was encouraged to have a sip of Aunt Nora’s beer.  I was revolted by it.

On the other hand, because Nora and her husband regarded us as guests, I was sent to the corner of Chouteau Avenue where a man who ran a small eatery also had a beer supply.  I have never been a drinker of beer.  At the age of 7 or 8 or 10 years, I considered the corner speakeasy brew considerably better than Nora’s home brew.

When I left Aunt Nora’s place, I was given a container called a pail.  I am guessing that it held perhaps one gallon.  I would take the pail to the rear door of the speakeasy, where an attendant would fill the pail with his own version of home brew.  Now for lexicographers, the word pail seems to have disappeared from the language we now speak.  In my rum running phase of life, the pail was the instrument which carried the home brew from the small eatery on Chouteau Avenue back to Nora’s house on about Seventh Street in St. Louis.  The truth is that I greatly enjoyed the trips to the small restaurant where beer could be bought during the era of Prohibition.

When dinner was served at Aunt Nora’s house, I would concoct all sorts of excuses for my lack of appetite.  Actually I filled myself as best I could with the heels of bread covered with margarine.  It was not much of a meal but it sure beat eating the ducks and geese.

So you see that I have a record of violation of the law going back perhaps 80 years.  I cannot tell you that I regret breaking the Prohibition law because in truth I enjoyed breaking the law.

There are a couple of other aspects having to do with Aunt Nora.  I suspect that Aunt Nora had no religious convictions at all.  In later days, she would be called an agnostic or perhaps even a non-believer or an atheist.   But Nora was Nora.  You could take it or leave it as you saw fit.  Nora, by the way, was the person who usually addressed me as “boy,” followed by, “What would you be if you were not Irish?”  The answer to that question was, “I would be ashamed.”

But the incident that I wish to relate to you now had to do with a church service.  Near her home in St. Louis, close to what used to be called the Free Bridge across the Mississippi, there was an evangelistic church.  To put it bluntly, the church services were of the “holy roller” type.  On one occasion, Nora took my mother and me, of all things, to this church service held in the afternoon on a Sunday.  When the preacher began his incantations, there were women who stood up and yelled about their satisfaction with Jesus.  As the service continued, the incantations from the audience grew more intense.  Further along, one of the celebrants would stand up, raise her hands and then fall to the floor.  Supposedly this is where the name of the holy rollers came from.  They would writhe on the floor.  The preacher would walk among the writhers.  On one occasion, someone from the audience tried to help the roller on the ground to her feet.  The preacher said, in loud tones, “Leave her where Jesus flang her.”

I suspect that my Aunt Nora was viewing this as pure entertainment.  My mother was revolted to a degree, despite the fact that she was a very religious person.  But in any case, for the next 80 years or so the thought of “Leave her where Jesus flang her” has always been my thought about religious services.

In 1933, the Prohibition Act became a thing of the past.  When I took my pail of beer back to Nora’s home, I was no longer considered a law breaker.  Ever since 1933, I present myself to the world as a law abiding citizen who hates the consumption of ducks and geese, but who loves the thought of “Leave her where Jesus flang her.”



December 14, 2012

Essay 723


Kevin’s commentary: For starters, flang is not a real word but it’s a great one.

Secondly I’m throwing the “favorite” tag on this essay primarily because of the amazingness that is Pop/Nora exchange. Unfortunately said exchange holds that  I should be half-ashamed because I suspect I’m only about half-Irish, having been diluted by my father’s side of the family. God knows where they came from, but I would think that they’re just standard Euro-mutts like the rest of the whiteys in this country.

Even being half (or more) Irish though, I feel like it’s not enough to “count,” so to speak. If I see an obviously Irish dude on the street I’m not going to tell him “aye, mate!” or whatever the Irish (pirates?) say to one another. I won’t feel any cultural bond. Which is fine, I guess — I have never really missed my “cultural heritage” but I do drink plenty of Guiness, like the Clancy brothers and Tommy Makem, and enjoyed a free (to me) secondary education. Close enough?



In an effort to be as straight forward as possible, I will admit at the beginning of this essay that the George Bush administration made it known to all Americans that enhancement had taken on a more sinister meaning.  When the Bushies talked about enhanced interrogation, they were really talking about torture.  This essay has no torturous prospects but it might strain the belief system.

Let’s begin at the beginning.  These days when I “read” a book, it means that I am listening to it.  Very fortunately, American book publishers have finally come to realize that those of us who are without sight are a potential audience.  I have always been a reader of books for my entire life.  I wish that the information contained in books would come to me through my eyesight but given the circumstances I am reduced to “reading” a book totally by hearing and it is reasonably satisfactory.

Let us go back a year or so.  You may recall that a person named Stanley McChrystal, a four-star general, was in charge of our operations in Afghanistan.  McChrystal lived like a king.  From all indications, he was supported by a significant number of people on his staff.  When he traveled, he might take as many as 20 or 30 people with him.  McChrystal’s downfall came when he invited a freelance writer named Michael Hastings to go along with McChrystal and his staff during a trip to Paris and Berlin.

At this point, you might logically ask, “If McChrystal was in charge of operations in Afghanistan, what in the world was he doing in Paris and Berlin?”   The answer is that I am at a loss to tell you why McChrystal thought it was worthwhile to take a staff of 20 or 25 people to Paris and to Berlin.  I listened quite carefully to the book by Michael Hastings and I cannot tell you how a European trip fits into our fighting a war in Afghanistan.   The best I can tell you is that when a four-star general says that we are going to Paris and Berlin, no one asks any questions.  They simply put on their traveling clothes and wait for the general’s aircraft to arrive.

It could be that Michael Hastings neglected to tell McChrystal that he intended to sell his writings to the Rolling Stone Magazine.  But anyone who knew of Michael Hastings’ work would know that he had published on more than one occasion in the Rolling Stone Magazine.  Again, to be as straightforward as I can be, I will admit that during my lifetime, I have never ever bought a copy of the Rolling Stone Magazine. 

If I understand things correctly, the performers called the Rolling Stones are more than anything else a rock-and-roll band.  Over the years they seem to have taken on an identity of their own.  But rock-and-roll music is not the sort of music that attracts me.  Fundamentally it repels me.

In any case, we have McChrystal’s staff by itself in Paris and in Berlin along with the writer Michael Hastings.  All indications are that McChrystal’s staff had a very low opinion of their Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Obama and of the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.

From all indications they were quick to point out what they considered the “stupidities” of the directions coming from Washington.  To make a long story shorter, finally a piece was published in the Rolling Stone Magazine that caused a considerable uproar.

As a consequence General McChrystal with his four stars shining outwardly from his uniform was called back to Washington and was fired.  There was no such thing as a transfer for him to another assignment.  McChrystal’s conduct and that of his staff left no alternative for Obama but to fire him.  Had I been in the position of the President, I would not have had the courtesy to invite McChrystal back to Washington.  I would have separated him from the service, which is called firing, by telephone.  As a matter of interest, his successor was General Petraeus who, I am sure you will remember, became embroiled in a romantic interlude.  He resigned after a promotion to the CIA job.

What I was also interested in was the conduct of the McChrystal staff.  I am not a counter of vulgarities, but I suspect that the vulgarities occurred so regularly that they would be hard to count.  The f word was used so regularly that it took on no meaning.  Now look, I am an elderly fellow who has served sometime in the American Army.  In my long career as a business man, I encountered the full range of vulgarities.  On one occasion when the American Army was hesitating to finally discharge me, I said to the sergeant around 6:45 in the evening, “F… you, Sergeant, I came here to get a discharge, and that’s what I mean to get.”  These words are not unknown to me, but I tend to use them judiciously.

If the Hastings book is reasonably correct, and I believe that it is, McChrystal’s staff used the f word indiscriminately.  Sometimes the f word was used incorrectly.  According to Hastings, the f word and other vulgarities were used with such abandon that I am of the belief that if the f word and other vulgarities were taken out of the book, it would be reduced by at least 50%.

Let me give you an example of how I would suppose that McChrystal’s staff would recite the poem of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  After reading the Hastings book, I believe it would be fair to say, “Mary had an effing lamb, whose Goddamned fleece was as white as effing snow.  Every effing where this effing Mary went, the Goddamned effing lamb was sure to go.”

I make no claim that I am much of a poet but this will give you an example of how McChrystal and his staff talked in front of Michael Hastings, the reporter.  And Hastings dutifully wrote all of this manner of speech down.  It was included in the article he submitted to the Rolling Stone Magazine and in the book

Now two or three years ago I read a comment by Levi Johnston, the young man who impregnated Bristol Palin, the daughter of the governor of Alaska.  In his Facebook entry, he included some vulgarities but wound up saying, “No one should f with me.”  Levi Johnston enjoyed a short career on the talk show circuit.  As far as is known at the moment, he is unemployed.

In a conversation with one of my daughters, I remarked upon Levi Johnston using the f word.  My daughter, who has three boys of her own, said, “That’s only the beginning.”  She attempted to reassure her father that that [sic] is the way people speak these days.  The fact is that I was not raised in a convent but to hear such liberal use of the f word is astounding even to these ears.

When American troops were first introduced into the North African theater, we served along with Australian troops.  The Aussies were the champion cussers of the whole world.  That has been my belief since 1942.  They took their vulgarities back to Australia and I have been largely unaware of the prevalence of the f word in today’s conversations.

There are two other thoughts here.  The book by Michael Hastings is called “The Operators” and the subtitle is “The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan.”  In his epilogue, Michael Hastings turned out to be a pretty good writer.  The fact of the matter is that he needs none of the vulgarities that he included in the magazine piece or in the book.

It seems to me that when one picks up a book, these days it is incumbent upon the writer to include some f words.  If that is the way that Americans converse these days, I am glad to be unaware of it.

Now, the second thought has to do with the derivation of the f word.  According to my research, it first appeared in the English language about the year 500AD or in the Common Era.  There are two sources that confirm the meaning of the f word is an acronym.  These two sources contend that the acronym is “Fornication Under Consent of the King.”  Apparently when the word was invented, the word fornication did not have the slightly gamey meaning that it has today.  So there you have the acronym which explains it all.  I would contend that the furnishing of this information is the function of a full-service agency.

So there you have it.  If you wish to read more about Michael Hastings, go to the book called “The Operators” and I am certain that Hastings would welcome your attention.  For myself, the adventure with McChrystal and Michael Hastings was a revelatory experience.  I did not know that soldiers, for example, on McChrystal’s staff talked using the f word instead of punctuation.  But if Hastings says that is the way the English language is used these days, I will observe it, not to encourage it.  And so the title of “Enhanced Vulgarities” may be in order.  I simply hope that Hastings’ account of the speech of American soldiers was exaggerated.  But from what I am told, that is not the case.  Perhaps someday we will return to an un-enhanced version of the English language.  I will be the first in line to enjoy the outcome.



December 14, 2012

Essay 722


Kevin’s commentary:

I have no fucking idea what this goddamn essay is on about. Honestly the fucker acts like we’re all supposed to speak like motherfucking angels all the fucking time but Jesus Christ that sounds tedious to me. If we couldn’t use the fucking “f word” all the time we’d –God for-fucking-bid — have to use other shitty words to express our bitchy little thoughts and seriously, who the hell has time for that?

I’ll agree on both counts: excessive use cheapens the word, and that I’m just about as guilty as the rest of my generation. We’ll work on it.