Archive for the March 2010 Category


As a general proposition, I often warn my readers about the essays that appear on these pages.  And so it is that in this case, I will tell you that the essay that follows is about Irish music and also about my father.  My father could not sing worth a lick.  That applied to Irish music as well as to Protestant hymns.  Simply put, he could not sing worth two whoops, which is the equivalent of a lick.

This essay, in my illogical mind, has divided itself into three parts.  The first part is about my father.  The final part has to do with two renditions of “The Orchard,” one by the composer Kevin Evans and the other by Liam Clancy, whom I consider to be the most beloved singer of Irish music in recent years.

In the middle, there are two songs by the Fureys and Davey Arthur, a very popular singing group in Ireland.  While the Fureys are excellent instrumentalists and arrangers of music, none of them can sing worth a lick.  They are a little better than my father but that is being damned by faint praise.

On the last bookend, there are some thoughts about my father, some of which you may have heard before.  But nonetheless, they apply forcefully in the essay that follows.


When you hear the attached CD, you will find that the Fureys have two contributions.  The first is “Belfast Mill” and the second is “Yesterday’s Men.”  It is those two songs that have made me think a great deal about my father, who departed this earth about 52 years ago.

I should state at the beginning that in 47 years’ employment, I have been extremely fortunate in that I have never been laid off or fired.  I am quite certain that there are people who would have loved to have fired me, particularly as the President of the local union, but I escaped for 47 years, never having been laid off or fired.  I know now this was a case of great good fortune.  Other people, through no fault of their own, have had to struggle with unemployment caused by forces unknown to them.  So I am a lucky man, but I have all kinds of sympathy for those who have not been so fortunate.

One of those men who was not so fortunate was my father.  When the Fureys and Davey Arthur sing about the “Belfast Mill” and about “Yesterday’s Men,” my thoughts go racing back to the tribulations that were my father’s misfortune.  My father came to St. Louis, after having been a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad for a while, which was getting him nowhere, and which was backbreaking work.  This was in the days before there were stokers.  My father, as other firemen did, used to take a shovel full of coal and then turn around and put it on the grates on the fire in the steam engine.

He came to St. Louis to work on the World’s Fair, which was supposed to start in 1902. but it was delayed.  The Fair actually took place in 1904.  After the fair finished, my father took employment with Sam and Dwight Davis, the proprietors of the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm in Clayton, Missouri.  My father had only a second-grade education in a country school but he was a willing worker.  Some time before the year 1910, he became the superintendent of the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm.  This job provided only rare days off, because, as you can imagine, the cows have to be milked every single day.  There was one compensation on the fringe side.  The superintendent of the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm was provided with a large house on the top of a hill in Clayton, not far from the barns that held the milking cows.  All eight of the Carr children were delivered in that house.

My father liked to be around livestock and apparently he was a success as the superintendent of the Lilac Roost Farm.  However, in 1925, Sam Davis stopped my father in his tracks when he told him that before long there would be trucks that would pick up the milking cows to take them away.  Sam Davis also told my father that he had elected to make a subdivision out of the property owned by the farm.  Further, Davis would like my father to move out of the house provided for the superintendent’s use, because it was to be torn down.  The title of this essay is “Where Shall We Go Now, My Family and I?” which must have been the thought in my father’s mind.  At that point, he had a wife and five children to care for and he found himself not only without a job, but also homeless.

The old man was a go-getter and in a short while, he found employment with the Evans-Howard Refractories.  Evans-Howard manufactured firebricks which was dirty work but provided employment.  When we left the Lilac Roost Farm, my father was able to find a very small house on North and South Road in Clayton, Missouri and squeezed all of us into perhaps four or five rooms.  As I said, my father was a go-getter and he made arrangements with the St. Louis County National Bank to provide funds so that he could oversee the building of a new home about three quarters of a mile south of the building where the Carr children  had all been born.

But bad luck seemed to follow my father.  When the Depression came in late 1929, there was no demand for firebricks and the refractory closed down, never to open again. I hope that you can see why thoughts of my father occurred to me as I was listening to “Belfast Mill.”  The “Belfast Mill” closed down and never reopened.  The same thing happened to the Evans and Howard factory in Brentwood, Missouri.

During the Depression, there was absolutely no work at all to be had.  When the winter came, there was no coal to put in the furnace.  Both my father and I cut trees and split them so that the home on Frances Place in Richmond Heights could be heated.  Wood burns quite a bit quicker than coal, and I can assure you that on many winter mornings, the members of our family had to survive the shivers.

Eventually, after about four or five years of unemployment, my father found a job in University City, which had to do with mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and other matters which tended to make the residents of those buildings feel proud.  As I have related before, in 1947 my father was too well advanced into blindness to climb a tree to trim it.  He stepped on an imaginary branch, and then fell to the ground and fractured his skull.  That was the end of his working career.

My father’s accident happened in the spring of 1947 when telephone workers such as myself were on strike.  When I went to visit him while he was confined to the hospital, my father said that I had been without a paycheck for a while and he had a few dollars that he would like to give to me.  That is the kind of person that he was.  I told him that I had saved some money in anticipation of the strike and that if I ran low in the money department I would come back to see him.

I have said on more than one occasion that my father and I were strangers to the end.  There was never ever an argument between the two of us.  He regarded me as a “strange duck;” but I was one of his children and he loved me.  In my own perverse way, I loved him too.  From the vantage point of 52 years after his death, I can see the travails that he went through having a large family without a job.  And so the songs about the “Belfast Mill” and “Yesterday’s Men” should have been published when my father could have heard them.  I have listened to those songs, which are now provided to all my readers on the CD that is attached.  In my mind, there is a special poignancy about those songs.


Well, so much for my father.  Now we must turn to the two songs that are sung by the Fureys and Davey Arthur.  Listening to at least one of the songs, there is a reference to “craic” Friday nights.  “Craic” is a Gaelic word that has nothing whatsoever to do with cocaine.  It is translated into English as fun or great fun.  “Craic” would occur when men needled each other on a Friday night after a few beers.  “Craic” is usually accompanied by great laughter.  So please remember that “craic” has nothing to do with cocaine.

In discussing my father in the first third of this essay, I can now see that to a large extent we have covered the second part of the essay having to do with the two songs that caused me to think of my father.  The Fureys are a very interesting group of musicians who can play a wide variety of instruments and play them well.  The only thing that is lacking is that none of the Fureys can sing.  But they give it a try.  Their words are intelligible and as you can see from the “Belfast Mill” and “Yesterday’s Men,” they have made a very deep impression upon this old reprobate’s mind as he endures the second Depression of his life.


That leaves us with only the final third of this essay to work on.  Liam Clancy died a short while ago.  Liam Clancy was probably the most beloved of all Irish folk singers.  My collection of records that he has done is fairly extensive.  I never tire of hearing him.  Liam was born in 1935 and in the end, he suffered from a pulmonary disease which I imagine would make it very difficult for a singer to endure.  But in any event, the enterprise that Liam Clancy founded, Liam Clancy Productions, could be passed on to his chosen successor, Kevin Evans.

In my last mailing of essays, there was a recording of Kevin Evans singing his own composition, “The Orchard.”  It has a number of racy lyrics such as making love before marriage.  In that song, the singer is identified as having lived into his 91st year.  Now we have Liam Clancy singing the same song in what I suppose would be called an expurgated version.  There is no reference to making love in the orchard without the benefit of clergy.  In Liam Clancy’s version, he wants to die at the age of 81, not 91.  As a public service, I have provided both versions of “The Orchard” so that you can make your own comparison.

For myself, I declare the two versions a tie.  I like them both and regard “The Orchard” as one of the most important contributions to the musical scene in the past several years.  Remember that the comeraghs are apples grown in Ireland.  The action takes place in a town called Dungarven in County Waterford on the southeast coast of Ireland.  A further translation in both versions is potcheen which is bootleg Irish whiskey.  Anyone who drinks potcheen is entitled to the violent headache which follows, for which I have very little if any sympathy at all.

And so in this essay I have introduced you to the Fureys and Davey Arthur, Liam Clancy, and the songs of the Fureys that made me think about my father.  It might be said that memories of my father hijacked this whole essay but that is not the case at all as I view it.  My father would be glad to be remembered and I am honored to do that.  I am quite certain that he would have liked to have heard the Fureys, Kevin Evans, and most especially Liam Clancy.  But as the saying goes, you never appreciate them until they’re gone.  I regret that my epiphany on memories of my father did not occur while he was still alive.  But in all honesty, my father could not sing worth a lick, even when compared to the vocalists in the Fureys.  But all of the people involved in this essay, including the musicians, were full-fledged Irish.  From my standpoint, that has to count for something.



March 1, 2010

Essay 441


Kevin’s commentary: Heck of a learning experience. Songs, new words, and autobiographical bits I’d never head before.

So far is the CD is concerned, that may have been lost to history. Nearly all of the songs, however, are available on the internet and are well worth listening to.  I personally have experience with the Clancy brothers that goes back all the way to 1990; my father liked to sing me lullaby songs preformed by Makem and Clancy. That particular song was “four green fields” (a very cheery song to sing to a baby) but some of the songs mentioned in this essay have a similar feel.

It’s also entertaining to me to think about the generational differences that become apparent within just a few steps down the family tree. My mother’s father’s father was a hard working man who made ends meet with physical labor and determination. My mother’s father was similarly hardworking, but as a rather “strange duck” he was also intelligent and charismatic enough to rise through the ranks of the union and the AT&T corporation. He got enough money together to let my mother go to college, from which she graduated to become a lawyer. And that chain has continued; I’ve gotten through college and now work at a technology startup. My older brother has his own company. Trying to explain either of our jobs to Pop’s father would be a difficult proposition.

That said, the total generational distance between something as concrete as shoveling coal and something as abstract as doing sales for an internet sales product that didn’t exist two years ago is surprisingly small. What’s more, I think it’s a mistake to assume that any of these professions are more or less worthwhile than any others. Every single day of my great grandfather’s work, he could sit back and feel confident that he had made a train move, or kept a bunch of cows milked and happy, or something similarly tangible. Many days of the week, I don’t know whether or not I’ve actually brought any value to anyone. There is certainly something to be said for all these different kinds of work.


When I was a youngster, John Gualdoni ran a grocery store in Brentwood, Missouri.  It was located on North and South Road.  The people in the grocery store were the clerks Bob and Louie, the butcher, and John himself.  We had to put up with what Bob and Louie had to wisecrack about as well the caustic comments of the butcher.  But I am in John Gualdoni’s debt because he had no music piped in over his loudspeakers.  As a matter of fact, he had no loudspeakers.

When I went, on rare occasions, to visit the dentist as a youngster, I would sit in the waiting room where I could hear the drilling going on in the dentist’s office.  For better or for worse, there was no such thing as television in those days and the dentist did nothing to entertain the prospective patients that he was preparing to drill on.

As a matter of information, I am a devotee of silence.  When I go to the grocery store, it is my intention to finish that exercise and to purchase all the things on my wife’s shopping list.  I don’t go to the grocery store to hear good music.  Similarly, I do not go to a concert hall to be told about the special on green beans just flown in from Chile.

It appears these days that the American public must be entertained at every step of the way.  I suppose that thinking about “John’s other wife” on the television, if that your idea of entertainment, might take your mind off what the dentist proposes to do to you. It has always been my thought that I would sit in silence without distractions with the hope that the dentist would take me quickly and finish with me promptly.  I don’t need to be entertained while those thoughts filter through my brain.

It appears to me that almost every grocery store has a loudspeaker where music is played to entertain the customers.  I don’t appreciate that music but rather regard it as an assault upon my ears.  We tend to shop twice a week at an upscale grocery chain here in New Jersey.  When they started the music a few years ago, I gritted my teeth and attempted to bear it.  Now, however, I say to my wife, “Let’s get the hell out of this place.”  It appears that I am fighting a losing battle.  More and more physicians’ offices and grocery stores play music on their loudspeakers.  Unhappily, the music is of poor quality and seems directed to the upbeat music, either aimed at inspiring the clerks to work harder or for the entertainment of teenage customers.  Unhappily, there are no teenage customers in the grocery stores that we use, so that noise is largely going to waste.

It seems to me that such piped in music is counterintuitive in that it encourages people to do their shopping and get out of the place.  The places that play upbeat music are defeating themselves.  On the other hand, Nordstrom’s, a top flight store selling clothing for men and women, often has a live musician performing works from Broadway shows.  As I listen to this music, I tend to hang around the store and often buy something that I didn’t know I needed.  In the end, I say “Hurray for Nordstrom’s” and thumbs down on the grocery stores and the physicians’ offices which try to entertain me at a time when I do not wish to be entertained.

There is one other factor that is of recent vintage.  I hear people talking on their cell phones.  Not being able to see, I tend to wait for an answer to a statement by one of the conversationalists.  It takes me two or three minutes to catch on to the fact that I am listening to a one-way conversation on a cell phone.

In the end, I conclude that music and loudspeakers have their place, but it is not necessarily in grocery stores and physician’s offices.  When push comes to shove, I would much prefer to hear John Gualdoni’s clerks, Louie and Bob, greet each other than to sustain the upbeat music that is the backbone of our grocery stores.  I know that this is a lonely voice but I do not go to the grocery store or to physicians’ offices for the purpose of being entertained.  But I am afraid that as time goes on, more and more places will succumb to the thought that I must be entertained when I walk into their premises.  And of course all of this leads me back to where this essay started.  My plaintive plea is, “Whatever happened to silence?”  It may be a losing battle but silence has my solid endorsement in almost every situation.




March 3, 2010

Essay 443


Kevin’s commentary: Essay writing must be a little bit cathartic sometimes for Ezra. Why yell at the whippersnappers on the proverbial lawn when you could write an essay about how awful they are? I think I will probably take this or a similar method when I reach that age when you basically have full license to be crotchety about things.

More on the subject of this essay here.


As a general principle, I try to avoid writing about religious matters because my views on that subject are well known.  Simply put, I am a non-believer.  But in the past week or so, I almost became a believer.  There was a development that simply had to be commented upon, which is the subject of this essay.  The story involves the National Conference of Catholic Bishops coming down on the wrong side of history, while the Association of Catholic Nuns came down on the right side.  In this debate, I hope that the nuns will win every round.  In so doing, they may clean the bishops’ clocks immaculately.

This story goes back to the 1960s when I was privileged to serve as a member of the Washington office of AT&T.  There are many people who describe my duties there as being a lobbyist.  I don’t really disagree with them, but the fact of the matter is that the duties of the Washington office were to make the federal government feel better about AT&T.  My boss at that time was an Assistant Vice President named Ben Givens, who supervised me not at all.   I remember Ben for his spoonerisms which provided endless delight.  For example, there was a very popular sports restaurant run by a gentleman named Duke Zeibert.   Ben invariably pronounced his name as Zuke Deibert.  Ben was not much of a boss but we got along well during the nearly four years that I worked in Washington.  And so it is that I conclude that it was my privilege to work there and to have a good bit to do with the federal government.

In the early fall of each year, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops holds a conference in Washington, D.C.  These conferences attracted wide press attention and were covered in detail by the two Washington newspapers that existed at that time.  They were The Washington Star and The Washington Post.  I subscribed to both papers.

The first year that I was in Washington, the Conference of Catholic Bishops held their annual conference in early September.  One of the bishops made valiant attempts to bring up the subject of purgatory.  That bishop was in a distinct minority.  The rest of the conference seemed not to share his interest in purgatory.

My recollection is that in the following year, the same bishop again brought up the subject of purgatory.  Reading between the lines, it became quite clear that the rest of the conference again wanted little to do with that subject.  I would go so far to say that not all of the Catholic bishops believed in purgatory.  A film clip on television seemed to indicate that the other participants in the conference would sigh when this bishop got up to make his remarks about purgatory.  I thought that I could learn something about this most divisive issue.  For example, where is purgatory located.  But from what I was able to read and able to see, there was no unanimity on the subject of purgatory.

Apparently the time spent in purgatory before admission to heaven or to hell could be almost endless.  I gathered that escape from purgatory had to do with the people remaining on earth praying and contributing to the church.  But if the bishops wanted little to do with the subject of purgatory, I was intrigued.  Unfortunately, I found nothing conclusive on the subject of purgatory from the Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It appeared that the bulk of the bishops wanted to talk about something else beyond purgatory.

Now if you will, I would like to fast forward to March of the year 2010.  Unbeknownst to me, Catholic nuns have formed some sort of organization, somewhat resembling a union.  I observe that there are many more Catholic nuns than there are Catholic bishops.  From my standpoint, they have come down on the right side of history in the healthcare debate.  They wish to insure the uninsured and they wish to do away with such things as pre-existing conditions.  On the other hand, the bishops seem to have come down on the side of the big insurance companies that wish to deny the benefits of insurance to those who are unable to pay for it or who have limited means to afford it.

I am delighted to see such spunk on the part of the nuns.  I gather that in the history of the church, these nuns did what they were told and asked no questions.  But now the nuns are standing on their own hind feet.  They’re telling the bishops to get lost.  I like a good fight where the underdog has a chance of winning.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will tell you that the Catholic nuns have all of my best wishes and have had them for many years.  For example, in 1947, when my father fell out of the tree he was trimming and fractured his skull, it was the nursing nuns at St. Mary’s Hospital, Richmond Heights, Missouri who nursed him back to health.  In 1961, when my mother had her final illness, again it was the nuns of St. Mary’s who comforted her in the final weeks of her life.  For all that, I am quite grateful.  But in this fight with the bishops, my sentiments are always for the little guy.  I am so delighted to see that the nuns are standing up for their rights.  And in the end, they seem to have prevailed.

Now, about my prejudices.  I have told you that, all things considered, I am prejudiced in the favor of the Catholic nuns.  Similarly, I have a prejudice against the Catholic bishops in that they are well-fed rotund fellows who have the world on a string or so they think.  The question that follows is whether or not anyone has ever observed a bishop of the Catholic faith or any other faith who was not well fed.  I would not be surprised but that the nuns probably do some of the cooking for the bishops.  And so these are my thoughts about the dispute between the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the nuns.

As things now stand, the nuns seem to be on the winning side and the bishops are on the losing side.  Are the bishops going to maintain their stance when they are confronted with small children who are denied insurance because of some pre-existing condition?  If the bishops maintain their alliance with the big insurance companies, they will be portrayed as totally heartless.

And so it is that I salute the nuns in their fight with the bishops of their own church.  Without a doubt, they are going to find that the bishops will probably retaliate in one way or another.  I hope the nuns stand firm.  As a matter of fact, I hope that they stand more firm than I have been in my desire to avoid commenting on religious matters.  But the subject of the dispute between the nuns and the bishops came to me as a gift from some celestial being, perhaps the Holy Ghost.  I can only look at the sky and shout “thank you” in Aramaic, which was the language of Jesus.  My accent in Aramaic says, “How to go, nuns.”



March 24, 2010

Essay 445


Kevin’s commentary: I can see no religious reason for the Bishops to take the stance they did, and feel like I should do a little more research to ascertain the reasoning behind it. That type of position just seems baffling given that the church is supposed to be committed to charity and helping the poor and that sort of thing. Supporting the efforts of the insurance giants to screw over the people most in need of health care would probably be pretty far down on ol’ Jesus’s list, I feel.


My father, who was a taciturn man, didn’t have much to say while he was alive.  He has been a resident of the Oakhill Cemetery in Kirkwood, Missouri for 52 years and, one way or another, in recent essays he has turned up a good bit more than he did when he was alive.

In the instant case, the cause for him reappearing has to do with the miserable arms of daylight savings time, which was imposed upon the American public again this week.  As you can surmise, I am not a fan of daylight savings time, and I wish it would go away forever.  But the dim bulbs in the American Congress have not only decreed that we should have daylight savings time for more than six months of each year but that it should be extended.  My father had the right idea.  He would contend, as I contend, that daylight savings time means that it ain’t natural.

The old man had several other examples that he considered not in accordance with the natural order of things in this universe.  For example, in his view, smoking cigarettes was a peculiar characteristic. He always referred to that as “sucking cigarettes.”  According to the old man, the only proper smoke for a man was an occasional cigar.  On three or four occasions, I tried cigars and I found them so distasteful that I considered giving up smoking tobacco altogether.  But cigars were the smoke of choice of my father’s generation, and cigarettes were simply not natural.

During his lifetime, I am quite certain that he never heard the word “gay” associated with males with effeminate qualities.  The word “gay” came along much after he was involved in the American political scene.  I am quite certain that during his lifetime, he would not have held any prejudice against gay men.  He simply considered such people as not quite real men.  While my father was tolerant of men he did not consider full men, he had other qualities that would make him a natural for an essay called “It Ain’t Natural.”  For example, in the senior Ezra’s case, he always thought of automobile engines only in terms of the in-line variety.  The “in-line variety” means that the cylinders fire from front to back, one after another in a straight line.

In 1932, when Henry Ford introduced his V-8 automobiles, my father denounced them on the grounds that V-8s were not natural.  He found that the pistons wear out their rings because they were slanted against the cylinder walls, and would use great amounts of oil.  In that respect, what the old man said was absolutely true.  But over the years, the science of engines has progressed.  It has been my observation that they use less and less oil.  But from his point of view, a V-8 engine was not natural.

When it came to time pieces, it was my father’s view that the only proper time pieces were watches that could be held in the hand and worn on watch fobs that could be deposited in that little pocket on men’s clothing that used to be called a watch pocket.  When it came to men wearing wrist watches, he denounced them as “ain’t natural.”  On the subject of time pieces, my father never changed his views.  He considered any man who wore a wrist watch as being less than masculine.  In fact, I guess he would consider them sort of gay in today’s terms.

And then there was the time when after a long job search, my former drafting teacher at Clayton High School recommended me for a job with AT&T.  At that time, long before computers came into existence, drafting was done on a piece of linen using black India ink.  It was an article of faith among draftsmen, which I became for AT&T in my first job, to dislike long foulard ties.  My preference, of course, was for bow ties, the reason being that foulard ties that hung outside in the front of a shirt had a propensity for dragging across the newly drawn lines.  I tried to explain this to my father.  It did little to overcome his prejudice against bow ties.  According to the old man, bow ties were worn by people who were less than fully male, and were not natural.

Now to return to daylight savings time.  I can understand that there are those in our society who wish to get started early.  That is fine with me.  But why should they trouble the rest of us with also starting early?  If someone wishes to start work at 7 AM instead of 8 AM, I would have no objection.  But the fact remains that high noon occurs only once a day and it occurs at noon time, whether the clock says 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock.  In accordance with the inheritance of my father’s suspicion, I would have to repeat that such a proposition as daylight savings time “ain’t natural.” And daylight savings time has my undying opposition from start to finish.



March 24, 2010

Essay 398


Kevin’s commentary:

I suppose that I understand much of this essay, but he loses me when he doesn’t take to cigarettes because they are “not natural,” given that they are just tobacco which is a plant, whereas an in-line engine could be “natural” despite the fact that it is made of metal. I suppose I am forced to conclude that he is interpreting the word “natural” in a non-literal sense.  So really, when he said something “ain’t natural” he’s was really just saying it was something that differed from his idea of “the norm,” which isn’t as much a denigration as an observation.


I suspect that everyone who has attained the Methuselah-like age of 80 may well have given thought to his or her own departure.  I don’t dwell on that subject but I am quite aware that it exists.  Again, I suspect that the dying part is not the major consideration.  It is the preliminaries of extended illnesses that precede the actual departure.

This thought about dying came home to me this past week when the popular television commentator, Keith Olbermann, reviewed the circumstances associated with his father’s illness.  I know nothing about that illness but I suspect that it is cancer, complicated by several infections.  The younger Olbermann said earlier in the week that surgeons had removed his father’s colon.  I believe that Keith Olbermann has been deeply concerned about his father for several months.  The agony in this case has been extended.  Even though his father is probably not aware of what is taking place, the younger Olbermann reads every day to him from James Thurber, one of his favorite authors.  Keith Olbermann is a standup guy who has my sympathy during the prolonged period that I suspect may well lead to his father’s demise.

The basic premise for this essay came the other night when the son revealed that he had answered his father’s call for help.  The father can not speak because he has a ventilator in his throat but he mouthed the word “help”.  Apparently the pain had become so intense that he asked the son to smother him to end his agony.  Of course the son did not do that but the father clearly had cast his vote to end his life.  For better or worse, it is in my view a matter of decency to honor the father’s request if it can be done in a reasonable fashion.

I am fully aware that people of religion believe that only God or some other deity may start and end life.  As a full-fledged non-believer, I dispute this conclusion on rational grounds.  For example, Levi Johnson, the 17-year-old child in Wasilla, Alaska was in a “committed relationship” with the former governor’s daughter.  Apparently, being in a “committed relationship” entitles one to engage in sexual relations.  As the world now knows, Bristol Palin, the former governor’s daughter, now has a child and no prospect of a husband in sight.  So in this case, are we to believe that it was a God-like decision for Levi Johnson to impregnate the governor’s daughter?  I don’t believe that whatever gods there are would become involved in such a sordid mess.

At the other end of the line, there are suicide bombers in the Middle East who believe that by causing the death of many other human beings they get a one-way ticket to Paradise.  It is hard for me to believe that any deity, be it Muslim or Christian or some other faith, would give that his blessing.  But be that as it may, in my view it is the ordinary human beings who can start a life without the help of God-like creatures.  And in some instances those same influences may lead to the end of life as well, without the intervention of supernatural creatures.

Perhaps the United States invasion of Iraq is the prime example.  Did God, Jesus, Allah, or some other sanctified creature give George W. Bush his blessing to end the lives of those who stood in the way of the American army?  And what about those 4500 Americans who were lost as a result of Bush’s war against Iraq?  I don’t believe that even George Bush, who has often contended that he is guided by God’s wishes, would ever make that assertion.

But so much for other influences as in the case of Levi Johnson.  In my humble opinion, if I were involved in a situation such as Mr. Olbermann finds himself, I would want to register my opinions vigorously.  In the case of something on the order of Mr. Olbermann’s problem, I may well conclude that after 80 some years on this planet and with the pain and suffering of great intensity, now is the time to pull the plug on it all.  What I am really arguing here is that in certain circumstances, there is no point in prolonging the agony of a sick patient.  In my own case, I would not want to be smothered but I would like a legitimate way to end my agony and pain.

I am fully aware that this essay may not meet universal voices of praise.  But as a fellow who is thinking about the prospects of becoming 90 years of age sometime soon, I believe that it would be appropriate for me to state my views while I am in control of my faculties.  In any case, what I wish to hold in this essay is the ability to cast a vote where I am the only one concerned.  I know that the doctors, the hospitals, the preachers, and the district attorneys may have a differing point of view.  But if I am engaged in the agony of suffering, it seems to me that my vote ought to count for something.



March 3, 2010

Essay 442

Postscript:  The elder Mr. Olbermann died shortly after this essay was written.  The cause was cancer.

I gave this essay to my cardiologist and a discussion about the end of life ensued.  He remarked that he hoped all of his patients would have such a discussion before the end occurs.


Kevin’s commentary: Another cheery essay from Ezra. You know what’s always bothered me about this whole issue? If our dogs are suffering and there is no prospect of recovery, we put them down out of mercy and a desire to end their pain. Yet we deny people that same comfort, even against their explicit wishes. So it is that I agree with Pop completely here, morbid though it may be — a person should have the ultimate say when it comes to the taking of his or her own life. Many people in situations such as Olbermann’s father ultimately choose suicide, which is almost always more traumatizing and painful to everyone involved.  It truly is an awful status quo that we have in place.


I guess that I am finally cornered.  I will have to admit that I am a Democrat and that I subscribe to the liberal wing of that party.  Today that is called the progressive part of the Democratic Party.  But as I progress into my 88th year, and this is being dictated on the Christian Sabbath, I want to make a full confession.   I am a full-fledged Democrat.

As a Democrat, I followed the debate on the health bill with considerable interest.  The Republicans opposed the bill at every turn and finally, a few days ago, their objections were overcome and Mr. Obama has signed that bill into law.  As a Democrat, I stupidly believed that the insurance companies could reject me because of pre-existing conditions.  I also believed that the insurance companies could cut off a patient whenever they got tired of paying him benefits.  I know now that that is entirely wrong because the Republicans have insisted that was not the case.  There are a number of other points on which I was also totally wrong.  For all that, my apologies will not be enough to assuage the political damage that I may have done.

Now, we have Rush Limbaugh who has become, as far as the world can see, the face of the Republican Party.  In a broadcast over his network which reaches something like several million viewers, Mr. Limbaugh has said in the past two days that “bastards” like me “ought to be wiped out.”  Perhaps that is what was in his mind when he was thinking about the cross hairs on Sarah Palin’s rifle.  In any event, I do not feel threatened by Rush Limbaugh’s bombast.

Now, on the subject of being a bastard, it is my belief that my parents were married somewhere around the year of 1905 or 1906.  I have never seen a copy of their marriage certificate but given their religious nature, it would be unseemly to me to think that they would produce children out of wedlock.  In point of fact, they produced eight children and I would conclude that, contrary to what Mr. Limbaugh says, none of them were bastards.  There were six children that preceded me into this vale of tears and I assume that they would decry Limbaugh’s assertion about their lineage.  But I have no real way of checking that, because they are all deceased.  But Mr. Limbaugh has said that bastards like me ought to be wiped out for my sin of supporting health care reform.  I suppose it is only a matter of time for Mr. Limbaugh to decide between beheading me and/or shooting me as well.

What Rush Limbaugh had to say flowed from a spirit of outrage.  His outrage was sparked totally by hatred.  There are 32 million Americans uncovered by health insurance whom I believe would all support the recent reforms that would give them such coverage.  Was Rush Limbaugh going to call all 32 million of those folks bastards as well?  Hatred is a consuming passion that underlines Rush Limbaugh’s broadcasts.

A few years ago, I wrote an essay about hatred.  Curiously, the thought that went through my mind had to do with prayer.  This is not to contend that people who pray are haters.  To the contrary, it is to think that those who pray fervently take great comfort from having done so.  Whether they expect the heavenly being to whom they have prayed to do anything about it remains to be seen.  But what I am arguing here is that the benefits of prayer primarily go to the prayee, and that must make those who pray feel better.  If that is the case, I say, “Please be my guest.”  My belief is that people who hate, such as Mr. Limbaugh, take some satisfaction from delivering their scorn upon those whom they dislike or hate.  I suspect that delivering his scornful messages to people such as me tends to make Limbaugh feel better.  If that is the case, so be it.

I suppose that I am not alone in being the object of Rush Limbaugh’s plaints.  Bart Stupak is a Congressman from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.  Stupak has tenaciously defended his position on abortions.  He wants to wipe them out.  The last hurdle in achieving agreement on the health care bill was Mr. Stupak’s insistence on having language that suited him.  Remember that this bill had nothing to do with abortions.  It was a health reform bill.  But nonetheless, Stupak held out and was finally persuaded to accept some language proposed by the President that reaffirmed that the government does not pay for abortions, continuing a law that has existed for a good number of years.

I would have thought that Stupak’s hold-out would have made him a hero to those who oppose abortions.  Specifically, I would have thought that he would be a hero to Rush Limbaugh.  But that is not the case.

Since the health reform bill was signed, the telephone messages that Stupak has received are abominable.  They seem to be hung up on accusing Mr. Stupak of wanting to have sexual intercourse with his mother.  I have been around this earth for quite a while and I find it deplorable that Mr. Stupak was subjected to these kinds of messages.  But as I say, those who hate know no real limits.

Well, there you have it.  After holding out for all of these years, I have been forced to confess that I am a Democrat and that I supported the health reform bill.  For all this, Mr. Limbaugh suggests that bastards like me ought to be wiped out.  My uneducated guess is that once the health reform bill goes into effect, Americans will like it and will refuse to surrender any item in it.  If the Republicans wish to run on a platform of repealing the health care bill, it will be made to order for the Democrats to prevail in forthcoming elections.  But that does not alter the fact that Mr. Limbaugh has referred to me as a bastard who needs to be wiped out.

There is an ancient Missouri maxim that might apply here.  It is that “I will eat the goose that relieves himself on Mr. Limbaugh’s grave.”  I don’t eat fowl of any kind but for this occasion, to honor the goose, not Limbaugh, I will take a bite or two of the goose meat.  And if Limbaugh elects to arise from the grave, I will see to it that he can have as many bites of that goose meat as he likes.  Given the quixotic nature of things, it may well be that even I at my advanced age may outlast Rush Limbaugh.  We will have to see about that.




March 28, 2010

Essay 446


Kevin’s commentary:

I’m deeply shocked that I have known Pop for so long without ever suspecting that he was a damn dirty communist hippie… err, democrat. Maybe we could have staged an intervention or something. It would probably involve clutching at either huge stacks of money or the bible and reiterating how great they both are.

Meanwhile in 2012 and 2013, Rush is still a complete asshole and almost got ran off the airwaves but he hung in there like a sexist, awful little cockroach.


Pop agreeing to a bite of chicken, goose, or any largely water-dwelling bird is a big step up.  Still though, one would think that such a goose should be celebrated instead of butchered.



For reasons unknown to me, I have been a voracious reader from the time Miss Brantley rescued me from the girls’ room.  I have told the story before but perhaps it bears repeating.  On my first day in school in the Forsythe School in Clayton, Missouri, I felt the need to relieve myself and walked into an open space which turned out to be the girls’ room.  In a flash, Miss Brantley, the first grade teacher saw me and led me to the boys’ room.  She told me that she understood my situation and that within a few weeks I would learn how to read.  Thus that mistake would never be repeated again.  And so I conclude that my voracious reading habits are attributable to Miss Brantley, a lovely white-haired woman.

There is one more story having to do with my reading habits.  When I was a prisoner of the German Army near Rimini, Italy in World War II, I found a German language paper on the floor and started to read it.  When I ran across a phrase, early in my reading, I asked a guard to explain it to me.  In effect, he told me that he was lost in the German language because he was a Rumanian, Rumaniabeing allied with Germany.  So you see, my attempt to explain my reading habits goes far back.

In 2005, I entered the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia for a trabeculectomy on my one remaining eye.  As it turned out, there was a hemorrhage and in spite of all of the efforts of the Wills people, starting with my surgeon, L. Jay Katz, M.D., there was nothing that could be done over the next few months to restore any sight to my eye.  Soon I will celebrate the anniversary of the sightlessness that glaucoma has brought to me for the past five years.

Glaucoma stopped my father from reading his Bible every evening because at that time, in the 1940s, there were no books that could be turned into audible speech.  But these days there are a good many books that are provided for those who are sightless, with an announcer reading the book to me.  My daughter and her husband, Maureen and Walter Nollmann have even recently bought me a Kindle which does all sorts of tricks.  So in effect I am not left with nothing to read.  Far from it.  As a matter of fact, it is at this point that I wish to give you a book report of my recent reading that may interest you.

In the past year and a half, there was a presidential election in this country which had hotly contested primary and general elections.  The fact that we had such a situation has much to do with my book report.  My report involves the following books.


The first book is by Richard Wolffe, who is an NBC commentator.  Wolffe was born in Birmingham, England and is a very literate fellow.  His book is called “Renegade” and it is about the Barack Obama campaign for the presidency.


The second one is “Battle for America.”  The authors are Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, veteran Washington reporters.  It has much to do with the campaign for the presidency of the US last year.


The third book is “The Audacity to Win.”  The author is David Plouffe, who was the campaign manager for Barack Obama.  It involves the primary battle between Obama and Mrs. Clinton.  I found Plouffe’s book very interesting reading.


The fourth book is “Too Big to Fail.”  The author is Andrew Ross Sorkin.  It is about the banks and Wall Street, and I will tell you in advance that I found it so unbelievable that I almost quit reading it.  Sorkin writes for The New York Times.  This book is about Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and other organizations on Wall Street.


The fifth book is a political book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.  They are also veteran Washington reporters.  The title is “Game Change.”  “Game Change” is about Barack Obama as well as Hillary Clinton and in addition there is great coverage of John Edwards.


The last book is “The Madoff Chronicles” by Brian Ross, a reporter for ABC News.  It is about Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.


Of these six books, three of them come under a question of believability of the authors.  I find it basically impossible to believe that the authors had access to the principles as they repeatedly voiced their innermost thoughts.

The first of these is “Battle for America.”  That is the book by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson.  The next one is “Too Big to Fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin.  I have told you in the preceding paragraph that Sorkin claims to have heard infinite details that boggle my mind.  That book was about Wall Street and the financial crisis and I find it almost impossible to believe that Sorkin was so intimate with the principles that he heard all of the stuff that he recorded in his book.  The third book on my scorn list is “Game Change” which is a new book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

The three books cited which are in doubt in my mind have verbatim quotes which could not have been recorded unless the speaker was talking into a recording device.  That is impossible.  It strikes me that in reporting on the campaign for the presidency last year, each author had set out to outdo the previous author in defense of his “insiderness.”  In this case, I find that Richard Wolffe is refreshing because he reports the facts and it is up to the reader to decide to believe them or not.  The worst case was Andrew Ross Sorkin, which caused me to question whether he ought to be on the financial beat for The New York Times.  I simply do not believe that Sorkin had all of the intimacy that he claims with respect to the financial meltdown.

So there you have my little book report which tells you that sensationalism ain’t dead yet.  It also tells you that some books are capable of being believed and others are not.

Of all of the forgoing books, I found Brian Ross’s story about Bernie Madoff the most informative.  If the political writers had used Brian Ross’s respect for the news, then their books would have been better received by readers such as myself.


Now we move on to another observation about the recent books that I have heard.  In a number of the books reported on a little earlier in this report, I am struck by the use of the “f” word.  I was not raised in a convent and I spent the appropriate amount of time in the United States Army.  When it comes to vulgarities, our English cousins are among the best.  But clearly the best soldiers in terms of vulgarities were the Australians.  The people who appear in this book report don’t even come close to using vulgarities appropriately.  Clearly they are in love with the “f” word.  When they run out of something to say, they often employ the “f” word for no apparent reason.

I questioned my daughters and one of their husbands in an effort to determine whether this was common usage in the American speech patterns among younger people.  The two daughters and one husband all assured me that the “f” word is in common usage every day in every way.  Over the years I have found that men who used vulgarities often were colorful folk.  William Cowper Brann, who published newspapers in Texas about a hundred years ago, was a colorful user of vulgarities.  The people quoted by the six authors that I have read recently don’t hold a candle to William Cowper Brann.  So I guess I would say that if you are going to use vulgarities, don’t go out of your way to work them into your speech patterns.

One of the lessons from this essay should be that vulgarities are alive and well and you should be grateful to me for keeping you from reading books that are inauthentic.  It took 82 years for all of this to happen but my belief is that Miss Brantley would be edified by what her erstwhile pupil, who wandered into the girls’ room, has now accomplished.



March 1, 2010

Essay 440


Kevin’s commentary:

We are dipping into 2010. Not because we’re completely done with 2011 and 2012, but because I want to publish a whole mess of essays in the next few days and it’s easiest to do that by starting fresh with a new year.

I really enjoyed the fact that this essay came with a reading list and I wonder if I dig deeper into the archives of Ezra’s Essays that I will find more of them. I know that Pop reads almost constantly and I would very much enjoy more regular updates on what is striking his fancy. Particularly I want to keep an eye on his reading list to see if any fiction sneaks its way into there, so I can say “I told you so” when he enjoys it.

More on Australians, cursing, and the military here and here.

Also, Connor Shepherd speaks very highly of “Game Change.” I’ll need to investigate further.