Archive for the May 2010 Category

THE SUNDAY AFTERNOON BLUES

Perhaps the most famous in the genre of blues songs was one composed by W.C. Handy.  That of course was “St. Louis Blues.”  Those of us who list St. Louis as our place of birth do not necessarily go around singing “St. Louis Blues” at all hours.  The composer, Handy, wrote of a man who had lost a woman and that tended to make him feel pretty sad.

In my own case, Sunday afternoons are not a joy to behold.  Even today, long into my retirement, I think about the work week or exercise schedule looming before me and I think about the doctors’ appointments that must be kept.  But today appears to be a gorgeous day with the temperatures hovering near 90 degrees and I am still afflicted by the blues.

I believe the source of my trouble has much to do with the oil slick produced by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico.  Secondly, when I think of the state budgets that are clearly out of balance, I find that the politicians are going to cut teachers short to make up the budget deficits.  It strikes me that if our public schools do not maintain their mission, millions of youngsters will not be properly educated and, if nothing else, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

On the first question, I have never been an enthusiastic supporter of off-shore drilling.  I don’t claim to know much about it, but if Sarah Palin thinks that the proper thing to do is to “drill, baby, drill,” then I am more than likely against it.  I know that we are consumers of energy far out of proportion to our population.  And I also know that we have not made every effort to control our consumption of energy.  Rather than controlling our energy needs, the course seems to be to provide all of the energy that we can consume.

Now the inevitable has happened.  The drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in a terrible rupture that is pouring millions of gallons of oil in to the waters there.  This is catastrophic for such people as myself who are great consumers of fish.  As the oil soaks the wetlands, it is inevitable that there will be shortages of fish and that the prices will probably be out of sight.  But more than that, my Sunday afternoon blues have to do with weeping for the people who tend the boats that supply us with our fish.  When this oil reaches the shore, as it will inevitably, it may poison the production of fish and crustaceans for years to come.  I hope that this is not the case.  Looking at it on this gloomy Sunday, it appears that it will be difficult to avoid such an outcome.

We are now several days into the spill by the British Petroleum drilling and I must say at this point, that judging from the news reports, we still have no fix for this terrible problem.  We are talking in theoretics such as capturing the oil in a dome that can be emptied but nobody has such a dome and the talk of emptying such a dome is just that: all talk.  So my gloom on this Sunday afternoon is, in my opinion, well warranted.  When I used to go to Louisiana, I remember that my wife and I were great consumers of po’boy sandwiches.  They are simply fried oysters between two layers of crusty bread.  There is a little remoulade sauce that goes with the po’boys but I am afraid that po’boys may be a thing of the past.  I know that this is a gloomy projection and I hope that things turn out differently.  But for them to turn out differently we need a miracle of the first order and it ain’t coming from British Petroleum (BP).

 

And now to move on to the second point in this inquiry.  The states running short of money to balance their budgets is another problem that causes me gloom on this Sunday afternoon.  For the states to balance their budgets on the backs of school children is, in my opinion, immoral.  In the state of New Jersey, there are more than 500 municipalities.  A good many of them have their employees on pension plans and must also maintain fire departments and police departments.

Now, on the pension plan, there is a good example in the case of Sharpe James who was formerly the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.  Sharpe was also a state senator and he intended to collect pensions from both Newark and the state of New Jersey.  Mr. James has just completed a term in the state penitentiary because he and his girl friend conspired on a property deal.  Curiously, in that case, his girl friend got a longer sentence than Mr. James.  As far as I know, Mr. James is still collecting his state and city pensions.  For this small state to maintain as many as 400 or 500 generous pension plans just puts our accounting out of balance.  It can’t be done.

In the case of the tax assessor in our town, he has that responsibility for at least four other municipalities in which he sets the rates for taxation.  I presume that they may all tend to pay into a pension plan for him.  But paying double or triple pensions to the tax assessors and double dippers like Sharpe James, it is no wonder why the cities and the state have budget problems.

And so it is that I worry about the leakage of the oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the tendency to balance the state budgets on the backs of school children.

W.C. Handy wrote his song “St. Louis Blues” as a love song.  At one point, he opines that “that woman has a heart like a rock down in the sea.”  Well, here we are with two rocks to deal with.  It will take a miracle for these rocks to disappear, and I am afraid that miracles these days are in short supply.  But let us hope for the best, that a miracle is in our future.  If it happens, we are ahead of the game and if it doesn’t happen we haven’t lost much.  But a miracle is what we need now to stop the flow of oil in the Gulf and to deal with the state budgets.

I wish I could be more exuberant but reality is reality.  I suppose the people at Goldman Sachs look for a miracle to help them with their problems.  But Goldman Sachs is not my problem and judging by their arrogance in testifying before Congress last week, they may deserve whatever happens to them.  On the contrary, I would argue that the fishermen who depend on the Gulf of Mexico and the children of New Jersey and other states deserve a much better fate.

 

E. E. CARR

May 2, 2010

Essay 452

~~~

Kevin’s commentary:  I remember this event having far-reaching repercussions for a lot of industries. Even the vacation rental industry, in which my father is employed, suffered as a result of reduced tourism to the gulf for quite a while due to the pollution. I am not sure what effect it had on the various fisheries and it seems that despite some long-term damage, things have at least resumed some degree of normalcy.

Nevertheless this spill was handled poorly by all counts. Check out some of the other BP essays around this site for more. Google search actually works better than the site search does, unfortunately.

SO BP HAS IGNORED GRUBER’S LAW

The title suggests that there are two principles involved in this humble essay.  The first is, of course, British Petroleum (BP), an organization that is now hip deep or chest deep in grave trouble.  The second principle is the dermatologist named Gruber, whom you will come to know before this essay is finished.

Taking the principles in order, we start with British Petroleum or BP.  Today is the 37th day of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  I have no intention of reciting to you all of the disabilities that flow from that catastrophe.  We start with eleven men being killed, which is an improvement, because a few years ago, BP was involved in a similar incident in which fifteen men were killed.  As this essay is being dictated, British Petroleum is now attempting to use a device called a “top kill” in the name of shutting off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  It is generally believed by people in the field that the top kill method will have no more than a 60 to 70% chance of working.  And in the meantime, lives are being destroyed and it will be many years or generations before the gulf returns to normal.

And so we leave BP on the grounds that you will hear great volumes of information about BP on the news broadcast every evening.  Now if the top kill method has only a 60 or 70% chance of working, the thought is that the spill will go on indefinitely.  In that time, I am certain that you will hear more about BP than you may ever want to know.

Now let us turn to Gabriel George Gruber, M.D., a dermatologist of the first order who is associated with the Summit Medical Group here in New Jersey.  Because I am fair skinned and because I am bald, I need the services of a person like Gabriel Gruber on more occasions than I would have wished.  Over the fifteen years that I have been associated withnDr. Gruber, he has been very conscientious in treating my needs in the dermatology process.  During that time, Dr. Gruber has discovered five cancerous growths on my scalp that have required surgery.  I suspect that without Dr. Gruber’s devotion to his work I might be in more trouble than I am.

Now that I am in my high eighties, I have developed some growths on my arms and on my body.  Dr. Gruber has carefully inspected those growths and has pronounced them benign.  He has told me that if I wish to have them removed, it could be done.  But he strongly recommended against it.  I am not a movie star, so having a few growths on my arms or body would be no problem.  But then Dr. Gruber enunciated the basic principles of Gruber’s Law.  He said that if we did not disturb those growths, chances are that for the rest of my life they would not disturb me.  So it is that I have let the growths, small as they are, take place as I have no cosmetic reason to violate Gruber’s law.

Now if we take the case of British Petroleum, we have an instance of British Petroleum violating the Earth to a depth of 18,000 feet.  When they did that, a tremendous force of gases came up the pipes, killing the eleven men, destroying the rig, and sinking it along with BP’s reputation.

I understand the need for fossil fuels.  I must point out that the use of those products in the United States is out of proportion to our population.  If I am reliably informed, we consume about 20% of the world’s energy while we have only 3% of the world’s population.  So you see we have got a major problem.  But in supplying that need for our use, the oil companies have gone further from shore and have drilled in uncharted waters and at uncharted depths.  In the case in point, it would appear to me that British Petroleum would have been much better to have left things alone and to have avoided penetrating the Earth to a depth of 18,000 feet.  As Gabriel Gruber said, “If you don’t bother them, they probably won’t ever bother you.”  BP disturbed the Earth and it struck back with a vengeance.

When nature is offended, it strikes back with strong measures.  I would argue in the case in point that BP violated the law as promulgated by Gabriel Gruber.  It will be many generations before the Gulf of Mexico is ever returned to normal.  The message here is that if a law such as that enunciated by Gabriel Gruber is broken, don’t be offended by what comes next.

 

E. E. CARR

May 30, 2010

Essay 454 (again)

~~~

Kevin’s commentary: This essay seems to be an extension or further thoughts on a similarly themed essay which you can find here.

MUSIC AND MEMORY

Those of you who have followed Ezra’s Essays know that during my childhood I was forced to attend religious services of the Protestant faith.  There were the Southern Baptists, the Nazarenes, the Pentecostals, and, finally, the Free Will Baptists.  In the last case, the Free Willers banned musical accompaniment to their hymn singing on the grounds that pianos and organs were not invented at the time of Jesus.  When I pointed out that the church members who attended that church came to it in buses, automobiles, and street cars which also did not exist at the time of Jesus, that more or less made me an instant pariah which was a situation that I happily endured.

But in point of fact, I managed to retire from church-going in my 13th year, which would have been around 1935.  1935 is a long time ago and I thought that by this time the memories of those church services would have long disappeared.  But the fact is that on many occasions, I find myself singing Protestant hymns.  Recently I have been singing or humming, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm.” [Publisher’s note — the linked song is a version covered by David Crowder, an artist I enjoy — not the original]  The words go: “Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arm, safe and secure from all alarm…”  It is a simple melody that has existed in my alleged brain for more than 75 years.

On other occasions I am humming or singing or thinking about words to a song whose name I have forgotten.  But the song goes: “I go to the garden alone, when the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear… is the voice of God and God alone.”  When it comes down to actual cases, I don’t claim that I have ever been in communication with God.  There are plenty of preachers who claim that they are in regular dialogue with God.  They are the sort of preachers that I detested as a child.

Another song that I sing is “In the sweet by and by”.  The words that follow are, “We shall meet on that beautiful shore.”  I assume that the songwriter meant the shores of the river Jordan.   However, the river Jordan is in Israel, and this song is about heaven.  But this is a small detail for hymn singers such as myself.

Then there is a hymn called, “Revive us Again.”  Among its lines are, “ Hallelujah! Thine the glory.  Hallelujah! Amen.  Hallelujah! Thine the glory.  Revive us again.”  For many years, I thought that hymn said, “Grind the Glory” rather than “Thine the Glory.”  I was the son of farmers and grinding the glory sounded better to me than “Thine the glory.”   Today when I hum that song, I still say, “Grind the glory.”

Perhaps the most famous Protestant hymn is “Amazing Grace.”  It was written by a sea captain who was involved in the slave trade business and regularly called at a place called Takoradi in Ghana, which used to be called the Gold Coast.  He picked up his slaves and took them to this country or to the Arab nations for auctioning.  It was his contention that there was a terrible storm at sea in which he almost drowned.

I have no idea what happened to the slaves he had aboard his ship.  But at any rate he retired; he went back to England and became a full-fledged Christian and eventually a Bishop in the Anglican church.  His name was John Newton.  I have always had a suspicion about Mr. Newton and his story of being hit by a storm at sea that almost drowned him.  In any case, he wrote the lyrics  to a Scottish tune that he called “Amazing Grace.”  One of the lines is: “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”  I believe that the use of the word “wretch” is an inspiration that I cannot erase from my memory.  Is there a more expressive line in Protestant hymns?  I doubt it.  I know all of the words to “Amazing Grace,” which do not need to be repeated here.  But the line about the wretch is a total king maker for me, a non-believer.  I believe that I am the “wretch” that Newton had in mind.  I am completely fulfilled.

There are several other hymns that bounce around in my brain, which I will not trouble you with here because they might convert you into Southern Baptists or Pentecostals or Nazarenes or Free-Will Baptists.  I will save you from that terrible fate.  But I thought it was an essay to let the world know that while I enjoy my position as a non-believer in religious matters, the fact is that those hymns have stuck with me for more than 75 years or thereabouts.  Why this is true, I have no idea.  My next door neighbor who is a harpist of great renown.  She is now studying the association between music and memory at Cambridge.

So you see there is some social underpinning for the matter of music and memory.  I will leave you with the thought of “Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”  I take that personally as a full-fledged wretch, but I also doubt whether John Newton really endured the storm at sea which he said had saved him.  But who am I to say?  I enjoy the music and I enjoy the memories.  So I will go on humming or singing to myself hymns like “Leaning on the everlasting arm” and “Grind the glory.”

 

E. E. CARR

May 27, 2010

Essay 456

~~~

Kevin’s commentary:

The song that escaped Pop’s memory was called “In the Garden,” and is indeed quite pretty. Thanks to the magic of Google, I just spent the last hour or so listening to various hymns.  So I suppose now they’re a part of my memory as well, though they haven’t been drilled in there to the same extent that they have lodged in Pop’s mind. For the sake of full disclosure, the hymns which I’ve been listening to have primarily been covers as these tend to be of a substantially higher audio quality.

Still, though, there is certainly something to be appreciated.

SCALLIONS AND WHISKERS

Scallions and whiskers have absolutely nothing to do with each other but they occurred to me at about the same time as I was preparing to write an essay, so I have thrown a blanket over the both of them. Here are the two elusive subjects.

Taking scallions first, I have been a devotée of scallions since I was four years old.  It seems that I have been working on scallions and consuming them for 84 years.  Because my parents were basically farmers, we always had a garden at our residence.  As soon as I could handle a spading fork, or a spading shovel, I was in charge of turning over the garden every March.  This permitted the seeds to be sown and scallions would be the result some time in April.  I have never lost my taste for scallions and I tend to believe that a meal without scallions is less worthy than one in which scallions are served.  Curiously, scallions never appear in meals served at restaurants.  It makes no difference whether the meal is served at The Four Seasons or at some other expensive place or whether it is the product of a diner.  Scallions just don’t appear.  They have to be a product for home consumption.

There was a time when it was necessary for my wife and me to drive 18 miles to the Wegman’s grocery store to find scallions, particularly in the winter time.  Very happily, in the last three or four years, scallions have been carried regularly by such markets as Whole Foods and King’s.  This not only saves me the 36-mile round trip, but I am comforted by the thought that my supply of scallions is not threatened by seasonal changes.

And so it is that every observer can conclude that I have deviant tastes.  The fact that I am enamored of scallions which appear nowhere in restaurant menus perhaps says something about me.  I don’t know exactly what that something would be, but I am here to tell you that a day without scallions is more or less a wasted day for me.

 

Now let us turn to whiskers.  Basically speaking, I can find no real reason for men growing whiskers.  There is one reason for those who adorn themselves with facial hair.  There are mustaches and there are beards.  If I am not mistaken, I believe that at one time one of my sons-in-law had a lovely mustache and I have a belief that the other son-in-law has a beard.  I have nothing against beards and mustaches.  I simply wish that I could grow a mustache.  But to a fair-skinned person like myself, whiskers are uneven and the only decent thing to do is to shave them off.  Why men have whiskers is something that is in the category of the unexplainable.

Dealing with whiskers is time-consuming and a bit of an expensive proposition.  There are creams that make the whiskers soften so that they can be shaved.  For myself, I use an electric razor and have since 1950.  The razors have to be replaced from time to time which I find to be acceptable in economic terms.  But I still ask why men are growers of whiskers.   During my term in the United States Army I cannot remember that the anyplace overseas offered hot water.  Hot water is essential to a comfortable shave, but the Army of the United States had no desire to worry about such things.  Somehow or other, I survived that experience.

In the beginning of my later teen-age years, the approach of whiskers could be viewed as a sign of maturity.  Now, so many years later, I try to think of the amount of money that I have spent on razors, canned lather, and after-shave lotions.  It isn’t a lot of money but from my point of view it is pointless.  Whiskers are good for guys with beards and people who want to grow mustaches.  But that is a small percentage of the male population.  On the other hand, there are Muslim societies where beards are viewed as a sign of piety.  Fortunately I am not a Muslim and any beard that I would grow if I were a Muslim would be scraggly and incapable of landing me in Paradise.  And I am not pious.

Well, there are my thoughts about two disparate subjects, scallions and whiskers.  Why these two subjects appeared to me is beyond my comprehension.  But there they are.  I can tell you this much.  If I had a choice between scallions and whiskers, I would always and inevitably choose scallions.

 

E. E. CARR

May 29, 2010

Essay 462

~~

Kevin’s commentary:  I have little use for either of the subjects discussed here. Scallions are all well and good I suppose but I can’t remember the last time I sought them out in particular. I would imagine I’ve had them multiple times at Pop’s house. It stands to reason that this is the case.

Whiskers are just plain irritating. Removing them requires me to rub a razor up and down my neck, often when I am in a sleepy state. This is a recipe for disaster.

 

GRUBER’S LAW

I suspect that by this time every American must have an idea of the enormity of the oil spill that is taking place in the Gulf of Mexico.  The spill is of such proportions that we should consider it before long a cataclysmic event. All of which brings me to “Gruber’s Law” that I would like to recite at this time.

For nearly 15 years, Gabriel G. Gruber has been my dermatologist.  Because I am fair-skinned and bald, I see Dr. Gruber on more occasions than I would like.  As I advance into my later years, I have found that there are growths occasionally popping out of my arms and my body that may be troublesome.  When one of these growths happens, I usually refer it to Dr. Gruber, who inspects it.  For several years, Dr. Gruber has reported that the growths are innocuous and should be left alone.  I like Gabriel George Gruber, so I follow his advice.  On one occasion when I asked him about removing the growth, he told me that to do so might bring on consequences that I might dislike.  In so doing, he cited Gruber’s Law, which I will pass on to you.

Dr. Gruber assured me that he could remove these growths but he advised against it.  He told me, “Look, if we don’t bother those growths, chances are that they will not ever bother you.”  The corollary to that line of reasoning might be that if we attempted to remove the growths, there might be consequences that I would greatly dislike.

Now if we transfer the Gruber philosophy to British Petroleum and all of those in the drilling business in the Gulf of Mexico, there may be also something to learn.  If the drillers took the proper precautions and if they did not drill in cases of a depth of 5,000 feet of water, it could well be that there would be no consequences at all.  But in the case in point, British Petroleum elected to drill more than 5,000 feet below the water surface.  That released some methane gas which came up their tubes and resulted in the explosion, killing 11 men.  Beyond that, the drillers had indeed found oil and that oil is now threatening the fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a gusher that has been blowing now for more than a month.

It may also be instructive to find that Sarah Palin has not repeated her “Drill, baby, drill” for the length of this episode.

I am aware that I know nothing about drilling for oil under the sea.  And I am also aware that the oil that is produced tends to make us less dependent upon foreign sources.  But be that as it may, the facts of the matter are that the oil is flooding the Gulf of Mexico and no one seems to know how to cut it off.  But it seems to me that Gabriel Gruber’s injunction has some merit.  If we had not bothered the Earth to such great depths, perhaps the Earth would not have bothered us.

As a matter of fact, Dr. Gruber, whose middle name is George, attended Harvard College and its medical school.  I assume that by the time he finished with medical school he was sick and tired of Harvard.  But at any rate, Dr. Gruber is a highly educated man.  And I am proud to call him not only my dermatologist but a friend as well.

Now we encounter Gruber’s Law which holds that, if we do not bother the earth, it may never bother us.  But British Petroleum bothered the earth and set off a series of disastrous events.

E. E. CARR

May 14, 2010

Essay 454

~~~

Kevin’s commentary:  This whole thing was just an unrepentant mess through and through. Turns out it’s really hard to plug a leak that deep in the ocean, because we don’t have a whole lot of equipment rated to 5,000 feet of depth. This is due to extreme pressure and other environmental problems. For a demonstration, you can watch this video of a crab walking along a deep-sea pipe with a small crack in it.

LAYAWAY PLANS

One of my faithful readers has been Thelma DuPont.  Thelma and I worked in the overseas department of the AT&T Company before both of us retired, which seems like in the last century.  Thelma and I grew up nearly 1,000 miles apart yet, judging from her letters to me, we had similar experiences.  For example, there was the essay about iceboxes and the problem of taking of the drainage as the ice melted.

So I will be pleased to see if Thelma remembers another Depression story.  If anyone doubts that we have had another brush with a Depression, those doubts should disappear.  There are lost jobs, banks failing, and people out of work for extended periods of time.  Beyond that, it seems to me that merchants are advertising pre-payment on the installment plan.  One of the most popular plans is called “layaway.”

When a person on limited means sets out to shop, he may find a bargain that is too delicious to pass up.  Let us say that the object of our desires is a new set of dishes or a washing machine.  For those without the means to pay for that purchase all at once, many merchants now offer the so-called layaway plans or installment payments.  This is right out of the 1930 handbook.

When a housewife sees this new set of dishes or the washing machine, her limited means will prevent her from going into the store and paying cash and taking the purchase home with her.  On the other hand, if the store offers installment payments, she may go into the store and put a small payment down against the eventual purchase.  From time to time, she may take some more cash to the store, using the booklet that has been provided by the people who are sponsors of the installment plan or the layaway buying offer.  Theoretically the housewife will continue her payments until the price of the object of her desires has been fulfilled.  At that point, she may present the finished booklet to the merchant in question and ask for her set of dishes or her washing machine.

In the current case, I see no provision for the payment of interest on the money delivered to the merchant.  The merchant simply takes the payment, marks down the amount of the payment, and surely tells the housewife that if she keeps on paying, she may soon have the set of dishes or the washing machine.

The layaway plan is a close relative of the installment payment idea, but I assume that the merchant will actually take the desired object and put it aside until all of the payments have been made.  In point of fact, the merchant may not have the desired object, but given the amount of time between the first and final payments, he will have time to acquire it.

Merchants seem to regard the installment plan or the layaway as a service to their prospective customers.  That may or may not be true.  If the merchant simply takes the money until the full purchase price has been reached, the merchant is ahead of the game.  But poor people may not realize the sophistication of this arrangement.  Paying on the installment plan or the layaway plan, the result is the same.  The merchant has the upper hand and if the merchant ever grants interest on the payments being made, it will come as news to me.

But the fact is clear that paying on the installment plan or the layaway plan is a blood relative to what took place in the 1929 Depression.  I can not find it in my heart to fault the merchants because their prospective customers are forced to save under this arrangement.  But no matter how you cut it, the fact that we narrowly missed another Depression is obvious.  When merchants advertise the installment plan or the layaway plan, they are redeeming the playbook of the 1930s.

There is an alternative to the installment plan or the layaway plan.  It is the merchant simply extending credit to the buyer.  I suppose that merchants must take a degree of risk in extending credit to their customers.  But on the other hand, during a depressed economy, if the choice is selling something and extending credit or refusing to grant credit, there will be no movement of merchandise.  During the Depression, my mother patronized a grocer named John Gualdoni, who knew of our circumstances and who extended credit to my mother.  Times were tough during the 1930s but it is clear that John Gualdoni was high on the list of creditors.  The Carr family liked John Gualdoni but even if they had disliked him, he was our only source of food.  So John Gualdoni was paid, even though it involved some sacrifice.

In the 1930s, it was a cash economy.  When a man set out to court his girlfriend, he had to have enough money to cover the cost of drinks and entertainment and, in the New York area, cab rides.  Those of you with long memories may recall that when the men were stepping out on the town, they were often the subjects of robbery in certain sections of the city.  If a man was escorting a beautiful woman with a corsage, the robbers would assume that the gentleman in question was affluent.  And so they robbed him.

In about 1959 or 1960, help arrived for those who felt the need to carry a pocket load of cash as they set out to do the town.  That was when credit cards came into being.  My first encounter with credit cards had to do, I believe, with Diners’ Club.  My recollection is that the Diners’ Club had a small booklet in which the names of the establishments of all of those who accepted such a proposition were entered.  In that case, a person could be relieved of carrying great amounts of cash and simply present his credit card at the end of an evening of dining and drinking.  Within a matter of a few months, the idea of credit cards caught on.  As time progressed, the credit card idea was exploited and I suppose at this point I have been offered perhaps 150 credit cards.  I have not accepted them of course, simply sticking to the one or two basic cards.  But the idea of credit is a pretty good one.  In those cases, the merchants pay a fee to the credit card companies for the business generated by the credit cards.  I can remember writing a check to the King’s Grocery Store for every purchase made there.  I suspect that in the current arrangement, 95% of the people patronizing all kinds of stores present credit cards.

So you see, in this essay we have progressed from installment buying and layaway plans to merchants granting credit as in the case of John Gualdoni, and to credit cards themselves.  As I said in the beginning of this essay, the inspiration was Thelma DuPont.  When she reads this essay, I hope that she will wrack her brain and tell me about her experience with credit over the years.  For all I know, my old buddy Thelma may well have used the layaway plan here in the New York area.  But on the other hand, it might be that Thelma had a secret source of cash and paid for everything as it was delivered.  I suppose that I will have to wait for a letter from Thelma after she reads this essay to find out what took place.

 

E. E. CARR

May 1, 2010

Essay 453

~~

Kevin’s commentary:

I actually use cash more than half the time, because I’m a weirdo, but we still aren’t quite at 95% I think (Huffington Post says we’re somewhere between 23% and 27%. Now since many people own more than one credit card, I would say that there are probably twice or three times as many credit cards in the US than there are people.  There are some very hip companies in the Bay Area that ONLY take credit card now, which I find frustrating purely because I’m stubborn.

I’m very curious if Thelma ever got back to Pop; if she did I’d love to post her reply in line here.

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AGAIN

From time to time in Ezra’s Essays, I have commented upon changes in the English language that have impressed me.  There are a good many that do not impress me.  Today’s essay largely has to do with those that don’t impress me.  There are four words that I might cite as reasons for writing this small essay.  The first one is called “ramp.”  It is generally used in association with the word up.  Rather than saying that I am going to increase the quality or the speed or whatever, the speaker will say, “I am going to ramp up…”  Listening to radio and television commentary for a good amount of time, I have never heard anyone saying, “I am going to ramp down…”  It is always a case of ramping up.  To my ears, this is a useless addition to the noble English language.

The second term which is used with alarming frequency is little better than ramping up or ramping down.  I am not so sure that this term ought to continue to be used.  The word is “transparency.”  If you will listen to news reports on radio and television, they will assure you that transparency makes many appearances.  It is now the predominate descriptive term in commentary.  To my mind, the word that ought to be used is “honesty.”   When “transparency” is used, I think of nothing other than the words to “Cellophane,” a lovely song from the musical production of “Chicago.”  It goes:

“Cellophane should have been my name.

You can walk right by me, see right through me,

And never know I’m there.”

So when the commentators speak of “transparency” I think of “Cellophane.”  In my mind it is a matter of pure honesty.  If you are going to be honest, you don’t need to use euphemisms like “transparency.”  But that is the way of the world these days.

Another word that I have in mind is “toxic.”  “Toxic” mortgages came in to being in association with the recent stock market crash.  Since that time, the word “toxic” seems to have spread to other usages such as “toxic” loans and toxic baseball pitchers who can’t throw the ball over the plate.  One New York sportscaster says that Oliver Perez, the $36M Mets pitcher, finds the strike zone “toxic” to him, so he issues walks in great quantities.  There are various words to which the word toxic can be attached.  I have no objection to the use of the word toxic.  It is descriptive and short and meaningful.

And finally we come to the word that has bothered me for at least 25 years, the word being “pro-active.”  This word was a favorite of one of my non-favorite people who worked for the telephone company in a job as one of my colleagues.  From time to time, this person, who was the child of preachers from Iowa, would find excuses to use the word “pro-active” as applied to AT&T.  I suppose the real word should be active.  What does the word “pro” add to “active?”  I realize that I am verbally prejudiced about the use of the word “pro-active” because of my considerable dislike of this child of Iowa preachers.  But that is a burden that I will carry to my grave.

Well, they are the four cases that I wanted to cite to you today.  They are the words “ramp,” “transparency,” “toxic,” and, finally, the greatly disliked word “pro-active.”

I am quite certain that my efforts to purify the English language will amount to nothing and so I am going to make a transparent attempt to end this essay.  When I have something to say that is less toxic, I will write another essay to explain all of this.

 

E. E. CARR

May 27, 2010

Essay 457

~~

Kevin’s commentary:  I actually find myself disagreeing with the quip about transparency here. I think that when it comes to policy-making, making honest policies is one thing but making readily visible honest policies is quite another. I think the idea of transparency is that it’s useful because policies are not always honest, but with increased transparency comes increased public insight into what’s going on, which in turn nominally increases the public’s ability to weigh in. If you’re making honest policies in an opaque box that’s good, and if you’re making bad policies in a transparent box that’s fine because we can stop them, but if you’re making bad policies in an opaque box then there’s a problem.

CESAR AND ANDY

Under ordinary circumstances, my wife and I go grocery shopping twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Again, if ordinary circumstances hold, we have found on Tuesdays, there are two attendants who retrieve the carts over the large parking lot and bring them back so they may be used again.  When the two cart retrievers are between jobs, they go into the store and pack groceries.

At this point, I should tell you that I am a curious fellow and I wanted to know a little bit more about the cart retrievers.  The first such fellow is a Peruvian by birth who has resided here for quite a while.  The second person is a fellow who seems to have grown up in the great and gorgeous state of New Jersey.

I have always found that making friends comes easily to me.  So with these two cart retrievers, I stuck out my hand and let them know that my intentions were entirely friendly.  In the case of the Peruvian, I wanted to know more about his former career as a sailor.

It turns out that the people in the store know little about these two cart retrievers, but I found them very interesting and I am happy to call them my friends.  The older cart retriever is a former Peruvian sailor who seems to have renounced sailing ships.  However, on Tuesdays, he works as a cart retriever and grocery bagger.  I might also add that the Peruvian cart retriever is a man of about 60 years.  His name is Cesar Guerrero.  Earlier, my friends in the grocery store, who are all in the produce department or in the fish department, told me that Cesar was had not much to say.  But once we shook hands, he started to talk in his accented English and I learned quite a bit about him.

I asked him about two Peruvians whom he instantly recognized.  One was the former Prime Minister, Alberto Fujimori, who is within a hair’s breadth of being sent to jail.  The second one was Yma Sumac.  I thought that Yma Sumac would baffle my Peruvian friend, but he knew her instantly.  It turns out that about 50 years ago on the Bell Telephone radio program and on the Firestone radio program, Yma Sumac was a soprano soloist who attracted great attention for a period within the 1940s or 1950s.  Her claim to fame was that her voice spanned more than four octaves.  For Yma to reach a high C was no problem at all.  She went far beyond that.  But my new-found friend, Cesar, knew Yma Sumac instantly as well as Alberto Fujimori.

As time has gone on, I look forward to grocery shopping on Tuesdays because I know that I will meet Cesar and Andy.  Cesar apparently has a family here and seems content with his circumstances.  But I will tell you this: any man who knows who Yma Sumac was and Alberto Fujimori is, is a man to be reckoned with.

When we were able to refer to our computer, it turns out that Yma Sumac was born in 1922, a magical year which was my birth year.  Yma lived until 2008, when she died at the age of 87 or something of that sort.  I am at a loss to tell you how I produced the names of Yma Sumac and Alberto Fujimori, but they must have been ingrained in my memory from long ago.  So much for Cesar Guerrero at this point.

The second man who retrieves carts and packs groceries is Andrew Karlovich.  When we first began our conversations with Andy, it turned out that he had spent a substantial amount of time in the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, New Jersey.  Andy told us that he had had three motorcycle accidents which landed him in the Kessler Institute.  I fear motorcycles and why old Andy would endure three accidents is beyond me.  But that is what he said he did.  Andy and I share a bond in that I am also a graduate of the Kessler Institute, having been sent there to deal with a case of stroke induced aphasia.

Andy is an enormous giver of compliments.  Whenever he sees my wife Judy, he compliments her on her hair or on her dress.  When I ask for a similar comment from Andy, removing my cap and showing him my bold head.  He will usually say, “It’s maaavelous.”  I have told my daughters about my head being “Marvelous,” even though they have skepticism about that particular description.

The burden of what I am saying about Cesar and Andy is that people who appear to do the heavy lifting are real people who have feelings and emotions.  In my case, I look forward to going grocery shopping on Tuesdays, knowing that there is a good chance that we will see Cesar and Andy.  Cesar and Andy may be found in residence at the Whole Foods Market on Springfield Avenue in Vauxhall, New Jersey.  If you see them, I hope that you will ask them about Yma Sumac with the four octave range, Alberto Fujimori and about my “maaavelous” bald head.  I believe that you will find your conversations with Cesar and Andy more than worthwhile.  I am glad to call them my friends.

 

E. E. CARR

May 13, 2010

Essay 455

~~

Kevin’s commentary: These sort of essays just make me happy.  I wonder if this is the same Whole Foods where Pop was told that he was wearing pimp shoes.

Seriously though I think the manner in which someone addresses service people is deeply revealing of a person’s true character.  Ed is off the charts.

 

ANOTHER NATION OF IMMIGRANTS

If I were an observant Muslim, I would add the phrase “Blessed be His name” after saying something about Prophet Mohammed. But as most of you know, I am not an observant Muslim and I suspect the Muslims would regard me as nothing more than a pagan. But be that as it may, the point in question here today involves the Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons.

I am not a student of Muslim history but I take it that the prophet had two grandsons who were at war with each other. They could not settle their differences and so we have today the Sunni branch of the Muslims and the Shi’ites. I have no idea what the difference is between those two sects but let us proceed.

Most of you will recall the bloodletting that took place in Iraq after the American invasion. If news reports are basically correct, it would appear that some Shi’ites were cleared out of their living quarters and sent on their way and that in other places the same happened to the Sunnis. To our great discredit, the Americans, who started the war, did not do much about this displacement. Some estimates run as high as two million people being displaced because of the religious differences.

But while we did nothing, it turns out that the Swedes stepped in to help. The Iraqis are an intelligent people and our failure to act in this humanitarian field rebounds to our discredit.

But what I did not know was that the Muslim faith had a following in Sweden. I must say that I thought that those blond-haired children attending Lutheran schools knew nothing about the Muslim faith. But that is far from fact.

As I do in most matters involving Sweden, I consulted with my friend of many years’ standing named Sven Lernevall. I asked Sven what is taking place now that Sweden has invited the Muslims to settle there. Within a short while, Sven, as he always does, gave me a comprehensive answer. Rather than interpreting Sven’s comments, I will simply let you read his email to me. Here it is.

“Last year about 8000-10000 Iraqi immigrants were received in this country; totally the Iraqis now are a bit more than 100 000 people. (The whole population in Sweden is 9.3 millions.) The number of Muslims is at least 250 000 people. Most of them come from Turkey, it is said, but the whole Middle East is represented. There are close to 150 mosques around the country, most of them very simple rooms, often situated in basements in residential blocks. But a few of them are beautiful buildings with minarets and so on. Some of the mosques are run by Sunnis, some by Shiites. Of course there must be some tension between the two religious groups, but it is not to be read of in the newspapers. It also should be remembered that many immigrants from the Middle East are Christians, for instance Assyrians and Syrians who attend a special church, the Coptic church, which is very active in some parts of the country. A big group of the Iraqis are the Kurds who want independence for their people and a country of their own. Unfortunately, there are small groups of Swedish people with racial prejudices who oppose to immigration of Muslims and building of mosques. They are a bit noisy and try to block the construction of some actual mosques. There are also political parties which pursue the policy that foreigners and immigrants, especially Muslims, are criminal, they steel our jobs and so on. But that is the situation in every country, I guess.
However, by the majority of the people the immigrants are well accepted and looked upon as a good contribution to the country. When they got their place at a certain local district they are supposed to participate in a training course in Swedish; the children are connected to the compulsory school teaching and often also get training in their original home language. The idea is that they learn a new language better if they are good at their first language from home.
Sorry to say, I am not an expert on immigration, but what I said above hopefully gives you a glimpse of the present situation here on that field.”

Well, as you can see, I was quite wrong in assuming that the Swedes were a monolithic society. I would predict that as time passes and as the Iraqi children learn the Swedish language and attend Swedish schools, they may even intermarry. That of course has been the experience in this land of ours called “the land of immigrants.” The time may even come when a foreigner such as myself would have great trouble in determining the ethnic background of someone he meets in Stockholm.

And so I say to the honorable Sven Lernevall and to Ella, his wife, that I admire the humanitarian gesture that the Swedes have offered the Iraqis. The Swedes in this gesture have become another land of immigrants. Everyone may not agree with me, but I think this is good stuff. Apparently the Iraqis have an exemplary record of behavior since they have come to Sweden. For all I know, some of them may develop into sopranos such as Birgit Nilsson or even a Jussi Bjorling on the tenor side. The only famous opera house in Stockholm, which serves superb food, is named, I believe, the Operakällaren. So as I was saying, I will go to the Operakällaren to hear a duet by Bjorling and Miss Nilsson after a sumptuous meal cooked by an Iraqi chef. To me that would be a glorious evening.

 

E.E. Carr

May 2, 2010

Essay 451

~~

Kevin’s commentary: I know almost nothing about Sweden so I’m happy that Sven — who is featured prominently in these essays — was able to weigh in. This was an international/humanitarian situation that was new to me to read about in 2013. Turns out the situation has soured somewhat since then, however.

Read more here: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2013/04/201349151526757668.html