Archive for the May 2003 Category

AR-THUR-I-TIS

What passes for a brain in my head has not been wired for introspective examination. If introspection has to do with examining one’s own mind or its contents reflectively, I am here to tell you, that’s not how my mind works. Professors and hand wringers who write op-ed pieces in newspapers and publish articles in learned journals are practitioners of introspective thinking, the “what if” school of thought.

To the extent that introspective thoughts lead me to learn something, introspection ought to be greatly encouraged. On the other hand, when professors write for the magazine Foreign Affairs, for example, it seems to me that they are filling 12 to 20 pages of pure unadulterated blather. If in 1914, France had sent a hundred carloads of croissants and petit fours to Berlin, would there have been no World War I? That is introspective “what if” blather and it should be dismissed out of hand.

Most of the men known to me of the World War II vintage, are not given to introspective examination of the mind or its contents. Nearly all are pragmatists who consider living through the Great Depression and World War II as accomplishments that they don’t wish to revisit. It’s over, so let’s go on to the next chapter. In my own case, it took me more than 59 years before I attempted to recount my story of being a German prisoner of war. And significantly, that story was written as an anti-war piece as the Bush administration was beating the war drums to pre-emptively invade Iraq. That piece was written for my daughters and their husbands to impress the five grandchildren that war is not glamorous, nor is it proper for countries to engage in it lightly.

On the other hand, there are a few old soldiers who apparently want to endlessly relive the war. I have seen old soldier’s clubs with newsletters about various aspects of the war. The Air Force clubs try to recall in their newsletters missions flown 55 or even 60 years ago. Aside from the inaccuracies that must creep in with so much passage of time, all of this effort to recall past glories escapes me. My war is over. Let’s go on to the next act.

Speaking of acts, as a pragmatist, I see no point in reading fiction and my tolerance for mysteries is zero. The plays of Shakespeare and Faulkner, for example leave me to wonder what all the acclaim is about. The theater has a great attraction for me provided it is something I can understand such as “Chicago.” That is a play that I can get my arms around.

All of this serious series of thoughts about introspective examination of the mind, is to say that my mind is constructed to deal largely with what is going to happen as distinguished from events of the past. I am deeply concerned with history. My thought about introspective thinking has to do with those who spend endless writing and lecturing hours discussing, “What if.” And so that brings me to a concern that is not introspective, but is here and now.

In a long lifetime of more than 80 years, I have dodged Alzheimers, Mad Cow disease and gnarled fingers. On the other hand, through the ministrations of the Summit Medical Group, I have survived a series of heart related problems. In the process of ageing, I have lost an eye and had to visit a surgeon for ingrown toenails. For 80 years, that’s not so bad. But this winter brought a mild dose of arthritis, an ailment that had always been ascribed to old people.

My parents would have diagnosed the trouble as RHEUMATISM. I never put much faith in their diagnoses because they ascribed all kinds of ailments to “RUMATIZE.” Of course, my father said “ORT” when he meant “OUGHT,” so that did not help when he diagnosed a case.

A fellow employee of mine in St. Louis always called my ailment “AR-THUR-I-TIS.” That would have been Ken Greenleaf. When he pronounced the word having to do with mixed things, he called is
“MIS-CKEL-ANE-OUS.” So that’s one more diagnostician to be ignored.

When I played baseball, we would often joke that it was not going to be the arm that failed or that vision would blur; it was going to be a disabled knee. That old joke turned out to be not so much of a joke. My right knee started to hurt climbing or descending steps. In that state, a guy like me could not even get out of the dugout, much less play a nine inning game.

So I visited a Summit Medical doctor called Eric Mursky. He is a young fellow and strikes me as quite competent. There were all kinds of x-rays and probings and after a while, Professor Mursky said the problem was arthritis. He pronounced it correctly. He specified an over-the-counter food supplement called Glucosamine Condroitin and said if that didn’t work, he had a series of shots that might help. If the shots failed, he said a knee replacement was available.

I saw Eric Mursky on March 18. When I asked him if he was Irish, he said that was not the case for his side of the Mursky family. Then I told Professor Mursky that for many years an Irish black thorn walking stick had rested just inside our front door. It was a gift from Althea Scheller, a former associate of mine at AT&T. Mursky thought the walking stick was a good idea and instructed me how to use it in my crippled condition.

Now this is the sad part. I supposed at that point that my career as a boulevardier was probably crippled by the walking stick which Mursky proposed that I actually use for walking. I mean it is an inspiring thing to twirl a cane or walking stick around in a man’s forefingers. That makes him a boulevardier, even if he is mustache-less as in my case. But to actually use the walking stick for help in walking kills the boulevardier or Maurice Chevalier act. To use it for help in walking would cause young, toothsome, beauties under the age of 75 to look for a more active suitor. That is to be avoided at all costs.

So I left Mursky’s office to go directly to the drug store to see if Glucosamine would restore the function of my knee. The thought of an artificial knee replacement obviously inspired this old ball player from the sand lots of St. Louis to see if he could avoid such radical surgery.

There are 60 tablets in the bottle of Glucosamine, which at three per day is a 20 day supply. The cost is something like $22.50. By the end of the first bottle, my knee started to feel better. By the end of the second bottle, the steps in this house or outside posed no more problems and I was giving thought to resuming my career as a tap dancer. This is one of the first over-the-counter pills to do what the medics claimed it would do. So long live Glucosamine Chondroitin.

The black thorn walking stick has been returned to its stand near the front door. I walk with no discomfort and I am ready to resume my life as a cane-twirling boulevardier. So if you know of any beautiful, toothsome beauties under 75, send them my way. And I am trying to grow a black Iraqi mustache. That, I’m afraid, is a lost cause.

And finally, I’m here to say that the improvements in my knee are pragmatic improvements. No “what if” about it. Introspective examination had nothing to do with it. It was the pragmatic diagnoses of Eric Mursky and the appearance of Glucosamine that restored this soon to be 81 year old boulevardier to his rightful place beside Chevalier. And “Rhumetize” also had nothing to do with it. As I say, viva Glucosamine.

E. E. CARR
May 8, 2003

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Interestingly, unlike most arthritis treatments, it seems like Glucosamine and Chondroitin are supplements rather than painkillers. Both of them are substances found in healthy cartilage, which I suppose indicates that they’re meant to repair cartilage damage and treat the disease rather than its symptoms. That said, as supplements, they’re largely unregulated and at least some brief research would indicate that they have very limited effectiveness in most people. I’m no doctor obviously but I’m glad these turned out to be effective despite what the internet says!

I wonder why a walking stick — which I remember from Pop’s house, incidentally — stayed in the entry way for so long when nobody actually used it until late in Pop’s life. I also wonder what Pop thought about philosophy, since it’s in a bit of a weird place between fiction and non-fiction. Some of it could certainly be chalked up to frivolous thought experiments for their own sake, but I wonder what take he would have on, for instance, books about the human condition. Maybe Judy could fill in the gaps!

SPEAKING UP

Those of you who have come to know me in the past 60 years are probably aware that I harbor certain prejudices.  I see nothing to praise, for example, about the New York Yankees, particularly when they are under the direction of George Steinbrenner.  On the other side of the coin, it has always struck me that the St. Louis Cardinal organization is an entirely praiseworthy outfit from owner to the bat boy.

To carry my prejudices a step further, the world has never known me to full of praise for the German nation.  I feel a lot better about the Germans now that Chancellor Schroeder has taken a principled stand against George W. Bush’s attempts to strong arm the United Nations Security Council on invading Iraq.  While I feel a lot better recently about the Germans, that doesn’t alter the fact that I don’t paste Weiner Schnitzel decals on my Canadian/American Chrysler nor do I do the goose step.

The reason for my less than enthusiastic thoughts about the German nation is that the descendents of the Kaiser attempted, for more than three years, to have me killed.  I, of course, resented that effort during World War II.  In the First World War, German soldiers attempted to gas and to shoot two of my mother’s brothers which made my mother very unhappy.  Perhaps it can be said that I come by my prejudices honestly. Even George Bush carried a prejudice against Saddam Hussein because as Bush said, “He tried to have my daddy killed”.  I know that killing is bad stuff, but it should be explained to the Vietnam avoider that killing is what war is all about and always has been.  Killing Bush’s “Daddy” would have been a routine event for Saddam.  So what else is new?

There is a second prejudice or bias which also applies in the current discussion, that being about religion.  On my sixth birthday, my mother announced that her youngest living child had reached the biblical “age of accountability”.  So she attempted to “save” me in the religious sense.  The “saving” backfired and for the past 75 years, I must state that my absolute faith in non-belief of any religious matters has remained completely intact and has served me well.  When death finally rears its ugly head, it will be greeted not by Bible thumping preachers, but by a drinking party at which it is hoped that Champagne will be served by the deceased host, namely me.

Near the end of World War II in Africa and Europe, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the pony edition of Time Magazine and the military publication Stars  and Stripes, became my main, or only, source of news.  Even today, at noon time, I can remember the BBC announcer saying at the start of the news of the day, “London calling”.  I might add that BBC broadcasts were for my money, the most reliable during the invasion of Iraq. To have lasted this long is a remarkable feat and I send my congratulations.

The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945.  Shortly after the end of hostilities, I became aware that a German Lutheran pastor, jailed by the Nazi’s, was saying things that I ought to listen to.  The pastor was a German war hero from World War I.  His name of course, is Martin Niemöller, a former U-boat commander from the previous war.  In 1924, Niemöller was ordained as a Lutheran pastor.  Shortly after his release from Hitler’s concentration camps in 1945, Niemöller began to speak out.  Before the war started, Niemöller had vigorously opposed the Nazi Party.  It is remarkable that he was not killed instead of being sent to the concentration camps.

So here I am now saluting a preacher and a German one at that.  You may ask what gives here.  Niemöller’s biography, states that he spoke to over two hundred audiences when he came to the United States after the war.  In almost every case, Niemöller concluded with these sort of words that still ring in my ears:

 

“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.  Then the Nazis came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.  Then they came for the Catholics and I was a Protestant so I did not speak up.  Then they came for me.  By that time, there was no one to speak up for anyone.”

MARTIN NIEMÖLLER

 

For the better part of 60 years, Martin Niemöller’s words have stuck in my mind.  To do nothing is often a perilous course to follow.  And of course, Niemöller’s injunction against doing nothing is something every citizen of a democracy ought to keep in mind.  Never take civil liberties for granted – Never.

All of this is brought to mind by the United States Senate now unsealing 4000 pages of transcripts from secret sessions held by Senator Joseph McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin in 1953 and 1954.  Ruth Rosen who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle calls this the “most poisonous period in our nation’s past”.  She goes on to say:

 

“One lesson is how quickly our fragile freedoms can be eroded.  McCarthy rose to power in 1950 on a tsunami of anti-communist hysteria, brandishing a list of ‘known Communists’ in the State Department and held public trials to enhance his own political clout.  He fell from power only when his attacks against the United States Army exposed his indecent prosecution of innocent people.  The Senate censured him in December, 1956.  Discredited and disgraced, he died three years later at the age of 47 years.”

“Nevertheless, his influence lasted for more than a decade.  Loyalty oaths, indictments and black lists destroyed the careers and reputations of thousands of innocent people.  Fear of internal sabotage and infiltration of all institutions crushed dissent.  A pervasive atmosphere of fear quarantined permissible debate.”

Ruth Rosen, San Francisco Chronicle

 

The Bush administration including George W. and Attorney General Ashcroft, are clearly moving to curb or destroy our civil liberties.  Ashcroft has encouraged Federal agencies to reject Freedom of Information Act requests.  Bush has sealed the papers of former Presidents.  In spite of its name, the USA Patriot Act is a sinister act which has expanded government surveillance powers and trampled on the privacy rights of American citizens.  And at the Pentagon, former Admiral John Poindexter now runs his Total Information Program which wants to determine and record what you read and – think about this – how you walk.  The program has been renamed, but the goals remain the same.

Russ Feingold, the Democratic Senator from McCarthy’s home state and the only Senator who voted against the USA Patriot Act, is a fellow filled with doubt and pessimism.  Feingold says, “This is a dark hour for civil liberties in America.  What I’m hearing from Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and similar residents of this country, suggests a climate of fear toward our government that is unprecedented.”  He is quite right.

Consider these two thoughts.  The USA Patriot Act requires librarians to turn over records of those who have been reading what books.  More than 100 communities have passed resolutions against giving Ashcroft library records of who has read certain book titles.  They are shredding those records rather than to give them to Ashcroft.

Now consider that Ashcroft, supported by Bush, has decreed that anyone he names as an enemy combatant, is not entitled to bail and may not consult with a lawyer!  It now appears that if such persons are ever tried, they will be tried by a military court.  As an old soldier, I am here to warn you that “charges dismissed” or “innocent” are words seldom uttered by a military court.  Very often, it is exceedingly difficult to learn of the military court’s decision or its reasoning.

So far, several hundred men rounded up in Afghanistan are held on Guantánamo in Cuba without having the opportunity to select a lawyer.  In addition, at least one or two Americans have been designated by Ashcroft as “enemy combatants” with no testimony at all being heard.  All of these people are in legal limbo as the Bush Administration has intimidated the courts to allow them to be held in custody.  And the press has been cowed as well.

All this does violence to the American concept of justice.  It shouldn’t happen here, but under the leadership of Bush and Ashcraft, civil liberties are being withheld and denied.  The next step is for the Bush-Ashcroft-Cheney-Rumsfeld regime to attempt to punish dissent.  Already, they have stuck a lot more than toes in the water as they have accused Democrats and other dissenters of lack of patriotism when they have opposed Republican initiatives.  And to his everlasting discredit, Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, folded his tent and slunk away after Bush’s people accused him of unpatriotic motives.  He simply accused the Bush administration of failure to plan for the rejection of the vote in the United Nations Security Council.  Daschle simply surrendered to the Bush bullies, in spite of the fact that he was right.

An old maxim holds that the price for liberty is eternal vigilance.  This is a dangerous period under George Bush when civil rights and liberties are being subjected to daily attacks.  Unless the Democrats can locate their courage, the future for rights and liberties now look fairly bleak.

By this time, I suspect that some of you may be wondering about my extolling the virtue of a former German man of the cloth, Martin Niemöller.  Currently, it is my thought that as long as Germany wishes to operate peacefully as they have done since 1945, they are an asset to civilized society and ought to be applauded.  On the other hand, I am not shopping for a Mercedes or a BMW nor do I plan to March in the Stueben Day Parade.  As long as the Germans are peaceful and vote against Bush’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, I am all for them.

Now as to those of you who may think that my praise of Martin Niemöller represents a change in my religious views, kindly forget it.  My belief in non-belief has not been altered in any respect.  What I have attempted to do in this essay is to salute a very brave man.  When war came in 1914, Niemöller answered the call to duty and served as a U-boat submarine commander.  The fact that he was on the other side from the brothers of my parents does not alter my views.  He carried out his duty to his country.  He was a brave man and I salute him for it.

If Niemöller believed, as a preacher, in eternal life, salvation through being saved and the resurrection, these are propositions that I don’t accept.  In any case, they are beyond this small essay.  Niemöller was a brave man who spoke some eloquent words on the subject of speaking up.  For that, I wanted to pay him a modest tribute.

 

On the other hand, if my religious beliefs are cockeyed, it will be my pleasure to meet Martin Niemöller in Heaven or Paradise where I am certain that he has already read this essay.  Perhaps by the time I arrive, the Reverend may ask me for my current religious views in exchange for which, I would like to hear some stories about him being a U-boat Commander in World War I.  Niemöller may ask if wars are still being fought long after he has been sent to his heavenly reward.  I will tell him that unfortunately is the case.  But being a resident of Paradise or Heaven, I suspect that he already knows that.  I will also tell Reverend Martin that his injunction to speak up against tyranny is excellent advice, particularly here in the United States, against the excesses of the George W. Bush administration who now presents himself as a latter day patriot.  Bush ran away during the Vietnam War.  I would remind Bush that patriots do not attempt to destroy American civil liberties.

 

E. E. CARR

May 22, 2003

Essay 68

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Kevin’s commentary: This essay is particularly topical in light of recent NSA actions to monitor and harvest data from nine of the biggest companies on the internet.  People need to realize that there is a tradeoff between liberty and security and we’re already tipping way in the favor of the latter. To get from 99.8% secure to 99.9% secure requires a hugely disproportionate sacrifice of basic privacy and freedoms.