Archive for the Media Category


Over the recent Christmas holidays, my daughter and her legally-wedded husband went to a movie which must have had to do with George VI of England who stuttered. Apparently my daughter was impressed by the film, which my mother would have called a “picture show.” Eva Baker and Frances Licht, who are associated with these essays, also saw the movie and were favorably impressed by it.

My mother’s belief has always been that picture shows are the consummate work of the devil, which accounts for the fact that I did not see a picture show until I was 13 years of age. At that point, “The Sign of the Cross” was being shown at the Shady Oak Theater in Clayton, Missouri. I persuaded my mother to permit me to see that show on the ground that it contained religious content. It was an atrocious film and for the rest of my life I have avoided movie theaters. Nonetheless, my daughter and her husband thought that the film about George VI was impressive and for that reason Suzanne, the daughter, made a request of me. Rather than interpreting her thoughts I simply offer her email for your consideration.

Suzanne’s email request for an essay January, 2011.

Pop and Judy –
Yesterday Carl and I went to see a movie. We rarely do this, but it was a holiday, so we did. We went to see “The King’s Speech” which is about the stuttering problem that King George VI had and his relationship with an unorthodox speech therapist. The relationship had to be kept hidden at first. It was actually well done as a movie.
What struck me about the movie that I thought would be of interest to Pop was the depiction of the importance of radio in the lead-up to WWII (George VI had to make speeches to rally England, of course, so being a “stammerer” was quite a problem), and the introduction of news reels in the late 30’s. In the movie, everyone in England was basically glued to their radio as George VI announced the declaration of war on Hitler, as Hitler refused to relinquish Poland.

I said to Carl on the way home that it was sad that in less than a century we’ve gone from radio/newsreel/TV broadcasts of major events that the whole country collectively sees and experiences together — to today, when the news is splintered into internet and cable TV news and everybody gets their news their own way at the time they choose. That led us to speculate about the news reels that were shown in theatres. Did everybody see them in the late 30’s? Once a news reel of Hitler came out as he invaded one country and then another, would most everybody be in a movie theatre in the next week or so to see it, or would just a few people in the US see it?

Pop, how about an essay about living in the US and the run-up to WWII – news reels, what you remember about it, what was the prevailing opinion in Missouri about what was happening in Europe and how did people get their news.

That is my request for 2011.


As a preliminary to my response to my daughter’s request, there are some points that need to be made. If there is any one else in this world who is less of an authority on movies and pictures shows, I would like to meet him. I believe that I own that title exclusively.

A second point that must be made at the outset is that the generation to which my daughter belongs is unacquainted with the thought that there was a time in this country when there was no television at all. None! Furthermore, there were no computers and ipso facto there was no such thing as email and internet. None! This may be hard to choke down, but as we used to say in the Army, “Them are the facts.” No television, no computers, no email, no internet.

Our means of communication were local radio, national radio, newspapers, and news magazines and the local and long distance telephone system. There was no such thing as saying, “I saw it on television last night.” Charles Osgood appears on a CBS television program on Sunday mornings and always uses his long term radio sign-off, “I’ll see you on the radio.” But Osgood was not around in the pre-war period that we are talking about. And so, let us proceed to parse Suzanne’s email with the hope that in the end it will make a bit of an essay.

At the outset, there seems to be a misconception that newsreels were a major source of information for the American public. While I was not a theater goer, I believe that is hardly the case. If I understand the concept of newsreels, they are short features of news reports shown between films. It must be remembered that in the pre-war period, those newsreels had to be shot by hand, developed, and then distributed. My guess is that the newsreels that you might have seen at your local theater reported events of perhaps two weeks prior. Also, it is my belief that newsreels had to show such things as successful bombings and the stance of our troops in victorious poses.

May I suggest that nowhere was the Bataan death march or any similar event shown on a newsreel. That would have been a downer and I suspect that downers were not the subject of newsreels. My belief is that newsreels were designed to give the audience a pumped-up feeling that everything was right in this world. For the first two years of World War II, there were very few things American audiences could feel encouraged about.

So the net result is that newsreels had their place in the theater between the major attractions as a source of information. They were not intended as a major source of news. I would have considered them unreliable and late in arrival.

Our main source of information came from the radio and from newspapers. Curiously, the news on the radio was usually confined to a fifteen-minute segment which had few commercials in it. What we got was 14½ minutes of news rather than the current situation where we cannot tell what is news and what is advertising. The news, in my recollection, came on at 6:00PM. It was often followed by orchestras such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.

There was no such thing as “all the news all the time” stations. We had entertainment and at 6 PM or thereabouts we had the news for 15 minutes. It is possible that there was national news on for 15 minutes followed by local news resulting in a half-hour news broadcast. But of that I am not quite so sure. The reader here must remember that in those days of 1942 until August of 1945, I was not a resident of this country. By enlisting in the United States Army, I found myself in Africa, Sicily, and Italy.

It was the custom of the broadcasting companies in this county to station correspondents in many of the major capitol cities where news events were to be anticipated. The foremost correspondent abroad belonged to CBS. He was Edward R. Murrow and was stationed in London throughout the war including the “blitzkriegs” of the German Luftwaffe. When correspondents could not get their reports to the United States, they would use Murrow to establish that link. Murrow was a jewel as it relates to the news during the war.

But during my overseas service, when noontime approached, we would search for a radio receiver that could pick up the news broadcast from the BBC in London. I can remember with great clarity that the programs usually started with a signal followed by an announcer saying, “London calling.” The BBC broadcast had almost no propaganda and no commercials. It told the news as it was, good or bad. As a result, the troops paid a great deal of attention to what the British Broadcasting Corporation had to say. If there are any kudos to be passed out for the run-up to the war in Europe, it must go to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Now we advance to the question asked about the prevailing opinion in the great and glorious state of Missouri. For many years, probably starting in the 1920s, a major voice in the run-up to the war were the reports in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. When I was overseas, my mother read those dispatches faithfully in the hope that she would find my name in them. But that was not the case. The Post Dispatch had bureaus in Washington and published reliable news during the period when Hitler was invading several countries and when Tojo, the head man in Japan, was doing the same in the Far East. The Post Dispatch did not hide the facts from the people. In the early part of the war, we were losing. It was after this time in early 1942 that I joined the American Army. There was no good news during those days, and I suspect that my parents may have believed that their youngest son was going away for good. But the fact is that the mainstay we were able to rely upon were the newspapers such as the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

I gather that there were other newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune run by Bertie McCormick, who published glowing reports of our successes or near successes. But that was not the style of the Post Dispatch or the New York Times. So in retrospect, I must conclude that the main source of news came from newspapers and radio.

Prior to our entry into the war, a group of senators led by Robert Taft of Ohio seemed determined to keep us from engaging in that conflict. Taft, for example, was wildly opposed to the “lend-lease” program which released destroyers from the United States to Great Britain to help in their defense. But I must conclude that the general outlook in Missouri was that there was a job to do in the war, and that we should set about doing it promptly.

On the other side of the ocean in Great Britain, the Prime Minister was a gentleman named Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain and Taft were two of a kind. History will record that Chamberlain made a trip to Germany and came back with a document that he said would guaranteed “peace in our time.” The ink was hardly dry on that piece of paper when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.

Finally we turn to the question about the generational divide. There is some debate as to whether we are better informed today than we were in the run-up to World War II. The recent disclosures in the private dispatches from our diplomats as demonstrated by Wikileaks would lead me to conclude that in many cases, we are being hoodwinked. But before the Second World War, most Americans could trust what appeared in reputable newspapers such as the New York Times and the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow. I cannot say the same thing for the news that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

In all likelihood, we must be better informed today than we were back then. On the other hand, if you want a biased opinion today, on the Republican side you must tune in to Fox News. If you wish to have a biased opinion in favor of Democrats, you must tune in to MSNBC.

St. Louis, which was a sophisticated town, had the Post Dispatch, as I have mentioned. We had the National Broadcasting Company appearing on the KSD station of the Post Dispatch. Then we also had the Columbia Broadcasting System outlet on station KMOX. If the American Broadcasting System (ABC) existed at that time, I am unaware of it. Mind you, I am speaking as a person who has long ago kissed the 80th birthday mark goodbye. It seems to me that between KSD, KMOX, and the Post Dispatch, we were reasonably well informed.

But if I massage this question a bit, does anyone believe that the Bataan death march would be included in the news broadcasts of the current era? And that was not the only example of thoroughly unpleasant news.

But again, I am a biased reporter. You realize that at this juncture in my life, I cannot see a damn thing. Accordingly, all of the information I receive has to come through my ears. May I assure you that the oral presentation ain’t so bad. This is precisely where I started in the years before television intruded on our lives. For a St. Louis native, that would have been around the period 1948 to 1950 when television came into being there.

With my sight being the way it is, I now receive my news orally and I am not here to complain about it. Now I do not recommend that all of you lose your sight so that you may enjoy oral presentations of baseball games and the news of the world. I am here to say that television has added a new dimension to our lives. But on the other hand we were getting along quite well without it.

In conclusion, my hope is that Suzanne’s email has been sufficiently parsed, and that you have some idea of the feelings of the American public as World War II approached.

Now as to the story about King George, I must add that the inspirational speeches were made by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The King often was found at flower shows and receiving Boy Scouts and wholesome things of that nature. The job of informing the British public and inspiring them was left almost exclusively to Winston Churchill. King George was regarded as a nice person but when compared to Churchill, he was clearly the second, or third or fourth banana. During that time, I was serving with British troops in Italy and Africa. I believe that I am correctly assessing their views on the Royal Family. The King’s job was to visit military hospitals and occasionally say a few words to the British public. Before and during World War II, George the Sixth was more of a bit player than a person of significant influence. And as for newsreels, my belief is that they had limited newsworthy qualities during that trying period.

Unfortunately, I dictated this essay on the same day when the killings were taking place in Tucson, Arizona. All of this accounts for my making hash of this essay. Next time, I will try to do a bit better, providing we don’t have more murders by deranged people with guns.

January 8, 2011


I don’t think this was a botched essay whatsoever. It’s interesting to encounter another medium that Pop was deliberately closed off to, though. No fiction, no movies, very little internet. Clearly his strategy worked for him, but it’s hard to imagine being isolated from so much content for no convincing reason.
I think the 24-hour news cycle probably does more harm than good. Presenting news only when newsworthy things happen, in my estimation, makes the news more reputable. As it is, it’s constantly full of meaningless fluff content, and news channels grow ever more indistinguishable from entertainment channels. Fox and CNN are the worst offenders. Fox is just a joke, whereas CNN pretends to be a news channel but is basically just theater; it hires talking heads to come say insane things, then reacts to those things.


Under ordinary circumstances, your old essayist attempts to keep his correspondence separate from the essays that are produced here. In this case, however, Tom Friedman, the New York Times star op-ed writer wrote a piece that should not be condensed or treated in the Reader’s Digest fashion. Friedman’s piece was so wrong and so provocative, that a spirited reply was called for. Again, in the interest of transparency, my readers should see what was said by both sides.

Here, then, is Tom Friedman’s op-ed piece from the June 15th issue of the New York Times:

June 15, 2005
Let’s Talk About Iraq

Ever since Iraq’s remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don’t want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up – this is still winnable – but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point – the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power – when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq.
Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld’s disastrous decision – endorsed by President Bush – to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today – the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals – flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.
Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don’t think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don’t have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.
Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country’s main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.
“We have no galvanizing figure right now,” observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. “Sistani’s counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us.”
I still don’t know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.
Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don’t. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, “Squandered Victory,” puts it, we need “a bold mobilizing strategy” right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven’t even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.
We’ve already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine – “Just enough troops to lose.” Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friedman’s piece had an incendiary quality to it. His call for doubling the troops in Iraq and his ignoring the occupational aspect of our presence there was provoking to this old soldier, so Friedman heard from me.

Mr. Friedman

This e-mail is written much more in puzzlement than in anger. For all these years, I had considered you a writer who dealt in logical realities as distinguished from the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere that marked the machinations of the Bush administration.

The wheels to your credibility came off when you enthusiastically endorsed Bush’s pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. From that day forward, you have seized every opportunity to endorse the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice thesis that things are going swimmingly in Iraq. The fact that Rumsfeld was fighting this war on the cheap seemed to give you no problem back in 2003.

Now in your column that appeared in the June 15th edition of the Times, you have given your credibility one more enormous kick in the gut. Your opening sentence says Iraq “has been descending deeper and deeper into violence.” Illogically, in your second paragraph you say, “this is no time to give up –this is still winnable…..” Mr. Friedman, for more than two years you have shoveled garbage of this sort on Times’ readers. It is absolutely nothing more than warmed over born again propaganda from the White House. In my eyes, you have become the designated hitter for the sycophants of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld, et al.

Near the end of your article, you prescribe, “Double the American boots on the ground…” This is a horrid cliché. You are capable of better writing than slovenly froth like this. But that brings us to the heart of the problem. In round terms, we have 140,000 troops “on the ground” in Iraq. As Christian occupiers, that gives the Iraqis 140,000 reasons to hate us. Now we find the eminent war strategist Tom Friedman prescribing 280,000 reasons to hate us. I am confident that strategists such as yourself will then prescribe 560,000 “boots on the ground.” Where does “boots on the ground” end?

The simple fact is that we invaded Iraq without reason. It was a sovereign nation even though it was disliked by Sharon and Bush. As long as we occupy Iraq as a Christian power, hatred will always be our lot – which we richly deserve.

Look at it this way. If the situation were to be reversed with Iraqi Arabs occupying the United States, every patriot would consider it his duty to injure or to hurt the Moslem occupiers. My puzzlement comes from your blindness to this overwhelming point. Mr. Friedman, your column on closing Gitmo was eminently on point. Why are you so blind as to parrot the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld line that this disastrous adventure is “still winnable”?

E. E. Carr

P.S. This letter comes to you from a World War II soldier whose religious beliefs are in total non-belief.

A copy of my reply was sent to Suzanne Carr Shepherd, an Austin, Texas lawyer who contends from time to time, that we are related.
Ms. Shepherd, Esquire, read both pieces and asked, given the indisputable fact that Army recruiting goals have not been met for months, where will the Army find another 140,000 soldiers to put their “boots on the ground” in Iraq? That is a very reasonable question. It would do no good to ask Friedman about additional troops strength because he says he is a journalist, not a general of the Army.

Obviously, it was necessary for someone to step into this yawning void to answer the question from the Texas lawyer. So my reply had to do with costs which are now so great that Bush and the Army have lost count.

Here is my reply to the questions raised in Texas.

The costs of transporting new troops to Iraq are excessive. Then there is the cost of carrying the corpses back to the US and shipping them to home town cemeteries. It would be the ultimate patriotic gesture for new recruits to go to local cemeteries where they can be shot and buried immediately. That saves on the middle men costs and it will give the new recruit a chance to autograph the cross that will be placed over his grave.

Thinking right along with me, the Texas lawyer replied as follows:

Your suggestion makes perfect sense. And as in Vietnam – we can give them back their own country right away, or after 50,000 lost American lives, but either way we give them back their country. Why not do it now? In the meantime, we can shoot the new recruits right here at home until we figure it all out.

At this point, Ms. Judith Chicka, who is related in one way or another to the correspondents, suggested as a means to further cut costs, that new Army recruits be shot before taking the oath as a soldier. This means that the recruit may be denied any bonus and death benefit that might be attached to his or her enlistment. Under Ms. Chicka’s suggestion, the Army could save enough money to underwrite the Social Security program through eternity.

In the final analysis, more U.S. troops will give Iraqis additional reasons to hate us. The sole answer to this problem is to remove our occupying troops. The longer we stay as occupiers, we will harvest the robust hatred not only of the Iraqis but of the entire Islamic world. The Arab world sees us building permanent buildings in Iraq, some of which will be used as prisons. Arabs have every reason to believe that we intend to occupy Iraq in “perpetuity” as a Justice Department said of the prisoners at Gitmo.

This war is a function of ill disguised greed on the part of Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al. It has absolutely no basis in justice. Wars fought without justice have a way of biting the aggressor. The unrest that has now appeared in the United States is simply a forerunner to our endless quagmire in Iraq. Sooner or later, our troops will have to come home.

Tom Friedman should know that wars without justice are not “winnable.” This is an unjust war that is wasting lives of our soldiers, the lives of Iraqi civilians and the draining of our treasury. There is no light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel.

June 25, 2005


There was never a victory condition outside of a stable Iraq that was friendly to the US. Continued presence of US soldiers in the reason actively worked against both halves of that goal. It’s okay though, because now ISIS controls large swaths of the country — Mission Accomplished, right?


Sunday evenings were never meant to be enjoyable. People go to bed early after a weekend of eating drinking and other assorted activities. Monday mornings come soon enough.

During the summer months, ESPN has Sunday baseball at 8PM Eastern Time. That is often a life saver in a desert of non-entertainment. As a general rule, the announcers are Joe Morgan, the old Hall of Fame second baseman, and Jon Miller. Morgan is black and is pretty straight forward with his analysis. Jon Miller is a white fellow and has been around the announcing business for a long time.

These two men seem to like each other. Jon Miller is often playful, but that does not deter Joe Morgan from delivering the most trenchant baseball analysis on television or in the newspaper business, as well.

Morgan was a teammate of Pete Rose when the Cincinnati Reds led the National League for several years. He was never involved in any scandal whatsoever. Rose, on the other hand, has courted scandal with his long time gambling addiction. After 15 years, Rose finally admitted gambling on baseball. He claims that he never bet against the Reds. Simply put, this 75 year observer of major league baseball does not believe Rose. When Rose chose to admit he gambled on baseball, a cardinal sin against the game, he elected to include it in a book by a Pennsylvania publisher called Rodale Press, in which he and the publisher hope to make a lot of money.

But Joe Morgan has nothing to do with Rose and his gambling. Joe has made his living by telecasts since he retired from the game. My ball playing grandchildren have been told to listen to Joe Morgan. From him they will learn solid baseball. It is a pity that there are not more teams broadcasting baseball like Joe Morgan and Jon Miller.

But after a time, when two uninspired teams are playing in the games broadcast by the Morgan-Miller team, there is a need to look elsewhere for information and occasional entertainment. And it should be born in mind that the baseball season lasts only from April to October. That leaves an enormous void to fill during the Winter months.

As a general rule, books are the choice here. But from time to time, some of the charlatans on religious TV broadcasts on Sunday evenings need checking out. When you read what the charlatans have to say, it is my belief that you will agree with my assessments that they are frauds and fakers. This is entertainment, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with religion.

Let us start with a preacher who appears on Sunday evenings and maybe two other evenings during the week. There is no record of this fellow ever attending a seminary for formal religious training. His name is Womack. In recent years, he eschews using his regular given names because he calls himself Bishop Shammah Womack. In other words, as a Bishop, Womack started at the top.

His meeting place is in East Orange or a similar Newark suburban location. Womack never seems to refer to his place of worship as a church; he refers to himself. From what can be observed over several years of TV viewing, there is no choir and no prayers seem to be offered. His services consist of him haranguing his listeners about subjects that he knows very little about. Often, he will put an article on the lectern and will read from it. This past week, he read about the nature of man and his emotional side. He claims to understand all this information, but it is very doubtful that he has much of a clue about it.

Womack got his start from his father, Donald Womack, a run of the mill TV evangelist. He established the church Womack inherited when his father died a few years back from a heart attack. In his formative years, the current erstwhile Bishop was a morgue attendant in Newark. He put his foot in the door in a venture with his father into fruits, nuts and vegetables in a market near the church.

Young Womack announced the cure for nearly all diseases. He contended that heart trouble could be cured by eating pears because pears are shaped like the heart. Do you have a brain tumor? No problem. Eat walnut or pecan halves whose shape, according to young Womack, is exactly like the brain. Unfortunately, this inspirational market had a short life as the authorities cited lack of licensing. There is no record of how many cases of heart trouble or brain problems were alleviated by the ministrations of young Bishop Womack.

When his father died, young Womack became the leader of the congregation. Dissatisfaction with his given name, led him to adopt the name of Shammah. Apparently, he adopted a Biblical name of Jesse’s third son. Chronicles and Samuel of the Old Testament list at least four or five different spellings, but scholars agree that they are referring to Shammah, Jesse’s third son.

With his new name, Womack began to wear collars like priests wear. No one knows what they signified, but after a short time, plain old Shammah Womack became Bishop Shammah Womack. All this is done in a small black church in the suburbs of Newark. Bishops usually have other churches to look after. But it appears, the East Orange church, the only church in his diocese, will have to be it.

Bishop Womack has given up priestly collars for now, but he retains this new found given name and the Bishops title he awarded to himself. And he continues to harangue his listeners to get right with God. His saving grace, is that he does not seek contributions from his TV viewers. There would be no reluctance on my part to send him a few dollars for the entertainment he provides. He dresses in stylish clothing so any contribution might be used for extensions to his large wardrobe.

Further out in the suburbs, in Whippany, New Jersey, is the home of the Abundant Life Worship Center. The preacher doesn’t use his name on his telecasts as Bishop Womack does. His name is Joe Arminio and he is the main attraction on his Sunday evening broadcasts. It is not fair to include Pastor Arminio under the heading of charlatans where, my next example of charlatans, Mike Murdock, clearly belongs. It would be a pleasure to have Joe Arminio living next door to me.

Aside from my fascination with his four button suits, Joe Arminio keeps me interested because of his animations. For example, when he reads a scriptural reference to Jesus walking on water, Pastor Arminio wades around the pulpit as though he is walking on water. When he urges his followers to aspire to heaven, he uses an imaginary ladder. He spends a minute or two climbing this imaginary ladder. This past Sunday, he was a helicopter with his arms in motion around his head.

The theology of Pastor Arminio escapes me because my mind is pre-occupied by his animations. But my thought is he is a big hearted, Italian guy and if he lived next door, there would be some compulsion to see if my neighbor needed something.

Now we go to a TV preacher who calls Denton, Texas his base of operations. Denton is a town with 66,000 inhabitants, according to the most recent census figures. It is a town maybe 50 miles north of Fort Worth. No one has ever considered Denton or Fort Worth as media capitals in the United States.

The Reverend Mike Murdock who uses Denton as his home base claims to have published 1500 books and to have written 500 religious songs. Whether all the books and songs were published in Denton is not clear, but with this volume of material, Denton must be accorded some sort of prominence in publishing circles. Those 1500 books seem to include many pamphlets which Murdock calls books.

Murdock’s theme is promoting his “Wisdom Keys.” The books and the songs are all in keeping with his Wisdom Keys. He is willing to send you some of this philosophy providing those of us in the audience send him some cash. Listening to his Sunday night cable TV pitch, it is clear that he wants to hook his viewers with weekly contributions over an extended period of time. My memory tells me that one such proposition was for $20 per week over a 50 week period. The 50 week period was chosen because it had some religious significance. Well 20 bucks a week for 50 weeks is, in the end, one thousand dollars, no matter how you cut it. Clearly, it is better for Murdock to ask for $20 than for $1,000. The people snared in his schemes apparently do not figure these things out.

Now what is offered in exchange for your $1,000 gift is some of Murdock’s Wisdom Keys and the near guarantee that things will improve in your business and in your love life. Every week Murdock prints letters with no surnames or towns that tell how a contractor who had no money suddenly was awarded a million dollar construction contract after he was in the 50 Week Club. All of this great good fortune is ascribed to adopting Murdock’s Wisdom Keys. If money is sent to Murdock, good things will happen to you. Maybe not immediately, but some time soon.

There are so many schemes offered by Murdock that it is difficult to keep track of them. A week or so ago, Murdock announced some new books and pamphlets which discloses – for the first time ever – the 48 secrets of Jesus. Only Murdock knows the secrets of Jesus and he will be willing to tell you about them if you send him $20, plus sign up for a series of future disclosures, all at a cost to the ones who want to know the secrets. As always, his followers are promised great rewards for investing in Murdock’s schemes.

Murdock is a car enthusiast which he has made known to his viewers. The bigger the car, the more he likes it. His cars are all painted black on black. There is no way for the uninitiated to know what black on black amounts to. But Murdock claims that in his garage are three cars with this paint job. One is the largest model from BMW. Another one is a similar model from Mercedes with the third one being something like a Jaguar or a Rolls Royce. You will notice that none are of American manufacture.

Murdock claims that these black on black cars showed up unexpectedly at no cost to him from viewers who were blessed by good fortune after enrolling in one of the Wisdom Key schemes. Without being asked, these viewers bought cars costing in excess of $100,000 and gave them to Murdock due to the excessive blessings they had received from Murdock’s promotions.

It is my belief that if Murdock is telling the truth about the cars and his other good fortunes, he has a racket going that is somewhat better than stealing. Murdock has my admiration for his obvious rip-off schemes. As for his listeners who contribute to his success, one can only shake your head. It has been said that there is always a sucker for every such scheme to get rich. And now we see charlatans like Murdock using it to fleece their listeners all in the name of religion. Wringing hands is about all that can be done about Murdock’s propositions because it is clear that Texas authorities have no intention of intervening. So we wring our hands and cluck our tongues and the rip-offs continue.

Well, there are three thumbnail sketches of some Sunday night preachers. The Muslims go to mosque on Fridays and people of the Jewish faith attend synagogue on Saturdays, so they are unrepresented here. And as far as can be determined, neither faith appears on television broadcasts, so they are not being intentionally overlooked. The three preachers we have considered so far appear to be Protestant Christians. If they belong to a denomination on the protestant side of things, they have failed to make such designation known to this casual viewer.

But having dealt with the Protestant viewpoint, it appears, in the interest of fairness that Catholics be considered. To a large extent, Catholic broadcasters are in one group known as the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The Catholics present a wide set of personalities on EWTN, but not a single word has ever been uttered in the two years of the priestly scandals involving young children. No criticism is ever offered. Cardinal Law of Boston may lose his job, but there is no comment. There are now something like 800 complaints about the clergy in Los Angeles, but not a single word of comment. The Bishops meet to talk about things including charges of priestly misconduct, but EWTN has no comment whatsoever. And in the future, there seems to be no proposal of any analysis or comment. Members of the faith seem to be unguided in their reaction to charges of misconduct.

But EWTN presents some interesting personalities. One is Father Frank Pavone who runs a group he calls Priests for Life. When all the rhetoric is put aside, Pavone is rabid on the subject of abortion. He claims that his Priests for Life is a vast organization; but he seems to be the only priest who appears on his telecasts. Pavone often conducts an interview with a woman who is identified as an employee of Priests for Life. There is no indication of any other employee.

Interviewing this woman employee about her views on abortion is about as illuminating as interviewing a fireman on fires. Of course, he is against fires just as the woman employee is against abortion. On top of all that, she is being interviewed by her boss so it comes as no surprise that she opposes abortion.

Pavone went off the reservation at least once in talking about Purgatory. How Pavone came into this knowledge is beyond my powers of imagination. According to Pavone, apparently a newly dead person was sent to Purgatory. He ran across some people who had died many years before who were also in Purgatory. The newcomer was condemned by an attack from one of the long term residents of Purgatory saying, “You guys did not pray hard enough for me to get out of here.” Again, it is hard to say how Pavone came into this knowledge, but he is a TV priest on EWTN and perhaps that is enough for him to know these sorts of things. At least, he had my attention.

Another EWTN mainstay is Mother Angelica who had something to do with the establishment of the so called network. It is a so called network, because it only embraces one station. It is not like CBS or ESPN.

When Mother Angelica was active, she was all over the EWTN programming selling religious figurines or reciting the rosary with her nuns from Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. Fortunately, her sales pitches and her endless recitations of the rosary were recorded and are played again over and over on EWTN broadcasts. Mother Angelica suffered a debilitating stroke on Christmas Eve two years age, but she appears now with no explanation that this is a broadcast of an old tape. But at Christmas and other religious holidays, Mother Angelica shows up to hawk figurines and crosses and rosaries for sale, all taped of course.

Some months ago, Mother Angelica stopped her rehabilitation and speech therapy sessions saying she is content to live her life in whatever condition the Lord wills for her. She is missed because she lent spark and life to otherwise dull broadcasts.

With Mother Angelica out of commission, her place has been taken by Father Mitch Pacwa. Pacwa is a pleasant sort who is having trouble filling the void in programming left by Mother Angelica’s departure. For many of of his broadcasts, Pacwa uses a large book which must come from the writings of the Pope. Pacwa will read a sentence and then set off to explain it to his viewers. This is a monstrous book. In one broadcast, he only deals with six or eight sentences so it gives him a script for the next 100 years. In the meantime, Mother Angelica has recited the rosary so many times, that this old non-Catholic and nonbeliever can now recite it. “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, etc.” With that, it is time to go to Johnnette.

Johnnette has a last name. It is Benkovic, but she seems to favor her given name. It had been my impression that this approximately 50 year old lay person, who wears the latest fashions, was the consummate, uninvolved virgin, but then one of her interviewers caused her to say that she has a son of 26 years. It had always appeared to me that a man would be below her lofty thoughts. Whether she still has a husband or a lover is not for us to determine. Johnnette is the ultimate when it comes to Catholic decorum.

She runs an effort called “Living Life Abundantly.” Her book and pamphlets are hawked under the Living Life Abundantly label.

When one of her guests used the word “Hell” on two occasions, Johnnette said, “Oh, you mean the place down there,” pointing down to the floor. Her view of decorum would not permit her to utter the word “Hell” in any form. It is a pity that Johnnette never tried to spread her doctrine to Lenny Bruce.

Johnnette takes about four breaks in her hour long broadcast. Those breaks don’t go to waste as Johnnette appears on tape to sell her latest books and pamphlets. When a break occurs, there is applause, but there is no audience. Such fakery does her lofty image no good. When interviewing a guest, she never says tell us about what happened or tell us about your views. Tell us has been banned. In its place is “Share with us” your views or what happened.

On endless broadcasts, Johnnette who regards Evangelical Protestantism as a mortal danger, interviews a like minded person who writes a column or is involved in schools. In any case, there is extended discussion of the mortal danger of New Age Philosophy. No one has told me that Evangelical Protestants are into New Age thought, but Johnnette and one of her female friends think this is absolutely the case.

Johnnette and her cohort claim to know all about the New Age movement and they are here to warn that it is perilous. The philosophers of the New Age, according to these two women, are Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud. Here we are in the year 2004 worried over Jung and Freud who are long since dead and gone. Freud cashed in his chips in 1939. Jung followed in 1968.

Well, there is hope for the world. If you watch EWTN at 10PM on Monday evenings, there will be a chance to buy one or more of Johnnette’s inspirational books and pamphlets. Old Johnnette is issuing books and pamphlets about as fast as our author in Denton, Mike Murdock. Murdock has been divorced once and he owns these classy black cars. It is hoped that he will form a perfect union with the ultimate prissy cat of EWTN who refers to “hell” as that place down there.

There is one more EWTN character whom you ought to meet. He is Doctor Professor Scott Hahn of a Catholic college in Stuebenville, Ohio. Some of Hahn’s religious claims are largely outrageous. He often conducts an exchange with a person who may be on the staff at Stuebenville. In any case, this person is in charge of lobbing soft ball questions to Hahn who seems to have made a study of the Bible and its history his life’s work. On two occasions, Hahn had his wife as the third person at the table.

Not long ago the subject of living in an obedient Catholic marriage came up. With his wife there, he seemed to lecture on the superiority of men in a marriage. According to Hahn, God created MAN who was given dominion over all things on earth. Apparently, according to Hahn, the game began and ended with man.

Later, we don’t know how much later, this gentleman whom we assume was Adam, became lonely. Hahn says God put Adam to sleep on a Monday or Tuesday until he awoke on Sunday morning to find he had a playmate – now get this – a WO-MAN. Hahn says Adam assumed dominion over this WO-MAN just as he had enjoyed dominion over animals.

Hahn explained that God named the female a WO-MAN because she was constructed from a man. Hahn contends and instructs that WO-MAN embraces the name of her creator, man. Man gave her the title. From what Hahn said, the same relationship is destined to appear through out the ages, the WO-MAN takes her name from MAN.

Apparently, God spoke only English when he created Adam’s companion. Woman appears to embrace man as the second syllable only in English. In German it is MANN and FRAU. In French, it is HOMME and FEMME. In Italian, it is UOMO and DONNA. In Spanish, it is HOMBRE and MUJER. In Czech, it is PAN and ZENA. As we must deduce, God spoke only English. It is unknown how Hahn in his doctoral studies could have made such a discovery that God spoke only English.

There was one other case where Hahn got carried away in front of his wife. While his program on this interview segment is called, “First Came Love,” love has very little to do with his teachings. The love part is directed toward God or to the church. On this occasion, somehow or another, the subject of family planning and birth control came up and as usual, Hahn spouted off at length about it. Apparently in the early days of his marriage, Hahn used the Catholic manner of birth control which calls for complete abstinence during a woman’s fertile period. The name for this is “Rhythm.” Some observers have concluded that the Rhythm system works perfectly if one or both partners are sterile. Hahn has a houseful of kids, which may tell you a little bit about the Rhythm system.

With his wife sitting there and with the TV cameras rolling, Hahn says he and his wife have now adopted the practice in their intimate relations, a means that always provides for the transmission of life to occur. It must be assumed that no birth control system is used, not even the Rhythm system. He describes their current intimate sexual life as “thrilling beyond belief” because it is always open completely to the transmission of life. Hahn says his wife joins him in the “thrilling beyond belief” description. He spoke for her even though she was sitting at the table with him. She did not speak.

Well, perhaps we ought to mark that one down to man being given dominion over women, and animals as well. It is suspected that no woman who heard the “thrilling” episode would want to take part of such an adventure with Hahn. And what would Mother Angelica or Johnnette Benkovic say about this dalliance and the broadcast of intimate details being heard on EWTN? All that can be said by this old EWTN viewer is, don’t ever send your kid to Steubenville College to be educated.

At the beginning of this essay, it was said that some charlatans would appear to greet us. In Pat Robertson we have a consummate charlatan and a fraud to boot. Only Jerry Falwell exceeds him. Robertson runs the 700 Club on morning television and was involved in a gold mining scheme in Liberia in partnership with Charles Taylor, the ousted dictator of that rundown country.

Robertson made the news this past week, because he said that he had “heard from the Lord.” Bush will win the 2004 election in a “blowout” because “the Lord blessed Bush.” He went on to say, “It makes no difference what he does, good or bad. God picks him up because he is a man of prayer and God has blessed him.”

This will come as great news to the Democratic hopefuls wading in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire. Think of all the money they will save.

God may bless George Bush, but Robertson is still a charlatan and a fraud. Let us hope we are spared any more messages from God via Pat Robertson. If God has something to say about the 2004 election, he or she ought to communicate with each American voter individually. That, my friends, is the American way.

January 12, 2004


That’s it for the 2004 essays — all of them are now up on the site. Onto 2005!

For the record, this is the 659th essay published on this site so far. Given that the absolute total is somewhere around the 700 mark, it’s really not far to go now. Feels weird to think about the first essay was published here way back in 2012. At the time, I thought that completing the site would take “one to two years,” which in retrospect was a Bush-esque misunderestimation. It will be very strange to get to the end of the line.

On the topic at hand (and I think I’ve expressed this before) I do have to wonder why Pop would steadfastly refuse to consume any fictional media, but would spend hours watching people who he hated talk about subjects that he didn’t believe in. What did he get out of that?


This essay has an air of inevitability about it. If a pitcher stands on the mound and expectorates on the baseball, the batter should know that the next pitch will inevitably be a spitball which will start out at waist level and sink to his shoe-tops by the time it crosses the plate.

There is also an inevitability about essay writing. If an event happens only once in 61 years and involves the Girl Scouts, it is inevitable that an essay must be written about it. The unwritten essay will say to the author, “If you don’t write me, I will write the essay myself.” And so there is a degree of inevitability about this essay. Let me try to tell you about it.

Soldiers of every nation will tell you that, next to going home, they look forward with great anticipation to receiving mail from there. That, of course, is why this essay is entitled “Mail Call.” In my case it ordinarily took at least two to three weeks for a letter mailed from my home in St. Louis to reach me in the African and Italian theaters of war. I am speaking of course about the Second World War.

The letters were collected at a military post office in Miami, Florida called an APO which means Army Post Office. Following the APO was a three digit number which directed the mail to the proper location. For example, When I served in Italy or in Africa, my mail was always addressed to the APO number in Miami. I assume the clerks at the APO in Miami separated the letters by the APO number into the varied designations and placed them into heavy canvas sacks. From that point on, they started a torturous journey involving several countries.

The planes that carried the mailbags were usually C-87’s which were the cargo version of the B-24 bombers. The first stop was Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico. The second stop was at Georgetown, British Guyana. The enlisted men’s barracks at Georgetown had small lizards that crawled over the supporting beams for the roof. I made three trips through Georgetown and never enjoyed a nights sleep there in any case.

The next stop was over jungle growth so heavy that if an airplane were lost there, it would be almost impossible to find it. The tall trees and the jungle growth would seem to simply absorb it. The flight from Georgetown was aimed at Natal, Brazil. If fuel was running a little low, the airplane could put in at Belem, Brazil or at a place called Fortaleza. At Natal, Brazilian salesmen were permitted to enter onto the flight lines to sell such things as perfume and their Natal boots. I bought a pair of Natal boots but never wore them on a flight. If it were necessary to use a parachute, when the chute opened, in all likelihood the boots would come off the feet. Consequently, I flew wearing Army high top shoes.

From Natal came the first ocean hop to a little known place in the South Atlantic called Ascension Island. It is a one mile square island which consists almost entirely of volcanic ash. A runway had been constructed amid the ash heaps which permitted it to a have a long runway. If the airplane missed the center line of the runway, there was a good chance that it would scrape the sides of the channel with one of its wingtips. Ascension Island, as I have said before, is one of the five loneliest places in the world. It was a British possession when the Americans took it over largely for the use of Pan American Airways. Today, that island does not even appear on most maps. I suspect that it is without inhabitants and no one seems to care about it anymore.

From Ascension Island to the next stop was Accra in British West Africa in a country called the Gold Coast. Since the early 1960’s, that country is now called Ghana.

When the mail reached Accra, it was separated into two sets. One shipment went north into North Africa and the Italian theatre of war, with several stops on the way. The second shipment headed eastward to the foot of the Himalayan Mountains to be delivered to those troops fighting the Japanese. Many stops along the way occurred at American bases at such places as El Genina and El Fasher in the Darfur region of the Sudan. It ended with delivery to the forces in the eastern-most province of India called Assam.

The arrival of mail at a post overseas occurred about once every 10 days. But if we were very lucky, there might be a weekly delivery. But on average, the mail arrived between ten days and two and one half weeks.

In those days there was no e-mail, of course. The only means of correspondence was letters and postcards. In late 1943 or 1944, the post office developed a thin sheet of paper called a V-mail. V-mail is a single thin piece of paper onto which you could write your message and fold it so that there was no envelope required. Mail in those days cost only three cents for a first-class letter. I believe that those V-mails addressed to soldiers required no postage.

Weight was very important because the mail was carried on cargo planes. The mail usually was an added starter after the rest of the cargo had been loaded. If there was no room for mail on the first flight, it had to be held for subsequent flights, which accounts for the delay in delivery. Obviously, the drawback to using V-mail was that the writer could not say much at all on one small tissue-like piece of paper.

When mail arrived at a base, the word would spread very quickly. The sack would be taken to the squadron headquarters and at lunchtime or when the work was finished for the day, the squadron clerk opened a window in the Quartermaster’s Office and then yelled “m-a-i-l c-a-l-l.” Within instants, perhaps forty or fifty men would show up right outside the window. As the squadron clerk called your name you were expected to answer out “Hyoh.” It was never a case of saying “I am here” or “That’s for me.” Everyone learned that the proper response was the single syllable “Hyoh.”

If your friends were away on a mission or at work, it was a solemn duty to claim their mail and to bring it back to the tent or barracks. On top of that, whenever the missing soldier returned to the tent or barracks, it was appropriate to tell him that he had some mail waiting for him. That would cause everybody’s face to light up.

Getting the mail from the squadron clerk was not always an easy task. It required that the mail be passed overhead from one hand to another until it reached the proper recipient. Once it was in the recipients hand, it was a sacred duty to take the mail back to your tent or barracks and to distribute it where it could be found easily. The point here is that receiving mail in the army was an extremely important operation. One did not walk around the base with a letter for another soldier carelessly tucked into his pocket. That would have been a gross error in etiquette.

Well now that I have told you about the importance of mail to soldiers, I will tell you a little about a mail delivery that I received on November 8, 2006. I knew that Veterans Day would come along in a few days but I was not paying any attention to it. On November 8, 1945, I receive my honorable discharge from the American Army. As Veterans Day, formerly called Armistice Day, came and went over these six decades, no one made a fuss about it. There were no congratulatory telephone calls or postcards. Perhaps there might have been a march now and then by the local American Legion Post or the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, that is about as far as it went.

In all those 61 years since my discharge from the American Army, no one ever said to me that they appreciated my service in our Armed Forces. But to be honest, I never expected anyone to offer good wishes on Veterans Day. When the Second World War came along, I thought it was my duty to volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces. It was as simple as that and after my discharge I had no relationship with the armed forces. I do not attend reunions nor did I ever join a VFW Post or a veterans organization of any kind. I had done my duty and it was my intention to get on with life.

This November 8th was a different story. One afternoon the doorbell rang and my wife answered. Two Girl Scouts from Troop 132 of the Glenwood School asked my wife if a veteran lived here. She replied that that was the case. At that point the Girl Scouts gave my wife a small bag with a letter and some presents. The presents were a large pencil with stars and stripes on it and a lapel pin. In addition there was a magnetic marker to hold things against the refrigerator, for example. It also had a flag on it.

When my wife read me the letter that the Girl Scouts had written and presented me with their gifts, tears came to my eyes. After all of these sixty-one years, the Girl Scout Troop 132 of Glenwood School remembered. How can any old soldier not show some emotion when he receives such a gift? It is no wonder that my eyes had some tears.

Here is the letter that the Girl Scouts wrote to me:
mail call 1 resized

Here is the letter that I dictated to my wife in response to the letter from the Girl Scouts:

Girl Scouts of America
Millburn Troop 132, Glenwood School
Short Hills, New Jersey

Your gift brought tears to my eyes.

In the summer of 1942, I volunteered to join the United States Army. I was honorably discharged more than three years later, coincidentally, on November 8, 1945. Your gift was delivered on the 61st anniversary of my discharge.

I am very appreciative of your gift because in all of those years from 1942 to the present, no one has ever given me a gift for my service in the United States Army. I thank you very much. And I will treasure your gift for as long as I am around.

All best wishes to the Glenwood Girl Scouts, Troop #132.

Stay strong,


And finally, here is the letter that my wife attached to my letter:

To the Girl Scouts of Troop 132,

Ed Carr, my husband is an essayist. He wrote the attached essay “They Never Betrayed Me” to tell his daughters – for the first time – what had happened on the air raid that led to his imprisonment and his subsequent rescue by the Italian Partisans. Perhaps this will give you a flavor of what our fliers endured during World War II.

I am also including a VHS tape having to do with a plaque in New York that honors some of my husband’s co-workers at AT&T who were killed in World War II. This tape was made as part of a project of the Library of Congress in Washington to preserve the memories of WWII.

Perhaps the essay and the tape will give you a better idea about my husband’s service in the American Army. He is too modest to send these, but I will. My husband, who is now blind, was very touched by your gift.

Best regards,
Judith A. Chicka (Mrs. E. E. Carr)

So you see, when the Girl Scouts delivered their letter to me, it was inevitable that I should have a response. It was inevitable that I would write them a letter telling them how much I appreciated their gifts. I am certain that those two Girl Scouts will grow up to be good and thoughtful citizens. They were thoughtful in this case to have remembered me for my service in a war that, from their standpoint, must be thought of as a prehistoric conflict. If there were tears associated with these developments, I would say that they are well deserved.

Now about that spitball pitcher. The spitball was outlawed several years ago but it is alleged that a good many pitchers still throw it. If you are ever in a batter’s box and you think the pitcher is going to throw you a spitball, it is recommended that you move up in the batter’s box and try to hit it before it starts its downward flight. The chances are that you will miss the spitball but unfortunately that’s the very best advice that I can give you. There are teachers who rail against the use of the word spit, but for all of the years that I have been associated with baseball, I have never heard of a pitcher throwing an expectoration pitch. So spitballs and inevitability are the backbone of this essay.

November 14, 2006
Essay 216
Kevin’s commentary: A favorite’s favorite. Good on the girl scouts for remembering, and on Pop for replying. I’m a little annoyed at myself in the past for not saying anything over years and years of Veteran’s days (I was pretty self-absorbed at 16) but I’ve done a little bit better recently. Reading about the war — and the linked essay in particular — definitely opened my eyes a little bit.

That said, “They Never Betrayed Me” is a very intense essay for a bunch of girl scouts. Conversely, the first part of this essay was a really nice window into some of the few brighter moments during the war. I wonder if instant communication takes anything away from the happiness of getting mail these days. I doubt it.


When Harry Livermore has something to say, it is usually worth listening to. Harry is older than I am and he has a degree from Grinnell College in Iowa. He is a consummate mid-Westerner whom I met on Mother’s Day, 1952. Harry was my boss in Kansas City as well as in Chicago. But more than that, we have been friends for more than 55 years. And so it was in December of 1953 that Harry told me that adopting a little Chicago girl was the best thing I ever did. I cannot argue with this fellow, Livermore, because he is older and he has a Grinnell doctorate degree. So perhaps Brother Livermore has something there.

What I intend to do today in this essay is not to recite every event in that little Chicago girl’s life but rather to call on a few fond memories that are brought to mind by the photograph you see on this page. There will be no continuum from one event to the next. This essay is about a series of memories and flashbacks. And all of them will have to do with my memories of what Livermore calls the brightest decision I ever made. If Harry says that is the case, I am not in a position to argue.

The first recollection comes on a Monday evening, which I believe was December 4, 1953. Eileen, my wife at that time who is now deceased, had gone with me in the evening to the largest department store in Chicago, called Marshall Fields. We were searching for cards that would announce the adoption of a little girl then in foster care. This two and a half month old little girl was the ward of the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. It was that organization that had paid for her birth and for her stay in foster care. Marshall Fields had cards for every occasion imaginable but none to announce the adoption of a child. Being as it was a Monday evening, Betty Kruchten was shopping at that same store and she helped us in our search for an appropriate card. When we told Betty Kruchten that we intended to take possession of this little girl on Thursday morning, December 8, 1953, I thought nothing more about it. But obviously Betty Kruchten did. She will make an appearance a little later in this story about memories of Blondie.

On Thursday morning at 6:30 AM, the sky was threatening snow. What else is new about Chicago weather? We lived in a flat off California Avenue at about 3000 North. That is called the Near North Side in Chicago and it is located quite close to Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs play. Our destination was 7600 South in Chicago near Comiskey Park where the White Sox play. It was a long drive from our flat on the Near North Side through the Loop and then on to the foster home on the South Side. I could not help but think that exactly ten years earlier, December 8, 1943, a plane on which I was the aerial gunner was shot down and I wound up a prisoner of the German Army that afternoon. So it took me ten years to go from the depths of despair to a mission to pick up a little Chicago girl. So you see, I was showing signs of progress even if it took me ten years to do so.

We had seen old Blondie on two previous occasions when her foster mother brought her into the offices of the Children’s Home at 1122 North Dearborn Avenue in Chicago. On both occasions we were asked to bathe her and change her clothes. On those two occasions when I dried Blondie’s hair after the bathing, I blew on it. Her hair was not really blond; it was almost pure white. It was about an inch and a half long and when I blew on her head, the hair flew in many directions. It was at that instant that I named this little girl Blondie. She has a proper name of Ellen Maureen but from those visits to the offices of the Children’s Home, she has always been Blondie to me.

The foster home was an individual residence where the women provided care until the adoptive parents took the children away. In this case, the woman who had given Blondie care for the first two and a half months of her life had called her “Pumpkin.” I suppose that she had arrived at about the same time as pumpkins appear on our market shelves. We gave Blondie another bath at the foster home and she was changed into the clothing that we had brought for her to wear. But parting with Pumpkin was an emotional affair. The foster mother made us promise that we would provide excellent care for her for the rest of her life. When you consider that a foster mother must surrender her little children to adoptive parents perhaps four times a year, it would be a job that I could not handle.

When we arrived at our Near North Side flat in Chicago, I was instructed by this mother of one hour’s standing to go to Blondie’s room, sit down on the rocker, hold Blondie, and feed her two ounces of orange juice. I did as I told. Nothing was said about a pad or any protective device. The net result was that two ounces went in the top end and perhaps four to six ounces came out the bottom end. I had been christened. The new mother appeared and observed that I had not placed a pad under Blondie’s bottom. But I said, “If this is as bad as it gets, I believe I can handle it.”

I changed clothes and caught the street car in preparation for reporting to my office at 111 North Franklin Street in Chicago. The instant I walked in the entrance, all the women in the office began to gather around the door to my office. I shared an office with Dick Nichols and Clarence Kessler. When I entered my office door, I saw great collections of presents on my desk and on my chair. My first instinct was to say that Nichols and Kessler had done my Christmas shopping for me. That thought was dismissed in a nanosecond because I knew that those two guys would never do anything as nice as that. To make a long story short, Betty Kruchten had been at work. She had started a petition around the office that resulted in at least a dozen presents for the new little Chicago girl that we had adopted that morning. I should say at this point that if there are more generous people in this world than those who worked for AT&T in Chicago, I would be surprised. They were generous in the extreme.

There may have been as many as 40 to 50 people standing outside my office door, wanting to know the details about the adoption that had taken place that morning. I gave them the length of the baby as well as the weight and tried to explain that to protect the anonymity of the birth parents we knew very little about them. We knew that they were of Irish extraction with perhaps some Polish influence as well. But beyond that we knew very little. I told the multitude that her name would be Ellen Maureen Carr. Ellen is the Gaelic diminutive for Helen and Maureen is the Gaelic diminutive for Mary. During the remainder of the time that I spent in Chicago, about 15 months, the women there regularly brought me dresses and things for Maureen to wear. As I have said, the traffic women in Chicago are the most generous people I have ever known.

The formal adoption took place in January or February of 1955, when Maureen was about 16 of 17 months old. The judge was named Otto Kerner who started out to be a very stern-appearing judge. When Maureen sat down on his desk, the judge melted. That judge later served two terms as governor of Illinois, but then, unfortunately, he was sent to jail for a variety of offenses. Blondie was not involved in his breaking the law.

AT&T at that time moved its men from one place to another, often without much forethought. In my case, however, I was asked to take a labor relations job, which is my natural field, in New York City. Shortly before leaving Chicago, we asked a number of people to have a few drinks and dinner with us at our home. One of my recollections is that a fellow I liked very well began to play with Maureen at that function. His name was Felix John Waychus. Typically, John Waychus referred to me as Ezra, just as I referred to him as Felix. Old John Waychus had a set of keys in his pocket. Maureen would not go to sleep because of the excitement of all of the crowd in our house. But she was heavily attracted to the key chain that John Waychus offered to her. Old John said to Maureen, ”You are a lucky girl.” I was standing near John as he said that, and I tried to amend that thought by saying to saying to Felix, “No, we are the lucky ones.”

I had come east to New York City around March or April of 1955. Finding housing was always a problem for people of AT&T who moved so much. I put several ads in the Newark Star-Ledger and finally heard from a prospective owner who seemed interested in renting to us. The landlord was the owner of what was known in New Providence, New Jersey, as the Rickenbacker Farm. It was a five-acre farm with all sorts of outbuildings and fruit trees a little further out. I knew nothing of New Providence, New Jersey, of course but John Finn, the man who had the adjacent office, knew about a fellow named Bill Braunwerth, who worked for Bell Labs. John took it upon himself to tell Bill Braunwerth to go inspect this prospective rental. The result was positive and so we became the tenants on the Rickenbacker Farm. The landlord rented to us because he was departing to enter a seminary to study some Far Eastern religion. I never saw the landlord after the first visit but I believe it is fair to say that in the end, old Blondie fell in love with the Rickenbacker Farm.

This picture shows Blondie at about the age of two years. On weekends and holidays, Blondie was my constant companion in performing the chores that are involved with living on a farm. I am the taller person in this photo.

Our next-door neighbor was Jessie Nielsen who had been a part of the Italian family named Delia. Jessie had married a Danish sailor and they had no children. The distance between the Rickenbacker Farm and Jessie Nielsen’s place was about 150 feet. When we arrived, it was covered by weeds that had grown to a height of three or four feet. When Jessie found out that her new neighbors had a small girl and that she was adopted, she put her husband to work. He mowed the weeds down to an acceptable level between our two houses. That made it possible for Blondie to go visit with Jessie. Jessie had a bench on her porch where she often sat in the shade of her porch roof to deal with tomatoes and onions and things of that nature. On more than one occasion, I found Maureen visiting with Jessie, with them kibitzing like two old women. Jessie’s husband sat around enjoying the show.

The Rickenbacker house had a porch that extended most of its length. It was, of course, not air conditioned. People would sit on their porch in hot weather to escape the heat. On many occasions, I would sit on that porch after I came home from work and Blondie would sit on my lap. There was an occasion when a thunder storm broke out, which Maureen pronounced as “fummee.” I understood what she was saying, and that was close enough for me.

Upstairs in this old house was a large room near Blondie’s bedroom. She had a table with four chairs surrounding the table. It was all children’s size. From time to time, Blondie would have tea parties. She invited Jessie to those tea parties and the conversation between these two old women continued apace. On another occasion, Ann Hincks, the Welfare Supervisor from Chicago, came to visit us and Ann was treated to a tea party by Blondie. When Blondie’s grandmother came to see us, the same treatment was accorded to her. I was not always invited to the tea parties because Blondie contended that I complained too much. It is true that I said, “This tea is too hot.” On other occasions I would say, “This tea is too cold.” On some occasions I would say, “This tea is too just right.” All of my comments earned me a slap. (The “tea” was unheated and unrefrigerated tap water.)

These were happy years for Blondie as she picked the fruit from the trees and visited Jessie. In the fall of 1957, we were visited by a priest from the adjoining Roman Catholic church called Our Lady of Peace. The priest informed us that the church had bought our property and that we should start looking for another place to live. He made it thoroughly and totally clear that we should take our time. There was no pressure at all, and in the end I was happy to have this new friend.

Fortunately, as it turned out, there was a new development called Elkwood Estates right there in New Providence. The new houses being built seemed ideal but the financing was another matter. But the builder had an understanding with a local banker and we were able to buy one of the houses on Commonwealth Avenue. And so in the fall of 1957, we moved to the new house. By this time, Maureen had a new sister named Suzanne.

When Suzanne was born, Eileen’s mother, Virginia King, came from Florida to run the house. During Eileen’s confinement, Mrs. King, Blondie and I visited her but Blondie was not permitted to see her mother because of her age. When the visits were completed, Mrs. King and I would point out the window of Eileen’s room. I held Blondie when she screamed at the window, “Mommy, take of that baby.” When memories about Blondie are the order of the day, this memory continues to stick with me.

The girls had separate rooms in the new house and it was my custom to lie down with each of them after they had been put to bed. There was not a lot of talking, but snuggling was the order of the day. I think I looked forward to those snuggles as much as the children did.

Across the street from our home was the residence of Clara and Nick DiNunzio. By this time little Blondie had started to school in New Providence, where it was possible to walk from our home to the school. One afternoon I was talking to Clara DiNunzio when I saw Blondie turn the corner and head toward our house. She had an armload of books. When she reached Clara and myself, Clara asked her how her school work was going. Blondie informed Clara that “third grade is very hard.” In the end she got through third grade as well as high school and college at Miami of Ohio. I must say that Maureen always dressed fashionably when she went to the grade school in New Providence. She wore dresses and her hair was appropriately curled.

When Maureen graduated from Miami of Ohio University, I was a no-show. I had spent that week in Athens, Greece and had planned to take a TWA airplane from Athens to New York and then another one on to Cincinnati, arriving in time for the graduation. But in Europe, workers who are angry will take off a day or two to cool down. In this case, the airport workers at the Athens airport refused to go to work on the day of my departure. So I was left to stare from my balcony of the Grand Bretagne Hotel. The balcony overlooked the main square in Athens, where the soldiers wear ancient uniforms with white leggings and white shoes with red pompoms on the shoe instep. I was watching their close-order drill while old Blondie graduated from college.

This has been a more lengthy recitation of my memories of Blondie than I had intended and I hope you are still with me. That little girl who christened me back in 1953 will soon celebrate her 54th birthday. The poets say, “The minutes fly and the years go by.” Indeed, those years seem to have flown by. At this point, Blondie has two boys of her own and a good husband. I know that their offspring and marriage are in good shape because all three of the guys discuss baseball with me. That of course is man’s highest calling.

Space limitations would not permit me to recall every incident associated with my daughter Blondie. In this essay, I have simply tried to capture a few of the memories that have lingered in my mind for scores of years.

For all these years, Blondie has never failed to give Harry Livermore the compliment of calling him “Uncle Harry”. She has been devoted to Harry just as she has been my helper throughout her lifetime as pictured on the little “photo” earlier in this essay. It was a happy day when Blondie entered my life and Livermore may have had it right when he said that adopting her was the smartest thing I have ever done. I know it gave me great pleasure on the day of her adoption to tell the assembled gift givers outside my office that Blondie now resided in her own home. She was in her own room and was in her own bed. And she had two parents who were dedicated to her well-being. For a child of less than three months, this is a major achievement. And now I have only one further thought to offer. If any of you see Blondie, you should blow on her hair to see if it scrambles in every direction on command. If that happens, you have got the right kid.

May 28, 2007
Essay 257
Reply from Maureen:
Daddy, I really enjoyed the story you wrote about me. Remember those dolls that I think AT&T gave to charity? I remember the doll I had had an aqua dress and bonnet and that it’s hair stood up. I think you always said the doll reminded you of me. You always had Suze and me help with everything — we always planted sunflowers, cleaned out the garage and basement, helped with mowing the yard — we carried the bags to my favorite — rotating the tires. Does anyone do that still? I still have the card that the ladies all signed in Chicago!

Thanks you again for the story. I really appreciate it. You took good care of me! Did you use a pad after that when you fed me? After vacation we should go for tea!? or lunch. Love Maureen

Kevin’s commentary: We read this out loud to Pop last time we were in NJ for a visit, so I won’t be redundant here. I will say that the line where Pop says “the girls had separate rooms in the new house and it was my custom to lie down with each of them after they had been put to bed” made me laugh, since mom still does that with myself and my brothers anytime we’re all home. Of course she is usually the first to go to sleep of the four of us, so Jack and Connor and I sometimes have to go to bed anyway and pretend to be a sleep. It’s more than a bit silly but hey.


From the year 1776, the United States depended on the United States Army (USA) to fight its battles. The Army fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and in the First World War and acquitted itself very well. However, shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Army brass determined that it was necessary to create a second army. This army was to be called not the United States Army but rather the Army of the United States. I hope you are holding on tightly as we maneuver through this jungle of bureaucracy. There is no known incident whereby German or Japanese soldiers inquired of our personnel as to whether they belonged to the United States Army or the Army of the United States. They must have figured one dead American was as good as the other.

All of this comes into focus on an evening shortly after my 20th birthday when I was preparing to be sworn in on a voluntary enlistment in the Army of the United States (AUS). It was a two-hour streetcar trip from my home in Richmond Heights, Missouri to Jefferson Barracks where my enlistment would begin. I was committed to serve for the “duration of hostilities plus six months.” What I did not know was that the “duration of hostilities” actually continued until a peace treaty was signed. Usually that ceremony takes place four or five years after peace has been achieved. But I gave that little thought as I prepared to leave my home and become a soldier.

I was standing in my bedroom going through my possessions trying to determine what I could take with me as military service beckoned. Shortly before 9 PM, my father entered my bedroom. I was aware of the time because he always went to bed no later than 9 PM, after having read a chapter or so in his Bible. My father was a taciturn man who did not waste words needlessly. He said, “Son, I have a little something here that I believe you might like to have.” When I looked at my father’s gift, it was an 1881 silver dollar. He went on to say, “As long as you carry this in your pocket, you will never be broke.” Being broke was a nightmare to my father. He had been through hard times in the Depression and he was genuinely concerned about becoming bankrupt. We may have shaken hands after that ceremony, but I don’t recall doing so. He had delivered his gift to me and given me some advice. That being done, he went to bed because 5:30 in the morning “comes mighty early.”

A few words about my father are in order here. For all the years that I knew him, we were largely strangers. There was no hostility between us ever at all. Yet there was no great warmth either. Try as I might, I can think of no better word than strangers.

There may be several reasons for this situation. My father was wed to rural life. If he had had his way, he would have been a farmer until the day of his death. I, of course, had no use for rural life because I was a city kid. My father had completed the McGuffy Second Grade Reader when he quit school at age 16 or 17. I had by that age finished high school. And finally, our sense of strangeness must have had something to do with religion. My father believed that every word in the Bible was true and accurate. I held no such beliefs. When all things are taken into consideration, my father considered me to be a very “strange duck.”

My father spoke a dialect of the English language which I call “country speak.” It has Elizabethan overtones as well as echoes of Appalachia. And it contains several deliberate mispronunciations. For example my father’s name was Ezra, which usually is pronounced as Ez-rah. When he rendered that name aloud, he always referred to himself as Ez-reee. That great state on the west coast was not California but was called in his lingo “Californee.” If he were to go into a restaurant and order a bottle of soda, it would be pronounced “so-dee.” That was not the end of it. He believed that when something was necessary, it should be pronounced as “need-cessity.” Then there was the case where he always considered the past tense of dining as “et.” If someone were to ask him to enjoy a meal, he might well reply, “Thank you; I have already et.” A good host would have knowed about the previous meal. I hope you can see why I considered “country speak” as a dialect of the English language. I do not speak country-speak, but I understand it perfectly.

Then there was the matter of his name, which is my name as well. In 1881, my father was the fourth or fifth child of Susan Dent and William Meredith Carr. Both of them were children of Irish immigrants. One way or another, they named that child Ezra, which is a Hebrew name, and Edgar, which is an English name. It has always been my belief that those two names for an Irish child are wildly inappropriate. Only people named the Holy Ghost would rival Ezra Edgar for inappropriateness.

I realized that my father was not in the habit of bestowing gifts on everybody. The gift of a silver dollar with his birth year on it meant something to him and it meant something to me, even though we were basically strangers. I put that silver dollar in my pocket and carried it there until December 8, 1943, when it was taken from me by a German soldier in a prisoner-of-war camp in northern Italy. In those circumstances, having lost my silver dollar from my father, I relied upon an ancient Irish expression. I said, under my breath, “I hope you never have a day’s luck for the rest of your life.” The fact of the matter is that the prison guard’s life lasted less than two weeks. When the Italian Partisans raided the compound, they shot every German soldier in sight. So I suppose that the man who lifted my silver dollar enjoyed it for only a fortnight. If he sent that silver dollar back to one of his relatives in Germany, perhaps that person will not enjoy great fortune as long as I am alive.

As soon as I could do it, I replaced that silver dollar and carried it in my pocket until my retirement. Unfortunately, the Army paymasters in Italy had no 1881 silver dollars, so a 1922 silver dollar, the year of my birth, was accepted in its place. By the time I retired, that silver dollar’s engraving and the picture of Miss Liberty were worn almost to smoothness. At the time, I owned a suit or two with vests. My wife took that silver dollar and had a gold ring placed around its edges. The gold ring was attached to a gold chain which was attached to a pocket watch that AT&T had given me for having completed 40 years of service. If my luck holds out, following this is a picture of the silver dollar, the chain, and the gold watch.

For several years, the silver dollar, the watch, and the chain have been laying helplessly in my top dresser drawer. Now it is time to put them to work. There are five Carr grandsons and there are two Costa Rica grandsons who have adopted me as their “Grandpa in America,” as well as their new sister Melissa. And then there is Daniel Commodore, who works at the fish counter in a supermarket that we patronize. Daniel is a native of Accra, Ghana. He says that when I approach his workplace, he thinks of his own father. I am greatly flattered.

If and when any of the forgoing eight gentlemen elect to take a bride, I hope that they will buy or rent a suit with an appropriate vest. In one pocket of the vest, the watch should be placed. The gold chain must be snaked through button holes until it reaches the opposite side of the vest wherein the silver dollar will be used as a fob. If a vest is unavailable, the watch and the fob may be worn on the shirt or suit as long as the gold chain is prominently visible.

Similarly, if the young men have a pair of high-waisted pants, they may wear the jewelry with the watch in one pocket and the fob in the other, so long as the chain is apparent. The idea is to announce to the world that the wearer carries a watch and a fob, which accounts for the prominence that the chain should display.

This offer is not for permanent possession; it is simply a free rental. If there is a significant graduation or some other achievement of that sort, the silver dollar, fob, and watch may also be used to mark such a happy occasion, providing that the chain is similarly displayed.

These items are masculine in nature. When Señorita Melissa becomes a bride, or achieves some other significant step in her life, her grandparents in America will make proper recognition of those achievements.

As long as I carried the silver dollar in my pants pocket, I was reminded of my father. When I paid for lunch or bought a newspaper, the change would come out of my pocket, which would include the silver dollar. On every occasion, I thought of my father. I hope that when my grandchildren wear the silver dollar fob, they will think of him as well. None of them have ever met him but he was a strong and decent person. In the final years of his life, glaucoma overtook my father’s eyes and he spent the last eleven or twelve years in blindness. During those years, I can never recall my father ever complaining about his blindness. Nor can I recall his complaining about the loveless marriage that his arrangement with my mother had long since become.

So you see that in the end my father’s gesture to me on that evening in 1942 has lived on and will survive me as I lend this gift to my grandchildren. He was a good man.

Beyond all of the accolades that my father has generated, it is my hope that sooner or later every university in this country will begin to offer courses in “country speak”. There is something lyrical about a “country speaker” saying to a host who offers food, “No, thank you; I have already et. You should have knowed that.” Even Queen Elizabeth or the Archbishop of Canterbury would find it very difficult to approach that level of eloquence in the English language.

October 27, 2007
Essay 266
Kevin’s commentary: Clearly, all the grandsons need to work on this whole “getting married” thing; I don’t think many of us are particularly close. Beautiful watch and chain, though. Maybe they’ll come back into fashion sometime.

My main takeaway here is as someone of largely Irish blood, I apparently have access to a friggen leprechaun-style luck curse and I’m just now finding this out at age 23.


I have lived in this town for a little more than 40 years. The last 11 years have been taken up with essay writing. When I stroll down Main Street, no one nudges anyone else and says, “There goes the philosopher.” For better or worse, philosophy has not been one of the main subjects of my essays. And so in this essay, I will set out to try to remedy that situation. And thus there is a philosophical essay to follow.

In the natural course of things, there has to be a setup before the philosophy is rendered. And that brings us to the audible presentation of The New York Times. For five days of each week there is a service to which we subscribe that provides a spoken digest of the news in The New York Times. There are three articles from the front pages, there is the international section, there are the sports and business sections followed by editorials and op ed pieces. In all it takes about one hour and five minutes for the digest of The New York Times to be presented. In addition, my wife, who presides over things around here, usually adds an article or two from The Washington Post. If there are other items of interest, she also includes those stories.

At the end of the news stories, Miss Chicka usually includes a song. The songs recently have been country and Western songs. I am very fond of opera and choral music and other civilized forms of musical expression. I am not fond of the people who try to present hip hop as a musical form of entertainment. In any event, I find the country and Western songs to be of major significance in that they tell a story. They are very much like folk songs in that they present a situation and carry it to a conclusion, all in the period of perhaps four minutes. That is largely what country and Western songs do.

Two country and Western songs have captured my attention. One is a John Denver piece called “Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stones.” The second is one by Guy Clark whose title is “Some Days You Write the Songs, Some Days the Song Writes You.” The title of this essay is taken from one of Mr. Clark’s contributions and to a large extent it satisfies the philosophical portion of this essay.

If you listen closely to the John Denver piece, he will tell you that “some days are diamonds and some days are stones.” As we grow older, or at least in my case, as time goes on the stones outweigh the diamonds. The music to this song is captivating, but the major reason that I am attracted to it is that he says that “some days are diamonds and some days are stones.”

In the Guy Clark piece, Mr. Clark obviously is a song writer. He says that “some days you write the songs and some days the song writes you.” What he is saying is that some days songs come very easily and on other days the words and music are very obstinate. As an essay writer, I know a little bit about the failure of words to appear on a tape or on a cassette. It is in this context that Mr. Clark says words “have a way of their own.” If the words don’t come, Guy Clark has concluded that “there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.” As in the case of diamonds and stones, in such an instance where the words don’t come, there is not much that can be done about it until some time has passed and a second try takes place.

Now for the philosophy part of this essay. It seems to me that those country and Western songs demonstrate the futility of men trying to control events in their lives. There comes a time when there’s not a damned thing that can be done about it. There also comes a time when the person doesn’t call the shots anymore but events take place without him. This is what Guy Clark was trying to say when he had that line, “Some times the song writes you.”

So the philosophical portion of this essay is that as life goes on, there are more stones than diamonds. Secondly as time takes place, we find ourselves not being able to control events, but that the events control us.

I believe that my efforts at producing a philosophical essay might be enhanced by producing the lyrics to these two country and Western songs. And so the lyrics are included here.

When this essay is circulated, I suspect that no one is going to proclaim me as a philosopher. But that is quite all right. I hope that you will remember that these country and Western songs contain not only a story line, but a bit of philosophy as well.

Now when I walk down Main Street, I know that no one will identify me as the philosopher in residence. But nonetheless the music of John Denver and Guy Clark will resonate in my head and that is all an old philosopher can ask.

The lyrics follow.

Guy Clark – Some Days The Song Writes You

It’s just one of those days you can’t explain
When nothing’s right or wrong
Too much wine or not enough
So you just play along.
There’s no rhyme or reason
Ain’t a damn thing you can do
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

Your sure voice and melody
Will sing my soul to sleep
Reaching for some harmony
Deep inside of me
Some days you know just how it goes
Some days you have no clue.
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

You can fall
You can fly
Get low down or get high
You can try or just leave it alone.
You can search for the way
You can curse, you can pray
But the words have a way of their own.

It don’t matter how much it hurts
You’ve got to tell the truth.
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

Now you may think I just made this up
But I would not lie, that’s true
Some days you write the song
Some days the song writes you.

Some Days Are Diamonds
John Denver

When you asked how I’ve been here without you
I’d like to say I’ve been fine and I do.
But we both know the truth is hard to come by
And if I told the truth, that’s not quite true.

Some days are diamonds some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

Now the face that I see in my mirror
More and more is a stranger to me
More and more I can see there’s a danger
In becoming what I never thought I’d be

Some days are diamonds some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

Some days are diamonds some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

December 25, 2009
Essay 426
Kevin’s commentary: We’re going to go counter-philosophical here. First up is that since diamonds are stones, every day is a stone. But that’s okay because secondly, especially if you’re blind, there is no inherent discernable difference between stones — all that really matters is how they are shaped, polished and presented. If I gave Pop a very nicely cut and polished stone and told him it was a diamond, he would probably believe me. Extrapolating back out we can say that days are neither inherently good nor bad but are rather what you make of them and how you perceive them. In Pop’s case, I’d say that having a wife who compiles over an hour of news, entertainment and music for me on a daily basis constitutes a pretty good presentation. Not to say that everything is always perfect, but rather to say that a stone ain’t so bad sometimes.


Around the middle of October, the Roman Catholic Pope in the Vatican made a very surprising announcement. On that occasion he invited the Church of England, which had been separated for 478 years from the Catholic Church, to rejoin his flock. As an inducement, the Pope said that married preachers could remain married and, after a period of retraining, they would be welcome in the Catholic Church. Another inducement had to do with hymnals. Apparently the Anglican hymnals will be accepted on a restricted basis in the new Catholic Church after the Anglicans rejoin.

You may recall that the Anglicans left the Roman Church after a dispute involving King Henry VIII. It seems Henry had a collection of wives, some of whom he wanted to divorce; others he executed. The Roman Catholic Pope would not agree to a divorce for Henry VIII from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. That set the stage for Henry establishing his own church for England. Not only that, but he specified that the reigning monarch would be its head. In effect, the Anglicans could have their own pope. As a matter of interest, he was the reigning monarch at the time, so he in effect became the new pope of the Anglican church.

And so for the better part of 500 years, the Anglicans have gone their own way, separate from the mother Church. Apparently the Pope is intent upon collecting the low-hanging fruit. There is an ongoing dispute in the Anglican Church. The dispute involves naming females as bishops and the existence of a gay bishop in New Hampshire of this country. The calculation seems to be that a sufficient number of Anglicans will be turned off by female bishops and the gay bishop and will move toward the Catholic Church, abandoning the Anglican Church.

I am not a Catholic or an Anglican. However, the Pope’s move to welcome back the Anglicans on a limited basis seemed to me to have material for possible comment in these essays. For a week now, I have been pondering whether to treat this lightly or as a matter of great substance. I confess that after a week of pondering my thoughts are still askew. But the problem was solved on Sunday, October 25 when Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist with The New York Times, published her column. Bear in mind that Ms. Dowd is a practicing Catholic who, I presume, is still in the good graces of the Church. I have always admired Ms. Dowd’s prose and in the instant case, I decided that I could do no better so I would use Maureen Dowd’s column. Without further ado, here is what she wrote on Sunday, October 25.

October 25, 2009
The Nuns’ Story
Once, in the first grade, I was late for class. I started crying in the schoolyard, terrified to go in and face the formidable Sister Hiltruda. Father Montgomery, who looked like a handsome young priest out of a 1930s movie, found me cowering and took my hand, leading me into the classroom.
Sister Hiltruda looked ready to pop, but she couldn’t say a word to me, then or ever. There was no more unassailable patriarchy than the Catholic Church. Nuns were second-class citizens then and — 40 years after feminism utterly changed America — they still are. The matter of women as priests is closed, a forbidden topic.
In 2004, the cardinal who would become Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners, resisting any adversarial roles with men and cultivating “feminine values” like “listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting.”
Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative pope, who was christened “God’s Rottweiler” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.
The Vatican is now conducting two inquisitions into the “quality of life” of American nuns, a dwindling group with an average age of about 70, hoping to herd them back into their old-fashioned habits and convents and curb any speck of modernity or independence.
Nuns who took Vatican II as a mandate for reimagining their mission “started to look uppity to an awful lot of bishops and priests and, of course, the Vatican,” said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns.”
The church enabled rampant pedophilia, but nuns who live in apartments and do social work with ailing gays? Sacrilegious! The pope can wear Serengeti sunglasses and expensive red loafers, but shorter hems for nuns? Disgraceful!
“It’s a tragedy because nuns are the jewels of the system,” said Bob Bennett, the Washington lawyer who led the church’s lay inquiry into the pedophilia scandal. “I was of the view that if they had been listened to more, some of this stuff wouldn’t have happened.”
As the Vatican is trying to wall off the “brides of Christ,” Cask of Amontillado style, it is welcoming extreme-right Anglicans into the Catholic Church — the ones who are disgruntled about female priests and openly gay bishops. Il Papa is even willing to bend Rome’s most doggedly held dogma, against married priests — as long as they’re clutching the Anglicans’ Book of Common Prayer.
“Most of the Anglicans who want to move over to the Catholic Church under this deal are people who have scorned women as priests and have scorned gay people,” Briggs said. “The Vatican doesn’t care that these people are motivated by disdain.”
The nuns are pushing back a bit, but it’s hard, since the church has decreed that women can’t be adversarial to men. A nun writing in Commonweal as “Sister X” protests, “American women religious are being bullied.”
She recalls that Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who heads one of the investigations, moved a meeting at the University of Notre Dame off campus to protest a performance of “The Vagina Monologues.” “It is the rare bishop,” Sister X writes, “who has any real understanding of the lives women actually lead.”
The church can be flexible, except with women. Laurie Goodstein, the Times’s religion writer, reported this month on an Illinois woman who had a son with a Franciscan priest. The church agreed to child support but was stingy with money for college and for doctors, once the son got terminal cancer. The priest had never been disciplined and was a pastor in Wisconsin — until he hit the front page. Even then, “Father” Willenborg was suspended only because the woman said that he had pressed her to have an abortion and that he had also had a sexual relationship with a teenager. (Maybe the church shouldn’t be so obdurate on condoms.)
When then-Cardinal Ratzinger was “The Enforcer” in Rome, he investigated and disciplined two American nuns. One, Jeannine Gramick, then of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, founded a ministry to reconcile gays with the church, which regards homosexual desires as “disordered.” The other, Mary Agnes Mansour of the Sisters of Mercy, headed the Michigan Department of Social Services, which, among other things, paid for abortions for poor women.
Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic congresswoman from Toledo and one of Bishop Blair’s flock, got a resolution passed commending nuns for their humble service and sacrifice. “The Vatican’s in another country,” she said. “Maybe people do things differently there. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will intervene.”

As far as I can tell, there is no move to lift Miss Dowd’s membership in the Catholic Church. She is a much better writer than I could ever hope to be, and so I will let her column speak for itself. When I can write as well as Maureen Dowd, which may take another 478 years, I will let you know.

October 26, 2009
Essay 415
Kevin’s commentary: Welcome to 2014! Feels very weird to say it. I wonder when Pop was a young man, what he thought would be the latest year he’d get to see would be. Connor and I were talking about it today — I think I’d be very happy to make it to 2080.

By the end of 2014 I should be near the end of this project. In total there are seven hundred and something essays, and I post at the rate at about five to six per week. Especially if I pick up the pace a little bit then we are looking at a tentative end time of around April 2015. I’m pretty sure that’s a safe bet.

More topically, the Catholic church is full of assholes, our new Pope is a million times better than ol’ Ratty (though he does have his own flaws,) and you can read more of Pop’s views on nuns here.


Ezra’s Essays have been distributed to the movers and shakers around the world for the past 13 years.  In all that time, there have only been a few occasions when the proprietor of Ezra’s Essays has been moved to make an award.  In the current case, the proprietor of Ezra’s Essays is moved to award the National Broadcasting Company the First Annual Trophy for Priggishness and Prissiness.  If you will stick with me for a few minutes of reading, I will reveal how this award came into being.

The story starts early in the summer of 2010, when the President of the United States ordered the establishment of a commission on why we are going broke.  Obviously, it could not be called the commission for why we are going broke, so the formal title is the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  When the commission was established, there were two principles named to head it.  One was Erskine Bowles, who had occupied a number of positions in Democratic administrations over the years.  He is well respected and is a gentleman to boot.  The other post went to Alan Simpson, who is a retired Republican senator from Wyoming.  I have always respected Simpson because I believe that he is basically honest, and he will tell you exactly why something took place without all of the Washington doublespeak.

As you might expect in a Commission conceived by Mr. Obama, his creation has no powers of subpoena and relies on the truthfulness of the people who appear before it.  If they speak untruths, the commission is largely powerless to subpoena them and subject them to any penalty.  The Commission is another effort by the current administration in bipartisanship.

Erskine Bowles, the ultimate gentleman, is skilled in the use of diplomatic language.  His counterpart, Alan Simpson, is quite the reverse.  Simpson is down to earth and given to colorful and earthy language to make his points.

The reason for the reward to NBC comes from a news report of August 26.  In an email originating with Alan Simpson to Ashley Carson, Executive Director of the National Older Women’s League, Alan Simpson compared Social Security to “a milk cow with 310 million tits.”  Well, the reference to “tits” flustered the moguls at the headquarters of NBC and it was ordered deleted from all news broadcasts later in the day.  Even Keith Olbermann, who is often guilty of using earthy language, has been barred from saying the word “tits.”  Perhaps because of the fact that older women were involved in this email, NBC thought that it was best to avoid mentioning the word “tits.”

I am also aware that in the American version of the English language, the word teats is often pronounced as “tits.”  But the fact of the matter is that Simpson wrote it in an email message.  I would have hoped that NBC would have reported the news without fear or favor.  But priggishness and prissiness took over the NBC executives at the top of the rock in New York City.  Simply put, they apparently ordered the deletion of the word “teats” from the broadcast that evening.  But significantly they provided no alternative.  Olbermann for example was in a position of using the word blank or saying the word teats.  To Olbermann’s credit and his boss’s dismay, he said the forbidden and harsh word “teats.”

Miss Chicka and the proprietor of Ezra’s Essays found the incident very amusing.  In Miss Chicka’s case, she was the daughter of the owner of the Jersey Dell Dairy Farm in western Pennsylvania.  In my own case, I was born on the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm in eastern Missouri.  Both of us knew that dairy farms come at the end of a long series of minor miracles.

It all starts with the cow who provides us with the milk we drink and the ice cream we gobble up.  It is a major miracle that cows eat green grass in the summer and brown fodder in the winter and turn it into white milk.  I am much more willing to believe this to be a miracle as opposed to Jonah in the whale or Joshua stopping the sun in its tracks.

The cows are unable to put the milk in convenient locations.  Every day the cows have to be milked, sometimes twice a day.  This was accomplished by, in the old days, a milker using a short-legged stool sitting beside the cow and grasping the teats and squeezing and pulling them.  He also would have a pail into which the milk would go.  When the man milking the cow achieves a certain rhythm, there is a zinging sound as the milk enters the pail.  This is a choreographed arrangement with the milker being perched on one side and then moving to the other side while carefully avoiding the cow’s hooves.   If she is disturbed, she may kick the man in the shins or knees with disastrous results.  One of my older brothers, who was not known for his veracity, told me that white milk came out of the two front teats and that chocolate milk came from the two rear teats.

Because I was small at the time when my brother informed me of how things are done in the milking process, I have now referred this chocolate milk question to James Reese, who holds a degree in animal husbandry from a prestigious university in Iowa.  The first question is, “If he is an expert on animal husbandry, whatever happened to animal wifery?”  So far, Mr. Reese has not responded to that question.  Nor has he provided a respectful answer to the dilemma about white milk coming from the front teats and chocolate milk coming from the rear teats.

If you were listening to the news broadcast on August 26 and heard the confusion about the great teat controversy. I am not at all surprised.  I believe that NBC richly deserves this Award for Priggishness and Prissiness.  Beyond all that, I hope that you have been reasonably informed on how the milk in your refrigerator starts out as green grass or brown fodder.  The facts in the matter are that female cows have a holding tank near the back part of their bodies into which milk is gathered and extracted through the teat arrangement.  As someone who comes from a dairy farm as Miss Chicka and I do, it is terribly distressing to know that NBC considered the appendages to the cow’s udder as horrid words.  Cows don’t wear brassieres, corsets or clothing that conceals their udders or their teats.  I suppose that they have been getting along reasonably well since the beginning of time under the current arrangement.  It is only the NBC executives at the top of the rock who wish to protect their listeners from horrid words.  The proprietor of Ezra’s Essays finds their conduct not only priggish and prissy but also a matter of udder ridiculousness.



August 29, 2010



Kevin’s commentary:

Okay a few things:

1) “The great teat controversy” would be an excellent name for a rock band.

2) Speaking of great teats, the French thought that that very same phrase would be a good name for a mountain range. “Hey Francois, what do you think of these mountains?” “Well, Gaspard, they look like big ol’ titties.” “Grand Tetons it is!”

3) Crude Frenchmen should be in charge of naming every new discovery from here on out. “Jacques, come quick! I found a new binary star system! What should I call it?” “They look like balls. They shall be ‘les testicules lisses brillants’!

4) I love that there has to be a commission for investigating why we have no money. I guess “we spend more money than we bring in” is too straightforward

5) I’m glad that Pop wasn’t the only sassy one in the Carr clan. The idea that part of the udder makes chocolate milk is something that I could easily see my mom telling me when I was a kid.