Archive for September 2013

GREED GETS ITS JUST REWARDS

Two or three years ago, the stock market was humming along at somewhere in excess of 13,000. A good many people were working and prosperity was in the air everywhere. It was in this era of prosperity that the New York Mets, the New York Giants, and the local professional football teams in New York planned their new stadiums.

On the baseball side, a large number of seats were set aside as boxes to accommodate wealthy patrons who were willing to pay $2,500 to view one baseball game. In Yankee Stadium as well as in Citi Field, which now accommodates the Mets, the two baseball organizations thought that they would have sellouts, with patrons clamoring for seats at $2,500 a clip.

On the football side, the Giants and the Jets designated a large section of seats behind the coach’s box which they stated would be the best seats in the house. If my understanding is correct, the Giants planned to charge something on the order of $3,000 per ticket while the Jets came in at around $2,500 to see each of their football games.

In a spirit of “get all that you can get,” the baseball organizations and the football organizations all decided to sell personal seat licenses.

To get a seat at a baseball game, one must purchase a personal seat license and then he becomes eligible to buy season tickets. This is a rip-off in its rawest form. It guarantees sell-outs to the baseball clubs and to the football clubs and means that the patrons must either attend every game or, if they elect to skip a game, sell the tickets. In short, the Giants, the Jets, the Yankees, and the Mets were charging twice for selling the same seats.

But then the great recession/depression occurred. People lost their jobs. Banks closed. The stock market retreated from a level of as much as 14,000 to a level just about half that amount. In short, America was in a depressed mood.

As things now stand in mid-August of 2009, the $2,500 seats at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are largely empty. Television commentators often allude to that fact. News reports tell us that no executive from Wall Street or the big banks wishes to be seen in those seats. A banker, for example, who would appear in the $2,500 seats would probably have his sanity questioned, particularly if his bank had accepted government bailout money. The football season is about to open, and I will ask my observers to pay a close watch on how those expensive seats behind the coaches are selling. My guess is that the same depressed atmosphere that greeted the baseball season will carry over into the football season.

I know that there are those who will claim that this is a matter of lousy timing. But for an old-timer such as myself who believes that it is worth $4 or $5 to witness a baseball game, it is a matter of the owners getting their just desserts. This is eminently true in a town such as New York, where all of the games are shown on television.

Perhaps there are those who have a need to tell the world that they have $2500 to waste on a baseball game. I am very fond of baseball and much less fond of football, but buying a seat for $2,500 is nothing more than an exercise in gross vanity. In any case, I am reduced to listening to the games on my radio, with television being of no use to me. Listening to games on the radio is where I started out years ago, and now it looks as though that is where I will end up. If that is to be the case, I have no objection whatsoever. And I will keep my $2,500 firmly planted on my left hip, rather than giving it to Yankees, Mets, Jets, or New York Giants.

E. E. CARR
August 17, 2009
Essay 408
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Nothing much to be said here aside from that I agree entirely. The whole notion of season tickets is pretty ludicrous when you have to buy a seat license just to get em. Pure absurdity.

THREE LITTLE WORDS

I am well aware that there is a song called “Three Little Words” whose lyrics have to do with amorous adventures. The three little words that have been roving around in my intellect have nothing to do with love or marriage.

The three little words in this essay include a new word called “incentivizing.” Then there are “proactive” and the noun “task” which has been turned into a verb.

Shortly before I retired, one of my colleagues latched onto the word “proactive.” This was simply another word for saying that you were for something. I did not see a need for a new word or a bastardization of one of the old words which was called “active.”

I will concede quite willingly that the person who used this word over and over was not one of my favorites. This fellow was the son of an Iowa preacher, which was some sort of a detriment from the start of our relationship. To be honest with my readers, over time, I simply disliked this fellow to a very large degree. That may account – or it may not account – for my not liking the word he used, which was “proactive.” That word is seldom used today, for which I am quite grateful. It seems to me that one can say that he is in favor of something without using the term proactive. With that thought, I hope that I can dismiss “pro-active” from my memory forever.

The second word is a noun, task. There are those who say that Condoleezza Rice turned it into a verb. Condoleezza might say, “I tasked him to file the letters.” That is pure Washington speak and a civilized man such as Winston Churchill would never have used that construction. Again, as I examine news reports, the word task seldom appears as a verb. For that I am very grateful.

But now we have a new entry. Those of you with finely tuned ears may recognize the word “incentivizing.” Good gracious! To provide an incentive is something every employer ought to utilize. In the military services, if one served 20 years without getting killed, the incentive would be a pension.

But now we find the fully respectable noun “incentive” turned into a verb. Once again, I doubt that Winston Churchill would ever let the word “incentivizing” roll from his lips.

The latest example came up over the weekend when the Philadelphia Eagles hired a backup quarterback named Michael Vick. Mr. Vick, until two or three years ago, was a renowned National Football League quarterback who loved dog fighting. In fact, Michael Vick was consumed by this cruel game and in the end his dogs were cruelly treated and Michael Vick spent the better part of two years in jail for the crime of promoting dog fighting.

The rest of the equation is that a gentleman named Donovan McNabb is the current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. McNabb is growing a bit older and has trouble producing results that his bosses admire. So in the past weekend, Michael Vick, who was recently released from prison, was hired as a backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. The thought clearly is that Michael Vick would “incentivize” McNabb to do better.

Every professional athlete knows that there are hundreds of people who would be anxious to take his job. Old Donovan doesn’t need any “incentivizing” to figure out that Michael Vick and several other people would love to be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. But be that as it may, Michael Vick was admitted to the playing ranks of the Philadelphia Eagles and may soon be activated. Whether his presence “incentivizes” McNabb to do better remains to be seen.

But in any case, the three little words proactive, tasked, and incentivize have been disposed of in this essay. I hope that in my future years with the rest of the world, those three little words will make their appearance privately.

E. E. CARR
August 17, 2009
Essay 406
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Yep, Pop really hates “proactive.” Though I think it’s definition is a little different from simply being in favor of something — it denotes willingness to take initiative, which is an attractive quality in the workplace. Indeed all of these words are just workplace jargon which, though admittedly unnecessary, seem innocuous enough to me.

For those keeping score, “Proactive” makes another appearance in FORBIDDEN WORDS.

A REPRISE ON THISA AND THATA

Those of you who read Ezra’s Essays may recall an essay on Ben Bernie. He was a popular orchestra leader from the 1920s through the end of the 1950s. When he was pleased with the performance of his orchestra, he would say, “Yousa, yousa, yousa.” And when he was going to play a variety of tunes, he would refer to them as “thisa and thata.” On several occasions I have borrowed “thisa and thata” from Ben Bernie and I when my work pleases me, I say, “yousa, yousa, yousa.”

A Little More Country Speak
As my readers are well aware, I am literate in country speak, the language of rural America. I became proficient in country speak because it was the native language of my parents. After I finished the recent essay on my father, Howard L. Davis, my Missouri friend, reminded me of an expression that was very common in usage to my father. That is the term “directly.” When it was used by country speakers, the term “directly” meant that “I will attend to this in a short while.” I know that the word “directly” implies that the matter will be taken up immediately. For better or worse, that is not the way it was used by country speakers. For them, it meant that the matter was under consideration and would be acted upon shortly, but specifically it did not imply immediate action at the moment. So if a country speaker tells you that he will get to the matter directly, it means that he will attend to it in a short while.

While we are on country speakers, I am still mystified by an expression used by my mother. When something was absolutely worthless, she would say that “it is not worth a row of pins.” As an alternative, she might say that what is being proposed is “not worth two hoops.” I had to make a guess as to the spelling of hoops, as it could be whoops or just plain hoops (loud yelling). But remember when politicians promise you something, it may not be worth a row of pins or it may not be worth two hoops or a hill of beans.

Another aspect of country speak had to do with anticipating such things as time off from work or schooling. For those who wished for the weekend to get here immediately, the country speakers would say, “You are wishing your life away.” That line turns up in the Eric Vogel piece called “If Wishes Were Fishes, We’d All Cast Nets in the Sea.” I have been guilty of wishing my life away on numerous occasions but my troubles mean nothing as compared to those of the swindler Bernie Madoff. Facing a life sentence of 150 years, I suspect that old Bernie is intent upon wishing his life away.

Double-Duty Months
It has always seemed to me that February is the proper size for any month. It contains the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, and Groundhog Day, and it lasts only 28 days. However, the men who arranged the calendar provided us with two double-duty months which are lamentable. These are December and January, which in my long life seem never to end. Then there is July and August. Those months with their hot and humid weather seem to go on forever.

On top of all this, bankers and brokers can hold on to your money a few extra days without paying interest.

If I ever get around to running for President of this great country, part of my campaign will be based upon February as the ideal month. It will give me great pleasure to see the bankers and brokers squirm while I ask them what their justification is for holding on to the profits without paying interest for as many as three extra days.

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer
Jenny, a wonderful woman who helps Judy with the housework here, has a problem that should never have happened. Jenny is a Costa Rican who, with her husband, has waited at least six years for the issuance of a green card from our Immigration Department. They live in a never never land, unable to open bank accounts because under the Patriot Act, only citizens can do that. The Patriot Act is a product of the far right wing of the Republican Party and is lamentable in the extreme.

Jenny’s husband is unemployed because he was a truck driver who could not get a license under the Patriot Act. He then took up construction work and no one needs to tell you what has happened to construction in New Jersey. There are three children ranging in age from three to twelve years. But altogether they are a wonderful family and I am dedicated to helping them whenever it can be done.

Last Sunday, which would have been August 3rd, all five of them attended a Catholic church in Summit, New Jersey. This happened in the afternoon because that is when the masses are conducted in Spanish. Jenny’s husband is not facile with the English language. Because it was raining and there was an umbrella to be dealt with, for one reason or another Jenny left her purse in the car. In New Jersey, there is a cottage industry in destroying and stealing cars by people who ride the train westward from Newark, then get off in more affluent towns of the New Jersey suburbs. In this case, Jenny more or less is the sole support of her family of five people. Seeing the purse, the thieves broke into the car and stole the purse. Because they could not start the car, apparently they attempted the destruction of the inside of the car. Again because of the Patriot Act, Jenny was carrying her valid Costa Rican passport. That is now in the hands of the thieves.

I wrote an essay a few days ago about the Costa Ricans being the hardest working people known to me. Jenny and her husband, Ronald, are all of that. But with Jenny losing her purse and her passport and whatever money was there, she is simply out of luck. So it is that I say that the rich get richer and the thieves do their thing and the poor people get poorer. The saving grace is that Jenny, who resides in Summit, New Jersey, reported the problem to the cops. For once the cops were most sympathetic and have promised to run the thieves down. That may not be possible but at least the cops understood the problem.

I believe it is probably fair to say that the thieves who stole Jenny’s purse and who trashed the inside of the car are probably poor people themselves. But being poor does not bring one the entitlement to bring harm to others. On the other hand, this all happened while Jenny and her family were attending the mass at the local Catholic church. You may draw a lesson from this incident about church going, but it will probably be the wrong one. For myself, a non-church going person, it might be said that I have tried to avoid attending a mass at the local Catholic church to avoid burglaries. But I suspect the local clergy would roundly condemn that viewpoint. However, it might be said that in the end the rich get richer and the poor get shafted.

E. E. CARR
August 2, 2009
Essay 405
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: This was horrible news to read. I’ve learned a lot about this family from more recent essays; they seem like wonderful people. Pop and Judy have helped them over and over again, and it seems like they truly deserve it.

THE GREAT SUBTRACTION CRISIS

In the past two months Americans and, indeed, the rest of the civilized world have been troubled by the banking crisis as well as the collapse on Wall Street. Recent reports suggest that the banks are now turning a hefty profit and reading the stock tables will suggest that the stock market is recovering. From Mr. Obama and his economic team, we are told that there are some “green shoots” in the economy which should make all of us feel a small bit better. But all of these positive signs can not distract from my personal dilemma which has to do with the great subtraction crisis.

I have great faith in mathematics even though I am not skilled in its use. But here is the problem. What If we were to write down 2009, and directly under it with a minus sign, write 1922. Then a line should be drawn under these entries and subtraction should begin. Two from nine equals seven, so write the seven down and two from ten – we have to borrow a little number there – equals eight. No matter how it is done, the result is always 87. I have tried regular mathematics and arithmetic as well as algebra and trigonometry. I have even used long division and calculus. The answer always comes out to be 87. This is a crisis that the Obama team has failed to recognize thus far. But I suggest that it is my personal crisis nonetheless.

What is happening here is that on August 4th, I will have completed 87 years of living. My parents and my siblings have long since taken their leave of this vale of tears and presumably have now become angels. What accounts for my having hung around so long is a complete mystery. Perhaps it is due to the advice of an army corporal who advised me in the first days of basic training that I did not get paid to think. I got paid to do what I was told. So for more than 60 years, in accordance with the corporal’s advice, I have tried not to think too much.

My longevity may have its roots in the desire to live to the age of 100. In March of this year, when my Missouri friend Howard Davis turned 91, he proclaimed, “Only nine more years until I get to 100.” That is a magnificent attitude which I hope to emulate and which may account for my own longevity.

In the final analysis, it may have to do with the advice my mother Lillie gave to me on the day that I departed to enlist in the American Army. I have recorded this story before but I think that it bears repeating on an auspicious occasion such as my 87th birthday.

The two of us were standing on the driveway in front of our garage, prior to my taking a quarter mile walk to catch a streetcar, which would take me to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. As mothers are wont to do, Lillie Carr advised me to not get hurt and to write her frequently. I promised to write her but on the other subject of not getting hurt, I pointed out that in this war we were going to be helped by the French, the Canadians, and the Poles, as well as the Czechs. Then, stupidly, I said that the British would be on our side as well. My mother was an Irish woman who ascribed most of the world’s ills to the British. She had no use for them in any shape or form. As soon as my words were uttered, my mother said to me, “Do you mean the English?” I knew that I had been had, so I simply shrugged my shoulders in the hope that that gesture would provide some sort of an answer. In fact it provided no answer at all. In response, my mother said to me, “In that case, son, you will have to do the best you can.” With this, she turned on her heel and walked back into the kitchen, and I knew that the interview was done.

The streetcar ride took more than two hours to go from our home in Richmond Heights, Missouri to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. During that time, I questioned my sanity for having brought up the English. I don’t claim that I was a stellar soldier in the Second World War. But my mother’s advice about doing the best you can still rings in my ears as the 87th birthday approaches. There were times when I really didn’t do the best I could and I regret those instances. But in the end, I am still here, after a fashion, trying to hang on for the 100th birthday. If my Missouri comrade, who was also involved in World War II, made it, perhaps I can too. So in a few years, there will be another essay, perhaps, to let you know how things worked out. But in the meantime, we should all try to do the very best we can and we should not think too much, as the Corporal suggested. At my advanced age, that is about all that I can aspire to.

E. E. CARR
August 2, 2009
Essay 404
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: Fun fact — Pop is now as old as Mr. Davis was when this essay was written.
Other readers of the essay might like to know that he is just as full of BS now as he was as a sprightly 87-year-old, and lines like “I have tried not to think too much” still show up now and again.
I hope that reading this essay will remind Pop of the make-it-to-100 attitude that he held, and hopefully still holds. I know that things can be rough sometimes!

CONCUPISCENCE

The Reverend Charles E. Coughlin was a Catholic priest in Royal Oak, Michigan, who had a radio contract to deliver weekly sermons. I am not certain as to the extent of the network that he broadcast over but am reasonably certain that it covered the eastern half of the United States. His broadcasts started in about 1925 and according to my recollection, they continued until about 1940. Coughlin was a far-right personality who was identified at that time with “America Firsters.” In spite of his clerical collar, the Reverend Coughlin expressed consummate hatred of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was allied with the America First movement in wanting to deny any aid to Great Britain as she faced the onslaught of the Nazi war machine. If Coughlin were alive today, I would assume that he would be broadcasting the filth that Barack Obama is a Muslim who is not fit for the presidency because he was born in a foreign country.

At the beginning, I listened to Coughlin because of the entertainment value that he offered. I thought that he was plainly silly. But as time went on, I tended to view Coughlin as a man who had gone over the line and was a menace to American values. But Coughlin had another side to him that was more religious in nature.

If I knew a woman in his parish who believed that she was pregnant outside of wedlock, the last person that I would send her to would be the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin. I remember one of his sermons which was on the grand subject of concupiscence. He would contend that no man would go so far as to make a woman pregnant without some encouragement from her. Coughlin’s venom was not confined to the female participant in these amorous adventures. He also would tell the male participant that he was headed straight for Hell.

But all of this took place in 1940 or before and now the year is 2009 and I find myself guilty of the great sin of concupiscence. My female companion is Miss Chicka, who also happens to be my wife. For some time we had grown weary of the squeaks and squawks of our 2001 Chrysler. Miss Chicka had done her usual diligent research on matters having to do with automobiles and had concluded that the most trouble-free performance would be offered by the Honda Accord. She is the one who committed the original sin of leading me into concupiscence but I will guarantee that I was a pushover in its complicity.

The fact of the matter is that nearly every American soldier in World War II seems to have concluded that after the war he would buy no German or Japanese products. For more than 65 years after the war ended, I observed this restriction. I did this even knowing that the two cars that I had purchased from General Motors – a Buick and a Cadillac – were prone to trouble and could not be kept out of the repair shops. But I stayed with General Motors until the Chrysler Corporation came along and offered cars that were considered sports cars. The first cars, in 1990 something, carried the 300 label. In 2000, they were succeeded by a newer version. And so it was that Miss Chicka and I purchased a grand total of four Chrysler cars, one of which we were driving until the time of my concupiscence.

At this point, in July of 2009, there is a legitimate debate about whether the Chrysler Corporation will be in business a year from now. General Motors has gone through bankruptcy and while they advertise that they will offer “green cars” in the near future, I see no reason to bet money on that outcome.

In all of this, the Ford Motor Company did not take any money from the government and has behaved itself quite well. However, neither Miss Chicka nor I have ever owned a Ford automobile and one way or another we followed the advice in Consumer Reports and similar automotive publications and concluded that the Honda Accord was the best buy for long trouble-free performance. So we went to see the Honda dealer in Madison, New Jersey, who seems to run a first-class operation. When we got down to details about how much the current car would bring, the salesman inspected the car and pronounced it in excellent shape. He also said on repeated occasions, “But you are still trading a Chrysler.” That would seem to suggest that the Honda Company does not expect the Chrysler Corporation to be in business very long. Now when push comes to shove, I agree with that assessment because the Chrysler Corporation was taken over by a group of hedge fund operators who I believed were intent upon dismantling the Chrysler Corporation and selling its parts individually. But no matter how much I bargained with the salesman, he continually said that “You are still trading a Chrysler,” for which he offered $2,500 on the trade-in which I believed was at least $3,000 below what we had in mind. But these days Honda holds the whip handle and concupiscence told both Miss Chicka and myself that to Hell with it, we would pay the price and buy the car.

My younger daughter owns two Hondas and had warned us that with Honda only offering a three-year guarantee on its underpinnings and the operation of the motor vehicle, at the final signing there would be a plea from the manager of the concern for an extended contract. Extended contracts on the life of vehicles are a source of great income to the dealers. Being forewarned, I had prepared a speech in my head about the oxymoron of the Honda Corporation telling the world about the longevity of their automobiles and their willingness to sell me an extended guarantee after the three-year warranty wore out. I also pointed out that the much maligned Chrysler had a seven-year warranty and it seemed to me that the three-year warranty of the Honda flew in the face of their advertising the longevity of their automobiles. However, somewhere in the conversation, the manager of the agency deduced that I was a World War II veteran. He said that his father flew out of Foggia, Italy in World War II and for all I know, I may have flown with him. In any case, he knew that the possibility of selling me an extended service contract was somewhat below zero because of the belief of the World War II veterans that German and Japanese products were to be avoided. The air went out of his balloon and he made the rest of his announcement on a pro forma basis knowing that the answer would be zero. But he was a nice person, as was our salesman, and so there is a brand new 2009 Honda now residing in our garage.

I know that I have violated my unspoken vows to the other GIs of my generation by buying the Honda but I will contend that Miss Chicka led me astray and made me guilty of the sin of concupiscence. The Reverend Charles E. Coughlin is probably dead by now but if I told him my tale of being led to the sin of concupiscence, he would denounce me as a lily-livered pushover who does not have the moral strength to observe a vow made many years ago.

All things considered, I hope that the Chrysler Corporation and General Motors return to their former glory so that if I am alive eight or nine years from now, we can buy one of their products. But at my age, chances are that I will be an angel in eight or nine years and everyone knows that angels seldom use automobiles. But look at it this way: if I can remember Reverend Coughlin’s sermon about concupiscence for nearly seventy years, that must be worth something when the final accounting must be made. I suppose that we will just have to wait and see.

E. E. CARR
July 28, 2009
Essay 402
~~~
Kevin’s commentary: If it’s any consolation to the other GIs, Pop a) hates the Honda’s suspension and b) has no idea what it looks like. As a Honda owner who has never owned anything else (honestly never owned anything PERIOD, as my Honda is my parents’), I stand by my opinion that they’re the best cars available. So there.