Archive for February 2014


Those of you who are familiar with the nuances of American southern speech patterns will instantly recognize the term “uppity.” It is used most often as an adjective with the nouns that follow being “colored folks,” “blacks,” or, even worse, the vulgar term that rhymes with bigger. My uneducated guess is that when the term “uppity” is used, it applies about 90 to 95% of the time to people of Afro-American parentage.

David Gergen, who was a counselor to both the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton, and who has southern roots, recognized the term “uppity” instantly. In comments broadcast on August 3, David Gergen explained that the term was used always in a derogatory fashion. Gergen, who is apolitical judging by his having served both the former Bush administration and the Clinton administration, can hardly be accused of bias with respect to the current political campaign. It is Gergen’s belief that the McCain campaign is not only playing the race card but is accusing Obama of being uppity as well.

I am familiar with that term and recognize that it has to do with anyone who attempts to rise above his station in life. In the instant case, we are being told by the McCain campaign that for Obama to meet with the President of France, the Prime Ministers of Germany and England, and the Presidents of Israel and the Palestine Authority as well as King Abdullah of Jordan, is a case of being uppity. When other American senators, all white, meet with all of these authorities, they are never accused of being uppity. They are seen as merely doing their jobs. But with Barack Obama, a different measurement is applied and he is considered to be uppity as a mere United States Senator calling on, for example, the President of France. The ultimate facts in this case are that Obama is a black man who also happens to be a Democrat, which stirs great anger in the souls of unreconstructed southerners.

Southerners are not the only ones to share these feelings. McCain’s campaign is, unfortunately, now being run by the same people who in the year 2000 accused McCain himself of fathering a black child. The fact is that he simply adopted a Bangladeshi child whose complexion was quite dark. But these are the people to whom McCain has, unfortunately, turned over his campaign.

In the last week or so, after the conclusion of the Obama trip abroad, they have accused Obama of trying to be a celebrity. Apparently being a celebrity is a great sin to those who are running the McCain campaign. To prove their point, they have cut a commercial featuring Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, who they claim are two true celebrities while Barack Obama is just an ordinary uppity Senator from Illinois. This has not gone unnoticed by observers on the American political scene. Yesterday in the closing remarks that Bob Schieffer offered to round out his August 3rd Face the Nation broadcast, Bob Schieffer, who also has southern roots, used the term “tarts” to describe the two females in the television commercial. “Tarts” is a term not often used these days but in point of fact it is a synonym for prostitutes. Are we to view this commercial and conclude that because these two “tarts” seem to favor John McCain, he should get my vote as well? I assume that the McCain campaign paid these two young “tarts” to show their picture in the commercial. It might also be observed that prostitutes accept money for their services as well.

McCain says that he is proud of this ad, but his 95-year-old mother says that he should be ashamed of it. This old essayist agrees with McCain’s mother as it relates to this commercial. Paris Hilton’s mother also disapproves.

I regret that the campaign has now taken a turn toward the unseemly. John McCain used to be considered a brave and honorable man. It is regrettable that he has lent his name to this campaign which is now being marked by vitriol. However in the final analysis, it should be remembered that the word “uppity” is merely the adjective that is used in most cases to precede the noun that follows, which makes it a loaded term. David Gergen and Bob Schieffer recognized this instantly, as did I.

My first recollection of the American political scene took place in the election of 1928, when Al Smith, the Governor of New York, was running against Herbert Hoover. Smith was a Catholic and I regret to say that the same forces who united to bring us the good and great Herbert Hoover were very much the same as those today who accuse Obama of being uppity. I regret to say that in 80 years it seems we have made very little progress in tolerance. For my own part, I simply hope that there will come a time when the Constitution will be fully honored and men and women may compete for the presidency without the age-old prejudices. Hope springs eternal.

August 5, 2008
Essay 331
Kevin’s commentary: It’s astounding that they’d even consider using that word in a campaign against a black candidate. It just seems extraordinarily short-sighted — how on Earth is that ever, ever going to help?

I attended a big conference the other day where Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, asked the audience how many women there had been labeled “bossy” at one point or another in their lives, and about two thirds of them raised their hands. She asked the same question to the men in the audience and almost nobody raised a hand.

All this reminds me that I personally have it really lucky. I’m a white male in a country which has historically been controlled almost exclusively by white males. I am this country’s “default” insofar as there is one of those, and discrimination hasn’t ever hurt me. It frustrates me that attitudes have been so slow to change.


I wish this essay were about the song “Georgia on My Mind,” with its wonderful recordings by Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, and Louis Armstrong. But as it turns out, the Georgia on my mind is a European country under the domination of the Russians which now intrudes into all of our thoughts. Perhaps I can put my sentiments into a single sentence. That sentence would embrace cowboy talk and a slightly vulgar maxim having its origin in the United States Army. My thoughts are that our beloved President is “fixin’” to put America’s ass in a sling. The sling will be provided by Bush’s great and good friend, Mr. Putin, the Prime Minister of Russia who takes great delight in the recent ascendancy of his country and who also enjoys sticking it to his friend George W. as often as possible.

Georgia, as you know, is a pipsqueak country located at the foot of Russia and until the 1980s was completely under the domination of the Soviets. As a matter of information of no great importance, the original dictator, Josef Stalin, was a Georgian himself. In recent days, Georgia has fashioned itself into a democracy under the leadership of its President, Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili is a bit too big for his britches. As the President of Georgia, he seems to envision himself as a leader in world affairs, not to mention a genius in the field of battle. Vladimir Putin of Russia regards Mr. Saakashvili as no more than an overgrown twerp leading a country that used to be a simple province of Russia.

Mr. Saakashvili, in his role as a great leader, has even hired an American lobbyist named Randy Scheunemann. Mr. Scheunemann’s services do not come cheaply in that Mr. Saakashvili paid his lobbyist $800,000 to lobby the United States on behalf of the great state of Georgia. It must be obvious to everyone in the world that a president who can hire an $800,000 lobbyist is to be taken seriously at all times.

In recent months, George Bush, our cowboy President, has taken it upon himself to appear in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, to laud Mr. Saakashvili’s leadership of this great democracy in the heart of what used to be the Soviet mainland. It is apparent that the President of Georgia has made a fundamental mistake in that he has concluded that praise coming from George Bush represents the backing of all of the leaders in the so-called western world. That is a blunder of the first order. The cowboy president merely reads what is put before him without comprehending what he is really saying.

Condoleezza Rice, our Secretary of State, even made a trip to Georgia to remind President Saakashvili that words of praise did not mean that he was free to provoke the Russian bear. Clearly, the President of Georgia dismissed the warning from Condoleezza Rice as the meanderings of a school teacher or head mistress.

And so it was that Mr. Saakashvili bragged to the world about the democracy that he was heading, believing that he had the full armed support of the western world. Mr. Saakashvili was mistaken in every respect of that belief.

Earlier this month (August 2008), Mr. Saakashvili set out to take over the province of Ossetia, which had been in dispute between his country and Russia for some time. He made an unimaginable blunder in that he used fire power in his effort to take over Ossetia. The Russians were poised to take advantage of such a blunder. They poured troops and tanks into Georgia not only to validate their claim to Ossetia but also to overthrow the government of Mr. Saakashvili. The President of Georgia has not yet been overthrown but all things being equal, it is clear that he is impotent. His recent statements make it clear that he had the belief that western powers would come to his aid even though he was the aggressor in trying to take over the province of Ossetia.

Now that the Russians have eaten his lunch, he is asking why his allies weren’t there when he needed them. The facts of the matter are that when you are a pipsqueak country and you reside in the neighborhood of the big black bear, one should praise one’s democracy only modestly and should not poke the bear in the eyes by invading a province that was in dispute between Georgia and Russia. Even Condoleezza recognized this fact and warned Saakashvili to lay off. He didn’t do that.

Russian forces are now in Georgia and have made it absolutely clear that they will go home whenever they find it convenient. On August 15, 2008 Condoleezza Rice made another trip to Georgia to get the President to sign a ceasefire which effectively would curtail his misadventure into Ossetia. She hoped that this would cause the Russians to go home, but no luck. The Russians merely admired her handwriting and said, “We are staying until we are ordered to go home.”

Now the scene shifts from Tbilisi to the Rose Garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. On several occasions since this flareup with the Georgians and the Russians, Mr. Bush, our beloved President, has appeared to announce to the world that Russia has damaged world relations and we should all think less of the Russians for that reason. The Bush administration has even cancelled a joint exercise with the Russians on a naval maneuver which means absolutely nothing.

But Bush and his Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates, have loudly proclaimed that this is a watershed in the dealings between our two countries and that the damage has been done by only the Russians.
Mr. Bush has worn a path in the Rose Garden with his continual announcements of how badly the Russians have treated our relationship. The Russians seem not to have noticed or to care. On her most recent trip to Europe to take the ceasefire agreement to Saakashvili, Condoleezza Rice went to Paris and then to Tbilisi, but she scheduled no stops whatsoever in Moscow. An observer such as myself has to wonder why it is that the United States drew a pledge to stop activities in the current war only from the Georgians. Apparently the Russians had not much to do with it. In any case, Mr. Bush is about ready to wear out the lectern in the Rose Garden with his frequent poundings.

Pounding is about all that Bush can do because in his years in office, Bush has squandered the American military in terms of lives and endurance in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every observer has to know that Bush’s threats are completely empty because he has nothing to back them up. And so it is that he assaults the lectern in the Rose Garden while the Russians stay in the great state of Georgia.

There are two other thoughts that need to be expressed here in that Mr. Bush wishes to have an anti-missile defense shield, supposedly to stop missiles from Iran across Europe. The Russians believe that the installations for the defense shield are nothing more than emplacements for bombardments of Russian territory and they are deeply and genuinely angered. This past week, when Bush announced that he was going to place some of his anti-missile defenses in Poland, the Russians responded by saying that this might encourage them to give the same treatment accorded the Georgians to the Poles. The Poles have suffered under both the German and Russian occupation of their country, and I am certain that this will give them great pause. In any case it is another instance of Mr. Bush putting America’s ass in a great sling.

Then there is the thought that Russia supplies a heavy proportion of the natural gas and heating oil used in the rest of Europe. Last winter, when there was a dispute between the Russians and the Ukrainians, the Russians found it quite easy to turn off the spigot. One should notice that the Germans, the Swiss, the Austrians, etc. are in no hurry to register their displeasure with Russia over the Georgian matter. In this instance we are out there alone and the Europeans have no desire to freeze this winter merely to accommodate a clown like George Bush.

And so it is that George Bush is wearing a path all around the Rose Garden while he makes these terrible pronouncements about the Russians. He has even accused them of “bullying and intimidation.”
If there was ever a case of the pot calling the kettle black, as in the instance of bullying and intimidation, our cowboy President is exhibit number one. I suppose that George Bush also supports the contention of his candidate in the Republican nomination, John McCain, that says that no civilized country invades another. Do Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush forget that we invaded Iraq? In the final analysis, it seems to me that the Russian bear has listened to the fulminations of George Bush and as a result has decided to urinate on Mr. Bush’s leg while he gazes into Bush’s eyes to see the effect upon his soul. When the Russian bear decides to retreat to its embassy on Sixteenth Street in Washington, he will leave a bear dropping on the north portico of the White House. Unfortunately Yale and Harvard did not teach our beloved President that you provoke the Russian bear only at your own great peril. And now that the bear has been provoked, the fearless leader of this country has announced that he is prepared to go on vacation. I suppose this proves that stupidity never stops.

August 16, 2008
Essay 333
Kevin’s commentary: I’m often surprised how relevant Pop’s older essays can be. I’m publishing this one on March 1st, the same day that Russia approved troop movement into Ukraine. The more things change the more they stay the same. At least Obama is a little more competent, and they’re talking about shutting Russia out of the G8 instead of just canceling some ship exercise.

Still though, the fact that these guys have a seat on the security council is good in that we won’t start a third world war, but bad in that the UN’s hands are pretty tied.


In this 232nd year of American independence, as I sit here on Independence Day 2008, I often wonder why we have given so little credit to the French for our freedom from the English. The French cheered George Washington’s efforts against George III, and in the final battles their fleet was anchored off the Virginia coast. That told General Cromwell of the English forces that he would receive no more help from England and that his forces might well be destroyed if they attempted to leave the American mainland. So Cromwell gave up. But again, I always wondered why we have failed to give proper credit to the French.

The French are a pragmatic people. In recent years they have declined to send their troops into the death maws of Iraq. For that gesture, they have earned the undying dislike and hatred of certain political forces in this country. You may remember that in the dining room of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, a congressman renamed the French fried potatoes as “freedom fries.” But the French have always been our friends and they have contributed some of the best wine and cheeses and other culinary delights for the world to enjoy.

These days, taking advantage of those culinary delights has become much more problematic for Americans. Sometime after the American invasion of Iraq, the authorities in Washington decided to devalue the American dollar in an effort to make our goods more competitive in world markets. This was done for balance of trade reasons. When the dollar began to fall in value, it didn’t stop at the first floor but rather went through the basement. For example, the Canadian dollar was never worth more than 75 cents, but now it takes $1.25 US to buy a Canadian dollar. When the Euro was established, it was worth about 69 cents as compared to the American dollar. Now, however, it takes about $1.59 to purchase one single Euro. The net result is that other countries which have gobs of dollars to spend, because of our profligate ways in the last few years, are now buying things that are American-made. Their appetite is so voracious that they have bought a good deal of our real estate and our manufacturing base.

The Europeans have so much money to spend that even the Irish, formerly the low man on the totem pole, have prospered and are buying up large chunks of New York City real estate. Not many people have heard of the Belgians, but in the past few weeks we have learned that the Belgians have launched a hostile bid to take over the Anheuser-Busch Corporation, which is known for the manufacture of Budweiser beer. To St. Louisans such as myself, keeping Budweiser in American hands becomes a sacred duty. But the fact is that when we devalued the American currency, it was an invitation for financiers and hedge fund operators to begin to gamble with American industry.

There is a parallel here in that we got into the Iraqi war and did not have a plan to get out of it. We began to devalue the American currency, but unfortunately we did not have a plan to stop its decline and restore it to its normal condition. The current job losses are a testament to that failure.

The two candidates for the presidency of the United States seem to offer almost no help in getting this country on the right track again. Senator McCain has just completed a campaign swing through Columbia and Mexico. Those two countries have no electoral votes but McCain seemed not to notice. On the other hand, Obama is planning a trip to Iraq and to other Middle Eastern points in the near future. I am distressed to inform Mr. Obama that the Iraqis and the Kuwaitis cannot cast ballots in the forthcoming American election.

At this moment there is great controversy over a remark attributed to General Wesley Clark. In an interview with more than one source, General Clark observed that being shot down during a conflict does not make the pilot of the downed airplane a good candidate to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services of this country. As a survivor of two shoot-downs during World War II, I can tell you that General Clark is exactly right. With respect to this controversy, a New Yorker with his head on straight said, “If I get mugged in the Bowery, does that make me a candidate to become mayor of New York City?” If I can find out the name of that gentleman, I will buy him a bottle of Budweiser beer and urge him to run for political office, even up to and including Commander-in-Chief.

As this day draws to a close, so do my star-spangled ponderings for 2008 come to a conclusion. It has been my great pleasure to have another Independence Day to celebrate. If there are more Independence Day celebrations for me, I will again use them to urge my fellow Americans of the great debt that we owe to the French people. And, finally, if I can obtain French citizenship for that New Yorker who spoke of mugging, I will devote my efforts to having him installed in a palace on the Champs Élysées. A man such as the mugging man who thinks in logical terms deserves to be applauded by the people of France.

July 4, 2008
Essay 324

Kevin’s commentary: I took a trip to France when I was fourteen, I think. I only saw Paris, and a few places outside. It seemed like a nice place which I predominantly admired for its selection of pastries and other baked goods. At the time I was hurt by exchange rates, but as badly as it got in 2008. Overall though exchange rates have been good to me, as I’ve done more traveling in China than anywhere else and the Chinese currency has been pegged to the dollar since forever.


The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the United States testified last week, on July 17, that difficult times in terms of the American economy would be with us for a long time to come. In his play Richard III, William Shakespeare had a line that referred to the “winter of our discontent.” If Chairman Bernake is to be believed, and I believe him wholeheartedly, we are going to have several winters, springs, summers, and falls of discontent ahead of us. As we face this melancholy gloom, the American people can look forward to one source of laughter. That laughter comes from the buffoonery of our politicians. Here is just a small sample that has occurred in this summer of 2008, a period of great discontent.

The cast of our buffoons is led by our beloved president, Mr. Bush. When our beloved president speaks extemporaneously, he usually invokes his cowboy mode of speaking. Everybody knows that cowboys do not put “g”s on the end of words where it is appropriate. And so it was that Mr. Bush appeared on July 18 in the Rose Garden of the White House to reassure the American people that everything was going swimmingly, or perhaps to use a Texas expression, peachy keen. The Duke of Crawford pronounced the American economy to be in good shape. He said that unemployment numbers were low and that there were “a lot of people workin’.” When George Bush tells you that the American economy is going great guns in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, he and his cowboy talk can be tuned out almost immediately. But nonetheless, the President of the United States, in contradiction to Chairman Bernake, said that our economy is steaming right along and every citizen should be greatly pleased. You can’t make this stuff up unless you happen to be the President of the United States in the year 2008.

A second example of things that are hard to make up occurred when former Senator Phil Gramm of Texas was interviewed by The Washington Times. The Washington Times is a right-wing neocon publication which is owned by the fabulously wealthy Reverend Moon, who has persuaded his followers that he is some sort of a god. I believe that Reverend Moon is just another Korean shyster who may in the end induce his followers to drink Kool-Aid in the manner of the Reverend Jim Jones. Whether Phil Gramm asked to be interviewed by The Times or whether The Times sought out Senator Gramm, it makes very little difference. The fact of the matter is that during his three terms as a senator from Texas, Gramm became the powerful chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. He was known widely as “the senator from Enron.” He used his terms in the Senate Banking Committee to lift restrictions on people who sought to borrow money. Because the restrictions on borrowing money were few and far between after Senator Gramm was finished, we now have the subprime mortgage crisis. Phil Gramm used his time in the Senate to lay the groundwork for the torpedoing of the American economy. That was yesterday. In the interview with The Washington Times, the former senator from Texas told all of us that we were “a nation of whiners.” In addition he diagnosed our problem as a psychological recession. Mr. Gramm and his cohorts never use the word “depression.” They say we are suffering from a recession, even if it is only a psychological one.

And so it is that the man who has lost his job and is suffering a foreclosure of his house will stand on the curb as his belongings are piled up there to be carted away. Interestingly, Mr. Bush in his Rose Garden appearance to cheer us all up also likewise failed to recognize home foreclosures and the fact that banks are failing right and left. Please remember that you should not give in to a psychological recession and, if you do, you will become just another member of the American nation of whiners.

Phil Gramm has been under a rock and always looked like a lizard as he peered forward, and has been unnoticed now for several years. However, when John McCain elected to run for the presidency, Senator Gramm became his chief economic advisor and was the co-chairman of his campaign. When the remarks about a nation of whiners and the psychological recession appeared in print, Senator McCain said that Phil Gramm did not speak for him. McCain said that he spoke for himself. In other words, John McCain chopped Phil Gramm’s legs off at the knees. While his departure as co-chairman of the campaign is reasonably clear, it is not obvious that Gramm has relinquished his title as chief economic advisor to Senator McCain. I realize that this is a bizarre set of facts but it again goes to show that this stuff simply can not be made up.

As the week drew to a close, two major changes in the policy of the Bush administration came to light. The first one involves our refusal over more than five years of warfare with Iraq to name a timetable for our departure. Recently the prime minister of Iraq has been beating the drums and asking us to please leave. When it was thought that the Iraqis had to have our presence, the Bush administration said that as soon as the Iraqis told us to leave we would leave. But in fact it was our belief that that day would never come. Now, however, that day has come and the Iraqis have asked us to please leave.

Apparently the prime minister of Iraq and the Duke of Crawford had a discussion during which it was clear that the Iraqis meant business this time. And so, as the week drew to a close, there was an announcement from the White House that was confusing in the extreme. Note that the announcement came from “a source in the White House” rather than a Rose Garden announcement. With respect to our leaving Iraq, it is now the official position of the Bush administration that our troops will leave as “time horizons for aspirational goals.” Your old essayist who has been praised or condemned as simply a wordsmith is completely at sea on the phrase “time horizons for aspirational goals.”

To settle this matter, I went to the train station in this town to ask the ticket clerk what “time horizons for aspirational goals” meant. The ticket clerk asked me to leave before he called the insane asylum. I then stood out by the tracks and as the next train pulled in, I asked the conductor what “time horizons for aspirational goals” would be involved in the arrival of this train in New York City. The conductor said that there were no such things and that if I wanted to go to New York, I had better get aboard the train as it was leaving immediately. But as you can see, it is difficult to make this stuff up. Clearly it just happens.

Finally, you will recall that for several years the Bush administration has attempted to isolate the Iranians. We do not have an embassy in Teheran and our diplomatic efforts consist of Condoleezza Rice telling the Iranians that “We do not wish to talk to you.” Our refusal to talk for no reason at all is in keeping with an ancient Irish children’s song. The song goes something like this:

It’s not because you’re dirty,
It’s not because you’re clean,
It’s just because your family
Eats margarine.

That little children’s song seems to make as much sense as our State Department has exhibited in the last several years.

There was a meeting in Geneva this past weekend wherein the Europeans invited the Iranians to discuss their enrichment of uranium. Basically the Europeans said, “If you will quit enriching uranium, we will reward you. If you keep on doing that, you will face more sanctions.” In a startling reversal of form, the United States agreed to send William Burns, the third-ranking member of our State Department, to attend the meeting. But we announced that Mr. Burns was under strict instructions not to discuss any matters of substance with the Iranian delegate. At this writing, it is not clear whether Mr. Burns was free to discuss the weather in the two capitals. But he must have sat there like a bump on a log while the six European nations had a discussion with the delegate from Iran. But our man stood by the isolation of the Iranians and said nothing. Can any sane man, woman, or child imagine traveling 3,500 miles to Geneva with instructions to say nothing? Perhaps Mr. Burns monitored the meeting but he was allowed to say nothing to the Iranians. Ladies and gentlemen who read these essays: I am an old labor negotiator. I can not imagine anything more idiotic than sending the third-ranking member of the State Department 3,500 miles to sit in a meeting and be under instructions to avoid speaking to the Iranian delegate. This is idiocy at its highest level and once again I submit that you just can’t make this stuff up.

Plainly there was Senator Larry Craig from Idaho again intruding on us. Senator Craig called a news conference to denounce the suppliers of crude oil to this country. Those suppliers are generally Arabs, together with the Persians. The climax to Senator Craig’s performance was reached when he said, “We can’t let them jerk us around at the end of a gas nozzle.” Can you imagine Larry Craig, who was arrested for homosexual activities in a Minneapolis airport restroom, saying that we can’t let those people “jerk us around?” If I may say so, coming from Larry Craig this is about as good as it gets and it proves once more that this stuff can not be made up.

Well, there you have several examples of political buffoonery coming to the American people to reward them with a laugh during the hard times that Chairman Bernake has predicted. It seems to me that in the week starting with July 13, our politicians have outdone themselves when it comes to political buffoonery. But in the end, I appreciate their efforts because I was one inch away from becoming another American whiner. If Bush and Craig have rescued me from that fate, I can only say that I am truly grateful.

July 24, 2008
Essay 329
Kevin’s commentary: I’m sure Larry Craig’s comment was just misunderstood. His objection was not to being jerked around, but rather that he was having to do so at the length of a gas nozzle. If only the gas problem could be resolved, he might be jerked around directly.

I forget how good the country has it sometimes. Essays about Phil Gramm help me remember to be thankful for what we collectively no longer have to deal with.

As an update on Ezra’s Essays, I’m setting a potential temporal roughly diagonal horizon objective of “by 2015” for the aspirational goal achievement deadline for publishing.


Well, boys, the news on every front is pretty grim these days. My $50,000 Hummer is covered by a tarpaulin because it tends to gulp great gobs of gasoline. When I took my 350 horsepower SUV to the dealer to trade it in on a smaller car, he laughed at me and told me to please get off his lot so that I would not encourage other SUV owners to come see him.

On the airline front, we find that prices have more than anything else tripled recently. The number of planes has been greatly reduced and we find that towns such as Rockford, Illinois, Hot Springs, Arkansas and other small towns are now to be “unserved” by the airline industry. We also notice that Tulsa and Kansas City, among many others, are going to have their airline options reduced on the order of 10 to 15%. To top all this off, the airlines now wish to charge you $15 to $25 for the purpose of checking your baggage, which they may well lose.

There are economists in Washington who assure us that we are only entering a recession. But my belief is that we are now wallowing in a full-fledged depression. During the last Depression in the 1930s, there were many occasions when I personally sold gasoline at the rate of five gallons for one dollar. High test, which was called ethyl in those days, went for about 10 cents more. Not only was gasoline cheaper in those days, but we did not have a war going on that drained $12 billion out of the American economy every single month.

I usually accompany my wife on her trips to the grocery store, where I calculate that the cost of our food, which is not exotic, is now running about 35 to 50% more than it was a year ago. I can’t tell you much about clothing these days because I tend to not buy any. On top of all this, we find that a good many of our banks are going broke. The large investment banker, Bear Sterns, went belly up recently and now job seekers from similar banks are doing their best to find new jobs in the financial industry.

Then there are the home owners who find that the declining value of their homes is such that they owe more than the homes will ever be worth. The choice is to face foreclosure or simply to walk away. That is not much of a choice at all. Millions of Americans are now in great financial and mental pain. But the administration seems unconcerned with it all. We were told some time ago by the Vice President of this great country that deficits don’t matter. He was as wrong on that score as he was when he said that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators.

The President equally seems unconcerned about what is taking place because he flies around the world using precious gallons of gasoline to lecture the Africans on the merits of abstinence, which was followed recently by a speech to Arab dictators in Egypt on the virtues of democracy. I suppose that he did not realize that the guffaws he was earning had to do with the silliness of his proposals. When Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or King Abdullah of Jordan embraces democracy, I hope to be alive to witness that event. But I suspect that it is some 250 to 500 years off in the future.

Perhaps some of the grimmest news comes from our efforts pursued under the aegis of homeland security, to deport every foreign national in sight. We are not only restricting visas for people to come to this country to learn and to contribute but the forces of law have been turned against people who are simply trying to make enough money to survive. We know of a ten-year-old child, an American citizen, who is the son of legal immigrants who do not yet have their citizenship. He is petrified by the thought that his parents will be deported to their native country if they violate a stop sign or commit some such other minor offense. The irony is that our bureaucratic procedures make applicants for citizenship wait on the order of ten years before it may possibly be granted.

During that time we have had such things as the Patriot Act, which decrees that people without citizenship may not be granted a driver’s license. The family that we are helping and who are the parents of the child in question here has suffered grievously from the Patriot Act. The father was a truck driver who lost his license in the great state of New Jersey and thus his job. If a man has to survive for ten years without a driver’s license, it begs the question of how he is going to look for work. Immigration is the life blood of this country because it brings other cultures here where they may be enjoyed. But the immigration bureau is slow to process applications on the ground that such newly-crowned citizens may vote against the current administration.

So you see, the news is bad on all fronts. During the great American Depression of the 1930s, we were at peace with the world. Gasoline was cheap and we were not peeing away our resources to support an unpopular invasion of another country. So at this point I must ask, “Is this a great country or not?”

To a man who has lost his job and to those who are being forced from their homes because of foreclosure and to the immigrants who must live in daily fear of being deported, may I suggest that the old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” should apply. Fortunately I have never lost a job during my 47 years of employment, but I know how hopeless that feeling must be. Perhaps the spiritual sums it up with the quote about being a motherless child. Spirituals are borne in the depth of despair because they had their origin in the cruel practice of slavery.

My recollection is that the first slaves were brought to the Virginia colony in about the year 1619, which means that Americans have been involved in the issues of slavery and black-white relationships for 389 years. Slavery is the most dehumanizing experience that a person can undergo. The slave has no rights and is often subjected to beatings by his owner. It seems odd at this late date to refer to one man owning another man, but that is how it was during the period of slavery in this country.

Out of that experience came the development of songs that reflected the abject conditions of being a slave. There are hundreds of songs that qualify as spirituals. Until the early 1960s, those songs were known as “Negro spirituals.” When the term “Negro” fell into disuse, it was replaced by “people of color” and then there were activists who referred to the Negro race as “blacks.” Today the popular term is Afro-American. But an old-timer such as myself finds it unwieldy to use the term Afro-American spirituals.

If Paul Robeson, the great baritone, were alive today, he might laugh his head off at the grammatical construction that defines many of the songs that Robeson sang. For whatever it is worth, Paul Robeson was a native of the great and glorious state of New Jersey who, because he championed equal rights, was labeled a full-fledged communist. The McCarthyites who called Robeson a communist intended to drive him from the American stage. He found homes in Europe where the views were less xenophobic than those that existed in this country in the 1950s.

I realize that this essay is probably a gloomy one but the facts on the ground tend to support that gloom. But in writing this essay, I also had an opportunity to tell you of my life-long love of spirituals. The second line, after the motherless child reference, is to “a long way from home, a long way from home.” The singer of spirituals will make sure that “a long way from home” is elongated and emphasized.

Well, that is the grim news about the economy. But we must be heartened by the announcement by the president of the General Motors Corporation who now says that they will try to produce smaller cars with greater engine economy. Rick Wagoner is the President of General Motors and those of us who are not economists must wonder where Rick has been for the last two years. But in the long run, and I mean the long run, the news in this gloomy essay may force American manufacturers to develop cars on the European models, which deliver much better gasoline results than come from my yellow Hummer and the 350 horsepower SUV that I cannot trade or give away. If Rick Wagoner and the rest of his cohorts finally wake up to the idea that what we need are engines that produce much better results, we may then end our dependence on Arab oil.

When we end our dependence upon Arab oil, Mr. Bush will find the kings and dictators in those countries to be more amenable to his ideas of democracy. He may be so inspired that he will make a return trip to lecture the Africans on the virtues of abstinence. I understand the greatness of democracy and I have a faint understanding of abstinence, but I must tell you that I am completely baffled by the Vice President’s view that “deficits don’t matter.” He may have something there, but I doubt it. In the meantime I would hope that he and his boss and other cohorts in Washington would bend their efforts toward restoring prosperity to the American economy, rather than to the military-industrial complex. However, I am not going to hold my breath until that happens.

If you are interested, one of the succeeding verses to the title of this essay is “Sometimes I Feel that I’m Almost Gone.” That line is repeated and ends in the thought that I am a long way from home. I fear that before this depression is finished, a good many Americans will feel like motherless children and have a feeling of being almost gone. Those are cruel sentiments, but as a survivor of the Depression of the 1930s, it is always helpful to know the facts rather than the spin that comes out of the American government.

PS: My references to the SUV and the Hummer are allegoric ones. Even the Bible uses allegories, so I guess that I am in sacred company on that score.

June 8, 2008
Essay 320
Kevin’s commentary: Damn it Pop, the Bible does not use allegories because the whole thing is literally true, even the contradictory bits. One thinks you’d have figured this out by now.

On the immigration front, I’ll admit I know very little, but the process certainly seems excessive. My company is trying to hire a few programmers right now — both of whom happen to be Mexican — and we’re having to bend over backwards to find a way to get these talented workers to come help an American company. Nobody’s making easy.

More on this particular song here.


When the English language was developed from its Saxon roots, the original meaning of “bastard” had to do with the offspring of unmarried parents. The word bastard is sometimes considered an epithet and should never be hung on the offspring but should be reserved for the unthinking parents who produced that offspring. But in any case, bastard is a lovely noun that has endured for hundreds of years. In this essay I hope to give you a taster’s choice of four different kinds of bastards, which some of you may well recognize.

The taster’s selection has to do with stingy, cheating, mean and smiling bastards. When you have finished this course of tasting, I hope that your vocabulary will now include the rich noun of bastard.

In view of the political climate as we approach another presidential election, I have elected to forgo politicians because the general perception is that all of them are “lying” bastards. In my humble estimation, lying bastards constitute a large percentage of politicians. In deference to the election that will take place in a few weeks, I have elected to ignore the political lying bastards until the election results are in. I haven’t forgotten about politicians as lying bastards, but we will reserve that for another time.

The first tasting has to do with “stingy bastards.” In 1950 and 1951, it was my lot to spend a considerable amount of time in New York away from my St. Louis home. The work had to do with attending meetings of the executive board of the Long Lines Employees Federation union and with bargaining a contract between that organization and AT&T. Our lodgings in New York were always provided by the Piccadilly Hotel on 45th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue. The Piccadilly was in the heart of the theater district and its lobby bustled with scalpers, actors, stagehands, and hangers-on. The stage play “Guys and Dolls” could well have been set in the lobby of the Piccadilly Hotel. It is my recollection that the great stage play “South Pacific” was taking place in the neighborhood, and although it was a great success, my union friends and I were able to buy tickets from scalpers in the lobby of the hotel. I saw “South Pacific” on two occasions in New York and once more when the traveling company came to St. Louis.

The stage play “South Pacific” takes place on an imaginary island in the Pacific called Bali Hai and is set in the Second World War. In the play, elements of the American Navy are stationed on Bali Hai. A featured actor was Ezio Pinza, who had been a bass singing at the Metropolitan Opera. As Pinza aged, there were fewer performances at the Metropolitan Opera so his career tended to wane. When “South Pacific” came along, it was a magic moment because the leading male role seemed to have been invented for a person such as Mr. Pinza. His opposite number was Mary Martin, a lovely American woman who was widely known from her work in previous stage plays. Casting Pinza with Martin was an inspired choice and the play caused critics to issue rave reviews.

Somewhere down the line was an actress named Juanita Hall, a leather-lunged long-time veteran of American stage plays. In “South Pacific,” Juanita Hall played a role called Bloody Mary, who seemed to run a sort of “escort service” among the native Polynesian women there. Juanita was a very forceful character who had my love and devotion from her first syllable. There were occasions when American Naval personnel were entertained by her girls, and Bloody Mary thought her girls ought to be more amply rewarded. When an American sailor shortchanged one of her Polynesian girls, Bloody Mary would cry out loud that such a sailor was “a stingy bastard.” Those words caused the audience, generally, to cheer wildly.

At the time when “South Pacific” was first shown, profanity in the theater was subdued. But “South Pacific” captured the American idiom perfectly. Sailors who toy with call girls are not given to the speech of Sunday School children. Neither are soldiers. It was suggested that Bloody Mary had learned the term “stingy bastards” from the men who called on her girls. The line that Bloody Mary spoke about “stingy bastards” was delivered in such fashion that even the Archbishop of Canterbury would have laughed and approved. I suspect that the Archbishop may think that some of his parishioners are stingy bastards when it comes to their contributions to his collection plates. But the Archbishop says that he has no comment.

The music was by Richard Rodgers with the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. If there ever was a perfect blending of music and words, it is in the music and lyrics of “South Pacific.” That stage play has now been revived, more than 59 years after its opening, and is playing to a sold-out house in New York. I have been unable to see the revival of “South Pacific” and have only a compact disc of the new cast, but for all these years I have remembered Juanita Hall in her depiction of Bloody Mary. She ran a verbal knife through those who cheated her girls by calling them stingy bastards.

Now we turn to a second tasting, this one having to do with being cheated. The rule at AT&T in St. Louis and throughout the Bell System was that upon the first anniversary of being hired, the new employee would become a “permanent employee,” and would be entitled to a leave of absence if required. Don Meier and I had completed the requisite service but because the company found that we were going to enlist in the Army and, in Don’s case, the Marines, the company said that the rule had been rescinded and that no leave of absence would be granted. This was in the summer of 1942 and Don and I said “to hell with AT&T”; we were going to go. For more than two years, there were no communications of any kind from AT&T as Don fought his war in the Pacific and I attended to duties in North Africa and in Italy. Late in the summer of 1944, Congress passed a law that said that fellows in our situation must be granted leaves of absence and given full employment rights upon our return. With this, floodgates were opened and material of all kinds from AT&T began to appear. Don served with great distinction in the Marine Corps on Iwo Jima. He was killed in the battle there and never was able to take advantage of the right to return to AT&T. In my case, I did return to AT&T in St. Louis in November, 1945 and was given a desk in an office that was run by W.G. Nebe, who was my boss’s boss.

Bill Nebe sat in the back of the room with his desk placed before a large window. Nebe faced the window, and in this position, his back was toward all of the rest of the employees in that office. He had a reputation for orneriness and few people ever approached Mr. Nebe. In return, Mr. Nebe rarely spoke to any of the employees under him.

When I returned to work in November, 1945, there were no welcoming ceremonies of any kind. My old job had disintegrated and I had a desk but no duties to speak of. My immediate supervisor, John Baxter, rarely spoke to me and Mr. Nebe spoke not at all. And so it was that I was startled one day, after having returned for about four months, to raise my eyes and find that Bill Nebe was standing by my side and seemed to want to speak to me. He said something about a “recalculation” of my meager salary which had taken place during my long absence. AT&T had thousands of accountants and actuaries, but four months after my return there had been a “recalculation” of my salary, which was to be increased by the magnificent sum of about $4 per week. Significantly, the “recalculation” included no retroactivity. The returning veterans had the formula for computing these salaries and their conclusions differed greatly from those of the actuaries and accountants at AT&T. In point of fact, it became quite clear that AT&T was cheating the returning veterans.

On the other hand, however, there is one compensation in that for the first time Bill Nebe was required to deliver that message to such lowly serfs as myself. When I saw those figures, I concluded that “you, Mr. Nebe, are a cheating bastard.” I did not say those words to the Honorable Nebe, but rather I then joined the union where I could do something about such larceny.

Well, the tasters have now given you some idea of what stingy and cheating are like, so let us turn to meanness. For many years, the affairs of the 20,000 employees in the Long Lines Division of AT&T were directed by a man named Henry Killingsworth. Killingsworth was a small person in stature who had such proclivities as ordering the begging nun in the headquarters lobby to refrain from her work. In a Christmas letter, he wrote that from now on, “we are going to have to take the slack out of those trace chains.” This was a reference to planting cotton, where the mules that pulled the plow were thought to be working hard when there was no slack in the trace chains. So in essence, Mr. Killingsworth wrote in a Christmas letter that from now on, he expected the Long Lines employees to work as hard as his mules used to work.

Killingsworth has been dead now, I assume, for several years but even at this late date, some 24 years after I retired, I would say that Killingsworth was a mean, vindictive little bastard who did not have a place among honorable men.

So now our tasting has taken us from stingy to cheating to mean. At this point we turn to insurers. Insurers have never been known for their generosity to their customers. Quite the opposite, insurers find unknown clauses in their contracts, often to deny payment to their patrons. The sinking of the Mary Ellen Carter was one such case.

There is an Irish folk song called “The Mary Ellen Carter.” The Mary Ellen Carter was a fishing trawler that had the bad luck to strike a rock outside of its harbor and to sink. Because it was not sunk on the high seas, it appears that the insurers refused to pay a cent on the grounds that striking a rock near the home harbor was not covered. There was an effort to raise the Mary Ellen Carter, which is the subject of that song. One of the lines in that folk song is memorable. The line goes like this:

“For those to whom adversity has dealt the fatal blow,
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go.”

Presumably the smiling bastards are the insurance agents who refused to pay for the loss of the Mary Ellen Carter. Perhaps smiling bastards is a welcome relief from stingy, cheating, and mean bastards.

Well, boys and girls, there you have a small tasting of four kinds of bastards, ranging from stingy to smiling. It excludes those who take the last seat on the subway that you had your eye on as well as those who duck into a parking place just before you get there. They are a special kind of bastard.

Your old essayist would be greatly disappointed if in the future you regarded the word bastard as an epithet. It is a descriptive noun that only requires an adjective to go with it. If we are to keep the English language alive and vital, bastards should be a part of that effort. My final piece of advice is that if you have a chance to see the revival of “South Pacific,” please do me a favor and go see it. Juanita Hall, the lady who played Bloody Mary, is probably retired by this time but if you treat one of her girls with stinginess, you can be prepared to be called a “stingy bastard.” That, my friends, gives vitality to the English language.

September 17, 2008
Essay 337
Kevin’s commentary: Pop also likes to refer to the briefly-mentioned politicians as pissants.

Per usual, Killingsworth continues to sound like an asshole of the highest caliber.

In point of fact, I saw my very first musical last weekend. It was called “Book of Mormon.” I would imagine people today initially reacted to Book of Mormon in the same way that “South Pacific” shocked people with its language (but then pulled it off smoothly). Calling someone a stingy bastard is on stage is pretty intense, but for instance the lyrics “When God fucks you in the butt // Fuck God back right in his cunt” are just about as extreme as could possibly be permissible in the theater.


I am painfully aware that cynics and critics will charge me with plagiarizing the ancient maxim of “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” I plead guilty on all counts. On the other hand, I will contend that I have improved that maxim with the addition of “disimprove” as a wonderful neologism. These days wonderful neologisms flow out of the fetid swamp that used to be my brain. But in this case, “disimprove” is the neologism of the day.

Cynics and critics will join their voices in unison to ask, “What does ‘disimprove’ mean?” As soon as I answer this call from Noah Webster of dictionary fame, I will try to give you a few examples of what that neologism means. For example, let us return to the year 2000, which marked the beginning of the 21st century. In that year, I was a mere stripling of a lad of 78 years, with dark wavy hair and eyes that put the visual acuity of eagles to shame. The changes in the years that have taken place since the year 2000 are clearly disimprovements. In those years, my hair has become slightly tinted with gray, and a small bald spot has appeared on the back of my scalp. In addition, my eyesight no longer rivals the eagles’ but is much more like that of the bat. “As blind as a bat” is basically where I come out in the year 2008. So you see, the more things change, the passage of years has brought all of us eight years older and in my case the disimprovements are legion.

In that same period of eight years, many more disimprovements have come to pass. For example, in the year 2000 gasoline, which is known as petrol to Europeans, had moved from cents per gallon to costing slightly more than $1 per gallon. Most of us were wringing our hands and saying that it would be a disaster if gasoline were to cost us $1.15 or even $1.50. In the ensuing eight years, there have been many changes in the availability of gasoline. And all of them are disimprovements. Today we are paying for regular gasoline something around $4.10 per gallon. It is the prediction of this old filling station attendant that before long, Americans will be paying on the order of $5 per gallon and it might not stop there. This clearly is a disimprovement which everyone who owns an automobile will understand. I suppose that those who own large horse-powered SUVs and Hummers as well as pickup trucks may understand this thought better than the rest of us.

When the thought of “the more things change…” is applied to air travel, the disimprovements are even more volatile. The airline industry has increased its prices by a factor of three and no longer serves out-of-the-way places. In addition, airlines charge customers between $15 and $25 for checking a bag which the airlines may well lose. And, of course, there are no more free meals or even peanuts. Pilots and mechanics are being laid off in droves. The airline industry is now fraught with disimprovements and we are all the poorer for that development.

Those who say “If I can’t drive or fly to my destination, I will simply take the train,” will be in for a disimprovement in spades. In the last 50 years, including the eight year period since the year 2000, we have let our rail industry come unraveled. The successive governments of the United States have denied funds to improve rail travel. Service has been cut and the amenities of railroad travel from years ago no longer exist. But in the last year or so, railroads have become overwhelmed by the demand of those who used to drive or used to fly. So you see, the disimprovements are with us at every turn.

In recent years, Americans were encouraged to own a home. Banks and lending institutions were providing mortgages that seemed to require no monthly payment at all. Then, to their astonishment, many buyers looked at the fine print and found that in the third or fourth year of the mortgage, the payments became absolutely and ridiculously expensive. Certainly the mortgage holders ought to have their knuckles rapped for entering into an agreement about which they understood very little. At the same time there was no control over lending institutions making predatory loans. As a result, there are several million homes throughout this nation that are subject to foreclosure. This may be the ultimate disimprovement in terms of housing arrangements.

Today’s news brings the report that Starbucks is proposing to close 600 of its stores and leave as many as 12,000 of its workers without employment. I was never much of a coffee drinker and it boggles my mind to believe that people were paying five bucks for the privilege of drinking a cup of Starbucks coffee. But be that as it may, when a person loses a job in this economy, he must feel helpless, knowing that there are millions of other people also looking for work. Starbucks employees are not alone in their disimprovement and agony. There are hundreds of people who used to work on Wall Street who are in the same situation. I suspect that to a person who has lost a job, my neologism of disimprovements may be of negligible comfort. But I would like them to know that I understand and sympathize totally.

And, finally, we come to the reading of the will of Leona Helmsley, who is celebrated as “the Queen of Mean.” Leona was the widow of the founder of the Helmsley Hotel chain. She was a very wealthy woman who said that only little people pay taxes. I am a little person, so I suppose that means that I have no choice but to pay my taxes while Mrs. Helmsley thumbed her nose at the Internal Revenue Service. When Leona died last fall, she left an estate worth several billion – that’s a “b” – dollars. Any of her relatives or any of her former employees who were expecting to enjoy a small windfall with Leona’s passing were in for a great surprise and a disimprovement. Literally and figuratively, Leona’s will provided that her billions should go to her dogs. I have no idea what a dog would do with a billion dollars, but Leona has bequeathed the dogs more money than they can chew. Leona seemed to revel in being known as “the Queen of Mean” and her association with disimprovements, even after her death, seemed to fit her personality.

I suppose I could name many more examples of disimprovements. But I think these few examples may give the literary world an understanding of why I hold that the more things change, the more they disimprove.

Now, when it comes to the issue of plagiarization, I must contend that this is a family matter that is not the concern of outsiders. The maxim that “The more things change, the more they remain the same” was the product of the brain of a Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr. I understand that Mr. Karr with a “k” was a poet and a philosopher and he may well have been a French boulevardier, who frequented bistros buying aperitifs for his mistresses. If that is the case, I salute him. But no matter how you cut it, his name was Karr and that makes this a family matter. So to cynics and critics who contend that I plagiarized Monsieur Karr’s maxim, I would say in my most polite manner of speaking, “Please butt out.” If Monsieur Karr composed a maxim and I improved on it by adding a neologism, I believe I should be offered champagne for the rest of my life. I know that where champagne is drunk, mistresses abound. I will do my best to make every American proud of my performance.

July 7, 2008
Essay 258
Kevin’s commentary: Let’s hope Pop never has to fly Ryan Air; he’d have a heart attack.

In other news, this is what the “objections to modernity” tag was made for.


Those of you who have persevered in reading these essays will know that from time to time the titles involve curve balls, changes of pace, and, occasionally, a foofoo ball. This essay will not be called “Love Affairs” , but rather “Affairs of Love” for reasons that will become clear as the sections develop. If all goes well, I propose to tell you about my love affair with Chevrolet automobiles and with a jockey’s love of his horse, all of which are included here together with a reference to “dislove,” which is my neologism for a current divorce suit taking place.

Rick Wagoner, the President of General Motors, recently made a commercial at the company’s driving grounds in which he predicted that one day we would all be driving cars with hydrogen engines. Mr. Wagoner is also the man who came a little late to the party because he is suggesting that his line of Chevrolet cars is a line of fuel savers. Unhappily, General Motors did not develop hybrid cars so they are stuck with gasoline engines and claim that their economy reaches well beyond 20 miles per gallon. When pigs learn to whistle and wear lipstick, I will begin to believe the economy claims for American automobiles. On the other hand, before Mr. Wagoner was born, my first car was a 1931 Chevrolet coupe and I have no idea whatsoever as to its fuel economy. In those days, when gasoline was being sold for 20 to 25 cents per gallon, no one seemed to worry about fuel economy. That of course is not the case today.

I had a love affair with that 1931 Chevrolet coupe which had a little trunk that was filled mostly with the spare tire. Sportier models of that car had a rumble seat where my trunk was located, but I only paid $50 for that car and a rumble seat was out of the question. It was a six-cylinder engine with the cylinders arranged in a straight line as opposed to being in a V shape. Henry Ford introduced V-8 engines in 1932, but it was quite a while before General Motors adopted that way to arrange their engines. They stuck with straight sixes and straight eights for years, until after the Second World War.

I drove that Chevy to work and occasionally when I courted the girls. It had a drawback in that the linings on the brake drums tended to harden, which produced a rumbling sound when the brakes were applied. On my first date with Flora Hoevel, in about 1939 or 1940, the brakes made their rumbling sound, which embarrassed me. But Flora thought it was very entertaining. As it turns out, I did not become entangled with Flora, which is probably all to the good because I found much later that Flora had produced nine children. There are nine positions on the normal baseball team. Flora produced enough kids to populate all of them. But by the time she accomplished that feat, I was long since gone.

That may have been the happiest car I ever owned. It gave me no trouble and when I was enticed by a bigger later model used Chevy, I sold that car to Tallis Lockos for the same $50 that I had paid for it in the beginning. There was no heater or any air conditioning and the windows had to be rolled up with a handle on the inside of the door. But like a first love, that car has an outsized claim on my affections. If I were able to have a discussion with Mr. Wagoner of General Motors, I would encourage him to build cars as dependable as that 1931 Chevrolet coupe. But Mr. Wagoner is off dealing with hydrogen-powered engines which will not be produced until we all go broke buying $5 a gallon gasoline. There is much to say for simplicity in automobiles, and the 1931 Chevy coupe was simple but it worked. And it still retains a claim on my heart.

From that love affair, we now turn to a case of “dislove.” I am fully aware that there are English language purists who will dispute my use of the neologism dislove but when they hear the brief story of Dina Matos McGreevey, I suspect that they will become believers in dislove.

Dina Matos is a member of a prominent Portuguese family in Newark, New Jersey. Somewhere along the line our future governor, who is now our past governor, Mr. James E. McGreevey, courted Dina Matos and they were eventually married. In one of my previous essays, you will recall that Dina and her prospective husband were involved in a triangle which included the chauffeur, which led them to celebrate their accomplishments at a chain of restaurants called TGI Friday’s eating establishments.

As time went forward, James E. McGreevey became the Governor of New Jersey and served about two years, until he appointed an Israeli citizen as the state national security director. It also developed that the Israeli citizen was a gay lover of none other than James E. McGreevey. The governor called a press conference at which he announced that he was a “gay American” and resigned. His wife at the time, Dina Matos, stood by him in the background and seemed to be greatly surprised by this disclosure.

There is now a daughter of about six years from this marriage. A year or so ago, Dina filed a divorce suit based largely on the thought that the Governor misled her on his being gay. I suspect that many newspaper writers were not surprised by his gayness, because it had been hinted at for years. In any event, after another year or more had passed, the divorce suit came to trial. Dina wishes to extract large amounts of alimony from the former Governor because she claims that he is a celebrity. It is the contention of Dina and her lawyer that the former Governor should undertake a speaking tour where the fees would rival those paid to Bill Clinton. The facts of the matter are that McGreevey has written a book which more or less flopped and there seems to be no call whatsoever for him to speak to people.

McGreevey is now a student at an Episcopal seminary where he hopes to become a priest who will be involved in ministering to the prison population. If he is ever ordained, the job that he is seeking pays around $47 or $48,000 per year. So when Dina asks for a huge settlement of her suit, McGreevey replies, “I am a poor seminary student who is broke.” Dina seeks a million dollar payment plus alimony from her former husband.

On this score, I am inclined to believe the former governor because he now lives with a wealthy lover who pays his legal bills and living expenses while he attends the seminary. But nonetheless Dina wants to extract wheelbarrow loads of money from good old Jim.

Divorce suits are never happy affairs. In this one, it was saddest that in one year Dina spent $26,000 for clothing for herself and her child. There was a dress that she liked and to match the dress with a pair of shoes cost around $500. Apparently Dina bought the shoes. So Dina is a spendthrift.

Further questioning established that she owes her lawyer around $250,000 for the divorce suit and that her home in Plainfield has not been paid for and it carries about a $600,000 price tag. So you see, the McGreeveys, man and woman, are being supported by someone else. Apparently her lawyer has the illusion that at the end of this trial there will be a big payoff. I suspect that he is in it for the publicity involved and that any realist will recognize that in the end there will be no payoff from the seminary student of the Episcopal faith.

So the McGreevey love affair has turned into an exercise in dislove. Dina Matos, in her appearances on the stand, is presenting a woman who has been scorned, who wishes to extract vengeance from her husband or soon-to-be former husband. When the judge delivers the verdict in the McGreevey-Matos trial, I suspect that the judge may be influenced by Dina squirting away $26,000 on clothing for herself and her little daughter. Divorces are always unhappy events but in this case Dina Matos has gone out of her way to make this trial an example of plain horridness. But perhaps what it shows is that when lovers split, a situation of dislove takes over which will take many years to dissipate.

Now having dealt with Dina and her divorce problems, let us turn to a happier subject, yesterday’s race at the Belmont Stakes in Long Island. Coming into the race the favorite was a horse named Big Brown. That horse is a big burly horse who won his first six races with great ease. For example in one of the other races of the Triple Crown, either the Kentucky Derby or the race at Pimlico, he defeated the eventual winner of the Belmont Stakes by 23 or 28 lengths. Newspaper accounts say that some 93,000 people attended the Belmont Stakes and that they bet more than $5 million on Big Brown to win, even at odds which were quoted as one to four. Please note that this is not four to one odds, it is one to four. This means that when a bettor lays down his four dollars, if he wins the bet, he will collect only one dollar additional. But as it turns out, disaster lay ahead in the Belmont Stakes and the bettors lost their bets.

June is often a brutal month for heat on the eastern seaboard and in this case the Belmont Stakes were run in 93 heat. Perhaps this explains the disastrous performance by Big Brown but that is only one supposition. When the race started, Big Brown made his bid to dominate the field. But his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, said that within a few yards of the starting gate, “I had no horse.” Kent could have used his whip to flail Big Brown in an effort to make him run faster but because he “had no horse” Kent showed his love for the horse and he let the rest of the field pass him by. Big Brown, who was the overwhelming favorite to win that race, finished dead last. The race was won by Da’ Tara, a horse that had been beaten by Big Brown by 20 or more lengths in a previous race.

The jockey showed his love for Big Brown. Instead of punishing him to try to make him run faster, which he could not do, he saved the horse for another day. Big Brown has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness at Pimlico, which is two-thirds of the triple crown. There has not been a winner of the full triple crown since 1978. What happens now is that Big Brown, from this time forward, will lead a life of love. He may race again from time to time but in racing terms, Big Brown will be retired to stud. When the owners of a thoroughbred mare wish to have her impregnated by Big Brown, they will pay the owners of Big Brown a tremendous fee and then bring the mare to Big Brown. From that point on, if all goes well, the rest will happen naturally. But thoroughbred horses are highly strung creatures and it may take some time to get the mating dance completed.

If Big Brown is an accomplished lover, and if he is fertile, a pregnancy will take place. If, on the other hand, he is infertile, he will be accused of “shooting blanks.” It goes without saying that a horse on a stud farm who shoots blanks is a candidate for the glue factory or for those who subscribe to the belief that horse meat steaks are beneficial to their diets. But whether or not Big Brown shoots blanks or is a successful lover, we will just have to wait and see.

And so there you have two cases of love and one of dislove. I still yearn for my 1931 Chevrolet at times, and I am sure that Big Brown will always yearn for winning the Belmont Stakes in 2008. But those are just pipe dreams at this point. It is also probably a pipe dream that James McGreevey and Dina Matos will ever reunite. But no matter how you cut it, this modest little essay has been worthwhile in that it has produced the neologism of dislove. Obviously that is a worthy accomplishment.

June 8, 2008
Essay 319
Kevin’s commentary: I’m glad the horse can’t understand that he’s in a “either get it up or die” situation that he’s in. I feel like that’s even more pressure than a racetrack would be. Could you preform, so to speak, with that hanging over you?

On a more intelligent subject: I did not know my grandfather on my Dad’s side well; he passed away when I was young. However I did know that he and Pop had at least one thing in common, in that they knew their ways around a vehicle. Pop worked at the filling station, and Dado worked at GM. That said the trend I noticed in the lives of these two gentlemen is that they switched cars much more frequently than they switched jobs. This seems backwards to me, as I’ve worked a good deal of jobs and internships now but have only ever owned one vehicle. It was a very dependable vehicle and my family just recently sold it. I wonder though what accounted for the huge turnover in cars of Pop’s times. Hopefully he can clarify this matter somewhat.

More on horses and studs here.

For an essay inspired by “I had no horse,” read here.


Dearly Beloved:

The sermon today comes to us from the King James version of the Bible and has to do with two writers who appear in that version. The first is Matthew, Chapter 20, Verse 16. That verse says, “So the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

The second writer is Luke, who writes in Chapter 13, Verse 30, “And behold there are last which shall be first and there are first which shall be last.” As your preacher, I can tell you that Matthew and Luke were so friendly that one could finish the other’s sentence after it was started. On the other hand, cynics and non-believers may conclude that Matthew and Luke were guilty of plagiarisms in the holiest of books used by the Protestant faith. Your aged preacher is going to stay out of this argument about plagiarism and leave it to the congregants to decide where the truth lies. In any case, I hope that your contributions to the collection plate will be generous, regardless of whether you support Matthew or Luke.

This essay is being dictated on a Monday afternoon. Everyone knows that sermons are delivered on Sunday, and are entirely inappropriate on Mondays. So we will now proceed to three or four examples of “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

The first example involves the Bell System. At its peak, the Bell System had one million employees and untold wealth. It was represented in every corner of the United States by what were called associated companies. There was the New York Telephone Company, Illinois Bell, etc. In addition, the Bell System owned a manufacturing arm that was gargantuan in size and was called Western Electric. There was also the Bell Laboratories which was renowned throughout the world for its discoveries. Finally, you may wish to recall that the Bell System was named after Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. The Bell System had an enormous influence in the various states of the union as well as in the Congress of the United States. Organizations at that time, prior to 1984, with one million employees were considered behemoths. But this behemoth was a gentle giant who sponsored first radio, and then television programs to uplift the masses. The “Bell Telephone Hour” was one full hour of excellent music with no hard sell being involved anywhere in the programming.

The Bell Laboratories was considered the sine qua non of all the laboratories in the world.

I worked for the Bell System for 43 years, and from what I could see the company operated well and provided Americans with superior communications services at reasonable costs. But there were opposition forces who considered the Bell System a monopoly in spite of the fact that it was tightly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. For several years, there had been an effort to break up the Bell System. That end was eventually achieved by the Telecommunications Act of 1984, which in fact caused the Bell System to spin off its properties.

The net effect is that, for example, Western Electric eventually became a subsidiary of a French concern called Alcatel and is now clearly just a junior partner. The Bell Telephone Laboratories seem to be have been scattered to the winds and when we drive by the main building of the Labs, the parking lot is empty and the lawn is populated only by passing geese. The individual companies of the Bell System did not thrive and in the end tended to seek partnerships of their own. The point is that at one time there was an organization that provided excellent telephone service to the American people, but it ran afoul of jealous competitors who wanted a piece of the action. Perhaps this is the price of progress but such progress is unattractive to this long-time observer.

The whole Bell System was gathered under the name of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. From its lofty heights having more than a million employees with untold wealth, the Telecommunications Act of 1984 was its death knell. A few years back, the entire American Telephone and Telegraph Company was purchased by one of its former subsidiary companies for a grand total of $16 billion. If you read on, you will find a much smaller organization that was sold this past week for $52 billion. So you see, when it comes to the Bell System, the first shall be last and if your telephone needs repair you will find that it will take perhaps three or four days for your new telephone company to get around to that work. So as a Bell System pensioner, I can only say, “Matthew and Luke, where are you now?”

In telling the faithful about the Bell System, I almost forgot that for many years AT&T stock was considered highly desirable. It tended to grow in value and, more than anything else, it paid a handsome dividend. Mothers of prospective brides always considered a Bell System man a good catch. But at this moment, that is neither here nor there because the Bell System no longer exists. Again, the first shall be last.

The second citation I would like to make for the congregants here today has to do with the General Motors Corporation. For all the years since I came along, General Motors was the rock of American manufacturing. They manufactured the Chevrolet automobile for those getting started out in life. As they succeeded, customers could proceed upward from the Chevy to the Pontiac. If a promotion or two were involved, they could graduate to an Oldsmobile, one of the oldest American marques in the car business. When a man moved from the Oldsmobile to a Buick, it would be said that he had arrived. For many years, General Motors manufactured a small sportier Cadillac called the La Salle. A man who drove a La Salle would possibly be mentioned in the society pages of his local newspaper. And finally, at the top of the line there was the Cadillac, which told the world that you were at the top of your game.

Over the years of my driving career, I drove each one of those automobiles except for the La Salle. Unhappily and unfortunately, as I drove the more expensive cars in the General Motors line, they proved to be less dependable. In 1986, I bought a Cadillac coupe which supplied inferior service during my years of ownership.

But now General Motors has fallen on hard times. It kept on building the gas-guzzling SUVs and pick-up trucks. It would not take a Rhodes Scholar to point out that in the last few years hybrids were being developed by the Japanese automobile industry and that sooner or later economy would become the name of the game in the automobile business. But General Motors kept building its gas-guzzling models. It had plenty of company in that the Ford and the Chrysler organizations did the same thing. At the same time, they did not improve the quality of their regular automobiles either.

In the automobile industry in this country, there have been gigantic layoffs. Whereas General Motors stock used to sell for around $50 a share, its most recent price was slightly under $10 per share. General Motors needs a cash infusion because it is having trouble converting its SUV assembly lines to lines that will produce fuel efficient automobiles.

And so General Motors, which used to be the crème de la crème of the American automobile industry, now comes at the end of the line and Matthew and Luke are correct when they say the last shall be first or the first shall be last, whichever applies.

A final example involves Budweiser beer. Yesterday it was announced that the Anheuser-Busch Corporation, which manufactures Budweiser, had been sold to a Belgian organization called InBev. Because of the devaluation of the American dollar, the Belgians had all kinds of money to invest in the Anheuser-Busch Corporation and in the end they walked away with the prize brewery in America. To add insult to injury, they will now market Budweiser with the word InBev on the label as an additive to Budweiser. The loss of Budweiser to the Belgians is a terrible insult to St. Louisans such as myself. Matthew and Luke didn’t say the following piece of doggerel about St. Louis, “First in shoes, first in booze, and last in the American League.” I am not a writer of scripture but it seems to me that the poem about shoes and booze and last in the American League would lend zip to the Holy Scripture as sculpted by King James of England.

A few years back, Budweiser was so big that it could brush aside a law suit filed by the citizens of Budweiss City in the Czech Republic. For many years the citizens of that town had manufactured a local brew which was called Budweiser. If the citizens of my home town of Clayton manufactured a local brew, I suspect it might be called Claytoner. But the judges were unimpressed by the arguments of the Czech producers of that Budweiser beer and the Czechs were told to get lost and pay court costs.

And so it is, my fellow congregants, that I have offered you three examples which tend to prove that Matthew and Luke were on the mark when they wrote, perhaps several hundred years ago, about the first shall be last. There was the Bell System, the General Motors Corporation, and Anheuser-Busch. As your clergyman, I regret the demise of the Bell System and of the General Motors Corporation, and when it comes to Budweiser, I can only say that lips that touch Budweiser-InBev shall never touch mine. On the other hand, St. Louis is not last in the American League because years ago, the St. Louis Browns were sold to investors from the Chesapeake region and are now called the Baltimore Orioles. But that is small consolation and I still grieve when I think of the Bell System, General Motors, Anheuser-Busch and the
St. Louis “Brownies.”

It all goes to prove that Matthew and Luke were right when they said several hundred years ago that the “First shall be Last” and sometimes those displaced from the lofty positions at the top of the ladder are also forgotten and recalled only by those with feelings for nostalgia.

July 14, 2008
Essay 327
Kevin’s commentary: Okay, but what about the second part? I’m seeing plenty of firsts head to last in this essay, but not a lot of lasts seem like they’re coming in first. I guess Japanese cars used to be considered as pretty awful, and they’re beating the heck out of GM these days, but that’s a stretch.

Also the $16b price tag mentioned in this essay was particularly eye-opening in light of Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion. WhatsApp is a fairly simple peer-to-peer messaging service with a staff of about 55 people. It’s valuation is mind-boggling to me when put next to a lot of other “real” companies, especially other companies in the communication industry. Tech valuations are friggen out of control these days.

P.S. — “Matthew and Luke were on the mark” is either very clever or very unintentionally clever.


To make my point about sophistry and “values voters,” I am obliged to tell you about a woman who was born in my home state of Missouri, who assumed the name of Sally Rand. We will get to Sally shortly.

When the year 1933 came to the United States, we were then entering our fourth year of the great American Depression. Banks closed, houses were repossessed, and very few people were employed. In many American cities, the residents were reduced to living in shacks which were universally called “Hoovervilles.” But help was on the way because in the election of November of 1932, Herbert Hoover had been turned out of office and was replaced by the Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As soon as Mr. Roosevelt was sworn in, he lifted the ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. From the time of his inauguration, our citizens could buy beer, whiskey, and wine, and have been doing so ever since that happy occasion. It signaled the beginning of the end of the Depression.

In those days, the inaugural ceremony for Mr. Roosevelt did not take place until March of 1933. In May of that year, there was a World’s Fair held in Chicago. The fair was full of futuristic ideas and predicted that soon we would be traveling to the moon or at least coast to coast in no time at all. People who visited the Chicago World’s Fair were anxious to describe the wonders that they had seen. I was ten years old when the fair started, and with my father being out of work, there was no way that I could have attended the fair in person. So I was forced to rely upon the accounts of people who had visited the fair, radio reports, and the news carried in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

There are many accounts which will contend that the fair was stolen by a performer named Helen Gould Beck. Miss Beck was not your ordinary thief who could overpower anyone. She was five feet one inch tall and her measurements were 35, 22, and 35. Her most memorable expression to the newspapers was that “If you love living, you try to take care of the equipment.” In Miss Beck’s case, the equipment was very important because she was a fan dancer who took the name of Sally Rand.

As the music played, Sally Rand stole the show. She accomplished this feat through the use of her feathery fans, which were held, one in each hand, one in front of her upper torso and the other one being held in front of her lower torso. Scholars have argued endlessly about whether Sally Rand performed her dances in the nude. I did not see Sally Rand perform her routine, so I am unable to give you a definitive account. I suppose there are people who want to imagine things whether they are true or not, but in Sally Rand’s case, there were many visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair who contended that Sally performed her routine in the nude.

The debate over Sally Rand’s performance with her fans naturally leads me into a discussion of sophistry. If Noah Webster of dictionary fame is to be believed, sophistry means “A deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone.” Sally Rand’s performance qualifies on all counts. It was “a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning” and above all, it meant to deceive us all. So good old Sally Rand, née Helen Gould Beck, was a highly skilled performer in the art of sophistry. Now there are some voters who are also skilled in sophistry.

Pollsters, and particularly exit pollsters, place a great deal of confidence in those who say that they have voted for a candidate or will vote for a candidate who shares their values.

Values voters are generally those with a prejudice. “Values” is simply a euphemism for prejudice. When a values voter is asked whether he would support a female as commander-in-chief, it may be assumed that his values don’t stretch that far. Similarly, when a values voter is asked if he would support a black candidate, it becomes clear that his values differ as well on that score. If a values voter were asked whether he would support a Muslim candidate, a Catholic candidate, or even a candidate who says that he is a non-believer, the answer would be much the same. A good many Americans want to support a candidate who shares their prejudices. When the voters tell pollsters that they are guided by their own values, it is obvious that they are engaging in sophistry, as defined by Mr. Webster. When they say “values” instead of prejudices, they are concealing the fact that “there is a deliberately invalid argument which displays ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone.” In this case, it is the pollster who is the one who is being deceived.

Furthermore, if you will notice, values voters rarely, if ever, speak of competence in a candidate. It is my belief that competence is almost always trumped by prejudices masking as values voting. If I had my way, I would always want to pick a candidate who is a hell of a lot smarter than I am. Candidates with no competence at all will govern us into bankruptcy regardless of the values that they represent. At this point in the year 2008, we have had all of the incompetence that we can bear.

As many of you know, my thought processes have been influenced over the years by the works of Henry Mencken. Mencken believed, as I do, that the American electorate is capable of doing some damned foolish things. In 1925, eight years before the Chicago World’s Fair took place, Henry Mencken had this to say:
“On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts’ desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Mencken has been dead now for nearly 50 years. If he could be revived, he might be pleased to know what values voting for a Christian candidate has done to this country. When a man tells you that he votes in accordance with his values, kindly run for the hills. Such a man will not be persuaded by reasoning or logic. Such a person is prejudiced and is guilty of sophistry in the highest order.

A final note having to do with Sally Rand. Sally was born in the elegant state of Missouri, in a town called Elkton. Being a seminary student all my life, I would know very little about the sinful ways of the infidels in Elkton. But Howard Laurence Davis is a preacher’s son who probably lived in that town while his father preached the gospel. Perhaps one of the Reverend Davis’s sermons might be grounded on the thought that “if you love life, you try to take care of the equipment.” Sally loved life and hung on until her seventy-fifth year, when she became an angel.

Mr. Davis, a Missourian by birth, and your old essayist think of Sally more often than is required for therapeutic purposes by the American psychiatric association.

May 28, 2008
Essay 318
Kevin’s commentary: In my experience, not only do values voters seem to not care about the competence of their chosen candidate, they don’t care much about their candidate at all. Rather they are usually unified only by their hatred of something else. In large part this is because the modern Republican party is actually composed of two major camps, namely the extremely greedy and the socially conservative. Ideologically these two segments have nothing to do with each other; the former really just wants lower taxes and the government to keep their hands off of businesses, and the latter are usually poorer people and would love the government to step in and legislate our lifestyles. Keen observers may notice that these two camps would actually be at odds if they were to try to vote FOR something, so rather they find somebody that they can agree to hate (like a liberal black guy, for instance) and then just throw everything they can to oppose it.

I wonder why they keep losing elections.