Archive for October 2014


Sometimes essays write themselves. That was the case recently in an essay having to do with an exchange of correspondence between Matthew Pepe and myself involving deflectors which he installed to keep me on course as I negotiate the driveway with the garbage containers. Here is another essay that has written itself.

This essay is about lyrics to a song. Anyone who grew up poor during the American Depression and felt its continuing sting, will know what this song is all about. It also applies to those who are burdened today with other difficulties. It is performed most poignantly by Peter Yarrow of the trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Yarrow, who has felt the scorn of anti-Semitism, sings this song with such feeling that it might bring tears to your eyes. These are the lyrics that go with the music and are entitled “Don’t Laugh at Me”.

Don’t Laugh at Me

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek
a little girl who never smiles cuz I got braces on my teeth
and I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep
I’m that kid on every playground who is always chosen last
a single teenage mother tryin to overcome her past
You don’t have to be my friend if it’s too much to ask
Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
some day we’ll all have perfect Wings
Don’t laugh at me
I’m a cripple on the corner
You pass me on the street
I wouldn’t be out here begging if I had enough to eat
and don’t think I don’t notice that our eyes never meet
I lost my wife and little boy somewhere down that yellow line
The day we laid ’em in the ground was the day I lost my mind
Right now I’m down to holdin this little cardboard sign
Don’t laugh at me, Don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me
I’m Fat, I’m thin..I’m Short, I’m tall..I’m deaf.. I’m blind
Hey aren’t we all
Don’t laugh at me…… Don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me

written by
Allen Shamblin & Steve Seskin

This song has come to mind now that we see the vigorous efforts of the American political right-wing to thwart immigration to this land of immigrants. Specifically I think of this often when I find Mexican laborers gathered on a cold corner in Summit, New Jersey, hoping to be selected to perform a day’s work. If a contractor fails to choose one of them by 8 A.M., he will head back to his lonely room to wait for another day. These men are eager to perform a service. They are at the bottom of the economic scale. They are here not for the purpose of rape or robbery. They are here in an effort to support their families. Yet we find efforts throughout the country to have them banished.

In Hazleton, Pennsylvania, for example, fines are imposed upon anyone who hires such immigrants or rents to them. How un-American is this in the country that was founded on the premise of Emma Lazarus’s admonition which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It brings back memories of the case of my own ancestors, where help wanted signs were posted with the exclusionary note that “Irish need not apply.”

Now a few more words about Peter Yarrow. He was raised in New York City. He is a slender man who wears glasses. In his childhood, I suspect that he was much more interested in learning to play the guitar than in homeruns being hit. I can imagine a bully on the playground saying to Peter Yarrow, the last kid picked for a softball game, “Hey Jew-boy, go out to right field and don’t let the ball get behind you.” That youngster has grown up to be a sensitive man in his sixties who sings “Don’t Laugh at Me” with the greatest of poignancy. Maybe we can all take a lesson from its lyrics.

When I see men digging ditches or cutting the grass or driving a garbage truck or waiting on tables in a café, I know that were it not for my luck, I would be among them. When a person trips or falls to the bottom of the economic ladder, it is so much better to give him a hand rather than to kick him in the ribs. In essence, that is the meaning of “Don’t Laugh at Me” particularly as sung by Peter Yarrow.

December 2, 2006

Kevin’s commentary: Wow. Listen here. Really pretty song, and a great message.


-Three Disparate Thoughts

Growing up during the great American Depression, it was my view that golf was an elitist sport. There were a few driving ranges around, but public golf courses were few and far between. Jobs also were few and far between and money was a problem at every step of the way.

Golf was played mostly at suburban country clubs where the men smoked expensive cigars and drank premium whiskey. About as close as I would ever come to a country club was to get a job as a caddy or someone working in the kitchen. And so it was that I developed no great interest in golf or in golfers. I did not harbor hostility toward golf or golfers, but I simply have had no interest in them over the ensuing years.

While I maintained a disinterest in the subject of golf, I do know of course who Tiger Woods is. He seems to have won many major tournaments and is perhaps the established star in all of golfdom. During the latter part of March, Tiger Woods gave an interview to Ed Bradley of Sixty Minutes on CBS Television in which he stated his philosophy. He said that the idea of playing golf was to win the tournament of course, but winning was only part of the procedure. Woods said that he “liked to kick their butts” even after he won the tournament. He went on to say that if he and Bradley were playing a game of cards, it was Woods’ intention not only to win the game but to “kick Bradley’s butt” as well. I was fairly astounded at this remark because it reflected an attitude that I had not associated with Tiger Woods. And it shows no generosity at all. It seems to be of a sadistic streak worthy only of the vice president, Mr. Cheney. It seems to me that winning is important but that kicking butt is a cause for eventual retribution.

Two thoughts came to mind as I heard Tiger Woods talk about kicking Bradley’s butt.

In perhaps 1935 during a grade school softball game, I was the catcher. When our pitcher threw a fast ball by one of the opposing batters, I held the ball out in front of the batter after he swung and missed and said something to this effect, “Is this what you were looking for?” The umpire was a gentleman named Mr. Payne who was widely beloved in the Clayton, Missouri public school system. Mr. Payne just turned me around and delivered a short lecture to the effect that I should never ever show up an opponent in that fashion. If the batter swung and missed, so be it. That was to the credit of our team. But to show him up by exhibiting the ball was needless and tended to make enemies. In all of my catching career after that time, I never ever showed the ball to a batter who had swung and missed. Mr. Payne made his point quite well.

The second thought that comes to mind has to do with an election in which I ran for the union presidency. In late 1949 in St. Louis, I was the vice president of Local 5 of the Federation of Long Lines Telephone Workers. The president was a man named Gordon “Pete” Sallee. Things were not progressing well in that local, so in the election of late 1949, I ran against Pete Sallee for the presidency and won it. Using Mr. Payne’s example, I went out of my way to make sure that Pete Sallee did not feel as though I were gloating or anything of the sort. Quite to the contrary, it was my intention to make a friend out of Sallee. As time went on, he and I became close friends and, indeed, until his death in 1970, whenever I visited St. Louis, I made it my business to have lunch or dinner with Pete Sallee.

I had no intention, ever, of making Pete Sallee feel as though I were intent upon kicking his butt. It is my belief that Tiger Woods would profit by taking the same view as I took back in 1949. Winning is important but kicking butt is not what sportsmen do. They should be magnanimous to the losers.


Now we turn to civil war, this being Iraq in the case in point. For a year or more, our man in Iraq was Ayad Alawi. He was our appointed Prime Minister of Iraq and he was selected largely because of his being secular. He was not publicly identified as being Sunni or Shia. He was a secularist.

Late in his career, when there was an election to be held in Iraq, Alawi was invited to the White House for a photo op, during which he “conferred” with George Bush. Alawi also addressed a joint session of Congress reading a speech prepared for him by the White House. Apparently Alawi had no chance to read the speech beforehand, as he made several errors when he spoke even though he is a fluent English speaker.

Nonetheless, Alawi ran in the January elections in Iraq as a secularist, and was handed his head by the religious parties. My recollection is that he got no more than 12 to 15% of the vote while the religionists ran off with all the rest. Now that Alawi is no longer in power and has largely been rejected, the current administration is trying to distance itself from him.

A week or two ago, Alawi observed that with all of the deaths taking place in Iraq from bombings, shootings, stabbings, strangulations, and beheadings that indeed a civil war was in progress in that country right now. Our Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Bush, violently disagreed, saying that there was no civil war in Iraq and that things were going swimmingly and that progress was being made on every front.

My guess or belief is that if you have a few bucks to bet on the outcome of the unrest in Iraq, put your money on Alawi and the case for civil war. Bush is simply whistling past the graveyard, knowing that a civil war in Iraq looms. Alawi is in Baghdad and Bush is in Crawford. Again, I tell you if you have a few dollars to wager, go with Alawi.


Now we turn to the virgin element of this essay. It had been my intention to write a humorous essay on the Muslim belief having to do with virgins in Paradise. As you may recall, every martyred Arab is entitled to up to 100 virgins to be put at his disposal once he enters Paradise. My thought in the proposed essay is that so many Iraqis are being killed that there is a terrible strain on the inventory of virgins in Paradise. I also wanted to point out that in the Koran there is no specification that the virgins be young. They are simply to have protected their virginity and that is all that matters. Consequently, the paucity of young virgins is such that middle-aged and elderly women have to be given to the martyrs to make up their quota of 75 to 100 virgins. I had intended to comment on the possibility of civil unrest occurring not only in Iraq, but also in Paradise because the martyrs would be complaining about being assigned virgins who had passed their 60th or 70th or 80th birthdays.

At the time I was contemplating this essay, there appeared to be a modicum of humor attached to it. Now, however, the situation is so dire in Iraq, not only for the Iraqi nation, but for the U.S. as well, that I fear that any attempt at humor in this situation is debatable. Consequently, the story about the elderly virgins has been dismissed and we’ll try again another day. Nonetheless, in spite of all the foregoing doubts, I am still struck by the Muslim belief that there is no homosexuality in Islam. No gays, no lesbians, and no transsexuals. What would happen if indeed, a gay Arab became a martyr and was given 100 female virgins for his use in paradise? What in the world would he do with them? As you see, I do not hold with the view that homosexuality does not occur in the Islamic faith.

Well, there are my thoughts about golf, civil war, and virgins. They are not cataclysmic thoughts but the meanderings of an old guy’s mind on a Sunday afternoon when daylight saving time takes effect. Maybe tomorrow, with the start of the baseball season, my spirits will improve and we will have something decent and humorous to include in the essays that I will send you.

April 4, 2006

Kevin’s commentary: Gay guys tend to get along with women pretty well, as far as I know. Presumably the martyr in question would just get 100 buddies to chat or go shopping with, or whatever the equivalent of that is in heaven.

More on Pop and virgins here, here, and here.

Reading this, it strikes me that I’d be very curious to hear what Pop would have to say about good ol’ ISIS these days. He certainly knew a good deal about the region, and presumably would call them out for being horrible, horrible people but stellar marketers. Seriously, ISIS doesn’t even have to fall back on the hundred virgins thing — they’re attracting tons of people with just the promise of basically indiscriminate violence.

Regarding the thoughts about baseball, I was struck by a bit of a cross-generational epiphanies. I’ve never been much of a sportsman but recently I took up a competitive videogame which pits two teams of five against one another. The circumstances of the game sometimes align such that the team that is ahead can entirely forego completing the objective necessary to win the game, and instead sit in the other team’s base and kill them over and over. The game penalizes anyone who leaves before aforementioned objective is complete, so when this situation arises the losing team is basically just forced to sit there and watch their butts get kicked for upwards of ten extra minutes. It is the most shining example that I can think of about playing not to win, but instead playing for the chief objective of humiliation, with the victory as a side benefit. The people who do this sort of “camping” are widely regarded as tremendous assholes, at least, which is nice — not very many people are with Tiger on this one.


A good many of us music lovers are attracted to an art form called the spirituals. In former days, that art form was called Negro spirituals. But somehow, Negro fell into disfavor and it became awkward to call them colored spirituals, black spirituals, or Afro-American spirituals. So the compromise in the music world has now been to call them simply spirituals.

It would be very easy to remember the lyrics to this spiritual as every line is identical. The line is “Ain’t gonna study war no more.” That is the first line, as well as the second line, the third line, and the 72nd or the 94th line. When sung by a choir with a good base section, it is an entrancing piece of music. One line in this spiritual is distinguished from the others by emphasis on words. One line may emphasize “ain’t.” Another may emphasize “study,” and stretch that word over three or four notes. So while the lyrics may appear to be identical, when sung by a good choir under an artful director, each line would appear to stand by itself. It makes the performance of “Ain’t gonna study” a magnificent piece of music.

All spirituals tend to repeat the lyrics from one line to the next. In the example, “Better get a home inna’ that rock,” that phrase is repeated in three of the four lines in every verse.

While I am on the subject of “Better Get a Home Inna’ That Rock,” my fellow Missourian, Howard Davis who now lives in Manhattan, took an uncommon interest in the second and third verses. Those verses draw a distinct difference in the eternal treatment of rich men and poor men. The second verse go like this:

“Rich man died, he lived so well, don’t you see
Rich man died, he lived so well, don’t you see
Rich man died, he lived so well,
When he died he found a home in hell,
So you better get a home inna’ that rock, don’t you see.”

Contrast the rich man’s fate with that of the poor man. For the poor man, the song says,

“Poor man died, he barely got by, don’t you see,
Poor man died, he barely got by, don’t you see.
Poor man died, who barely got by,
When he died he found a home on high.
So you better get a home inna that rock, don’t you see.”

These lyrics are provided for Mr. H. L. Davis who will sing them at the upcoming Anglican Convention in London after a fortnight or two.

The art form of repeating one line after another may well derive from ancient chants, such as the Russian hymn, “Hos po dee po mil wee.” In a hymn that takes nearly four or five minutes to perform, these are the only lyrics. They are Russian in origin and are reproduced here phonetically. I believe they mean, “God be with you.” The lyrics are also delivered rapidly or slowly as a means of variation. Again, by putting the emphasis on different words in this hymn, it is a stirring piece of work.

There is one more spiritual that ought to be mentioned. It is “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. The lyrics go like this:

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows but Jesus,
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,
Gloria Halleluiah”

“Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down,
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground,
But oh yes, Lord.”

The chorus of “Nobody Knows” is repeated.

Paul Robeson, a bass-baritone, was the leading spiritual singer in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Robeson was a liberal who was grossly maligned by religious forces in the United States who attempted to call him a Communist. The fact that he was widely acclaimed in Europe during his exile only added fire to the Bible thumpers. By the time he recovered from defending himself, audiences here had lost interest and his career faded. What a shame!

Now there are some encouraging thoughts about spirituals and related hymns. My good friend Thelma Dupont, who worked with me in Ma Bell’s vineyard, tells me that some of the spirituals are sung in her Catholic Church. She mentions specifically, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord.” That is good news and I hope my friend Thelma encourages the organist to learn “Better Get a Home Inna That Rock, Don’t You See.”

Speaking of the Catholic faith, I attended a funeral for Rosemary Bannon in New City, New York, who had been murdered by her husband Lonnie Bannon. I believe I was the only non-family member attending that service in 1980. To kill a little time, the organist, who was located above us on a balcony, played “Amazing Grace.” That is a completely Protestant hymn and a nearly fell off my pew, but it was good news because that was my mother’s all time favorite hymn.

Finally, the good news will not stop. Canon Howard Davis of the Episcopal Dioceses of New York now informs me that the official Episcopal hymnal has “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” I assume that this inclusion is in accordance with the wishes of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Queen Elizabeth of Mother England. As I say, this is unanticipated good news.

Perhaps some of you may wonder why this old essayist has such an interest in spirituals knowing that he is a copper-riveted, diamond-studded non-believer. The fact is that spirituals are a magnificent art form, and they make for very pleasant listening as well. Just because I am fond of spirituals does not mean that I have pretensions of being a supervising management angel. I just admire the art form and the music that is derived therefrom, and it would please me greatly just to sing in the choir. So I leave you with the thought that “Jordan river, muddy and cold, chills the body, but not the soul.” Chorus: “Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.” (REPEAT THESE CHORUS LYRICS AS OFTEN AS YOU WOULD LIKE.)

July 20, 2006

Kevin’s commentary: Pop definitely knew what he liked, musically speaking. Not one of those guys who’ll tell you “oh, I listen to everything.” He had his religious music and his Irish music and a few other types that he really liked, a generally poor outlook on modern music, and that was that.


My search for a high-paying job with bonuses and stock options is not a magnificent success story. Last year, I thought I had the New York Mets’ manager’s job sewn up, but they gave it to Willie Randolph largely because he is younger and he is a Brooklyn native. When the New York Knickerbockers demoted Herb Williams, I thought I had that job sewn up as well. Instead, the Knicks gave the job to Hubie Brown and gave him a long-term contract at $10 million per season. I would have been a much cheaper investment. When Bush finally got the nerve to fire his Treasury Secretary, I thought that job was going to be mine as well. Instead, it went to the Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Company who said that he took a $38 million cut in annual salary to accept the job. I would have come much cheaper in that job as well.

The incomes of people in top jobs are to my mind clearly astounding. For example, the head man at Home Depot made $40 million last year while his sales fell 12% and the stock price declined almost the same amount. Two executives from the Chase Bank who live here in New Jersey were paid $35 million each. I have an account with Chase Bank but my account seldom reaches anything like $35 million. A few years ago a company was formed here called Celgene, which offered a cancer drug. I initially invested in Celgene and sold it when it showed no promise. Things have turned around at Celgene and its two top executives each were paid nearly $33 million last year. So these are the kinds of jobs I have been searching for.

Two years ago when George Bush was mounting his campaign to invade Iraq, his CIA director, George Tenet, assured him that there were weapons of mass destruction and that invading Iraq was a “slam dunk.” It is fairly clear now that we have had three years since Bush announced “mission accomplished”, that invading Iraq was no slam dunk and that the weapons of mass destruction were certainly no slam dunk either. So Mr. Bush fired Mr. Tenet and gave him the Medal of Honor. With that, the Duke of Crawford summoned a chairman from one of the House committees, named Porter Goss, and ordained him as the new Director of the CIA. When Goss took over, he was told by the President that the Chief Executive was greatly annoyed by the leaks going to the newspapers, which he claimed came from the CIA. He told Goss to fix that. Goss fired a string of experienced executives and in so doing, gutted the agency. Furthermore, Mr. Goss wrote a letter to all of the CIA employees instructing them that their views should conform with administration policies. According to my advisors from the deep forests of the Ozarks, this is bass ackwards. Intelligence comes first, not last. And it should never conform to anybody’s preconceived notions1.

Eighteen months after Mr. Goss was appointed Director of the CIA, the king of the universe fired him as well. There was a meeting at the White House in which the king of the universe and the great decider praised Mr. Goss and showed him the door. At that point, the Duke of Crawford introduced Michael Hayden, a four-star general from the Air Force. It is fairly obvious that General Hayden was the choice of the President all along and he was simply waiting for an opportunity to fire Goss and put Hayden in that job.

General Hayden comes with certain baggage in that he is the author of the snooping program which listens to your telephone calls. Initially it was claimed that only calls from this country to foreign ports would be listened in on when they involved a call between two Al Qaeda representatives. Presumably when Osama Bin Laden wants to talk to one of his representatives in the United States, he places a person-to-person call which makes it much easier for our snoops to locate the call. The New York Times reporter James Risen, discovered General Hayden’s plan to snoop on Americans talking on the telephone. This set off a campaign by the Bush administration to suppress and to deny the rights of the free press that we have enjoyed for the two hundred and eighteen years of our existence. Then the newspaper USA Today disclosed that not only international calls were being monitored but that calls within the United States were also subject to monitoring. The point here is that your freedom to make telephone calls and e-mails is going to be altered by the fact that your government is listening to them and secondly by the thought that when those practices are disclosed, the administration sets out to destroy whatever it can of the discloser.

General Hayden has another problem in that Dana Priest of The Washington Post has disclosed that the CIA is running a series of prisons outside the United States where high-level prisoners are confined and are presumably subject to the laws of the country where they are held, which often permits torture. The administration has responded to the story about the prisons run by the CIA with a determination to cut down The Washington Post. I would suspect that if James Risen or Dana Priest made an illegal bet with a local bookmaker, the administration would know all about it. As a matter of fact, Dana Priest won the Pulitzer Prize this year for her stories on the CIA run prisons.

What the citizens of this country are being asked to do is to give up their right to freely express their views on the telephone in the name of national security. Secondly they are being asked to give up their right to a free press, again on the basis of national security. Many years back, Benjamin Franklin had an apt thought about liberty and security. Franklin said, “Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” The advice from this old geezer about liberty and security tracks totally with Ben Franklin.

To use an ancient expression, I thought I had a lock on the CIA job. After all, I spent more than three years studying the ways of warfare in the Air Force during World War II. Secondly, during the 1960s I was an AT&T lobbyist, again involved with the American government. I suppose those credentials were not as exciting as the four-star general who appeared before the Senate committee for his confirmation. But on the other hand, I would say that my credentials are impressive as well. There aren’t many of us World War II buck sergeants still around and looking for work.

Speaking of AT&T and General Hayden’s snooping program, it is quite clear that AT&T, my old employer, has contributed mightily to the snooping program. On no occasion has AT&T denied responsibility for collecting and handing over its data to the Federal Government. If the United States government can make heads or tails out of all of the phone calls and e-mails in this country, I commend them. There are literally billions of calls. What they are going to do with them is a mystery to those of us who worked in the telecommunications industry.

But now we go one step beyond the snooping with the administration’s desire to wipe out all opposition from the American press. Again, I would assume that every reporter in Washington and any other sensitive location would have their phones wired so that government people can listen to what they have to say in an attempt to locate who their sources may be. When the administration and General Hayden attack the American press, they should bear in mind the words of Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, who said, “It is not a good idea to pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” In this case I hold not only with Ben Franklin but with Mark Twain as well.

While we are on the subject of freedom and the press, what comes to mind is a significant comment by the Reverend Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor. During the First World War, Martin Niemöller was the captain of a submarine, also known as U-boats, which sank all kinds of Allied shipping. Following the war, Niemöller became a pastor. In the 1930s, he broke with Adolph Hitler and was eventually imprisoned by Hitler. According to his biographers, Niemöller was sentenced to be executed two days after Germany surrendered. Of course the execution did not take place and Niemöller was released. There’s a quote by Martin Niemöller that ought to fit here when we are talking about liberty and security. In one of his works, the Reverend Niemöller had this to say:

“First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

It is fairly clear that the Reverend Martin Niemöller was a brave man and almost paid for it with his life. It is also clear that unless someone speaks up, the forces of oppression will destroy us all. It is my recommendation that General Hayden and his boss and the ultimate boss of all the world, Mr. Bush, should read the remarks of Martin Niemöller.

The burden of this essay has been to offer my thoughts to General Hayden who got the CIA job that I had in mind. Now that we have offered my geezer views to General Hayden, I thought it would be worthwhile to offer a thought or two to the Duke of Crawford about his war with Iraq. When Bush’s father was president, he hired a professional named Brent Scowcroft as his National Security Advisor. Scowcroft knew all the generals and he knew all about military options and hardware. He was a military expert and thus was qualified to serve as the National Security Advisor. When the current president assumed his post, he chose an academic from StanfordUniversity – I believe her job was provost – to be his National Security Advisor. Condoleezza Rice is her name and she had absolutely no qualifications as a National Security Advisor. Her four years in that job showed the paucity of her experience. Nonetheless Mr. Bush promoted her to be the Secretary of State, to succeed a fully-qualified man named Colin Powell.

In 1991 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the senior Bush, together with Scowcroft, gathered a coalition consisting largely of Arab countries to have Hussein thrown out of Kuwait. That was accomplished and much of Hussein’s army was destroyed in the battles in Kuwait. There was an argument at the end of the so-called Gulf War in 1991-2 that the coalition forces should have gone all the way into Baghdad. Leaning upon Scowcroft’s advice, the elder Bush declined to go to Baghdad and attempt to subdue the Iraqi nation. It was the elder Bush’s thought that we had gone there to liberate Kuwait, and that had been done. To march into Baghdad would have involved a much different set of circumstances. It would have alienated the Arab world as well as those of us in the West who do not share the Arab viewpoint.

Following the war, Bush and Scowcroft wrote a book in which these sentences are significant. They wrote that they did not advance to Baghdad to force Saddam Hussein from power because to do so would have involved “incalculable human and political costs… Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”2

When the current Duke of Crawford was asked about why he invaded Iraq and conquered Baghdad against his father’s advice, Bush replied that he sought his advice from “a higher father.” Presumably, Bush was referring to God.

It has been my view that people who are in communication with the Almighty are debatable companions. When a man refers to the thought that he gets his information from on high, there is no amount of earthly logic that will move him. George W. Bush has made much of the religious component of his experience and he has contended that it was God who encouraged him to run for the presidency. Please put me down as a doubter. I am reasonably certain that any God of any kind would not permit the slaughter of nearly 2,500 Americans and perhaps 100,000 Iraqis in a war without justification and without end. Such a God would not have permitted George W. to commit the excesses and the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison. Such an overseer of man’s destinies would not have permitted Mr. Bush to keep those prisoners at Quantanomo for as much as four years without ever knowing the charges against them. My advice to the Duke of Crawford is that he should listen to his earthly father a lot more often than to his heavenly father, whoever that might be.

Well, there you have it. It now appears that my search for a high-paying job will be one as a counselor giving advice to high-level authorities. I am not sure how much people who offer advice are paid or even whether they are entitled to bonuses. I suspect that my career as an advisor probably will pay a little less than the $40 million made by the head man at Home Depot. But if I were offered something less than that, say something on the order of $35 million, I would consider that a pretty fair salary for the advice that I have to offer. On top of that, a publication such as the Reader’s Digest could compose a story about how a former buck sergeant finally began to succeed in this world. As everyone knows, buck sergeants are the salt of the earth. My advice to General Hayden and to George W. will probably be rejected. But I suggest that they ignore it at their own peril.

June 6, 2006

1. Wouldn’t it just be more convenient for everyone if reality would just stick to the script sometimes?
2. I really like the choice of the word “barren” here. The idea that “yes, we could do this, but it wouldn’t really accomplish anything aside from spending a lot of money and lives” is one that truly should have been taken to heart earlier.

This essay was a pretty on-point takedown of all the wonderful parts of the PATRIOT act which served to lay the groundwork for all today’s NSA, which endeavors to monitor all human communication. I’ve always wondered, if the NSA is storing all this data somewhere, it’s a shame that I can’t really see what types of stats they have on me. I mean, aside from “conversations about things that could be terrorist activity,” what else are they tracking? At this point, it seems naive to think that they’re going to stop collecting all our data, so now I’d just like to at least see some interesting (that is, unrelated to terrorism) applications of that information. Alas.


During the late 1980s and the earlier part of the 1990s, my wife Judith and I rode on mountain bikes all over northern New Jersey. Our objective was to reach at least 100 miles per week. On most weeks, we met that objective. From time to time, we would stop to rest, usually in preparation for the final leg of the trip back to our house. Maybe it was the hand of providence, or maybe it was just an old man’s legs giving out, but from time to time we stopped in front of synagogues to take our break. We noticed that synagogues often had stone slabs set in their outside walls that carried a citation from the Bible. We learned a good bit about the Bible from reading the stones with the inscriptions on the various synagogues.

One of the Bible verses cited on a synagogue proclaimed, “And the bush was not consumed.” That is from Exodus 3, verse 2. We did quite a little bit of riding around the area of Westfield, which has a large synagogue, and the inscription there contains a verse from Micah: “And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” That is from a book that Micah wrote in the Bible. It is in the sixth chapter, sixth verse. Quoting the verse from Micah is more than likely what led to the double mistaken identities.

For years, we have dealt with the Short Hills Pharmacy here. The gentleman who receives the prescriptions, delivers them, and collects the cash is named Brian. Brian is a taciturn gentleman who has not much

to say. He is pleasant enough but small talk is not his idea of a way to pass time. On occasion, Brian will begin to speak about various things in town and when he does, I tend to pay attention. Brian had told me of a new store opening on Main Street in Millburn which handled Judaica. He said that he had visited the store on his lunch hour and had borrowed several books to read and he seemed to treasure them. So, for better or for worse, I assumed that Brian was Jewish because of his interest in Judaica.

Later on, in another conversation, I mentioned the inscriptions we had read on the synagogues, including the one from Micah. Brian said, “That’s very interesting because I was reading that very verse this morning before I came to work.” Apparently Brian seems to read from the Bible before he comes to work. My limited research tells me that Micah was a minor prophet who lived 2800 years ago. Nonetheless, Micah’s advice about loving mercy, doing justly and walking humbly is good advice for these days as well.

At this point, I was proceeding on the assumption that Brian was Jewish. Somewhere during these events, I presented a card to Brian for my pharmaceutical needs which had my full name on it. My first name is, of course, a Hebrew name, Ezra. Brian asked me if that was my card, and I said it was. As Brian and I knew, Ezra was a scribe in Jerusalem many years ago, who contributed a book to the Bible. The fact that he was a scribe also suggests that he could read and write, which was a major achievement at that time. There then followed a discussion about the fact that people are naming their male children Micah and Ezra these days.

All of this obviously led Brian to assume that I was Jewish because I had Ezra as my first given name. The fact of the matter is that I did not have the guts to tell Brian that I am a gentile Irishman. So I let the matter ride, hoping for a better day when I could disclose these enormous facts.

My hesitation to disclose my background to Brian was in accordance with the cautious advice of a neighborhood resident philosophical consultant, Mrs. Frances Licht. As it turns out, my true religious affiliation was disclosed not by me, but by my wife.

So here we were, with each of us thinking the other was Jewish. On at least two occasions, I congratulated Brian during the High Holy Days and wished him a happy Hanukah. Brian did not use those occasions to tell me that he was not Jewish but rather Brian accepted my congratulations and wished me well. So you see, no one or everyone was at fault in this failure to communicate.

I am not sure exactly how this has worked out but after I lost my sight, my wife Judith has more or less attended to the drugstore and she seems to make Brian forget his taciturnity and speak in greater volumes. Recently, Brian stated to my wife that he was not Jewish at all. My wife stated to Brian that I was not Jewish either. I have no idea what all this means except that it was the verse of a minor prophet who wrote some words that are inscribed on a stone slab on a Westfield synagogue. When I recently visited the drugstore after an absence of several months, Brian and I shook hands. He greeted me warmly, so I suggest that we continue on good terms, even though we are just two ordinary gentiles.

Nonetheless, it was our reading that brought us together and I am pleased to call Brian my friend even though he is just a fellow gentile. He may even be an Irish gentile, but I have not had the courage to ask him about his surname. Again, following the advice of the neighborhood resident philosopher, I believe at this point, it would be wise to let matters rest right where they are.

July 18, 2006

Kevin’s commentary: A refreshing twist on the normal stories about the atheists who are waging a “war on Christmas” which I’m sure we’ll be hearing about again in a few months. I like the idea that Pop and this guy went around wishing each other a happy Hanukah, not because that made sense to either of them, but rather because they though it made sense to the other party.


John Donne 1572 – 1631

These lines are being dictated on a gloomy Friday afternoon at the end of December, 2006. Ordinarily my outlook on life is less than exuberant during the period between Christmas and New Year’s. Today’s news has sent me further into a depressed state of mind in that it appears that Saddam Hussein will be hung. I don’t find the news of Saddam’s imminent death amusing; I find it grossly depressing.

Four thoughts now occur to this feeble essayist’s mind. The first thought is that I am able ordinarily to compose a prose sentence in the English language. On the other hand, poetry is absolutely beyond my grasp. Recognizing this deficiency, I tend to rely on poets who can say things in rhyme much better than I can write them in prose. In this case, the person that I cite today was born 434 years ago in England and was known by the name of John Donne. If my Internet sources are halfway correct, John Donne was an Anglican clergyman who wrote extensively as a poet. There may be some debate about whether John Donne’s work which goes by the title, “No Man Is An Island,” is a meditation, a devotion, a sermon, musings, or perhaps a poem. For this essay, I will treat Mr. Donne’s work as a poem. It clearly and certainly is not a prose work.

Now to proceed to the main points of what I wish to say this dreary afternoon. In the first instance, the news on television and on radio is saturated with thoughts about the imminent death of Saddam Hussein. There is even much speculation as to whether the breaking of the vertebrae in his neck from the noose will cause him pain. All of this sort of thing contributes to my unhappiness and less than gleeful outlook on life today.

I fully agree that Saddam Hussein was an evil person. I fully agree that he should be punished in some fashion. But to take his life does not contribute to or promote the cause of mankind. To take his life by hanging or by any other means simply illustrates the cruelty that the human race has yet to overcome. If Saddam were to be imprisoned under solitary confinement rules until he lives out his days, I believe it would be a just punishment. To kill him is to show nothing less than our failure as a civilized society.

The point here is that John Donne said it right 382 years ago in a series called Meditation XVII. The best known work in these meditations is, “No man is an island entire unto himself.” In that meditation/devotion, John Donne points out that every man’s death diminishes the rest of us. And poet Donne also observes that you need not send to know when the funeral bells ring; at some point, they will “Ring for thee.”

I am an old soldier who is fully familiar with death. Saddam’s demise by hanging does not inspire me. It repulses me. It seems to me that John Donne had it right when he said that every man’s death diminishes the rest of us. Here is John Donne’s Meditation, written in 1624, which states it better in verse than I could ever do in prose.

“No man is an Island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman (1572 – 1631)

Pastor Donne’s work, particularly in the final sentences, make the case succinctly and powerfully.

The second thought that comes to mind on this dreary afternoon as we wait for Saddam’s execution, is that of an American enlisted man. It goes without saying that the enlisted men in the American Army do all of the heavy lifting. And they do about 90 to 95% of the dying. For example, when a general recounts a battle and says that we lost 5,000 or 9,000 men in that battle, you may be assured that the people who did the dying were enlisted men and not the general, who was safely removed from the hostilities in a location many miles away from the battlefield. The General might even be in Washington, D.C. The overwhelming point is that enlisted men in the military perform the most miserable tasks and in the end, they are the ones who ordinarily wind up in body bags and aluminum coffins.

Thirdly, for the past several days, George Bush, who is becoming much more like Lyndon Johnson in the final days of the Vietnam War, has gathered his advisers around him in Washington, Camp David and now in the center of the universe, Crawford, Texas. Quite obviously, Bush is preparing a marketing effort to sell to the American people more troops being sent to Iraq. The marketing effort will involve a series of slogans that will underlie the sending of a new “surge” of American troops to Baghdad to try to rescue the abominable war that Mr. Bush has started. So far this month, even without the surge being employed, we have lost 113 men killed in action in Baghdad and Iraq. If I were an American enlisted man, which I was in World War II, and if I knew I would be included in the so-called surge which might be my second, third or fourth involvement in Iraq, I would have to conclude that as John Donne states it, in my case, the bell will soon toll for me.

Enlisted men are not dummies. They know when they are being sent to do an impossible job. And yet they go. In this case the Commander in Chief is asking our troops to lay down their lives for an impossible war that should never have been launched at any time. And yet the Commander in Chief sends these young men to die for a blunder of epic proportions.

Mr. Bush is a man of limited intellect. To cover his intellectual shortcomings, Bush usually resorts to bullying. This has always been the case. If you will recall his tenure as Governor of Texas, where he was attended by Alberto Gonzales, now the Attorney General of the United States, Mr. Bush sent dozens of people to be executed. His lack of compassion was widely noted. One of the people who lost her life under the Bush administration was Carla Faye Tucker. Ms. Tucker was condemned to death, but in the years before her execution, she became a devout Christian and lent comfort to others on death row and throughout the penitentiary with her caring attitude. Yet in the final analysis, Mr. Bush, who brags often about his attachment to Jesus, ordered her to be killed. Bush could have saved Carla Faye Tucker; but he did not. He had her killed to show how tough he was.

The surge in troops that Bush now seems to favor in a final hope to quell the violence, will do nothing of the sort. It is intended to show how tough Mr. Bush is and how he disregards the November 7, 2006, election results. It makes no difference what the Jim Baker-Lee Hamilton study group had to say about getting us out of Iraq. Mr. Bush has decreed that the Baker-Hamilton report amounts to surrender. He seems prepared to order a surge in troops which will inevitably result in more needless deaths to Iraqis as well as to Americans. To Mr. Bush, these unfortunate soldiers are just numbers, as was the case of Carla Faye Tucker. How cruel, how cruel.

Fourthly and finally, we come to the ending of John Donne’s Meditation. Donne’s work reminds us, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” I am aware that winter gloom has descended upon me. I cannot help but think of Saddam’s oncoming death and the sacrifice of hundreds of American enlisted men’s lives which have to add to my unhappiness. While I know that on this particular occasion I am affected by gloom, I cannot escape the fact that somewhere down the road, probably sooner rather than later, George Bush will find that the bell tolls for him as well. This man has sent 3000 Americans to die in Iraq and countless thousands of Iraqis to die also. He has dismantled a sovereign country which could have been our friend. Clearly, for the next 500 years, Iraqis will curse the name of George Bush and the American occupiers.

In 1942 when I was a Buck Private in training for the American Army, Jack Butkowski, a longshoreman from Brooklyn, used the expression, “What goes around, comes around.” It was the first time I ever heard that expression. George Bush has been involved for years as a director of destruction. It could very well be as time goes on, the philosophy of what goes around will snare Mr. Bush. If that is not the case, Mr. Bush may give thought to John Donne’s ancient maxim that “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls.” I suspect that sooner or later, our Commander in Chief will be called to account for the lives that he has needlessly lost. I deeply regret that, because America can do much, much better.

December 29, 2006

Within hours after the first draft of this essay was dictated, Iraqi authorities ended Saddam Hussein’s life by executing him in a hanging. George Bush missed a golden opportunity to show the world a touch of compassion. Until his final hour, Saddam was in American custody. He could have been imprisoned for life under solitary confinement rules rather than to kill him.

Bush is again on vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch. According to the White House announcement, Bush retired for the evening serene in the knowledge that Saddam would be hung before daylight reached American shores. Presumably the Commander in Chief retired to the same bed in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. On that occasion, Bush ignored the devastation for three full days and was forced to view a video tape put together by his staff to show him what he had missed. It must be assumed that Mr. Bush, under instructions from Karl Rove, sleeps peacefully with the bed covers securely fastened over his head.

Have we not had enough killing in Iraq? Does one more killing, even if it is Saddam, bring serenity to the American people or to the Iraqi people? The answer is clearly negative.

In John Donne’s words, Saddam’s death diminishes me. The deaths of more than 113 American soldiers in December also diminishes me. The three thousandth American death in Iraq has now occurred. Again, those figures diminish me. During December the body count at the Baghdad morgue reached more than 3,500 men, women and children. I weep for those Iraqi deaths.

John Donne says, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Jack Botkowski’s expression conveying the same thought is that, “What goes around, comes around.” George Bush has the blood of the Americans and the Iraqis on his hands as a result of his bastardly invasion of the sovereign country of Iraq. Bush will not escape the verdict of history. That verdict may very well be “the bell tolls for George Bush” and he will become a victim of the philosophy of “What goes around, comes around.” I am demeaned by these needless deaths taking place as a result of our occupation of Iraq. We should leave Iraq posthaste before more deaths occur.

December 31, 2006


Kevin’s commentary: I’m reminded here of when American troops killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. I was in my dorm room when people started to whoop and cheer and sing the national anthem. I remember both being glad that a monster was no longer free to continue his activities, but also a little bit surprised at the reactions of those around me. People were really and truly celebrating that he was dead. I’m not entirely sure what that accomplishes, to celebrate a death. It doesn’t bring back anyone that he hurt, all it means is that never really had to answer for any of it.