Archive for January 2017


When we parted company at the end of Series 2 of these thoughts that appear while shaving, there was some consideration of my current hometown, Millburn-Short Hills, as a candidate to be wiped out because of wine and fornication. This of course, comes from the Biblical source of Revelations which described what happened to Babylon. It earned the Mark of the Beast.

Millburn-Short Hills is a town or around 19,000 people in northern New Jersey. It is nowhere as big as Babylon at its peak. Millburn-Short Hills has only three major streets that amount to anything. Babylon had hundreds of boulevards and plazas, so comparing the two cities is a gross mismatch. Nonetheless, several of us have joined together to see that Millburn-Short Hills becomes an inspirational force so that wine and fornication will be wiped out. After all, many of us assume that we came within an inch of having the Mark of the Beast applied to all of us in the recent contra-temps involving our New Jersey Governor.

So the essayist approaches the next subject with fear and trembling. It has to do with exposing some intimate female garments to public viewing. We will try to treat this debate with all the sensitivity and civility that can be mustered.

Bra Straps That Are Exposed

My two sisters must have approached their teenage years with consummate confusion. Their mother – and my mother – had a primitive, Pentecostal view of religion. Things that were “of the world” were to be avoided at all costs. And so it was that Lillie, our mother, railed against half slips and brassieres. They were, according to Lillie, not natural and “of the world.” That means they are works of Satan.

This old essayist freely and openly admits that much of these developments came to me by hearsay. After all, the two sisters were 10 years and 14 years older than their youngest brother. About the only direct testimony came as arguments between these three women boiled over.

Lillie’s idea of a decent woman was one who wore no makeup and certainly, no rouge or lipstick. Her clothing buttoned up to the neck. Her dresses were well below the knee. The two daughters, Verna and Opal, rebelled often against their mother’s sartorial tastes. It is probably logical that the two girls bought their own undergarments from their own earnings as soon as possible.

Verna, the older sister, was church-going and lived a largely pious life. She took voice lessons and sang in the St. Louis Grand Opera chorus. Opal was pretty much the exact opposite. She learned to play the piano by ear and became a waitress-singer at Joe Gonella’s Restaurant or saloon. She wound up marrying maybe three times and her occupation was owning professional greyhound racing dogs.

In spite of their different outlook on life, it must be suspected that both wore bras and half slips – even though everybody knew they were Satan’s handiwork. But suffice it to say, that both the pious one and the hell raising saloon singer, covered up the shoulder straps in every case of public exposure. From the 1930’s through the 1960’s, disclosure of a bra strap would cause censorious controversy. It seemed to me that women were more outraged than men to see an exposed bra strap. Perhaps the offended ones believed the strap-showers were flaunting it.

Men were curious, but they pretended to be looking at something else if they were in the company of wives, mothers-in-law, girlfriends or preachers. Maybe men considered showing a bra strap as a tease.

Well, those days are long gone. Women these days show up at the post office or the grocery store in costumes that leave little to the imagination. There are instances where my first inclination is to look away to avoid violating a woman’s privacy. This is the Whole Foods grocery store, not the Horny Harry’s Saloon in Las Vegas.

Nobody asked me to be a referee or an umpire to say exactly how many clothes a woman must wear to be presentable. And so my reactions are greatly muted. But nonetheless, it would be worth the price of admission to hear what Lillie, Verna and Opal would say at today’s openness. They all died several years ago. You may rest assured that at their funerals, not a bra strap could be seen. So in the end, Lillie pretty much got her way.

For this old essayist, my view is that bras and half slips are not sinful inventions. Satan is in charge of shoes that don’t fit or shirts a half inch too small in the collar. It would come as a great surprise to me to find the Devil diddling around with female intimate apparel. On the other hand, many of us believe that a bra strap showing is clearly the work of unseen sinister forces that man is ill equipped to understand.

New Jersey’s Roundabout Roadways

As a means of shifting gears from female underwear and the current situation with the resignation of New Jersey’s governor, it may be well to say a few words about the roadways in this state.

In England, many years ago, when highways intersected, the English invented a devilish device known as a “Roundabout.” At heart, the roundabout places a large circle where the roadways come together. The theory is that drivers can stay with the circle until it is time for them to peel off and continue. That, my friends, is THE THEORY. In our mother country, all cars and trucks are driven from the right, but on the left side of the roadway. Perhaps that makes it easier for Englishmen to negotiate roundabouts while avoiding accidents from every quarter.

When highways in the Great State of New Jersey were laid out back in the 1920’s, a commissioner or a governor made the fatal mistake of borrowing roundabouts from England, calling them circles. Most have by now been discarded because of the great number of accidents they cause. It seems to me that here in New Jersey or in England, cars entering the roundabouts do not reduce speed and assume they have the right of way. Those are two fatal mistakes.

There are no signs signaling drivers to stay in a lane. In effect, when drivers enter a roundabout, it soon becomes a matter of bullying or luck that determines how cars will proceed. These devices may have been appropriate for England in days when cars were driven more slowly, but they are completely out of place in New Jersey.

Let me give you an example. On Highland Avenue at the railway station in Short Hills, New Jersey, there is a roundabout that connects with Hobart Avenue, a busy street, and at least two other lesser streets. It has been my observation that Saturday driving is by far the most treacherous day of the week. Young men in testosterone hyped sports cars and SUV’s who have been working in offices all week are out to show how quickly they can exceed 60 miles per hour. This is a formula for disaster.

It is made even more dangerous by the existence of a dark railroad underpass a short distance from the roundabout. When drivers emerge from the underpass, they enter the roundabout and feel no need to slow down – even when making a left turn – because they are following the contours of the roundabout. On the other side of the roundabout, if one wishers to peel off and enter the railroad underpass, he or she must deal with cars on the right side coming from Hobart Avenue.

This is a small example in a small town that is ripe for head-on collisions as well as cars plowing into the side of other cars all of whom can claim they have the right-of-way.

The roundabout in this town must cover a half to three quarters of an acre. There are benches where people may sit on the lawn to watch the near and full collisions. And the roundabout serves another purpose. It seems to be owned by the local government. As Christmas approaches, partisans put up signs extolling the joys of Christmas. It seems to me that people who adhere to the Jewish faith also occasionally put up signs or symbols. Angry letters to the editor of the local newspaper deplore putting up signs that erode the church-state relationship.

Perhaps there is something to be said for reading the handmade signs extolling the benefits of Chanukah and Christmas as a demolition derby takes place in front of them. We dumped the tea in the Boston harbor to show our disgust with the kingship of George III. Roundabouts would seem the obvious next rejection of Merrie Olde England, but there seems to be no movement to abolish them. Perhaps when a Saturday office worker in a souped-up Hummer runs over the religious signs, there may be a movement to do away with the roundabouts. Just remember what the Brits say, “What you gain on the turns, you lose on the roundabouts.”

The Demise of Dear Sir and Yours Truly

This little shaving thought has nothing to do with bra straps or New Jersey roundabouts. It isn’t supposed to. The thought that strikes me today often will have no reference to previous thoughts. When a thought makes a repeat appearance, it is interpreted by me as a spiritual sign that it should be written about to keep the Mark of the Beast away or to avoid the fall of Babylon which was described a little earlier.

This comment which will close the Third Edition of Shaving Thoughts has to do with an ancient custom in English usage which has made no sense since the age of chivalry. In this edition it is asked why in the world should letters start with an obvious falsehood and end with what is known as a “complimentary close,” that is equally outrageously false.

For all the years this ancient essayist attended schools, teachers demanded that every letter start with the greeting of “Dear Sir” or
“Dear Miss Brown” or “Dear Mr. bin Laden.” Every letter was expected to end with a pledge that could never be fulfilled when it is written, “Yours truly.” Is this a marriage where the writer pledges himself to the recipient of the letter as “Truly yours”?

A letter arrived here for example, addressed to “Dear Mr. Carr” with a complimentary close of “Sincerely.” The letter is from my broker. In telephone conversations, we address each other using first names. It is my expectation that both of us are sincere in getting our business done. But here is a form of written address that has survived hundreds of years. For many years now, my reaction has been, “enough already.”

My correspondence studiously avoids referring to anyone as “Dear” in the opening salutation. If it fell to me to write Osama, my letter would simply say, “Mr. bin Laden.” Closing the letter might pose a different problem as there would be a strong tendency on my part to say, “Drop Dead.” No opening “Dears” or “Cordially” or “Sincerely,” or “Yours truly.” Statements of that sort seem completely hypocritical to me, whether to bin Laden or to the local preacher.

If there is something that is complimentary or derogatory, it can be said in the body of the letter. Wouldn’t it be absurd to write a letter excoriating someone and sign it under the complimentary close of “Cordially” or “Sincerely”?

Advancing age and retirement probably make it much easier to adopt the modern form of letter writing that is proposed here. It is easy for me to envision a boss with a 1900’s mind set insisting on “Dear Sir” and “Yours truly.” Ah, but those people must be worked on because continuing the customs that were in vogue prior to the Boston Tea Party profits no one.

It is quite obvious to most everyone that breaking the habits of a lifetime might be very difficult to do. On the other hand, practitioners of the advanced form of enlightened correspondence, will notice a freedom and happiness never known before. Accordingly, trashing “Dear Sir” and “Yours truly” and “Sincerely” comes with high recommendations from this old essayist.

August 31, 2004


“Satan is in charge of shoes that don’t fit or shirts a half inch too small in the collar.” A-friggen-men.
I’d put this in the top 20 essays on the site, I think. I gotta get my ‘category’ features working again (I can’t add new ones right now) so that I can designate that appropriately.

The discussion of roundabouts compels me to show you the amazing work of traffic engineering that Burlingame California has invented. It takes all the worst parts of roundabouts, and combines them with the worst parts of a traditional intersection.
Introducing the traffic diamond:

Regarding the last section, I still haven’t completely settled on how to treat greetings and closings for work emails. “Hi bin Laden,” “Hey bin Laden,” etc can seem too informal. But starting a work email with “Dear bin Laden” would be extremely strange. A colleague of mine was criticized by starting an email with “Hey guys,” because Sephora is a largely female company, and apparently “guys” was insulting. Closing is equally awkward. I won’t say “Yours Truly” but I usually default to “Best,” which doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense either. I always like to read it in my head without the comma and line break — “Best Kevin.” This way I can imagine that I’m just closing each email by declaring that I am the superlative Kevin, which is important because there are currently three total Kevins involved in my project alone.


In this Second Series, we deal with why Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf, Iraq, took his coronary troubles to Jewish and Christian cardiologists in London. He went to London, not to Damascus or Cairo or Beirut, for his heart work. For Ali Sistani to agree that infidels (Jews and Christians) be allowed to meddle with his heart is a concession of the first magnitude. On one hand it says that Arab or Persian (Sistani was born in Iran) do not have the required expertise. On the other hand, it says when a life is on the line, religion and sexual orientation make no difference.

The second piece also has to do with some forlorn towns in the news these days in the Darfur region of the Sudan. My visits to these places during World War II convinced me that they were among the least desirable places to live anywhere in the world. It’s hard to believe, but things in those two towns have become worse.

As a saving grace, the Ayatollah piece contains a memorable bit of Donegal doggerel which is often repeated at this house while shaving. The story goes something like this.

Sistani’s Conversion

One of the benefits of my not being involved with any religious organization is that when it is my turn to consult a physician, it makes no difference to me about his religious or sexual preference. The sole exception, it might be supposed, is to have a medico who embraces Christian Science. Other than that exception, it ordinarily makes no difference to me if my visit takes me to a Protestant, a Catholic or a Jewish physician. So far no physician of mine seems to have embraced the Moslem, Buddhist or Hindu faiths, at least to my knowledge. And it may well be that some of the medicos that have treated me are non-believers in any religion. It might be suspected that non-believers would probably not want to advertise that fact for fear of offending red hot believers.

All of this comes from my pondering while my razor does its work, about the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the head man of the Moslem Shia faith in Iraq. Earlier this month, the Grand Ayatollah urgently needed some work on his heart which was unavailable in Iraq or apparently, in all Arab countries. His problem was sufficiently serious that he was sent to London for his cardiology problems. After a month or so in London, Ali Sistani has returned to his headquarters in Najaf, Iraq, where he has issued a call for all Shiites to come to Najaf. Perhaps this means the Grand Ayatollah is in a fighting mood. This must mean that the London cardiologists have done a fine job.

But that is not the main concern here. Muslims have always hated Jews. Now with the occupation of Iraq, Americans who are presumed to be Christians, are as hated as the Jews. The question that goes through my mind is whether in London, Ali Sistani was attended to by a cardiologist who subscribes to the Jewish faith?

Christian Americans often spend some of their training years in places like London. Do you think it is possible for a Jewish cardiologist assisted by an American Christian to have performed the surgery that restored Ali Sistani to full cardio-vascular health? Does anyone believe that the Grand Ayatollah insisted on having the cardio-vascular work performed only by Shiite cardiologists in London? Not a chance. The people who wielded the knives and cutting tools and the sewing kits were Jews assisted by Christian infidels.

So in the end, the Grand Ayatollah was most likely operated on by a Jewish cardiologist who eats only Kosher food. Sistani has no complaint at all. When it was my turn to have a heart by-pass operation, there were Jewish physicians assisted by Irish technicians and nurses in a hospital called Columbia Presbyterian. For a non-believer such as myself, that might be called playing God across the board. To top it off, my nurses in a Presbyterian Hospital were Irish women who intensely disliked the Brits and who were presumably, Catholics.

Most of the Irish nurses at Columbia Presbyterian came from Donegal where it is believed the Carr clan originated. They treated me like a son or brother. One of the nurses offered me an example of Donegal doggerel which is better than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. It says:

Donegal is the place
Where the women eat the praties (potatoes)
Skins and all.

Now wasn’t that free style poem worth waiting for?

If Grand Ayatollah Sistani takes a piece of Donegal doggerel poetry back with him from London, he may live forever. He should have told the nurses that Ali Sistani is an old Donegal name.


When news reports this summer began to expose atrocities in Sudan, they all identified it as a large region of that forlorn country, as big as California. When news reports became more specific, two Sudanese towns in the stories on Darfur caused me to think again about an essay produced here. It claimed that those two towns were the loneliest, most forlorn towns that anyone ever saw. Those towns were El Genina and El Fasher.

Let’s go back a step or two in the history of air transport in World War II. Until mid or late 1944, crossing the North Atlantic from the U.S. to Britain was often a hazardous endeavor. The weather, particularly in winter, was treacherous. Fog, icebergs, cold weather and all that. Even more dangerous were the German submarines called U-Boats. To avoid all those factors, the U.S. Army Air Force used the much longer Southern route. Boy, it was a long, long route for everything that could be carried by air.

The planes were generally C-47’s called DC-3’s in civilian life. They had internal cabin gas tanks. A fleet of C-87’s which had the capacity for longer flights were also used. When the C-87’s were intended for bombing missions they were called B-24’s.

The key points on the Southern route were Miami and the British-American base at Accra. Until the 1960’s, that base was located in a country called the Gold Coast which was a part of British West Africa in the English Empire. Since the late 1960’s, it is called Ghana.

From Miami, the trail led southward to Barinquen, Puerto Rico. Barinquen was the end of civilization for a time on this route. Next came a long over-water hop onto a jungle air strip outside of Georgetown, British Guiana. That country is now called Guyana. The enlisted men’s barracks at Georgetown had snakes and flying birds – inside! It was truly a jungle.

The next stop heading southward was Belem, Brazil. The Brazilians made things more civilized – and there was a town to visit for lucky GI’s. The next stop was the eastern most spot in Brazil called Natal. Most of us had some lovely boots made in Natal or Belem. Brazil suits me well. The people are outgoing and cheerful. They even tried to sell lipstick and other cosmetics to GI’s who had little use for such exotic products.

Heading eastward, the next stop was over the South Atlantic to a British island called Ascension. That tiny island had a semi-mountain with a hole cut through it to accommodate a single air strip. The wind blew constantly which made it important to line up for landings – and sometimes for take offs – in the center of the strip to avoid having the wing tips touching the side of the excavated hill.

By my estimation, Ascension has to be one of the loneliest places anywhere in the world. The soil cannot be cultivated, so at one time, vegetables were grown hydroponically. The vegetables were simply tasteless. There was no town there.

A GI told me that he had spent a tour in the Aleutian Islands. When he asked for a transfer, the Army fixed his clock by sending him to Ascension. Today, as far as can be told, Ascension is unpopulated and barely appears on maps of the South Atlantic region, appearing only in expensive atlases. That was and is, a lonely place.

My travels caused me to spend three nights on separate trips on Ascension. It was good to know that in the morning, we would head westward to Natal or eastward to Accra. The GI’s who were assigned there cursed their fate. We all understood.

Continuing eastward, there is a long over-water hop to Accra. At that base, material, supplies, engines and so forth were separated. Those intended for the European Theater went to Roberts Field in Liberia and then to Dakar, Senegal. In Dakar, where one could drink French wine, there were spies by the hundreds who made no real effort to hide their occupation. From Dakar, heading northward and easterly, there were some bases largely unknown to the outside world. First there was Atar, Mauritania and then Tindouf, Algeria. Then came Colom Bechar, Algeria and finally Oran, Algeria. All these were former French bases. From Oran, the cargo headed for the fighting in the North African and European battles.

Keep in mind Atar and Tindouf for later reference. Remember, Colom Bechon had the finest eating oranges in my memory.

It will be recalled that the U.S. was at war with Germany, Italy and their European allies, as well as with the Japanese Empire. For many years, some strategists argued that the best way to attack Japan was through China. So Accra became the distributing point for materiel heading eastward. First there was Kano and Maiduguri, Nigeria. Then
El Genina, El Fasher and Khartoum, Sudan. Then came Asmara, formerly in Ethiopia, now in Eritrea, Aden, Yemen and Karachi, formerly in India now in Pakistan. From Karachi, there were four or more bases until the supplies crossed the Himalayan mountains and wound up with allied forces in China.

From all this, remember if you will, El Genina and El Fasher.

According to my essay of several years ago, the loneliest places in the world are Ascension Island, Atar and Tindouf and El Genina and El Fasher. While my shaving was underway, it dawned on me that all those bases shared several characteristics. At all five of those lonely places, the wind blew endlessly. If one of us had a cup of coffee on the flight line, the wind would cool it automatically.

In the four African bases, Atar, Tindouf, El Genina and El Fasher, sand and dirt were constant problems. When an airplane was to spend the night there, at any of these bases, each engine had to be shrouded to attempt to protect it from sand and dirt. The mess halls – such as they were – had the same problem with the sand and dirt blowing through the tar-paper covering of the structure. On more than one occasion, sleeping in the airplane was preferable to trying to deal with bed clothes that had sand in them. There was absolutely no town to visit. In my estimation, English speaking foreigners would not have made any Arab shop owners very happy.

On all these bases, there were no rivers nearby. Water was a luxury. It was ladled out by the canteen. The Army loves to call its toilets or bathrooms “latrines,” which has both French and Latin ancestry. The dictionary says latrines are a place to wash. Not so in Atar, Tindouf,
El Genina and El Fasher. This was the case because there was no water for it at all. The latrines – for all their Frenchness – were known to my parents as outhouses. In this case, the sand and dirt made them pretty poor outhouses, at that.

This may destroy a myth about our soldiers being squeaky clean, but it is my duty to tell you that soldiers go for days or weeks without bathing or showering. My journeys took me through these bases on several trips. My bathing took place after we had reached a more civilized place, maybe two or three days later.

A final story about the El Genina and El Fasher. At the time of my enlistment, the Army issued a costume to us called “fatigues.” The Army loves French words, but these were simply work clothes. The fatigues had pants with metal buttons on the fly. The jacket had probably four metal buttons as well. Uniformly, the fatigues were some sort of green in color. Knowing how things are done in the Army, it is probably true that the color was given an undecipherable name. Take my word for it. They were green. And they were work clothes.

The first time my journeys brought me to El Genina, the ground mechanic who greeted us was dressed in what appeared to be off-white fatigues. My astonishment had no bounds. Was this a new issue that we had not seen or was it something that the El Genina ground crew had dreamed up by itself?

The next stop was El Fasher and again, we were greeted by ground mechanics in off-white uniforms. So some questions needed to be asked. An El Fasher mechanic said it was a simple matter. There was an Arab man who appeared to collect clothes for laundry. He took them home to be washed by one of his wives. The soap she used must have been industrial strength. After the washing, the clothes were hung on a line in the African desert sun with the African desert wind blowing on them. Before long, those green fatigues turned a dingy white. That is not an inspiring tale about the fatigues, but it must be said that in El Genina and El Fasher, that’s all the news we have to report.


Clearly, the Arabs in Darfur are chasing and killing the black inhabitants. The Arabs believe that they are a superior race, it must be supposed. My heart goes out to the poor black people of Darfur. From all appearances, there have been no efforts to help them. Kofi Annan and Colin Powell shook their fists at the Sudanese government. The net effect was a big, fat zero. The killing and the displacement go on.

It may also be supposed that this country cares much more for the inhabitants of Iraq and Afghanistan instead of the black people of
El Genina, El Fasher and Darfur. Perhaps some day those black people will finally get a break. The politicians here are worried right now about same sex marriages and late term abortions. Do you think after those issues are settled, there may be some attention directed to the people of the Darfur region who are dying – right now?

While shaving these days, my thoughts are often on the people of the Sudan who badly need a break.

August 31, 2004


This is actually pretty organized for a shaving thought. I was expecting a good meander through all sorts of topics, but we kept a pretty consistent narrative instead. Man, part of me really wants to visit Ascension and some of these other places, but the other part of me is generally there to remind me that I’ve only ever heard negative things about these places. Seems like the perpetual wind would get pretty frustrating, at the very least.

From my short time in Sao Paulo, however, I could definitely see Pop getting along well in Brazil. The people I met there were all friendly, boisterous and unpretentious.


When my mind is absorbed in trying to solve a problem or remembering where my glasses might be misplaced or trying to recall a pungent quote, it often comes up empty. Remembering to call the pharmacist occasionally leaves me prescription-less. Forgetting to turn off the lights is now another failure of mine.

Generous friends suggest that my forgetfulness is nothing to worry about as it is my age that produces the unintended oversights. Age is a double edged sword as it is also a reminder of approaching mortality.

Shaving is the saving grace in this matter of forgetfulness. While my mind is totally vacant, thoughts occur to me that seem worthy of my comment. Those thoughts rarely tell me about the location of my glasses or the quote that has escaped me, but there are often other thoughts that intrigue me. Perhaps if there were a few examples of transient shaving thoughts, the idea might become clearer to the reader.

Religion – Islam and Christian Scientists

My thoughts rarely stray into ecclesiastical matters when performing the tonsorial effort of shaving. My shaving instrument is a battery operated electric shaver. Perhaps if lather and an old straight razor were used, my thoughts on religion would occur more often and might have greater philosophical impact. But my experience with an electric razor goes back to the late 1940’s, so my religious thoughts have some historical context to them.

Currently, my concern has to do with an alleged misinterpretation of Islamic sacred texts and my wonderment about what has happened to the Christian Scientists.

In the Islamic case, several scholars now say sacred texts of the Islamic faith have been misread and misinterpreted for centuries. It has long been the belief of observant Moslems, that if a religious man is killed in a noble act – such as protecting the faith – he will be admitted as a martyr to Paradise. That is only the beginning. Various divisions in the Islamic faith say that such a martyr shall be entitled to 20 or 50 or even up to 100 virgins at his disposal.

In previous essays, several ancillary thoughts have been expressed. For example, will the martyr have a voice in picking out his virgins? Can a martyr trade one or more of his virgins to another martyr as would be done among professional sports teams in this country? The implication has always been that the martyrs will be furnished with young virgins. What will happen as the virgins age and become less attractive? Is there a provision for older virgins? And one must ask, what provision will be made for gay martyrs. Equality would seem to demand that gay martyrs be treated as other martyrs are treated.

But all this business about virgins is now under sustained attack. There is a school of eminent scholars who have studied the sacred texts of the ancient Islamic faith who now conclude that martyrs will be rewarded by white table grapes rather than by various numbers of virgins. Apparently, in ancient times among the Islamic faithful, white table grapes were objects to be greatly prized. A mistranslation in Islamic sacred texts had mistakenly rendered white table grapes as virgins. That is some mistake!

Moslems are forbidden from making and drinking alcoholic beverages, so the grapes must be only eaten. Fermenting them into wine or champagne is barred by religious fatwas. In Paradise, martyrs enjoy an eternal life. It might be supposed that eating white table grapes every day for 3,000 or 8,000 years might become boring, but boys, that is what we have to eat in Paradise.

It is probably a fortunate idea that my razor is an electric model. If this misinterpretation of texts had occurred when people used straight razors, it is obvious that throat cutting would be found in every corner of the civilized world.

So much for the Moslems. Let us now consider what has happened to people who embrace the faith of Christian Scientists. That sect was founded and promoted by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910).

My curiosity was caused by what some people believe to be a large lack of activity in the work of Christian Scientists. On the main street of Summit, New Jersey, there is a prominent church and a reading room further down the street. In nearly 50 years of my occasional curiosity, no one seems to be using the Christian Scientist reading room. And there seem to be no hordes of people attending the weekly services at the church.

Encyclopedias state that the religion is founded upon principals of divine healing and laws expressed in the acts and the sayings of Jesus Christ as discovered and formulated by Mary Baker Eddy. Christian Scientists deny the reality of the material world. They argue that illness and sin are illusions to be overcome by the mind; thus they refuse medical help in fighting illness. It is unknown if they refuse help in fighting sin.

Principia was a private high school founded by the Christian Scientists in the St. Louis suburbs. In a baseball game in the 1930’s, a Principia infielder was accidentally spiked by an opposing player. There was a fair amount of blood, but the Principia player refused medical attention and claimed that it would all be overcome by his mind. That never struck me as something the mind ought to be doing, but it was not my call, so the game went on.

An expert in theological matters who is not affiliated with the Christian Scientists, has said that their support is off 40%, presumably from its peak. This expert comes from Defiance, Missouri and speaks the truth about sacred matters. As was said earlier, no one seems to be using the Christian Scientist’s reading room on the main street of Summit, N.J., a thriving and a prosperous town. Taking 40% away from patronage at the reading room would put us into negative numbers. That is something that must be pondered as we continue to shave.

Finally, as the whiskers are lopped off, there is a disturbing advertisement placed in the pages of “The Item,” a local weekly newspaper serving Millburn and Short Hills, New Jersey.

In reading The Item for 35 years, the paper seems to avoid controversy on all occasions. The deer who live in the woods around here became more aggressive a few years ago and residents of Short Hills found their flowers, shrubbery and vegetables eaten by the deer. So for a time, The Item adopted an editorial policy of suppressing the deer, even endorsing a professional deer hunt with rifles. Then a resident or two who were opposed to cruel treatment of the deer protested, and The Item has now adopted an editorial policy of passive thought with respect to the deer problem. Unfortunately, the deer don’t read The Item and have produced new herds which now eat even greater amounts of flowers, vegetables and shrubbery. But the Item seems to take a very muted policy toward the deer and toward other matters of interest to its readers.

And so it was a new experience to find this small ad in a newspaper which seems to avoid controversy whenever possible.

The Item serves an affluent community which seems to support several churches and synagogues. The Millburn-Short Hills township is a live and let live community. It is not like Southern communities where laymen admonish potential sinners by saying, “We didn’t see you in church last Sunday.”

Examination of Tennessee road maps show that Athens, the home of the ad placer, is only 35-40 miles from Dayton where the 1925 “Monkey Trial” took place. In that case, Scopes, a high school biology teacher was convicted of teaching evolution instead of creationism. H. L. Mencken wrote extensively about this trial and the surrounding Bible Belt. Naturally, Scopes was convicted, but served no time.

It has been my practice for more than three quarters of a century to avoid involvement with religious matters. Nonetheless, my curiosity was sufficiently aroused that when my last shaving stroke was finished, my mother’s Bible was consulted with respect to “The Beast” referred to in the Athens ad.

The Red Dragon

This is a straight reporting job. Any editorial comments will have to come from the reader. In the King James Version of the New Testament, we find the “Revelations of St. John the Divine.” In Chapter XII, verse 2, there is a woman. “And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.”
Verse 3 says, “And there appeared another wonder in Heaven and behold a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads.” Presumably, the woman in verse 2 delivered the red dragon in verse 3.

The Beast

In Chapter XIII, verse 1, we learn, “As I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea having seven heads and ten horns and upon his horn ten crowns and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

The Beast and His Mark

In Chapter XIV, verse 9, we find that, “And the third angel followed them saying with a loud voice, If any man worships the beast and his image and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand.”

Babylon Falls

In the previous verse, we have Babylon fallen, “because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

So this little ad from Athens, Tennessee, warns us about red dragons and a beast all of whom have seven heads and ten horns and about Babylon’s collapse. Because the ad was placed in our local newspaper, it becomes clear that Millburn-Short Hills had better avoid the “wine and wrath of fornication” or all its residents will receive a mark on our foreheads or on our hands.

On the other hand, it could be argued that the wine referred to that causes fornication comes from Israeli bottlers. That would say Millburn-Short Hills will probably avoid Babylon’s fate because consumption of Israeli wine in the United States is somewhere near zero. One final thought. Revelations does not tell us what mark the beast will leave on our foreheads or hands. My hunch is that it will be an upper case capital “B.” Anyone disagreeing with that idea can write to Athens, Tennessee.

As time goes on, it is my plan to catch and bottle a few more Thoughts While Shaving. They vary from the old prohibition of rigidly concealing bra straps to the Wild West traffic patterns that occur in New Jersey’s roundabouts. My shaving takes about eight minutes per shave, so you can see my mind is hard at work nearly all the time. In the meantime, there is much work to be done so that Millburn-Short Hills will not follow in the tragedy of Babylon.

Well, there you have the first edition of shaving thoughts. There is no intention to do anything about the table grapes issue or Mary Baker Eddy’s folks. And finally, there will be no intention to support the fundamentalists in Athens, Tennessee. But it is hoped that the Moslems, the Christian Scientists and the neanderthals in the Bible Belt know that someone is thinking about them.

August 29, 2004


“Tonsorial” is a fantastic word, and one that’s new to me. One has to wonder how a man with aphasia pulls that one out. I guess a lifetime of reading will do that. It means “of a barber or barbering” but most sites note that it is “often used humorously” — which means that it’s a pretty perfect fit.

In other news, it’s sort of surprising that Christian Scientists haven’t been evolved out of the gene pool by now. If you have a group dedicated to staying sick, you kinda think that you’d have less and less of those people as time goes on. I wonder if the recent anti-vaccination movement has swelled the ranks a bit.

In other news I think I now hold some sort of record for “grandson officially commenting on grandfather’s discussion of virgins in the Islamic afterlife” because it’s come up in no less than ten essays now. I go into it most in-depth here.



During this election year, the Bushies say that everything having to do with the economy and jobs are going honky-dory. The Democrats point to three million lost jobs since the Bush Administration took office.

It might be supposed that the count of lost jobs perhaps ought to go up by one in view of the fact that your old essayist has largely been without gainful employment since 1984. And, he has not looked for work for quite a while. Could it be that my situation is part of the so called “jobless recovery”? Or is it shiftlessness? Some say that shiftlessness is a virtue. It would be hard for me to disagree with that line of thinking.

Perhaps it could be said that writing essays is sort of a job. On many occasions, it is certainly not easy work. The pay in dollars is just about zero. When an essay is well received, however, there is greater joy than dollars could provide. There is one other benefit in being a largely unpaid-in-money essayist. You work when you want to. Quitting time is whenever the essayist says it is. And there is no hassle about overtime pay. And, supervision is pretty weak.

So in the end, being part of the “jobless recovery” is not all bad. At least, there is essay work to be done which is more than can be said about some of the jobs we are talking about today. The jobs we are thinking about basically no longer exist. There may be some lone operators who still perform some of the old time functions, but by and large, society has seen fit to discard many of the jobs we should now consider.

This old essayist is struck with a sense of nostalgia about the lost jobs. Nostalgia or no nostalgia, it is fairly clear that the jobs we have in mind are not coming back. But at least we can salute at their demise, because those jobs made our lives more graceful and more comfortable.

Here are some of the jobs that have borne the brunt of the rush to modernize:

Elevator operator
Telephone operator
Filling station attendant
Conductor on buses and street cars
Utility meter reader
Shoe shiners or boot black
Stone mason
Cigar store clerk (endangered)

This is not intended as a complete list by any means. Everyone can probably think of other jobs that have disappeared. It is not a Bureau of Labor Statistics list. It is simply a list that Miss Chicka added to after a faltering start by your ancient essayist.


In 1941, the Long Lines Division of AT&T offered me a job as a draftsman in its Division 5 headquarters in St. Louis. At that point, AT&T rented quarters for its offices in the headquarters building of the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company at 1010 Pine Street in downtown St. Louis. If my memory is anywhere near correct, the building was 26 floors high. Nearly all Bell System headquarters buildings had 26 floors and were styled in the Gothic fashion. The Vatican of AT&T at 195 Broadway in New York also had 26 floors. No Associated Company headquarters could exceed the Vatican in height.

The building in St. Louis had perhaps 10 or 12 manual elevators. In 1941, all were operated by elevator operators who were responsible to get the riders to the correct floor and to level the elevator with the hallway so that the door could be opened and people could enter and disembark without tripping. My memory is that the doors were manually opened by the elevator operators.

Elevator operators had a round device with a handle on it, about a foot in diameter, to control the ascent and descent functions. As they neared the desired floor, the control was moved to the left to descend and to the right to go up. When the operator was satisfied that the elevator was pretty much even with the hallway floor, the operator would then open the doors. When everyone left the elevator cab, she would manually close the doors. It should be pointed out, that all the elevator operators were female and all wore uniforms.

In those days, jobs were hard to find so the elevator operators cared about their jobs. If they acquired a lot of seniority, they could get in line to become elevator starters. Elevator starters worked in the lobby . They told the operators when it was time to move the elevator. Being a starter paid more than being an operator and had more prestige.

Starters usually stood outside the elevator to direct lobby traffic. Often they would hold one arm on the elevator doors until the elevator was full and ready to move. With several elevators to deal with, the starters became an important function. At department stores, they might even remind potential customers of a sale or of specialty items. The starters aspired to become head starters, but that took a considerable amount of seniority. The head starter controlled assignments for the starters and for operators. He or she occupied a prominent position which reflected years of seniority.

Operators were dressed in uniforms and often, white gloves. Starters and the head starter wore better uniforms. Some of the starter uniforms even had epaulets on the shoulder.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a concerted move in this country to go to automated elevators. The operators and starters were then forced to look for other work. Conversion was a time consuming process with the main work and planning being done by the Otis Corporation who built the elevators. The man running the Long Lines Department of AT&T was a vengeful and a cruel man. Apparently, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area of Long Lines had once crossed Henry Killingsworth, the President of Long Lines. Killingsworth demoted Dick Wheeler, the Chief Engineer of the Western Area, and made him move from Kansas City to New York. He was then given responsibility for conversion of the elevators to automatic in the headquarters building of Long Lines. Dick Wheeler is on my list of all time good guys. Henry Killingsworth is one of my all time villains, ranking somewhere between Ulysses S. Grant and Richard Nixon.

Finally, there was Donna, an elevator operator in St. Louis. For the last three years of my work in St. Louis, the union members made me their local Union President. In that capacity, it was often necessary to meet with the management movers and shakers. Donna extended a warm
greeting to everyone who entered her elevator. Although she worked for Southwestern Bell, a different employer from Long Lines, there were occasions in meetings with management to tell the bosses they were crazy not to hire Donna away from Southwestern Bell. They were told that Donna came from a country town, Bonne Terre, in Missouri’s lead belt and that we believed she needed a break.

Well, the long and short of it is that Cliff Duncan, the Division Plant Superintendent, a good man, said he would give Donna a job working for Long Lines. He did that. She worked hard and mastered the new job. My memory tells me that she also found a husband in the process. Your old essayist retired from match-making after that success.

After a while, Donna’s new boss thanked me for getting him such a hard worker. Perhaps this goes to show that country girls from Bonne Terre (good earth) can make it in the big city. All of us were happy at Donna’s success.


Leaving elevator operators and starters, there should be a word about the people who operated cigar stands in the lobbies near the elevators of large buildings. Such operators could be male or female, but most were male as they were often asked about the relative merits of various cigars.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, cigar smokers did not earn as much as they might be paid today, so sales of boxes of cigars were infrequent. In my experience, older men in their 40’s or thereabouts, might go to lunch and say upon returning to their building, “I believe this would be a good day for a cigar.” So cigars were sold not by the box, but individually.

Cigar stands do not appear much in today’s large buildings. This must reflect a diminished number of smokers. Cigars are sold by stores around town that do a much heavier trade in lottery tickets than in cigars. Cigars have pretty much gone out of style these days. For my money, that is a great development. In my experience, there were three or four occasions when it appeared appropriate to smoke a cigar. Every puff reminded me of how much cigar smoking was revolting to me. It pleased my father, but not his son. Cigars foul the air in an office and make clothing smell bad. If all tobacco products were outlawed, it would be pleasing to those of us who are non-smokers.

A personal thought occurs here. Carl Heidbreder was an AT&T employee in St. Louis who liked cigars. He also liked to have parties on his lawn where great quantities of beer were drunk to go with the cigars being puffed. Carl never invited me to those lawn parties. That suited me well in every dimension. In point of fact, beer comes in only a step or two ahead of cigars in my all-time dislike list.


With that, we move on to telephone operators. The first telephone in the Carr family was a party line. It was Clayton 714-J and of course, the house was in Clayton, Missouri. When the receiver was picked up, a signal would appear on the telephone company switchboard and the operator would come on the line and say, “Number please.” She would then complete the call and occasionally, she would warn you that you had an incoming call or that someone else was trying to use the party line. This was labor intensive in the extreme. At one point, the Bell System claimed that if they did not automate, it would be necessary to hire more women than then existed in the American labor force. And so the telephone system was automated and the “number please” operators had to find other work.

The telephone traffic force was exclusively female until sometime in the 1970’s. What is left of that force is still predominately female with a handful of male operators here and there.

Now of course, other telephones throughout the world can be dialed from the comfort of your home or office. Operators are seldom involved. For several years, there has been no future in being a telephone operator. On balance, that may be a desirable outcome, but it is one more job that has disappeared in our time. As a man who had a lot to do with telephone traffic operations, it is bothersome that this has happened. It might also be added, that women who were involved with telephone operations were the most loyal and active members of my union. In times of trouble, they could always be counted on. That is a very desirable characteristic.


Butchers are like elevator and telephone operators in the march to oblivion. In large part, they have been done in by pre-packaged meats. During the Depression when my mother traded at Gualdoni’s Market, there were two butchers who presided in their blood stained smocks over the meat counter. To a large extent, they were the stars of the grocery business. In a large grocery store today, you might find only one or two butchers. Formerly, they would have as many as four or five butchers, but no more. My memory is that butchers were good guys who liked to joke with customers and other store employees. Even though no meat is consumed at this house, the semi-demise of butchers is a regrettable occurrence.


Filling station attendants are a lot like butchers. In days gone by, every car had the windshield cleaned and the oil and water checked every time gasoline was purchased. Customers were asked if they wanted the pressure in their tires checked and the water levels in their batteries looked at. In the pre-historic days of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, cars needed lubrication and an oil change every 1000 miles. The front wheel bearings had to be worked on at 3000 mile intervals. Cars today do not require such attention. In the meantime, very few if any filling stations attendants now clean the windshields. If my understanding is halfway correct, in all the states except New Jersey, customers pump their own gas. As a former employee of three filling stations, these advances don’t necessarily represent progress, but rather a desire by big oil and the owners of filling stations to make a larger profit. The car owners are in many respects, the fall guys in this proposition. But younger car owners don’t seem to care as they stare through dirty windshields and pump their own gas on rainy or snowy days.


When families had no cars or were fortunate to have even one car, most people rode buses and street cars to work or for recreational purposes. In days gone by, every bus or street car had two transit company employees aboard. One drove the vehicle and he was called the “motor man.” The second employee collected the fares, gave transfers and when everyone was aboard, signaled the motor man that he could proceed to the next stop. He was the “conductor.”

Generally speaking, customers entered the bus or street car at the rear and paid their fare to the conductor. When the riders wanted to get off, there was a button to push which rang a buzzer to tell the motor man to stop. When the conductor had completed his work, he clanged a bell that told the motor man it was time to proceed. Up until the 1960’s and 1970’s, only men were hired for these two jobs.

Perhaps it was World War II or perhaps it was the executives at the transit companies, but from the 1940’s onward, the motor man was increasingly responsible for all the duties formerly performed by the conductors. Obviously, this brought greater profits to the transit companies, because they had no intention to pay the motor man twice as much salary to cover the loss of the conductors.

This is said to represent progress. If so, it means more profits for the transit companies and a less civilized way to get from point one to point two and a greater potential for accidents as the motor man now has so many jobs to do.

If it makes it seem that my thoughts are wed to the old ways of doing things, that is probably quite right. But after all, this essay is about “Jobless Nostalgia.” There was human contact in riding an elevator with an operator, just as there was human contact with telephone operators, transit workers and filling station attendants. There are those of us who miss that human contact.


Now we turn to another attempt by employers to maximize profits. If you look at your electric bill or at your gas bill, you may notice – in fine print – that some readings of your consumption were “ESTIMATED.” The theory is that meters need only be read every third or fourth month and that any short fall may be made up when the meter reader actually does show up. In the meantime, the number of meter readers diminishes and the customer must brace himself or herself for a large bill when the meter is actually read. This has only to do with utility company profits. There is no other reason for this development.

The Halliburton company is in disrepute these days for such things as over-billing the U. S. Government for delivering gasoline. Halliburton also did not help its reputation for honesty by billing the military forces for “estimated meals served.” A company of soldiers eats three meals per day. If the company is 1000 strong, that means Halliburton estimated that the Army ought to be billed for 3000 meals per day. The flaw in this argument of course, is that soldiers don’t stay in one place for every meal. Some are out in the field on combat assignments. Some are in the hospital. Some may die. Some may be on furlough. In tense situations, it is not unusual for soldiers to pass up a meal even after they have returned from combat. The point is that Halliburton, by billing the Army for estimated meals, is clearly cheating the United States Government. But no one seems to care.

Whether it is the utility companies or Halliburton, lots of executives take a short cut to inflate the bottom line.


Let’s leave the world of estimated readings and meals served and move on to another disappearing job. Years ago when shoes were made in this country, they had a sole and a heel that were attached to the upper part of the shoe. When a sole wore out or when the heels were ground down, the shoes were taken to a cobbler who repaired the damage. Cobblers worked in shops with large lathes for trimming and cutting leather. Their hands were smudged with dirt and shoe polish which were the marks of their trade. Cobblers earned their money. They did not have time to watch their investments in the stock markets.

Like so many other manufacturers, shoe companies decided that they could ship the shoe making machinery to Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica or other developing countries where labor rates are perhaps 80 per cent lower than in the U. S. This meant a big boost in their profits. When this was done, there was another development that largely put the cobbler in danger of losing his business. That was the permanent molded sole.

There is a pair of Rockport shoes in my closet. Rockport is a major manufacturer of shoes these days. The shoes were made in Indonesia. Attached to the leather upper, is a VIBRAM sole. It is not meant to be replaced. If the sole should wear out, the shoes will be discarded. They will probably never see a cobbler. The sole is molded into the leather upper so there is no way it can be replaced. When the sole wears out, perhaps my social security check will permit me to buy a new pair of foreign produced shoes. In the meantime, this is another reason why cobblers, like elevator or telephone operators, have a very limited future.


While we are on the subject of shoes, perhaps we should consider another job that has just about disappeared. That would be a bootblack. They are also called shoe shiners. Bootblacks were generally found in barber shops. Even as a young man earning less than $20 per week, it was almost unthinkable to get your hair cut without a shoe shine.

Bootblacks in a barber shop always tried to get to the customer while he was in the barber chair. If the barber finished ahead of the bootblack, which sometimes happened during rush hours, the customer would then be escorted to an elevated stand elsewhere in the shop to finish the work of the bootblack. By and large, bootblacks were not talkative creatures. Often instead of asking the customer if he wanted a shine, the bootblack would wait until the customer was seated in the barber chair and simply touch the shoes while looking at the customer. In most cases, the customers would tell the shoe shiner to proceed.

Many of the barbershops in downtown locations might have as many as two or three bootblacks. As was said earlier, they had an elevated stand where customers could sit. There were two or three big steps upward so that the bootblack could work at waist level on customer shoes. Often, men would go into a barber shop for a shoe shine between haircuts. In big cities, it was possible to visit a bootblack outside of a barber shop. Often these independent bootblacks were found in rail or bus terminals. Shining shoes was their only source of income and they were hardworking.

In these days of disposable shoes, it is pretty clear that having a man’s shoes shined is part of our culture that has been forgotten. Young men of my age group would never call on a young woman for a date with unshined shoes. A man who did that would be banished as uncivilized. The mother of the date would be outraged and would advise her daughter to think about a more civilized sort for her dating.

Bootblacks in barber shops often would greet the customers at the door and hang up their coats and hats. As the customer started to leave the shop, the bootblack would hold the man’s coat and using a curved brush, would brush his hat, called a fedora. At one time the going rate was 25 cents for a shine, which was accompanied by a tip of the same size. If some special service was performed, the tip should reflect that added attention. As you can see, it did not cost much to have a man’s shoes shined so that he was presentable.


It is absolutely clear that this essayist will be told, “You should also have listed this job or that job”. But this poor old essayist has been forced to stand by while the story of disappearing jobs increases daily. Without belaboring things, there are some other jobs gone down the drain or threatening to do so at any moment. Consider money, for a start.

The clerks who used to hand out the so called “weekly insults” are gone now. First, the companies insisted that everyone should be paid monthly or in some cases, paid semi-monthly. They then sent a debit to the employee’s bank and mailed a receipt to the employee. Therefore, goodbye to the clerks who visited every desk every week to pass out checks.

You will notice that the writer avoided the temptation to say “weakly insult” rather than “weekly insult.” And on semi-monthly employees, the writer avoided the trap constructed by our English cousins by refusing to call it the “fort nightly payroll.” Sincere plaudits will be welcomed for sticking to plain English.

One other job having to do with money is bank tellers. Clearly, banks want to do away with them. Fleet Bank now calls them “Service Advisors.” When Fleet merges with Bank of America, 12,500 jobs will be lost. It may be assumed that some of the layoffs will be among the recently named “Service Advisors” and others will see their jobs disappear as bank customers are encouraged and pushed towards more automation. ATM’s (automatic teller machines) and on-line banking will also have an effect on the number of teller positions available.


Stone masons are clearly on the way out. Contractors around here order strips with rocks already embedded in them. It must be assumed that the rocks are genuine fake rocks, but in any case, the strips are glued or fastened on to new structures, and viola, we have a structure with a rock foundation facing as part of the enterprise. In the meantime, goodbye to stone masons who used to cut and place the rocks to form a wall or a foundation on a house.


A secretary used to be a privileged position. It involved taking dictation and error free typing as well as good manners on the telephone and in welcoming visitors to the boss’s office. My informants tell me that personal secretaries are now reserved for big-shot vice-presidents and the like. Lower lever executives type it themselves or dictate their thoughts into a tape recorder rather than to a stenographer. Poor old Katherine Gibbs, the leading school for secretaries, is now teaching how to deal with computers. It may be progress, but there are many of us who doubt it.


In nearly every town in former days, there were restaurants that opened say from 7AM to 6PM. They served coffee and tea and lunch. They may have offered a light dinner. It seems to me that a high proportion of them were run by Greeks. In those restaurants, if a person or persons sat at a table rather than at the counter, a waitress would appear to take your order and then to deliver it, even if it was only coffee. From what any one can gather, those days are almost gone now. If a customer wants a cup of coffee, he goes to the counter (or pours it himself) and once his coffee cup is in his hand, he wonders around the place until he can find a seat at a table. Not very graceful, but the bosses can kiss their waitresses goodbye as they collect their final pay check.


This lament about lost jobs will close with an ode to draftsmen. When AT&T hired me as a draftsman in 1941, there were large sheets of expensive linen paper that were laid on a drafting table and were then filled with India ink lines. It could be a house or it could be plans for a subdivision. After the drawing was finished, it was sent to the printing department where blue prints were made. Getting blue prints of a large drawing might – under forced draft – be accomplished in 30 minutes to an hour, if the blue printer was free of other jobs. On normal days, it was about a three to five hour turn around.

That is changed now. It is all done by computer. If the customer wants a wall moved, it is no big deal. The computer draws a new wall and fits it into the proposed building in minutes. For a draftsman of my era, that would be a least a one or two day delay. The computer can spit its products out almost instantly.

Even though drafting was my occupation, there is no choice but to say the modern method is better. That’s too bad, as draftsmen were among the world’s professionals who worked hard, were highly trained, were afflicted by “weakly insults” from the boss and who told some lousy jokes. One more job down the drain.


As you can see, times are changing and old timers will have to make the best of it. What old timers know and that young, hard-charging juvenile executives don’t know, is that in earlier days, life was somewhat more graceful. And it might well be argued, more enjoyable. What person in his or her right mind would enjoy pumping gas into an automobile during freezing or rainy weather? What person enjoys dialing his telephone and running into a problem, finding himself largely stranded? What person enjoys being stuck in an automatic elevator between floors? The old operators would look pretty great at times of such frustration.

If after you have wrestled with this essay and you feel a sense of nostalgia for yesteryear, then this essayist has achieved his purpose. Not everyone will agree that progress demands that we surrender a graceful and an enjoyable life. For those of us who remember those graceful and enjoyable days, it makes a mighty nice memory.

This essay will close with a story from my grade school days where there was a job that surely ought to have been eliminated. Perhaps it is gone now. If so, that has my heartfelt applause.

The job in question was “elocution teacher.” Elocution was not taught in public schools. To learn that art took an outside teacher paid for by the parents of the elocution student. In the 1930’s, two of my grade school female classmates were taught by separate elocution teachers. Even at 10 or 12 years of age, the two classmates were bitter rivals. Each teacher also considered the other teacher a bitter rival. And the mothers were also enthusiastic rivals, if not bitter rivals. Great theater.

One girl was the daughter of a prominent businessman in Clayton, Missouri, an affluent suburb of St. Louis. The other girl was the daughter of the principal of the only high school in Clayton. Now for your old essayist, it was during the Depression and there was no need for me to enroll in the Boy Scouts, because their dues were something like 50¢ per month. Obviously, there was no money in the budget for scouting or for elocution lessons, which would have been rejected by me anyway. Along with other boys in the Maryland School of the Clayton Public School system, we considered the girls, their mothers and the elocution teachers as gross ass pains.

Nonetheless, every two or three months, because of the prestige of the fathers and because of pressure from the mothers of the girls, we were forced to listen to the latest recitation of the two female students complete with verbal exclamation points and hand waving. As time went on, our teachers in the public schools would declare one girl the winner and then in a subsequent month, the other girl would be called victorious. The losing side, student, mother and elocution teacher, were appropriately outraged with anything less than a resounding victory in every recitation.

The daughter of the prominent business man recited a poem about peach pie complete with arm waving and verbal gymnastics. It was so bad that most the boys told the teachers that in future elocution recitations, include us out. That ended the recitations. If ever a job should have been lost, the first choice among my male and many of our female classmates, should have been teachers of elocution. The thoughts about that lost art had been recessed in my memory for nearly 68 or 69 years. Writing this essay brought back thoughts about how terrible that poem about “Peach Pie” really was.

All is not lost. My recommendation for former elocution teachers is for them to become tattoo artists. People who used to administer tattoos formerly occupied quarters in the sleaziest part of towns. Now, one is sometimes able to get a tattoo in a mall. Perhaps former elocution teachers should concentrate on giving punk singers tattoos of blue birds on the backs of their necks. Punk shouters perform largely naked above the waist which provides a field of dreams for an ambitious tattoo artist. If the former elocution teachers put as much energy and outrage in their new profession, it is my belief that they will go far. And we will be forever saved from having to listen to recitations of elocution students.

This aged essayist laments the jobs that are gone, except for elocution teachers. He salutes them for the happiness and enjoyment that they brought to many lives. In those by gone days, it could be argued that we enjoyed life more, thanks to the practitioners of those lost jobs. When the movers and shakers of American industry decide that retirees such as my self, will be abolished, which they are on the way to do now, perhaps that will be indeed, the end of jobless nostalgia.

April 8, 2004

So this one’s interesting because it touches on automation, which is a subject that I’ve recently taken an interest in. Honestly I think I started caring about it in 2014, when I saw a fifteen-minute video on the subject by CGP Gray. His tone is — as ever — sort of condescending, but he makes a lot of strong points about job creation and replacement. Of course, we’ve always automated to a degree as we’ve modernized, but the scary part of what’s to come is that there’s basically no prospect of creating new jobs to compensate for the ones that we’ll lose. At around the 14 minute mark in the video, Gray looks at the 32 types of jobs that employ the most people; only one of them (computer programmer) is new to the last century. The others, which make up 45% of the current US workforce, are not only all very old, but largely ripe for automation en masse.

It won’t be as simple as a secretary becoming an executive assistant, or finding another job where being organized and good with typing is a benefit. Filling station attendants could be mechanics, draftsmen could learn to use the new technologies of that trade. But automated trucking alone is going to displace millions of people over the next decade or two, and there aren’t going to be a whole lot of other things for truckers do to. The human component just won’t be necessary, much like the bus conductors that Pop mentioned. I rode a bus twice today, and each time I did so by tapping a card against a card reader as I boarded; the driver didn’t have to do anything. The exact amount of the ride was deducted from the balance on the card, and we went on our way. That same card grants me access to every train, subway, bus, and even public ferry in the entire bay area. It’s insanely convenient and practical. So the job of having a dedicated person on each transit vehicle to make change is simply obsolete, and we’re going to see a lot more jobs go that way in the years to come.

I think the trickiest part to adjust to is that we’re going to have to switch up an element of our culture and society that has been taken for granted for years and years; we will have to divorce work from worth. One’s ability to compete in a 21st century economy will have to exist separately from the rights or privileges that are afforded to that person. There just won’t be enough 9-to-5 jobs to employ everyone, starting within the next decade or two. People in that future society who cannot find lucrative work in spaces like technology will need to be taken care of, which means breaking down the stigma of the welfare state, and most likely finding a way to supply a universal basic income to the entire population. There’s just no other choice. Machines and artificial intelligences will mean that output and standards of living will be higher than ever as long as those benefits are getting distributed out.

This is an okay thing. This is an inevitable thing. But we’re really, really not prepared for it. Our politicians love talking about saving manufacturing jobs from going overseas, but computers are going to take away more jobs than companies moving overseas ever could. It’s not even going to be close. But instead we keep the national focus on employment for the sake of employment. China exemplified that more than anywhere else I’ve ever seen.

In China, there were incredible amounts of utterly redundant or useless jobs, that clearly existed just to boost employment figures to the benefit of nobody. I remember a mall equipped with motion-detecting escalators, which would start moving as soon as someone stepped on them. But at the start of every escalator in the mall, there was an employee whose job it was to wave her foot over the motion detector to get the escalator started for you. The starting process was nearly instant — it took maybe a second to be moving at full speed. But nevertheless, here were several dozen escalator attendants performing an utterly useless service for the sake of employment. Why not allow them to be automated out, and all the cashiers and waiters in the mall along with them? Then, from all the revenue that the mall brings in, pay that money back out to citizens who can then pursue things that are actually meaningful to them.

When I say “meaningful to them” what I mean is that all the people who are starting escalators, or even driving trucks, would probably choose to be doing other things with their time if that was a comparably lucrative option; if you didn’t have to pick between providing for your family or doing something you like, not a lot of people are going to spend twelve hours a day at a mall, starting automatic escalators up for people. Instead those people could create, or travel, or volunteer, or do something that doesn’t just make them a slave to a wage for the end goal of just “being employed.”

We’re going to have the money to go around. We just have to be willing to distribute it out, and de-stigmatize that practice, which is obviously going to be a huge nightmare. But what other end-states are possible if trends continue like this?


This little story has to do with Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and other world figures and a small, young orange and white tabby cat who is now walking on my writing paper and is trying to catch my pen. It also has much to do with one of my soldier friends from Indiana.

This saga starts a long time ago in 1944 and 1945. At that time, World War II in the Italian Theater was drawing to a close with Rome, Florence and Venice falling into Allied hands. In those days, the Army Air Force, at least in Italy, rarely sent people home when they could be preparing for continuing the war with Japan. So there was no such thing as home leave for my comrades and friends.

And so this old soldier, at age 22, found himself at the large British and American base at Accra which is in a country now called Ghana. The country used to be called in colonial days, the Gold Coast. There wasn’t much gold in the Gold Coast. The main export in former days was the sale of slaves.

The American soldiers who were based in Accra were the sorts you might find at any other overseas bases. Basically, they wanted the war to finish so that all of us could go home. My guess is that between the Air Transport Command men and the 8th Air Depot Maintenance Group, there may have been 3500 to 4000 Americans on the Accra base. If the Army managed to secure one re-enlistment out of that bunch, it would have been a red letter day for the recruiter. The Army was certainly not what soldiers of my generation wanted to do for lifetime employment.

During my time as a line chief and as an aerial engineer at Accra, it turned out that one of my bunk mates in the G17 barracks was a fellow from Indiana named Gartner. Many of the natives of Indiana were natural born story tellers, and Sgt. Gartner was one of the best. His stories were full of exaggerations and were delivered in a countrified speech pattern. Sometimes Gartner had trouble finishing a story because he found the story so amusing that he doubled up with laughter. Gartner was a good guy to be around.

His given name escapes me now, but Gartner had a ranking system for the world’s leaders that is applicable some 60 years later.

Gartner considered the top dog in the Army, Dwight Eisenhower as a STUD DUCK. Franklin Roosevelt and George C. Marshall were also STUD DUCKS. Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Joseph Stalin also qualified as STUD DUCKS. Benito Mussolini of Italy never made the grade as a STUD DUCK. The key is that STUD DUCKS could do anything they wanted to do. If Eisenhower and FDR or Charles de Gaulle dallied outside their marriages, no one would say anything about it because STUD DUCKS were never criticized. STUD DUCKS were folk heroes.

No matter how you cut it, my spirits were lifted after a session with an Indiana story teller on the subject of STUD DUCKS. It seemed to me that even Wendell Willkie, an Indiana native, was a decent person, even though he lacked the status of a STUD DUCK.

Last week we were shopping at the Madison, New Jersey Farmers Market. When the last cauliflower had been bought, we saw a table off to the side which had no product for sale but rather, cats and a dog or two. This was the Orphaned Pets table, so we took a look. To make a long story short, Judy, whose birthday came up on Saturday, has long said she would like to get a cat to replace the sainted Shannon who died three years ago.

It turns out that one of the exhibits in a cage at the Orphaned Pets table was a dead ringer for old Shannon, same markings and same demeanor. We debated about taking on a cat at this stage of our lives while we drove several blocks toward home, but soon the issue was settled. We went back to the Orphaned Pets table and said we would like to have the Shannon look alike in our home. So on Saturday, August 7th we met the abandoned pets representative, Claudine Cheung, and took possession of a 9 to 12 month old orange tiger striped cat who needed a break, big time.

Mrs. Cheung, the Orphaned Pets lady, had offered the orange cat a foster home. She had called our new cat Horatio. It seems that when Horatio’s original owner moved away, he neglected to take Horatio with him. Neglected is not the right word. It was a case of abandonment of a fine cat. So you see why old Horatio needed a break.

Judy had spent Friday afternoon at the majestic Millburn Feed Store where all kinds of cat furnishings were purchased. There was a quilted basket to sleep on. Arrangements were made for the new cat to have free run of the basement. It was thought that the new cat would stay in the painted basement for a few days until he had become oriented to his new surroundings. And there were toys.

Because of the Irishness of the situation, it was elected to forget the Horatio business and offer the cat a new name to go with his newly reclaimed life. And so the new guy is called SHAMROCK. His predecessors were Sean and Shannon. So he joins a line of Irish cats.

When he arrived here, he seemed delighted with his basement digs. Any thought that he would curl up in his new quilted basket was laughed at. He did the laughing. When Shamrock was permitted to visit the rest of the house, he identified several chairs on the porch and in the living room as HIS. It must be said that old Shamrock made it clear to us that he intended to take over, which was very much the way his predecessors acted. No subtlety is ever offered. When a cold nose now interrupts your sleep or when someone walks on your writing paper, you may be sure that Shamrock is at work. Shamrock is not a laid back kind of guy. He is the director of the choir and the organist.

You see, all our plans about where he would sleep and where he would spend his time were not ours to decide. Shamrock asserted his authority even though he has been with us for only a few days. When it comes to deciding when he will sleep or what he will eat, or what toys are to be abused or whose furniture belongs to whom, old Shamrock shows unmistaken signs of being the STUD DUCK at this household. Impartial observers would be forced to say that Shamrock is the Supreme Stud Duck because if he belonged to Eisenhower, FDR, Churchill, de Gaulle or Stalin, he would require them to bow to his wishes. Well, so be it.

There are those who say that Churchill and FDR and de Gaulle and the rest of the big shots ought to be taken down a few pegs. You may rest assured that Old Shamrock is just the guy to do it – and live to tell the tale.

August 9, 2004



The business about walking on Pop’s desk as he’s working reminds me a lot of one of my favorite pictures of Pop, featured on the “About Ezra” section of this site. I think pets, cats in particular, have a good knack for knowing what’s important. Nowadays they like to lounge about on people’s laptops, but in lieu of a laptop, a desk full of papers can certainly do the job. It reminds me of this comic.

Read more about Shamrock here.


Saturday, May 29, 2004, was the day the long awaited World War II Memorial was to be dedicated.

The broadcast was carried by most of the major television networks. On one station, we were told that World War II veterans were dying at the rate of 1000 to 1100 per day. Another station said the rate of deaths was more than 1100 per day. A third station said the rate was 1200 per day. So we had our choice on the casualty lists.

If we take the 1100 rate of deaths, arithmetic tells us the annual rate of our guys cashing in their chips comes to 401,500 per year. There are only some 4,000,000 World War II veterans left. And if we assume that the rate of deaths will increase as the WWII population continues to age, it may be that in six or seven years, we will all be angels. We will come back to these numbers in a couple of minutes.

The cameras panned over the enormous crowd. Many of the old soldiers used wheel chairs. Some needed help in walking. Others needed help in dealing with the throngs attending the dedication of the Memorial. About the youngest faces were former Senator Bob Dole and former president George H. W. Bush. Both of these men are now about to reach 80 years.

The rest of the faces in the crowd clearly showed the effects of ageing. Some looked a little better than others, but by and large, it was a gathering of women and men whose best years were behind them. As an old timer myself, this old reprobate felt free to call this a convention of geezers.

Somewhere in the proceedings, the ineradicable thought struck me that this old soldier is indeed a geezer as well. The men that were called geezers by me were my comrades in arms. And this old geezer is older than some of the women and men who showed up at the dedication.

And to top off that revelation, my mind which never had a mathematical sort of inclination, told me that as a soon-to-be 82 year old soldier, those casualty figures of 1100 deaths per day applied also to me. Fortunately, this disclosure came as Miss Chicka and her husband were working on a bottle of Zeni wine from Trento, Italy, so the shock was absorbable.

The speeches were pretty good. Tom Brokaw and Tom Hanks were articulate. For my money, Bob Dole stole the show. Dole was grievously wounded in the Po Valley campaign in Italy. He is still largely unable to use his right arm. At the outset, Dole mentioned that this enormous crowd failed to show up when he was running for the U. S. Presidency. Dole always represented a party that did not appeal to me when he was in politics, but he has always spoken as a simple Kansan who disarms people with his genuine humor. He did it again Saturday.

While the speeches were in the main, interesting, two people of color made a lasting impression on me. You may recall, that during World War II, segregation applied in this country. People of color were for the most part, denied entrance to the military. When the military took them in, it was generally in backbreaking physical labor such as longshoremen at military ports. Only the Tuskegee Airmen evaded this degradation and their numbers were infinitely small. Everyone with whom this old soldier served was white. Blacks need not apply.

We have come a long way since WWII ended – and it has been an uphill struggle all the way. For me, the most moving part of the dedication ceremony on Saturday came because of the offering of two black people. First was Denyce Graves, an opera singer. She sang the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. Madame Graves was in magnificent voice. She moved the audience.

Finally, the benediction was delivered by the black Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. His theme came from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In Chapter 2, verse 4, the Chaplain quoted the famous words, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Believers and non-believers joined in praise of this black preacher who is a credit to his race.

Finally, the point about why the Memorial was delayed for more than 50 years has to be addressed. It would be fair to say that the people who gave me the honor of soldering with them, never asked for anything but to be let out of the military to lead their own lives. We did not ask; we did not demand. We simply went about our jobs and later got married and tried to get ahead for our families. So the Memorial was 50 years too late. That is fine with me. This old soldier served out his enlistment and survived in shape to go to work every day for 43 years. It is probably true for nearly all of us; that was enough. Having a magnificent memorial dedicated to us is mighty fine, but it was never owed to us. We simply did our duty. And so we thank the people of this great country.

Bob Dole has a habit of injecting a spot of humor in his remarks. Sometimes it is cynical, but always in good taste. So this little essay will end with an aside having to do with leaving the U.S. Army.

There may have been 1000 or 1500 of combat airmen sent to a base in Greenwood, Mississippi to prepare for the assault on Japan. But while we were there, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and Japan surrendered. And so a titanic struggle broke out. On one side were the full time officers of the U.S. Army. Members of the Air Force at that juncture were members of the Army. If the full time officers lost thousands of soldiers like myself, there would be no need for majors and colonels and generals to tell us poor grunts what to do.

On the other side were soldiers such as myself and millions of mothers, wives and sweethearts who wanted their Johnny soldier boy to come home now!!

At this point, the Army made a fatal mistake. Each soldier was told how many discharge points he had accumulated. Discharge points represented length of Army service, time overseas, medals won and things like that. In my case, the Army said that this old Sergeant had twice as many points as needed for discharge. Many of the other men at Greenwood were in the same boat with me. We wanted out – NOW! And the women went to Congress to see what was the holdup. They petitioned and badgered Congressmen and Senators endlessly. Hurray for them.

At Greenwood there was a large meeting hall or auditorium. The Army was feeling that heat. So the commanding Colonel of Greenwood had us all attend a gathering in the large auditorium. The Colonel himself addressed the crowd of enlisted men. In my case, the Commanding Colonel was completely unknown to me. Few of us had ever seen him. But on this occasion, he judged that only he could deliver his speech to the grunts. His pitch was for us to stay in the Army as a patriotic duty.

The Colonel started with platitudes about how wonderful all of us grunts were and why the Army COULD NOT do without us. Even though the war was completely over, the Colonel said we were desperately needed. Everyone in the audience knew that the desperation was in the ranks of full time Army officers, such as the Commanding Colonel, not among the enlisted men. We were simply desperate to leave the Army and go back to our peacetime occupations.

The colonel got so wound up in his effort to keep us from leaving the Army, he made some major mispronunciations in his speech. Some where in the audience, a GI stood up and yelled to the Colonel that he should try the mispronounced words “in a prone position.” That brought the house down and the colonel soon departed, presumably to lick his wounds.

Well, that is my story about the old geezers and the casualty rates and the magnificent Memorial . The story about the colonel was what Cajuns call lagniappe, a little something extra.

When the initial crowds calm down a little, this old soldier wants to see the Memorial for himself – assuming that the casualty rate does not catch up to me first.

A day or two before the Memorial was dedicated, there was a conversation with Lefty Vicendese, the major domo of Berkeley Hardware in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.

When AT&T in its great wisdom transferred me from Chicago to Long Lines Headquarters in New York in March, 1955, my finances were pretty dismal because my pay was pretty small. Buying a house in New Jersey was out of the question at that point. So an ad was inserted in the Newark Star Ledger seeking a place to rent. It was answered by a fellow of about 35 years who wished to move to a religious seminary. He owned the 5 acre Rickenbacher farm on South Street in New Providence, a town that was completely unknown to me.

There was an ancient house on the property. The property itself was located immediately adjacent to the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church. The property had outbuildings as well as many fruit trees and untold numbers of berry bushes. Our two year old daughter, Maureen, delighted in gathering the fruit and berries. On weekends, old Blondie hung around with me when grass was to be cut or when work had to be done in the out buildings. She was good company.

All of this started, as we said, in 1955. When hardware supplies were needed, people said that Berkeley Hardware in the next town to the west, could not be beat. And so it was that Lefty and his family became my hardware specialists.

One day in 1957, a priest came to our rented house to talk a little business. It seems Our Lady of Peace had bought the Rickenbacher Farm. We are not followers of the Catholic faith, but that did not prevent the priest from being absolutely decent to us. Obviously, we had to move, but the priest said we could have as much time as we needed. He told us the news as he played with old Blondie, nee Maureen. And so in the Fall of 1957, we moved to a new house, also in New Providence, so that we could be close to Berkeley Hardware. The mortgage on the new house was substantial, but the banker said he did not think an old soldier would run away. So we got the money.

As time went on, Berkeley Hardware prospered and moved around the corner to much larger quarters. In March, 1966, AT&T decided that this country could not do without me as an AT&T lobbyist in Washington, D.C. In the Fall of 1969, AT&T sent me back to New York as my three year stint as a lobbyist was over. Our new residence was in Millburn-Short Hills, which added about five miles each way to get to Lefty’s hardware store. But that made no difference as the Vicendese clan still had all my business.

Somewhere during this time, Berkeley Hardware added a bulletin board of Berkeley Heights World War II veterans, called an Honor Roll, at the main entrance. Five Vicendese people, three women and two men – Lefty and his siblings, are listed. Lefty’s name is shown as Anthony, which was previously unknown to me.

Now as Lefty has grown older and more dignified, it struck me that it would be more appropriate to call him Anthony rather than Lefty. So a week or so ago, Anthony, the former Lefty, demanded to know what my real name might be. Truth is a fixed star, so he was told my real first name is Ezra. All of this happened while Anthony was trying to get two or three customers taken care of at the checkout counter.

Well, it seems Anthony had never met a man named Ezra before. When Anthony spoke of Ezra, it came out as three or four syllables in length. He seemed to like the name Ezra. And so Anthony – Lefty- was asked by his pal Ezra, if he would he like to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Anthony’s reply was short and sweet. He said, almost reverently, “I would love to see it”. Upon reflection, it struck me that Lefty speaks for all of us old geezers who are trying to dodge the big reaper.

But in the meantime, remember that Berkeley Hardware, operated by five survivors of WWII, will fulfill all your hardware needs and supply some friendly back talk as well!

May 31, 2004


It’s a shame he didn’t end up liking the memorial when he want to visit.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 697,806 American veterans from the World War II were still alive as of 2016. After all this time, that still seems like a tremendously high number of people, but I’m sure that number is still falling fast. It’s a bummer to think of all the stories that might have been lost from the vets who didnt, you know, write hundreds of essays about their lives.


This old essayist thought that one set of musings and ponderings while Ms. Chicka drives the car would be sufficient. Obviously, that is not the case. It appears that several other thoughts have occurred while the Chrysler is not in my control. Try these musings, for example.

Is 2004 a rerun of 1928?
During the 1920s, the Republicans furnished three presidents who ranged from mediocre to catastrophic. First there was Warren Gamiliel Harding followed by Calvin Coolidge. In 1928, Herbert Hoover headed the Republican ticket with Al Smith, the New York Governor as his Democratic opponent.

Al Smith, a Catholic candidate carried the torch for the Democrats. At the time, the states of the old Confederacy were referred to as the “Solid South for Democrats.” As it turns out, Al Smith lost the Solid South and the presidency. Much of his failed candidacy flowed from his Catholicism. The success of Hoover in that election led, of course, to the Great Depression starting in 1929.

During the 1920’s under the three Republican presidents, American industry controlled the strings of government. Unions were largely verboten. The captains of industry were triumphant and wiped their feet on their workers.

Under George Bush, much the same thing has happened. Bush has permitted the military-industrial complex to call the shots. Eisenhower would be appalled. In the 1920’s, the Republicans oversaw Prohibition, one of the more disastrous laws ever imposed on the American people. Under Bush the Pious, the message is to do away with all forms of abortion, to give faith a formal role in the secular American Government, and to have a Constitutional amendment barring same sex marriages. The captains of industry and the religious right were united in the 1920’s and under Bush, again they are flexing their righteous muscles.

One more coincidence between the 1920’s and 2004. In 2004, the Republicans defeated John Kerry, a church-going Catholic. Some people who voted for Kerry found it necessary to go to confession.

The question arises, are we headed for another Herbert Hoover type depression where religiosity replaces reality? It may work out that way with deficits at an all time high and the dollar at an all time low, and borrowing at unheard of levels. While we wait to see how things work out on the financial front, don’t forget that Bush has two daughters who may find use for abortion and same sex marriages.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
Without a doubt, Americans have been guilty of cruel torture in these two prisons. The word is torture, not strong discipline. Yet the lawyer who said that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint” gets promoted to be the Attorney General of the United States. The National Security Advisor who should have demanded that prisoners be accorded decent treatment, has now been designated as our next Secretary of State.

My ponderings and musings tell me that sooner or later, there will come a time when Americans soldiers will have to pay for our abuses at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib prisons. Wait till some of our soldiers find themselves in an Arab prison. Will Bush send John Ashcroft to rescue them?

Jerry Falwell’s Prescription for Gays
Early in December, Falwell was being interviewed by Chris Matthews, a mouthy employee of MSNBC. When asked by Matthews about homosexuality, Falwell stridently claimed that gayness is a choice. People are not born gay; they deliberately choose to be gays and lesbians. According to the rural reverend, young men of 13, 14 or 15 begin to look at off color magazines and also begin to smoke and to think about sexual matters. This of course, alters their approach to life and according to Falwell, makes gay people out of normal kids.

Unfortunately, time ran out before Matthews could ask Falwell how lesbians are made. Without a doubt, backwoods Jerry would say something like chewing bubble gum and blowing bubbles would turn good girls into lesbians. Do you suspect that Chaney’s daughter was one of those loose girls?

During the debates, when Bush was asked about homosexuality, he replied, “I just don’t know,” which if you read code correctly, means that people make a choice to become gay. Falwell has Bush’s ear so perhaps it is the official policy of the U.S. Government that gays are made, not born that way. And to think we have four more years to deal with such stupidity.

Could it be that reading Ed Carr’s essays are a precursor to homosexuality? As Bush said, “I just don’t know.”

Election Results
From the viewpoints of many people, the election represents the triumph of ideology over reality, fantasy over truth on the ground, and the triumph of faith over facts. To illustrate the last point, my eyesight no longer permits me to safely drive a car. But certainly, if faith was my guidepost, there is no reason why a NASCAR drivership should be denied me.

Faith permits the American public to say that the war is going formidably well in Iraq. Faith will tell us that prisoners at Abu Ghraib and at Gitmo are enjoying their country club vacations. Faith will tell us that deficits don’t matter. We can spend tons of money in Iraq and there will be no consequences at home. And we can borrow tons of money and never have to repay it.

And finally, there is this thought about faith and the Iraqi elections which some people hope will occur in January. If Iraq votes to have an Islamic government along the lines of Ayatollah Sistani’s Shia organization, how can Bush complain? Left alone, Bush would impose religion much more heavily into the American government. My bet is that the Iraqis may well tell Bush to take his democracy ideas and shove it. An Islamic government may well be in the works. And what can Bush do about it? Not much!

Deaths with no end in Iraq
During the Democratic primary campaign, Howard Dean said that deaths in Iraq would soon reach 400. This was about a year ago. During the summer, the number of American deaths rose first to 800 and then to 1000. The count in early December is close to 1300.

In the meantime, no one has successfully challenged the British publication, the Lancet, that 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives.

The question obviously arises: Is this American democracy in action? Are we any safer today than when the killing started with Bush’s pre-emptive invasion? The answer is clearly not. Never.

We are now sending 12,000 soldiers to Iraq to bring our occupying army to 150,000. When are we ever going to learn that every nation fights occupiers? Now the Iraqis have 150,000 American to hate – and that is what they will do.

The sooner we bring them home, the better.

Bush and his handlers often use the absolutely imbecilic idea that by fighting the insurgents in Iraq, saves us from fighting the Iraqi insurgents in Washington, in New York, in Kokomo, or in Gary, Indiana. What a specious argument this is. Until Bush invaded Iraq, against his father’s advice, there were no insurgents in Iraq. The campaigns of the American military have been the greatest recruiting tools the Iraqi insurgents ever had. When the cruelty imposed on Abu Ghraib prison was exposed, Arabs of all kinds flocked to Iraq. When one of our Marines shot an unarmed man lying on the ground, thousands more joined the insurgency.

On no occasion, have the Iraqis ever engaged American armed forces or civilians in the United States. To contend that our soldiers are fighting for a noble cause is a lie of the first order. There is no way that an American today can feel safer than before Bush launched his insane crusade against the Islamic world. Bush is once again engaging in his fantasy world where every encounter is “Mission Accomplished.”

World War II Monument
On a rainy day in early November, we set out to see the monument devoted to veterans of the Second World War. The fact that it was raining did not alter the thought that the WWII monument is somewhat overwhelming.

Everyone knows that the war ended in 1945. And the monument was dedicated in 2004, an interval of 59 years. Lots of people don’t live 59 years. With all this time to plan, the monument struck me as antiseptic. It was a sterile piece of work. It was a full blown symphony where a folk singer with a guitar would have made the point much better. It is a monument, not a memorial.

Three other memorials that are more impressive than the WWII affair spring instantly to mind. The wall with the names of 58,000 American dead from the Vietnam War will grab you. The platoon of soldiers which marks the Korean War where our losses exceeded 50,000 men will say, “Hey, look here.” The Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan will make you weep. But the WWII Monument seems to me to be impersonal. It doesn’t grab me by the neck and say, “400,000 men died here. Think about that.” It is a nice monument, but it is far from impressive in spite of its size.

As a veteran of that war, the designers could have designed a memorial that is more impressive. A flame in front of the wall marking the 400,000 men lost might be all that is needed. It took 59 years to produce this monument. Surely, in 59 years, a better one could emerge to mark the sacrifices of the men from the Great Depression who fought World War II.

Let me make one thing clear as we conclude the story of our visit to the WWII Monument. In all the 59 years before the monument was dedicated in the Summer of 2004, the thought that our war was unmarked by the U.S. Government was never given more than a passing thought. For this old Sergeant, the fact that he was able to make it home largely in one piece after 3½ years was quite enough. In my mind there was no urgent need to build a monument for the ages. But now that it is done, it seems to me that a simpler more poignant memorial would have done a lot better. Politicians designed this monument. Next time, we should use artists and sculptors. It is a monument designed by a committee and it has no heart. It is feared that the same thing is happening at the World Trade Center.

Getting mugged on Sunday evening religious TV broadcasts
It seems to me that as far as TV broadcasting is concerned, Sunday evening is a vast wasteland. Ordinarily, book reading takes place here on the seventh day or perhaps, some people call it the first day of the week. But there is a sad fact that applies to me. All things considered, it seems to me that my failing is to be attracted to scoundrels, particularly in politics and in religion. It is not that they have my support. Not at all. But scoundrels more or less seduce me.

On Sunday evenings at 8PM or 8:30PM on the Black Entertainment Network, a white preacher appears offering his “Wisdom Keys.” He claims to have written something on the order of 1500 books including many on the so-called “Wisdom Keys.” He also claims to have written 500 religious songs. At the beginning of each program, the scoundrel who is called Doctor Mike Murdock, starts with a description of one of his books. He will offer to send you a set for $20. But that is only Murdock’s warm up.

During the last half of his broadcast, Murdock, a man from Fort Worth, Texas, comes close to demanding that listeners “Plant a Seed.” Seed planting works like this. Murdock asks that the listeners send him $58 per week for 58 weeks. The listener who has planted a seed in Murdock’s garden, may now expect a dramatic turn-around in his life. He may get a big raise at work. He may win a lottery. He may find that a long lost relative has left him a fortune. By planting a seed in his own garden, Murdock has been rewarded with automobiles costing more than $100,000. There are occasions when Murdock tells his audience that Jesus has told him he ought to ask for planting of $1,000 seeds instead of $58 seeds.

In three years of seeing this scoundrel operate, he has never said that by planting a seed, the planter gains a leg up in heaven. Murdock says that ecclesiastical awards give way to worldly rewards. Murdock usually reads messages, signed with a first name only and with no home address, claiming that the seed planter has gotten a lucrative job or has stumbled into a fortune. And it must be supposed that the suckers keep on coming in.

It is clear that Murdock is reaping large sums of money from unsuspecting people who believe that a man who loudly proclaims his intimacy with God means good fortune for his audience. And Murdock is not alone. In Oklahoma, Robert Tilton is loudly announcing how his followers who have planted a seed are rolling in new found money. In California, the authorities have moved against a man named Close who has offered the seed idea. Close has a least five homes here and abroad and his own airplane to ferry him away when he tires of one of his homes.

Clearly and absolutely, Murdock and Tilton and Close are scoundrels preying on poor people who have faith in religious figures. In these cases, the Bible is a prop for a fleecing of ignorant people who think they can win the lottery. My attraction to scoundrels like these three comes from the obvious fact that poor people are being swindled – and the authorities seem afraid to lift a finger.

A question to my readers. Maybe Murdock does know something unknown to me. If this old essayist planted a $58 seed, do you think these essays might win a Pulitzer Prize? If you see me in a convertible Bentley, you will know the seed paid off. Until then, it appears that my transportation lot is the street car.

Preacher, Bishop, Doctor Shammah Womack
Another scoundrel who attracts my attention is this fellow Womack. This loudmouth is black who offers televised preachings to his flock at a church near Newark, New Jersey. In former days, seven or eight years ago, Shammah had a name like Harold or Donald. He opened a store adjacent to his father’s church where he claimed, among other things, that organs of the body could be medicated by eating fruits and nuts that resembled that organ. He claimed, for example, that when a walnut is opened, each halve of the shelled walnut resembled the brain. According to young Donald or Harold Womack, eating walnuts would do away with everything from headaches to cancer of the brain. This is not hearsay. My own ears and eyes were witnesses.

When young Womack’s father died seven or eight years ago, he stepped into the role of preacher. Before long, he announced his promotion to Bishop. As a bishop, he wore a clerical collar and a chain across his chest. He then took a new name of Shammah. That name has something to do with the Old Testament. Never one to read much, Preacher-Bishop Womack has recently called himself Doctor. For a young man from the suburbs of Newark, his ascension to higher ranks in the church is electrifying to those of us who watch what he may do next. Is sainthood the next step after Doctor?

Doctor Womack is now a distributor of an oil called Tanzi which is sold through his house of worship. Now here are Bishop Doctor Womack’s exact words: “It makes for good meditation and the production of miracles.”

My attention span is limited so it is unclear to me where Tanzi Oil is to be rubbed on or drunk. It is also unclear what sort of meditation or what sort of miracles may be produced. My shipment of Tanzi Oil should arrive here in a few days. As soon as my walnut halves therapy for my headaches is completed, Tanzi Oil will be tried in an effort to produce a sizeable income from these essays. Everything is owed to Doctor Shammah Womack. Tanzi may be better than Geritol.


Well, my Musings and ponderings have been temporarily exhausted, so for a while, my gaze will be out the windows of the car without much musing. As you can see, my Musings have almost got the better of me taking three volumes to overcome the buildup.

One of the nice facts about musings is they do not necessarily lead to a conclusion. A musing is a musing and not much more. On the other hand, when Jerry Falwell appeared on Chris Matthews Hardball program, he made it clear that reading stuff like mine would cause 13 and 14 year old boys to take up whiskey drinking , cigar smoking, wearing big rings, spitting on sidewalks and homosexuality. It is incumbent upon me to warn you of the consequences of reading such writings as Musings.

Some of the Musing series may wind up in expanded form in future essays. If that happens, my readers are asked to start afresh as though they had never heard of Musings and ponderings.

If my efforts to plant a seed in Mike Murdock’s garden and my use of Tanzi Oil from Doctor Womack are successful, it may be that everlasting life will occur right here in New Jersey. We’ll have to see. The bankers at Chase Bank were unimpressed when they were told of my need for a second mortgage to insure that the religious scoundrels would think well of me. Naysayers are everywhere.

December 10, 2004


“An Islamic government may well be in the works. And what can Bush do about it? Not much!” — oh hi, ISIS! A lot of people saw this coming, but it’s still fun when essays from 04 are this prescient.

The closest thing I could find online to “Tanzi” oil is Tansy Oil. It seems to be of limited use outside of inducing abortions and repelling insects, which is a curious combination.

The seed fund racket is still going strong. John Oliver did a fantastic piece on it, which you can watch here. It continues to be a work of pure exploitation.


There was such a demand for the first volume of the essay called Musings, that a second one had to be produced forthwith. A large part of the demand came from me. It seems to me that there is a plethora of thoughts that pervade my musings and ponderings now that driving is done only on an emergency basis.

Cell Phone Pandemonium
An Acela train runs between Boston and Washington. All things considered, it is more than a decent way to travel. So far, there are no intrusive body searches that mar travel by airplane. On top of all that, the fifth car of the Acela train is called a “Quiet” Car where loud talking and cell phones are pretty much banned.

Shortly after the November 2nd election, we visited the World War II Memorial in Washington. On the return trip, we found ourselves toward the end of a long line to board the Acela train. All the seats in the Quiet Car were filled and we were fortunate to find seats in other cars on the train.

As we took our seats, it became obvious that a fairly loud hub-bub was taking place around us. The noise came from all those passengers trying to make cell phone calls. We did not need to eavesdrop. The conversations were so audible that they could be heard and understood from several feet away. For example, in the two and a half hours on the return trip, we heard a hospital administrator who described in great detail, the dire financial plight of his hospital. It became clear that his hospital was one to be avoided at all costs.

Directly behind me was a young woman who wished to discuss with her caller, her prospects for marriage. She also had doubts about her wardrobe and her makeup. We may never know whether she landed the prospective bride-groom as she was still talking when we left the train at Newark. If it had been possible to see the make believe husband-to-be, it would be a public service to tell him she talked too much – and in public.

If you ride the Acela train, arrive early and do your best to get a seat in the Quiet Car. Cell phone callers are a bit much and they disturb musings and ponderings.

Congressional Civility
In his post election remarks, Bush made a feeble pass at joining hands with the opposition for the coming presidential term. His efforts were so feeble, that both houses of Congress paid no attention.

In the Senate, Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, went to South Dakota to campaign against Tom Daschle, the top Democrat. There had never been such a case of trying to defeat his opposite number as leader of the opposing party. To top it off, when Daschle made his farewell speech to the Senate, Frist kept nearly all of his Republican colleagues out of the chamber. Frist himself came into the chamber for the last two minutes of Daschel’s farewell speech. How utterly smarmy.

When Arlen Specter, (a Republican) of Pennsylvania, came up for Chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, the right wingers pounded him so thoroughly that he had to retreat from his earlier remark that Bush should send up better qualified judges for appointment. The Evangelical fundamentalists will accept only the repeal of Roe v. Wade. They also want repeal of Social Security and the Medicare laws. Specter is in a difficult position and will not be backed by Bill Frist.

On the House side, Dennis Hastert, the Speaker, refused to call up bills having to do with intelligence reform as suggested by the 9-11 Commission. The bill would have passed easily, but Hastert demands, for the first time in history, that it have a majority among the Republican majority.

One of the committees in the House is chaired by Duncan Hunter of California. Hunter has opposed the intelligence reform bill on the shallowest of grounds. So Speaker Hastert said he would not call for a vote.

There is a strong possibility that Hunter is playing the dog-in-the-manger for George Bush. In a year or two if Hunter’s opposition actually kills the intelligence bill, it will be of considerable interest to see if Hunter is elevated into one of the positions in the White House. That, my friends is the way things are currently being played in the United States government. My musings and reflections are upset by this turn of events.

Does Life Begin at Conception?
In the year 1517, there were people who protested against the Catholic Church. Obviously, they were called Protestants. For nearly 500 years, there have been disagreements in the Christian faith between the Catholics and the Protestants. However, in the election of 2004, there were all kinds of Protestants suddenly agreeing with Catholic beliefs on such matters as abortion and same sex marriage. How much of all this agreement had to do with political expediency remains to be seen.

Late in the campaign, John Kerry, who is a practicing Catholic, announced that in his view, life begins at conception. Kerry simply gave in to outside pressure. There may be theological arguments bearing on this matter, which will not concern us at this moment. What most interests me is the practical effect of life beginning before birth – indeed, at conception. All the cards that are carried in my wallet and all the forms the government sends me, ask me for my date of birth. Under the conception doctrine, none of that will ever apply again. Instead of DOB, it will be DOC.

The only way to establish compliance with the new concept will be for lovers and casual acquaintances to fill out an all inclusive form at the conclusion of each act of love making. It should be on the night table next to the love making bed. Among other points of notification, the form would alert the Census Bureau of an addition to the flock. When sent to the local school authorities, it would alert them to the need for new teachers and to school additions and larger class room space. The form would also apply to drivers licenses, jury duty and entry into bars where alcoholic beverages are sold. Of course, the political parties would have an interest in DOC’s just as the Social Security Administration would want to know about future people to collect benefits.

As you can see, changing from DOB to DOC involves a major undertaking which all depends on the love makers notifying the proper authorities at the earliest possible moment. There are nay-sayers who will ask what if no conception takes place? Those of us who are involved in such demographic matters, will tell you that we have a second form which negates the “NOC,” or “Notice of Conception.” This form which may be found in your local Post Office, is called “ANOC” or “Annulment of Notice of Conception.” E-mail may also be used to file NOC’s and ANOC’s. Prompt notification is the key. All such forms must be filed in sextuplicate copies.

As this important matter is given more thought, it is quite likely that there will be additional agencies of government at all levels that must be served with NOC’s. The important thing to remember is that the success of the Date of Conception Doctrine depends entirely on every lover promptly notifying the authorities instantly so that appropriate planning can take place and Passports issued, etc. using the medical scan for photo ID. Same sex couples will also be required to file a NOC on the ground that miracles do happen.

Every can of Budweiser has a “born on” date to indicate freshness. Does the doctrine of DOC apply also to the Anheuser-Busch Corporation? Obviously, the answer is “yes.” Bud is conceived just like babies.

Lastly, it seems to me as a pre-born-again devotee of religious matters, that replacing DOB (Date of Birth) with DOC (Date of Conception) only gets us part of the way home. To be more holy and more righteous, it is being asked and proposed that we now have a DOI, a Date of Impulse, which leads to Date of Conception. No impulses means no conception. As long as we are engaged in a dive to the bottom on sexual-religious affairs, it seems to me that a DOI and DOC take us backwards into a religiosity unknown to man before.

This whole concept may be more than an ill educated Missourian can master, so wringing of the hands is strongly recommended.

The Private Ryan Foul Up
On Veteran’s Day 2004, the American Broadcasting Company planned to show the prizewinning film, “Private Ryan.” Apparently, the film shows World War II men in combat with all the attendant language that goes with men in a desperate struggle for their lives.

The film was unseen by me but that is of no consequence. In combat situations during World War II, it was my experience that every expletive in the English language was used repeatedly when engaging in combat with the forces of Nazism. In times of rest between combat engagements, every expletive known to me was also used to describe encounters with the enemy.

Let’s get this straight. In war, when men’s lives are on the line, the language does not come from the Reader’s Digest or the Ladies Home Journal or Your Sunday Visitor. In spite of what you may have heard from preachers, men in desperate situations don’t pray; they curse and fight. Those that take time to pray in combat will in all likelihood find themselves and their comrades as dead men. My guess is that in the history of combat in warfare, nearly every soldier finds himself using vile language. That’s the way it is. Anyone who tries to tell you differently doesn’t understand what military service is all about. There may be no atheists in foxholes as the Readers Digest once claimed, but with the language being used by soldiers, it would be difficult to figure that out.

Well, in any case, ABC offered “Private Ryan” to its affiliate stations. Somewhere along the line the American Family Association tried to intervene. In scenes of combat in “Private Ryan,” the “F” word is used on 21 occasions. How horrid! If the film takes two hours, and if the actors portrayed actual soldiers, it is my fairly educated guess that the “F” word and some worse ones would be heard perhaps 2500 times. That’s the way things are. Soldiers are not Billy Graham’s hovering angels. They are soldiers; not preachers.

Not long ago, an essay came from this desk asking whether Americans are colossal prudes. When it comes to ABC affiliates, it appears that 66 of them were scared off by their own prudery or by the prudery of the FCC. Those stations refused to show “Private Ryan.”

Perhaps those stations and the American Family Association may have preferred to see “Snow White” or “Santa Claus” on the Veteran’s Day broadcast. To the idea that some of us believe the fantasy that the world is filled with angels who want to help us with our work, to that extent we are in for a horrible awakening. Ideology cannot replace facts.

A Lament for St. Louis – and Cleveland and Detroit and Newark and Pittsburgh and Kansas City, et al.
In my most recent expeditions to buy shoes, it turns out that foot wear has for some years been produced in Slovenia, Indonesia, Portugal, Ecuador or other foreign locations. As far as can be told, shoe production in the United States is probably pretty close to zero.

In St. Louis, there was a maxim which claimed

First in shoes,
First in booze,
And last in the American League

No one in St. Louis or other similar situated cities is repeating that piece of wisdom anymore. As we have seen, domestic shoe production is largely KAPUT. It certainly is in St. Louis.

When it comes to booze, the big three, Budweiser, Miller and Coors, have driven out the smaller breweries. No more Alpen Brau, no more Heileman, no more Knickerbocker, no more Griesedieck Brothers and no more Falstaff. This is sad news as the big guys swept the table clean.

In St. Louis, the Browns were often contenders for last place in an eight team American League. With expansion, the American League and the National League both have 18 teams. There are three last place teams in each division in both leagues. So there goes one of the St. Louis Browns most significant accomplishments. There is no one last place in the American League any more.

What has happened to St. Louis is symptomatic of dozens of other cities in the United States as the more affluent citizens flee to the suburbs leaving the cities to deal with monumental problems on reduced income. This is bad news for this country. And there will be no help from the Federal Government as cities tend to vote Democratic.

Nearly all of the large cities that we are speaking of supported the arts. The arts can’t exist without patrons and paying customers. There is no such thing as the Far Hills Grand Opera Company or the Bridgewater Symphony Association. Those things belong in and thrive in big cities.

Sad business is what it is. And mighty sad to muse and ponder about it.


And so my musings and ponderings go on apace with the hope that factual situations may be found in the offerings of the American media. As the “Private Ryan” episode shows us, that is often a forlorn hope.

And of course, all of these considerations could lead to a third series on Musings. This is what happens to old geezers who look out of car windows instead of driving.

December 4, 2004


I wonder how Pop would have felt about Saving Private Ryan if he saw it. I can infer that he considered movies in the same way he regarded fictional books — essentially as a waste of time. It’s kind of refreshing to hear him defend one.

He’d also probably be interested to know that small breweries are back big time, even though he wasn’t a beer drinker either. It is no longer “cool” in most urban areas to get a major brand at a bar.

Finally, I’m hesitant to even put the DOC out on the internet. If Trump has a heart attack and Pence takes over, he’d probably take it seriously.

MUSINGS – Volume I

To put it bluntly, the eyesight of this old essayist is not as sharp as it was when soldering was my occupation. So after 67 years of driving cars and trucks and airplanes, my head prevailed over my heart and my retirement from driving cars has now occurred. If there is an emergency, of course, there is no prohibition on my coming out of retirement to take the wheel once more.

When one approaches the eighth decade of life, it becomes an article of faith with every newspaper reporter that in the case of any mishap, the lead sentence will pivot on the age of the oldster. If, for example, an 82 year old man parks his car, enters a drugstore and his car is hit while he is buying his Geritol, the lead sentence in any newspaper account will say, “The car of an 82 year old man was involved in a serious collision.” That is the way it is. My retirement is meant to thwart such journalistic bombast.

Being a retired driver means that Ms. Chicka drives while freeing me to look at the passing scenery and to muse a bit now and then. Actually, my musing goes on pretty much full time as there is no attempt on my part to tell Ms. Chicka how her driving could be improved. My contribution is to look out the window, adjust the heat controls and think about esoteric facts of life. In Army days, the pilot flew the plane and my job was to look for FW190’s or Messerschmitt 109’s. So things haven’t changed much. My current ponderings often have no obvious conclusion, but they give me something to think about now that my responsibilities no longer include driving. So you are invited to ponder and muse along with me on some of life’s mysteries.

Lawn Signs and Bumper Stickers

As these lines are written, the 2004 elections are three or four weeks into history. Summit, New Jersey, an affluent community, seems to tolerate lawn signs even on 15 or 20 room mansions on Hobart Avenue. The signs urge the viewer to vote for various people for councilman or woman as well as candidates for the presidential race. Bumper stickers abound mostly on the rear bumpers where following drivers are forced to look at them.

The printing industry must make handsome profits on signs and stickers. That is all well and good, but can anyone assure me that a driver encountering signs and stickers, will say, “That’s the man or woman who gets my vote because it looks so nice on the lawn sign or the bumper sticker?” For my money, it is a case of one politician printing such signs because his opponent has such material. At election time, put your spare cash into printing company stocks.

Entrepreneurial Hijinks

You will see many car trunks and fenders these days with an eight or ten inch loop saying, “Support the Troops.” These loops have an adhesive on the back so they will stick to any surface.

The loops were hijacked from messages urging people to be aware of breast cancer. The loops about the troops are sold in hardware stores, drugstores and convenience stores.

A not very bright fellow was asked by a television reporter about the profits produced by the loops. He said the profits went to the troops. How could anyone be so dense. The profits have nothing to do with troops of any kind. The profits go to the marketers who invented the idea, to the printing companies and to the people at the point of sale. And those people have no intention of becoming Privates, PFC’s and Corporals. They are much too busy banking their profits to think about taking up soldiering for their life’s work.

Soon there will be loop signs that say, “Bring the troops home.” Some are now appearing. But again, whatever profits there are won’t be going to troops of any kind.

Odd size waist measurements – Men’s Division

Clothing manufacturers have an aversion to odd size waist measurements. If a person has a 35 inch waist line, his clothing store may shoehorn him into a 34 inch pair of pants. For an additional fee, the pants may be altered so that they fit. Ah, but that is not the American way. Is there a constitutional prohibition on garments, particularly pants, manufactured in odd rather than even sizes?

Belt makers produce belts only in even sizes. Does anyone know if belt makers who produce odd size belts will find themselves prosecuted? This charade has been going on for all of my life. Maybe after Congress deals with the 9-11 Commission findings, they may give some thought to men’s clothing. In my lifetime, that is a forlorn hope, but it is one of my musings.

Rooney on election results

Andy Rooney is, of course, the well known essayist who delivers four or five minutes of comment at the end of “60 Minutes” broadcasts. He got a hostile message which claimed that all the people at CBS News were liberals who voted exclusively for John Kerry. Rooney said that was not the case at all. He said the 50%-50% split at CBS News was the same found throughout the country. Rooney said, “50% of us voted for Kerry and 50% registered their hatred for Bush.”

Several commentators have said Kerry lost because of guns, gays and God. They may well be right.

Ashcroft on the way out

John Ashcroft is the worst Attorney General of the U.S. in our 228 years as a government. He is so utterly terrible that George Bush told him his services were no longer needed. Ashcroft comes from a Missouri town near Howard Davis’s ancestral home of Defiance.

My musings about Ashcroft have to do with “providence” and crime and terrorism. Brother Ashcroft said recently that providence was responsible for there being no terror attacks on the U.S. since the Bush Administration took over. If that is even halfway true, where was Ashcroft’s providence on September 11, 2001 when the same crowd of neo-cons was also in control? Poor old John can’t have it both ways.

When Ashcroft resigned, he did not dictate a letter to his secretary. No, he produced a five page handwritten letter to Bush in which he said the campaign “against terror and crime has been accomplished.” Presumably, the disappearance of crime and terror came about because Ashcroft was the Attorney General. If those facts are even remotely true, why do we still have police departments, and soldiers getting killed in Iraq?

In the main hall of the Justice Department building in Washington there is a statue of a woman largely unclothed. One of Ashcroft’s first acts was to order the breasts of the statue to be covered. To the extent that we have naked female statues in the halls of justice, we will also have crime and terror. Ashcroft has pulled a magical triple play. By covering the breast or breasts of the statue, he set in motion the sacred campaign to wipe out crime and terror. For that he has earned our eternal thanks. Even Howard Davis never thought Ashcroft could do it.

Condoleezza and airplanes

During the hearings of the 9-11 Commission, the National Security Advisor stated that there is no way anyone in the Bush Administration could be blamed because terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. Condoleezza, who advises the U.S President, believed this was a new form of warfare never before contemplated. No one ever thought of such a thing, she said.

Condoleezza must not be a scholar of World War II. In that conflict, the Japanese had squadrons of Kamikazi pilots whose sole duty was to fly their airplanes into such things as U.S. aircraft carriers.

Harry Livermore, who was aboard the carrier “Ticonderoga,” saw a Kamikazi cause something like 300 American deaths when it struck his ship. The Russians used some of their aircraft propellers to slash holes in German planes during aerial warfare against the Soviet Union. The Russians were partial to the P39 Bell Air Cobra which we had lend-leased them. When ammunition ran out, the Russians used their own propellers to down German aircraft.

It is distressful to me that Condoleezza had no idea about aerial warfare including flying an airplane into a building or a ship or another war plane. My musings and pondering make me wonder what gave her qualifications such weight as to become Secretary of State. It beats me.

Porter Goss and the rules of the road for CIA employees

When George Tenet found himself the fall guy for the intelligence failures of the Bush Administration, he quit. Bush picked Porter Goss, a Florida Republican congressman, as his replacement at the Central Intelligence Agency.

In theory, the CIA is a non-political organization where different points of view are heard and tolerated. The thought being that our intelligence has to be impartial and to reflect the best estimates of the CIA. The CIA used to present facts to the administration and to Congress. Sometimes these facts run counter to political desires.

Old Porter took over as the head of the CIA with the obvious thought that this was a nest of leakers and nay-sayers. The resignations of 15 top CIA officials have been offered so far. More resignations are on the way as we write.

In a letter to CIA employees, Porter Goss said to forget all that B.S. about impartiality and differing points of view. In his second month of the job, Goss said he wanted to clarify “The rules of the road. We support the administration and its policies in our work.”

If the policy is to attack Iran, the CIA is expected to “support the administration.” If the policy is to attack Peru, every CIA gringo is expected to say, “go get ‘em.”

My ponderings are those of an old soldier. Somehow this all seems bass ackward. The CIA produces the intelligence which must guide the rest of the government. In Porter Goss’s view, the Bushies make a policy and require the CIA to support it. It seems to some of us that such a reversal of the normal order of things can bring us nothing but disaster. Is the government really going to say it is our policy that country “X” is suspected of having an atomic bomb and it is up to the CIA to produce the evidence even if there is none. This is Alice in Wonderland political stuff which causes me to muse and ponder about it. If the U.S. government is going to make policy before we have evidence, we are asking for more Vietnams and more conflicts with the Arab world. It is sort of like my knocking down a man in the street and requiring the cops to produce a justification for my attack. As we said, this is all totally bass ackward, to use one of my mother’s phrases.

Poor people always suffer

Just off hand, we have several friends in Florida who formerly worked for AT&T. One lives in the Northeastern part of the state, one lives in the northwestern part of the state and one lives far to the south below Naples. The hurricanes that struck Florida were relentless, but all of our acquaintances seem to have survived unharmed. But the poor people who live in trailers and insubstantial housing were largely wiped out. As these lines are written some three months since the hurricane season began, there are families waiting to acquire new housing, even if it is only a trailer.

This is a familiar tale. The people who have little most often suffer the most. My musings wonder if the suffering comes about because they have a high rate of abortions, which played such a part in the 2004 elections. Or was it that these poor people had a high rate of same sex marriages which some voters seemed to detest?

My ponderings tell me that poor people will take whatever money they have to buy bread and cheese for their children and for themselves rather than to give it to an abortionist. My instincts tell me that abortion and same sex marriages are developments that are seldom – if ever – thought about by poor people.

Many of us were raised during the Hoover Depression of the 1930’s when there was no work and we were poor. We did not worry about abortions and same sex marriages, but we still wonder why it is that nature or providence or unseen gods make it so hard for poor people to enjoy life.

Sin is damn near everywhere

Bob Carney who resides in that Sodom and Gomorrah liberal city of Wilton, Connecticut, reported on a conversation he had overheard in Jacksonville, Florida. Carney and his lawfully wedded female wife, were waiting for their luggage in the baggage area of the Jacksonville Airport. He reports, “We heard a well dressed woman and her daughter chatting with a skycap about how she would not raise her daughter in New York.” “Too liberal,” she said. The skycap agreed citing the “wrong values up there.” Minutes later, Carney’s wife began talking about a recent episode of “Desperate Housewives.” The woman who would not raise her child in New York said, “I love that show. It is so much fun.”

“Desperate Housewives” is the show that had its leading actress dressed, apparently only in a towel, in an encounter with the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrill Owens. This was a short skit prior to a Monday night NFL football game. At the conclusion of the skit, she dropped the towel and jumped into Owens’ arms. This is very artsy stuff. All of it was done to promote “Desperate Housewives”!

The woman who thought New York too liberal most likely joined the rest of the voters in the 2004 election to support Bush. Curiously, the Pecksniffian right wingers who attend church services regularly the most, are the most regular watchers of TV trash such as “Desperate Housewives” and the Fox Network. These facts are not propaganda from the political opposition. These facts come from weekly independent studies done by the broadcasters themselves.

It must be a case of give sin hell on Sundays and on election day, but please don’t deprive me of my trash TV viewing all the rest of the month. My muses and my pondering say, “Go figure.”

Whatever is left of my mind will probably continue to collect musings and ponderings as Ms. Chicka does the driving. The yard signs urging support of political candidates are gone now, but the bumper stickers remain. My notes tell me there is material on hand to support Volume II of musings. If Volume I if a big seller, you may be sure its successor will be waiting in the wings unless this old essayist is distracted by broadcasts of trash television. The preachers are right. Sin is everywhere including right here in Short Hills, New Jersey.

November 27, 2004


Nine essays in one! That’s gotta be some kind of record.

There was an interesting NYT piece the other day about how the cultural divide in this country manifests itself through TV viewership. The core of the piece is 50 maps showing viewer density for all sorts of different shows. Shows like Duck Dynasty and Teen Mom are extremely popular in places like Kentucky, but not so much in New York, which is watching The Daily Show and Game of Thrones.

With the yard signs and bumper stickers, I think that these matter a lot more for local elections than they do for national ones. People react well to name recognition, so if you’re driving around your neighborhood and see a ton of signs for like, a harbor supervisor, then you’re more likely to put that person’s name down if you get to the polls and can only remember that one name. For elections where a) parties play a big role and b) everyone knows both candidates anyway, like presidential elections or senate races, it’s hard to imagine they do any good whatsoever.

As a final thought, if the Bush administration was committing to “policy first, evidence later,” I wonder if team Trump will go with “policy first, evidence never” or “‘alternate facts’ first, policy second.” Both seem like good candidates.


These matters having to do with the American military come to mind largely as a result of our ill conceived, pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. The holding of prisoners at Guantanamo for more than two years is also a significant consideration.

The American Army has now held prisoners from Afghanistan and from Iraq for a substantial period of time. Lawyers have been urging the American courts to finally permit trials. Grudgingly, the court system agrees that prisoners at Guantanamo should have a day in court, no matter how flawed it may be.

And now in the last year, a scandal has arisen over the American operated prison at Abu Ghraib. Bush’s legal counsel in the White House, Alberto Gonzales, says that the Geneva Convention rules are “archaic” and may be ignored. Bush himself says that the gross mistreatment of Iraqi detainees is the work of a few soldiers (“Bad apples”) at the end of the chain of command and may be ignored. So far, a few cases of these low level soldiers have been brought to trial and military legal proceedings now seems to be under way. One of the soldiers to be court-martialed is Lynndie England, a 21 year old female PFC who is now in the eighth month of her pregnancy.

All of this talk about courts martial has caused me to recall an incident from late 1944 or the beginning of 1945. In recounting my involvement in a court martial proceeding, my reaction is heavily influenced by the title that has been given this essay. But we will hold those reactions until later in this essay. In the meantime, permit me to tell the reader about my role in a U.S. court martial proceeding.

The developments described here took place about 60 years ago. The events took place at a large air base a few miles outside the city of Accra. In those days, England held large pieces of territory in Africa as possessions. One of their possessions, only five degrees above the equator, was called The Gold Coast. Accra was the capital of the Gold Coast. In March, 1957, a patriot named Kwame Nkrumah succeeded in ending British rule. The new country is called Ghana and its capital is still in Accra. It has a population of nearly one million.

When the U.S. entered World War II, Great Britain permitted us to share the air base at Accra. As time went on, the base became predominately a U.S. installation. My fairly educated guess is that the U.S. had perhaps 4,000 men assigned to that Accra Air Base.

My assignment largely had to do with being an Aerial Engineer on planes flying through Africa and sometimes into Yemen and India and what is now called Pakistan. At one point, Captain Bell, who commanded flight line operations, asked me to take over the midnight shift as the line chief. The nights at Accra were generally pleasant year round, which avoided the higher temperatures of work on the day shift. The shift started at 11PM and ended between 7:30AM and 8AM. As the line chief, my responsibility included the work of as many as three other GI’s and perhaps five or six native workers. We were responsible for finishing work on airplanes, which the evening shift did not have time to do, and most importantly, certifying the air worthiness of planes set to depart that day. Finally, we were to deliver the aircraft to the departure terminal starting at around 4:30AM or 5AM.

Sleeping in the daytime was not an easy thing to do. There was Mobo, the male housekeeper, who liked to sweep and make beds up before noon. When lunch time came, the other GI’s would come back to our barracks. There was no way anyone could sleep when the other men were killing a few moments in the barracks before heading back to the flight line. And finally, Barracks G17 was located within a few yards of the mess hall. The native workers liked to sing as they prepared the next meal. My makeup is such that choral singing must be given a large degree of attention – which was done. The long and the short of it was that it was difficult to sleep while being assigned to the midnight line chief’s job.

All of my travails about sleeping are recited here for a reason. About every six or eight weeks, a movie film would arrive and it would be shown to GI’s sitting on wooden benches, with no backs, outside in a dusty field some distance from our barracks. In the G17 barracks, it seems to me that the only soldier to pass up the movie was this young GI. Movies have never been a priority for me. If there was a choice, my vote would go to watching a dull cricket match or to watching a crossword puzzle being worked over almost any movie. But that is my lonely opinion. This movie must have been a blockbuster as every other GI in my end of G17 went to the movie. Given my sleeping circumstances, it seemed to me that this was an excellent time to get some sleep before reporting to work at 11PM.

In all my years in the Army, there was only one GI who slept in pajamas. The rest of us slept in our underwear. He turned out to be a spy for higher authorities, reporting on our conduct, while we attended Embry-Riddle School of Aeronautics in Coral Gables, Florida. When his spying efforts were disclosed, his life became unbearable because of the disdain of other GI’s who were his classmates. So it is safe to say that the rest of us slept in our underwear. We had no PJ’s.

For its spying work, the Army authorities chose a former bus driver from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. It was a terrible choice. From that time on, we all suspected anyone who used pajamas as potential spies, but we never saw such a person.

Somewhere around 8PM or 8:30PM, when my efforts to sleep were being rewarded, there was one hell of a clatter accompanied by curses and the sound of someone being struck with something other than an open hand. That was the end of my sleeping for this evening. It was an abrupt awakening.

At about the same time my feet were hitting the floor alongside my bunk, there was the sound of the screen door on our porch being opened so violently that it seemed to come off its hinges. After taking a few steps, the cause of the commotion came into view. It was a GI who seemed to be drunk and bloody. He was running from a native policemen. When he gasped that he was looking for a hiding place, it was make clear to the drunk GI that this barracks was not going to be the place for him to hide.

All of this happened in a matter of seconds, it must be supposed. When he heard the policeman enter our barracks, he ran to the space between Werner Freidli’s and Steve Thorin’s bunks and hurled himself at the screened window which gave way. He then continued his flight from the policeman.

The barracks we lived in had no glass windows. Every few feet, there was an opening perhaps three feet wide and six feet high covered by screening. In very inclement weather, there were outdoor wooden shutters that could be pulled shut. But the drunken GI had no time for discussion of these arrangements. He threw himself violently at the screen and it permitted his escape. Werner Freidli and Steve Thorin had no screen that night when they returned from the movie.

The G17 barracks was the last building on the road to the beach. The beach was a seldom used place because it required protection against mosquito bites that carry malaria. The beach was probably a mile from our barracks and offered no amenities. There were no life guards. It was simply a place where the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea met the shores of the Gold Coast. In my time at Accra, there was never any reason for me to visit the beach. The same was true for nearly all of my barracks mates.

With the drunken and bloody GI gone, my next concern was for the native policeman whose head was covered by cuts and blood. His uniform was torn and he was at the edge of exhaustion. He was led a few feet towards my bunk where he was asked to please sit on my foot locker. He still carried his baton which he had used on the GI.

It was absolutely clear that he needed immediate medical attention. There were no telephones in any of the barracks. My entire attire consisted of the newly issued olive green boxer shorts. And quickly as could be done, my work clothes were put on. They were one piece garments entered first by the legs with the chest covering following. Old timers would have called them “union suits,” but they were called “coveralls.”

Residents of the Gold Coast – Ghana, speak as many as eight different languages. There is Ga, Twi, Fante, Dagbani, Ewe, Housa, Akan and English. The best that could be ascertained at this moment was that the policeman was a Ga speaker. In English and broken Ga, it was explained that it would be necessary for me to borrow a Jeep to take him to the hospital. To make certain that he stayed on my foot locker while a Jeep was being sought, he was asked to give me his baton. A policeman without a baton amounts to next to nothing. One way or another, he seemed to trust me, and gave me his baton.

In this case, the office housing the administrative functions of my squadron were located only about 500 yards away. Why it is called a “day” room escapes me now as it did then. In any case, there were a couple of Jeeps assigned to the squadron with the keys being inside the day room. Fortunately, there was a soldier on duty who had not gone to the movie. He gave me the Jeep keys and so our make-shift ambulance with the canvas top was ready to go back to the barracks.

As soon as he saw me enter the barracks, the policeman asked for his baton which was given to him without delay. Getting the policeman into the Jeep was not as difficult as it could have been as he was able to walk after a fashion. However, in escorting him to the Jeep, his blood stained several places on my coveralls. When we arrived at the hospital, there was an officious nurse who said that the hospital was for U.S. soldiers only. That angered me and my voice and actions showed it. Soon a doctor showed up to see what the commotion was about. He agreed to treat the policeman and sent the officious nurse to find the necessary tools and bandages so that our native constable could be sewn up. The policeman hugged me – holding on to his baton. And so it was now time for me to head for the flight line.

Apparently the hospital notified the American military police or the Provost Marshal’s office. The next morning when it was my hope that finally there would be sleep in the offing, a Captain walked into the barracks as my coveralls were about to hit the floor. He came from the legal arm of the Army called the Judge Advocate General Corps. Sleep suddenly became a distant possibility as he asked me to come to his office. Curiously, he asked me to wear the same clothes as when the policeman had been taken to the hospital. Looking at the blood on my coveralls, he seemed to flirt with the idea that the policeman’s attacker had been me. Regardless of the difference in rank, that suspicion angered me and he knew it. He backed off and asked me to tell him what could be said for the GI who broke the screens. Among other things, the JAG (Judge Advocate General) Captain was told that the man was clearly drunk and boisterous and his clothing was covered by blood.

By the end of the interview, the JAG Captain and the flight line Sergeant had become fairly friendly. He seemed now to want to identify the assailant and he seemed quite interested in his bloody clothes. He said he was going to order the laundry to inspect every piece of clothes turned in for washing looking for evidence of blood. He made it clear that my coveralls would be excluded, after my protests.

Ordering the laundry to inspect every piece of clothing for signs of blood seemed to me to be a shot in the dark. Most men would burn that clothing or give it to one of the natives.

This may be hard to believe, but the assailant sent all of his clothing to be washed at the base laundry. So much for my shot in the dark. He was on the hook, as it were. The Army maintains a clothing record for each GI. If a man says he needs new shirts, for example, the clerk will say, “What did you do with the last one?” If it turns out that clothing is being sold or used in a way for which it was unintended, there can be repercussions. But in any case, the assailant sent his clothes to the base laundry and was soon confronted with the thought that he had committed a crime.

Things are now going to get vague, not only because of the passage of 60 years, but the legal proceedings in the Army are not publicized. From all the information coming my way, the assailant became aware that the policeman would testify against him. He knew about me. The unknown had to do with whether any of his beer drinking pals on the Accra beach would also join with the prosecution. It must be assumed that he wanted to cut his losses so he pleaded guilty. So there was a court martial set to determine his sentence.

On the appointed day, the policeman and the witness who was awakened from his sleep were in rooms near the base stockade. Care was taken so that the policeman and this witness did not see each other. The judge was a Major who listened to my testimony. There was no such thing as a jury. The Major decided everything. My testimony was given in response to the questions asked by the Captain who had come to my barracks and who wanted to know why there was blood on my coveralls. There may have been a note taker, but my memory is not clear on that point. And finally, there was the defendant. There was no attorney, in my memory, for the defendant. He had pled guilty and the only question was his sentence.

After my testimony which was given after working the midnight flight line shift, the Captain escorted me outside and thanked me for coming forward. It seemed to me to be a small thing to do to bring some sort of justice to the policeman.

At this point, it is my unhappy duty to tell you that no one ever informed me of the outcome of the case involving the policeman. The Army simply shut up and as an enlisted man, there was absolutely no avenue for me to pursue the outcome. Any attempt by me to find out about the outcome, could well be interpreted as unwarranted interference. So for 60 years now, no one seems to know what the sentence was – if there was a sentence. That, my friends, is the way the United States Army does things.

On the other hand, there are a few facts we know. In the first place, there was a regular meeting of beer drinking GI’s who met on the beach after dark. This was contrary to all regulations and common sense.

Secondly, the beer in the Gold Coast – Ghana – comes in large sturdy bottles. At the time of this incident, beer was served in heavy duty bottles at least as big as a wine bottle that you may have on your rack. These bottles were substantially bigger than the bottles we have in this country that bring us Budweiser or Coors. The bottles were formidable weapons.

On the day we are speaking about, when the policeman tried to break up the group, at least one took a beer bottle and swung it at the policeman’s head. The policeman fought back with his baton, but he was badly outnumbered.

From what we could learn, the now court-martialed GI fought with the policeman for about a mile from the beach to the G17 barracks. A beer bottle, which had probably been in the possession of the court-martialed GI, was found outside the barracks.

So we do not know how the court martial turned out, but it was pleasing to me to know that the policeman came by my barracks to thank me. Finding me at work, he spoke to Mobo, our Ga speaking man in charge of making the barracks sparkle. Old Mobo was as pleased as this witness was with what the policeman had to say.

While there is much we do not know, there are two things that everyone in the world ought to know. In 1944 or thereabouts, the Army began issuing sleeveless undershirts and boxer shorts in olive drab colors. The apparent reason was that if in a combat zone, the GI was to do a laundry, he might put his underclothes on a line or spread out on bushes to dry. The German’s would then have a target for their bombers and for their artillery. The fact of the matter is that in combat zones, laundry is a seldom performed operation.

One last fact having to do with the Jeep which was borrowed to take the policeman to the hospital. The Army called them “General purpose vehicles.” So the first letters from words were borrowed and they were called “Jeeps.” In addition, there was a long running comic strip called “Bring Up Father.” It had a ghost like creature called a “Jeep.” So the name Jeep was given to one of the dependable work horses of the Army. Jeeps were great machines.

Sometime after the Army discharged me, a book was published called, “Military Music is to Music as Military Justice is to Justice.” For the past 50 years of more, that book has stuck in my mind because it represents the truth about at least, the U. S. Army.

The music played by Army bands could be lived with, but justice is another matter. Simply put, the Army proceeds from the viewpoint that every defendant is guilty. There is no such foolishness as innocent until proved guilty. In the case cited in this essay, the defendant had no counsel. His only source of help was the Judge Advocate General Corps which was responsible for prosecuting the case. At best, there may have been a long hand note taker, also under the supervision of the court. There was no jury. In short, the record of the proceeding was whatever the Army said it to be.

This case discussed here was disposed of before noon. Of course, the man pleaded guilty, but there was no one apparent to me who could advise him of his rights – if any.

Readers of these essays have probably long since concluded that the Army arouses my deep seated skepticism. That feeling is magnified when politicians use the Army to further their own ends. Today in Iraq, attempts are being made to tell us that by and large, Iraq is a peaceful place. No one can believe such falsehoods. My thoughts about cynicism, skepticism and complete disbelief are, in my opinion, well founded.

Now as to precision bombing. There is some suspicion that some of us know a little bit about precision bombing. When my enlistment started, several units of U.S. Army Air Corps – later the Air Force – claimed that they could drop bombs into a rain barrel. People who believed the rain barrel braggadocio would now be in line to tell you that Iraq is not only peaceful but as pretty as it was in the days of Babylon.

When the military says that a house in Fallujah is holding a meeting of insurgents, and that they can bomb it into extinction without harming the rest of the neighborhood – DON’T BELIEVE IT. When such a “precision” bombing occurs, why is it the Iraqis find wounded and killed children coming from that house rather than insurgents with sunglasses and headscarves?

And so to every reader of these writings, it must be said that when you hear of military music or military justice or precision bombing, apply a substantial bit of skepticism and cynicism as well as a full measure of disbelief.

And more than anything else, don’t join the Army, unless you feel it terribly important to see the tranquility and peacefulness of Baghdad.

September 29, 2004


So here’s what has me nervous. We’re just one day into the Trump administration and already the press secretary is explicitly lying in official press conferences. The lie this time was about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, which was significantly smaller than Obama’s in 09, among other things. However, Sean Spicer, the new press secretary, claimed that “[Trump’s] was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” This is demonstrably not the case.

When questioned about this practice the next day, Kellyanne Conway, called these lies “alternative facts.”

Here’s some context for future readers:



I guarantee that Pop would have written an essay about “alternative facts.” He would have found it fascinating both from a “the new press secretary is telling bold-face lies, right out the gate” perspective, but also a linguistic one. Perhaps he would have discussed what an “alternative diet” could look like, which might consist of eating 30 bacon cheeseburgers a day. Maybe “alternative exercise” will take off, where participants sit on their couches and think about running. After that, adherents could go to “alternative work,” which of course would actually be the local McDonalds so that they could keep up with said alternative diet.

The real issue here is that when it comes to crowd size, the public could objectively verify the truth of the claims. The fact that the Trump administration is willing to lie in the face of widespread, publicly-available evidence really sets the tone for the next four years. In effect they’ve done us a favor by telling us on day one, in plain terms: “We will lie to you about any issue that we please, no matter how trivial, in order to fit our narrative.”

But what about the issues which Pop was discussing above? In the years ahead there will be an incredible volume of governmental claims that the public cannot verify themselves. They NEED the government to tell them the truth about military or overseas issues where the public has no way to know what really transpired. But if we know that Trump’s team will lie to our faces about crowd size, what hope do we have of getting an accurate idea of anything else?

And all the while, the effort goes on to defame and discredit the only other channel that the public has to the truth, which is the media. The media is constantly under attack by the administration, and that relationship continues to become increasingly adversarial. The catch, though, is that in many ways, the media can be shut out from governmental affairs just like the public can be. At that point, the only source of information will be the administration itself, which clearly is more concerned with “alternative facts” than the genuine articles.