Archive for February 2017

A POTPOURRI OF THOUGHTS | Meditations: Chapter 11, Verses Genesis to Exodus

My final job at AT&T was in the Overseas Department where it was necessary to deal with all the other telecommunications organizations in the world on mutual problems. In many cases, it was a matter of maintaining harmonious relations with people who were very different from ourselves as well as people who are very much like the people found in this country. It was a job that brought considerable enjoyment to me. Among the people who contributed to that enjoyment were two Assistant General Managers of the Overseas Telecommunication’s Commission – Australia. One was Randy Payne and the other was John Hampton.

We were all veterans of World War II which contributed much to our friendship. Before long, it also developed that all of us were offended by attempts to sully the English language. John Hampton said at one point that he had heard the term “to envelopize” a problem. Randy and John were baffled by that term as their American correspondent was by “cut to the chase.” Somewhere along the line came the phrase “pushing the envelope” and the penchant of one of my colleagues for the use of the absurd word “proactive.” When a new imbecilic phrase turned up, we all laughed as its meaning was guessed at. The three of us reserved a special place in hell for those who said, “At this point in time” meaning now, or “That point in time,” meaning then. That also applied to adding the suffix “wise” to any word, such as, “It is hot here, heat-wise.”

Randy Payne died bout 20 years ago at a much too early an age. John Hampton retired and unfortunately, we have been out of contact for nearly two decades. But the search goes on. In the past few years, particularly since the Iraq war, insane neologisms are found everywhere. This is the time Randy and John are sorely needed. Here are only a few of the new words that beggar definition and meaning.

How about “awesome” or “like” as in the ardent swain saying to his beloved, “Like, I want to kiss you.” She should reply, “Like when is it going to happen?” She might also say, “You know what I mean?” Then there is the recurring phrase “you know.” When George Bush speaks extemporarily, his sentences go on and on as he says “and uh…” instead of a period. Employers are looking for people who “think outside the box.” What box are we discussing?

From the war in Iraq, we have “tipping point,” “boots on the ground,” “standing up and standing down,” “closure” and “renditions.” Rumsfeld speaks a language all his own. He loves the word “metrics,” which means nothing more than a measurement of some kind as in the war in Iraq may go on for twelve years. Twelve years is a metric and a long one.

Condoleezza Rice, the recently appointed Secretary of State, has a compulsion to use the word “task” in dubious forms. Rumsfeld, of metrics fame, joins Madame Rice in trying to dress up that well understood term, in fancy and in illogical clothing. When someone has been assigned to oversee a project, Rice and Rumsfeld will say that he or she is “being tasked” with that responsibility. Prospectively, they may say that a subordinate person is under consideration “for tasking” a certain project. Because these are peculiar American usages, Randy and John would have pummeled me endlessly, and with good reason.

On the ecclesiastical front, we have an entry from EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the Catholic network. They now refer to children in the womb as “pre-born.” When a birth occurs, is it possible that the child would be called a “post-born” or an “after-born”? My driver’s license says born only. “After and post born” would lend some class to a classless entry.

From the baseball commentators we now have “going yard” which means hitting a home run. This takes insanity to a lofty level.

So you can see why Randy and John are sorely missed. We have much more to work with than when we plied our trade back in the 1980’s. Like I mean, like really. It is awesome! How about, at this point in time, may we say, awesome-wise? Or, proactive-wise? How about prayer-wise?

Your old essayist is at a loss to tell you if nuns who taught school were as tough as some parochial school graduates now claim. My main source is Francis Healey, a former major league catcher who is now a broadcaster of Mets baseball.

Fran is not alone in claiming that the nuns he was taught by were overly strict and that some of them were given to corporal punishment. There are those parents who want their children to be taught by demanding teachers. Perhaps that is a laudable trait, but it seems to me that something is missing here. Parochial school graduates speak not of the love of learning, but of the strictness of the teaching nuns. Rulers seem to have been used to rap knuckles of errant school boys. Is that the image that people such as Fran Healey, who must have left his parochial school 40 years ago, want to be known for?

My grade school teachers were demanding, but sometimes they would join the children in school yard games at recess. The question remains, were the parochial school nuns as tough as some graduates say they were? Were the Catholic kids that unruly? But the nuns are still at it so it is clear that some parents prefer for their kids to toe the line. Do bad boys ever get excommunicated? Maybe the Eternal Word Television Network can answer that question as soon as “pre-born” is explained satisfactorily. EWTN might explain that the so called “Morning-after pill” is designed to avoid the pre-born situation. That would be a clear definition that all of us could understand.

In previous essays, an attempt was made to describe hatred between people and countries. The Chinese, for example, are still smoldering about the treatment by the Japanese Army in World War II. The Italians are roundly hated in Ethiopia for the invasion in the 1930’s under Mussolini. In turn, the Italians hate what the German Army did to them late in World War II. The Poles hate the Germans and the Russians, with good reason. Even after 800 years, there is absolutely no love lost between the Irish and England. Old Mother England is reviled in Africa because the Brits referred to male natives as “boys” and demanded that natives call them “Master.”

Our occupation of Iraq – and particularly the torture that has been visited upon Iraqis – will earn Americans the undying hatred of Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world forever.

On the subject of torture in American prisons, Burton J. Lee III wrote an article for the Washington Post called, “The Stain of Torture.” Lee served as a doctor in the United States Medical Corps and was for four years, the presidential physician to George H.W. Bush. The final paragraph of Lee’s piece reads like this:

“America cannot go down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. It does not show understanding, power or magnanimity. It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and the citizens of the United States.”

Dr. Lee, many of us believe you have said it all. This is what hatred is all about.

The G-8 Summit meeting was badly overshadowed by the London bombings. Yet there were one or two statements of note.

With respect to the war in Iraq, one of the delegates proclaimed the conflict was “Laying the foundation for peace.” He really said that. Presumably, the bloodier the war in Iraq, the more likely that the foundation for peace is laid properly.

On global warming, seven out of the eight delegations were in favor of doing something about it. The United States, which contributes more to greenhouse gasses than any other country, declined to become involved. So the U.S. government holds that seven out of the eight governments are on “the wrong road.”

It may come as no surprise that the speaker in both cases was Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush may have been thrilled to learn while he was in Scotland on G-8 business, that the Shia’s have started to establish a Shia theocracy based in Basra, Iraq’s second city. A theocracy is a government based, in this case, on the Islamic religion. As far as this group of Shias is concerned, they will take a pass on democracy.

Bush may not have understood all that was going on around him in Scotland, but it is a pretty good guess that he was sobered by the events in London and in Iraq. It could – and probably will – happen here.

In recent years, it has become de rigueur to depopulate retail stores. Bakery counters don’t have people to explain the differences between breads. The products are packaged and placed in a bin and the customer is forced to paw through them.

Butchers are quickly passing from the scene as cuts of meat are packaged and placed in bins. Help at the cheese counter is largely a thing of the past all done in the name of getting rid of employees with a consequent boost in corporate earnings.

Perhaps the ultimate is the Staples office supply chain. It is quite possible to shop there for the better part of an hour and see no one but a cashier or two. The difference between products is left for the customer to divine. It is sort of like Rumsfeld saying you go to war with the Army you have. In this case, Staples has filled a store with products which may or may not fit customer requirements – and there are precious few clerks or cashiers to ask for help. Staples says it has done its part. If the customer is baffled, that is not Staples problem.

With the “no help” situation in Staple’s stores, the losses through shop lifting must be significant. But there we go worrying about Staple’s problems. Perhaps we are lucky to have the cashier available, but knowing of the desire to depopulate stores of every kind, it may not be long till they are gone as well.

The inescapable fact is that a good employee will pay for himself by showing how a product is used or by telling customers of other bargains or services supplied by the store. Ah, but the owners are not listening. Curiously, the owners do not share the increased income with the few remaining employees. They keep it for themselves. How short sighted. How immoral.

In Clayton, Missouri, my home town, there was a pool hall that was viewed by my mother as the ultimate den of iniquity. My mother suspected that Sol was selling some sort of beer to patrons during the days of Prohibition. That practice was known as “peddling home brew.” When Franklin Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1933, he legalized the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. At that point, old Sol – last name unknown – could sell his beer openly to players who used his pool tables.

My brothers who were 11 and 13 years older than myself, were accused by my mother of patronizing Sol’s place. As my young years advanced, Lillie, my mother, warned me that going to Sol’s would endanger my soul from any heavenly reward. All of this took place when Nora, Lillie’s sister, made home brew all during the Prohibition era. As a child, Nora’s home brew was so repulsive that now, 75 years later, there is not one atom in my body ever crying out for beer.

Secondly, the lure of pool-playing ranks somewhere below watching a dull person try to solve a crossword puzzle. My current interest in pool and golf are somewhere near zero or below.

Nonetheless, as my years mounted, Lillie was assured from time to time that Sol’s Pool Hall was not where my after-school hours were spent. Lillie was completely certain that her fervent prayers for her youngest child were paying off in terms of pool playing and drinking beer. Lillie went to her grave believing that my abstemious conduct was a product of divine intervention. Lillie knew of my non-belief in religion. She elected to declare her non-belief in my non-belief. Given that situation, it seemed best for me to let sleeping dogs lie.

Lillie never played pool in her life nor did she ever see the inside of a pool hall. Why she was so angered by the existence of Sol’s Pool Hall was inexplicable to me. But none-the-less, for more than three quarters of a century, my consumption of beer is in the range of two or three bottles per year. My visits to a pool hall over that period of time are zero. Do you believe these non-accomplishments are, in fact, divine intervention as specified by Mother Lillie? When this old geezer reaches eternal ecstasy in the hereafter, he will go to the divine ledger to see if that was indeed the case. My hope is to see Sol, who will offer me a cold one, and who will spin out the whole story. But seeing Sol, or Solomon, may be difficult because he subscribed to the Jewish faith. Perhaps Jews live in a different housing development from the Protestants. But that is an issue for another day. My unshakable belief is that Lillie and Sol will have worked things out long before it is necessary for me to knock on those golden gates.

July 5, 2005


Most of the time when I’m shopping, I’d much rather use my phone to look up reviews for a product than listen to a biased salesperson tell me about it. And even when a phone is available, having a sales rep staring you down as you attempt to shop is pretty disconcerting for me. I was in Shanghai last week, where this practice is taken to the extreme. In one of the giant counterfeit goods markets, Jen and I made the fatal mistake of asking someone how to get upstairs. That person proceeded to follow us around doggedly for at least ten minutes, despite my becoming increasingly rude to her. “We do not want you here with us, please go away, goodbye” was insufficient deterrent to get her to leave us alone. We eventually had to leave the store to get her to go away. Maybe it’s a generational thing, or maybe I’m just antisocial, but my ideal shopping experience is one where I’m left entirely alone.

BEING BUFFALOED AND OTHER RESPONSES | Meditations Chapter Ten: Verses Ezra to Micah

On Tuesday evening, June 28th, the peerless President took over the broadcasting networks to ask for patience and understanding as the ill-gotten Iraqi war proceeds well into its third year. The theme was the well worn phrase, “As the newly trained Iraqis stand up, we Americans can stand down.” Emperor Rumsfeld said a week before the speech, that the Iraqi insurgency could go for another twelve years, so there is no real urgency for us to prepare for “standing down.” We aren’t going anywhere.

Two things seemed to dominate my mind as Bush read his script. As Bush spoke, he wore his American flag lapel pin which is de rigueur for everyone in his administration. From that display, it was apparent that he was some sort of an American. It is always good to clear that up.

Secondly, as Bush read his speech, there were echoes of previous announcements from the same source imploring the “enemy to bring it on.” Now that the “enemy” has brought it on, Bush is bewildered. A further thought had to do with the announcement from the flight deck of the Abraham Lincoln more than two years ago in front of the “Mission Accomplished” sign that combat operations in Iraq were over. We had won. The only missing link was a victory parade down Broadway.

Now, Bush was asking for “patience” for a war that Emperor Rumsfeld says may go on for another twelve years. So you see why your ancient essayist is buffaloed or bewildered or completely baffled.

Bush camped on the idea that as the newly trained Iraqi forces took over fighting the thugs and dead-enders, we could “stand down.” As Bush has said many times in the past, we are fighting the thugs et al “over there so that we don’t have to fight them here”. He repeated that theme again in his June 28th speech.

On its face, this is a preposterously silly argument. When was the last time an Arab army or any Arab organization attempted to occupy the United States? There simply is no Arab capability to fight a war on these shores – and everyone knows that. But Bush read his script and other people rolled their eyes.

If things go swimmingly as far as training Iraqi forces goes, they will be in charge of murdering Arabs and fellow religionists in Iraq. They will be our agents in making certain that the unpleasant aspects of war are fought “over there” and absolutely not “over here.” We can then “stand down” and come home, knowing that our Iraqi friends and allies, formerly “the enemy,” will be diligent in keeping the thugs and Rumsfeld’s dead-enders in Baghdad and not in Crawford, Texas. This is nothing less than blessed assurance.

The Iraqi forces will become our protectors. Not only can we “stand down,” but taxes can be reduced because there will be no need for the monstrous defense budget. Roads can be repaired and Bush will now have enough money to send men to Mars. There will now be a cabinet level Department of Faith with our government providing the funds for Evangelic Baptists to go to Iraq and convert all those heathens to Christianity.

When the Iraqi forces clean up their country, it is obvious that they will be happy to go to North Korea to put them in line. From Pyongyang, it will be a small matter to make China toe the line.

Your old essayist is numbed because he failed to see the glorious aspects to our being able to “stand down.” What a wonderful outcome to a war which started over weapons of mass destruction and as Bush and Madame Rice said, “a mushroom cloud” rising from those WMD’s.

Americans are lucky to have the Bush administration running our government. Yes, blessed assurance is absolutely the right hymn to sing.

July 4, 2005


I can’t be sure, but I think I can detect some sarcasm here.

FURTHER PROFOUND MEDITATIONS | Chapter Nine: Verses Leviticus to Haggai

The last Meditation seemed to exhaust the ready reserve supply. So it was my thought to put the Meditation series aside and go on to other projects unless there was a celestial sign that further work on this series would be met with ecclesiastical acclaim. In the middle of the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium, Kate Smith sang a recorded 1945 version of “God Bless America” during which Verna, my renowned sister spoke from the sky and said to me, “Write another Meditation.” Verna is now an Arch Angel so it must be assumed that further Meditations will have canonical blessings. And so here is another Meditation which is intended to get Verna off my case.

Verse 1: CLAYTON 714-J
After my father found a job in 1933 or 1934, the Carr family was able to subscribe to telephone service offered by Southwestern Bell. It was a four party line so all the other people knew when an incoming call occurred. On outgoing calls, if someone was on the line, it was necessary to wait for them to end their discussion before another party could make a call. Calls were kept reasonably short as a matter of courtesy. Aimless gossip was exchanged at the peril of other people on the four party system hearing it.

All of this comes to mind after hearing the mindless meanderings of cell phone users. There seems to be no limit on what they will talk about and for how long. For example, you may recall my Meditations about Myrtle’s Ovulation. Last Thursday, a ten year old boy was speaking on a cell phone as he and his mother were shopping. He said such things as, “Like why did he say that” or “Like, I don’t know. Search me.” All of this passes for the transmission of thought processes. He is a kid who will grow up to hassle other passengers on trains and buses with the vacancy of his thought processes.

If such stupid inanities were exchanged over the four party line at Clayton 714-J, the other subscribers would have complained loudly and in all likelihood, would have been joined by the operator. The words are clear after all these years. “If you want to discuss all that trash, get a one party line.” The fact is that single party service was so expensive that most folks during the Depression were forced to subscribe to party line service.

To bring closure, as today’s pundits say, we have not ridden the train to New York for awhile so it is impossible for us to say whether Myrtle’s ovulation resulted in the desired pregnancy. We will keep our ears open for further developments which will inevitably be discussed by riders using cell phones.

America’s premier evangelist Billy Graham, wound up his “crusade” on Sunday after three days of bringing the gospel to the natives. People came from Canada and Tennessee and the Carolinas to attend the extravaganza. Significantly, old Billy was not preaching to New York heathens, but to born-again believers from out of town. But when the believers answer his call to the altar, he claimed each one as a new-born sinner who has been persuaded by Graham’s call to glory. Objective observers would say Graham’s conversions are grossly inflated.

Graham was accompanied at his crusade by his son and successor, Franklin, who has repeatedly announced that the Moslem faith is nothing more than an idol-worshipping sect. When you couple this with his father’s denunciation of Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon, we have two alleged holy men preaching hatred of all who don’t subscribe to their distorted view of Christianity. Billy and Franklin are insular preachers who have not yet tumbled to the existence of Buddhists and Hindus or dozens of other faiths. If those other religions ever appear on Graham’s radar screen, stand by for further denunciations of those faiths as infidels, apostates and idol worshipers.

As Billy closed his crusade in Queens, he more or less demanded repentance from everybody. If you don’t have a reason to repent, it would be advisable to sin egregiously thereby giving a strong reason for repentance to please old Billy.

Curiously, Billy’s last day of his crusade coincided with the Gay Pride parade in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg attended the gay parade and did not appear at Billy’s crusade. But he is a Jew and Billy and Nixon dislike them intensely. A passing thought that if repentance is required of anyone, it should be Billy and Franklin and all those born again Christians repenting for their conduct to Jews and Moslems and to the homosexual community. But folks, don’t expect that to happen in our lifetimes.

Age creeps up on all of us. Inevitably, as people age, they require the attention of all kinds of physicians. Acquiring treatment from the medicos is made much less pleasant by having to sit in the physician’s waiting room listening to daytime television programs. It seems that every physician feels an obligation to entertain patients as they wait to tell their problems to the doctor. Daytime television programs are insipid, vapid, banal and devoid of any respectable quality. They don’t entertain, they agitate.

In days gone by, it was enough for physician’s waiting rooms to be equipped with old magazines. These days, people try to read those old magazines as one means of shutting out the intrusion of unwelcome television programming.

It seems to me that physicians ought to take the TV sets out of their waiting rooms. An intelligent person visiting the doctor for a trivial matter may be transformed into a patient with greater problems by having to watch or hear daytime TV, thus becoming a mean, cynical and hypocritical sort of person.

This opinion is delivered only to those covered by Medicare and no-fault insurance. All the rest are to be diagnosed by Senator/Doctor Bill Frist who found from a TV picture that Terri Schiavo had no sign of a persistent vegetative state. But at least Frist does not have a television in his waiting room. He makes it up as he goes along.

Last week, Donald Rumsfeld, the Emperor of Abu Ghraib, testified before a committee of the Senate. At the table with Rumsfeld, sat four officers of general rank. In the first two rows behind Rumsfeld were other officers who appeared to me to be two to four start generals. Rumsfeld is well protected. This assemblage of generals is there to pick up any papers that might be dropped by the Emperor.

Every officer present had on the left side of the jacket of his uniform, a virtual signboard of ribbons. My count showed they were stacked eight rows high and that each row of ribbons contained at least six or seven decorations. This means the aides to Emperor Rumsfeld were wearing in this one block of ribbons about 48 or more than 50 decorations. An uninitiated onlooker might conclude that each of these clowns had committed 48 or more individual acts of heroism. Don’t be mislead.

Looking at the sign boards on these Rumsfeld retainers led me to recall a line from Henry Mencken who would have said that this seductive display of ribbons glittered, flashed and sparkled as the mouth of hell itself. But wait. That is not all. On top of the rows of ribbons were pins signifying pilot status or infantry leadership. Below the ribbons were one or two more pins signifying who knows what.

On the right side of the jacket were two more ribbons probably signifying a unit commendation from the president and there were more pins.

On both shoulders were patches identifying the organizations they must have been assigned to at some point in their illustrious careers. The straps on their shoulders sported the stars of their rank. In case anyone missed the point, the shirt collars also carried the general’s stars on both the left and right sides. If these red hot generals were ever caught in a lightening storm, they would be certain to attract a bolt what with all this metal above their waists.

Now here is a secret you should know. These men did not participate in anything like 48 acts of bravery. We give medals and ribbons for such things as good conduct. The generals award other generals medals and ribbons because of “superior” performance. No one ever heard of an enlisted man who was the recipient of the general’s largesse. They keep that for themselves and it explains why their uniform jackets glitter, flash and sparkle as the mouth of hell itself.

There is one other thought about the “Signboard Syndrome.” No other military organization in the civilized world dresses up its uniforms as does the United States. They must believe our actions are bizarre and of a piece with our stated intention to police the world. Significantly, General Vo Nguyen Giap from Vietnam who defeated first the French and then the forces of the U.S., wears no decorations at all. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to find evidence of his rank. He doesn’t glitter, gleam and flash like the mouth of hell itself. He presents himself as a simple soldier unadorned by the “signboard syndrome.”

There is no hope here, as long as generals can decorate other generals, this mockery of bravery will continue to persist.


When my sister Verna was here on earth, she enjoyed telling other people what to do . Her service as an Arch Angel has not robbed her of the desire to suggest to other people actions that would please her. Verna was delayed in reading this Meditation because she had mislaid her angelic spectacles. Also, a dark stain was found on her long white gown near where her wings emerge. Once these problems were solved, she suggested strongly that she would be pleased to see at least one more Meditation. To please Verna, it will be produced forthwith – whatever that means.

July 1, 2005


Not to worry — there are a solid nine more meditations in the pipes. I’m a huge fan of these.

For fun, try image searching for “General Petraeus Medals” he basically has a square foot of crap on his chest, with all sorts of other adornments festooning every available surface.

But Pop is wrong to insinuate that we’re alone in this absurd practice. Plenty of other countries do it, including several African countries, and of course North Korea, which is probably the best one. North Korean generals look like this:

I wonder what they do when the front of the general runs out of space. Do you start affixing medals to their backs? Their pants? Their hats? So many options!


When the idea of Meditations was revealed to me, it was my thought that a sentence or two on each idea would be sufficient. As it turned out, some of the Meditations cannot be dismissed so lightly. Some require an explanation that would rival Genesis of Biblical fame. And so it is time to return to the brevity for a series of transient Meditations.

Verse 1: Don’t Wish Your Life Away

As a youngster growing up during the Depression, Friday was a coveted day. It meant two days off from school, for one thing. When my parents would hear me moan that Friday arrived at a glacial pace, they would say, “Boy, don’t wish your life away.”

It took me 50 or 60 years to figure out what they were talking about. Bright guys figure these things out much sooner. These days, life seems to whiz by. The Sunday New York Times, for all its bulk, gives me a good deal of pleasure. While it appeared to me as a child that Friday would never come, now as an authorized geezer it seems that Sunday happens every other day. Wishing my life away doesn’t happen anymore. That function is now on automatic.

Verse Two: Big SUV’s and Small Women
My religious duties have prevented me from doing a scientific study on one important question. There is no love in my heart or lungs or epiglottis for SUV’s. They consume more than their share of what the English call “petrol”. They tear up the roads which the strapped municipal governments fail to repair. They have a high roll-over rate, belying the thought that they are safe vehicles. They take up too much parking space. Parked head to head, it is obvious that an SUV would simply run over our Chrysler sedan.

Having said all that, it appears to me that the biggest SUV’s are driven by small women. Perhaps the male members of the female driver’s families have been sucked in by the mistaken belief that bigger SUV’s are safer and will protect the driver and passengers from harm. Perhaps it is the normal desire of the male to protect his wife and children from injury. While all that is laudatory, it may be well to check the roll-over rate, but that does nothing for my quandary about why small women drive Lincoln Navigators and other humongous SUV’s. It seems to me that the smaller the woman, the larger the SUV. Nobody knows why this is the case.

Verse Three: The Gutless United States Senate
The Emancipation Act was passed in 1865 which was 140 years ago. Since the freeing of the slaves, white men have lynched thousands of Negro men.

The Southerners in the Senate have seen to it, through the filibuster rule, that there has been no apology for slavery. The same has been true for lynching. In June, 2005, Senator Landrieu, a Democrat of Louisiana, and George Allen, a Republican of Virginia, proposed an apology from the U.S. for the lynchings that have taken place. It should be noted that Allen until recently, kept a rope noose in his office. Now that he is in the hunt for the presidential nomination in 2008, the noose, which could be used in lynching, is gone and Allen agreed to co-sponsor an apology from the Senate.

The gutless part arrives now. Allen insisted that any such vote be not recorded. It was to be a voice vote so that any objectors would not have their opposition on record. As the week started, 20 Senators out of 55 had failed to sign on as co-sponsors of the apology. All were Republicans. The New York Times reports from Washington that people were selling T-shirts saying, “My Senator went to Washington and all I got was a lousy lynching.”

In the end, eight Republicans declined to sign on as co-sponsors. They are Thad Cochran of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mike Enzi and Craig Thomas of Wyoming, Judd Gregg and John Sununu of New Hampshire and Trent Lott of Mississippi.

In the voice vote taken, no one knows how many voiced opposition to an apology for lynching. The vote was recorded in favor of the “Ayes.” 140 years and we still have Senators too gutless to condemn lynchings. Sad, sad business. Anybody want to sing a verse or two of Dixie?

Verse Four: Exxon Hires a Bush Stooge
You may recall that Bush had a man who repeatedly reversed government scientific reports on global warming to say that any such warnings were greatly exaggerated or did not exist at all. His name is Phillip A. Cooney, former Chief of Staff for Bush’s Environmental Policy Council. Among other things, Cooney edited scientific reports that cast doubt on the link between the omission of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures.

Simply put, Cooney altered the scientific evidence to fit Bush’s ideological agenda. Cooney manipulated scientific findings much the same as the intelligence was manipulated in the run-up to the war in Iraq. When he left, Bush’s spokesman praised him for his work, as well he might.

Exxon Mobil was the driving force behind Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Treaty. Their advertising and lobbying efforts have been devoted to proclaiming that global warming is not much of a problem. When it was discovered that Cooney was altering reports in his government job, Exxon found a job for him. They have yet to say what he will be doing, but he is now out of the line of fire. Altering scientific reports is a form of forgery. In this administration, the forger is rewarded. Something is wrong here, as it was in the promotions of Alberto Gonzales and Condeleezza.

Verse Five: Texas Tells Cheerleaders, “Don’t Shake The Thing”
There were one or more representatives in the Texas House who wanted to introduced a bill to regulate cheerleading. The sponsor thought cheerleaders in Texas had become provocative and showed too much flesh. How much provocation is allowed and how much flesh can be displayed was not specified, but the sponsors knew that godliness was under attack by high school cheerleaders. This ranks up there with war in Iraq, the economy, and filibustering in Washington.

A letter to the New York Times by Mary Alice Carr, no relation, says “The routines may look sexy but that does not mean the girls are having sex.” Ms. Carr goes on to proclaim that these girls are athletes and are less likely to engage in sex than their non-athletic counterparts. There is no scientific evidence to support this belief.

Old Mary Alice seems hung up on whether the cheerleaders are having sex. The Texas Legislature seemed to be hung up on Baptists being provoked by scantily clad cheerleaders. The point that seems lost is that spectators are supposed to be watching Texas high school football. Is it possible that in Texas, people go to the stadium to watch cheerleading while ignoring the game? Maybe so. This is Texas, after all.

The Legislature dropped the cheerleading dance police bill before it could be acted upon on the ground that Texas would become the laughing stock of civilized America. There are those of us who believe the dance police for cheerleaders would not have made much difference, one way or the other, when it comes to being laughed at.

Verse Six: Iraqi Politics
What are the politicians in Washington, who fall all over each other to demonstrate fervor for their Christianity, going to say if the Iraqis want to establish an Islamic government? Will Tom Delay welcome a Government run by Mullahs and Imams? Is this what all the casualties and billions of dollars have bought us? What if there is a sectarian civil war? Will we send more troops or will we bug out? Are we going to fight to save the Sunnis or the Shias or the Kurds? Are we going to sing all the verses to “Onward Christian Soldiers”?

No one in Washington seems to have given much thought to Iraq once the “Mission Accomplished” sign was posted in May 2003. Are we still making stuff up as we go along? My guess is that an Islamic government and/or a civil war are somewhere in Iraq’s future. Do we have any idea what we will do about those developments? Bush thinks about these things as he spends loads of time in Crawford cutting brush and falling off his bicycle.

Verse Seven: A Clean Breast or Boobs & Bosoms Unlimited
Granted that your author is an over-the-hill geezer, but he is repeatedly astounded by women of all classes overly eager to display their bosoms. During my youth in the pre-Geritol years, it seemed to me that modest women wore clothing that made it easy to identify them as females without the females saying, “Hey look here at what I’ve got.”

My sisters and my mother would have had great consternation if a bra strap showed on their shoulders. My mother would consider such a failing as the sinning of a hussy.

My education took place in a public school where there were lots of females. Joining AT&T, which hired hundreds of thousands of women, served to remind everyone that my life was not one of a cloistered monk. The point is that women are an integral part of my life and they are to be celebrated. But all this came before the female mammary gland became such an important part of life that it demanded undue center stage attention.

The desire to display the bosom is not a product of scheming by dirty old men. From what we read in the press, the desire comes exclusively from well endowed women. One model was quoted recently as saying she intended to use her breasts as a focal point to seek more contracts.

Used car ads feature bosomy women. The magazine rack at the check-out counter at super markets is a head turner with one magazine’s exposure trying to out-do the display of breast work on another magazine. Bosomy females are used to sell everything in TV ads as well as in newspaper and magazine ads. They advertise home delivery for newspapers, rental cars and cell phones. Is there a connection between the DD cup sizes and the effectiveness of the advertising? Alan Greenspan should look into booby trap ads.

The other day, Dennis Kozlowski was found guilty for his role in the Tyco affair. When that verdict was announced, his wife and daughter wore dresses to court that many men would consider provocative and scandalous. But what can we expect when on Sunday, the New York Times runs a half page or more of recent parties where the women seemed to be semi-dressed.

In the Irish song, “The Mountains of Mourne,” a young Irish lad on his first trip to London, writes home to his sweetheart that English women are confusing. He could not tell if they dressed “for a bath or a ball.” But Ireland used to be a Catholic country where the clergy would have no idea about the lad’s confusion.

The overt display of the feminine bosom now seems to be a staple of life in 21st Century America. There is not much old geezers can do one way or the other. There are Southern Baptists who would advocate burkas for provocative females, but civilized men, who of course are not Baptists, say it’s here – so enjoy it.

Verse Eight: Intelligence and Morality
Being intelligent is no more the product of a university education than being moral, loving justice and equality is a product of regular attendance at church services. See Micah of the Old Testament.

Verse Nine: The Pope and Condoms
Earlier this month, the new Pope met with five Catholic Bishops who come from HIV afflicted areas of Africa. The Pope, who is presumably celibate, told the Bishops that they must tell their congregations never to use condoms in spite of the widespread affliction of HIV-AIDS in their dioceses. The Pope offered abstinence as his solution to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Abstinence! Are you still with me?

Since the beginning of time, young and horny African men have always sought out willing women. Sometimes the women are the arrangers. If you are employed in a dead end job with a life expectancy of 40 years, are you going to welcome abstinence during your most productive years? It has always been this way and from all appearances, it will continue to always be this way. The Pope has his head in the ground or up a sleeve in his gorgeous robes. Offering abstinence to Africa is of a piece with Chaney saying the insurgents are now in their final throes. A large shot of reality is called for in both cases.

Curiously, the Pope’s admonition to avoid condom use, came on the same day when it was announced that his church in the U.S. had paid out $1 Billion to victims of priestly sexual abuse. Two other dioceses are involved in bankruptcy proceedings. The Pope had said all the reports of abuse by priests were nothing more than American newspaper hype. The former member of the German National Socialist Party (Nazi) has had his head in the ground for a long, long time. As the kids say, it is time for Pope Benny to “get real.” But that is highly unlikely to happen.

For the time being, this Meditation will complete this series, unless we have another one. If in time, a mysterious revelation should overtake me, an attempt will be made, for historical purposes, to record further Meditations.

June 25, 2005


Oftentimes reading essays, I stop and wonder what could have prompted him to pick the topic at hand. Verse eight is a prime example — was someone insinuating that that wasn’t the case? Or was this just another thought that occurred to him while shaving or driving or so on, and he felt it was worth documenting?

IS CAMILLA PG? | Meditations – Chapter Seven, Verses 1-17

For the better part of 35 years, Prince Charley of England had played games with Camilla, an upper class English woman who bears a remarkable resemblance to his mother. Charley and Camilla were married to other people for many of those years, so it is fair to assume that Princess Diana and Mr. Parker Bowles were living in a state of cuckoldry. It might be that the Church of England will convey sainthood on those who are cuckolds. Queen Elizabeth is the Pope of the Church of England. Her views have not been made public, but no matter how you cut it, Charley is her oldest son which presumably might work in his favor.

Charley and Camilla got married earlier this Spring and took an extended honeymoon-holiday to recover from the onerous duties of the Prince of Wales. Appearing at garden parties and gracing the conferences of the English hoi polloi demands much of a man. No wonder he needs a honeymoon-holiday. The long time lovers have been gone for more than two months. In that time, there have been no daffy letters written in Charley’s inimitable style. America is baffled! What is going on?

My suspicions are based on my experience with the thousands of women who populated the switchboards and clerical jobs at AT&T. Those women kept tabs on their compatriots. When an operator acquired a husband, they were entitled to a honeymoon trip to Coney Island or to the Jersey shore. Before long, on the wages paid at AT&T, they would run out of money and have to return to work.

Inevitably, other operators regarded it as their God-given right to ask the newly married operator if she was pregnant (PG) and/or did she plan to become PG in the immediate future. No one seemed to regard this as an intrusion into another’s private affairs. Simply put, the question was whether the newlywed was pregnant and if not, what is holding things up.

If the newlywed operator was evasive about her obstetrical condition, the other women would count the number of times she visited the ladies room. They would watch her in the cafeteria to see any signs of gastric distress. And they would keep a sharp eye on her waistline.

The men in AT&T traffic offices had to depend on operating room gossip to forecast their future employment needs. When an operator or a supervisor found out about a pregnancy, they regarded it as a scoop to get to the District Manager first.

So you see my mind set. The people of England and indeed, the Western world would very much like to know about Camilla’s state of health. If she is PG, the world ought to know about it so that bonnets and sun suits may be ordered from London’s most fashionable clothiers. If, on the other hand, she is not PG, there are dozens of former New York operators who will recommend physicians, magicians, chiropractors and morticians who will assist Camilla to achieve that end. The New York operators will probably counsel Camilla to cut down on her smoking as this could lead to undersized babies.

Those same operators from New York are generally of Irish background. They would advise Camilla to explain to Charley how babies are made. It is not a case of ordering a footman to go buy one. Old Charlie has to get into the act. There is a strong chance that he will find the baby making procedure repugnant and distasteful, but the Irish New York operators would tell Camilla’s husband that once he performs, a cookie or a lollypop awaits him. It may be that Charley will be elated at the bargain he has swung.

It is an unfair thing to do, but your old essay writer must tell you that he knows no more than the average bloke on the wharves of London about Camilla’s obstetrical condition. It is shameful to admit that, but whether or not Charley has ever come back to resume writing goofy letters is also something unknown to me.

My advice is simple. Stay close to the old New York telephone operators. My guess is that they will be the first to know about Camilla’s pregnancy. My money is on a new heir to the throne in the Windsor family. My money is also on the thought that old Charley will be among the last to know and will be confused by an event he cannot comprehend. Charley wants his cookie or his lollypop. He needs comfort from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

June 14, 2005


I still don’t quite get why Pop has such a problem with UK royalty. I mean they’re clearly an archaic hold-over that probably should no longer exist in 2017, and I guess in a few different capacities they’re a drain on taxpayers, but his ire seems to have gone far deeper than that. I think he maybe objected most to the utterly unearned sense of entitlement that they carry just for being born into it, but it’s really anyone’s guess. Maybe Judy can enlighten us.

WAY TO GO ALBERTO | Meditations – Chapter Six; Verses 1 to 17

When Bill Clinton was the United States president, a suit was filed against the producers of American tobacco products. It was alleged that nicotine is addictive and leads to emphysema and lung cancer among other disabilities. That much is a given.

When Bush took the presidency courtesy of Scalia and the Supreme Court, his Attorney General was John Ashcroft, a retrogressive, born again Missourian. Ashcroft attempted to kill the suit, but the action had too much legal and public momentum for that to happen. Ashcroft made it clear that his heart was not in the suit against some of the major contributors to Republican campaigns. On the other hand, the attorneys actually trying the suit on behalf of the U. S. Government were enthusiastic in their assessment that they had a winner.

Bush’s second term started by his telling Ashcroft that his services were no longer needed. Effectively, he was fired. Bush gave the A.G. job to Alberto Gonzales, his personal legal advisor. Gonzales was promoted after he had given Bush a written opinion that prisoners of the Iraqi and Afghanistan campaigns were not protected by the Geneva Convention. He said that provisions of the Convention were “quaint” and “obsolete.” This opened the door to the torture that has come to light at places like Guantanamo, Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The courts have uniformly rejected Gonzales’s advice to Bush. So our fearless leader promoted Gonzales to Attorney General of the United States.

As the case against the tobacco companies was approaching its end, expert witnesses for the government determined that the damage caused by the defendants came to $130 billion to be paid out over several years. $130 billion was the working figure for all participants, including the judge. It was the figure proposed by the Department of Justice of this administration.

Suddenly, in the first week of June of this year as the lawyers were preparing their closing arguments, Gonzales ordered his lawyers to say that the damage came only to $10 billion, not $130 billion. The $10 billion was to be paid out over five years.

The judge was flabbergasted. In the most polite terms, she inquired about whether there were any “outside influences” which would call for the reduction in the proposed penalty from $130 billion to $10 billion. The lawyers for the government who had been bullied by Gonzales and the White House, had no understandable answer to the judge’s question. After years of work on the suit, they had been shot in he back.

This is a case of the most egregious meddling by Gonzales and Bush in our court system. It was done solely to protect contributors to the Republican coffers. This is the way things are done in a Fascist state – which we are threatening to become.

Gonzales is high on Bush’s list for appointment to the Supreme Court. So now we have a candidate who stands alone in his analysis of the Geneva Convention which he called “quaint” and “obsolete.” He has had one promotion and now he seeks another. His action in the tobacco case is one of a gutless sycophant, which is why we say, “How to go, Alberto!”

June 13, 2005


We have a plethora of gutless sycophants lately, it seems. Paul Ryan, in particular, comes strongly to mind right now.  Something about the GOP must attract the type.

THOSE GOLDEN YEARS | Meditations – Chapter Four

There are many Americans who are cliché driven. When a person sneezes, they say “God bless you.” Tardiness is treated as “Better late than never.” Young daughters are told as they meet their dates, “Get home early” or “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Women are involved in monstrous untruths when they say, “Oh, I love your dress.” Those are not much more than automatic responses which have little or no real meaning. There is one cliché however, that is, at heart, often a distortion of hope and the facts. That cliché is almost always delivered to people as they retire from full time employment. The retiree is told by well wishers who envision endless golf games, Queen Mary II excursions, sleeping late and receiving senior discounts on all kinds of tickets, “Oh, those golden years.”

Unfortunately, those golden years occur at a time of reduced income. And those golden years take place when the body is most vulnerable to aches, pains and diseases never known before.

Those fabulous golden years occur when the energy level is diminished or in some cases, non-existent. The golden years take place with rising prices of everything except in the pension payment. Gas prices at the pump are at the mercy of foreign suppliers, but there is no gas price differential in the pension system. No one seems to have any control over home heating and electricity bills. The medical profession doesn’t give a two tiered structure in their fees for those in their golden years.

Those golden years happen when hearing and eyesight falter. Teeth fall out and we look for elevators or escalators to avoid steps. Perhaps the cruel acme of the years of gold takes place when the happy retiree has to choose which drugs and medicines he can afford or choose between paying the heating bill in January as opposed to his or her bills for medical treatment. For many Americans, these are the facts on the ground. This is often the era of pills and drops. This is the era of canes and walkers. In some cases, the years of gold are spent in a wheelchair.

About the only factor which makes a token gesture to the rising cost of just about everything is Social Security payments. But rather than to let the most successful social program in history continue, this administration wants to invent private accounts which would diminish the payments to the Social Security base. A terrible, terrible idea and one of sinister proportions.

Somewhere there seems to be a critical political voice saying that you retirees have lived too long. Well, maybe that is true, but the complainers don’t offer any acceptable alternatives. And they too will someday become drags on the go-go generations to follow.

Looking at things in a pragmatic way would lead one to conclude that with prices and taxes pressing down and with pension payments being stagnant – or being taken away, as in the airline industry, those poor old retirees are caught in a classic vise. And no amount of cheerleading from politicians is going to alter the situation. Anyone who expects help from this administration or the party in power must remember that the minimum wage in this country has not gone up by even one cent in six or seven years. Try feeding a family on wages of $5.15 an hour. But we must remember that this country has a holy obligation to make the richer class even more wealthy through tax cuts aimed at the super well-to-do.

This may seem like a depressing look about retirement, and perhaps it is. It could be argued, on the other hand, that it is nothing more than a pragmatic examination of what many retirees may experience. Those golden years have a mythical quality to them.

On the bright side of the golden years, there is the thought that ailments such as measles and whooping cough are no longer of concern. It may also be said of pregnancy, either planned or unplanned. So all is not totally bleak.

Once in a while this old essay writer recalls his days as a union negotiator. Good negotiators hate clichés which are nothing more than substitutes for reasoned thought. “The company wants all of its employees to be happy, healthy and to enjoy all the good things in life.” Pragmatically, the prospects for equity among the golden years set could be much improved. But once that pragmatism is stated, the fact is that the rich get richer and the poor have to do the best they can. Is that not the way things have always been?

If the last statement about the rich getting richer is a cliché, my apologies are offered – in spite of the truth of what has been stated.

June 9, 2005


I wonder if, in my golden years, I’ll have the opportunity to download my brain onto some sort of cloud database. Not sure I’ll get there, but my kids or at least theirs will. Seems like that would obviate most of these issues.

In the meantime we’re going to start having to tax wealthy people more and more. That’s really the only way forward as the workforce continues to automate. But we’ve touched on that already.

SECOND CHANCES | Meditations – Chapter Three

For nearly 63 years, this old broken-down soldier has thought that he and five other GI’s, could have acted more graciously in not accepting an offer by a gentleman to pay for a breakfast we ate in a civilian restaurant. Once the offer was either not accepted or if you will, rejected, there were no second chances to set the matter aright. Perhaps the civilian who offered to pay for our meal was crushed by our rejection. We don’t know his state of mind, but he was entitled to feel at least some distinct disappointment. On the GI side, we were so young and too inexperienced to know how to deal with an offer that came from a civilian patriot. In its kindest terms, it was a misunderstanding that has bothered me since December, 1942. But as we said, there are no second chances to set things aright.

This incident happened in Coral Gables, Florida shortly before Christmas, 1942. The six GI’s at the table came from a class of 100 being trained at the Embry Riddle School of Aeronautics to become Aerial Engineers for the United States Army Air Corps. We were to graduate from our training early in January, 1943 with a week or so of aerial gunnery which would then lead to our assignment to combat units of the Air Corps. All of this happened before Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Force.

All of us held the rank of Private which is the lowest rank in the military services. We used to joke that we were paid $50 per day – once a month. Our military service came at the end of the American Depression starting in 1929. None of us had any money to speak of. After the Army deducted insurance payments, and for married soldiers, an allotment for wives, we wound up with something like $40 each pay day. Tycoons we were not.

In 1942, Coral Gables was an affluent suburb of Miami. To draw a comparison, it may have been a Summit, N.J. as it relates to New York City or a town on the Main Line as it relates to Philadelphia. It was a well-to-do community. There were no such things as diners in Coral Gables. That would have been too déclassé’. On the other hand, there was a large restaurant that catered to families at all three meals of the day. It is suspected that this fairly lively restaurant did not serve alcoholic beverages. It was a nice place to hold a luncheon for a bridge club, for example. It would not be the place that beer drinking construction workers would seek out at the end of the work day.

So Christmas, 1942 was approaching just as the end of our training was in sight. The men in our class ranged in age from 20 to 22 years. At that age, no one thought that once we left Embry Riddle, we might never see each other again. No one gave much thought to the fact that Aerial Engineers are shot at and some of them lose their lives. If there ever was a case of dealing with each day as it came without much thought to the morrow, this was clearly the outlook of the youngsters at Embry Riddle.

And so this lovely Sunday morning came upon us. We were tired of Army food which is easy to do. Checking our finances and with a rare day off, six of us decided to eat breakfast at this restaurant, whose name now escapes me after all these years. The hostess made us feel welcome. As is often the case, when men like each other as we did, they begin to tease each other. If a man had made a mistake on the flight line, he would have heard about it at our breakfast. All of the joshing was done in fun. There were no jealousies or ill feelings. Remember, we all liked each other.

Memory is a funny thing. Some 63 years later, it is my belief that our table included Ted Werre, a ranch hand from South Dakota. There was Ralph Tuttle, a wise-cracking truck driver from Chicago. There was Jack Anderson from Rome, Georgia. When our troop train blew through Rome, Jack cried. There was Jack Botcowsky, a dock-walloper from Brooklyn. Jack wanted you to know that he was a Jew and if you had any question about that fact, Private Botcowsky would settle the matter forcefully. Then there was a Jewish fellow from Harlem. I don’t recall his name, but he said his family had lived in Harlem for more than a century to escape persecution in Spain. This young man was as gentle as Botcowsky was confrontational. The two New York Jews got all over the gentiles at our table because we did not know about matzos and knishes.

We could kid each other without cutting. The New Yorkers were temporarily thwarted when it came to baseball as the Cardinals had beaten the Yanks in the World Series of 1942. My home, of course, was in St. Louis.

Suffice it to say that we all got along very well. We simply liked each other. Not so bad for 20 year olds.

It is fairly certain that the good-natured hilarity at our table that served six soldiers was noticed by other diners. My recollection is that we were the only military people in the restaurant.

As we were finishing our meal, a man from another table approached our six soldiers. To the best of my recollection, he said, “I’d like to pay for your meal.” He surprised us greatly. Perhaps if that gentleman had simply called our waitress over and paid our check, we would have never known about the stranger’s generosity. But that is not what he did. He offered to pick up our check.

We were 20 year-olds with no great life experiences. We must have acted like it. We stumbled and muttered among ourselves at this offer. In fact, we were trying to say that we appreciated his gesture, but what came out was something like, “That’s OK. We have some money.” That is not what any of us meant. Our response must have come out in non-responsive or negative tones. At least we had the foresight to thank the man. We all would like to believe that was the case, but the civilian may not agree on that point, at all.

We were young and inarticulate soldiers who were taken by surprise by the other diner’s generous offer to pay for our breakfast. He offered and we blew it. But that is no excuse for our conduct. Given a second chance, all of us agree that we could have done much better. Even if we did not allow the fellow from the other table to pay for our meal, we could have stood up and shook hands or even hugged him. For nearly 63 years that failure has been in my mind. There are few second chances, as we found out. Given a second chance, we would have done better. But second chances did not happen in this case.

Perhaps that is the overriding lesson from this little incident of long ago. It taught all of us, particularly me, that second chances are elusive and often don’t exist at all. So all is not lost when a lesson is learned. And that lesson was learned and has stuck with me for all these decades.

That fellow who offered to buy our breakfast is now approaching 100 years, if he is alive at all. If he could be located, it would be my pleasure to tell him we apologize for the misunderstanding and to tell him that he inadvertently taught us a life-long lesson. Second chances are few and far between.

June 5, 2005


I think the fact that this bugged Pop for the rest of his life says volumes more about his character than initial failure to thank the guy. Good on him!

SADDAM’S UNDERWEAR | Meditations – Chapter Two

Readers are warned that this essay is concerned about men’s under shorts and briefs. It would be a great disappointment to this old essay writer to have my readers expecting a display rivaling a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. This is a work of utmost modesty. It could be delivered profitably by some Protestant preachers who appear on television, for example. There is one New Jersey preacher who excels in soporifics, the capacity to cause sleep. Reading “Saddam’s Underwear” may very well cause his congregants to shout in unknown tongues and to have them competing to be born again. So you see, the subject of the former President of Iraq’s underwear is one that has great merit.

“Saddam’s Underwear” grew out of a morose feeling that overtakes me every year about this time when Federal taxes are to be paid on top of New Jersey’s league-leading property taxes. Just when it appeared that my morosity would overwhelm me, there appeared as if by divine guidance, pictures of Saddam in his skivvies in two of Rupert Murdock’s papers. They are the “Sun” of London and the “New York Post.” Apparently, an American soldier had taken photographs of Saddam in his detention cell when he had disrobed and the world could see that he was wearing Jockey brand underpants – made in Costa Rica.

There were the usual cries from the Army and the Bush Administration that “we must get to the bottom of this breach of discipline.” Somewhere near 99% of those pledges are quickly forgotten or the miscreant is found blameless by the Army investigators. So the soldier-photographer has nothing to fear. His main worry should be whether Murdock’s cheque bounces.

Given this situation, it was necessary for me as an old soldier to do my own investigation. While it is conceded that no one in Iraq knows me, the fact remains that my anonymity will make my investigation impartial and objective and as the U.S. Army says, “Hard hitting.”

After Pearl Harbor when we declared war on the Axis Powers, it fell to me to enlist in the Army Air Corps. The enlistment was “for the duration of hostilities plus six months.” To be a soldier, it is necessary to dress like a soldier which is the reason for the Army’s Quarter Master Corps to be in existence. The clerks there estimated the size of your neck, your waist and the length of your trousers. They did not measure the way a tailor would do; they estimated or guessed at the sizes. Under that system, there were many mismatches. Soldiers with short legs often had trousers that were too long. The tall men sometimes looked like they were wearing their “high water” pants.

When it came to underwear, it is my recollection that the country with the greatest gross domestic product on earth, gave each of us two sleeveless undershirts and two boxer shorts that had no elastic and which had to be buttoned. If they gave us three sets of underwear, my memory has blotted out the third pair of underclothing. In any case, it was clear that what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” did not get enough under clothing for a daily change. Not by a long shot.

The Army frowned greatly on civilian underwear which meant that young soldiers had to wear the same shorts and shirts for a few days or they would try to wash those intimate items whenever the opportunity presented itself. Wearing civilian underwear made one feel as though aid and comfort was being given to the enemy.

Two comments appear to be appropriate here. The Army did not issue pajamas ever. The only soldier ever known to me to wear pajamas was a spy hired by the Department of the Army to report conversations he had overheard from other GI’s. He had been a bus driver in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. When it became known that he was reporting on GI conversations, his usefulness was at an end. While the Sheboygan spy slept in his civilian pajamas, the rest of us were expected to sleep in our underwear. Which we did.

The second thought that occurs here has to do with a Southern soldier named Brady. This incident happened in Africa. When men would attempt to wash their bodies, they would hang their old under shorts and shirts on a rack or on a bush near the shower head or near the elevated bucket that served as a shower. The unused clean clothing would be placed nearby. After drying off, several soldiers complained that their used underwear was missing. The mystery was solved by a GI postal clerk who wanted to know what Brady had in the large package he wanted to send home to Arkansas. It turned out to be used GI underwear that had mysteriously disappeared. The Army did not discipline Brady, but we were all careful after this discovery, to avoid Brady while taking what we considered a shower of sorts.

Sometime in 1944, the Army began to issue boxer shorts and sleeveless undershirts in what the Army called a color of “olive drab.” It was an unattractive form of green. The theory was that front line troops would wash their white underwear and place washed clothing on a bush or on the ground near their foxholes or trenches. German artillery theoretically would then know where to aim to unload on U.S. positions. Presumably, German artillery spotters could not see olive drab underwear put out near U.S. positions. In point of fact, GI’s at the front simply did not wash their underwear. Given a chance at a rest area which might come once a week, they would most likely change into new underwear and throw the old clothing away. This of course, is not the first case of Army brass being unfamiliar with the facts on the ground.

That is the background for the picture of Saddam in his underwear which was trumpeted as a Rupert Murdock scoop. The New York Post is now a pale image of itself in its heyday. It is now a far right wing tabloid of minimum circulation and influence. Nonetheless, it was my duty to complete my investigation so it had to be read.

From all indications, Saddam was given his underwear by the U.S. Army to wear in his cell in Camp Cropper in Iraq. Like the old GI’s of my day, Saddam apparently had been discouraged from wearing the underwear he had worn as President of Iraq. Presumably, when he wore traditional Arab robes, he could wear more elegant under shorts or if he so desired, he could wear nothing below the waist. Obviously, no one would question what Saddam had on under his elaborate robes. The jury is still out on this last question.

It is clear to me that the Army did not give Saddam any of its old olive drab boxer shorts or olive drab sleeveless undershirts. He was dressed the latest style briefs. The same style of briefs is also worn by top U.S. Army brass. The elastic on Saddam’s shorts bore the legend, “Jockey Classic – Genuine Jockey Comfort, Fit and Quality.” The manufacturer has told me that Saddam’s briefs have an exclusive “Y” front fly and that they have a never-bind elastic waistband. From anonymous sources that cannot be revealed to you because of top secret classification, we learn that the style of Saddam’s briefs is Number 9007. They were made in Costa Rica and are guaranteed to show no panty line. Imagine a panty line showing on Saddam’s prison trousers.

My sources also tell me confidentially that Saddam has a dozen pairs of Style 9007 briefs, so he can wear different ones at various times of the day. Significantly, Saddam has an Army issued set of pajamas with pockets on either side of the jacket. He is not forced to wash his underwear as laundry service is provided. This conveniently avoids the problem of GI gunners zeroing in on Saddam’s pants during the drying cycle. Old Brady would be disappointed as would the spy from Sheboygan.

The results of my investigation are in my own estimation, complete, thorough and hard hitting. We now know where the bottom of this problem lies. It appears to this impartial observer that when it comes to underwear and pajamas, old Saddam is being treated most generously. Certainly he is being treated with such generosity as to make Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” jealous.

Well, there you have the results of my thorough going investigation. It is pleasant to know that Saddam is well underweared and pajama’d. The morose feeling that had plagued me earlier in the year has been lifted. My spirits have had a goat gland operation. Testosterone is everywhere. And to think it is all because of Saddam’s underwear and Rupert Murdock’s rag. Justice is served.

June 3, 2005


I… hmm.

I guess “Saddam Underwear” is just gonna be in my search history now. Here’s the picture.

Perhaps Brady was running an Orange-Is-The-New-Black-esque scheme to sell used underwear on whatever the 1940s equivalent of eBay was. I really, really hope that was his reason.


Calendars don’t mislead or obfuscate. They mark the inexorable passage of time. That was the burden of the message exchange recently with Shirley Morganstein, a great speech therapist who set me to writing essays nearly eight years ago. In my case, essay writing has made those years pass most pleasantly. While essay writing has occupied much of my time, Shirley has established her own company called “Speaking of Aphasia.” If you ever have an encounter with aphasia, it may be well for you to see Shirley who represents the gold standard for providing remedies for people with that disorder.

One of the by-products of essay writing is that there are occasions when an item is worthy of comment but not necessarily a subject that will sustain a full essay. In my career as a non-paid essayist, those short subjects have been grouped at different times under four headings. First they were called, “Odds and Ends.” That was followed by “Bits and Pieces.” Then came “Thoughts While Shaving.” Finally, when my driving career was discontinued, there were “Musings.” All of them had to do with short subjects.

To lend a bit of elegance to these odd lots of subjects, they will now be called for the time being, “Meditations.” Chapters will designate one “Meditation” from another. For the benefit of scholars, in later editions chapters will appear with numbered verses. And for those of you who consider my choice of titles and divisions being called chapters and verses as too Bible-like, you will be cheered and encouraged to know that the first “Meditation” will be called, “Great News – Myrtle is Ovulating.”

Meditations – Chapter One

When a man has lived a long time and has moved around quite a bit, it is inevitable that such a person would use a wide variety of conveyances. In my own case, there have been cars, subways, buses, troop ships, ferries, and airplanes including the speedy Concords, as well as troop and commuter trains. In recent years in the Boston-Washington corridor, Amtrak has offered a new high speed service using the Acela trains. In Europe and Japan, dependable high speed rail service has been offered for more than 60 years. We have a long way to go to catch up with them.

Given a choice, my strong preference is for train service as opposed to all other forms of transportation. Of course, there are drawbacks like derailments and trains running late because of a cow lying down on the tracks. All of those drawbacks are conceded. What is not conceded is that a trip on a train is a relaxing and an elegant way to get from one place to another with minimum risk to the body.

In recent days there is one major impediment to train travel that has to be overcome. That is the loud talking blabber mouths who wait until they are seated on a train to call someone to spill out all the secrets that most people discuss only with their lovers and spouses in the confines of a locked bedroom door.

Similarly, in my long experience, it has intrigued me to find that upon registering in a hotel, some guests believe that is his or her license to begin a quest for a willing member of the opposite or same sex to begin a romantic encounter. It is the hotel that sets off this reaction.

The same syndrome is encountered when a person with a cell phone takes a train ride. As soon as he finds his seat, the cell phone comes out and the secrets of the day are exposed for all to hear. It must be the train that sets off such inanities.

Last November, for example, on a trip to Washington, we could not help overhearing a woman lamenting her chance to acquire a husband. She was seated behind me so it was impossible to give her an objective male evaluation. Had she been seated close to me, she would have been told that her chances of finding romance would increase exponentially if she refrained from loudly discussing her private and personal affairs in public.

Then there was a doctor who was responsible for the administration of his hospital. He recounted the financial misfortunes of his hospital for the better part of an hour. Mental notes were made by other passengers to avoid that hospital at all costs.

The overheard conversations did not contribute to our entertainment or to our store of knowledge. They simply had to be endured as a toothache must be endured.

In recognition of the cell phone problem on its trains, Amtrak has a “Quiet Car” where theoretically cell phone calls are prohibited. That prohibition is often honored in the breach as calls are indeed made, but the callers are much quieter.

So it was that Miss Chicka and her husband took a train trip on New Jersey Transit to New York late in May, 2005. Cell phone calls could be heard everywhere. It was a real cacophony. Our caller told all of us that it was “cute, cute, cute.” She said some article of clothing would “be cute and delicious.” This listener deplores the word “cute.” He did not know if the “cute, cute” appraisal applied to a new dress or to a coat for a dog. There are some things we are not destined to know about. As we said, what inanities.

On the way home, one leather lunged female cell phone user wanted to provide an up to the instant description of the love life of a woman who may have been known to both parties on the call in question. There was no such thing as ignoring the conversation because it was simply too loud and too clear.

Myrtle was the subject of the call. Presumably, Myrtle was experiencing some difficulty in becoming pregnant. Our cell phone caller on the train handled everything with aplomb. She announced to all of us at the outset, “Great news. Myrtle is ovulating.” She followed this remarkable announcement with the information that “Now is the time to get things done while she is most fertile.” Those of us who were unfamiliar with Myrtle’s gynecological and obstetric situation were left to wonder about the phrase, “Now is the time to get things done.” It seemed to me that this was such a sterile and non-romantic approach to a life altering decision. But “getting things done” told all of us that Myrtle meant business whether it applied to her doctors or to Myrtle’s male friend.

Unfortunately, we will probably not know whether Myrtle and her husband, lover, boy friend or casual acquaintance were successful by having her ovulation followed by a pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, you may be sure it will be announced to train riders by Myrtle’s friend. Looking ahead it would be of great interest for all of us to know whether Myrtle has considered such eventualities as breech births or a “C” Section. So you can see we have a lot to look forward to on future train rides with Myrtle’s buddy.

Obviously, it is too early to know all these details, but there is a train car load of people who now share the secrets of what appears to be an effort to make Ms. Myrtle pregnant. Myrtle and her partner must be pleased to know how her fertility is well known to all of us.

For the future, good old ovulating Myrtle ought to pick friends who don’t have a cell phone or who don’t ride trains. Or maybe Myrtle ought to keep her OB-GYN condition to herself.

May 30, 2005


Boys and girls, there will be no fewer than eighteen meditations in this series. Buckle up! I’m pretty excited about it; multi-essays are often my favorites, because sometimes he connects such disparate subjects with his transitions. And even when he doesn’t, it’s great to see how he feels about so many different things in the space of just a few pages.

He found his inner Andy Rooney with this one, that’s for sure. I’m sad that he didn’t make it to the era of people using video-chat apps on the train; because the phone must be held pretty far from the face for this to work, conversations are even louder. I’m sure Pop would have taken to photobombing these occurrences whenever possible.

Our trains in California prohibit having loud conversations as a general rule, which is largely ignored. Loud conversations are bad, but they’re definitely not the worst thing you get on bay area public transit. Crazy people are a routine occurrence, as are people who bring powerful portable speakers to treat entire subway cars to their personal playlist full of shitty music. Now and again you’ll get chain-smokers on the train, which to me are the #1 offender. I’d rather have a car full of phone talkers than be trapped with one smoker.

I remember taking the “L” in Chicago home late one night in college. As I stepped on to the train, I was immediately faced with a man standing directly in the middle of the doorway. He was looking down at his feet, and moaning over and over: “Burn God, Burn God, Burn God, Burn God.” This went on for the duration of the twenty-minute ride. It was phenomenally disconcerting. But still, give me any number of divine arsonists instead of a chain smoker, and I’ll happily put in my headphones and ride in peace.