Archive for May 2017


Recently I dictated an essay in praise of what I believe is a prefix in the English language. That prefix had to do with the word “non.” You will remember – or I hope you will remember – that I wrote in that essay that I was asked many years ago to identify my daughters. As a general rule, I said that this is “the non-adopted daughter.” I had no idea whether we had made my other child feel special but I hope that that was the case.

Since that time, I have given a bit more thought to the use of what I believe to be the prefix of “non.” In my estimation this word has been overlooked. All things considered, we should praise the use of the word “non.”

And so in my ruminations I have thought of a few other words that incorporate the prefix “non.”

I have already told you about my daughters and perhaps the place to start is to say “non-adopted.” This provides an even playing field.

In this great state of New Jersey, I used to have a driver’s license. I thought that when my driving career came to an end in 2004, I could simply remove that card from my wallet. Here in the great state of New Jersey that is not the case. You may find this hard to believe but I am required to carry a “non-driver’s” driver’s license. My old driver’s license was taken from me and had holes punched in it. My new driver’s license, or I should say non-driver’s license, was issued to me for the purpose of getting on airplanes, cashing checks, and in other instances where identification is demanded. If I may say so, this is the single biggest rip-off by the state government in the history of New Jersey. Currently my non-driver’s driver’s license has expired. As a means of protest, I do not intend to renew it at the price of $26. I suppose the idea is to prove that I am the person that I say that I am in the issuance of the non-driver’s driver’s license. But I have told the great fat man who is the governor of New Jersey, Mr. Chris Christie, what he can do with his non-driver’s driver’s license.

The third word involving the use of the prefix “non” is the word “non-sighted.” I am fully aware that non-sighted means blind. But it seems to me that the word blind is unforgiving and I hope that you will find it within your heart to make use of the word non-sighted.

There is one other word that is non-partisan. It is “non-essential.”

Then there is the word “non-fiction,” which I should have thought about long ago. In my case, I believe that it has been nearly 70 years since I have read a book of fiction. So the word “non-fiction” describes me very accurately.

There are other words such as “non-unique” which I find do not have many uses. But there is also the word “non-gay” which would have applicability here in the eastern provinces of the great and glorious United States. The word “non-gay” seems to strike a chord in my soul.

Then we come to the story of my life which could be called “non-rich.” I have never been a wealthy man such as Mitt Romney has been and I have never been a politician. But I believe the word “non-rich” is a lovely addition to the English language. There is also the word “non-existent.” I am not quite sure where that word would be used but I include it here because of my efforts to be all inclusive. I am sure there are one or two other words that fit into the “non” category.

Well, these are just transient thoughts about the great word “non.” It seems to me as an interested observer of the language of the Anglo-Saxons that the prefix “non” needs to be celebrated a bit more than it has been in the past. And so in this essay I have sought to praise the existence of the word “non.” I realize that there is some redundancy, but the word “non” is a significant word and should receive its full due.

It may not be the most exciting word in the English language but think of it in these terms. Where would we be if we did not have the word “non?” I shudder to think what would happen to our civilization if we were forced to try to find a substitute for the prefix “non.”

January 27, 2012


For the record, the word “nonexistent” gets used in fourteen essays, not counting this one, so he definitely can think of how that word might be used.

“Non” gets me thinking about language a little bit. Specifically I remember the (fictional!) novel 1984, where “newspeak” reduced the English lexicon dramatically. One of the biggest changes was halving the amount of adjectives by use of the prefix “un” — so instead of “good” and “bad” you had “good” and “ungood.” “Fat” and “Skinny” became “Fat” and “Unfat.” The prefix “non” can work sort of the same way — instead of Biological and Adopted daughters, for instance, you can have adopted and non-adopted ones, or biological and non-biological ones. Either way would make the language a little easier to learn, if perhaps in exchange for being a little less poetic. Dystopian connotations aside, I wonder if it’s such a bad idea.

In Chinese, for instance, each type of noun gets what’s called a “measure word.” If I’m trying to buy two bananas and three jackets from a department store, I’d need to tell the clerk not just that I want two bananas and three jackets, but two “slender objects” worth of bananas, and three “clothes pieces” worth of jackets. Papers are measured by the flat thing; chopsticks are measured by the special measure word for things that come in pairs. English has a few of these, of course — for example I might use measure words if I want to talk about a pride of lions or a murder of crows. But I don’t HAVE to — the phrase “I saw a few lions” wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. More commonly, I might use “pieces” of paper or “pairs” of jeans. By and large, though, the language either doesn’t use measure words or vastly consolidates them into a small number of very general purpose words like “some.”

All this to say that maybe simplification of language isn’t so bad — I don’t think we lose out on anything in English by not having a specific measure word for “belts”; I can just say I have three belts at home and everyone knows what I mean. In Chinese I have to let them know that I have three long-things worth of belts at home, and the “long things” measure word of course isn’t the same one that I’d use for counting bananas. Other languages like Spanish will add a gender to every single noun in the language, so in addition to learning that “papel” means “paper,” you also have to remember if it’s “EL papel” or “LA papel” and if you use the wrong one you sound like an idiot. Complications like gendering your nouns or assigning every type of noun its own special measure word serve no purpose other than to frustrate language learners. They contribute basically zero extra meaning.

English of course is a nightmare of exceptions, so standardizing those would probably be of a lot more use than just adding “non” to our adjectives, but any step in the right direction is okay by me.

The prior essay he mentions is here.


This essay is an exercise in my own personal nostalgia. It may well be that it will not resonate with many of my readers. But if you will stick with me for a few minutes, you may be enthralled and entertained. Or you may just be bored.

The Carr family had three of us who were inclined toward music. My two elder brothers showed no signs of ever appreciating music in any form. My elder sister of about 15 years my senior sang in the grand opera choruses in St. Louis. She took lessons from a woman named Mrs. Ettinger who loved German music. At a recital given by Verna, my sister, the whole program was devoted to German lieder or German music. I felt they were frightful. My sister Verna had a decent voice. It was wasted on German music.

My second sister, about seven years my senior, named Opal, wound up singing in Joe Donella’s saloon in Brentwood, Missouri. She learned a few chords on the piano, then more or less accompanied herself. Opal was a free spirit who wound up owning some racing greyhounds in Florida and Arizona.

In my own case, I would judge my musical talents as a singer as being mostly ordinary. I never had a solo part, but in retrospect the teachers at Clayton High School had no solo parts to offer. I was happy to sing a baritone part in an octet one time.

All of that brings me to Georgia Walker, a very attractive woman who was ten or twelve years my senior when I attended high school. That would mean that she was probably in her late 20s or early 30s during my career as a high school student. Miss Walker was devoted to her music and disliked anyone who sang off key. One of the reasons for this was that she taught us to sing a cappella, meaning without accompaniment. Singing in this fashion means that if one strays somewhat off key, it will soon be detected. It was about 75 years ago that Miss Walker was my musical teacher. I still remember her devotion to a cappella music and to this day I appreciate that musical form. We sang at various events and there was a spring concert.

At one point during my senior year, Miss Walker greatly embarrassed me – not intentionally. Miss Walker said that I always sang on key and that I was helpful in every respect or some such thing. She said this in front of the whole choir or chorus and at age 16 or 17, I was embarrassed. Actually she meant it as great praise. If I had been 10 or 15 years older, I might have asked Georgia Walker to marry me. I would probably have been turned down, but Miss Walker being unmarried, I believe she would have appreciated the compliment.

Clayton High School is located in a suburb of St. Louis and also employed a musical director for the band. This man was George Best. He made every attempt to demonstrate his superiority to Miss Walker. Most of the chorus or choir members in my class detested George Best. But he was a man and he seemed to have the hierarchy of the school in his corner.

Now there is a third person in this panorama who played in the band and was a disciple of George Best. He was a likeable fellow named Jack Martz. Jack did not play the trombone or the tuba. His specialty was drums. You may find this hard to believe but in one spring concert, perhaps in my last year of attendance, George Best designated Jack Martz to play a drum solo.

On this occasion all the parents were invited, so it was a full house. Jack started his drum solo temperately. But before long, old Martz began to flail away at his drums. My guess is that it took Jack somewhere between eight and ten minutes to finish the drum solo. The chorus, including myself, stood around on the raised platforms, not realizing that Jack Martz would go on so long in his solo rendition of drum work.

The fact of the matter is that I am getting a bit older and recently the thought of Georgia Walker flashed into my mind. She was a lovely woman, who would now be over 100 years old if she is still alive. With this being an exercise in nostalgia, I wanted to recall that wonderful woman.

At the same time my exercise in nostalgia also wanted to recall George Best. Mr. Best was an arrogant sort of person, particularly with respect to Miss Walker. George Best may have been an excellent teacher of the band but for my part, I detested him for his treatment of Miss Walker.

Similarly, there was Jack Martz, the drum soloist. Jack was a modest fellow who somehow attracted the attention of George Best. On the spring recital, Jack flailed his drums for the better part of ten minutes. There was no theme to the drum solo. It was just a matter of Jack using every ounce of energy including an intermittent ring of cowbells and triangles while the solo took place.

As I told you in the beginning, this was an exercise in nostalgia on my behalf. If you have stuck with me through this recital, you will recall my affection for Miss Walker, my distaste for George Best, and the amazement with which I watched Jack Martz play his drum solo. I hope that you will excuse me for yielding to my temptation to engage in this exercise in nostalgia. But if nothing else, it was Miss Walker who encouraged my love of music that has pleased and consoled me for the past 75 years.

At this late date, I am pleased to recognize her with these lines. She was a lovely woman. And as for George Best and Jack Martz, they are also a part of this old geezer’s nostalgia.

January 16, 2012


I wonder what memories will stick with me for that long. It’s hard to predict what your brain will choose to hold onto.


I have never been a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In whatever is left in my life, I do not expect to ever become a member of that faith. The leader of that faith calls himself a pope

When it comes to doctrine, I must cite my profound belief in principles. For example, I do not believe that there is any such thing as eternal life. I also do not believe that there is a heaven up there in the sky, nor do I believe that Satan presides over a realm wherein people like myself are condemned to spend eternity in torment. It is my view that when we live out our life span, death will occur and that basically is the end of it all.

Joseph Ratzinger, formerly of Munich, is the head man of the Roman Catholic faith. The views of Herr Ratzinger and myself, both veterans of WWII, cannot be reconciled. I would view Herr Ratzinger with more understanding if he were to provide a cogent and convincing account of why, during World War II, he joined the SS during his tour in Hitler’s German Army. As you may recall, the SS (Schutzstaffel) was in charge of wiping out Jews from the lands that Hitler’s Nazi’s had conquered.

During his years as Pope, Herr Ratzinger has not provided any explanation but has tended to glide over this significant fact as though it never happened.

Now we find that the Vatican has announced a crackdown on American nuns. The crackdown does not apply to Norwegian nuns, Costa Rican nuns, etc., but it is aimed solely at American nuns. It is for this reason that the title of this essay, “How Colossally Dumb Can You Get?” is applicable.

According to an announcement from the Vatican, it has launched a crackdown on American nuns. If my understanding is correct, when nuns enter their vocation, they take an oath of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which accounts for the title of this essay. But now this business of obedience comes into play.

The news says that the Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of the 57,000 American nuns. This group is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The Vatican sources say that the group is not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination in the Catholic faith. The eight-page statement was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the same organization that has survived all of these years since the Inquisition. It was led for 25 years by none other than Joseph Ratzinger, who now styles himself as Pope Benedict XVI. He says that the American nuns are being led astray and must return to Catholic orthodoxy.

May I make this point eminently clear? If the Catholics or any other religious group wishes to have an internal squabble, that is quite all right with me. In all of the years when I have been a non-believer, I have never ever attempted to convert someone to my beliefs or lack thereof. But this squabble is different because it involves nuns.

In the actions of the Vatican, Ratzinger is attacking the most noteworthy practitioners of the Catholic faith, which brings to mind the question, “How colossally dumb can you get?” Ratzinger has pitted the nuns and his idea of Catholic orthodoxy in a battle which he seems to think he will win. My own view is that Ratzinger is thoroughly out of date in that in the long run the nuns will prevail. Justice is on their side.

I am not given to religious disputes on either one side or the other. But in this case, the ham-handed Ratzinger is attempting to destroy the nuns and their good works. I repeat, how dumb can you get? In 1965, there were 185,000 nuns in the United States. Today that number is down to 57,000. Who would enter a vocation in which the likes of Herr Ratzinger is in charge?

I have located the headquarters for the Women’s Religious group and have written them offering my support. If they need a few dollars, I will provide that as well. As far as Herr Ratzinger goes, I must say that the Second World War has not ended. If I were to give Herr Ratzinger any advice at all, it would be to lay off the nuns who are doing a wonderful job. Secondly, he should concentrate on trying to straighten out the pedophile priests in his ranks. And with that, my sermon from the mount is herewith ended.

April 20, 2012


I like that Pop defends the nuns — reminds me of the woman in the lobby of his old AT&T building that Killingsworth threw out. Gotta stand up for the nuns.

Anyway yes, it’s incredibly dumb to target the people who are really at the front lines of your organization, especially when everyone else (aside from the preachers) is basically just management. Sometimes, church leadership should align with the people who are actually spreading your faith, instead of trying to push everything from the top down.


This essay has to do with while I am here and secondly, when I am gone.

An Australian composer of great note recently produced a memorable work which he called, “While I Am Here.” His name is John Munro. He is originally from Scotland and has long since assumed Australian citizenship. After listening to John Munro’s epic piece about “While I Am Here,” my thoughts ran to a prose piece which for want of a better title is called “When I Am Gone.” John Munro’s piece is written in poetic form while my piece is in my own pedestrian prose. Needless to say, it may be more interesting to listen to the Munro piece than to my story of “When I Am Gone.”

In the Munro piece, along about the fourth line from the top, there is a reference to doing “the best you can.” My mother did not have a copyright on doing the best you can but she claimed authorship of that title in my estimation in August of 1942 when her youngest child departed for the American Army. So let us deal first with the Munro piece. As I said, near the beginning of John Munro’s lyrics appears the line about doing the best you can. This triggered a thought that has been with me for more than 70 years.

On the morning that I left to join the American Army in August of 1942, there was a memorable exchange between Lillie Carr, my mother, and myself. I knew that my mother harbored ill feelings about the way that the English treated the Irish during their 800 years of occupation. But there was an uprising by the Irish on Easter Day in Dublin in 1916. As usual, the Irish were decimated and their leader, James Connolly, was so wounded that he could not stand. The Brits ordered Connolly’s execution. He could not stand so they shot him in the chair where he was sitting. Or if you believe another story, Connolly was shot while lying down.

My mother and her sisters felt very strongly about their Irish ancestry. One of them, Aunt Nora, used to play a game with me when I was a small child. As soon as she came into the house, Aunt Nora would say, “Boy, what would you be if you were not Irish?” I knew the answer. It was, “I would be ashamed.” But from James Connolly’s execution in 1916 until her death in 1961, the feeling my mother had for the British Empire could be categorized largely as hatred.

Our home in Richmond Heights, Missouri was constructed largely through the efforts of my father. The two-car garage was separated from the house by about 25 feet. This was the custom in those days, having to do with engine fires. In front of the garage was a concrete slab which was for maneuvering to get the cars into the garage. As I was leaving for the Army, my mother accompanied me to this concrete driveway. At that point, when it came time to say goodbye, my mother issued the usual warnings about writing home often. Then she began to talk about the dangers I would face. Her four brothers were in the First World War and were subjected to gas attacks by the Germans.

I attempted to soothe my mother’s fears by telling her how much help we would have in fighting the war. I told her about the Canadians and the Frenchmen. I told her about the Norwegians and the Danes, and mostly about the Poles. She had warm feelings for the Poles because their help was greatly appreciated by my parents when they were running the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm. And then inexplicably I said that we would have the help of Great Britain. My mother would have none of this “Great Britain” stuff. Immediately, she said, “You mean the English?” I must have shrugged my confirmation of her thoughts about the English. Immediately, she said to me, “Son, in that case you will have to do the best you can.” With that, she turned on her heel and retired to her kitchen. I knew at that point that the interview was ended.

I could not figure out how I could have made such a blunder. But there was only one thing to do, which was to walk the half mile to the streetcar stop where I would board the Kirkwood-Ferguson streetcar. It took about two hours for the streetcar to reach Jefferson Barracks after about three transfers. All the way from beginning to end, I was cursing myself for mentioning England to my mother. She came to see me at Jefferson Barracks before I was shipped to basic training. It was the last time I saw her for nearly two and a half years.

So aside from the Munro piece having to do with “While I Am Here,” when I play that piece I always have a feeling of poignancy about the phrase “doing the best you can.” My mother did not invent those lines about doing the best you can, but she used them with great effectiveness on the day that I departed our home to join the American Army.

Now that we have tended to the “While I Am Here” story, I am ready to turn to my thoughts about what I would miss when I am gone. It is obvious that I will miss my friends and my relatives. There are my wife, two daughters and their husbands, and five grandchildren. One of my essays, called “Love Her, Love Her, Love Her,” was written as a tribute to my wife. But I am determined not to fall into the trap of identifying which friend or which relative I will miss the most.

Quite to the contrary, I believe that what I will miss the most will be music. Reviewing these thoughts that accompany this essay, it seems to me that music that tells a story with a good melody and harmony is essential to producing a good song. I suspect that Miss Ashbaugh, our grade school choral director, and Georgia Walker, our high school director of music, must have made a bigger impression upon me than I had thought before.

In the early days, I used to escort my elder sister when she sang in the chorus in the St. Louis Grand Opera. From attending the Grand Opera, I learned to appreciate a piece of music. I do not consider the music of the rock and roll variety to be good music. There is a performer here named Bruce Springsteen who shouts the lyrics to all his music. I do not consider that music acceptable. Naturally I have a soft spot in my heart for tunes with an Irish background, another soft spot for spirituals and a further soft spot for opera arias.

There is an accompanying CD to this essay which includes a small sample of some of the songs that I will miss. When I joined the Army, I was probably humming “Whispering Grass” which is included in this very limited selection of tunes. If I were to send you every song that I will miss, the list would be endless. The songs included here have been chosen selectively to give you a flavor of what I will miss.

The point I am attempting to make is that when I am gone, I will miss good music tremendously.

So this essay has two unrelated points to it. The first is the inspiration of John Munro when he wrote his song “While I Am Here” with reference to the old phrase of doing the best you can. The second part would be what I will miss when I am gone.

I saw my cardiologist a few days ago and he assured me that I will be around for a while in spite of my Methuselah-like age. Well, there you have it about the whiles and the whens. I am delighted that John Munro has composed this piece and I am also delighted that his efforts have led me to this period of contemplation about what I will miss when I am gone.

It has been a great pleasure to dictate this essay because it deals with music. If there is a higher calling than producing a great piece of music, it remains for me to discover it. And so I hope that you have enjoyed this essay about music as much as I have.

July 16, 2012


I wonder if Judy could get me a tracklist for that essay — I’d post it here!

Here’s a song by Munro on Campbell, who indeed was shot in a chair at Kilmainham Gaol. I visited recently and saw the grounds where it happened!


As I sit down to dictate these lines, it is a cold morning in January. With a prayerful thought, January will soon be over. This essay will not be a religious one. Worse than that, it will combine the third rail of all essays in that it will comment upon politics and religion.

The title was carefully chosen by the author, namely me, to illustrate a point which will pervade this whole essay. I suspect that a good many of my readers are aware of the old Protestant hymn called “Amazing Grace.” It was written by John Newton, who was engaged in the slave trade until a storm wrecked his ship and he survived. He evidently believed that it was a miracle that he survived, which he attributed to the intervention of God. There is no evidence about the slaves who were presumably enchained below decks. Their fate is unknown. But before his life was done, Newton gave up sailing in the slave trade business and became an Anglican bishop.

The name of Newton has a special significance tied to this essay. After Mr. Newton reached dry land and was toweled off, he set about becoming a preacher. In time, he reached the exalted title of bishop in the Anglican Church. At some point or other, Bishop Newton took a Scottish tune and penned the lyrics to his now famous hymn of “Amazing Grace.”

The first lines are instructive as they relate to this essay. Those lines are:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

The significance of these lines is that Newton referred to himself as a wretch. Newton wrote the lyrics almost 300 years ago. In so doing, he may have foreseen the events that have taken place in the Republican primary elections this year. In this case, a fellow named Newton has fulfilled all of the requirements of wretchedness that could be asked for.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would hardly ever listen to the Republican debates in a primary election. My heart is not with the Republican Party. During the Republican debates, my thoughts are on such matters as those of celestial ones. But they would hardly ever qualify as the subject of another essay. But the current Newton richly deserves an essay not only about his politics but about his philandering.

As I said earlier, I am not given to listening to Republican debates. Even at my advanced age with all my disabilities, I have better things to do. But in this case I am struck or I should say thunderstruck by the temerity of the latter-day Newton (Gingrich) to claim that God has laid his hand on him and has forgiven him.

The current-day Newton Gingrich has a long history, including being asked to leave the speaker’s role in the American House of Representatives. But in the meantime the current Newton has been engaged in other extracurricular activities. Simply put, he is a philanderer par excellence. This current Newton has been married on three occasions. On one occasion, we are told that he told his wife that he intended to divorce her while she was in the hospital recovering from a serious illness. His current wife, who is 22 years his junior, spent six years in an affair with Mr. Gingrich. This made his second wife very angry and at the moment she is lashing out at Gingrich.

Now here is what attracts my attention. As you might say, it also disturbs me. Newton Gingrich proclaims that he has apologized to God and that God has forgiven him. There is no correspondence on this subject because we presume that God does not ever write letters or emails. All we have to go on is that Newton claims that he has been forgiven. There is no third party to verify such events.

In the recent past, there have been occasions when the pastors of mega-churches have strayed into homosexuality. In the recent case of Bishop Eddie Long, it appears that he is being divorced because his wife contends that he has become involved with young boys. I suspect that in the case of Mr. Long and Ted Haggard, also the proprietor of a mega-church, there will be a period of disappearance from the public scene. At the end of that disappearance, the preachers will apparently return to the limelight and contend that God has forgiven them and that they are ready to resume their preacher duties.

Perhaps it is unseemly for a non-believer like myself to comment on celestial matters. But I am thoroughly curious about how Newt Gingrich learned that he was forgiven by God. Do you really think that a person as busy as God would take time to review a philanderer’s case simply because he has been Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States? I don’t know.

Somehow or other, preachers and politicians stray from their marital bonds. In almost all cases, they take a bit of time off and return to the public scene claiming that God has forgiven them. I realize that in some instances I am a disputatious individual. But in the Gingrich affair,
Newt proclaims that God has forgiven him and has apparently extracted no penalties.

You can mark me down as a doubter of the first order. Newton claims that the pressures of life in Washington were so great that as a patriotic duty he strayed from his first two wives. Now I know that the preceding sentence doesn’t make sense, but it is all that we have.

As things now stand, Newt Gingrich claims that he has been forgiven by God. Would it be sacrilegious to question those forgivenesses? My bafflement is quite sincere. But until I can see some more proof of God’s forgiveness, I will remain a full-fledged skeptic. I believe that in the case of Newton Gingrich, he has been a wretched man since he appeared on the American political scene. And it will take a lot more than Newt’s own testimony that he has been forgiven to convince me.

So now we see that some three hundred years apart, we have examples of wretchedness. I suppose now that the latter day Newton, given his political ambitions, may very well run for Pope. Upon his election to Pope, I will find time to praise his thoroughgoing wretchedness.

January 27, 2012


Was not expecting a Newt essay when I opened this one tonight. Well executed, though.


I generally keep my notes for future essays in my head but in some cases on an old dictating machine on my desk. Two of these notes appeared simultaneously and I thought that there were enough similarities that they could be married together. The first essay has to do with the ancient word for an insect, “pissant.” That explains the first word in the title. The second word, “politics,” is also related to the pissantries. The third entry in the title is “a gorgeous mistress” named Kimberly Bell, who was the mistress of Barry Bonds, the home run king, for many years. I will take each subject separately but from time to time you may see how they have become married.

The word “pissant” is an older term which refers to an insect. The insect is an ant that seeks the feet of humans and animals. The word “pissant” is far from a vulgarism. It is a living creature, just as bedbugs and gnats are living creatures also. Pissants dart from one section of the body to another and are generally just plain miserable. They are hard to swat and the pressure from the swatter is sufficiently great to move them to safety.

As I have related in earlier essays, my parents were quite religious. But they had frequently identified politicians who were bothersome as pissants. Unfortunately, that word is no longer in common usage because of the advance of insecticides that destroy the pissants in their nests. And so we see that the pissants became largely worthless creatures who now no longer bother us, but who have also disappeared from the latest dictionaries.

During the last few months, there have been inaugurations of several Republican governors in the Midwest and now one in Maine who have qualified for the title of pissant extraordinaire. Apparently these governors have made compacts which they have set out to rule the bargaining rights for state workers. They have set out to achieve these ends by all means fair or foul. In the state of Maine, the new governor there has declared that a mural in the state labor department is offensive to him and must be moved. Yet the mural, consisting of perhaps 13 panels, depicts workers in Maine building boats, fishing, and doing all of the other things that require labor in the state of Maine. The panels have existed for some time but now the new governor has decided that he is an art critic who wants them moved or put in storage. His complaint is that when businessmen come around to the department of labor, they will conclude that the panels prejudice the department against business.

In the Midwest, we have such governors as Scott Walker in Wisconsin and the governor of Ohio named John Kasich, who have passed legislation denying state workers the ability to bargain their wages. As someone who knows a little bit about labor relations, I view this as a temporary situation because given a bit of time these governors will be recalled or defeated in the next election. But these governors clearly qualify as pissants. If my parents were alive today, which they are not, they would identify these governors as clear examples of pissantries. They are making buzzing sounds as pissants do. The results of their labor are nil. These governors, including the Midwestern ones and the one in Maine, deserve to be terminated like bedbugs or gnats. But their time will come in recalls or in elections.

Well, so much for pissantries and politics. It is now time to turn to Kimberly Bell, who was Barry Bonds’ mistress for several years. I suspect that some of my readers may wonder who this Barry Bonds is. I will tell you.

Barry Bonds is the son of Bobby Bonds. Both of them were famous baseball players. Barry Bonds, according to baseball records, is the greatest home run hitter of all time. I dispute that, as do many others, because it is reasonably clear that Bonds had the help of steroids as he compiled his home run record. But then as his playing career drew to a close around 2007 or 2008, Barry Bonds was implicated in a steroid scandal involving not only himself but a star swimmer in the world Olympics. The swimmer was a female and, at the time, she admitted her use of steroids and was sent to jail for a short period of time, say two years. But old Barry Bonds wanted once to tough it out and in the process lied, or so it is alleged, to a grand jury about his intake of steroids. And that is what the trial that is taking place as I dictate these lines on March 24, 2011 is all about.

Bonds contends that he took no steroids but that his trainer gave him a combination of flax seed and another thing called Cream. The federal government has witnesses who will testify that they have seen Bonds injecting himself or having a trainer perform that service. At this early point in the trial, it would seem to me that the evidence against Barry Bonds is reasonably overwhelming.

But hovering in the background is a witness for the federal government who will deliver, it is alleged, some damning evidence. We all know that Barry Bonds’s feet jumped by two or three sizes and that the muscles in his arms expanded greatly during a winter off-season when he said that he was not taking steroids and the government said that he was. But regardless of his arm measurements and muscles and the size of his feet, we now come to Kimberly Bell, whose testimony will be extraordinary.

It is an established fact that Kimberly Bell was the mistress of Barry Bonds. There seems to be no dispute on this point. On the other hand, Miss Chicka, my wife, contends that Barry Bonds had a wife as well as the gorgeous mistress. I contend that a man can have a mistress regardless of his marital status but there are those who contend that mistresses apply only when there is a marriage involved. I regard this question as being a pissant one which shall give me the license to say that these two essays are married. In any case, we know that Kimberly Bell was a long-time mistress of Barry Bonds. During that association, there must have been occasions when sexual relations took place. Now we are told that Kimberly Bell is prepared to testify in this federal trial that she is certain that Bonds took steroids because the size of his testicles shrunk. I am not an expert on these matters but I advise all of my readers to pay close attention to the reports from San Francisco having to do with Barry Bonds’s testicular size.

When Kimberly Bell testifies and states that the size of Barry Bonds’ s testicles has shrunk, the defense attorney defending Mr. Bonds should have a field day. In the first place, he will probably taunt the government for not calling Barry Bonds’s wife to testify about the size of his genital equipment. We can believe that the wife had known Barry Bonds longer than the mistress had, and thus a good comparison of before and after taking steroids would be available. But Mrs. Bonds, if there is such a person, is not on the witness list for the government.

Let’s go back to the cross examination of Kimberly Bell. It would be very interesting to know how she had determined that Mr. Bonds’s testicles had shrunk. For example, did she take measurements before and after steroid use was attributed to Mr. Bonds. The defense attorney might inquire of Miss Bell how the size of Mr. Bonds’s testicles compared to other persons, male, that she had observed. This all goes to the point of whether the witness was an expert on the size of male testicles. Then the witness might be asked to provide the jury with the current size of Mr. Bonds’s testicles. She may also be asked whether the shrunken testicles occurred quickly or whether it was a matter of gradual disappearance. But throughout his cross examination the defense attorney is always at question for failure to produce Mrs. Bonds, if there were one. It would seem to most observers that his wife would be in a better position to testify as to the size of this equipment over a long period of time than his mistress.

But the fact of the matter is that the government is going to rely upon the testimony of Kimberly Bell. Because she was merely a mistress of Barry Bonds, it may cause some on the jury to question her value as a witness. Nonetheless, I am advising my readers that they should follow the daily reports from San Francisco to see how the cross examination of Miss Bell proceeds. For all I know, we may get a high definition exhibit of Mr. Bonds’s private parts.

I would make a prejudiced juror in this case because I do not believe that Barry Bonds is entitled to be called the home run king. That title belongs to Henry Aaron, who compiled his record with the Milwaukee Braves and then the Atlanta Braves. He used no steroids. Aaron is a gentleman who was moved to congratulate, not very warmly, Bonds when Aaron’s home run mark fell to second place. Henry Aaron is a credit to the game of baseball. Barry Bonds is a predator in the records of our national pastime.

Well, there you have my thoughts on pissants and politicians such as the governors in the Midwestern states and Maine, as well as my thoughts on the testimony of Kimberly Bell. I regret that I did not become a lawyer. It might have offered me the opportunity to cross examine Kimberly Bell. I would suspect that the lawyer who does the cross examination will remember it for the rest of his life and use it in after-dinner speeches for many years to come. But more than anything else, my notepad is empty and my brain has been relieved of carrying these two potential essays around. That in and of itself makes writing these two essays more than worthwhile. To think that I have informed my readers about pissants and Kimberly Bell’s testimony fills me with joy unending.

March 27, 2011


This one has a sister essay from about a month later that’s also worth a read.

An interesting fact about pissants (which are just wood ants) is that they get their name from their smell; their nests smell like urine, due to the construction material and the formic acid that the ants produce. Incidentally, the resemblance to these ants was what inspired the name of the “Formics,” which are the evil aliens in everyone’s favorite Mormon Sci Fi book, Ender’s Game. (Turns out that ol’ Orson Scott Card is a direct descendant of Brigham Young himself, who knew?). Anyway that series is pretty terrible but it does involve a space war against what I’m now realizing is a race of scientifically advanced pissants, which adds a fun spin to the series.

I regretfully have nothing to contribute regarding the size of Bonds’s testicles, but I think it’s pretty screwed up that he’s allowed to keep the home run record.


In previous essays I have always credited Sven Lernevall of Stockholm with the observation that the English language is a rich language. Sven’s native tongue is Swedish and he has mastered the English language gracefully. When I comment on the mother tongue, it seems to me that the comments tend to be endless. I suspect that this is a function of Sven Lernevall’s rules that the English language is a rich one and there are additions almost daily.

You may recall an essay which was done recently which commented upon the prevalence of the word “right” in our discourse. There is a right way to do things, and the thing to be tended to is “right in front of you.” In that essay, it appears that some comments on “right” were left uncultivated. And so let us take a look at them.

Recently I visited a physician in New Jersey whose residence is in New York. As a means of passing time, I asked him, “Do you still live in New York?” I expected to be told that New York was his home and would be the home of his children. I was flabbergasted to find that the physician told me that recently he had abandoned New York City and moved to a residence in one of the less populated areas of New Jersey.

Apparently after Thanksgiving, the physician and his wife had notions of moving to New Jersey to be closer to his work in Berkeley Heights. With that thought in mind, the two of them decided to take a look at an open house which had been carried by the builder for more than two years. Now if that house had been offered to me, I would have had some questions. The first question would have to do with the location of the house. The second would have to do with its design. In any event, the builder persuaded the physician to buy this house. The physician told my wife and me that the builder made “the price right.” So “the price is right” is another entry into the long series of stories about the “rightness” or the “righteousness” of the English language.

Now, leaving the builder and the physician on the right issue, we are confronted with the subject of human rights, which should not detract from our appreciation of animal rights. In this debate, it is clear that the rights will always prevail.

Now to demonstrate my impartiality, I have searched in my lexicon for something to balance the “rightness” of our language. Two entries popped into mind. When something is not fully consumed but is so good that it is saved for the next meal, we call it leftovers, not rightovers. Sometimes the leftovers taste better the second time around than on the first time. Then of course, it is common to hear someone say, “I left my wallet behind” as distinguished from “I right my wallet behind.” But on balance, the rightness of our language is overwhelming as opposed to the leftness.

I suppose that the rightness and leftness of things constitutes some sort of neologism. But for the time being, I think it is appropriate to put the issue of rightness right there for review at a later date.

Now we come to four phrases, having nothing to do with rightness, that have enriched the English language. All four come from the pen of the Australian composer Eric Bogle. Bogle is now an Australian but he was born in Peebles, Scotland. Bogle is the composer of the well known anti-war songs “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and “No Man’s Land,” also known as “Private Willie McBride.”

The first lines are from “The Promise,” a song composed by Bogle to comfort the widow of a fellow song writer. In that song, there is a haunting refrain. It says:

“I can’t foretell the future,
The wheres, the whens, the whys.”

I have been a long-time observer of music and the English language, and I have never before seen this construction having to do with the wheres, the whens, the whys. That is a masterly composition which does great favor to the English language.
The second phrasing does not have to do with the love of two human beings, but rather it has to do with Bogle coming to the conclusion that he now felt more at home in Australia than he did in his native Scotland. The lines are from the song “Green and Gold.” They are:

“I wandered half the world over,
left no wild oats unsown.”

The line about leaving no wild oats unsown seems to me to deserve a Nobel Prize.

The third reference to a song by Eric Bogle comes from “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” On this occasion in 1915, the Australians were sent into a battle at Suvla Bay where disaster against the defending Turks awaited them. There is a line to the effect that:

“And those that were left, well we tried to survive,
In that mad world of blood death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept my self alive,
Though around me the corpses piled higher.

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse overhead,
And when I awoke in me hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead.
Never knew there was worse things than dyin’.

This is a powerful indictment of careless wars such as our invasion of Iraq. I hope that every prospective soldier will listen to the line from Eric Bogle. In this case, the Turkish shell had caused the loss of both legs to the Australian soldier. “Never knew there was worse things than dyin’.” These are sobering thoughts to every prospective soldier.

Finally, the last Boglism is contributed by his mother Nancy. When Bogle was a youngster, he may have expressed the wish that weekends could come sooner, so that he could avoid attending school. Nancy Bogle responded to these sorts of wishes with the comment, “If wishes were fishes, we would all cast nets in the sea.” Eric, her son, fashioned a lovely song with the title, “If Wishes Were Fishes.” There is a lot of truth in the thought that if wishes were fishes, we would all cast nets in the sea.

There you have my thoughts on this cold Sunday afternoon as February draws to a close. Yesterday I heard my first radio broadcast of an exhibition baseball game being played between the New York Mets and Atlanta. That means that spring is not far away. Once it arrives, I will be emboldened to search out more richness for our mother tongue.

February 27, 2011


Bogle probably takes a close second to Mencken in the contest for Pop’s most-admired content producer. Currently he features in 10 essays, compared to Mencken’s 19.

I appreciate the attempt to balance leftness against rightness. He’s correct in that left words make up a pretty short list. “Leftenant” and “left out” are pretty much the only additions that come to mind that are not explicitly concerned with the leftward direction.


For better or worse, I was born in this country and so my mother tongue is the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Those of us who speak the English language are quite fortunate in that the language of the Anglo-Saxons has now become the lingua franca of the world. Perhaps one of the reasons for the English language to maintain such a paramount position has to do with the fact that it is a rich language that seems to welcome additions to its vocabulary.

From time to time in these essays, I have commented on the additions to the language and such will be the case in the following essay. I want to make it clear that some of the additions to the language are nothing less than atrocious and bastardizations. I will leave it to my readers to distinguish between those that they will welcome into the language and those that they wish to reject. This essay will be devoted to several newcomers to the Mother Tongue.

So let us start with some of the new words that we find in newscasts and often in print. The first word or phrase is “looking forward” or “moving forward.” “Looking forward” is a term dear to the heart of nearly every politician that I have heard in the past six or eight months. There is no such thing as “looking backwards.” We should all go forward by looking forward. The former press secretary to Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, is a major offender when it comes to the phrase “looking forward.” So, as a progressive, I have no choice but to look forward hourly and when tomorrow comes, I will still be in a position to look forward again.

The second word which has beleaguered the English language is “transparent or transparencies.” This is nothing more than an attempt by politicians to say that they are being honest with us. As we all know, politicians are not all that honest even though they contend that their propositions are fully transparent. Perhaps we should say that we are looking forward to an honest politician who does not need to tell us that his proposals are always transparent.

Now we come to an entirely new phrase that has me largely baffled. The term is “skin in the game.” I assume that it means that there is some risk involved as in the case of a wager at the race track or participation in an election. The term seems to suggest that only those who are involved and taking a risk may be heard from. Perhaps this is a restricted construction about skin in the game but, as I said, it leaves me largely baffled. I see no future for skin in the game and hope that it dies a peaceful death soon because it is a bastardization of the language.

The next term makes a lot more sense. That term is “optics.” When Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy, fools around with teen-age show girls, the “optics” to most Italians and the rest of the world are atrocious. But Berlusconi will not take my advice. The show girls that he toys with are not only in their teens, but may well be simply prostitutes. Berlusconi should resign the Premiership and join the Assumption Abbey Monastery in Ava, Missouri, a group that observes silence and makes the best fruitcakes known to man or beast.

Now we come to what I consider a bastardly phrasing in the English language. It has to do with the term “referencing.” When someone sticks a gun in my ribs and robs me, I refer it to the police. I don’t “reference” the police department. Why this term has gained popularity, particularly in the circles around Hillary Clinton, is a mystery to me. For all these years, we have gotten along with “refer to” as opposed to being “referenced.” So I say that we should reject this term before it goes further.

There is also the matter of “partnering” which Mrs. Clinton and others seem to favor. Partnering is an obvious term but I do not see that it improves upon someone saying this fellow over here is my partner as opposed to saying that we are partnering. I think this comes close to being a bastardization of the Mother Tongue.

Another new term we hear almost constantly is the term “focus like a laser.” Politicians love to “focus like a laser” but that term does not endear me to such a politician. Focusing like a laser is the careless man’s way of saying that he will pay attention to the details of the proposition to be considered. This is another bastardization.

And that brings us to a term that is baffling to me called “one off.” It was used the other night during the State of the Union address when politicians of different parties sat next to each other. The question is, “Is this a one-off arrangement or will we go back to the seating arrangement that was seen in previous years?” I see no future for the term “one off.” I believe it should go by the boards along with “skin in the game.”

Here is another Hillaryism. Mrs. Clinton is an avid devotee of the term “tasked.” It means that you assigned responsibility. Being tasked is popular in political circles in our nation’s capital. But that word is sort of an abortion in our language.

Now we come to the term “incentivizing.” I had two friends from the Australian Telecommunications Authority who appointed the three of us to oversee new words for the English language. One was Randolph Payne, and the other was John Hampton. Randy is deceased now and John has retired and seems to have left no forwarding address. Randy and John and your old friend Ezra would consider “incentivizing” as thorough and complete bastardizations of the Mother Tongue. It should not be repeated within my range of hearing.

Next is the term “doubling down.” I had always assumed that the term came from the race tracks. If a man lost his wager on the first race, he would double the bet on the second race to make up for his loss. But now we find that doubling down has to do with such things as Obama’s sending more troops to Afghanistan. According to observers, which do not include me, Obama is doubling down on the war in Afghanistan. I believe this to be an atrocious construction.

Now we come to the term, “under the bus.” It has to do with abandoning friends of long standing. For example, when we abandoned our support for Hosni Mubarak, commentators would say that the U.S. has thrown Mubarak “under the bus.” I believe that this construction has the ability to stand the test of time.

There is a television program which states that, as the program nears its end, we are “approaching the shallow end.” I assume that this comes from swimming and pools where there is a deep end and on the other end of the pool is the “shallow end.” As in the case of throwing someone under the bus, this construction has a happy future.

Finally we come to the term “getting under the hood.” It has to do, for example, with the Federal budget which appears at this time of year. Getting into the details or under the hood of the budgetary details might also be called “getting into the weeds.” It strikes me that, once again, as in the case of putting someone under the bus, this construction may be with us for awhile.

There you have more than a dozen new constructions of the Mother Tongue. Some are laudable, some are middle of the road-ish, and some are plain bastardizations of the language. I said earlier that I would leave it to my readers to accept or reject those terms, but I believe my prejudices are clear for all to see. If someone were to use the phrase “skin in the game” or “tasked” in a conversation with me, I would call for the cops.

January 30, 2011


I notice that the two car-related sayings make it through without issue — I’m gonna say that’s filling station bias, right there.
On a somewhat unrelated note, a friend of mine has made a whole career out of focusing lasers. Many lasers, it turns out, have massive focus issues, which probably isn’t what that phrase is going for.