Monday, July 24, 2017

"When They Threw Down Their Guns....and Picked Up Textbooks"


From his inauguration in 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that "godfather of socialism", tried everything to end The Great Depression.  In that first six months of his Presidency alone, he trotted out a good dozen federal programs....some to price freeze, some to create "make work", to bully business into submission, et all.  In the end, nothing worked.  America remained in depression for the next eight years and it would take a World War to pull us out of it.  However, toward the end of that war, when it was evident the allies were going to win it, Roosevelt signed on to two pieces of legislation that would propel America into a prosperity she had never known....nor perhaps will never know again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

I Forget


I harbor all kinds of little superstitions and phobias. I'll cross the street to avoid a black cat, I'll never walk under a ladder, and I'll always pick up a penny in the street...if it's heads up...tails up I walk on.  

And I have phobias to match....I get sweaty just looking at someone perched on the edge of Chimney Rock Mountain, their feet dangling over the edge from 3,000 feet in the sky.  And if I find a bug in the house I'll tear everything asunder to find the culprit.

But all my fears and superstitions and phobias pale in comparison to my current concern....and that is the fear that I'm getting senile. I really try to head off any onset of senility....I try to keep my mind active by reading, learning new things. I play little mind games to try and keep my thinking fresh. But still, in my advancing age, I'm becoming fearful that I'll end up in a home, someone spoon feeding me oatmeal and wiping my mouth for me, and changing my Depends at regular intervals.

You see, these days, I'm finding myself getting a little more forgetful. At least a couple of times a week I'll find myself, standing in the middle of the kitchen, staring off into space, and wondering what I came in here for. I'll actually get up from my chair, walk down the hall to the bedroom, and in the short half a minute it took me to navigate that distance, I can't remember what or why I came over there for.

At times I've driven up to the grocery store and, having forgotten to bring my shopping list, wander around the store and hope to remember why I came there. I play little product association games to jog my memory. I come upon a shelf of spaghetti sauce and say "did we need pasta?" "how's the ketchup stock at home?" "Were tomatoes on my list?" Several times I've made impulse purchases, then came home only to find the only thing I went to the store for was the only thing I didn't buy.

And even as my short term memory fades, my long term memory seems enhanced! These days I can remember something I did in 5th grade better than I remember what I did yesterday!

And with those short term memory lapses has come the troubling practice of "mind wander". More than once I have been driving along, look down on the floor board and see a fresh stick of gum down there. All of a sudden I want that stick of gum, more than anything I've wanted all day. So, I grab the steering wheel with the left hand, then try to scoot down to retrieve that stick of Wrigleys Juicy Fruit, while peering over a mere inch of dashboard to see where I'm going. Then, just as I've nabbed a micro-milimeter of one edge of that slice of gum, I realize I'm about to swerve into the back of a parked car, then leap back to a proper driving position and miss that parked Camry by less the length of a 12 inch ruler!

And, as the years go by, it takes very little for my mind to wander. I can become captivated at the sight of an unusual license plate. I can, in the space of a single city block, speculate on the cost of that digital sign they just put up, and wonder what happened to the old fellow who used to climb up a ladder and post that same sign in big plastic block letters....and wonder if the poor fellow has a pension!

I had a witty little thought to end this essay....some grand "bon mot" that would leave every one in stitches....but I forgot what it was.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cable Hogs Back At The Trough


Last week I got an ominous email in my bold and brass as a Mafia Don telling me he's offering me a deal "I can't refuse".  Specifically, Cox Cable has announced that, under my 1 Terabyte per month cable plan, in the future I will be subject to a $10 dollar charge for each 50 Gigs I go over my plan limit.

While you might think that proposal reasonable, hear me out here.  My Cox Cable package includes both TV and Internet.  For those two services I am currently operating under a temporary grace period, paying $150 a month, with a big increase scheduled for next April.  In contemplating that, I've been thinking seriously about cutting the TV cord and streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime for my viewing needs.

Except that "Mafia Mail" I just received put a huge kibosh on my plan.  As of now, while paying for Cable TV, I'm using only a tenth of my limit.  That sounds good, huh?  After all, I only watch a little U Tube occasionally, and access my Amazon Prime an hour or so a week.  But, if I begin streaming Netflix in an effort to cut out my cable TV charges, Cox will simply gouge me with their proprietary internet $10 bucks a pop!  Plus, if I don't buy their TV package, Cox says my internet charge doubles!

Let's face it folks, if you're into media, Cable's got us all by the balls.

Sad.  Damned Sad.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Devil's Advocacy For The Fruit Salad Set"


Ask any semi-literate American and they'll tell you our three greatest generals were Washington, Grant and Eisenhower.  However, having read thousands of hours in general history, and a dozen biographies of all three in that "Fruit Salad Set", I ask you to put on your cynic hat for a bit and allow me to play devil's advocate just a little.

Let's first look at Washington.  George Washington was something of a "British Lackey" for a good couple of decades before he was chosen to lead our revolution.  George was almost manic about wanting a regular commission in the British Army.  He never got it.  That didn't stop old George from "duding up" in the Virginia Militia.  George kept his British brokers busy sending him the finest of materials to fashion grand uniforms, even before he assumed American leadership.  The British failure to reward George in the French and Indian wars would cost them more than they realized.

Now let's look at Washington after he became our leader.  Was he a brilliant strategist?  Hardly.  After that first victory in Boston, George nearly lost the war on the fields of Manhattan a short time later.  Hobbling back to the wilds of New Jersey with what was left, the war was almost over before it began.
Oh, let us do give credit to Washington's perseverance, and his legendary bravery and he certainly stuck it out at Valley Forge.  But, if we study our history well we know that Washington's lieutenants in Georgia and the Carolinas inflicted far more pain to the British than George's troops.  And were it not for the French we might all be speaking cockney and eating steak and kidney pie.

So was George Washington one of our greatest generals?  Well, let's give him and "A" for effort and bravery and a "C" for strategy.  

Now let's look at U.S. Grant.  Grant was an abject failure in the beginning of his military career.  Graduating far down in his class at West Point, Grant seemed to be good at only one thing; horsemanship and drinking.  It would be the drinking that would eventually drive Grant from the Army.  While Grant served in the Mexican War he was pretty much relegated to supply officer duties and did little to distinguish himself.  After the war Grant was sent out west and became so bored he nearly drank himself to death.

After leaving the Army Grant had all kinds of sky high aspirations.  Yet, he failed in business, failed in real estate and kept his family mired in poverty.  When the Civil War broke out Grant was a failing leather apprentice, working for his father.

So when war broke out it was almost a Godsend for Grant.  Securing a Colonel's commission, Grant helped to round up local recruits for the union, then was granted command of a unit...his bosses always reluctant to give him much to do, his penchant for drunkenness well known throughout the ranks.

Of course it was Vicksburg where Grant won redemption.  And it was Grant's perfect willingness to "churn flesh" that won him victories.  While Grant was not heartless, his lack of strategic brilliance forced him to employ concentration of strength to win victories...the Union seemingly always commanding overwhelming battlefield numbers supremacy.  Contrast Grant's "flesh churning" with other Union generals.  McDowell failed because he wouldn't fight, reluctant to endure "any loss".  And those generals who succeeded McDowell were equally reluctant to accept massive loss.  Grant had no such concern, as evidenced by his dispatching 7,000 Union boys to their death in 20 minutes at Cold Harbor.  Twenty years later even Grant would admit that being a mistake.

So read your Civil War history.  It's pretty clear that Robert E. Lee could "out general" Grant seven days  a week...Lee's only failure those disastrous charges at Gettysburg and the South's inability to feed and equip their Johnny Rebs.

So does Grant deserve being called one of our greatest generals, given the self-butchering of his own troops?  Could the Union have won that war with better strategy and less "sausage-factory" battle tactics?  While Grant was a good man, he had his share of military shortcomings and leaves a lot to ponder on superior leadership.  And, had it not been for Sherman, we might still be fighting that old war.

Let's look at Eisenhower.  How many of you realize that, when World War II broke out in Europe, Eisenhower was still a Lt. Colonel paper pusher in the U.S. Army?  At war's beginning Eisenhower had spent most of his career as a staff officer for higher-ups, including Chief of Staff for MacArthur in the Philippines.  Dwight D. kept getting shuffled between various Chief of Staff duties and manning a desk in war plans for nearly his entire career.  While serving in those posts, (Eisenhower never commanded a unit on the battlefront) Eisenhower sharpened his skills as a "diplomat"...smoothing the feathers of politicians and the general staff.  And that was fortuitous when America needed both a general and diplomat to cobble together cooperation between the allies battling Hitler and the Axis.  

Did Eisenhower's leadership win that war?  Well, I'd give far greater credit to America's miraculous war production.  Could we have lost fewer men at Normandy if we had listened to Churchill and massed our forces and driven up the Italian boot?  How quickly might we have reached Berlin if Ike had given Patton more rope and given him more fighting room?  While those questions might never be answered satisfactorily, it is my belief that Ike made a massive mistake in not listening to Churchill when he advised not to let the Russians into Berlin.  Consider the forty years of Cold War that followed that ill-fated decision.  And, even after the war, it is my opinion that Ike failed again in accepting that Korean truce a few years later.  We are still dealing with problems from that decision.

So were Washington, Grant and Eisenhower great generals?  Well, while I am more than willing to acknowledge the greatness of each man, it is my belief that these three dudes were three of the luckiest bastards on the planet...the times and circumstances perfectly aligned to raise them to greatness.  All three men had fatal flaws...Washington's talent for losing on the battlefield, Grant's willingness to "churn flesh" and Eisenhower's near fatal bad decisions that led to decades of woe to follow.

As a retired grunt myself, if I had to choose any general to lead the fight, I believe I'd choose old crazy George Patton. He was a brilliant tactician and a poor politician but he'd be the guy I'd most enthusiastically follow if I wanted to win and win quickly.

Would love to hear the thoughts of my fellow readers.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Don't Need No Frickin GPS"


Of all the modern devices available today, the one I'd ban from use are those GPS systems.  Oh, I know I'm in the minority here....but hear me out.

I don't own a GPS for my car and have turned off "Maps"and SIRI on my iPhone.  First of all, I know how to read a paper map...even honed my map reading skills to a high shine while in the military.  And maps are electronic voice telling me to "turn left in 3 tenths of a mile", then "well you fucked that one up so now go north on 103rd, then turn right on Grand Avenue, then proceed ten miles until you come to a closed-down Kmart..then make a U-turn and come back where you started..and listen next time!"

Anyone from California, whose driven through L. A. traffic, will know what a goat rope that is.  Well, whenever I plan a trip from Arizona to California I intentionally avoid L.A.  I head up to I-40, drive west until I get to Barstow, then pick up Hwy 58 West, and over the Tehachapi range and on into the San Joaquin Valley.  And I return the same way.

Except my wife has one of those portable GPS units.  And she carries it around like a third kidney.  As soon as we get in the car she takes out her cord, plugs it into the cigarette lighter, then taps in our California destination.  And for the next twelve hours I'm ignoring the feminine twit telling me to take I-10 to Pasadena, then hook up with I-5 North.  I get a similar digital berating upon my return.  As soon as I exit Hwy 99 and pick up Hwy 58 East the GPS bitch is telling me to turn back, access I-5 South and spend 20 hours navigating through L.A. rush hour.  I usually wait until my wife falls asleep over in the passenger seat (which she inevitably does with 45 seconds of fastening her seat belt) and unplug the GPS.

Now, if the GPS is your cup of tea, have at it!  I simply enjoy getting lost on my own.  And just how tough would I be if I didn't stumble into a freeway McDonalds and find the toilets overflowing with turds and the paper towel rack empty?  And, to tell you the truth, I have almost made a habit out of stopping at Indian and Pakistani managed motels and asking for a walk-through before handing over my credit card.  Folks, surrendering to your GPS masters have made you all wimps!  How long would Lewis & Clark have spent taking animal and plant samples back to Jefferson if they'd owned a GPS?  Were I either Lewis or Clark I would have been thrilled if an entire nation waited with bated breath for a couple of years to see if I'm ever coming back!

Instead, today, that damned GPS takes the excitement out of setting off for somewhere.  Just last year, when my daughter and granddaughter came to visit, I checked out some nice eating establishments to take them to.  Scanned the menu, wrote down addresses...mapped them all out, and I'll be damned if my granddaughter didn't sit back there, in the back seat, activating SIRI so it could tell me where to go.  Fortunately, they being my guests, I didn't tell SIRI where to go!

Well, dear readers, that's my "snit-fit" for this week.  Hope I offended no one.  If I did just type my address in your GPS, come on over and we'll discuss it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Visible Saints"


Well, our friend, and fellow reader, Jerry Carlin...from up north in Oregon Land, has kindly shipped me another book to read.  Frankly, I do not pretend to understand Jerry's motivation for doing so.  Either he spotted a quark in my religious study, or he just happened to come across a bit of eclectic prose that he thought might keep me interested.

Never mind the intent...I am now a third of the way into the book, and find it fascinating.  While a great deal of world religions survey courses occupy many of my 240 semester hours of college study, I have never delved deep into any of the serious studies of any religious cult.  If I had to choose one religion that thoroughly captivated my imagination for a time it would be the almost "non-religion" of Buddhism.

Still, as I received this book, I found the cover reminiscent of my elementary school history primer...and that's a good thing indeed.  Secondly, I found the book to be a pleasant re-visit of the scholarly texts of my college years.  And while both of those enticements got me to open the book, it was the content itself that kept me turning page after page.

In this first third of the book I am given an excellent prelude as to how Puritanism was spawned, back in the old country where the Roman influence on church ritual and liturgy was a tiresome thing indeed.  And it was fascinating to read how the various religious sects chose to deal with religious revolt, sometimes the absolute refusal by reformers to accept "reformed Catholic priests into their Protestant midsts, others willing to compromise, still others even more militant in demanding near perfection for their devotees.

And, in identifying the "revolutionaries" I was able to understand that, while OUR New England Puritans were sometimes hard as nails, they paled in comparison to those church followers who believed that you were either born pure enough for heaven, or you weren't..and, thus there was little hope for your sinful heart.  

Consequently, we Americans can be thankful that those militant European hardliners had no lust to sail the stormy Atlantic.  We had more than enough to deal with (both for the good and the bad) with those who did come.

So, again, I can thank Jerry for a thought-provoking book.  And indeed it is thought-provoking.  For example, after reading the first chapter, I had to set the book aside for awhile, and chew on that Puritan disdain for Catholic ritual....that seemingly always scripted Catholic Mass that leaves the soul hungering for something more.

For example, when I lost my son, I sought out the comfort of the church.  And since my wife is a life-long Catholic, it was to the Mass that we went.  Alas, those non-personal, ritualistic Masses simply did not give me the comfort I sought.  And since I was even more disdainful of those "fire and brimstone" sermons of the Baptists and such, I gave up on seeking comfort in the pews of a church after only seven weeks.  I finally decided the comfort of my soul would have to come from within myself.

So, yes, I could certainly empathize with those English Puritans!  Their souls needed far more improvisation within the church walls, and far less ceremony.

And, as I plow through this book, I know I'll have to set it down at times, for further pondering.  For example, in the larger sense, those Puritans proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing in that they fostered an American work ethic that propelled us to world leadership, and a curse when the churches of both today and yesteryear aligned themselves with the political fools who steer our destiny.

And it's interesting to note that, even as those ancient Puritans and Anabaptists decried the Pope's incestuous relationships with queens and kings, those English in revolt were more than happy to embrace a king or queen or two who might see things their way!

So, thanks, Jerry.  I'm appreciative of this scholarly text, and I'm appreciative of a friend who seeks to keep this borderline old senile's brain churning for a bit longer.

Monday, July 10, 2017

"Hands Down, A Hard Worker"


He sat at the only outside table at the Italian sub shop next to the post office. Defying the Sunday morning heat, he sat, smoking a Camel, his hands huge around that six ounce styrofoam coffee cup.
After I dropped my letter over in the weekend drop box I walked back toward my van. Offered another look at the old gent, wearing khakis and blue checked shirt, then said "aren't you hot sitting out here?"
"Nope", he said. "Grew up in West Texas where this would be called a 'cool spell". 
"That so?" "What kept you busy over in West Texas?" 
"Wildcatting on oil rigs." (I wasn't going to get much out of this guy).
I looked down at his hands. They were huge...scarred, big as a kid's catcher's mitt. 
"Been in Arizona long?"...the familiar greeting in a state that's taken in a couple of million transplants over the decades.
"Nope", he offered.
"Enjoying your retirement now?"
"Not quite", he if every word cost him a dime.
"What kind of work you do?"
"Fix refrigerators", he answered.
I looked down again at those hands. And I believed him, the scars and cuts clear evidence of when the tin snips and cutters slipped.
I wished him well, climbed back in my van, grabbed one more look at him through my windshield. As I pulled out of the parking slot he lit up another Camel and raised that styrofoam cup to his lips....the white of styrofoam nearly lost in those big hands.

Friday, July 7, 2017

"When America Warred With Her Own"


It was the summer of 1932, in the depths of The Great Depression.  43,000 veterans, unable to get work, sorrowfully, so many of them incapable of work due to war injuries and disabilities, came to Washington D.C.  

Starving, many of them came with their families.  They set up tents, built shacks from scrap lumber, even slept under the open stars as they had done at Argonne-Meuse, that deathly battlefield in World War I France.  Some of them marched with two good legs, some of them marched with a wooden stump, and those who still had two good arms were designated to carry our nation's flag.

They came to ask Congress to finally honor the service certificates, the war bonuses promised them so long ago...when soldiers mattered only in war, then forgotten about in peace...just as every veteran of every war can attest.

So, they came to the nation's capitol.  And, not wanting to bother the silk-suited Congressmen over on Capitol Hill, they made their camp on the muddy Anacostia flats just outside the city.  

And in those camps they raised the America flag each day, played reveille, conducted themselves like good soldier should.  And, when night fell, they sat about the campfire and sang the old songs...the songs that helped them get through the savagery of war so long ago.

But those Congressmen over on Capitol Hill didn't like having those veterans so close by....they made them nervous...too many reminders of political promises to soldiers broken without conscience.  

When the day came for Congress to vote on payment of those war bonuses the veterans gathered around  a roped off White House, and a roped off Capitol Hill, then just stood outside...waiting to hear if Congress would pay their bonuses so they might eat and have a place to stay.

Sadly, Congress voted no on early payment of those bonuses.  Seems the government could pay farmers not to plant, and could pay construction tycoons to build skyscrapers and roadways and government buildings...but they just couldn't spare any money to pay the promised war bonuses.

As the politicians voted no, they cocked an ear, awaiting the din of rioting outside.  Instead, they heard those old vets break out into song.  And the song was "America".   As the vets dejectedly retreated from Capitol Hill, back across the Anacostia Bridge, to their tents and shacks built on muddy flats, all that could be heard were the sweet notes of "My country tis of thee....sweet land of liberty...of thee I sing".

The old vets didn't riot....but the politicians still didn't like having them over there.  So the government ordered them rousted out.  

And that would be the job of the Generals, the men with half a yard of colorful ribbons adorning their chests.  So Douglas MacArthur suited up and so did George Patton.  And they rounded up some army units, fired up the tanks, wheeled out the cannon, and paraded out to those muddy flats where the veterans camped.  When the old vets first saw them, they cheered, thinking their fellow soldiers had come out to honor them with a parade.
Sadly, no parade.  Instead the tanks came...and the tear gas, and they plowed their way through the crowd, trampling innocents, rolling over make shift tent and shack alike, injuring many, even taking the lives of a few.

Those old vets, who had won a war for freedom of the western world, could not win this one.  Instead, they hobbled back out to the hinterlands, marching on stumps, catching an empty box car when one was available, left to starve from all those broken promises.

One vet stayed just long enough to confront George Patton, a fellow named Joe Angelo.  Angelo had earned an audience with General Patton...since Joe Angelo had once saved Patton's life on 26 September, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  So, when the two men came face to face, Joe Angelo asked "How could you do this to us, General?"  And Patton stood unfazed, untouched by the sentiment, quickly dismissing the old vet who had once saved his life.

Though it was never recorded what Joe Angelo felt on that sad day, every veteran, of every war, knows exactly how he must have felt.  For we have all been forsaken, with many promises made in the fog of war, forgotten....from Bunker Hill to Appomatix, from the Chosun Reservoir to Khe Sanh...forgotten.

Sad.  Damned Sad.

Monday, July 3, 2017

"If This Old 'Wise Ass' Could Deliver Only One Sermon To The Young"


"If This Old 'Wise Ass' Could Deliver Only One Sermon To The Young"

If I could deliver only one sermon to the young, before I ride off into the sunset, it would be "don't take yourself, or your cultural icons too damned seriously".

And my "sermon" would employ the parable of "The Summer of Love" of 1967. Let me tell you kiddies, I was there, out on Haight Ashbury when that first generation of hippies were openly smoking dope, fornicating in the park, and deriving more meaning than was intended from the hard metallic rendering of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company.