Saturday, November 29, 2008

Death Strikes Out

In what is getting  to be a rather typical Thanksgiving scenario for me, the wings of the Angel of Death were heard briefly fluttering  above my head, only to fly away. The day after I had written about my near death experience with a terrorist in Chicago (well ,he might have been a terrorist) I was sitting at home enjoying my Thanksgiving Day. As usual, my wife was working feverishly, to get together food that we were bringing to a Thanksgiving meal at the home of the parents of my daughter’s boyfriend. She called me away from my annual viewing of the Macy’s Parade and said that I had to go to our local Randall’s in order to pick up some dishwasher detergent which she was out of.


In my whole life I have never purchased dishwasher detergent. I don’t like to buy non food items at the grocery store. I never know what aisle they are on and all of the boxes blend together into kind of a multicolored blur, making it impossible for me to find what I am looking for. The truth of the matter is, I am a bad grocery shopper. As my wife will tell you, no one can spend more money and still bring home less of what they were sent to buy than me. I eschew lists and generally shop as I would for a Fraternity party. So Rayda knew that there was a risk sending me to buy an item which I could not identify. She told me that they were little pellet things and that under no circumstances should I get the gelled kind,


I drove up to the store and saw a number of cars parked by people all of whom had forgotten something or other for the Thanksgiving meal. For some reason, I decided to park in a different spot than I usually do, to the far right of the store, a few doors down, but otherwise, right up  at the curb, a good spot. As I walked toward the front door I noticed that another car had pulled out leaving an even better spot, almost in front of the doors. Someone  in an SUV was pulling into that spot and so I kept walking.


I was about a foot away from the aforementioned parking place when the aforementioned SUV came to a stop in the aforementioned parking spot. I looked to my left and saw a young girl complete her parking job. At least I thought that she had. For some reason she smashed into the curb. I was not too shocked, having been around teen drivers in our neighborhood. But then a funny thing happened, suddenly everything in my line of vision went into vivid color and super slow motion. The SUV was temporarily stopped by the curb, but then proceeded to continue its path with its front tires now resting on the top of the curb. At this point I glanced at the girl who was driving and saw a look of non comprehension on her face. From there, rather than backing up, the SUV lurched forward directly into a pillar, maybe six inches away from me. The was set in some limestone bricks which shattered on impact, throwing brick pieces in every possible direction, some small pieces hitting me. The pillar itself, about a six foot tall missile , shot like a javelin into the wall of the grocery store and bounced back toward yours truly, but stopped short with a loud clank on the sidewalk . The car kept going moving toward the store’s wall when at the last minute the driver recalled that she had brakes. She stopped the car and backed up, into her space, threw her hands over her eyes and began to sob.


People ran from the grocery store, presumably to count bodies. During all of this time I had stood transfixed looking at the SUV. No fear or even shock had entered my thoughts, I just kind of stared for awhile and then aroused myself enough to see if the girl was hurt. She was not. The only casualty was the pillar, and even it looked like it could be repaired.  Damage to the car was superficial. As I continued to stare, my mind still not functioning, a man about my age came over to me and said that he had seen the whole thing. “This is your lucky day” he said to me seriously, “you are lucky to be alive. “ Until then , that thought had not occurred to me. I brushed off his suggestion and went into the store, my mind starting to replay the accident, thinking of ways it might have killed me. I had not even reached the produce section when I thought of three distinct ways it could have killed me, and half a dozen that would have left me anywhere from unfit to eat Thanksgiving dinner to living for years with locked in syndrome.


For several minutes, I aimlessly walked around the store, for some reason picking up a package of organic cashews which I ended up purchasing for $12.00. I finally remembered what I was there for and purchased the dishwater detergent, the kind with the gel, the only kind I had been told not to buy.


I made it home and after telling my near death experience, I was spared the usual balling out I could have expected regarding the detergent. Later that day, upon looking at the cash register receipt, I was yelled at for spending $12 on organic cashews. The fact that I hardly remembered even buying them did not help my defense.


The rest of the day was normal, no, wonderful. We experienced a very gracious thanksgiving meal with our friends, played a round of croquet (I think) and then I was given a ticket to a football game which several of us attended, the home team winning by  a large score. By about 10:30 it was like the incident in the parking lot had never taken place, and really, for all practical purposes, it had not. The only evidence I had of the accident at all would have been a cut from the pieces of brick that hit me, and none of them even broke the skin. Less than half a dozen people had seen the accident, and they had scattered after I had been assured by the one man that I was now living on borrowed time.


So once more I give thanks. It is a special thanks this year that no one, and least of all me, was rammed into the side of a grocery store by an SUV or penetrated by the rebound of a wooden pillar. But I may skip Thanksgiving next year, no sense tempting fate.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Thanksgiving hymns are my favorite holiday songs. Unlike Christmas, pop stars do not put out Thanksgiving recordings. There is no “Madonna Sings Thanksgiving” or “A Family Thanksgiving” as sung by Tony Bennett. For a number of years now, Thanksgiving has almost totally merged with Christmas and New Years into a total “Holiday Season”. All the Christmas decorations are in place a week before Thanksgiving now. It is really a second rate holiday or, at least not a holiday celebrated like Christmas.


Thanksgiving was much different when I was growing up. Stores would never think of decorating until after Thanksgiving was over. Schools spent four weeks in November singing Thanksgiving songs and talking about Pilgrims. The four day Thanksgiving weekend was not a prelude to something special then, it was something special.

I think one of the things that changed Thanksgiving was taking the Thanksgiving songs out of the public schools.


It is surprising to many people to find out that almost all my knowledge of religion came initially from my public elementary school. I did not go to church, and, in those days, at least in the south, the public school operated as somewhat  of an adjunct to the Baptist Church. Some years I had teachers that went all the way around the room every morning having everyone say a prayer (out loud). This would not be tolerated today, primarily because it is against the law. It should not have been tolerated then, because it was in poor taste. The public school system had no reason to teach its pupils about Jesus, but a lot of them did, and prior to about 1963, there was no law against it.


While it was wrong to turn the classroom into a vacation bible school every morning, one good thing did come out of it. I learned a lot of Thanksgiving songs. All Thanksgiving songs are, by definition, religious songs, and I guess you can’t sing them in school anymore. I liked the songs because they were nondenominational, and my buddy Mitchell Brown , the only Jew in my class, could sing them and not feel hypocritical, like he would the next month when we had to sing “God Rest Ye merry Gentlemen”. Maybe that’s a bad example, I don’t know that anyone understands the first line of that song. “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.” The whole line is forced so that the author will have something to rhyme with “Christmas Day”. I have never been all that sure about the refrain either, “O tidings of Comfort and Joy”.


But back to the Thanksgiving songs, they are glorious, and it’s a shame that we only hear them once a year and that they are not played on the radio like the Christmas songs. Think about it, “Dominic the Christmas Donkey” is played hundreds of times more every year than “ Now Thank we all our God” and a half a dozen other true Thanksgiving songs. If you go to church, you are lucky to hear one, and at most two of the songs every year.


A few years ago, my wife and I were in Chicago for Thanksgiving. There is a wonderful Church there that is well over 100 years old called the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Unlike most churches, which long ago ditched the Thursday Thanksgiving service, Fourth Presbyterian still holds one. Rayda and I were excited to be able to go to it,  and I was really looking forward to the music.


So we showed up bright and early at the Church ,which eventually had  a full house. The introductory music was beautiful. Everything I could have hoped for. Then, as the service got started, a young man slipped into the seat next to me in our pew. I did not notice him at first, but saw after a few minutes that he appeared to be of Arab extraction, something quite common in Chicago and every other city of any size in this country. I also noticed that  he had a white wrapped package under his arm.


The young man then began taking notes and checking things off of a checklist. These were not notes  of the sermon, this was before the sermon. I don’t know what he was taking notes of. Maybe the music, I looked back to the front and forgot about the young man. A few minutes later I looked over again, and he was gone. Since he was sitting less than six inches from me I could not understand how he left without my noticing. I did not think anything of it until I looked on the floor and saw that he had placed there, the white package that he had held under his arm .A chill went up my spine.


I’m not particularly proud of it, but my first thought was, “Oh great, an Al Qaeda operative has planted a bomb in this church, directly next to my foot.” My second thought was,”Oh shit, I bet he really did that and I am going to blow up. “ I turned and whispered to Rayda, “did you see that Arab guy sitting next to me ?” “Yes”, she said, did he leave, I did not see him go ?” “Well”, I said,” he left, but he left that funny looking package right there”. Here I pointed to the package with my left foot. My thought was that Rayda would think nothing of it & turn back to the service. What I saw in her eyes was different, What I saw in her eyes was “Shit, that guy probably left a bomb.”


It is one thing to be paranoid. It is quite another to see a perfectly reasonable person like Rayda agree with your paranoia. At his time the collection was starting and a nice woman stuck a plate in front of my face. I grabbed her arm and pulled her to me. “Listen” I said between clinched teeth, “someone left a package here under strange circumstances, don’t you want to check it out ?”  “oh no” she replied “ someone will pick it up after the service.”  “Why don’t you take it with you now ?” I helpfully suggested. “oh no, someone will get it.” was her answer and she pulled her arm out of my tight grasp.


While the package never did explode, it kind of ruined the mood for Rayda and I. I kept thinking what would the newspapers say about this ? Surely they would think that someone must have seen the bomb and could have warned the whole congregation, who was so dumb as to not report the incident ? But I could not make myself stand up and yell “Bomb” and I did not want to start a panic by running out screaming, so I sat there, I heard nothing from the service for the next half hour, no music, no sermon, all I did was stare at a big white oddly shaped package, and listened for ticking coming from its direction..When the service ended, I found another usher and reported the package, the usher smiled knowingly and went back to chatting with an old lady. Rayda and I exited the scene, Unlike Lot’s wife, not looking back.


So now, each Thanksgiving, after I thank God for my family and home, my friends and this good earth. I always add one more thanks to the list. Thank you for not letting me get blown up in Chicago.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Contracts and Covenants

All you need to know about me is that I am on page 400 of a 600 page biography of Martin Van Buren. Probably not the kind of person you want to meet at Starbucks. I should hasten to mention that I am not enjoying the book. It is an overwritten, over researched biography of a particularly vain and silly man who, in a time when Congress was the dominant branch of government, managed to slip into the White House for four fairly uninteresting years. Tedious (or should I say tedium)does not begin to define this reading experience, As near as I can tell, the only thing that Van Buren has to say for himself, or his biographer has to say for him, is that our term “O.K.” came from one of his campaigns (he was referred to by the name of his town, “Old Kinderhook”). Now I will say that most of us use that expression every day. But biographies should be made of sterner stuff.


Why am I reading this water board torture of a book ?  Many years ago, as I began collecting presidential biography, I promised myself that I would read one biography of every American President, if only to justify the money I was spending on the books. As you might imagine from my current subject, I am getting pretty near the end. No one starts with Van Buren (or Tyler or Rutherford B. Hayes). The question is, based on  my current nightly agony. Can I keep the promise to myself ?


Can a person contract with himself ? Not in the real world. A contract presupposes an enforcement mechanism, a court. By the way, that enforcement mechanism has to be one actually here on earth, fear of everlasting damnation does not count. I can’t sue myself to force myself to read this book. If I refuse to finish it, as any rational human being would, I have hurt no one, least of all myself. I may be disappointed in myself that I don’t know what happened to Van Buren the last two hundred pages of his life (actually, I bet he dies) but that is the extent of the harm.


The harder question is the age old question, can a man make a contract with God ? Ancient Hebrew Prophets thought so, they believed that God had an immediate enforcement mechanism for contract breach, usually military defeat. The father of the Reformation (and despicable anti-Semite, but that’s for another blog) Luther, disagreed. In this case I would have to side with Luther. Most contracts made with God are contracts made “in extremis”. ‘Oh God, if you will just get me even a C on this exam I will never stay out all night drinking before a final again”. You lack the free will to be able to bargain with God, all contracts with divine beings are contracts of adhesion. Exactly like the ones you sign with your long distance carrier.


Second, as Job pointed out to God, God is not only the prosecutor, but also the Judge. This argument got him nowhere. When God was confronted with this due process problem he answered Job “out of a whirlwind”. You don’t think that is intimidating ? You try to have a logical discussion with someone and you are answered by a disembodied voice speaking out of a whirlwind ? Worse than God’s method of communication was the message itself. God refused to answer the question as to why life was being so damned unfair to Job. He answered the question with a series of questions, and pretty arrogant ones at that. Things like “Where were you when I set the boundaries of the ocean, when I created the morning star,etc., etc., etc. ?” “Well” as Job should have answered, “what in the world does that have to do with these boils on my butt which I am forced to scratch with pieces of broke pottery, and by the way, where’s my lawyer ?”  But Job did not answer that way, because he knew that it was pointless.


If I can’t make a contract with God, I certainly don’t see how my contract with myself should be worth worrying about. I am leaning heavily toward ditching Van Buren. Let him sue me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead

I watched Olivier’s ‘Hamlet” this morning. I had not seen it in awhile and everyone should see it every few years. While there are plays I like as much as Hamlet, it is my personal opinion that, with the possible exception of the King James translation of the Bible, Hamlet is the highest use ever made off the English language. Hamlet is probably the  highest use that will ever be made of  the English language. Not much of the English  that you read in this blog is going to remind you of it.


There have been lots of Hamlets of course, Sheridan, Irving, Tree, Booth, Mel Gibson (actually underrated)and too many others to mention. I like Olivier best. Only a great actor can overcome the audience preconceived notion of Hamlet, based on the  many readings and viewings of the play a Hamlet audience is likely to have had. Olivier does. Every time. While Olivier’s portrayal of Hamlet is flawless, Olivier’s production of Hamlet is not. Most of the supporting cast is all right, although as Ophelia, Vivian Leigh makes a pretty good Scarlett O’Hara. Actually, that’s not fair to her. Margaret Mitchell’s character of Scarlett O Hara is worth a dozen Ophelia’s , a limp and simpy one dimensional ,virtually useless character that could be played by a tree stump without much of a drop off in the play’s usefulness. Then again, Rhett Butler is no Hamlet and Mitchell did not write in Iambic Pentameter.


What is wrong with the Olivier production is the choice made to write out the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two of Shakespeare’s most remarkable creations. The two courtiers, so much alike that the King referred to them as Rosenstern and Guildencrantz. The two “ average Joe” characters who flow through the play in all their banality while great events are happening all around them and who are eventually killed by events set in motion far  above their sphere. In other words, Olivier chose to write  out you and me.


I guess if you are Olivier that is easy to do. I mean here you are married to Scarlett O’Hara and acknowledged as the world’s greatest living actor, The Shakespearean performer of your generation. You probably don’t give the Rosencrantz and Guildensterns of the world much thought. The petty courtiers, some Duke’s second son or a relative by marriage to the Queen, they are a dime a dozen. They see themselves as elevated above the average Danish riff raff, but Olivier (Hamlet) does not see very much difference. He is moving in a world of murdered Kings and incestuous relationships, spirits walking the earth,  a world where every major character in the play is going to die under tragic circumstances inside of an hour. What’s the harm in cutting out these pedestrian  roles ? It’s not like cutting  out the grave digger or Yorick’s skull (alas). Every story needs the powerful and the weak. The upper middle class we can do without. The movie has to be shortened somehow.


In our time Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have gotten their due. Essays and even plays have been written about them. They are popular in our time because there are so many of them among us. Glorified spear carriers, self aggrandizing professionals who act like they do not dance to the tunes of the great Hamlet because they have a 42 inch flat screen T.V. in their media room. Every doctor, lawyer, MBA or CPA who could talk some bank into giving them  a mortgage in order to live a life above their true means. The country is lousy with them. They are the ones screaming the loudest over our present plight, brought down ,without a thought, by the Investment bankers and entrepreneurs who were wise enough to invent new ways to slice up and package mortgages , sell them as securities and unload them on the  investment funds that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bought for their 401(k).No production of Hamlet could do without them today. They are the invisible bodies in the last scene.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Death of A Hack

“God bless you Texas, and keep you brave and strong”,  Jim Mattox, quoting the state song of Texas in his final summation at the Democratic Gubernatorial Debate, 1990


So Jim Mattox is dead. Mattox was one of the supreme political hacks in the last part of Democratic rule of the state of Texas. I guess the term “hack” is still in use. My father always used the term whenever Hubert Humphrey’s name was mentioned(“that hack !” ).Anyway, even if you don’t know the definition of political hack, like pornography, you know it when you see it. Webster’s probably has an illustration of Mattox next to its “hack” definition.


While “hack” has a negative connotation, not all (or even most) political hacks are bad people. Most have families and homes and pay their taxes. I am sure that Mattox was nice enough. Our paths crossed a few times through the course of his career, and each time was interesting.


In 1982, Mattox got himself elected state Attorney General. I am sure that I voted for him. He rocked along for a few months and managed to get himself indicted for “commercial bribery”. Indictments of state office holders by the Travis County District Attorney’s office has a long and proud history here in Austin. Every couple of years a Speaker of the House or United States Senator  or Congressional Majority Leader or Attorney General  will be indicted by our local D.A., generally for doing something every office holder  in the state does, and then goes back to doing after the inevitable acquittal which follows each indictment


At this particular  time, my law firm was involved  in a lawsuit on behalf of Mobile Oil , as I recall.  The lawyer involved for us then   is probably still practicing and may sue me if he feels I have maligned him here, so he  will be referred to in this piece only as “Tom”. Tom was (is) an outstanding trial lawyer who believed, of course, that he was  even more outstanding than he actually was. In the lawsuit, Tom tried to depose Mattox’s sister for reasons I don’t remember. This led to calls between Tom and Jim where  Tom claimed that Jim had told him to back off his sister or the law firm would be “out of the bond business”. By way of explanation, Mattox, as A.G., had to sign off on the issuance of tax exempt bonds. The firm could expect very little business on issuance of tax exempt bonds if it became known that Mattox would never sign off on them. As I recall, the original conversation between the two was not recorded. I did hear some other recordings where it sounded like Tom was trying to get Mattox to repeat something he had said earlier. Tom kept saying, “so, I guess that means that we are out of the bond business.” And Mattox would not respond.


The indictment generated a lot of publicity and the case went to trial and Mattox was represented by Roy Minton, one of the great criminal lawyers of Texas. As the trial date grew near, Tom, who lived in Houston, called me, in Austin (I was a third year lawyer) and said he needed my help.


Tom:  Wade, I believe that the press will be all over me at the trial. I have to fool them.


Wade: What do you mean ?


Tom: I have a reservation at the Four Seasons Hotel there in Austin. I want you to check in as me and stay there. Then the press will call you and not me.


This conversation went on for some time and I won’t bore you with the details or  the problems which I anticipated, some of which you have probably thought of yourself. That afternoon at 5:30 I presented myself to the Four Seasons as “Tom” and then handed them my credit card with my own name on it.


Clerk : It says Wade Porter, I thought that you were Tom.


Wade: I may have misspoken, what I meant to say was that I am checking in for Tom.


Clerk: will you be staying with him ?


Wade: Well, I will be there until he gets here and I have no idea when that will be.


Somehow, I was given a key to the room and walked into a very nice suite, suddenly realizing that I had nothing to do and did not know how long I would be staying. So I took off my coat and opened the mini bar. I drank and ate snacks and watched pay per view movies  for about six hours when I finally decided that no press was going to call. So I went home. I never heard from Tom about this again. I did have some trouble getting reimbursed for my large bill by the firm, but that worked out.


Mattox was acquitted, of course. Tom’s time on the stand was not so good. The thing that I recall best was him insisting to Roy Minton that “everybody knows” that I am a better lawyer than Mattox. That kind of testimony never endears yourself to a jury.


My second brush with Mattox was as a result of my wife working with a woman  whom he happened to be sleeping with. This was right before he ran for Governor and so there was some hope that my wife’s friend would be First Lady of Texas, although no one, except perhaps the potential First Lady, took that very seriously.


What happened was that this co-worker of my wife’s somehow got herself made a contestant on the popular T.V. game show “Wheel of Fortune”. Rayda traveled out to California for the taping of the show and got to see Vanna White who was very popular at the time. On the show, you can also hear her cheering her friend on as the wheel was spinning. After their return, there was viewing party for the show at a local tavern. Mattox showed up and drank beer with  us. He seemed very quiet and sullen (like he was slumming) and soon after that dumped my wife’s friend. That meant that she never got to be First Lady, but then again, she is not a widow this morning either.


Mattox starting losing all of his political races after that. He became somewhat of a comical figure at Democratic functions because he would always turn up at them with a big yellow dog he had acquired (“yellow Dog Democrat”, get it ?). In the year 2000, Bill Bradley, the old New York Knick and New Jersey Senator decided to run for President and I got invited to a  breakfast for him at (of course) the Four Seasons. There were less than fifty people there, you may recall that Bradley did not get very far in his bid. I was sitting next to my Congressman, the late Jake Pickle who by then was very short sighted and quite hard of hearing. Bradley came by each table and introduced himself, we ate some breakfast and we were just about to hear him speak when someone came through the back door, quite late.


Everyone looked to the back, including Senator Bradley. Pickle turned to me and said, “ I can’t see who that is.” I told him, as the figure drew nearer that it was Jim Mattox. The room was silent, waiting for Mattox to sit down. As he came closer, Pickle exclaimed, in what I guess was an effort at a stage whisper, but which was heard by everyone in the room, “ Mattox, that’s Mattox ? why he’s fat as an old hog. “ which, by then, he was. Fifty faces turned red, fifty people bit their tongue and stared at what remained of their breakfast. Mattox, to his credit, sat down smiling and said nothing. That was the last time I was ever around Mattox, but I was thinking this morning, that that was the greatest display of dignity I had seen him make in the twenty or so years I used to run into him. It’s not too bad a way to be rememebered.God bless you Texas, and God Bless you too Jim.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Even a Caveman could do it

I’m a Neanderthal man,

You’re an Neanderthal girl.

Let’s make Neanderthal love,

In a Neanderthal world.     “Neanderthal Man”, the Hotlegs, 1970



The Austin American Statesman ran a front page story touting the distinct possibility, nay probability, of being able to recreate Wooly Mammoths and Neanderthal Man, and possibly anything else that lived less than 60,000 years ago. As usual, it is just a matter of money. Scientists at Penn State claim that it can probably be done for $10 million. Of course, Penn State has Coach Joe Paterno under contract, a man who is already 60,000 years old, so they can probably do it cheaper than other research institutions.


Ten million dollars used to sound like a lot of money to me. That was before I found out that a credit card company could just announce that they were really a bank and be given $25 BILLION dollars by the Federal Reserve. Believe me, I’m going to try the same scam by switching our law firm to a bank. Ten million is not all that much for someone who wants to create a Wooly Mammoth and show it around the country at $5 a head. I’d participate in a syndicate to do that right now, except I know that Coca Cola would offer $ 20 million if they could engineer the mammoth so that it had “Have a Coke” branded into its’ wooly hide.


The real story, however is the possible recreation of the Neanderthal Man. I know what you are thinking, what is the big deal about a Neanderthal man ? We have had two of them running the country for the last eight years. (drum rim shot, “ I’m here all week folks”). Actually that is not true, there is no way a Neanderthal could have performed that badly.


How would one go about creating a Neanderthal Man ? It has something to do with genomes. Genomes is a word that you always think that you are mispronouncing because it looks like the word “gnome” where, for some reason we drop the g. If you drop the g on genomes however, you would have enomes and no one would know what you are talking about. As opposed to genomes themselves, which the average blog reader is so familiar with. But back to the Neanderthal Man. Richard Doerflinger , an official at the U.S. Conference of Bishops says that lab recreation of a Neanderthal would not be “ethical”. What he means is that it would be opposed to Catholic teaching, like for instance, birth control pills and other artificial means of contraception. So it would seem that we are stuck. We have been fighting for years over abortion and stem cell research, no one has the stomach to challenge the Pope on the right to clone a Neanderthal. (no, I’m not going there, that joke is too easy).


But not so fast, scientists say  there is a way around all of this. An alternative approach could be used whereby you use not a human genome, but the genome of a chimp which is 98% the same as humans (the other 2% makes them cuter).The chimp’s genome (genomes?) would be gradually modified until it was close enough to that of a Neanderthal. The embryo would then be brought to term in a surrogate  chimp. This sets  up all kinds of possible situation comedies on T.V. “My Mother the Chimp”, etc. but, more importantly, gives us something close to our Neanderthal man. I don’t know what you do with him when you get him, experience leads me to believe that he will end up being sold to the highest bidder to be displayed beside a Wooly Mammoth. There will be a legal question as to whether he is a human and therefore entitled to the protections of the legal system (Gog vs. United States) and that will give that Court T.V. channel fodder for the next couple of years. Just yesterday all of this seemed like science fiction. Now as quick as Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs can say “Wolllllllly Bully !” it is upon us. The Brave New World.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


My personal paper of record, the New York Daily News, has taken to referring to President elect Obama as “Bam”. Since the a in his name is pronounced “ah”, I suppose that it is possible that The Daily news means to call him “Bomb” as in O Bomb ah. I think, however that they mean to refer to him as Bam, as in the sound a child makes when pretending to shoot a gun. Putting aside the chance of confusing  our next president with the adopted son of Barney and Betty Rubble, I am not all that crazy about this abbreviation. To begin with, how much of an abbreviation is really needed  ? I mean Obama is only five letters, calling him Bam does not save much ink in a headline.


But the part that really bothers me is that the nickname is undignified. We did not call Secretary of State Colin Powell “Pow”, despite the fact that he was a former army General and newspapers could have saved three letters by doing so, 50% more savings than from  “Bam”. We never called Dick Cheney ‘Chain” primarily because the term “that asshole” always came to mind first, but partly because it does not fit the dignity of the office of Vice President (O.K. stop laughing, I could barely type that myself with a straight face).


American Journalism, at least for Democrats ,has always preferred initials,FDR, JFK, LBJ, SOB, uh, I mean Clinton. Actually, Clinton was called “Bill”, Eisenhower was called “Ike” and the current embarrassing occupant of the White House is often referred to as “W”, when he is not called dim bulb, moron or other names which are no longer used by the American Psychiatric Association to signify exceedingly low intelligence quotients.


I know why the Daily News likes Bam. It is because of its alliterative value. “Bam Bombs Baghdad”, “Bam Balances Budget”, and in the 2012 election, the inevitable “Bam Blasts Barracuda”. But the Daily News does not need alliteration to get people to read their paper, that’s what they use blood, sex and lotto  for. Their greatest political headline had very little alliteration “Congress to New York:  Drop Dead “. This proves that they can turn a phrase without the need of butchering a name or stringing a whole bunch of “b’s” together. Besides, we can pull out the old Irish headlines with a name like Obama. “ Obama O’bombs Baghdad”. There’s a headline that would do the Daily News proud.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The economy of words

C is for cookie,

that’s good enough for me.

C is for cookie,

that’s good enough for me.

C is for cookie,

that’s good enough for me,

Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie start with C.        Cookie Monster, “ Sesame Street”



I was reliably informed that the word soiree was misspelled on my law firm’s Christmas Party invitation. What the word soiree was doing on the invitation I will never know. It is not going to be a soiree, for the simple reason that no French people will be there. You can’t have a soiree without the French. Just like you can’t have a surrender without the French Army (unless you can get the Italians).We use too many words in this country. By that I mean not only too many different words, like soiree and café au lait (which is actually a phrase), but just too many words period. A careful reader might notice that my use of the word “period” in the last sentence was redundant, there having also been a “period” placed at the end of the sentence. Why this plethora of words ? You see, there I go again. Why does the English language need the word plethora, a Greek word, when there are plenty of Anglo-Saxon words which can convey (or better, which mean) the same thing ? More importantly, why did I just use 150 words for an idea I could have conveyed in the following manner / “Americans use too many words”. There, that would have saved you 147 words to have to read before you deleted this blog. “Blog”, who the hell needs that word ?


It is this use and misuse of words which have been my downfall. When I started this blog, I was only going to write 400 words a day. As I warmed to the task, the  blogs started getting longer and longer. 600-750 word blogs are pretty standard for me now. I have had some that have gone over 1200 words which is not as much a blog as a readers death march.


The whole point of the 400 word blog was to write something that could be easily read, even upon the frequent occasion when the content of the writing lacks any merit at all (most mornings). You don’t feel like you have wasted too much time when you have only read 400 words. 1200, now that’s another kettle of fish all together. What kind of fish, or what kind of kettle for that matter I don’t know, but it is all together different.


The best American song ever written is set out above this piece. In the classic, “C is for Cookie”, the Cookie Monster was able to convey three strong ideas with the use of only 12 words. That is economical writing. If it were prose you would cut out the repetition, but the repetition  is necessary for a song. Note all the words, strong Anglo-Saxon words like cookie. The Cookie Monster did not sing about a biscotti, nor would he have considered doing so. First of all, biscotti starts with a “b” and it would not have fit. Second, the Cookie Monster’s audience would not have known what a biscotti was. That has been my problem. I have not been writing for my audience. People who read blogs don’t want to spend any real time reading the, If they wanted to do that they’d buy a book and read something worthwhile. I am going to make a concentrated effort to cut these blogs down to size, right after I finish this one.



Friday, November 14, 2008

Giant Loss for Austin

James Stanish died in his sleep Sunday Evening. If there was any justice in the world he would have died at his grill ,flipping one of the million or so hamburger patties he must have flipped in his life at Top Notch Burgers. As it is, the little family drive in has been left reeling, not knowing whether it can reopen. As his mother, the cashier there for as long as the place has been open said, “he was the backbone”. He takes to his grave with him the Top Notch secret sauce recipe. I suppose that that can be reverse engineered if they have any of it in the refrigerator, but they can’t replace James.


My family and II have been eating at Top Notch for almost three decades, and it has been open a lot longer than that. James was almost always behind the grill though and I did not have much interaction with him. The longest conversation I ever had with him was when he caught me removing trash from my table after I finished. “Hey” he said, “What are you doing ? This isn’t McDonalds, we have bush boys.” Forty years ago, James had been one of those bus boys at .50 an hour. He naturally evolved to running the place and as far as family operations go, this one was truly a family operation. Long, back breaking days for the Stanish family which probably resulted in an early death for James at 52. He also ate a double patty “Longhorn Special” everyday according to the paper, so while he enjoyed lunch, it probably was not that good for him. I can’t convey what it would mean to this town were Top Notch to close.


The hamburger is to America what the taco is to Mexico, the sausage is to Germany and Poland and the potato was to Ireland. It is our national food, it ties us together as a common people. It is the one item of food we would miss the most were we spirited off by an alien spaceship. The closing of top Notch would be yet another sign that the day of the hamburger place is over. Totally replaced by the shiny McDonalds, Burger King, Jack in the Box and a dozen other fast food places. The distinction between going to get a hamburger and stepping out for fast food, already blurred will soon be broken. No child having eaten all of his hamburgers at a fast food place has any idea what the world was like when you went to Johnny’s or the Chuck Wagon or Prince’s Drive In to get a burger. It was not served fast, you did not get a toy, but the meal was worth it. Those days are drawing to a close and it is said. In a year where the Federal Government has earmarked 700 billion dollars to save a bunch of folks who, truth be told, probably don’t deserve to be saved, couldn’t we save just a little for our country’s remaining hamburger stands ?If they close, I am going to miss James’s burgers, his broasted chicken and his home made fried pies. I am going to miss his bus boys on the inside, and pulling up to the place and ordering outside, having the little tray brought to my car. I am going to miss his ketchup pump machine which means  that I do not have to tear open three or four of those little ketchup packages with my teeth. But most of all I will miss the Standish family, working together as a unit, serving a wonderful product and charging a reasonable price. Thank you James, I’m sorry that I never said that to you before.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Horse is a Horse (of course, of course !)

Flounce-“To struggle like a horse in mire” p. 705  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged dictionary



The late Justice Felix Frankfurter often used the term ‘quagmire” in his opinions, the best known being a dissent in Baker v. Carr, the one man, one vote case. So often did he use the term that when once asked to define a quagmire he replied, “I’m not sure what one is, but I know that I don’t want to get caught up in one.”   In its truest sense, a quagmire is no more than miry ground. I can’t tell, from what I have read, that a quagmire is any worse than your garden variety mire and so I’m not sure that the word has any usefulness at all. In the sense that Frankfurter like to use it however, it meant being placed in a difficult position, “as one sinking in the mire”. Again, Frankfurter could have said that he did not want to be caught up in mire, or as we often say, “get mired down”. But Frankfurter liked the word quagmire, and so there we are.


I bring this up because I read a blog recently which had the title “to flounce or not to flounce”. I was not sure of the exact definition of flounce and so I researched it. It was one of those words where, if I saw someone actually flounce, that is if a person were flouncing, or “flouncing around”, I think that I would recognize the activity and label it properly. “Wow” I’d say, “look at old Joe over there flouncing around” and I think that no one would say, “No, that’s not a true flounce, he’s just kind of wiggling.”In order for a human to flounce, he/she has to “swing, turn or jerk” with a “violent effort”. I am pretty sure that arms have to be flying (and not, say akimbo) in order for a movement to be a true flounce.


The interesting thing about flounce is that it apparently came from a term which was used for when a horse got caught up in the mire (or as Frankfurter would  have said, “quagmire”)and was struggling. It is unclear to me if the word referred to the normal slow going which any horse would experience when running through mud, or if it referred to a horse truly straining for life and limb as it went down in “quicksand”, i.e. a death struggle. I tend to think  that it was the former. “I was out on old Bobtail last night and we were making good time until he had to flounce through the mire. That slowed us down considerably.”

That really makes more sense than say, “I came upon old Bobtail last night flouncing around in the mire, within ten minutes he went under, poor thing.”


And yet what argues against my assumption is that it makes no sense for there to be a different term which means being slowed down in the mire, as opposed to being  slowed down through an act of struggling through anything else. If the word simply meant “slowed down by struggling”, we would say that “Old Bobtail was flounced (or was flouncing) by having to cut through a thick patch of woods, off the trail.”or, “because he was loaded down by a 400 pound cowboy”. But we know that that is not what flounce means. You have to have some mire to create a flounce, at least a horse does. I am, however, sure, that despite what Webster’s says, a horse can flounce not just through mire, but through quagmire, bog, swamps, wetlands, lagoons and probably even deep mud. Perhaps even a racehorse flounces when the track is very wet and muddy. I have never heard that, “Here comes Secretariat, flouncing down the stretch”, but I suppose that it is a term which might be used at a racetrack.


Now here you are, caught up in a quagmire of quite a different sort. No flouncing necessary, just hit that big  x  in the upper right portion of your screen.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Recycle of Life

My wife burst into our bathroom as I was drying myself off from the morning shower. She had the glad tidings that our long promised recycling tub had arrived. This gift from the city has been expected for some months now, and Rayda has grown quite impatient for its delivery. For reasons which will be explained below, I was at best ambivalent about the prospect, but I put on a happy face for her sake.


Austin has, of course, had recycling containers for many years. They were little blue plastic tubs that could be carried out each week with the recyclable materials. In an effort to cut jobs, Austin has replaced the old recycling buckets that could easily be lifted by a human to enormous plastic rolling recycle containers that could, in a pinch, be used at a mortuary. This was done so that the city could buy a bunch of trucks which would be needed to lift these behemoths and dump them in the large truck bed. Since few people were able to even fill up their small buckets, this seemed a bit drastic. The city made up for that oversight by deciding to run recycling every two weeks instead of the convenient once a week. Then they announced that the recycled material would be trucked up to the Dallas area (a 420 mile round trip) to be offloaded. That way the city could waste the maximum amount of petroleum at the same time that they were taking away the only profitable labor that many of our local homeless are able to do, pick up aluminum cans and sell them. In Austin this is what we call a win/Wynn situation in honor of our mayor, Will Wynn.


At this point I should admit to having a distinctly bad attitude toward recycling. It started, as most bad attitudes do, from pure selfishness. It was a lot easier to put all refuse into one receptacle, as had been done since time began, than it has been to separate , into identifiable groups, the things that we throw away. For years I have been a reluctant recycler, often dropping known garbage items into recycle bins rather than having  look around for the proper receptacle. My attitude hardened in to early 1990s when the New York Times Magazine printed a cover feature on the futility of recycling. The thing I remember best about that article is the analysis of what was needed in order  to do away with the solid waste problem in this country for a thousand years or more. The idea was simple, which Is one reason that I was able to grasp it. The author said that a hole could be dug in Nevada or Utah or another one of those states where we used to test nuclear weapons. I don’t recall the exact size of the hole, it was big alright, but not of any size that would shock the conscience of even a resident of one of those God forsaken states. A system of railroads would then be developed to take all of our solid waste out there to dump it. If someone really wanted anything, they could set up shop out there and segregate it as it came through. No muss, no fuss, no molded plastic rolling containers that I have to schlep out to the curb every other week. Like all sensible ideas, this one died without even a national discussion.


No one should really be against recycling. The entire earth is one recyclable system, the water goes up, the rain comes down, that type of thing. In the end, this blog is nothing but a containerless recycling bin, floating in the ether, retelling old tales and revamping old arguments to sell to  new, but more often, the same old audiences. In the end, every  idea, good or bad, is recycled, just as history seems to recycle itself, leaving us in the same messes our grandparents and their grandparents before them found themselves in. So I will bend to the inevitable and duly push our new bin out to the curb every other week, knowing that the plastic water bottle I see hauled away may come back some day as a hospital tube which will help to save my life, or a piece of a child’s toy, carelessly left on the sidewalk, which I will trip over on my daily walk. As the Lord makes his rain fall on both the good and the evil, the recycling of life is always neutral.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Major Award

Swede: What is that thing ?


The Old Man: It’s a Major Award


Swede : Shucks, I wouldn’t know that, it looks like a lamp


The Old Man: It is a lamp you nincompoop, it’s major award, I won it


Swede: Damn, hell you say, a major award, and you won it ?


The Old Man: Mind power Swede, mind power.    “ A Christmas Story”, 1983



I have mentioned my brother here on a few occasions. He is somewhat younger than me and only marginally better looking. He also happens to be one of the few people I admire, and among those people I personally  know, there is no one for whom I have more respect. Recognizing this quality, the Alumni Association of the University for which he works gave him their annual “Hallmark Award” at a ceremony in Houston on Friday night. I normally try not to attend ceremonies where I am reminded of my own personal awardless status, but my mother promised a free buffet at the dinner and that was worth the drive.


So there I was with about four people I know and 300 others I don’t know, standing and applauding my brother as he posed for the cameras holding the award. He also is being honored with his name inscribed on a tile outside in the Houston Baptist University Walk of Fame. The President of the University stood up and said some nice things about him and everyone shook his hand, even me, my jealousy firmly in check. I could go on and on describing the reasons that my brother deserves this honor, but several people did that for me Friday night and I see no reason to belabor the point. A university does not carve your name in tile unless you are pretty special (or have dropped a million dollars on them).


No, I think that what we must do from this point forward, in what is, after all, MY blog, is talk about the unfairness of life which has , thus far, left we unawarded.

I have finished first (or close) on a couple of occasions. In fourth grade, my story was voted best in the class. That same year I jumped 86 inches in the standing broad jump, also a class best. Some years I was the tallest boy in my classroom, although Valarie Cortez was always several inches taller. My Little league team, the Jets, went 13-1 one year and won the Junior League Championship (I was a part time right fielder).Now and then, when I rotate off of some board or committee, I will get some kind of a bullshit plague, but that’s for time served, not for anything special. It’s like the suit they give you when you leave prison.


Recently, I was named a semi-finalist in a Poetry contest and it took several days before I realized that everyone who entered was a semi-finalist. I once finished third in a humorous interpretation contest at the recently decertified Sam Houston High School. The year before last, I won our firm’s bracket contest during the NCAA basketball tournament, but the guy holding the money had it stolen before I could spend it. So I am not totally without honors. But none of these are “Major Awards”, where they have a dinner and call you to the front and you receive a standing ovation and a beautiful clock and everyone crowds around you and tells you how richly you deserve it. Just once in my life, I’d like a major award, especially one where they expected me to give an acceptance speech, so that I could be humble and glow with gratification while I tried to quiet the crowd so that I could thank each and every one of them. Is that really too much to ask ?


Long ago there was an actor (of sorts) with the improbable name of Red Buttons. You might recall his supporting role in the “Hank Williams Story” starring George Hamilton, and his penultimate line “They say his heart just stopped” right before the audience breaks into song. Buttons was discovered to be a terrible actor before he was old enough to retire. He spent the next fifteen years showing up on the Johnny Carson Show where he perfected a routine called “never had a dinner” where he complained about his lack of honors. Johnny and my father may have been the only two people in America who enjoyed this long going  routine.As I get older though, I realize how Red Buttons felt. Everyone would like a night in the limelight. But as the bible tells us, many are called, few are chosen, and if Red and I end up without an award, at least some deserving people got one. My brother is at the top of that list.




Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Requests Recount

President Elect Obama stunned the nation this evening by requesting a recount in certain states  in Tuesday’s national election. Emerging from an all day meeting with Secretary of Treasury Paulson, which had been billed as “a no holds barred candid and honest look at the state and future of the American economy”, Obama literally ran to a bank of microphones and asked for a recount in the states of Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He also announced that he  has conceded in the two states where vote counting was still ongoing, North Carolina and Missouri.


Several reporters asked Obama  why he wanted recounts in states he had won. Obama replied, “ I just have not felt right about some of the results, take Virginia, I got more votes in some of those counties than I got hate mail from them. How can that be ? You are telling me that overnight all of those crackers decided to switch their votes to a black, Muslim, socialist. Oops, I should not have said that, oh well, the cats out of the bag now.” When asked how a recount in Ohio could overcome his six figure lead, Obama replied. “ I’m not saying that there was a miscount, I think that there could have been  some simple addition mistakes made by the tabulators. It’s like with my daughter Sasha, she is a whiz at arithmetic, but the other day I was checking her homework and she had forgotten to carry a two over to the “tens” column. It is that kind of careless mistake that I am worried about. I remember the first time I took the LSAT, I colored in the bubble for the answer to number six in the question seven column. That made every one of the rest of my answers wrong on the sheet, even though I knew the right answer. These elections are a lot like the instant replay rule in the NFL, people don’t care how long it takes, or really which side prevailed, they just want us to get it right ! That’s all this is about.”


Obama repeatedly denied that his daylong meeting with Paulson had troubled him and defended his wife’s mid day flight to Chicago to “talk to their stock broker and withdraw all their savings from their bank. “ I just started thinking during my meeting with the Secretary that I should not be in the stock market, there are too many conflicts of interest now that I am President. As far as the bank withdrawal is concerned, we are moving to Washington and need to establish a banking relationship here, I guess we could have wire transferred the money rather than have Michelle carry it all back in her purse, but we may need to write some checks while we are in D.C. before a transfer can be done. I told Michelle to go ahead and go back to Chicago today to wrap that all up and be sure to bring the cash to D.C.”.


At the impromptu press conference, Secretary Paulson announced that he had turned down the President-Elects’ request that he “stay on for a few months”. “I hate to turn down our incoming President” Paulson said, “but I have some elective day surgery that I have been putting off, there is a noncancerous mole on my back that irritates me when I sit in a chair. My dermatologist has been after me to get it removed.” Paulson is one of eleven people that have turned down the position of Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration. “Some jobs are just tough to fill”, Obama conceded. Speculation for the position is now centering on Obama’s High School economics teacher, a retiree in Hawaii known only as “Mr. Nelson”.


When asked about the recount request, President Bush, who was playing in a three day  handball tournament at the White House gym, told reporters, “That’s news to me, last I heard from the guy was when he called me at lunch time during his meeting with Paulson, he asked if I could remain as President through the end of the school year while he got his daughters settled in up here and got unpacked. I told him that I’d like to help but I have already promised a bunch of old drinking buddies of mine from Midland that I would do a road trip with them in January. My dad has not let me see these guys since before I was Governor of Texas and I want to show them New Orleans and how well it has come back since Katrina.” Bush winked. “I told him that he might want to call Cheney, he likes it around here.”


The President-Elect meets with Defense Secretary Gates today in what is being billed as a “no holds barred candid and honest look at the American military position in Iraq and Afghanistan”. Obama has announced a probable press conference after that meeting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Arc of History: The Making of the President 2008

“How long ? not long, because the  arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King, Montgomery , Alabama, March 25, 1965


“ It is the answer that led those who’ve been told for so long and by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve, to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.” Barrack Obama, Chicago, Illinois, November 4, 2008


The arc of morality, invoked by King after the crossing of the Selma bridge 43 years ago, became, at last, the arc of history last night as Americans crossed the last bridge together and elected Barrack Obama President of the United States. Five years after Barrack Obama was born, it was still illegal for his mother and father to live together as man and wife in the state of Virginia. Last night that state helped make the son of that union our President.


The sound you heard last night was an end to the 1960s, an end to the bitterness and rancor that has gone on between the baby boomers for these last 40 years. It is not the end of partisanship, but it is perhaps the end of the my generations internal wars, or at least to their relevance. I supported Obama just for that reason. I thought that another Clinton in the White House would be the same as painting a bulls eye on it. As I have said before, my generation blew it. We elected two Presidents, one was one of the five worst Presidents in the history of our Republic, leading our country close to moral bankruptcy with regard to its conduct of foreign affairs, and literal bankruptcy with regard to its stewardship of the economy., The other guy got impeached for lying under oath to a Federal Grand Jury after conducting an illicit Oval office affair with a young intern. I guess we were right all of those years ago, don’t trust anyone over thirty.


But today is not the day to look back in anger. Today is the day to look ahead. It is true that there are immense problems (or as the politicians say “challenges”) facing us. But I think that the choice made last night, of optimism for the future, will help us face down the problems that we must admit, we, ourselves, have created. I have nothing against John McCain, but it would not have helped the tenor of discussion to have our next President elected on a campaign of name calling, mudslinging and cynical manipulation of the party base through the choice of an unqualified person as his running mate. O.K., maybe  I do have something against John McCain, but I’m going to get over it. Fast.


The sheer size of the baby boom generation means that we will never be irrelevant. As the great Gary Marfin once said, “We may not always run the country, but radio stations will still have to play Percy Sledge singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” for as long as we are breathing.” We had our moment in the sun, it was not a good moment, but there are no do overs, in politics or in life. I am hopeful (that word again) that the next generation can, in the words of Twain “Dream other dreams, and better.”  God Bless the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

“ Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. Some think it the voice of God.”  Mark Twain



Public opinion becomes public decision today. As of this morning, the networks have already decided for the voters, much as those who set the line in the Texas/Texas tech game last week decided for the football fans that Texas would win. Since I called this race some weeks ago, actually months ago, I have little reason to complain. But “little reason” is not “no reason”. Millions and millions of people are watching the media coronate Obama this morning, maybe four or five read my blogs where I picked Obama to win (52% of the popular vote, 300 electoral votes).The media is taking all of the drama and fun out of this thing. I know they are excited, I’m excited. It is an election of historic proportions. As I said months ago, it goes beyond transitional into transformational, perhaps even transfigurational, if you believe some of Obama’s supporters. But let’s let the people vote first. There is plenty of time to talk about history and pat ourselves on the back for our society’s maturation.


I set out last week to write about all of the election nights I have been through. I fell short by 28 years, but it was not through lack of trying. I will get back to it someday. I look forward to tonight with the anticipation of an eight year old going to bed on Christmas Eve. Win or lose, I always feel that way about election night. Even in the grimmest of elections I could hope against hope. Before I went home in 1984, my friend Bruce Bennett called me with hopes of a “Harry Truman style upset.” Hope was dashed pretty early that night, and got dashed and dashed again through poor Mondale’s 49 state loss. But I survived, the Republic continued, and life went on in the usual way. The last part of that sentence is not so hopeful, but there it is.


Should Senator Obama win tonight, the Red Sea is not going to part, the wandering in the desert will not be over, but people will feel hope. For some it will be more hope than they have felt for many years. For a good number, more hope than they have ever felt or even thought that they would ever feel. That will be the thrill of an Obama election, not the victory of a party, but a victory of hope. For the next two years, and maybe longer, this country is going to need all of the hope it can get, from whatever source it can find it. My vote was based on the fact that I did not see McCain to be the kind of person who could convey that hope in tough times. People who own seven houses tend to see things through rose tinted glasses of champagne, in good times and in bad. I have nothing against the rich, I just don’t think that now is the time to vote for one.


In looking back over this short missive, I see that I have used the word “hope””, or it’s derivative eight times. Now nine ! That kind of repetitiveness is not very good writing, but it’s good politics, it’s good policy and, in the end will be a very good feeling, a very necessary feeling for what we face. Good luck to both candidates and more importantly, to their supporters tonight. Remember the words of Keats who reminds us that even great defeat can be glorious: “Bright is the diadem, boundless the sway, or Kingly the death which awaits us this day.”

Monday, November 03, 2008

letter to my cousins




Dear Don and Carolyn,


I hope this letter finds you and your families healthy and happy. I was doing some volunteer work for the Texas Book Festival this last weekend. I picked  up historian Robert Caro and his wife Ina at the airport and drove them around town for a couple of days. I have been a lifelong reader of political biography, and was greatly looking forward to spending some time with them. While at the baggage carrousel, Bob Caro asked me if I had been in Texas all of my life. I replied that I had and told him that he had interviewed and quoted one of my aunts  in his first LBJ  book.  He naturally asked her name and before I could get past “Ella” he stopped me and said “Ella Sorrell was your Aunt ?” He then turned to Ina and said , “Ina, Wade is Ella Sorrell’s nephew !”. He then told me that this was an interesting coincidence and that he had a story to tell me when we got in the car.


As we were driving into town he told me that he had just typed your mother’s name about two weeks ago. It seems that he is working on a memoir of his experiences writing about Johnson and had mentioned Aunt Ella as one of the people who helped him the most in his understanding of the man. He was kind enough to say that “Ella helped me more than Robert McNamara. “ I was about to say that Ella helped the entire country more than Robert McNamara simply by not pushing the country into Vietnam, but I decided that it was such a nice compliment that I would  let it go.



His memory of their conversation was remarkable and I will relate it here in some detail. I assume that you have heard it from the other party, but you will enjoy hearing this. Caro began by asking Ella some questions about their days at Southwest Texas, as an aside the told me that unlike virtually everyone else he talked to from that class, “your Aunt kind of liked him.” After a few questions (which apparently betrayed some ignorance on his part) Ella told him, “I can see that you have not done your homework.” This conversation happened over twenty five years ago, and he was still very amused by this statement, he repeated it several times. She then asked if he had looked at the SWT Yearbook of their Senor year. He indicated that he had a copy but that it was a large book and that it had not given him much help. At this point, as I understand it, she asked him if he had noticed some missing pages. He had not. She was the first to explain to him that there had been numerous negative references to Johnson in the yearbook, but that the President of SWT had had all of the pages containing those comments physically removed from the book, after only a few copies had gotten out. It was apparently this story which was the key to open up many lines of inquiry which helped him get a handle on Johnson’s personality. As I mentioned above, this helped him so much that he is apparently  paying special tribute to her in his memoir.


What made the story so special to me was hearing my Aunt’s voice telling this fellow, “I can see that you have not done your homework.” Can’t you just hear her saying that,  ? a comment so pregnant with many emotions ;humor and bemusement, gentle chastisement, mystery and the hint that she could and  would help him set the record straight. Caro thought that the comment, and what followed, were statements of “integrity”.


Toward the end of our visit, I asked Caro if he would inscribe some books to you. This may have been the most interesting thing that happened, because it tells so much about the man. After asking some questions about each of you, he took the books and said, “This is special, I need to think a bit.” He did not say anything for a few minutes, but simply thought. Finally, he began to write. When he was finished he handed it to me, proud of his work, and asked what I thought. I thought that it was wonderful. Then he turned to the back seat where his wife was and asked, “Ina, do you want to see what I wrote ?” This I really liked. Can’t you see him over  the last quarter century, turning to her, his only researcher, and asking “Ina, do you want to see what I wrote ?” in hopes of her approval ? It was a wonderful moment.


Since your mother was so prominently mentioned in the first of his books, I assume that you have been following the series, and may well have the volume I am sending to you. I think, however, that you will enjoy the inscription as much as I did. I think of both your mother and father frequently, perhaps more so since my father died. Like Caro, I owe them a great deal and I am sorry that I am just now getting around to telling you.