The first television I saw was displayed in the front window of an appliance store on Main Street in Pawhuska, Oklahoma in 1950. It had a real wood cabinet which swallowed the 9” screen. The picture was a blurry black and white that showed the same Indian Chief test pattern for hours. It just sat there as a continuously gasping crowd of gawkers oohed and aahed. I was unaware that I was in the presence of the beginning of the end of meaningful conversation, the reading of books and independent judgment based on individual investigation and analysis.
These insights appeared to me after almost 70 years because Peg and I have spent the past two weeks without access to television. I mention this woman I found living with me because until a couple of weeks ago our conversations had for years, especially the last two years, consisted mainly of “What is a Kardashian and what is it that they are doing?” Or, “Can you believe what those bobbing heads, most of whom seem to be twenty years old and chosen for their hairstyles, just stated as fact?”
With the T.V. out of the picture Peg and I have made some startling discoveries. It turns out we both enjoy getting out of our matching recliners and going outside. There is a lot to do out there. And we discovered that rather than watching inane commentary from screaming news pundits we seem to have some common interests, three children and seven grandchildren for instance, who are themselves engaged in some fascinating endeavors. Well, at least when they are not glued to some T.V. program such as Duck Dynasty or The View or on a cell phone.
Another discovery I made about Peg is she knows quite a bit about non-television things. These past two weeks we have wondered together how long the ten-thousand-year Egyptian dynasty would have made it had Egyptian children been educated by re-runs of Howdy Doody instead of mentoring by Imhotep. By the way, according to Wikipedia, Imhotep means “The one who comes in peace”, a pretty good mantra for civilizations wishing to build more than hamburger stands and hoping to last more than a few years.
Now, I know the smart people who read this column, and only smart people do, have picked up on a logical lacuna in my diatribe against television. How is reliance on the Internet any better? Well, it isn’t; it’s worse. In fact, what little bit of culture and polite conversation was left after television became ubiquitous has now been obliterated by cell phones, Snap Chat, Twitter, etc., etc.
My only defense is, society started me on this downhill slide in 1950. In other words, if I had been like Alexander the Great and had Aristotle as my personal advisor, instead of television, I too could have been great.
My grandfather smoked a pipe. Every Christmas his seven children and numerous grandchildren filled Grandpa’s stocking with tins of crimp-cut Granger tobacco. Grandpa smoked only Granger because he was a working man who also, along with Grandmother, eked out a living on a tiny hard scrabble farm. Grandpa did not drink, swear or hug his kids nor his grandkids nor did he talk, other than to nod at Grandma to get dinner on or to sternly tell a grandkid to not slide on the cellar door or to get out of the cherry tree. Pretty much what he did was work and smoke his pipe. He died of cancer.
Grandmother did not smoke herself but still died of cancer after living with Grandpa from the time she was sixteen through all those kids and grandkids, many of whom smoked. Grandpa, Grandma and my mother, who was the first-born child, travelled to Oklahoma by covered wagon in 1915. There was precious little relief to be had from the struggle to live and raise a family. Smoking was cheap and ubiquitous; until near the end of the 20th Century about the only warning about possible harm from tobacco was the folksy admonition to young people that it would “stunt your growth”. This was countered by the constant drum beat of the Marlboro Man and movie stars who hardly did a scene without a cigarette dangling from their lips. You may recall that 1978 hippie anthem by Little Feat about sharing a marijuana joint: “Don’t Bogart that joint my friend, Pass it over to me.” Humphrey Bogart, and almost every other hero of the silver screen, was famous for smoking. He died of cancer at age 57.
When I started college at Oklahoma State University in 1961 I did not smoke, but everybody who was cool did. In order to be a real college student I had to teach myself to smoke by practicing in front of a mirror in my dorm room. Yes, smoking was allowed almost everywhere, even in the classes at the option of the professor. One of my literature professors would get so involved in his lectures he would sometimes have three burning cigarettes lying in the chalk rail.
My parents both smoked and both died with cancer. Of the four children in my family, three smoked and one never did. The one who never smoked has never had cancer.
Now, Gentle Reader, what’s this column all about? Well, it is not an anti-smoking diatribe. If you or anyone else wishes to smoke, drink, whatever, I am not seeking the role of hall monitor. This is America. Do what you choose as long as you do not harm others. No, what this column is about is the smoker who was so addicted to tobacco he left his baby in a basket on a train as he stepped out to have a smoke.
This happened in Cleveland, Ohio on January 12, 2019 on the Regional Transit Authority train. When the father left his baby and stepped off the train the doors closed and the train took off for the next station. You can imagine the father’s panic.
It turned out okay as the engineer was informed and then returned the train to where the father was. The baby was fine. My guess is that when the baby’s mother heard about the event, she engaged in an intensive stop smoking intervention with the father. Maybe he won’t follow in Bogart’s footsteps.
I like dogs. I like cats. And while I have no desire to get close and personal with most of the rest of Mother Nature’s critters, such as snakes and spiders, I still find them interesting. With such, my general attitude is let’s just go our separate ways.
I do not know of any heroic acts by cats, but the positive actions by dogs are legion. In my family, our Chow dog was a firm babysitter that kept an eye on Mom’s four kids as she did the laundry. And my Uncle Bud’s dog, Whizbang, waited by the front gate of my grandparents’ farm every day for two years until Uncle Bud came back from the War.
As for me, my dog Dandy, was sometimes the only friend I had when I committed some sin such as failing to complete a chore Mom or Dad had assigned to me. Dandy was not judgmental. He kept wagging his tail at me even when the rest of the cruel world wagged its finger.
And when it comes to depression, it hit home to Peg and me to have to say goodbye to our Schnauzer, Haley, after sixteen good years. We have not been able to try to replace her yet.
I bring up these points to show you, Gentle Reader, I am sympathetic to people who rely on their pets for emotional and even physical support. Seeing-eye dogs and large dogs and small horses that help disabled persons to have independence by aiding peoples’ movement are truly a blessing.
And, when it comes to Emotional Support Animals, I am fully supportive of allowing people in need to rely on a loving, loyal and well-trained, safe animal even in public. Now, as to sharing my seat on an airplane, bus or train with someone else’s overly protective or not quite potty-trained ESA animal, my position is the owner can probably make it through the trip alone as well as I can. Hey, we all have emotional problems dealing with public transportation.
Anyway, a trend that appears to be coming an epidemic is the proliferation and diversification of the number and type of animals people claim are essential to their emotional health. Of course, these people and even those in charge of public transportation seem to have no concerns for the rest of the world who must accommodate the ESA folks. Also, what veterinary college or medical school did the doctors who certify some of these ESAers go to?
For example, sixty-five-year-old (you might think he’d know better) Joie Henney of Pennsylvania and Joie’s medical doctor (go figure) have declared Joie needs the love and affection of an alligator for his ESA animal. Wally is what Joie named the five-foot-long gator with razor sharp teeth and a powerful tail. Joie takes Wally to public parks and Walmart on a leash. He also enjoys wrestling with Wally and getting whacked by his tail.
Apparently, Wally has his own emotional troubles because Joie now has added a smaller, younger gator for his own and Wally’s depressed moments. Wally may grow up to sixteen feet long and 1,000 pounds. Joie pets Wally and even sleeps with him. And believe it or not, Joie has a real girlfriend and seventeen grandchildren. Well, he has them for now.
Joie says the gators make him feel better. Maybe so. But I suggest that a pet rock or a Chia Pet plant may work out better over time.
What happened to Christmas? Only one month ago there were carols, candles, colored lights, presents and happy people. Then came January and cold, grey gloomy weather with glum people wondering where the sun went.
On the other hand, if you are in need of more self-flagellation you could be where American Paul Whelan is, a courtroom in the glummest of all places, Russia in January. You talk about grey. Being in Moscow and Volgograd, Russia in the winter of 2003 was like living inside a wet, icy-cold burlap bag for Peg and me. And as our son, Jim, says, “You can always pick out the American tourists from the Russian natives, the Americans are the only ones smiling”.
Of course, as in all of life there are a few positives of the Russian winter. Russian’s three greatest military generals are January, February and March. Just ask Napoleon and Hitler. And when the National Judicial College sent me to Russia in 2003 to teach Russian judges about jury trials Peg and I spent four days in Volgograd (the old Stalingrad) where a million and a half Russian soldiers and half a million German soldiers slaughtered one another in six months. It is analogous to America multiplying our Civil War by three and cramming it into half of 1863. No wonder so many Russians are not smiling.
Another reason not to smile is the Russian legal system, especially what they call jury trials. That is why the NJC sent me there. In January 2003 Russia had once again, as part of the country’s long history of their fits and starts “right to trial by jury”, reinstituted some jury trials for some alleged crimes. The NJC tasked me to teach Russian judges from all over Russia how America tries jury cases. I do not know what I was able to impart to the Russian judges, but Peg and I sure learned a lot. Mainly we learned that by a mere accident of birth we received one of life’s greatest gifts, American citizenship.
These recollections were brought back to me when I saw a photograph in the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel newspaper of Paul Whelan in a cage in a Russian courtroom. Hang on. I know it’s Florida, but as you can readily see I am not just lounging on the beach. I am working; at least I am writing this column.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I have no idea if the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is a spy as charged by Russia. He says he is not, what a surprise. However, he received a Bad Conduct Discharge from the Marines for theft and he has citizenship in four countries, United States, Ireland, Canada and Great Britain. That sounds suspicious but may just mean he likes Anglo Saxons. That alone might make him a suspect in Russia, a country that used to be the heart of the old Soviet Union with its conglomeration of fifteen countries and seventy-seven languages, none of which had an Anglo, Saxon or Celtic base.
What the photographs show is Whelan in a cage, in a courtroom, trying to communicate through a translator with his attorney and through the bars and in front of everyone. When the Russian judges asked me to critique a jury trial of a man charged with murdering two people, I had difficulty being diplomatic. With the judge and jury in place and the Russian prosecutor wearing a blue military type uniform seated between the mothers of the two murder victims right in front of the jury, the courtroom doors burst open and this is what Peg and I and the judge and jury saw: four guards armed with AK 47 rifles escorting the handcuffed defendant into court and locking him into a cage.
Well, Gentle Reader, you see the problem.
January 03, 2019 Dutch astronaut and physician, Andre Kuipers (1958- ), fumbled his telephone and dialed 911 instead of 011 for an international call. This caused quite an emergency scramble. Hopefully Dr. Kuipers is not a surgeon.
There are numerous problems with this event. First, did you even know there were Dutch astronauts? I did not. Where is their space program? Do they use environmentally sanctioned wind power from gigantic windmills instead of rockets or perhaps methane gas from vast fields of decomposing tulips?
Who was Andre calling? Was he wanting to order a Dutch fast food delivery, french fries with mayonnaise (ugh!) maybe or a fried sausage such as a frikandel? How was it going to be delivered to the International Space Station (ISS)?
Do Dutch astronauts wear klompen/wooden boots and must they leave them outside the space station? Are the Dutch involved in the space race because of their interest in the hypothetical canals to maybe be found on Mars? Ever since Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910) postulated he had discovered canals on Mars and American astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916) wrote his book Mars and Its Canals countries have been interested in finding out if there was, and maybe is, some advanced civilization on Mars. Maybe the Dutch are curious.
I was not aware there is a fairly normal means of telephone communication from space to Earth. All ISS calls are routed through Houston before making further AT&T connections. Don’t you wonder where they put the poles and towers? According to the news reports of Kuipers’ accidental call, the connection from ISS to Earth was amazingly good and clear. Well, Gentle Reader, let me tell you our AT&T line in rural Posey County is about as reliable as two tin cans and a string. How come one can phone to and from thousands of miles in space without hearing “Houston, we have a problem” when Peg and I frequently cannot call our neighbors across Durlin Road?
Another question Andre Kuipers erratic phone call raised is, does the space station get robo calls asking about their credit cards or their health status? Are they only free from these infuriating interruptions when they are on the dark side of the moon? Can they put the ISS on a Do Not Call List?
Anyway, these are a few of the deep, perplexing thoughts I have been having while worrying if the astronauts are suffering from cabin fever or are simply lonely for contact with the rest of us 8 billion humans? However, I must now return to Earth as Peg is demanding I run into New Harmony and order a pizza at the Yellow Tavern. She said she tried to call it in but couldn’t get a connection!
You may be aware of a story in the January 11, 2019 New York Times that disclosed the FBI decided to investigate President Trump for possible treason right after he fired FBI Director James B. Comey. As America divides almost in half over whether Donald Trump is a messiah or a menace, probably half of you who read the Times story were infuriated and half of you were elated. Perhaps this column may invoke similar reactions, among a somewhat smaller audience of course.
If you have read Gavel Gamut over the past 28 years you may recall my general philosophical position on our political system is that democracy not bureaucracy is the ideal. In other words, if we want to keep control of our government and our freedom, we should elect all public officials, they should all be term-limited and bureaucrats should be subservient to elected officer holders. Much as we make our military subservient to our civilian authority, we should make sure we do not allow unelected, life-time appointees to rule us via unfettered discretion.
On the local level that means our law enforcement community’s duty is to serve and protect not abuse. And at the federal level that means our FBI, CIA, FISA (United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) and other agencies should serve at the pleasure of our elected officials because we can know who our officials are, and we have the power to remove them at the next election.
Unfortunately, our FBI has always been a political organization with shifting ideologies depending upon the bureaucrats, especially the Directors, who lead them. As set forth on National Public Radio in a January 26, 2018 report:
“Everyone agrees that the FBI should be as professional and impartial as possible and that its investigations should not be driven by any political agenda or vendetta. That has always been the ideal.
… As a matter of reality, the FBI has been political from its outset.
… Surely there is a massive case of collective amnesia afflicting Washington and much of the media commentariat on that score.”
NPR then exposited the sordid history of the FBI being used to harass Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., anti-war protesters during the Viet Nam War and numerous instances of FBI surveillances and investigations of civil rights activists by agents of the FBI whose main purpose was to advance partisan political positions.
I realize if you hate the President, you want him investigated. If you hate Hillary Clinton, you want her investigated. And if you hate your neighbors, you want them investigated. However, you might reflect on the possibility they feel the same way.
As for politically connected matters, some do need to be addressed and even investigated. I respectfully suggest that should remain the purview of Congress. They will gladly proceed.