Sunday, November 28, 2010


I grew up in a village of mixed ethnic backgrounds. There were Russians, Poles, Italians, Irish, Scots, English, Greek and others. As kids we joked about the various groups. Pat and Mike jokes were the rage at one time. Italian jokes were very popular. Polish jokes did not occur until later, perhaps because most of us were either of Polish decent or Slavic which was very close. Black jokes were sometimes rather cruel, but so were Pat and Mike and Polish jokes. Maybe it was the way they were told that made them more offensive.

Jewish jokes and Black jokes were never told except in a very derogative manner. And they were told in a way that suggested that the jokes were probably true. The Pat and Mike jokes were jokes of sheer stupidity and so no one really believed that a people could be so dumb. So of course were the Polish jokes as were the Italian jokes and the Greek jokes. The advent of the pizza pie and the spaghetti sauce were probably the end of the Italian jokes. Spaghetti sauce became almost a mystical ritual. Women passed recipes around and sauce was simmered beginning after breakfast and continuing until dinner time. The sauce became almost a solidified mass, but no one would suggest that it was too thick. That would be gross. Polish stuffed cabbage and perogi and Irish stew and corned beef became part of the culture. These items are now acceptable restaurant fare. The jokes went away.

But some cultures did not assimilate. They are, or pretended to be, offended by jokes except when they themselves tell the jokes, jokes that have a different ring. Jews stayed in their ghettos, and the blacks congregated in their own ghettos. The jokes never went away. They just stayed on the back burner. They are told to non Jewish or non Black people. Sadly, recently a joke about black food habits told in jest at a PGA event led to the person telling the joke losing his contract with a chain store. It is difficult to find a black restaurant, or for that matter a Jewish restaurant outside the ghettos. The ethnic groups that fought jokes never did assimilate into the American dream as the Irish, Poles, Italians, Greeks and others did.

Now we have religious groups who not only do not accept joke telling but resort to violence. Jokes take the edge off cultural differences. It is a way of making light of our pomposity or silliness or considering ourselv pomposity or silliness or considering ourselves as special. Sad, but it is hard to evaluate the impact the joke has had as a means of assimilating a culture.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dogs Tail

I always remember the old story about the elderly woman who when she noticed that her friends’ dog had its tail cut off (docking its called) asked her friend how it was done. Well, the friend replied: the Vet just cut the tail off and stitched up the cut and that was it. My God, the woman opined, that was cruel to cut it all off at once, wouldn’t it have been kinder if they had done it a little at a time.

The story reminds me of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We assume that troop withdrawal a little at a time will be less painful then just docking. Yet all the evidence from Vietnam points the other way. There we just left and eventually the country was united and free and is now one of our friends and we trade with them. The soldiers who fought in the war go back and visit. Both old Saigon and Hanoi are tourist spots frequented by Americans and the rest of the world. Their shrimp is sold here by the tons at a price we can not match.

Freud had it figured out for his miraculous cures: you had to face the devils that haunt you and either overcome them or accept them. And it is still true today. The world has to face the fact that dreadful as it may have been, the way to Vietnams’ peace was to go through the horror of coming together. No one can pave the way for you; the facts must be faced squarely and accepted or else they lie in waiting to torment you forever.

We were wrong in Vietnam and we were and are wrong in Iraq and now even Afghanistan. Facing the Vietnam situation will allow us to accept the withdrawal from Iraq.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I often wonder about determination or as it is sometimes called: stubbornness. Often we hear of people running for public office who only want to serve their country. We are currently hearing that idea from a man who served in the Vietnam War and was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese and subjected to cruelty and psychological warfare during five of those years. He is now considered a hero for his service during war; though his ‘cell mates’ some of whom actually were in prison longer are not so honored. Though he has lost some of his physical mobility and use of his arm from a crash landing he maintains a positive outlook on life by wanting to continue to serve his country. Because his father and grandfather were naval admirals he received medical care above what would have been normally provided.

There are many examples of this type of behavior: Senators who have lost legs or the use of an arm and who run for public office on the basis of their service. Perhaps I am naïve, or do not understand the desire to serve. I would be more inclined to say that I have served enough for my country. However if some energetic PR person contacted me and promised or at least implied that I could get to be a Senator or Congressman based on my war years and if I had the ability to speak reasonably intelligently before an audience I might be persuaded to try. My chances would be improved if I had some infirmity to show the constituency and be greatly enhanced if I could be considered a war hero. People just love heroes; real ones or make believe ones. Like the Indian Ira Hays who the war department promoted as a hero planting the American flag on Iwo Jima even though he did not think he was a hero. He was taken around the country on war bond drives and emotionally ruined.

In the movie ‘Patton’ there is a scene where the general is shown alone on a large stage with an American flag as a backdrop giving a speech to his troops who are not actually visible. It is a rousing speech. General Patton is considered by history as one of our finest generals. Old blood and guts he was called. Or as the troops said: his guts and our blood. Patton went on to say that he did not want any of his troops to be heroes and die for their country; he wanted them to make the other SOB a hero and die for his country. So much for heroes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Us against Them

I was having a discussion with a nice senior woman about heart problems and bypass surgery. We old folk do like to discuss ailments. As would be expected the cost of the procedure came up and we discussed the general increase in prices and cost of medical care and we were thankful for Medicare. I of course mentioned that I was in the wrong profession: I should have been a surgeon. She related a story about how one of her grand children was attending college and her costs had gone up considerably and the availability of loans and grants were diminishing. She then remarked that they were not providing the funds for her grandchild. They were not granting loans or giving grants that they were giving the previous year. I remarked that when she talks about them, she means her neighbors and the people across the street. There was a moment of awkward silence and then she remarked: I never looked at it that way.

I always wonder what politicians mean when they say they are going to Washington or Tallahassee or wherever and will fight for ‘you’. Who are they going to fight? The school grants come from the government. The cost of heart bypass surgery comes from the government. It all comes from the government. But where does the government get its money. Why it gets it from us. To be correct, it steals it from us in the form of taxes and then it doles out the taxes to whomever it deems most profitable to the politicians. Profitable means getting reelected. But we pay all the bills. I send my money to them, they take what they need to support their lavish lifestyle and then send the rest to the people who support them. So when the politicians, stumping for election, say they are going to fight for us, they really mean they are going to fight us for more tax money, so they can give more money to themselves and to us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Potato Growing

Social welfare is a relatively new phenomenon, beginning in America with the great depression and continuing until now. It was a takeoff of the German system started by Bismark: That is governmental welfare. There has always been religious or just altruistic welfare probably before biblical times. The three great religions of the Book all encourage welfare and help for the poor. But now the trend has been to let the government take over the role.

When I was about twelve years old we moved to a different house in the village. The house we were living in was scheduled to be demolished for reasons, I never knew. It was an exciting time, to be moving. My older brother was out of high school and drove a truck for a local coal operator and we used the truck for moving. The new house was a multi family building and we had one of the four apartments. The previous occupants had a nice garden that was neatly fenced in and fairly large. My parents were from Poland and were farm people. But we never planted anything or used the garden at all. I decided one spring to dig up the ground and plant a garden. My mother told me about cutting the potatoes into small pieces being careful to make sure that an eye was in each piece. The ground had been left fallow for many years and was difficult to dig. We had no special tools, except shovels for shoveling coal. They had no sharp points. I worked hard, thinking in the fall I would have a huge bumper crop of potatoes. I made rows as best I could and planted the potato ‘seeds’ in deep holes and waited. I watered the garden as often as I could. Some plants appeared in several weeks, but none were hearty looking. None ever blossomed and the crop looked like it was going to be a disaster. My father said I had forgotten to fertilize and by that he meant animal waste. I had no way to get any fertilizer. Fertilizer was not something you could get easily from the hardware store. I was amazed that neighbors nearby had lush plants and ripe red tomatoes and other vegetables. Mrs. Platz had lush plants. She had a cow and daily she took the cow to an area in the village where grass grew and allowed the cow to pasture there. You could predict the time of day just by seeing her bring the cow home, waiting to cross the road. My father said she had manure that I could take. But her house and small shed to house the cow was probably a half mile from my garden and we had no truck or even a wheelbarrow. My father did not offer to help. Just go there and ask for manure he said. And my mother was too busy with all of us to get involved in the garden. My plans of growing potatoes until the basement was full to overflowing and we could eat for the winter gradually died along with the plants that never grew beyond the first stage. My first taste of farming was a disaster. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.